It’s the last night before I reach an Italian city that is new to me, Bergamo.
I wish the rest of the world has the classy Christmas lights that we enjoyed on our street.
Photos courtesy of @Timmy666
It’s the last night before I reach an Italian city that is new to me, Bergamo.
I wish the rest of the world has the classy Christmas lights that we enjoyed on our street.
Photos courtesy of @Timmy666
Just a day, well an afternoon in Milan as I’d spent so much time there last year. But i’s lovely, in short doses!
Photos courtesy of @Timmy666
Photos courtesy of @Timmy666
Photos courtesy of @Timmy666
Verona looking it’s most gorgeous, despite the Christmas lights in Italy being so much more classier than elsewhere.
Photos courtesy of @Timmy666
I’ve been to Venice before but it’s worth a re-visit at Christmas.
Photos courtesy of @Timmy666
This year, I decided to do Verona again but with two travel buddies. However, we chose Verona as the base rather than split my time as I did last year and my favourite city (thus far after three visits) is as pretty as ever.
Photos courtesy of @Timmy666
I nteresting - Weird, magical, quiet, quaint, contrasting, weird, empty, expensive, mountainous, cold, weird, Hell.
Not really hell, but our driver took delight in taking us past Hekla, a volcano known as the gateway to Hell and where the expression ‘Oh heck’ comes from. Or ‘Oh Hekla,’ as I will say it from now on.
I couldn’t pronounce some of the street names so we renamed them for easy reference, the favourites being Slipknot (Skipholt) and Trigger Happy Street (Tryggvgata).
C old - I’ve been in colder places, i.e. Montreal in -16c and New York in sub-zero but this is a different kind of cold. Forecast actually says ‘3c but will feel like -3c’. The coldest but one of the most beautiful sights is the waterfall, Gullfuss. Because we are at the top looking down, the cold was biting and we are hit by shards of ice rather ran water splashes. I didn’t fancy going to the bottom of the waterfall but I figured I’ve already had that experience at Niagara Falls. The scenery though, is spectacular.
Because it’s cold, it would be nice to have a hot shower, right? Wrong. Once I’ve had a two minute morning shower, I cannot go back into the bathroom again if the water is running – the smell makes me nauseas, apparently because of the sulfate.
Because its cold, it will be nice to stay wrapped up in warm wintery clothes, right? No. I find myself in a swim suit in the open mountain air before wrapping myself in the famously warm Blue Lagoon water. A surreal experience to be outside in the freezing cold, in warm water amidst the snow topped mountains. It smells but not as much as in a small closed bathroom.
This ‘Golden Circle’ trip that apparently eight companies offer in Reykjavik is arguable the best decision of the week as we drink in so much that Iceland has to offer just by going an hour or so outside the capital.
E asy - Everywhere is quiet which means we can move around and get seats in any coffee shop we choose. I still don’t know where the capital city’s population is. All I imagine is Icelanders flying into Heathrow and hitting London. There’ll be more people in one carriage on their train
Wireless in Reykjavik is plentiful and super fast. I imagine because there’s barely anyone in the city.
L ove - The best thing about the trip is sharing it with someone who loves travel and exploring as much as I do.
A rea - Iceland is huge and along with the freezing temperatures is similar to Canada where a huge majority of the population live in a small chunk of the land. Both countries have vast open lands and some extreme temperatures. The difference is, the cities of Canada, have people moving about in them.
‘Reykjavik is vibrant city with active and energetic habitants’
With a population of 320,000, we expect most of the population to be in the capitol city considering the majority of the country is volcanic or lava fields. Not so. For the first three days we see barely a soul on the main street and we look inside every coffee shop, restaurant, home and office window. Where are the people? Who runs this country? How do they make any money? Why don’t they commute? Why don’t they eat?
On the fourth day, we se more people, presumable as the temperature tripled to 9c. But we count more bods in the one carriage on the train from Gatwick home than we did in the week in Iceland.
N orthern - The most northern part of the world I have been to, previously this was Glasgow but Iceland has more mountains, more volcanoes, more lava fields and more film sets. It felt like we’ve landed in Mars and we have days of being in Star Trek, Total Recall (or was it all a dream?) and especially Lord of the Rings. On our amazing ‘Golden Circle’ day trip we visited Thingvellir National Park, where the General Assembly was first formed in 930. With its little streams, caves, valleys and mini foot bridges, I’m half expecting to bump into a little person. Alas, there is not a gold ring to be found.
The coffee shops however, are excellent. What I read about people socialising over coffee or a beer in the evening is wonderfully true.
D ear - The most expensive place I’ve been to and I’ve been to Paris and indeed lived in London and New York. You know I don’t mind splashing out but I do seek value and £5 for a hot chocolate isn’t that. We had to stick to basics although being a closet vegetarian, I didn’t relish some of the local delicacies. I particularly didn’t enjoy seeing the whale and puffin meat restaurants advertised next to the whale watching tours.
What was great though was the lovely buffet breakfast supplied by our fantastic hotel, Foss Baron. We fill up on ‘make yourself waffles’ every kind of toast, cereal and lots more and then left with a bag of goodies for the road; such tourists. Even better we discover happy hour, or hours, 5-8 in Reykjavik, which means we can actually have a beer without eating into our budget for our next travel jaunt at Christmas.
Part 1 of 3 birthday celebrations
This year, despite the big day falling on a Saturday, I’ve managed to stretch the celebrations to 10 days. I’m not a big drinker; my way of celebrating is through travel and fantastic experiences so first up, is a weekend in Lincoln.
