Thursday, September 20, 2001

Day Trip to Venice part II

Arriving in Venezia, we dashed to the bathrooms on the platform with everyone else.
Spending a penny was now spending L1,000 lira, however as the expression was eons old, this was probably a fair inflationary affect.
Then the plan was to head to San Marco as early as possible, before the worst of the hoards descended.
Our plan was slightly delayed as we travelled through the old centre island of town, avoiding the crush around the Grand Canal.
Very good plan.
Very enticing diversions.
Two couldn't be avoided; the 1st a locals Caffe Bar with the most wonderful display of pastries in the small window & inside.
All production of the proprietor, the Venetian specialties were all delectable, and the caffe standing at the bar was excellent and cheap.
The other diversion struck Rob & I simultaneously; a tourist shop, filled with miniature shoes, hats & so on in lush fabrics.
The shoes screamed "Lynne", Rob's elder sister, and whilst expensive, one on display in the window in red & green tones was the unanimous choice.
A crunch of the credit card, and we were on our way.
San Marco appeared as a surprising vision to me.
Not at all like the movie images I had seen.
Scaffolding covered many facades, with printed or painted images on the covering sheets to give the illusion of it's previous incarnation.
Curious rough boardwalks crossed from where the entrance to the Piazza started to the waterfront, and in front of the Cathedral, already covered with queues of people.
We arranged to meet at a certain statue or pole in the event of our getting dispersed in the crush of humanity.
For the first time I felt like a tourist in a tourist spot; something I had succeeded in avoiding on previous trips.
A traveller not a tourist.
I pointed out to Rob the strange gurgling water spouting from two or 3 points in the square which we investigated without much concern.
I had heard of this through the BBC, although Rob had not seen it in his previous visits.
My aversion to queues meant the Cathedral was off.
Rob waxed lyrically about walking up the tower for the view, and discovering that this wait was positively pea-sized in Venice, I joined with a jaded and cynical manner that it would be worth it.
In no time, we had paid our money and joined crush to enter the lift to go up the tower by an efficient, although less romantic fashion to the spiralling staircase (which was closed).
This was tourist city central; full of Japanese, British, Australian and American tourists, however when one fought the way to viewing windows the sights were well worth it.


Day Trip to Venice part I

It was too close to ignore, too expensive to stay. I had never been to Venezia (Venice), and had a clear image of the touting Gondolier; unfathomable hoards of tourists; and the soft focus image of a hundred romantic movies and TV shows.
Everyone said it was romantic ~ especially importantly Bob on his visit here 4 years ago.
After checking with the Venetian Tourist Office & Accommodation centre, the most basic accommodation, a no star pensione without facilities started at $150+ (if available).
Needing to stay for at least a couple of days, with our local friends reiterating the expense of food and everything, I could not bring it upon myself to justify such great expense, especially if I were 'on a downer', spending much time in bed resting.
Instead, I made the executive decision to travel by train (one & a half hours or so) in the morning, and being more relaxed about expenditure on the odd caffe, pasta (sweet cake), water & so on.
A return ticket cost 22,000 lira ~ less than $22 Aussie dollars.
Whilst Rob stood in line to purchase the tickets at Ferrara Central Stazione, I found an automated machine which had different language options, and the ability to pay by credit card.
The tickets were spat out of the machine whilst those in front of Rob were still waiting in line.
Tomorrow we were going to Venezia!

An early start was aided by Giulietta's concern to ensure that we were well fuelled before and during the journey!
Espresso was ready, her special bread fresh from the oven, and she had made panini with prosciutto crudo and good cheese (including my beloved Grana) wrapped and ready with fruit.
The main problem was parking near the station, & despite an previous recognisance when buying the tickets & seeking advice from the all-knowledgeable Stefano, it was to be the biggest problem prior to catching the train.
The station at peak time was amazing!
The largest triathlon in the world (still Mrs T's? Or the 4 events of the Sri Chimnoy weekend combined, or . . . ) could not compete with the bicycles parked in the area.
No wonder Ferrara was known as the city of bicycles.
Our 2nd class carriage was somewhat luxurious by Australian standards, and had specialist bicycle areas on each train.
Way to Go!
Unlike the State Rail Authority in NSW which specifically bans them from services.
Venice to be continued


Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Email from Bob

Stienta, province of Veneto, northern Italy
Tuesday 18 September 2001

Dear friends,

Sorry about the group email, but at least I can contact you all!

