It never gets tiring exploring Chinatown and Kampong Glam..

Oh man… my term break is coming to an end! Term 2 starts coming Mon. But I am not complaining cos it has been a REALLY good break. I’d never felt more relaxed and carefree. Most colleagues whom I had met for lunch in these 3 weeks (yes, 3 weeks!! Whhoooaatt!!) had commented that I looked rejuvenated and happy. Well, not for long cos term 2 is gonna erase all this radiance and bring back those furrowed brows!! Arrgghh!!

Had also managed to meet up with school friends whom I’ve not seen in years. When I’m working, it’s always about being too busy and when there’s spare time, I don’t want to do anything except my own things. Now that I have some spare time, there’s no excuse not to keep up with these friendships on grounds of having no time. Bleah… These are some things in life that matters and should not be taken for granted.

During this break, some of my coursemates had flew back home, some on vacation and there are some who remained here. Like 2 of my project group mates, Charlie and Denise. Being ever so hospitable (haha), I had offered to take them around Chinatown and Kampong Glam, both sites rich in the history, heritage and culture of Singapore’s past…

We started off with lunch at Maxwell Food Centre. I have been here several times but can you believe I have NEVER tried the famous Tian Tian chicken rice and Zhen Zhen Porridge?? There are other good stalls too but there are only 3 of us and are not big eaters.

Many would say that Tian Tian chicken rice is overrated. I think if the price of 1 plate ($5) is reduced to a more palatable (depending on how you view it) $3 plus or $4, maybe that view may change. I had read reviews that their chicken rice is preferred over the chicken. Perhaps the chicken was cooked well that day cos I’d find the meat tender and not dry whereas the rice is a tad too oily for my liking. I like chicken rice but not crazy over it so I typically don’t eat much of it. However, for a better price and good (some may say, better) taste, I would recommend the “Delicious Boneless Chicken Rice” at the basement of Katong Shopping Centre.

Zhen Zhen’s porridge has a unique texture. Quite similar to instant porridge. Of course, the taste and quality is way better than the instant processed version. Just that I felt the rice grains seem extremely fine, as if they were blended to smaller bits before boiling them.  Anyway, it is not a problem for me cos the porridge is still good and laden with ingredients.

After lunch, we walked briskly to Sago Lane where I wanna introduce them to my favourite egg tart shop. I can never remember the name of the shop except that it is along Sago Lane. Love the buttery flaky tart and the rich flavour of the egg tart. Thankfully, we didn’t overeat at Maxwell, otherwise no space for these tarts!

Maybe I had mentioned before in an old blog entry but anyways… I did a project on Chinatown for one of my history modules in university, and hence started my interest, and a soft spot (for nostalgic reasons) for this place. Even though much of it is very commercialised and many shops are selling stuff targeting tourists. Like those cheesy “Singapore is a Fine Country” T-shirts.

The weather was freaking hot that day. Actually, it has always been hot and worse, if hazy too. The “tourist guide” in me cannot take it. Need. ICE COLD drink. NOW. And air-con too, of course. #weakme.

After Charlie gets his shampoo from one of those toiletries shop in People’s Park Complex, we took a train to Telok Ayer, check out the Thian Hock Keng temple and then shield ourselves from the heat in one of the small cafes in that area. Too hot!!

It’s nice to just chill and have a cuppa and a chat. This helps us get to know each other better. Afterall, we had technically worked with each other, attended lessons together and even sat with each other in class for just 1.5 months. It’s actually not that long a duration but at least I do feel more comfortable with them now. To the extent of trying to be a tourist-guide wannabe and FAIL and end up hibernating in a cafe instead.. Haaa…

Ok…. it’s time to head down to Kampong Glam. It’s great that there’s a direct line from Telok Ayer to Bugis.

Had recalled the excitement upon discovering the street art by Ernest Zacharevic in Penang so I wanna relive that excitement again while checking out his artwork, even though not a lot, opposite Victoria Street. I especially like the ones with some accompanying props like supermarket trolleys stuck to the wall, which gives the effect of the kids sitting in them.

We had checked out more beautiful, most of them restored and repainted, shophouses along the small lanes nearby.

And then the magnificent looking Sultan Mosque (“Masjid Sultan”)…

We can’t miss one of my fave lanes- Haji Lane, filled with small cafes and eclectic shops. I love to browse through these shops but never buy anything. There’s a really cute pug in one of the shops. They have such worried expressions that it’s funny.

Dinner is at Zam Zam, famous for their briyani and murtabak. Vit, another project mate, had joined us after work.

If Tian Tian chicken rice is overhyped, so is Zam Zam.. Or maybe it’s because I do not really appreciate Indian food. But the fact is, I don’t find the briyani very flavourful. However, the biggest disappointment is the deer meat murtabak. It sounds cruel to eat Bambi but deer meat is really delicious and tender, and pretty common in the menus of Chinese zichar eateries. For this murtabak, the deer meat is minced and fried so the texture is rather dry so much so that I think it taste just like mutton except that the latter is cheaper. Hmm… I feel a little… cheated…

Well, we had compensated the lacklustre dinner with….3 scoops of Gelato and waffle!!! Initially, we wanted to check out some new Korean churros place but it was mad packed. Talking about the craze for novelty. But gelato and waffle are good too. Slurp…

What a day but it’s a good and fun one. Being local doesn’t mean we are familiar with some of these key attractions or heritage sites so it’s really nice to also visit them once in a while.

 

Across the causeway

Can’t recall the last time I’d been on a shopping spree at Johore Bahru (JB), our nearest neighbour linked by road. Well, I was there with some friends 4 years ago for a weekend getaway to some ranch but we didn’t do much shopping then. So when it comes to the latter, if I can’t recall when’s the last time, it must have been many years ago, possibly a decade or more ago.

It’s time we visit across the causeway to stock up on some stuff… I don’t wanna state the obvious on why we are visiting at this particular period. Go figure. 🙂

So a few days ago, my friend S and I had met early in the morning for our long-awaited shopping spree in JB. Another friend is supposed to join but was held back by work. Well, it’s ok cos we plan to visit JB again pretty soon.

It must have been a really long time since we’d last visited JB……. Cos this is the first time I had stepped into the revamped checkpoint at JB! Both of us were so engrossed chatting that after going through the immigration, we made a wrong turn and couldn’t find our way over to City Square! We had no choice but to ask the immigration officer for help. Aiyo…

Finally, we arrived at City Square. First thing first…… Book a body massage and foot reflexology in the afternoon. An apt timing since we will be done and I guess, pretty tired, from all that walking… Hee… At RM 120 (around SGD 40) good deal for both body massage and foot reflex.

City Square had changed quite a bit since the last time I was there ions ago. There was this shop that sells very lovely embroidery clothes though not all of them were made from very comfy materials so essentially, they are pretty to look at but may not be comfortable to wear. I’d always enjoyed checking out the dainty embroidered flowers on the blouses and skirts but had hesitated to buy any mainly cos of the price. Well, that shop is gone now. Not surprising… Sigh…

We bought some stationery from Popular and then took a cab and head for Holiday Plaza.

Holiday Plaza is a very old mall…The reason why we bother to come here is to get some kaffir lime body cleansing lotion which S swears by. It is a multi-purpose solution that serves as a shampoo, shower as well as facial cleanser. And according to the description on the packaging, it can *gasp* “exorcise spirits”!! Well, I just hope there is no need for that… But warding off negativity and cleansing one’s spirit sounds good to me.

