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Port Cogolin & Venice Diary – Part Seven

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Part Seven – Friday 30th August 2013

We were back at our place in Port Cogolin now and straight into a lazy, easy going routine. I am always up earlier than Peanut, so I breakfast alone in the loggia, often early enough to watch the sun rise over the apartments across the other side of the small port. Not this morning though, even I had indulged in a small lie in. Breakfast done, I wrote up the last leg of our Venice trip, the leg home. I brought Peanut tea in bed and read her our diary from the day before. We laughed remembering our fear at how close we were to running out of fuel.

We reminisced about our whole trip to Venice which had been wonderful from start to finish. On the way there we had another close call too. I was in the middle lane cruising at 130 km/h and pulled out to ease past a slower van ahead of me. As soon as I was in the fast lane, I saw three lorries in front of the van I had pulled out to overtake and they were all slowing. Then I saw the motorway was going from a three laner to a two laner. There was a small space in front of the lead lorry and I was in no man’s land trapped on the outside lane which was disappearing fast. I hit the accelerator, I hit it hard and we just squeezed in the gap ahead of the front lorry. It was close. But this was Italy, I never even got flashed at from the lead lorry for cutting in. There was a loud noise from the passenger seat as air came rushing out of Peanut’s mouth.

Back to Venice and what a lovely interlude for us on our holiday. When I get home and edit our photographs, I hope we have captured its magic with the Fuji X-E1 and the Canon with its Sigma 70-300 zoom. It was light and colour, textures, statues, lovers and I hope we can bring the place to life in our photos.

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Meanwhile back in Port Cogolin, Jack Reacher was up to his neck in it in A Wanted Man, so I spent an hour more in bed reading that. I will finish this before we head for home, I can tell because it is gripping me. An hour is enough though, so we headed for the pool.

Before Venice Mrs P had improved leaps and bounds with her swimming. A breadth was now a doddle so a length of the pool challenged. She got in, set herself up and went for it with me swimming beside her. A dodgy start, her push off made her dip, a ragged second stroke saw her hands move half through water half through air and then she found some rhythm. A bend in the side of the pool showed she had reached halfway. More confident strokes. This was looking good. Two yards from home this was going to be a success. One yard… and then her feet were down! P had stopped short by just one yard. She was breathing deep and heavy now, puffed out and I could see by her face that she was really disappointed. In her mind it didn’t count.

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We popped back to the apartment and had lunch which was a seafood paella with chicken too. It was lovely and I had a glass of wine to wash it down. I read some more Jack Reacher while I let my lunch digest, and Peanut read her book, a true love story, Somehow They Knew, by Anthony Cooper. Mrs P talks a lot about this book, so give it a read, I know I am once I have done with Mr Reacher. I do like the Jack Reacher thrillers, Lee Child has a very terse style, with short sentences, which are always to the point. I find myself wanting to write in a similar way. It’s good. Real good.

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Back to the pool and with lunch digested and her breath back Peanut tried again to break the one length swimming barrier, this time though pointing into the sun, which I thought would be harder. Her start was good though and halfway came really quick. I swam along side her again, willing her on with every stroke. The edge of the pool was close now and I was sure she would do it this time. Two yards, one yard and again she stopped! I really felt her pain. She was so disappointed but by now she was really heaving for breath and I knew that today would not be the day. I gave her a cuddle, we’re British so it’s all about trying and I was proud of her – ok the length goal was elusive but now she was a swimmer. Maybe tomorrow!

We escaped the moment of failure with a poolside read of our books. Jack Reacher has started killing people for fun by now, while Peanut was lost somewhere in Singapore. We spent the rest of the afternoon like this, reading, swimming, sunbathing, a wonderful counterpoint to the hustle and bustle of Venice over the last few days.

Finally, with the sun beginning to fall behind our apartment block and the pool in full shade we retired to our flat for a refreshing hot shower and a pre dinner read in the shade. Spaghetti Bolognaise with fresh pasta, followed by chocolate puds that taste just like the Heinz baby chocolate puddings, that I had as a baby, as a small boy, as a bigger boy, as a young student, as a young entrepreneur, as a man and indeed as a middle aged man whenever Peanut will let me! We ended the day falling asleep in bed with our books in our hands!

Perfect.

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Port Cogolin & Venice Diary – Part Six

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Part Six – Thursday 29th August 2013

Another bright sunny morning, another great breakfast view, but this time we had to pack up after breakfast and leave Venice behind. But we had already made plans fora return visit, or two. It will have to be done.