My five year old tradition is to visit a new city for my birthday each year; San Francisco, Washington, Montreal, Milan and now Lincoln. Technically, I’m going to Reykjavik for my birthday but practically, it’s not possibly to fly till Monday and this way; I’m still waking up in an interesting new city on the actual day.
Lincoln is cute for a visit and although there are not enough coffee shops to keep me in coffee crawl mode ordinarily, the Tower Hotel is well worth the trip and if this scrumptious hotel at the top of the hill isn’t enough, its restaurant near blew me away.
Birthday meal – Tower Restaurant
Pan Seared Fillet of Silver Mullet, Cauliflower Puree, Parsley Mash, Caper Berry Dressing, Cauliflower and Pine Nut Fritter
Everything about this collection of goodies oozes goodness, how can a dish not be good if it has mash and fritters?! I devour every morsel with my reasonably priced wine (I thought it was a typo) before moving on to one of the things I live for, dessert:
Ricotta and Vanilla Cheesecake Lemon Meringue, Buerre Noisette Crumb, Coffee Puree, Orange and Cinnamon Sorbet
The chefs have clearly placed secret ingredients in this as every intricate part of this dish exploded in my mouth like heavenly volcanoes.
The Coffee Puree tastes so lethal it’s like espresso they may have served in the prohibition era, the cheesecake – already my favourite food on the planet – has its faultlessly crumbly base served in bounders piled next to it, saves having to cut into it and Lemon Meringues are unlike any ever tasted on earth so clearly are from another planet. But this is before the explosive Orange and Cinnamon sorbet which is exactly what they serve in heaven.
The setting is lovely, if not the luxury of a regular fine dining restaurant. It has a busy bar in the next room but we didn’t
hear anything from it and I found our lovely window seat a delight, despite looking out to the car park opposite. It’s brighter than an intimate setting found in Michelin’s but the staff and fellow diners next to us were chatty and friendly, not at all pretentious. I’ve just read through the entire menu and I could eat it all, even the Sunday Lunch which is the one meal I proudly make.
This is one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had and if it was in Birmingham, this will be a monthly treat, or perhaps more often. How is next week’s Michelin star’d Purnells, where I also ate last birthday, going to compete with this flawlessness?
Do you remember train journeys when you were little? I remember being a very young girl in Bedford and taken by my hand to catch the train to London. At this time, there are still some trains that have corridors and carriages, just like you see in old movies. Wouldn’t it be great if we still had little ‘suites’ like that? Except I feel I’d have to wear a pencil skirt, hat and clip on earrings, which is all fine by me, except the earrings.
The Bedford line goes into St Pancras and in recent years, I have watched this once attractive station blossom once more, this time into a station worthy of international status. For a few years, I lived back in Bedford and the station was being built; during every trip to London at that time, all I have is a something resembling a transport cafeteria with terrible coffee and worse snacks – mainly serving those building the place, I feel. And the place is freezing.
I decide to circle the station before coming back to make my entrance. Firstly, it’s no longer freezing. Secondly, it’s magnificent. I could see the potential back when it was still being re-built but now it reminds me of another station that’s worth visiting without needing to get on a train; Grand Central in NYC.
Before I leave St Pancras International I’ve already planned to go somewhere on Eurostar just to spend an hour here beforehand; question is where?
It’s not one incident as such, but I’ve often said the best trip I’ve had for just having a ball was my time in Italy, travelling through the northern cities. (The best trip otherwise is Vancouver, eclipsed recently by Vancouver mark 2)
I met loads of people and we just laughed from the breakfast to turning in and had many standing jokes.
You had to be there but….I’d been teasing that I was going to have a McDonalds despite being in my culinary heaven. I find one in Florence and made sure I got back on our bus before everyone else so I could leave the empty cup at the front for all to see. Like I say, you had to be there but the McDonalds tasted a hundred times better than what we have.
Another time I got locked in a garden in the early hours and my companion (I was young(er)!) and in the end the police came to let us out. I sheepishly escaped in a taxi after flashing my UK ID.
I’m mortified to get a standing ovation at breakfast as everyone had realised I hadn’t come back to the hotel at night but instead crept in at dawn.
The funniest time though, was when we were all at a wine tasting at 11.30 in the morning. This is a wine tasting where sensibly, we actually drink the wine. I came out having bought 2 bottles and promptly dropped the bag in the courtyard. Everyone was ahead of and it just seemed such an apt moment,we literally all fell on the floor laughing.
The lovely people replaced my bottle.
It’s just the best week of laughs I have ever had and I’m still in contact with one of the lovely ladies I met on the trip.
After having a great customer service experience in Verona at Christmas, Century Plaza is now officially the best hotel experience I have ever had. Whereas Hotel Siena was all about the five star service and great location, Century Plaza has all that and more.
I’d stayed there before in 1998 but only for 2 nights, enough to make me go back for more. As far as luxury is concerned, that’s still with Le Pavillon Hotel in New Orleans (also still standing I’m pleased to report) but this old school gem at the northern end of downtown Vancouver is perfection in every way.
4 things I love about Century Plaza
For a start, it’s perfectly located, if you’re like me and likes to be on the peripheral rather than in the middle of the action. Having said that, it’s just two blocks from the main shops but just one block from the delightful Davie Village. I’m pretty sure this gay town wasn’t here on my last stay(!) but not only does it have everything you need on your doorstep; restaurants and coffee shops a-plenty, books, grocery stores, a few clothing shops and home ware stores which confirms this place is residential, just the way I like it. What’s more, a few minutes past Davie Village and you’re in the West End leading onto the English Bay.
