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Holiday Diary – France and Italy August 2015 Day 12

Tuesday 1st September.
Our Venice adventure ended today and we were returning to Port Cogolin for a few days. Breakfast in our room came a little after nine and together we enjoyed our last breakfast in Venice for this trip. I hoped my health would let me return in the future.
We washed and packed and I thought back on our time spent here. We had not really done that much, but I think this time it was about just enjoying the place. We loved our hotel room and had spent lazy mornings there breakfasting, reading and writing. Our room was such a lovely place to be, lying on the bed, or sitting on the sofa, with the balcony window ajar listening to the bustle of the city below coming in. Shopping of course is always fun here and we did a lot of that. The Murano glass visit was a new experience for us and since we assembled and hung our own chandelier earlier this year, Peanut has been fascinatingly looking at chandeliers, assessing their intricacies and breaking them down in her mind into their component parts. Yes, Venice as always has given us a lovely time.
We went to reception ordered a water taxi and checked out. The taxi meandered through the busy narrow canals and emerged onto The Grand Canal just by The Rialto Bridge between the bridge and the fish market. I bought Peanut the first leather gloves I ever bought her on the Rialto Bridge back in about 2006 when we came here on a day trip from the Dolomites with a bunch of fellow MINI drivers. This trip the lady got mask earrings off the bridge. I got a kiss in 2006 and I got a kiss this time round too. That’s the important bit.
At twelve we drove out of Piazzale Roma, crossed the long bridge to the mainland and pointed at Port Cogolin. The sat nav said 18.30 for our arrival. I did the first 2 hours, the motorway was wide and fast and SilverBeast purred along at the Italian pace set by the drivers around me.
We stopped for lunch in a service station and had pizza and chips each. If we had known we would have had one portion between us – they were huge!
Peanut took over for a big middle stint, I reclined my seat leaned a pillow against my window and had an afternoon Gentleman’s nap.
An hour later Peanut’s hand reached for mine and woke me. The tyre pressure warning light was on and Peanut had slowed to 50. An HGV behind us honked at us as he overtook. We were too slow for them forcing them to down change. A big deal for truckers. I told P to put her hazards on, whenever a truck loomed behind then they could set themselves up to overtake without down changing. It worked no more tooting horns.
It wasn’t a blow out the car handled fine, though a little soft. We cruised to a service station where there was air. Unfortunately, the air worked but the gauge didn’t. We hadn’t packed our own pressure gauge. Schoolboy error by us on a long road trip. I pumped a hefty amount of air into each tyre and we carried on for the next service station.
The gauge worked. I aimed for 37 psi all round. As it happened all were there or there abouts. We concluded that it was an all round lowering of pressure that had prompted the Tyre monitoring to trigger a warning. We decided to drive home to Port Cogolin and check again on Friday, just to be sure it isn’t a slow puncture. Visually we could see nothing. In Italy we had done a lot of farm tracks and hit a few potholes so with hindsight we should have checked our tyres before leaving Tuscany for Venice. Another school boy error.
The handling was definitely right now and Peanut put some more miles behind us. I was wide awake now and we put our iTunes onto random. An hour from Monaco the music cycle hit a golden patch and we had a sing song in the car where appropriate. Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain (F1song) got Peanut right in the groove and she drove this 3 and a half hour stint superbly. She had found a Chevrolet muscle car to follow. He was fast but not crazy fast and we hung onto his shirt tails. I think he enjoyed it too teasing us on a straight opening it up a bit and so on it was fun.
T Rex and The Jeepster blasted out. Such simple light words. Look up the words. I think you know my nickname is Beastie, or The Beastmaster. I loved this song and told Mrs P my full title had just got longer. I am now il Maestro, Beastmaster The Jeepster! God I’m vain aren’t I? Well yes I am but to be serious the first step to having someone like you – the real you – is to like yourself, to like the person you see reflected back at you in the bathroom mirror each morning.
Dean Martin did a stint on the stereo too and we swayed, smooched and sung in the car to Amore and Sway. Sinatra’s My Way helped us along our road and Pavarotti belted out E lucevan le stelle from Tosca, which made me want to sing but, I can’t speak Italian! This was so good I played it twice. Dire Straits made me reach behind the seat for my air guitars, classic and electronic, as we did 9 miles listening to the sublime Private Investigations. A few Abba songs had me clapping and singing and Frankie Goes To Hollywood put us through the emotional mangle with The Power of Love. “I’ll protect you from the hooded claw” is a line that always makes us think of our cat Ola, as she raises her paw to warn our other cat Alfie to stay away. He never listens and we fail to protect him from the hooded claw. 
It was a fantastic series of songs that came up in a row. We swapped drivers and I did the last short stint home arriving back at 19.15. A good run with few traffic hold ups. 15 minutes later we were unpacked and drinking tea. We read. I’m 5 hours into the 61 Hours Jack Reacher book that P has finished and she is getting slowly into Michael Connelly’s the Fifth Witness. 
A day of not a lot, yet a day of fun, of singing and clapping and driving and laughing. But stage left in the pantomime, dark in the corner, the evil witch lurked, as my back had ached all day.

