Italy 2017: Bologna

Wednesday

After checking into our hotel we headed out to explore the town. But first, we needed some lunch, so we stopped into a small deli, Borgo979.

Borgo979 (snacks and wine)

They had a number of tigella, 4″ round flatbreads, with various fillings or on the side. We choose three filled tigella (ham, mushroom/truffle, sausage) and then several with an antipasti platter. Our server was very nice, a little baffled by us in our first hours of Italy. Leandra paired hers with a Lambrusco, and I with a pignoletto (white).

After filling up we walked around town, stopping to check out the landmark Two Towers.

Bologna  one of the two towers has a bit of a lean

Just next door was the well-regarded il Gelato di San Crispino Valrhona, so we tried out first gelatos of the trip and were not disappointed at all! I choose a chocolate, coffee and stracciatella for my three flavors, while Leandra went for the ginger and cinnamon. From there we walked along the scenic side streets to the Piazza Maggiore.

Bologna

The Basilica di San Petronio dominates one side of the piazza – the outside is a strange mix of brick and marble. Free entry, but they wanted 2 euros for photo pass… nah.

Basilica di San Petronio

Since it was our first day we headed back to the hotel for nap.

Refreshed, we started our evening with wine at Medulla Vini. Though empty when we arrived it filled up after 7p. The lone person working the bar took his time with each group, discussing the various options and providing small tastes. My Prosecco was yeasty and dry, quite pleasant, so I went with that. Leandra liked her red, which started fruity and became more intense and dry over time. Interestingly, they fill jugs here too – 7eu for 1.5 L is a great deal!

Medulla Vini

With only one meal in Bologna we decided to go traditional and choose Ristorante Donatello. This was a big dinner, with primi and secondi! Given where we were, I had to try the Ragu Bolognese and cutlet Bolognese (in a white sauce), and both were great. Leandra started with the Parmesan risotto – a little al dente for her tastes. Her secondi was carpaccio, though here it was a large slice of meat covered in mountain of Parmesan slices and arugula. We split a lemon sorbetto to finish – rich, acidic and creamy, yum, one of the most memorable tastes of the trip. The entire interior is covered with signed photographs that go many years back… made for some interesting viewing!

beef carpaccio hiding under a mound of fresh parmesan  Ristorante Donatello

Thursday

Leandra and my dad went to cooking class in the morning. Given the nice day I wanted to climb the 498 steps of the tower.

It was worth it:

view from the top of Two Towers

steep wooden stairs...  top of Two Towers

view from the top of Two Towers

Afterwards I went back to the hotel to pick up my mom so we could explore more of the old town. We were disappointed in the lack of water in the canals, but we found several other beautiful spots including the Basilica di San Domenico.

Basilica di San Domenico  Basilica di San Domenico

typical covered walkway in Bologna

On our way back we stopped for a drink at Rosarose Bistrot, where I tried my first pecorino wine of the trip – I liked the pecorino quite a bit, a nice mineral and stone fruit character, and ended up finding it in several other places on the trip. We were lucky to score an outdoor table and quite enjoyed watching the mix of tourists, Italians, and the occasional motor vehicle going through the laneway. Several snacks came with our drinks which made for a nice light lunch too!

Winter Weekend in London: Saturday

We were hoping to see another show on our trip and checking the usual discount ticket sites wasn’t getting us the results we wanted for Saturday evening. The Gielgud Theatre offers £15 same day tickets for the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so we made the trek to stand in line before the 10am ticket office opening. We were the tenth or so group in line but there were only restricted view seats left for the 7th group onward, so we decided to skip it. We probably needed to be there ~30 minutes earlier to get the better offers.

There was a Whole Foods nearby so I used that opportunity to pick up a large box of my favorite tea — Teapigs peppermint — and we stopped by Simit Sarayi for breakfast, a chocolate simit (Eric) and meat pie (me).

