Last Days

I was ripped unceremoniously from London yesterday morning, early. I am sitting in my new city of habitation, Berlin, and thinking about my last days in a city that gave me everything I needed but for too short a time. I tried to write this blog post yesterday, but kept tearing up every time I even looked at my computer. I am in a much better mindspace today (yesterday I was getting by on 2 hours sleep, and the previous day had started drinking at 11am).

I finished working at Highbury Vintners on the 18th of March. My last week there was sad but positive – my favourite customers all wished me the best of luck, and Sean and Gillian (the owners) took all of us out to a fabulous steak restaurant as a  going away party. Since then, I have had 5 or so weeks of unemployment, which was probably dumb, but Fuck It. It was totally worth it.

Some highlights of my time off:

1. A few beery nights out with my beer geek friend Sean. He worked at Highbury for a while then went off to work at a shop specializing in beer. We had a ‘fine beer night’ at his house where we tried all these crazy ass beers (all more than 10 pounds a bottle) and had food and specially matched cheeses. The highlight for me was a Japanese Ale that tasted (to me) like coconut and shells, with just a hint of hazelnutty butteryness. There was also a German smoked beer, which tasted like drinking a campfire. We also went on a London wide pub crawl on which I got pretty smashed. That night we had Ethiopian for dinner which was so good – no utensils, you can only eat with your hands. We finished the night at a blues bar in Soho called Ain’t Nothin’ But which was having a blues jam. Very cool.

2. Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead. New Girl. Netflix.

3. Kurt’s house had a party for which the theme was ‘Come Fly With Me’. Kurt, Jack and Kurt’s flatmate Marty had all dressed up as Village People-esque baggage handlers complete with short shorts, dirty mo’s and fake tan. We got smashed and danced all night long. When I got home at stupid o’clock (after witnessing a drunk Asian girl and a chavvy homeless lady have a hilarious argument), it was due to be my first night of airbed living, and I popped the fucking thing. So I slept on a rapidly deflating airbed thinking that it wouldn’t be too bad if I went to sleep before it deflated completely. And then I got up to pee and realised that no, that wouldn’t do, as my neck had attempted to realign itself in the last half hour. So I had to steal the couch cushions to sleep on.

3. I ticked things off my London Bucket List (all of them eating things): Dinner at Bodines (I should say meat injection at Bodines), a Sunday Pub Lunch on Easter Sunday. I had a lovely picnic in Hampstead Heath, my favourite Heath! I visited the Tate Modern again to see the Kusama exhibition and the Damien Hirst exhibition, and went to Southbank to see Jeremy Deller and David Shrigley’s exhibitions. All of these were fantastic. I had one last brick lane curry, one last huge Turkish meal (ok, 4 last huge Turkish meals), 100 last pints in all of my favourite pubs. I rode down the Mall from Buckingham Palace and through St James Park on a Boris Bike.

4. My very last day was the best. I stayed the night at Cle’s and we got up early to let the Sky man in. We had eggs for breakfast then went to meet Kurt and Jack for Brunch at the Empress of India in Victoria Park Village for a second breakfast and a few sneaky glasses of prosecco. A teary farewell at the tube station and then off to Shepherds Bush for cream tea that Shelley had prepared which was so awesome – scones warm from the oven, strawberries, other fun England cakes and a glass of bubb-I mean tea. We were having so much fun that the tea turned into an impromptu barbeque when the boys came home/over. I was supposed to be staying the night at Shelley’s so everyone had to be shooed home at about midnight. And we were all doing ok until Sarah started to cry and then everyone started to cry. So there were tears and hugs and then I got no sleep and I had to get up at 4 to get to Heathrow to get to Germany.

It has been an outstanding 2 years in London, a time of my life that I wouldn’t change a second of. I love that the people who followed me over here did (you say you came of your own account? Pfft.) and I have made so many friends that I can’t even stand it. I’m sure I’ll be back soon, and who knows what might happen.

Watch this space for my new Berlin Blog…

Snowtangi Day

I didn’t blog about the first time I saw snow for realsies in 2010 and I will never have that day back. Luckily though, I am still filled with the utmost delight when Mother Nature pours forth with her most frosty of givings. So I will talk to you now about 2012’s first snow day, which happened to coincide with the Waitangi Day Pub Crawl.

I was conflicted. On one hand, I was super jealous last year when I didn’t go to the crawl and Clea ate Chicken Cottage in the street in Shepherd’s Bush without me. Also, I desperately wanted to spend the day dressed as Sports Susie and shout “Hi!!!!! Ut’s Meeeeeee!!!” at every opportunity (note: if you don’t get this, you never will, so I won’t try and explain). On the other hand, I am not such a fan of public urination and costume related effort. But, what an excellent reason to have the weekend off work, so I committed.