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Holiday Diary – France and Italy August 2015 Day 11

Monday 31st August.

We had decided that having breakfast served in our room was how we should roll, so again we started our day feasting on the delicious trolleyfull that was provided. While we waited lazing in bed P opened the door to the balcony and was met with a wall of heat again. We have the airconditioning in our room set at 27 at Mrs P’s request but this is in no way a reflection of the real temperature in our room which was far far colder. Even at 9am it was a great deal hotter outside, and is reaching 34C most days. 

This was the day we took advantage of our complimentary trip to a glass blowing factory on Murano Island and we were to have been picked up at our hotel but there was some kind of gondola jam in the canal outside, so we were escorted to the main stop at San Marco where a water taxi awaited.

We then had a very pleasant boat trip across to Murano where we watched a master glass blower at work. It was in truth incredible as we watched him create a beautiful glass horse before our eyes in minutes. The guide was amusing, Il Maestro as they called the genius glass maker was astounding to watch and then full of wonder and delight we were lured into the sales rooms.

This clearly was the point of our visit – we were meant to buy something and we were led through endless galleries of gorgeous glass of slowly diminishing value. The business began with your personal assistant showing you chandeliers with prices that made your eyes water. Every time you stopped to admire you got a lecture on how wonderful it was and why it cost £4000 or more, nothing was priced.

After a while we both got a bit irritated by this “hard sell” and by then had made our minds up not to buy anything almost as a point of belligerent principle! But what we didn’t realise was that there was no facility for a drink, unless you purchase something, in which case you evidently get a glass of prosecco. We weren’t that thirsty! And as we soon found out also a water taxi of your own to take you back to Venice! For those who decline their wonderful bargains, you wait in the sun for 20 minutes or so, until they can fill a boat and take all the tight fisted humbugs back together. We began to think we might have to row ourselves back, or maybe swim. So never forget there is no such thing as a free lunch, or factory tour.

On balance it was a great morning, high speed water taxis across the lagoon (Bond and Moneypenny were out again), an eye opening chance to watch a master craftsmen create art in front of your eyes, etc. However, the hard sell left a bad taste in our mouths and it is not our nature to put up with that just for a “freebie”, which is what this was.

Back at last in Venice we had lunch and enjoyed our freedom, having safely escaped Burano Island. It is a feature of this holiday that wherever we go in Italy, we seem to fall foul of the Curse of the Loud American! What is it about them? Why do they bawl? Why can’t they eat, walk or just exist quietly? And why do they wonder why the rest of the world finds them irritating? So yes we had one behind us at lunch, obviously and also one on the glass blowing trip. Worse still, she bought nothing so was on same boat as us back to Venice. We had to sit inside as she successfully drowned out the noise of a 250 HP boat engine.

