Tag Archives: Market

Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan was the starting point for our exploration of Armenia and Georgia and in early March it was chilly, with snow on the ground and freezing fog obscuring our view most mornings, but pretty much every afternoon the sun broke through and we enjoyed its mixture of old and new buildings, public parks and lots of art.

St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral

The St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral looked very atmospheric in the snow and fog. It was consecrated in 2001 having been built to celebrate 1700 years of Christianity in Armenia.

In the 1920s there was a grand plan to redesign Yerevan, it took a few years to be completed but Republic Square was the centre of that plan and today is the focal point of the city.  Around its sides are impressive government buildings in the pink tufa stone characteristic of Yerevan, and in the centre is a pedestrianised square which is supposedly paved to look like a traditional Armenian carpet from above.  I’m not sure that it manages to look like a carpet, but in the summer I’m sure it’s bustling with crowds watching the musical fountains whose pools were still empty after the winter when we visited.

Republic Square

Government offices and the History Museum of Armenia (right) flank the ‘carpet’ section of Republic Square

Cafesjian Art Centre

At the northern edge of the city centre is the Cafesjian Art Centre, also known as the Cascade due to its stepped appearance and fountains (also not working in March)

The Cafesjian Art Centre is a modern art space unlike anything we’ve seen before.  Housed in a huge staircase with fountains, called the Cascade, it houses sculptures beside the escalators which run between the levels and an external sculpture park in the gardens at the front and on the building’s terraces with a funky range of modern art.  On each internal level are galleries including two permanent exhibitions with huge pieces commissioned specifically for the museum – a mural of the History of Armenia by Grigor Khanjyan and a relief carving of the epic David of Sassoon.

Cafesjian Art Centre

Cafesjian Art Centre (clockwise from left): escalators run inside the building; ‘The Knot’ by Stephen Kettle is made of Welsh slate; ‘Gendrd I’ by Barry Flanagan is situated in the external sculpture garden

Mother Armenia

Following the steps above the Cascade building we came out at Victory Park which contains a fun fair and a large statue representing Mother Armenia

We also visited a couple of smaller art museums including the excellent museum dedicated to Yervand Kochar, a contemporary of Picasso, whose 4D sculptures were unlike anything we’ve seen before – rotating pieces of curved metal, slotted together and painted on all sides to create something not quite like a painting or a sculpture – Kochar called them “Painting in Space”.

Vardan Mamikonyan statue

Several of Kochar’s more traditional sculptures are placed around the city including the statue of 5th century military leader Vardan Mamikonyan in the Circular Park, notable for all four of the horse’s feet being off the ground

We visited a LOT of churches and monasteries during our weeks in Armenia and Georgia but on our first afternoon in Yerevan we had one of those serendipitous moments that remind us why we travel. We’d read about a small church surrounded by apartment blocks and as we approached at 5pm its bells were ringing.  We entered just as a service started and sat quietly at the back watching people come and go while priests chanted, candles were lit and incense pervaded the air.

Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church

The Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church doesn’t look so remarkable from the outside, but inside it felt other worldly

On Tsitsernakaberd hill overlooking the city sits the genocide memorial, a sobering monument to the thousands of Armenians who lost their lives in ethnic cleansing carried out by the Ottoman Empire in 1915-22. The well laid out museum chronicles the story and includes historical documents, photographs, personal possessions and testimonies.  It reminded us of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and the atomic bomb memorial museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Outside, the eternal flame burns in a circle of 12 slabs which is beside a splintered needle representing the provinces of Western Armenia lost to Turkey in a post WWI deal between Ataturk and Lenin.

Armenian Genocide Memorial

As we exited the museum a Russian delegation was visiting the monument and laying flowers so we had to wait for them to leave before we could approach the eternal flame

To the west of the city centre there’s a former railway tunnel that runs down the hill to the park beside the Hrazdan river. It’s been converted for pedestrian use and is full of graffiti, nevertheless it probably wouldn’t be all that interesting were it not for the unusual zig-zag lighting which makes for a great photo.

Kond pedestrian tunnel

Kond pedestrian tunnel

Armenians are very proud of their culture, and nowhere is this more obvious than at the Matenadaran, literally “book depository” where historical documents and precious manuscripts are kept and displayed. Honestly, I don’t think we got the most out of this museum, the manuscripts had English labels with their age and what they were (e.g. gospel) but there wasn’t any explanation of the context or history contained and we wished we’d paid extra for a guided tour. Still, the illuminated documents, some of them over 1000 years old were very beautiful.

