Currently browsing: Travel


Friday 15 June

My career as a fare evader continued yesterday when we took the funicular railway up the side of the mountain to get the aviator’s view of Lake Como. We bought tickets at the base camp office and, as Michelle and I stood waiting in the boarding queue, a whole family ducked under the turnstile arms to take the ride for nothing. How disgusting, I thought, to do such a thing. I’d never stoop so low – literally. They ought to be taken away in a paddy wagon.

We eventually got to the top, walked about, ooohed ahhhed at the view, stopped and paid a handsome price for a drink and lined up to take the trip down again. But I’d lost my ticket. Did buy another one? Well, no. I got down on my hands and knees and crawled under the turnstile arm – because I had been shown how. It was not easy, mind you. My body is not suited to such an exercise and it took some time. Just as I was ponderously straightening up, there came a bellowing from the open ticket office window which, I discovered, was in full view of the turnstile. Sprung! I bellowed back that I couldn’t be up here in the first place if I hadn’t bought a ticket – which I’d now lost. After some high volume debate the ticket officer must have decided it was more trouble to arrest me than let the felony proceed.

This is now the second time I have risked jail in Italy for successful fare evasion. I must guard against over confidence, however. My luck will surely run out.

Pay but no play
Saturday 16 June

Como’s superb cathedral but nobody played the organ.

Hoping to repeat my organ experience in Venice, I visited Como’s wonderful cathedral where, in a whispered conversation with a curate, was told there was no casual or recital playing of the legendary organ, but it was used during mass. We duly attended mass at 5 pm where the only music was provided by a flat-singing soprano – as part of the service. Not one note escaped from the huge, ornate organ pipes set in in two banks either side of the nave. We had to sit through a mass in Italian (it might have been Latin), stand up and sit down when the crowd did, put some money into the velvet lined collection bucket – and leave organless.

In search of George
Sunday 17 June

There is a general reluctance among Como locals to identify exactly where George Clooney lives, although it is public knowledge the town is Laglio and the house is called the Villa Oleandra. He bought it in 2002 but because it needed renovation he bought the one next door to use while the work was being done. Sensible move.

It’s a pity George was hard to find because I wanted to see him to discuss beards. However, there is now a law that prevents more than three people from loitering outside his house – in the unlikely event they can find it. Apparently, he moves in during the summer, has a collection of rare motorbikes in his garage, hoons around in a speedboat and goes to local restaurants for a feed with Mrs Clooney and twin daughters.

We followed a rumour that he sometimes frequented one of the most famous five-star hotels in the world, the lakeside Villa d’este at Cernobbio. (Average price per night is A$2324). We took the ferry there with a plan to spend a fortune having a drink in the lounge and surely bump into George. When we arrived at the gate, looking like typically daggy tourists, the security guard pointed us in the opposite direction. Michelle politely thanked him and, from behind a tree, called the hotel on her mobile and requested, in her plumiest pommy accent, a reservation for lunch. They’d heard that one before. Nuh.

No drinks at the Villa d’este

Still not having had enough lake or George, we took a ride plus commentary on a venerated steam boat, hoping we might at least be able to wave to him from the water. The hour tour had some shortcomings because the commentator spoke firstly in Italian and then English, which meant we’d sail past the point of interest before we knew what it was – including George’s house. Another villa connected to George was the one used for shooting some movies he was in, including Oceans Eleven and Twelve. George-search aside, the boat we were on was a delight. Built in 1933 and restored just three years ago, the paddle steamer bore the unfortunate name Concordia (remember the Costa Concordia sinking?) but this one didn’t sink and, as far as I could see, had a sober captain. It was unbelievably wide – to accommodate the paddle wheels. It looked pregnant, as though it would soon give birth to six small rowboats. And its steam driven deafening horn sounded like a giant blowing his nose. But the ride was smooth, unperturbed and stately – something I couldn’t say for the rest of the shuddering ferries we’ve been in on Lake Como.

This Concordia didn’t sink.