When we sat down in Piccadilly Circus to eat our snacks, we noticed a play called “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery” at the The Criterion Theatre. Curious, we stopped inside to view ticket prices and decided to try our luck online for the following evening. Back in our room we searched for tickets and thought we had found a good option when I noticed a discount code for half-off tickets on “Band A” seats for Sunday performances. Luckily, we managed to snag two excellent seats for about £25 each, half the price we had expected to pay!

Feeling a bit giddy, we hopped on the Tube to Paddington station to meet Eric’s UK co-workers for lunch.

me with Paddington Bear!
I could not pass up the opportunity to pose with Paddington!

From Paddington Station, we walked up to Little Venice for lunch and drinks at The Bridge House. This area of London was previously unexplored by us and we found the old canals with lots of small gardens quiet and quaint.

a moody day for walking around Little Venice

Just a few minutes walk away has created a very modern steel and glass corridor as well.

Paddington Basin

The weather was definitely not in our favor, so after wandering around looking for the ‘snail’ bridge (hard to find due to construction and then it was locked down. Disappointing) we took shelter at The Mad Bishop & Bear pub inside Paddington Station for more conversation before they headed back toward Reading.

We relaxed in the room for a while before deciding to visit the Tate Modern Museum since it was open until 11pm and we weren’t quite ready for dinner at 7pm. While the Tate Modern is not our favorite museum, as quite a few pieces induce eye-rolling for their ‘artfulness,’ several sections were still enjoyable.

Tate Museum artwork

Plus, the views of London at night are always good.

London at night

London at night

Working up an appetite, we walked to dinner at Est. India. My house lamb curry was very good, with a nice bit of spice. The tikka masala that Eric ordered was OK, a little sweet and underspiced, but with a generous amount of chicken. Eric found that mixing in a bit of my spicier sauce helped his dish considerably. My rose was a good choice with the heavier curry and Eric’s Hitachino Nest White Ale was also good. The restaurant itself was very loud due to a few boisterous tables around us so I wouldn’t recommend this place for a romantic dinner date, but it worked for a quick dinner.

Winter Weekend in London: Friday

Friday was definitely a day of culture! First up was the famous Natural History Museum, with all manner of mineral, animals, and lots of other science. I spent a half day here a couple years back when I had the day to myself waiting for Eric to fly in from France, so I wanted to show him around. Unsurprisingly, there were a LOT of school groups in attendance, so we tried to choose rooms they weren’t in…

what do scientists do?
hard to tell, really

A few hours later we got hungry so we walked a few blocks to the nearby Gloucester Arms for lunch, where we split a meat and ale pie.

Next up was a quick visit to the V&A Museum, specifically to see the small Beatrix Potter illustrations exhibit. I had no idea she was such an accomplished illustrator at such a young age!

Beatrix Potter @ V&A Museum 

After this we split up for a few hours… Eric walked through Green Park, then ducked into National Gallery to hang out with a few masterpieces by Monet, Van Gogh, etc. Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene, a special exhibit, was quite impressive.

London  Memorial

Meanwhile, I met my Aunt Kim at London Fashion Week for some ‘window’ shopping and the Mother of Pearl catwalk show. We had far less time than my experience three years ago at the Somerset House location, but I still enjoyed hanging out with my aunt and admiring the clothes and bags. Next time we need the full day to experience the champagne bar and complimentary manicures! :)

London Fashion Week

We had regular tickets for the catwalk show but a nice lady in front of us had two extra front row seats and gave them to us. We thanked her and hurried across the aisle just before the show started.

selfie w/ my aunt  London Fashion Week - Mother of Pearl catwalk
my aunt Kim and I; women who are way taller than me wearing expensive clothes

After the show, I texted Eric and he sent me his location (a wine bar) via Google Maps – love it! I covered the half-mile walk through crowds in about ten minutes, picked up the hubby and headed over to The Duke of York’s Theatre to see The Glass Menagerie, a Tennessee Williams play. The acting was mostly good (the brother was the weakest part, IMHO) but I really love the play so I was probably more into it than Eric was. For the price, I still think it was a good way to spend a few hours. We had third row seats in the first balcony and could really appreciate the staging from up there.