Matenadaran

In front of the Matenadaran is a statue of Mesrop Mashtots the creator of Armenia’s alphabet

Food is always high up on our list of things to explore when we visit a new country and we struck gold in our choice of Airbnb room in the apartment of Astghik and her family. Each morning her mother, Shoghik, produced some new homemade wonder from her fridge or oven for us to try.  With a bizarre combination of her limited English, our very limited Russian, sign language and Google Translate she explained to us how each item was made, from homecured meat (basturma), preserved cheese (khorats panir) and pickles to pumpkin swirl cheesecake and the best coffee in Armenia.  

Consequently our Armenian vocabularly is about 50% food words and when we finally visited the large GUM market we recognised a lot of what we saw.  In the summer months I think the fresh produce would play more of a starring role but in the winter there were nuts and preserved fruit galore alongside the butchers, greengrocers, spice stalls and clothes sellers and a fabulous second-hand “junk shop” like corner of the upper level which is where we agreed we would find the furnishings for our Yerevan apartment if we lived here!

GUM market, Yerevan

One corner if the market hall is devoted to the huge Armenian flatbreads called lavash

No sooner had we entered the market than the dried fruit and nut sellers started to bombard us with samples and start off on their spiel at breakneck speed (usually in Russian). This was a little intimidating and we were wandering along trying to keep our heads down when an enthusiastic vendor started thrusting spices under our nose and feeding us samples of his barberries. We politely agreed that they smelt wonderful but thank you we don’t want any, undeterred he took us to his store room at the side of the market hall and started plying us with samples of pomegranate wine and apricot vodka (we refused the latter as it was 10.30am but it smelt wonderful). We gave in and bought a litre of the pomegranate wine and he decanted from the large container into an old Coke bottle before we made our escape!

GUM market, Yerevan

Yerevan’s GUM market (clockwise from top left): orderly displays of dried fruit and nuts; salad and herbs; go on, pretend you don’t want to delve into this lot for treasure; there was a lot of locally produced honey for sale

We’d read of the long tradition of viniculture in this part of the world but didn’t expect to encounter good beer.  However, during my research on Yerevan I’d come across Dargett Craft Beer, a microbrewery serving interesting craft beers.  Oh, and it was good!  We visited three times and (with the help of their taster flights) tried almost all of the 20ish beers on offer, and there wasn’t a bad one among them.  My favourite was the apricot ale.

Dargett Craft Beer

On our final afternoon in the city we took a tour of one of the city’s two brandy factories, the Noy Brandy Company.  Originally set up in the 19th century it closed down and fell into disrepair in the second half of the 20th century.  It’s now been renovated and reopened complete with cellars full of old wine barrels (though they only produce brandy here now).  During the Soviet era Armenian brandy was prized across the USSR and Noy are proud that they are still the official brandy supplier to the Kremlin.

Noy Brandy Factory tasting

Trying brandies in the Noy Brandy Company’s tasting room

Before our visit we’d read and seen pictures of Mt Ararat which is supposedly visible from many points in Yerevan.  It’s the mountain where Noah’s Ark came to rest and is sacred to Armenians though it is now across the border in Turkey and they can only look at it.  Unfortunately for us it was quite shy and seemed to be shrouded in cloud most of the time so that we didn’t even get a peek for the whole week that we were there.

Tour de France

When we were in Mongolia we made friends with two French couples. Thomas and Jess were on our tour to the Gobi desert, and their friends Max and Armelle met up with them afterwards and then were in Beijing at the same time as us. As often happens when you get on well with someone on the road, details and invitations to “come and stay if you’re passing our town” were swapped. After our stay with Heidi and Olivier in Switzerland, the south of France seemed a logical direction to proceed and so we invited ourselves for a visit…

Aix-en-Provence

Max and Armelle live near Aix-en-Provence (that’s pronounced ‘eks’ like X), a pretty town in south-eastern France. We had the Friday afternoon to explore the historic centre before meeting them for dinner. The food was excellent and we were amused by the amount of discussion with the restaurant manager over the choice of wine (much longer than was taken over the food!). Max assured us that it wasn’t usually so long but I think we’ve got them rumbled…

Aix-en-ProvenceAix-en-Provence (clockwise from top left): Cathedral of the Holy Saviour; this fountain on Cours Mirabeau is fed by a hot spring hence the thick covering of moss; the historic centre is full of elaborate doorways; lavender is a popular product of the Provence area

The following morning we set out on a clifftop hike around some of the calanques on the coast south of Aix near Marseille. These steep sided inlets into the limestone rock are a unique feature of the Mediterranean coast. The path was pretty steep at times but the views were beautiful and it was nice once again to be out in the sun and fresh air.