Tuesday 19 Jan

Still more lake; this time by fast and stifling hydrofoil (“in the belly of the beast,” Michelle remarked) to Bellagio which sits right on the point where the legs of the inverted Y of the lake separate. It is compulsory to visit Bellagio if you come to Como. A big, stylish, lakeside town, it is especially steep once you leave the wharf-level street. The stone steps lead to more stone steps and you never get to the top. Along the way there are little shops selling useless but attractive made-in-Italy potable goods designed for huffing and puffing tourists. One enthusiastic retailer sized me up as a car nut and sprayed the just-released Maserati fragrance on my arm. I was rewarded with the seductive aroma of warm motor oil, leather, exhaust fumes and burning rubber. No, I lie. The smell was conventionally attractive and quite sexy, but I prefer my Jo Malone grapefruit. After that experience, we followed Michelle’s google maps to locate a recommended restaurant high up in the stone walls that form the Harry Potter-style streets. I was inspired to order perch, because of our bird-territory position and the fact that the fish came out of the very lake we were travelling on. It was served in small fried fillets, along with some sliced roast potato and spinach. In front of me sat the best dish I’ve tasted on the trip so far. I raved about it to the waiter who, it turned out, used to run a bottle shop in Dover Heights. I’d bought wine from him when I was first trying to convince Michelle’s family that I was worth inviting to dinner. He’s travelled all over and he came back to Italy because that’s where he thinks he belongs, but still rates Australia as the number one country in the world in which to live.

George Clooney's vila

George Clooney’s villa


11 JUNE 2018

It doesn’t get much more luxurious that this at a Mediterranean.

After pondering how we should spend our last day in Lerici before going to Lake Como, we decided to have a splurge and go to a beach club. Eco del Mare was rated ‘the best’ by our hotel and the weather forecast was for a hot day. After Michelle had spent some time negotiating the best Monday rate for the day we were dropped at the top of a fearsome cliff which would put Sydney’s Gap to shame. Ah, but for guests at this self-congratulatory hotel there was a lift – oddly only offering assistance for the middle of the climb. At the bottom was one of the strangest place I’d seen in a long time.

It was a hotel shouldered into the side of the cliff. It had six rooms, all looking out over the beach and limpid water. It hadn’t been open long and came with a romantic history of being the fanciful décor work of its female owner who scoured the world for all things beach. The public areas were festooned with coils of salty rope, torn nets, pieces of driftwood, and all manner of auld stuff washed up. The sand comprised grades of coarse grey gravel to pebbles to stones – all doing a more penetrating job on the soles of the feet than Dr Scholl sandals. While the locals walked through this stuff erect and unperturbed, I staggered from one stone pile to the next as though I had two broken legs.

The day rate covered the use of one medium umbrella with two muslin wings, two pieces of reclining furniture (choice of a flat canvas bed or bean bag or bean filled ground mattress), and a non-lockable storage box. I opted for the ground mattress but when I tested lying in it I couldn’t escape because wherever I rolled, the sides reared up, trapping me in a live burrow. Michelle and the beach captain had to haul me out. I switched to the bean bag with far greater success. For one day, sitting on the beach and using this unspectacular equipment, the cost was $180. Drinks, comprising mostly ice cubes, were $22 each. Staying in the hotel, in which you’re virtually trapped after sundown, costs around $750 per night.

The day failed to show any sun and the water was too bracing for us to swim in. It also rained for a while.

Jeez, we had a great day at the beach.


June 12  To Como

Unless you’re a serious, in form, weightlifter, European train travel with large, heavy suitcases is not recommended. Of course, once you’ve planned the route and pre-paid, it’s too late. Our journey from Lerici to Como was looking okay until we reached La Spezia train station where we had to tackle long stone ascending staircases because the lifts were being repaired. Were it not for kind and muscular fellow travellers giving us a haul-up, we’d still be there. There is a certain camaraderie among those who have chosen to lug. And not just in the matter of cases. In the lofty and magnificent Milan railway station, we had arrived too early to meet our driver (to Como) and took refuge in a pizza-and-pee-entitlement restaurant – except it lacked the pee entitlement. That obliged a journey downstairs where one euro was required to make a contribution to the city’s urine bank. Back in among the pizzas we came across a small American woman who’d had a couple of beers, needed relief, but didn’t have the necessary euro on hand. She was seriously assessing her options among the rubbish bins when Michelle funded her trip downstairs and was rewarded with a list of good places to eat and buy jewellery in Como.

Our Como hotel, called the Palace because it used to be one, looks across the road at Lake Como – one of the deepest in the world at 460 metres. Our room, (which we rejected at first because it was too small and then accepted it gratefully when offered microscopic alternatives) is in the centre of the hotel, on the first floor. Our balcony may have been used to wave to the grateful poor below in days gone by. As it was, we could only wave at the rain pelting down. The weather forecast was not encouraging, but because it has proven to be generally inaccurate in Italy, we’re hopeful.

