‘all you need is love….tra la la’

Our landlord has a small dog who looks like a dirty white version of Dougal from magic roundabout.  I expected to hear him barking but no.  As we went into the breakfast room he was imitating a heap of dirty washing in his master’s bedroom.  When Giacomo went out yesterday we could recognize ‘aron’s’ barking in the street below.

Breakfast was a sumptuous spread. I had said I like fruit to start the day and was greeted with a plate of strawberries and grapes, a platter of two types of melon and a large bowl with apricots, plums, apples…..!  I counted eight assorted yoghourts plus two Panna cottas and two creme caramels. On each of our plates was a bilberry tart. An embarrassment of riches.

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Resisting the urge to just sit stuffing our faces all day we walked back down to piazza Maggiore to explore the building we thought yesterday was for students, the Sala Boursa, which has a large open space inside under an ornate ceiling.  Under our feet we could see archeological remains and asked how to get down to them.  It is possible to walk on suspended gantries over remains of early Bologna dating from the early centuries BC.  There was evidence of subsidence and I remembered reading that Bologna once had a network of canals.

From there we located the tourist office and asked for a leaflet about the former Jewish ghetto.  As it was now eleven o’clock it was time for the Beatles photo exhibition.

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Not far to walk and held in a beautiful building full of frescoes and decorated ceilings.

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The photos weren’t too bad either. :).   Beatles music accompanied you round and my foot was tapping and some quiet singing took place!  Very interesting and some good photos of 60s Liverpool as well.  I wrote on the comments wall and we each posed on the chair provided for our own Beatles shot.

Back out in the by now hot sunshine we went in search of the Jewish quarter, not as easy as it seemed.  Bologna has its share of confusing alleys and side streets too.

A pause for coffee and more fresh orange juice and we pressed on.  Ultimately I noticed signs on the wall to help ‘direct your feet’ but it took Lou to work out which direction to walk! The alleys here were narrow but cheerful, decorated in burnt orange and some buildings were only two stories high.

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Very different from Genoa’s six and seven storey apartment buildings.  We found half of the landmarks on our leaflet and decided lunch was in order but a light one!  Back towards via clavature with its many eateries.  Settled at a table amongst other couples of a certain age, I chose mozzarella and tomato salad while Lou had cold cod salad.

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Plus a beer and a glass of dry white which is becoming the lunch time norm.  Afterwards it wasn’t far to the ticket office of the three centuries of Bologna in photographs exhibition that I had found online.

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This was in a subterranean gallery under the square.  I was really pushing my claustrophobia button!  The displays were very informative and set out chronologically including old film footage plus four British royal air force photos of dropping bombs on Bologna.  You feel vicariously guilty for smashing up medieval monuments!  By the time we got to the end we were exhausted.  Time to go back for a cuppa and a little zzz.  About an hour into the zzz Giacomo tapped gently on the door and, apologizing for maybe waking anyone up, presented us with Danish pastries.  So kind but we weren’t sure we could find room.  Late supper we decided!  We did persuade him that we were happy not to have fresh towels everyday, six between us is perfectly adequate.  I mentioned I drink decaffeinated tea and kicked myself as I knew he’d go out and buy some (he did!).

So a lazy couple of hours waiting for the pastries to go down and checking out nearby restaurants online plus the plan of campaign for Thursday’s gawping.

After going the long way round to a trattoria only six minutes walk away we carefully chose our menu for the evening.  Fat chance, my veal was finished as was Lou’s choice of pud and our preferred wine, the only white on the menu.  Rose doesn’t seem to exist in Bologna.   We ended up sharing a plate of ham and melon (fabulous) and I tried capaccio beef for the first time while Lou had tagliatelle  ragu. The owner(?) said he had opened a good white ‘for a glass’ earlier and we could have 50cl or two glasses.   We plumped for the 50!  We were entertained by the performance he went through decanting red wine for one party and the food that arrived at every other table in a big wooden ‘wheel’.  What were we missing?  Cold risotto and grated truffle it turned out.  No great loss we decided.   An interesting evening but we won’t be going back.