Yachts in Calanque de Port MiouYachts docked in Calanque de Port-Miou near Cassis

Beside Calanque d'En VauMax, Armelle, Andrew and I on the pebbly beach beside Calanque d’En Vau

Next day the weather wasn’t so good so we had a relaxed morning, a leisurely Sunday lunch and a short walk before going to the cinema to watch ‘Citizenfour’, the documentary about Edward Snowden and his path to making the revelations about government surveillance. Even knowing the story we found some of it was very shocking and it’s definitely worth a watch if you get the opportunity.

Sunday lunchSunday lunch – “helping” Armelle make lemon meringue pie while Max roasts sea bream

Carcassonne

Next stop was the small medieval town of Carcassonne. Being big fans of the board game we had to check out the real place. We thought that we’d taken just about every possible mode of transport during our two years on the road, but getting to Carcassonne added to the list. The train links from Aix-en-Provence are not very direct and Max recommended that we look into car sharing where you pay for a seat in the car of someone already doing the journey. It turned out to not only be faster but also much cheaper.

Carcassonne La CitéLa Cité, Carcassonne

The old walled fortress known as La Cité appears to be almost completely medieval, but what we see today is largely due to heavy restoration works carried out in the 19th century. We enjoyed wandering the quaint streets, spotting details like wall plaques and nosing around in the heavily tourist oriented shops. Across the River Aude lies the less old but still historic Bastide area which was a walled town in its own right formed in the 13th century.

Chateau ComtalChateau Comtal is the castle within the fortress city

Carcassonne cathedralCarcassonne’s gothic former cathedral in La Cité, Basilica St-Nazaire, is small but filled with stained glass and decorated on the exterior by ugly gargoyles

Because the town is so small it was easy to get out into the countryside and put some miles under our boots. We did a very long round trip walk to the Lac de la Cavayere, past still sleeping vineyards but with the lanes lined with blossom, spring was definitely in the air. The lake is artificial and obviously heavily used for water sports in the summer but we saw practically no one else and found it a peaceful place to stroll around.

Vineyard near CarcassonneLooking across a vineyard towards La Cité

Toulouse

From Carcassonne it is a short hop to Toulouse. Known as the ‘Pink City’ because of the distinctive colour of its many brick built buildings, it is also the home of our friends Thomas and Jess.

Toulouse - the Pink CityThe ‘Pink City’ (clockwise from top left): Basilica of Saint Sernin; even the half-timbered buildings are pink; the magnificent Capitole is home to the town’s government; Place Saint-Étienne

After a first evening spent catching up and sampling Aligot, a kind of extra cheesy mashed potato that can be pulled into very long strings when it’s hot, and yes it is just as tasty as the description sounds, we headed into the city for a walk around its sights. We began on the top floor of the Galeries Lafayette department store for a bird’s eye view of where we would be walking…

Beside the River Garonne in ToulouseWith Jess and Thom beside the River Garonne, with La Grave Hospital in the background

We weaved through the picturesque streets passing both of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage sights, the Basilica of Saint Sernin where we also caught part of the organist’s practice, and the Canal du Midi which runs from Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea. By the time it started to rain in the late afternoon we’d covered a lot of ground and were ready to collapse into the corner of a well chosen bar to watch the England vs France Six Nations game. Thom is a big rugby fan (and player) whereas we didn’t even know who the favourite was, nevertheless it was a very exciting game with lots of tries, though we kept getting distracted by the highly amusing drunk man on the next table who kept asking us questions and promptly forgetting the answers!

Church of the JacobinsReflections inside the Church of the Jacobins. A mirror is installed around one of the pillars to make looking at the ceiling easier

Our timing was impeccable not just for the rugby but also because the Toulouse Exhibition Hall was hosting a Salon Vins et Terroirs, a big wine fair. We rented a glass for a euro and then went around the different stalls tasting the wines. Ostensibly it’s so you can decide whether to buy or not but no one takes your credit card details so we had a merry old time guided by Thom whose wine knowledge is far superior to ours. As an added benefit, a quarter of the hall was taken up with artisan food producers so we bought some meat and cheese plates to make a picnic of it. Heaven!