Hotel toaster review

The Como Triple Knobber Cautionhot is unnecessarily complex.

The palace Hotel serves breakfast beneath massive chandeliers and overseen by equally massive faux medieval paintings of near naked men and women cavorting in the cloudy countryside. I would have expected a toaster of regal style in such grand surroundings, but placed in a corner, almost as an afterthought, I discovered the Como Triple Knobber Cautionhot, a modest machine overpowered by a sign warning of fire if other than sliced bread is inserted. But what’s a toast captain for, I have to ask? His basic training covers putting out toast fires. Anyway, the CTKC is fairly basic except for its three knobs which baffle many users into failing to produce toast at all. You can have too much technology in hotel toasters.

On Lake Como  June 14 2018

There is an old style, grinding ferry that goes right to the end of Lake Como and stops at 34 delightful lake towns on a-hop-on hop-off system. Trouble is, if you hop off you may have to wait hours to hop back on because the ferries are not frequent or reliable.  The best solution is to hop-on-and-stay-on until the end – which is Colico – where you can hop off until the ferry is cleaned and ready to go again. That gives you about half an hour to explore the town, gulp down a coffee and get on to visit the same towns on the way back. If you sit on the same side on the returning ferry you get a different view because you are facing the other way – if you get my meaning.

I must say that the scenery is spectacular with heavily wooded mountains plunging straight into the lake and houses built on impossible climbs. In the lofty distance the Alps stood, still wearing a shawl of late snow. We zigged and zagged across the lake for four hours to reach Colico, but the captain had squandered time and was running twenty minutes late. His crew did a rush cleaning job en route and told the returning passengers they had to stay on board because the service had to get back on schedule and would be leaving immediatamente! Off we growled again, but this time the captain, in his enthusiasm, ran early.

Passengers will tolerate a late ferry, but not an early departing one because it punishes the pious and the punctual. The captain faced enraged ticket holders waving their fists at the too early ferry diminishing in the distance. The captain’s superior, probably the Admiral of Como Ferries, must have called him about the growing angst because he then tried to slow down by docking at Argegno, doing a big loop around the lake, and docking again. This gave a strange feeling of déjà vu because we’d already seen the town on the way up and now twice on the way back. However, it seemed to solve the captain’s problem.




Idyllic Lerici – but a long hike down from the hotel to the action.

This was going to be the beach resort part of our trip. We took a car from Modena for a two-hour country drive to Lerici, supposedly a charming, quiet part of the Italian Riviera. Our hotel was advertised as close to the beach where, for a modest amount, we could hire umbrellas and sunbeds for some seaside indulgence. We understood the hotel had its own pool if we didn’t feel like getting sandy and salty.


The car dropped us at a pool-free hotel perched on a hillside with a wonderful view of distant harbour and beaches best accessed by hang glider. Before guests get angry about having to become mountain goats they are reassured that there is a shuttlebus on demand – as long as it is not in demand elsewhere. It will take us down a selection of beaches where, for up to $300 a day, we may recline shaded at a beach club. The alternative is to bake on the sand, or rocks, at no charge.

While Michelle unpacked I took the long goat trail down to the main square – which I have to say was delightful. But the return trip provided me with a cardiac workout I don’t look forward to repeating without oxygen.

Apart from many restaurants, which we will explore, there is a grey castle on the harbour headland and a main street spa that offers, among other services, the removal of hair from your buttocks or a total chocolate body massage. I wonder who eats the chocolate. I’m fearful but also curious.

One advantage this hotel has over all others I’ve stayed at is that it has a free mini bar. It is conservatively stocked with basic hard and soft drinks and is replenished every day. Thus, we won’t face that inevitable question at checkout time when the cashier leans across the marble reception desk, suddenly injects you with sodium pentothal, switches on the lie detector, looks you in the eye, and asks “anything from the mini-bar?”

Hotel toaster review

The hand clamp persists. It must be an Italian trait. In any case, here in our Lerici hotel I found a Clampa Minora with two basket clamps which do not like to give up their slice of bread when toasted. This is why there is an additional long handle set of tongs to make the separation. It takes some concentration, working all these metal tools in unison, which is why a part-time toast captain is on hand for assistance. Derek Breadchamber points out in one of his books that the Clampa Minora bakes the bread rather than toasts it and is not highly regarded for this reason.

