August 2013 -

Just a place for my old thoughts

Off to Verona
Wednesday, 28 August 2013 6:21 am

Yesterday most of the group went on a tour of villages around the lake, but Mum and I stayed at the hotel. We walked up to the village (the long way, of course), brought some provisions, and then I did battle with the wifi before a lunch on our balcony of baguette (fresh from France), prosciutto, supermarket pesto without garlic (!) and matured Asiago cheese. And a bottle of prosecco whic I am now finishing off after an early breakfast.

Today we go to Verona and then arrive at our hotel at Lake Como in the afternoon. We also have to figure out the coach seat rotation, which I'm sure will be entertaining. We met a lovely couple from Perth last night and shared their table for dinner. The buffet madness descended on the group but we somehow all got fed in the end. Andiamo!!

The night I ate my Desigual bag
Tuesday, 27 August 2013 10:50 am

We started our bus tour early on the Monday morning, after a night spent listening to the trams rattling past our window every five minutes (they stopped between 2 am and 5 am). I got fed up waiting for the hot water to turn on and had a mostly cold shower as a result. I'd found out the night before that the hot water took about ten minutes to turn on, which is amusing because the Ibis have a 15 minute service guarantee, so it meant there was no point complaining.

Our lovely tour leader, Andrea, took us into Milan central - an area Mum and I were already familiar with - and we had two hours to look at monuments etc. Or shop. I visited the half-price Desigual bags and decided that I could survive without them, knowing there's a Desigual shop at Changi on the way back anyway.

We then headed to Sirmione via an Autogrill, which happily had better food than the Ibis did (not really an achievement at all, but it's the small wins that make you happy sometime). Apparently we had to have a 50 minute stop because the driver had spent the previous day ferrying the previous trip participants to the airport. Speaking of small wins, I felt an immense sense of achievement turning half a kilo of five and ten Euro cent pieces into a bottle of water via the Ibis vending machines, even though I just this morning paid a quarter of the price for a bottle four times the size.

Sirmione is a lovely little town packed with tourists and gelaterias. It's on a spit of land that goes out into Lake Garda so there is water both sides. The threatened rain did not eventuate and so the fact my feet froze all morning in sandals in Milan was worth it, as it turned out very hot. Mind you, most of the people on the coach seem to have three days worth of hand luggage with them, causing me instant regret that I didn't buy a big Desigual bag to stuff shoes and socks into every day.

We then continued to our hotel in Moniga del Garda, called the Riva del Sole. It's supposedly four star but is definitely shabby chic, although it has a lovely pool area surrounded by olive trees and a bar, and we have a balcony facing the lake, so I can't complain that much.

Mum and I walked down to the lake, where there is a pathway that goes round past shingle beaches equipped with sunloungers and umbrellas, just like the seaside. These are punctuated at regular intervals by toilets, camping grounds and bars with a lot of signs in German. Eventually we had a drink at the bar just below our hotel, which did cocktails, and where the waiter gave Mum a twenty minute dissertation on the best type of gin and tonic. It was so serious that she had a Pimm's no 1, which came with enough fruit for two breakfasts. I had a Blue Lagoon Daiquiri which was delicious, and eventually we sauntered back up the hill to freshen up before heading down to dinner at the restaurant we'd decided on earlier.

Unfortunately when we headed out again we found it was shut. We backed up to the previous one at the entrance to a campsite, which was very basic and which translated the italian pizza menu into sandwiches, which was strange. So we left and went back to the cocktail bar, which had a terrace behind it. People were eating there now, so I asked if we could have dinner. The bar guy waved us through, and I paused briefly at the posted menu and figured out it was nice food.

An immaculate waiter asked us if we had a reservation, and then showed us to a table facing the lake. He brought menus which started with a degustation for 45 Euro. I couldn't get over that we were next door to the dodgy place with plastic chairs and an air of Deliverance.

