October 25, 2005

Coffee, cake & newspapers

The rain let up today. I went for a walk along Byres Rd this morning ostensibly in search of a good coffee and a read of the paper. One of the best coffee’s I’ve found in the West End is at Cafe La Padella on Woodlands Road, but they don’t supply the dailies and I don’t want to have to buy the newspaper everyday… So today, I went off in search of somewhere new to try. Actually it was quite difficult, apart from all the chains like Starbucks, Beanscene, Nero etc, there wasn’t much choice in cafes if you wanted BOTH decent coffee and supplied newspapers. In the end, after spending hours stopping by all the charity stores and shopping for toys for Milenes kids, I gave up and headed to an old favourite on Dumbarton Rd, Tribeca. I pulled up a stool, ordered an espresso and chatted to my mate who just happened to be in there waiting for the Tattoo studio to open up across the road.

It’s amazing what a little bit of sunshine will do for your mood. 2 coffees, 1 sudoko and 3 papers later I headed home just in time to beat the rain…

Now all cuddled up, the house smells of hot plums and sugar… I just baked the most scrumptious looking, sweet smelling cake – hopefully it tastes as good as it looks!

filles at 4:36 pm

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October 24, 2005

Memories

Our fantastic trip to fantastic Italy is fading fast. It’s been raining here pretty well since we got back. It was hillwalking Saturday last weekend, and we spent the day in Moffat, in the rain, trudging up hills. I say hills with an ‘s’ because no sooner had we got to the top of one, we went down the other side then embarked on another. I don’t remember ever feeling so cold and miserable. The gin & tonic (or two) at the pub at the end of the day and of course the terrific company, were the only redeeming features, and the blister on my right heel is my only memory…

So, Italy. It was fantastic. Along with the excursions I’ve already recounted, we had plenty more memorable days, one in Ravelo, one hillwalking, another swimming and lazing about by the sea, and another couple of days at the end of our trip in the fantastically crazy city of Naples. But the best part was the people. Nicolas and Leonardo at Villa S. Michele. Sally and Gordon from Leeds who relieved me of a second day hillwalking with Michelle. Luigi from the bar in the square. And most importantly Bruno, and his friend Pascal, who entertained us, answered our never-ending questions and who were a wealth of knowledge on everything, particularly food and wine. We met them at Le Palme on the first night, along with three fantastically young and open-minded Canadian girls, Nyasha, Jessica and Shay who were on a whirlwind trip around Europe. Every night late, we would meet up with them all at Le Palme for wine, cheese, pizza and laughter until the early hours of the morning, and every second night we dined with Bruno and had the most interesting discussions on life, death and the universe. It was a real treat. Amongst many other talents and occupations, Bruno runs a B&B in Atrani called ‘A Room with a View‘ and has put together the best information site about the Amalfi Coast that’s available on the net. Use it. Call him. Stay there. You’ll have a ball.


Bruno

As for the girls, they’re somewhere in Portugal right now on their way to Morocco. All from Saskatchewan, they arrived in Atrani after spending 10 days travelling through Europe in the rain ready to settle down for a couple of days, relax and enjoy some sunshine. Thankfully the weather co-operated and at the end of each day – for three days running, they would sit down and decide that they would stay ‘just one more day’ in the laid-back, sunshine filled world of Atrani.


The Girls – unfortunately I don’t have a decent photo, this wasn’t even supposed to have been taken – I was just fooling about..

The cast of characters we met this trip were truly special, and I have no doubt we will meet again. Each and every one of them made our trip that much more memorable.

filles at 5:58 pm

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October 21, 2005

It’s all just becoming ridiculous!

I just love this post. So, so, so true….

filles at 12:49 pm

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Our trip with the masses…

Another day trip we took was to Vesuvius and Pompeii. Nicolas at Villa s. Michele told us he would arrange everything, we would just wait outside at 8am and someone would pick us up. It could have gone either way, we had no idea what we were waiting for, a bus, a taxi, a friend of his on his day off? who knew… we knew enough to trust him we’d get there, that’s about it, the rest we could figure out for ourselves.

