Wednesday, 29 August 2012

One Out Of Three Ain't Bad...

What a weekend we have just had!!! After the summer we have (not) had, I suppose we couldn't have expected anything else, particularly with England's ability to pour water from the sky on Bank Holidays anyway.

We should have played three gigs this weekend but only managed the one.

Saturday and Monday should have seen us at Garstang's Music and Arts Festival. But on Saturday morning as it came time to pack the gear into the car, the rain was just coming down like stair rods. The car in the corner of the cul-de-sac was up to its wheel trims in water as the drains refused to cope. A couple of streets away, the residents made the local paper, wading knee deep in the street. I called our contact in Garstang and we agreed to cancel for the day and keep fingers crossed for Monday.

It did no good. On Monday morning we watched the rain lashing down and the phone rang to cancel the gig.

At least our Sunday night gig went ahead. This was out at Over Wyre Football Club in Stalmine and was for a 70th birthday party. We were safely indoors. But the weather, perhaps somewhat infuriatingly, was gorgeous anyway!

This was a record event - we played 6 full hours! Oh... my fingers...!

From Riva to Torbole and Back

Sunday 19 August. Sunday morning and we set off to walk the 4km to Torbole.

This is the day for some wonderful Lake Garda scenery. Although we set out straight after breakfast the temperature was already in the mid to high 30s and climbing. The last 2km were gaspingly hot!

This is one of the most scenic walks to do. The Via Gardesana. From this little inlet you could hire boats and small yachts to go out on the lake. Tiny black fish were swimming in the water.

Now we come to the beaches. Pebble beaches but none the worse for that. This being a Sunday they were crowded. The north of Lake Garda is within easy reach of Munich and lots of Germans come down for the weekend either to laze on the beach and top up tans or to squeeze themselves into lycra and scare you to death by powering past on racing bikes, groups of ten or more all dressed exactly the same, determined looks on their faces, sparing neither man nor beast... Even if they are not exactly in a race they act as if they are and any lesser mortal who doesn't give way will soon be shy a limb or two!

I didn't take any photos of the beaches because I didn't want to be labelled as I labelled the several old guys who were wandering up and down past the bikinis and odd topless young damsel openly holding their i-phones in the air, videoing the female delights they passed. For Heaven's sake! Now I can appreciate the feminine form as much as anyone but this was a step too far methinks! However, nice to see that the Italian elderly have a grasp of technology...

And so we reach Torbole. Hot. In need of a drink. Wanting to sit somewhere in the shade. And this spot, overlooking Torbole's harbour with the delightful little building on the jetty affords us just that with a set of tables under a roof but open on the side to allow us the view.

We were sitting behind the arched windows seen on the right of this view. No matter what angle you choose that little building just looks perfect!

At the northern end of Lake Garda the mountains rise up on both sides and it's almost impossible not to point your camera here there and everywhere, snapping away.

What an expensive place this would have been twenty years ago when we all had to use film and then pay again to have it processed. I used to spend a fortune on film and "D+P" as we used to call developing and printing. I'd have bankrupted myself here!

We spend a little time in Torbole. Then walk down to the landing stage to catch the S. Martino ferry back to Riva. It's only 4km. But that is just too far to repeat the walk in this heat!

Back in Riva and we have the now inevitable stop at Gelaterie Cristallo. From here we can sit and watch the ferries arrive and depart. Tipple of the day is an Aperol Spritzer.

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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Malcesine, Lake Garda

Saturday 18 August 2012. Well we had a full post just about the ferry trip here so I'd better make this one as interesting as I can!

Luckily there is enough in Malcesine (say it Mal-chess-in-ay with the accent on the che bit) to look at and ponder over.

The ferry landing stage is next to a very small but quite busy harbour. A fairly large masted ship does one hour trips (under motor not under sail) and another firm hires speedboats by the hour. Not the English seaside town idea of speedboats either. They look the real thing! And are priced as such. The basic one will set you back fifty euros for an hour, but I expect that the posing value and a chance to thrash it about on the huge lake for an hour makes it better value than, say, a three-minute roller coaster ride.

