Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category
Fiorentina with a
Platter full of chips.
Name: Les Banquettes Escarpees Rasteau
Type: red wine
Review/notes: I needed a Côtes du Rhone (because I can’t really afford a decent Chateuneuf du Pape) and the guys at Magnum in Old Town (their web presence here) came through for me as they always do. After a couple of pleasantries a glass with some shiraz appeared then another with the Rasteau. The shiraz really pooped on my taste buds but I’ve learned to take their counsel…yum.
[DT =Daily Tipple, explained in DT #000 here]
Monthly consolidations/compilations: January
The rest of the week in Bremen was wrapped up in 9 and 10 hour work days running experiments in the lab followed by some experimental dining (with mornings and one afternoon either running or taking long strolls to cover a bit of the city and its outlying neighbourhoods, mapped above). Our colleagues at the instrument manufacturer took us to a Turkish restaurant (Tendüre) that I would highly recommend (you could make a meal off the mezze, alone).
Left to my own devices for Wednesday night, I found a lovely Italian bistro called Pizzeria Cassetta in the Neustadt about a mile from the hotel (and a few doors down from the pool hall where I later watched the Spain v Portugal football match). Cassetta looks like a neighbourhood bar but was packed largely on the merits of the cheap but incredibly authentic Italian food cooked by incredibly authentic Italian dudes. I ordered a cuarto litro of the house Montepulciano and watched the service like it was a floor show.
I marveled as plate after scrumptious platter of fine Italian cuisine emerged from the kitchen where one busy chef plated like a machine. When mine (a ziti with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, garlic and a cream-based tomato sauce) came out, it never saw what hit it as I devoured it and a second quarter liter of the house wine in mere minutes. Wonderful and a perfect foil to the heavy German fare during the day.
I had less interest in watching the Italy v Germany match than in watching the German fans so I sought out a venue that would allow me to observe while I enjoyed my Thursday supper. I have, in the past, sworn off and sworn at Mexican food in Europe but decided to give Mexcal, a restaurant I had spotted on a run earlier in the week, a shot.
Wonder of wonders, I was the only one of about 30 customers that wasn’t watching the game despite, wonder of wonders, this being the most authentic and delicious Mexican meal I have had outside of places in Nogales, South Tucson or, at a push, the Buford Highway Guatemalan/Mexican corridor in Atlanta. Granted, the chiles were not hot but otherwise the spices were perfect.
My ‘taco’ had marinated grilled chicken slices and succulent beef along with mouth-watering shrimps. The burrito was a complex and challenging compilation of chicken, beans that retained texture but were flavoured like delicate broth throughout, and rice that failed to be bland or dry. The guacamole was made with sour cream instead of mayo and was, therefore, something I could (and did) slather on everything. Wonderful.
German fans, watching their team getting their ass handed to them
Even more wonderful, the Germans like their beer cold and will serve it in pitchers (at a price about the same for 1.5 liters as two pints cost in Britain). I was a bit dismayed by the claim, on the little collar/napkin on my glass, that König Pils is the king of beers, but I’ll let you decide who to follow:
Perhaps not so much “King of Beers” as the Kaiser:
I left Mexcal at halftime and the streets’ large beer gardens were still full of singing football fans, their collective voices eerily echoing all over the town centre. I veered off toward the hotel a few miles away but soon needed a toilet and found refuge in a bar called Charly Treff, occupied only by two old dudes (one sewing buttons on a corduroy vest like those that appeared in several hundred photographs and artist renderings all over the walls of this weird little establishment). The game was on the tele when I returned but no one was watching with the home squad behind 2-0. I had a beer and then completed my journey home for the night.
Charly Treff from Google street view (it was dark out when I tried, and failed, to get a good photo on my own)
Charly Treff bathroom: any place that has a puke sink fitted to the bathroom wall is alright by me!
The last day at the lab we had a breakthrough just before I left to do a couple of hours worth of daytime tourism before my flight. I ventured up as far as the Hauptbahnhoff, a marvelous example of rail station architecture, then continued north to the Bürgerpark looking for a beer garden (yet finding none that really called my name).
The Germans of the modern world are much more accepting of alternative lifestyles, I believe, since on the search for a tram back to the centre I spotted a designated alley to cruise men:
In town, the area called the Schnoor is a network of medieval streets too small for most motor vehicles and, as I learned, overrun with tourists during the day. This was a shame since I had spotted many good bars on evening runs (when the tourists give way to the local populace) and only had the will to venture as deep into their midst as Gasthof zum Kaiser Friederich, about 100 meters from my tram. Still, a very tall, very cold, very refreshing glass of witbier suited my temperament and fortified me for the trip home.
