Monday, April 30, 2012

Verena 2: Germans 0

Not that I'm at all competitive or driven to keeping score or anything so trivial,  but a girl's got to keep her sanity somehow.

Strike 1.
Every week I get together with a mother of one of Jas's friends and we chat, half in German to improve my German and half in English to improve her English.  M and I have, over the last year become good friends, we have the same tastes in luscious actors, enjoy the same films and same books - having discovered that our genre of choice is sci-fi/fantasy and that we both love the great god Terry Pratchett we have recommended new authors to each other, with resounding success.  So we probably know each other reasonably well, but last Wednesday I shocked her speechless.  This wasn't the tale of my baby chick murdering spree (1st year of a Uni Zoology course) or even that I was still breast feeding when indulging in Guinness (she slept through the night for the first time after that). 
We were discussing confirmation and first communion* and then moved onto christening, as far as we could tell the only difference between the religions is that catholics only get three godparents whilst in the evangelical branch (church of England in the U.K**) you can have as many godparents as you want (although four is the usual number) and this is where M was stunned into silence.  My children were both christened.   Despite the fact that neither Si nor I believe in God we did get both our children christened, for several reasons;

1. MIL***, would probably have flipped out if we hadn't had the children christened, and no, she's not a bible basher, and probably only goes to church for weddings, christenings, funerals and Christmas.
2. Party!
3. We might not believe but we do think our children should have the opportunity to make that decision themselves, so start them off christened and let them study religion at school until such a time as they make up their mind not to, Ben was 10, and funnily enough Jas was also 10. At least now we're all atheists together, all singing from the same hymn sheet...or not!

Strike 2.
I went to the (not so super)supermarket today, it's in the middle of town and so the carpark is popular and you have to pay to use it by taking a ticket.   If you then use the supermarket the cashier punches the carpark ticket and when you drive out, you stick it in the barrier machine and it lets you out. There's another machine near the lifts for those who need to pay, but you don't need to use this if you've had your card punched****.
Today I had a trolley FULL of food (a shocking sight, which woukd clearly have marked me out as "not German", because they seem to shop every day, frequenting all the 5 different supermarkets) and rode up in the lift with an older lady (who oddly had not a single item of shopping with her) we muttered together as the lift lurched into motion and then some moments later shuddered to a halt at the appropriate floor.  I swear that one day my luck will run out and the lift will stop between the floors.   We walked together out of the lift, towards the cars, passing the car park ticket machine. 
Don't you need to use the machine, the old lady asked me. 
No, I told her, it's been punched by the cashier in the supermarket.
But you still have to use the machine, the lady didn't want to be beaten on her local knowledge and cetainly not by an out and out foreigner.
No, I told her, get the card punched by the cashier and then just go.
With that I waltzed off to my car, silently praying that my system would hold up, that today wouldn't be the day when the barrier machine decided to get revenge. It took me a while to load my trolley's worth of victuals into the bags I keep in the boot of my car and all the time I was packing I could feel this lady's eyes boring holes into my back, I could imagine her watching me walk to my car, load it and then be determined to follow me as I attempted to exit the car park having not first put my ticket through the ticket machine.
I drove towards the barrier, praying to the gods I believe in (god of shopping, god of pretty shoes and not forgetting the twin gods of chocolate and wine) please, please let the the machine still love me, if ever the god of spite were to dabble in my fate it would have been today.   But no.   Ticket into barrier machine, barrier up, Verena very happy.

So there you go, Verena 2: Germans 0, a good result I think you'll agree.

* it's that time of year when the little catholics are getting all dressed up like the bride of Christ and the rest are scrubbing themselves up as best they can in order to make their parents happy by swearing to be god fearing little boys and girls (essentially in order to reap the monetary rewards, this year all the boys seem to be getting cash towards new computer equipment.)
** showing my ignorance here by wondering if it's also called the CofE in Scotland and Wales...
*** mother in law
**** as long as you've only been there an hour, if you've been longer then you have to pay, fair enough.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Snaps 111

No. 1 son was in England all week and on Wednesday in London.  He texted me this photo with the comment "You know her?"  
One of his classmates was a little confused by the identities though, claiming to have seen Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles...I guess a 14 year old German can be forgiven for getting the names of the British monarch's husband and son muddled up!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mother knows best

I was chatting to my mom the other night, about this and that and the other, catching up on gossip as we do every week.  