[Trip afternote: I had tried the cleansing lotion and I felt like I am rubbing tom yam paste on me.. Not the spicy sensation lah… More of the strong lime smell.. Dang, makes me crave for some tom yam soup now… LOL… As a shampoo, it seems ok. My scalp felt cleansed and didn’t have that greasy touch for about a day.]

S must really love this lotion cos she had grabbed like 6 bottles of them… Wow…

Another surprise find is….. the Calbee Honey Butter Chips that are taking Korea by storm. When they are first introduced, packs of these chips were wiped off the shelves. Apparently, one of my friends was in Korea for a biz trip last week and she can’t find these chips. Seemed like there were others looking for them too. She said there were some people at the chips section, scanning the shelves…

Anyway, we were checking out the local snacks and tada, spotted a few packs of these super hot chips. But each pack is RM 18.90 (around SGD 6.30) which is pretty pricey for a rather small pack of chips.

[Trip afternote: I can’t resist trying the chips the night I’d reached home from JB. I would say the flavour is interesting. Part savoury with a hint of sweet, and then savoury again. S said they taste like potato croquettes.. Kinda if the croquettes are also a little sweet. To sum up, these chips are addictive and unique but are overhyped. They are just potato chips… I am sure the hype will die down in no time, or once people get over this fad and realised there’s no biggie about these chips]

What irony that we crossed over to JB and didn’t get a single pack of any Malaysian tidbits but chips from Korea. LOL!

Partly it’s also because I didn’t bring enough ringgit with me. Had miscalculated my supposed expenditure. Till the next time……

Think we didn’t really plan to have dinner in JB until we saw this sign at the Manhattan Fish Market at Komtar JBCC. How can we resist the RM 99.90 (SGD33) king crab platter that comes with one juicy meaty king crab, a slab of grilled dory, thick slices of calamari on top a generous bed of garlic butter rice. And this sizable portion is good for sharing so that makes it SGD 16.50 per pax. We will not get such a price for crabs like these back home… So no way we are missing this.

This offer will end sometime in Nov so if we are ever back in JB again next month, we may wanna go for this? :p

The massage had left us feeling really drained… For that price, I shall not complain much but to be honest, I had better massages. There are other massage shops in that corner of City Square but we had settled for the lowest price. Anyway, it wasn’t all that bad lah.

We plan to visit JB again next month…. And I’d already made a mental note of what I’m gonna get the next time round… 🙂

39

Last Wed, I had reached the last milestone of my 30s. The thought of approaching 40 can evoke a renewed sense of excitement, like embrace the next phase in life kinda thing. Or it can make you a little depressed since half of my life’s journey had passed. That’s provided I live up to a ripe old age of 80.

If I’ll to take stock of my life in blocks of 10 years, it is interesting to note the extent I had changed between my 20s and 30s. Well, 10 years isn’t a short period even though it can passed in a blink of an eye (Hmm, thought I was just 30 yesterday?) but many things, events and experiences can happen to shape or even alter our characters, perception and psyche on the whole.

In my 20s, I am basically a drift of aimless smog. Having a rather general degree coupled by the rather lacklustre economic situation of that time, I had taken whatever job that is available. On hindsight, I should have put in more thought and have more clarity in the kind of career I would like to pursue and put in effort to steer towards that direction. It didn’t help that there were bouts of “dark” moments that clouded my ability to think rationally sometimes. The 20s is supposedly to be the epitome of my youth, the time to tap on our boundless energy to identify opportunities and seize them but on the contrary, it wasn’t a good period for me.

Things had taken a turn for the better in my 30s. Let any baggage or demons of the past be bygones. My career seemed more fulfilling and that’s excluding the usual crap from work. Marriage life is good. We have a good place to call our own. Am also lucky to set aside time and money for travelling and fulfill my wanderlust. Comparing to my 20s, I am definitely more settled and contented. It’s only recently that I’d decided to develop myself through further studies. May not be a big deal for others but for me, this is a giant leap out of my comfort zone.

Enough of any reflection…

So what’s up for my birthday this year?

Firstly, the hubby is spared from sweating it out in the kitchen. It has been a tradition for the past few years where I would like a home-cooked meal from him instead of dining out. So I will always look forward to a surprise dinner from him while he dreads the cooking. What a contrast of expectations! LOL!

Instead, I had asked for a home-baked cake this year! Hahaha… To think that I would actually let him off??!! No way man!

And he did what was requested… This is the first time he had baked a proper cake. The microwave mug cake technically don’t count. So he searched for a simple choc cake recipe and whipped a cake last weekend while I am out with a friend, and when I am back, surprise!

Ok……… the intention was good. No doubt about it. For someone who doesn’t cook or bake, making any cake regardless of how simple the recipe is, is still a chore. He claimed he was literally sweating buckets just by folding the batter by hand. Poor dude didn’t think about using one of the 3 mixers (including a hand-held one) in the kitchen. Hehe…

However, the cake was……… SOLID hard… As you can see from the bottom right quadrant, I have a hard time trying to slice it through. Even the hubby admitted it is like a rock.. hahaha…. As I emphasised again, the intention’s good. It’s the thought that counts. Besides, chocolate cakes can be tricky to get them right. For me, it took a few trials to finally be able to consider it edible by my standard. I guess, next year I will revert back to the home-cooked meal requests…

I was especially touched by the flood of birthday messages on my facebook and through whatsapp. Some of my course mates were chatting in this whatsapp groupchat about getting a cake and I’d actually thought they’re just joking.

Well, they are not…. There’s another guy with the same birthday as me, so the class had bought a couple slices of cake and did a mini celebration for us after the lesson. In fact, just before the lesson starts, the programme director had popped by and got the class to sing us a birthday song. *touched*

Since the hubby was spared from cooking, my birthday dinner (actually, it should be belated since this happened today) was at a charming and cosy little French place called “Balzac Bar and Brasserie” at Fort Canning.

The food is pretty good and the service is excellent. Since Gary had informed the restaurant that it’s my birthday, they had scrawled a “Happy Birthday” in chocolate sauce and added a candle for the dessert, and sang a birthday song too.

I have other dinner gatherings with close friends too in the next 2 weeks… Seems late but it’s quite hard to work around my lesson schedule since my classes are in the late evenings almost daily.

What can I say except that I am blessed to be able to celebrate my birthday with loved ones… These celebrations need not be loud and fancy. They can just be a small quiet gathering. So in my list of birthday wishes, I do wish I can continue to spend my birthdays with the hubby and my friends for many years to come.

Penang: Of Heritage, Street Art and Char Kway Teow

Around a week after I am back from our Italy vacation, I am off to Penang with my friend Sharon. We had been talking about going for a trip together and among the various destination in the region, we had settled for Penang. Sharon hasn’t been to Penang and my last visit was 17 years ago. So, Penang sounds like a good choice.

For a change from the usual hotels, we had chosen to stay in a lodge (or inn) instead. The Trip Advisor ratings for “Betelnut Lodge” (100 Lebuh Melayu) are quite good and the price at around S$160 for 2 nights is quite alright too.

