The wrong choice? Or the calm before the Tifosi…

When dad and I were here two years ago, the beautiful pedestrianized, buzzing little centre of Monza came alive, with cafes selling birra on the pavements, rock concerts in tiny piazza, where the crowd spilled out into the surrounding alleyways and side streets, and popup Nastro bars, tratorria packed to the rafters and a general lively atmosphere. Unlike some races, the buzz was less about beers and banter, and more about food and making the most of the location. It was wonderful, and one of my favourite photos of my dad was taken in Piazza Roma, with a Nastro in his hand, a tad worse for wear but beaming from ear to ear.

When I was in Budapest last month, I met up with one of my F1 mates who hasn’t missed a Budapest GP weekend for the past 8 years. So when he suggested he wasn’t coming this year, I purposely started teasing him via Facebook, saying how great the atmosphere was, how hot the weather was, how cold the beer was, how good the race would be… etc. This continued until finally, at around 11am Saturday morning, he cracked. The response simply read “Done. I land at 4:30 this afternoon.” And I thought I was spontaneous – this guy is good! That said, he didn’t buy a ticket for the race – he considered it, but ended up choosing to watch it in a bar in the city, where the buzz was buzzing just as loud but the coverage was unquestionably better. I then met up with him after the race, when I got back into the city.

So when planning Monza this year, I thought I’d try the ticketless approach here. I’ve done the circuit, I’ve experienced Parabolica, I’ve even sat in pole position on the grid. So given the Italian passion for all things Ferrari and F1, and my past experience with dad, there must be a few bars showing the race; I’ll go and watch there with the locals.

Unfortunately, this year is a bit different, and I’m not sure why? I’ve wandered down to the pedestrianized centre of the city, but you’d hardly know there was a Grand Prix going on? There are a few gazebos and bits and pieces mainly aimed at children, but no pop up Nastro bar, no rock concert, and no bars showing the race? I could handle not watching the race live, if there were people around who could join in the anticipation via Twitter, radio coverage or whatever other means. Similarly, I could handle the lack of buzz, if there was a bar with a tv showing the race. But so far, I see neither. This could be disastrous. So I’ve stopped for a coffee and conflab – I’ll ask a waiter where to go to watch it. There must be somewhere…

Quick win

I’ve deposited myself outside Il cafe della piazza in Monza’s main square. To begin with, I order a coffee – a lame attempt to vet the waiter’s ability to help (and because I’ve yet to have a coffee since arriving four days ago!)  Un latte per favore? This may not sound significant, but having ordered a macchiato before, expecting a tall variety but getting a shot, I’m not always convinced that what I ask for is what I’ll end up with! But my latte arrives, is suitable frothy, and far nicer than you get in London. So far so good.

I’ve been subtly watching Luigi the waiter, and he seems friendly enough to ask (and young enough to be likely to speak some English when my pigeon Italian runs out) about the race. Snag – how do I say “do you know where I could watch the Grand Prix? A bar with a TV perhaps?” it Italian? I get as far as excuse me before running out of ideas. So I cheat (why have an iPhone and not use it!) I type into my translation app and am presented with my answer: dove posso guardare il Gran Premio? Un bar con una tv…? I slip in the courtesy scuzi signor at the start and finish with a per favore and I’m away… until he replies, in Italian, at which point I have no idea what he’s saying. Rubbish! The downside of sounding like you know what you’re talking about, is that people think you know what you’re talking about! I respond apologetically with scuzi, mi no parlo italiano! Parla inglese? He shouts across to Claudio behind the bar, who responds with exactly the same as Luigi did to start with. Luckily, another chap at the bar says you can watch it here, on the TV and points to a plasma on the wall, currently showing a Gangnam Style video. Ah, I hadn’t spotted that.

Now I’m not sure what to think at this point. I’ve had a coffee and asked for their help, expecting them to point me in the direction of a lively atmospheric bar. But instead they’ve suggested I can watch here, in the café. I’m the only person sitting inside and the atmosphere is somewhat lacking. But I now feel obliged to watch it here, and you can guarantee that if I wander off to see what other options I can find, I’ll find nothing, get myself lost and miss the race. So I play safe, order a Panini and tuck in for the duration.