She surprisingly hasn't had any bonfires (I think the weather in England is too wet) but has been out meeting up with various friends, talking to my brother, trying to make sure he's not going to be all sad and alone in some dodgy bar full of ladyboys on his birthday, and generally living the relaxed life of the professionally retired.  

I was regaling her with my movements and letting her know how the other half live - the other half not being me, oh no, rather Simon.  Who had to fly to Hannover and back on Saturday afternoon/evening in order to have dinner with some Chinese minister or something.  We tried very hard not to be jealous, and he had halfheartedly suggested we (that'd be me & the kids) go along too and while he was eating in some swanky restaurant we'd end up at Mackie D's - don't think so, especially given Jas's propensity for vomiting in planes, trains and automobiles*.

I told her how empty the house feels at the moment, what with Si away all week at some daft exhibition and Ben terrorising Margate***, and she was surprised.  But Simon's often away for days at a time she said, and as for Ben, she knows that he gets home, raids the kitchen, goes to his room (computer, internet, skype, facebook) only to emerge for tea and further fridge/cupboard raids***, the most amount of interaction I can get from Ben is a grunted response to questions I fire at him when he's in (ear)shot.  The house still feels emptier than usual though, maybe it's because the food stocks aren't being visibly depleted or because I'm not have to tidy up after two other people, I can certainly understand why parents move and downsize when their children eventually leave home, who wants to rattle around in a house that once rang with the noise of children?  I text-ed Ben last night, just to touch base as it were.  They'd had fun at Dover castle and then Hastings and then been to a proper British chippy for fish and chips.  I was so jealous I started salivating.  But apparently quite a few of the German kids didn't appreciate it, because, and get this, the über healthy Germans don't eat fish (at least not the ones Ben goes to school with) weird.

Today the kids were in London, visiting the National Maritime Museum, at the same time as the Queen and Phil the Greek, bet the teachers are dead chuffed with their planning!

But thanks to my mom, for putting my head straight, I am really no more alone this week than I am in others and at least I get full control of the TV remote once Jas has gone to bed!!

Word of the day; wichteln - to secret santa

* actually she hasn't done it in a train yet, but that's only because I don't do public transport** and so the opportunities are few and far between.
** unless there's a grown up holding my hand and making sure I don't get lost, don't laugh, it happened the last time.
*** see Monday "Keep calm and carry on".
**** the amount a teenage boy can eat is incredible, thank goodness I have only one in the house.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Keep calm and carry on

I give you fair warning...*

But the Germans are coming.

Admittedly there's only about 50 or so and the majority are all under the age of consent but all the same, I'd keep well clear of the Canterbury/Margate/Dover area this coming week if I were you.

This morning Ben's class met at 8am in the car park opposite the swimming pool.  The perfect place, lots of available car parking for all the parents, a big enough space for a coach or two, everyone knows where it is and there's even a small newsagents for last minute supplies.  The plan was to meet at 8 and then for them to be gone by 8:30. 

It was not to be.  How the Germans got their reputation for punctuality and efficiency confounds me at times.  At 8:45 I gave up and went home (had a German lesson organised for 9am and my teacher is always on time (!)  It was pointless standing in the car park any longer waiting around, the coach had blacked out windows so it was impossible to see the children anyway.

The journey to Margate was scheduled to take about ten hours.  I couldn't understand how this was possible, unless they were going by an old fashioned horse drawn coach, but no, the coach is of the modern variety, however it turns out that under German law the driver has to stop for 30 minutes every two hours or something crazy (I guess it's not crazy if it prevents senseless traffic accidents) They're actually not due in Calais until around 4pm and when I drive to my parents (just south of Birmingham) I can be there drinking tea and eating cake by then (and before you say it, it's not possible to speed on that journey, not without risking serious fines anyway). 

The boys are prepared for the long journey though, they were planning to start with films on a laptop (with headphones and a headphone splitter) and when that battery is exhausted move onto someone's ipad and so on.  The one thing none of them want to do is sleep.  It only takes one evil minded child (mine) with a permanent marker (mine) and an evil sense of humour...I'm looking forward to seeing the resulting photos.**

Tomorrow the programme states that the class are going to Dover, to see the castle and the "secret war tunnels" and then onto Hastings.  When I heard they were going to Hastings I was surprised.  In my head I have Hastings as being "up north somewhere", probably near Hadrian's historical knowledge is truly lamentable, but at least I've learnt something.

