There are a number of pieces I wrote two years ago but never got round to posting because on our return from America my wife became ill and was, after many false starts, diagnosed with genetic ovarian cancer. After multiple chemotherapy treatments and major surgery Denise died in December 2016.
I’ve decided partly for my own benefit as much as for anyone else’s enjoyment (although I hope there may be some of that too) to retro-blog the remainder of our US trip in 2014 and some of the things we did last year (2016) which circumstances prevented me from recording at the time. Dee’s indomitable spirit was not going to stop her enjoying what transpired to be our last year together. Her love of life, care for people, enjoyment of landscape, literature, art and music, food and wine – and the occasional cocktail – will live on with me. It’s a sad time but there are also 22 wonderful years we spent together to celebrate.
Adding to this pinned post after a year makes me realise just how lucky I was to have shared my life with Dee and how grateful I am to the family and friends who have helped me through my first difficult year of loss. It’s been a busy year in which I’ve cried, complained and been creased up with laughter at various moments. I started blogging when we were planning our trip to Japan in 2013 so it will be five years old in January 2018. Thanks to all of you who have followed it and commented. I enjoy keeping a record of my travels in this way and I’m delighted that some of you enjoy reading about them.
I have now been back through the Rome blogs and add photos so if anyone
wants to flick through them again you'll be most welcome.
Sorry Monteverdi – it was all that baroque last night and then on iTunes while I was writing. Ulysses’ return was a more dramatic story than mine and made for a fine opera we saw a couple of years ago. My return journey began with packing my one carry on bag – first time for a long time I’ve travelled without checked in luggage. Breakfast, checkout, store case with porter and set off to Galleria Borghese for a final cultural treat. The concierge advised the metro to Flaminio and then walk through the lovely Borghese Park. It is sunny and bright, not too cold and I stride off purposefully through the, indeed, lovely park. It dawns on me quite early that to get to the gallery it’s all uphill and nearly two kilometres. The signage is plentiful but confusing as there are several other museums and galleries in the park so the map had to come out a few times to confirm I was on the right path.
A couple of pauses to watch red squirrels cavorting – why do they look so much more agreeable that the grey vermin I constantly shoo off my bulbs? – and I make it to the gallery shortly after my timed admission slot from 11:00 till 13:00 – one occasion when I really appreciate the timed-ticket system as it meant I was able to admire the works on display.
The permanent collection houses lots of Berninis but also had a special exhibition showing his work as a painter at which he excelled in his early years and then largely abandoned once commissions for sculpture and architecture filled his days. The first floor sculpture galleries contain pieces from ancient times, mosaic floors of great beauty and loads of Bernini busts in an amazing row through a long gallery. Perhaps the most startling piece is the prone statue of Hermaphroditus from the second century AD, reclining on a mattress sculpted by Bernini which you are sure will respond to your touch. But I was soon headed up the spiral staircase to see the paintings. Fortunately their Caravaggios hadn’t all gone to Florence and David with the Head of Goliath,Boy with a basket of fruit and others only seen in reproductions were there to marvel at. As indeed were Raphael’s brilliant Lady with a Unicorn (as on trend in 1506 as in 2017), and Deposition of Christ. There was a fine Bernini self-portrait and then Titian’s amazing Sacred and Profane Love which reignited my musings about secular and religious art prompted by last night’s concert. My time was up but I would happily spend another two hours absorbing the works in this elegant setting, where they are so admirably displayed. It was great not being shuffled and squeezed along a toothpaste tube of visitors.
Tempus fugit but memories remain
I decided to walk out of the park by a different route clocking a location for another visit, the highly regarded Museum of Modern Art on the way. Its facade was tempting but I did have a flight to catch. I arrive on via Flaminio close to a tram stop for the number 2 that I had used on Wednesday so waited for the next tram to take my tiring limbs back to the metro stop. I looked at my watch and it was exactly 12:25 the time my wife died a year ago.
So I had a little moment and resumed my journey on a packed tram. I had time to raise a glass to her in the Piazza del Popolo and found another birra artiginale this time from brewery Beatrice with a pale ale called Diana – all very British royal family! With some complimentary crisps and nuts I was ready for the last leg. I had done very well using metro, trams and a bus and decided to treat myself to a luxury ride to the airport in the hotel’s shuttle bus which proved a good plan as we arrived in good time and I was able to find a seat and write a previous blog.
All good things come to an end and my very enjoyable first taste of Rome ended in anger with the inefficiency of Ryanair’s ground handling subcontractors at Ciampino airport. As this was my first trip for ages without checked baggage, I had paid the extra six euros for priority boarding that enables you to take your wheelie case into the plane. There was no priority line for check in and as I arrived at the top of the steps I was informed that my bag would have to go in the hold. I explained that I had paid for priority simply to be able to place my case in the overhead locker. ‘Well you should have checked in earlier.’ ‘I would have done but having gone to the desk to find there was no Priority Lane I had to join nearly the end of the Other Q, as you so nicely put it to the plebs.’ To be fair a helpful flight attendant did look at a number of lockers but to have removed the bags of non-payers to make way for mine would have delayed the flight so I reluctantly allowed my case to go to the hold and sat down to sulk my way home. Given all the alarms I’d heard about problems at Stansted during the week I guess I was lucky to be coming back at anywhere near the scheduled time. We landed and of course mine was the last case onto the conveyor – fortunately identifiable since no one gave me a baggage claim receipt.
All’s well …
Faith in customer service was refreshed as I arrived at the mid-stay parking exit. When you have pre-booked the gate opens on recognising your number plate. However on Christmas Eve I actually arrived an hour early so it didn’t clock my reg and no one answered the help button so I had to take a ticket. I half-expected to have to pay the price at the exit and then reclaim my costs later but a splendid operator, who did answer the help button this time, checked me on the system and opened the barrier with no charge for my extra hour. A quick run down the M11, a clear Blackwall Tunnel and back home after a stimulating and enjoyable trip. Exhausted but happy and with a welcome home hug from neighbour Jan, who lost her father two days before Christmas.
First stop on Thursday morning is the mini-market on the way to the metro to buy an umbrella. At €5 it beat the queue touts’ €8-10 and it springs into life at the press of a button unlike their manual ones. A few clouds are about but the sun is out as I descend for not-quite the longest possible metro journey. The A line starts at Battistini one station west of where I get on at Cornelia and stops at Anagnina one stop beyond Cinecitta my destination for today. There’s an amusing occurrence as the subway emerges from tunnels to cross the Tiber on a bridge. On Sunday and again today, the fashionable youth of Rome reach for their sunglasses – for all of thirty seconds! The journey takes a little longer than the concierge predicted – or maybe it was my umbrella stop that screwed the schedule – but I arrived at the gates of the studios at 11:33, presented my voucher and was told that I had missed the 11:30 English language tour but could wait for the 13:00 one in Italian. I declined and said I’d go and see the permanent exhibitions anyway for which you don’t need to be part of a tour.
A funny thing happened …
As I walked across to the building marked Teatro 1 the introduction to Cinecitta, I spied a group emerging from it. I approached and enquired if they were the 11:30 English tour for which I was late and the French group leader Michelle confirmed this, let me join and explained that I’d missed the history of Cinecitta which she had just outlined. She also told me that today’s tour would actually be in English and French because of the make up of the group. This was a very fortunate encounter as she then led our group of twelve through a locked gate into the studio lot proper where casual visitors cannot go.
High Five for Fellini
As you enter the site you walk past ‘Venusia’ a prop used at the beginning of Fellini’s Casanova. Once through the gate we walk along arough a roadway lined by large terracotta painted buildings each with a Teatro number. Teatro is the Italian equivalent of Stage in English film studio parlance and our first stop, as I try out my new umbrella, is outside Teatro 5 one of 22 in all. I already knew this was their biggest with two submerged tanks for underwater and water surface filming and a massively high ceiling for crane shots. I had also read that Fellini (a favourite from my 1960s film-going days along with Pasolini and Antonioni) held it as his favourite space. I asked whether they had shot the famous scene in La Dolce Vita here in which Anita Ekberg inveigles Marcello Mastroianni to join her in the iconic Trevi Fountain. They hadn’t. It was apparently shot at 05:30 in February with Mastrioanni demanding a wet suit under his tuxedo while Nordic ice-queen Ekberg strolled through the waters, shoulders bare, in her evening gown. There’s a brass plaque on the wall outside Teatro 5 dedicating it to Fellini who did in fact recreate whole streets in the studio for this and the many other films he made here.