At 9am I hopped on the overground dressed insanely, but not so overtly that you would know that I was wearing a costume. It was -3 and snow was predicted for the evening, so I had on a sleeveless blouse (the costume) with approximately 5 cardigans layered underneath, the top one peach/skin coloured (not part of the costume). Plus I was wearing a baby pink sun visor. I looked insane. I arrived in Shepherd’s Bush at 10 and milled around waiting for the others. Finally 3 portions of fish and chips, a pavlova, and a farmer rocked through the door and we had ourselves a party.

One big breakfast and a lol at Shelley’s excellent Buzzy Bee costume later, we hopped on the tube to Notting Hill and began a strange day of wandering the streets of posh Kensington drinking cans of Grolsch and being a little revolting. I think I ran into every kiwi person I knew in London, nearly wet myself in a Starbucks and rode backwards on a parked Boris bike. It was stupid and fun and by the end at 4pm I was super exhausted/ready to keep partying.

We went back to Shepherd’s Bush to go to the Walkie, I in my pink visor and Cle in normal clothes because she had ripped off her newspaper encrusted boiler suit (bitch). After about 10 minutes in the Walkie I decided I wanted Chicken Cottage and so I left by myself, sat in Chicken Cottage looking grouchy and ate my chicken. Yes, Still In The Visor. It had begun to snow.

With little encouragement Cle and Sarah were lured outside into the falling snow and we ran around Shepherd’s Bush Green leaping into bushes and slipping on wet stones and just being generally foolish. It was Sarah’s first snow, and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see that little pavlova running around making footprints. When we got cold enough we headed to Vesbar for some dancing and a glass of water. Lovely.

It really began to blat down when we left She Bu and on the way home I saw many girls teetering in the snow in massive heels and lots of snowball fights. What is it about snow that makes grown adults act like naughty children? Love it. I was super cold when I walked in the door, but not so cold that I wasn’t able to grab my camera and run back out for a bit of fun.

Sunday was relaxing, lunch at Kurt’s and then catching up with my old friend Lindsay who was over for the weekend. The snow had gotten a bit shit and a bit treacherous, but was still super pretty. The days since then have been a whirl of tea, work, pork belly, guitar playing, bus rides and beer. But I did go see this band I really like called Wild Flag (borne from the ashes of Sleater-Kinney) at the Electric Ballroom in Camden of which I can say this: one of the most rock and roll, guitar waving about, face melting lead guitaring, crowd spitting at, 10 minute song playing, smashing each other up on stage shows in my career as a show goer. All this is made more awesome by the fact that this band is made up of middle aged ladies.

One request before I go – if you are reading this, put your hand up! Like the link on Facebook – I am curious. I won’t think you are dumb if you are reading, obvs. Other people might.

The things I wish to remember about Copenhagen.

1. The northern-ness of Northern Europe makes the sun into something that I have never really experienced before. It is all right angles, fierce and distant all at the same time. When it shines, it shines all up in your eyeholes and it is impossible to look normal and not squinty. It is so super dramatic and I love it. Put it beside Copenhagen’s ample waterways and everything is in bright contrast all of the time.

2. It was holy-hell-in-a-Gucci-handbag cold. It wasn’t snowing, but every patch of grass was white with frost, and all of this grass and all of the mud was frozen. Picture me behind some bushes in front of a brick wall on some random street corner in Copenhagen gleefully stomping holes in a frozen mud puddle. Yes I am an adult, swear.

3. Crispy peanut butter treats with the texture/consistency of Twisties. Pizza. Danish. COFFEE.

4. The Danish artist who was the first artist to sit in front of what he was painting until he was finished the painting. His capture of daylight was breathtaking, especially so as I had only gone into the gallery to stave frostbite from the tips of my fingers.

5. The turd on the top bunk who couldn’t keep still and (no exaggerations) got in and out of the bunk above me at least 20 times between 11pm and 1am, and only stopped when I asked him too. And he kept the light on until at least 3am.

6. The star shaped army base with the surrounding frozen moat as the sun descended made for some beautiful photos.

7. The Botanical Gardens I happened upon. Moist and warm inside, my camera fogged up, making for some fairly trippy shots. You were even allowed to climb up and around the scaffolding at the top of the building, which was only mildly terrifying. Did you know I had a slight fear of heights? Neither did I.

8. Across a bridge from pretty, tidy Central Copenhagen to Norrebro, a little piece of East Berlin in Copenhagen. Graffiti, fixed gears, moustaches, organic vegetables, poky cafes. It was like being at home in Dalston, but with many more beautiful people.