Wednesday is London and a boat trip along the Thames, the Tower of London and then walking along the Thames, I can hear the whining now, especially if/when the weather turns against them (although one mother did confide to me that she'd packed her son's waterproof trousers for him.  I guarantee they will come back as neatly folded as they went, this is after all the child who wore shorts straight through the winter, snow included).

Thursday they have a day, a whole day, in Canterbury complete with an optional cathedral service (can see that being popular amongst the boys)  I have no idea what they are going to find to keep them occupied in Canterbury for the better part of a day, although I know that one of the teachers (teaches English, History (bilingual) and English Literature) is quite keen to do the Chaucer tour (that sounds dull to me and I studied Chaucer***).

Friday is another day in London walking between the houses of Parliament, Horse Guards Parade, Buck House and Trafalgar Square (pray it doesn't rain) and after a trip to Madame Tussaud's they have a couple of hours free time.  Some of the children are going to the British War Museum (that'll be the boys) the girls are heading straight to Abercrombie and Fitch and Ben and some mates are planning to wander about, they don't want to do any of the sights but they're too young to go into pubs so goodness only knows where they'll end up, I do hope Ben's friends aren't making the assumption that because he's English he knows his way around London.  He's been there once, maybe twice and as a much younger child, ah well, there's safety in numbers!

So this week Jas and I are home alone, Ben's off having fun in England and Si is in Hannover at a huge (and terminally dull) exhibition.  Maybe we should paint the house pink while they're both absent?

* at least 8 hours.
** I suggested a little Hitler 'tasch and another child sitting behind moving an arm into the appropriate postion.
*** can you believe that German kids study Chaucer in English Lit here?  Can you imagine trying to understand the old English, do you translate it first into English and then German d'you think?  And, what is the point?  Chaucer seemed fairly useless and out of touch 20+ years ago in England, but in 2012 in Germany?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Snaps 110

It's election time here in Germany and posters are springing up everywhere.  I saw this one last week and did a double take.
My brain read it as "mission impossible", in other words the Green Party think that it's impossible for them to be elected...then why waste your vote on them?

I have since discussed this with my German teacher who reckons that it's actually a play on words and that "mischen" is meant to be read as "bischen", so then the poster reads "a little possible", which to my (positive) mind is also very negative.

Germans, attempting word play, it was never going to be pretty.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The winner takes it (almost) all.

Last night was expats quiz night and despite there being only 13 of us it was sufficient for 6 teams.  Among us regulars the make up of the teams is fairly fluid, husbands and wives rarely partner one another and everyone wants to team up with the mine of trivia that is Emma.

Jason and I both failed to get on team Emma and sulked in the corner together.

The first round was general knowledge and we started with a true or false question;
- The Easter bunny is the creation of U.S. chocolate manufacturers.
We hadn't a clue, we did however have a lucky coin (or rather an unlucky coin as we decided at the end of the quiz when it became apparent that it had got most of the T/F questions wrong, either that or we were just reading its answers wrongly). We decided this wasn't true, and we were right.

Another question from the 1st round was;
- What is a cornucopia?
a) a book defining varieties of grains?
b) a filled decorative horn symbolising abundance?
c) a virulent affliction of the feet?
d) the collective noun for Barry Manilow singles?
We both knew the answer to this one, Jason from a computer game he used to be addicted to and me from the Hunger Games trilogy of books.

We got all the first round right, although we weren't sure at the time.

The 2nd round was all about food and drink and was the trickiest for us.
- Eclaires are made from choux pastry, true or false?
The coin came into play and let us down.
- The main ingredient of gazpacho is what?
After debating the colour of gazpacho, green or red? We went with tomatoes, another right answer.
- Which cocktail was invented at the Raffles Hotel?
As Jason is originally from Singapore he had to get this answer right, or be refused entry the next time he tries to fly home.
- Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of what sticking to the roof of your mouth?
We hadn't a clue, I wanted to put cheese, and Jason for some barmy reason wanted to put octopus. We were both wrong, it's peanut butter.

