Travel at Christmas – OMG let’s panic!

So, we’re on the Eve of a public holiday (we know this well, there’ve been hints on tv since September) it’s winter (this, too, is not a surprise, even if the forecasters tell us ‘this year is warmer, colder, sunnier, wetter etc than ever before…’); it’s wet and windy (again, we should really anticipate this by now); and therefore, the news which dominated yesterday’s UK headlines was one of seasonal nightmare adverse weather-related travel disruption. Well I never!

Always planning

In my usual fashion, I planned ahead and booked my train tickets home about 3 months ago, meaning I got a bargain for first class with East Coast (cheers for the heads-up Bobby T). So when all hell broke loose on the railways yesterday, and people were advised to travel early, I called Bobby T to check there was a first class champagne lounge at Kings Cross. He confirmed there is and suggested that today could actually end up being quieter, as everyone panicked yesterday. So I got up this morning, allowing plenty of time to brace the underground on a day potentially riddled with disruption and late Christmas shoppers, and set off across Central London to Kings Cross.

Eerie

Now this does surprise me – the tubes are empty? Even Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus and Covent Garden are like Deadsville Tennessee! I expected last minute shoppers, people like me traveling for Christmas, and a few commuters. But there’s no-one around? The peace gives me chance to reflect on my packing.

At this point, it’s worth noting that I have a tendency to pack some very strange things. For example, on a weekend home from University, I once decided that staying out drinking until crazy o’clock was far more entertaining than packing. Hence when I finally fell through the door (yes literally) I threw a few items in a bag and passed out, waking up just in time to dash to the station to catch my train the following morning. Strangely enough, three odd socks, a couple of CDs, a bikini and a ball gown weren’t entirely useful during a November weekend in York…?

So what did I do last night? I went out for drinks in Canary Wharf after work with Craig and his team – Corporate Liquidity – quite appropriately named, unfortunately. Oh lord, I sense a ball gown moment on the horizon…

But despite the attempts of a rather camp but very lovely chap called Nigel, I left after pint 3 and was home by 9. Unfortunately, the bottle of red which was sitting on the side in the kitchen would’ve been wasted with no one home to drink it for the next 5 days, so I partook whilst packing, of course.

Now sitting on the tube, chugging along the blue Piccadilly, I interview myself, Jimmy Rabbit style (watch the Commitments)… So Rebecca; it’s not actually cold, the pavements are dry, the air is still and it’s not raining – yet you’re wearing a thick woolen winter coat, gloves, scarf and a wooly hat…? Hmm… Ok Rebecca; so what shoes have you packed for your 5 winter days in Yorkshire? Well I’m wearing my boots and in my case are my grey suedes, black heels and my summer flats… No trainers?… Hmm… This isn’t looking good. So at least you remembered your laptop, as you’re working on Friday – and the power cable? Oh bugger, I knew there was something…

We are where we are

Rather than worry about that, I’m checking the East Coast website and the 09:08 is reported as being on time. So far so good – I’m through to Q2 – let’s hope things remain as quiet as my laptop…

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On arrival at Kings Cross, where all other trains appear to be suffering, the trusty 09:08 still appears to be holding strong. I collect my tickets, wander through to the departures area and the friendly East Coast tannoy announcement confirms that the 9:08 is cancelled. CANCELLED? Bugger! Right, plan B; next train to York? 9:00, calling at Peterborough, York… Hang on, that’s the fast train? I’ll be in the Tap with a pint in my hand by 10:51? Sweet! East Coast apologises for any inconvenience, usher me into first class on platform 0 (still love that there’s a platform 0 at Kings Cross) and offer me a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich… Happy days, I’m through to Q3 and I believe this qualifies as a hot lap… The question is, will Vettel come out and trump me for pole?

Final stretch

First stop Peterborough, on time, so far so good. Next stop, York. Our train guard, David (a friendly Geordie chappy), advises me that we are currently running on time, and that our crew leader (Kevin) will shortly be telling me about catering facilities available on board this East Coast service today. Marvellous. That bacon butty didn’t touch the sides and my tea cup is empty.

P1 for Boxy!

