An english girl who after six months in the french mountains, has left for Italia, the beautiful country. My thoughts on leaving life as I know it and beyond! Join me as I embark on a life with lots of adventure and a lack of heels!!!!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Fab Vintage from Lil' sis!




Been meaning to do this for ages and since I have wi-fi access for a few days thought I'd get to it!!

My Lil' sis is fellow blogger Smashingbird and has recently set up her own vintage store on Etsy and it is sale time, so click on the link below for a look.




It's Sale time over at the Etsy Store  SmashingbirdVintage
She is offering 25% off all items for a limited period only - just enter code SUMMERSALE at the checkout! 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Journeys end!

Now where was I? Well after a nightmare journey we made it to Sicily, just about in one piece.

The train did in fact go on the ferry across the water seperating the island from the mainland, it was quite something, the train was split in two then pushed onto the train tracks inside of the ferry, then it was a 20mins or so on the boat, we could get out of the train have a wander then back in our seats to be pushed back onto the tracks on land. But we then had a 45min wait in the station on the, already heated up train, with no air con, there is nothing to describe how hot it was, must've been getting on for 40 degrees, could not get off and just had to sit and cook. Very unpleasant!

We finally arrived at our destination station 45 mins after we were due in, our taxi that the B&B had arranged for us was not there and there was just one lone taxi sitting waiting. We were 4km from where we staying so had to taxi, it was almost 9pm by this time. So we walked over to the taxi, the driver was flipping burgers in a van (???) and left that and jumped in his cab (???) that did not appear to have a meter. Now I don't like to stereotype, but Sicily does kinda have a reputation of being the home of the Mafia, our taxi driver did not look like someone you argued with if you get my meaning. He did'nt know the address of our B&B (taxi driver???) and drove us round and round asking random people for directions, although we had shown him a map and it was quite a big road, hmmmm. Anyway €20 (just paid, too scared to question the fare!!) later we were at our B&B which was shut, I had been trying to phone them to let them know we were on our way but both numbers kept cutting off or not ringing, aghhhhhhh......

Anyway we finally managed to get through and the B&B owner came along a few mins later to let us in. Now I had already had a nightmare booking something for this particular night, we were only staying one night in the port town of Milazzo as we were getting the boat from there early the next day to reach Salina in the Aeolian Islands. The first place I booked, through Venere.com (yes I am naming and shaming) said they did not have my reservation and had no availability (I have emailed Venere 3 times about this and have had no response) and that helpful B&B owner booked us in with his friend somewhere else. If I had not emailed the original B&B to let them know our arrival time I would not have known we had no room, thank christ I did, after the day we had had that would've just about finished us off. I have a copy of the confirmed reservation from Venere.com!! F**kers! I have also used them a lot and never had a problem, won't be using them anymore!!!

So by the time we actually got into our room it was almost 9.30, 11 hours since we had left Positano. Hot, sweaty and tired, we showered and sat on the bed eating biscuits and breadsticks for our dinner whilst watching the most random Italian TV show I have ever seen, it was like two audiences playing sing star mixed with the generation game with some drag queens, dominatrix and gimps, a few fairy's, scantily clad women (as always, this is Italy after all, near naked chicks in every advert, I actually saw a whole nipple one breakfast time!!) and a blow up doll thrown in!!!!!!!!





See, it was all worth it!!!
More pics in next blog.  


But we made it and after a good nights sleep we left by 8.30am to jump on the boat that was taking us to where we are now, a little piece of paradise, the stunning Aeolian islands. Ahhhhhh............

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The journey so far!


I am currently writing this blog 2 hours into the 6-hour train journey from Amalfi coast down to Sicily, our next destination, well for tonight at least.  The sea is on my left and the lush hills are on my right, not a bad view!!

It is 4.45 in the afternoon and we left our little home in Positano at 10.30 this morning. We have had a rather eventful day so far. The journey required a bus from Positano to Amalfi, then a change of bus, then new bus Amalfi to Salerno where we were to pick up the train for Milazzo in Sicily.

After a relatively painless start we got to Amalfi and then boarded the next bus. Now the Amalfi coast road is terrifying for someone such as myself, scared of heights and an increasingly nervous passenger (by road, well by Italian & French roads) these people drive like maniacs, we had countless near head on crashes on the bloody bus and the bus actually crashed into the 3 foot high safety (???) barrier (protecting us from the 150 meter drop into the bloody sea!!!) at one point going around a blind bend and coming face to face with another bloody bus!

Now we were nearly at Salerno when all of the passengers at the rear started shouting to the driver, we had no idea what was going on. The bus driver made an abrupt stop and everyone rushed off of the bus bar a few of us at the front not having a clue what was up. I got off to go and investigate and found out that the bus was overheating and could go no further!!!! They were sending another bus but they had no idea how long it would take to get to us!! Perfect!! We had given ourselves extra time due to being used to the Italian time (or lack of) schedule of public transport but this was 1.10pm and our train departed at 2.33pm, there was not another one until about 10pm!!! A load of people disappeared, some were trying to hitch a ride and I managed to flag the only cab down that passed only to find that a bunch of Italian women jumped into the other side of the car before I even got to it!!! Another young couple were desperate to reach the train station too so we walked to the nearest hotel with them to call a cab and share the ride, we were just about to order the cab when a random bus stopped, not the one they had sent but it had stopped so we all had to hot foot it back down the road and cram onto the local bus with all our luggage and no where to put it.

Crisis averted, we arrived at the train station by 2.10pm only to be told the poxy train was delayed by 20 mins. The train is going to a different destination than where we booked, we have been told it goes there too. Who the f**k knows? We’ll see in a few hours I suppose, but first this train has got to cross the Mediterranean Sea that separates the long leg of Italy from the little island of Sicily? 

Friday, 8 July 2011

From Rome to Positano


So where are we now? We left Rome for the Amalfi coast, Positano to be precise, two weeks ago. We had originally booked one week here but were having a bit of a dilemma about where to next so as the apartment was empty for the following week we decided that we would stay on for another week here instead, as really when else in our lives will we ever be able to say “ah shall we just stay another week?”  And having been lucky enough to visit here once before we knew how much we loved it and just what a beautiful place it is. And quite frankly after the 6 hour hellish journey here from Rome via disgusting Naples we both could not face moving on anywhere any time soon. We did not want to see another train or bus!