The area is surrounded by beach walks anyway so I’m only 10-15 minutes away for a stroll along the beach wall on a sunny – or indeed any other type of day!
The hotel itself has coffee shop to watch the world go-buy in, a spa to wash away the world and a comedy club to kick start your laughing gear.
Ordinarily I never eat in the hotel but I was given gift card to spend so I take advantage and have the most perfect Eggs Benedict topped with the now inevitable fantastic service.
View from the top
It’s the glorious view of the Rockies that bought me back here and the view from the 28th floor is spectacular, despite or because of the ever increasing sky scrapers that are being built.
Whilst Century Plaza’s great service is what’s expected (but my no means always delivered, see Watt Tredici Hotel, Milan) what blew me away is the hotel’s green policy. All over the world (well where I’ve travelled) we’ve started seeing notices that say ‘please re-use your towels’ etc. I always hang up my towels to signal they don’t need changing but low and behold, fresh one’s inevitably arrive.
At Century Plaza, they really mean it. As if I needed an incentive, they give me $5 for each day I decline housekeeping, which I happily spend in the coffee shop each evening.
$5 is really not a lot when we think how much housekeeping time is saved and the system clearly works as the coffee shop staff were fully aware of the little $5 gift cards.
Add to this, the kitchen has a recycle bin, the first I have seen in a hotel.
Five star Service
What impresses me more now that I have spent an entire week living at Century Plaza is that the door men/bell boys (haven’t met any females yet) have a cheery greeting no matter how often I pass or what time of day it is, the reception are ready to serve and the concierge… well the concierge do their job, which is to learn everything and impart their local knowledge to you, their guest.
And a guest is how you are treated, all the time by everyone. Even the other visitors I encounter in the lift are jovial; in part I’m sure because they are made to feel so very welcome.
Housekeeping greeted me each time I passed or even if they simply heard me coming out of my room, there’ll be a ‘good morning’ shouted from somewhere on the floor.
In all, Century Plaza knows service, they know what guests want and make it look effortless.
Tweets from the game
The website says the game’s on at 6pm, I get back to my room at 5.45 with Mac & Cheese for the game from IAG across the road. The show starts at 6pm, the game starts at 6.10. This is how to show live sport British TV, not an hour of pre-game build up listening to presenters who like hearing their own voices!!!
I’m guessing the goalie is tiny under that Michelin man get up
It feels odd to be sitting inside watching ice hockey when it’s such a sunny evening. I’ve moved the arm chair closer to the TV and the skyscraper outside is towering over my right side now, like it’s going to enter the room any moment and sit next to me to watch the game.
I will never get used to American sports having advert breaks; they literally stop playing ice hockey for them. When I used to watch the New York Rangers, I learnt a red light comes on in Madison Square Garden when the adverts are on!
I’m wondering if I can get this on British TV? Although the games will be on in the middle of the night. I won’t get sports channels for my sport, football, because it will mean I never leave the house, read or do other things, but I’m considering it for NHL?!
There were 3 minutes to go in first period; I’ve heated the mac & cheese, made salad and ate it. The period is still in play.
End of first period, I’m off to start packing for homeward journey.
Three big events on the news over here in BC; the Stanley Cup Play offs, the election on May 3rd and a big wedding. The news guys are praying for no overtime in this game as the wedding coverage starts at 1am!
15 minute break and all I have done is empty the suitcase, gone through my receipts(binned all) and packed some of my purchases. Still 1-1.
Yes, Vancouver score! There is a delayed celebration as officials double checked the goal. 12.14 in second period.
I can’t remember what Power Plays are.
Wow, one of the Nashville players has just somersaulted into the air. Another has just broken his stick on the ice.
Second period ended, usual big fight on the ice before they go into their dressing rooms.
The case is as packed as it can be now.
Third period, nervous now, Nashville just had a near miss.
Ad break: I don’t have anything to do now, nothing to pack, not hungry, not thirsty, don’t need the bathroom.
Oh gosh, Mr Spock on TV advert, advertising a TV product that interacts with Facebook.
I have no idea who’s playing better anyway, it’s all so fast moving for me.
Ad break, 5 minutes to go, meaning half hour in Canadian TV ice hockey time. Off to get some chips.
Torn between watching my last sunset in Vancouver and the game. Cherish both moments.
Soundtrack to the game has included the Beach Boys, the inevitable Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC and now best of all, a little bit of the Cult! I can only imagine the atmosphere just around the corner in Rogers Arena right now.
Is the NHL run by Canada or America or jointly or someone else? How many teams are there? I’m guessing more American than Canadian, despite ice hockey being Canada’s sport.
“One – nothing tonight on hockey night in Canada” Ad break.
21 seconds to go and the game re-starts. The crowd are going crazy.
Final whistle, 1-0 to Vancouver, 1 down, up to 6 to go.
No idea why it’s best of 7, I suspect advertising revenue. We’d be so bored of that in football don’t you think?
Today is all about the Sky Train. It’s pretty much what it says, an over ground train service that sometimes is a little like a rollercoaster, except it doesn’t go round in circles or unnecessarily fast and you don’t have to be belted up. Actually it’s just like a normal train that happens to run on some high rails. It is a good way to see the city, as the concierge at Century Plaza said but today, I just plan to go to Commercial Drive to tick East Vancouver of the list.
The Drive, as it’s called hear is easy to find and is choc full of vintage shops. In short it’s hippydom and so far, it’s top of my fantasy places to live if I was to live in Vancouver. IT helps that I saw it on a dry morning and my plans to ‘Sky train it’ to two other places today are thwarted as the rain is a coming.