Ancient and medieval
We walk on with quite persistent rain and so observe the first of the outdoor standing lots from under the access arch. It’s a recreation of the Temple of Jerusalem made for an American movie the name of which escaped me between the translations and the patter of rain on the brolly. As with all good set building it’s all scaffolding and fibreglass but looks authentic both to the human eye and the lens.
Next to it they are just starting to build an outdoor set for a new film version of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose which we weren’t allowed to approach – secrecy or construction hazard I’m not sure. We then move to Assissi built for a film about St Francis but since much adapted to be Florence and other towns in medieval times.
The next big set was built for the recent BBC/HBO/RAI TV series Rome. It has a huge variety of individual homes, official buildings, temples and the forum – sadly the Colisseum is no more. At the side of the forum is the Basilica of Emilia which you can hire for corporate events. Toga party anyone? It was a huge project that cost over a hundred million dollars for each series and the sets will I’m sure be used many more time in the future.
We then walk back to the original exhibition area where I catch up with the history I’d missed. There are great displays – although the text panels are located a knee-height which made for a lot of neighbourly head bumping and ‘mi scusis’. There are excellent interactive segments where you can dub dialogue, make sound effects and perform in your preferred green screen scenario. Hoots of laughter from a group of teenagers running through a series of comedy and sci-fi scenes. There are several screens with interviews and extracts from films by Fellini, Rossellini and a fascinating piece on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns that he sees as retelling of the Greek myths. You walk out through a submarine interior from a 2000 film U571 which had escaped my notice.
The entrance area also has a brilliant children’s play area made up from the letters of Cinecitta.All in all a fascinating morning and I was very glad I’d caught up with the guide.
Birra and baroque
I took the metro back into the centre and had a short time to spend before a concert I’d booked for 18:30 this evening. So I discovered that Italy is about more than Peroni and Moretti in the birra stakes. In a small bar near Piazza Tritone, home to another famous Bernini fountain, I asked for a beer and was offered three craft bottled beers from a brewery called Baladin at 5, 6.5 and 7.5 proof. Since I want to stay awake I opt for the least alcoholic a crisp IPA style beer that was very tasty. The bar was quiet and I had a conversation about the changes in beer consumption in the last fifteen years or so when Italy started to brew other than the famous lagers we all know. There are over 600 small breweries now and the taste for different flavoured beers is growing. I’ll know to look out for them next time as I did throw my coin in the Trevi Fountain which supposedly guarantees a return to Rome, on my way to Piazza Navona .
I found an old UK pound coin in my camera bag and rather than take it to a bank I cast it to the waters. I hope it’s valid for Roman myths.
I was still half an hour early for the concert so had a quick coffee in a great cafe in the Museo di Roma building at the south of Piazza Navona. It’s called Vivi and is all organic. Coffee was great and being afraid of rumbling tum I had a slide of very tasty morello cherry pastry slice. It was obviously a popular meeting point for the young of the area. On into Santa Agnesa in Agone right opposite Bernini’s famous Four Rivers Fountain which represents the Danube, the Nile, the Plate and the Ganges with mythical creatures and is topped by a huge obelisk. One of the characters is holding his hand up to shield his eyes from the light but popular Roman tales have it that Bernini had this man shield his eyes from the awful facade of the church built by his greatest rival Borromini. Great story, not true – the church came fifteen years after the fountain but hey – it’s a fun way of explaining the rivalry between the established master and the young pretender both eager to attract sponsorship from popes, princes and patrons.
Profana e sacra
I enter St Agnes and am directed to the sacristy off to the left rather than a seat in the main church nave. After a fashionable delay our performers file in. Soprano Paola Alonzi explains the music, sets it in context and sings beautifully accompanied by a duo – father Stefano Sabene on traversa (an early flute) tambour and tambourine and his son Lorenzo on baroque guitar and lute. They are not the best I’ve ever heard but in the setting and the circumstances, I was very glad I booked this to be transported back a few centuries. After some Frescobaldi, Monteverdi and – flying the flag for England – a lovely John Dowland piece we were asked to remove ourselves to the main church. The first half had all been secular: dances, love songs and ballads. The second half was church music – so we were allowed into the nave. Actually the acoustics were worse in here but I wondered whether composers (and artists, architects etc) chose different ways of working depending on whether they were producing sacred or profane works. Certainly there was more restraint in the Monteverdi in church than in his previous song. Maybe I’ll see one day if there is any writing about this.
Trevi e Rossini
I walked back from the concert past the Trevi fountain and flung in some euros just in case my invalid pound bars me from returning. I looked at several restaurants and was attracted by the option of Ristorante Rossini – what a musical contrast! It proved a good choice with a starter of sauted clams which I’d never seen before. They were in fact steamed like mussels in a white wine and parsley sauce and very tasty. It was also a nod to Dee whose favourite pasta was spaghetti alle vongole. My second course (and last – I’m not Italian) was a delicious lasagne in which the pasta sheets were paper thin and the meat and tomato ragu a little spicy and just what I needed. I was frowned at a little for declining my main course but explained that as an oldie I don’t get as hungry as I used to – thank you Google translate!
Back to the metro, hotel bar for a nightcap and another great day in Rome comes to an end.
After two marathon walking days I have a lie in on Wednesday as I have my Vatican tour booked for 14:00 and plan to visit some new arts buildings in the north of Rome. This involved my first tram ride which was very efficient except that I had no idea where to get off but, soliciting halting help from a fellow passenger, I disembarked at the right spot quite a way up via Flaminio. Left along Guido Reni and there it is – polished grey concrete of Zaha Hadid’s fine museum for 20th century art and architecture. It’s a great building with sweeping lines, unusual projections and it sits very well in an industrial area of the city. Insider the curvy features continue with a NY Guggenheim-style sweep to higher levels and a wonderfully fluid black staircase to get back down.
There is a mixture of installations, archictects’ drawings and models, which I’ve always loved whether in balsa wood or Perspex, photography including a magic Helmut Newton series of Rome and a special exhibition of art from war torn Beirut. I spent a very stimulating 90 minutes and could have explored other areas but wanted to see the work of another superstar architect Renzo Piano.
The Parco Della Musica is ten minutes’ walk from Maxxi and consists of three auditoria that look a bit like tortoise shells or anteaters. These indoor concert halls surround an open air amphitheatre where I’d love to come back in summer. All set amid tall pines it is the best definition of a culture park. Rain started so I popped in for a coffee until it abated and then got mildly damp walking back to the tram stop to head south for my two o’clock tour.
Very vet Vatican
As some will have read already, I found my tour group at the appointed spot at the foot of some steps opposite the museum entrance. Roll called, badged up and ready to shuffle we head towards the special groups entrances where I resisted umbrella sales in the drizzle to my later soaked cost. Eventually (45 mins eventually) we enter, take 15 minutes for loo breaks, audio guides and multi guide chaos and actually move into the museums. Well you could spend a year here and not see everything and what you do see is mostly at a slow shuffle a bit like trying to get up Occupation Road after a capacity crowd stayed till the end. (For non-Watford fans that’s a very slow shuffle.) The place is a total maze as well so you have little idea where you are.
Highlights for me were the map room in which you can walk from south to north of Italy in five minutes with brilliant relief representations of the various areas of the country either side of you as they were thought to be in 1580. As a geographer, Dee would have taken some persuading to move on but Tatiana was strict and we were ushered on towards the Raphael frescoes. These are quite wonderful except for one which I think was the Expulsion of Heliodorus where most of the wall is in his usual style but the a handful of figures in the lower left side are much more dramatic, muscular and frankly Vincian. Tatiana told us, the probable urban, myth that Raphael stole the key to the Sistine Chapel and had a sneak preview and decided to copy the master. While beautifully done he really should have stripped off the plaster and started over for consistency.
