Friday 21 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 19

Wednesday 19th September

If only Easyjet did airmiles! As much as I am used to Milan life nowadays, I do need to get my fix of being back in London regularly. I generally come back once a month. Being back in London is like getting a chance to breath and be me again.

I never know why people in Italy go on about London being too big, flat and boring with no beautiful countryside. Surely that's how you'd describe Milan! Actually, Milan's not very big. However, it is claustrophobic since accommodation is just packed into tight spaces and piled high. There are not many parks or green spaces, and the grey walls of the building are "adorned" with lots of graffitti.

It's nice to get back to London and be somewhere that has lots of parks nearby, where there are clean pavements and no graffitti, and where I don't have to worry about pollution when I go out on a run, or worry about mosquitoes at night.

Easyjet have flights that get me from Milan to London-Gatwick very easily, and then it's just a quick trainride back home. BA only fly to Heathrow, which is less convenient for me. Monarch go to Gatwick but they do fewer flights, and the one time I flew with them we suffered horrendous delays and discomfort on the flight. Yes, it's nice to get back to London. Thank goodness for Easyjet!

Tuesday 18 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 18

Tuesday 18th September

Okay, I admit it - I quite like a McDonalds. What the hell, wherever you go in the world they are pretty much the same. You know the suss - you know what you're going to get. It's not any better, not any worse. It's just, McDonalds. I don't eat them very often, but when I do, I find they taste surprisingly nice. We went to the burger restaurant because we were in a rush to get a snack shortly before seeing the film at the Milan Film Festival, and we didn't have confidence in the stuff we saw at some of the shady looking bars in Porta Venezia. It was a case of better the devil know. Actually, the Big Mac was not hellish. It hit the spot, and yes I was lovin' it! There, I've said it!

One Day One Photo - 17

Monday 17th September

I managed to go and see something at the Milan Film Festival, which I was pleased about. The good thing is that I even saw something in English. I haven't been to the cinema at all since I have been in Milan. The cinemas in the centre of Milan don't show Anglophone films in their original version - unlike other large European cities. Instead you have to put up with hearing your favourite American or British actors in maladapted Italian voices. It is probably true that the Italians are one of the best in the world at dubbing voices. However, it is still good to hear Brad Pitt speak with his own sexy voice! So at at the film festival I saw Woody Allen speak in his "seductive" tones in Everything you ever wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask.

The film was presented by someone called Randall Poster. He was presented by the Italians like someone of great importance. I took their word for it, though in all honesty I hadn't a clue who he was. He could have been just some random American being touted as a VIP because he was.... American! I have since googled him, and realise that he has written soundtracks for various films, of which Zoolander and the hit show, Lost feature among them.

Anyway, Everything.......was an entertaining film and it was good to step back in time and see some of Woody Allen's old stuff. It was very much out of left field, and it made me wonder what he had been smoking at the time - especially the sketch about escaping the giant, killer boob (??!!). The film festival goes on until 23rd September. Sadly, I won't be able to see anything else before it finishes. I would certainly recommend going along there though.

Monday 17 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 16

Sunday 16th September

Lake Como is the place that I have been to the most frequently since I have lived in Milan. It is a local train-ride away, and the station from where I catch the train is just 15mins from my flat.
As well as the beautiful views of the lake and the stylish architecture of the various villages, this area is great for cycling.

One of the best loops you could do there is to start in Como, ride up to Bellagio via a rolling lakeside road (on the eastern shore of the western arm), then head south and ride up the twisting climb to Madonna del Ghisallo and the cyclists' chapel. Then do the long descent to Canzo and take the road back to Como, passing through Ponte Lambro, Erba, Albavilla and Taverenio. That's what Higg and I did.

We had beautiful weather on this day. It was a perfectly clear day, and the temperature was just right. There wasn't much traffic either. The Madonna del Ghisallo climb is not so long - about 8km. However, the first couple of kilometers are quite steep. A sign on the road says 14%, and it definitely felt as steep as that in places. Thankfully it isn't that steep all the way up. There is even a short section of downhill. About a third of the way up there is a great view of Bellagio below. It is a quite a nice spot because Bellagio is where the two arms of Lake Como meet, so you see both sides of the upturned Y. That was where I stopped to take a photo. It was also a good excuse to take a breather!

