Posts Tagged ‘summer holidays’

After returning from any trip, I would often reflect and browse through my photos.  Goodness gracious me, or rather, shame on me … I have loads !!!  If a photo has a  tangible weight, seriously, I would not be able to carry my iPhone around with me anymore.  It would be mucho grande heavy. Every time I browse through my photos, I usually feel an outburst of guilt.  Why did I  have to take so many photos and then, having to keep them to myself? To moulder and to fade into oblivionNo way, Jose! It just doesn’t make any sense.  A photo is taken to be shared.  In my own vocabulary, every photo I take tells a story.  And so it goes, sharing is caring 😉

Timestamp: July 2018

Phew! How time flies! 

Has it been a year ago since my trip to the Far East? Gosh! I needed another far-away getaway so badly…

I wish I could take a year long sabbatical leave and backpack to places I have not been to, but I’m not that bold and agile 25-year old anymore. Instead, I feel more secure with my travel sidekicks in the persons of my younger sister and younger son. We did Saigon last year. Saigon is not just about the touristBen Tanh markets and the noisy streets inundated with motorcycles. I’m amazed there’s so much to see and experience off the beaten tracks. We had an awesome experience exploring the Tunnels of Cu Chi, cruising down the Saigon river on the Bonsai River Cruise, taking the Sampan and cruising the many canal ways of the Mekong Delta, cycling in the rain and taking the tuk-tuk on narrow backroads around the Mekong villages and feasting on one of the most memorable home style lunches ever with Vietnam’s famous Elephant ear fish as centrepiece! Unlike Ben Tanh Market, the Ben Tre Floating Markets on the Mekong Delta are magically special. And then there’s Saigon’s yummy Banh Mi and the moreish Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê sua dá).

Memories are made of these …

Sigh!

Getaway 

Vietnam came and went and remained a sweet memory in my mind’s eye. Could our next holiday destination beat Saigon?

Okay … Bali, here we come!

Timestamp: July 2019

Millionaire  

I felt like a millionaire all over again in Bali after Saigon

Oh man, it’s the unending zeroes on the Bank Notes.  LOL!

A million Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) is only ca EUR 65 or MYR 300!  There’s no wonder why there are more tourists than the local Balinese on the island of Bali! 

Ngurah Rai International Airport

My son and I met my sister in Kuala Lumpur and we flew together with Air Asia to Bali. I was quite impressed when we touched down I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport Bali, aka Denpasar International Airport. What more could I say if it’s the second busiest airport in Indonesia after Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta?  The first thing we did upon arrival at the airport was buying SIM cards for our mobile phones during the period of our stay in Bali. Seriously, it’s so convenient, as we were out and about most of the time on the island!  Who would want to coop up in the hotel room 24/7 on a not very cheap long-haul trip all the way from Europe, right? Thanks to my sister with her in-depth knowledge of the telecommunication world and lingo, we were not easily deceived by seller(s) at the booths. Uh-uh!

Next (and a must), I bought some IDR. The rates were quite OK at the airport, and of course, better but varying rates could be found in every nook and cranny of Bali.  Be warned, though, of dodgy money changers!

By the way, my holiday to Bali was the maiden trip for my son and I, and the third for my sister.  She made it even easier for us with arranged pick-up from the airport to our hotel in Ubud.  The drive though the busy roads of Denpasar to the narrow roads of Ubud took almost 2 hours in the heavy traffic. Jun, our guide and his cousin (driver) made our journey flawless with on point pick up from location to destination.

Ubud

Originally, I had planned a 10-day stay in Ubud only, however, my Indonesian colleagues said “there’s nothing to see in Ubud” (really??), hence, Kuta was included at the last moment in our itinerary, hence we shortened our stay in Ubud to 7 days while including 3 days in Kuta. We shall see …

Luckily for us, I told my sister to pre-book some arranged tours with Jun.

Jun, by the way, is a freelanced guide for private tours around the island of Bali. As we all know, Bali thrives on tourism and Bali tour planners are mega BIG over there. If tours are not pre-booked, there are booths almost everywhere and one could make day trip arrangements on the spur of the moment. Initially, we were being audacious with our choices of tours and wanted to do and see almost everything, so from a selection of so many different tour packages offered, we decided on 2 full-day packages and 2 activity packages as following –

  • FULLDAY BTO 01. Kintamani – Waterfall tour
  • FULLDAY BTO 03. Marine sport – Uluwatu – Spa – Dinner tour
  • ACTIVITY BTO 02. White water rafting.
  • ACTIVITY BTO 07. Mount Batur sunrise trekking.