Thursday 7 June

There is a ferry service which took us along the Cinque Terre coast today, calling in at five little towns where most of the commercial buildings huddle down near the water while the houses that are built further up on the impossibly steep hillsides defy logic. How do they get their groceries? There are thousands of steps just to get to a road. Also, how to they make a living? They can’t all be retired poets. These little towns seem to attract tourists and offer beaches for swimming in the Brunswick green waters of the Mediterranean. By our standards, the beaches are awful. If there is sand, it is putty coloured and coarse, but many of them have only stones or rocks to lie on, hence a thriving business in sun beds and umbrellas that cost more to hire than they do to buy. The catch is that you’d need to lug them to and from a ‘free’ beach and then probably be fined for clogging it up. We’ve been spoiled for beaches in Australia.

Pick a rock, lay out your towel and go for a swim. You’re at the beach!

We went down to the city square for pizzas tonight. I was pleased with mine, but Michelle hit a pizza low when she ordered a seafood, mitout cheese. The pizza looked okay on approach but when it was set down it was revealed as a collection of still-in-the-shell seafood strewn across the crust. The prawns, mussels and clams all sat there defying release from their baked-on, brittle shells. After long and unsuccessful surgery, in which the seafood odour began to hint at decomposition, we sent it back and chose something else. To the restaurant’s credit, a bottle limoncello was offered as a peace offering – which we accepted.

While waiting to return via the climbing bus to our hillside retreat, we witnessed the Lerici ambulance service at work. Somebody had taken ill in the bus shelter. The ambulance arrived with dramatic signage, sirens and blue flashing lights and loaded the stricken one into the back. But before driving away to hospital, the ambulance crew, done up in their orange flouros hung liberally with lifesaving equipment, proceeded to have an argument with bystanders and then with each other. It got louder and louder and lasted for about twenty minutes. The patient, who we could see lying inside, was ignored while the opposing teams waved arms and yelled at one another. The fluro team got into the ambulance, slammed the doors, turned on the siren, then all got out again to put the finishing touches to their summing up.



Modena Monday 4 June 2018

Modena is how I imagined a gracious European city should be after pausing in this form for hundreds of years. The streets are wide and treelined, with elegantly solid, high ceilinged buildings and mysteriously gardened mansions lining them.

When we went exploring Michelle got chucked out of the cathedral in the main square because the priesthood had determined that God doesn’t like the sight of female exposed shoulders – but in Modena he doesn’t mind old men’s knees, giving me a reprieve.

We bought a see-four-old-sights-for-the price-of-one ticket and then found that most of the sights had closed for lunch, which is also when Italian men visit their mistresses. The only attraction open was the 87-metre-high Ghirlandina Tower built in 1319 but, like many Italian towers, had taken on a bit of a lean. I have developed a liking for Italian towers especially those with lifts. I enquired at the tourist information centre about a round tower that greatly appealed to me but was told it was a chimney for a tobacco factory, and not ascendable.

I waited for the lift at the Ghirlandina – which didn’t come because there wasn’t one. It was the stone stairs or nothing. I remembered my days of tennis and other cardiac conditioning and set off. Each set had to the be the last – but wasn’t. Finally, gasping at the top, I hardly had the energy to take in the view. The prospect of having a giddy turn and the embarrassment of being lowered down in a sack on a rope encouraged me to return the way I’d come, via the stairs.

This weekend Modena hosted a European food festival; the main street closed off and lined with stalls offering unbelievable delicacies. One stall offered authentic balsamic vinegar in two bottle sizes – or so I thought. The stall holder poured an overly generous sample to try. I told him it tasted weird and that it was lousy vinegar. I asked him how old it was. When he said two years I, who now know all about balsamic vinegar, said it was ten years too young and he shouldn’t be selling it as balsamic vinegar. He replied that it wasn’t balsamic vinegar; it was walnut/chocolate liqueur with a deadly alcoholic content that just happened to be sold in the same designed bottle and looked identical to balsamic vinegar. I felt obliged to by a bottle and now I have to drink it before we leave Modena because if it gets loose in my case it could dissolve everything inside. Just sniffing it makes me unsteady on my feet.

I’m not a foodie like Michelle, but last night turned me into one. At a little, nothing-special restaurant I ordered chicken in balsamic vinegar and prosciutto on fried dough and went to heaven and back. Afterwards, nicely tipsy on the local Lambrusco, I topped it off with authentic elderflower gelato. Somehow, we walked back to our hotel.