We settled up with the hotel and walked our bags the twenty yards across the promenade to wait for the next water bus to Piazzale Roma, which was in fact already there and waiting. The water bus set off and sailed past the majestic looking old sailing boat that had anchored opposite Piazza San Marco in readiness for the historical regatta taking place in Venice at the weekend. In 20 minutes we were back again at the car park at Piazalle Roma and in another 10 we had packed the car and were on our way back to Port Cogolin. It has to be said we didn’t pick the cheapest place to park, but it was a very slick operation both arriving and leaving and as we were parked with a Maserati, a Ferrari and an Aston in close attendance we felt it was certainly very safe, which we understood some of the cheaper ones aren’t. We did not want to be spending our three days in Venice worrying about the car and parking where we did, we felt very relaxed about the car.

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So a long journey back beckoned, some 400 miles and just over six hours of driving. Earlier in this diary blog Mr Beastie talked about having a stop strategy for these long journeys and this had worked very well on the journey to Venice. However, this time we started our journey with not much fuel. Never mind, we thought we will stop at the first Shell and fill up as we had seen lots of Shell garages on the drive to Venice. As we are a bit precious about fuel and the coupe is supposed to run on super unleaded filling in a Shell garage seemed a good plan. However, the abundant Shell garages on the journey down were not replicated on the journey back – in fact we never saw one! Super unleaded is appallingly expensive in Italy anyway – you are looking at 2 euros+ a litre (£1.80+) – so we stopped shortly and put in 30 euros worth of something in to keep us going. When that was about to run out we stopped for another 20E to get us to France, that plan failed quite a bit shy of the border and the next service station didn’t have any super at all (there are quite a few that don’t) so we grabbed another 10E worth. The border was only about 10 km away!

You can see where this is going can’t you?

We stopped briefly at the toll before the French border, some nonsense with cars not going for the empty tolls for some reason so we spotted a gap and massively jumped the queue! At this point our range was 29 km with a garage in 12 km but then as we climbed through the windy coastal road of tunnels and bridges the range dropped dramatically – 20, 18, 15, 12, 10, 7 in about 30 seconds. We soon reached zero range……

We were now going uphill, in a tunnel, 8km from the next services with no range on the fuel gauge! At every corner we hoped we would be going down, but no still up, and up again. It was tunnel, bridge, tunnel, bridge and absolutely the worst road in the whole of France to run out of fuel on! We tucked in behind the slowest artics, turned off the aircon. and held our breath. The range stuck at zero. We clenched our buttocks real tight. The range stuck at zero. There seemed no way on God’s earth that we would get to the services. But someone above was smiling on us – there it was, 2000m, 1000m and we had at last levelled out. If all else failed we could at least now roll there!

So all was not lost and we bought some relatively cheap Super, and as it turned out the next service station was Shell, but it really didn’t matter any more. The moral of the story is twofold:

1. Don’t p**s about with low fuel on long journeys and
2. You can go a surprising distance on a ….. Zero Range in a MINI!

After that episode the rest of the journey seemed dull by comparison. We got home and bought a Pizza from Baou Baou just below us – he does make exceeding good pizza -and flaked out. We spent the evening laughing and giggling, the way you do when you know you have just cheated death!

It was great to have been away, but it was good to be back in sunny Port Cogolin.

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Port Cogolin & Venice Diary – Part Five

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Part Five – Wednesday 28th August 2013

We awoke to find that the rain had gone and another glorious sunny day beckoned. All the walking yesterday though had left us in need of a lie in so it was after nine before we went down for breakfast.

I love the location of this hotel on this bustling promenade and I know I mentioned it yesterday but I can’t stress enough how much fun it makes breakfast, as there is just so much to see as the world streams past on its way to discover the delights of Venice after docking from the ferry boats further along the quay.

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We did not have much of a plan for today as in truth we do not make great tourists, having little patience for queues. We decided though that we would go up the campanile in St Mark’s Square, so we left the hotel and joined the throngs of people charging along the promenade, past the Hotel Danieli, past the Bridge Of Sighs and on into the Square. The queue though was already huge so we abandoned that and would try later. We had read though that the best part of Venice was just being there, soaking up its atmosphere and that it was a place you could enjoy without ever setting foot inside a building and we completely agreed with this.

Last year we went to Florence, which we loved too but we already felt that Venice just edged it and I had a think about what it was that made Venice special.