The 3rd set of questions was introduced as a palindromic musical round - in other words an ABBA fest, the quiz could not get any more fun!
We had to name the song titles, too easy, the only one that caused us any deliberation was 'Lay all your love on me', while Emma's team had them all from the first bar of music played!  It must be said that the hardest part of this round was singing along silently (so as to be sure of the title of course) when all you really wanted to do was sing at the top of your voice and pretend to be Agnetha in sparkly blue knicker bockers and white knee high platform boots.

The 4th round was all about leading men, a gift of a round, with answers of Colin Firth, Sean Connery, Matt Damon, Dustin Hoffman and Harrison Ford - some of my favourite bits of eye candy, throw in George Clooney, Robert Pattinson, Zac Effron and Brad Pitt and we'd have had the whole sweetie shop!

The final round was more general knowledge.
- On the leaves of which tree does the silkworm feed?
Much as I love silk, I hadn't a clue, although as soon as Jason dredged up the answer from the back of his grey matter I knew it was right - the Mulberry tree of course.
- True or false, if he becomes king, Prince William will be the first British monarch to be a direct descendent of all the British monarchs since William the Conqueror.
We put our faith in the coin because despite me being able to answer Jason's question of when was William the Conqueror (1066, I was so smug to be able to answer a historical date query, after all, the remembering of dates is exactly why I gave up history at the age of 14) and then Jason declaring there was no way the answer could be true, we still weren't confident enough not to have the coin to blame if necessary. Clever coin, got that one right.

The very final question was a beauty.
- How many tourists stay at the historic Hotel de Ville in Paris every year?
We paused and then I remembered. The Hotel de Ville is the town hall and not an actual hotel.

The way the answers are laid out in an empty grid and then the results come in a random manner means that there are always prizes for the first row of correct answers, the first 4 corners and then the most correct.

After a shakey start in round one we'd possibly done OK and we were lucky with the way the answers came out too. We were the first to get a line of correct answers and then two answers later we got 4 corners. We even managed to get the most correct answers, but so did Emma and we went to a tie break, which we lost, probably a good job, nobody likes it when one team sweeps the board and takes all the prizes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Naples, Part III

The final chapter.

One of the trips I'd organised was to the island of Capri which is just a short ( but not short enough for some) boat trip away from Naples.

I'd read some amazing reviews on TripAdvisor and with this in mind booked a personal guided tour of the island.  It's not cheap, but on the other hand it certainly ensured that we saw everything we needed to on the island, were never stressed about anything and possibly had one of our best days out whilst in the area.

Paolo (cute Italian with designer shades to match the rest of his subtley designer outfit) met us at the port, introduced himself and then whizzed off to get the tickets for the boat.

The crossing takes maybe 50 minutes in a very noisy jet boat/ferry thingy (foot passengers only, the island is so tiny they really don't want to allow any Tom, Dick or Harry* driving around their teeny weeny bendy roads) not long, not long at all.   But too much (even on the milk pond we had) for Jasmine's motion sensitive stomach.  She returned from the toilet saying she'd been unable to use it because there was a queue (what a surprise, a queue for the ladies' loo) and anyway she hadn't needed the loo but rather felt sick, as we then tried to get her out of our row of seats and towards the back where there was fresh air the worst thing happened.


And as it's just a quick little hop over, no sick bags.   Simon, the seating and the lady in front took the worst of it.   I was fine, as I was behind her, pushing her out, Paolo and Ben were also out of shot and Jas has been in this situation enough times now that she's learnt not to get it on herself (clever cookie, especially as she was wearing my jumper).   Simon and Paolo took the heaving Jas to the back of the boat (Paolo having magiced a plastic bag from his über trendy little manbag) while I tried to clean up the seats and not catch the eye of the lady who now had rather unpleasant smelling hair and clothes**.

The moment we touched down in the tiny port in Capri Paolo whisked us to a café where he knew the owner so that we coud use the facilities (without black glares) and clean up.  The plan had been that once in Capri we would jump into a smaller boat to travel round to the Blue Grotto.   This plan was changed (I wonder why?) and we were to drive there in one of the oh so cute soft top stretch capri taxis, however this also had to be put on hold as the grotto was temporarily shut (when the sea is too choppy or the sea level itself is too high then the grotto is unreachable). Apparently the boat load of Chinese tourists that had accompanied us visit Capri only to see the grotto and often break down into tears when they turn up and find that the grotto is shut.

