Archive for November, 2018



Left our Bologna hotel before 8am to catch our train to Modena. The half-hour journey was uneventful and we got off the Modena Station and walked towards the Centro Istorico. We did not join any tours as we’ve decided to wing it on our own. We couldn’t get over the cheap train fare of €3.85 as we journeyed to the city of Luciano Pavarotti and balsamico. We walked leisurely and deliberately, stopping at every interesting shop and historic building. And those were many stops … and tastings of Modena’s balsamico!

Palazzo Ducale was our first “tourist” stop. This former residence of the Este dukes of Modena from 1452 to 1849 now houses a portion of the Italian Military Academy. Next we went on our way to the Duomo e Torre Ghirlandina. The church was dedicated to the Assumption of Virgin Mary and its former bishop Saint Geminianus. Declared a World Heritage Site, there were a lot of restoration/construction work inside the Duomo but the interiors won’t fail to impress you.

Nearby is the Mercato Albinelli. We lingered where we found all sorts of cheeses including the local “squacquerone”, a soft, creamy, spreadable cottage cheese from the area of Emilia Romagnia. Outside the mercato, we claimed a table to have our cafe espresso and cappuccino. It was cold but we “managed”, all the while checking the goings-on in the nearby flea market and the parked choo-choo train bearing small children.

Lunch was in Trattoria Aldina which is just a stone’s throw from the Mercato Albinelli. The place was packed with many locals eager to partake of the trattoria’s home-cooked favorites. We ordered the lasagne, tortellini in brodo, roast beef and meatballs with peas. Likewise, we ordered the house specialty egg dish served with truffle. (Yey!) Leaving room for dessert, we had no regrets. A word of unsolicited advice: go ahead and have your dolce. The zuppa inglese, in our book, was quite outstanding!

Trattoria Aldina’s Dolce


Called La Rossa, La Dotta and La Grassa. The Red One. The Learned one. The Fat one. Aptly so. It is the home of Mortadella, Tagliatelle al Ragu, Tortellini, Lambrusco, Tortelloni, Parmegianno Reggiano, Prosciutto (from nearby Parma), Balsamico (from nearby Modena) as well as home to fast cars (think Ferrari, Lamborghini, Ducati and Maserati). Fast engines aside, Bologna’s rich history is only overshadowed by its being hailed as the gastronomical capital of Italy. I mean, eating here has been exalted nearly to a religious experience!

We had to train ourselves into joining walking tours and visiting Bologna’s major attractions lest we get stuck in its trattorias and mercatos. Eating and wining brings out the best in us — topics hop from this to that, laughter comes easy and over time (and many trips together), we’ve shared many private jokes. Our happy bunch sure knows how to munch. And while we’ve explored Bologna’s old town, canales, towers, piazzas and churches, somehow the day’s highlight always ends with food. Even our shopping has largely been food shopping. After all, how can you resist all these quezos and ham?

Piazza Maggiore is right smack in the Center and the square layout reminds us of the many piazzas in and around Europe where the city hall, major churches and rows upon rows of shops and trattorias compete for attention. Except for this tight security crew right in front of the church. The Basilica of San Petronio in the piazza is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Saint Petronius who was the city’s bishop in the 5th century. It also happens to be the world’s 10th largest and the world’s largest brick church. It could have topped the list if the construction wasn’t stopped in time by a jealous Pope who feared this “half-complete” brick and marble church would compete with the one in Vatican. For good measure, all the surrounding land was bought and actual buildings erected adjacent to the Church to preclude any extension and expansion.

But why the tight security? An Islamic terrorist group reportedly planned to blow up the church because of an offensive Dante’s Inferno- inspired mural depicting Mohammad being tormented by the devils in hell. The artwork was rendered by Giovanni of Modena. Interesting. And jibes well with Bologna’s independent and rebellious character. How about this statue of the Pope in the same piazza but deliberately marked as that of St Petronius? Another iconic symbol of Bologna are its two towers along the ancient Via Emilia. It is said that both towers are leaning, like the one in Pisa. Asinelli Tower is the taller one; the shorter, more-leaning torre is called Garisenda. The towers were named after 2 families — obviously filthy rich — who competed on who’s building the taller torre as a show of power. Oh these horrible humans! Really, it’s easier to write and talk about food over these iconic landmarks.

An illustration of what food to find and eat in this area.