This is a really pleasant loop to do if you get the chance. In terms of climbing, the main uphill section is the Madonna del Ghisallo. Once you are over that, it is practically all downhill and you are back on the shores of Lake Como before you can say "George Clooney"! 

One Day One Photo - 15

Saturday 15th September

For once I spent the weekend in Milan. As Higg was over for the weekend we made the most of the time by visiting a few things. There's always something going on in Milan - once you've managed to delve beneath Milan's cool, inert exterior! We decided to make a trip over to Elettrocity, a showroom presenting electric vehicles of all types - four wheels, two wheels and other novelties. It was pretty fun as there was the chance to test drive/ride different exhibits.

We didn't have our driving licences with us, so we were not able to drive the cars away. But Higg sat in this rather fetching bubble van! There was also a variety of electric bikes, skateboards and even Segways on show too. I had a go on one of the electric folding bikes. I enjoyed riding it, but I can't see myself owning one. It seemed a contradiction in terms. Folding bikes are meant to be compact and easy to carry around once you stop riding them. With an electric engine tagged onto the bike the unit weighs almost 20kg - not something that you can easily carry through a train station.

My vote definitely went on the bubble van. It looked stylish like the old Fiat 500 and the flower on the front added a cute touch. If they have one of these open days again I'll make sure I bring my driving licence. 

One Day One Photo - 14

Friday 14th September

Higg has finally succumbed and joined the masses by getting an I-phone. Good for him! I think he got a special deal with his mobile phone provider because the iphone 5 is being released very soon in the UK. He is now the proud owner of an iphone 4S. Actually, I take that back. He is not proud and he is quite an unsatisfied owner of an iphone 4S! The phone does not seem to do the things he'd gotten used to doing on his old Blackberry. It doesn't psynch with his home email account properly so he's constantly missing emails, the battery runs out so quickly, and while it's great that he has downloaded a number of useful apps he is reaching his data download limit in almost no time at all. And when he does receive emails, any attachments accompanying the messages aren't stored or saved in the intuitive way that he found with Blackberry.

Funnily enough, Higg used to moan alot about RIM's products too. But now he's forgiven them and longs for the old black keyboard. I had been tempted to take the plunge into the world of Apple, but based on what I've seen with Higg's experience I think I'll stick with BB. I must add though, that he is the first person I've met who doesn't like the iphone. Surely there must be others out there who have had the same irritating experience?

We just conclude that the iphone is a pleasant looking gadget with some nice toys added on. Everyone gets one because that's what in rather that's what does the job best. Talking of which, the Toon application on the camera of the iphone is fun to use. The photos that Higg has taken with it have come out well. It's a shame he couldn't receive any emails though!

Friday 14 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 13

Thursday 13th September

I didn't get to Cannes, I didn't get to Venice, which is just a train-ride away, but Milan is here and I really think I should go to that one. What am I talking about? Film Festivals. Yes, the Milan Film Festival has started, and will be on for the next 10 days.

Publicity for this has not been great. I knew that it would be happening soon, but I couldn't find the dates or venues. I think there is a bit of a laid back attitude towards publicity here - it's like a Milanesi thing, where people just say - "it's a Milan event, all the Milaneses know - it happens every year. Is publicity necessary?" Then a couple of lines are written about it in the Corriere della Sera just by chance, and you know the event is happening - and people (read Milaneses) turn out in their droves while tourists look on quizzically!

Well, I even saw an online poster about it, so that is a good start. I am not sure what there is to see though. There may be something about Woody Allen on, and a few films by London film-makers I think. I guess the best thing is to go to Parco Sempione, the main park where lots of things happen, and I will hopefully find out a bit more. 

One Day One Photo - 12

Wednesday 12th September

Central Milan is a fairly safe city compared with other large cities in the world. The main problems are around petty theft and stealing bicycles (the latter of which I have been a victim). You don't really hear stories of violent crime.

So it was quite a shock to hear the story of a couple who were gunned down in the early evening at Porta Romana, Milan. This area is not far from the heart of the city, and there are restaurants and bars where many people hang out. The place would have been crowded with office workers and locals in the late afternoon. Then suddenly a number of gun shots were heard and immediately afterwards two men were seen speeding away on a scooter.

The victims were 43 year-old Massimiliano Spelta and his young wife, Carolina Payano. Their 18-month-old daughter, who Payano was carrying at the time, was spared from the atrocious killing, and  suffered bruising as her mother fell to the ground.