Instead, our car took us up to Anacapri (the little and not so in your face glamourous sister to the main town of Capri, where all the money hangs out) from there we took the chair lift to the top of the island.  By this time the weather was turning against us and Paolo cajoled two fleece jackets out of the staff on the chair lift in order to keep Jas and Ben warm.  On the way up the chair lift was deserted but on the way back down (after enjoying the spectacular views) all the seats were full, everyone else who'd turned up for the blue grotto trying to find something to do whilst waiting for it to open, but we'd beaten them to it, a good job as on our way down it started to rain.

The good news when we got back into Anacapri was that the Blue Grotto had just been opened and so off we went.

The grotto is accessed through a small gap in the cliff face at sea level. A gap that is just big enough for a rowing boat to fit through as long as the people in it lie down, this is the closest I've come to getting a hug from my son for some time!  Once through the hole in the rock you enter a large cavern that has no light save that which comes through the hole, but this light is sufficient to illuminate the cavern with a glowing bright blue light.  I know it's called the Blue Grotto, but you just don't expect it to be so blue.   I've never seen such a bright, natural turquoise light, it was amazing. And of course the Italian oarsmen make it even more special, clearly wanting to earn their tips, and sing - a bit like in the Cornetto ads of old, but better, so much better.

We emerged from the dazzling grotto to worsening weather, rain, but not to worry, Paolo had found umbrellas from somewhere (the mandbag wasn't that big, unless it had a Hermione style enchantment on it of course) and we were driven back to Anacapri for a wander (shopping) and lunch.

After yet more pizza had been devoured (although I think Simon had salad) we drove to Capri, our final stop of the day where we avoided the very expensive cafés in the famous square (where people primarily sit to see and be seen rather than to actually take sustenance) and headed instead down to the famous Krupp (Augustus) gardens, free of charge so early in the season but to be brutally honest the only thing worth paying for is the view as the gardens themselves are tiny, there are houses here with larger I'm sure, although they do lack the cliff drop into the sea and the view of Sophia Loren's Capri base (no sign of the lady herself, she's only there a few weeks of the year, choosing instead to spend her time in Rome - see, a personal guide is well worthwhile, the trivia you find out).  And then it was back up through the café square, past all the exclusive boutiques*** and to the funicular railway for the trip down to the harbour for the boat ride back.

Jas and I spent the whole of the return trip on the back of the boat, which was noisy and smelly (from the engines and engine fumes and also from the smokers) but at least it ensured we didn't get to see Jas's lunch again, shudder.

It was a truly memorable day, made so by the attentive Paolo as well as the beauty of the island of Capri, if you ever get the chance you shoud go, just for the day though, it's a small but very exclusive island and to spend longer there would be quite draining, financially.

* Or rather Tomaso, Riccardo and Harald, but apparently there is an Italian equivalent of the phrase, "ogni Tizio, Caio, e Sempronio".
** I mean, what can you say or do in that situation that is ever going to make amends.   After handing over tissues and saying "sorry" what will make it better?  A magic wand I guess, or a time travelling device...
*** Tod's, Gucci, Prada blah blah.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Oops, we did it again

Managed to lose the tab that is.

In our usual book group haunt, Le Chat Noir, the tab is left on the table, added to every time more is ordered (frequently in the case of bookgroup, not for us the stingy local habit of nursing a sinle Bionade or herbal tea (shudder) all night) which is fine. We commented last night how they've got more organised about it now, not scribbling it all down on a beer mat any more but a compartmentalised slip pf paper, split into three - alcohol, drinks(!) and food.  I made the comment that it might look more organised but it still doesn't prevent the tab getting lost...* and so of course the tab disappeared, we hunted high and low for the damn thing, even under the table (Jason gleefully using the torch app on his phone) but it wasn't there, although it did give everyone the opportunity to admire my new Italian boots.   Fortunately it was easy enough to reconstruct the tab due to the fact that all our empties were still on the table, it didn't stop the waitress being displeased though, "have you found it yet?" she asked, like it as our fault the tab had disappeared.

So what did we talk about last night? 