Not really hungry when I arrived at Bremen Airport, I opted for lunch when I realised the place in there was preparing the pasta to order with a real chef tossing the noodles with one of about 15 sauces of your choice. The line was big so I ordered two glasses of wine to get me through the wait and the dining…and this was almost too much except that the food was better than I would have expected in a restaurant OUTSIDE the airport. What a treat! I will miss this city until I get another chance to explore it in more detail….
I love Thanksgiving…too much drink, too much food, and most of it exotic. After yesterday’s visit to Casa Paolo I had a hankering for some Tuscan Pasta (farfalle, sausages, cannelini, some light spices, a little escarole soup and some stewed tomatoes), so headed up to Franco and Anna’s (a superb Italian deli in our neighbourhood a dude in Lechlade tipped me off to, months ago). Anna stocks the only decent fresh sausage in the south of England (and the cured meats look as good as what you might find in the Polish places around) and she knows (or is related to) every Italian in the county, it seems, so is always worth a visit. I also wanted to ask about ordering some Vin Santo for the Christmas holidays (this is something amazing if you dip almond biscotti into it–a discovery from our first trip to Firenze back in 2002).
Turns out, they stock this stuff all the time at less than you pay for it in Italy, so I got a bottle and some almonds and went home to do some baking:
You toast a cup of almonds 10 minutes at 175°C and let them cool. Meanwhile, mix 2 cups of flour, a teaspoon of baking soda, and a cup of sugar; also, melt a knob of butter (an ounce or two–use a shot glass, ’cause we know you have one). Once the butter is back to room temperature splash in some vanilla extract (1 or 2 teaspoons) and three eggs, stir ’em up and pour into the flour mix, and knead. Once it holds together start dusting with flour and pulling through the bowl until the stuff at the side starts to cling. Dust it one more time and push the almonds in, letting it sit for 5-10 minutes for the liquids to absorb and the lump to thereby dry a little. Roll into two cylinders about 16 inches long and bake on a floured sheet at 150°C (300°F) for 40 minutes. Cut at a diagonal, once cool, into 1/2″ wide slices and toast another 50 minutes at the same temperature. Divine.
So it has come to this…1000 posts in less than 3 years (975 days, to be precise).
In that time we have come quite far together: 712 pub stops, 4025 miles running (1740 unique miles in the UK, at that), almost 96000 views of this blog (averaging about 200/day the last few months after slow beginnings) and tons of ridiculous shit that I should bring me disgrace. In that same time, I have only managed my way onto one proper publication (with acknowledgements in a few others, although another paper from the Cambridge work is almost finished) and one patent, and for that meager output I truly am ashamed; but, my big bag of guilt still has a bit of spandex left and, besides, I left plenty of tired, old impropriety across the Atlantic to make room for new experiences so let’s keep piling it in.
One of my favourite pub experiences was early on at the Chequers in Cottenham which I hope has reopened since we left the area. I have some favourite pubs in various places but no one favourite nationwide yet. The map, linked here and over to the left of the page gives you the names of pubs reviewed or otherwise used as a template for my blather in this document and makes a nearly comprehensive reference for planning a pub crawl in Oxford, Swindon, Cambridge, Ely, Faringdon, Kidlington and Bicester; many other areas are covered less extensively but it should continue to grow over the coming years.
Pub count by date...summer surge came late this year
Here are some of my favourite posts out of that ridiculous collection, if you are at all interested or just bored:
Picking on the deceased, especially one’s betters, is always worthy: Arthur Stanley Eddington plaque. Other times, the sciences offer jobs that are hard to resist (but the job has been filled and removed from the HR site since then). Never sure if it was an attractant or repellent, and still don’t understand what the dog had to do with it (unless it was a Cocker).
Many articles about running as tourism have been posted, but some are better than others. Place names tend to be the best for humour…like these here. Or this one. We actually drove about 10 miles out of our way one weekend trip for this hamlet, but the signs have been stolen so often they stopped putting them up. Claims to never having paid for it aside, this was a nice if mistaken sight. Deep in Cambridgeshire you find some good place names, and they seem to treat strangers well on Hills Road Cambridge. Our first trip to Wales resulted in disappointment with this highway’s promise.
The daily Haiku was a feature early on, before I realised just how many pubs were going to be reviewed. The best ones happened spontaneously like this one on a trip to London.
As I write this I am suffering stigmata…okay, I accidentally stabbed myself in the palm with a screwdriver this morning. Still, religion figures into the blog from time-to-time as it did about the ex-masturbators and the fisting-for-Jesus folks. In Italy, it is hard to escape the influence of the Church and so we gave into its temptations.