As it happened it was the full-on package holiday type tour bus. It screeched to a halt in the bend outside our villa – big lettering down the side stating ‘www.sunland.it’. With a collective groan we had to scramble on and take the last two seats available on the backseat of the bus. Now in all our travels, we’ve never done this before – taken an organised tour, on a bus, with 40 odd others and a guide. If a tour is necessary, and sometimes it is for accessibility, we generally try and find a small outfit – something that doesn’t scream ‘sheep!’. So here we were, on a bus, filled with Americans a few Germans and thankfully some Aussies, and a tour guide called Lorenzo. Lorenzo started his spiel when we got on, how the day would run, where we were going, at what time, what we were eating and how long we had to eat it, what we would see, what we would think and what we would feel – because he knew…. he’d been taking groups like ours for the last 30 years…

Another collective groan. This time the Aussies on the backseat joined in.

I have to say it was a nightmare, the herding of people here and then there, but we survived it and not only that, we managed to visit both Vesuvius and Pompeii with very little effort on our part. No scheduling required, no decisions to be made, no extras to pay for. That has to be worth something, especially in Italy.

First stop was a big tourist joint ostensibly a toilet stop, but was in fact where artisans make cameos. You could watch them, have a brief tour on how they’re made, and of course part with your money and buy one. I haven’t thought of cameos for years, I seem to recall my nana having one on a brooch or chain and I remember dismissing them as for old people. In fact they are very beautiful, highly intricate and take someone very talented to complete one. They are also very very expensive. Michelle missed the tour, the explanation and the shop, she was busy talking business on her mobile…

We then piled back on the bus, Lorenzo told us everything he knew about cameos, and then started on Vesuvius, the history, the folklore and the facts – although I’m not sure all of them can be validated… As the bus made it’s way up to the top of Vesuvius you had to ask yourself why people would choose to live so close to an active volcano? It’s not extinct, everyone is sure it will erupt again and probably reasonably soon, it’s not like the locals haven’t seen it before, the last eruption was in 1944 and it levelled the suburbs at the foot of the mountain, but still they live there. Insurance must be pricey.


Michelle racing up the path with the smog of Naples in the background

The bus dropped us off at the car park around 1000 metres high, then there is a short trail of about 860 metres long that takes you up to the highest point of Vesuvius looking deep into the 1944 crater at 1281 metres. There were all sorts of people making the walk, some in sandals, I even saw one woman in high heels – not to be recommended I’d say, the trail is dust and lava gravel and has an average slope of 14% – you’re given a walking stick to save your knees on the way down. It was impressive, you could smell sulphur and see wisps of smoke escaping and unbelievably there was a shop at the top selling souvenirs!


the crater

Next stop was a production line meal. The food was actually very good, a salad, a pizza and a jug of wine, and they had us in and out within about 35 minutes. Amazing.


Vesuvius in the background

And then Pompeii. I’ve heard about Pompeii for years, studied it at school, seen BBC documentaries about it, and even just recently read the novel titled Pompeii by Robert Harris (which is really very good, by the way) but nothing could prepare me for the site itself. It’s a city. A huge city and it gets bigger all the time, the more exploration they do. Sometimes when you visit a site that has become a big tourist stop you wonder where all the entrance fee money goes to, but here you see it. You see the work they are doing all around you. It’s so amazing. Lorenzo led us around, dodging other groups, giving us bits of info, bits of history and bits of heresy, but he was more like a noise in the background. The ruins themselves are so impressive you don’t need to hear all about them, every sight you see screams achievement, life, and history. Here in AD79 people lived and walked these streets and now almost 2000 years later, thanks to the eruption of Vesuvius 5 miles away which coated the city in ash, we can see it. Really fantastic. If I go back, I would go with a good guidebook and a picnic lunch and wander about the city as the people who lived in it probably did. For me, definitely a highlight.


street after street of Pompeii

Back on the bus the trip home was significant only for our discussions with the other passengers. A few Australians making their travel plans for the next day, they were leaving for Florence by train, another couple off to France and some more on their way to Capri. The journey was quick and noneventful until about 2 miles away from our villa. The bus stopped, we didn’t notice for a couple of minutes, then looked up ahead and facing us, about 1 foot away was another tour bus – front window to front window. There was nowhere to go, reverse and we would go backwards over the tiny stone wall that separated us from a 200 metre drop into the sea, forwards and we’d plough straight into the bus.


our bus passing ordeal

It took about 20 minutes but eventually we got past. The bus was so close we could see the sweat on the drivers face as they passed us, and there was one useful (or crazy) man who climbed up the side of the bus and hung off his front mirror to assist them around the bend.

Then we were back in the relative peace and luxury of Villa s. Michele. It was a good day, but if you can manage the trip without 45 other sheep it could be even better.

See some more pictures here

filles at 12:17 pm

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October 20, 2005

Capri

So one morning, after not enough sleep, we decide to go to Capri to see the Grotta Azzurra. We dashed out barely making the 8.50am ferry from Amalfi. Armed with water, cameras and hangovers we made it onto the boat but had to stand out the back as there were no seats left. The coastline was magnificent, lots of tiny villages on the cliffs and a few little beaches between, we headed out to Capri via Positano. Michelle had a map of the coastline, but in her state, she was struggling to make out landmarks. Enter suave Italian seaman. He spoke no French, no English, but he insisted on giving all the history of the area, pointing out landmarks and locating them on the map for Michelle. It was delightful to watch. Two of them, heads together pointing and making gestures in the air trying to communicate. I think he was quite taken with her. He even lent her his own personal map of Capri of which we had to return to him on the return journey… in exchange she gave him a two kisses and a wave as she disembarked!

Capri port
Arriving into Capri

When you arrive into the harbour in Capri, there are plenty of tourists, plenty of boats, plenty of salesmen, and locals all trying to get what they want, without, as far as I could see, any communication taking place. The big thing is the Grotta Azzurra. In fact it’s what we came to see, you take a boat to the entrance, you transfer to a rowing boat to enter the grotto, you paddle about for a few minutes then you squeeze out again, transfer back to the waiting boat and they take you for a cruise around the island to make you feel as though you’re getting your moneys worth. As it happened, the Grotto was closed due to high seas. We found out by chance, but the boat touts were not letting on. Tourists were still buying tickets, still boarding boats for the Grotto, only I suppose to be disappointed when they are far out to sea and their money has long since been pocketed. The lady at the tourist office confirmed the news after calling around, but she also told us that we should probably go up to Anacapri and see if the tourist office up there also agreed that the Grotto was closed. We didn’t quite understand why, but we went anyway. Sure enough, they agreed.

The bus to Anacapri is tiny, but it fits in more people than a regular bus ever would. The driver just keeps yelling ‘Move to the back’ or something similar and you get packed in closer and closer. In hindsight it’s not such a bad idea, it stops you from being able to turn around and peer out of the windows…. you wouldn’t want to do that, you’d be terrified, the roads are narrow, on the edge of cliffs with sheer drops to the sea around each bend.

Cliff we walked
The cliff we walked along

Anacapri was quaint and again, full of tourists. We found a pizzeria, had some great pasta followed by pizza and a jug of wine and started to feel all right again. That’s when I was talked into doing the return to Capri village from Anacapri on foot… down the same terrifying road we had just travelled by bus. Of course it would be fine, of course it wouldn’t be far, of course everyone does it – I should have known better.

View from the road
The view over the port and Capri village from the road

I composed my will on the way down, and suffice to say Michelle was getting nothing. Buses tried to pass alongside of us, tractors, mopeds, cars all came hurtling along the road from both directions one after another, and then all together, it was like one very long game of chicken that kept replaying itself with different players over and over again, with us caught pinned up to the stone wall overlooking nothing and a very long way down… We made it. Eventually. It’s not a walk I’d recommend. Surely you can find a nice quiet road to walk along, maybe to a beach or through the bush, anything except the major highway between two hilltop villages.

road from Anacapri
Nothing like a hairpin bend

A beer in Capri to recover, we took the funicular back down to the port just in time to meet the 4.25pm ferry and Michelle’s Italian for our trip home….

It was disappointing to have missed the grotto but the day was lovely anyway. Michelle had fond memories of Capri from a trip she had done years before with Pierre-Paul, but after spending a few days on the Amalfi Coast the island of Capri is just not as beautiful as where we were staying. I can imagine if you stayed on the island over-night or for a couple of days it could be lovely as the sun sets and the day-trippers disappear – it would probably revert to a nice, peaceful, beautiful island worthy of praise.

But standing up next to Atrani, it just didn’t compare.

filles at 1:03 am

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October 19, 2005

lost my draft

Problem with the server, I’ve lost my posting on Capri…
I’m off to the Home Show at the SECC shortly, so I’ll rewrite tomorrow, sorry about that!

filles at 4:09 pm

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October 18, 2005

sunny Italy

We really had a great week. I don’t know where to start it was all so memorable….

We arrived last Saturday night, it was pouring with rain through our entire transfer from Naples to the Villa San Michele on the Amalfi Coast, Castiglione di Ravello actually. Because we arrived late the hotel had finished serving dinner, but they did give us a recommendation for a restaurant about 500 yards down the road in Atrani. The restaurant was Le Palme, and it became so central to our stay we ended up eating there every other night – the food, the staff and the regular clientele were all fabulous.

Thankfully the only rain we saw was that first evening, and from then on sunshine was the order for each day. It was such a pleasure to get some sun, I even went swimming in the big blue sea, 185 steps down from our room…

Castiglione itself is not much of a village, there is a sprinkling of shops and a bar at the intersection of the steep winding road that leads to Ravello, a lovely beach down a few hundred uneven stairs and a couple of villas on the cliff. The location however is fantastic. About 500 yards north along the tiny cliffside road is the gorgeous sleepy village of Atrani and then a kilometre futher is the buzzing hive of Amalfi. To the south about 4kms away are the twin villages of Minori and Maiori. The location was perfect. Tourists appeared in great numbers everywhere it seemed except Atrani and Castiglione. Perfect. The next time we go, now that we’ve visited all the ‘expected’ sites we’d be more than happy to just laze about alternating between the beach, a cafe in Atrani and a hike now and then from Atrani to any number of hillside villages along the well worn mule tracks.

Since I had never been south of Rome before, there were a few ‘must sees’ on my list that meant we had to get up and out and couldn’t completely slide into the slower rhythm that is so common down here. It was tough going at times, eating dinner at 10pm, socialising ’till 2am, then up between 8 and 9 to start eating again… it’s not hard to understand how Michelle and I gained 5lbs each in 9 days! The food was amazing. We ate fresh seafood everyday, coupled with gorgeous tasty vegetables, creamy pastas and some great local wines. Heaven.

to be continued….

filles at 4:10 pm

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October 17, 2005

we’re back

Fantastic trip, great people, gorgeous scenery, mouth-watering food, lots of sunshine and just all-round perfect holiday. Sifting through thousands of photos, not finished yet, but here is a start

filles at 12:23 pm

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October 7, 2005

Italy

The current forecast over the next few days while we are in Ravello goes something like this:
Thunderstorm. Rain. Heavy rain. Few showers. Light rain. Chance of showers. Cloudy. Possible showers. Cloudy. Abundant sunshine.

And wouldn’t you know it. We return to grey, rainy Glasgow on guess which day?

Yep, the ABUNDANT SUNSHINE day…

filles at 1:37 pm

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October 5, 2005

Music Issue 2

So much for doing this weekly, or even monthly!

I just wanted to tell you about a couple of the new bands that are out there that appear to be trying to be the NEXT Franz Ferdinand… bands such as Bloc Party, the Bravery, the Killers and Kasabian. It’s not that they sound like or even look anything like FF just that the press over here are building each of them up as though they were going to follow the same meteoric rise as the Glasgow group have managed over the past few years… with not a lot to backup the hype.