Salon des VinsCheese, meats and samples of red wine at the Salon Vins et Terroirs

Dijon

Paris is the most logical northwards step from Toulouse but we’ve already been there and, much as we love the city, we fancied something different. There is a slow but direct train north-east to Dijon and we read that it was an interesting place so we bought tickets. When Max heard our plans he was really pleased as Dijon is his hometown and when he found out we hadn’t yet arranged accommodation he promptly rang his parents to see if they could host us. Serge and Edwige not only graciously agreed to allow two almost strangers to stay in their spare room but also fed us extremely well and gave us lots of information on what to see in the town.

Dijon Museum of Fine ArtsOur highlights of the Museum of Fine Arts were the Tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy and the room dedicated to the Burgundian sculptor Pompon

Dijon’s Museum of Fine Arts is one of the oldest museums in France but has been recently refurbished and it shows. The exhibits are well placed, the information boards are useful and it’s an all round pleasurable experience for a half day visit. The first few rooms are themed around the Dukes of Burgundy who lived in the palace which now houses the museum, after that there’s a bit of everything with a highlight for us being the animal sculptures by François Pompon, a Burgundy born sculptor who lived a century ago despite the modern look of his works.

Dijon market buildingDijon’s market building on the afternoon before market day

We’d fortuitously planned our visit over one of the market days (held on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) and you know how much we like markets. The market building, called Les Halles, was designed by local boy Gustave Eiffel (he of the famous tower) and a few years ago was slated for demolition by the local council until a massive outcry from residents earned it a restoration instead. We’re very glad as it was a fascinating place to walk through, full of fresh vegetables, meat and fish, cheeses, cooked meats and baked items. We picked up a baguette and some of the local specialty jambon persillé (ham terrine in a parsley jelly) for our lunch.

Dijon marketFresh goods for sale inside Les Halles

After the market we picked up the ‘Owl’s Trail’, an enjoyable walking route linking the town’s most significant sights. It’s named after an owl carved into the external wall of the Notre Dame church.

Owl trailThe ‘Owl’s Trail’ – a pavement marker and the statue that the trail is named after, it’s good luck if you touch it with your left hand and make a wish

Mustard ProductionIt wouldn’t be a visit to Dijon without mustard. The Edmond Fallot shop had a production machine set up as well as tasters of traditional Dijon mustard and all kinds of strange flavours, from pain d’epices (a bit like gingerbread) to cassis (blackcurrant liqueur)

It felt like a bit of a whistlestop tour but we both really enjoyed exploring some of France away from the capital city. From Dijon, we’re ready to move on to our fourth country this month!

Florence, Italy

Florence is only a 1.5 hour train ride north of Rome but it feels very different to the capital, or any other Italian city we’ve visited for that matter. It’s very chic with lots of designer shops and the souvenir of choice appears to be leather goods – shoes, jackets and bags. The narrow streets and old buildings remind me a lot of my hometown of York – not to mention that it is also dominated by a monumental cathedral, albeit very different in style from York Minster.

Florence from Piazzale MichelangeloThere’s a beautiful view over the city from Piazzale Michelangelo

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (St Mary of the Flowers) is commonly known, as many cathedrals in Italy are, as the Duomo, the Dome. And you can see why. Construction of the church was begun in the 13th century but it was left incomplete with a big space at the end of the roof to accommodate a dome that they didn’t have the technology to build! In the early 15th century Filippo Brunelleschi stepped up to the task after studying the dome of the Pantheon in Rome. His design has been an influence for many others including Michelangelo’s dome on St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, and the Capitol in Washington DC.

Florence DuomoThe magnificent orange dome above the green, pink and white marble-clad walls of the cathedral

Unfortunately the interior doesn’t live up to the glory of the exterior being for the most part a large, plainly decorated and empty space. Beside the cathedral stands the campanile, or bell tower, and opposite the main doors is the Baptistry, separate structures but in the same style as the main church so that they form a cohesive whole. We didn’t go into either of these but we spent some time admiring the relief scenes on the Baptistry’s bronze doors which are heralded as examples of early Renaissance art for their detail and perspective depth.

Campanile and BaptistryClockwise from left: the campanile; campanile wall decoration detail; bronze Baptistry doors known as the ‘Gates of Paradise’

On our first afternoon we did a walking tour of some highlights of the historic centre. From the Duomo we walked down the old main street Via Calzaiuoli to the Church of Orsanmichele. The unusual square structure of the church with no tower or dome is due to the fact that it was once a grain market whose arches were filled in to create a church in the 14th century.