We had a wonderful, wonderful meal. I had pappardelle with rabbit ragu to start with, and the waiter helped me choose a local rose, Chiaretto, which was very dry and delicious (and also about the cheapest thing on a very extensive list). Then I had some turbot with spinach, and Mum had some roast chicken. They were all very simply and beautifully prepared, even the basket of bread (foccacia, baguette, lavosh and grissini) all tasted home made. Daniel would have approved of the salt level. There was a long wait between courses but we were entertained by distant fireworks over the lake, a thunderstorm that lasted five minutes, and of course the entire bottle of wine.

Finally I had to try the chocolate tart with 70% chocolate and orange ice-cream. It was a small round, feather light pudding, almost a fondant, and the ice-cream was scented with orange oil. I finished with the best cafe macchiato I've had in Italy to date and when the bill came (in a small cardboard box with pictures of puppies on it) I handed over enough Euro for a full-price Desigual bag, and tipped and thanked the fabulous waitstaff, and we staggered up the short hill to our beds.

Sunday, 25 August 2013 7:39 pm
(Deb )

I have been very slack on the blogging since seeing Danny off on the train. With him off it has been two days of shopping and paying too much to eat near monuments - or, in case of the Galleria Vittoria Emmanuelle II - inside them.

The shopping is a bit overwhelming, particularly inside the Rinascente department store, in which I very familiar with the fourth floor as not only does it host insanely expensive designer clothes (I saw a nice dress this morning marked down from €2,200 to €650, a steal) it has loos. Milan has embraced the department store in a way no other Euopean city I've seen has. I'm starting to suspect that's so all the shoppers have somewhere to pee without interrupting valuable shopping time.

Today we said goodbye to our lovely, small, central hotel and moved to the large and rather unlovely Ibis Centrale, which is central only to the tram outside my window. It is, however, within easy distance of yet another shopping strip which was my downfall. Not the Desigual store, but the one next to it proved the undoing of my firm desire to stop shopping.

We returned rather footsore to the Ibis and met the other participants on our tour. They all seem very nice but I suspect I'm the youngest of them, apart from the Tour Director, a lovely guy called Andrea who looks about twenty years younger than any of us. So tomorrow I start my first ever bus tour. I've set the alarm for an hour before the wake up call, I have a sticker on my bag and I survived what passed for Ibis food (the auto grills can only be better). The weather gods has left us so it's onwards for showers and lakes!

The sun is over the yard arm somewhere
Saturday, 24 August 2013 10:47 pm

Left Deb in Milan this morning to start making my way back. The trip on the train into the airport then check-in, security and customs was all straight forward.

I was missing Deb about 5 seconds into the train journey. Something we sort of enjoy about travel is getting ourselves from A to B and trains are a frequent part of that. So to be tootling through the country side without her felt lonely.

The trip to Milan itself was good although the cost of the taxi from the airport still stings a bit. We wandered around the Duomo and all the millions of fashion shops. Shopping OMFG!!! Every brand you can imagine has a massive shiny store.

We then had a drink at the hotel, a break and then went out for dinner to a local area recommended by the hotel. The food was wonderful with me trying cappaccio with shaved black truffles and then osso bucco with risotto. All beautiful and a lovely last meal of the holiday.

I'm currently in Changi airport, its 6:45am local time and I'm drinking beer. I need to stay awake from now till I get home to try and get my body clock back on course. We'll just have to see how that goes.

I did pack a washer, socks, jocks and toothpaste so I'm as shiny as can be hoped from a 5 minute superman change in the airport loos.

And in an hour or so I'll be onwards to Brisbane and my first chance to squeeze the kittehs in the last few weeks.

Sunday, 25 August 2013 6:24 am

Actually the cost of the taxi pales into insignificance compared to the cost of lunch and dinner the day you left. Never eat near (or inside) a monument ... And you missed the rain!

Monday, 19 August 2013 9:09 am

Its been a few days since my last post. Unfortunately the wifi in San Sebastian was pretty dodgey and only seemed to work from inside the front door of our room. Deb persevered and did a little posting but frankly I was enjoying the food and drink of the region too much to bother.

The transfer to Menorca was an early start to the day with us checking out by 6:30am and then a speedy (140km/h !!) Trip to the local airport where we checked in for the connect back to Barcelona and then onto Menorca. Other than a fairly boring wait for our connecting flight it was straight forward enough.