9. Possibly the only European city I’ve visited without cobblestones. THANK YOU COPENHAGEN.

 

At Home

I’ve been looking back over my last several posts and all of them are from my teeny tiny travels out of the country. So this week I will impress you all with the mundane details of my semi-fabulous London Life. Not that I’ve been doing anything fabulous…

Christmas was at Cle’s house. I let myself be swept up in the day and told myself that this was to be a Christmas like none I’d ever had – no grousing about tradition and doing things right. I was only bossy about the wine, and even then I wasn’t that bossy about it (I was bossy to Kurt about everything but it doesn’t count because I’m always bossy to Kurt. He loves it). We drank lots on Christmas Eve, woke up the next morning and started drinking more. Present opening was slightly embarrassing – I had about 4 times as many presents as anyone else, although it became quickly apparent that most of my presents were of the stoopid variety, which suited just fine. I was opening a little present from Mum and Dad when Nicky, sitting beside me, made a comment about how as you grow up, you realise the little presents are sometimes the best presents. The sellotape was pulled back and a little plastic pack of multicoloured hair extensions was revealed, and without missing a beat she says, ‘But not in this case’. We all wore the hair extensions all day.

We ate a buttload all day Christmas Day, and again on Boxing Day, and then on the 27th when I went to have dinner with Kurt and Jack. I was so tired and overfed on this day that I made Cle sit on the footpath on Mare St with me on the way home while I had a little Cry. Not about a sad thing but about a Stupid thing. I can’t even remember what it was, I just remember I cried.

And then it was back to work, and back to routine. New Year’s Eve was wildly uneventful. I went to a party at some of Jack’s friends’ house, and talked myself out of getting drunk. New Year’s Day despite not being hungover I gave myself the day off from life (get up at one, eat something unhealthy, don’t put a bra on all day), and the next day I went and bought myself a whole load of presents – jeans and jerseys and whatnot. Cle came and met me for dinner the next night at a super cute little pizzeria near my work that was pretty authentically Italian, and the food was lovely.

And then, FLU. As some of you may have deduced, I have spent the last 5 days in bed watching Mad Men, Portlandia, Modern Family and movies starring Ryan Gosling. I also read the second Hunger Games book, which was very good but if you have vivid delerium dreams like I do, I would advise you steer clear of if you are not feeling well. Upsetting, upsetting dreams. I am now reading Philip Pullman’s ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ which is much more sick person friendly. You will all be pleased to know that I am feeling much better today and was able to go to work. Huzzah!

Some things I have coming up: A trip to Copenhagen, tickets to see Azealia Banks and Wild Flag, desire to see The Iron Lady, the Waitangi Day Pub Crawl,  making a decision as to what colour my hair should be for 2012, laundry, a restaurant in Bethnal Green called the Corner Room I am determined to go to, a move to Berlin (terrifying but probable), a move to Toronto (much less likely), a move to Mendoza (the most unlikely).

That is all my loves. Tell me, what are you up to? In the comments? Go on.

Did you know…

…that I went to Bruges a couple of weeks ago? It seems like I’ve told everyone in the world about it. Except for my loyal readers. All 25 of you. That’s kind of like having the attention of a classroom of 8 year olds. That’s pretty awesome.

So anyway, I’m a bit behind. But here it is: Bruges. I went on the Eurostar (Yay! Eurostar!) to Brussels and then hopped on another train that took me to Bruges Centraal Station. I followed the crowds to the central square, where the famous Belfry is and from there was able to easily locate my hostel. Note to self: Don’t take a wheely bag to cobbly old Bruges. By the time I got to the hostel, my arm had nearly vibrated right off.

Anyway, bags dropped, it was time to explore (in Claire Speak this means find food, NOW). I wandered around the super cute city centre and came upon a likely  looking food van. I ordered a medium frites with mayo, as one does in Belgium, and halfway in realised that I should have ordered a small. Let me tell you a thing about Belgian Frites: these are no chip shop chips. These are cooked twice in beef fat and will give you a heart attack if you eat them more than 3 times in your life. And because I am a huge turd I thought, “Urgh, I feel so sick. Better climb the Belfry!”

366 steps later I emerged at the top, feeling no less sick but a lot more regretful. But! The view was lovely and I felt like I walked off a tiny bit of the chips. It was cold and grey but fresh as well and I mooched about at the top of the tower for a bit taking silly pictures before I came back down. I wandered around for a bit longer, spent waaay too much money on fancy chocolates for Christmas, and then headed back to the hostel to regroup.

I made myself cosy in the hostel bar with my map and a Kwak (the most awesome beer glass I ever drank out of – here is what the glass looks like) to plan out my next day’s explorations and got chatting to an Aussie guy who was travelling around Europe (note to ladies: weird beer glass=icebreaker). Two beers later the Aussie guy declared he had laundry to do and so I wandered out into the night looking for more beer. I found it, and managed a night out mostly on my own. A weird night, but fun. And drunken – Belgian beers start at about 6%, and most of them are around 8.5-9%. And they are cheap.