The Glass Managerie

Unfortunately, we didn’t make post-dinner reservations, and several places we tried were either full or had hour-long waits… thankfully, Les Deux Salons (the wine bar I met Eric in earlier) had some open tables in the informal bar area and we were seated just before the kitchen closed. We split a carafe of white wine and ordered a light dinner – Croque Monsieur for Eric and steak tartare & delicious crispy fries for me.

Winter Weekend in London: Overview and Thursday

In November we found an outstanding deal for the direct flight from RDU to London, so we booked a long weekend trip for February. London is a favorite city to visit (2016201520142013, 2012…) so we knew it wouldn’t be hard to fill our time! For this trip we based ourselves near the Earl’s Court tube stop and focused on culture (museums and theater) and exploring a few new-to-us neighborhoods (Little Venice and Angel/Islington).

Where We Stayed

This was our third stay at the Hotel Indigo and it was fraught with issues. Our room was ready at 8:30am which was a huge bonus. However, we were located in the basement through a series of fire doors and uneven steps; our location also meant that the window was below ground and next to the sidewalk, so we had the curtains drawn the whole time. The air vent in the room rattled on and off consistently for our entire four-night stay (even after complaining to the front deck twice), and the internet was spotty at best (with multiple trips to the front desk for fixes – they said they were getting a new provider soon).  On the upside, the bed was comfortable, and as usual, the location works well for us.

our bedroom @ Hotel Indigo London - Kensington  our personalized message
our room; even the TV’s personalized room message was broken

Thursday

Our flight across the pond was uneventful and after checking in we headed out into the brisk morning to Borough Market for cheese, bread and snacks. But first! The iconic views of London — Big Ben and the London Eye.

Big Ben and Westminsterthe Eye (sponsored by Coca Cola) 

We also wanted to check out the Leake Street graffiti tunnel. There were a few choice murals and paste-ups but mostly basic tagging.

gas mask  El Trumpo

make my day  he's mine at least 

A few stops later on the Jubilee line and we arrived at Borough Market just as things were opening to pick up a second breakfast. We found fresh raspberries, British cheese and a baguette, plus a Venison meat stick for Leandra, which she snacked on for the remainder of the trip.

tasty cheese @ Borough Market cheese @ Borough Market

We stopped in briefly to the Southwark Cathedral to see if we could eat our lunch in the courtyard but no food was allowed. Instead we admired the architecture and the sleepy resident cat curled up on a comfy chair near the altar.

Wooden Effigy of a Knight @ Southwark Cathedral

Another few stops on the Jubilee line took us to Canary Wharf and the Museum of London Docklands. Free, as most museums are in London, this museum explained the interesting history of London along the Thames – development, labor strikes, WWII, etc, with lots of displays and artifacts across the centuries. We enjoyed our visit to this quirky museum, and would definitely recommend it for history buffs.

It was terribly windy in London on Thursday but nowhere more so than the docklands around the museum. Crossing the North Dock footbridge to the museum and waiting for the West India Quay Overground train left us completely wind-blown.

Dragging after the long overnight flight, we headed back to the room for a quick nap, then beers at our old favorite, Cask Pub & Kitchen. We arrived just in time to grab a table and the place filled up quickly as people got off from work. Leandra choose small pours of the Atom Neutron Star, an imperial stout, and the Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out, a smoked oat stout. I was very happy that one of my favorite beers was on tap, Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus, so that was a definite first for me. For my second, I tried the Wyper & True Mimosa, a Berliner Weisse that was a bit too light after my delicious lambic.

dressed up for beers @ Cask Pub & Kitchen  red, blonde and dark beers
Leandra in a dress (!) drinking beer; a red, a blonde and a brunette

Finally, we met Kim and Jules for late dinner at Boisdale of Belgravia, a boisterous restaurant with live jazz and a Scottish menu. Pricey but classy and tasty.

jazz @ Boisdale of Belgravia

After a long day we slept very well that evening!