The book (Life of Pi) of course, although not for long, we had very mixed opinions about it, S declared it to be a fable (note to self, look up definition of fable) A said it was boring (she prefers crime) M had studied it at Uni (mainly because the author went to her Uni I think) J had read the whole book he said and when I doubted him (he normally reads the 1st page and then extrapolates) confessed that it had been on Wiki and then we got into a debate about whether the tiger on the boat was an animal or a person.

At some point in the evening A turned to me and asked,
"are you talking about the book?"
To which I was forced to (honestly) reply,
"no, incest"
Which got us all onto the subject of another book, Middlesex, whose title confused me momentarily as I couldn't understand why a Yank was talking about English counties and why pick that one, why not Warwickshire or Norfolk?  We'd been talking about incest because in the news here at the moment are a brother and sister who have had four children together, two of whom are handicapped, the brother has been jailed for his crime and there's some crazy priest or politician (the whole idea of it repulses me and so I have read little more than the headlines, hence my vagueness) who thinks it shouldn't be a crime.

I started off the evening unamused, S declared I was dressed like a kindergarten teacher, not quite the image I had been aiming for when I had teamed my bottle green (and slightly shiny) Desigual (i.e. loud print) top with jeans**, however as the person who made the comment is male and of antipodean descent he is not the first person I would look to for sartorial critique. Revenge was sweet, he described himself as a half wit and I quickly retorted that he'd have to work his way up to that.

This month's book is The Help, suggested by A (Yank) who wanted us to read an American author, it's a good choice, I've already read it (last summer I think) and have the dvd waiting to be watched, so I shall be reading Middlesex instead, although I might actually have to read it  the old school way as it looks as though the only Kindle version is in Italian and I do hate reading translations!

* this has happened to us only once before, the waitress was not amused then either, understandably, but we hadn't done it on purpose, we are regulars and we do spend/drink a lot.
** I have been working hard at abolishing black (apart from jeans, trousers, footwear & undies that is) from my wardrobe and embracing colour. This is mainly in retaliation to the amount of black and greige that surround me very day out and about here, black is not just the most popular colour choice for cars in Germany but also it would seem for apparel, dull, dull, DULL.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Naples, Part II

Our trip didn't start well, I was clearly distracted as we went through security at the airport, setting off the body scanner. No it wasn't the metal plate in my head, rather my iphone in my jeans pocket, duhhh!  Then Jasmine's rucksack was singled out for special attention, they opened it up, pulling everything out, cuddly toy followed cuddly toy then came the pencil case with the incriminating scissors...double duhhh.  Bizarrely the lady measured the blade on them and declared them safe to fly as they were under 6cm long - still sharp enough to be a threat I'd have thought? (On the flight home the scissors were safely tucked away in the hold luggage, neither of us could face the prospect of being pulled in by burly Italian security in Napoli, one of the homes of the Mafia)

We really struggled to find nice places to eat in Naples.  There are many, many hole in the wall pizza places which are great for a quick bite but in the evening it's nice to sit and take your time.  I had a list of restaurants I'd found recommended and so the first evening we went in search of one.  I put the address into the maps app on my phone and off we went. We went backwards and forwards past the flashing blue dot on the map but there was no corresponding restaurant door.  The only time we successfully found a recommended restaurant was when we phoned and made a reservation and then got a taxi to take us there. Weird. 

The pizzas themselves are amazing though, and having made them on our first day I can understand why they are known as Napoli's fast food, no need for McDonalds there.  The most time consuming part of the pizza process must be the dough which is made in advance and left to rise, it is then worked from a ball into a flat disc - this caused Si the most problems, he wrecked two lots of dough with his impatience and heavy handedness (both the children managed it with ease) and then after mid air stretching the tomato base is spread over then the topping (no pineapple allowed) then cheese, basil and a dribble of olive oil.  The final tricky bit is pulling the completed pizza onto the tray on a stick which is then used to deposit the pizza in the wood fired pizza oven. The pizza cooks for minutes, I guess because the oven is so hot and the pizza so thin that more time is not needed, although maybe if they cooked for a little longer they wouldn't be so damn soggy in the centre, but then I guess they wouldn't be Neapolitan pizzas!

We were in Naples 2-8 April and on April 11 the America's Cup started, based out of the marina.  On our last day in Naples we headed over to the marina area to see if it was any nicer than the rest of the city, if nothing else it should be all clean and sparkly because of the world's press.  Unfortunately it rained all day and rain is really not conducive to meandering around city streets, however that was the plan so we stuck to it.