We have been staying in a little split level studio built into the cliff side with our own little terraced garden, complete with our very own lemon tree, with views of pretty Positano all around. All pastel painted houses, bougainvillea blossoming and lemon tree’s all built into the cliffs tumbling down to the bay and the sparkling sea, lovely! Apart from the f***ing mosquito’s, aghh…

Since arriving here it has been nice to kick back for a bit, unpack and stand still for a while, go to the beach, lay in the garden, relax over a drink with the sea stretching before us, wander the maze of alleyways filled with shops (Fendi beach bag anyone??) and restaurants spilling out into the paths and generally watching the world go by albeit packed with day trippers and whilst sweltering in the boiling, humid heat. Been in the 30’s but 80% humidity. Sweaty!!

We had a hot, expensive and reasonably disappointing day in Capri. Firstly went to the famous Blue Grotto on a boat trip, the waters were meant to be bright azure and seemingly glowing from underneath, what actually happened was we paid 50 bloody euros to sit on a boat at the entrance to a cave for an hour, then climbed into a tiny rowing boat to enter said cave for 5 minutes, the water was quite blue, not really that amazing, there were so many poxy boats you could barely see the water anyway then we were whisked back to the dock. A complete waste of €50. Don’t bother if you happen to find yourself there. We then headed up to Capri town, which was basically Bond Street on top of a cliff, packed with us day-trippers, bastard boiling hot and ridiculously expensive, even for Italy. €10 for a glass of fruit juice?? I think not!! And the showing off and posing took things to a whole new level, (even for Italy!!). Unless you really have squillions in the bank you would feel like the poor relations staying here, people really only come here to be flash and to be seen being flash, and in all honesty I can’t really say I can see why? It’s quite nice but there are nicer places, it is just exclusive for exclusives sake. It cost us €150 in total for the day, to get the boat there, go to the bloody grotto and have a pizza for lunch (the cheapest thing on the menu), and no drinks apart from water. Crazy. We both felt we would have rather treated ourselves to a meal out in Positano instead but hey ho, you live and learn.

The other place on our doorstep here is Pompeii, we never went the last time we were here, as we just wanted to relax and the way to get to Pompeii is not relaxing. You have to get a train which links Naples (vile city of filth and mafia) and Sorrento, and Pompeii is in the middle, we had had the unfortunate experience of this awful train before, it is like a really old underground train but with plastic seats, no air-conditioning, no luggage space (hundreds of people have luggage with them as it is the only train to Sorrento and you cannot get there by any other means unless coming direct from Naples airport!!!!!), packed to the rafters with people hot and sweating and it takes about an hour and a half. It is hell. But anyway I digress, we had decided to get up early and catch the 7.55am bus to Sorrento in order to get on the awful train to Pompeii, we stood at the bus stop until 8.50 when we, and many others, found out the sodding buses were on strike. So we went off to the beach instead. Pompeii take two, a couple of days later we tried again and managed to get there. It was ever so impressive that the whole town of roman ruins is still basically standing all these thousands of years later and the level of destruction caused by Versuvius’ violent eruption was immense but unless you buy a guidebook or pay for a guided tour there is no information about anything at all, not even a map from the information office on site!!! So if you’re going buy a bloody book before you go in.  We spent the morning there and enjoyed much more than our outing to Capri and then once reaching Sorrento, again by horrid train, basked in the knowledge that we never, ever have to get on that god-awful piece of transport again.

Then we have spent a few more days knocking around here, got rained on (just one grey day), had a lovely fresh fish dinner out with views of the sea and village and have been trying to keep cool in these ever rising temperatures, thank god for air-con!!

So that brings me up to date really, we leave Positano tomorrow morning for an epic journey to Sicily, our last stop. We have 2 hours on a bus with a change in the middle, then 6 hours on a train all the way to Sicily (the train goes on the ferry apparently??), the a cab to our B&B for the night in Milazzo before sailing off to the Aeolian Islands on Sunday where we will be staying for a week. Will need a blimin rest after all that travelling!!

Positano pics,






Friday, 1 July 2011

All roads lead to Rome.


I don't think I need to say what this is!!


It is said that all roads lead to Rome, this most ancient of cities, once centre of the world.

I have been to Rome before, it was my first taste of Italy and I loved it then and I loved it just as much this time around, maybe even more, when our road led us to Rome.

We arrived there last Wednesday by train from Florence; we had found a cool little studio to stay in over the river Tiber in the Trastevere district, mere minutes from the ruins of ancient Rome.

Enroute to our new abode I had a little accident. Now I am known for being a little unsteady underfoot so this will come a no surprise to those of you used to seeing me on the floor, there I was lugging my stupidly overfull and very heavy bag along Rome’s cobbles when my bag got caught in a hole of a missing cobble and due to the sheer weight of my non-capsule wardrobe the bag pulled me back and under it!!! Leaving me sprawled on the floor with my bag on top of me!!! Not very fa la bella figura is it???? A lesson learnt, travel lighter in future!!!!

Anyway, our apartment was great, albeit surrounded by hundreds of bars (we had been warned by the very nice owner at time of booking, I like that kind of honesty) but it had double glazing and I do not travel anywhere without earplugs so all was fine, apart from my grazed and bleeding elbow!!!

We spent three nights in Rome, we visited all the sights as we had before (though didn’t bother queuing hours to get in this time especially as it was near on 40 bloody degrees!!!) and words cannot describe what an magnificent city it is, it is just a constant feast for the senses, the ruins are incredible, so much so you can just imagine what it must have been like in the days of the ancient romans, the buildings that are still intact such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum are just awe inspiring and it sounds so cheesy but you can just feel the history, and the fact that all this still remains for us mere mortals to still see is just unbelievable. Add into that a mighty portion of great shopping, cool bars, fabulous restaurants and it just does not get any better.