The next day I woke up with nary a hangover in sight, ate breakfast and started on my day’s carefully planned adventures. To begin, I was to walk up along the city’s moat to a drawbridge where there was supposed to be a bronze skull. I left the hostel, and it was an absolutely glorious day – it was one of those frozen winter’s mornings where the sun hits everything with such intensity that everything seems frozen. The first part of walking along the moat was like walking through Hamilton, but the second part was through a little foresty park, looked upon by the most charming terraced houses. I could see my breath, and there were dogs and joggers, and the water in the moat looked so homely, like a country pond. And then I got to the drawbridge which was in the middle of some fairly major roadworks involving cranes and diggers. And there was no skull to be found.

The plan after this was to go to the Frites Museum, but it was such a nice day that I thought, “Fuck it,” and continued my wanderings. I meandered from one end of the historic centre to the other, stopping only to take in some of the most charming spots in Bruges, of which there are plenty.

By mid afternoon it had clouded over, so I headed to the frites museum which was super loltastic but very very empty, which made it a bit depressing. I still couldn’t face any frites after the belfry incident, so I skipped the frites shop at the end. After this I walked back across town for a tour at de Halve Maan Brewery, the only brewery left in the historic centre of Bruges. This was a fun tour, mostly because of the tiny mustachioed man with the most ginormous personality who showed us around. At the end of the tour we enjoyed a delicious beer in the courtyard of the brewery.

Back to the central market, more frites, and time to hit the beer shop. I was restrained and only spent 20 euros, because I knew I had to carry it in my suitcase. Back to the station, back on the train, back to Brussels. I had given myself a couple of hours in Brussels to check out the city, but there is NOTHING in Brussels. Apparently it is the Hamilton of Europe. So I sat in the train station with a beer until it was time for me to get on the Eurostar.

And that was my two days in Bruges. Very nice.

The Girl with the Fleece Lined Leggings

From the second I touched down at Skavsta Airport in Sweden, all I could think about was my Doc Martens, carefully tucked up in my wardrobe back home in Newington Green. Sweden was mighty cold and rainy and my Chucks, whilst fabulous, did not cut it.

Food:

Let us start with a subject close to my heart (yea, my stomach, lololol!!). My favourite thing in a new country is always exploring the supermarket. Italy’s were shit, but in Sweden, I nearly collapsed with froth the second I walked into one of them. Amongst the things I bought were: some kind of unidentified shrimp spread in a toothpaste tube, oppressively stinky caramel flavoured lolly strings, rice pudding (for my brekkie – thought it was yogurt), snowflake shaped chippies, beer with a flaming skull on the can and of course, smoked salmon. Dinner my first night consisted of smoked salmon, super dark bread, dill mayo and salad, and it was OFF THE CHAIN. I had this meal tweaked slightly on a sandwich for my lunch the next day. I drank much espresso, and discovered how to drink coffee properly – in a cafe sitting in a window overlooking one of Stockholm’s main squares. Or, if you’d prefer, looking out over Slussen (ocean and lights) as the sun goes down. I also visited the Ostermalm Saluhall (after getting Crazy Lost) and enjoyed looking at all the lobsters/salmon/beef/reindeer/monkfish laid out for the world to enjoy. Also, monkfish? Tastes good but those fish are ugggggggggleee. Kind of like Francesca.

The Way Stockholm Looks:

Geography Time! Stockholm is laid out over 14 islands of an archipelago of some 24,000 islands, and lies between this big ass lake and the Baltic sea. It is all waterfront. Smells like the ocean, and you are forever turning the corner and being at the ocean. I stayed on Gamla Stan, the most central island and the ‘old town’. It is a grid of cobbled streets and brightly coloured buildings, and apparently has not changed much since the 1200s. It is super cute. Sodermalm is south of Gamla Stan and is where the cool kids are. It’s hilly and industrial and there are so many super awesome shops. Sodermalm sounds familiar to you because it is where Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist live and work. The city centre is north of Gamla Stan and is fairly faboo – big shiny buildings amongst smaller, prettier ones. Think London but much less dilapidated and with many, many more good looking people.

Attractions/Sights/Museums and so forth:

Of course there was no way I was going to go to Stockholm and not go on a boat. So I did twice. The first one was a boat tour on a tiny clipper type thing around this particular island (Djurgarden) which is pretty much a big ass park. There was commentary and it was interesting enough but by far the best part of the trip was when we went by an unassuming looking cabin that turned out to be the summer home of Agnetha from Abba. The recorded commentary then played ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ for a bit and I nearly exploded with inner excitement and lolz. The next day I caught a ferry to the Vasa Museum, which houses a 17th century warship that sank 20 minutes into its maiden voyage (I know right?) They salvaged it in the 1960s, and whilst it sounds a little dull, it was pretty spectacular – it is whole in the museum and it is huge. You can look all around the outside of it. I took some very ineffectual pictures.

