Caren Kollis* has a secret talent. A fashion-forward superpower. She is, alongside many other charming and quirky qualities, a curious clothing chameleon. Somehow, without any observable algorithms in use before changing, she manages to dress herself in camouflage for the interior décor of that day’s outing, almost without fail. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. We went to the Milano Duomo and low and behold her navy, brown and cream dress flowed seemlessly with the ancient marble patterned flooring. We checked in to our Bolognian hostel to find the bunk bed privacy curtains were the very same grey and cream stripe of her newly purchased co-ord set, which she obviously happened to be wearing that day. We attended the opera in Verona and her floor length, feather embellished ball gown was an exact replica of that worn by the actress playing Tosca in the grand Arena di Verona. (Ok, last example may contain a touch of poetic license… (It’s always nice to provide examples in quantities divisible by three.))
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I had a window of approximately five hours in Milan between bidding farewell to my beloved Moo Moo and welcoming my next long-lost guest, Miss Kollis. I decided not to squeeze in a third trip to Budapest as I felt the timing might be a little tight. Instead I headed to the Airbnb which Caren and I had booked for our first two nights in the city. A teeny tiny studio flat on the eighth floor of a teetering tower block in the outskirts of the city; it was not the Regina Palace of Stresa but it was good enough for a couple of short arses to kip in for a couple of nights. Learning that the weather in the UK had been quite frightful, I was looking forward to welcoming my latest guest to the warm, sunny climes of the Italian capital. So, when said guest caught sight of me waiting for her at the metro station – looking as if I’d just taken a fully-dressed shower – she must have been a little bemused. The heavens decided to open 30 seconds after I left the apartment block, and instead of releasing a quick two-minute drizzle, the clouds decided to keep on whaling, with increasing fervour, for around 30 sodding minutes; drenching me completely and reversing the just-washed hairstyle I was previously sporting. (Maybe they just wanted to make Caren feel more at home. (With the weather that is, not the bad hair do.))
With all the best intentions of the first day of holiday, we booked Skip the Line tickets to the Duomo for the following day, setting our alarms for 8 am in order to get up, get ready and arrive at the ticket exchange office the moment it opened. At 11.30 am we were just finishing breakfast at the Airbnb and contemplating packing our bags for the day ahead. We arrived at the ticket office way ahead of schedule (if you use Hong Kong time), and did, literally, skip the whole flipping queue. It was bloody fantastic! We were escorted by our own guard through an alternative entryway, waving like the queen at the long line of tourists melting in the heat (the weather was now back to normal) waiting to enter the Duomo the conventional way (pity). The inside of the cathedral was big and grand and beautiful (and of course in sync with Miss Kollis’ OOTD). With such a tiring morning under our belts we needed to refuel and found THE MOST AMAZING BURGER PLACE EVER just a few streets behind the Duomo, with prices that were surprisingly budget friendly (especially for me as I didn’t pay a thing!!!) (love you long time Caren). Quinoa & vegetable burger + prosecco for me; salmon & avocado burger + aperol spritz for her. We knew this was going to be a good week.
Following the afternoon’s low-key activities of exploring the roof – roof ! – of the Duomo and discovering the best – BEST – gelateria on the whole of planet Earth (HEAVENLY liquid chocolate-filled cone (your choice of white, milk or dark (for me: dark)); DIVINE scoop of 80% cocoa dark chocolate gelato; SCRUMDIDDLYUMPTIOUS scoop of the creamiest, nuttiest, most indulgent pistachio gelato** I am yet to encounter (and I have met a fair few) with the FANDABBYDOZICAL addition of whole roasted pistachios; all topped with a circular wafer to crown the masterpiece with the halo it rightly deserved) we headed back to the penthouse to watch Midnight in Paris (thumbs up from me (Caren started snoring halfway through so I wouldn’t trust her verdict whatever it may be)) before getting a good night’s sleep ahead of travelling to Bologna in the morning.
Bologna was an interesting experience. Ninety percent of the city’s shops and restaurants were “closed for summer” (eh?) so we had to do a bit of detective work to seek out the open gems. Spoiler alert: we are great detectives. First for the hostel. Once we had found it (after standing directly opposite it for around ten minutes wondering where the holy moly it was) we were thrilled to discover it was one of the best hostels (like, ever). In the reception area there sat (permenantly) a giant penguin teddy (in penguin scale probably three-times life size) which pretty much secured the hostel’s ranking in my personal hall of fame. Then there was the loose leaf tea selection. Approximately sixteen varieties of floral / herbal / medicinal blends. All. For. Free. 😱. And then there were the dorm rooms. Humongous handmade boxpark-esque bunk bed set up with the most fashionable privacy curtains (remember – the perfectly matched grey and cream stripe). We were given the two bunks at the furthest corner of the room, allowing us space to be messy with our luggage, change in (semi) privacy and, most importantly, conduct a mini indoor workout using the wall as our resistance and water bottles as our weights. (Lol. What a couple of tossers.)
