domenica 30 marzo 2008

A refreshing change

Despite having lived in Milan for over two years now, I had never made it into the mountains and so, being in need of a little (or a lot) of TLC, we booked Easter weekend at the Terme delle Dolomiti, which is a health spa built on a natural spring – the highest in Italy. We set off late afternoon on Saturday (Luca had to work until 5 – grrrrr) and by 10:30pm we were there (including 3 stops, one of which involved a failed attempt to fit the tangled mass of snow chains to the car…)
The village we had chosen to stay in is called Pàdola, situated at 1300m in the Val Comelico – one of the highest points of the Veneto region, and not that far from the Austrian border. A real picture-postcard place, blighted only by the low cloud which covered what would otherwise have been spectacular views of the mountains. Mountain people are very different from the Milanesi, as far as I could gather. In the mountains, people will stop and offer assistance if they see you in difficulty – for example the elderly man who insisted on helping us with our snow chains even though it was 10 o’clock on a Saturday night on an icy mountain road in -8 degrees, and who then insisted on leading us down to the nearest village even though he was going in the other direction. Also, they eat a lot of pork – ham, salami, sausages, chops, smoked, un-smoked, cured, boiled – you name it, they eat it. They also tend to combine these many pork variations with onions, cabbage and pickles, the likes of which I have never seen in Italy before (good though!). The spa itself was great with just one drawback – the number of children, and their combined effort at turning the place into something that resembled Naples’ piscina comunale. At one point, I was lying in the outdoor hydro-massage tub, with snow coming down on my head, drifting into some sort of trance, when a fat 10 year-old boy decided to belly-flop into the pool right next to me, screaming like a banshee as he did so. That was the last straw – I pulled on my towelling robe, and made my way passed all of the “Silence”, “Please respect the relaxed atmosphere”, “Please ensure that children behave appropriately at all times” signs displayed on every wall. I mentioned to the receptionist that it was getting chaotic and she sent one of the massage therapists to ‘have a word’ with the parents. “Unfortunately we can’t prevent children from coming here” she said, “No?” was my reply, “I would!”. She looked a bit taken aback. I have nothing against children, but I would say that a health spa is exactly the sort of place where “No children” is a good idea – in the UK, under 16s are often excluded from these places. Italy is very child-orientated, and the little darlings are generally allowed run wild in bars, restaurants and shopping centres – so is it too much to ask that we have one place just for us? In any case, 10 year-olds don’t need health spas – it’s us 50-hour-a-week workers that really need the place!
Having left Pàdola on the Monday morning, we drove down the mountain towards Belluno, passing through a village called Domeggè, where we stumbled upon a medieval-style enoteca, a sort of wine cellar place with all kinds of local products – cheese, meat, patès etc – each prepared in the form of a bruschetta (on toasted bread), with a variety of sauces, salsas and pickles. Our intention was to drink a glass of wine and try a couple of bruschettas before going on our way. We ended up drinking three glasses, and eating 10 different types of bruschetta, followed by an enormous sausage and onion sandwich. Needless to say, our next stop was the river just below the village, where we slept it off before continuing on our journey!
A few hours later, we were stuck in traffic, travelling at the speed of (to quote the legendary Blackadder) “an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping”. Having got as far as Peschiera on Lake Garda, we decided to cut our losses and hang out there for at least a couple of hours, while the traffic calmed down. Good decision. I’ve been to most places on Lake Garda before, but this was my first time in Peschiera. Despite the ubiquitous presence of the day-tripping builders from Brescia which is seems to be a feature of all of the resorts on Lake Garda, I really liked it. As the crowds moved off, we settled into a fantastic restaurant on the waterfront – the Bella Vista. OK, so the name is a bit cliché but we ended up eating the best Spaghetti allo Scoglio (seafood spaghetti) of our lives. Luca, being Sicilian, is both a food expert and very hard to please, so it must have been good!
We returned to Milan later that evening, feeling relaxed and content at our brief but very much needed weekend away. The following morning I got to my car to find that someone had stolen a wheel. We are now looking for a place outside the city…

giovedì 27 marzo 2008

Just another day

Picture the scene: my colleagues and I are strolling to the bar near the office at lunchtime, minding our own business, when we notice two cars – one taxi, one normal - stopped at the traffic lights and the respective owners screaming at each other, having obviously had a (minor) accident. Words like “Deficiente!” “Stronza!” “Cretina!” (idiot, bitch, moron) from him to her and “Scemo!” (stupid) from her to him. At a certain point, they end up nose to nose, at which point he throws a punch and they end up wrangling in the middle of the road as myself, colleagues and others try to intervene. The taxi driver, behaving like a complete animal, starts to threaten those of us who suggest he might like to calm down, telling us to mind our own f*****g business and inviting me to come over and feel his fist! We ended up calling the police before going on our way, pretty worked up and reflecting on the bella vita and bella gente to be found in this lovely city. An hour later the police car rolled up, by which time the whole thing was over and there was nothing to see.
I’ll be blogging about my (much less stressful!) weekend in the mountains later…. In the meantime this just had to be documented. People never fail to amaze and horrify me.

giovedì 20 marzo 2008

Is anyone still out there?

I've been rubbish at blogging lately. Absolutely rubbish. The truth is (apart from all of the usual excuses - busy, stressed, being slowly dragged towards a nervous breakdown by Milan life....), I am having some serious wireless issues at home. It would appear that "3" is most definitely not a magic number. "Se hai 3 si vede" ("You can tell when you have 3").... Yup, you most certainly can.
Milan is really wearing me down at the moment (so what's new huh?!). Spring appears to have changed its mind about putting in an appearance, and it's alternating between cloudy and cold, sunny but cold. This weekend they have predicted BAD weather, with snow in the mountains - which is where we'll be for a very well-deserved 2-day spa break. I'm hoping the snow isn't a problem as when I stopped by the hire car company to pick up some chains (which I believe are obbligatory in mountainous areas at this time of year), their response was "Boh / don't know / don't think we have any / you have to just hope you don't need them". The usual, insomma.
The good news, however is that our company has final taken a half-step into the 21st century and had purchased Blackberrys for one and all! Hurrah! I should get mine tomorrow, and I hope it works, otherwise it will be relegated to the same bench as the "3" card.
Luca's niece is three years old tomorrow. I can't believe how time flies - I remember how, before she was able to talk, she would use a kind of personal sign language, which used to make people laugh everywhere she went. What do three year-olds like? I guess it's time for a trip to the Disney store....
Happy (almost) Friday to everyone!