However, as time drew near for our ETD from BRU, I told my sister that the activity packages were too physical for our seemingly short stay in Bali.  Furthermore, I needed a relaxing break away from my already hectic day job …

So from 4, it was down to the final 2. We confirmed with Jun the full-day tours of Kintamani – Waterfall and the Marine Sport – Uluwatu – Spa and Dinner. As much as I wanted to experience the beautiful Mount Batur sunrise, the idea of trekking as early as 2 or 3 am in the morning puts me off, actually it puts all 3 of us off 😏.  Why is it so hard to get up in the wee hours of the morning when one is on holiday?  Hmmm… me think we’re not the only ones 😅

Dirty Ducks

Not that Ubud is plagued with dirty ducks; infact I have not seen a single duck while we were there!

It was our first day in Ubud and the much talked-about Bebek Bengil (Dirty Duck Diner) became our first dining stop in Ubud.

Be warned!  Yours truly is a foodie, hence be prepared to read some honest verdicts after a slap-up meal 😜

 

According to the site’s write up, Bebek Bengil was opened in 1990 in Ubud. It soon became an iconic restaurant branching out to other locations in Bali. The Original Crispy Duck Diner is so popular that local politicians like Ibu Megawati and Presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jokowi have waddled their way to Bebek Bengil 😉

Why ducks?  Why dirty ducks and not dirty monkeys (there are LOTS of monkeys in Ubud, by the way !). Well, it’s even explained on their menu book! 

So the story goes, in the words of the owners (husband and wife team) … “Many people have asked us how we got the name Bebek Bengil … When we were building the restaurant, we thought long and hard of a name. Many suggestions came from our friends, but none seemed right; we knew we wanted a Balinese name that translated well into English. However, for a long time, the metaphor eluded us. One tropical monsoon morning, when the restaurant was very close to being finished, a flock of ducks from the rice fields across the road ran quacking and squawking into the restaurant and across the floor and tables.  They left their muddy, webbed footprints all over the place. They were our first guest .. these Dirty Ducks !

OK, got it!

Oh by the way the rice fields across the road are no longer in sight. There are shops burgeoning everywhere now. The restaurant itself has become a sight to behold!

To live up to the ducky name, there were several duck dishes on the menu. We had Bebek Bakar Sambal Hijau served with sweet potato rice and vegetable and Grilled Duck served with Balinese sauces and steamed rice, and of course fresh Coconut water

We were told by Jun that a proper and fancy restaurant in Bali with a certain pricetag is where a small portion of  nicely presented rice is served. Yup, we noticed the neatly presented small rice portion on our plates 😀

My verdict? Great location with a gorgeous and comfortable ambience. Friendly staff with surprisingly very fast service. Now the taste? To be very honest, our dinner was so-so. Nothing special. The duck meat portions were rather small too. The grilled duck was rather dry and bland if not for the sambal or Balinese sauces. And the price is somewhat steep, even for non-Balinese standard. For me, a one-time experience in this iconic restaurant was enough.

Healing, Royal, Holy and Sacred

Ubud is the cultural hub of Bali and home to one of Bali’s royal families. My first visual glimpse of Ubud is the innumerable sight of royal palaces and ancient temples. Pharmacies are easily available in Ubud as well.

And that’s how I would define Ubud : Healing, Royal, Holy and Sacred

Healing

Jun told us how Ubud got its name. I thought it was interesting. The confluence of the 2 rivers, West Wos River meeting East Wos River is called Campuhan by Balinese (or Bahasa Indonesia). The meeting point of the 2 rivers serves as a source of holy water with peculiar property to heal sickness. This healing water is called ubad (medicine), hence the word ubad has been transformed and coined into ubud

Royal

The hotel where we stayed was a walking distance to the Royal Palace of Ubud.

Puri Saren Agung is the palace of the Ubud royal family. It hallmarks well-kept Balinese architecture with charming garden setting. The palace is best known among Balinese art lovers as one of the main sites to view traditional Balinese dance performances. We were there a wee bit late and had missed the performances. Anyway walking on our own within the palace compound was already a blessing.

 

Holy

Stop!! Do not step on them! That’s what we’ve been told.

 

For many years, Balinese families have passed down the ritual of daily offerings. Each day, Balinese women create little hand-pleated baskets or trays made from coconut leaves. The little tray is adorned with colourful flowers, fruits, rice and edibles as daily devotional gifts meant to appease and please the various Dieties and Demons of Balinese Hinduism.  These little baskets of offerings are perched all over the city, temples, sidewalks, shops and private house’s doorway and shrines.  That’s right, the Canang Sari (as it is called in Balinese) can be found in every nook and cranny of Bali.

 

I asked Jun what would happen if we accidentally stepped on one of the Canang Saris.  He said, if it is not done intentionally or if we stepped on one accidentally, that’s OK.  A word of caution: out of respect, it is not allowed to step on the Canang Sari when the incense stick is still burning.  The locals believe that the Dieties are feasting while the Canang Sari is freshly offered and by stepping on one, would mean that the spirits might enter your body and possess you as it is simply translated to mean that you have abruptly disturbed their meal.