All this eating has to lead to weight gain, one would imagine. When I went to put on a printed cotton shirt I’d bought at Zara in Naples I had trouble doing up the buttons. It wasn’t weight gain, but the laundry on the FAB had flame dried the shirt and it had shrunk. I was very disappointed because I loved the print. I still struggled into it. Then we found a Zara shop in Modena. “Buy it again,” Michelle suggested. I went to the checkout wearing the same printed shirt that I was buying. The sales girl had her hand on the phone to call security when I explained that the first one had shrunk. No, I was not looking for a replacement. It was the ship’s fault. What ship? It all started to sound ridiculous, not improved when I looked in the mirror and saw the shirt I was wearing was growing back to normal. The humidity was restoring it. I had to continue with the purchase because the suspicious cashier had already removed the security tag that automatically calls out the fire brigade if disturbed by an unauthorised person. Now I have two identical printed shirts, one of which is for sale.

We visited Luciano Pavarotti’s house – gracious, roomy, but not pretentious, sitting in idyllic green countryside outside Modena. Aided by an audio commentary, we were allowed to wander from room to room with no restrictions. Although he died in 2007 of pancreatic cancer, (he was 72) it felt as though he still lived there. We walked through his music room (see below), his bedroom (with the bed in which he had slept and died) his bathroom, his kitchen (where I took picture of his extra wide single slot toaster) and the many other rooms that he and his family used every day. I even managed to get a picture of Pavarotti’s cock which you’ll also see below.

After the house tour we sat in Pavarotti’s friendly garden and had drink while the Italian bees and other insects were busy getting ready for summer.

Monday 4 June 2018

Since we were in the land of the ridiculous sports car we went out to the Lamborghini factory and took the tour. Unlike Ferrari, small groups of gawkers are, for a hefty fee, escorted through the production lines. Although the company has been owned by Audi for 20 years, it has retained the art of the hand-build-to-order car. While Ferrari turns out about 8500 cars a year, Lamborghini only does a little over 2000 – at considerably higher prices than Ferrari. The factory is cleaner than a hospital and runs to strict schedules. Customisation is a feature of Lamborghini, but the more you exercise your imagination the longer you have to wait – in addition to the normal six to12 months. You’d expect that in paying stratospheric prices, Lambo customers would demand the finest leather upholstery and trim. But no, most choose Alcantara, a synthetic leather made in Italy. It is easier to clean and less liable to damage than real leather.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was a successful tractor manufacturer and indulged himself with a new Ferrari in 1963. He liked the car but hated the clutch and, being Italian, went off and told Enzo Ferrari how to fix the problem. Enzo, also typically, told Ferruccio to get lost and stick to making tractors. That was enough of a putdown for Ferruccio to start making cars in 1964. The superb works museum has examples of all the models since inception and I have to say that, while the later cars have seductive design appeal, some of the early ones are decidedly ugly. There is also a recently released SUV called a Urus, which you can snap up in Australia for a cool $466,000, drive away – to debtors’ prison.

And speaking of jaw dropping prices, among the Lambo theme shop’s many attractive products was a nice Lamborghini branded carbon fibre suitcase – for 13,000 euros. That’s around twenty grand in Australian dollars. For a suitcase! Ah, but in a crash with this suitcase you would escape with only minor cuts and bruises whereas those with fibreglass suitcases would be killed outright.

Michelle placed an order for the latest Lamborghini Huracan. She liked the matte orange finish and looks forward to moving out of Bellevue Hill to a small timber cottage in Yass.



Friday 1 June 2018

Something not to be missed in Bologna is this statue of a famous magician of the 18thcentury. Deceptivo Conjuroli’s best known illusion was to produce a head balancing pigeon from his apparently empty top hat.

Not more food

Believe it or not, we saddled up for another food tour before we’d recovered from the last one. There was method in our madness, however. Because we were trying to get from Bologna to Modena not on the train (too many cases to manage), we found a food tour that would pick us up in Bologna, take us on a challenging gastronomic journey, whiz us out to the Ferrari factory and drop us within an economically agreeable cab ride to Modena.

We joined an affable group of 14 chompers on a swanky Mercedes bus. The chompee, on this occasion, had a clear voice and very pleasant manner. She’d planned experiences in boutique production of parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar. Now all these products are available from the supermarket at competitive prices, but the chompee positively declared them fake – like news about Donald Trump. The genuine articles take time, are strictly quality controlled and are mostly in the hands of small family businesses that are dedicated to traditions and methods refined over generations. Consequently, what they offer tastes entirely different to the commercial stuff – and are priced accordingly.