***

OK so not the most exciting race ever. I’m glad I opted not to fork out for a ticket, even if the atmosphere here wasn’t as lively as the the parc. I settle my bill and head out into the piazza. I’ll give the masses an hour or so to descend on the piazza and hopefully it’ll liven up a bit.

Or maybe it won’t? I’m sadly disappointed to report that, unlike two years ago, there are no pop-up bars, no lively cafes spilling out onto the streets, even the gelato kiosk in the centre is closed. What’s going on? Is the calm before the tifosi descend, or has the credit crunch really taken its toll on Monza?

OK I’ve now walked around the centre of the centre twice. If I do another lap, the locals will think I’ve lost radio communication and they’ll hold out a pit board. I have to pick a bar and have a birra, I’m parched. I select a place with a few inhabitants, take a seat outside, order a birra, open Vesper and within minutes the heavens open. For this, I take full responsibility – it’s like having a bbq in the uk – as soon as you light the thing, it’ll rain! We all rush inside and I grab a small table.

The boss here seems to be an Italian version of Basil Fawlty. When I order my birra, his response is “just that, that’s all you want?”  I look around, and no-one else is eating… what’s the problem? So I reply “Si” … similarly, once I’m inside, and have my second birra, I look around me to note that, because there are just two people left inside, he’s clearing things away. It’s 6.30? He can’t be closing, is he? I get the feeling I’m being ushered out, so I finish my birra and make my way out. I think everyone else had the same idea; as I walk up the road, the next bar is full of all the same customers who’d been sitting outside my previous haunt with me. I see… I join them and after a further couple of birrrrra, it’s time I found somewhere to buy a bus ticket home. Mission: look for a black T in a white circle…

Ciao Ciao xx  

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Lago Maggiore Express

This was what I’ve been most excited about in Italy. It starts with a train ride from Milan up to Arona on the southern shores of Lake Maggiore. From here, I take a fast train up the historic Simpola route to Domodossola, where I’ll pick up the Centovali mountain railway to wind its way across to Locarno in Switzerland. Finally, from Locarno I’ll pick up a boat to bring me back down the lake, hopping from one side to the other, with various stops along the way, and ending up back in Stresa.

Not quite awake, I’ve dragged myself out of bed at 6am for this. It better be good! I’m on the way up to Arona and convinced I’m going to fall asleep and miss my stop. We’re not due to leave for another 10 minutes. Over the aisle, a young Leonardo is traveling alone. He has his suitcase by his side in a group of four seats, and is looking out of the window at an older Signor on the platform, who appears to be talking to him. All Leonardo says is “Si si. Si si.” I’m guessing it’s his father or grandfather waving him off and worrying about him traveling alone. The words he’s mouthing from the platform are probably “ring when you get there” or “did you remember your toothbrush?” or “don’t tell your mum about the limoncella…”  Meanwhile Leonardo is nodding and saying “Si si” repeatedly, wishing the train would pull away…

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Arona

When I wake up we’re approaching Sestro. So I know I haven’t over slept, but the next stop is mine so I’ll stay awake from here. I get off at Arona and buy my next ticket – to Domodoseydora. Given it’s a quick connection, I’m happy to just hang around the station. So I cross the road and get my first view of Lake Maggiore. Not the most scenic one, but a good opportunity to try out my camera. (For once, I’m not relying on my aging iPhone for photos). I even remembered to charge the battery, and ensure there were less than a few photos on it. So why then, when I try and snap the local wildlife, does it respond with “memory full” – what? This can only mean one thing… I open the side panel and yep, no memory card. Ah, but that’s ok *smiles smugly*  I have Vesper with me, and she has a memory card in her, right? Wrong – I took it out when Vesper came into the office this week (that’ll teach me to be security conscious). Damn. Right, my casual half hour just became a mad hunt for a shop which sells memory cards! Luckily enough, in the midst of market stalls, bakeries, cafes and gelateria, I find a mobile phone shop which also sells memory cards. How lucky is that? So I now have a camera, a ticket and a train to catch…