Malcesine's castle is perhaps best seen from the lake itself, but that shouldn't put you off walking up the hill through the narrow streets to get there. The host on the airport shuttle who brought us from Verona Airport on Wednesday had told us the castle was the setting for an unbelievable number of weddings a year. I think he said 800!

One such was going on because a little blue golf buggy decked out in flowers and a bride and groom tootled past us as we walked up the narrow cobbled streets towards it. Once you get to the castle, there's probably going to be a queue for the tiny viewpoint under the castle overlooking the lake.

But it is so, so worth waiting to catch this beautiful viewpoint. Turning the other way to look up at the castle is not the best view of it so people tend not to stay here a long time, blocking your access.

A glimpse of one of the narrow streets. This one is at least on the level. Others seem to have been built more with mountain goats in mind, but perhaps I exaggerate a little here.

We came to a small piazza halfway up a hill with the bar cafe shown above. We stopped for a drink and whilst we waited for it to come, the sketchpad came out and I spent 45 minutes capturing the essence of the piazza.

Our latte machiattos had long gone and a beer seemed a good idea after a while... I left the cobbles to do once I got home. They took at least half as long to draw in as the rest of the picture!

Fran disappeared into a jewellery shop to admire the Venetian glass and I got bored enough to start getting all arty-farty, photographing colours and textures.

The shot of the shop front and the fruit by the way is not quite what it seems as this was a pottery shop and all the fruit... isn't fruit...!

And so back eventually to the harbour area and some lunch. Halfway through another wedding party came down and onto one of the boats for their photos to be taken, whooping and looking like they were having a good time.

In fact when we got back to Riva that night this same party had taken over the bulk of the dining area - they were staying at our hotel. Which meant we had to listen to the speeches... The father of the bride's speech was nowhere near as good as mine... Five years on and still some of Eddie's friends and family mention it to me... [blush] Anyway, Rosie and Rich, (Rich?!? Could you not find anyone called 'Jim'?) I wish you a good long and happy life together.

Meanwhile we are still in Malcesine despite that swift bit of future gazing. After dinner we decided to walk it off a bit rather than sit an hour and a half on a ferry so we walked south, finding more shops and a lakeside view missed by many visitors who tend to walk north from the harbour.

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Monday, 27 August 2012

Ferry to Malcesine

Saturday 18 August. We take the ferry down Lake Garda from Riva to Malcesine.

The nine o'clock ferry from Riva is the G.Zanardelli, a paddle steamer that is so beautiful it deserves - and will get - an entry all to itself in a day or two. Meanwhile Fran stretches out as at this hour we do not have too many fellow travellers!

I always think that the view of Riva from Lake Garda is one of the most beautiful bits of scenery on Earth. Who could fail to fall in love with a view like that?

The nine o'clock ferry does not cross the lake to Torbole, but instead immediately heads southwards down the lake towards its first stop at Limone. This takes 40 minutes and the time is spent relaxing, drinking in the views and feeling the breeze in your face. There's a set of dots floating in the sky in the distance and we wonder what they are until we get closer and can make them out properly.

They turn out to be the large canopies of kite surfers. These criss-cross the lake at a few points but these are whizzing to and fro in front of our path and seem almost suicidally eager to get as close to our bows as possible, like birds darting in front of your car down a country lane. The G.Zanardelli may be an old ship, but there is nothing wrong with its hooter, which frightens us to death never mind the kite surfers!

And then the imposing cliffs of Limone. The first sight of Limone is of the terraces of stone with pillars rising as though to support a roof. These are lemon terraces. Limone does not grow all that many lemons now, but in the past these groves were filled with trees and produced some of the largest lemons you can imagine. Nothing like the small weedy things we get in England! They are like small rugby balls! You will find some on the markets and shop fronts in Limone.

The G.Zanardelli hooter blasts again briefly to let the shore staff know to leave the ticket office and stand by to receive the next group of tourists. There's a sizeable crowd of people waiting to board, armed to the teeth with cameras, sun tan lotion, excited children and aged mothers. The Italians have far more aged mothers than aged fathers it would seem... They swarm onto the ferry, jostling for places against the rail where they can be photographed with Limone as the backdrop.