Rome is an enormous city and it was madly busy with tourists, much more so than when I had visited before, and we were also experiencing hotter than normal temperatures (obviously as we were there) but we found that you can still escape the madding crowds and find quiet shady spots, stumble upon quiet piazza’s with beautiful buildings, come across parts of hidden ruins and just sit and watch the world go by as it has for centuries over (much more reasonably priced) a coffee, just to be there and be part of such an amazing place makes you feel very lucky.

Although we thought we had done all the main tourist sights last time we were there we found that we had only just scratched the surface and come across so much more, even in the places we thought we had already looked. It is another one of those places that you just kind of have to get lost and let the city guide through. Down shaded passageways littered with traces of the cities rich past, along imposing avenues dominated by centuries old formidable architecture, up stairwells leading to hilltop palaces with vista’s spanning the city old and new, the winding streets leading to the splendour of the Vatican City in all of its glory. Ahhh ‘tis a beautiful place.

The romans may well have been a cruel and violent force to be reckoned with at the height of their power but by god did they know how to build the most perfect city and their descendants continue to make this one of my most favourite places in the world.


the mighty Pantheon

ancient rome

castle angelo surrounded by Bernini's angels

Piazza Venezia

Trevi fountain

I just know I will be back again and again.

Monday, 27 June 2011

A Tuscan Delight!


So after a couple of stressful and not particularly fun days in Bologna we set off on our merry way to Florence, to stay this time, not to change trains.

We had managed to secure ourselves a particularly good deal on an apartment in Florence (€300 for 7 nights!) so decided to stay for a week and travel out to sample the Tuscan delights from there.

Now Tuscany has a lot of hype, as does Florence itself, so Mr and I were a little apprehensive about what we would think of it as we are are not always of the same opinion as the masses when it comes to what makes a place great, ie: Bologna & Cinque Terre.

But the hype was justified. Florence is a beautiful city, the Duomo is spectacular, the buildings beautiful, the stunning piazza’s, the Tuscan hills in the distance, Roberto Cavalli’s café, Gucci, Prada, Fendi, oh my! Lovely.

What was not lovely, was the sheer amount of people, it was so busy. Like Oxford Street in December, everywhere, all day, everyday! And it was hot! No rain here. Over 30 degrees everyday and with that amount of people (in your way), the close proximity of all the buildings, the heat from the buses and mopeds whizzing by and no air-con in our apartment it made for a very warm week indeed. 

But despite the heat, the people and the prices (€6 for an espresso in some places, Mr Cavalli! I think not!), we had a great week there, it helped to be able to do it a bit at a time so as not to get too stressed with the crowds and the soaring temperatures.

We crossed the famous ponte vecchio, strolled along the river Arno, stood and gazed across the magnificent squares and watched the stylish Florentines go about their daily business over espresso in cool café’s (not for €6 a pop though, €2 is more the top of our price range), we went on a tour and visited a Chianti winery and drove through the jaw droppingly, stunning Tuscan hills, stopped by a medieval hilltop town in the countryside, we put our culture heads on and visited the Uffizi Gallery to see Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ and ‘Primavera’, went to the Gallery Academia home to Michelangelo’s  ‘David’ and sampled the local Bistecca a la Fiorentina (a 3 finger thick piece of Tuscan beef, a T bone steak), which was followed by a rather tiddly affair in a bar with some Aussies  and a Scot we had got chatting to, they just happened to be crewing one of the yachts we had seen in Genova, small world. Try an espresso martini if you get the chance, espresso, Baileys, Kahlua and Absolute Vanilla vodka, yum, yum!

I then finished the week with a cooking class, we visited the central market to taste and learn all about balsamic vinegars (3 years old to 30 years old, amazing tastes and amazing prices, €88 for the 30 yr. old! Was truly different though), tasted some olive oils and some other bits including Florentine salt with black truffle (I purchased some of this, it smells divine), bought our ingredients then went to the kitchen with (18 Americans and me) with our chef, Giovanni and his assistant to make our lunch which consisted of freshly baked bruschetta topped with tomatoes, aubergine caprese (grilled slices of aubergine with tomato, mozzarella and basil sandwiched in between), we then made parpadelle pasta by hand, a tomato, basil and meat ragu and the finished off with our own individually made tiramisu, accompanied by Italian opera in the background and couple of glasses of Tuscany’s finest red! It all tasted amazing! Cannot wait to make it all again!

So all in all it was a fabulous week, much more the Italy we love and I can say that Tuscany definitely deserves all the attention that it gets!

I have been writing these last few of blogs on the train as we have had such a busy week in Florence. In an hour we will be in Rome, the eternal city. 


(scheduled post's arrived weds 22nd)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Ferrari's


As we had 3 nights in Bologna we had planned to spend one of the days visting Modena, home of balsamic vinegar and just a short hop from there is Maranello, home of Ferrari.

Now I am not bothered about cars in general, and I was not particularly fussed about going to the Ferrari museum, but being the good wife that I am I was happy to go along as Mr was quite excited about the prospect of getting up close and personal with these dream machines.

So up early, and straight on the train the to Modena, a more successful start than the day before, I should add. According to the Lonely Planet guide it was a simple case of getting off the train in Modena, walking up the road to the bus station to jumping on bus 800 to take the many pilgrims to home of Ferrari, Maranello.

I should state that this day was f***ing boiling hot, no rain today!! We walked over 1 km to get to the bus station where we managed, with my rudimentary Italian, to book some tickets and work out what the hell to do and where on earth to get the bus from. 45 minutes on a very hot bus later we arrived at Marenello, we only worked out we was there due to the signs on the road for galleria Ferrari, once off the bus however there were no sodding signs and considering this is the only reason people come here it was a complete nightmare to find. We walked around for probably at least half an hour before finding it.

We paid €13 each to get in, looked about 24 cars (mostly racing cars), were’nt allowed to touch anything, weren’t allowed to sit in them and then half hour later we were at the exit surrounded by bloody tons of Ferrari merchandise. Seriously, why would you want Ferrari Perfume??? Or a €100 tie with the prancing horse on it? If you buy anything from Ferrari, surely it would be a Ferrari?