On then finally to what everyone is there for. nine years of Leonardo da Vinci’s life spent on the ceiling and then the end wall with the second coming. Not for the first time this trip did I have severe neck ache but worth every moment as the pain is alleviated by the sheer beauty of the vision above. Another special Dee moment was standing right below the finger of God creating man and hearing the South Bank Show theme in my head. Quite stunning, it was well worth the soaked shuffle.
The tour ends in St Peter’s basilica another awe-inspiring building with my favourite of all the sculptures Michelangelo’s Pieta carved when he was only 24. I managed to skirt round take square under cover and then dash through the torrents to the metro and back to the hotel for a shower, change and some fortification and post my first blog of the new Rome series, humiliated by my earlier gloating about the fine weather in Rome.
As I sit in the hotel bar, coyly named The Office, it’s BB King night on the playlist a pleasant change from the slightly too loud medleys played on other nights. Service is good, staff chatty although leave me in peace when I’m hammering at the keys and I meet another solo traveller who is spending his second Christmas away after divorce ended his 28 year marriage. Maybe I should start the WDCTC – the Widowers and Divorces Christmas Travel Club.
Boxing Day saw me leaving the hotel bright and early to get the metro to Colisseo which meant a change at Termini, the only point where the two lines cross. I thought some of the tube interchanges in London involved quite a few steps but it took more than five minutes to get from one platform to the other – maybe there was a shorter route for the locals but Termini reminded me a bit of the subway in Japan where you are tempted from your journey by a plethora of retail opportunities. The tour party assembled just outside the metro station with a clear view of the Colisseum which is absolutely massive and breathtaking – and most of it is missing! Start time 09:45 for a prompt ten o’clock entrance.
Into the arena
This was my first experience of paying in advance for a ‘skip the line’ tour. By the time we’d all assembled, been equipped with headsets and radios to catch our guide’s wise words we were already fifteen minutes after start time and after struggling through the groups entrance, airport type security and general faff we didn’t actually get into the Colisseum until twenty to eleven. We were a motley group on Americans from Iowa and Florida, an Iranian couple who vanished midway through and of course a family of six Chinese one of whom did her best to interpret for the others who lacked her command of English.
The structure is incredible and one has to remember that it would all have ben clad in marble. The Romans obviously gave us a lot but I couldn’t help relating current coverage of Qatar’s brutal methods of building prestigious stadia for the World Cup and what must have happened as this and other magnificent structures were built. Life is cheap in these circumstances. The rich must be glorified in the manner of their choosing. The other thing that was cheap was wood and as I’m reading Annie Proulx’s fabulous book Barkskins about the deforestation of New England to build British ships, homes for migrants and the displacement of the native Americans, I couldn’t help remarking that lack of respect for both life and natural resources is nothing new.
We leave for the next part of the trip, the Roman Forum. We wait for fifteen minutes at another security check because we’re two numbers short (the Iranians) and I suspect guide Emilia gets charged for any radios missing at the end as she seemed in a real panic about it.
We admire the Arch of Titus parts of which are well preserved and show him clearly bringing home the loot such as menorah from the sacking of Jerusalem. We had already been staggered by the arch of Constantine which sits between the Colisseum and the Forum across the Via Sacra which was the route for the religious to St Peter’s later on. What surprised me most about the Forum – you get blasé about 2000 year old objects in Rome – was the difference in levels.
It’s like a trifle or a layer cake with a difference of some 50 metres between the current excavated floor thought to be around 100 BC to the entrance to the Senate House built in 283 AD, The general explanation is floods and alluvial deposits from the Tiber and demolishing buildings for new edifices and leaving debris behind.
These bronze doors – apparently one of only three that weren’t melted down at some stage are high above the level we are now walking at.
The Forum was of course where Romans came to gossip, plot and make the laws – mostly done on Twitter today. Our trip has overrun so we miss the Palatine Hill and I exit up to the Capitoline and down into the Jewish quarter for a refreshing beer in Bar Toto a recommendation from another gift Jo sent with me, a leaflet with hints and tips on unusual things to do in Rome. This was a very relaxed local bar in a great people-watching location.
