Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lakeside - Day 7

Drove down the west side of Lake Garda, stopping for a view of the lake and Il Vittoriale, the villa of the eccentric  in Gardone Riviera. This is where Gabriele D'Annunzio lived from 1922-38, poet, dramatits, novelist, soldier, fascist and deamer.

The villa has an ampitheatre, a warship projecting out from the hillside, a motorised torpedo boat, an aeroplane and cars. The rooms are full of collected items but it's his behaviour that is of real interest - treating his guests with distain, supposedly eating babies! etc. It's a cornucopia of objects and ephemera. 

The sun was shining so we ate outside in a small Trattoria opposite the Villa entrance, where the food was excellent - spritz, shrimp salad, pizza, prosecco sorbet etc. Best meal of the trip.

After lunch we drove down to Desenzano, a lovely little town on the southern coast of the lake, where we walked off our lunch, leaving Callum to sleep off the exhaustiion of the competition in the car.

Mountains - Day 6

Up through a long tunnel to the north to another couple of smaller lakes. The landcsape, agriculture and architecture are very different - poorer. This time we encountered lots of motorcyclists and cyclists. These are very popular here, despite the crazy driving.

Back for a couple of excellent Pizzas in the Bella Napoli. 

Verona - Day 4

Off south to Verona in the sunshine. This is a region of fast cars, no respect for speed limits, tailgating and common use of mobile phones when driving. The road traffic stats in Italy have been described as 'diabolical', 'a war out there', 'collective madness'. Few motorists seem to be fined for offences, which occur at an astonishing frequency. You can barely go for a few minutes without spotting some obvious violations of the law. The traffic police seem big on sunglasses and sharp uniforms (riding breeches and black knee-high books).

Verona is a walkable city with the arena as its focus and a maze of pedestrianised streets hemmed in by the Adige river. We started in the arena (free entry for some reason) and could see why it's a great venue for Opera and pop music. The outer wall was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake in the 12th century. The limestone seats have many ammonites and the acoustics are excellent. It's two main Piazzas (dell Erbe and Signori) are also beautiful. We ate in a Trattoria on the other side of the river that specialise in horse meat and Veneto cuisine - lots of polenta and meat.


Bolzano - Day 3 - Good news

Had to get out of town for the day as Callum was comepting - he doesn't like us watching him live.

So we headed north to Bolzano and the Dolomites. The valley just north of Lake Garda through Arco, is stunning, with vineyards on both sides of the river and high limestone mountains on either side. Bolzano seemed full of German speakers and the restaurants were largely German cuisine (not a great sign). This whole area of northern Italy was ceded from Austria after the first world war and still has a strong German culture. It was called the southern Tyrol, now the Alte Adige. To this day there are tensions between the two ethnic groups. I'm on the side of the Italians, who have the better food, the better wine and the nicer temperament. We were short-changed (10 euros) by a German speaking waitress. confirming my prejudices!

What we really came to see in Bolzano was the Iceman, a 5,300 old mummy preserved in the ice until found in 1991. The local museum has an excellent exhibition, where you can see the iceman mummified in cold storage through a small glass window. But what is impressive is the background archaeology and display of his clothes and the objects found near his body. His coat was a striking example of prehistoric fashion, a striped fur piece. His shoes were bearskin souls, deer skin uppers and stuffed with straw against the cold. His trousers and underpants were cleverly designed to allow plenty of movement, suspended from his belt. His cap was of bearskin.

Analysis of his teeth, bones, skin and stomach contents revealed much about his life. Tattoos on his skin suggested therapeutic attempts to relieve joint pain. His teeth showed that he had lived in three separate areas, with different rock types, and his bones revealed an age of around 46. The contents of his stomach included venison, and bread.


He was a walking example of a sustainable economy, with weapons for hunting and protection (necessary sine he had been murdered), bark pots containing embers for fire, flint and pyrites for making fire, material for making arrowheads and tools for mending his clothes.

After lunch,we headed off to the Dolomites and climbed up to over 9000 feet where meadows and ski resorts lay just below teeth-like peaks. The scenery was stunning. At the top of the mountains we got a text saying Callum had won a Silver medal, so we headed back elated at the news.

We celebrated at La Contrada with some excellent wine, carpaccio of beef, octopus and orangesalad, horsemeat, rabbit, polenta, tiramisu and limoncello.

Lake Garda - Day 2 - Skills and courage

Spent some time in the arena where the heat, smell and atmosphere of the competition were intense. It's quite something to watch seriously fit competitors fight each other in front of an equally hyped crowd. After seeing several people being knocked out, and one carted off to hospital, we had to go for a walk to calm ourselves.

Master Nardizi, an eight Dan (youngest ever), was telling us about the tournament party lsat year, when lots of the girls turned out dressed to the ninties, but even with some serious make-up, couldn't hide the cuts and bruises!