We must now be approaching God’s own country – it’s glorious blue sky outside, the chavs left the train at Peterborough, and already I’m feeling relaxed. The clock has run down and there’s just Vettel and I still on track – I can see the chequered flag and I’ve run purple sector times so far this morning… All I have to endure now is the view of an Arsenal fan opposite me – rarely a pretty sight – for the next hour and I’m home free…

The chequered flag

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Doing the Fiat factory roof

So today is all about cars, and although I never thought I’d hear myself say this, all I can think about it Fiat. So I’m up and out of the hotel and straight to the Tobacconist to buy a Metro ticket, and it’s off to the underground I go.

Now sad as it may be, I’m starting to develop a liking for underground systems – or rather the differences between them. For instance, London’s tube is the oldest in the world at 150 years, yet it’s stood the test of time pretty well and still blows my mind as a feat of engineering genius. Just look at Westminster station, or the cross section of Oxford Circus… Then in contrast, you have Budapest – another of the oldest and some of it looks no different now to how it did 100 years ago – rickety old carriages, slow trains, a health & safety nightmare, but entirely functional and a perfectly adequate means of getting from one side of the city to the other. Then at the other end of the scale you have Honkers – meticulously efficient, clean and hi tech.

Torino is a little different. To start with, you can’t really get lost – there’s only one line. And it doesn’t go into the city centre. Instead it runs from Lingotto in the south, up to Porto Nuevo (the city’s southern station) before skirting round the south west of the centre then back out to the south west…? Overground there are busses and trams which seem to drive as erratically as the minis – over cobbles which I keep thinking are pavements *beep beep* and on pavements which I think are out of bounds (literally, under the arches as they did in the movie). There’s little logic in the central palazzas, so I just look and run! Is jaywalking a crime in Italy? Moving swiftly on…

So I wander down to Porto Nuevo and descend into the Metro. Lingotto is clearly marked (Treni a Lingotto) and what I find actually looks brand new – didn’t expect that? The trains are like the cars in the original Total Recall movie – big deep windows at the front, no driver, and you can look where you’re going. The tunnels are wide, with tracks in both directions and the platforms run the full length of the line, so you could, technically, walk from one station to the next. It’s smooth and simple and I arrive at Lingotto in minutes. Not that exciting to explore, but does the job.

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It really is that simple!

As I arise from the Metro, the sky is still bright blue and I’m presented with the familiar sight of the Fiat factory – yay! I walk (quickly, excitedly) across the road and up the escalator into what is now a shopping complex, complete with cinema at one end and an NH Hotel in the middle. Inside is a long mall, with shops and restaurants up and down both sides. But there’s no mention of Fiat, no mention of minis and not a Michael Caine poster in sight? Right, so where do I go? How do I get up there?

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I figure the person who’s bound to know (if nothing else, from the hundreds of tourists like me who come on this pilgrimage of epic British automotive and movie heritage) is the hotel concierge. So I trot back down the escalator (yes, literally) and round to the hotel. When I relay my oh-so-handy Italian line of mi no parlo Italiano and ask Luigi if he parla Inglesi? He responds but of course and I’m on my way. I ask if it’s possible to get on the roof, expecting a sigh and potential annoyance in return, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Luigi simply replies Yes, you want to go now? To which I nod like a child at Christmas. He rummages in a drawer and produces a yale key on a lanyard and hands it over. Go back up the escalator, across the hall, into the service elevator, up to the 4th floor, and this key will unlock the door out onto the roof. Really? It’s that simple? He doesn’t know me from Adam, yet he’s entrusting such treasure into my possession? I don’t question it; I simply thank him and scuttle off back up the escalator and into the service elevator. It’s all a bit rickety, and when I exit on the 4th floor, I wonder if anyone’s actually been up here in the 24 years since the factory closed, as there’s little more to look at than dust, a couple of brooms and a fire extinguisher. I walk over to the door and put the key in the lock, still not quite believing where I am or what I’m about to see.

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The key turns, I open the door and suddenly I’m faced with one of the most awesome views ever. I’m looking out over Turin, towards a horizon of snow-capped mountains, against a backdrop of bright blue sky. (I’ve never been skiing, but for those who have, I guess this is the equivalent of that first view you got from the top on your first skiing trip?) I draw breath, the turn round to see the banked curve at the end of the roof. Wow. This is just so cool – for those who’ve never watched the movie, it’ll mean nothing. But for those who have, it feels like I’m on a film set from 40 years ago, which has been left just as it was. There’s no new tarmac, there’s weeds growing around the edges, the only sad addition is speed bumps (I kid you not, flipping speed bumps! Clarkson would do his nut!)