Church of OrsanmicheleThe Church of Orsanmichele has two naves, I liked the right-hand side altar with its intricate tabernacle and painting of Madonna della Grazia

Evidence of the church’s former life are visible in the ceiling hooks which were used for pulleys and the former grain chutes in the wall columns which were used to move grain from the upper to lower floors. Around the church’s outer walls statues are displayed in niches, and upstairs is a museum with the originals of the statues, including one of ‘St Mark’ by Donatello.

Museum of OrsanmicheleAdmiring the original statues in the museum on the upper floor of the Church of Orsanmichele, open only on Mondays so we were lucky with our visit day

Just along the street from the Church of Orsanmichele is Piazza Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s former city hall and later home to the super-rich Medici family who by funding vast quantities of art were responsible for kickstarting the Italian Renaissance. It’s possible to go into the entrance courtyard without paying for a ticket and we’d highly recommend it for a look at the ornate decoration.

Palazzo VecchioPalazzo Vecchio

Beside Palazzo Vecchio is the famous Uffizi Gallery (which we didn’t visit having had a bit of an art overload just the week before in the Vatican Museums). We did however walk through its courtyard to the River Arno. Ponte Vecchio is the oldest of the bridges over the river dating to 1345. Its buildings were originally occupied by butchers and tanners who emptied their waste directly into the river but nowadays they contain the very fancy shops of goldsmiths and jewellers.

Ponte VecchioPonte Vecchio’s buildings overhang the River Arno

On our second day in Florence we were able to fulfil a hankering that we’ve had since our arrival in Sicily – to finally sit in, and even drive, one of the classic Fiat 500s, or Cinquecentos in Italian. As no one else had booked for the Classic Tour on that day we got a private tour with our guide Niccolo in the lead car, Giacomo, followed by us in bright blue, 54 year old Fernando. Of course the cars have names, how else would you be able to encourage them up the hills?

Jacopo and FernandoGiacomo and Fernando

Before we set off Niccolo showed us Fernando’s controls as well as giving us a lesson on the horn – one toot is angry, two to say hi, three or more if you wish to show your appreciation as you pass a beautiful lady – yep, this is Italy… We took turns at the driving and soon got used to the double clutch gear changes as we zipped (OK, trundled) through the beautiful Tuscan countryside surrounded on all sides by olive trees and vineyards which produce the famous Chianti wines.

Driving on the Fiat 500 tourDriving Fernando, our trusty Cinquecento, for the morning

Tuscan countrysideThe Tuscan countryside is dominated by vineyards

It was a lot of fun even if the brakes were quite terrifying – if you’re going downhill, even standing on the brake doesn’t seem to have much effect!

On the Fiat 500 tourUs with Fernando

That evening we had a very enjoyable dinner with our host Francesco and a couple of his friends. However, sitting down at the very Italian hour of 10pm resulted in our going to bed at 1am and wasn’t conducive to getting up for morning sightseeing. By the time we ventured out it was almost lunchtime so we went to the covered Central Market for a traditional Florentine sandwich of lampredotto, or tripe, specifically the cow’s fourth stomach… Somehow we seem to be eating more adventurously in Europe than we did in Asia. Not sure how that’s come about, but anyway with the parsley sauce and the top half of the bread bun dipped in the cooking broth the lampredotto was quite tasty.

Lampredotto sandwichLampredotto sandwich for lunch outside Florence’s Central Market

Afterwards we wandered through the aisles of the market hall enjoying the butchers, fishmongers and mounds of sun-dried tomatoes and fragrant porcini mushrooms. On the second floor under the roof were lots of quality looking eateries and a cookery school with a glass wall where we watched the students at work.

Central Market, FlorenceCentral Market (clockwise from top left): the market is housed in this impressive two floor building; lettuces; Florentine butcher; rays for sale at a fishmonger

As the stalls began to pack up for the afternoon we made our way to the Accademia Gallery. There’s really only one reason to visit this small art gallery, the statue of ‘David’ by Michelangelo. We’d already seen a couple of replicas of the famous statue, one outside Palazzo Vecchio and a bronze cast at the viewpoint of Piazzale Michelangelo, but we still wanted to see the original.

Versions of David in FlorenceVersions of ‘David’ outside Palazzo Vecchio and at Piazzale Michelangelo

The other rooms of this former convent contain various pieces of religious art, as well as a small museum of musical instruments, and then we rounded the corner to a sight we’d seen many times in pictures, the gallery leading to ‘David’.

