It’s another one of those jewels that somehow gets overlooked on the main tourist routes. The Germans know it well, but beyond that, it’s really off the radar. So, we got to drive to the main attraction in Trenton. Castle del Buoncosiglio. It’s a castle! It has extraordinary murals of everyday life. A nice cafe and bookshop. And nobody really knows much about it. Its close to a cluster of towns that spread like a necklace around the top of Italy. I think of them all. Turin, Verona, Mantua Padua and what’s incredible is that they are remarkable, beautiful and unusual. Close to Milan and not far from Venice they can provide a respite from the main tourist’s sights…Check it out!
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Driving in Italy can be stressful. People drive fast. City driving is not recommended. Restrictions on city centers driving make it a lost cause. But… I love driving along the highways and the Auto Stradas. I love stopping at the Autogrill places. This past month I drove with a friend of mine from Rome to Ortisei, high up in the mountains of the Dolomites. And in between two funny things happened. My friend was driving. He ran out of gas. And there we were on the bush stretch of Auto Strada and we had to call in for a tow to the Herat Autogrill gas station. We were 6 km away. But it took a while for the guy to show up and then we remained in the car while he hauled us onto his tow truck. Was quite an adventure watching the world go whizzing by us while we sat in the car on the tow truck as it poodles along enroute to the gas pump. A funny experience.
Anyhow on to my next point. These Autogrills are quite a phenomenon. They sell everything. From the regular auto stop necessities like coffee and a sandwich to the spectacular. It’s a full on delicatessen, a fabulous self-serve restaurant with amazing regional dishes and clothes and toys and anything you may have forgotten on the road. We saw 4 trucks of firefighters from Romania buying the place out as they were heading home. It’s a supermarket with fabulous food. And the prices are amazing. Each Autogrill has different specialties depending upon the region. Oh. And you can get gas there too! Thank goodness! 😅
In my travels I love stumbling on the unusual places that don’t necessarily fit into a regular itinerary. Recently while driving through the Dolomites area I got to see the beautiful towns of the Sufvtirol. The Sufvtirol was formerly part of the Austrian Hungarian empire. In a classic land grab after the First World War, Italy apportioned itself the Austrian border towns and created the region Sudtirol. It’s a wealthy beautiful area. The unusual Dolomites with their rust colored dramatic rock towers above beautiful valleys and the largest prairie in Europe. The alpe di susi. In the winter it’s a skier’s paradise. In the summer the lifts keep rolling and skiers are replaced by walkers and bikers. The Dolomites are wide open unlike other alpine ranges. Lots of sun and places to stay on the high mountains. The food is very different. A mix of the best of Austrian and Italian. Wines are very good. Especially the whites. The local delicacies like speck, a type of prosciutto, and the delicious cheeses plus a whole variety of pasta makes this one of my favorite culinary stops. Towns like Bolzano and Ortisei and the glitzy Cortina are a short distance from Venice or Verona.
Such a strange thing. A crowning of a king. Sounds like a fairytale. Gold carriages and brightly colored horses amidst trumpets and rituals that belong in centuries past. And there we were. A new king. The queen is dead long love the king.
It wasn’t quite your average coronation. Well actually coronations are not all that common. The last one was in 1953! But this coronation had its fair share of intrigue. A royal family that even had a TV series scandalously portraying them. A dysfunctional bunch with more soap opera twists and turns than most TV shows give you in 5 series. But and a big but, it was a spectacular show. Westminster Abbey. Buckingham Palace. Throngs of devoted citizens and tourists waving Union Jacks through the streets of London’s finest. And it captured the nation. Captured the world. Big Ben was lit as were several new and old iconic buildings to show off London. And it looked magnificent. There were more medals on display than any battle or war could justify and famous people with the right connections and lucky ones who worked with charities and did good things in the world.
A bank holiday was created to celebrate the day. And we sort of adapted to King Charles. He seems like a good guy. God knows he’s been waiting around for this moment a long time. He stands for good causes and has opinions about the environment and global warming and is a bit of a lefty and obviously ended up with the woman he loved. Even though we all remember how dreadful Diana was treated by them all. Still, the coronation seems to have forgiven all of it. The sordid bits the dodgy brother and the irritate other one. The hangers on and fawning entourage. Somehow on this day all was forgiven. And under the ancient canopy of the Abbey there were his three brothers and his sister to bear witness to this ancient transfer of power. We few … we precious few… we band of brothers. Only in England.