Carolyne's condition has improved significantly over the past couple of days, thank goodness. Although she is unable to do any heavy exercise without getting weak and tired, she is now able to enjoy the good food, company and walk around the delightful countryside.

Have been in Italy since Wednesday 5 September, and on Sunday returned to Stienta after 5 days in Rimini. We are staying at the apartment of a friend, Giulietta, whom we met at a hotel in northern Spain 4 weeks ago. In Spain Giulietta was travelling with her partner, Stefano, and several friends from the area. Stienta is a small village on the Po River, about 15km from the large regional centre of Ferrara, a beautiful walled city of 120,000 people, where Stefano lives. We're about 60km from the Adriatic coast and 60km from Bologna. The countryside is quite flat, a great contrast to northern Spain and eastern France.

Today we spent several pleasant hours walking around the top of the Ferrara city walls, which are tree-lined and have a constant stream of joggers and cyclists, and around the streets and parks of the city. We enjoyed the many lovely buildings, with an occasional break for a coffee or gelato.

Giulietta has been wonderful to us both, but particularly to Carolyne. She is 46, has a 23 year-old-son who is in Greece on holidays, and is a designer for Armani. She speaks alsmost no English but Carolyne can communicate with her, in a fashion, in Italian, and I do the same in French. Each evening Stefano comes for dinner and he speaks reasonable English. Both of them are well educated, interested in international affairs, history and culture and are leftist in their politics. Tomorrow Carolyne and I will go for a long day trip to Venice. It is only 1 hour 15 min by train from Ferrara, and there are are frequent trains. After returning here late tomorrow night, we will leave Stienta on Friday and head to the eastern Mediteranean coast of Italy where we will drive slowly to Nice over 8 days. We fly from Nice on Tuesday 2 October, arriving in Canberra on Thursday 4 October.

Our trip to Rimini for the World Duathlon Champonships was a mixed bag. Carolyne's condition deteriorated slowly after we left Spain where her ears became infected after a triathlon. By the time we left Stienta for Rimini, we knew she would be unable to compete and that she would have difficulty enjoying herself cooped up in a hotel with me while I competed. Giulietta offered to come with us to Rimini where she her closest friend lives. Carolyne and Giulietta stayed with the friend whose apartment was only 2km from my hotel. It was an excellent arrangement, allowing me to see Carolyne frequently but with the 2 women as company for her and able to assist her if needed.

The Australian team for the Championships was accommodated in 2 adjoining hotels, one block from the waterfront. I knew several other competitors which made it fun for the 2 days I was there before the race. The race comprised a 10km run, 4 laps of a course around the streets close to the waterfront, followed by a 40km cycle, 6 times over a course back and fro along the waterfront, and finally a 5km run, twice over the same course as earlier. It was well organised and conducted although it rained steadily before the start, making the cycle course slippery and dangerous in several places. Many cyclists fell, including one immediately in front of me on a tight bend. I had a good race and enjoyed it, but finished well out of medal contention.

Last Tuesday, 11 Sept, is one I'll never forget. We had lunch with Stefano in Ferrara and afterwards, when passing a shop, noticed on the TV the skyline of New York, with smoke coming out of the World Trade Centre. When we arrived home, about 4pm, Giulietta had her TV on and indicated that planes had hit both towers. While we watched the Pentagon was hit, and we watched transfixed while the fires raged and both towers collapsed. It was the first time Carolyne and I had watched any disaster live, let alone one of such magnitude. It was frustrating that although the pictures were from CNN, the commentary was all in Italian. We had difficulty getting the details until we bought a paper the next day. Unfortunately, good English language papers, particularly my favourite, the International Herald Tribune, is available locally only about 3 times per week. It hasn't been easy keeping up with subsequent developments.

Must send this off as it is late and we leave early in the morning for Venice.

Regards to all, Bob & Carolyne
Bob Harlow
(0438) 51 3653

Thursday, September 13, 2001

After September 11

It has probably been a while since my last communique.

I could claim the terror that has gripped the world during the last 30 hours since the attacks on New York and Washington. Yet this would be a convenient excuse for ten days that have not been as significant to the rest of society.

Thank you so much to those of you who have responded with news or responses to what I have sent; it is greatly appreciated. The best address to use for Bob and I is; either our names or which is forwarded to everything, everywhere to enable access whenever we have access to email of any colour.