"Bella!" enthuses one daughter as she snaps for posterity a wrinkled 80-year-old, clad in a skirt matched (I say this loosely) with a bikini top that has a rather optimistic cup size. What used to be her breasts hang into it and curl back up in the bottom of the cups, the nipples pointing vertically at the sky. Behind me a young man leans over the rail to be sick into the lake...

For the good of my health and the retention of my breakfast I try to concentrate on the lakeside scenery of Limone. There, for instance, is the bar cafe we sat in, in 2004 with my own mother, who would not be told to stop flapping away at a hovering wasp until she did connect and managed to knock it out of the sky and straight into her glass of wine... Ah... we're off again!

The crossing (for Malcesine is on the eastern side of the lake) from Limone to our final destination takes a further 25 minutes. We are now on a quite crowded boat and there are people to watch - and avoid watching - and a new set of kite surfers to negotiate.

Malcesine has a castle set prominently on a huge jutting rock by the lakeside and this is what you look at to gauge how close you are. The G.Zanardelli will turn at this point and return to Riva so we sail past the landing stage and turn to come back to it. The ramps clatter onto the side of the boat and we are herded off and onto the terra firma of Malcesine (say it "Mal-chess-sin-ay" with the accent on the second syllable).

The first thing you have to do is to watch your ferry depart. The side paddles of the G.Zanardelli churn the water from blue to white and she pulls away from the landing stage, leaving you to the tender mercies of Malcesine for a few hours.

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Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Grand Dolomites Tour

Friday 17 August 2012. The only organised excursion we decided to do during our week at Lake Garda was to the Dolomites.

So we stood at some early hour waiting for our coach to pick us up, watching as masses of people came to join us, then a coach would come and pick the bulk of them up and leave us waiting again. But our bus did come pretty much on time and we found ourselves in a mixed bag of Italians, Germans and English and luckily with a multi-lingual guide!

This was to be a full day tour and lasted around 11 hours. We spent a lot of it on the coach as could be expected, but once we got to the Dolomites the views and the time we got to wander around were well worth the day spent on the coach.

We started off with a coffee stop at a place called Moena. We were shown to the terrace of a hotel with some excellent views from the tables. They offered tea as well as coffee and I have to say it was a good cup of tea!

Our next stop was just a five minute photo stop and the guide apologised for the colour of the lake. I suspect it is normally the turquoise of melt water but the rain had brought a fair bit of mud down with it! Anyway - that's long enough! Back onto the coach folks!

We drove for another long spell, passing through the Rose Garden, where the pink stone of the mountains combined with a sunset create a glorious colour. Of course we were still only approaching lunchtime so we missed out on that. But we passed through some lovely villages and saw lots of wooden statues and heard the story of the Dwarf King, Laurin, who stole away a beautful maid, Kunhild, to be his wife and kept her captive in his rose garden when she would not accept him. Dwarfs, eh...?

We came to the road to the Pordoi mountain with 27 hairpin bends to negotiate before we came to the highest point the road reached. Some of the drops at the side of the road made some passengers look determinedly away from the window!

We had lunch in the Maria Ristorante. We were on a table of six, with another English couple who it turned out were staying at the Hotel Centrale near our own hotel and two German girls, who unfortunately were a bit excluded from the conversation either by their lack of English or by design, I'm not sure. My own command of the German language allows me to buy food but not hold conversations, but I did confuse them once or twice with attempts to converse... It was preferable to talking to the English couple as she had chosen a meat platter which had different hams and some spicy slices I suspect. She was heaving and retching her way through it...

We now had free time either to look around the small village where we found ourselves, or to take the cable car to the top of the mountain. We had done that before, in 2003, so we decided to have a look round the shops and stay warm. It had been snowing at the top when we went up before!

There were a lot of bikers going up and down the road and one party included a matching pair of scarlet vintage bikes from the 1940s or 50s in glorious condition.

