Friday, August 12, 2011

"Breaking up is hard to do..."

A "Dear John letter" is a letter written to tell someone their relationship is over, usually because the composser has found another lover. They are often written out of an inability or unwillingness to inform the subject face to face. It pains me to do it, but, this is my "Dear John Letter" to Italy, (only I have not found another lover, just another country)

Dearest John, I mean Dearest Italy,

I know this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done. Writing like this. But, it’s the only way I have left. I am constantly surrounded by you, looking into your food, wine and culture, my mind goes blank, my thoughts jumble, and I am left with nothing for you but tears.

Being with you has been wonderful. Being with you has taught me so much. And there is so much that I am grateful for, so much that I will cherish well into my declining years.

But the time has come to say good-bye.  We both knew that this would not last forever.

We were simply not meant to be, my love.

You have your ways, I have mine, and nothing in the middle seems to make sense, particularly driving habits.  So many things still baffle me about you.

I love you, still. But the carbohydrate intake that lies beneath my stomach lining, has become more than I can endure. More than anyone should have to. For me, and for you. We are too good to settle for something that will never be.

I wish for you, all the things you dream of. All the things you need, such as more patience while queing and a better understanding of customer service.

I wish for you, a happiness that will endure.

Good-bye Italy my love, you will never be forgotton.
"Io vi amo e vi ringrazio per i ricordi."


Gonzos Abroad

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Love and Loathing

Love and Loathing. I have discovered that it is actually possible to feel these two polar emotions at the same time.  As I think about leaving Italy, I am starting to reflect upon what I love and loath about this unique country.

  • Everything is ancient
  • LOVE the history, architecture, art, food; Italians respect their past and make an effort to cultivate others of their treasures
  • LOATH the hole in the ground toilets and the resistance to change for the better
  • The clothing tags are longer than the garments themselves
  • LOVE that washing directions are in several languages, feels extremely 'European'
  • LOATH forgetting to chop the tags off and feeling like I am shoplifting A4 sized notepads under my shirt or dress
  • Disregard for road rules
  • LOVE the fact that you arrive faster due to parking where you want, and not stopping when you have to
  • LOATH the fact that drivers do not stop when they have to, (stop signs, red lights or pedestrian crossings), and they park where they want, (footpath, middle of the road, double/triple park; as long as the hazard lights are on, "we are all good")
  • Ignorance of personal space
  • LOVE the innocence of people picking up my children for a cuddle and taking them to show their friends (I know none of these people)
  • LOATH my confusion between the two words friendliness and abduction
  • Random waiter in Florence that insisted we take a picture of him???
  • Food
  • LOVE it all, delicious, and you are EXPECTED to order first and second courses
  • LOATH the amount of carbohydrates
  • Coffee
  • LOVE that it can cost 80c for a coffee, and a coffee to go is at a bar, served within the minute and you can double park to get it
  • LOATH that you do not 'meet' for coffee, or it would be a 1 min 30 second outing, and a really quick conversation
  • Wine
  • LOVE that it is sooooo cheap and yummy
  • LOATH the looks we receive from fellow diners when we order our litre of wine with meals
  • Shopping
  • LOVE that twice a year EVERYTHING goes on sale from 50 % to 70% off
  • LOATH that everything is so expensive otherwise and nobody told me not to shop until July or January
  • Children
  • LOVE that people you slightly know, eg work colleagues, gym workers, shop assistants all request "meetings" with your children when they find out you have them
  • LOATH.... seriously, this a little creepy
  • Language
  • LOVE the sound of it; it really is a lovely language even if I do not understand it
  • LOATH that I do not understand it and am paranoid that I am being called silly French woman (I know, majority think I am French, bizarre)
  • Customer Service
  • LOVE that most of the smaller retail shops will greet you with an immediate "buongiorno", usually hollered from the opposite end on the store
  • LOATH the come down after the enthusiastic greeting. You will now be ignored, even while purchasing something, you take second place to phone calls from Nonna or a review of a co-workers choice of nail polish colour
  • Fashion
  • LOVE the quality, availability and application of high fashion.  A visit to the local post box appears to be an occasion, you would only leave the house (apartment) in your "Sunday Bests".
  • LOATH that imitations of the high fashion is sold on every corner displayed on a sheet or cardboard box.  Also loath that it is not socially acceptable to go to the local post box in my pyjama's (even if accessorised with a nice pair of kitten heels and a pair of over sized sunglasses).  Most are associated with Barbie in Milan, full of plastic and the face expression does not change much.
  • Perception of necessity
  • LOVE that on every corner there stands a church, (not a pub) that is older than the country that I was born.  Not often I passed a church without poking my head inside to see if there were fresco's, an organ, or any holy water in the font.
  • LOATH the development of my conscience in my time in Italy.  The more churches I visited, the more I felt it disrespectful to take photos in this place of worship, but I have been torn, as I feel that this is the haven for the worlds best art.  Also loath my children's discovery of echo echo echo in these tranquil places of worship.
  • Hand language
  • LOVE the enthusiasm and expression of emotions. Speaking simultaneously with hands and mouth is a given for young and old, (see hubby, it IS possible to do more than one thing at a time)
  • LOATH that arm flapping is a language in itself entirely.  A conversation can also be had with the hands and no words; yet another form of communication to be learnt.  (The only hand language I understood up until now was the middle finger for anger and rub your belly if you are hungry.... apparently there are more than 2 in the hand language index)
  • Italy
  • LOVE it entirely
  • Milan's Duomo
  • LOATH that it is time to leave