Well first, there are no cars. Piazzale Roma is the only place and that is just a roundabout at the end of the bridge which allows you to turn around and go back to the mainland. You can leave your car at a multi storey there, but there are absolutely no cars anywhere else. Also bicycles, rollerblades and skateboards are banned too. This absence of cars makes for a city with a different soundtrack. The noise is people, music, bells and it makes for a very unique experience. My biggest dislike in Rome for example, was the traffic and the way it dominated everywhere. I said at the time I was there that Rome is a city full of beautiful things but it did not strike me as a beautiful city. Venice though is simply a beautiful city.

Secondly, Venice is a clean city. It’s an odd one this, so let me explain. On one level, most of it can look a bit run down, plaster is falling off all the walls, old brick is exposed everywhere, where the stucco finish has fallen off, old hinges rust away and iron window guards seem to be falling apart. It sounds like I am describing a deprived inner city slum area. However, its not like that because this is contained by a framework of order and tidiness. All the brickwork, plasterwork and stonework, is tidy and very clean, it is as if my Auntie Vera has took her stiff wire brush from out of her cupboard and used it to give the whole city the once over. The effect is to make the old brickwork and worn plaster work look intentional. That is how it is meant to be. The finest example in the world then of the concept of “faded grandeur”.

Thirdly, the layout and architecture is unique. Instead of roads you get canals, or narrow passage ways, and it’s never long before it twists and turns. Paris by contrast is built around a grid of huge boulevards, courtesy of Haussmann, with long great buildings all in the same style – it’s impressive and beautiful but a model you can find in many cities. Venice though is very different. Search for a boulevard and the closest thing is the Grand Canal, which first is a canal and secondly it curves through Venice like a serpent! The architecture is so different too, Gothic can be found next door to Classical, Renaissance, or Byzantine styles and time and time again, you can soak up all these different styles in one vista.

Finally, Venice is an island in a lagoon, which means it is contained. In other cities you can wander off the beaten track, you can end up in the wrong part of town, you can find yourself out of the old part and into the new sprawl. This happened to us in Florence, or even in Bruges, you can find that you have escaped the old town beauty. But not Venice. In Venice you always get lost, it is a part of the experience, but no matter how lost you get, each turn and twist brings a new view, a new scene begging to be photographed and always, always it looks neat and tidy. I became fascinated watching the way refuse was dealt with. At home, we have the revolting wheelie bins blighting every chocolate box scene in the country. They are a blight on the whole of the British landscape both urban and rural. Some bins are permanent fixtures at the front door of terraced houses, like daleks in some terrifying Dr Who story. A British local council could ruin the beauty of Venice, and clear the city of its tourists in days just by the way they managed refuse collection. In Venice, there are no vehicles, so the dustbin truck is a canal boat, which empties bins into its hold. But bins are never seen in the narrow streets, reinforcing the orderliness of the decaying beauty. “Falling down” has charm and beauty when all around is clean and litter free!

There are probably a thousand things that come together to make Venice both unique and beautiful, but for me, it was this combination of a traffic free environment and the tidy, clean, orderliness of its faded grandeur, married to its wonderful array of architecture built on a unique platform of canals.

Right then, so you get the picture, Venice is beautiful, we didn’t feel like queuing to go up the campanile so we went for a wander. Five minutes later, we bought Mrs P a beautiful red leather handbag, in a shop which also had a gorgeous dress that was begging for her to try on and which also had a dazzling collection of mens shoes to tempt me with! In hindsight we did well to get out of that shop with enough petrol money left to drive home with. More on this in the next day’s diary update!

From there we stumbled upon not one but two Luisa Spagnoli shops, which Mrs P dived into. In truth she is not normally quite such a keen shopper, but as she said later and often, she has never seen such a collection of lovely shops with lovely things in to tempt her with. Methinks, we will return to Venice but more for a shopping trip than a sightseeing trip! Our intention was to meander towards the Rialto bridge and then keeping on the same bank veer towards the Castello area and look around there. However, it is not always easy to keep to a plan in Venice!

I remembered a camera shop, I had seen yesterday on the other side of the Rialto bridge, so we retraced our walk from yesterday so I could look again, as I had seen a Fuji X-M1 which I wanted to get my hands on and see how it felt in the hand so to speak. However, either we did not retrace our steps enough, or we made different steps – either way we could not find this shop. Still we found the perfect carnival mask as a souvenir to adorn the wall of our den at home. Yes it was a pussy cat mask!

Then we discovered the fish market and the fruit and veg market, again on the San Polo side of the Grande Canal and wandered around there taking photos and soaking up the atmosphere.