We bought the inevitable fridge magnet and went to have a look at the ski slopes. Near the chair lift we found an ice cream stall and I invested in an orange ice lolly - the first such I'd had in a good 25 years I suspect. I went all nostalgic as it melted over my hand, making my fingers sticky...

And then it was time to leave. The tour takes a large circle before rejoining the road back to Lake Garda and this afternoon we will have a stop at Ortisei, which is well worth a visit. Join us for a look around in the next entry!

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Friday, 24 August 2012

Night Time In Riva

Thursday 16 August 2012. The rain stopped after about an hour and it was so warm that ten or fifteen minutes later you couldn't tell it had rained at all.

We ate our evening meal in the hotel's open air dining area. They had a promenade restaurant with tables on the Promenade by the lake side and then a glass wall separated the space reserved for hotel guests. The space was open to the sky, but with large canvas blinds that could be drawn to shelter diners from rain if needs be.

We didn't rush the meal and so by the time we ventured out again it was almost fully dark. The temperature was still well into the 30s. The photo shows the castle La Rocca from the north. I was standing on the edge of a piazza or square, set above the Promenade which comes behind La Rocca as the moat is connected to the lake. La Rocca is a museum these days and perhaps more welcoming than it may have been in days gone by.

On the edge of the piazza is a pond and a row of small foot-high fountains, lit from underneath. Very effective.

On the north west corner of the piazza is this fountain with a statue of a young naked girl or nymph, very reminiscent of Copenhagen's Little Mermaid. Or - as I've never been to Copenhagen - very reminiscent of what I think the Little Mermaid looks like... but with legs...

Via Lipella, leading off the piazza from behind the fountain of the naked girl. The streets are all much of a muchness in fact - warm, narrow, partially blocked by tables and chairs and people eating, lit as much by shop lights as street lights, made more dangerous by hurtling cyclists clad in matching lycra and with determined faces. As far as they are concerned, pedestrians and targets are pretty much the same thing...

Most of the touristy shops seemed to stay open late. This is an Italian "offy" with a small selection of wines for you to try!

And the souvenir and pottery shops were all still open. But it is just wonderful. Had we not been on our feet all day we could have walked around for hours. As it was we walked a few streets and thought "Stuff it, I need a drink..." and we ended up at a gelateria called Cristallo, who gained a lot of our custom during the week! This is the same gelateria where we were when it rained in the last entry. If you go there, give them a try.

The main piazza and Via Concordia. There was always something to watch around it. Either there was a concert going on in the piazza itself or in front of one of the hotels and bars that surrounded it on three sides.

It had an old clock tower that rang the hour and with a different bell rang the quarter, half, and three quarter hours. The bells echoed off the buildings so you always got a double strike!

Fey-like blue lights shot into the air and then floated down slowly. The latest fad. A small missile and a catapult with sails at one end that as it fell opened and spun round, slowing the descent. Presumably they had batteries for the light. Very beautiful and very hypnotising! Several nights I went to bed with a crick in my neck from watching them. Every night we turned down several eager sellers. They looked great when five or six rose into the air in quick succession. They would look a bit silly just the one being shot into the Blackpool sky by a near 60 year old... It didn't put the sellers off - they asked me every night and sometimes every half hour...

Our favourite warm drink by the way was a latte machiatto. Don't ask for a "latte" in Italy and expect to get what Costa Coffee would give you. Latte means milk - so that's what you would get... A latte machiatto is a weak latte coffee that was served slightly hotter than we remembered. The Italians always used to serve them just lukewarm - it's a warm country, they don't drink many hot drinks. But perhaps they have had so many complaints that they've shrugged and gone over to the way the crazy Brits want! Certainly we used to laugh at cafes when a voice in our own native tongue said indignantly "It's cold, this!!!"

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Book Writing News

I've now seen and approved the proofs for the Blackpool book - Blackpool Then and Now

I see that Amazon have listed it with a discount for pre-orders too (use the above link) so what a bargain that makes it! The book is due for release at the beginning of 2013 and contains old postcard views from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, contrasted with my own photographs of modern day Blackpool taken as close as possible from the same spot.