My next port of call was the Galleria Doria Pamphili which guide books raved about. I found it easily, paid my fee (no discounts for the elderly) and entered this amazing palace. It had a great courtyard, fine staircases and then room after room of overhung galleries. By this I mean large paintings exhibited three high on walls about 5-8 metres tall giving you severe neck ache. The main attraction of two important Caravaggios were absent on loan to Florence and apart from a superb Velazquez portrait of Innocent X next to Bernini’s bust of the same pope there was little to delight the eye. The Bernini-Velasquez juxtaposition was fascinating viewing but the rest I found dull in the extreme – room after room of gloomy Dutch landscapes. It smacked of art acquisition not art appreciation – so what else is new?
Crazy old man and the altar of peace
I walked through Piazza Navona passsing more Bernini fountains – I especially liked his elephant supporting an obelisk on its howdah. – and I pass the church where I have a concert on Thursday night and on up the Tiber to the Ara Pacis museum. This had not been on my original agenda but I’m easily diverted. This is a glass box built recently to house the Altar of Peace of Augustus which was consecrated in 9 BC after Augustus had conquered France and Spain and people and animals had to be sacrificed to celebrate. It was buried under silt until 1939 and is in remarkable condition and a very beautiful structure despite its deadly purpose.
To my delight there was an exhibition of Hokusai woodblock prints in the temporary exhibition space beneath. There were old favourites like Red Fuji and The Great Wave but many that I hadn’t seen before. There was also one room that bore the legend ‘Adults only beyond this point’. It had Hokusai and Eisen shunga, the very filthy erotic works they used to produce to educate brides and grooms – well that’s one story we heard in Tokyo.
I walked back to the Piazza del Populo a massive square with people statues, legionnaires for selfies, bubble blowers and buskers – also a bar, and just beyond a convenient Metro stop on the A line which whisked me back to the hotel.
I went out again and found a very fine local restaurant, Joseph, with a great family atmosphere and good simple food in my case a succulent veal chop, salad and fries.
Christmas Day began in tears as I opened the one present I had brought with me – dedicating the name of a star to Dee from my daughter and her family. I shared that on Facebook to a phenomenally large and positive response. After breakfast I skype Tom and Caroline in Hong Kong – more tears but lots of laughter too.
Then as the morning progressed it was time to head for St Peter’s Square to see the pope do his Christmas message. The crowd was huge but perhaps not as big as his Easter performance. I did manage to see him through a 300mm lens (600 would have been perfect) and seeing people drop to their knees in prayer and then applaud him like a rock star was quite an experience.
I then went back to the metro and went to Spagna to see the Spanish steps and have my first proper coffee – 95 cents for a good shot of strong espresso. Excellent preparation for the day ahead. In my trip schedule I had nothing booked for today and decided to discover Rome on foot. It was after all as I told too many people clear, blue, sunny and 14 degrees. Ideal for a stroll. I made my higgledy piggeldy way to the Tiber and crossed into trendy Trastevere where there are book stalls and bad art lining the river promenade.
In many of the tourist hotspots there’s a smell of cellulose in the air as aerosol spray painting seems to be the big thing here. Time for a beer and to read a misdirected email from our friend Erika in Boston who was in my thoughts for the trip as her father Bob who Dee and I got to meet both in the US and London wrote the definitive book about Bernini who not only designed St Peter’s Square but lots of Rome’s most famous fountains and sculptures. About six weeks ago she replied at length to mine but sent it to herself not me.
Her knowledge of and love for the city spurred on my feet as I wandered further down the river swapping banks by the huge Castel San Angelo and on down the left bank to the Jewish quarter, through to the Capitoline Hill with the huge Victor Emanuele vanity project (I was told off by the guide the next day – it was not just for him but to commemorate the reunification of Italy – right) which caused great controversy among Romans at the time. It destroyed a whole medieval neighbourhood, took loads of taxpayers money and was derided as ‘the wedding cake ’, ‘the false teeth’ and ‘the typewriter’. The massive equestrian statues confirm it as a vanity project for me. Beyond it I strolled along to get a first sight of the Forum and the Colosseum due for a guided tour tomorrow. This route was along wide boulevard created when Mussolini order a whole medieval neighbourhood to be bulldozed for this prestige route – HS2 sound familiar?