Back over the Rialto Bridge then and back on track we veered left after the Rialto but in truth ended up skirting the Grande Canal more than we intended, heading towards the Cannaregio quarter, rather than mixing it up baby in the Castello quarter. We came across a large square – Campo dei SS Apostelli, which was just before Strada Nova, which ironically perhaps, after my musings on the beauty of Venice, was what looked like a long wide boulevard! We walked along it after lunch and noticed it was very different to anywhere else in Venice as it was so wide that there was no shade in the street!

Before that though we stopped for lunch in the square, sharing a pizza. There was a man impersonating Charlie Chaplin, cane and all, who was amusing teasing the passers by and of course lasciviously eyeing up all the ladies! We found him highly amusing not least because to us, as he was a bit bonny, he was Stan Laurel, doing an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin! This in many ways epitomised Venice. Sit down, have lunch, watch the world go by and there was always something going on.

After lunch we headed up the “boulevard” and then back down again as I had left my cap and the map at the cafe! Best check the map, I said and realised that Stada Nova was Strada NoNo – completely the wrong way.

More mooching, more beautiful sights to soak up. We did not get as far as the Arsenale but just as well really, as George Clooney was kicking around there for the Venice film festival and we would not have wanted to cramp his style or rain on his parade! Instead we headed for Riva Degli Schiavoni, which is the same embankment as our hotel but further away from St Mark’s Square. Here we enjoyed an ice cream as we sat down on the canal edge, resting our legs.

My ice cream was Nocciola and just for the record it was the nicest ice cream in the whole wide world and the bestest I have ever tasted! Invigorated by ice cream, we attempted another assault on the Campanile in St Mark’s Square and this time the queue was much shorter.

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The views from the top were superb and we spent about forty minutes up there taking photos and soaking up the scenery. Back down we headed for our hotel going past the Doge’s Palace, where I realised the queue was never too bad. Damn, I wanted to go in there. Too tired now, guess we’ll have to come back here won’t we?

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Exhausted we retired to our room, and Lady Peanut got room service to fetch us “a nice cup of tea”. Exploring Venice is hard work and this was now our third day of it and the old legs were beginning to feel it, so we decided to dine in the hotel restaurant as in truth it had good reviews. I ended up having what for me was my best meal in Venice. Not a food revolution by any means just a big juicy rare beef steak, smothered in a delicious peppered sauce and accompanied by roast potatoes. It was well tasty. Peanut meanwhile, had tagliatelle with zucchini and prawns, which also went down well. Breakfast here is a quiet affair, watching the world promenade by, but dinner was a much louder affair as all the tables were full, a lot of wine was accompanying the food and with every sip of wine people got louder. It was hard to hear each other sometimes. Not a complaint mind, as it made for a good atmosphere.

This was our last evening, so we took a final stroll to Piazza San Marco to listen to the bands. One had a very animated violinist, which psychologically made his music sound better so we listened to them for a while. Their final song was “Time To Say Goodbye.” Mrs P had a tear in her eye, as it was also our time to say goodbye to Venice.

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Port Cogolin & Venice Diary – Part Four

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Part four – Tuesday 27th August 2013

The weather forecast had been a bit dodgy for our stay in Venice, sunshine and showers with the threat of storms, but we had already had one beautiful day and today we awoke to another.

Breakfast is in the hotel restaurant which is on the front looking out over the lagoon. This made breakfast a fun affair as we could watch all the people walking by while we enjoyed our tea, coffee and croissants. The day was already off to a good start and that was just enjoying breakfast!

We had a plan to book some kind of a walking tour and be sure to have a gondola ride because that’s something you have to do, isn’t it? With this in mind we strolled to a booking office which we had clocked in Piazza San Marco straight from breakfast and booked a combined walking tour and Gondola ride which seemed to suit our needs and which kicked off at three in the afternoon.

We then spent the morning exploring and decided to seek out Piazzale Roma where our trip had started when we first parked the car and used this as a way of exploring many of the narrow streets of Venice. Every turning, every alley way and every vista in Venice is a photographer’s dream and eventually you almost drown in the wonder of the place!

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Finally, we ended up where we had intended and stopped for lunch at the same small cafe we had used as a meeting place seven years ago, when we had first come here on a day out on another European MINI trip based in the Dolomites.

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Recharged after a lunch break, we then made our way back to Piazza San Marco to meet up for our walking tour, which turned out to be very interesting and revealed facets of Venice that we otherwise would never have known. We have an inherent dislike of being herded with a group but to be fair, you do learn things you wouldn’t otherwise get to know and at the end of it we duly went on our Gondola where we got chatting to some Americans.