The postcards have been put in a standard shade of sepia which compliments the colour of the photos of today.

This is not one of the photos from the book so you'll have to wait and buy it to see what is in it! [Chortles wickedly]

The postcard above shows the old Tower Menagerie, which I remember well as it still existed for the first few years of my life. This is the scene for Stanley Holloway's monologue Albert and the Lion where Wallace the lion gets an earful of a stick with an 'orse's head handle closely followed by a mouthful of Albert...

My novel, King And King To Be is still available for Kindle from Amazon and is selling steadily if not rushing out of the Kindle Store in droves. But early days yet... I've seen other books a lot further down the charts described (and not by the authors) as "doing well" so I'm happy every time I see it has sold a copy or every time someone else mentions it somewhere.

Without too many spoilers, it's a King Arthur story involving time travel, Merlin, elves and fairies and links back to as many national and local legends about King Arthur and the other legendary characters as I could work in! Oh and a dragon for good measure...

Buy it now and you'll be able to boast that you bought it before it became famous... Currently it has 3 reviews - all of which give it the full 5 stars.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Week at Lake Garda

We're back! Back from a week at the beautiful Lake Garda in northern Italy.

We stayed at Riva on the north western corner of the lake, in the Hotel Sole, right on the edge of the lake. Beautiful place and a very good hotel.

It was a very relaxing holiday - we only did one organised tour. But we did a couple of disorganised ones too... By which I mean we just took ourselves off on a ferry down the lake a few times. A holiday at Lake Garda doesn't need much organising beyond finding a hotel and booking in.

The ferries start at 8:00am and finish around 8:00pm or thereabouts. They don't operate after dark. At the northern end of the lake where we were, there are mountains all around. You won't get spectacular sunsets there because the sun doesn't set - it just goes behind the mountain and then it gets progressively darker.

We'll no doubt have a look at some of the things we got up to in the next few entries, but suffice it to say that I can gel completely with the culture of sitting in pavement cafes, sipping granitas (Slush Puppies) or something called Aperol Spritzers which was quite nice too. Or even just a limonata - a lemon soda. On this first day we took a one-hour cruise to see a waterfall.

It's a pleasant trip but the waterfall is very hard to spot, being in a cove - more like a grotto really, as it is so dark that only me fiddling with Photoshop has made the waterfall just about visible here. In real life it is so dark in there that you haven't much chance of actually seeing it whilst you're sitting on a boat in the glare of the sun!

Then the boat turns round and heads out to the centre of the lake to come back - away from any other ferry traffic heading down the lake. The lake is popular with windsurfers and boating enthusiasts.

Back at Riva, there is still most of the afternoon left as we took an early flight out. We decide to walk along the path across the top of the lake to the town on the north-east corner called Torbole.

This is around a three and a half mile walk and affords some wonderful views of the lake.

Somewhere near the halfway point a river flows down from the mountains and out into the lake. This is a popular spot for sunbathers and especially families as you can splash about in the river.

Now here's something we weren't expecting! A rumble of thunder makes us turn round in surprise and the colour of the sky makes us think twice about carrying on to Torbole! We start to retrace our steps and feel the first gentle splashes of rain.

By the time we get back to Riva... We dived under the canopy of a gelateria - an ice cream bar. The rain was now torrential and bouncing spectacularly off the paths whilst a steady stream of water running off the canopies splashed far out from the front of the café.

And the ice creams... did I mention the ice creams...? This is a coppa fragole. Strawberries, vanilla and strawberry ice cream and fresh cream. Later in the week I took to dispensing with the fresh cream - it detracted from the taste in my view.

So to come: more slouching around the lakeside cafes (we did an awful lot of that...) and a look at the Dolomite mountains, some night views of Riva and trips to Limone and Malcesine by ferry. And we might take a closer look at one of the ferries - a beautiful 1902 paddle steamer called G.Zanardelli. It doesn't steam any more, but is still driven by its side paddles rather than a propeller.

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