The Road Home
My final saunter was the length of the Via Corso which goes straight as a die (Roman roads again!) north to the Piazza del Popolo. One thing I noticed on my walk was the frequent presence of the military with armoured vehicles and gun-toting personal at the entrance to every square. What had been surprising was how many shops were open and how many people were shopping.
Christmas Day is not the biggest deal here – or anywhere else really except the UK I suppose. Things were beginning to close up and the metro stopped at 21:00 today so I made my way back to the hotel choosing the correct exit and arriving within the six minutes promised and with no police intervention.
I have to say that after eight hours of mostly continuous walking my ancient feet did feel they’d done their time. So to my room for a slightly mad skype with the Addison family up in Manchester for the festivities. The hotel’s main restaurant provided some interesting fruit combinations I hadn’t had before but which worked really well. My starter was smoked salmon served with blueberries and rocket and my main was steak with cantaloupe melon and rosemary potatoes both extremely tasty and helped down with a Sicilian Nero d’Avolo. And so to bed exhausted.
This will be my first effort from a lovely iPad mini my son and daughter in law gave me for my birthday. So no pics till I get home as I haven’t yet got an SD card to iPad reader and took photos on camera not on this – doh! (Pictures since added to later blogs – ed.)
In a number of messages on Christmas Day, there might have been the hint of a smug smirk as Rome was bathed in sun and blue skies. Yesterday was good too but today saw me return tail between extremely soggy legs, wet through to my underpants – and no it wasn’t aged incontinence but penetration. I had booked a ‘skip the line’ tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Well it might take less time to get in than if you start from scratch but we still shuffled along for 35 minutes, It drizzled a bit and I resisted the blandishments of brolly and poncho sellers. Then it rained, Brolly sellers like taxis had vanished, then there was thunder and hail. The TV later mentioned snow, trees down and traffic disruption. Showered, changed into dry clothes, fed and with the Milan clubs in extra time in the TIM cup semis – and with a nice Sangiovese = it all seems quite amusing.
It all started so well – except for Saturday in Brighton – I got to Stansted easily, spent time in the lounge, boarded quickly and got to Ciampino 15 minutes early – cue applause from the passengers. First time for ages I’ve travelled with only hand luggage – thankfully I did have room for a second pair of trousers! I had decided on the adventurous route to the hotel, taxis for one seem extravagant somehow. So I got a shuttle bus to Rome’s Termini station where I can get a metro to Cornelia on the A line which is six minutes walk to the hotel. If you take the right exit. Whoa! Metro stations are huge with lengthy tunnels, Cornelia is deep too, Thirteen steps, three long escalators and then twenty more steps to the street. It’s dark when I emerge and for the second time in two days – Lewes on Saturday – I finally resort to Google maps that says I’m 16 minutes away not the six I was promised. I eventually ask at a gas station and am told it’s back down the street I was on. I stride off confidently when …
Pulling my wheeled bag and with camera bag over my shoulder, I am forced into a lay-by by a car marked Polizia and told to stop, Cop 1 showed me ID and said there had been a problem nearby with some Germans and a lone guy at night was suspicious. It may not have helped that I said – in German – that I was not Tedescho doch Englisch. They then wanted to see my passport, asked if I had money and I showed them my wallet with pounds in it still. They then asked if I had euros as without local currency I could be taken in as a vagrant. I did have one of Dee’s highly organised purses with euros that I was going to swap with the sterling in my wallet later. They counted it, agreed I was possessed of suitable funds, They showed me the way to the elusive hotel and only when I’d checked in and unpacked that I realised they’d filched 50 euros. Short for Christmas present money I suppose, underpaid state employees perhaps and of course, after the journey and location problems I was maybe not as alert as I should have been. Lesson learned. And btw Milan 1-0 won AET so Paul Goss won’t be pleased.
On the football theme I was pleased to see this bus parked near the entrance to the hotel. Well Graham Taylor did get Watford into Europe and maybe we’ll need another Eurobus one of these days and we can dedicate it to his memory.