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Having a moment – another one!

Of all the crazy incredible things I’ve been lucky enough to do over the past few years, I think this is one of the most personal. Simon would’ve loved to go to Australia or New Zealand (he’d probably have passed on Honkers, don’t see that being his thing really) but he’d have given his right arm to come here. If I’m honest, had he still been here, it probably wouldn’t have held such significance for me to come (because I’d have left him to do it). But because he’s not here, I feel like I’m doing it for him? The whole time I’ve been in Turin, I’ve had a little devil sitting on my shoulder whistling This is the self-preservation society… and this is the culmination of all that emotion. I Skype mum and dad so they can see what I’m seeing and share the emotion. I’m not really sure if they get it; they sure know it’s cool, and I think dad is a little jealous (as it’s something he probably would’ve done with Simon, given the chance) but for me, today is sound.

The icing on the cake, was that when I posted a picture on Facebook of where I was, the first few people to ‘Like’ it were some of Simon’s school friends… it’s as though they knew what it’d have meant to him, perhaps it’d have meant the same to them too, had they been here? The Italian Job was one of the iconic movies boys watched with their dads, I guess.

Epilogue

I’m now on the bus en route to the airport – I’ve done the one thing I wanted to do here, and it brought a HUGE smile to my face. Next time you think I wish I could do xxx… or I wish I could go to yyy… ask yourself WHY you can’t, then ask yourself what you CAN do to get around the barrier. It sounds simple, and usually it’s a time or money thing, but I believe it’s about priorities. These days, a flight to Europe can cost the same as a big night out or a weekend’s boozing. So if you REALLY want to try xxx or go to yyy, ask yourself if you want the night out or weekend’s boozing more, and if the answer is no, then book xxx or yyy and give yourself something to look forward to. Experiences last a lifetime, and they make us who we are. I’d take the stamp on my passport, every time.

Right, where’s next…?

Ciao ciao!
Boxy xx

I only wanted you to blow the bloody doors off…

Having slept in until 9, I wake feeling half human and decide that before I can justifiably consume copious amounts of red wine again, I should go exploring. On discovering that the public transport system is on strike for 24 hours, the old Fiat factory and Automotive museum are immediately deferred to tomorrow, and I opt to explore the city on foot.

Turin is stunning. Fact. It’s no secret that I love Italy, as much in the winter as the summer, as much in the countryside as the cities, as much in the hills as on the beach. But I’m close to suggesting that this is my favourite place so far. This could be because I didn’t know what to expect, or have time to even think much about it.

The fun started when I was at home at the weekend, and mum commented that I’ve been on British soil for a while, am I ok? She’s right; my passport hasn’t felt the thump of a border control stamp for three whole months! What am I playing at? Right. I need to find a quick jaunt somewhere soon. So when the Major and the Minor (my grandparents) deposited ‘a little something’ in my bank account for Christmas, just enough to cover return flights to Europe, I was straight onto the Internet to find something suitable.

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So why Turin?

One of my brother’s favourite films was The Italian Job – not the one with Charlize Theron (although he ‘wouldn’t have thrown her out of bed for farting’ I’m sure) but the original. A few years back, on what would’ve been his 30th birthday, I played with the idea of hiring three minis and driving across to Turin as a fundraiser. But the plan never came off and, until now, I’d still never been here. Now I’m starting to wonder why the hell I waited so long?!

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The plan of the city centre is pretty regular – a grid pattern. But because the city is surrounded by mountains, every street you look down is adorned with beautiful facades, and looks towards snow-capped mountains at the end. And there’s a river (the Po) which means bridges! (I have a thing for bridges… another story…) so having explored the Palazzo Madame and seen the world’s biggest advent calendar, I wander down via Po towards the river. The street itself is little to write about, until I get to Vittorio Veneto and literally gasp for breath. The road opens out into a large palazzo, with arches down both sides and a view at the other end worthy of a postcard. It’s a sunny day, and the sun is shining on the hill and palace on the far banks of the river on front of me, giving the distant view something of a haze, but against a flawless blue sky, it’s one of the most spectacular views I’ve seen.  My only disappointment is the amount of overhead cables – there are trams in Turin, but even the streetlights have cables crossing to them. I don’t know if they’re just not got to the point of putting power lines underground, or chosen not to? For me it spoils it a little, but the buildings’ beauty is just so impressive that my disappointment is short-lived.