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vercelli; amble, amble, amble

We managed to find another day trip destination under the one hour travel limit so here we come Vercelli! Vercelli is located between Milan and Turin close to the River Po and is an important cultivator of rice, (largest in Italy), so our view approaching this town was of rice fields as far as the eye could see.  According to many historians, the city was first founded around the year 600 BC, (long, long ago), and was one of the oldest urban cities in this part of the country.

There are said to be several ruins scattered around the city which date back to the Roman times like the amphitheater, the hippodrome, sarcophagi and several other inscriptions quite a lot of which are Christian.  We wandered the historic city, but managed to find none, I even got lost and failed at finding the information centre after following the signs.  Finding it a little difficult to further convince my husband of my mental GPS, we decided our day would be best unrehearsed, and we ambled aimlessly thru the streets instead.

Piazza Cavour and Tower dell' Angello

There were quite a few towers

The cathedral of Vercelli is the most important religious center in the city. The cathedral was built centuries ago, was remodeled and changed several times over the years, especially once in the 9th and once in the 16th century. The cathedral is ornately designed and has several very beautiful paintings made by local artists. There is also a library in the cathedral that has several important ancient manuscripts including the Laws of the Lombards from the 8th century.  The main cathedral is usually easy to find, you look up.  There is always a visible dome that screams "I am the centre of attention".  So amble, amble, amble; only to find the entire building under construction and definitely no portal.  So after walking the circumference on the building, we find a museum, that is open for another 3 minutes before three hour lunch break.  Gather we will not be going in there either?  Amble, amble, amble.

This was our view under construction

This is what we should of seen

The signature local dish of the city is a dish called panissa which is made with rice and beans. Probably should of tried a rice dish, but by the time we sat down at a restaurant, both of the children were both asleep in the pram.  I got flustered, in all honesty, it was more of a panic.  The children NEVER sleep simultaneously during meals, this is a rare occassion.  Goodness me, could this be like a date with my husband???  Should I apply more lip balm and shake out my hair? We ordered a seafood plate and some wine as fast and quietly as possible and relished in the fact that there were no princess toys being launched across the table by a flicking fork.  Just between you and me I was busting to go to the toilet, but I thought crying out "pee pee" while holding my crutch would of spoilt the date atmosphere.  It was a lovely lunch, just as we finished the food and the wine, the children awoke and so we were obliged to order more food, (and wine).  Now what... amble, amble, amble.