But anyway it was an experience; although we’ve probably seen more flash cars out on the roads in general though in all honesty without the 2-hour journey and expense. And actually there were companies doing test drives all around the museum, €100 for 10 minutes, so there were more cars outside!

After finding our way back from Ferrari land we got to Modena early afternoon where we had planned to have lunch, It was a close call, we managed to find somewhere but the whole bloody place was shut. It was Tuesday, 2pm. Shops, tourist information, cafes, shut. Were we back in france???

Had a wander round the closed city center, which was quite nice actually, much nicer than Bologna had it been open, then we went to a little deli, bought a pic-nic of sorts, including the best breadsticks and Zoppa ham I have ever tasted in my life, to take back for our tea, got back on the train and went back to our hotel to get ready to leave the following day, something I have to say we really was not sorry about!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Bologna, the fat one!


After a brief stop in Florence to change trains we arrived in Bologna., in the region of Emilia Romagna, Il grasse  (the fat one) as it is known. It is the home of spaghetti Bolognese, a couple of lesser known leaning towers (not very impressive), imposing medieval architecture (bit dark and depressing) and fabulous food emporiums brimming with goods such Parma ham, Balsamic, vinegar, the local fizzing red Lambrusco and Parmesan, all of which are from just up the road. Hence the reason for its nickname!

So we arrived at our hotel, a 10 minute taxi ride from the city center to find we were actually booked in so that was a good start. We headed off out to get some dinner and caught the only (hellish) bus from where we were staying to city center. Now I am not being rude but there were a whole lot of wrong ‘uns knocking about Bologna, the people on the whole were a bit rough, there was a huge immigrant population (unusual for Italy) and the Bolognan’s did’nt cut a very fine figure, they were taking to the nickname quite literally.

We spent the next day getting drenched in the rain, again, whilst taking in the sights (??) of Bologna. From when we had set off from our hotel that morning it was not a good start, we left to get some cash as we had forgotten to get some out the night before and used the last of our cash on the bus, and it was boiling hot, although it had looked grey and cloudy, so back to the hotel to get changed into something cooler before getting on the awful bus journey into town (no alternative, too far to walk), we left the hotel and I had left my sunnies in the room so back in I goes, we set off again and Mr realises he had left his wedding ring in the room. We wait forever for the sodding bus (meant to be every 10 mins, was definitely not!) and finally get into the center of the city where great big black clouds have come over.

We walked around a very uninspiring city, managed to stop just in time for a spot of lunch when the heavens opened! Torrential rain again! I was wearing a thin cotton sundress and flat sandals!!! Then just when we thought it could get no worse my stomach decided that it was not happy and I spent the next hour walking (and desperately trying to find) from toilet to toilet in a bit of a stress!!

So all in all not a great experience, the food emporiums, markets and deli’s were amazing to see and the produce looked incredible but on the whole it was not a great place to visit and I am not really sure why it is/was part of the grand tour?

We finished the day buying a couple of rolls and a salad and taking our ‘dinner’ back to the hotel, it was most certainly not the glamorous experience I had had in mind!

On to Modena and the home of Ferrari.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Pretty Little Pisa


So where was I?

Last time I blogged we were leaving the Ligurian coast after a wet week by the sea. We left on the Saturday for Pisa where we spent 1 night and had a thoroughly enjoyable 24 hours in the Tuscan town.

The Piazza Miracoli, home to the leaning tower, was incredible. A huge marble clad cathedral, and the gleaming tower of course sitting amid immaculate lawns, had a very relaxed air about it considering the place was swarming with tourist’s all doing the obligatory ‘holding up the tower’ pose. Mr and I spent the afternoon seated on the grass amusing ourselves watching the many poses being struck. Very funny, and of course we had to do it too, (photo’s to follow at some point!).

Pisa was really not what I was expecting. It was small, more a town than a city, it was quiet and relaxed, little restaurants and cafes tucked away, great shops, antique stalls lining the streets and squares, and generally a very pleasant place to spend a bit of time. There is more than just the leaning tower to pretty little Pisa.

We had a nice meal out that evening in a little trattoria and had a couple of drinks al fresco soaking up the atmosphere in the squares thronging with people.

Slight problem the next morning though, we checked our emails to check out how to get to the hotel of our next destination, Bologna (we were leaving on the lunchtime train) to find that the hotel we thought we were booked into had in fact emailed back, in Italian, to tell us they had no rooms available (thank god for online translation!!!). This was about 10.30am and we were leaving at 1pm! Luckily we found somewhere else, with instant confirmation, and we could sigh a breath of relief that we would’nt be homeless that night and the following two! Crisis averted! What did we do before the internet???

Next stop Bologna.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

More pictures!

GENOA









PORTOFINO




A very useful umbrella!!!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Aperitivo


Aperitivo. A genius thing. I know I have banged on about it before but really, it is amazing that you get basically a meal, or at the very least a hearty platter of snacks just by ordering alcohol. We have had everything from some humble crisps, nuts and breadsticks to olives and fresh veggie crudités to cooked meats and local cheeses to bruschetta and pasta and pizza. Strictly speaking aperitivo is from around 5/6pm to about 8/9pm but basically at any other time of the day you get given a little selection of something to munch on whilst you enjoy your drink.

But it is not only the food that is so good. I have succumbed to one or two delicious aperitif’s. A few years back on our first visit to Italy one evening in Rome, sitting in a great little bar in a hidden alleyway, all crumbling old buildings and creeping ivy, I happened to notice that a huge amount of people were drinking something a lurid orange and fizzy. Then every other time we have found ourselves back in Italy I have noticed the same thing, but being of quiet British reserve instead of asking what it was everyone was drinking I just sat there wondering.

Now I am normally strictly a G&T or a glass of wine kinda girl who is partial to an occasional cocktail but I have a new favourite beverage, the lurid fizzy orange drink the Italians seem to love is Aperol. I have had one or two Campari sodas in my time (another Italian aperitif preference) but Aperol & soda is much nicer, not quite as sour, a bit sweeter but still with a sour note to it. And to make this even better they add Prosecco (Italy’s far superior answer to champagne, worthy of being drunk by itself, just lovely) and a slice of orange to make a spritz. Which is just delicious, I can’t really describe the taste apart from like a grown up glass of fizzy pop! Yum! Served with lashings of ice, it just tastes like summer in a glass!