After lunch we shopped some more with Peanut adding some rather fetching cream trousers to her collection. Then we wanted to find the shop where we bought P’s Valentine bracelet back in February and that took some doing I can tell you! We headed for the Rialto Bridge as it was definitely on the other side. As we approached the bridge, Peanut had a brainwave and said she wanted some earrings fashioned as carnevale masks, one gold and one silver. This was prompted by a brooch she had seen of two masks one gold, one silver depicting the happy and sad faces of theatre. I too was smitten with her idea. 

The Rialto Bridge is full of small jewellery shops and 35 seconds later we were gazing at a set of gold and a set of silver earrings. Peanut decided to buy both split them and give the spare pair to The Elf. This was an incredibly fast example of turning an idea into reality – under two minutes by my estimate!

Back on our mission to boldly go where where every man in Venice has been before (can the enlightened ones tell me what I’m paraphrasing?) and indeed after a few wrong turns we found the shop where Peanut’s bracelet came from. 

One of the wrong turns took us past another master craftsmen this time in the noble art of mask making. The classic masks were there and indeed he was making a double headed mask representing the same theme as Peanut’s earrings as we walked in. He was applying gold paint to it and the shop smelt gloriously of the vapours from the paint. It felt, as it was – the work place of a great artisan. We spotted a fantastic half bust perfect for our bedroom and decided to have it as our Christmas treat. Once home we will check wall dimensions and then we will get it. It’s great when we both fall for the same thing!

The bracelet shop had been taken over and was now solely a watch shop. They were new Hamilton watch distributors so I hoped they had the latest Ventura there but sadly it wasn’t. Peanut tried the Bagley Hamiltons, which we had not seen in the flesh before and they were lovely, but really we are looking for a sports watch not another dress watch.

We wandered some more, back across The Rialto, had some ice-cream sat on some steps. Aargh an American woman sat next to us accompanied by two more. Someone was missing from their party. Have you any idea what it is like to listen to one American woman talking at 244 decibels to her companions on how they were going to solve this for the whole duration of my vanilla scoop and my lemon scoop? Have you? Well… Aaaannnd calm.

We sought the sanctuary of our hotel room where after an hour our hearing levels seemed to have returned to normal parameters. Later we changed and headed out for dinner.

Dinner was very pleasant as we stumbled on a slightly upmarket place away from St Marks. My Mum is never happy if a place doesn’t have table cloths. By definition it must be a cafe not a restaurant. I’m not saying my Mum is right but God dammit I can’t help but always clock the presence or absence of a table cloth. This place had table cloths.

We had a superb seafood risotto to share and as it was freshly made and would take some time to cook, the waiter suggested a small traditional starter. No idea what it was called but it was made of soaked dried cod mashed with olive oil and then deep fried. Delicious but you wouldn’t want too many of them. Oh and yes, more loud Americans, this time playing cards in between courses!

This was the day of The Americans in Venice! A lovely day for us both in truth and to balance the records, Americans come in all shapes, sizes and volumes, many I count as real friends and they make the truest and best friends you could hope to have.



Holiday Diary – France and Italy August 2015 Day 10

Sunday August 30th

We had a lie in with breakfast ordered in our room. We had ticked off from a list what we wanted the night before and hung the list on our outside door handle. What tickled me was it asked how long you wanted your egg boiling for. Four minutes for me. Because we have been fortunate enough to visit Venice a lot in recent times, we don’t have this urgency to get out and see it all.

Breakfast came on a large trolley and the maid put it on the table. It was perfect and we sat and ate it in the cosy white dressing gowns the hotel provided. We were sold on this as a way to start the day, even deciding to get a bistro table set for our bedroom when we get home! It was good waking to this and feeling so well again. 

We stepped out and immediately spotted some graffiti on the wall – Peanut’s daughter’s name! Strange as another time we saw “Amelia” written in a prison cell in the Doge’s Palace.
Our plan for the day was to do some shopping. My friend in work Laura had asked me to get her a Venetian mask in shades of black, grey and white and a budget to work to, so as we meandered about we started to check out masks. It was thirsty work in the hot weather, so we paused for a fancy coffee and cake, in a lovely elegant cake shop. 