Once in Menorca we met with Ken, who had flown in just after us, collected the hire car (which had a very dodgy clutch) and headed for the villa. Given that we basically burn out the clutch on the way over we arrived safely. The car wasn't going anywhere so Deb and I walked down to the local store for supplies. With some veg, pasta, cold meats and of course wine we had things stocked nicely.

I was very happy to be back in a kitchen and threw together a light pasta and a salad for dinner. When then chatted into the evening over a bottle of wine before everyone retired for a well deserved sleep.

The next day we headed out for a drink at one of the beach cafes. I truly love the fact that the local beach bars are literally on the beach with chairs and tables dotted between trees and rocks and roots. Back home OH&S would never allow this more or less having real glasses so near a swimming beach. Oh how I love Spain.

Anyway that has set the pattern of breakfast on the deck, a trip out to one of the local villages by the sea, a snack in the afternoon before everyone relaxes ahead of dinner.

Today Ken had to head into Mao (the main town) to do a little business while Deb and Marjorie go shopping. I've taken my leave and stayed back at the villa to just lay around, drink a few beers, snack on the local ham with crusty bread and maybe have a swim. Gosh its a hard life.

Thursday, 22 August 2013 2:11 am

That view fomr the balcony is gorgeous.

San Sebastian
Wednesday, 14 August 2013 5:43 pm

The view from our hotel room must be one of the most amazing I have ever seen. The last two days have been taken up with a late start (there's no point getting early because nothing is open). We head out for a little breakfast then shopping. I have figured out that if I take my leave at that point I can meet back with Deb and Marjorie just in time for tapas and a beer.

We have basically stuck to the old town and the foreshore outside the hotel, why would you want to go any further afield.

At night they put on a fireworks demonstration right outside our hotel in celebration of the week of some saint or other. (Please excuse my ignorance). Last nights show was simply the most amazing display I have ever seen before. It must have cost a fortune and they run every night.

Thursday, 15 August 2013 9:04 pm

Very cool DJ!

Ola from San Sebastián
Wednesday, 14 August 2013 2:39 pm

I love San Sebastián. It's a measure of how much I love it that it took an entire day to get here, even though only two flights under two hours each were involved.

After Daniel's revelation that he'd binned the tickets for the Gatwick Express I figured our disaster for the day as done. I didn't count on flight delays or rain but we got both. I'm a fan of daylight savings but its bizarre to arrive somewhere at 8 pm and its not even evening yet. The hotel is on the beach and beautiful in the old style 'travelling to the continent for the season". It's also the best seat in the house for the nightly fireworks to which approximately 10 thousand people turned up last night, with their kids, dogs, deck chairs, wheelchairs and enthusiasm and camped out on the beach. Literally, as I saw people packing up sleeping bags first thing yesterday morning.

Like many things here, 'first thing' is subjective. When the sun doesn't set until 10 pm, 7 am us pretty much pre-dawn, so you tend to do everything about two hours later than in Oz, including getting up and eating meals. For instance it's 4:30 pm here and we've just finished our lunch. I might go for a swim and have a snooze before going out for dinner (early) around 8 in order to be back in the room for fireworks at 10:45 pm. Although I doubt anything can beat last nights fireworks which were astonishing for their colour, technique and sheer quantity. Last night was done by Venetzia (Venice), who according to the posters have won the Semana Grande ("Big Week") competition pretty much every year. I'm assured that tonight is the night everyone will come, which is terrifying because I don't know if you can fit more people into San Sebastian. Tomorrow is August 15, the date around which the festival is based, so I expect the insanity to peak.

Today we lunched at some of our favourite tapas bars including Bar Sports for calamari and prawns, and La Vina for boquerones (marinated anchovies, I blame Matt for hooking me on these in Madrid) and Tarta de Queso, the best cheesecake in the world. They have the recipe on DVD so we had to ask the bar staff for a copy, which was embarrassing especially given my non-existent Spanish. La Vina has a staffer who bears more than a padding resemblance to Nathan Fillion, and who I think is ageing rather better than his actor double.

Monday, 19 August 2013 4:22 am

I'm so jealous. You'll never want to leave!