An eternal Dylan fan and no stranger to public nudity and substance abuse, I felt kinship with these guys. Other times the news is just ironic on its own. Romance is alive and well in Ireland, as this guy proves.
With luck running will continue and I’ll cover many more miles of virgin territory and review loads of worthy races (although my feelings have not changed for the ‘Finisher’s Medal’). Barely 1/10 of 1% into the stock of pubs to visit, I should be able to maintain this pace of coverage for awhile, as well. Best, to all, and here’s to 1000 more of this nonsense.
On reviewing the timetable, I found that my bus wasn’t due for 20 minutes and since the bus stop is right next to the New Inn…
The place, a sort of typical old hotel bar, appeared empty except for a guy watching the 2nd Test between India and England, so I went looking for help. I found the manager toiling away in the hotel reception cubby and made my presence known but halfway through filling my pint of Bass the phone rang and he ran off. I glanced at my watch and the punter came over, reached across the bar and finished filling my glass; I guess I could have done that, but it turned out he ran another house in town.
We talked a bit about food as I showed interest in his mention of the occasional Italian Market held in town. He says the cheeses are spectacular and when I asked if there were meat stalls (pointing out that I would commit murder or any range of lesser sins for some proper sausages since British sausages are quite shit), he asked where in Swindon I lived. Strange response, I thought, but told him not far from the Oasis, not far from Gorse Hill. He directed me to a proper Italian deli not 5 minutes walk from the house that he uses regularly (I have since checked their hours and will give them a test drive next weekend). If nothing else, this made the trip in for a quick pint worth the effort.
The finisher medal was kind of cool, even if the concept of a finishers' medal still blows
The Florence Marathon is on the cusp of becoming really large, so I am glad I did it while the field is still in the range of 10,000 runners (when I first started considering travelling there from Amsterdam in 2002, the field was only around 4000). I have a few minor complaints, but for the most part it was a fantastic venue with fabulously supportive crowds and I would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to make a trip to Italy whether or not you plan to actually run.
Miles of death march just to get to the start
The weather all week was beautiful autumn stuff with mostly sunny days and temperatures around 7-10 celcius (mid to upper 40’s F). So it was an especially rude surprise on race day that while the rain fell in buckets (and sometimes shovelfulls of sleet) the temperature hovered around 2-4 C (35-39 F). I enjoyed a nice stroll the mile and a half to the finish and found that the bag drop was another half mile away (and noted that I would have to walk this after the race, then backtrack to meet Jamie at the Duomo and then to the hotel to shower before heading out again for the Uffizi…shit).
Having dropped my bag of dry clothing I slid on the green garbage bag/rain gear from the starter’s packet and joined the queue–or as much of a queue as Latin’s are capable of–for the shuttle bus to the start, only to find that there was room for roughly 100 more runners and the cluster of us amounted to roughly 5000…and thus we were compelled to death march up the side of a steep hill to the starting pens at Piazzale Michaelangelo (another mile or so away).
The race started just after 9:15 and we sped down Viale Michaelangelo between tall spruces and near some palatial homes, across the Arno at the Ponte San Niccolo (Merry Christmas), and on around the north side of town past the English Cemetary, through the Viali, beside the Fortezz di Basso, and into the Parco di Cascine (part of which spanned roads named for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln).
About 5 miles in, ran backwards to get the shot but was sort of bouncy
At this point we were only about 11 km into it and I started to lag behind my 3:30 pace group. I have had a case of plantar fascitis before and could feel a similar pain so I adjusted my pace, stride, and expectations and decided I would just try to enjoy the beautiful scenery despite not so beautiful weather. This turned out to be a very wise choice indeed.
Spectators turned out at the Duomo
We crossed the Arno again, this time at the Ponte alla Vittoria and started heading east from the Piazza Taddeo Gaddi (where a student protest would be held a couple of days afterward, almost forcing us to miss our flight home). After awhile along the Arno we turned south into the Oltrarno and were treated to narrow streets filled with cheering folks…a bit too enthusiastic in some cases but everyone made it through alright it seemed. At the Porta Romana, a gate in the old city walls, we headed back north past the Palazzo Pitti and then continued our eastward tour of the Arno, crossing again at Ponte San Niccolo (and continuing east this time).
Along there I crossed the halfway point at 1:46:30, chip time; this was still fine for a 3:30 finish but I had already given that one up 5 miles earlier. In fact, I slowed severely to relish in the pain that was now in both feet and a sciatic nerve twinge crawling down my hip. I walked for a couple of minutes to eat an orange and a banana packed in my backpack for the run and as I returned the pack to its place I noticed that both nipples were already bleeding worse than on most 20 mile treks…yep, this was going just perfectly.