 

PS At the end of the Bologna photo exhibition they had a photo booth and asked if you would pose for a photo to add to the Bologna photo archive.  We did but decided on a Victorian style ‘we are not amused’ pose.  They emailed the result to us…  🙂

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Bologna or bust

The car was fetched from the garage and we piled in the suitcases and an assortment of bags.  The peacocks don’t or can’t travel light!  We’d asked the girl on reception the most direct route to the autostrada which was just as well as the GPS wanted to take us back all around the town.

The road after Genoa takes you through the Cinque Terre, a beautiful region of high wooded hills dropping away to sparkling sea, a cliche but true.

After Parma the scenery is flat and unappealing but it was only a hundred kilometres to Bologna.  At the peage the machine decided to say no so we sat, fuming and embarrassed until help arrived.  The machine behaved then!

Happily for us we quickly found the b and b.  Too quickly as we were early by at least half an hour of the time I had texted the owner.  He’d asked and I’d guessed!  A phone call and he was soon there.  We all drove to a nearby carpark to leave the car and back to the apartment.  Giacomo, for that is he, lets out a room and ensuite as a b and b and delightful it and he are.

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Nothing was too much trouble.  He disappeared and came back with cold prosecco, water, chocolate mousse, Danish pastries… And a map on which he proceeded to note interesting landmarks and good places to eat nearby.  We were overwhelmed by it all!  He added some juice cartons and a bottle of wine to the already groaning side table in our room.  Going hungry is not an option.

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Once settled and full of mousse, prosecco and pastries, we walked down to the town centre.  It was different to be on busy roads after Genoa.  Lots of bicycles locked up in rows and lots of young people everywhere.

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The big piazza is huge and the buildings around it are too.  A different feel to Genoa, these buildings are fortress like and dark brick with lots of imposing arches and long colonades.

I headed for the huge church because Giacomo had said it had a meridian in it.  I was confused but it turned out he meant sundial, the biggest in the world.  It stretches right down one side of the nave and it is a long nave!

After that we drifted around the streets that wind their way around the piazza which are full of clothes shops and restaurants.  (Giacomo has just brought us Danish pastries! We had heard Bologna is famous for its food!)  We are further from the action than in Genoa but the extra walking is unlikely to burn off all these calories.  For our evening meal we took our host’s recommendation of the nearest restaurant whose tortellini is renowned. Lou had the tortellini in broth and I had tortillone in butter and sage, the difference being mine was spinach and ricotta filled and Lou’s was ham and cheese.

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Naughtily we had pud, mine was the best creme caramel since Jean Pierre stopped cooking at the auberge and Lou had ‘english trifle’.  We slept well despite the novelty of traffic noise below the window.

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Up, down and around

Our last full day in Genoa.  A Monday which was to have some bearing on activities.  Firstly we found the breakfast buffet much less crowded. There is a super choice available, even bacon and eggs for the diehards, or die youngs!

Once out and about it was to the Porte Soprano to gaze at one of the old gates of the city.  Beyond the two turrets a tiny and delicate cloister and below the purported house of Christopher Columbus.  Lou was more interested in a car park stuffed with scooters! 🙂

The museum and the apparent entrance to the only remaining part of the city walls was closed….on Mondays.  We walked along its supposed route hoping to catch a glimpse of it but no.

However, there was a church I was keen to see and so began the frustrating task of matching map to the reality around one.  Lou sat on a wall while I checked out likely candidates. Genoa seems to have a church on every corner.  Walking together up a side street we found the end of that wall, open to all and sundry.  Tant pis!

Another bout of map reading and we plunged back into the alleyways.  Suddenly pretty ceramic plaques began to appear and the search became much easier.  In the nick of time too as Lou was beginning to lose his sense of humour.  The church was tucked up a steep and twisty street and was magnificent inside.

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As I wandered about inside a guide approached me and offered an English tour and access to the treasures.  My ‘treasure’ would have combusted at the idea of a long wait and, to be honest, charming as the lady was, standing next to her was like being beside an overloaded dirty ashtray.  But she was keen to share her knowledge and when I remarked how amazed I always was that the church paintings etc survived the many upheavals over time eg the last war, she pounced and told me the French bombardment in 1684 was the worst and then later Napoleon turning everywhere republican.  Note to self, brush up on European history!  Also, she continued, the Genoa museum covets the paintings and she pointed to one painted by a student of Caravaggio.  As I left she switched on a chapel light and persuaded me to look at a retable painted by a young man of 21 in the mid 1400s.  There is a legend that, annoyed at not being paid for his work, he painted six toes on one of the saints.  I counted, there were six!

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As I took the above photo she told me about another church that has chapels devoted to the workmen. Guilds? I asked. Ah, yes, she replied, ‘i am Russian and I learnt my English many years ago’.  I left her lighting up a fag outside.

Rejoining Lou, we walked down to the harbour side and along to the very old arcades known as sopporive and had coffee outside one of the tiny bars.   We discussed how so many buildings in Genoa have been built on the remains of much earlier ones rather than knocking everything flat and starting  again.

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We decided to look for a trattoria for our evening meal that I had looked up online as we were close-ish to it.  Crossing piazza banchi a blonde woman was playing what sounded like a south American flute.  As we approached she started to sing.  A beautiful contralto voice and one of my favourite pieces of music, ‘summertime’.  A moment to pause awhile.

At the trattoria the lovely owner was very sorry but they were closed that evening and only opened at lunch as they were celebrating her daughter’s birthday that afternoon.  She dashed inside and came back with a recommendation of another place but was concerned it, too, would be shut.  I googled it later and it was! Monday strikes again.

Back to base to rest the feet and Google nearby eateries.  A trattoria came up in the next street so off we went.  A very humble and higgledy piggledy place.  We sat at a long table and struggled with a handwritten menu with no translation.  But it was fine, stuffed anchovies, his with chips, mine with aubergine, plus beer and Fanta, 14 euros the lot.  A busy place with the locals and popular.  Not surprising.

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After the debacle of the funicular, I had identified an art deco elevator in the guide book that promised an interesting view of rooftops.  Quite near the hotel and close to another possible evening meal location. (That was closed for holidays).  The elevator was nothing special but the floor was pretty.

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The view was ok and the area more upmarket than below.  The other lift was closed but we decided to walk down.  The street was steep and paved with narrow bricks that reminded me of the bricks used for houses in Tarn and Garonne.  At the sides there were shallow steps which made the vertiginous hill easier to negotiate.  The houses were burnt orange and yellow ochre with doors and windows grills painted in dark glossy green.  Quite a change from below.

As we stumbled off the hill we found ourselves on via Garibaldi and opposite the ice cream shop.  We thought we were wise to this now and ordered small cones.  Alas, huge again.  Lou stopped her adding more ice-cream halfway!  As we finished I realised we weren’t far from the church the guide lady had mentioned.  With a long suffering sigh Lou agreed to help me find it.  We took an alleyway from the posh, UNESCO museums area and walked into a narrow, gloomy and scruffy netherworld.  I began to notice women sitting on doorsteps and realized we were in the red light district.  Ladies with everything on offer who met your glance with defiant glares. I wondered if the city licences them as they seemed quite open as they stood on alley corners and chatted to one another.  In the midst of the nastiest, narrowest, darkest alley a stone wall and archway appeared and there was the church.  Large outside and monumental inside, ornately decorated on every available surface.  While I was gawping a chap gave Lou a leaflet in English explaining the history of the place.  So many big churches down tiny alleyways.  Rich and poor cheek by jowl.

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Exhausted by now it was back to the hotel and then down to Delle Erbe for pizza.  Home to pack for Bologna

 

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Meier and market magic

Sunday morning was Vivian Meier morning but as we walked through the Palazzo Ducale (it has become my favourite space in Genoa) we found lots of antique stalls and more outside on the piazza. Bliss!