The historic center of the town has many narrow pedestrian streets that are lined with small shops that sell unique locally made items, clothes and trinkets. We took advantage of the good number of places for shopping, and managed to buy anniversary and birthday presents for each other.  As we were leaving the historic centre, we found the worlds largest pot plant and made our way to one of the best playgrounds we have taken the children to in Italy. The numerous slides, swings, climbing frames, flying fox, soccer field and skate park, kept us at play until hubby started levitating as the mosquitos were carrying him away.  Another fabulous day, but sadly no doubt, our last day trip out of Milan.
World's largest pot plant, (or smallest child)?

No I have not turned so European that I am walking around naked, it is a sleeveless top

Great park
IF - Interesting Fact
In 1228 the first puplicly-funded university in the world was set up here and still exists today.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Front entrance to Villa Reale
The "Villa Reale" is composed of neoclassic style buildings; it was built in 1777-80 thanks to the archduke Ferdinand of Austria from the project of Giovanni Piermarini. Today it hosts the Civic gallery of art and the historical Museum with cloths of the XVII century and works of the XIX century.  It is 'said' to be open 7 days a week, but who ever said that is a big fat liar, or I am just becoming extremely simple in my old age, and obviously can not comprehend timetables or tourist brochures.  Firstly the entrance is from the road, there is no parking from the road, so we drive to the car park for Monza park and follow the signs.  We still can not seem to make it to the front entrace so we walk the entire circumference of the palace to make it to the front.  We stopped a man aged in his 60s dressed in lycra for directions to the entrance.  (To clarify, lycra seemed a bizarre choice as he was not pushing a bicyle, nor was he carrying a getto blaster and wearing leg warmers. But seemed friendly enough.)  I  even saw people out on the back steps of the palace taking photos, the thought crossed my mind, "Let's just knick in the back door"; but decorum over ruled and we looked for the front access.  Which was closed.  Ghost town.  No body around.  Strangely enough there was an open air theatre set up in the front yard.  I sort of felt like it was a suprise party I was not invited to, "Don't come out yet... she may see us!" So I waited at the front for a while, took a few photos for evidence just in case, then decided the palace was not meant to be. 

Nice back drop for a movie

Rear view of Villa Reale

So we decided to head to Monza Park for a picnic.  The park of Monza is located right behind the Villa Reale, and claims to be the biggest in Europe. It covers an area of 800 hectares, surrounded by a wall of 12 kms in length.  It was created in 1806 and later enlarged, originally starting as the park belonging to the "Villa Reale" and then becoming a much larger area which includes, apart from the "Villa Reale", the famous racing circuit (the Formula 1 track fits easily in it and can only be reached after walking for an hour or so), the horse racing course of Mirabello, two golf courses, a polo field and a swimming pool.  Not being to crash hot with directions, we actually parked in Monza Park and walked back into Villa Realle for our picnic.  Oh well.  It had a lot of grass, how was I to know that the big concrete barrier was a dividing wall?  We found some grass with the backdrop of a mini castle which is actually a cafe,  and decided to play and picnic.  Bocce, running up and down hills, eating, drinking, rolling down hills, being pulled down hills, reading books on a rug, and 'becoming one with bees'; finally halted by crutch grab and "pee pee" call.  So rush to the nearest toilet found us near the bike hire station.... Hhhhmmmmmm.
Lesson 1 - How to roll down a hill

Lesson 2 - Bocce balls are hard, aim for the ball not siblings

"I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts!"

Lesson 3 - Pulling your brother on a sheet is perfectly acceptable on gentley sloping grass;
 it is NOT acceptable on rocks or stairwells.

Our view from picnic rug
You know we had our bikes stolen.  Everybody seemed to be riding their bikes in this park. To be totally honest, I felt resentment, perhaps I did visualise a few of the fellow bike riders hitting a "really large pebble" and going posterior over mammary glands, (ass over tit).  But I am larger than this.  My bad luck, there good fortune... sure, ride your bike in the outdoors with your family.  Smile.  Get fresh air.  Teach your children about the importance of nature and the surrounds.