Sacred

The monkey and its folklore are key elements in Balinese art tradition. This is appearing in some of the traditional Balinese dances, such as Kecak and Ramayana, where the monkey is a notable figure in the story.

 

The type of monkeys that dwell in the Monkey Forest is known as the Balinese long-tailed monkey aka macaques. I understood there are about 900 monkeys in the forest and they are divided into 6 groups, ie, the group that dwells in front of the main temple, the Michelin group (not sure what or where this is), the Central point group, Cemeteries group, Eastern group and Southern or the forest conservation group of monkeys. Each group consists of 100-150 primates ranging from infants to adults. Because of the considerable population, conflicts between groups of monkeys are unavoidable. The common thing about macaques is that they are active by day and will rest as nightfall.  In other words, pretty much like Homo sapiens 😉

 

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a leisurely 15-minute walk from our hotel.

Why a Monkey Forest in the heart of the city? The mission of the Monkey Forest is built as a sacred sanctuary based on the concept of Tri Hita Karana which is one of the philosophies in Hinduism. Tri Hita Karana means “Three ways to reach spiritual and physical wellbeing”

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is not just a tourist attraction or an important component in the spiritual and economic well being of the local community, but it is also a paramount location for research and conservation programs

 

What not to do (in case you didn’t know …)

In general, the monkeys will not come to you if you do not bring bananas or any other foods 😉

By the way, I noticed the monkeys’ daily diet include sweet potatoes, corns, bananas and coconuts

Babi Guling

While Fish & Chips are synonymous to England, Nasi Lemak to Malaysia and Waffles to Belgium, Babi Guling (suckling roasted pig) is a must-have dish in Bali. We vowed not to leave Ubud without having a taste of the infamous babi guling at Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka 1.

The restaurant we went to is the first and main restaurant, located just opposite the Royal Palace of Ubud while Warung Ibu Oka is one of the branches where the late Anthony Bourdain’s loving coverage of the babi guling made the restaurant virally famous.

 

My verdict? Simple and honest homestyle dishes. We ordered a portion of the complete babi guling dish with soup and an extra portion of meat with crispy pork skin.  The complete meal comprised a portion of steamed white rice, vegetables, deep fried crispy pork nuggets, black sausage, meat from the suckling roasted pig and a piece of the prized crispy pork skin.  The price quoted on the menu list is pre 10% tax, so be warned. Either you like it or not, the star item on the platter, ie the crispy pork skin was not my son’s favourite at all, so my sis and I had a piece from each plate. To be honest, the suckling roasted pork and skin were just okay, however, the star dish that stole our heart was the deep fried crispy pork nuggets.  We really enjoyed the crispy, tasty and a bit chewy nuggets. I noticed we were not the only table ordering the extra crispy pork nuggets.  Several tables around us did the same. Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka should be renamed to Warung Babi Gorengan Ibu Oka 😉 . Total spend (after tax) was 253k IDR (ca Eur 17) for 3 pax including fresh juices.  Not bad at all.

Would I go back?  Without a doubt …

 

The Day Unfolds …

With a good pair of shoes or slippers, walking around Ubud on our own was not difficult at all.  While there was a bout of heatwave in Europe in July with a record high of > 40 deg C for a few consecutive days, the weather in Ubud or Bali for that matter, was surprisingly, crisp and cool at a max of 28 deg C! I did not remember sweating profusely at all even with the long walks down Jalan Raya Ubud, Jalan Monkey Forest and Jalan Hanoman … all done on foot!

After the long and winding walks through the narrow streets of Ubud, we returned to our bungalow and spa, feeling knackered and dead beat from the day’s galivanting. We hit the sack but only to get up early the next morning as a new day unfolded.  As we finished our brekkie in a jiffy,  Jun, our tour guide for the entire day was waiting for us.

A new day unfolded with unexpected tsunami of adventures in store ~ mythical, breathtaking, nerve-racking, impressive, disappointing, addictive

Wanna read more?

Stay tuned to Part 2 😉

 

Cheers

xxx

 

There are actually 5 Chianti towns perched on the hillside of Tuscany, in Italy. We have explored 4 of the 5 Chianti towns. The one we did not go to was Lecchi in Chianti. It was less than 3 km from the holiday home we stayed in San Sano. It’s the smallest of the 5 Chianti towns, quite similar to San Sano, hence we gave it a miss.

To give you an idea where Chianti is on the map, here’s a scratchy but ‘magnetic’ image of the map of Tuscany 😉

Gaiole in Chianti

Gaiole in Chianti is one of the five main Chianti towns in Tuscany. We stayed in San Sano in the summer of Aug 2018. Gaiole was about 9 km away. By the way, San Sano lies in the commune of Gaiole.

All Chianti towns are best remembered by the iconic rooster standing resplendently before entering the centre.