At the parmesan cheese factory, we were told that the production of the cheese must begin within two hours of the cow being milked – which happens twice a day and produces about 25 litres of milk per cow. Because the cows are not religious or members of trade unions, they don’t take weekends off. Therefore, cheese making is continuous. The cows don’t wander around in paddocks like they do in Australia either, but live a quiet barn life and feed on the best quality echo-friendly hay. The cheese has to be aged, tested and approved before it can be sold as branded first quality. My favourite was 24 months old but some connoisseurs like them much older, with an eyebrow raising bite in the finish.

A tradition in this part of the world is that when you give birth to a daughter you fill at least five wooden barrels with raw balsamic vinegar as a gift to her. By the time she gets married the vinegar will have matured (it takes a minimum of 12 years) and will provide her own future family with what is regarded as medicine. Boni, the producer we visited, was run by a fourth -generation son who had stock of balsamic vinegar going back 150 years. You could buy a 100 ml bottle of this for 500 Euros – putting it on the same footing as rare wine. And like wine, vinegar comes from grape juice – in balsamic’s case, boiled for 12 hours.  Young Mr Boni said that the processes were so different that he would rather top himself than produce wine. We did a tasting of some old vinegar that was simply superb. It led us to buy a 100 ml bottle of 30-year-old balsamic for 60 euros – cheap if it cures the lingering cough we picked up on the FAB. We plan to take a teaspoon full each night and await developments – including accelerated beard growth. I hope Michelle doesn’t grow a beard.

All vinegared up, we went to the Ferrari factory in Maranello, just out of Modena. They won’t let the curious in to see the production line but there are plenty of other compensations. The factory employs about 3400 people and delivers 840 new cars a year – all made to order after a waiting period of one to two years. There is a test track next to the now expanding factory buildings and you can buy yourself a test drive accompanied by a works driver  (who I assume has an engine-off switch hidden under the dashboard) in a new Ferrari for a substantial outlay. Since I hadn’t brought my international drivers’ licence with me (I don’t actually have one) I was not allowed to drive one of these gorgeous machines, but for 100 euros a works  driver would undertake to scare the daylights out of me for fifteen minutes. I declined their kind offer and went to look over the museum instead, where iconic Ferrari

models were lined up in an awesome exhibition. One room was devoted to Ferrari race cars that had competed in every Formula One series since its inception and had won more races than any other make. The company founder, Enzo Ferrari, only made and sold sports cars to fund his racing – and that still seems to drive the company. Enzo was a cranky old bugger, with a short fuse and given to a good shout-off. He exercised his celebrity by refusing to visit other celebrities; they had to come to him. And they did.

While we associate red with Ferrari, its symbolic colour is actually yellow (see the prancing horse badge). It was incorrectly allocated red by the organisers of the first F1race and has stuck with it ever since.One of the sad moments was seeing the race car in which Michael Schumacher won his last F1. He was one of the greats.

If you have the money and the inclination, you can buy a superseded Ferrari race car, store it at the factory, where it is kept in excellent condition, and pop out to take it for a spin around the test track when the spirit moves you. I’ve added that to my bucket list – near the bottom.

If you are a common Ferrari employee you’re not permitted to order a new sports car. They are for external customers only – who have to wait anyway, poor things.  FI race drivers are allowed to buy a new Ferrari, but have to pay full rack rate.

Below: one guy in our group of chompers paid to take this convertible for a test drive and peed himself.


Hotel toaster review

You will notice that there is no picture of the Modena Best Western Hotel toaster. That’s because it doesn’t have one. The tall, always-smiling waiter told me the story at breakfast:

“We did have a toaster, but the guests kept leaving bread in it which set off the fire alarm many times. Then one day as I am peddling my bicycle to work, I see a toaster flying through the air. The owner of the hotel had lost his temper, grabbed it, and threw it out through the window.”

As Derek Breadchamber remarked in his definitive 2016 book Duties of a Successful Toast Captaina toaster is no better than the toast captain in charge of it. Toast smoke is regrettable, but fire is unforgiveable, and a careless toast captain should be sacked or at least busted down to dish pig.