It’s only on our last day, when we took the bus from bus interchange at Komtar to the airport, that we realise that we could have saved RM45 (fixed cab rate from the airport) if we had known where to take the bus from the airport to the city. Anyway, our flight had arrived slightly past noon and we can’t wait to start our itinerary so taking the cab can help save some time and might not be a bad idea afterall.

The cab had arrived at Lebuh Melayu where Betelnut Lodge is supposed to be but the driver had no idea where is unit number 100. It is also hard to see from inside the cab when the units along the rows of shophouses seem quite close to each other. Nevermind, let’s get off the cab and search. If we are on the correct street, it shouldn’t take too long to locate the lodge. Indeed, the lodge is tucked in the middle of a shophouse and the main entrance is partially obscured by the branches sticking out of the potted plants places at the main entrance. Pretty much a blink and you miss.

Just to share some thoughts about this lodge…

Stepping inside, I didn’t realise how small the lobby is. Would consider it more of a “front desk” than a lobby actually. But at the same time, I am also pleasantly surprised at its cleanliness. Everything seems to be neat and in order. The floor is clean and the air doesn’t smell musty. Overall, it feels like a “home”. In fact, no footwear is allowed beyond the ground floor hence we went barefoot while climbing up the stairs and in our room. Guess that helps to minimise the dirt as well as the cleaning upstairs.

The door next to the table at main “lobby” leads to a small courtyard that exudes a sense of tranquility with ample greenery (in the form of potted plants) with a small fountain next to them. Noticed there’s a fair bit of antique placed on some of the furniture which had accentuate the charm of the place. These include the gramophone, a light green Peranakan blouse within a frame and colourful tiffin trays. The owner had later shared that he luvs antique and these are from his collection.

Speaking of the owner, he has been very helpful in advising the food places, where to take the bus to certain key attraction, some history on the street art and where to buy the local specialities like tau sar piah and belacan etc. Some of these locations and names of restaurants are painstakingly handwritten on each map that the lodge provides.

Most importantly, the room (though small) is clean and has wifi connectivity. Tsk tsk, everywhere we go, we just can’t live without the internet, emails, facebook, whatsapp and whatever right? It’s ok that the room doesn’t come with a fridge or kettle. If there is a need to boil water or place anything in the fridge, I believe these can be done in their kitchen.

Without further delay, we were off to explore the streets of Old Georgetown. Most of the streets are flanked by traditional shophouses. Some had been restored, evident from their bright colours and minimal flaking of the paint, while there are others in a derelict state. Some of which serves as retail space as well as homes for the locals. Some of the residences also double up as shops selling souvenirs or other knick knacks.

Strolling along these streets is like taking a trip down memory lane. Feels like Singapore in the late 70s and 80s. Though there are still some of these shophouse units left in the heritage enclaves of Kampong Glam, Little India and Chinatown but much of its original cultural character had been diluted by the numerous new-age cafes and restaurants. Only a very few handful of traditional shops still remains but I wonder how long they would stay this way as times evolved. Don’t think there are also many people staying in these units except for probably a very small handful (if I may assume).

Back to the streets of Penang…. Some of the living rooms in these residences remind me so much of my late granny’s living room. Simple furniture and the style/design is obviously dated from decades ago. If my granny’s still alive, believe she will still kepp many of her furniture even if she had moved into an apartment. An altar at the corner is also another common feature. Those who are at home would be transfixed to their TV (seems old-school as well, instead of the modern gigantic ones with LCD or LED screens) while fanning themselves.

Spotted this car which its bumper is decorated (or protected) by a crocheted cover. Seriously??!

One key highlight of Georgetown are the street art painted by Ernest Zacharevic. There are also other art that are painted by others. Some are clearly graffiti. While the latter might be considered as art or expression of creavity here, it is no less than 3 strokes of cane back home. Hee…

Some of his famous art are soon to be gone from the effects of weather and also itchy-fingered folks who might have peeled off some of the paintwork. It is a shame that some jackass had sprayed painted over the “Little Children on a Bicycle” art. Why do this?

Over the 2 and a half days which we are there, we had made a point to locate all the street art, especially the Ernest Zacharevic ones, from our map. There are occasions where we can’t seem to find it and when we turned back, it’s right up there, huge on the wall, like “Kungfu Girl” (at Muntri Street). Each time, we spotted a mural, we will get all excited and start to snap pictures of it. Feels like some kind of treasure hunt.

We didn’t manage to locate all. The “Children in a Boat” at Chew Jetty is obviously gone. Looks like someone had deliberately scraped off the paint. We also can’t find the “Broken Heart” phone booths at Love Lane. Think they’re gone too.

We made our way to the jetty area. A bit of background. The clan jetties are an intregal part of Penang heritage. Once 7 jetties, there are now 6 jetties and are also homes to some living in houses on stilts. Similarly, some also double up as shops or provision shops, and even a salon. I told Sharon that if we’re to go for a perm in this salon, be sure we will get instant noodle curls. LOL!

Since we didn’t have lunch, we decided to heed one of the recommendations written on the map and try the nyonya (Peranakan) food at Aunty Gaik Lean at Bishop Street for a quick bite. Penang has a rather strong Peranakan culture so we should try these nyonya dishes. However, we had ordered a little too much and it seems like a full-blown dinner for 2 people! It’s the waiter’s fault lah. Said the portions are not huge. Damn they are! Literally 三菜一汤.

We ordered the Lor Bak (which is more of like a ngoh hiang rather than pork belly stewed in dark soy sauce that we’re familiar with), salted vegetable duck soup (really salty!), sambal kangkong (not bad) and assam prawns (this is good with the right amount of tangy and a tinge of spice).

To think that we can still stomach more food at Gurney Drive!!

Since Sharon hasn’t been to Penang, I though it might be a good idea to visit Gurney Drive even though I know it is a tourist trap and there are reviews that the food is overpriced and not delicious. Anyway, we didn’t order that much other than the char kway teow from stall no 71 and fruit rojak which is refreshing though the prawn paste sauce can be a little less generous.

On hindsight, visiting Gurney is a mistake. I shouldn’t have suggested that. We didn’t even enjoy the beach view. Anyway, what beach view? It’s dark!

The next morning, we popped over across the road for a breakfast of duck soup kway teow soup and what I would consider as something that I never expect to try, duck intestines. The owner of the lodge had strongly recommended the duck intestines. said they are very good and hours had been spent cleaning them. To convince myself, I went online and found some good reviews about the intestines and that they are not gamey or icky. Ok, let me just be adventurous (by my standard lah) and try Donald Duck’s innards.

The kway teow soup is rather sweet. It’s nothing to shout about but it makes a very good comfort food. Like the reviews I had read, the cream coloured duck intestines do not have that gamey taste typical of any innards. The savoury garlic sauce with crispy fried garlic makes this dish more palatable. In fact, it feels like jellyfish. Crunchy and yet, chewy at the same time. Even though it didn’t taste that bad, innards are not my cup of tea. It’s also psychological since we know the purpose of these intestines. Alright, I shall not say more.

We took a bus (204) from Komtar to the Ayer Itam area. First stop is at Kek Lok Si. If you are unfamiliar with the stop, just ask the driver to give you a shout when he reaches.

Wow, what an impressive temple! The statue of Guan Yin on the hill is a magnificent sight. The Kek Lok Si is supposed to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Think some parts of the temple is still being constructed (?) or restored.