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The sun still shone when we left the boat but we felt it was time for a Bellini in some shade and as Harry’s Bar was just in front of where our gondola ride ended we popped in there. Harry’s Bar in truth, is a bit of a must do experience that you shouldn’t miss, but Bellinis, which were of course invented in Harry’s Bar are not a cheap drink. They were delicious though!

From Harry’s Bar we strolled back a tad tipsy to our hotel, walking along the lagoon front past St Mark’s Square and exhausted, fell into our cool room for a rest.

Looking out it seemed like the storm was catching up with us at last, so after changing for dinner we took umbrellas with us and this time chose a restaurant not too far from the hotel. We also made sure we sat somewhere well covered and it was as well we did, as the rain soon started with thunder and lightning following. It’s funny but over the years we have enjoyed more than a few meals outside in the evening while the heavens have opened. It reminds me of camping in a cosy tent listening to the rain hitting the canvas and I kind of like it. I enjoyed a nice cocktail/aperitif before the meal, which was the local speciality apparently. Anyways, it was orange in colour, looked nice and tasted good. The meal itself though was a bit dull. Probably our own fault for making lame choices- fried calamari with chips for me and escalope Milanese for Peanut. Gnocchi for me and lasagne for Peanut as starters. My calamari looked like onion rings and chips! Oh well, at least the aperitif and the wine helped put a rosey tint on the occasion and of course every meal is a wonder when Mrs P is your hot date!

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It was still raining after our meal so we had to scuttle back quickly to the hotel, where we fell into bed tired after a full day of walking and exploring.

We were happy bunnies though and dinner if dull from the epicurean point was nonetheless an animated affair as we discussed all the wonders and delights we had seen throughout the day. Venice had really seduced us.

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Port Cogolin & Venice Diary – Part Three

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Part Three – Monday 26th August 2013

Today was an exciting day as an early start saw us on the road and heading for Venice at 6.30 in the morning. The roads were clear and 8 am saw us the other side of Monaco and past the busy A8 motorway threading past Cannes and Nice before rush hour. Sometimes when we do these drives I think of F1 racing when the commentators talk of 1 or two stop strategies. Well we adopted a two stop strategy – a fuel stop and a snack stop.

Just inside Italy then around 8.15 we stopped and refuelled and Peanut took over the driving. She carried on pushing hard and did a two and a half hour stint before we stopped again this time for a drink and some delicious apple turnovers. I like Italian motorways, first there are only tolls when you leave the motorway and secondly, the service stations are small so you don’t end up meandering for miles when you exit the motorway for a quick break. I also hear tales about how the Italian drivers are mad etc and yes sometimes we do see them hanging on to the tails of people, but to be honest it is always the fault of the people being tailgated. You can see them thinking “I’m doing 130 kmh why should I move over?” Well you are not a traffic cop so get out of the way and let the speed merchants through, then you are out of harms way and can enjoy your drive again, without a lunatic on your tail!

My turn at the wheel again, and the ETA after the stop had crept to the wrong side of 1pm, so again I pushed hard and made sure we always drove to the maximum speed and never lost time driving slower. I like to find a marker – an Italian who drives fast but not crazy fast and latch on to them. Slowly our time came down and we drove over the bridge to the island of Venice at quarter to 1. The sat nav took us straight to the multi storey car park, close to the end of the bridge where we had pre booked and we quickly dropped the car off.

Peanut had one bag to carry and the rest all attach to a small wheeled case with a slide out handle which I pulled. This made it an easy 100 yard walk across the Piazalle Roma to the waterbus stop on the Grand Canal close to its end where it merges with the lagoon. Another ten minutes and we were on the no2 waterbus heading not along the Grand Canal but out to the lagoon and back around to pass the other end of the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco.

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Our plan then to get to the hotel was working like clockwork and this was a wonderful way to arrive at our hotel. We were the last stop before the bus turned around. We passed Piazza San Marco, the famous Danieli Hotel and then saw our hotel right in front of us as we docked. It was so exciting arriving this way and a twenty yard walk saw us checking in on a beautiful, sunny Venetian Day.

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We were on the second floor with no lift but reception told us to head up and they would bring the luggage. We just had time to use the toilet and then our luggage was with us. The room was fine with a simple elegance and a very good 4 piece bathroom with shower (which turned out to be excellent) in lieu of a bath. All was just what we hoped for both with our hotel and the ease of getting here and we were seriously happy bunnies as we then spent a mad ten minutes unpacking.

