Saturday, May 31, 2014

Word of The Week

i ricordi - memories

I've been very lucky to do a lot of travelling this month. After nearly three years of not visiting France, I went to Saint-Tropez and Paris. There was also Florence two weeks ago for the Deejay Ten, which was a lot of fun but didn't involve much running for me and my friends! I'd like to say grazie to the people I've met on my various journeys this month, I've got a lot of wonderful ricordi of some great times.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bad Italian Parking - Exhibit 3

The idiots stike again on my street.

Can we seriously revoke this person's license? How would someone in their right mind think this was a safe place to park??

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A single girl goes to Paris...

Towards the beginning of last month I got an email from Italo offering crazy cheap TGV tickets for people who like me, had their Italo Più loyalty card. Even though it wasn't in my bucket list for the year, I'd been fascinated by the idea of taking the TGV to Paris, but I never thought I'd manage to do it because of how much tickets normally cost. I checked these discounted prices and didn't need any convincing - 60 euro return in first class!

I booked the train that leaves Porta Garibaldi train station at 8.50am and arrives at Paris Gare de Lyon at 4.14pm. I was laden with snacks and my Kindle was full of books and stuff to watch. At Porta Garibaldi I was happily making my way to the platform when I heard a voice behind me - "Signora!" One of the wheels had fallen off my case!

A couple of minutes later than scheduled the train set off. I started settling into my comfy surroundings, and after about two and a half hours we crossed the border into France. The train also arrived at Gare de Lyon a few minutes late, and I was welcomed by rain! I navigated the station and (somehow) got on the right metro train, changed, and caught my connecting train to take me to Pigalle, which was the nearest metro station to my hotel - losing two more wheels in the process, one of which I never recovered...

I'd received various recommendations for Ibis hotels in Paris from friends, and I went for Ibis Pigalle Montmartre. It was partly due to the location, and also partly down to how finding a hotel with breakfast included in the price wasn't proving to be easy! My room was the fifth floor, and from the balcony I could see the Sacre Coeur peeping through the buildings!

Once it stopped raining I went out to explore Montmartre. I got to the funicular and foolishly decided to tackle the stairs instead of paying for a ticket. The view at the top of the climb was more than worth it though - absolutely breathtaking! And what could my first meal in Paris be but a delicious crepe?

Saturday morning I was on a mission. I was up at 7and after gorging on the breakfast buffet I was out of the hotel by 8.30 - destination Eiffel Tower! I'd been to Paris twice previously, but I'd never been up the tower. When I got there I couldn't believe the queues! It was a few minutes before the ticket desks opened at 9.30. Luckily the queues were fast moving, and about an hour later I got my ticket. The only problem was the broken lift... We got led school trip style to the remaining functioning lift and got on without any further hiccups! Needless to say the view from the top of the tower is incredible! The only downside was how cold and windy it was!

After descending it started raining again so I went on the RER to my next destination - Notre Dame. It was still raining when I got off the train so I didn't hang around long, preferring instead to find some food and warmth. I walked a little bit away from the touristy area and found a burger/steak chain called Hippopotamus, full of locals. A safe bet. The burger and chips I had weren't very French at all, but they really hit the spot!

I was curious to see the Pantheon in Paris, as the Pantheon in Rome's one of my favourite sites in that city. It wasn't quite what I expected though! It was surrounded by parked cars in a fairly anonymous square. From there it was a short walk to the Luxembourg Gardens where I had a quick wander round before the rain returned.

In the evening - after drying off in the hotel! - I went for another walk around Montmartre. I'd learned from yesterday and took the funicular up to the cathedral! I also went to see the wall of I love yous, and after finding both ti voglio bene and ti amo I found the Welsh! Cynical single me however felt the need to cheer myself up after that experience, and the Haagen-Dazs shop - no really, a shop - was perfect. I also picked up the first of many macarons...

I treated myself to an extra hour (!) in bed on Sunday as my first stop of the day was the Champs Elysées. I bought some souvenirs along the way and some (more!) macarons at Laudurée. I was surprised to find that they cost a few cents more than in the two boutiques they have in Milan, but there were a winder choice of flavours. The shop was so beautiful!

Luckily the weather stayed dry and I could enjoy my macarons in the park. I loved all the chairs around the lake, there was such a lovely atmosphere. Then it was to the Louvre, even though I wasn't planning on entering I didn't want to miss the pyramid.

Next on my list was the Latin Quarter. I had a late lunch at a pub/restaurant I stumbled across whilst again trying to get away from the main touristy area. It was called La montagne sens Genevieve, and even though there's only a fairly small choice of dishes on the menu I had a delicious meal. The staff were friendly and patient even though I could manage to string together more than three words of French!

In the evening, still full from lunch, I went on the hunt for two film landmarks in the neighbourhood near my hotel. The Moulin Rouge was - unsurprisingly! - easy to find, Amélie's cafè not quite so much!

Monday morning it was drizzling again. I only had the morning left in Paris so I decided to stay around Montmartre. At one point however I got a bit too far away from where I intended to explore, but I eventually found my way back in the rain and had a delicious second breakfast. I treated myself to even more macarons and some fancy chocolate before buying supplies for my long journey home.

It was raining even harder as the train pulled out of Gare de Lyon. My time in Paris ended with an almighty struggle to get my case on the luggage rack above my seat, and in the process it lost all its remaining wheels!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Not your average weekend in Saint-Tropez...

A few weeks ago my friend Giulia asked me if I'd like to go with her to Saint-Tropez for a weekend. Saint-Tropez! One of the places where I couldn't imagine ever going to, it was like it was completely out of my league! I instantly said yes. It was only then the reason for the weekend at the French Riviera became clear: Giulia, a massive Elvis fan, wanted to go and see an Elvis tribute act - at a Harley-Davidson festival!

We set off before lunch on Friday (after a late night drinking to celebrate our weekend...) with Giulia driving as I don't have a license. The drive took us down to Liguria and then along the coast into France. We started spotting the bikers not long after crossing the border, and followed them all the way to our destination. We were staying in the town of Sainte-Maxime, around 14km from Saint-Tropez, in the newly-restructured Hotel Matisse. After checking in the first stop was the boulangerie on the street corner for a couple of beers!

In the evening we headed to the Euro Festival, which was between Sainte-Maxime and Saint-Tropez. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, with a bikers' festival being something completely outside of my little world! After arriving we discovered who was playing on the main stage - the one and only Bonnie Tyler! The beach area around the stage was rammed, but the atmosphere was relaxed - as it was for the whole weekend. We then headed over to the tent where Ben Portsmouth was playing. We saw him both evenings, and I was very impressed. I'm no more of an Elvis fan than your average Brit, though possibly due to the fact that I've studied music in my life and continue to have a love of all kinds of music, I have a massive amount of respect for the man and what he did. Seeing Ben perform was quite a surreal experience I must admit - especially the completely drunk middle-aged women trying to molest him on the Friday night!

After that late night we went to have breakfast just before they stopped serving! At our hotel breakfast wasn't included, and at 12 euro there was no discussion - we'd find somewhere nearby to eat. And we struck gold! Nearby Cafè Maxime does a cracking typically French breakfast. Ok, coming from Italy the coffee wasn't that great, but the croissants and baguettes were delicious.

In the afternoon we went to Saint-Tropez itself. Like Saint-Maxime it had completely been taken over by Harley-Davidsons! The town was much smaller than I expected, and again maybe my experiences in Italy altered my perception of how glamerous the town was - or wasn't. Yes, there are a lot of fancy bars and restaurants along the water, and designer shops in the town centre, but nothing I thought that you can get in certain places in Italy. The highlight of the visit was undoubtedly the biker with his little dog tucked into his shirt - and this awesome biker dog also had a pair of sunglasses! Too cool.

One of my highlights of the whole trip was the uber-afternoon snack we had at the festival before returning to the hotel - chips and a couple of beers. We were on the beach, on the French Riviera, the weather was gorgeous. What else do you want from life?

Apart from the Elvis tribute again on Saturday we saw a few other bands I was impressed with. There was the Zucchero tribute on the main stage, who actually made me feel homesick for Italy. There were obviously loads of Italians everywhere, in various stages of drunkeness... After Ben and the band a crazy anglo-Irish band called Bogus Brothers played the tent, and the crowd loved them. The singer stage-dived and climbed one of the speaker stacks - in a kilt with nothing on underneath!!

Sunday morning and it was another lovely breakfast at Cafè Maxime before heading home. It's a four and a half journey to Milan, and we set off after filling up on croissants and baguettes again. I was completely exhausted, but very pleased at a weekend very much out of the ordinary!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Proper butter!

If you follow me on Twitter you might have caught me waxing lyrical over the last few days about my 'proper butter'.

Proper Welsh butter! Bought in Italy!

On Thursday evening one of my workmates sent me a photo of the butter she'd found to me on Whatsapp. A lot of Italians don't even know that Wales exists so I was amazed to see it on sale here! Even though I'm slightly lactose intolerant and supposed to be on yet another one of my diets, I couldn't resist when she asked if I wanted her to get me a packet!

My workmate sent me this link later on which explained why she had randomly found Welsh butter. There's an initiative in a supermarket chain here called Bennet - I know, right? - at the moment to promote Welsh products. As well as the butter, there's bacon, chicken, beef, cheddar, and tea. Unfortunately for me there's no Bennet in Milan at all - I'd have to go outside the city if I wanted to get my paws on these goodies myself!

Italians aren't really big on butter. They're more likely to use margarine instead of it, or what I've been doing for a while is buying those vegetable spreads which are supposed to resemble spreadable butter. You can of course get blocks of butter, but those practically require to be defrosted before you can spread them. If you buy a sandwich in a bar or in a supermarket it won't have butter in it. It'll probably have some sort of sauce, mayonnaise maybe (there's quite a lot of love for mayo here, but I guess that's another post...) but absolutely no butter or butter substitute. I've got into that habit myself now!

But over the last few days I've been treating myself to toast with proper butter, sandwiches with proper butter, crackers with proper butter... I've got to get through that pack before the best before date at the end of the month - and I'm the only person in the house!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sunday Classic

Thinking about how quiet Milan's been recently with all the bank holidays made this song come to mind. It's Tutta mia la città by Equipe 84 in 1969. The title translates as 'the city's all mine'.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Word of The Week

La festa - national holiday/party

There have been a lot of bank holidays in Italy these last couple of weeks. There was Easter Monday, commonly known as Pasquetta; Liberation Day on April 25th, la Festa della Liberazione; and May 1st, primo maggio, which is la Festa del Lavoro, or international workers' day. Milan's been quieter than usual during this period, as many people have made the most of these feste and gone on holiday. The next festa is on June 2nd, which is la Festa della Repubblica, which celebrates the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Song of The Week

Three of Italy's most well-known singer-songwriters have got together to form a new supergroup. They are Niccolò Fabi, Daniele Silvestri, and Max Gazzè. Their first single together is titled Life is Sweet, which is taken from an album which will follow in September.