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Ciao a tutti, and welcome to the first of my posts about Puglia! It was a delight spending ten days in this beautiful region earlier this month: here, the people are warm and the food is inventive and utterly delicious. I can't wait to get started! First stop, Matera, which is in fact not strictly part of Puglia, but just over the border in Basilicata. Once condemned as the vergogna nazionale ('national shame') of Italy, it's been restored and is now a UNESCO heritage site fully deserving of the mantle of European capital of culture for 2019. Follow on to find out why...

Let's start with our lodgings, shall we? So basically we stayed in caves. Albeit the most luxurious, enchanting caves you could possibly wish to spend time in. At Sextantio, they've converted sassi - cave dwellings, inhabited in some form probably since the Palaeolithic era - into stunningly beautiful, luxurious hotel rooms, illuminated by soft candlelight and with a striking view of the Murgia gorge below the city. It's quite an experience taking a bath in a cave, I can tell you: reclining in the modern bathtub, gazing up at the pitted ceiling, still blackened with soot from countless years of candle flames. Also, it feels like being in Game of Thrones (was my sister's astute contribution). 

My inner history geek/medieval Italianist practically had a field day in this place. I mean, it's understandable if you consider that I was eating breakfast in a former medieval cave church, confessional space hewn out of the rock behind me and tiny crucifixes on the wall...

A stroll at twilight is a must: as the skies darken, a tracery of neon lights up the town, providing a fascinating foil to the medieval Catholic and secular buildings that crop up at every corner.

Osteria San Francesco: ushered into this clean, elegant space by a beaming pregnant maitre d', this was the ideal way to ease ourselves into Pugliese cooking, with a handy window on to the kitchen allowing food nerds (hi, entire Lim family) to peek in at the preparations. Here's a few of the highlights...

A huge plate of antipasti with dried peperoncini, lamb rolls, cheese and aubergine to start.

Culatello del pollina (a delicately flavoured ham) with a burrata so creamy it bordered on milky, sitting on a tomato and basil emulsion. My delight on discovering that burrata and its ribbon-like sister stracciatella were specialties of the region was palpable. Arrivederci, lactose intolerance.

Creamy tagliolini with truffle shavings. Pure indulgence with a beautifully subtle flavour.

Guanciale di suino nero lucano - pork cheek braised in red wine with a crispy onion topping. 

Gloriously strong, honeyed Cuban rum (a taste of my next adventure!) with rich dark chocolate. My first Italian faux pas - I forgot the word 'to share' (condividere) and accidentally ordered one of these for each member of the family. Cue a wobbly walk home through the winding streets...

Introducing the novel I read in Matera: My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. I'd been meaning to get stuck into this series for some time and although the books are set in Naples, not Bari or even Puglia, it felt like an apposite read, as Naples is seen as the capital of the poorer south. This story of an unusual relationship was touching and funny, and I found that I had a lot in common with the bookish, competitive narrator. I'd love to read the next installment in the series soon.

Gigantic Materan bread, roughly the weight of a large baby.

I was fascinated by the door of the Chiesa del Purgatorio. Covered in skulls wearing everything from a crown to the papal mitre, the message seems to be that after death, everyone is equal in the eyes of God.

Pignata, our favourite restaurant in Matera. It has an unassuming facade - in fact it sells itself as a pizza restaurant - but it's so much more than that. This is authentic cucina povera, and the pasta here was some of the best we enjoyed over our ten days. The orecchiette  with cima di rape and cavatellini with black and white chickpeas and crushed pepper were particularly excellent.

Surplus to our appetite requirements but a fantastic piece of theatre: the dramatic-looking pignata itself - a meaty hot pot topped with a doughy lid. 

Gelato is practically part of the holiday diet when visiting Italy. And the offerings at I Vizi degli Angeli are superb: fresh green fig, cherry and chocolate, granite in a multitude of flavours. We actually managed to bump into the owner on the very first evening, wandering haplessly through the labyrinthine streets. He very kindly pointed us in the direction of dinner, and it was only later that we discovered that he owned this wonderful little gelato joint, which I'd been eagerly reading about before the trip. I couldn't help but feel a little starstruck...