After the temple visit, we MUST try the famous Penang Assam Laksa at the “Pasar Air Itam” at the foot of the hill. The broth is thick and flavourful. Not too salty, sour or spicy. No wonder they dare to consider themselves as “the one and the only” in Penang. Well, it’s really good.

We made a point to share all the food. This will free us more space to try more food.. Haha… I had also read much about the Sister Curry Mee. It’s hard to describe the location except that you’d have to turn right at the junction after the Pasar Air Itam Laksa and then turn into this street that is leading towards the Chinese Methodist Church.

I would usually avoid such roadside stalls. And these sisters don’t even serve the noodles from a proper counter. What we saw were 2 old ladies sitting on very short stools surrounded by pots of curry and tins of ingredients (noodles, cuttlefish, pork blood cubes etc). In veiw of the good reviews, we took a chance and try their curry noodles.

The sisters are very friendly without any of that old folks grouchiness. We had ordered a bowl to share. No beansprouts, no pork blood cubes and little chilli. The colour of the curry appear to be very light unlike the rich orange-red coloured curry which we are used to. It does taste like how it looks- diluted and lacks that oomph. I thought, maybe this is how Penang white curry taste like. We didn’t finish the curry and left quickly before they get insulted in why we didn’t finish their curry noodles that was exalted online. Sharon thinks we should try another stall later or tomorrow to compare. There’s one more near our lodge- “Tua Pui” curry noodles. Also well-known. Will talk about that later.

Our next stop is Penang Hill. It’s back to bus no. 204 again. The thing about the bus stops in Penang is, not every stop has a physical “bus stop” shelter or sign. If none are in sight, look downwards and see if there are any yellow box markings or words on the ground. That will be the bus stop.

When we reached the hill, it poured! OMG… it was really raining cats and dogs. Will we get to see anything on the hill top?

Despite the heavy rain, we’d still took the tram to the hill stop. Afterall, we are already here and who knows, the rain might lessen or stop later. The tram ride is around 15mins but the waiting times is another 15mins since it operates at a 15-min interval. The ticket is RM30 per pax for foreigners. Pretty pricey just for a tram ticket actually.

Thankfully, it’s only a slight drizzle when we had reached the hill top. From this altitude, the view of Penang is amazing. Although it’s misty over some areas like the Penang Bridge but the view is generally quite clear. Other than the view, there isn’t much to see on the hill top. There’s a cafe, a Hindu temple and erm, an owl museum. Hmm, is that an enclosure filled with owls? And I think you need to buy a ticket to see these owls.

By mid afternoon, we are back in Georgetown. We had tried 2 Penang dishes though the curry noodles was a disappointment. Now we are off to try some more local delights.

Many who visited Penang as well as the locals would be familiar with the “Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol” at Lebuh Keng Kwee. Chendol is a rich coconut based dessert which usually comes with green coconut jelly strips and red beans. Even though the chendol is served from a very simple cart, business is very good. From afar, we know the chendol cart is near, judging by the mass of chendol slurping people standing nearby.

Though I am not really a fan of coconut-based dessert, we gotta give this a try since it is widely acclaimed. To ensure a quick turnaround, the server had dished out bowls after bowls of chendol like an energiser bunny. Try not to stand too close if you don’t want to get splashed by the white coconut mixture as he dived his ladle in with much gusto.

The chendol is not too sweet or thick. We had shared a bowl to also share the calories from this rich dessert. So far, we had eaten from roadside stalls and thankfully no stomach upset yet… Hee…

Just gotta share this picture of a butchery spotted along one of the shophouses. I don’t think we will ever see a sight like this in our wet markets. Not with the entire pig intact, hanging at a corner, waiting to be carved up. I’d also took a couple of similar pictures when we’re in Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong. Hmm.. seems like I am obsessed with erm, pigs?? :p

Around 5 plus, we had boarded Bus. no 11 from Komtar to visit the Jelutong night market at Jalan Van Praagh. This night market is only opened on Friday evenings. To our horror, the Fri traffic jam as horrendous. Just by waiting for the bus to turn into the interchange and for it to get out of the interchange had taken around 45mins!! Whhaaat!!

Actually, the night market isn’t any different from the pasar malams back home. Only difference is, the wares are displayed in any form they want- On top of a car, back of a truck.. Nothing is standardised here even though they may be wearing the same T-Shirt.

We had tried a number of food including char kway teow (again) and muah chee but they were nothing to rave about. In fact, the char keow teow has a weird bitterness to it.

The better dishes we had tried are the yong tau foo. Strangely, it’s called yong tau foo but there’s no tau foo (bean curd). Instead, it’s a mix of fishballs, pork skin and some other stuff (but not tau foo) served with a bit of chilli, sweet sauce and topped with fried garlic.

We had also tried the chai tow kuay (fried carrot cake) except it’s called “char kuey kak” here. The taste is also different. The Penang version is sweeter and doesn’t seem to have much chai por (preserved turnip) or maybe none at all.

We are so not done with char kway teow. The next morning, we tried the on (“Tiger Char Kway Teow) at the coffeshop across our lodge. Of the 3 char kway teows that we had tried, this is the best. We had decided to try the duck egg version but I’d still prefer if chicken egg is used as I find the taste of the duck egg to be quite strong though it seems fluffier. Maybe the duck egg, with its higher fat content, does enhance the already rich flavour of the char kway teow.

After breakfast, we hopped on a bus to Fort Cornwallis. There are free shuttle buses to the fort and some other attractions. However, we didn’t think it is worth to pay RM20 per person just to see the fort.

So we moved on to visit the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion aka “Blue Mansion”. According to the guide in the guided tour, the mansion wasn’t originally blue but was painted blue as part of the restoration. Seems like the blue or the type of paint that was used is pretty lasting. Come to think of it, why would a traditional Chinese guy of that era who seemed entrenched in fengshui, paint his mansion this blue?

The guided tour was quite insightful and interesting, thanks to his rather animated style of describing the history of the mansion and the man, Cheong Fatt Tze, himself. Like many rich dudes of that time, Cheong had 8 wives. Gosh. But his favourite was wife number 7. She was 17 when she married Cheong who was a grand daddy age of 70! But she didn’t mind. Guess this marriage is a meal (and many other things) ticket out of poverty. I am actually quite fascinated by his wives. He had 3 in Penang so I wonder how their lives were, how they get along… but there isn’t much literature online about him and his wives.

Influenced by Sharon’s poses, I had also attempted a “mood” shot in this picture. Hahaha..

This section is at the second level. Though the chair is made of hard wood but it’s quite comfy as it is quite ergonomically designed. When you sit on it, the angle of the back rest is tilted so you will naturally lean back. Since the chair is rather low, you can stretch out your legs effortlessly. We can simply sit here the whole day.

Just before we head back to our lodge to take a little break before getting to the airport, we had tried another version of the curry noodles. This time from this stall called “Tua Pui Curry Mee” at 23 Lebuh Kimberley.

The gravy is slightly thicker than the one by the sisters. Sharon commented that there is this bitter tinge as if the rempah or curry powder is not mixed properly. To compare, I would prefer Tua Pui’s curry noodles over the sisters but I am not sold on Penang curry noodles on the whole.