Campari soda and nibbles at lake Garda!


The only reason I found out what the hell it was everyone was drinking was by way of a fellow blogger, Ms adventures in Italy, who is based in Milan and did a whole blog about the how, what and where of aperitivo. She had listed all that were acceptable drinks to order and what the hell they were and here it was that I discovered what the lurid orange fizz is, and so now I know what to order!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A Cinque Terre experience.


The rain had finally stopped. We seized our chance to venture out in a cloudless sky and off we popped to the Unesco protected Cinque Terre. This is the area’s big draw by all accounts.

The Cinque Terre literally translate to 5 towns, all perched perilously on cliff tops seemingly slipping into the Liguria Sea. After getting off the train at the wrong place we spent the first of many hours waiting for bloody trains. We planned the day train hopping between the 5 towns as advised in the increasingly useless Lonely Planet guide book, bought the unlimited train travel ticket and eventually got to the right place on an overcrowded train full of people with the same idea. Along with the train connections you can hike between the villages, which seemed to be a popular choice with backpack, hiking boot wearing Germans and Americans.

So first stop, the furthest of the five. A tiny place with a fishing harbour the size of your average garage all steep winding staircases and narrow paths. Absolutely jam packed with tourists and this is the low season. Hmmm…

We walked along the footpath to the next stop, as it was only about 20 minutes by foot and all along the sea. Nice views but if you have any fear of heights like me then at points it was a little heart racing. The next village was nicer than the one before but much of a muchness in all honesty and packed once again and there were a few rumbles of thunder so we thought we would train it to the next one.

Now considering how popular this is and being Unesco protected train travel is advised and encouraged. There were only two trains an hour but not every half hour, sometimes 20 minutes apart, sometimes 40, sometimes more, sometimes less. And you know which ones we always seemed to have to wait for. Anyway the trains got busier to the point of it being more crowded than I have ever experienced on the London underground, and that is saying something. It was stifling hot, with bodies all pressed together, sweaty and just gross. Some of the footpaths were shut due to recent landslides so the walkers had to get the trains too. Their backpacks and poles just added more obstructions making for an increasingly unpleasant experience.

Now I am, it may be described as slightly neurotic, but I am of the opinion that no-one should be in my personal space, also known as “my fuck-off circle” so you can just imagine how much I was enjoying all this, especially at one point when some dodgy German woman was pushing me onto the train with her boobs, then once on the train was pressing herself onto the front of my person, she was in full walking gear but we saw her and her rotund husband on every train so they clearly had no intention of walking some of that rotundness off!

I digress. Now the villages were very quaint and prettily perched in a sea and wind battered way but the sheer nightmare of the trains made the experience a bad one and in all honesty I think they looked better once you were in the next village looking back along the dramatic coastline, as whilst in them because they were so small and narrow and crowded you did’nt really get to see much. We spent more time in the train stations than the villages and really it got to the point when once you had seen one…………….

But just when I thought it could get no worse, I really needed the loo. We were all coffee’d out so thought we would go and wait for another train and use the toilets there as there were no other options. But you know when you are getting to bursting point and then find out there is only one loo, and there are two men in front of you waiting? Well that was me, the very kind American man in front said I could go next as I looked more desperate than him but said he thought by looks of peoples faces coming out it was not a pleasant sight in there. All I am going to say is that I do not think I would ever have been busting enough. Not ever, ever. I took a brief look, hid my eyes, squealed and flew back out and fled back into the village for a café, which coincidently meant we missed that train and had to wait 50 more minutes!!!!

So my advice to anyone embarking on this little adventure (?????) is wait until July, when the boats run day trips, as I am sure it is a much better view from the sea or make sure the weather has not closed the footpaths and walk the whole 9km linking it all together. And buy one of those weird portable weeing cups!!!

Wet, wet, wet.


On Monday we spent the day in Genoa, very hot but dry luckily. Incredibly impressive old palaces lining the twisting lanes of the historical city centre, a well revamped harbour lined with the biggest private yachts I have ever set my eyes on (no kidding, the men that own these must be really compensating for something!!) and some very grand buildings and the like. Much better than I had thought it would be, and apart from a wrong turn down a dark alley filled with undesirables it was a very enjoyable day.

But what I had been really looking forward to was Portofino, land of the rich and famous, the place where Dolce & Gabbana have their summer house and the only harbour I have seen with a Louis Vuitton shop! We had planned to take the boat there and spend the day in all its splendour. When we awoke it was pissing down, thundering and lightning and it continued all morning, hence no boats running. So we thought we would see what happened after lunch. It started to clear a bit so off to the harbour we headed, still no boats running, storm forecast. But we had bugger all else to do so hopped on the train to Santa Marguerita where it was chucking it down by the time we arrived and then bussed it to a very wet Portofino.  

Now as mention in my last blog this whole area has been a little under whelming and as lovely as Portofino was with its gold drain covers, exclusive shops and pretty harbour anywhere in torrential rain just feels a bit miserable! And rain it did, we were rather soggy walking around and most of the place was shut due to lack of tourists. Wearing my pack-a-parka rain coat and jeans, it was not quite the image I had had of myself arriving by boat decked out in a fabulous dress and my Chanel sunnies!!!

But we had an (very expensive, €3 each) espresso on the harbour to shelter from the rain and then took a few snaps, looked briefly in the windows of Gucci & co and set off back on the bus to Santa Marguerita where we indulged in some very pleasant fizzy white accompanied by some aperitivo nibbles and headed off back home to dry off.   

Harbour shops in the rain!

 A soggy Portofino!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Hitting the road



So a little update on where we are now, how we got here and what we’ve been up to.

Last Saturday we left the Lombardy lakes and headed back to Milan airport to drop off the hire car we had had for the two weeks in the lakes. A hellish 2 hour drive on the crazy A4 motorway which I can only describe as a cross between wacky races and the grand prix with torrential rain making visibility nil. So after near heart failure the car was returned (to an impossible place to find with no map!!) and we thanked our lucky stars that we were still actually alive!!!
 