Just after two we stepped out of the hotel turned right along the waterfront, mooched for a 100 yards amongst the many stalls, street vendors and crowds of sightseers before reaching the famous St Mark’s Square, where elegant 4 piece bands played in the cafes and restaurants that were charging you 16 euros for your espressos! The sun was shining, old Dean Martin tunes wafted past your ears on the wind, a few people caught up in the romance of it swayed and waltzed to the sounds and I was smitten. From stepping on the waterbus to arrive at my hotel, to standing here in the middle of Piazza San Marco was less than an hour and in that time I had fallen for Venice big time. Between then and now a day or so later nothing has taken this feeling away, it is just a wonderful, magical place.

We had last eaten, when we enjoyed an apple turnover on the motorway, so our tummies had a word with us and told us to find something to eat. As my surname was not Rockerfella we wandered away from the most expensive square in the world and found a small cafe in one of the side streets where I had a tagliatelle and Peanut a burger. It wasn’t in truth what you would call our introduction to the delights of Italian food, but it did the job of recharging the batteries, before we began exploring some more. We passed Chanel, Prada, Burberry, Hermes, LV, with their beautiful clothes and noted that the high end fashions on display looked beautiful and wearable! You know how if you ever see fashion on the catwalk on the tele, it looks weird or extreme, but what was in the shop windows looked highly wearable, albeit beyond our modest pockets!

Then Mrs Peanut stumbled across Luisa Spagnoli and really fell in love with absolutely every outfit in all the windows. The prices were not Prada prices either and while this holiday budget did not allow for a new outfit, the name duly went in her diary! Back at the hotel she looked them up and the first thing she found was that our Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge has been seen looking stunning wearing Luisa Spagnoli. I am now to be dragged back to this shop,for a second look , later in our stay here apparently!

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We spent the rest of the afternoon aimlessly exploring and left the San Marco area of Venice, crossed the Grand Canal on the Ponte dell’ Accademia and explored the tip of the Dorsoduro area of Venice. We enjoyed an ice cream as we wandered, before finally recrossing the bridge and came back past San Marco Piazzo to our hotel to shower and rest our legs before dinner.

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In the evening we wandered over to the Rialto Bridge. I remember a friend from work Steve saying he enjoyed a meal near the bridge, so it gave us a target to head for. In the end we had a meal just under the Rialto bridge, but not I suspect in the exact same restaurant as Steve had described. We shared a lovely seafood Risotto and ended up chatting to an American couple who were sat close to us and enjoying baby squid cooked in their own ink, or something like that. All very Inspector Montalbano, but not for us. The Risotto was good and it was fun chatting to the Americans. He was contemplating what tip to leave, so I had some tongue in cheek fun with him. I explained, that service was included in the bill, so we would not be leaving a tip, as we are British and poor and need to save the money to help bolster our declining welfare state. However, as he was American, he must leave a tip as he was rich and more importantly, needed to make people like him. He found this amusing and left a tip!

Our first day in Venice was done and the love affair was well and truly underway.

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Port Cogolin & Venice Diary – Part Two

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Part Two – Sunday 25th August 2013

Sunday was a home from home day, a lazy day where we never left Port Cogolin but lounged around enjoying the sunshine and taking pleasure in not really doing anything much at all. And to really make us feel at home two cars have befriended us – a black cat from next door and this Ginger fella!

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After a very early bowl of cornflakes, I spent some time writing up the drive down here for our holiday diary before waking Lady P with tea in bed. Then we both read. I am near the end of Winter of The World which is the second part of Ken Follet’s epic trilogy following a number of families through both world wars. I am rather enjoying it and it is an easy way to brush up on my understanding of modern history.

Anyway by now it was close to lunch time so we decided that first we would have a quick dip in the pool. I have commented in previous diaries that our pool seems to enjoy a very high totty count and once again this was the case! However, I won’t dwell on that as even better we had a break through with Mrs P and swimming. Over the last few years Mrs P has learnt to swim a bit in the south of France but only in the sea where the salt water is a bit more buoyant. Today though we got her swimming widths of the pool and even managed to introduce an element of style to her breaststroke. Mrs P was very pleased with herself and I must admit I felt very proud of her. She has always enjoyed the water but gradually she is learning to do more than just splash about in it.

Lunch was next and because we had already planned to stay at home today we had got Chinese from Geant for lunch, so Cantonese rice with a pork roll, samosas and battered king prawns. Tasty!