To avoid any horrendous jam, we reached Komtar at 5pm (our flight’s at 8.40pm) to board bus number 401e. There were a group of rowdy young kids on the bus, blasting techno music from their phones and dancing to the beat except that they look more like they are writhing from spasms instead. Tsk tsk… Kids…

We’re at the airport early and there’s really nothing much to do except wait. The free wi-fi is only for an hour. I can’t wait to get home…

I had enjoyed Penang very much. Believe I will visit again but I’ll be sure to try more of their local food. Haha…

 

Buongiorno!

All roads lead to Rome… That is the “road” we took for our recent vacation coinciding with the long National Day/”SG 50″ long weekend. Not that we are trying to get out of the country during our nation’s 50th birthday but rather, it’s more for me taking a break before my course starts in Sep, and I didn’t want to take it too close to the start of the term.

Ok, enough of any excuses…

Rome is our first stop, followed by Florence, Venice and finally, Milan with 2 nights at each city. If it is not for me taking a break during this period, Italy is NOT a recommended place to visit during August. Not only is August a vacation month for Italy, which means huge crowds and long queues at key attractions in major cities but it is also the hottest month of the summer season. And these Italians don’t really believe in air-conditioning! I’ll get to that later.

But… I’d really want to visit Italy so….. Oh well… Just gotta grind through the crowd and the weather…

For most cities, we had encountered large crowds, except for Milan which is nice but not particularly very interesting so I reckon many would visit other cities or the coastal areas instead of Milan, but thankfully, we didn’t have to queue very long for certain places cos we had bought the tickets online (very important!!).

But the weather’s a KILLER!! OMG! It is even hotter than Singapore, which I’d read from my Facebook newsfeed that it had been raining the whole week when we’re in Italy! I cannot stress enough and probably will repeat again on the scorching heat with little cloud cover. The mornings would still be ok, at around a high 20-ish Deg C, quite pleasant actually. By 11am, the sun would be high up, all ready to roast us and with the temperature rising to around 38 Deg C by noon/early afternoon. Evenings are much better.

Oh and not to forget that we’re perpetually parched. Don’t think I have drunk that much water back home nor have such a major craving for Coke. No, make that ice-cold Coke. You won’t believe some places (like Macs in Milan) don’t serve Coke with ice. What the… right? Anyway, I don’t drink much soda but here, no hesitation to down Coke or any cold sugar-laden beverages. Luckily, we had brought our water bottle and had refilled it with cool (drinkable) water from the numerous fountains scattered all over.

ROME

One thing I really dislike about red-eye flights is, I can never get good quality sleep, if I can get any sleep in the first place, on the flight. Furthermore, we had to transit at Dubai so that’s an additional interruption to whatever sleep we can get. So naturally, I will be all stoned out on the first day and I can only wish my hair is not scraggly looking.

Right after we had touched down around 7am or so, the driver for our transfer to the hotel had met us at the arrival area. Our free & easy package had included hotel/airport transfers and train tickets. Went straight to the hotel and thankfully, our room’s available. A quick wash-up and we’re out on the way to our first attraction in our itinerary.

Our hotel is around 5mins plus walk to the nearest metro station, “Lepanto”. Before we proceed to our first attraction (Colosseum), we had to go to the “Termini” station to collect the Roma Passes which we had bought online. Actually, we could have bought these at the ticketing machines at the train stations, which is slightly cheaper. During our trip planning, we didn’t come across any websites or forums that would have advised us the same otherwise we could have save the time and hassle to locate the damn information counter at “Termini” to collect these passes. Think the extra cost is for the small squarish folder that the pass is placed in and the city map which we find the map provided by the hotel is clearer.

Once we got our Roma Passes, we made our way to the Colosseum via the metro, stopping at the “Colosseo” station. While you can buy your tickets at the location and some would advise the counter at the Roman Forum (or Palatine Hill, can’t recall which) would be shorter but during peak seasons, always buy your tickets online except for the first Sun of every month where the admission into the Colosseum is free

Our Roma Passes would allow us to enter via a separate and supposedly shorter line. However, since our visit had hit the first Sun of Aug, we had dreadfully feared that there would a huge flood of visitors which we will end up queuing for more than an hour regardless of having the Roma Passes. Thankfully, we were inside within 10mins. Even though it’s free entry for all on that day but it seems that those without the passes (or other docs/passes that will provide fast track access, if any) would still need to go to the counters and get a ticket except they don’t need to pay anything. Hmm…

Wow… we are able to catch a part of the outer facade of the Colosseum the moment we exited from the station. Even then, this structure is impressive and magnificent. I am no longer groggy-eyed.

The original name of the Colosseum was the Flavian Amphitheatre, constructed under Emperor Vespasian of the Flavius family in 72AD and completed by Emperor Titus 10 years later. Most parts of the Colosseum’s original state had been weathered away. In the past, this was an arena for violent fights between gladiators, animals with animals and men with animals. In the past, the ground of the arena would be covered by a thick layer of sand to absorb the blood of these fights. Gruesome..

There would be these guys dressed up like gladiators hanging outside the Colosseum. It must have been unbearable wearing that thick costume in the summer. Noticed a few of them would remove their fake armour, presumably to cool down, during moments when business ain’t that brisk. Obviously, nothing is free so a picture with these guys is gonna cost you some but I am not sure how much.

After the Colosseum, we headed towards the Roman Forum, which is just nearby. Some over a thousand years or so ago, this place would be filled with structures, temples and buildings and had served as Rome’s political and commercial centre. Much of the surviving remnants of the past are now in the form of broken columns, and uneven rocks and boulders.

Walking through the Roman Forum in this heat really got to me. There’re no shade. The sun’s blazing. Our drinking water’s running out. I had truly underestimated the heat. A refill of our water bottle from a nearby fountain had provided much relief. It’s so hot that we had returned to our hotel to stay away from the sun until the late afternoon where we continue with the rest of our itinerary.

The days are also long during the summer so the sky’s still quite bright even at 8pm. Since we are not used to seeing bright blue skies in the evenings, this kind of give us a false perception of time. Hence, we often have dinner around 8pm plus since it seems it’s still early.

By 5pm, we’re out of the hotel towards the Spanish Steps. It’s a series of steps between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti. Lots of tourists there as well. That also means lots of touts- Guys holding a bunch of roses or selfie sticks, attempting to sell them to you. To avoid these touts, very straight-forward, never express any interest or even look at them, and never ever accept whatever they hand to you cos that’s where they will ask for payment and would be real hard to shake them off.

There’re quite a number of shops along the streets near the Spanish Steps. A lot are branded stuff which I am not really into. I am also a little tired, no thanks to the lack of sleep on the flight. Might be good to turn in early since our day would start early for our visit to the Vatican City, the smallest independent state in the world.

The next morning, we left around 9am plus and walked towards the Vatican City, which is only 10mins plus walk from our hotel. Before we can enter into St Peter’s Square, we had to ignore the numerous touts lurking outside, many holding signs with the words “Skip the line (or queue)” on them. As you walked past them, you can hear them calling you out and saying they have tickets to the museum. One lady had even tried to pass me a map which I had ignored her and I heard her muttering, “I am just trying to help.” Yeah, right.

When we’re at St Peter’s Square, I was actually more struck by the INSANE LONG queue for St Peter’s Basilica. Seriously, how long would it take for the last person in the queue to finally enter the basilica. Luckily, we did not join in the queue and since we had bought the tickets to the Vatican Museum online, we decided not to be distracted by this crazy queue and quickly head towards the museum, which the entrance is located the other side of the wall that encloses the city. In fact, there’s a direct link to St Peter’s Basilica, after finishing the visit of the museum.