29 May 2018

With Venice to return to normal after we leave tomorrow, we had a vaporetto day, in which we rocked and rolled our way around the Grand Canal and other waterways on the pubic water busses. These are long skinny craft with growling diesel engines that stop every hundred metres or so at designated vaporetto stations which are themselves afloat, with a rocking rhythm all of their own and not coordinated to the rocking rhythm of the vaporetto. Those getting on and off appear drunk; probably some of them are. In contrast to our FAB captain who loved to tie up so gently that you were never quite sure when the ship touched the wharf buffers, the vaporetto captains take delight in banging their boats into the stations when they make a stop. There are no rubber tyres to soften the blows, just the satisfying crunch of steel boat against wharf.

Our first port of call was Murano where the only thing of importance is glass – from tiny beads to huge rearing horses and every shape and colour in between. Every shop sells glass. There are glass factories and glass designers and glass blowers. I noticed some girls sitting outside a dimly lit shop with a sign ‘A Touch of Glass’. I don’t know that that was all about. Anyway, it all wears off pretty quickly, especially if, like me, you’re not crazy about glassware. We vaporettoed our way back and left again on a random trip in the opposite direction. This took us deep into canal land with wonderful buildings in that special ornate Venetian style. Because of the long twilight, we went down at dusk and back just as the canals transformed themselves into patterns of dancing, reflected light.

Wednesday May 30

We thought our suitcases were manageable until we caught a water taxi from the hotel to the train station. Suddenly they are twice as heavy and twice as big. Tour director Senorita Michelle planned that our Italian tour would avoid air travel. I had reservations about training it, but all that changed when we got on the fast train from Venice to Bologna. It was like business class in an aircraft, with a big seat, a waiter to serve lunch and as smooth as silk. So relaxed we became that we nearly missed getting off.

We booked in at a boutique hotel, the Orologio (sounds like a throat complaint). We were given a deluxe room – deluxe because it overlooks the olde worlde square, but anything but deluxe from a size point of view. If we had an oversize room in Venice, we paid it back here. Apart from the bed, the biggest piece of furniture in the room was the mini bar – which wasn’t working anyway. We couldn’t unpack because if we opened a case it would fill the available floor space. I went to open the wardrobe which turned out to be the bathroom. The room has other excitements too. If you turn off the lights, the air conditioner goes off as well, meaning that you either have to sleep with the lights on or run out of air in the dark. The solution is to open the little double doors at the end of the room (which is very close to the beginning of the room) to let in a combination of air and the sound of a badly played saxophone in the square.

Michelle is going to cast the dreaded Trip Advisor spell on the hotel, especially because the internet keeps dropping out. In order to escape from duo-confinement we took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of a city that specialises in colonnades. It is historically delightful, except that after we hopped on it rained, meaning that we dripped off.

Hotel toaster review

Hand held clamps seem to be a favourite in Italy. This model, the Milan Toast (red crest special limited release) has four hand clamps with nifty opposing mechanism enabling the insertion of the bread with one hand while opening the clamp with the other. Rookie users try to stuff the bread in without waking up to the nifty opposing mechanism. You then plunge the loaded clamp into the infernotron, dial up and wait.


This man had not realised that you have to set the infernotron dial before toasting will commence

Food tour de force it down

Michelle organised for us to go on a food tour of Bologna. We, along with 12 other chompers, met with the chompee at 10 am. She was a slightly built local, and came equipped with an erectile microphone, a black plastic speaker slung below her waist and Kermit the Frog on a pole. The amplification system didn’t really work, and she spoke very softly anyway, thus I missed much of the commentary. She gave the impression of a personality on a children’s television show with the volume tuned off. However, we set off for what turned out to be an enlightening tour of the city, with the emphasis on food. The tour was better value than we’d anticipated. It came endowed with no less than five stops in which the chompers were fed local fare. We should not have had breakfast. We began with chocolate and were told that it made its debut in Bologna in 1833 with the arrival of the first machine to monster the cocoa bean into submission. Both the King of England and the Pope declared themselves partial and stayed in Bologna for six months becoming chocoholics. Then came a sit-down meal with sausage, cheese and wine – which we thought was lunch but were told after we’d pigged out that lunch was our next stop. That comprised pasta and more wine. The chompers were showing signs of eaters’ fatigue at this stage, but we had yet to get through cakes at the bakery and then gelato – another invention of Bologna in 1927. Along the way we passed buildings of historical importance, and kilometres of colonnades, which included the world’s oldest wine bar which had been plonking along since1465.