Then I spotted a jumper I liked and as I seem to have better look with Italian made jumpers than I do with those I stumble across in England, which seem to be made for 7 feet tall Giants or super skinny men very in touch with their feminine side, I decided to try it on. Bingo! Job done.

We meandered more through the shopping alleys of Venice, stopping every few minutes as we spot something else to intrigue us. Calligraphy pens, old parchment paper, leather bound note books, a watch box tempted me but I resisted. Murano glass in a million shapes and sizes, classic pieces, contemporary pieces, comic clowns galore, magnificent stallions rearing tall, Murano glass jewellery. For fun we went round all the shops counting, comparing masks to Murano glass. There were 4,223,000 masks in Venice and 9,456,000 different pieces of Murano glass to buy.

After this exercise we carried on in the direction of Luisa Spagnoli. Kate Middleton, as she then was made the name more familiar in the UK by wearing some of their outfits. What draws me to them for Mrs P is that they create style rather than fashion. Their garments have durability beyond just one season. Timeless elegance, that sits well both with younger girls seeking style before fashion and the older girls too such as Mrs P.

We went in having seen an outfit in the window we liked. A jumper and some Capri style trousers in blue caught our eye. Peanut loved it as four assistants ran around collecting things for her to try. The trousers were right but the top wasn’t. We tried another and another and then the jumper worked too. Chunky necklaces were adorned around her neck but every time she moved they framed either her left or her right boob looking a bit silly. It was amusing but I think it was because the were just a tad too long. A beautiful blue coat was draped on her which had been on the mannequin in the window. Gorgeous in the window but it drowned Mrs P and the raglan shoulder did her no favours, as Mrs P does not have strong shoulders. The assistants were on thin ground, if they were going to insist that everything looked wonderful they would lose their credibility. There is a saying, “buy cheap, buy twice”. Well there should be another one for the sales world, “Sell right, sell again”. 

Nonetheless it was fun in the shop, a nice shopping experience and we came away with the trousers and jumper.

The mask hunt we made easier by eliminating all the Chinese or imitation junk. A ten euros mask is pretty enough, but when a friend asks you to choose one, what you pick reflects on you, and as the budget would allow us to get the real deal that sat better in my mind. 

We saw a mask shop with a display that pulled us in and on a table at the back we saw the perfect mask for Laura. Below you can see the early beginnings of a similar one. We sent Laura a photo of her mask that evening and then purchased it the next day.

However, it proved expensive for us too as we saw the violin below on the same table as the mask and loved it. It would be perfect for us for our living room. The problem is that our connection to the violin is tenuous at best. 40 years ago Peanut got a Grade 1 at violin playing but hasn’t played since!

The next day when we collected Laura’s delightful mask, the violin was picked up too. Price? Don’t even ask!

We headed back towards the hotel, wandered around the nearby St Mark’s Square, bagged a cute little Murano bottle stop and retired to our room shattered.

Suitably rested we changed for dinner and returned to a restaurant that in February we walked out of without paying for our drinks because they kept us waiting far too long. The service in there was swift but we just got missed after taking our order. It was a good restaurant though so we gave them a second chance. Peanut had a delicious steak with mixed vegetables while I had a carbonara which was lovely and made up for the apology for one I had endured the previous night. With my treatment I’m getting very lightweight on the alcohol front so just a couple of Bellinis  for us both to go with the meal.  Another drink that goes hand in hand with Venice is Negronis. With my tummy how it is, I have shied from trying one. However, if you come to Venice, steal a march on me and order a Negroni and tell me what it is like.



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Holiday Diary – France and Italy August 2015 Day 9

Saturday 29th August.