Shopping:

I went to Stockholm expecting to have a few days of wandering around the city and drinking lots of coffee but lordy me the shopping was off the chain. Did you know that H&M was Swedish? They had that and Zara and pretty much everything else was different to London. Lots of designers and awesome second hand shops and beautiful malls all over the city. And I had a tiny backpack and a ten kilo limit. So I was sensible. But I was almost tempted to throw away all my things and just fill up my luggage with fleece lined leggings from the big department store Ahlens. FLEECE LINED FUCKING LEGGINGS. Are you kidding me with this? I wore some under my jeans and was toasty warm in 3 and 4 degree weather.

Unforeseen Problems in Sweden:

I don’t really feel the shame of speaking English in a country where it is blatantly obvious that I am not from there, like Italy or Morocco. But I want to die of mortification every time someone speaks to me in another language expecting me to respond in that language. At least in Germany I could speak enough German to fake it. In Swedish I knew Hej (Hello) and Tack (thank you – and I needed help on that one). Is it ok to just assume that a Swedish person speaks English? Also, I feel stupid because I only know one language. All this is leading up to this one dumb story: I was choosing what I wanted for dinner and there was another lady choosing as well and we stood there looking at the fridge for ages and then she made a joke in Swedish and to my immortal shame, I laughed in response. Afeared that she would then try to speak further to me in Sweden and then find out I didn’t actually understand her joke but laughed anyway, I beat a hasty retreat to the back of the shop and hid there until she was gone. BUT. She wasn’t quite gone, and ended up behind me in the queue. I was having panics because she would hear me speak to the till lady, and so I was fairly rude to the till lady and barely spoke and then at the end she said something which I thought was the Swedish equivalent of ‘Do you want your receipt?’ and I shook my head and then she started laughing. And the joke lady was there too and it was all a big shamey shame and I wanted to melt into a little pool on the cobblestones and stay there until everyone had gone home and there was no one left.

Also, three days of bad shoes, cobblestones and hills has mangled my feet. Three weeks later they remain mangled.

In Conclusion: Sweden is great, you should go to there. And bring me back some fleece lined leggings, will you?

All over Tuscany like a Bad Smell

Tuscany. TUSCANY. Is the most.

We arrived in Greti (Griti? Gretti? Surely not Gritty?) and easily found the vineyard that Jack had booked us in at. He told us just before we got there that none of the vineyards that he had emailed were getting back to him, so he had told some places that we were a Travel Journalist, a Restaurant Manager and a Wine Expert on a Fact Finding Trip. He couldn’t remember if this was one such place, so we were all on best behaviour/terrified of being found out for being frauds (well I was. Kurt actually IS a restaurant manager). Jack maneuvered the Fiat 500 up the driveway, and we were greeted with the Castello di Verrazano, a most beautiful castle perched atop a hill overlooking the Tuscan countryside. Our accommodation was a little way back down the hill, and we were only allowed to go there after we had met Roberta.

Roberta was perhaps in her early 60s and had the demeanor of one who has spent her whole life drinking wine. Or, y’know, her whole morning. She had a moustache, a severely crazy eye, and was just mental. I suspect that all the tourists loved her. Anyway, she sent us on our way to our room, where we threw open the shutters to a glorious view of vine covered hills and a neighbouring winery. Something about the serenity and maybe the light reminded me fiercely of being at home in the North Island, and at the Farm in particular. We dropped our bags off and went for a drive/to find food.

We drove about half an hour down the road to a little village called Panzano, where we wandered around taking in both the picturesque aspect of the village itself and the magnificent view. Jack perched himself upon one particular wall looking out over the countryside and declared that this was where he was going to retire. Just retire on the wall with a book in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Sounded pretty good. We got back in the car and spent the next little while driving through vineyards and little villages screeching along to Whitney Houston. We stopped in Greve for supplies and headed back to the apartment.

And here is when the greatest picnic of all time took place. We opened a beautiful bottle of Chianti Classico and sat out on the lawn eating salami, pecorino, and tomato and watched the sun go down over the vines. It was the absolute height of civilization, and I don’t actually anticipate a moment in my life where I will feel as fabulous as I felt in this moment. Even though we were drinking out of plastic cups, and the grass was prickly, and all we had to cut the tomato and the cheese was a wine knife.

The next day we awoke at the crack of dawn in anticipation of our Big Fancy Lunch at the Winery. We had a modest breakfast, and popped out to the supermarket for modest dinner supplies. It was at this point that I knew I could not eat any more Italian themed food, so I went on a major mission to find something a little more generic to eat. The supermarket was chock full of olives and proscuitto and cheese and tomatoes and crusty bread and crema di truffle, but there was no hummus. All I wanted was hummus. In a small, touristy town in the middle of Tuscany and I nearly lay down upon the floor of the supermarket and wailed because I didn’t want to eat any more fucking cheese. I ended up with carrots, yogurt and Diet Coke.