We then had to hang around the airport for a couple of hours whilst we waited for our bus connection to take us to our next destination, the Liguria coast. We had set off at 7am that morning and after 2 hours in a car, 2 and half hours on a coach then another hour on the train we arrived at our home for the week
Sestri Levante (an hour east of Genoa), at 5.30 that evening!!!

So after a long, hot day and with nothing to eat apart from some salt and pepper, a couple of vegetable stock cubes and some dried chilli flakes in our store cupboard carrier bag, we headed out for well deserved bite to eat and a couple of drinks, aperitivo style!

Now as you are by now aware, we have been to quite a few places in Italy but had never ventured to this area and knew no one those had? We had decided to base ourselves on the coast in between Italy’s biggest port, the city of Genoa and Pisa of leaning tower fame. In between those two were reportedly some beautiful beaches, rocky promontories and the famous Cinque Terre, a collection of 5 cliff-hugging villages that spill into the sea.

Now Sestri Levante was a surprise. Really built up and not the Italy we have come to know and love, more Costa brash than stylish Riviera. Actually the whole coast on from Genoa that we saw from the train was a surprise in the same way. And I’m not sure that I would describe it as a good one, not bad but just not very Italian. I had read that Genoa reportedly expands 30km along the coast and now I have seen it for myself. The whole coast is a sprawling mass of towns built around the train line that connects Genoa with Rome. Our current abode is actually right on the train tracks but if you look really hard through a gap in the buildings you can see the sea!!!!! How people live like this I will never know. So, so bloody noisy.

But it is clean (ish) and in a good spot for exploring the surrounding areas. Which is what we have been doing. In the rain mostly. It has been thunder storm central here and we have been very wet! Obviously we expected this as it always blimin  happens! We have just progressed from rain to full on thunder storms, I can tell you now the likelihood of Italy having its wettest summer on record is incredibly high with us here! I am just a little concerned about setting off the over due volcanic eruptions!!!!!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

some more photo's


Verona

the majestic roman arena

where for art thou my romeo

the surrounding hills

roman ruins
                                                                            

                                                                             Venice


the rialto bridge

gondola's

the grand canal

hidden places

fruit and veg shopping Venecian style!



                                                                           Bergamo

entrance to the old city 

Piazza

The hills around

Il castello

Monday, 6 June 2011

Beautiful Bergamo


So and onto another place, well for the day at least.  Now two weeks into our grand tour of Italy and we are boring ourselves with, “oh my god look”, “oh it is beautiful”, “god this is such a nice place”, “wow this place is stunning” you get the picture. So apologies because you are also going to become rather bored with my proclamations of loveliness during my time in this beautiful place called Italia.

Another such place of great beauty is a little medieval hilltop city called Bergamo. Perched high in the hillside, surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, terraces of rice, lush mountains in the distance, terracotta coloured farmhouses and the ancient city walls filled up with castles, and squares with trickling fountains, and churches towering all around. Bellisamo!

Such a pretty place, all winding streets and secret gardens, cobbled paths and hidden doorways, oh and the shops were sooo pretty!! Now where do I start the food or the fashion? They kind of went hand in hand as they were both as appealing as the other, gorgeous little boutiques with dazzling arrays of shoes and bags and fabulous clothes. Or gorgeous little boutique style eateries, deli’s and pasticceria all filled to bursting with dazzling arrays of incredible cakes, what could’ve been a thousand flavoured focaccia, a rainbow of ice-creams, fruit and vegetables from the nearby hills, freshly baked pizza, ahhh I could go on and on.

We walked and walked, round and round, up and down, through archways and through alleyways, gazed out across the amazing vistas, gazed in the amazing windows at the amazing goods on offer, lunched on amazing local produce, sampled the local cake filled with cream, nuts, chocolate and liquer in the shadow of the imposing medieval tower, and climbed to the top of the castle and stared out to the mountains beyond. Bella.

If you are stuck for ideas for weekend away with your lover, I heartily recommend a couple of nights here in this little jewel. It has an airport servicing low cost airlines and its only a short taxi drive away and the places that you could stay would be just lovely in gorgeous old buildings up in the citta alta (upper city).



Sunday, 5 June 2011

Friday, 3 June 2011

A day in Venice

Two years ago it was my 30th birthday and Mr and mine’s 1st wedding anniversary so we went off to Venice for a long weekend and we had an amazing four days there.

Two days ago we went back to Venice, and had another amazing day there. As it is only 2 and a half hours drive away from where we are staying here at Lake Garda it would have been criminal not to do so. Now if you have never had the pleasure of visiting this extraordinary place then put it on your ‘to do’ list. There really is no-where else like it in the world. It really is just incredible. Unless you have been kept in a darkened room all of your life to date you would have no doubt seen countless images of this sinking city but nothing prepares you for the reality of seeing it with your own two eyes. The rainbow hues and grandeur of the waterside palaces, the cloudy turquoise lagoon water, the bustling boats on the canals delivering all sorts of things you never thought possible, the gondola’s bobbing at the quayside, the mini orchestra’s playing outside of the graceful, historical café’s of St-Marks Square, the waiters in tuxedo’s serving drinks on silver trays, sigh……

It is much smaller than you think it will be and the whole area really can be covered on foot but you really have to get on the water to appreciate the Grand Canal for what it is.  So upon arrival we hopped on the no.2 ferry, which takes you the whole length of the Grand Canal, alongside the graceful sinking palazzo’s, under the famous Rialto Bridge and up to the splendor of St-Marks Square, (much better to do this, you don’t have to suffer the expense and embarrassment of getting on a gondola) and it was every bit as breath-taking as the first time I did this.

From there we wandered the maze of streets and alleyways intersected by little canals topped with elegant little bridges, happened upon hidden squares for espresso stops and just let the city guide us through this amazing place. From St-Marks Square to the Theatre Fenice to the dark alleys of the Rialto to the Jewish Quarter, the best thing really is seeing all the little places seemingly hidden away, never knowing what is around the next corner and just being part of somewhere so very unique.