In all big (Italian anyway) cities you get un-authorised street sellers, usually selling fake bags and purses on the curbside, but on this particular day they were all out in force flogging umbrellas, what a stroke of genius, after all who packs an umbrella when they're going to a country renowned for its warmth and sun?  The moment we started up the street headed in the direction of the marina I stopped an umbrella hawker and bought one, didn't bargain with him, just unfurled the brolly and stood under its shelter as I handed over 10 euro.  Simon was disgusted and scornful, declaring that I'd been ripped off.  Maybe so, but at least Jas and I were dry.  He borrowed 1 euro from me and declared he'd buy one for himself, sometime later he had to concede to paying 4 euro, which he gloated about but as he is, by profession, a salesman, it's a good job he was able to get a better price, I know who was drier though!

The upside of the crappy weather was that popping into shops was a good thing, I do love Italian shoe shops.  The downside of the rain was that we rapidly ran out of enthusiasm for the idea exploring the marina area, no-where looks attractive in the rain so the closest we got to the America's Cup was the website!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Naples, Part I

I think that maybe if we'd been to Naples before we went to Rome (last October) then our expectations would have been different.

Rome is a beautiful city, the light itself is amazing, the architecture stunning, the shops range from tiny little (not too expensive) boutiques all the way via H&M and Zara to Prada and Gucci, the men are all as memorable as the sights and the restaurants are great.  Yes it's busy and full of people but it's a capital city, you expect that.

Naples is the third largest Italian city (so we were informed by a guide trying hard to defend her home town, after she'd asked how we were enjoying the city and I didn't lie, I didn't tell the full truth either, but what I said was clearly enough to make her go on the defensive) after Rome and Milan but I don't think it's the third richest and it certainly doesn't feel as though it's third in the pecking order.  If it really is third richest and third in the pecking order then I really, really don't want to go to the fourth place city...

Because we'd been to Rome first I think we all expected Naples to be similar, we were very wrong. Thinking back, in many historical books that I've read Naples is always talked about as a thriving port but also a city with a seamier underside to it, you would think that as the years have gone by then so the city would have grown up, cleaned up its act and become more respectable, at least on the surface. But no. 

Here are the good and the bad of Naples as I see it:

* Good - pizza, Naples is the home of the Margarita pizza, and their thin crust pizza is deeeeeelicous.
* Bad - pizza, some of the pizzerias make them just a bit too soggy in the middle for my taste.
* Good - the weather, the beginning of April and we had 20 degrees C, nice.
* Bad - the homeless, from our hotel window we could see 2 guys every night bedding down on the front steps of the University building.  Just along from the cathedral there was a guy who clearly slept in the same spot every night and used the pavement nearby as his toilet, dog poo is one thing but human excrement?  Shudder.
* Good - cake, omg, the cake! The baba, the sfogliatelle, yum yum yum.
* Bad - cake! Too much of it tempting me, everywhere, it's even OK to have it for breakfast.
* Good - proximity to sights like Pompeii, Herculaneum, Vesuvius, Capri, the Amalfi coast.
* Bad - the dirt, the streets were filthy, litter everywhere.
* Good - the wine, thanks to the naughty volcano the wines of the region are totally scrumptious.
* Bad - the traffic, the Neapolitans are crazy drivers, they occasionally stop for red lights but you shoudn't bank on it, the horn is used constantly and the moped drivers are insane. We were seated in a restaurant window when a moped was pulled over and we were trying to work out what he was being told off for, lane hopping? They all do it.  Weaving through the cones? They all do it.  U turn? They all do it.  Going through a red light? They all do it. Eventually we decided it must be the lack of a helmet (although they all do that too, especially when riding three to a bike) either that or it the moped was knicked!
* Good - limoncello, a lemon liquor, some of the restaurants give it away free as you pay the bill, very friendly of them, and yes I did bring a bottle home.

So, experience, one that wont be repeated, although I'd happily go back to Pompeii.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunday Snaps 108

Vesuvius, alas no lava, and people (including my supposedly intelligent son) were surprised by the lack...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Snaps 107

Here's my April picture from the calendar that the lovely Mini people personalised for me.