I have a deep appreciation for trains. I like the freedom and the speed of a train. So, here I was in a hotel in Turin right next to the train station. 5 minutes away. I had spent one night in Turin. I knew Turin from a few years ago. I love the city. It’s understated. Not very Italian. More French. Elegant. Mountains in the background. Great food and fabulous wine. I had to get to Roma. I booked the and arrived 5 minutes before departure, sailed through the station and found my platform and the train. The funny thing about Italy is that while most things are quirky, dysfunctional, and very much “not on time.” The high-speed train network is the total opposite. Its reliable and such a brilliant way to get around, you wonder why the strategy couldn’t be replicated everywhere!! None the less, grateful for this piece of efficiency, I boarded the train and off we sped across to Milan and then down the heart of Italy to Rome. Journey time 4 hours. Stopping at Florence enroute. Watching the countryside change as the train traveled at 200 miles per hour. It’s the best and most efficient way to connect the cities. I was thinking how incredible it is as the train parallels the highway often. Cars in Italy travel crazy fast. The train envelops them all. As if they barely were out of second gear.
So, my takeaway from this is that it’s possible to travel high speed across Europe with minimal inconvenience, especially if you choose hotels strategically located near the station. Yes, France and Spain have phenomenal train high speed networks. Especially if you choose hotels near the station. In Italy, the network almost begs you to use trains. Turin. Milan. Venice. Bologna. Florence. Rome and Naples. Chunk it up. Travel light and stay near the stations. No cars, walking tours everywhere and amazing territory covered in no time at all. Better still. If you really want to choose a city to “hub”, then take Rome. And plan day trips on the train to Florence, Orvieto and Naples. Florence as a hub gives you Venice and Bologna and Rome. Welcome to the world of European trains.
See you out there somewhere!
It’s my town. I travel there frequently. I was born close to Chalk Farm and Primrose Hill. I especially love London around the holidays. They go crazy there. It’s dark at 3.30, so lighting the city becomes a huge plus and a fantastic light show. Carnaby street, Covent Garden and of course Piccadilly, Regents street and Oxford street all are amazing. This time though it was different. I was going to be a tour guide to a 2 and half year and a 5 and half year old. I would organize the itinerary. Supervise the sightseeing. I would fill up the days with Theatre, Pantomime, a tour of the London lights. The best in the world. And a visit to the Aquarium, the London Eye and a boat ride down the Thames. Ending up with Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and using the underground to go everywhere. Kids are free and there’s so much to make of a train ride. The escalators, the elevators, the barriers, the people. It’s an excursion every day. Not to mention double decker busses, especially riding on the top. All incredibly thrilling. A week of wonder. We took a place by the center in Covent Garden. That made getting around super easy. Tube right there and walking distance to most theatres. Our first excursion was to Hackney. Way over in East London. The Hackney Empire Theatre. A beautiful historical building that has seen Charlie Chaplin and Louis Armstrong perform there. We took an overland train plus Tube. Again, free with all kids 11 and under. The highlight….the joy on the faces of the new travelers! Welcome to London!
La Paz – Part 2
We decided to check out the other side of Cabo. La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur, a Mexican state on the Baja California Peninsula. It’s known for its seafront Malecón promenade with fabulous beaches within driving distance. Many bars and restaurants overlook the water. In the city center, the 19th-century Nuestra Señora de La Paz Cathedral dominates the shady Velasco. The town felt very cool.
When we were there, the World Cup was happening. Mexico was losing to Argentina. I guess it ultimately felt ok because Argentina won the whole thing. But the mood was relaxed and fun. I couldn’t imagine a similar scene in England. Edgy, a hint of trouble and of course England would lose and that would set off a whole new ball game.
The beaches were nice, even the town beaches were manageable, and the water was swimmable. Famous for the whale sharks that populate the area from winter through spring. They are the largest fish in the world. Thankfully, they eat plankton! Sadly, oil refineries sat in the distance. A feature of Mexico in general.
And then there was this amazing beach. Playa Balandra. You need a car to easily get there and even though it’s a public beach, it has restricted times for entry. Once capacity is met, the barrier goes down. Early in the morning is better. They’re pretty strict but we managed to get on two days in a row. So, we hadn’t the fuss! It’s just a remarkable shallow bay. When the tide is out, it’s almost impossible to swim. You just can walk forever and cross the bay. The sand is white, the water turquoise and the mountains around stunning. There is wild cactus dotted everywhere and you can rent canoes from a local guy who sits mid-point in the sea, tide permitting.
It reminded me of cricket games with my dad along the shore. I have never seen such a beautiful shallow bay with such an extraordinary tide. Wonderful for kids. For the intrepid surfers there are a couple of beaches with perfect surf conditions nearby. But, for me, this was a beach like no other. Easy to get to on Volaris (Mexico’s budget air carrier) and the rates are low compared to Cabo. My only regret was not seeing a whale shark. Maybe 40-foot sharks that are harmless are still better seen on You Tube!