Sending postcards from the smallest state in the world seems to be a cute idea so yes, we had sent a postcard to ourselves. The postal service is literally known as the snail mail cos it’s been coming to 2 weeks since our visit to the Vatican City and our postcard still hasn’t arrived!

The Vatican Museum is huge and probably take 2 hours to tour. It supposedly contains the world’s largest private art collection. Looks like it as we passed by marble sculptures of naked/half-naked statues, beautiful and elaborate paintings on canvas and on the ceilings in typical Baroque style and of course, the key attractions- Raphael’s rooms, the gallery of maps and finally, the Sistine Chapel painted by the illustrious Michelangelo.

Although the website and signs onsite stated that shorts and tops showing the shoulders are not allowed into the museum but I’d noticed many had flouted that rule. Maybe it’s too hot and there are just too many people to manage so the guards had decided to be more flexible and just let anyone in?

For some reason, I am a little sensitive towards viewing paintings from centuries ago. For certain paintings or even sculptures, I will get goosebumps, even in this hot summer. I dunno if it’s psychological or… erm…you know… The hubby thinks I cannot visit any museums but that isn’t possible. I guess I just can’t stare too long at a painting then.

We didn’t spend much time at the Sistine Chapel. It’s too crowded. To get to St Peter’s Basilica, turn right straight from the chapel and you’ll get to the basilica in a few mins. This exit is sometimes termed as the “secret passageway” though it didn’t seem too secret since we joined a herd of folks going through this way.

Named by St Peter who was supposedly crucified here, St Peter’s Basilica is breath-taking. His tomb is located beneath the basilica. We didn’t get a chance to visit the dome for a view of the city. Think there was a very long queue for that and we’re not in the mood to queue up for anything.

It seems that Italians believe that the air-con and even ice are bad for health but they seem ok with gelato? Hmm.. Anyway, gelato shops are common in Italy. Can you imagine we ate gelato everyday, as if we had never eaten ice-cream in our life? A cone of 2 scoops of gelato is cheaper here than in Singapore but we had also encountered pretty pricey ones which we avoid. Although gelato have lower calories than typical ice-cream, it is still quite fattening. Well, when we’re on vacation, diet don’t matter. LOL!

Speaking of diet, we ate quite a fair bit.. hee… but I would only highlight the hits of this trip. We had a couple of misses where the food wasn’t that great so I shall not waste my time to talk about them.

The next day, we had joined the city tour that is part of our package, though most of the time, it’s still free and easy. Since the cost of these city tours are already built into our trip cost, we shouldn’t miss them. They had also save us some places to plan into our itinerary.

Just to brisk through what we had visited, our first stop was the famous “Trevi Fountain”. Now you might be wondering why the picture (below) of the fountain seems incomplete, like where’s the gushing water? You know what, the fountain is going through some restoration works 😦

So we didn’t stay too long at the Trevi Fountain since there isn’t really much of a fountain to see. At least, the statue of Neptune (middle) and the other statues are still intact so it’s still better than nothing.

Moving on, we visited the “Pantheon“. Constructed and dedicated around AD118 and AD 125, this is a temple dedicated to the pagan gods before Rome officially converted to Christianity sometime by AD 400. The guide had explained that the worship of pagan gods usually involves much burning of offerings, hence there was an oculus in the dome of the Pantheon to allow the smoke to escape.

Since there is literally a hole in the roof to let the smoke out, naturally it will let the rain in during rainy days. To prevent something terrible like *gasp* flooding in the temple, the guide then explained that the floor is actually slightly tilted and there’re also some holes at the point where the floor’s tilted towards, so as to let the water flow out. Ingenious!

The Pantheon is also considered the most preserved building of ancient Rome. While many structures of that time had been destroyed or re-built, the Pantheon had very much remained as its original structure other than, I supposed, some restoration works.

The tomb of the famous Renaissance painter, Raphael, is also located in the Pantheon. He died at 37. That’s really young.

We left the Pantheon after some 10mins. Had walked past the Palazzo Madama before stopping at the Piazza Navona for around 10mins.

The city tour ended at St Peter’s Square at the Vatican City. Since we’re here the day before, we didn’t stay long and decided to have some gelato before returning to the hotel to wait for the transfer to the train station.

We left Rome in the early afternoon for our next destination- Florence.

The train had passed by acres of farm land. To pass time, I had watched “Unfriended”, which I’d downloaded in my phone.

FLORENCE

Italy is one of the destinations in my travel list, particularly Florence of all the cities in Italy. This brings me to the time which I had taken a module on European history and the Renaissance period was one of the topics in that module. The descriptions of the art and architecture had piqued my interest. Since Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance era, I had made a mental note that I would like to visit this city someday. Fast forward to some time last year, watching a few episodes of the TV series “Da Vinci’s Demons” had revived that thought again. And now, my wish had come true!

Our hotel was located near the Ponte Vecchio. It is the oldest bridge in Florence and the only one which had survived WWII while the others had been destroyed. Anyway, this isn’t just a bridge, there are also shops located on the bridge which this concept had existed even way back to the 13th century. Today, these are mainly goldsmiths and jewellery shops and there’s a reason for that. In the past, there were a mishmash of shops including butchers and fishmongers, and these caused so much filth and stench that the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I, issued a decree that only goldsmiths and jewellers were allowed to operate on this bridge.

Quite a number of stalls selling artwork and paintings. Many do not have a license to sell so whenever anyone spot a police car coming, they would hastily scramble their goods and fled. Not sure if the police are serious about addressing this problem cos we never see any arrests. In fact, we saw a police car deliberately accelerating towards this illegal vendor while he looks to be running for his life, braked so hard to give off the loud screeching sound probably to add on to the “scare” effect, one of them opening the door furthering enhancing the effect until the vendor fled out of their sight and dropping one of his paintings in the process. If the authorities are serious about tackling street touts, then they ought to do something about it rather than just scaring the living daylights out of them cos that is only temporary and when the police is out of sight, these vendors will return again. What a waste of public resources! Unless the aim is just to patrol around to ensure nobody messes around?

Walking further, we reached the Piazza della Repubblica (site of the forum, centre of the city) and the Piazza della Signoria. At the latter, there were many sculptures but some are replicates.

An example of a replicate would be Michelangelo’s “David”… In fact, there’re many replicates of the “David” in the city.

The original one, in all its magnificent glory in every angle, is in the Galleria dell’Accademia (“Academy Gallery”). When I posted this on Facebook, a friend seems to think I have an obsession with this naked statue. Another commented she can see his ribs. Aiyo… This is one of the most acclaimed and famous work of art in history and you all think I am erm, dirty minded?? Tsk tsk tsk… LOL!!

The visit to the gallery is part of the city tour which took place the next day after we had arrived. Even though the tickets were bought in advance but the queue to enter is still long though not as long as those who are buying the tickets on the spot. We had waited less than 30mins before we enter. The gallery isn’t very big but like the Mona Lisa in the art gallery section of the Lourve in Paris, most, if not all, would go straight for the David. While there are also many other sculptures, they seem to pale in comparison to the David, not by the detail of the artwork but the attention it receives.

