Monday, April 24, 2017

Trains, Exploding Carts and Automobiles

Apologies for the tardiness in chucking up guff, but been away for a while.

Italy again,

Rome first, and an early morning flight from Terminal Five that we nearly missed due to the numerous overnight road closures in this corner of the country. What would normally be a forty minute breeze up what was once the motorway known as the M3 turned into an odyssey that at one point may well have seen us cut a corner of East Anglia. It seems a little early in the piece to kick off but can we all agree that much of the road system in this corner of the England no longer functions as intended.

Anyway, a restorative breakfast and a smooth passage through Terminal 5 security (take note you muggers in Inverness we'll resume battle in a short while) saw us pitch up in the eternal city. A thirty minute transfer during which I am sure we were being towed by the car in front as our noses were touching it's trunk and our driver managed to answer both his morning emails and texts during our journey we pitched up at a fantastic third floor apartment a block back from the Tiber in Trastevere.

Reading this back it seems that I may have become a little traffic centric early in the piece, but there was a marked difference between the lock down of the UK road system and the lawlessness of a southern Italian city that left me hankering for the open road.

The road to Zell springs to mind where we cruised along at just under three figure listening to "I Partridge" in our quest for chub on the Mosel.

It was some time since I'd last been in the City, and two weeks after I last departed the pope was shot, so fingers crossed you make it to May Francis. For the lady who sleeps on my left it was a new one and like good scouts we swiftly scaled one of the seven hills named after biscuits to spy the lie of the land.

Our descent took us into St Mark's square and I was minded to look out a hawker in the portico that surrounds the place who thirty five years ago sold me a copy of Led Zeppelin's "In through the Outdoos" (the signs were there at the time of purchase) and a vinyl copy of Thin Lizzy's - Black Rose that I only discovered on my return home was sung in German. Needless to say he wasn't there, but a lesson was learnt and I avoided any further musical purchases in the Vatican.

The Pantheon,

Trevi Fountain,

Spanish Steps,



and Capitol boxes were all ticked in a day and there was a feeling that this tremendous city could assume a theme park feel as you moved from one attraction to the next which is a shame as there is so much more to it than a series of sights to be ticked off. Yes the old stuff, but raised on all things Gosciny and Uderzo
I took Asterix as my guide and when presented with the Circus Maximus could picture Obelix driving his chariot hard around the bend to victory to Casear's chagrin.

It may be a coping mechanism as there was some pretty grim work pulled in the arenas in years gone by.

Anyway, I had no rod, which was a shame as a skip and a giggle away from the Vatican the Tiber is teeming with fish,

We watched fifty odd carp crashing about in the shallows under a bridge one morning, but only saw one chap fishing and he was chasing zander with a spinner downstream towards the island with a hospital on it.

There's a tale to be told about the trash in this town, and each morning I presented bags to a corner of the square with an Alabama 3 earworm and a fear of being fitted with concrete shoes and tipped into the Tiber for a bag placed in the wrong bin at the wrong time.

We ate at some superb Trattoria in Trastevere for very little reckoning but I mistakenly purchased the world's most expensive glass of beer while in a reverie on exiting our church of some such lady or other which happened to be adorned with some incredibly ornate mosaics.

Oh yes the football. Here's Italian Sky TV's version of Jeff Stelling introducing a Champion's League tie.

The Gentlemen do not offer up a seat and the show starts with a close up of La Stelling's foot. The camera then heads north up her form before finally resting on her face. Who knew that Benny Hill was big in Italy or that Bunga Bunga was so rife in the beautiful game?

After three nights we were done with the roads of Rome and it was off up the road past the Circus Maximus for a two minute ride to the Termini and a train that arrived on time, completed the hundred and eighty mile journey in one hour and forty minutes and cost just over nineteen euros for each of our complicated seats in Business class ( I hadn't intended to book Business class but such are the machinations of the internet)

Yes Italy does good train.

Into Firenze and a shabby chic apartment with a picture window looking out over the Arno. No fishing planned on this visit, but there were Carpistes in residence under one bridge.
The half acre of marijuana had been mown off/harvested and there were many people in town. But with previous in this tremendous town we knew of a few quieter spots to see out the storm of day visitors. Food as ever was superb, this was no time for adventure and we stuck to three places for lunch and dinner that we knew to be excellent.

And then it was Easter, and they quite go big on the event in these parts.

It started on Saturday night when Madam and myself were roused from a postprandial slumber by a procession passing below our window with drummers horns and many men dressed up like Timothy Claypole in Rentaghost.

It was the opening gambit of The Scoppio del Carro (give it a google) which comemorates a particular Florentine who was first up the wall of Jerusalem in the very first crusade. For his efforts he was given three flints that were held in the family church just down the road. The bishop of the family church along with several descendants of the wall Jonny then lead the procession through the narrow streets and deliver the flints to the big bishop in the Doumo, more of whom later.

On Easter Sunday morning the drums strike up earlier and an even bigger procession makes its way through the narrow streets, this time followed by a wooden cart many hundreds of years old drawn by four of the biggest oxen that I have ever seen.

Three chaps hang on to the rear of the cart in the name of health and safety and rudimentary braking and there is much hoing and lowing as the parade makes its way through town. The cart is laden with fireworks and with every other Italian it passes sparking up a fag it is a miracle it doesn't go off before it reaches its destination outside the doors of the Doumo and Campenile.

There is a mass in the Duomo that is relayed to the tens of thousands of people outside and at eleven the Bishop lights a torch from a fire formed from the flints that were collected the previous evening and sets fire to the tail feathers of a dove (artificial) that seems to have a rocket up its arse

as it flies at great speed along a wire suspended over the aisle out through the great doors and smack into the side of the cart which explodes with a roar
and fifteen minutes of the loudest fireworks I have ever heard follow and a five figure crowd drawn from many nations stood only a few yards from the cart bomb unite as one and hands are put over every ear.

It is the stuff of the Stotts and equally nuts.

But it was an Easter Sunday that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Recuperating following grog in the afternoon the drums and horns returned below our window as the flints were returned to the family church in readiness for next year's explosions.

Florence done, it was on to another excellent train although much busier it being a holiday and Venice not far up the line but it was off at Bologna for us and another of our favourites.

Much quieter than Rome or Florence although no less stunning it has a very relaxed feel about the place and with the miles and miles of arcades the ancient wonky towers and some superb places to eat why it is not busier is a mystery.

Dogs are allowed in Butchers

And they move the old stuff around from time to time, although on seeing this we did finish our morning coffee quite quickly in anticipation of something falling down behind us.

Here's the pair of those thousand year old towers on the wonk,

And here they are from the spot where some chap stood during construction and said "yeah they look straight"

And then all too soon it was over and time to come home. It was a terrific trip kindly funded by the firm to mark my twenty five years employment. Thanks very much, the trip and the past twenty five years have been a blast.

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