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Domosossola

Outside Milan, I’m now onto Italian time. So the Dingdongdoseydora train is late. If this was the UK, people would be looking at timetables, then checking then again five minutes later to check they hadn’t misread them, or looking at each other, wondering if their fellow passengers were concerned too (but saying nothing, of course).  But this is Italy, so without word or worry from the stazione staff to explain the lateness, my fellow passengers and I just sit and wait for the train to arrive. That is, with the exception of a lone traveling woman with a huge backpack, who bears a strange resemblance to Mary from Coronation Street. I keep my head down, but unfortunately she approaches me and starts speaking to me in more broken Italian than mine. Now this could work in my favour… a) it means I stand half a chance of understanding what she’s saying, and b) I can also claim not to understand a word of what she’s saying. This could be fun! But in a moment of weak empathy, when Mary simply points to the platform number 4 sign and says “scuzi, Domo……..?” I just nod and reply “si”. She’s happy, I’m safely assumed to be Italian, and my inability to speak much of the local lingo is safely still a secret.

We board the train and, with little to look at, I fall asleep again.

AN: I really have to stop this; I have a strange ability to sleep anywhere – standing up, during exams, in nightclubs – Bobo Lobo, I say no more.

Out of the window to the left, is much of the same housing as we saw coming out of Milan, but this time I’m sitting on the right. This is intentional; I figured we’re traveling up the left of the lake, so there should be more to see out of the right window. And I’m right – there’s the lake; not much going on, just lots of water, but it’s very pretty.

The water soon disappears from view, as we head up the valley towards Dingdongdoodah. And I’m joined in my four seat arrangement by an English couple. I keep very quiet; Jerry and Margo are apparently doing the same route as me, albeit with a different starting point and itinerary. They’re debating which stop to get off the train (interesting given that the train we’re on is terminating at the next stop – I opt not to tell them this, for fear of giving away my aforementioned success as appearing Italian). Margo pipes up with “well there’s no point stopping in Do-dah wotsit… (she clearly has the same problem as me in remembering what this place is called) …there’s nothing there except Benetton.” OK so now I’m thinking, have they given it a fair go, or is my rough guide about to get shot to pieces?

I don’t wait around to find out – as soon as we arrive in Diplodocus I hop off the train and up the hill into the old town. First impressions – there is actually a Benetton on every corner, yes. And the cafés and bars adorning the main road up the hill from the stazione, which probably would’ve been buzzing in the 50s, appear somewhat tired today. At the first junction, I pull out my guidebook and it suggests I head left. Things improve marginally, but I’m still not sold and am starting to realise what Margo was on about. I’m even cursing a white van for parking in the only spot worthy of a photo (additionally frustrating, given the lengths to which I went to have a camera with me).

But then I stumble across – the old town. This reminds me of Lakeland Italy’s answer to Stonegate in York. Old crumbling buildings, desperately being restored, with a gentle hum of people sitting outside little cafés and Osteria. In just a few minutes I’ve walked every inch of it, but it really is a little gem in an otherwise humdrum place. So I wander back to the stazione to await the next (and more exciting) part of my trip – the Centrovali train to Locarno.

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Die Deutsche Saga

Oh joy; as I descent into the underground platform to find the Centrovali, I find myself encircled by at least 30 Germans, aged between 50 and 80. It’s Aunty Shee and the Saga group from Malpensa! Nooooooooo…

Unfortunately, yes. At the bottom of the steps, there is no other place to go but the train to Locarno. I therefore skirt around them as they dawdle on the platform and head for the far end of the train. Luckily, they continue to dawdle and seem to think that, despite there being six coaches to our train, they must all cram into the first doors they come to. Peace… but not for long – three of them manage to escape and find me in my otherwise empty carriage.

So I read in my rough guide that, when coming on the train from Locarno, you’re best to sit on the left to get the better views. So going in the other direction, I sit on the right. Within 20 minutes of our journey, I’m regretting this supposed intelligence, as Hans, Helmut and Helga onthe other side are enjoying lovely views down the grassy valley, whilst I have a rock face covered in trees up against my window. But hey, this is fine – I hop down the steps to the centre of the carriage, and get a floor-to-ceiling view through the doors through which I can take pictures. Perfect, only I wish the train would time its journey with my visits to the door – every time the view gets good, I hop down to the door, and the trees come across. I wait a few minutes then give up and wander back up to my seat, just as the trees clear. It’s like playing chicken with nature!  I end up with some lovely pictures of trees…

***

Must have dozed off…  I wake to realise Hans is standing over me uttering something in German (hopefully something like “I must remember to pick up some deodorant when we stop”). I look the other way and am presented with the most beautiful view – it reminds me of the dam at the start of Goldeneye, only the water is blue (not green), the valley is green (not grey), and the sun is shining. It’s lovely, and guess who has the best seat in the house?! Clearly seat envy has now passed to Hans, as he ignores the option of the floor-to-ceiling glass door down the steps, and continues to stand in the aisle for the rest of the journey. (I lay my scarf on the seat in front of me, remove my flip flops, and put my feet up, in hope that my ponky feet will give him other ideas! 