And travel day
Monday, 12 August 2013 3:34 pm

A transit day. We were up to check-out by 8am for the quick taxi ride to Victoria station where I calmly realised that only 15 minutes earlier I had thrown the train tickets in the bin of our hotel room. Let's say the look on Deb's face is not something that I will be able to shake for some time.

Anyway, after buying new tickets we grabbed the train and headed for Gatwick. From there a flight to Barcelona where we have found our flight to San Sebastian is well delayed. So nothing to do but find a beer and a comfortible seat and just wait it out.

I had wondered with all the financial issues in Spain if travel would be affected and it seems that it definitely has been.

The funny bit was clearing security and coming down into the airport to find Deb's favourite clothing shops was closed. I'm not sure which upset her more, that or the tickets.

Monday, 12 August 2013 6:46 am

Today we headed out for a spot of shopping at the Covent Garden markets and some of the surrounding shops. I have now discovered that it is possible for Deb and her Mum to spend an hour in one store (Monsoon).

For my good behaviour we then went for a beer before catching up with Betty at Covent Garden again for lunch. A full English roast lunch with all the trimmings can be a very nice thing.

From there Deb and I headed back to Forbiden Planet which is sort of a geeks paradise of every known comic, book, tshirt and object relating to fantasy and scifi. Yes, you can pre-order the 11th Dr Who sonic screwdriver which comes in a beautiful presentation case and can also control your TV.

We had intended to try French for dinner but being Sunday they were closed. Instead we tried Jamie's British which was a little disapointing to be honest. But at the end of a long dayquick meal and then off to bed was appreciated.

We're up early this morning for the transfers to the airport and then onwards to San Sebastian!

Shopping and Berkhamsted
Sunday, 11 August 2013 7:26 am

We got a fairly early start and headed out for coffee and a pastry at a local coffee shop. The place was small and packed and they put us on a table with another couple who were from the UK but holidaying in London. As we agreed its often that we don't visit our own countries enough. (Says us on holiday in Europe).

From there we headed out for a little shopping before discovering that the local tube station was closed and that booking train tickets before hand can provide significant savings. (We discovered this by not pre-booking)

The train was to get us out to Berkhamsted to see Jan, Simon and their kids. We went out to a brasserie for lunch which is part of Raymond Blanc's empire. The food was particularly good and I had snails then steak frites. Awesome.

We then strolled back to Jan's place via the Waitrose to have a sneak peak inside. Their house is beautiful and huge with an enormous back garden. We sat outside with a fruit platter and just enjoyed the afternoon.

From there it was back to the train and London. We then quickly freshened up and we enter out to a local Indian restaurant for a curry. The food was excellent and beats anything I've had at home.

Then off to bed.

Sunday, 11 August 2013 10:56 pm

Sounds like you guys are all having a blast! London is such an exciting place to check out. So much to see. Enjoy your pints! :) xo

Pig intestines still taste funky
Sunday, 11 August 2013 7:10 am

After the markets we freshened up and Deb and Marjorie went off to see Top hat at the theater and I caught up with Simon for a beer and dinner. We stopped at a local pub for a pint and then Simon took us into Chinatown to find food.

It's huge in comparison to anything we have in Australia and we quickly decided on something a little different by way of a manchurian restaurant.

Ushered down to a table downstairs and out the back the menu was a little different with quite a bit of offal. We ordered a special chicken dish that came with a ton of chilli, some crispy squid and, by way of something scary, the crispy pork intestines. We devoured everything but I'm afraid to say the intestines were rather challenging and only got an initial taste and then a followup to confirm we were not going to eat them.

I am lead to believe they were well prepared but after the initial crunchy flavourful they definitely had that 'funky' taste kick in.

All up though a great dinner and excellent company.

One monument, one shop, one beer
Friday, 9 August 2013 4:58 pm

Today was a chance to poke around London and gets some sight seeing done.

We headed off in the morning and went down to see Parliament, Big Ben, London Bridge, the Tower of London and finally ended up at Borough Markets.

I have to say the markets were my favourite bit and I found myself wishing that I had access to a kitchen where I could cook some of the great produce I was seeing.

We then took the under ground back to Oxford Street and walked back passed thousands of shops and a sea of humanity the likes I haven't seen for a while.