Having been before we thought that we had covered the majority of this place, in fact we most certainly had not and found ourselves in places we had missed before. We had done all the queueing for the major tourist sights the last time we went and to be honest although the inside of the Palazzo’s are incredible and the churches are beautiful, and if it is your first time then you really must, but I really think that as a lot of them are museum’s or galleries, once you have been to these places not a lot would’ve changed and it really is a place that you can just see so much from the outside because that is where it is all happening. And from experience, especially the places along the canals, all you do is head to the windows to have a look outside! But we did still see all of the obligatory tourist spots, still took a ton of photos (that we probably already have!), had a lovely lunch in a pretty square, gazed along the Grand Canal from the bridges watching the streams of boats and people and just enjoyed every minute of it.

So, grudgingly, after a lovely day we left the sinking city in the lagoon and headed off home knowing that we will certainly be back again one day before it is all hidden beneath those cloudy turquoise waters.



Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Food Glorious Food!!


   Now you may have noticed that I am quite keen on food. Cooking it, eating it, shopping for it and I also have a love hate relationship with it too, well my thighs do especially.

   I have always adored Italian food, I think it is one of the reasons I have always loved it here so much. I love the flavours, the ingredients and I love the simplicity of it welding such gorgeous results when so few ingredients are put together. I mean who does’nt like fresh bread dipped into olive oil and balsamic vinegar?

   Whenever we have visited Italy in the past the moment I have stepped out of the taxi/bus/train from the airport it just smells of Italy. Freshly baked breads, garlicky aromas, rich tomatoe sauces simmering away, lemon juice being drizzled over freshly caught fish, a deep, rich olive oil oh I could go on and on. And I will warn you now I most certainly will over the coming months!

  So imagine my delight of being able to cook whilst being here in our own apartment at Lake Garda! First off the supermarkets I have been visiting are just heaven, like large delicatessens full of all this gorgeous produce we are used to seeing squeezed into one aisle in your local Tesco! Fruit and vegetables from the mountains across the lake from our village, local meats, local fish, handmade pasta’s, local wines, local oils all at unbelievably reasonable prices (much cheaper than France and far superior in quality) and all a taste sensation. I have not used a recipe yet and even if I do say so myself we have eaten some delicious food. Using what is seasonally available, making risotto with fresh stock from the chicken I roasted stuffed with lemons and garlic, using sun ripened tomatoes to make the sweetest tomatoe pasta sauce, having delicious salads made with raw fennel, courgette and asparagus in fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Grilling prawns in garlic, lemon and olive oil. Oh I could bore you senseless.     

  Every evening I have been concocting some mini aperitivo bits and pieces to have with a little sun downer tipple over looking the lake as the sun set’s. Ricotta fritters, melon and prosciutto, oozing tallegio cheese, bruschetta with tomatoes marinated in balsamic vinegar, ricotta and rocket balls, vegetable crudités dipped in olive oil and pesto, slices of mortadella, I will stop before you doze off.

  So you would think with all this eating (and drinking wine) I would now be a size of a house but I actually feel as if I have lost a couple of pounds, and I think I know why. Firstly the food is all so fresh and so delicious and much more healthy so you are much more satisfied and don’t overindulge, secondly I have been adopting the Italian way and only having a small breakfast of fruit or just a piece of fruit and yogurt and thirdly I have not had anything between meals aside from espresso mid morning and normally sometime in the afternoon. I have eaten 3 pizza’s in the last week (more than I have ever had in my life) as they are cheaper than a roll or salad at lunch sometimes and the difference being is that they are wafer thin, and have only a scattering of mozerella. I have also been ordering a marinara, which is just topped with tomatoe and oregano, no cheese at all and it is delicious. So even pizza is better for you here!

   I will stop now because I could go on forever waxing lyrical about the joy’s of Italian food and that really is no big surprise, also it is time for me to make my evening masterpiece!!!!

   Buon apettito!
   

Monday, 30 May 2011

Lovely Lake Garda


  From the grandeur of Milan to the awe inspiring Lake Garda. After our 3 nights in Milan we picked up our hire car and headed over to our next destination Lake Garda, the Italians drive like maniacs on the motorways, thank god we have decided to train it the rest of the way!!!!!

  So here we are, a hilltop apartment looking out over the stunning vistas of Lake Garda. A great little apartment reached by a heart racingly narrow steep road full of blind bends and crazy drivers!!! But the view is something else, mirror-like stillness of the azure blue lake, a backdrop of densely forested snow capped mountains, Riviera style villa’s and old palaces, imposing churches clinging to the hillsides and all with beautiful blooms, blossoms, lemon trees and pine trees all around. Bellisamo!  A very strange thing though, it is clearly a lake but it smells like the sea and it just makes you feel like you are in the Mediteranean, just one of the classier places!  And it is hot! +30 most days so far, although we have had a couple of cracking thunder storms of an evening, our balcony is the perfect place to watch from! And there was fresh snow on the mountain tops the other day!! (That is just bloody typical eh, no snow in the Alps for six months, 30 degrees everyday here in the lakes and snow!!! I am not even going there.)
 
  We have decided to make our way to the Italian lakes to see what the job situation might bring, this is where the biggest concentration of English speaking tourists are to be found outside of the cities, and seeing as we (more accurately, I) only speak a handful of Italian words this sounded like a plan of sorts. We have two weeks here to suss out what happens on the work front and to travel all around, Verona, Venice, Bergamo are all but a short drive away. So we’ll see.

  We have spent a few days driving around to the surrounding lake front towns, all as pretty as a picture, all with the most amazing lakeside settings and mostly all full of pensioners!!!! Some more so than others, Lirmone was stunning but everyone was grey haired, limping and had their 40 year old  ‘holiday clothes’ on, and all on a coach trip, but on the other hand there was Salo which is much more chic and had more of a cosmopolitan feel about it, oh and some gorgeous shops and cool lake front café’s to watch and be watched!  We have gone from one extreme to the other, from being nearly the oldest people in Val to the youngest ones here at the lakes!

  Oh and on a really annoying note, we have no internet connection once again, so all these blogs are copy & paste numbers going out scheduled when I can get to a sodding wi-fi spot, (virtually unheard of what with the septuagenarian’s being the main stay of guests!!!)