There were teams from every European country, Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgestan, Japan, Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, USA, Canada and so on. Each team had their spot in town to train. You've got to admire these young people for the sheer effort and courage they have in attaining incredibly high levels of fitness, as well as skills, and the courage to fight unknown opponents from around the world. It was terryfying for me as a spectator and parent, so god knows what it was like being a competitor.

Took Callum out to the Bella Napoli for a huge pizza prior to his day in teh ring.

Lake Garda - Day 1

Flew to Milan Malpensa with the TaeKwon Do team to watch my son compete in the World Cup. After a few hours on the long and winding road (lots of tunnels on the west lakeside) we arrived at Riva de Garda and headed out for our first meal. The town lies at the head of the beautiful Lake Garda and at the foot of an enormous mountain that has a castle and small monument that seem suspended in space at night.

Everywhere we walked there were Tae Kwon Do competitors practising their kicks and patterns. There are 1,500 of them in this small town from dozens of countries, in stark contrast to the older English and German tourists, who have come here for peace and quiet. It's an expensive place to eat, although the Bella Napoili makes champion pizzas and the Osteria La Contrada specialises in Veneto dishes such as horsemeat, rabbit and polenta (this we were to sample later).

Monday, October 06, 2008

Paris - Day 4

Louvre bound after our obligatory Brasserie breakfast. We chose the Egyptian section, as two of us are off to Egypt in December and one of us had been there earlier in the year - it was superb, better than the British Museum, even without the Rossetta Stone. Then the Greek and Roman statuary. Ronnie left after lunch to fly home while we continued in the Louvre, then headed back.

Paris - Day 3 - Rodin

Sunny day, so we walked to Les Invalides then to the Musee Rodin. This is one of Paris's highlights. The area is lovely, the grounds are beautiful and the art breathtaking. Most of the major pieces, Burghers of Calais, Thinker, Balzac and Doors of Hell are in the gardens. Ken and I were stopped by a group who interviewed us about Paris and our home country. The works inside the villa are outstanding.

Lunch at the Cafe des Philosophes, haunt of Sartre and others. Again, excellent soups, beef bourgenon and lots of cheese. A walk around Marais and the Place de Voges, followed by a stroll to the llle St Louis, to see where Baudelaire wrote Les Fleurs du Mal.

Back to hotel for a sleep (we're of that age) then off to the Champs d'Elysee to La fermette Marbeuf. This was a disappointment. At £100 a head you don't expect such bad service. We weren't taken at 9.30 (the time we had booked), the maitre di brought food menus, rather than the wine list three times in a row, 2/4 entrees arrived after our first two had been eaten and the waiter splashed wine over the table while filling our glasses - and this was not cheap wine. This establishment has turned into a lazy haunt for over rich bankers and tourists.

Paris - Day 2 - L'escargot vole

Breakfast at a nearby Brasserie then walked to the Cimitiere Montparnasse where we sought out the graves of Samuel Beckett, Baudelaire, Sartre, Beauvoir, Poincarre and others. There is an extraordinary tomb of Mt Pigeon and his wife, lying on their bed in full 19th century dress.

As if that weren't enough on the macabre side we walked to the catacombs and spent a jolly couple of hours wandering underground among the bones of 6 million Parisians. This was used by the resistance and is a very odd experience.

To Chartier for lunch and it remains my favourite lunch spot in Paris. Food is great, very French and cheap. Ken had a struggle with one of his escargots and sent it flying from his tongs. He was covered in green sauce and only recovered the said snail when the people from the next table had left. he didn't want the waiter to think he had eaten the whole thing.

Satisfactorily stuffed, we walked down to the Pompidou Centre and into the Museum of Modern Art. The Pompidou Centre often seem like a building in search of a purpose. It's not a comfortable place and as there were no internal exhibitions, felt its usual cavernous self.

Dinner at Le Benoit, a Michelin Star restaurant in the Marais district. No dish, entree or starter, was less than £25, but the food was excellent and James joined us fresh (well maybe not) from the Eurostar - he had missed his flight! Couldn't for the life of us get a taxi to stop so Metro back to hotel.

Paris, via Brussels and Charleroi - Day 1

Eurostar to Brussels to give a  talk at Charleroi. First time from St Pancras and unfortunate that it's in their post-fire phase, as my train was cancelled (they didn't tell me). It was even worse on the way back from Paris four days later with irate crowds and zero management of the problems.

In any case, Charleroi was a strange place with a steelworks in the town centre, a run down feel and obvious poverty. The first people I spotted on exiting the station were two prostitutes. The talk was fun, although I'm sure the three simultaneous translators had difficulty with my accent.

Train back to Brussels, then south to Paris to meet some firnds for our annula 'Boys' weekend', a bit of a misnomer since 3/4 of us are over 50. Hotel prices were through the roof, as it is fashion week, so 250 euros a night in the Meridien in Montparnasse was our only option. Bought some bread, cheese, a tarte poire and waited on Ken and Ronnie to arrive from Brighton and Scotland respectively. Downed a lovely bottle of Gamay when they arrived, then out around Montparnasse for an excellent meal at a small restuarant, after checking out La Coupoule, which was too busy.