I come back and head out deep into the West End, my neighbourhood in search of an internet coffee shop and buy another cupcake. Mission accomplished, today’s it’s Red Velvet cake. Still no cheesecake though although there has been a couple of near misses, I’ve not see actual plain New York Cheesecake anywhere. It will probably be at the airport upon my return.
The only disappointment is that Montreal lose their ‘must win’ game. I feel bad as they were in over time when I stood up to go and they promptly lost with sudden death. Still ‘Go Canucks Go!’
I pop into another Safeway’s on the way back for a late (for me) dinner. It turns out to be one of the most unwittingly perfect meals; meat balls, Mac & cheese (as they say), salad pic-a-mix which I love – they compartmentalise everything so you can choose how you want it served – genius!
There is still no sign of a Martha Stewart magazine in Vancouver, Canada is clearly not Stewart country, even the UK has the magazines!
I take it back to the hotel, starving after an evening’s blogging, just in time to switch for the end of the Jimmy Fallon show with Twister Sister playing live. Somehow it just all added up as I watched yet another sunset, my favourite time in the hotel.
This is not my idea of a luxury hotel, that will be much longer list but just a perfect hotel for every day needs.
Bath not just a shower.
I always say, if something is going to be a real pleasure it has to be worth at least sitting down for. A shower is such a rude awakening and I will rarely partake in this punishment at home so why should I in a hotel I pay for the privilege to be in?
Wireless It’s the 21st century and this costs pennies to run and is the most convenient modern invention.
I make my decision on staying in a hotel on the above two; after that this is what then makes a hotel perfect:
Selection of radio stations, ideally to include Radio 2 in the UK
A selection of TV stations ideally to include at least one (English speaking) entertainment channel and one music channel.
A coffee machine and/or hot water (not necessarily in the room)
An ice machine (ditto)
A close-by late opening coffee shop and ideally a grocery store
A large comfortable, fairly soft bed
4 pillows and a duvet, plus extra blankets
Room service. I may never use it but it’s good to know it’s there.
Convenient check in by 12, Check out after 12 with safe luggage storage facilities (not a room where we can just go can get our own cases. Yes really, I had that in a Notting Hill Hotel)
Last but really most importantly, excellent old fashioned customer service that panders to our needs;
♦ If we are ill, leave a get-well kit in the room, check in on us or leave a get-well note
♦ If we are tourists, offer maps, directions, advice and ask how our day has been
♦ If we’re on business ask if we’re having a good day, if we need a newspaper or tell us about what news we’ve missed
Best of the best
Loveliest hotel for decor: Radisson Edwardian Grafton, Tottenham Court Road, London. I like traditional luxury.
Fabulous hotel for facilities: Swallow Hotels (extinct). First time I’d seen phones in the bathroom. Totally unnecessary but they really are thinking of everything.
Luxurious hotel: Le Pavilion, New Orleans (thankfully still intact) Just perfect in every way.
Best hotel for view: A hotel in Vancouver I stayed in for just one night with a floor to ceiling view of the Rockies. I’m back there soon so must find this place again.
Nicest service in recent years: Siena Hotel, Verona, Italy
I’ve since stayed in Century Plaza and this hotel has eclipsed all. With one additional service, recycling.
See blog post
Ok it’s not Gratitude for December this month mainly as I was uncharacteristically ill over Christmas and while I was in one of my top three favourite countries, Italy. Hey ho.
So let’s give some love to all of 2010 instead.
I finished my very first draft of my very first book. I have lots to do now but I have adored working on it and look forward to organising it and rewriting it, possibly into two books.
For this I’m grateful to my school English teachers, Mr Thomas and Ms French, Rosa Guy, Kimmi, my writing tutor in New York, AA Gill, India Knight, Jeremy Clarkson and lately Matt Rudd of the Sunday Times and loads of authors, brilliant ones and ones I haven’t enjoyed for inspiring me one way or another. Finally I’m grateful to Marsha Moore for her advice and encouragement.
Mostly, I’m grateful to Zoe Heller who inspired me to write articles when she was a Sunday Times columnist based in New York, way before she became a novelist.
A few highlights of 2010
Birmingham Jazz Festival. I fully embraced and loved every second of it and can’t wait for this year. I think I’ll be taking a few days of during that week.
Brumnotes Christmas Party
Tom Peel. I saw twice for which I‘m grateful to Lyle Bignon for the heads up. I still owe this man a drink.
And the absolute highlight, seeing my favourite band of the last few years not once but twice, Cherry Ghost. A massive bonus was that on one of the occasions they supported the rather excellent, The Coral.
I didn’t get my three trips abroad this year just because I was so busy but this will be rectified in 2011 with at least two trips to Canada. I did get to see Scotland for the first time for a few book writing jaunts so I appreciate Bean Scene in Glasgow and Peters Yard in Edinburgh. Thanks for the coffee.
I did make a return trip to Milan and Verona at Christmas. I was ill to start with but definitely perked up when I got to Verona, prettier than I remember it from 11 years ago.
I went to my first and only book signing, Dara O’Briain to sign one of favourite books of the year, ’Tickling the English’.
Grateful to Springboard for giving me lots of lovely projects to work on (and some horrid ones but makes me appreciate the lovely ones more).
On that note, I’m grateful to Kiss Me CupCakes who lent me spare car to run events across the country.
I’m grateful to have the friends I have known for 5, 10, 15, 20 + years but also to MeetUp for all the new ones I have made this year with whom I’ve had so much fun, frolics and shared new experiences.
