My 25 Euro Cornetto

I just missed my train and am drowning my sorrow in a giant cappuccino at the station café. Is there anything more depressing than a train station waiting room at 7:00am? Maybe the Reg bookstacks during finals week.

My original plan for this morning was to stopover in Florence for 2 hours before my train to Naples. I had already day tripped there last week but I did not get a chance to see the Galleria d’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s David. But this dummy here just had to stop to get the pisctacchio cornetto she spied in the bakery window, didn’t she? So now I get to spend two extra hours in Bologna Central Station – 25 Euro poorer and kicking myself over and over again for making such a rookie mistake. I am angrily chewing. The brioche should taste perfectly sweet and doughy, but all I taste is salt.


Sometimes these were filled with strong rum cream. Venice was pretty great because of that.

I should rewind and first say, Buongiorno! Back in November, I spotted a $350 round-trip ticket from Cairo to Rome for January and I went for it. The great thing about working at AUC is that we get the American, Coptic, and Islamic holidays off, allowing me to take a 15-day (!!) vacation this month. What’s not so great is the little spending money I have saved up from my job. But through proofreading and babysitting gigs, I’ve managed to scrape enough together to travel quite comfortably for two weeks.

After five months of living in a Muslim country, I kicked off in Rome with a huge fanfare of prosciutto. Melon-wrapped prosciutto, prosciutto Panini, prosciutto and mozzarella sampler plate, cheap supermarket prosciutto on a 1Euro baguette – alas, I am now officially done with prosciutto.

From Rome, I went on to Florence and then Venice, which together constitutes the holy Trinity of any Italian trip. Though each city has a distinct individual history, they all are located in Northern Italy and you just feel the reliance on tourism in the restaurants, stores, and sights. Well of course there are natives (even native Venetians though they only number 66,000), but I couldn’t easily shake off the “Disneyland” vibe from any of those cities. If you will allow me a few myopic generalizations, Rome is for the famous monuments, Florence is for Renaissance art, and Venice is for honeymooners.

Thus, I’m dedicating an entire post just for Bologna because:

  • I think it’s under appreciated.
  • I had to hunt for the Bolognese tourist attractions amongst a sea of local spots, whereas the exact opposite was true for the Trinity.
  • There are already thousands of travel articles written about Rome, Florence, Venice.

I’ll definitely get that Bologna post up soon. Recently, a lot of my friends are planning trips to Europe and have asked me for backpacking advice. As I wrote my lengthy replies, I realized that I actually am qualified to share practical tips and design itineraries for 20-something kids who want an exciting yet affordable travel experience. A lot of travel sites with lengthy forums and discussions seem to be dominated by an older demographic and those with families. It’s probably because us youngins’ tend to wing it, which I’ve come to believe is always not the best way to travel.

But for now, I will say ciao to the North as I make my way South to the sun-drenched region of Campania. I’m planning on hitting Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi coast. It’s also going to be my first time Couchsurfing! Please pray that no pistaccio baked good will cause me to miss another train. Grazie.

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The coat of arms for Rome, Florence, Venice, and Bologna. Sorry Rome, but why are you so basic?


Pistachio Eclairs: A Way of Life

I remember my first eclair like it was yesterday. Wandering lost as usual, I was struck as if by Cupid’s arrow when I walked past…

I gingerly stepped past the hand-painted, Hollandaise colored doors and into a new world. Perfectly rounded macarons, lined up in rows – just barely brushing their canele neighbors in their glass domed atrium. White powdered lemon meringues as big as my head (which I’m told is bigger than average, thanks Charlie) stacked like a Roman beehive monument. St. Honore cake wearing hats of dolloped cream. Actually, just cream as far as the eye can see – a driblet oozing from a beignet, peeking out from between the sheets of a mille-feuille, unabashedly holding up the top of the Paris-Brests.

Picking out just one pastry to grace my mouth and bless my taste buds would be like… well, choosing just one pastry from a Parisian patisserie. Luckily, I have a system for situations like this: just pick the thing with pistachio in it because God knows America has a severe under-appreciation for pistachio (and chestnuts, and figs, and good coffee). And that’s how I ended up meeting my future husband:

Seriously though. I find myself thinking about pistachio eclairs at various points during the day. Everything reminds me of them-mint green colors, mustaches, baguettes, smiles, kisses. How did I pass twenty years without knowing about this? Eclair means “lightning” in French and by golly, how your brilliance has lit up my life. It’s a faux-pas in French culture to eat and walk at the same time but I proudly strutted around the center of Paris with my eclair in my hand and some green cream on my nose.

Eclairs are essentially oblong cream-puffs, made with the same kind of base called “pâte à choux” or choux pastry or if that’s still too french for you, cream puff pastry. You whip up some flour, eggs, butter in a pot (gross simplification) to get the resulting dough (panade) that is both light and sticky (read: magical). Pop some piped panade in the oven, inject those suckers with pistachio cream, and you have arrived at the pearly gates.

Are you dying to sink your pistachio-deprived teeth into one (or five) of these yet? Then man up and make them. Recipe here.