Matera is also stunning by day, and on our second day we had the benefit of a walking tour from a Materan local. We learned a little about the history of this impossible city, including viewing a reconstruction of a cave dwelling. Here, we discovered that the people literally lived cheek by jowl with farm animals, with straw and stables right next to the beds - a taste of the 'stubborn poverty' mentioned by Carlo Levi, writing about the region in Christ Stopped at Eboli. We also had a walk around one of the rupestrian cave churches built into the rock of the Sasso Caveoso. Complete with some pretty incredible Byzantine frescoes and pilgrims' symbols etched into the cave walls, I'd say this is definitely worth a visit.

The Materan city walls are filled with shells and fossils, revealing that the area was once completely underwater - something I found hard to wrap my tiny brain around, being high up on a hill...

So here we come to the end of my Materan guide! And I leave you with my top tip or warning for this beautiful city: Pack sensible footwear. The streets are made of polished limestone, and as it's a hilltop town there's lots of treacherous slopes. Poor Mama Lim slipped down one such incline and injured herself. In typical stoic fashion she insisted that we all go to dinner instead of the hospital. Ristorante Francesca (above) had some great meat dishes, but I don't remember much else about the meal as we were all so worried about my mum. Three days later my mother finally allowed us to take her to hospital and it transpired that she'd broken her leg badly in two places. Mamma mia indeed. Oh, and it's good to have a reasonable grasp of Italian or bring along an Italian speaker if you're planning a sojourn in an Italian hospital - it was the first time that my choice of undergraduate degree (French and Italian) really came in handy. 

I'd go back to this gorgeous hilltop town in a shot. It's a very romantic destination and will be of particular interest to anyone who nurses a fascination for history, be that Stone Age or medieval. Stay tuned for the next step of my journey, in which we journeyed down the heel of the Italian boot to Lecce and one of the best (Italian) meals of my life. A presto!

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Hello. It's been a while, hasn't it? (Incapable of typing that without Britney making a cameo in my head...yup, still as basic as ever). I have to admit I'm feeling a little shy - this has been my longest break from blogging since I set up this little space two and a half years ago. I have good excuses, I promise. As you may know, I've been studying for the all-consuming GDL and the last few months have been beset by legal exams and coursework. Oh - and my house got burgled. Luckily, the burglar only took two things. Unluckily, those two things were my laptop and beloved camera. It was almost as if destiny had called, and it didn't want me to blog any more. First world problem, soundtracked by a very tiny violin, I know.

Happily, I now have a new laptop and DSLR (as of today, I'm the proud owner of a Canon 70D, which I can't wait to play with!) so yeah. You're going to have to put up with me a little longer...

The most exciting event of the past fortnight? My sister graduated from Edinburgh with an incredibly well-deserved first! So ridiculously proud of you, B. What a bittersweet weekend, though - the journey to Scotland was hopelessly coloured by the results of the referendum. I sat on the train up, numbly scrolling through my Twitter feed, watching in horror as the pound crashed and reports of unadulterated racism came flooding in, unable to fully appreciate how concrete gave way to golden fields of rape, and finally the greys and blues of the Berwick coast. I couldn't help but grieve - and continue to grieve  - over my country's incomprehensible actions. My one comfort? I was leaving London for pro-Remain Scotland. 

And oh, Edinburgh. Beautiful Edinburgh. It managed to shock me out of my Brexit lassitude. Even on my third visit, it was exciting, romantic and new: I craned my neck as we pulled into the city to catch a glimpse of those Gothic, almost sooty-looking spires, sighing with delight as the castle perched up on high came into view. It's such a wonderful place to spend a long weekend: a blissful couple of days built around a theme of bagpipes and lilting accents and fuelled by the excellent food endemic to the area, which I'll introduce you to in just a moment. I was lucky enough to see it through the eyes of my sister, resident since 2012: she takes all the credit for the great places I've featured in this post, of course.

Well-heeled Stockbridge, to the north of the city, boasts a constellation of excellent vintage shops and charming eateries. Söderberg Peter's Yard on Deanhaugh Street serves up sublime Scandi treats, including some of the best kanelbullar I've got my teeth into - the cardamom and the raspberry and custard cinnamon rolls are particularly good, and made for a supremely delicious breakfast. 