Of course I’m grateful for Urban, for the friendliness and particularly for opening a long awaited second coffee shop 10 minutes walk in the other direction from my house.
It’s been lovely to visit some new to me restaurants this year, the gorgeous Opus from which I have developed a serious risotto addiction, the friendly and value for money Syriana and of course the luxurious Purnells for the birthday dinner. I am indeed truly blessed.
The World Cup; I love World Cup years and I’m contented with Spain winning.
Pretty in Pink (the girlie stuff)
Grateful for India Knight for introducing me to the Babyliss hot brush. I had a hot brush years ago and was not impressed and have only thrown it out a couple of years ago but on her say so, I buy this new one. It’s the ceramic coating that makes 100% difference. I don’t compare washing my hair to the nightmare of being locked in a room with Cheryl Cole and/or Robbie Williams now. In fact, I quite look forward to ‘doing my hair’.
For my hairdresser of two decades (even when I was in New York) Franco Russo in Bedford for introducing me to the wonder product that is Argan oil; sounds horrid but is a dream. Between these two introductions, no more bad hair days
I’m truly grateful for another year on this fine planet and to celebrate by visiting another new city; Milan.
More than the other two mornings, I’m more confident that I am going to feel much better today. For one, I can breathe more easily, still violently coughing but being able to breathe at will is an unbelievable relief. I get to ‘central station’ with relative ease and what I thought was (and heard was) a terrible run down area is commercial district and the station itself is a beautiful old building. How lovely! Unfortunately I have luggage in tow so unable to investigate further.
I’m still on the same Sunday Times magazine that I started four days ago, partly because I’ve not been able to focus on reading (or writing this) but also, I have come to realise they make much more interesting reading when I bring them on holiday with me. I read more of the articles and thoroughly enjoy them. Perhaps I should keep them all, even the ones’ I have scanned through, just for my trips.
I’ve devoured every word of articles about CCTV replacing actual parking wardens, the Chateau Marmont in LA, now the subject of movie (where said Belushi died), Somewhere, the new MBA business school in Moscow, home to more billionaires than any other city in the world and that’s before crying my eyes out in a Verona Café just reading the opening sentence about children who are victims of war and what help they are now receiving. Oh and there’s a day in the life of some bloke called Louis Walsh.
I look up and the view from the train is of multi coloured houses with a backdrop of snowy topped mountains. What do the house owners do, consult each other? ‘Ooh I was going to paint mine yellow too. No worries, I’ll use that peach colour and then it will compliment the mint green next door and pale blue behind’.
Said houses have washing on the balconies in DECEMBER. Maybe it’s just to air it but I’d have though 2 minutes would have done that.
Monday; I walk to Juliet’s balcony without even wanting to as I was saving that for when I feel better tomorrow. I realise how close everything is and that are a series of bridges linking the city to the old town surrounding. It’s very easy to walk from one end to the other without even realising.
Tuesday; pleased to be out and about, asthma very much evident but under control. Juliet’s balcony is busy but not over run and it’s such a place of optimism that I can but smile. Disappointed though that the Fiorucci shop around the corner that really put a smile on my face ten years ago is no longer there. I had looked it up and I fear the designer’s resurgence was short lived. That makes the shopping bag I have framed in my bedroom from the last visit a collector’s item now?
I celebrate with first risotto in Italy, spinach and gorgonzola which the chef made in front of my eyes in Brek, a restaurant chain I first came across in Milan that offers loads of different types of foods, perfect for me.
Wednesday; a gorgeous sunny day in Verona, very bright indeed. I come across Bar Anastasia, 90 cents for a little coffee with KC & Sunshine Band’s ‘Please Don’t Go’ in background. A perfect moment.
I manage to find Cafe Veno, every day and love it more. Each day, my appetite and confidence with the menu grows as does my rapport with staff.
I take detour on way back and find purple boots on sale! I always look for boots in different colours other than black or brown everywhere I travel but they are so hard to find.
Thursday my last full day in Italy and for less than £7 return, I pick up a bus to Lake Garda, about an hour away with lovely sightseeing along country lanes on route. I miss my stop so end up in Garda itself which is a good job as I find a coat after two years of searching!
Well two years of saying I’m going to buy a new long coat to replace my worn out cream one and four days of actually going in out of shops looking for it. I wanted camel when I decided to replace in 2008 but that’s this years in colour and I prefer a classic that I can wear for years so I changed to seeking a grey one. Its darker grey than I wanted but otherwise fits the bill and I’ll get a camel one next year, or the year after.
By now I go for my custom night cap of a hot chocolate in Brek, where despite the language barrier, the staff and I now manage to communicate like old friends.
I highly recommend Hotel Siena in Verona as it’s the best service I have ever had from a little hotel. They even open up their kitchen to boil me up a cup of hot water to ease my throat on my first night and then ask me how it is next day. The local knowledge and attention to detail is astonishing and it really is a family run place where they simply cannot do enough for you.
It’s around the corner from all the attractions and 10 minutes from the central station where you can pick up a bus to Garda or a train to Venice both an hour away. I didn’t make it to Venice although have been before as it’s my second favourite place next to Verona. Maybe I’ll go there next time for a long weekend, perhaps when a certain British Royal wedding is happening.
The last 3 days were a joy to be under the blue skies of sunny Verona. Still only 2c, I now understand why they have so many sunglasses stores.
As I wait for trains, planes and automobiles all day on my way back, I read the whole of Rosa Guy, the Friends. This is the author that shaped my childhood, got me interested in writing, in reading and in New York. I’ve had it on my birthday list for a while and this year it was actually available. I don’t recall it from reading it some 30 years ago but very much enjoyed it today, finishing the last couple of chapters on the plain.