  Better get back to that view! Ciao!

   



Breast Rubbing in Verona


  One of the (many) great things about Italy is that all these fabulous places are so close together. One of the reasons we chose to base ourselves at Lake Garda was not only for the work potential but also for its proximity to many other places.

  So with that in mind and a car at our disposal we headed out of the lake area 2 hours down the road to Verona. The home of Shakespear’s Romeo & Juliette and the famous Roman Arena.

   Having been to a few wonderful places already over the years our expectations of famous Italian cities are maybe a little high but that is because everywhere to date has been incredible.

  Now Verona certainly was very lovely and the Roman Arena ever so impressive, and had it been opera season we would have gone but that does not start for another couple of weeks. Being in there made you realise just how magical a night at the opera in a roman amphitheatre must be (not that by any stretch of the imagination are we opera buffs or anything). But there was just something that Mr and I both felt about the whole place and we just cannot put our finger on it. Maybe it just lacked a little of the magic that Venice and Rome seem to have, I don’t know. Maybe it is just that it’s fame is due to a fictional tale, you can actually visit Juliette’s tomb although she never actually lived. Hmm?  Seems strange that. It was also swarming with tourists (mostly our German friends) and it just felt a little over touristy I think. Not quite Italian enough I suppose, maybe it just did’nt have the required fa la bella figura we have come to expect!!!

  But we went to Juliettes balcony, which was very pretty and watched hopeful love torn teenagers rubbing the right breast of her bronze statue, apparently it is meant bring luck in love, hmmm? I reckon the little buggers just wanted a grope.

  We wandered the ancient cobbled streets and I gazed lovingly at yet more beautiful shop windows!!! And soaked up the atmosphere over espresso. Can’t really complain eh? Beats a day at the office.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

ahhhh milano!!


  So after a particularly stressful check in at Heathrow’s T5 we finally made it out of the country. I will explain. Mr is diabetic and as he is also a man this means I constantly check that he has all of his appropriate medical supplies about his person on a daily basis. After being dropped off an hour earlier than needed at the airport I had just purchased a couple of coffees and was planning to sit and enjoy 5 minutes peace when I casually asked if Mr had picked up his injection. His normal “yesss of course I have” then a cloud of dread descended over his face and a “oh fuck… my insulin”.  He had left six months worth of his life saving drug in the fridge at our friend’s house an hour away. Fortunately though one of our friends had been on night shift and as it was nearing lunch time we thought he would be awakening soonish, so after a couple of frantic phone calls he was hot footing it to Heathrow in the nick of time with the said drugs and we breathed a huge sigh of relief, then got through airport security with 50 minutes to spare before departure.  Crisis averted.

    The second stress of the day came when we reached our hotel. After a surprisingly easy journey halfway across the city with our luggage on the Milan underground, we had walked, dragging our bloody heavy cases for 15 minutes in the early evening sweltering heat only be told they had changed our reservation to another hotel. 20 minutes back the way we had just come!!!! Aghhhh.  Then upon check-in at the other hotel we were told it was only for 2 nights not 3. But we got it all sorted in the end. In all the years and all of the places we have ever travelled to we have never had such a nightmare day to get from A to B. Oh and the hotel happened to be in an area popular with trans-gender/transvestite Asian prostitutes!! (One looked about 50, he just had ladies clothes on and a long red wig, no attempt to look like a woman apart from that at all, hilarious! I don’t know what is more worrying, them or the people that pick them up???)

    But it was all to be worth it. Milan was stunning. Not what I was expecting at all. It was calm, beautiful, clean and much more grand than I had ever imagined. The city centre is filled to bursting with jaw dropping architecture and the city’s cathedral and surrounding piazza was one of the most incredible sights I have ever set my eyes on, I actually could not stop a “wow” escaping my lips as we entered the square from the underground, all lit up for the evening, it was an amazing sight.

    I had always envisaged Milan to be a bit like London, busy, congested, dirty, chaotic and hard work but it did not feel like that at all. It was elegant and relaxed and oh so stylish. Around every corner was a plethora of cool bars, uber trendy restaurants and old style marble clad café’s. All full to the rafters with people to match. The people and the place were turned out in their very finest and it was a pleasure to be immersed in all of its splendour.

   And that brings me neatly on to the more important aspects of the city, the fashion and the shops! Oh my!  The shops were every bit as sumptuous as you would expect, set in beautiful old baroque buildings in cobbled streets, ivy tumbling down from their balconies and the windows full of the most incredible things. Shoes dazzling like jewels, stunning arrays of bags and don’t even get me started on the clothes. Sigh………… 

   And then there were the beautiful people. Dressed impeccably and oh so chic.  There is only one way to put it, the Italians have got style. Bucket loads. Although I would’nt fancy trying to get to the mirror to get ready with an Italian man in the vicinity!!!! One of the rules they live by is fa la bella figura  (to cut a fine figure) and they take it very seriously, I think it is as important to make sure they look the part as it is to breathe!! Being from the vainer side of the spectrum myself, I find this brilliant!!! Mr thinks it is ridiculous. But it is lovely to dress up, put on some heels and not have anyone bat an eyelid, although they will look just to check out what everyone looks like! Posing and people watching is a compulsory past time here.

    Then of course there is apertivo, I have mentioned this before on a trip to Turin. It is a genius thing, between 6-9pm almost every bar will have their aperitivo time. Every drink is the same price (€6-€10), second drink is cheaper though, and you get to help yourself to a mountain of fresh, delicious Italian anti-pasti, breads, cheeses and pasta etc. So with when in Rome (or Milan) and all that, it would have been rude not to partake, it is also a very budget friendly way of eating out. Mr and I went to one particularly funky bar and for €30 (for us both) we had a cocktail and a glass of wine each plus basically a 2 course meal in fabulous surroundings. They even do nibbles and drinks in style!

    So all in all I loved Milan, I would go back in a heartbeat (although some lottery winnings would help on the shopping front!) and even Mr could’nt complain about this city, my love affair with Italy has been reignited once again.