George Mewes on Dean Park Street is a gem among fromageries, and I've encountered a fair few. Restrained, we bought slices of sinfully gooey gorgonzola and pecorino shot through with black truffle with black charcoal crackers from the roguish cheesemonger. Upon arriving back at the hotel (the elegant and incredibly comfortable Chester Residence, which I would recommend to anyone), I managed to polish off 80% of the gorgonzola within an hour. Obviously. 

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Upsettingly closed as we arrived at such a late hour (such a shame - I'd have loved to see the Surreal Encounters exhibition) but I still enjoyed strolling around the grounds, boasting remarkable sculptures like Henry Moore's Reclining Figure

Of course Edinburgh does seafood very well. And the best I've had in the city is at Ondine, which serves up excellent, sustainable and unadulterated fish. My heart was immediately won over by this platter of succulent, salty oysters (my favourite being the plump, meaty Loch Fyne variety) - doused in lemon juice and Tabasco, they never to fail to put me in a celebratory mood. 

Wild sea bream ceviche with an avocado mousse.

Tempura squid with a Vietnamese dipping sauce. Crispy, light and delicately flavoured - these were really top notch. 

Lemon sole with brown shrimp, parsley and capers.

Monkfish sitting on top of masala rice and curry. 

A gargantuan platter of roasted shellfish that has me staring at the screen, slack-jawed, savage in my hunger. It reads like a Top of the Pops setlist of Scotland's seafood offerings: Burnmouth lobster, rock oysters, Dunbar crab, sweet Barra cockles and clams, razor clams (so often rubbery, but cooked to perfection here), juicy Skye langoustines, Mull scallops and Shetland mussels.

Timberyard. A feast in every sense of the word. Flawless food and drink soundtracked by cool folksy music predominantly featuring Joni Mitchell in an airy converted warehouse made homely with taxidermied specimens, comfortable tartan throws and a wood-burning stove. Frankly, I wouldn't mind moving in.

Drinks paving the way for an evening of mild decadence: mead, gin making an appearance in a classic G&T and as the main player in a concoction of lavender and rhubarb, and a burnt birch bark Old Fashioned for me. All excellent, all stunningly strong: just what the doctor calls for post-graduation.

Timberyard features three set menus: options featuring 4, 6 or 8 courses. The edge taken off our appetites by graduation canapés and prosecco, we opted for the 4 course menu - a sensible choice which left us feeling sated yet light.

Cleansing and fresh cured trout with cucumber, lovage, aniseedy fennel, creme fraîche and rye. 

Hen's egg with asparagus, truffle, onion, hazelnut, artichoke and seeds. Poached for 45 minutes, the egg was a wobbly, almost onsen egg-like thing of beauty. This was my favourite dish of the night - made indulgent with the runny yolk, salty hazelnuts and truffle, with thinly sliced asparagus and sweet spring onion cutting through the rich flavours. 

Hake with octopus, clams, white asparagus, salsify. All three of my fellow Lims opted for this dish, which they said was their favourite. 

I went for the venison option with beetroot several ways plus ramson, shallot, mushroom and kale. I particularly enjoyed the little cigar of beetroot, while the venison was plump and cooked exactly the way I like it - seared and salty, not overdone at all.

To finish: strawberry in several different guises, frozen and fresh, with oatmeal, a buttermilk mousse and meringue. 

Brunch the next morning to cure heavy, aching heads at The Pantry back in Stockbridge. I basked in Sunshine over Stockbridge - avocado, chorizo, fried aubergine and a poached egg.

Waffles for Mama L, with a side of chorizo, because she can.

For the newly minted graduate and the proud father: fry-ups of epic proportions. Featuring black pudding and haggis, of course. It's Edinburgh. 

I'll finish with three shots that sum the weekend up for me: 

A moment of rare beauty but tragedy: packing up B's room, a fragile bird's nest was discovered under the bed, complete with feather and tiny egg. Unfortunately, it seemed that it had been there for months (a jigsaw fell into place in my sister's mind, as a pigeon had been coming to the windowsill regularly in the mornings to coo and attempt entry). 

The unmistakable grey streets of Edinburgh tinged with gold at sunset: truly a sight to behold. 

B's graduation flowers, which I clasped protectively to myself, proudly watching the newly minted graduates of the School of Economics huddle together for one last joyous group photograph. 

A beautiful weekend with my treasured family. Thank you, wonderful Edinburgh, for providing a strong ray of sunlight on a weekend where it felt like the world was ending. 

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