When I was in Italy eleven years ago, retelling the tale seems more the production of an overactive imagination and bluster than fact.

Although most tourists on a day trip to Firenze (Florence) would have seen more of the great wonders of the art world at the Uffizi and during my visits to Rome than I did throughout that month, they would not have become a Florentina, nor driven over Tuscany and Umbria in their new friends BMW, driving the Dutch football team to their 1990 World Cup match at 160km/hr down the Autostrada in convoy with Petra in her fathers' spare BMW cabriolet; nor danced with Crown Prince Willem of Holland in extraordinary Euro-discothèques; spending the evening with a retired university professor in his apartment after approaching him in the post office seeing he was posting a card to Wollongong (Australia) and then the following day at his nieces' farm in Chianti with homemade vino, sheep's milk cheese and food collected as we walked.
I could go on, however that tale of 1990 beggared my belief as time wore on. Until now.

The Journey
When in the western Basque region, and once again finding no room at the Inn, Bob and I ended up staying at a rural alberge or pensione, which whilst basic, seemed to suit our needs. The owner was increasingly incorrigible, "Ignacio The Beast", however with no options for alternative accommodation and close to a triathlon we were to do we stayed. Soon we were joined by a group of five friends from Italy travelling together, with whom Bob struck an instant re. The meal of home made pasta the night before an early start for the triathlon on a liquid diet, sent me to bed early, as I knew my resolve would not hold.
The stay for us was made bearable by these 5 Italians, and a family of 4 from Rome. A very genuine invitation was received to stay at the home of one of the five, Giulietta, when she heard that we were going to Rimini, a couple of hours from Rimini.
Our extended stay in Spain has been discussed elsewhere. After a diversion to the Duathlon Belvedere in the jewel of eastern France for active people, the Jura, we headed to Italy ~ an unexpectedly long and tiring journey via Germany, Switzerland and into northern Italy.

After more difficulties in finding accommodation, however finding another unexpected medieval delight very late in Cremona, we had been in contact with Giulietta and her friend Stefano in Ferrara through email to advise of our plans. We enjoyed the hotel, were directed around the corner to a sensory overload of a church that was amassed with stunning art, fresco's, bass relief and architecture. Everyone rode bicycles for transport, which Bob and I get a tremendous thrill from, and the piazzas and cobbled streets in the old Centro were fantastic.
A couple of hours later we were on the outskirts of Stienta, a village about 20 kilometres from the city of Ferrara. I had heard of Ferrara, but it was just a name of the north ~ like Bologna (at least I knew they were credited with Mortadella and Ragu Bolognese). A phone call from the crummiest truck stop / bar we could have found meant that Stefano downed tools at his office as the Ferrara manager of Citibank, and rode up to meet us on a very nifty 250cc Yamaha Scooter. It was Wednesday, 5 September.

Giulietta has a much be-loved 23-year-old son, Davide who was vacationing in Greece. Her apartment is spacious with high ceilings, tiled floors, and rooms of a good size. With two bathrooms, we three were very comfortable.
My health had not significantly improved since France, despite completing the mountainous duathlon comfortably. The cancellation of a duathlon in the region meant that for one weekend we did not compete. As I had put on my running gear that morning and felt too wan to pull on elastic-laced shoes, this was not a disappointment. It also meant that I could eat! Having followed a liquid diet for many days in anticipation, I was completely troppo and irrational by this stage of week after week of liquids only for 5 days and a couple of days of white (but good!) bread and whatever was around at the time. My first day returning to France from Spain had meant low fat potato crisps and diet coke from a poor service station.
Giulietta spoke only a little English, however my Italian, after overcoming the oi/si/oui/si versions of our journey pleased me. I even got some grammar correct and seemed to be being great guns! Stefano came over to share our evening meal each day, and his English is very good, so communication was of little problem. The weekend was wonderful ~ Giulietta and I had a short walk on the banks of the River Po, before continuing our shopping in Occhiobella (beautiful eyes) for dinner with another of the group of five that evening. Later, three other friends also came, requiring a quick extension to our table, setting, and additional dish of Giulietta's famous spaghetti. Fresh tomatoes, basil and produce came from her mother’s garden 3 kilometres away. An octopus salad, the famous Ferrara Bread, probably the world's best vegetable soup by Bob's estimation, fantastic cheeses, and gelati brought by the most amusing and highly intelligent friend Paolo, rounded off the evening with ample vino and grappa.
We were in the fold of Italy, and embraced them. Northern Italians have a reputation of being cold, however nothing could have been further from the truth. It was a very late night.