The views generally get better and better until eventually we go into a tunnel and emerge in Locarno. As I hop down onto the platform, I realise the exit is at the other end. This means playing the Germans at their own game and weaving in and out Vettel-style down the platform, with the token “scuzi” thrown in for good measure.

AN: I’ve no idea what language I should be speaking now… we’re now in Switzerland, they’re German, I’m trying to be Italian, and everything is priced in Francs? It’s anyone’s guess.

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Locarno

Aside from having the most enormous ice cream ever (think a whole pot of Haagen Das in a cornetto), there’s not much to write about Locarno. I was somewhat disappointed, if I’m honest. The architecture was very well maintained and much of it is new. There are big hotels in the central piazza, with fountains and underground car parks, and a department store resembling Peter Jones, John Lewis or House of Fraser. Clearly, we’re now in Switzerland, but whilst the cleanliness and modernity is pleasant, it seems to have stripped the place of any charm? I wander around for a while, trying not to head straight for the harbour (I’m going to get four hours of lake on the way home, so really should try and explore a bit) but the best I can do is an ice cream, a bag of amaretto biscotti and a temptation to dive into Kookai (just for the aircon, really Mum).

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I last until 3:45 before heading down to the harbour for my boat trip. The train here was lovely, and probably something I’d like to do again, but stopping at each stop for a drink or something, as the villages we passed through were lovely. But the boat trip is the bit I’ve been looking forward to the most. So I head down to the harbour and am soon rejoined by Hans, Helmut, Helga, and the rest of their Saga chums. We board the boat and set sail off down Lake Maggiore.

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Wow. Wow. Yeah ok, wow…

Can you get bored of something beautiful? Perhaps a million dollar question, but we’re now two hours into the boat trip and I’m bored. The views are stunningly beautiful, there’s no question. But the boat travels very slowly and I was expecting to be able to get off for a bit at each stop. Instead, we literally stop to let passengers off and pick others up. Meaning it’s a bit like watching paint dry, even if it’s a lovely colour. I want to make the most of it, but there’s only so long you can stare at water or a hillside, with little change in vista, before you want to nod off! So I head below deck for a change of scenery.

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At the bar (well it is after 6…) I soon learn how to say “same again”. Sarah and I learnt this in Venice, as “ancora losteso” and when I said this, the lady behind the bar knew what I meant. But she suggested I could also use “uval a prima” – maybe they’re regional dialects or something? No idea, but I’ll try both again before I leave Italy, I’m sure.

Weirdly enough, it’s usually about this time of day / week I’d arrive at an F1 weekend, yet this time I feel like I’ve done heaps already. Probably because my holidays these days tend to be weekends away, so by day 3 I’m almost waiting for the mean reds you get when you realise it’s nearly the end of your holiday and time to go home. But this time, I still have a weekend to go! Right, time to get off the boat and explore a bit more.

Stresa – and a good looking birra

I’m sitting in a bar in an Italian stazione, with a decidedly tasty view, sipping a birra, listening to Italian radio, and feeling quite content.

The rough guide suggested that, in its day, Stresa was a haven for the rich and royal. When the first tunnel opened to connect Switzerland and Italy, it connected northern Europe with the Med and therefore attracted the Orient Express and various wealthy travellers to stop off at Stresa. Today, it’s lost much of the popularity, as other areas have become equally (if not more) accessible. So I wasn’t expecting much as I walked up to the stazione from the harbour.

But I found it really lovely. This could be because of the time (people are starting to come out for Apertivo, and evening meals) there’s a buzz (live music in one of the piazzas I walked through) and having had a chilly breeze on the lake, the still air is a pleasant change again. But much like Locarno, Dingdongdodah and Arona earlier today, there’s little to do for more than a few hours.

This has made me think about my experiences on and around Lago Maggiore. All the places I’ve been to have been lovely, for a limited time. None have a great deal to see, perhaps enough to occupy a visitor for a day. The scenery is delightful; on land, it’d be great to explore at your own pace, stopping as and where you chose, rather than chugging through on a timetable. The lake itself is much the same – maybe a day trip from one place to another, with the option to explore, rather than chugging through on a timetable. But had I not done this trip, I’d probably only ever have seen a little piece of it. Instead, I’ve seen a lot, in one go, giving me the taste of it to come back again, should I choose to create such an opportunity. I’d love to have brought Bruno down here – it’s something I said I’d do one day, but the days of having such a lovely car have gone for now, and so has the ease of doing it. It’s not an opportunity lost, because I could still do it, just not quite so easily. But it’s another part of Europe I’ve now seen and one I’ve enjoyed.

Now, time to finish my birra and hit the binari for my train back to Milano…

Ciao Ciao xx

Milan’s answer to subway

…only cleaner, classier and much more tasty!

In my usual fashion, I’ve returned to Milan with my trusty Rough Guide, around which most of my previously-mentioned planning has focused. Having read this thoroughly in parts (and briefly in others) I’ve identified my ‘vital few’ – the things and places I want to see whilst I’m here – and now have colour-coded page markers. Yellow is transport (tram plans, metro networks, bike hire and Lago Maggiore Express info); blue is maps (Lombardia, Milan city centre, and Porta Ticinese); pink is food (Luini for lunch, La Biciclette for apertivo, La Libera and/or L’Osteria del Trento for dinner); and orange is nightlife (Corso Sempione, Corso Como, Porto Venezia and Ticinese). These are all places I didn’t go last time I was here and which, according to my Rough Guide, are worth a dabble.

If anyone reading this ever goes to Milan, you should try Luini. It’s down a side street away from Duomo and can really only be described as a cross between Thomas the Baker (for those in the north) or Greggs (for those in the south) and Subway, except the food is Italian, the kitchen is open there in front of you, and the food is to die for. There is a queue, but only just out of the door and it appears to be moving pretty quickly. Outside, there are no elegant tables with parasols, no armchairs with cushions and no waiter service (quite the contrast from the establishments a few feet away towards the Duomo). Instead, people are standing in small groups or sitting on the kerb, dressed in skirts and suits, eating their Luini straight from the paper. The busyness (with apparent local workers, rather than just tourists) suggests something good is going on in there, so I venture inside.

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The queue is indeed moving quickly, thanks to a suited gent inside directing you, like a Clarridge’s doorman, to the next available attendant behind the glass counter. Beneath said counter is the calzone. The flavours are typical – mozzarella and spicy salami; onion, olive and tomato; spinach and ricotta – but the smell is incredible. As well as the savouries, there are various sweet-looking pastries, each looking slightly different (giving me comfort that they are from the kitchen behind, rather than out of a box from a factory down the road.) But I stick to just the savoury and opt for a spicy salami and mozzarella. And there’s only one word for it really, delicious. Right then, looks like I picked the wrong day (week, country…) to try and cut out carbs…

Ciao Ciao xx

Travel bloging again – scary eyebrows, croysunts and flushing too soon

I’m technically on holiday for the next five days. Yet I’ve brought some work with me – not because I have to, but because I want to get my plan finished and into action quickly. However, we’re 40 minutes into the flight and Vesper has drawn me away from my work and into my blog. Again.

Or is it British Airways which has drawn me away? Or the chap two seats down from me? Or the curious couple in the front row? Or forgetting to do my eyebrows before I left?  It could be any of the above, but they all deserve pen time, so here we go.

After a bit of a do at home last night (riverside barbie with two Aussies, a South African, a girl called Peter and tales of a hot but somewhat dopey American), I started packing at about 10pm. Having spent the past three weeks planning my itinerary (including the tubes in London, metro in Milan, boats around lake Maggiore, Trenitalia to Genoa and the mountain train to Switzerland), you’d think such organisation would’ve included a list of what I’d be taking in my suitcase. But no. On the contrary, the comfort of knowing I have extra baggage allowance (flying business class) means I’ve paid little attention to this, instead airing on the side of ‘just take everything’. So with very little contemplatory head scratching and perhaps a few too many pairs of flip flops (is 3 too many for a 5-day trip?), I set my alarm for 4am and fall into bed at about midnight.