At about 11:30 we set off up the big hill to the Castello for our tour of the winery and our Big Fancy Lunch. Leading our tour was Gino, a laugh-a-minute type who told us about the history of the winery and the history of Chianti Classico, the surrounding wine region. Jack whispered to me, ‘I want an Uncle Gino’. After having a look around at the cellars and the amazing view, we went into the restaurant, sat down, and Thus Began The Eating.

First was a white, a Gewurz/Trebbiano blend with a big ole plate of cold meat (which I had complained about earlier in the day and I had eaten for breakfast). The best salami I’ve ever had with fennel seeds or something in it, melty proscuitto and something resembling brawn which didn’t even gross me out. At all. Second course was the standard Chianti Classico with plain tomato pasta which came with herby sprinkles that transformed it into kind of an arribiata, and boatloads of parmesan. Third course was the Chianti Classico Riserva with slow cooked pork and white beans. These beans were the greatest beans of all time. After dinner we had an ordinary looking raspberry slice which became extraordinary when I tasted it – it was chock full of rosemary which sounds hella weird but was mighty good. Then a slab of pecorino with the Castello’s balsamic vinegar which was off the CHIZZAIN. Then biscotti with vin santo and then grappa and then Kurt, Claire and Jack sitting at the abandoned table finishing off the dregs of all the bottles of wine left on the table. All of this was peppered with conversation with Kurt’s new best friends, Chuck (or Billy Bob as I was secretly calling him, such was his resemblance to the movie star) and wife. Illy? Iffy? Angelina? I don’t remember. Not important.

We silly buggered all the way back down to our apartment (it was about 4pm) and lay around feeling sorry for ourselves and watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch dubbed in Italian. Then I ate my carrots and yogurt and Kurt’s corn chips and then we went to bed.

Next day was driving to Pisa day. Kurt had composed a very excellent road trip mix, so we had a nice drive through the vineyards singing along to Michelle Branch and Britney Spears and Robyn and Whitney again. We stopped at the hilltop town of San Gimignano, admired the beautiful view and had Xtreme gelato (highlight flavours – mint: like the actual herb, saffron: reminiscent of bacon, raspberry and rosemary: dessert rosemary needs to be a thing everywhere). I insisted we drove through Volterra (home of the Voltura? No? Where the end of New Moon is set, shame), and then we made it to the coast. We stopped at an extremely shitty beach and I had my first ever swim in the Mediterranean, and then a bit further up the road we stopped at a way better beach, the kind of beach that you see in your mind when someone says Mediterranean. We had a beer here at a beach shack looking out over the sea and beach and the leathery locals and I wasn’t wearing any shoes and it was bliss.

On the road again and onto Pisa, which proved difficult to get into. But we made it eventually, settled in at the hotel and headed into town for something to eat. Note to the world: Pisa is a ShitHole. Dinner was alright and reasonably priced but the city itself was run down and graffiti’d and full of students (like, chocka). We got up earlyish to see the Leaning Tower which was fun enough but certainly not the most exciting thing I’d ever seen in my life.

And then it was time to go and we got on the plane to London and I was so tired from my trip and London was in a super weird heatwave when I got home and I was way too excited to see Cle and come home to Dalston and eat duck pancakes on Kingsland Rd and drink beer in weird rooftop pubs in Shoreditch and ride my bike to places. A week in Italy was super fabulous and made me remember that I absolutely adore London and for right now, this is where I belong. Is that weird? Nawwww.

My time in Florence

I racked brains trying to think of a clever/witty post title, but sometimes a straightforward comment gets you the furthest in life.

Florence! We arrived in Florence early afternoon and made our way to what must have been the cutest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. It was called Soggiornio Campos (immediately dubbed Soggiornio Weaver by me and Jack). The beds were wrought iron and the artwork was cupidy and there were shutters on the window and anything would have seemed cute after the businesslike Sheraton we stayed at in Rome. Explorations began and the first thing we found was a market filled with food. Needless to say we remained here for sometime enjoying the pong of the truffles, butchers and wine.

The Leather was here. THE LEATHER. I had been warned – make sure you keep space in your suitcase for the handbags. Stall after stall of beautiful handbags and purses and belts and all things leather. It smelled delicious (not like in Marrakech where the leather smelled like poos), and Kurt and Jack did not want to linger (understandably. They are boys, they do not understand.) I vowed to return (I did and bought a beautiful and extremely cheap bag).  We wandered through the streets of Florence eating gelato, drinking Aperol Spritz and just generally falling in love.

Dinner that night was in a trattoria suggested to us by the hotel man, and whilst it was a little touristy, it was cheap and the food was beautiful. It was all about the Tuscan delicacies, and we had antipasti, pear and gorgonzola, chicken stew with zucchini and a beefy stew. Everything ruled, and they boys even managed tiramisu, of which I was jealous of. Back to the hotel after this (and several drinks), and to bed.