Feeling full after a larger than normal lunch we took a walk around Port Cogolin, armed with a camera each, me with the Fuji X-E1 and Peanut with the Canon 400D shod with a Sigma 70 -300 lens. This is a reasonably powerful zoom lens which makes Mrs P look like the paparazzi! She loves using this lens and when we shoot together using the zoom and a normal 18-50 zoom we usually end up with an interesting set of shots. Peanut got well into the shoot and began to develop a theme for her photos -Things To Do on a Sunday in Port Cogolin. Our diary shots are all iPhone photos by the way, but look out for these shots in a later blog on the PhotoBeast website. It was a very enjoyable way to spend an hour or so of our day.

Back to the pool for more swimming and a read by the pool – just lovely.
Back in the apartment we had lovely hot showers then decided to pack our stuff for our three nights in Venice, which would begin tomorrow with a six o’clock start! Good adventures begin with good planning. The route to Venice was already in the car sat nav, the car parking was pre booked and the way to the hotel from the car park already planned. Basically, we drive over a long bridge to the island that is Venice and park in a multistorey close to the end of this bridge. A 100 yard walk takes us to a boat bus, which then sails to our stop which is the last one on its route seven stops up and right outside our hotel. In theory this means we only have a 100 yards of lugging cases in Venice. However, we pack so everything is in bags and all fit on one wheeled case, no loose coats or awkward stuff – the little things make a big difference, especially if things don’t work out and you end up with a mile walk lugging cases. Watch this space to see how it all pans out!

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Anyway, cases packed we could enjoy an evening meal, some wine and yet another read. Dinner was fresh pasta, which was pasta parcels of ham and cheese in a delicious tomato sauce with a ham and mushroom pizza, followed by a slice of cake and another goat cheese cake covered in fruit with crackers. It was delicious!

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We hit the sack at ten thirty as we had an early night but we were a while getting to sleep as we were excited about going to Venice in the morning and the Italian restaurant was quite busy still underneath us. There was one very loud Englishman who was particularly enjoying himself, but it was quite early so we had to endure the idiot!

A lovely day and Venice in the morning!


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Port Cogolin & Venice 2013 Diary – Part One

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Part One – Friday/Saturday 23rd & 24th August 2013

Back in May we came to Port Cogolin and went on to spend eight days exploring Italy following the Mille Miglia route from Brescia in the north, down the leg of Italy to Rome and back again. Later in the Summer we came back to Port Cogolin for nine days and spent a day exploring Monaco, while retracing the steps of my childhood book hero Biggles, on an adventure he had in Monte Carlo set in the Second World War. We both enjoyed these two holidays immensely but luckily for us these two trips were part of a trilogy of adventures we had planned for the Summer and the final part of the trilogy is this trip to Port Cogolin and Venice.

Some of you may know that I have been fighting a battle with The Big C, bowel cancer with secondary bowel cancer in the liver. This fight has seen me have a bowel operation and two liver re-sections and some chemotherapy. All big battles but all battles we have won. Fighting the Big C though is a war and right now after winning all these battles he is an opponent who will never quite surrender. The white flag is elusive and he has run away to hide. So every six months we try again to find him hoping he is still staying beaten and hasn’t regrouped and found some soldiers to fight his evil war. The CT scan then is for the 20th September. If that remains clear then we build another six months plan before looking once more at what action we should take in this long war. Right now though all is really well so our current six month plan was one of fun and indulgence with this trilogy of adventures. The fun we had on the first two has meant that this one, consisting of three nights in Venice topped and tailed with some R&R in the sunshine of the south of France, is one we have been looking forward to with great excitement. I am writing this on Sunday morning so let’s see how it all pans out.

Peanut was off work on Friday to do the packing and last minute pre holiday jobs. Brenda, Peanut’s Mum was settled into Beastie Folly for home and cat sitting and I was at work doing my last day before the holiday began at home time at quarter past four. These days are never easy for Peanut and it was made all the more complicated because ClubBeast our MINI Cooper S Clubman had to have a suspension strut fitted to pass its MOT. This was scheduled for Thursday but the wrong part came to the garage. At 1pm on Friday the right part turned up, it was fitted, the car MOT’d and returned to a frazzled Peanut just after Two. We are taking SilverBeast (our other MINI) on the holiday but it’s not good going on holiday and leaving a car in bits at a garage while you are away.

Finally, work was done, I left the office room, ran downstairs clicked out and ran over the car park all smiles to a waiting Peanut sat in a very handsome looking JCW MINI Coupe. We were off!