That’s the way to end a year, reading a whole in book in one day. It’s a first.
Surprisingly for a religious country, shops and Christmas markets are open so late on Christmas Eve but then I realise why, they are not open on Boxing Day – not even the restaurants so I get by on McDonalds salad and fries. Although I was dying for soup as I actually had an appetite for it today, I’ve never in my life been so grateful for an open all hours McDonalds.
The festive lights are fantastic in Milan with all the neighbourhoods having their own colour.
My throat and cough however needed me to be indoors so each evening of the festive weekend I make my way wearily back to Watt Tredici Hotel and work my way through the MTV stations. It’s the first time I have seen Sky in a hotel and the first time I’ve heard English for which through my violent cough, I am very grateful for.
There was no room service for which the first time in my life I would have gladly paid extortionate prices to not leave the warmth for a day and recuperate. Four star status should be evident in the service too, not just the large white, modern art interior of the reception and the de rigger chocolate brown furniture and white linens in the bedrooms. (Jeez can we move on from this? I had that hotel look for my bedroom in c2000)
Believe me; thoughts of John Belushi dying along in a luxury hotel did cross my mind.
I saw Depeche Mode live; I knew they were more guitar than synthesiser these days but they are actually pretty rock n roll.
Also, George Michael live in London in 2008; now that man puts on a show.
The Take That documentary about Robbie coming back was probably aired in the UK umpteen times but I wouldn’t have cared to watch it. Gary should never have let him back, make friends by all means but leave him out of the team, he doesn’t deserve their success.
I also catch a lot of the Italian ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, a show I have never watched in the UK but I was challenged by trying to figure out the question by looking at the answer options.
I notice that each day one show is shown on Italian TV that isn’t dubbed and I manage to catch Ugly Betty twice. Doesn’t seem like much of a treat but it was very welcome, I can tell you.
The sun comes out on Monday and I leave for Verona, feeling about 75% and much more in control of my symptoms.
So Milan, or Christmas Day never happened in 2010.
I’m not bothered about Christmas; in my mind I do all my celebrating on 1st-24th December with friends and relatives before I leave the UK but the hard work that’s gone into being able to have a holiday – well that’s just wasted.
Still it worked out well in that I went all out on a lovely hotel for the Christmas which I barely leave except to get food and it’s miles from civilisation (about two) but I knew that when I booked it. I’ve only been in Milan 8 weeks ago so this was just a chill-out time to ease me into the holiday whilst enjoying my first Italian Christmas.
Part three follows. Part one here
One thing I’ll remember about this year’s Christmas holiday; being ill.
Christmas Eve Symptoms; Sore throat, runny nose, aches, rash (around nose from excessive tissue use) lethargic, headache, no appetite, nausea – at the airport, straight after most expensive cereal bowl in the world, asthma.
Christmas Day – Sore throat, aches, lethargic, no appetite, rash (around nose from excessive tissue use), headache (from not eating), asthma = bad cough.
Boxing Day – aches, lethargic, low appetite, rash inside mouth, asthma – bad, violent cough, breathing problems.
Monday – asthma, mostly controlled, bad cough, violent cough at night.
Tuesday – getting much better, just the asthma cough.
I’m not one being ill, or at least I don’t acknowledge it and shoo away a cold with extra vitamin supplements and staying in for a couple of days. I’ve never had a day of sick – ever – so this really did shake me up.
I had what I thought was a little cold on the Tuesday before, which got worse than a little better on Thursday. I thought I’d be fine by the time my holiday came round on Friday.
After a very rough night at the airport hotel, I had to wake at 4 am to go the two miles to Luton airport. Thankfully, I’d booking into the very comfortable Days Inn who provided a private taxi as part of the service.
Not one for breakfast until at least 10am, I’d been up a couple of hours and felt I should force something down me. I had the most expensive cereal and orange juice ever as it came straight back up not five minutes later.The Easy Jet flight (ooh I miss those transatlantic comfortable flights) was so warm that at least the runny nose stopped for a while.
Despite my lack of sleep, a cold and now asthma, I go straight out when I reach the hotel in Milan. It’s a new neighbourhood to me and as advertised, it’s an up and coming area with not much around. My room isn’t ready yet anyway but when I come back after a very light lunch that stays down, I’m really glad I pushed the boat out for a luxury Christmas treat. The only thing that’s lacking is food – other than breakfast and a kettle, which of course otherwise I would never need being a coffee drinker but I can’t face coffee and really just need two hourly dozes of hot water and honey.
Part two follows
I’ve been warned about reading too much Bryson. Whereas I found his memoir of growing up in middle America enchanting, this one about arriving in Britain is frustrating, entertaining and funny in almost equal measures.
I nearly gave up reading a few times but I’m not quitter; I have to keep reminding myself that he had the same level of derogatory comments about his homeland as he does about the UK, it’s not personal. Plus things have changed since 1993.
So that’s the review, here are some interesting points:I love the details about the cost of things in 1973; the pound was $2.46, average weekly take home pay was £30.11 and a colour TV £300. The last one probably hasn’t changed much.
I’m so glad that Bryson thinks as less of BT as I do. Not sure I’d have everyone who works there killed but I’d certainly get rid of the organisation.
Bryson moans about there being nothing to do in Dover (obviously) and yet just stays a few days where he enters the country, but he was young and naive then.
London is big. Yes it does appear to start at Gatwick and end just below Luton.