The next day we decided to meet at 1 so that Kurt could have a sleep in, and I could have a nice wander around by myself. I had a bombolini and an espresso in a cute little cafe near the hostel, and then spent some more time wandering and falling in love. The boys had said they didn’t want to climb the big church (Duomo!), so I went on my lonesome – 440 steps to the most amazing view over Florence. The tower only had one way up and down, so it was a bit of a bitch waiting for people to pass in narrow stone staircases (Mum, you would have hated it), but there were platforms along the way.

I met the boys for lunch and we took a picnic into the Giardino di Boboli, a hill with beautifully manicured gardens upon it. We sat on the hill, ate our lunch and looked out over Florence, while a choir at the bottom of the hill serenaded us. It was the second best picnic I’d ever had (the first best will be outlined in the next post). We spent a little while exploring the gardens (we fucked around taking stupid pictures of each other), then headed back down the hill and out into Florence for gelato and/or Aperol Spritz. And then it rained, and then me and Kurt had a short but fairly vicious argument about Keri Russell (who played Felicity) for some reason. But it was all good – we had some alone time (I sat in my room getting drunk alone and watching Dawson’s Creek in Italian) until dinner.

Sunday’s dinner was equally delicious as the night before – I had wild boar pasta and not much else because I was at this point filled to the gunnels with carbohydrates and couldn’t really manage.

Monday morning we got up, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, gathered road trip supplies at the crappy Italian supermarket and then went to find where the car we had hired was at. Jack drove and I shittily navigated us to Greve in Chianti, where the next phase of our Italy trip was to begin.

And what a phase…

You wanna let’s do it?

I have been a terrible lady this summer and have not shared with you these here goings on in England. In short: weather sucked, I worked shiteloads, got distinction in my WSET exams, and saw Arcade Fire, Amanda Palmer, Robyn and Blondie, amongst others. Most recently I have been sucked into endless evenings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But enough of that, let’s hear about Italy.

Wednesday dawned and off to Victoria, then Gatwick, then Rome with my travel buddies – the lovely Kurt (my bff) and the equally lovely Jack (his boo). We landed at about 7pm, and taxied to the hotel (this taxi ride was the most terrifying 15 minutes of my life. I actually considered telling Kurt I loved him and that I was sorry, like they do in the movies). Bags dumped, hotel room explored, we decided to go and find some dinner and took the hotel man’s recommendation to go to this area called Trastevere. We got in a taxi again (lordy I didn’t want to) and started driving through normal streets, then normal streets and then tiny tiny cobbled alleys. We got out and explored this backstreet maze of restaurants full of people dining under the stars. Yes it was touristy, but it was explosive with atmosphere, and the three of us were delighted with what we had come upon. Aperol Spritzes were downed, pasta was consumed, and conversation was struck up with fabulous American ladies nicknamed Paula (for Paula Deen) and their less fabulous husbands. We rolled back into the hotel room at about 1am full of carbohydrates and booze (this is going to become a theme).

Next morning we woke up hot and hungover. But, no rest for the tourists, so up, at ’em, straight on the Metro to the Colosseum. And you walk out of the tube station and HOLY LIVING FUCK there is the Colosseum. Every bit as colossal as the name suggests. To skip the queue we decided to take a guided tour, where we waited around for a while and then a lady gave us a little radio thing so we could all hear her speaking as we walked around. We started the tour, started listening to the lady, and I could see Kurt being uncomfortable. He told me that his radio was way too loud and the lady was screaming in his ear. When she finished her first speil, he asked her how to turn it down, to which she replied ‘You can’t, maybe you just need to hold it further away from your ear.’ I swear, you could practically hear Kurt’s eyes narrowing. We made the wise decision to ditch the tour about 5 minutes after this, and spent another hour or so exploring a very impressive and very old building. Amazing.

Next up was the Spanish Steps which were very beautiful, and very packed with tourists. I would love to have a funny/thoughtful story here, but we got there, we climbed em, we left. I will take this opportunity though to point out that you can drink from the fountains in Rome. Whaaaaat? Yep. I did and I didn’t die of Giardia or hellsnakes. Or something. From there we wandered down to the Trevi Fountain, where we also were able to marvel at the beautiful horde-o-tourists. But seriously, Mission Bay fountain, eat yer heart out. I ate my first Gelato here.

On the way back to the Metro Jack stopped to get some cash out and while we were waiting for him Kurt half collided with a Roman man and kind of stepped on the bottom of his pants (not his fault, just a thing that happens). You would think Kurt had just spat on this guy’s girlfriend from the venomous look he gave, and then spent a good 5 minutes theatrically wiping the (imagined) dirt off his trousers. Him and his girlfriend then followed us down the road, a fact that I sussed out only after I stopped to make fun of them. Whoops. Those Romans are a friendly bunch.