That’s the very reason why we see the distinctive insignia on all Chianti Classico bottles, the silhouette of a black rooster on a white background, surrounded by a burgundy ring. Chianti Classico is considered the most traditional wine made within the original production zone of the 5 Chianti towns. Chianti wine produced outside the geographical area is simply called, “Chianti”.

With only one tiny and crammed grocery shop in San Sano, we did most of our groceries at our favourite Coop supermarket in Gaiole.

And here were what I have prepared in the most challenging kitchen with no chopping board, blunt knives, broken pair of kitchen scissors, insufficient pots, pans and serving plates with ingredients bought at the Coop supermarket in Gaiole in Chianti.

But, hey! I got by, hopefully? 😉

Market Day in Gaiole

If you have read my posts of our summer hols in the Provence, I mentioned my love of the outdoor markets. It’s all part of the fun, the sun and the local ambience, the colours and smells and strolling and exploring the unending quaint streets.

Market day in Gaiole is the second Monday of every month. I was excited at the thought of going to one up on the Tuscan hills. But alas! Poor Gaiole only boasts of one stretch of road with only a few stalls.

However, it wasn’t the market that enchanted us that day, it was a shop, called L’Eroica. Gaiole in Chianti is perhaps the best known town as the starting point and birthplace of the cycling route of L’Eroica.

No wonder we saw serious bikers taking the route every time we drove past Gaiole in Chianti. The L’Eroica shop tells all with curious passers-by popping in 😀

We had wanted to spend the entire day at Gaiole but it was not meant to be. We headed for the unplanned trip to Siena, instead. Ha ha …

Next up: Radda in Chianti

See you there!

Ciao!

Unlike the trip to Siena which was impromptu, our trip to Florence was planned on a Sunday. Hubby was of the opinion that the roads to Florence on a Sunday would be less congested, as most people would stay home. He was right.

We left San Sano at 8.30 am and arrived at the city of Florence at 10 am, giving us plenty of time before our tour at the Accademia Gallery commenced at 11.30am.

Hubs bought the “skip-the-line” admission with private tour online, for both Galleries: the Accademia and Uffizi.

If you’re wondering why we drove all the way to Florence just to go to Museums, you will find out why the Accademia and Uffizi Galleries are the epitomes of what summed up the city of Florence.

With the ample waiting time, we explored Florence on our own.

The first instance I entered Florence was, Wow! What a lovely view from afar! I knew what lay beyond the bridge would be a discovery of even deeper artistic heritage and treasures left behind by the many God-given sculptors and painters of the past centuries.

Walking into the streets of Florence was like going back in time. One thing’s for sure, you cannot visit Florence without wandering freely the fully pedestrianised Piazza del Duomo. The picturesque square lies in the heart of the city, surrounded by restaurants, cafés, shops and of course, the magnificent sights of the Duomo, the Bell Tower and the Baptistery, all these have become the ultimate tourist hotspots! So you could see it was just impossible to have a selfie or snapshot without being photobombed by unexpected or unintended appearances lurking in the background of your photos. I’m sure I have appeared on their photos as much as they, on mine. Ha ha ..

Time To Go …

No, it was not time to leave the city, but time to meet our guide outside the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Gallery of the Academy Of Florence). It was 11.30am.

Our guide was Carla. We were a small group of 2 families, us and a family from Seattle.

Suddenly, we became very attentive ‘students’… Afterall, the museum was founded as a teaching facility for the Academy Of Fine Arts students.

And by the way, Accademia Gallery is home to Michelangelo’s David. That’s right, the one and only.

Now, will the real David, please raise your hand?

The David on the left stands on the Palazza Vecchio while the David on the right stands handsomely as the centrepiece of the Accademia Gallery in the most visited room, called the Tribuna del David.

Both Davids are ceaselessly surrounded by tourists wanting to have a closer look at the 5.17m (17ft) tall Biblical hero.

The David stand-in or ‘imposter’ or replica or copy ~ whatever you want to call it ~ gets photographed as much as the real David, but coming all the way to Florence, and not seeing THE David that was sculptured by the godly hands of THE Michelangelo Buonarroti, would be a big fat waste of time.

Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he was challenged to sculpt the young shepherd David. He was presented with a simple and ugly looking slab of marble piece BUT he succeeded in creating the most breathtaking masterpiece of gleaming white marble. It took him over 2 years to complete the massive task (1501 – 1504).

David In Full Circle

It’s only at the Accademia Gallery that we could admire Michelangelo’s David from a close distance, ie admiring the perfection and magnificence of the colossal statue 360 degrees!

My favourite angle of David is his right side, from the right hand up to his neck.

Why?

Because the ONLY way to appreciate this angle is to appreciate the work of Michelangelo. Just look at the veins on David’s right hand, his arm and neck! It’s pure attention to details.

Michelangelo was also the first sculptor to depict David before the battle, while most sculptors chose to portray David after his victory, ie triumphant over the slain Goliath. You could see why Michelangelo chose to capture David in a most artful manner during his most tensed moment with full of bodily concentration. What can I say?

Exquisite! Period.

Michelangelo’s David was not the only one mentioned in our private tour. There were also 4 magnificently unfinished slaves of Michelangelo in the Tribuna del David together with the statue of St Matthew and the pieta.

Our tour lasted exactly for an hour and a half. There were too many art pieces and sculptures to mention in this post. I leave it to you to see them for yourself 😉

Thanks, Carla for opening our eyes, ears and mind in that short span of tour time 🙂

Lunch Interlude with a Mistake

Before meeting our next guide for the Uffizi tour, we had lunch at a simple resto, a little away from the crowded square and streets.

The foods were okay except for one and the service was rather slow.

I guess from the collage you could pin-point the odd dish out. I won’t say which one, so it’s up to you to give it a guess and interpret why it’s a mistake dish that made someone really disappointed that day 😦

The Only Bridge Standing

There’re many bridges across the Arno river, but there’s only ONE bridge that attracted tourists and the like the most.

When Florence was severely damaged during WW2 by the Germans, blowing up all its bridges, Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge was the only Bridge standing. Rumour has it that Hitler found the view from the bridge too beautiful to destroy.

So here we were, walking on the Ponte Vecchio, admiring the bridge as it is today without being destroyed from any wars.

Ponte Vecchio is also one of the few bridges in the world that still has shops on it, specifically jewellery shops.

Uffizi Gallery

Just outside the Museum, we were greeted by Monica, our guide. Monica is Swede who has lived in Florence for the past 25 years. This time the group was bigger, at least 40 of us, with the youngest being a child of a year old. It was not difficult to decipher Monica’s audible explanation as each of us was given a headset.

The Uffizi Gallery housed the world’s greatest collection of Italian artworks and Renaissance art from Giotto to Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio. Thanks to Anna Maria Lodovica, the last of the Medici line who left her property to Florence, ensuring that the Medici collections remained intact forever.

The Meaning Of Florence From A Single Painting

One of the paintings that everyone listened in awe to was the one from Alessandro Filipepi aka Botticelli. It’s called La Primavera.

There may be many other interpretations of La Primavera, but Monica narrated the painting in a very enlightening and interesting manner. I could remember almost every word she described the painting.

The painting is a symbol of Spring. It depicts love and marriage, sensuality and fertility.

The scene is set in the garden of Venus, the Roman Goddess Of Love. She’s standing in the centre of the painting. Above her, is her blindfolded son, Cupid, who shoots arrows of Love to the Three Graces. On the far right of the painting is Zephyrus, the wind that billows and pursues Chloris, the nymph.

On the far left is Mercury, the winged messenger of the Gods. He is holding a staff to dissipate the gloomy clouds of Winter for Spring to come.

When Zephyrus succeeds in making Chloris pregnant, she transforms into Flora, the Goddess of Spring. The transformation is depicted by the flowers spewing out of Chloris’ mouth. Flora then scatters the flowers she gathers on her dress, thus, symbolising springtime and fertility. And that’s how Florence (the city) got her name, from Flora.

I thought that interpretation of Florence was really enlightening, and that, from a single painting but of course there are other naming theories that seemed to conclude the floral definition of the city.

The Leaning Truth Of Tuscany

One hour and a half went by in a fleeting moment. We left Florence basking under the scorching Tuscan heat of 34C homeward bound 75km back to San Sano.

My thought lingered to our next adventure in Tuscany, one that would reveal the leaning truth of our Summer Hols …

Stay tuned 😉

Ciao!

San Sano is a quaint little village of stone structures that lies on the Tuscan hill in the province of Siena. The villa where we stayed lies 400m above sea level. The bigger town or commune 15km away, Radda in Chianti, was higher at 650m asl.

San Sano is a hamlet, really. There’s really not much to see, but surprisingly, a LOT to tell!!

You’ll ‘see’ why as you read on …

Mysterious San Sano

The village of San Sano has no supermarket, no post office, no park, no church (at least I had not seen one). Forget about going out for late night movies because there’s just no cinema, neither bars nor cafés in sight! In other words, there’s no night life, or was there …??

There’s just the main road with a handful of rustic stone houses, small square, one or two alleys with medieval landscape, one hotel, one restaurant with an adjoining super crammed sundry shop manned by an elderly man and a statue of a “drunken frog” that appeared to guard the village, ie, positioned in a seemingly perfect spot … for fung shui reason?

So why in heaven’s name did we end up in that sleepy village in the Chianti region?

Beats me, but one thing’s for sure the picturesque backdrops and landscapes were picture perfect and what more could we ask for with the neat and rolling vineyards just behind our holiday villa!

It’s quietly stunning. It was heaven on earth!

