Traveling: Planning a Trip to Peru

My blog is a food blog.  I know this, you know this, we all know this, but it’s also a little bit about me.  And you want to know something about me?

I love to travel.

To me, traveling is more than just a set of experiences.  It’s an enormous privilege that I’ve been lucky to have a large part of my life.  Starting with going to Guatemala every summer as a kid, then having my parents tote me around with them on various trips (Brazil, Europe, Caribbean), then learning to go places on my own (like Argentina and India).  Even just since I’ve had this blog, you’ve followed me to:

Mexico:

  • I went to Chiapas for a week to work on a project while in Grad School.  I didn’t tell my parents I was going, because I thought they’d freak out.  That’s one of my biggest regrets.  Not the trip, but the not telling my parents part.

Rome:

  • I went to Rome from January til June of 2011.
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    I worked at a UN Agency and ate too much pasta and Nutella.  There were also a few side trips, like Amalfi
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    Tuscany
    windey road

China:

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Last year I took a 2 week trip to China, and it was pretty awesome.

This time, I’ve got the travel bug again.

Two weeks ago, I bought a plane ticket to Peru.  Last week, I booked a 4-day trip on the Inca Trail.

So this time, instead of just giving you a lighting recap like I did with China.  I’d like to document the trip planning experience for myself to remember and for the world to know.

I think a lot of people have this idea that traveling is too scary, or too expensive, but honestly with some saving strategies, I think anyone can take a fun trip.  I’m not Mr. Money Bags.  If I can take a trip, you probably can too.  It just takes some planning.  So ready for some tips?

Where was your last destination?  Where are you going next?

Amazzzing Dessert

Last night, the other grads and I went out for “fancy dinner.”  We went to a restaurant called Renato e Luisa.  It was pretty delicious.  If you’re in Rome, I recommend it.

And if you go, promise me you’ll get the Creme Brulee all’arancia con canestrino di caramello (aka Orange Creme Brulee).

No words. But yes that’s orange creamy custard with a slice of blood orange then caramel on top.

Divine!  The pasta with truffles I had was pretty delightful, intense and wonderful as well 🙂

Basically, if you’re in Rome, hit it up!

Gelateria del Teatro

I like weird food.  I pretty much always want to try new weird combinations of things.  Honestly, I think it sorta frustrates my family around the holidays, maybe not so much my sister but definitely the rest of my family.  The probably spend hours wondering: why can’t we just have normal food for Christmas?  Why are there apples in the potatoes au gratin?

But really, who wants to eat boring things?

The same should be true for gelato.  A few years ago, I went to this ice cream place in Berkeley called Sketch (it’s on 4th street in case you’re in the area and want to visit) and had the most amazing fig balsamic ice cream.  I’ve been obsessed with unusual ice cream flavors ever since.

This weekend some friends and I went to a gelato place, Gelateria del Teatro with the promise of unusual flavors. With less than a month left in Italy, it’s time to eat some delicious gelato.

We take our gelato very seriously!

They delivered!  I got three flavors: White Chocolate Basil, Ricotta Fig with Almonds and Orange Sacher (chocolate apricot?).

Oh my, so good.  Totally worth it!  The white chocolate basil tasted like real basil that had been sweetened, not really like white chocolate.  It was pretty delicious and fresh!

Kyla got some crazy flavors too but sadly I don’t remember which ones.  Even more sadly, the pictures of Lis and Nancy turned out wayyyy to dark.

My parents are visiting next week, I can’t wait to go back because I’m dying to try the Raspberry Sage flavor.  Then again, maybe I should stick to traditional flavors with them…

Easter Weekend

Easter weekend was a four and a half day weekend for me, and it was great.

The weekend started Thursday at noon, when Lis and I left work early and headed to the airport for Ibiza!  This also marked the end of countdown to Ibiza.  Success!  Well, I didn’t gain weight, even lost a kg haha!  Although it didn’t really matter because it was wayyy too cold to be in a bathing suit.

After arriving in Ibiza and spending about an hour looking for our hotel, Lis and I made it!  We had a great 1 bedroom apartment with a view of the sea!

Only 29 Euro per night!  That’s what happens when you go to Ibiza in the low season.  Know what else happens?

It’s cloudy and gross.  But we were still happy!

Know what else happens?  No one is there.  You end up being the only ones at the bar and the only ones on the dance floor.  Good enough for us.

The rest of our time in Ibiza was spent walking around.

Surprisingly, we only ate one meal out:

We shared a hamburger, paella and patatas bravas. We like to mix the Spanish and the American… but really that’s the first time I had seen a burger on a bun since I’ve been in Europe.  Truth be told, I miss veggie burgers.