Bike hire
 I will not be beaten.  We are going to hire bikes, we are going to have fun, and we are not going to be concerned that we look like a scene out of  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ( , and by the way bike hire is by the hour.  Isn't Sunday supposed to be a day of rest?  "Huff puff, huff puff" ...... and on return of our cariage, our malnutirtiented bicycle merchant comments "Oh... your finished already?" (said in Italian obviously, but I get the gist!) And now, unlike "a true Italian mamma", I do not remove my heel and throw it at his head, nor do I kiss him on both cheeks and say he just needs a good woman to plump him up.  I simply smile, I did have fun, (35 minutes of fun to be exact), I challenge him to ride on a bike with my children for an hour, I say this in English, and really quickly.  (I have to watch my mouth, soon someone is going to understand english and not my sarcasm...and take my children.)

Riding on the road

Riding on the gravel

Riding off the beaten track

Some hills proved too much for the thighs!
The day ends with 3 turns on the carasoul, and 10 turns each on the jump and slide.  Not quite sure who had the most fun here... I do love a good slippery dip!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bonza, bonza, off to Monza

The history of Monza is closely related to that of Milan. The cathedral, founded (6th cent.) by the Lombard queen Theodolinda, contains the iron crown of Lombardy, which was made, according to tradition, from a nail of Christ's cross from the crucifixion, and which was used to crown Charlemagneme, Charles V, Napoleon I, and other emperors as kings of Lombardy or of Italy. This definitely warranted the purchase of a ticket.  Forethought... kids free, yeehah!!  They only allowed groups in on half hour timeslots and we managed the last before lunch.  After thought.... I do not undersatnd Italian... doh!  So I hear, "blah, blah, blah, princepessa, blah, blah, princepe, blah blah". I felt as though I was about to witness some sort of rare spy device, (x-ray goggles would of been cool), as the informant unlocked vault after vault to finally reveal the crown in a glass chamber.  We were even locked into an iron gated section of the cathedral to witness the crown, (not quite sure how a fire evacuation plan would come into practice here).  I am later to find out that the alleged nail from Christ's Cross is about as feasible as my qualification for the tv show So You Think You Can Dance.  Not likely.  But none the less, it was a pretty crown.
The treasury also contains the crown, fan and gold comb of Theodelinda, and, as well as Gothic crosses and reliquaries, a golden hen, (no it does not lay golden eggs) and seven chickens, representing Lombardy and her seven provinces.

After our crown viewing we took a quick exit out of the echoing cathedral to walk the streets and grab some lunch.  It seems odd to say that each of these places we visit are so different from each other because I know I always describe the cobblestone streets, cute little alleyways and numerous churches.  This is obviously prevalent in most small Italian cities, but they all still retain their own differing character, like a birthmark would seperate a twin. 

The children dictate where our lunch stop will be, with a call of "pee pee", my son has his hands on his bits as he hops up and down, so we go to the closest restaurant near us.  We enjoy a few glasses of wine and mixed paninis, and I have a relaxing lunch.  My husband on the other hand gets to experience what he only describes as a "poo party", with both children, on seperate occassions.  For some reason, he is looking a little stressed when he returns to the table with son in a completely new outfit, he is muttering something about no nappy wipes in the bag.  On reflection, those snarling noises he was making at me were probably out of animosity not flirting.

We decided to just wander the streets, passing several churches, we found ourselves in and out of a couple of stores, and took a break for some gelati.  This seems to be our common weekend practice.

We stumbled upon Arengario, the broletto of Monza, a medieval palace which used to serve for meetings of the city council or nobles.  Its arcaded groundfloor occasionaly served as an open court of law, and I am sure as a shelter from the rain for shoppers in modern times. 

The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is a race track that has hosted the Formula One Italian Grand Prix since the sport's inception.  It is built in the Royal Villa of Monza park in a woodland setting, and the site has three tracks – the 5.793 kilometres Grand Prix track, the 2.405 kilometres Junior track, and a decaying 4.250 kilometres high speed track with steep bankings.  We were hoping to make the park in the afternoon, but as the clouds rolled over and we noticed the time on our watch, we decided for another day trip tomorrow. 

IF - Interesting Fact
The Monza circuit has been the arena of many fatal accidents, especially in the early years of the Formula One world championship, and has claimed the lives of 52 drivers and 35 spectators.

The definition of Bonza is excellent, pleasing and amusing... I think this describes Monza perfectly.  All is bonza when in Monza!