Instead of a duathlon, on Sunday we drove to Rimini for lunch at Giulietta's very good friend, Graziella. This appeased Bob's anxiety about Rimini and the World championship race somewhat, and as the manager of the team was arriving that day hoped to meet and talk to him at the same time.
A lunch of homemade food changed as the extended family grew, and Bob & I, Giulietta & Stefano, Graziella & her 15-year-old son (Roberto), were joined by her 29-year-old daughter, her husband (also Roberto), and their most affectionate 3-year-old granddaughter. After a while, we relocated to a popular spot which served a local dish of a type of pizza, without tomato and only some with special cheeses, some folded over yet made on a type of Lebanese flat-bread. Sitting under umbrellas in the sunny afternoon with warm company, good food and conversation all was right with the world. The Gelateria next door provided a palette cleanser for some of us.
A storm sent us scurrying back, with Bob catching up with Michael Dupe, the Team Manager. Unfortunately, a series of circumstances meant the journey back to Ferrara took over five hours, ensuring another very late night and four extremely exhausted travellers. I rested in the lap of Giulietta for much of the return trip, it is a delight how physically affectionate we are towards each other despite only knowing one another for a few days. There is a great sense of warmth and of being embraced by her as family, which is reciprocated.

My health was noticeably deteriorating however, with my left side and hand with little strength. Mornings and evenings were a trial, with me being better in the middle of the day, albeit briefly. Pain returned without the usual relief, spasms were far more frequent, and with the weakness and pall, my speech and cognition was also affected. This made communication in Italian more difficult, although English was hard to get through as well. I was embraced and felt safe in the environment which luck had brought us, and did not stress about missing out on the World Championships, although I still held hope.

This morning, Wednesday 12 September I knew when I awoke that it would be more than foolish to attempt to push through. My experience of the last week had been greater than ever envisaged, and that ameliorated the disappointment. My goal had been to start, and if possible, finish ~ knowing I would likely be last. However it was too great an opportunity to miss; yet the ten weeks since my performance enhancing drugs had been infused were up, and I had to remain well enough to travel home.
I have gained a family. Davide and I talk on the phone from Greece, Stefano and I share an uncanny passion for furniture and design styles, and musical tastes, and Guiletta is the caring concern and warmth of a blanketing mother or sister that I crave so when unwell. This morning she bathed and dressed me: I see an irony being cared for and complemented on my dress sense by a fashion designer for Armani, Prada and Dolce Gabbana!


Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Torta Graziella

Cuisina Carolina

Torta Graziella
From the kitchen of “Thankiella” in Rimini

125g Butter (unsalted ~ Buerre)
300g Flour (Plain ~ farina normale)
125g Raw Sugar
1 Whole Egg
2 Egg Yolks
1 Lemon Grated Zest
1 Teaspoon Dried Yeast (Levito)

1. Mix all together in a large bowl
2. Knead lightly, then divide about 35 / 65
3. Pat out some lightly into desired shape (Have Fun!)
4. Using some of the remaining dough, roll out border for edge
5. Spread excellent jam or spreadable fruit over base fairly thinly
6. With remianing dough, have fun with chequerboards or faces or . . .
7. Bake at approx. 180°c (160° fan forced) for upto 20 minutes.


Wednesday, September 05, 2001

Note to Lynne

Dearest Lynne,

Rob has just nipped down to the chauterie to buy himself something for dinner (liquids only again today for me), while we are;
a) Escaping from the torrential rain;
b) Finding a spot for Rob to go to the 'loo;
c) Sneaking in a coffee for me to counteract the horrible taste of tablets.

The weather let up only briefly ~ however was fine and cool all day Sunday for the Duathlon Belvedere.

The organisers remembered Rob clearly from 1997, and it was a fine race.
He was a little downcast when they handed out umbrellas instead of bags full of food at the registration, however when opening them today we found them inscribed with the duathlons name, and they are very useful!!
Over to Rob . . .

Sorry I missed you when I called on Saturday. Trust you, Sam & the boys are all well.

We have had a lovely time here in eastern France, though the weather has ranged from magnificent (yesterday, 25) to really miserable (today, 16 and very wet). Our accommodation has been the best so far in Europe, in a small family hotel in a small village. The countryside is even more beautiful here than I remembered, but with all the rain am not surprised. Much good food and wine. Very friendly people.