Night Out in San Sano

Are you kidding me?

Nope!

Against all odds, we went to San Sano. We wanted to have our dinner. It was a lovely evening and the stroll to the centre did us good. The only nuisance to combat were from the bites of the bloodsucking, slender and long-legged flies aka mosquitoes! Humph!

We ambled our way leisurely on the main road. There was not a car in sight.

We did not walk very far until we reached a junction with crossroads. There, in the centre of the junction was the ‘drunken frog’!!

Why was the frog drunk? Ah ha … storytime at the end of this post. Be patient, ‘kay? 😉

Trattoria “Grotta della Rana

I mentioned earlier that San Sano has only one restaurant and Trattoria Grotta della Rana was THAT restaurant!

By the way, “Grotta della Rana” means literally, “The Cave Of the Frog”.

What a coincidence, eh? We just met our friend the “drunken frog” and now the restaurant with a froggy name? San Sano could be Tuscany’s very own Sesame Street! Ha ha …

It was 6:20pm when we arrived at the resto. It’s a lovely restaurant with a decent size alfresco terrace. We were seated at a table for four. There were no other customers then, except for the bloodsucking mosquitoes!! Arghhh!!!

A friendly looking guy came to our table with a big smile on his face. He welcomed us with open arms. He spoke very limited English, but we seemed to comprehend one another pretty well. He brought us the resto’s menu card, and lo and behold! The menu card was entirely handwritten in Italian!

I guess that’s the beauty of being authentic, original and traditional without the touristy fluff.

What I noticed about Italian restaurants in general, is that, menus are usually composed of the following courses: antipasti (appetiser), primi piatti (first course, usually consisting of a pasta dish), secondi piatti (second or main course of meat or fish served alone) and contorni (vegetables and potatoes side dishes)

Surprisingly, with the owner’s limited English and our limited Italian, we ordered the most amazing plates, one after another …

The dishes were ridiculously scrumptious from antipasti to deserts!

Oh by the way, I could never finish a glass of red wine, but not the one served at Trattoria Grotta della Rana! It was one of the best local Chianti wines.

The waiter who brought us the bottle of water and breads was an elderly man, who’s also the old chap manning the tiny grocery shop adjoining the Trattoria.

We found out that the Trattoria’s a one big family affair of 3 generations. The elderly man’s the father (grandfather), while the guy who greeted us was his son, the current proprietor of the restaurant. The owner’s son also waited and served at the table. The owner’s wife and the ladies in the kitchen were the unsung chefs who made sure the palates and tummies of the customers were fully satisfied.

If you’re looking for a Michelin star presentation or trendy fine dining plates, I’m afraid this is not the place for you. In all honesty, the kitchen serves simple and rustic but wholesome and genuine ingredients of ancient Chiantigiana or Tuscan traditions. That’s what we were looking for, a surprised hidden gem in a secluded and off-the-beaten-path location.

It was 9pm. Before we called it the night, we ordered deserts and coffee.

We left our table at 9.30 pm. 3 hours earlier, we arrived when there were no one else there, but we left a packed restaurant that evening! That summed up EVERYTHING about the Cave Of the Frog Tavern!

Now, are you ready to hear the story of the ‘boozy frog’? According to the website of La Grotta della Rana, it’s based on a true story.

It went like this …

The Story of the Drunken Frog

Once upon a time an elementary teacher from San Sano, Ferdinando Anichini, enrolled himself to a game show program called “Il Tappabuchi” on the Italian television. It was April 1967. The host of the show, Corrado, offered prizes to contestants who could sing, dance, recite a poem or to imitate the sound of an animal. Anichini chose to imitate the sound of the croaking of a frog, because in Gaiole (San Sano lies in the commune of Gaiole in Chianti), the inhabitants were called “ranocchia” (frog people) in ancient times due to the large number of frogs on the banks of the Masellane. According to Corrado, the frog imitation from Anichini was rather shoddy, however, the contestant went on to justify himself with a cheeky statement, “Our frogs sing like that, because they drink Chianti wine!” Having said that, the elementary teacher won the show with one condition that he devolved his winning prize of 200k Italian Lira (equivalent to Euro 103.29 today) in favour of the tiny village of San Sano. The most interesting thing was the contestant mentioned “Chianti” four times on national television – in an era where such outspoken promotion were unimaginable. With his prize money, the winner of the TV show commissioned Siena-born sculpture, Plinio Tammaro to build a frog statue (fountain), gulping down wine and spewing water.

That was the day, the drunken frog of San Sano was born… 😀

Sorry, if you’re thinking the frog was once-upon-a-time a Prince. There’s no Prince on a white stallion, but, San Sano has, without a doubt, radiated a princely charm to those who appreciate Tuscany’s simplicity at its best.

Arrivederci!

Tschüss Tirol! Ciao Tuscany!