Our best meal in Trattoria da Pietro


We’re a band of baby boomers, Generation X and millennials who just can’t stay put. But we all share the same penchant for food and serendipitous adventures. Having just recently returned from Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava, our beer-drinking group of 6 grew to a band of 15 pax. Quite an assortment, if you ask me. We’ve had a few trips tucked under our belt and I must say, we had so much fun. And this happy bunch is going again! I ditched earlier plans to go to Slovenia and Croatia to join the Happy Bunch for a holiday in Bologna and Vienna. Switching from the city of dragons (Ljubljana) and towns along the Adriatic, it’d be a week instead of food porn in this part of Italy where trufa, prosciutto, tortellini, mortadella, balsamico, tagliatelle, parmeggiano, Lambrusco reign supreme!

And this was only last July!

Touchdown, Bologna!

While some of us are visiting first-timers, Bologna as homebase offers many possibilities. Florence, Lucca and Pisa are just a half hour away by train and so is Modena, and a bit farther down, Parma. Then there’s Venice, Verona and Padua or Padova. The boys would likely not miss the chance to check out the museums — NOT of artworks, but those lovely machines going by the names of Lamborghini,Ducati and Ferrari. Different folks, different strokes. That’s what I love about this group. We’d split up to chase our own dreams, and reunite in a heartbeat. Like when we all agreed to visit one day the little republic of San Marino together and hopefully do a side trip to Ravenna. But most importantly, we agree on the food and vino. That’s important — and that’s how we ended up in Ristorante Victoria for our first meal and in Mercato delle Erbe for cocktails cum dinner after our walking tour.

Prosciutto, Mortadella, Burrata

Tagliatelle al Ragu

We had mussels cooked in wine and also with tomato sauce. Both really good!

Almost devoured before we remembered to snap a photo of Tortellini al Panna

It’s only Day 1. And we plan to do a more leisurely tour of Bologna after a good rest. For sure, we’d be back in Piazza Maggiore and visit the basilica and cathedral. There’s enough time as we’d be holed up in the same hotel for the next 5 nights. Bologna is not as cold as Vienna but single digit temps outdoors walking around the piazzas need some serious consideration. After all, it’s truly beginning to look like Christmas everywhere. The Christmas trees are up, so with the Christmas lights that make the place look so festive and magical. Much time to enjoy the illuminations since sunsets are early. Like 5pm!

On our way back home, we’d catch our homeward flight out of Vienna. Staying a few nights in this capital makes me giddy with anticipation. Why? There’s the many Christmas Markets of Vienna! Too many to count. It’s the Christmas Market of my dreams! A genuine Christmas Winter with temps hovering at low single digits or negatives. Gluhwein or mulled wine, raclette, bratwurst, apple strudels, Sacher torte and all those flaky baked delights. All savoured in negative temps. I’m excited, if you haven’t caught the drift. White Christmas feels? Let’s do this!

The Christmas Market of my dreams!

Up In Mount Victoria, NSW


Only 120 kilometres west of Sydney is the small township of Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Population about a thousand. Here is a more quiet, if not more elegant section of the Blue Mountains. Beautiful manors, historic buildings reused as elegant hotels and summer retreat houses dot the landscape. There are many heritage sites in the area but they compete with the wondrous panorama at an elevation of over 1,000 meters. The mountain was named after Queen Victoria but the settlement area was originally called One Tree Hill until the arrival of the railway station and establishment of the first Post Office in the 19th century.

These days, many locals go to Mount Victoria for serious bushwalking, rock climbing, bird watching or simply to visit this charming village without the tourist crowd. There was some festivity the day we visited as we passed what looked like flea markets and food fairs. But we drove past them and began our short hike. Cox’s Road and Cox’s Descent don’t seem to sound right but that’s what the markers say. 🙄

The photos speak for themselves. I may have ventured farther than I should have — “for my age” — but the views of the valley below can be mesmerizing. I dare not even dwell on the possibilities. A strong gust of wind, an accidental slip. Oh well.


We’re done feeding the wild rainbow lorikeets , and decided we’d have more animal adventures. Bendalong Bay is not far from our homebase in Lake Conjola, and we spent the morning there watching people let loose their dogs on the beach, viewing stingrays swim near the shore, young paddlers on boards, swatting fruit flies trying to land on our cereal bars. Sun’s up and the weather’s ideal for a lazy morn.