Sadly, we had to leave Ibiza on Saturday.  Just our luck, the sun decided to visit Ibiza as we were leaving.

On Sunday morning, I woke up bright and early and headed to the Vatican.  I had a ticket for the Papal Mass on Easter Sunday.  Can you really pass that up?

There were tons of people and I really couldn’t see anything.  Luckily they do a good job of projecting sound in St. Peter’s Square.

I had never been to a mass in Latin before.  Kinda nice.

The rest of the weekend I was pretty much a bum.  I think that was needed because Sunday night I fell asleep around 6pm and woke up the next morning at 9:30am.  Let’s just say I was pooped!

Then today I made up for all the chocolate I didn’t eat for Easter when my office mate brought in a huge bag of chocolate eggs.

Definitely needing to hit up that gym I dropped major $$$$ for!

Picnic at Villa Borghese

Yesterday was pretty much amazing.

I slept in.  Had oatmeal for breakfast.

I know that sounds silly but I’ve been getting super tired of Italian food.  Anything tastes remotely like home makes me happy.  Although let me tell you, I’ve only been able to find quick cooking oats here.  Not as tasty as rolled oats or multi-grain hot cereal, but I’ll survive.

Then I met up with some friends for a picnic at Villa Borghese, which is a huge park (actually a garden) in Rome. On my way there, I finally got to take one of the little buses!

Most buses in Rome are normal sized buses, but there are a few that are really small and make me smile every time I see them.  So I finally rode one… But anyway, back to yesterday…

Let me just tell you.  The weather was perfect.  I wore a sleeveless dress with sandals. What could be better?

People trickled in throughout the afternoon.  Everyone brought food to share.

My contribution: PB&J.

The Canadian smiled; the Europeans and Africans weren’t that into it.   Basically most of them hated it haha.

We moved our picnic to follow the sun.

After I had had enough sunshine, I walked home which took a little over half an hour.  The street were ridiculously crowded!  I wish I had remembered to take a picture of it.

The rest of the night I proceeded to be a bum.

Sounds like a pretty great day to me!  Hanging out with friends in the sun was wonderful.  Say yes to Vitamin D!

Hostaria Farnese and Sara’s Betrothed

We basically spent the Biscotti Queen’s last day in Rome just eating.

I’ve eaten so much I don’t even want to look at food anymore.  The thought of pizza makes my stomach turn (more on that later).

But her last night, we made sure to go to Hostaria Farnese, a small restaurant between Piazza Farnese and Campo d’ Fiori.   The Biscotti Queen and her family had been to that restaurant 10 years prior and had take pictures with the family.  Biscotti Queen’s uncle Mark offered to buy us dinner if we went and took pictures with the family.

After a bit of wine (or maybe an entire bottle of sparkling wine between me and the Biscotti Queen), we all (Biscotti Queen, Lis and me) went to dinner.

After ordering, Biscotti Queen pulled out the pictures from 10 years before.

The old man and his son, Luca, were so pleased!  So we got a picture of Sara with the family!  Mission accomplished.

On to the food.  The three of us shared a spaghetti Carbonara (because it was Biscotti Queen’s last day in Rome and she had yet to have it)

Lamb with potatoes

and Artichokes.  They also gave us some of their house flat bread to try (and some wonderful anti pasti that I forgot to take a picture of).  They were awfully generous!

The next day, the Biscotti Queen left and it was back to work for me.  Super sad!

I had such a wonderful time with all my visitors.  It was nice to we around close friends again.  Everyone here in Rome is great, but they’re no match to friends from home.

After all these visits though, I’m sooo tired of food.  I’m starting a mini diet on Monday.  More on that soon.

Friends Visiting

I’ve pretty much had the best week ever. As much as I love Rome, it can definitely get lonely.  But this week has been full of friends!

My friend, Ali, visited.  Sadly, while I went to work she wandered around with her brother for a few days.  But we did get a chance to see some sites together!

 

And last weekend, we headed to Napoli and made a side trip to Pompeii.

I had been before, but it was super fun the second time around.

 

Then we went back to Napoli for one reason: Pizza.  Obviously. Because I’m obsessed with food…

Somehow we ended up in the Eat, Pray, Love pizza shop, completely unintentionally.

And yes, we each ate an entire pizza.

 

It was amazing, except they only offered two kinds of pizza: Margherita and without cheese.  Although I discovered a pizza place in Rome that I like more.

Then sadly Ali had to leave, but they day she left, Biscotti Queen (Sara) arrived!

Tomorrow we’re headed to the Amalfi coast!  Stay tuned for our adventures!

The Most Disgusting Pizza I’ve Ever Had

Who knew there could be terrible pizza in Italy.  But trust me.  There is.  I witnessed it tonight.