We left Gästehaus Maria in Nassereith after having a humble breakfast of buns with cold cuts and cheeses. We needed that because of our impending journey to Tuscany which was a long and winding 615km away.

Nassereith is 845m above sea level. It’s a mountainous region in Tirol.

We bade farewell to the colossal mountains and the cool air of Tirol while heading for North East Italy.

While on the highway to Italy, I suddenly felt like a Chipmunk or a Badger or a Mole burrowing through tunnels.

By the way, that’s exactly what happened; the highway crosses the heart of the mountains, passing through countless tunnels, viaducts and bridges.

After 9 gruelling hours on the road, we finally reached our holiday home, situated in a medieval hamlet, nestled in the Tuscan hills. While in Tirol, our B&B overlooked the mountains from our balcony; it was at San Sano that we had the extensive views of billowing vineyards acres after acres.

I had a quick inspection of the facades and knew that I could appreciate my stay there. I could see myself curling up on a chair tapping away on my iPhone and sharing with you my moblogs.

It was hot and humid up in the mountains of Tuscany, so unlike Tirol. One thing’s for sure, I don’t need my pashmina 🙂

What’s up next was a mystery as much as San Sano is mysterious …

Ciao!

I have been away sporadically in hot and humid climes quite a bit this summer. When I got back to Belgium in early July I felt the emergence of the European summer heat in the air. I was again away for 2 weeks in mid July to Saigon and Penang. I think I have gotten used to the sweltering heat. Before I flew back to Belgium, hubs told me that there were heat waves all over Europe. Belgium was not spared, with the mercury level soaring to as high as 39 deg C some days. The prolonged periods of warm and dry weather were the intrinsic theme of the summer across Europe anno 2018.

Wednesday 8th August was my last day at work. Although it was nice to work in a fully air-conditioned office, I was more looking forward to our family trip ~ our annual summer hols.

It’s completely different this summer, because we have entirely excluded the predictable definition of ‘Provence‘ in any shape and form. You will understand this statement if you have read several of my previous posts about our annual summer hols ~ yup, always to that predictable location called the Provence! 🙂

Last summer, we included both the Provence and Spain in our holiday plan. We wanted something different, but obviously, we did not let go off the South of France part that easily. Ha ha …

So this summer, we’ve gone 180 degrees. We chose Austria and Italy (yup, no Provence) as our holiday destinations. That’s why I was excited and was looking forward to these different itineraries. It has been a while since we did something different now that the boys are no longer little …

A fluky Journey

The road trip to Tirol, Austria was 790km with the ETA time of 15:44. The BIG question was, would a quarter to four remain our ETA more or less??

Hmm… let’s see …

We left on a weekday for the obvious reason to avoid reaching gridlocks.

But ….

Just 20 minutes of driving, we were trapped in a 45-minute long of traffic congestions due to an accident and roadworks on the Brussels-Luxembourg highway!

Not long after we left Luxembourg enroute Germany, the skies turned immensely dark and gloomy with the most unwelcoming thunderstorm. Visions were blurred and signposts were literally illegible.

With all these obstructions, our ETA was stretched further. Hmmmmph…!!

We tried not to stop or rest too long lest our ETA would be too late.

We did, however, stop briefly for the last 97km to stretch our legs.

We continued on with the journey until we saw the majestic mountainous landscape before us. It was a welcoming sight. We knew we would be reaching our ultimate destination soon.

A Frigid ETA

With the heat waves across Europe, I expected the same for Austria, but I have miscalculated. We arrived in Tirol with grey skies cascading above us. It was cold at 14C after leaving Belgium at 32C! And guess what? I did not pack any warm clothing. Ouch!

But the lovely B&B looked so cosy with the breathtaking mountains just in front of our balcony! That took the cold temps off my mind a bit.

With the long journey we had gone through, we hit the sack and went down slumberland as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Quest for Warmth

The following morning was equally numbing and frigid.

We had wanted to walk to the centre of Nassereith, but with the unforeseen cold summer temperature, we drove to the centre, instead. Nassereith is a very tiny village which is self-contained. My intention of getting a warm shawl was dashed. There were none in sight, hence, we took to the road and headed for Innsbruck.

There was a traffic jam on the road to Innsbruck. If you noticed, Austrians would drive on extreme ends of both wings of the lanes, right and left. That, to give way to motorbikes to slide through the parted traffic and as well, for emergency vehicles to pass through. I give the Austrians 10/10 for road traffic etiquette 🙂

Secluded Nassereith is just the opposite of crowded Innsbruck.

Innsbruck is a very touristic city. Lots of shopping galleries and eateries. Well, that’s where we had our lunch. It was cheap with enormous servings. We were famished and ate all up. Mind you, that was our first proper meal after binging on unhealthy snacks during our 11-hour drive the day before.

Oh by the way, I found a pashmina to keep the cold away 😀

A Jinx?

