Pizzas we had in Italy! (with pics)

April 22, 2009 in Food, Travel by pacejmiller

Rummaging through some more photos from our recent European adventure I came across a common theme: Pizza!

So I thought I’d post some of the pictures we took of the pizzas (and calzones) we had throughout Italy.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get photos of all of them.  These were the only ones I remembered to snap before we devoured them!

First off, Pisa – it was our first day, fresh off the plane, and we stopped for a short visit to see the Leaning Tower.  After much wandering we settled on this touristy-looking restaurant and sat outside, with the Tower still within our sights from where we ate.  We shared a sausage pizza, which was average, a tad on the salty side.  We also had a ham and mushroom calzone.  Those who follow my Travel Diary will know that I had the best calzones ever in Barcelona, so when I saw calzone on the menu I just about flipped out.  Unfortunately this was a traditional calzone (unlike the ‘gondola’ style ones I had in Barcelona) and it was surprisingly bland (though still salty).  6/10 for the pizza and 5/10 for the calzone.  They weren’t bad, but this was Italy, and my expectations were high.  Check out the pics below.

A Pizza in Pisa

A Pizza in Pisa

Ham and Mushroom Calzone

Ham and Mushroom Calzone

Next stop, Florence – where we went into one of these little pizza shops on the side of the street, lured by the tasty smells emanating from their ovens.  This place sold squarish pizzas, and they sold it according to weight (I believe).  We had ourselves a square pizza (either sausage or meatball, can’t recall) and a calzone.  This place was about half the price of the Pisa restaurant but was much tastier.  8/10 for the square pizza and 7/10 for the calzone. Photo below.

Square Pizza and Calzone - cheap but tasty

Square Pizza and Calzone - cheap but tasty

Venice was next, and I’m sure we had more than just the one taken below but I must have forgotten to take photos before eating them – a sign that they were too enticing!  This one was prosciutto I think, and we got it in one of those typical pizza vendors in the narrow streets of Venice near St Mark’s Square.  Very delicious and very big, with a thin base.  Very cheap too, like 2 or 3 Euros a slice!  I’d have to give this one a 9/10!

Big slice pizzas in Venice

Big slice pizzas in Venice

Of course, we ventured into Rome, where we stayed for 4 nights and enjoyed pizza I think almost once a day (what else is there to eat in Italy?).  I know, fat city, but we had to try as many as we could get our hands on.  The two photos below were from this family Italian restaurant on the same street as our hotel, very close to Roma Termini station.  We had a plain Margherita (with garlic) and another, you guessed it, sausage pizza.  Both were nice, but very different.  The Margherita had a very crispy base, and it was simple yet flavoursome.  The sausage one had a thicker base and had cheese on top, but it was a little stingy on the sausage.  I’d give each 7.5/10.

Your plain Magherita in Rome

Your plain Margherita in Rome

Another sausage pizza

Another sausage pizza

Just before we left Rome, we had one last meal at Roma Termini station.  We went for this average, chain-store looking place called Spizzico and got 2 slices there.  Can’t remember the flavours but one was plain and the other had meat with buffalo mozzarela, but both were sensational.  Surprisingly, the best pizza we had on the entire trip!  Hot and juicy and the flavour was simply superb, really hitting the spot.  It was so good that we got another slice (the meat one), but for some reason it wasn’t quite as good as the first, as it was slightly salty.  I guess that just means they’re a bit inconsistent.  Nevertheless, I give their pizzas a 9.5/10 (because nothing’s perfect).  See below.

The best pizza was had in Italy

The best pizza we had in Italy

Spizzico at Roma Termini Station

Spizzico at Roma Termini Station

Lastly, here is a photo of another pizza was had, but it was taken in Freiburg, in the South-Western corner of Germany (in the Black Forest), so technically it doesn’t belong here.  We had this at a restaurant near the train stration that was supposed to serve both German and Italian food, but it was all Italian from what we could tell…Nevertheless, we had this one with 2 types of meat and mushrooms.  It was okay, a bit on the oily side (evidence below).  Clearly not up to the Italian standard.  I’d give it a 5/10.

Pizza in Germany too

Pizza in Germany too

We haven’t had pizza for a while…

Thoughts on Dan Brown’s latest: The Lost Symbol!

April 22, 2009 in Book Reviews, Entertainment by pacejmiller

[Update: I have read the book and my review can be found here!]

Dan Brown’s latest: The Lost Symbol!

I just read that after six long years following the controversial best-seller The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown is finally going to be releasing his brand new book, titled The Lost Symbol, in September 2009!