La Paz, Mexico
A bridge too far….Travel brings all kinds of wonder. I have been to San Diego many times. Our son lives there with his family. Love the place. Recently we traveled to Mexico. An amazing town on the sea of Cortez. La Paz. Down in the Baja peninsular. To get there we had to connect through Tijuana airport. And so our adventure began. An Uber to Tijuana “CBX” was the first stage of the journey. CBX refers to a secure zone that connects USA to Mexico and vices versa. The ride took about 20 minutes. Historically called the Tijuana Cross border Terminal. It is located in the Otay Mesa area of San Diego. It opened in 2015. The CBX resides on USA soil but the airport and main terminal building is on Mexican soil. It’s the only truly bi-national airport in the world. We checked in on the USA side of the border, had our bags tagged and then walked along a 400 foot tunnel(cost is $16 or $30 round trip) and dropped our bags on the Mexico side. Once on the Mexico side, the terminal building is amazing. Quite new. Lots of places to shop and to eat. Clearing immigration was easy and as soon as we had cleared we were inside an airport terminal that looked even more swanky than Terminal 5 at Heathrow! It was so smooth and quite funny following signs in the tunnel to Mexico! Once inside Mexico the airline fares are much less expensive than the USA side. At times 25% of USA fares.
Parking is between $20 and $23 a day. We took an Uber and left the car at the house. The main draw of CBX is that it is fast and efficient and a great way to access Mexico’s vast country using Mexican carriers.
And lastly, its worth doing because it’s an adventure!
Tombs and Robbers
You must go to Egypt. It’s amazing. Since travel opened, I have been thinking pf this place for a while. Luxor, the Nile, the Pyramids, the museum, and the marketplace. All the memories of a long time ago came flooding back…Nile humor…I remember I bought a mummy and a pyramid when I went to the market, Crossed the Nile several times, didn’t see a crocodile or a Hippo and honestly was in awe at the history of the place. Its insane. The Romans were in love with the Egyptians. Adopted burial practices from them and leave is with clear art from the period of occupation that we have no access to anywhere else in the world. The Romans were so influenced and enamored by Egyptian history and ways that Caius Cestus even had a pyramid specifically made for him that suits developed by the Roman walls. Completed in 12 BC it took just two months to complete. Modest compared to the huge Pyramids of Giza, but no less impressive in this lesser-known spot near the Protestant cemetery.
Egyptian stone pyramids are the oldest. But Mexico and indeed Brazil has its share of ancient sites. The stairways to heaven.
It’s a bit like Cairo. When you get to arrive in the main arrival terminal and need to transfer across to the domestic terminal, it’s a little chaotic. Not entirely clear and yet somehow it all works. I found myself standing in the queue with other passengers and a wedding couple. She was resplendent in her beautiful dress and the heavy train she needed to pick up as she was heading onto the plane. I even had an assist as she absolutely needed help handling the bags. And there we were, in a coach with a newly married bride and groom and I was the only one that looked surprised. Welcome to Egypt!
An Old Geezer in Giza
Pyramids are strange things. Incredible testaments to a civilization that was hell bent on avoiding hell and pretty much had a philosophy that carefully encapsulated the afterlife. The golf clubs, the bikes, the workout equipment, and a few pets. All going into the pyramid. Unlike the later tombs found in and around Luxor, pyramids were huge, unbridled displays of ego and power. And of course, vulnerable to Tomb raiders! The great Pyramid of Giza began in 2560 BC. You can go inside and march all the way to the top. It’s a pretty claustrophobic tunnel and I would recommend only to those that feel fit enough, but…it’s amazing. Really, what is amazing is that its 4700 years old! There are the usual shops around the pyramid and the Sphinx, and camel rides and horseback rides are everywhere. I recommend. Try them all. These extraordinary monuments, nearly 5000 years old, in a dessert under the scorching sun are what the Egypt trip is all about. Just have fun and imagine.
Crazy traffic, crazy, markets winding through narrow old lanes, and buildings getting pulled down to clear out the slums and move half of the city to a new Capital. The NAC. New Cairo. Th project in Cairo has started. A city of 25 million people. Half of them to be moved to this new place not far from Giza. The Egyptian Museum is moving out there too in what will be the most ambitious project in Museum history. It will be the largest museum of antiquities in the world. With views across the dessert to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. But the Cairo I recalled is still there. Still with the Kan al Khaleli bazaar and the mosque outside the narrow streets. The beautiful old building of the Egyptian museum feeling more like a house that is being packed up. Mummies and boxes side by side and difficult to see what is what. There is of course the main attraction. King Tut. No photos in there but the incredible golden display is still as breathtaking as ever. And it has been around the world a few times. Poor guy! The museum sits close by to Tahrir square. Lots of shops and restaurants and if you look one way you might think you were in a modern European city but look the other way and you see it differently. Bikes and carts and people walking through the middle of the street. They say that not even 10 per cent of cars are insured in Egypt. They all look like they have had some issues. Crossing the road is a sheer act of wonder and maybe madness. My Italian training could not even prepare for the crossing. Cars simply drive around you and somehow you feel that it’s a miracle when you arrive on solid ground once more. That is Cairo. The markets, the sounds the traffic and the chaos. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The last time I was in Egypt was with the kids. It’s a bucket list thing. Pyramids, Mummies, and the Sphinx. I recall vividly those moments and the photos still are up on our wall. Incredible Luxor, the sound and light show in Carnac and the tomb visits. Plus, the Camel ride and the Nile cruise.