Accademia GalleryThe gallery leading to the room containing ‘David’

Lining the sides of this gallery are some unfinished pieces by Michelangelo which are interesting as an insight into how he worked. Unlike most sculptors who make a plaster version first so that they can measure up the points on the marble, Michelangelo worked directly on the marble block from front to back believing that God guided him to reveal the figure which was already contained within.

Michelangelo's prisoners‘Prisoner’ sculptures in various states of completion

Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture depicts the biblical hero David as he prepares to fight the giant Goliath. It’s much bigger than I expected, standing 4.34m high, and dominates the room containing it.

Michelangelo's David‘David’ by Michelangelo

Details of Michelangelo's David‘David’ details (clockwise from left): the realistically bulging veins of his right hand; David gazes off into the distance; in 1991 a visitor attacked the statue with a hammer damaging the toes of the left foot

We were surprised by how much there is to do in Florence considering its small size. We’d definitely consider a second visit if only to have another plate of the local specialty T-bone steak which we had for dinner right before we caught the train further north…

Florentine steak

Food tour of Rome, Italy

Similar to our experience in Istanbul, organised food tours in Rome are expensive but their itineraries are well documented so we pieced together a few of the highly recommended ones and made our own. We knew we’d be missing out on the introductions, stories and explanations, but the food isn’t too unfamiliar to our British palates as, say, Vietnamese..

Breakfast – Cappuccino and Cornetto

After heading to the Testaccio area of Rome (Metro: Piramide), where most of the foody tours seems to operate, we joined the locals in Cafe Barberini to start our day with a working Italian breakfast of a cappuccino and a cornetto.

Cornetto, Cafe Barberini, Rome, Italy

A typical Italian working breakfast of cornetto, a croissant filled with Nutella or custard, washed down with either a cappuccino if you have time, or a caffe (espresso shot) if you’re running late

Cafe Barberini is also known for its hand-made chocolates, so of course we had to try one. Or two..

Handmade chocolates, Cafe Barberini, Rome, Italy

Cafe Barberini is also a chocolateria. It was difficult to choose just one, but as this isn’t the first time we’ve eaten our way through a city we knew we had to pace ourselves..
Julie chose a tiramisu in a chocolate cup (left), and I picked a cream and fondant-filled white chocolate number topped with flakes of coconut

Tasting – Volpetti’s Delicatessen

Just a few doors down from Cafe Barberini is the family owned Volpetti delicatessen.

Volpetti's delicatessen, Testaccio, Rome, Italy

Volpetti’s delicatessen, we could spend hours in here, and hundreds of Euros too.. and we wouldn’t regret a cent!

Inside, it’s a mouthwatering Aladdin’s cave of tastiness, as much a feast for the eyes as for the palate. Every conceivable surface is overflowing with delicacies. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Volpetti's delicatessen, Testaccio, Rome, Italy

A close up of the cured meats and charcuterie section. Yum!

We could have bought two of everything. The owner’s son – a large man in typical whites and every bit the stereotype of a jolly butcher – offered us a taste of the sweetest, most mouthwateringly flavourful prosciutto we’ve ever tasted. The kind of ham that would convert vegetarians on the spot. Then another slightly smoked variety that I preferred. Who am I kidding, I’d have bought both!

When we eventually tore ourselves from temptation, we reflected that it was fortunate we weren’t staying nearby, otherwise we’d completely blow our budget as we wouldn’t be able to resist popping in every day.

Interlude – Testaccio Market

You may have realised by now that we love markets – we have 15 posts about them!

Fruit and Veg stall, Testaccio Market, Rome, Italy

A typical fruit and veg stall in Testaccio market. We love the fresh produce in Italy – it tastes as good as it looks!

Originally located in Testaccio Piazza, this local market recently moved to a redeveloped block a few streets away. Most of the stall owners moved, some didn’t, and some new ones opened, though we understand it was quite the controversy at the time. It looked like almost all of the units were occupied though not all were open, but we enjoyed the variety. As usual for all markets in Italy, we found plenty of vegetable stalls, but also butchers, fishmongers, bakers, general dealers, two street-food and sandwich shops and a couple of household goods and clothing shops too.

Brunch – Pizza

Now we’re talking!