Another key structure and a highly-visited place by tourists is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Designed and built by Brunelleschi, the cathedral took years to construct, starting from 1296. Although the city tour had included this cathedral in the itinerary, we had also check out (though did not enter cos the queue is, as expected, freaking long) the architecture.

Had also noticed these creative “Stop” signs along the street. Not sure if these are deliberately designed or are products of vandalism. Regardless, they are cute.

Other than the San Lorenzo market, there are also quite a number of such stalls selling leather goods and other stuff like T-shirts and shawls. But the San Lorenzo market is worth a visit. Most of the leather products are quite nice and at a good price. A good size cow-leather bag had cost me around EUR35 (around SGD56) and this is real leather. There are PVC bags that had cost more than that, even exceeding SGD100, depending on the brand. The hubby bought himself a leather belt. Although it seems right that we should bargain for these stuff, but I am not ready fond of haggling over prices especially if it is just a mere savings of a dollar or two. If I find something reasonable and I really like it, I’ll just get it. If I am in the mood, maybe I may attempt to bargain and save myself a dollar. Otherwise, if I don’t find something worth it and not in a desperate need to own it, I’ll just pass it.

Another favourite place is the Centrale market which opens till around 2pm. I love to visit local markets though I believe some of the products and their prices aim to target tourists as well since quite a fair bit would visit Florence. It is also great that the market is generally quite clean. Many stalls are selling usual Italian products such as olive oils, herbs and limoncello (a lemon-flavoured liqueur usually taken after a meal as a digestif). I had tried that in Barcelona. Compliments of this home-style like restaurant and didn’t really like it enough to get a bottle. Had bought a bottle of truffle oil and a couple packs of herbs for some friends as souvenirs and myself.

We find this particular brand of gelato “Venchi” pretty good so much so that we had visited their shops several times. I find their milk-based (e.g. chocolate, hazelnut etc) flavours more intense than the fruity ones. But in such HOT weather, I tend to go for the refreshing and tart flavours. Lemon is the best!

Of all the restaurants, we like the food from Caffe Rivoire, located at the Piazza della Signoria. The waiter is also very friendly and had gamely (or rather, helped himself) pose in our wefie.

Their seafood pasta is flavourful. Not too oily and the pasta texture is just nice. The gnocchi are chewy with a very tasty tomato-based sauce that goes well with these fluffy potato and flour nuggets. Their hot chocolate is one of their specialities. Thick and luscious, it would be perfect for a wintry season but in this hot summer, not so much. The tiramisu, however, is slightly on the dry side. Not too bad but I am not that fond of anything that is coffee-flavoured so we had only tried Tiramisu twice (the other one is in Venice) in the entire trip.

As I watched the sun set over Tuscany, how I wish we had extended one more day in Florence. It would be lovely to visit outside the city.

The next day, we had made our way to Venice.

VENICE

Our hotel transfer met us at the train station and brought us to…. a boat! That’s the only way to get to Venice. In the city, there are virtually vehicles and the only way to get through the veins of canals in the city is none other than by boat or other means of water transportation. I wonder if most people have boat licenses in Venice.

When I think of Venice, I can’t help recalling the famous “I am a Jew” and “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” dialogue from Shakespeare “The Merchant of Venice”. Oh and there’s also “Romeo and Juliet” but that’s set in Verona.

Of all the hotels, we are the most dissatisfied with the one in Venice. Shall not name it directly but I will give a hint. It is named after a famous smooth-talking playboy in Italy during the 18th century. Firstly, there is only wifi connection in the lobby and it’s weak. Ok fine but the worst was, our overseas data roaming does not work in our room! The hotel maybe small but I had stayed in small hotels which are still reasonable but the room in this hotel is rather bare. Can’t believe it is considered a 3-star hotel. More like a 2-star (perhaps, even 1-star) masquerading as a 3-star hotel.

Venice is often regarded as one of the most romantic cities in Europe. It is not hard to imagine why. Images of gondolas cruising down the narrow canals flanked by old-style architecture does exude a rather romantic aura. But it is also one of the highly visited cities in Europe so you can also imagine the throngs of tourists jostling through the equally narrow walk-ways. Where is that romantic feel??!! Urgh!

Despite the crowd, there is still that old-age charm about Venice though the hubby begs to differ. St Mark’s Basilica is a key attraction. Named after the city’s patron saint, St Mark, there was a story that his remains were stolen by some merchants from Alexandria during 828 AD and brought back to Venice, packed in chests full of vegetables and pork to avoid being detected by the Muslims. The return of St Mark’s remains to Venice was considered a great achievement for the city.

During the day till late evening, St Mark’s Square would be flooded by tourists as well as pigeons and also the touts, who not only sell roses, selfie sticks and what not, but also sell seeds that can entice these pigeons to feed from your hand. Erm, unhygienic much?

There are also many cafes along the inner parameters of the square. Had read online that these are all tourist traps where the prices of the food and drinks are marked up and not that delicious. As many had provided live music, there’re also warnings about an additional charge for music. Dunno how true cos we didn’t bother to pop by these cafes.

Don’t you think this red marble lion looks awfully sad? LOL..

As there are just too many narrow walkways snaking through the city, it is very easy to get lost. And this is precisely what a few travel websites had advised: Just get lost in Venice! Cos you’d never know what interesting shops or sights you will encounter.

I am expecting these gondola operators to play music (the kind played by an accordion) and serenade to the couple in their gondola. But no leh… a lot of them look quite grouchy. Haha.. Must be the hot weather. Can understand why nobody have the mood the sing while heaving as they rowed through the canals and to also take note not to bump into the gondola in front and at its side. At crowded parts of the canal or bottleneck areas, I can’t help thinking of bumper cars, since everyone seem so close to each other, but without the extreme bumping.

The super crowded Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge that cross the Grand Canal.

Common souvenirs would be in the form of these Venetian masks, typically used during carnivals. Some of them look very creepy especially the one with the long beaks. Typically donned by doctors, particularly during the “Black Death” period, where these long beaks were meant to create that distance between the doctor and the disease-infected patients. There would also be this sponge of a concoction of herbs that would be placed in the tip of this beak to neutralise the spread of these diseases to the wearer. Dunno how effective is that.

In the evening, Venice is pleasant cos the weather is cool. The afternoon is just so unbearably hot that even with an umbrella, I had to go back to the hotel to take a short break in the afternoon (just like Rome) until the evening time when the sun is about to set.

In terms of food, we had more hits in Venice than the other cities. One of the restuarants, “Antica Sacrestia”,has a rather unique decor steeped in medieval history. I am rather excited by their lemon plant cos I have not seen one before. Us urban folks really need to get out and see more nature huh.

A Milanese speciality is squid with polenta. In fact, polenta is supposed to be a staple in a peasant’s diet but somehow it grew in popularity. I like polenta. Reminds me of solidified couscous. However, I find the squid ink sauce rather salty.

Another good find is Rosopomodoro for its excellent wood-oven pizza. Their pizzas are done the way I like them. Thin base with a chewy outer crust.

The Osteria Ai Tre Leini is also good. Not just for the service but for the quality of their food. I had the grilled sea bream which taste really fresh.

Our last stop is Milan.

Of all time, the air-con in the train that we had taken from Venice to Milan chose to break down!! It’s a torturous 2 hour plus of stuffy ride. Everyone was fanning like crazy and probably wish the train has wings instead.