We had a swim at the hotel, and headed back out to find some dinner. We got horribly lost and ended up befriending some more Americans, a mother/daughter duo. These two were not fabulous, and were the kind of Americans that give American tourists a bad name (‘We asked for directions and the people are so rude, they don’t even make an effort to speak English!’) We managed to ditch em and had an extremely average dinner. But the night was not a complete loss – on the way home we happened upon the Area del Sacra – a ruin in the centre of Rome that has been turned into a cat sanctuary. We played spot the kitty for at least 40 minutes, and I’m pretty sure that this was Kurt’s favourite thing in Rome.

The next morning our plan was to check out the Vatican, as one does when one is in Rome (I am desperately trying to avoid the ‘When in Rome’ cliche here, dudes). We caught the tube, caught an espresso (at a cafe with a hilariously rude waiter), and went to join the line to get in. We walked around the outside of the Vatican trying to find the line, walked right in the main entrance and through the ticket turnstiles. No line. We had heard horror stories of waiting for hours, but there was no line to be had. We joined the hordes to wander through the maze to get to the Sistine Chapel – It was like being sheep on the way to get sheared. Crammed in with mostly Japanese and American tourists, we shuffled through hallways and walkways filled with the most amazing art. My favourite part was Kurt and Jack’s assessment of the pope:

Jack: “This new pope is uggers. The old pope was way better looking.”

Me: “Jack, Shhhhh!”

Kurt: “Didn’t he used to be a Nazi?”

The Sistine Chapel was amazing but I got crazy vertigo and the atmosphere was very strange. Imagine an extremely crowded room that is completely hushed with the intermittent cry of “No Pictures!”

Onwards to St Peter’s Basilica. Different people I’ve talked to have their favourite things in Rome – this was mine. This was the most mighty church I have ever seen and probably will ever see. I can’t even begin to guess the size of it. People (Michaelangelo)  made it without machinery. I find this completely awe inspiring and a real testament to what religion means to people (no I did not have a religious awakening). It was the time of day that sunlight was cutting chunks through the air in the church, and it was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. We climbed the dome and took in a late afternoon view of Rome.

Leaving the Vatican, we wandered down through the streets (fuelled by gelato) to the Pantheon, where we sat and people watched with a couple of beers. We kept happening upon these glorious squares full of statues and fountains, and even grimy backstreets kept us enraptured, them being so different to London. From here it was back to the hotel (after only getting slightly lost) to a dinner of Romey sandwiches (pecorino, proscuitto and Aperol Spritz).

The next morning we got up early, checked out and boarded a train to Florence. Which is a story for another day…

Close Encounters of the London Kind

I am trying to avoid watching the rest of the Green Hornet. What a shitter of a movie so far. I have had a few hilarious encounters with weirdos over the last few weeks. Here are a few of them.

  1. I bought a bike off Gumtree today and went to pick it up. The man was old and sleazy and some kind of Eastern European. He showed me his other bike which he claimed was worth 1600 pounds. It looked like it was worth perhaps a tenth of that. He then showed me the bike and told me that he liked women of stature (my words, not his – I think he said ‘big lady’ to me). He then kissed my hand and looked me up and down as I left. It was gross but hilarious. And now I’ve a new bike.
  2. Cle and I went out to Hammersmith last night to see Sarah’s new house and have dinner. On the way to the river we saw a man on the side of the road spinning. Just spinning. Like you do when you’re 8 years old. On the way home (it was a Sunday night) there was a girl dressed up for party times who looked about 18. She had a red bull in one hand and a bottle of whisky concealed within a black plastic bag in the other. We watched her with amusement as she tried to not make a face when she swigged the whisky. It is real dedication to getting drunk when you are on the tube alone with a whisky and a red bull. Why she didn’t just get a premixed drink for her tube ride we’ll never know.
  3. I can’t really judge about road drinks though. En route to meet Kurt and Jack for a fabulous evening of drinking too much I had a bottle of beer in my bag. I decided to drink it, but couldn’t get the lid off with my keys. So, I used a wrought iron fence. Bottle in place, concentration, and POW! The bottle cap explodes off the beer and hits me full force in the jaw. This is on a fairly main street in Highbury. Tears of pain spring into my eyes and I walk along Highbury Park with one hand clapped to my face, the other clutching a foaming Erdinger, and a big grin on my face.
  4. In Bethnal Green (this same night) I decided it would be wise to have a cheeseburger before I started drinking properly. I went into McDonald’s and ordering a happy meal beside me was a black lady with her adorable down syndrome daughter (who must have been 8 or 9? I am bad at guessing the age of children). She was looking at me so I gave her a little wave and she grinned. I went back to waiting for my cheeseburger when I felt a little tug on my arm. The girl had tapped me, her mother rebuked her and then relented when she saw that I was delighted. It was the cutest thing ever.
  5. At Ikea last week a lady said she liked my t shirt. It was my kitten t shirt. Oh yea.
Just a short post for today, I will update again once interesting things happen. Interesting things such as Arcade Fire, LoveBox, Roxanne visiting and my WSET course.