I’d had a bad night up and down all night being sick or suffering diarrohoea. By morning the symptoms had eased off but I was as weak as a kitten. On the plus side we were heading to Venice today so Peanut could drive and I could just rest in the passenger seat. 

For now I lay in bed while Peanut packed the cases around me. These European trips are so easy for us because we do them as a team. We share the driving and the work that’s needed and then if one of us gets lame the other can step up. These days in truth I am the lame one mostly.

I had a bath and stumbled on wobbly legs down to breakfast where I could only manage a fruit juice and a cup of tea. Andrea spoke to us at breakfast full of concern, saying stay as long as you like, rest and get your strength. This couple were so kind, what can I say except make the effort and see them for yourself, they will help you see Italy in such a lovely way.

Finally, Peanut and one of Andrea’s sons packed the car and we said our goodbyes. We strolled to the car and this provoked a whole new conversation as they admired the car. The son was fascinated by it too and Peanut proudly rolled off facts and figures, explained the significance of the roof numbers and then had to explain about the other three cars one of which belongs to The Elf.  We have had this conversation at every petrol station we stop at in Italy. The Italians love their cars.

Actually sad to go, we set off with Peanut engaging sport mode to give our audience a few extra pops on the exhaust as we left. For the last time we stopped at the wooden gates as we waited for them to open electronically. Bizarrely one of the cutest things we have ever seen.

It was just over 3 and a half hours to Venice but it was twelve before we had left. Although on paper this holiday looks hectic, in truth it has been one of the laziest we have had. Lazy lie ins in Port Cogolin and the same at the castle.

En route we stopped at a service station and hadn’t even got out of of the car before a friendly Italian with a beaming smile was over to us making thumbs up signals. His wife translated for him telling us how he loved Motorsport and had worked for Porsche in Motorsport. They both loved the car. A long discussion ensued on the suspension with me explaining that it was a softer ride on the non run flat tyres and that this change had got rid of the interior rattles we had suffered prior to changing them. It made the car better for the long distance touring that we were doing on this holiday. Knowing nods from three experts in the field of vehicle suspension exchanged, akin to conversations men expert in all fields, exchange over pints in an English pub or wine in an Italian bar. 

This is touring. Meeting strangers, chatting, fixing the world, breaking it again, then re fixing it with new Elastoplast. Inside the service shop, I got a drink an energy bar and some fruit pastilles. Never underestimate the power of the fruit pastille.

Our journey continued with Peanut still at the wheel, my symptoms had all but gone and this bit of energy food was pulling me round. Peanut told me more of her chat with Andrea up at the top of the castle tower sat around a table drinking red wine and nibbling cheese. They discussed the Mafia as one should in such a setting, a fascinating conversation about the power battles between the Italian, Russian and Chinese Mafia. Thus the journey passed and we were parking in Piazzale Roma in Venice. 

We wheeled the cases across the square to the canal and jumped onto a water taxi to take us to the hotel. I have made this comment before but to take a little boat trip as the first thing you do in Venice makes going to this place special. We went under Ponte dell’Accademia then past St Marks Square and turned inwards by the Doge’s Palace and went under the Bridge of Sighs before docking at our hotel boat door.  James Bond and Moneypenny thanked the taxi man and stepped off the boat and into the hotel. We were greeted by a loud and enthusiastic “bonjiorno” from the suave young hotel receptionist whose English was gloriously elaborate. It was so friendly and set a good tone for the start of the next stage of our trip.

Thus welcomed we were shown to our room, which was gloriously grand with a Murano chandelier that you do not realise from the compression in the photo below but is actually taller than I am! No jokes about my height today please, I’ve not yet stopped being James Bond. Still acting as Bond, I asked Moneypenny to tip the bellboy who had brought our cases. 