Pizza by the slice, Pizza Volpetti, Rome, Italy

Pizza in Rome is quite different to Naples. It’s pre-baked in long strips like a Roman circus (the shape of a chariot racecourse) and then cut width-wise into slices, usually with scissors

I keep trying it, but the pizza in Rome just isn’t as nice at the pizza in Naples. Oh well, the search continues :o)

Pizza by the slice, Pizza Volpetti, Rome, Italy

Our pizzas being prepared. Julie chose a Rome specialty of sliced potato, and I went with the classic cheese and cherry tomato. They also had a Pizza Bianca (front) which just looked like plain pizza bread

Interlude – Through the keyhole

One of the top-rated attractions in Rome isn’t closed on Mondays, doesn’t have entry fees, and has but a few minutes queueing time if any..

Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy

The grand but otherwise innocuous looking door of the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta. Still the reserve of the more off-the-beaten-path tours of Rome as it’s a little out of the way..

What’s all the fuss about? Why do private cars and taxis pull up, handfuls of people empty out and then peer through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta’s door?

Peering through the keyhole, Rome, Italy

Even though we knew what to expect, it was worth the little uphill climb for the view..

View through the keyhole, Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy

It’s the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica! Perfectly framed by a tree-lined path. Nice, huh?!

Snack – Trapizzino®

Sometimes there are inventions that as soon as you see it or it’s explained to you, you just think “that’s genius”. Trapizzino is one such culinary bathtub eureka moment – a fusion of freshly baked pizza dough corners filled with classic Roman stews put to use like sandwich fillings.

Trapizzino®, Rome, Italy

The Trapizzino® – anything that starts with pizza is alright in my book, but then filling it with stew and topping it with cheese – genius!

There were about 8 or 9 fillings available, including many Roman staples that involve offal or sweetbreads of some kind. Hmmm, where have I heard ‘sweetbreads’ before? We opted for the safe-sounding aubergine and parmigiana and it was very tasty indeed.

Lunch – Pasta

Testaccio sits on the Tiber river that runs through Rome, and has a long history of river trade. For reasons historians don’t yet understand, clay amphorae or vessels that were once full of olive oil were disposed of as part of this trade and formed an artificial hill near the riverbank. They weren’t just thrown down or randomly discarded – although most lay broken, they were neatly stacked and today the hill is encircled by bars, clubs and pasta restaurants.

Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

Another destination of the organised food tours is Flavio al Velavevodetto, famous as much for its excellent traditional Roman pasta dishes as for the backdrop of Testaccio Hill

Suppli', Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

We were happy to see suppli’ on the starters as we’d been looking out for it all day. It’s the Roman version of the Sicilian arancini – a filled rice-ball coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Fortunately it wasn’t as big as the Sicilian ones as we were starting to feel the pinch of our waistlines..

Tonarelli cacio e pepe, Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

Julie ordered tonarelli “cacio e pepe” – pecorino cheese and black pepper

Rigatone alla matriciana, Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

And I ordered the rigatoni alla matriciana, a classic Lazio pasta sauce made from guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato

While we found somewhere to put it all, we wished we’d ordered half-portions or got one to share as we were stuffed!

Interlude – Protestant Cemetery

Time for another break, and just inside the old city walls is the Protestant Cemetery, also known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. From their website..

Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery contains possibly the highest density of famous and important graves anywhere in the world. It is the final resting-place of the poets Shelley and Keats, of many painters, sculptors and authors, a number of scholars, several diplomats, Goethe‘s only son, and Antonio Gramsci, a founding father of European Communism, to name only a few.

John Keats' grave, Rome, Italy

The grave of John Keats (left) which doesn’t actually bear his name, just the inscription “Young English Poet … Here Lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”

It’s a narrow, walled, claustrophobic cemetery pushed up against the old city walls. We were surprised how many different nationalities we spotted – it seemed like anyone who happened to die in Rome (and wasn’t Catholic) ended up here. We spotted the graves of an Indian ambassador to Italy, a Japanese man who passed away recently, and the grand-daughter of the King of Afghanistan among many others.

Besides the historically famous, there were quite a few graves with elaborate headstones or statues, such as the one for Emelyn Story, whose husband was a sculptor..

Angel of Grief, Rome, Italy

Angel of Grief by W.W. Story (1819-95) for his wife, Emelyn and himself

When the perimeter of the city walls were extended, they incorporated this marble-clad pyramid as one-half of a city gate, which, fittingly is also a grave – that of Gaius Cestius. Constructed in 18-12 B.C., far outside the centre of Rome it was lost to undergrowth, shrubs and trees.

