Chasing Carbonara | Attempt 2

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If at first you don’t succeed making a dish, try, try again.

Since returning from Roma I’ve been chasing that perfect carbonara. It’s a diabolically simple dish with only a few ingredients. The first attempt was good but not as creamy as the plate I devoured in Trastevere. Last week at a restaurant in the ‘burbs I tried another carbonara dish. It wasn’t as good as my first effort. So I had two choices: go back to Roma or try to make it myself.

Sadly, my bank account doesn’t yet afford me the chance to haphazardly chase pasta dishes around the globe. I could however go to Trader Joes and get some cheese and thick-cut apple wood bacon.

Revisions since last time:
-Parmesan instead of pecorino.
-3 yolks and 1 whole egg.
-Heavily salt pasta water.
-If you think you’ve added enough freshly ground pepper, you haven’t. Add more.
-Use more bacon.
-Sprinkle in a few red pepper flakes.
-Remember to add minced garlic to cooked bacon and oil.

The sauce’s texture was bellissimo. The fettuccine noodles were al dente.

Short of looking out on the Tiber or Colloseo, this dish has been conquered.

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6 Essential Apps to Avoid Getting Killed in Europe

travel, apps, iphone, ios, google, podcast, tripadvisor, metro, paris, italy, rome, florence, venice, zelda, nes

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I love apps. I love staying connected. And I love technology that helps me do things smarter and more efficiently.

Prior to leaving for Italy and France, I read a stack of articles including some on essential apps when traveling. I loaded up my phone with a few of them. Here are the ones I found to be most useful and I credit with keeping me alive.

TripAdvisor

This app comes in quite handy and barely edges out Google Maps for what I used most during the trip. You can download city guides for wherever you are going. They have most of the major cities. The best features are walking guides that cover must-see attractions. Beyond that, the app also has some historical context for sites and attractions pulled from reviews on the site and Wikipedia. The app also has some pretty good maps that can help orient you with where you are. If you are looking for a particular place, they have a “Point Me There” button that tells you which way to start walking/hobbling.

Google Maps

I should also mention I love Google. I consider myself a Google disciple and await them sending me those funky glasses. I’m holding out to be a beta user for the self-driving car. But, their map app saved countless time wandering the streets. When you have WiFi turned on your phone, somehow the app figures out where you are. This goes for both this app and TripAdvisor’s. In Venice, maps are deemed useless. You wander the streets and hope for the best.

zelda, hyrule, map, nes

At times I felt like I was in Zelda without a map, wandering room after room, only to end up looking at a canal with nowhere to turn. Google Maps saved me time and miles of walking. I used it mostly when trying to find a particular attraction or at night when trying to get back to the hotel.

Podcasts

This may seem like an unlikely pick, but there is a font of knowledge in the podcast and iTunes U app stores. My main go to was Rick Steves. He has museum guides for all of the major attractions in Italy and Paris. I downloaded these before I left, then popped in my headphones at the museum and had a personal tour guide directing my attention to important works of art and sculpture. I bought the audio guide at the Vatican for 7 euros and regretted it. I didn’t have my headphones so I had to put the mini remote/speaker thing directly on my ear, risking Cauliflower ear. Maybe they disinfect them with Holy water. It’s so loud in the Vatican Museum you can’t hear the audio. Plus you have to key in the numbers for the items you want to know more about. Fun fact: the Vatican has an ungodly amount of things.

The audio tours from Rick are free and most are close to an hour. I’d highly suggest going this route if you don’t want to hire a private or group tour guide.

MetrO

Oh, the Metro. How I love thee…

I used this app mainly in Paris. It works extremely well. It works offline and presents you with multiple route options. You can even have it use your current location, likely thanks to the little sprites and lemmings toiling inside my phone. Our train stop in Paris was Jules Joffran. With that knowledge, I could plug-in my current location and have the app tell me how to get back to the stop closest to my hotel. It presented the shortest time route as well as that with the fewest transfers. This is a must if you’re going to Paris. The Metro is amazing and this app helps you take advantage of its greatness.

Google Translate

I didn’t use this a ton because it requires an internet connection. But when I was back at the hotel, I’d use it for some phrases I wanted to know. Or if I wanted to look up what I had ingested at dinner. Cuisses de grenouille equals frog legs. FYI.

Google+/Dropbox

As you may have noticed. I take a fair amount of pictures. These apps allowed me to sync my photos when I had a wi-fi connection. One of my greatest fears, next to being in a foreign prison, was having my phone stolen or broken. Friends and relatives have had cameras stolen or broken when abroad and lost all their photos. These apps diminish the gut-wrenching pain if your camera/phone is stolen. One bonus for Google+ ahead of Dropbox, Google+ has unlimited storage. Dropbox caps you at 5GB.

Honorable Mentions

I tried a few other apps but they ended up not being of use for me. I downloaded a WiFi finder and a few language apps. Some had helpful phrases and more robust capabilities if you paid a few dollars for the full version.

Final note:

You read that time above correctly. I now wake up pre-6AM. I haven’t consistently woken up this early since high school. The thought that people voluntarily get up at this hour frightens and saddens me. Then again, I have found this new time to write and start my day at a more leisurely pace.

Happy travels and comment with any apps you found helpful during your travels.

Rush Hour in Venezia

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Rush hour is rough for everyone. Even gondoliers on the grand canal. Coincidentally, the traffic jam shot was at 5pm Venice time.

Here are a few other shots from my first day in that city that looks like a fish.

Following Florence is a nearly impossible task for any city. There is a lot I want to share about the beautiful town and hopefully I’ll get the time eventually.

My initial impression of Venice is it is incredibly touristy and akin to a miniature Disneyland. It even has a Disney store. Everyone speaks English and you don’t get the joy of hearing the sing song cadence of Italiano. The city is a bit tough to navigate but you just wander around and hope for the best. That’s the beauty of vacation time. You don’t have to be anywhere. So if you get lost, that’s part of the experience.

Tonight closed with venturing away from the center of the fish toward the southeast side. It had far less tourists and was more relaxed. Then on the way back, we stopped in San Marco square for the battling bands.

Ciao ciao, or as they say in Venice, good night!

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un vasaio e il suo cane (a potter and her dog)

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Yesterday was the last night in Firenze on what I’m quickly learning is an epic and ambitious trip. The itinerary includes Roma, Firenze, Vinezia and Paris.

We had hit all the main sites on our agenda in Florence and decided to visit one more before departing today. Our “wrong” turn led us up a monstrous hill to see this potter working on a clay teapot. While watching from the street a woman came up and slowly opened the door to the workshop revealing the friendly dog.

The potter started speaking Italian, then when she saw my face, which can best be described as that of a person who is lost, drunk or supremely disoriented, she began speaking English. She said she’d been working on the teapot all day.

“I hate it,” she jokingly growled before picking it up and giving it a look of a displeased parent.

I love it when wrong turns turn out to be the best turns.

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Persone che guardano la gente

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Whether at the grocery back home or wandering the streets of Firenze, I always enjoy people watching. Yesterday was my first full day in Firenze. While there are fewer unique characters than in Roma, the more relaxed pace and overall calmer vibe are a welcome relief to the overwhelmingness of Roma.

The leisurely tempo can best be seen in workers taking a moment for a cigarette or to stare out the window looking at the tourists.

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