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The exhibition was just opening so we spent a very tranquil time in front of her photos with only a handful we had seen before. From there it was on to Elliot Erwitt, a photographer of whom i hadn’t heard but Lou had. In colour so a good contrast with Vivian.

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After that it was defo time for coffee so my first proper Italian cappuccino.

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And some people watching, bien sur!

Then back to those stalls. Some amazing things for sale, real antiques and collectibles eg Barbie dolls. 🙂 Inside I thought I had finally found the book style photo frame I’ve been searching for but it was too tatty.  Lots of jewellery and amongst it some unusual earrings. 10 euros and they were mine!

It was back to piazza del erbe for lunch to try the other cafe whose menu I fancied.  We both had fish dishes, beautifully cooked and presented, a light lunch before the walk to find the funicular.

Now, I had researched Genoa and had an article I had pulled out of the Sunday times of how to spend a weekend in the city. I quote ‘from there it is a short stroll to the first fort’. This being from Righi, the place at the top of said funicular. Finding the bottom was challenging enough! We had walked right along the port with a lot of people out and about enjoying a Sunday in the sun. The funicular station was tucked away behind a set of stone steps. A nice young man helped us buy automatic tickets and off we went. Our experience of funiculars is limited but exotic. This was not open and leafy – Budapest or open and dizzying height – Hong Kong but dark and mostly in a tunnel. My claustrophobia started to kick in. We were distracted by the poor young mum opposite whose gorgeous baby girl had just leaked poo all over her!

At the top Lou asked which way and I had no idea. No signs and our map didn’t go out that far.  So we started walking up the hill hoping a viewpoint would appear.  One did but a bit hindered by nearby buildings.  Meanwhile some couples and several cars were passing us in the same direction so we pushed on up the now wooded road but only tiny glimpses of Genoa and the med far below. There had been a sign for a cafe so I hoped we’d find that. We did and grabbed the last empty table on the shady terrace.  The decision was made that we cut our losses and go back down to the old town. I was bursting for a pee but on finding the loo was hectored by an Italian lady I didn’t understand. A young girl explained the toilet was being cleaned. Shall I come back in five minutes I asked. Ten was the reply. As I left I heard the girl behind the counter say bravo. Charming! I was a legit customer.

So, back down the hill and, after a quick look at the viewpoint above the station, back down on the funicular. Ice cream, I decided, preferably a gelatina with a loo.

We found both in a very clean place on via Garibaldi. We also found that medium means HUGE. We slurped our way through a large quantity of the cold stuff and made good use of the facilities.

IMG_20170904_153846177meandering along we came to the tourist office. I went in hoping for a bigger map of Genoa.  The lady was very helpful but apologetic that there was no map.  However, she came up with a leaflet about the forts and a walkers map of the immediate area around them.  Then she suddenly became animated and told us it was free entrance all day, first Sunday in the month, to the national gallery.  Another map and scribbles to help us find it. We did, more by luck than judgement, and explored all its floors.  Well, I did. Around the third floor Lou had had enough of painted ceilings and gold plasterwork so disappeared downstairs.  I continued up to the attics and enjoyed the ceramics and fabrics.

I was ready for a cup of tea and kicking off my shoes back at the hotel but Lou had seen a shoulder bag dirt cheap and fancied buying it.  Back to the main tourist street to find it, back through the Palazzo Ducale and home for that cuppa.

Later, we returned to our morning coffee stop to eat ‘typical’ Genovese food or so we were told.  Lou had pasta with tomato and chilli sauce and I had minestrone that was so thick with veg I was surprised the spoon didn’t stand up in it. Primi platti but still substantial. I followed with polpettoni as the ricotta and spinach pie had finished and Lou had salad. All very filling and eaten in a busy alleyway. Brill.

 

 

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G for Genoa, GPS and gin!

Another sunny drive from Arles after a much better breakfast buffet than the ibis budget in the same building! The coast road is a series of tunnels and viaducts with views of the sea and deep valleys, cluttered with those mysterious greenhouses, once past the Italian border.