Pyramid tomb of Gaius Cestius, Rome, Italy

The tomb of Gaius Cestius. Sadly it’s not open to the public, but it’s amazing that the marble cladding is still intact given the materials pilfering that befell much of ancient Rome

Dessert – Gelato

The final course – there’s always room for ice-cream! Giolitti’s is a particularly noteworthy gelateria, as all of the ice-cream is properly made (i.e. not whisked up from powders) and we’d read that they’ll refuse your combination of flavours if they’re deemed to be un-complementary!

Giolitti's ice cream, Rome, Italy

Wearing 3 layers of clothing, we felt it was appropriate ice-cream weather. I chose coffee and pistachio, and Julie chose chocolate and cherry. We were also offered a healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream too

We agreed that the cherry and pistachio were the best flavours, and our combinations passed the test! Phew!

Supper – Prosciutto and Gorgonzola

When we got back to our apartment we needed a few hours to recover, kind of like that feeling you get after a really good family Christmas lunch. Similarly, later that evening we just wanted a little, light something to eat for dinner – then we remembered the prosciutto!

Parma Ham and Gorgonzola

The amazing prosciutto and gorgonzola we bought from Mr Volpetti earlier – a delightful note to end on

I’m still wondering what I can ditch from my pack to make room for a whole leg of Parma ham..

Sicilian Markets

The markets in every town we’ve stayed in Sicily have been fantastic. They’re full of interesting sights, lots of bustle and fresh local produce. We’ve stayed predominantly in apartments which it turns out is usually a cheaper accommodation option than guesthouses or even hostels and also allows us to save money on food by cooking for ourselves most of the time. In turn this means that we can more fully immerse ourselves in the markets by shopping there too.

Mercato il Capo, PalermoMarkets tend not to be in a large building or an open square but arranged through streets. They consist of a mixture of stalls, shops, and stalls spilling into the street as extensions of shops.

Vegetable stall, Mercato il Capo, PalermoVegetable stall in Mercato il Capo, Palermo

Artichokes and cauliflowersIn the winter months, both globe artichokes and cauliflowers are abundant. Confusingly the Italian name for these green cauliflowers is ‘broccoli’!

TomatoesThere are many different kinds of tomatoes available in the Sicilian markets – ‘normal’ round ones, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes (both round and plum shaped), and these ribbed beef tomatoes

Citrus fruitsOne of the main crops in Sicily is citrus fruits and winter is the main season. The markets were full of different varieties (clockwise from top left): knobbly citrons are used for making candied peel; we like that the oranges are sold with leaves attached (you can also see prickly pear fruits in this photo); lemons; blood oranges

Fish Market in CataniaThe Fish Market in Catania – bustling in the morning, just a few drifting carrier bags and gulls picking up scraps in the afternoon

Fish display

SwordfishSwordfish was one of the most common (and easily recognised) fish that we saw in Sicily. We were surprised by how big the individual fish are

Salt codSalt cod (baccala in Italian) is a Sicilian specialty. These fillets are drying in the sun but we saw it for sale completely dry, with a salty crust and stiff as a board, or pre-soaked for shoppers who hadn’t planned so far ahead

Butcher, CataniaWe enjoyed watching the butchers preparing the meat. They also make delicious sausages and parcels of meat or chicken stuffed with, for example, pistachios or ham and cheese before being neatly tied with string or assembled onto skewers

Lamb butcher

PorchettaWe spotted this roast suckling pig on top of a butcher’s counter in Palermo

Scooter in Palermo marketWhile shopping we learnt that we needed to listen for scooters zipping through the market (just like in Vietnam)

Delicatessen truckDelicatessens sell a range of cheese as well as cured and cooked meats. We found a good trick was to ask for our parmesan cheese to be ‘macchinato’ – the shopkeeper would then weigh the block before putting it through a pulverising machine behind the counter. Much fresher than the dry parmesan dust from the supermarket and better than we could manage at home as none of our rental apartments was stocked with a grater

Siracusa delicatessenI love this stall as it’s packed with so many Sicilian specialties – sundried tomatoes, dried herbs and chilli flakes, olives and salted capers, preserved fish (salt cod, smoked herrings and anchovies both salted and jarred in olive oil)

OlivesThe owner of this olive stall in Siracusa thrust a spoon containing two olives towards us and said in his incredibly gravelly voice “Eat this. It’s good.” He was right

WalnutsWalnuts are also locally grown. This stall was in Catania

Coffee beansPerhaps unsurprisingly for a country which has influenced the whole world’s coffee culture, freshly roasted and ground coffee is easy to come by

Knife sharpenerThere were a few non-food shops here and there in the markets such as this knife sharpener hard at work in the Vucciria Market in Palermo