So, here we were, heading to Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea. Our long-awaited Overseas conference (2 Covid years) and two weeks before COP27, the biggest and most serious Climate change conference in the world. More than 35,000 delegates will attend and more than 100 heads of state including Joe Biden. And we were there.
So, what is Sharm really like? It’s a resort. Primarily. First developed by the Israelis after they occupied it from 1967 to 1982, until an accord was reached and Sharm was returned to the Egyptians. An amazing destination and has the most beautiful climate and the most beautiful coral reefs imaginable. We got to spend just a few days there.
The town is super safe and even though it boasts no ancient buildings, it has a stunning mosque in the center of the town square. A few camels scattered here and there for tourist rides, some great fish restaurants (no alcohol) and the typical bazaar shops found all over Egypt. Time to bargain and search for something not made in China! And every merchant promises the real deal!
Sharm, above all is famous for its snorkeling and scuba. With over 1,000 species of fish and 150 species of coral, the Red Sea is gleaming with a kaleidoscope of color. No sharks, guaranteed….. and plenty of other things to do. The place is still in the throes of building development. They have highways that are built for Los Angeles and resorts popping up alongside Museums and Casinos and yet…..they still have not figured out the long and arduous visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery (10 commandments) and they should as it’s one of the most important places to see. They are talking of flights to Luxor and flights to the monastery. All in time this will make Sharm, a complete destination. From a conference point of view, it has everything. Now these guys who are meeting should start talking seriously about climate change and solar and battery storage. They almost certainly could power the entire country with the solar resources from the Sahara and Sinai desert.
Funny, it used to be all about oil. When the sun was staring in their face!
It’s a technique I have come to admire. Spending some time in both China and Japan, I find myself eating slower and enjoying the food more. So, what is the deal with chopsticks. They date back 7000 years. Originated in China and the English word derives from Kuaizi meaning quick and bamboo. My dad always used the expression chop chop which meant get a move on! Ironic as they define literally to slow down. Confucius forbade knives on the table and chopsticks were perfect as a compliment to precutting. Knives in the kitchen. Not in the hands of the customers. After all they might have found other ways to show their dislike of the dish.
Fish and Chips
I travel a lot. Always Friday night. It’s strange because when I was a kid, every Friday we had dinner from the fish and chip shop down the road. The sign outside read Frying Tonight! It was a weekly thing. Wrapped in newspaper, greasy and delicious with lots of salt and malt vinegar. The tradition of fish and chips stretches back to the 19th century. Origins are cloudy but it looks secure that it was both a Lancashire dish and an East London staple. Sephardic Jews brought the dish to London, and poverty and the sea brought the dish to the north. Oldham they say! Chips were cheap. Hence the saying. Cheap as chips! And deep fried was tasty and transformed boring potatoes into golden delicious hot salty delicacies. Cheap fish was used. Haddock or Rock Salmon. Nothing to do with Salmon.
During the second world war, food shortage was challenging, and everything was rationed. Except fish and chips. And so, it became a staple of the diet in Britain. Nobody really loved fish, but coat with batter and deep fry it with chips thrown in and cut the grease with vinegar and then pour salt over the lot. Now you’re talking! Is it any wonder that the Brits got a bad rap on food. Nowadays, its trendy. In cool and chic restaurants fish and chips with mushy peas is a staple! Considered still to be the consummate dish of the British Isles. Voted each year the most famous institution in England after the monarchy! Long may it reign!
There is believe it or not, a World Cup Tiramisu tournament in Treviso each year. Now in its 6th year it has two categories. Original and creative. So, I guess gold medals for two which seems fair. They say Treviso is the birthplace of the dish. Invented by Alba Campeol in the early 1960’s from her restaurant Le Beccherie. Inspired by a breakfast recipe of egg yolks and sugar (zabaglione) with espresso it was a sort of energizer to start the day. It literally means “pick me up from down” and I often wonder why people prefer to have it as a dessert that is guaranteed to keep you up all night. It’s probably because it’s so simply delicious and in restaurants it’s easy to prepare and store. So…Best Tiramisu. Better with with alcohol but not mandatory! Egg yolks and sugar folded into whites with marscapone. Savoiardi or lady fingers then soaked with espresso and rum and decorated with grated chocolate.
It’s one of two desserts I always choose. The other is crème Brûlée. But I would say it prefer the Italian to the French!