12 Jan 2015

Where to find authentic Roman food in the Eternal City (plus a 20% discount)

Is it possible to have a bad meal in that culinary wonderland of Italy? Actually, it's surprisingly easy! Especially in the very big, touristy cities such as Venice & Rome, filled with so many dining options that choosing where to eat is like throwing the dice. Unless you know where to go, what to avoid - or better yet, have a local take you around. Now, it may not be easy to acquire an Italian friend immediately, though if you're staying at a BnB or an apartment, always, always ask the owner - they often have the best suggestions. The next best thing is to leave yourself in the very capable hands of Eating Italy Food Tours

We have had a couple of indifferent meals in Rome when we travelled there in the summer of 2013, so on our latest trip in Oct 2014, we decided to trust the experts. We chose to try the Taste of Testaccio Food Tour as we hadn't visited this Roman neighbourhood, which is considered to be the place where cucina romana (Roman cuisine) was born. What better place than this to find authentic Roman food in the Eternal City?

The Testaccio tour has a choice of 3 departure timings and we decided to go on the 11.15 a.m. tour. The tour goes on for more than 4 hours, so make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes and carry a bottle of water (and an umbrella, depending upon when you're going); and please skip breakfast if you want to do justice to this tour! The thing with guided tours is that your experience largely depends on the guide, and we were lucky to have Domenico - a tour guide, ex-UN worker, singer in a rock band and an all-out entertainer.

5 Jan 2015

5 reasons to visit Linz, Austria

A very Happy New Year from Mumbai! How has 2015 begun for you? I started the New Year by falling ill, but it did give me some time to sort through the photos from my recent visit to Austria. So here’s the first post of 2015 – on the culturally happening and very charming city of Linz. In Austria most people usually end up visiting Vienna (read Where to Eat and Stay in Vienna) and Salzburg (especially fans of Mozart, or Sound of Music), maybe Innsbruck. Another place I highly recommend is Hallstatt, the oldest still-inhabited village in Europe.

Since I had already visited these places in the summer of 2013, I decided to check out a new city this time around. I opened up the map, well Google Maps actually, and Linz caught my eye, as it’s a short train ride from Vienna, which was my base. So I started doing some research online (the Linz Tourism website is full of helpful information in English, and it was my starting point). I spent just one day in the city, which is certainly not enough, but I look at this trip as a recce for another, longer trip in the future! 

So here's my Linz travel guide for you!

30 Dec 2014

Where to Stay and Eat in Vienna, Austria

2014 is almost on its way out, but I thought I'd sneak in one last post before the ball drops. It's time to make your 2015 resolutions, and I do hope that you will have at least a couple of travel resolutions - places to tick off your bucket-list, experiences to add to your adventures list and culinary treats to be had in foreign lands! 

One of my favourite places from this year's travels is Vienna. I recently visited it to experience the fairytale wonderland that is the Christmas markets in Vienna. If you haven't already been to Vienna, I highly recommend you add it to your list of must-visit places. Whether you're a history buff or a culture vulture, you will find Vienna charming. There are stunning imperial palaces, impressive art and architecture, pretty parks and sweet delights (of the pastry kind) to tempt you. 

And I'm not the only one recommending it; Vienna is ranked #8 on Lonely Planet's Best in Travel - Top 10 Cities for 2015 list! If you need more reasons to visit, take a look at my pick of top 10 things to do in Vienna

Here is my mini-guide on where to stay and eat in Vienna. 

22 Dec 2014

5 Best Christmas Markets in Vienna, Austria

I have always been fascinated with white Christmas, and visiting Europe during Christmas was high on my travel to-do list. And while it didn't snow, I did get a chance to see the gorgeous city of Vienna, all dressed up in glittering festive lights for Advent. Last week, the Tourist Board of Vienna invited me to come and experience the traditional Christmas markets of the city, so I hopped on the plane for a (too) short visit! I had visited Vienna in summer last year, and fallen in love with its elegant streets lined with statuesque buildings, its parks and the sheer sense of history and culture that is all-pervasive, not to mention its historic coffee houses and their sweet delights

Vienna is in its element in winter, with the Christmas markets and decorative lights transforming it into a shimmering fairyland. I was quite lucky weather-wise; though the temperature was in the range of 3-6°C, it didn't rain and the fog was minimal as well. Of course, this Mumbai girl was wrapped up in several layers of warm clothes, and it certainly made my Christmas market hopping easier!

Here are the 5 best Christmas markets in Vienna that you should definitely visit. 

The Largest One - at Rathausplatz

Vienna's (and Austria's) largest Christmas Market is set against the backdrop of the imposing City Hall (Rathaus) in Rathausplatz. This market is home to the tallest Christmas Tree in the city, usually standing some 30 feet tall. The market also has many other decorated trees - some with hearts, some with gift boxes; there was even one with cupcakes! Huge butterflies adorned the market, and in the evening when the lights came on it looked pretty festive. Over the past few years Vienna has replaced more than 75% of its Christmas lights with eco-friendly LED lights, and the tree in Rathausplatz is completely bedecked with these. 

11 Dec 2014

Ascoli Piceno - City of 100 towers (& faded marble glory)

As we drove around Le Marche, I was beginning to sink into the rhythm of "Slow Italy" - wandering around medieval towns, gaping at some real gems of Renaissance art, the mandatory evening passeggiata, followed by a local liqueur at the corner cafe - life in Le Marche is all about slowly savouring the moment, and then some more. One of my favourite places in the region was Ascoli Piceno, known as the city of 100 towers. While historical records show that the city had some 200 towers, today about 50 of them still stand - quiet sentinels, presiding over this medieval city built in marble.

Ascoli Piceno's foundations pre-date those of Rome's by several centuries; the city was established by the Italic tribe of Piceni on the important salt trade route known as Via Salaria. Ascoli has a long, proud history - from being a federated city in 268 BC to revolting against Rome in 91 BC, from being ruled by the Lombards and the Franks in the Middle Ages, to finally becoming a part of Le Marche and unified Italy in 1860.