I then invoked the beer rule and after a quick pint we headed out to find Marjorie a hair dresser for a wash and blow dry.

Now, I had a theory that given the density of pubs and hair dressers in Covent Garden I'd suggested that if we passed a hair dresser we'd ask the price and if we passed a pub we'd stop for a beer.

Little did I suspect that hair dressers would out number pubs. I lost that round.

Meeting the family
Friday, 9 August 2013 7:08 am

Yesterday we happily woke about 8am feeling good that the jetlag was under control. We headed out about 9:30 for a coffee and pastry before heading to Charing Cross station for the trip down to Canterbury to meet Marjorie's family.

The train system is second to none and after an hour and a half ride, punctuated by some of the best banter from the food trolley attendant, we arrived in Canterbury.

Walking up to the town centre I couldn't resist stopping at The Bishop's Finger for a fortifying pint before continuing on.

We were picked up in short order by Deb's cousin Sally and taken out to her aunt Betties place. From there her other cousin Jane had put on a magnificent spread of food.

So the day was spent just meeting the family and catching up on everything that has been happening since Deb and her Mum last visited.

Paul and his family came down and had been stuck on the freeway for nearly 4 hours for what should have been a two hour trip. A monumental effort from them and very much appreciated to see them again.

After pushing our departure time back too many times we final made our goodbyes and headed for the station for the ride home. It seemed longer but soon we were back in London and making our way to Jamie's Italian for a late dinner.

The place was still bustling at 10pm so after a short wait we ordered a few plates of pasta, a nice bottle of chanti and finished off with their Epic Brownie and a frangepane cake. By this stage it was well past our bedtime and getting under the covers was my first and only priority.

All up it was a wonderful day.

Good morning
Thursday, 8 August 2013 7:05 am

Heading out to Canterbury today for lunch with Marjories family. The battle with jetlag has been going well and we managed to make it to dinner and 9pm before we all hit the wall. All the suger from the sweets shop, post-lunch might have helped.

The view from the hotel just makes me want to explore the city.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013 4:30 pm

Well we made it to London. The flight wasn't that bad all things considering and Deb even managed to start clothes shopping in Chani airport which is technically before our holiday even started. Not a bad effort really.

Deb's cousin Paul was very kind and picked us up from the airport and took us down to Wycombe to see Marjorie's sister in law and their family. They are the most wonderful people and we headed out to a local English pub for lunch.

After lunch Paul dropped us at the train station for the quick trip up to London. Then a simple cab ride to the hotel and here we are.

I have to say that so far everyone is absolutely so friendly, it has made our arrival so easy.

We're going to head out now for a look around and maybe a lite dinner before an early night in bed.

Friday, 9 August 2013 12:26 am

Considering the long flight, you are both looking quite refreshed here. Have a great time!

Leaving on a freaked out jet plane
Tuesday, 6 August 2013 3:07 am

Well service last night was thankfully quick and I found myself home and cooking dinner before 10:30 which was pretty sweet.

This morning I made the obligatory list and started packing while Deb ran around asking me which of two items of clothes she should take.

After packing and getting my case down to 12kg I then relaxed with a glass of red while Deb continued here packing roulette.

My favorite moment was when Deb's mum called up and said I'm really freaked out, can I speak to Deb. Well, this is gonna be funny....sure, let me put her on.

We are now checked in, through customs and waiting in a bar for our flight. Everyone is now a little calmer and looking forward to the trip.

Two more services!!!
Saturday, 3 August 2013 3:48 am

Deb has now finished and I have one more day of work before we head off on our trip to Europe. Work has been getting busier and busier but I am still loving it (well, when I'm not cleaning stuff that is).

I have promised Deb that I will try to keep the blog up to date for the next month so that you can all see what we are doing. The plan at the moment is to spend a week in London, a see in San Sebastian and then a week on Menorca. Oh how I can't wait!

I didn't finish work last night until after midnight so today has been nice and slow as we start to gather all the bits and pieces that we will need for the trip. I swear I was aiming for a 'tech-lite' trip but I already have a bag of stuff that needs to go.

Bring it on.