We usually head for the South of France on a Friday night straight from work and the last time we did this, the traffic on the M25 was so dreadful that we missed our train and had to kick our heels in the Tunnel terminal for a few hours, which allowed us the delight of contemplating the seagull poo on the windows of that delightful building, which did not win any architectural prizes when it was built. You know, I say that based on the certainty of knowledge purely from the fact that I’ve seen the place, but I might be wrong! I’ll have to check now and see – can you imagine that? Maybe the headline at the time was “Seagull Paradise wins Architectural Award”.

This time we booked a slightly later crossing and it was a good job we did! It is bank holiday weekend again and The M25 was a car park. It took us 4 hours to get to the channel Tunnel terminal from Tewkesbury and without doubt it is the worst 4 hours of all our journeys on holiday. We made it, we just had enough time for a toilet stop and then we rolled onto the train. The night drive in France was a breeze and no rain meant it was easy going and we made great time. The sat nav said arrival at Port Cogolin at 9.30 and this was looking good to me. Then at 3.30 am Peanut pulled over and it was my turn to drive. It was the darkest hour so we decided to sleep for an hour in the car. Unfortunately that became three hours, so when we set off the ETA had jumped to 12.30. I was a bit disappointed but on the bright side Peanut had brought a lunch, tea, coffee and coffeemate, so we would not have to rush to the supermarket as soon as we arrived. I love Nescafé Azero coffee with coffeemate. Try it, it’s lovely!

As we approached Lyon I noticed that the sat nav was taking us around Lyon on the peripherique but as it was a quiet Saturday morning, I went the direct way, straight through Lyon centre on the motorway. This aged us 20 km and gave us back almost half an hour so half an hour past Lyon we pulled over for a croissant breakfast at one of the service stops and got back on the road with our ETA once again 12.30.

We always come off the motorway and reach Port Cogolin via La Garde Freinet and old Grimaud but for some reason this time the sat nav kept us on the motorway and we exited to go through Ste Maxime and along the coast to Port Cogolin. We had been busy talking and singing in the car so had not noticed this! The ETA was still 12.30 as the fiendish sat nav had always plotted to take us this way but we knew the consequences! Yep as we hit Ste Maxime we hit traffic and it was a slow crawl along the coast to our apartment in Port Cogolin which we reached at five past one!

We parked the car and I lugged the food box up so Peanut could make a brew, while I fetched the rest of the luggage. I lugged the case and three bags up the stairs from the garage into the flat to hear Peanut say, ” pooey bottoms, I’ve forgotten the coffeemate.”

Now when I am rational and I do have these moments, I am able to contemplate how marvellous my life is when the biggest upset/worry/problem in my life is that we have forgot the coffeemate, when three years ago I was told I had six months to live if the doctors did nothing! However, I had just driven the last 300 miles looking forward to my favourite cup of coffee and I was hot and bothered from lugging bags up 2 flights of stairs in 34 degrees of French sunshine. Churchill might describe me as ” a modest man with much to be modest about” but the plain exterior is trapping Elvis and James Bond inside. At this point, Elvis would have dealt with the situation admirably, ” Forget the coffee darlin’ just make me an extra burger…” Bond on the other hand would have been wearing his Casio watch and used it to magnetically unzip Mrs P from her dress… But I found another guy hiding inside me – Sid Vicious…

Peanut walked to the shop for some milk to rescue the situation and feeling mean for grumbling I made sure all the unpacking was done before she got back. Coffee sipped, a quick kiss and we were on holiday!

Next stop was the pool for a quick dip which was gloriously refreshing especially when after 5 minutes it rained! Yep one minute it is glorious sunshine and I’m overheating lugging baggage, then when we go to the pool, clouds appear, a little thunder and it rains! Was fun though swimming in the pool in the rain.

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We went up to the apartment had a shower, a snooze, then did a mini shop at Geant. Later in the evening we cooked our first meal. We had some sushi as a little starter, as I had been talking about it with some mates at work. A sushi bar has sprung up here in Port Cogolin and now Geant has one and they seem to be popping up everywhere in the UK. It was interesting watching them make it but ultimately for me us it was a take it or leave it experience. Great as an interesting selection for a finger food party or buffet, or as a little something with cocktails perhaps but not a stand alone meal.

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Next up we had a seafood paella and this was gorgeous, with mussels, king pawns, scallops and white fish. Gateaux for dessert and then crackers and cheese with these little goat cheese cakes, this one covered in cranberries. Delicious! We walked it off with a stroll around Port Cogolin which looked simply beautiful with a red sky setting over it and then went to a well earned bed!

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