MILAN

The air-con in our hotel pick-up car had never felt so good. Having visited cities that are rather traditional over the past few days, Milan feels more city-like even though they do have their fair share of old-style architecture of yesteryears.

Several people have told me that Milan is boring and there’s nothing much except shops and oh, the Duomo. Well, that is kind of true cos so far, we had only visited the Duomo and the area around it.

Since we will be traveling quite a bit via the subway, we had bought the Milano card. I guess many Italians would choose to visit the other cities instead of Milan cos it seem relatively less crowded than the other cities.

And there’s also the Gallery Vitorrio Emanuele… Nothing much other than a couple of restaurants and shops.

As usual, quite a few touts trying to sell their wares here. One of them even had the audacity to attempt hooking one of those bracelets simply made of colourful threads onto the hubby’s bags, only to receive a loud “Go away” from him. Haha…

We found this wonderful spot, located at the basement, which allows people to rest. Think I had taken a very short nap while resting on one of these chairs. Too comfy!

The next day, we had visited the Sforzesco Castle.

Other than the impressive medieval-like castle infrastructure, there’s nothing much that interest us in the museums/gallery in the castle.

On our last day, the hubby said we must visit the San Siro Stadium. Other than his favourite Liverpool, he also likes AC Milan.

Hey look! I am in the front seat of the train! Brings back childhood memories where I enjoyed sitting in the front seat on the upper deck of the double-decker bus. I’d always imagine I am driving the bus. Ironically, I do not like driving today. Haha…

The visit in San Siro took less than 2 hours including visiting the very small shop and the equally small museum. Can’t compare to the Liverpool museum and shop in Anfield. The hubby is not impressed.

But he’s still enthusiastic in posing with statues of past AC Milan players in the museum or the other artifacts like trophies, jerseys etc.

Some hits and misses in the food department in Milan.

Someone recommended that we should try the Risotto Milanese. It’s a little too cheesy for me.

There you have it…. that’s all I have to say about Milan… Essentially, nothing much!

After seeing sculptures after sculptures of naked/half-naked bodies, it is refreshing to see this sculpture of a middle-finger outside the Borsa Italiana. Must be a bold decision to place such an unconventional and most would say, rude (?), sculpture outside this important building.

That wraps up our 9-day Italian vacation!! Despite the heat and all, I had enjoyed myself. Best if the weather is really not that hot and the crowd is lesser too.

Now that my vacation is over, other than one more short one in Penang in the latter part of Aug, I had better start preparing myself for school. One reason why this entry is late was cos I am caught up with all my readings for Term 1 and I am not even done yet! Arrgh!!

Le Halo: Old-school retro chic eatery

I was just doing some random online searches for interesting cafes and eateries, and “Le Halo” caught my attention. Will elaborate more later. Located at Blk 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee #01-162, “Le Halo” occupies a rather small neat space amongst other old retail shops except for a pretty modern looking cafe just next door. This eatery is also quite near the Tiong Bahru market which, including its vicinity, is our latest favourite food area. All thanks to the local Chinese TV show “118”.

Cool! There’s a garden swing outside the eatery with a bike and a kid-sized table and stools outside. Dunno what’s with me and these swings lately. Had seen a couple of them at Raffles Place and near Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, and I’ll get so excited. During my little break before school starts, I might get on one of these swings (either the one near Dhoby Ghaut MRT station or near Telok Ayer, which I had spotted some there) and just chill with a book or people watch. Hopefully, there will be a day, or at least just for some 2 hours or so, where the weather isn’t that hot.

This is what we see when we stepped into “Le Halo”. Seeing those traditional flasks and mugs with bright flowers on them, bright red clogs and other knick knacks is like a step back in time. For someone who thrives in such nostalgia, seeing anything, and I really mean, anything, that belongs to the 70s to 90s era would get me in an extremely exhilarated mode.

The hubby had perfected the “perturbed” look while he is fake-dialling this antiquated telephone. I assume it would be a disturbing phone call. Wahahaha!

There is a self-service cutlery section which there are also complimentary haw flakes and “white rabbit” sweets for your consumption. As a kid, I used to love these treats but over time, my taste had evolved to other sweet stuff. It’s been a while since I’d last ate these.

These cute toasters are not just for decor purpose. There’s an item (Le Halo toast set) on the menu which you can choose your preferred toaster to toast your bread slice. If you choose the Hello Kitty one, there would be a Hello Kitty print on your toast. How cute.

Gary went for the “Piggy Stew” ($10.50 for the small version). It’s indeed a hearty stew of pork loin served with well-toasted bread chunks with crispy edges. Delicious!

Having a weak spot for runny yolks, I’d naturally ordered the “Eggy Benny” ($13.50). 2 poached eggs served on toasted bread and served with ham and crispy bacon with a small side of salad. The green mush beneath is actually pea puree. Erm, not really my cup of tea. On the other hand, the poached eggs are very well done and it’s almost orgasmic trying to scoop as much of the thick yellow yolk as it burst out of its egg white membrane, and slurping it up. Oooohhh!!

Gary ate majority of the “Rainbow Lapis” ($1.80 per slice). Essentially, it’s kueh lapis in multi-colours. The lady boss (I assumed she is) had explained that these colours are mainly from natural sources of fruits and flowers. Well, I can’t taste any flowery or fruity taste so I supposed it’s just the colours that were extracted, and not the flavour. It tastes just like kueh lapis.

I really like this eatery and might drop by again to try their other items. Pretty intrigued by the “Otak Egg” and “Meatball Pasta”. Guess I am just very taken by the retro-chic interior decor. Thankfully, the food is quite alright at pretty reasonable prices too. 🙂

“Lava” Cake

Had returned home one night after having dinner with some friends, the hubby said he’s got a surprise for me. He opened the door of the microwave oven and tadah

For a brief moment, I was initially shocked. It looked like something had exploded inside the oven. Then he revealed that this is a “chocolate microwave mug cake” and sent me the link to the recipe. It’s extremely easy to make. Just add in the ingredients in a mug and put in the microwave oven. The hubby must have filled up more than half the mug. Hence, the “lava”-like effect. LOL…

As this is meant to be a surprise for me, the hubby did not want to check with me if we have the ingredients such as flour, butter, chocolate etc. Hence, he had bought all the ingredients. Erm… Actually, I have all the necessary ingredients. Never mind lah. It’s meant to be a surprise so, yes, SURPRISE!!

Indeed, it was a surprise cos this is the FIRST time Gary had baked something for me. Asking (or rather, begging) him to cook is difficult. It’s like erm, persuading me to eat durians. Nah, that will never happen.. haha.. At least, the hubby had given into cooking for me though it’s only once a year, on my birthday.

This year, I had mentioned that I would like him to bake me something instead of cooking. I guess the microwave mug cake is an experiment.

It was not a bad first attempt, save for the over-flow of cake over the mug. Hehe… Taste-wise, the cake is decent but best eaten right after it’s out of the microwave oven. Had left the remaining cake in the fridge. Had covered the mug but the texture is pretty dry.

Personally, I prefer cakes to be baked in a conventional oven instead of the microwave. But for the hubby, the easier the process, the better, and microwaving the mug of cake batter is the easiest as it gets.

Hopefully, he will accede to my request to a home-baked (by him) cake on my birthday. I will spare him the cooking for his year. LOL!!