Has it been that long already?  The movie adaptation of  Angels & Demons, the prequel to DVC, is only being released next month.  All indications are that it will be a vast improvement on the DVC movie.  At least they fixed up Tom Hank’s hair this time.

Apparently, Brown’s publisher Knopf DoubleDay, has already ordered 6.5 million copies of The Lost Symbol to be printed in its maiden run.  The question is – will it be enough, considering DVC sold over 80 million copies worldwide?

I thought THIS was the 'Lost' symbol...

I thought THIS was the 'Lost' symbol...

So, what’s it about?

According to reports, the book is another Robert Langdon adventure, this time taking place in Washington DC over the course of 12 hours, and will involve Freemasonry (for those who don’t know what that is, here’s the Wikipedia entry).  So expect another fast-paced, page-turning thrill ride with some interesting bits of thought-provoking information (that may or may not be controversial) tossed your way throughout.

Expectations?

I have relatively modest expectations for The Lost Symbol.

To begin with, everyone that has read more than one Dan Brown novel knows that he is (or at least has been thus far) a bit of a one-trick pony in that his story structures almost always follow the same broad methodical formula: a mysterious prologue (usually involving a death), kicking off a whirlwind series of events that revolve around a secret or artifact of monumental importance; an intelligent hero trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in limited time while being pursued by a sinister (faceless) enemy; and a twist at the end that reveals all.

It’s difficult to feel sorry for someone who has sold hundreds of millions of books worldwide, but it’s frightening to think about the amount of pressure Dan Brown must be feeling.  Just how to you follow up one of the most popular books of all time?  The way I see it, there are two general possibilities for this book.  Brown can either go with the formulaic structure that has served him so well in the past (leading to a stinker), or he can try something new and completely different and surprise everyone.  I have a feeling that after so many years since the success of DVC and the weight of an entire generation of fans on his shoulders, Dan Brown will choose the latter path and surprise us this time.  Hopefully.  Why else would he take so many years to finish it?

I remember years ago (could have been 3 or 4 or more) when it was first announced that Dan Brown’s new novel was forthcoming.  It was called The Solomon Key, and it got everyone extremely excited for a while.  I particularly recall seeing whole books written by other losers predicting what The Solomon Key was going to be all about, based on a couple of random clues given by the author.  How ridiculous is that?  Well, I’m sure Mr Brown has learned his lesson and won’t be too keen on spilling the beans on his future novels too early from now on.  I thought The Solomon Key was eventually dumped (as we never saw it), but as it turns out, it was just the ‘working title’ of The Lost Symbol, so it will be interesting to see whether those losers were correct in their guesses.

I must say though, The Lost Symbol isn’t a name that instills a lot of confidence in the book itself.  I actually prefer The Solomon Key.  After all these years of waiting, couldn’t they have come up with something better?  Something a little less generic?  Maybe they did it on purpose to protect the plot.

In any case, there is one thing for sure – The Lost Symbol is going to be nowhere as controversial as DVC.  I don’t think Dan Brown can make it more controversial even if he wanted to.  I’m personally expecting it to be an exciting read, but certainly not on the mindblowing level of DVC, simply because I can’t imagine Freemasonry capable of being a topic that is more explosive than Jesus.  Judging from the information we’ve been given so far, I’m guessing that The Lost Symbol will be something like a dramatization of half a season of 24, with Robert Langdon as a wussy, intellectual version of Jack Bauer.

Final thoughts

I have a lot to thank DVC for because it got me back into reading.  I remember when word first started spreading about the book.  At the time, I was doing some reading, but it was pretty sporadic; I’d probably read 2 or 3 books a year, if that.  Anyway, I was in Hong Kong on a legal clerkship and one of the partners just kept raving on about the book, so I decided to buy it – and it blew me away!  Of course, I then went and got the rest of Brown’s books, and things just snow-balled from there.  Before I knew it I was reading 10 books a year, mostly on the train to and from work (and if it was good I’d read more at home).

Needless to say, we also have a lot to hate DVC for because it kicked off an avalanche of shithouse copycat books that tried to cash in on the book’s success (that is, mixing facts and legend in a fast-paced action story), not to mention those annoying ‘guide’ books that attempted to ‘unveil the truth behind the myth’ by dissect every line of the novel in excrutiating detail.  Even now in book stores I see a lot of similar novels with similar covers and storylines, and they all have something to do with a race against time to find some mythical artifact or unveil some deep-hidden mystery that’s been lost for centuries.  I’m sure some of them are good, probably even better than what Dan Brown has to offer, but the market is so saturated with these books now that it’s hard to separate the pretenders from the contenders.