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, day 2

The skies were overcast and threatening rain but that didn’t stop us from visiting the Perdana botanical gardens before we needed to switch hotels on our last day in KL. It was the only time on our trip that we didn’t hear motorbikes, which made it a peaceful respite from the bustling city just blocks away.

Perdana Botanical Garden

Perdana Botanical Garden

The entrance to the Orchid and Hibiscus Garden was a bit tricky to find and it wasn’t clear if we were supposed to pay extra to enter but there was no one at the visitor’s booth so we walked right in.

Perdana Botanical Garden  Perdana Botanical Garden

Perdana Botanical Garden

We wound our way through the park and over to the Tugu Negara war memorial and sculpture gardens before tiring of the increasing rain, so we grabbed an Uber to get back to the hotel.

war memorial

After an easy hotel transfer, I headed over to the Islamic Arts Museum for a few hours. The collection of Islamic art from SE Asia was beautifully curated, including pottery, textiles, jewelry, wood, and paper arts and featured several intricately decorated interior domes.

blue dome

painting  intricate bowl

Gebyok door and wall  ivory cabinet from India

Kashmir shawl detail  Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

One of my favorite parts was the scale models of famous mosques from around the world. We had seen three in person but I was a tad disappointed that the beautiful Blue Mosque in Istanbul was absent.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem  Sacred Mosque in Mecca

The museum is also right next to the National Mosque of Malaysia, so I got to hear part of the call to prayer from the rooftop terrace.

call to prayer @ National Mosque of Malaysia

Quite on accident that morning, I discovered that KL had two Din Tai Fung restaurants so we choose the Pavilions Mall location and got ready to stand in line for delicious soup dumplings. We only waited about 15 minutes for a table and the xiao long bao did not disappoint. Extra bonus – due to the monetary conversion, these were by far the cheapest dumplings we’ve had in our multiple visits to Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Orange County (CA), Beijing, Sydney, and Kuala Lumpur.

xio long bao @ Din Tai Fung!
chicken soup dumplings, truly delicious

We ended the evening with a quick drink in the aLoft lobby before packing our bags ahead of our flight to Hong Kong the next morning.

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, day 1

Our flight from Penang to KL was pretty uneventful… we had business class seats for the short flight which included larger seats and a chicken satay snack that wasn’t very good. Since it was a domestic flight no wine or beer was offered.

The train ride from the airport to Sentral was easy once we figured out how to get our QR code tickets to scan (hint: turn off the auto-rotate on your phone!) The subway ride to our hotel was very crowded and getting to the mall where the hotel was located was a bit tricky, with a pedestrian walkway over a large road and several sets of stairs. Oh, and it had just started to drizzle. Thankfully, Eric was able to scout ahead while I waited with the luggage in a covered area.

The Men’s Aussie Open final was on so after unpacking we headed down to the hotel bar for happy hour and to watch the tennis. I opted for a South African white that was just okay and Eric had a whisky sour cocktail that was cheaper than my wine. Our drinks arrived with a complimentary bowl of lightly roasted peanuts that were delicious.

Eric had read that Sky Bar in the Traders Hotel had a great view of the Petronus towers, so we grabbed an Uber and headed over. All the prime window seats were full when we arrived but a table opened up about ten minutes later and we snagged it. Our cocktails, Frosty Ginger for me and Whiskey Passion for Eric, were very good and went well with the chocolate fondue dessert. And wow, what a view!

view of the Petronus Towers from SkyBar  SkyBar @ Traders Hotel
the view of the towers; interior pool and colorful lighting @ SkyBar

The next morning we grabbed an Uber to take us to the Batu Caves about 20 minutes north of downtown. You can also take the subway but the Uber ride was MUCH easier, faster and only cost us about $3.75 USD (17MYR) each way.