It’s 20 minutes later than last time you looked at the clock

As you do when you know you have to be up early, and can’t sleep in, I wake up every 45 minutes thereafter, looking at the clock and wondering if I’ve packed the right things. I also have the usual mental list on the go, of things I know I’ve already forgotten to pack (and will undoubtedly forget to throw in). So by about 2:45 I give up trying to sleep and get up.

I dig out the linen trousers (both pairs) and try them on, only to decide the blue ones are too long and can only be worm with heels, and the beige ones are too short, having apparently shrunk in the wash? They go back in the drawer. I go back to bed.

Why I bothered getting back into bed I don’t know – I get straight up again and pack Vesper’s power cable – that would have been seriously annoying, to have Vesper and no power. I throw in the black heels (having remembered the LBD) and in go the GHDs for good measure. (I’ve changed – never travelled with heels or hair straighteners before… fiver says they both come home unused!)

By 3:59 I’m in that all-too-familiar position of bending around my suitcase, holding it shut with one hand whilst trying desperately to pull the zip round with the other hand. I’m almost there when my alarm goes off and the whole house is welcomed into Wednesday morning by the opening riff of INXS ‘All Around’. I dive across the bedroom to get to my phone before Michael Hutchence ‘Sees the rising sun’, my suitcase lid flies open, and the GHDs snap at my little toe on their way to the floor. Eeeeek…

In the end, I have no idea what has ended-up in my case. My oh-so-neatly folded contents are now forced in regardless and the zip is shut. I shower and dress and head out for the airport.

Can you take tweezers on a plane?

Despite my somewhat sleepless night, random packing and inelegant departure, my journey to Milan is business class. So I arrive at T5 and head straight for duty free, stock up on Coco Madamoiselle and head for the BA lounge. All seems lovely – I settle into the leather armchair, read the paper, log onto wifi, post my #tubetunes to Hootsuite and enjoy a spot of breakfast. It’s only when I go to the ladies, that the tranquil picture is once again disrupted.

When I looked in my bedroom mirror this morning, it was obviously too dark to notice the somewhat scary appearance of my eyebrows. Having not been plucked for a few days, they’re in a less than acceptable state of tidiness for the world’s style capital. Right, mission: tweezers.

This strikes me as weird. You can’t take a bottle of water through security, as it’s considered a potential terrorist threat to take over 100ml of liquid into the cabin. Yet once through security, you can buy liquids in far larger quantities. Indeed, you can even buy lighters, knives, enough electrical equipment to make a small incendiary device. But can I find tweezers anywhere? Nope. It would seem that, contrary to most decent shopping areas, T5 has a wealth of designer boutiques; Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Paul Smith, Tiffany’s, Harrods, but I haven’t seen a Boots since before security? I give up and decide the Milanese will just have to put up with my scary brows. The app on my phone buzzes to tell me my gate has been assigned and I should head to A8, that’s the one opposite Boots J I dive in, grab a pair of tweezers and whip over to the gate.

Croysunts, turns-ups and espadrilles

Today’s flight isn’t full. So I’m on row 2, with two empty seats to my right and three more across the aisle to my left. After a few minutes, a young lady parks herself by the window across the way and I’m almost getting excited at the prospect of having not one, but three business class seats all to myself… until Albert turns up.

Albert is in seat 2F by the window. So I stand up and let him through. He must be in his 70s, is traveling alone and has a small satchel in his arms. He doesn’t seem at all phased by the experience, is probably a seasoned flier, and a worldly-wise gentleman, I’m thinking. That is, until breakfast arrives.

