It’s been a week of serious transit — a long bus trip, several flights, even a couple of taxi rides! However, we’ve been very well fed during our journey from Skopje to Kuala Lumpur, as we went on three delicious food tours.
Monday 28/10: We started the week in Skopje, Macedonia, a charming city with more statues than it knows what to do with. Unfortunately we had a lot of work to get done, so we spent most of the day holed up in our hostel before making our way to the bus station for our trip to Thessaloniki. Since the clocks had just changed, the sun was already setting at our scheduled departure time of 5pm — not that we left then. A couple of passengers managed to hold us up for a full half hour.
The trip took around four hours including the border stop and a twenty-minute break at a rest area; we were exhausted by the time we finally arrived at our hostel, Rent Rooms, and collapsed gratefully into bed.
Tuesday 29/10: Our first food tour of the week was Tastes of Thessaloniki with Urban Adventures. The guide Thanasis told us that he wants his guests to feel like friends that he’s showing his favourite spots to. As we were the only participants on this particular tour, this concept worked really well — the only problem was that we ate far too much! So much, in fact, that we had to have a lie down before heading out again in the late afternoon to see the waterfront and visit the Byzantine Museum.
Wednesday 30/10: While Craig stayed behind to get a bit of work done, I went for a walk to see a little of Thessaloniki’s upper town. The view from the fortress was almost pure white due to the heavy fog that hung over the city, so I didn’t linger long — we had a plane to catch anyway!
Unfortunately, this plane was delayed by three hours. We spent the time eating complimentary pastries and chatting with a fellow New Zealander who was also heading to Rome, and finally arrived at the lovely Blues BB guesthouse at around 6pm. Our host Sabio recommended a lovely restaurant nearby, where the food was good and the prices fair. Unfortunately we’ve been spoiled by Balkan prices, so despite its reasonableness, it felt very expensive — going back to New Zealand is going to be a shock!
Thursday 31/10: I’d learned my lesson on Tuesday and didn’t eat breakfast before heading out the door for our Eating Italy food tour. We left in plenty of time for our 10.30 start, and wandered slowly through the centre of Rome, admiring the ruins that lay along our route. Unfortunately we couldn’t find our guide, despite arriving early, and hadn’t saved the meeting instructions on our phones to confirm what our memories were sure of. My phone wouldn’t connect to a network and Craig’s was out of credit, so we couldn’t call; the nearest payphone wouldn’t accept the coins we worked hard to change, and we couldn’t find an open wifi network. Eventually Craig managed to send a tweet and download the arrival instructions; these included directions to the second stop on the tour.
We made our way there and chatted with the owner of the restaurant. “Eating Italy tour?” we asked. “Yes, tonight,” he replied. Turns out our contact had sent us the meeting instructions for the wrong tour! The restaurant owner kindly called the office, and we were given directions across the river to a tour that had just started. In an Amazing Race-style adventure, we made our way to the first address, where there were no groups, then to the second, which was full of people — but not our people.
We asked a member of staff. “Around the corner,” he said. And there, around the corner, we found a pizzeria, 11 tourists, and a guide talking about the history of the pizza. Win.
Both the guide and our contact were extremely apologetic about our misadventure, but we’d loved it, just as we loved the tour. We’d missed the first stop (tiramisu), but there was still four hours of food and culture to experience. As well as pizza, we ate cheese, prosciutto, suppli and gelato; visited a market for bruschetta, buffalo mozzarella, and cannolo; and ate three types of pasta in a restaurant built into a hill of amphora shards.
The food was spectacular but I also enjoyed the cultural stops: we visited the graves of John Keats and Percy Shelley, saw the Pyramid, and learned about an old slaughterhouse.
Friday 1/11: Because we’re suckers for Italian food, we’d decided to have another food-themed day, this time with Walks of Italy. Not that we did much walking. We caught a train to Tuscany, where we were met at the station by our hostess Alina. She, her mum, and a couple of members of staff then took us on a cooking adventure: we prepared tiramisu, cooked pasta from scratch, whipped up some roast pork loin, and made risotto as well — and then we ate it all outside with a bottle of wine. Alina, who’s a professional sommelier, also gave us a couple of little talks about olive oil and wine, and drove us back to the station when it was time to go.
Saturday 2/11: Since check out was at 10am and we didn’t have to leave for the airport until 12.30, we left our bags at the guesthouse and went for a last walk around Rome. Our wanderings took us past the Colosseum and into the throngs of tourists around Palatine Hill; we didn’t have time to stand in line to enter the ruins but instead walked up the hill to peek into a church at its summit.
Back at Termini station after picking up our bags, we dined on pizza and McDonald’s salad before hopping on the bus to the airport. And then, disaster struck — traffic was at a standstill. We were already cutting it a little fine and couldn’t afford to lose time, and were starting to get worried about missing our flight when we finally inched past the cause of the problem, a minor accident. Somehow the bus driver managed to get us to the airport only five minutes after schedule, and we were further helped by the lack of lines for check in.
We were flying Sri Lankan, and were impressed by their friendly staff and tasty meals. We all had individual screens for entertainment (we finally watched Monsters University!) but the screen quality wasn’t great and overhead announcements were so crackly as to be unintelligible.
Sunday 3/11: For the first time in our travels together, we had a layover of a few hours. The arriving flight landed a little late and the departing one left earlier than we thought it was going to, so we ended up with just an hour or so in Colombo, followed by a three-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. Since we were spectacularly tired by this point, exchanging money and finding our bus to the city seemed quite a challenge, as did getting onwards train tickets and finding our platform at KL Sentral.
We’re staying with our friends Dexter and Natalie, who we met through Couchsurfing last time we were in Malaysia; they met us at the station and took us out for a delicious steamboat dinner.
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