Possibly my favourite quote about the London underground: ‘That isn’t a city up there; it’s a Jane Austin novel’.
Yes there is no hill or indeed Tower strictly speaking at ‘Tower Hill’ but once upon a time, maybe there was and that’s the beauty of naming places after history, we still remember.
Yes I understand Bryson’s view when talking about ‘an ugly building competition’ and it would be lovely to keep all the buildings from hundreds of years ago but it’s not always possible; sometimes due to lack of upkeep but also I think London needs to have a skyline befitting its status as one the world’s leading finance centres. I feel we have the best of both worlds.
Having spent more than a decade in publishing myself, some of it in Fleet Street, I love the description of printers in the 1980s; over staffed, over paid and underworked. Of course the industry is now all but extinct due to the advanced technology.
Don’t f*** with English puddings. Fair enuff
Mr Bryson, England isn’t the only place in the world that has fog; it’s in other counties too, including America
In England, ‘ladies wait until all the shopping is bagged up before getting out their purses at the supermarket’? Not me, I think he’s talking about older people generally, bless them, not women specifically.
University Challenge – UK v USA? Interesting idea.
Bemoaning the fact that he can’t get a direct train where he wants i.e. Oxford to Cambridge. Well we can’t build a line between every city – do they have that in America?
With Milton Keynes, my most despised place on the planet, Bryson can do his worst. All he really came up with is its ‘Built like an American mall’. He moaned that he couldn’t find the shopping area from the train station but all he needed to do is ask; it’s just 15 minutes walk after all. Aren’t all train stations built away from town centres, on account of the noise and the big long track that needs to be laid down?
There are constant references to bad food and the rain. On the former you get what you pay for my friend, England is closest to France and we’ve had French cooking (since, joined by just about every other nation) from when you still thought a McDonalds meal was healthy.
On the rain, ever been to Scotland? Or Ireland? Or northern Europe or Boston in fact?
Birmingham: there isn’t a landmark that you can identify Birmingham with. Firstly, does there have to be and secondly, ever seen the Rotunda? Or the Alpha Tower or since the book, the new Bull Ring centre with its iconic Selfridges building for that matter, amongst others. You can go off someone.
Apparently there is not an equivalent American phrase for ‘taking the pi**’, yes there is, ‘yanking your chain’.
There is a constant moan about the lack of trains everywhere he wanted to go, including the remotest parts of Scotland where we think it’s quaint they only have two trains per week. But that’s why we have a motorway system, so we have the option to drive if there isn’t a convenient train service.
I love that he says that bank cashiers open two at a time, expect when it’s busy. They only open one. Hilariously true!
Finally I love that he feels that the Brits always find humour in every situation, perhaps contradicting what he and a few Americans I know, thought originally.
6½/10 Smile factor 7½/10
I’m grateful for seeing the season change during my favourite month
I’m grateful for celebrating yet another year of this wonderful life
I’m grateful for having my birthday dinner in Purnells which if memory serves me right, is only the second Michelin starred restaurant I’ve eaten in
I’m grateful to share my birthday with many of my new Birmingham friends mixed with a couple of old ones
I’m mightily grateful to add yet another travel adventure to the many I have already experienced. A break in Milan was also just what I needed to refresh mind, body and soul.
I sit under the outside heater with my laptop and wonder why the rest of the patrons are not at work at 9am. It’s still raining but I decide I have the time and inclination to get soaked whilst having a last walk through Milan.
I really want to go up and down those side streets that I spotted last night when we were looking for an open restaurant at 7.45pm. So I do.
45 minutes of walking up and down cobbled, almost empty streets peering into the windows of closed designer show rooms and it’s time to walk back to the hotel. As I come out onto the main street, I realise I’m only a few minutes away from the hotel and 30 minutes away from the taxi to take us on our journey back home.
It’s been ten years since I was last in Italy although not in Milan. I did fly back from Milan last time and as the plane took off, I noticed the biggest ever advert which simply stated ‘Giorgio Armani’ like the designer was the airport’s sponsor.
That and a lifelong study made me think that Milan, more than Florence, Rome, Venice and even gorgeous Verona will have row upon row of designer stores.
I’d expected them to be scattered across the city like McDonalds. I certainly expect there to be flagship homage to the great and good of Italian fashion. But no, they are mostly tucked away in a little area known as the ‘Fashion District’ and these are not for the average consumer; no these are for serious collectors, fashion buyers and editors. They certainly don’t look open. None of that spoilt my enjoyment of spotting each and every delectable store of course.
My favourite thing about visiting Italy is that I know every coffee will be great, no matter where I buy it from. The first day in the hotel was suspect but much improved when they made a fresh pot; they were replicating ‘American’ coffee for the tourist and I guess because it‘s lot easier for them if we can help ourselves rather than employing someone to make each cup.
However, ten years later, I’ve forgotten that big coffees don’t exist here so I cannot linger with a book or indeed my net book. I’ve yet to see what the world calls ‘Italian coffee’, I call sickly milky stuff and you will probably call latte in Italy.
On the other hand, I so rarely have it in the UK it’s lovely to spend a few mornings filled with cappuccinos.
Discoveries: McDonalds’ McCafe, complete with above average coffee – i.e. better than most UK coffee shops (I said ‘most’) and I had no trouble finishing of the Tiramisu too. In regular cafes, coffee ranged from €2.80 to €4 and that’s just when I noticed the price so the €1.10 for a decent cup in McCafe is refreshing (excuse the pun).
Old discoveries that thankfully still hold true; fabulous coffee, pizzeria on every street, pasta at every cafe and everyone speaks English when they shouldn’t have to!
