Il ritorno di Michele

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.

Red squirrel
Red squirrel munching nuts in the park

Borghese Park - Copy

 

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.

Borghese gallery - Copy
Galleria Borghese – at last!

 

Painting perfection

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.

Tram 1225So 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.

Dies irae

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.

 

Roman Holiday

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.)

Come uppance

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.

Ryan there

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 …

Cop Con

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.

GT busOn 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.

 

Vichy Catalan

3 Away on the windThe first four months of this year have been rather busy so after fulfilling Dee’s last wishes on her birthday by letting her fly free from the Ivinghoe Beacon, I thought it was time for me to fly away too for a while and catch up with me and my thoughts. Friends and family have been wonderfully supportive and made sure I didn’t sit doing a bottle of scotch every night or something equally daft and making sure that I had plenty of stimulating company, excursions and diversions. So I decided to take off for three weeks in May and where better to go than Spain which has meant so much to us both over the last twenty plus years. So here we go on a visit on my own to some of the places we had enjoyed together and see how it all stacks up.

Well the planning is all rubbish for a start:

  • DataCars persuade me to leave home at 10:30 for a 14:45 flight despite my assertion that 11:30 would be good, So an early last water of the plants that kind people will keep alive while I’m away and off we go. Not even the slightest pause at the Blackwall Tunnel so we get to Stansted at 11:20 and I’m checked in and through security in double quick time with two hours before they even announce the gate! One of the perks Dee had on her bank account was an airport lounge pass which we had made good use of in the past. I decided to continue the pass from a Groupon half price deal. Was I glad of it today! In a quiet room with a view of aircraft if that’s your thing I had coffee and croissants, read the paper and started to write this. Then it was time for lunch and a glass of wine and then off to the gate feeling calm and relaxed not having had to spend my time being screamed at to buy duty free goods – to get to the lounge and the gates Stansted has copied IKEA so you have to walk past all those designer outlets, and Boots and Smiths, before you can reach your destination.
  • The best car hire deal was direct with Budget who claimed their office was on Girona airport. It’s not. And they close at 18:00. My flight arrived at 17:45, slightly early, but after baggage reclaim, determining the location of Budget and walking the half a k to get there, the office was closed. However the lady in charge had not quite escaped so a young lady with a bicycle in a big black case and I were allowed to collect our pre-booked cars BUT we had to pay €60 extra for “out of hours’ collection” which the boss lady was most apologetic about and gave us detailed receipts and instructions on how to reclaim it. It’s clearly a scam she doesn’t approve of. She also “upgraded” me to a smart red Audi which is quite nippy and fun to drive.
  • My first hotel Balneari Vichy Catalan was carefully selected just 20 minutes from Girona Airport and at the source of what had always been our favourite mineral water Vichy Catalan. You can really taste those minerals doing you good – just don’t put it in whisky.IMG_2217

I don’t know how good your Catalan is but this banner  mocking my arrival says Festival the last Saturday in April. When do I arrive? The first of May. It also features the person who gives the place its name. Mala vella is an evil old woman who reportedly haunted the castle in medieval times. I checked in to the hotel and set off to find a bar with a UK TV feed so I could watch Watford v Liverpool. Everywhere was closed in fiesta recuperation mode so I came back to the hotel to find that there was a  Spanish channel showing it so I could watch us just miss out on at least a point thanks to a wonder goal from Emre Can, a great save from a Capoue shot and the crossbar from Prödl. The Spanish commentators found Vicarage Road very difficult to pronounce. This led to me being by a long way the last person in the restaurant – a time honoured Lesley-Raggett tradition so I excused myself by indicating my watch still being on London time. As with the majority of Spanish staff they were gracious, attentive and had a laugh about it. They didn’t mention Brexit. I did leave a tip. An interesting fact – well I thought so – is that the Balneari  Hotel and the Vichy Catalan company were established in 1881 the same year as a certain football club!

IMG_2221So day 1 is nearing its end and my poor planning has been rescued by the fact that the hotel is a spectacular example of modernisme architecture, the town has a lot of fine houses in similar vein and I’m doing a hydrotherapy circuit tomorrow morning just like we did together with such delight in San Sebastian last August. A comparative report will follow.