The day we left Tirol, the temperature went up to a lovely 24C.

I’m sure we jinxed our way to Austria. Lol!

We shall miss the fresh mountain air of Tirol.

Tschüss! Auf Wiedersehen!

By the way, I think it is appropriate that I end my post here, in the famous catchphrase of an American Austrian-born actor and politician, Arnold SchwarzeneggerHasta la vista, baby! I’ll be back!

Off to Italy next!

Stay tuned 😉

Ciao!

I wish you a Blessed Assumption Day!

Cheers!

Hey folks! I’m back!! My blog has been in comatose status for quite a while, I know. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, most unfortunately 😦

By the way, this is a scheduled post 😉

Friday, 4th August

Hubby, my boys and I were counting down the days to our annual Summer hols! We were to leave on Saturday. I wish I could say TGIF, but it’s still a workday for me. I told my colleagues that I had to urgently WFH that day due to too many last minute activities. Besides my office workload, I had made an appointment with my bank to pick up my new Silver Credit Card. The old one was expiring soon.

Good thing I had pre-packed my clothes the evening before. I was hoping for less stress, unlike last year! You can read it all here 🙂

I had to take care of the foods, drinks, snacks and our lunch boxes for our impending lengthy journey of ca 1k km. Travelling super light was not possible as there’re 4 of us, all grown ups. My hubby’s car boot was packed to the gills!

Like last year, I asked hubby what our ETD was going to be. He replied, “when everyone feels like waking up

That made me even more nervous as I hate being late or being caught in a traffic jam!

Okay, our ETD strategy changed completely, which, surprisingly, worked a charm! You’ll find out why …

No waking up time was mentioned. No ETD was broached. No alarm was set. All we needed to do was to sleep through the night and woke up according to the inherent timing of our biological clock!

By the way, I was awakened by my biological clock at 5.20 am. The guys were still in deep sleep. So yes, I was the first one to get up, as usual 🙂

Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain …

How could this happen? We’re in the midst of the Summer season and it’s raining cats and dogs! We have never left for our Summer hols on a rainy day. Anyway, the sounds of the raindrops were hypnotic and relaxing at the same time. But what a damper to having to drive on an extremely wet day. Now I understood why hubby said to wake up when we felt like waking up. We have all gone through our deep, light and REM sleep cycles, and we were all completely awake. Cool!

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, here we come … AGAIN!!!!!

With a total distance of almost 1k km, our ETA was 3.55 pm. We left at 6.47 am.

Rain, rain go away, come again another day! The combination of the soothing heavy rain on the highway with the monotonous sound of the windscreen wiper were amazingly mesmeric. Everyone was as quiet as a church mouse in the car which was a perfect mode for hubby to traverse the wet and dreary roads of the Belgian highway with full focus.

When we finally reached Luxembourg for gasoline, the skies were a lot bluer but cloudy.

We know we have reached France when the inescapable sign “péage” (toll) is posted on the French “autoroutes“. Good thing we have the BIP&GO pass which is an electronic toll payment badge that allows us to travel on the entire French motorway network. It is the most convenient way to travel on the European Motorway, meaning as our car approached the tolls, the barrier will automatically lift, without us having to stop and pay at the toll booth. Shorter queues and a time saver!! We need only to pay at the end of our trip(s) where direct debit payments are made at the end of the month.

The cloudy skies made way for clear blue skies and suddenly we felt a ray of sunshine.

And then the voice from the GPS chanted, “There are traffic disruptions on the route. An alternative route cannot be recommended.”

Oh-oh! Time to have a break before being trapped in the gridlocks from Valence to Montelimar to Orange. Yup, we know the Black Saturday drill by heart 😉

We stopped just a bit after Lyon at 10 am for brunch and left the highway rest area at 11 am with the soaring temperature at 35C. With such heat, every single car leaving the rest area was given cold and refreshing Volvic fruit juice water. Precisely what we needed!

And so we were caught in the traffic jam for more than 2 hours under the scorching sun of 39C!

Finally the last leg of the traffic jam ended at 6 pm. Our ETA shifted too. We finally arrived at Saint-Rémy-de Provence. The familiar avenue of trees so typical of that region was a welcoming sight.

We reached La Maison Blanche at 7.11 pm and sweated buckets with the mercury level of 36C!! I quickly checked the temperature at home and it was only 17C! Wow! What a difference, eh? We didn’t feel like going out with the heat that evening, so the guys ended up dipping themselves in the swimming pool while I had a cold shower. I remembered La Maison Blanche, as it was not the first time we were there. It was my second stay there and the third for hubby and our older son.

The house has not changed since my last stay there in 2012 (you can read the post here). Just that we have become 5 years older 😦

What’s in store for us the next days were memories that would remain pristine in our psyche. And I wonder what’s coming up next? Stay with me in my new adventure to the unknown …

See ya …

Cheers!