This is an active temple, so there were quite a few pilgrims chanting and carrying offerings. There were also a lot of vendors selling traditional Indian snacks and other goods. And, of course, monkeys! Quick note: It was very damp on the stairs and inside the caves so I regretted my choice of sandals as I left with soaked feet.

Lord Murugan Statue @ Batu Caves  money on the steps

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

At this point, we really wanted some air conditioning, so we caught an Uber to the KL Seria Mall to look around a bit. All the stores had roosters and Chinese New Year decorations and we even watched a brief candy making demo.

 

After taking a quick break in our room to charge our phones and rest our feet, we ventured to the Central Market / Kasturi Walk area for some shopping and gift purchases. I had two stores in mind: Arch (detailed wood veneer art) and Tenmoku Pottery, handmade near the Batu Caves with many items featuring a gorgeous matte black interior glaze. Some haggling was allowed so I also picked up a few other items when I could score a better price.

Kasturi Walk

By the time we finished here it was pouring rain, so we skipped the famous Street Market and instead quickly walked to a nearby Indian restaurant, Betel Leaf, for an early dinner. Eric had biryani rice with chicken leg which was good but my specialty Betel Leaf curry was disappointing, all bones with barely any meat! The naan bread and sauce were very good though, as was my banana lassi, so I would highly recommend ordering only the boneless version of dishes there.

Malaysia: Georgetown

Georgetown Sights

The street art in Georgetown was a big highlight for us, but there were plenty of other interesting sights. Lanterns and incense were in full effect, even in the heart of Little India.

temple in Little India

Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower  lanterns

After walking around the Esplanade area, we stopped for a quick ice cream at Chew Clan Jetty — wooden deck passageways above the water with businesses and homes on stilts.


bicycles and two-seater TownBikes available for rent

Where We Ate

We spent a good amount of time in hawker markets on our trip to Singapore, so we felt more or less prepared for the experience in Penang. First you get a table and order drinks from the roving table waiters. Next, you order the food you want at each individual stall, telling them your table number. Food is delivered to your table, and you pay for each item on delivery, so it’s preferable to have exact change as the food runners are very busy and may not be able to make change.

We had good luck the first time at Red Garden Paradise, ordering dim sum, chicken satay, and a large Guinness. Our second visit was a little rougher as it was quite busy, there was a .50 surcharge per dish (because of Chinese New Year), the lady who delivered our beer wanted to be paid on the spot (rather than at the end as is customary), and one vendor delivered the wrong dish. Many places were also out of noodles. Still, the dim sum, fried noodles (that we did find!) & oyster pancake were all fine. The karaoke-style entertainment on that evening… well, let’s call that an experience :)

scoping out dinner options @ Red Garden Cafe food court


brightly lit food stalls and a sea of plastic chairs and tables

 
dim sum and satay @ Red Garden Food Paradise; curry mee @ Mews Cafe

Our other meal was at Mews Cafe for Curry Mee and Beef Rendang. We ended up here after searching for a place that was open on the eve of Chinese New Year. Attached to a smaller boutique hotel, it was more expensive than the food court, but also much more relaxed. Both of us were satisfied with our meals and I liked the outdoor seating area.

Shopping

I couldn’t come home without one Chinese lantern, thankfully there were plenty of places to pick one up. We also purchased some famous salted egg pastries (the pandan one was my favorite), pepper beef pastries (delicious), cracked pepper crackers, and a box of pineapple tarts. I also found a few spices at the Pacific Hypermarket and a small incense burner at a shop in Little India.

choosing a Chinese lantern to bring home  our loot for the day


at about $0.50 each it was hard to only come away with a few of these!

We used the mornings to explore until it became uncomfortably warm, then retreated to the hotel pool area for some shade and book reading. Worked out perfectly for us!