It is not known why two people would be attacked in what appears to be a random attack. No doubt, a wider picture will emerge as the police unearth more facts in their investigations. The main point is that whatever the motive for the killing it has come as a real shock to the locals in this busy area of Milan. It is something completely unheardof for a shooting to take place like that so publicly and it must have been absolutely appauling for those who witnessed it. I hope this is not the start of a new trend. My thoughts go out to the families of Carolina and Massimiliano. May they Rest in Peace.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 11

Tuesday 11th September

Still on the subject of shops I like to go to in Milan, there is the international bookshop, Libreria Melting Pot. It is one of the first shops I went to when I arrived in Milan.

The primary reason had been because they have a sister shop right next door called Luoghi e Libri (Places and Books) which specialises in travel books and maps. I had been there to buy cycling maps of the area.

It was while I was there struggling away in very bad Italian that the owners told me about their monthly book club that where they read and critique novels written in the English language. Some might wonder why I would want to join a club where we read and speak in English.

Surely I should do this in Italian. The answer is three-fold. Firstly, as the majority of attendees are Italians I still end up speaking in Italian to people before and after the official session. Secondly, when in a foreign country your style of spoken English can go downhill if you don't get to either read or speak in a slightly more intellectual circle every now and again.Going to the monthly bookclub helps. Thirdly, I wouldn't want to embarrass myself, or put others through the pain of watching me torturously describing my thoughts in Italian on Ian Rankin!

Anyway, it is a great little bookshop with various novels in different languages as well as English and Italian. The people are friendly, and over the months I have gotten to know a few folks there - which is always a good thing when you are far away from home.

One Day One Photo - 10

Monday 10th September

So the Olympics and Paralympics are finally over. What a shame, as it had been great to be in London in August to see the Olympics, and to hear about the successes of the paralympians.

I wasn't in London to see the victory parade, but I was able to listen to it live on the radio. It sounded like a wonderful atmosphere, and for the athletes it must have been quite overwhelming for the athletes to see so many people turn out to salute the athletes' achievements. It is estimated that over a million people lined the streets of London.

The Olympics may be over now, but it has left people with truly unforgettable memories.

Monday 10 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 9

Sunday 9th September

Sea at last! I set off by bike from Milan on Saturday morning and arrived at the coast in the early hours of Sunday morning. Naturally, it was pitch black when I arrived in Rapallo, so I had no idea what the place was like. It was good to be greeted wth views that resembled Nice, France. I was actually on the Italian side of the Riviera, which doesn't look much different to French Riviera. In any case, it felt great to be by the sea. I even managed to dip my feet in.

I spent the night in Rapallo, but the following morning I spent most of my time in nearby Santa Margherita and rode onwards to the end of the coastline in Portofino. You could tell this was a swanky area because the boats were bigger and cleaner, and more and more luxury cars were zooming by. Sadly, I didn't get to see all of Portofino. A local policewoman had to explain to me that no bikes were allowed in the pedestrian area - not even when being wheeled. Sourpuss!

Anyway, I saw enough of the village to know this general area is worth the trip. The Italian Riviera is beautiful and every bit as nice as its French counterpart.

One Day One Photo - 8

Saturday 8th September Since I've been in Milan I have found that my weekends have been quite taken up with various activities or trips. In fact there have not been that many weekends where I have been in Milan. True, it is customary for Milanesi folks to leave the city, especially when the weather is good.

The good thing is that Milan has alot of very nice places to go to which are in the nearby vicinity. Como has become almost like a home from home from home (when counting home as London)! I have been there a number of times for cycling and even hiking. I've also been up to the Italian Alps the Dolomites, Bergamo, and of course regular trips back to London.

This photo was taken when I was cycling to my destination last weekend - the Italian Riviera. Along the way the route goes through a region known as the Oltrepo Pavese, where there are lots of rolling hills full of vineyards. I couldn't help and stop and look at the vast expanse of grapes!

Sadly, that was the only set of photos I took along the way. My journey became quite an epic, torturous ride and I got too preoccupied to be taking photos. (A story for another post.) I eventually arrived at my hotel in Rapallo at around 2am on Sunday morning - despite having left my flat in Milan at 8am on Saturday! Anyway, this is what I prefer to remember about my ride down to the coast - the quiet, rolling roads, the vineyards in the picturesque setting - and of course the well deserved glass of wine that was from this region once I arrived at my destination.

One Day One Photo - 7

Friday 7th September

When people talk about going to Milan, they often talk about going shopping there. All the lovely shopping galleries and designer fashion labels all packed into one small area does make the place very appealing and it is true that alot of Milanesi people are very stylish-looking as they ooze Versace, Prada and Gucci etc.

To be honest, I don't think they all really wear that. Salaries are taking a real hit in the current economic crisis, so I think it is more likely they are going to the big outdoor market along the boulevard near where I live. Even in Milan, the clothes on a bog standard market look stylish though - and the Italians know how to wear them well.

I have to say I am not a fan of shopping. I only go when I need to, and I keep the process brief, clinical and browse-free! I was excited about spending time in Milan, though as much as the fashion shops on via Torino and in the galleries look nice, they leave me fairly indifferent.
The place where I have taken to shopping on a regular basis though, is Decathlon. The French chain of sports shops is everywhere it seems. I didn't go to the one in London so much because it seemed to be in a location that was a bit out of my way, and involved a special trip there.

The location of the one in Milan though is great. It's right in the centre of the city and a 15-minute walk from where I live. For a central Milan shop, they have alot of space as well. I have bought alot of biking accessories there, stuff for when I went hiking recently, and even everyday items like sun protection cream which is good quality and good value for money.

Like with other branches of Decathlon, people are free to try stuff out within the shop. This means that on a Saturday afternoon the place can be a bit of a hazard when parents turn up with their bambini to buy them a new bicycle or rollerskates. There are lots of kids in Milan - so that's alot of skatesboards, rollerskates and bicycles to dodge! But I don't mind that. Everyone there is into activity and the outdoors and I feel good in these types of places.
Going to this sports shop is always a pleasant experience - and the staff are helpful. That's the sort of shopping that excites me.

One Day One Photo - 6

Thursday 6th September

As well as taking Italian lessons I also do conversation exchanges. I found a very useful website where you can sign up and meet other folks who want to practice their English in return for me practicing my Italian. Some might think it's strange that I should need to do a conversation exchange while I am already in Italy so should be speaking it all the time! Well, the trouble is I don't speak it all the time. In fact sometimes I don't speak Italian at all!

My work is done all in English, the working language of the company I work for is English, despite there being a majority of Italians. Alot of Italians are really keen to improve their English, so they will speak to me in English at every opportunity - even when I address them in Italian. It seems my Italian can't be so bad though because the answers they give in English correspond with the question I've asked!
Of course, many people say British people don't like speaking foreign languages. There may be some truth in that, especially with respect to folks on holiday in a country. But it you live in an international city like Milan many people speak in English, the difficulty comes in finding people who will actually reply to you in Italian - such is the keeness for the locals to practice their linguistic skills (and of course free of charge)!

So, doing a conversation exchange has been a good thing for me, and it has also given me more chance to interact socially with Milanesi people. I spend quite a bit of time at the Libreria Mondadori bookshop on the Piazza del Duomo. They have a nice coffee shop and it's a pretty good meeting spot.

Mind you, now I am getting so many replies to my conversation exchange advert, I may have to curtail my other activities and just do conversation exchanges in a specially reserved room! My Italian is improving though, so I can't complain - va bene!

Thursday 6 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 5

Wednesday 5th September

Today's heroine is Sarah Storey OBE. She took gold at the paralympics in the road cycling time trial at Brands Hatch. This is her 3rd gold of the London 2012 Paralympics, after having won two others at the velodrome. Storey is set to compete in the road race, and would equal Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson's record 11-medal tally if she wins.*

I have to say I have been really inspired by the achievements of the paralympic athletes, and am especially impressed by Sarah Storey. At other times of the year she competes on the women's road racing circuit, with racers who do not have disabilities - and she gives us a run for our money!

She certainly would wipe the floor with me, and when she races against Olympians like Laura Trott or Lizzie Armistead it is not a given that they will be beat her. In fact Mrs Storey has won a number of the National Road Series races, and is currently ranked no.1 in the British Cycling women's rankings.

Naturally, it is no surprise that people had called for her to be part of the women's Olympic squad, since her results showed that she could well have come up with the goods.