I love Italy!
Adventures in Milan – Day 4Sunday Best
Today has always had rain forecast so ‘they’ did not disappoint us. However, I’m one step ahead as I keep the Cathedral, the main tourist attraction (apart from the sport that is Versace shop spotting) for today.
We get to the part where the lift takes us up to the roof. This part costs €8 to see and there are no lines so we are easily outside and on the roof to see the magnificent detail of the Duomo in seconds. After our descent, by stairs – I’m feeling energetic – it’s still raining but my plan for us to spend an hour or two inside the dry cathedral is thwarted. There isn’t the line of people as there was yesterday because they are not letting anyone in. We decide to try again towards the end of the afternoon rather than try to get a translation as to why.
In the meantime I’ve come to realise that unlike any other city in the world that relies partly on the billions €€€ spent by tourists every year to survive and flourish, Milan doesn’t. There is barely a sign to point out places of interest for us to spend our hard earned pounds in. It does feel like there are Milanese secrets and us the tourists are not invited in.
The shrine to Versace is still not evident and whilst I know there will be at least one Versace store in Milan, just like in every other major shopping city in the world, my point is that they don’t make the most of their fashion heritage. I’m gobsmacked that D&G, Armani and especially Versace are not more prominent. By now surely we have walked nearly every street around the ‘fashion district’ and I’d have expected to see a handful of each spread around the city.
And no, I don’t see the point of searching on my rubbish internet connection to find out where they are; I don’t need to shop there, the point is I expect all these designers to have a high profile here.
Back at the cathedral there is a line waiting formed with a multitude of umbrellas but we still get inside within a few minutes. It’s worth the effort to see inside what has now become a magical place, one that I seem to be able to spot from whatever neighbourhood I’m in.
Whilst thinking on where to eat on the last night (we never did find anywhere ‘dressy’ to eat) I recall the two recommendations I’d received from a fashion editor via Twitter. With the lack of reliable internet access, we only found the street name for one and duly set out for Sunday evening dinner.
The last supper
As we turn into Via Montenapoleone, I realise this is where I’d noticed the sign pointing to the Four Seasons this morning but we’d decided to turn on the next one. Of course it’s where all the fashionistas would come, its where are all the designer show rooms and offices are. Sure enough there is the predicted Versace (we’d seen most of the others by now) but just a little Versace ‘blue’, not a big shrine in ‘gold’. Disappointing.
In the dark rain, we don’t find the restaurant – it must have been on a side street- so we carry on to two more. Both times, we step inside; put our wet umbrellas down only to be told they are closing. It’s not yet 8pm. On the second one we even check the closing time first, 10pm. They still tell us they are closed, after we have shaken brollies, stepped right inside the place and started taking hats and coats off. The shops are closed now so I guess the market is not there but it’s still odd.
We find something to eat in what looks like a family chain, Brek and go back to the hotel. Later in the evening, it’s just a small crema ice cream for me on the last night in Milan.
Final part to follow.
Today I met with my friend and the we hit the tourist trail; the church that has ‘The Last Supper’ in it, that we discover we can only book to see by phone, before hand, the castle that has a nice photo exhibition of before and after photos and entertainment in the back yard and the famous La Scala which is so tiny, blink I we won’t see the theatre. Then we move onto the real culture of Milan, the shopping district.
Prada is here, along with Gucci bag shop and a few others but that’s it under the gorgeous covered domes. My friend is quite taken with the fact that people are still smoking although we’re technically undercover but not as much as she is with the little Gucci coffee shop.
We both agree that the McCafe here with a view of Louis Vuitton does have acceptable coffee in addition to very agreeable pastries.
By now I am shocked that that I still have not seen any Versace or Armani in 3 days of walking the streets of Milan. By now and especially here in the shopping district I expect to see a shrine to Versace at the very least. I don’t know about every other tourist in the world but I expect to see the big Italian fashion names in the heart of Milan. It’s just odd that they don’t maximise on their heritage.
Still the restraining order that they appear to have put on Starbucks more than makes up for not seeing a Versace I’m not buying anything in.
Gucci, Gucci, wherefor art thou, Gucci?
Not that I need to buy anything from there but it’s just odd that of the hundreds of shops I’ve seen whilst mooching about today, not one is Gucci or Armani or Versace for that matter. Some American designers have a presence and there’s a Vivien Westwood around the corner but of the Italians, I’ve just seen Dolce & Gabanna. I’ve seen a Gucci shopping bag but that doesn’t count.
There are a few lingerie chains so as it should be, Italians like to look good from the underside out. There is comfort in the lack of skyscrapers although a Pirelli one is highlighted on the map. I think I’ve spotted it – now that they mention it – but I would say it’s just a tall building.
Thankfully my research into Starbucks is correct; there are none!
As was my previous experience of McDonalds in Florence ten years ago, their food is better here. However, now it is improved even more; McCafe Italiano serves Tiramisu, amongst other delights and has decent coffee. Don’t think I’ll be trying the coffee back home though.
There is a downside to everything being so fast in Milan; I can’t slow down for a coffee. In the USA, I’d happily spend an hour or two relaxing with a book or magazine, or just writing in a comfortable coffee shop. Here, as in Madrid, they have lots of stand up coffee places and the coffee only comes in one size, tiny, so I can’t linger with it. It’s ridiculously expensive too. Last night, paid €2.80 for espresso and this morning €4 for cappuccino! It’s all delicious of course.
Right, off to choose this evening’s gelato to see if I can beat last night’s latte & nutty soya combo.