The GPS had said our route choice was not possible but still took us to a tiny street and announced we had arrived at our destination. We clearly hadn’t!  Then followed a frustrating half hour while we tried various streets none of which ‘she’ recognised. Parking up I rang the hotel for advice. The road I was given as not pedestrianised was ‘unknown’ by the GPS. Finding a piazza that was, we parked up and then spotted on the screen the unknown road appearing nearby! Gross mots were uttered!

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Proceeding on foot we found the hotel and asked how to get the car to it!  Not easy, we would never have made it ourselves.

Once settled in, a room with a typical Italian view, we forgot our frustrations by doing some exploring.

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Being a port city there are similarities to Naples with the very tall buildings in the old town but the alleyways are narrower and glimpses into entrances reveal glossy interiors that contrast sharply with the graffitied facades. We strolled down to the dockside which we had driven along earlier cursing and gave ourselves better memories!

Wandering back through the alleys we found a piazza full of tables and decided to eat there later.

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There was a marked contrast as we walked back across the main piazza del Ferreira to find the hotel. Sumptuous buildings and pretty marble underfoot.

Later we took advantage of the aperitivo, a local custom, and ate well and cheaply.  On the way back we walked through the Palazzo Ducale, a magnificent building that nowadays is accessed by all and sundry. Its ancient owners must be positively spinning in their graves.

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Ateliers in Arles

A different route to Arles as, after two aller retours this year, we fancied a change. The GPS hiccuped in Aurillac which was annoying but once on the road towards the gorges du lot and the three es, entraygues, estaing and espalion, we bowled along in the sunshine and without much traffic. The gorges are rocky, forested and windy. I had a dyslexic moment when we passed a hydroelectric dam and, for me, the water was the ‘wrong’ side. Then I realised that we were travelling south whereas the Lot travels north at that point.

Montpellier was easy with no jams which was good as we were expecting some it being Friday afternoon.  Safely arrived in Arles, the styles ibis for a change but still no tea or coffee in the room, we did a quick turnaround for the walk to les ateliers for the Annie Leibowitz exhibition, part of Les Rencontres festival.  The old SNCF workshops had undergone some very adventurous restoration since we were there three years ago and included a very tall, very twisted structure whose purpose we couldn’t devine.

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The photos recalled our early years of marriage, very apposite this holiday, showing politicians and musicians from the 70s. Elton John looked such a baby, not to mention Keith Richards!

A wander around the beautiful centre ville and back to the hotel to change. Another walk back into town to eat at le geuele de loup, a restaurant we had fond memories of from last may.

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Scrumptious food again with interesting combinations of flavours.  And they remembered us from last time. Peacock is a rare name we were told. 🙂

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fifty years on….

On Saturday, 9th September 1967 we got married in my village church and left the next day from Victoria station to travel to Italy by train. (my fear of flying is longlived).  We went courtesy of Swan tours and were booked to stay in the Hotel du Lac at Bellagio on Lake Como.  My first foreign holiday since school trips to the South of France some years earlier.  Lou was an old hand at foreign travel as he regularly visited Switzerland to stay with his big sister in Geneva.  This friday we leave for Italy again.  Fifty years on.  This time by car (I still don’t fly) and we are planning to stay in some other cities before our sentimental visit to the same hotel in Bellagio.  I note it is still run by the same family.  Our golden wedding celebration.  Some couples do it surrounded by family and friends but that has never been our style and our preferred time for a summer break has always been around our anniversary and, since retirement, it has been possible.  The ruby wedding one saw us go by train to China via Russia and Mongolia.  That was before the financial ‘crise’ and was the culmination of many daydreams.  This is a nostalgic return to a beautiful place with lovely memories.  Looking at the old slides that have survived several house moves and one emigration we look ridiculously young and naively optimistic.

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Reading the scrapbook I made afterwards (paper and pen being the forerunner of the blog) I was reminded amongst other things of our fellow British holiday makers, all of a certain age, (ours now!) who sat at breakfast with their English marmalade and at dinner with their English mustard. Does their like exist anymore? Maybe. Perhaps we shall see…

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