It was a splendid warm week with a few visits to the pool purely to stimulate the thought processes of course. I sat diligently in writer’s corner in the shade and have achieved what I hoped for – enough written down that it has its own momentum now and writing a chapter now and then among other commitments will be OK. If any of it is any good that is,
Sunday was a dull cloudy, Essex beat Hampshire by an innings and lots and Watford lost 5-0. The only upside was it was my daughter’s birthday. So Monday was time to set off after my stay at Cortijo Alto. It is so peaceful except when the farmers start spraying the olive groves at 6 am. Still it got me on the road in short order. My excitement today was twofold. I would virtually complete a circular tour of Spain being in Valencia only 100 km from Tortosa. Secondly thanks to the kind proprietors I was going to meet ‘The Hornet’ an olive tree my daughter and the family gave me for Christmas. I had a certificate and have already sampled some of its excellent first cold press extra virgin Arbequina oil. Now I was going to hug my tree!
I left the house and set off eastwards along the A92 autovia, pausing for breakfast near Granada with a fine view of the Sierra Nevada, still living up to their name. I came off at a junction signed Huercal-Overa, the town nearest to my tree but SatNav was not happy as we did some N roads with a few trucks making progress a little slower. I soon arrived and found the original San Francisco deep in the heart of Almeria. We had agreed I’d find my way to Olivas Querencia by amazing good luck or not at all so Angela kindly came to find me – the red Audi and a tall bald bloke are a bit of a give-away.
Angela and her husband Willem (yes, he’s Dutch) have owned Querencia since 2010. They bought a lovely house, a big farm and 22,000 olive trees.
They’ve made a brilliant fist of sorting the place out and have achieved coveted status as first cold press virgin olive oil with International Olive Council approval which means a lot of tasting by people in Jaen, the capital of olive oil – one might say the Vatican of olive oil such is the mystery that surrounds it. Oh and it’s pretty tasty too like less fatty butter with added sunshine. And of course you’ll live longer.
We shared stories and I was treated to a fabulous unexpected impromptu lunch before going to visit the trees. Where I’ve been staying the olive trees are probably 100+ years old. At Querencia they are 10. I’m used to multi-trunk gnarled old things, these are beautiful single trunk olives neatly trimmed and already showing good olive production after blooming. But no hugging in case unwanted pruning took place!
Good early olives
Angela and Willem find The Hornet
Come on you Hornet!
It’s going to be a good year. FACT. Isn’t it great when something so serendipitous works out so well. Hey, I even played with their dogs! We will keep in touch and one of Fuzz’s yellow wristbands will be The Hornet’s identifier in the future.
But I had to be in Valencia and olive trees needed pruning and tidying up – sadly yellow leaves are a bad sign and have to be pulled off. So I got back onto the A7 Autovia del Mediterraneo which should take me straight to Valencia in about four hours. I guess it must have been my cheapskate settings at the start that say “Avoid Tolls” but we veered off round Alicante north towards Albacete and Madrid and then picked up the A31 into Valencia from the west. My circle was rapidly becoming a capital G. It was fascinating as I drove through Spain’s granite and marble supply zone – every other building alongside the road proclaimed quality stone. It was a bit filled with mountain passes too – not as big as the 1379 metres in Granada but at Lorca you top a rise a see the polythene plains of Murcia – I hope things have picked up after the disastrous rains earlier in the year. And later you come over another pass as the road turns into the A35 and there is the green plain of Valencia with fruit of every kind, then orange trees and then rice.
It takes me two attempts to find the hotel as SatNav lady has no truck with No Entry signs exhorting me repeatedly to turn left where it’s prohibited. I got here, showered and changed and went walk about in the old part of this fabulous city, remembering that when we were last here the Town Hall Square was an ice rink.
I went to the amazing Mercado de Colon, redolent of Victoria in Cordoba and San Miguel in Madrid and checked out a few bars where we’d been before including some great ham at one near the Hospes de Mar hotel we’d stayed at in 2015, took a light dinner in a nearby tapas bar and retired to post this. Last day tomorrow and fully back into the swing with a meeting about the Watford Community Trust Anniversary book on Wednesday.