  We checked out the bathroom and there was another Murano chandelier in there! This was our kind of a hotel, we loved the room and after the castle in Tuscany it could so easily have been a let down. It wasn’t. The room was very cool due to the air conditioning, so Peanut turned it up and stepped onto the tiny balcony to let some warm air in. The view alas was not of the Bridge of Sighs. An imposing head of a bearded man topped a grand door facing us, 12 feet away across the narrow alley. A sad Kodak sign hung from the wall to the right and below this. Looking right a large “O” symbol seemed to straddle the alley.
The “O” is a mystery to be solved. It has chased us on this holiday. It is a Dan Browne like symbolistic oddity we repeatedly encounter. A later blog will follow on this once we crack the mystery.

I rested while Peanut unpacked and then we stepped into Venice below us. We headed to St Marks 50 metres away. The Longchamps shop nestled in the corner of the square and we headed there. The handbag we had seen in St Tropez was there but only in plain colours. It was 30 Euros more, oh well we’d be back in St Tropez soon enough.

We mooched some more then settled for a small trattoria directly under our hotel. Peanut had a pizza and I had a carbonara. To be honest they were pretty poor, not helped by my still being a bit feeble on the eating front.

An early night and  I immersed myself in the Lucy Foley novel I was still enjoying. It was rather lovely lying in bed reading my book and looking around the hotel room we were in.

“Night Moneypenny.”

“Night James. Oooooh…”


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Venice For The Carnevale February 2015

Carnival MaskOk so Wikipedia is my friend but it does explain the Carnevale in Venice:

The Carnival of Venice (Italian: Carnevale di Venezia) is an annual festival, held in Venice, Italy. The Carnival ends with the Christian celebration of Lent, forty days before Easter on Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. The festival is famed for its elaborate masks.

It is said that the Carnival of Venice was started from a victory of the “Serenissima Repubblica” against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. Apparently, this festival started on that period and became official in the Renaissance. In the seventeenth century, the baroque carnival was a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world. It was very famous during the eighteenth century. It encouraged licence and pleasure, but it was also used to protect Venetians against the anguish for present time and future. However, under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks became strictly forbidden. It reappeared gradually in the nineteenth century, but only for short periods and above all for private feasts, where it became an occasion for artistic creations.

After a long absence, the Carnival returned to operate in 1979.The Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of its efforts. The redevelopment of the masks began as the pursuit of some Venetian college students for the tourist trade. Today, approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for the Carnival. One of the most important events is the contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”) placed at the last weekend of the Carnival and judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers. Continue reading

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Venice In February – The Photography Mission


We had a recent holiday break in Venice for the Carnevale and to enjoy St Valentine’s day together and you can see our holiday photographs for this here. We also took a collection of photographs of people celebrating the Carnevale and these can be seen here. We were sold on going to Venice in February by our good friend and keen photographer Andy Williams, who explained how the people dressing up for the Carnevale would happily pose for photographs etc. He suggested we get up before breakfast as the models are around then and you can photograph them without all the tourist being around. Continue reading


Venice In February

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We had dinner with an old friend of ours Andy Williams sometime this winter before Christmas and we were telling him of our love for Venice and our recent adventures there. He mentioned that The Carnevale was on in February and  to cut a long story short he inspired us to go there. We looked at this and then found out that it fell over Valentine’s Day so that was it, we were hooked and the trip was booked. We went for Hotel Ambassador Tre Rose which is just off St Mark’s Square and right in the thick of the action and for once we decided to fly.

We overnighted at my cousin Lorraine’s in Ashtead from where we booked a taxi to catch an early flight on Wednesday morning. I don’t like flying, not because I hate flying as I love that part, but I don’t like the whole airport experience anymore. Too much queuing and The Easy Jet model discourages hold luggage. Anyway Gatwick was fine and in truth we got through very quickly and were able to enjoy a mooch around the expensive shops post passport control.

At Venice airport we had a long walk to the water buses where we soon boarded one  that meandered its way to St Mark’s square  and by about 2 pm we were unpacking in our centrally placed but frankly small bedroom. I learned to love this room though as it was very warm and cosy and to be honest I feel that any city break demands a centrally placed hotel and tin truth it doesn’t get more central than the Tre Rose! Continue reading