The cabin attendant asks him what he’d like for breakfast. Given there is only one row in front of us, it’s unfair to suggest it’s unnecessary to make her repeat the options, even if she did utter them to three people only inches in front of us only moments before. Nevertheless, he may not have heard. The attendant starts her list again for the fourth time in two rows. Interestingly (if you’re bored on a plane), I’m impressed at how she does this – rather than simply list a load (and there are loads) of options, she kind of offers each component of the pre-packed breakfast trays, as if it were an a la carte menu from which would could pick and choose.  In fact, and perhaps the downside to what I’m seeing as a more friendly and less production line approach to in-flight meals, Albert does think it’s a pick and choose job. So he asks for “just a croysent please”.  Now, I know exactly what he means. I may not pronounce it in the same way and neither, I suppose, do the French. However, the attendant either doesn’t hear or doesn’t understand, and asks him again. God bless uncle Albert, he repeats “just a croysent please”. Is he uneducated? Not bothered? More knowledgeable than the rest of us? Who knows, but he gets his solitary continental pastry and picks at it for the rest of the flight.

Meanwhile, I’m becoming increasingly entertained by Rupert across the way. Sitting in seat 1B and 1C are a couple, about my age (maybe a little older), and I can’t decide if he is just over excited or whether he knows the crew? Before we took off, he had a word with the cabin attendant and was subsequently ushered the few feet forward into the cockpit, shaking hands with the pilot and his chum, and taking photos on his iPhone. Scurrying back grinning like a Cheshire cat, Rupert then proceeded to share his snaps with his companion beside him, bless.

During the flight, Rupert appeared to be looking at EVERYTHING on the plane. For most, this could be a subtle review, but the downside of sitting in row 1 is that you have to turn around to see anything, making it blatantly obvious that you’re having a look, again, at breakfast, at what everyone else had, at the duty free trolley, was anyone buying anything?… As I sit here evaluating Rupert’s appearance and actions, I suddenly realise he’s doing a me… he’s reading (and trying to fathom the controls for) the entertainment screen! Yes Rupert, we’re at 37,000 feet, traveling at 538mph, somewhere over Southern France.

Still trying to decide if I think he’s a friend of the crew (which could explain how he was able to get photos, the hand shaking, and perhaps even the seat choice), I realise Rupert is actually the chap I clocked in security, noticeable by the delightful elbow pads on his jacket, the decidedly creased state of said jacket, and the size of the turn-ups on his jeans – his companion actually let him go out like that?! Maybe he thinks he’s Tom Ripley? As we land, he produces a trilby from the overhead locker and his look is (debatably) complete. Relieved not to hear him break into a verse of Americano, the doors open, it’s 10:45 local time, 24 degrees and I can smell Italy… buongiorno!

Aunty Shee on a Saga trip…

I walk into the Ladies’ at Malpensa airport. There are three or four ladies waiting in front of me, one of whom seems to be what the Wallins would call an “Aunty Shee”. With no reference to gender reassignment, (although in today’s world, if my brother was still with us I’m sure he’s debate this, purely for entertainment value), an Aunty Shee is a comparison to a friend of my grandmother’s, who regularly appeared at family gatherings and was no relation whatsoever, yet still went by the label of ‘aunty’.

Anyway, the comparison here is the fact that Shee had a presence about her, which meant that even if you couldn’t see her, you just knew she was there. Similarly, here in the Ladies’ at Malpensa airport, is a Shee-like figure, giving (questionably) helpful direction to the other ladies around her, who are of a similar age, fashion(less) dress sense and they’re all American.

It’s only when Shee turns around and I see the badge on the lanyard around her neck. The former being about A5 in size, roughly laminated, and bearing the words “Magnificent Lakes of Italy tour”, along with her name and a badly pixelated image of what could be a lake. The lanyard is blue and holds a strapline which I can’t clearly make out, but it includes the words ‘Milan’ and ‘2013’. Having clocked this, I look around me to realise that I’ve potentially become mixed-up in an American Saga trip around the Italian Riviera – leave Rebecca, quickly!

Enough! I’m not done yet!

A quick one, albeit, not as quick as the Italian women must be… Why is it, whenever I sit on a toilet over here, it flushes, whilst I’m still sitting there?! Talk about chicken and egg; I think I’m done, prepare to leave, the toilet flushes, meaning more tissue / drying required, which then triggers the flush again… Enough! I’m not done yet! Will someone please invent an automatic flush which is triggered by the lid being lowered, or the cubicle door being unlocked (like the French public conveniences do in Bezier) rather than by movement in the vicinity of the toilet seat. Whoever thought it’d be good to trigger it whilst you’re wiping? Rubbish, or even crap design! I’ll leave you with that delightful though…

Ciao Ciao x