I’m going to blame all this on the fact that I don’t speak enough Italian to ask “what is on this pizza?”

I saw artichokes and thought hmmm that looks delicious.  I’ll have that one.

Upon arriving home with my pretty little piece of pizza slices wrapped in paper,

I took one bite to find that the topping was something fishy.

Like some sort of tuna salad with mayo (but fishier), slathered on top of a perfectly good pizza base.

I couldn’t even eat it.  I even tried scraping off all the topping but that fishiness was all up in there good.  Into the trash it went.

I feel ill.

This must be God telling me that I shouldn’t be eating pizza during the week.

I should have stuck with the canned soup I originally intended to have.

My First Time in an Italian Gym

After a desperate weekend of not feeling too great about myself, today I went and signed up for the gym.  I was so enthusiastic that after a reception where I stuffed my face with mini sandwiches, I made my way to the gym for my first work out in an Italian gym or palestra as they are called here.

I decided to start out slow after over a month of not exercising any more than simply walking.  So I did 25 minutes on a cardio machine that somewhat resembled an elliptical machine.

Now let me tell you a few things about Italian gyms, based on my first observation.

First off, you need to have a medical certificate to join.  Luckily, I could get one of those at work (they call it a medical certificate of fitness for non-competitive sports, makes me feel like weak sauce but alas I’m not competitive in sports.  So be it.).   It was sort of a waste of time.  The doctor asked me if there was anything wrong with me.  I said no and she promptly signed the form… One of the many markers of Italy’s inefficiency (not that the US isn’t either).

So with my medical certificate, I signed up.  The gym has a rule that you should bring shoes only to wear inside the gym.  I’m not sure how strict this rule is but on the first day, I figured I would follow the rules.

Shoes packed in a Zara bag, because I’m classy like that.

Then for storage… you need to bring a lock.  Italy is not like the US.  You can’t just go to Target and pick up a lock, a pair of socks, sunscreen and some peanut butter.  I had no idea where one goes to buy a lock in Rome.  Luckily, Cornell in Rome saved me and just gave me one to borrow.  They also mentioned I could have gone to a locksmith.  Who knew?

Case in point.  I now have a lock in my possession.  Hooray!

So after locking up my Zara bag that held the green flats I wore to walk to the gym, I jumped on the first familiar-ish looking machine in sight.  After fumbling with the buttons, I figured out how to enter all the information.  I was good to go.  From here, I realized three things:

  1. I am horribly out of shape.
  2. I forgot a towel.
  3. Italian men are ridiculous.

Let me elaborate on the third point.  Italians are really animated when they talk, which I appreciate.  The gesticulation carries on to the gym.  They’re also really obvious about certain things, like wearing short shorts and shamelessly checking out ladies.

I’m sure I’ll have some better observations when I made my way to the weight room tomorrow.  Wish me luck.

Mushroom-Spinach Risotto

Last Tuesday, after a full day of work and two hours of class, I went to the grocery store.  In my drowsy state of exhaustion, I decided I wanted rice.  Unknowingly I purchased arborio, the kind of rice used for risotto, instead of the regular longer grain rice that I’m accustomed to.  I don’t think it was a language barrier, as the box was clearly labeled “arborio.”  It was probably just that I was tired, hungry and not in the right state of mind.

Long story short.  I now have a box of arborio rice sitting in my kitchen cabinet.  Clearly, it can’t go to waste.  Neither can the huge bag of spinach that I purchased in a moment of desperation when I felt like I’d had it with carbohydrates.

But alas, carbohydrates can’t seem to escape me.  Luckily, they’re delicious.

Mushroom-Spinach Risotto

2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 cup arborio rice
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup white wine
3 cups vegetable broth, warm
2 cups fresh chopped spinach
pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese (or more if you’d like)

Heat oil in a pot on medium heat.  Add mushrooms and arborio, cook for 5-10 mins until rice begins to turn translucent.  Add garlic and cook for an additional minute.    Add white wine, stir until it is almost completely absorbed.  Then begin to add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the liquid absorbs.  Repeat until you’ve used all but a bit of the broth.  Stir in the chopped spinach and the last bit of liquid.  Keep stirring until almost completely absorbed, then add the pepper and parmesan.  Once all the liquid is absorbed, serve immediately.

Serves 4.

I think I’m going to suck it up and pay the 195 Euro to use a gym for three months.  I think it might be worth it.

Even though I walk everywhere here, I don’t think it’s going to cut it.  I hadn’t realized how lucky I was to have a cheap gym so close to me in Ithaca.  While I don’t miss the snow, I definitely miss how easy it was to work out.

I’ll keep you posted on the gym dilemma.  Any thoughts?