So, when I look at what Sarah has attained I know that this is no mean feat. It is definitely something to be proud of, and something that can, as the headline says, Inspire a Generation.     *She did win the road race.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 4

Tuesday 4th September

My second home while I am in Milan is the Navigli - more precisely the Naviglio Grande. No, I don't camp there in a cardboard box under the bridge, but I spend quite alot of time there.

This is my cycle route to and from work. It is also where I go for short training bike rides, as well as for my running training. Finally, it is where I like to go for a drink at weekends. When Higg comes to Milan there's a good Napolitan Pizzeria where we like to go for a quick bite. So, some days I can find myself up and down the Naviglio Grande as many as 8 times!

It is definitely one of my favourite parts of Milan - and I am glad it is not far from where I live. There are also various functions that take place there. There's an antiques market every last Sunday of the month, there are exhibitions, sometimes people do filming there, there have been boat shows, and even a swimming race.

The Naviglio Grande is quite a cool place to hang out. It can get a little touristy at night, as lots of visitors to Milan hang out in the bars. But there are still lots of "local" places, and there is always a good atmosphere.

I took this picture at around 7 o'clock in the morning after a rather stormy night. There was hardly anyone around. But don't be fooled - this is quite a lively place once everyone is up and about.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 3

Monday 3rd September

Like in many cities, cycling is the quickest way to get from A to B. It's good to be able to commute around Milan by bike. At first I thought it would be difficult given the numerous cobbles, the trams and the daunting traffic. In fact, it's not bad at all. There are cycle lanes and the motorists are accommodating towards the numerous cyclists.

I have a pleasant cycle to and from work along the Naviglio Grande, one of the canals in Milan. I  would have normally ridden a full sized bike, as I had done in London, but in Milan I travel around on a folding bike. It had been an impromptu purchase from a club-mate who was selling it cheaply, and I'm glad I bought it. The folding bike has proved very useful.

At the place where I work there is no secure area on the premises to leave your bike. Alot of people just leave theirs parked outside the front of the building. Naturally most people ride sit-up-and-beg old hacks that are not too attractive to thieves. Mind you, that still doesn't stop the low-lives from chancing their arm. Sadly, a couple of my colleagues have had their bikes stolen from the front of the building.
I am therefore glad to have a folding bike, which I just fold up and keep under my desk when I arrive at work.

It's also handy on the days when the weather suddenly turns (which happens alot) and heavy rain puts me off cycling home. I can just ride to the nearby tram or bus stop, board the transport with my bike folded up, and complete my journey home in the dry.

Milan is pan flat so it's not at all challenging to cycle around. I can even ride in civvies as it's only a 15-minute leisure ride from home to work. I never thought I would get into folding bikes, but having the Micro has been a real joy. It rides smoothly and is really convenient to use. I can't imagine not having a folding bike.

Photo by Higg

Monday 3 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 2

Sunday 2nd September
As the weather wasn't great over the weekend I stayed home. That was my chance to catch some of the Paralympics coverage on TV.

I had been in London for the 2012 Olympics, so didn't get to see how the events were covered in Italy. From what people say though, it seems that coverage was biased towards fencing - the main discipline where Italy has a strong showing.
Apparently, they almost missed the coverage of the men's 100m final because RAI were busy broadcasting the early heats of the fencing tournament between 2 unknown swordsmen! Well it was good to see that for the Paralympicsthere were other sports to watch apart from fencing. Furthermore, the events were just as exciting to watch as for the Olympics - especially track cycling, basketball, and athletics. It was also great to see TV pictures of packed out stadia with avid spectators. RAI did well with its coverage, and London has once again done well by putting the Paralympics firmly on the map.

Sunday 2 September 2012

One Day One Photo - 1

Last year I did a series where I recorded one photo every day during the month of September. It was about giving a snapshop of different things I experience for one month, and giving an insight into some of the antics I get up to. So here goes:

Saturday 1st September

View from my flat. I haven't been living long in Milan, but I have noticed that here we experience weather that goes from one extreme to another.

Just over a week ago I was struggling to stay comfortable in temperatures approaching 40degC.
It is not just the heat, but the humidity which is the problem. You get very sticky, it is difficult to sleep at night, and there is also the issue of obnoxious mosquitoes.

Thankfully that's all gone now, but it has been replaced with heavy rain showers. Sometimes the rain comes down so hard that I think the roof will fall in. That was the case this morning. I had been thinking of going for a bike ride, but in the end I didn't quite fancy it!