Only one thing went wrong. Stingray feeding happens late afternoon. But no worries, we found many swim up to shore while seagulls fly above the paddlers, ducks and the pelicans. Bendalong is only a half hour north of Ulladulla and actually borders Lake Conjola National Park. The beach is good for paddle boating, surfing, swimming, fishing, and errr…. stingray feeding. I am just not sure how I’d feel swimming with these stingrays. 😜 Have a look at this video on stingray feeding in Bendalong Beach.

http://youtu.be/53O3OuAh9d0

This is Australia. The wildlife is awesome, birdwatching, bush walking and water activities the norm. Where else do you meet kangaroos in parks while you’re out intending to go kayaking or fishing? Where else can you paddle on boards while weaving through pelicans and stingrays swimming near the shore? How else can you enjoy a weekend without going outdoors? Life here is more meaningful for the outdoorsy types. Camping is always an option and bush walking is a regular activity. That is, after one does the laundry 🙄 My nephews are serious bikers and rock climbing is always a favourite sport. The girls love to shop but won’t mind weekend trips to the lake and parks. Fishing will have to wait though.

We made trips to Bendalong Bay for the stingrays and another day to Newcastle for the pelicans. Of course you’d find the seagulls almost everywhere like when we visited Kiama and Wollongong. I am amazed that all these animal and bird encounters are so freely enjoyed here in Australia. What a blessing for these Aussies!

The Pelican Feeding in Newcastle was quite a show. The feeders/carers are professionals and loved an audience and they got a pretty good sized crowd the time we visited. Weekends are never a bore. Or for that matter, neither are weekdays. The feeding show is timed daily at 4pm at the most popular tourist attraction in the Central Coast — The Entrance Waterfront. This feeding event sponsored by the Central Coast Council is quite a spectacle. I noted though that one of the volunteers clearly has a favourite among the pelicans. She calls her “One Wing” for obvious reasons. She narrated how this particular pelican lost her wing in a boat accident some years back. The upside though is this pelican will never have to go hungry as the volunteer looks for her and feeds her first. After that, the rest of the pelicans compete for the fish and other seafood scraps.


It happens daily at 3-4pm here in the park fronting Burrill Lake In Ulladulla. Open to the general public, you can come help feed these wild colourful birds who gather from all over the natural bushland for a tasty afternoon snack. The man in charge hands you a plate and the birds swoop down on your arms, hands, head and shoulders. At one point, I think I had 3 on my head and another 3 or 4 on my arm.

Call us Bird Ladies, but this was quite an experience. I had scratches all over my arms though and truth be told, I was so tense worrying the wild birds would poo on my head. I suggest you come wearing a jacket and a hat when you visit. You’d never know. But really, these wild birds look so pretty and my, were they sooooo noisy. In a nearby cage, you can have a chat with the cheeky cockatoos who never grew tired saying HELLO. There were also ducks and parrots.

Never done this before, and I was surprised they have this daily activity open to the public. It would be a truly great animal adventure for the little ones and it won’t even cost you a cent! Now this is Australia for you. Love it!


We’re on a road trip towards the South Coast. First off is Kangaroo Valley which I’ve visited some years back. (Go check the link) The Hampden Bridge is one of its attractions here, being one of only a few suspension bridges around Australia. I remember a lunch in this landmark pub and hotel called the Friendly Inn with 2 grandchildren who have since grown up. What 5 years can do!

We drove towards Lake Conjola which is really one of my favourite destinations whenever I’m in Sydney. Our family would always spend family time here but we only managed 3 of us on this trip as everyone else was busy. The resident kangaroos were too lazy to welcome us, unlike the last time I was here when we found around 30 of them Roos!

The lakeside house bears many happy memories and our stay here adds another. Revisiting the house, the lake, the nearby beach, the boardwalk, or simply walking aimlessly are favourite pastimes here. If one is into fishing, paddle boating, kayaking or swimming, there’s much to do. As for me, I’m quite happy dropping in in this heritage bakery in Milton and taking out some pies to eat in the cottage while having coffee and reading a book.

From Lake Conjola, we had the chance to drop in on nearby beaches and lakes to feed some birds and sea creatures. Upon leaving, we made our way back to Sydney with stops in Berry for a relaxing Oriental lunch at LEAF. Wish the rest of the family was with us but there would be other times, for sure.

Feel free to click on the highlighted links for more photos and details on Lake Conjola and The Heritage Bakery in Milton. Watch this site for blogs on feeding adventures with stingrays, pelicans, Lorikeets and seagulls.