Personally I think listening to Bloc Party is like listening to The Cure, and if you’re our age and heard The Cure the first time around, then it’s just weird and not a little flattering. The Bravery make a very good attempt at a New Order copy. But the best by far is Kasabian, they deserve a listen or two or three. I tend to think they’re much better than Franz Ferdinand, the music is much more creative, they seem to explore more and it makes for a far more diverse sound and collection of tunes. Definitely not just a band making ‘pop’ for the sake of it…

Another deserved mention goes to Arcade Fire. I heard ‘Rebellion’ on the radio on our drive home from Skye last month and with some pressure, went and bought the CD just to discover that the whole world seems to already know about them, Claire saw them live last summer in Paris and HRH David Bowie doesn’t do a concert without them! It’s not surprising. They’re very good. Tell me Montrealais, are they the next Bran Van 2000?

Lastly just a mention to Sigur Ros and their new CD Takk. Everyone who is tired of hearing Bjork but who want to continue to experience the Icelandic atmospheric techno music – this is the best thing that is coming out of Iceland at the moment!

That’s it. Sorry for the delay, sorry for the brevity, hopefully I’ll do it again soon, but please let me know if you come across anything fantastic you think I should listen to.

filles at 4:12 pm

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October 4, 2005

The subway

I came across some publicity for the subway yesterday. If you ever wondered how big Glasgow is, this might be of some interest…

Glasgow’s Subway (the Clockwork Orange):
Mon-Sat: First trains leave St Enoch station at 6.35am, last trains leave at 11.10pm
Sun: First trains leave St Enoch station at 10.59am, last train leaves at 5.39pm
During peak times there is a Subway train every four minutes calling at each of the 15 stations.

I mean I knew that the subway was small. The trains have only three carriages, and there is only one route, which is made to look like two as the trains run both clockwise and anti-clockwise around the same circle. But, I still can’t believe it. It could be why we never see anyone on the streets on a Sunday before midday…. it’s not the hangover from the big night out Saturday as we suspected, it’s just that there is no public transport.

Should have known…

filles at 10:26 am

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October 2, 2005

Honeybuns

I had a Honeybuns Milk Chocolate Brownie the other day with a coffee at Cherrybeans in Partick. It was delicious, and to top it off the packaging had this very succinct warning:
“This cake is an indulgent treat. If you eat more calories than you burn, you WILL gain weight.”

Very apt on a brownie wrapper, no?

N.B. Honeybuns is a small local company from Dorset that bakes goodies from scratch, by hand, with no mass production or chemicals or nasty ingredients. Look out for their products. I can vouch that they are really very good…

filles at 4:27 pm

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October 1, 2005

Fiddling about

It’s a gorgeous sunny day in Glasgow. I love Saturdays when we have no major plans. We went to the farmers markets at Queens Park first thing this morning and picked up enough goodies to cover the coming weeks entertainment, which includes a dinner party for Mad’s birthday and a visit from Andy on Thursday evening…

Next we headed off to Dennistoun to visit a bakery come cafe that I’ve been meaning to visit since it first opened about 2 years ago… it’s called Tapa and it’s where we had an amazing stuffed foccacio and two flat whites, just like at home. The place is tiny, but the smells are amazing, the staff friendly and the food is scrumptious.

On our way home we were passing Glasgow Cathedral and St Mungos Museum of Religious Life. Both places Michelle is yet to visit. We stopped and went in to visit the photographic exhibition called ‘Women and War’ by Jenny Mathews. The images were beautiful, sad and extremely powerful, you can see a sample here.

I’m home now, Michelle is at the gym, and I’ve been fiddling about on the web. You know how it is, I can lose entire days jumping from one link to the next and today I’ve come across some real doozies! Check these out…
The Housewives Tarot, and
The Fat Dollmaker
Hours and hours of free entertainment!

I’ll leave you to it. Michelle has just called so I’m off to meet her for a pint in the pub. Since she’s just trained she should feel no guilt drinking beer in the afternoon, and since I played netball last night (yep! new team, new pain, new blisters!) I can scrape by with no guilt too – at least for the first pint!

Have a good weekend.

filles at 5:44 pm

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