Tomorrow we head to Italy, hopefully reaching the town of Cremona. Then to Ferrara where we plan to stay with people we met in Spain. The following 10 days will be dominated by the Duathlon World Championships in Rimini, an hour south from Ferrara and on the Adriatic coast.

Thinking of you, lots of love,
Carolyne & Rob

Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Chez Monique

Chez Monique,
St. Lothian, Jura, France,
28 August to 5 September 2001

The Arrival: Tuesday, 28 August 2001

Once again we found ourselves in the required location for an event and no accommodation in the town. Tired, hungry, grumpy and late; things were not auspicious for finding a suitable room for six nights leading up to the Belvedere Duathlon for which we had travelled 1,600 kms in a day and a half.

An unlikely looking Hotel on the edge of town seemed our last bet, and turning into the driveway a car reversed into us, despite much yelling, banging on doors and honking to indicate our (right of way) presence. Without a common language, much confusion on why an accident report form needed to be filled in, however all seemed to be resolved over the next hour.

We still needed a bed for the night.

The Hotel of the Incident was full, however rang a nearby town and arranged for us to stay at Chez Monique. The name summoned up visions of leggy, blond loveliness and it seemed as though our luck had turned. However by this hour, Rob was too tired to eat – at all – and my food experience in France having been restricted to a packet of fat reduced potato crisps and diet coke from the service station, I had been keen to eat out. With a race in few days, I was back on my special liquid diet from tomorrow.

There had been a heatwave during the days we were driving in France, and St. Lothain seemed to be an ideal position. In the extended twilight, it appeared a quaint, quiet and small town, where the weather had brought locals out to sit on the chairs at the tables outside.

Monique was not as envisaged.

Aging, mainly visible on her legs and increasingly apparent deafness was a caricature of the loud rural French woman with a cigarette permanently descending from one corner of her mouth. Her voice grated with harshness that we were unaccustomed, especially compared with the enticing seductress of our Renault each day.

She showed us the room with shower and WC, a reasonable 220FF for one person, 260FF for two beds occupied, and 60FF for each extra person or 20FF for each animal. AS we were to occupy two beds – one of us snored, Bob explained – we were charged 320FF for the night. Too tired to argue or negotiate, we paid by credit card upfront (back into civilization!), and hit the sack(s). With just the barest of necessary luggage brought up in our packed overnight bags, it was perfectly safe to leave the gear in the car.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

Chatting in Español

Journeying as a Traveller rather than a tourist always presents it's own challenges as well as joys. Some are shared of course, such as laundering, whilst others are unique to the time when one steps outside the comfort zone and permits the sorrow of life to be confronted along with the museum images.

This morning as I sat at the breakfast table while Rob wandered through the hillsides of western Cantabria, I talked about the weather with the couple of fellow women at the table who were staying here longer term like us. As the bar’s owner Antonio called the elder, ill one for her massage, her daughter and I talked about the nature and cause of her condition. After a week and a half, I had thought that it was likely that she had something very much like MS, her difficulty in walking and movement, the paralysed state of one side of her face, and shaking movements were all too familiar to me. However, the true story was even sadder.

I had perhaps surmised that the two might have been mother and daughter, although this was far from necessarily obvious. Seven years ago in November (1994), a car accident had killed the woman's husband and two children. The resulting injury to her mother had meant months in a coma, and 3 years in hospital. The need to live for today, and enjoy life now was important to us all, and too rarely realised. Further details of insurance payments and so on were comprehended sufficiently, if not to the letter. Enough time was spent together over a shared table, bathroom and hallway to understand part of these people's life, and be let into something below the surface of the images of painted figures at a decaying Spa Resort of another era, taking the waters each morning and returning to eat carefully, rest and watch television. Tourists may speak the language more fluently in ordering their meals, and entering the guidebook venues of churches, galleries and museums. Yet in melding into the scenery enough to become an unobtrusive force in the landscape, you can do more than shares the joys of a children’s' birthday party in the tiny plaza next to the bar & general store on the roadway half a kilometre away. In ordering a cafe solo and Anis, I am more than complemented on my 'native' accent by the comments of the woman and instant recognition of my order, by our acceptance by the locals who sit outside on steps, or hold up the counter and discuss the sensationalist current affairs reports on TV.