Our first day here we dubbed ‘alcohol-free Monday’. Well. That lasted about three hours. Walking back from our initial sortie into town we passed through a cool graffiti-laden street with a collection of street-food-type vans posing as cocktail bars, each with outdoor seating, fairy lights and hip-looking bartenders (not a beard-free chin in sight) inticing us with their toxic, herbalacious mixology. We looked at each other and we knew: ‘alcohol-free Monday’ was totally doomed. (What had we been thinking?) After dinner at the hostel (à la Rachelle 😉), a couple of beers and a rounding up of a posy of multi-cultural mates, we headed out to our recent hipster find (and were not smug about this excellent location scouting in the slightest). An evening of delicious twists on the popular classics ensued: rosemary-infused G&T’s, passionfruit-spiked mojitos and a supremely floral lavender rendition of the mai tai (the latter was a positively abominable concoction but – somehow – Caren enjoyed it). The following day was, without our consultation, alcohol-free Tuesday (due to the bloody horrific hangovers).
Next stop was Verona, home to a mammoth opera-focussed amphitheatre, all things Romeo & Juliet and our eccentric Airbnb host Catia (crazy cat lady is definitely unfair, but gives you the vague gist). Her first welcome was via the intercom to the main gate: “Caaarun?”, she hollered from the other end of the line, buzzing us in. We climbed the white marbled staircase (couldn’t have dreamed of a better first impression) and met our wide-eyed, charming and hospitable host. Her English was the perfect combination of Google Translate, demonstrative facial expressions and exuberant hand gestures, which made her even more adorable. (Teaching her how to pronounce ‘corkscrew’ was my personal highlight of our short-lived but meaningful relationship.) Verona was the city in which Caren and I spent the longest period – a whole three nights – so we were able to enjoy the city while also devoting a full day to topping up our tans, the amalgamation of which equalled a very happy travel buddy. (Albeit a couple of hitches: our pool day involved a leisure centre with the essential requirement of a swimming cap to gain rightful entry into the pool (we were without); the second half of Caren’s already disappointing smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich got attacked by a swarm of ants (chucked straight in the bin); Caren’s mini portion of farro salad from the supermarket deli counter (of which I had a pre-packaged full portion (deli-cious)) was most definitely off to the point of tasting fizzy (after thoughtful consideration chucked in the bin); and Caren made a less than pleasing choice on the cheer-up-have-an-ice-cream front (Magnum double raspberry – not to her liking in the slightest) (should’ve been chucked in the bin), but she was encouraged with the day’s impact on the progression of her tan.)
Along with the strenuous sunbathing and city strolling, our three days in Verona featured a hefty portion of eating (no surprises there). And it was all freakin’ fantastic. (Bar Caren’s aforementioned unfortunate food day at the pool.) Thanks to some extensive culinary research (I just can’t help myself) we ate at some truly delicious little finds. We frequented a tiny family-owned restaurant specialising in parmigiana (the best we’d ever tasted), cured meats (not to my pesky palate, but ideal for that of my ten-year-long-suffering pescetarien turned biggest meat eater in the West Midlands companion) and (in true Italian style) fresh pasta – what else?! (no, not pizza – we’re not in Naples anymore, darling) – on our first night in town. Had you asked me before my visit to Parma a Tavola if a great big hunk of parmigiana would serve well as an antipasti you may have been in receipt of one of my ‘is that a serious question, you barbaric fool?’ looks (regrettably a semi-frequent expression of mine). But this parmigiana was SOMETHING ELSE. And the wine… Don’t get me started on the wine! One of the cheapest glasses of red going (obvi babe; I’m travelling) was a crystal boule of delicious liquid red velvet yummyness, which complemented the parmigiana, the pasta, and even the ruddy walls simply superbly. (After the second glass even the prosciutto tasted rather nice.) The pasta (duo de ravioli) was, of course, buonissimo, and I went home a merry (mood) merry (state) girl. Ending our Veronese jaunt in a highly acclaimed fish and seafood restaurant was an equally excellent decision (thanks a mil’, Lonely Planet). To start we shared red snapper tartare – surprisingly sensational, then I devoured a sweet (😉) sweet pea soup with the most delectable scallops this seafood-loving cake hole has ever demolished. The evening was a fully-fledged fish-filled fea-esta.
Back in the capital for our final night (Miss Collis flew home from Milan at an unearthly hour the next morning) we of course used our last few hours effectively; spending the majority of the time sitting outside Cioccolati Italiana – revisiting our favourite gelateria and reliving our out-of-this-world, orgasmic, omnipotent, (pistachio-based) ice-cold taste sensation. (Karen moaned at me for being a boring bitch, flavour choice wise, so this time I substituted the divine 80% cocoa dark chocolate for a divine salted caramel (all other variables exactly the same – I’m not a total maverick) and it was just as orgasmic – what a relief.)
The hours that followed (in post-pistachio bliss) involved reminiscing about the past eight days’ LOLs, the comically-timed outfits, and, of course, the indecent amount of pistachio gelato which had been consumed. And you know what? We didn’t regret one mouthful.
*Name changed to protect identity.
**Potential blog post title which just missed the cut: ‘If Pistachio’s Not Your Favourite Flavour You Can’t Sit With Us’.