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At this point, I could easily take pictures of the river and bridges all day. But instead I decide to go on a little mission to find places where Simon’s film was shot… the weir, the church steps, the roof of the old Fiat factory… I can hear him quoting Michael Caine all day! He is most definitely with me on this one, that’s for sure!

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#ionlywantedyoutoblowthebloodydoorsoff

Bxx

What’s the plan? Eat pasta and drink red wine. Perfetto.

Having not done my typical planathon (buying a rough guide, planning my itinerary, packing in advance, at least twice… etc) I’ve arrived in Turin with lots of coughing, low energy levels and little expectation. All I really want to do for the few days is sit in a café, drink coffee and write my blog during the day, then eat pasta and drink red wine in the evening. A relaxing few days away with no exploring itinerary.

So tonight I ventured out of the hotel and round the corner into a small piazza, looking for somewhere I can get a glass of red and a bite to eat. In the piazza are two restaurants. Both have enclosed / heated patio areas in front, both probably have the same number of occupants, but the first one looks busier as it’s smaller. So I go for this one. No sign of a menu, everything is in Italian, and everyone inside looks casual, as though they’ve walked into their own kitchen. Perfect. The staff are dressed equally casually, not a uniform in sight, and they’re all smiles and welcoming. Perfect.

Pull up a chair…

I take a seat in the corner and across comes the waiter. He drops a handwritten notepad on the table, says something in Italian and disappears…? If this was England, I’d wonder if he was he having a strop, or just being very off-hand? But this is Italy 🙂

The notepad lists three items, then a line, then a further 5 items, another line, then four more items. I understand the odd word, like ‘verde’ ‘ragu’ and ‘risotto’ so guess this is the menu? Pondering whether to go for pot luck or get my iPhone out and translate, the waiter returns, pulls up a chair and starts chatting to me – if only waiters in the UK were like this, I’d be in! It’s fantastic! Or it would be if I could understand a word of what Guiseppe is saying?! Assuming he’s trying to talk me through the menu, I’m so tempted to let him continue, just for the entertainment; nod periodically, raise the odd eyebrow, make ‘hungry’ noises to suggest temptation at specific dishes etc. But my sensible (boring?) bone kicks in and I give a little nervous giggle and explain that ‘mi no parlo Italiano’. He smiles and beckons over his colleague, who apologises on his behalf (not that there’s any need) and suggests she will try to explain in English. Of course, her English is brilliant and every dish is described, complete on a bed of Italian detail. Belissimmo.

Water soon arrives, followed by a basket of bread, wine comes in a carafe, accompanied by a tumbler – no wine glasses – and the ambiance is set, to perfection. This is exactly what I had in mind. I love this place! My starter doesn’t take long – cheese (tastes like a cross between feta and mozzarella, creamy but neither crumbly nor elastic) with a green sauce (looks like an oily pesto drizzled on top, but tastes more minty that basily). Three slices on a plate, no frills. My main course follows: spaghetti with sausage (the pasta looks more like noodles than spaghetti – flat rather than round – but the taste confirms it’s home-made, and just delicious.) Again, simple presentation but all taste. I’d considered the local dish of ‘boiled meats’ or ‘lamb and potato’ for my third (meat) course, but don’t have room for more. Well, not until I see the tiramisu appear on the next table… I think the waitress sees my eyes pop out of my head – just as I’m about to ask for il conto she raises her eyebrows, nods towards the neighbouring table and I’ve no choice but to smile and nod. One Tiramisu later and I’m done. Almost…

On presenting the bill, the waiter also deposits a teaspoon on the table, with a sugar lump on it. A little bemused by this, I watch as he produces a lighter from his pocket and sets the sugar alight. OK… what do I do now? Judging by the flame, I’m guessing it’s been doused in a spirit, but do I blow it out or watch it burn?… Is the spoon damaging the wooden table?… The spoon’s metal, so I can’t pick it up, it’ll be red hot!… So do I just watch it burn and look impressed?… It’s bubbling away and I’m not really sure what to do with it?…

#answersonapostcard

Bxx