This was a bleak section of the run, as well. Few spectators were out in the shitty weather, the neighbourhoods were a bit modern and indistinguishable from any other european suburb, and we spent an awful long time (at my slow pace, anyway) along the railroad tracks. The loops through the sports complex were fairly welcome, though. Here there are a large stadium for track and field events, a baseball stadium (there are professional leagues in Italy), a number of soccer and rugby pitches, and Stadio Artemio Franchi for professional footie…and more graffiti than you could ever hope to see. Also, this marked our turn back into the historical center of town and the last 8 miles of this torture.
In this section, loads of runners were on the side of the street desperately trying to stretch out overly tight muscles and tendons. We’ve all been there…starting out too fast or without sufficient training or to little proper nutrition the week prior or not respecting the weather in these sorts of conditions. I genuinely felt sorry for them although not so much that I was going to stop and lend assistance. Everyone I passed from 21 km (and at least until I got back onto a proper pace at 39 km) had the stink of death on them; I doubt any of them finished.
Best of the commercial shots
As we approached the Piazza dell’ Annunziata I could hear this wailing Southern Gospel music and wondered who the heck was playing this out of these apartments so close together; not that I’m a fan of most things to do with god-botherers, but this really rocked and was very loud. After about a half kilometer, we were at the Piazza and the electric band came into view, doing Jesu on the one. Awesome, but on we went (although you could still hear them as we approached the Duomo).
Jamie missed me but got some shots of the PROPER athletes
We travelled west again, to make distance, then returned along the Arno on Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci (a lot of American references I spotted are already forgotten, but here is another one). Here is where I was passed by the 4:00 pace group and spent the last of my energy chasing them. We crossed the Ponte a Santa Trinita specifically so that the path could travel across the Ponte Vecchio which was all alight with Christmas lights and jewelers’ shops. Another pass of the Duomo and a quick loop east, now sprinting to catch the 4 hour group, and there was the finish…and I chip timed at 4:00:39 (shit).
So there it is. Every marathon I have participated in since the 30 Pack Marathon has been bitterly cold and rainy (or sleeting or snowing or some combination of the foul weather pallette). Looking ahead, I have the Grizzly (20-ish miles through mud and obstacles) in March and the London Marathon (which has had lovely weather the last few years) in April, and another 10K in London in May. After that there is sweet fuck all on my race plate, so if you know a good someplace warm and dry, let me know (although the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromso, Norway is singing to me).
Feet severely swollen, I'll lose both big toe nails sometime this week
We shot hundreds of photos on this trip, but once you pare out the shots for family, the detail photos of architectural and landscape features that probably only interest the two of us, and the ones from the marathon all that are left are a few things I shot with this blog entry in mind…so here we go.
I wanted to go to the church Santa Croce primarily for the tombs of Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini, Michelangelo (who, nevertheless, is actually interred in Ravenna), and a dozen others plus the memorials to the likes of Fermi and Marconi. However, the above painting of Jesus Entering Limbo is stunning. It is hard to imagine what kind of uproar would occur if this were even exhibited in some southern US towns much less hung in a Southern Baptist Church. My photo doesn’t do it justice, either…the actual painting has that depth that makes you imagine that, should you touch a character on the painting the flesh would feel warm or the chemise would fold under your hand. Plus, it is just damned hot. Well done.
Also at Santa Croce, I spotted this bit of graffiti in the men’s loo. The full size of the door, it was hard to get the entire shot in the frame…plus I was laughing pretty hard:
Speaking of the pope or, rather, wearing a mitre on your “little pope,” they’ve got these vending machines outside of many of the pharmacies in town:
The Duomo and its Baptistery are the landmarks you most often use in the old sector of town. The dome was built in place and without separate support as the city fathers banned buttresses and it was to be so huge that scaffolding couldn’t be acquired sufficient to the task. But, Brunelleschi was determined to build something to dwarf the Pantheon in Rome and built it such that it supported itself as it went up (remember that this is the 15th century).
The Duomo…spot it and you are not lost
Brunelleschi was pretty cocky in other ways. We didn’t make it to Santa Maria Novello (although we stayed in a hotel only a couple hundred meters away), but there is a crucifix in there carved by Brunelleschi to demonstrate to Botticelli the proper way to represent the Redeemer. What a dick.
One of the more welcome sights of the Marathon, passing this Baptistery 4 miles from the finish
My final shot from this ecclesiastical tour is classic. As I raised the camera Jackie said, “you are awful;” the fact remains, she saw it, too: