Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
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- Recent Entries:
- Non-Descript Sunday
Al and Kyle
Actually Cooking For a Change
New Office, The Constitution and Daphne's
Turin to London
Sunrise in Venice
Wednesday in Venice
Monday in Turin
Alba White Truffle Fair
Saturday in Turin
London to Paris to Turin
Packing and Grandad Nick
Stayed At Home
- Non-Descript Sunday
- [Sunday 6th November 2016]
My last "day off" - when I wasn't working - before Chie and Erika came back from Japan. Should perhaps have done something more ambitious with the rare burst of completely free time but couldn't really think of anything, so just spent the day mooching around at home and nearby. Popped out for both breakfast and lunch, but spend the rest of the day indoors.
- [Saturday 5th November 2016]
Since the utterly lovely day out we had in September visiting Nyetimber I'd been really keen to get back down to West Sussex again. Partly just to linger a little longer in the wonderful Rising Sun in Nutbourne, but also to do what we hadn't quite managed to fit in on our last trip - a visit to Nutbourne Vineyards, which lies inbetween the village of Nutbourne and Nyetimber's vineyards.
So today I thought I'd take advantage of my copious free time while Chie and Erika were still in Japan and do just that. I got a relatively train out of Victoria in the morning, and was in Pulborough by 11:30, ready to retrace our steps from there to Nutbourne. I managed the walk a bit quicker this time round, as I was by myself and already knew where I was going, although the last little bit across the fields before Nutbourne this time was a bit more challenging as there were electric fences across the public footpath! I did my best to go round, but did eventually have to duck under one, which was a tad unnerving.
I arrived at the Rising Sun around 12:15, and having originally planned to just linger there I actually had a fairly quick lunch, thinking I might be able to get to the vineyard and back in time before they closed for the afternoon at 3pm.
Back in September we'd managed to take a wrong turn not long after leaving Nyetimber, and instead of walking through Nutbourne vineyards as we should have done, we ended up having to clamber over fences and tramp across some fields. This time I figured out where we'd gone wrong, and it seemed almost embarassingly obvious - where we'd taken that wrong turn we were in fact only 10 metres or so away from one corner of Nutborne Vineyards. Ho hum!
On arrival at Nutbourne Vineyards I got a message from Natalie, a friend from work, who had initially expressed interest in coming along again (having joined us last time in September) but had apparently overslept, so I thought was going to give it a miss this time. To my surprise though she actually seemed quite determined to come anyway. So I killed time for an hour or so wandering around the vineyards which, was very pleasant in the crisp Autumn air, and the ground littered with golden brown leaves from the vines and surrounding trees.
Natalie arrived around 2:30 and we went and did a tasting of Nutbourne's wines in the former windmill they happen to have on the site, which made for a lovely venue - albeit a bit cold! We sampled quite a few wines from Nutbourne's range, but the standouts for me were the sparkling wines - their "Nutty" range - perhaps not the most sophisticated name, but the wines themselves are definitely very sophisticated. They follow the methode champenoise as far as I could tell, and the composition of grapes is similar - mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - but instead of Pinot Meunier they use some Reichensteiner, a German grape which was one of the more typically grown grapes in England prior to the recent dominance of the three Champagne varieties.
We also did a brief tour of the winery - something which was off limits at Nyetimber - and particularly excitingly got to watch them disgorging their sparkling wines prior to second fermentation. This is the process where, to remove sediment from the yeast from the first fermentation, they upend the bottles, freeze the necks, then pull out a sort of icy plug containing all the solidified sediment.
The weather had mostly been rather grey and overcast, but in our final few minutes at Nutbourne vineyards the skies cleared a little, and we had some lovely golden views of it as we were leaving.
We'd hoped the rumours of the Rising Sun closing in the afternoon might have been greatly exaggerated but they turned out to be quite true. So instead on the way back to Pulborough station we stopped off at the White Horse for a quick drink, and to warm ourselves by the fire. We'd turned our noses up at this pub from the outside on the previous trip, and I'm glad we gave it the benefit of the doubt this time, as it's actually quite nice inside - they use empty Nyetimber bottles for candle holders, which the landlord quipped was simply a result of the amount of the stuff they get through there!
As seems to be becoming the tradition, we had chips on the train from the fish and chip shop next to Pulborough on the way back.
After arriving back in London, Natalie went off to see some friends near Victoria, and I decided to pop by the office in King's Cross to see if I'd be able to see any fireworks from the roof terrace, it being November 5th. When I got there I realised quite a few other people had had the same idea! I was able to see quite a few firework displays, mostly over towards East London, but they were all a bit too far away to get a decent picture of. Still a nice way to round off the day nonetheless.
- [Friday 4th November 2016]
Andrew from work has lived in Deptford for a couple of years now, but has never painted a particularly rosy picture of it, so that added to the fact it's a bit of a trek from central London meant I'd never really been particularly keen on the idea of going down there. However earlier this week he'd mentioned there was a new hipster bar which had just opened there, and given my current copious supply of free time I'd called his bluff and asked him when we were going there.
Everything about the bar in question sounded Hackneyed (note the deliberate capitalisation to underline both interpretations of that adjective there) but we were all quite comfortable with the idea of attempting to pretend to enjoy it in a post modern ironic way, or however it is hipsters come to terms with this sort of thing. The theme was kitsch 1980s chintz mixed with lots of temporally appropriate pop culture references, and in particular numerous tips of the hat to characters from Eastenders during that era.
The staff were actually very pleasant and welcoming, which left me confused as to whether this was indeed an instance of the usual dispassionate aesthetic parasitism typically associated with all things hipster, or whether the same apparent end result had been reached by some genuine warm hearted nostalgia. It's of course impossible to tell.
The drinks were of course served in teapots, a gimmick which we initially reacted to with ennui, but the cynicism of our group universally melted on discovering there was a teapot shaped like a dog.
As an added surprise, amongst their collection of assorted teacups to serve the drinks in, they had a Noritake cup exactly like the set I have at home, "inherited" from Mum and Dad, and something I rather treasure. So actually I felt a slight affront at seeing it in amongst the other naff / chintzy old 1970s / 1980s teacups, as I think the Noritake set is rather elegant.
The food offerings - mostly deep fried as far as I could ascertain - had an almost Proustian quality, amplified by the constant lingering of the smell of a domestic deep fat frier in the air - somehow not the same fragrance as a large scale commercial deep fat frier. It's been many years since I've been in the presence of a domestic deep fat frier.
It's hard to say I've really been to Deptford still, as the bar was only two steps outside the entrance to the station, but I did at least - despite all the odds - enjoy this place.
- Al and Kyle
- [Thursday 3rd November 2016]
Went to the Bree Louise with Al and Kyle this evening. Although I do quite like the pub - mainly for its cider selection - it occurred to me this evening it wasn't really a particularly good venue in which to try and have a conversation.
After a pint or two there, we decided dinner would be a good idea, and opted for a nearby Italian restaurant of the cheap and cheerful variety.
- Not Cooking
- [Wednesday 2nd November 2016]
Third day in the new office in King's Cross. Took more of basically the same photos from the balcony.
In the evening I couldn't be bothered to cook, particularly as I still hadn't done the washing up yet from last night (pretty much the only day this week I had been bothered to cook). So I went home first, did the washing up, then headed back out again for some Thai food at the Pineapple.
- Actually Cooking For a Change
- [Tuesday 1st November 2016]
Second day working from the new office in King's Cross.
Went to Waitrose on the way home, thinking I should actually buy some groceries and make an effort to cook for a change - being by myself at home this week it was all too easy to fall into the habit of eating out or getting takeaway every night.
I wanted some kind of vegetarian equivalent of steak and chips - so found some Quorn "steaks" and some potatoes. The potatoes came out quite well - little new potatoes which I boiled for a bit then roasted for a while in the oven. Also had some cavolo nero which was quite nice.
- New Office, The Constitution and Daphne's
- [Monday 31st October 2016]
First day officially working from new office in King's Cross - I had packed my desk up before I went off to Italy, and my things had been moved in crates while I was away. Of course it wasn't the first time to see the new office, some people having moved across earlier in the year, so I had already popped in a few times... but it was the first time to have all the floors fully occupied, and as of today I was officially based here.
I predicted the slight feeling of alienation I always seem to get when a big change like this occurs, some combination of being in a new flashy environment and being surrounded by lots of people I don't know (people had moved from various different offices in London into this one). So I went to work forearmed, wearing a tweed suit, which helped to insulate me from that.
At the end of the day I thought it appropriate to toast the new office with some of the usual suspects, and also wanted to give the walk home a go, so I managed to somehow combine the two, and persuaded a few people to come and join me at a pub called the Constitution, which is along the canal towpath that forms part of one potential walking route between home and the office. It's a funny sort of pub, seems to be a mixture of slightly rough around the edges locals and hipsters (which is an odd thing in itself for Camden)... but I imagine the beer garden with its canalside setting will be very pleasant in summer.
I'm not sure everybody else particularly wanted to linger much longer, most people I know seem to have quite negative feelings toward Camden, and it was a dark, cold Monday evening when it was quite forgivable that anyone would rather be at home in the warm. Ricardo's girlfriend Catherine had, I got the impression, come to the pub in order to retrieve him in the not unreasonable expectation they might spend the remainder of the evening together - particularly as I'd also occupied rather a lot of his time on Saturday afternoon in Hampstead. ...but if it indeed was the case Ricardo certainly did not detect those signals!
So anyway somehow I roped them in to joining me for dinner, which based on no other reason than we happened to be nearby was at a Greek restaurant in Camden called Daphne's. I thought I had been there something like 15 years ago, when I first lived in London, with Chie's friend Junchan, but the interior wasn't quite how I remembered it, so it may actually have been one of the other Greek restaurants nearby - there does seem to be a little cluster here. I quite enjoyed the food this evening, and particularly liked the fact I recognised almost none of the names of the dishes on the specials board.
- Social Awkwardness
- [Sunday 30th October 2016]
I had sent Al a message the day before to see if he was free for lunch, he replied that they were planning on having lunch with Kyle and Hannah and he was sure they wouldn't mind if I joined them all. I'd just assumed they were going to a pub or something, but by the time it had got to the point of being too awkward to back out it emerged they were actually eating at Kyle and Hannah's place. It's one thing to gatecrash some friends going out for a meal, but it felt particularly rude to have effectively invited myself round to their house, albeit that I did not realise that was what I had become embroiled in at the outset.
To make matters worse I arrived slightly early - thanks to the timing of the trains it was a choice between that and half an hour late. I subsequently inferred that the timing of the invitation was probably set such that they could get Ralph down for a nap before everyone arrived, which I of course then disrupted. His exasperation at the disturbance to his routine was exacerbated by the disappointment he then experienced when he thought "Oh, Erika's Daddy's here... but where's Erika?". Add to all of that the usual awkwardness of me being vegetarian, and therefore them having to make an extra dish specially for me and I felt like the worst guest ever. At least I didn't break anything.
I felt rather detached throughout lunch, perhaps partly in reaction to having to re-adjust to the mundane themes of day-to-day life after my week of carefree gallivanting around Italy - and it can be quite irksome to have to listen to a full account of someone else's holiday so I did my best to keep it brief when asked about it. Instead the conversation seemed to mostly cover buying houses, building work and cars, and I didn't feel I had much to contribute on any of these topics. Not long after lunch I made my excuses and got ready to leave, thinking the rest of them might be a bit more relaxed on this occasion without the interloper who didn't have much to say for himself, but this then prompted Al to decide it was time for them to leave too, so to add to my list de faux pas for the day I'd also caused the party to end prematurely. What a terrible guest!
Once back in Kentish Town I popped into the Pineapple for a bit, hoping somehow this might help me to re-acclimatise with normality. I got talking to the resident pub bore, and actually had a fairly interesting conversation, as it turned out he had lived for a while in the village where I grew up. It's a small world. Odd also that, at least on this occasion, I felt more relaxed talking to a complete stranger than with good friends who I had known the best part of a decade.
Headed back home before dinner time, and rather lazily ordered Indian food for dinner.
- Hampstead Heath
- [Saturday 29th October 2016]
Had considered going down to West Sussex today, but hadn't quite got my act together in time, and also thought, on reflection, that after spending at least 4 hours travelling by train every day for the last four days (and over 8 yesterday) I could probably do with a day without any trains.
In the morning I thought I'd tackle the hedge, which probably was due for a trim about a month ago, but I hadn't quite got around to. It had got particularly high, such that I thought I ought to go out and buy step ladder to do it properly. That felt very grown up.
Ricardo had mentioned he was planning on heading to Hampstead for a pub lunch, and that sounded like a nice plan - particularly as I could get all the way there entirely on foot. So, a little after midday, I set out in the direction of the heath, and had a pleasant stroll taking in the views of London from Parliament Hill as I went. Met Ricardo his friend Milo at the Holly Bush, where we had lunch sat around a table which wasn't really big enough for the three of us, squeezed into a corner between two other tables. I generally like the food at the Holly Bush, but on this occasion I found the dish I chose a bit weird, it couldn't quite decide whether it was trying to be European or Asian and I don't think it really worked as either.
Conversations with Ricardo tend to be on the eclectic side and I don't recall any single particular theme. I recounted the very differing standards of hygiene between me and my Dad that I'd obsrved during our week in Italy, particularly the chocolate bar incident - and that seemed to recur a bit throughout the day. Perhaps the excerpt I found most amusing though was when I was talking about how much I like salty food, and how I theorised it came from the fact I grew up in - at which point Milo interjected - "a salt mine?". Ricardo also found this quite amusing, but unfortunately was mid way through chewing on his gnocchi, upon which he then began to choke instead.
After lunch the three of us took a stroll back over the Heath and, in the absence of any other plan I proposed heading to the Southampton Arms, where we were also met my Ricardo's other half Catherine. I was pleased to see her, as I'd heard she happened to know the parents of one of Erika's friends, who we'd recently found out are from a particularly interesting aristocratic background, and I was fascinated to learn a bit more about them.
From there we also went along to the Pineapple for a final drink, after which I bade them all adieu - Ricardo had very kindly invited me to join them at the Halloween party they were going to later, but I decided I'd done enough for one day, was still a bit tired from the long journey yesterday so I left them to it.
- Turin to London
- [Friday 28th October 2016]
We were booked on the 07:39 TGV from Turin to Paris, so a bit of an early start this morning. Dad apparently had barely slept at all for fear of oversleeping and missing the train, and they left the apartment at something like 6:30 - just as I was getting up - I left at just after 7 and met them at the station.
The first leg of the return journey actually went really well. Dad had wanted to see the snowy Alps, and it had been too dark on the way here, plus too hazy to see them while we were in Turin. This morning though the skies were clear, and we had nice views of the mountains as we passed through. So this was all quite pleasant, and more or less ran to time.
From Paris things went a bit downhill though. Our train arrived at Gare de Lyon around 1:20, I had planned to have lunch in Au Train de Vie near Gare du Nord but by the time we had faffed a bit and got an Uber, we arrived at the cafe at 2:05 - just as they stopped serving lunch. I had been there at various times of the day on previous trips, sometimes to eat, sometimes just for a drink, but I guess it hadn't really occurred to me that the kitchen was only open around the very regimented French notion of mealtimes. I did attempt to advocate that we still sit there and at least have a coffee regardless, but Dad didn't want to for some reason - despite my protestations that there really isn't anything else very nice around Gare du Nord, and there's nowhere to sit down inside the station itself. So we then had to go and learn that lesson in real time - and ended up in a generic cafe opposite the station which obviously thrives on exploiting tourists, and charged 8 Euros for a Diet Coke.
It was a slog getting through security onto the Eurostar, some part of the process seemed to be short staffed, and we spent longer than the recommended 30 minutes getting from check in to the actual train. Frustratingly the train then sat at the platform for quite some time past its scheduled departure. It became clear en route that Dad and Janie weren't going to make their onward connection in London back to Devon which was the cause of some consternation thanks to the inflexibility of Advance purchased tickets. I did try to provide reassurance that there's a process for this - if you miss a train because of a delay on another train, you get the first train company to give you a stamp, then the other company are required to let you take a later train.
On arrival at St. Pancras Dad and Janie got in a taxi, which apparently got them to Paddington just as their original train was pulling out of the station. They were able to use their ticket on the next train without incident though, and probably having a bit of a break at Paddington was for the best anyway.
I also got a taxi back home, as my suitcase was rather heavily loaded with bottles etc. Having eaten exclusively Italian food for the past week I had been musing over what I might eat on my return - probably not a bowl of pasta. I decided instead to get a Chinese takeaway, and as I happened to get there at one of the busiest times of the week for them, while I was waiting for them to cook it I popped into the Pineapple for a quick pint as a welcome back to England.
- Sunrise in Venice
- [Thursday 27th October 2016]
As it happens, a few days after this visit to Venice, the Independent compiled a list of the world's least romantic cities, which in true hipster journalism style includes Venice. I suppose I can see how some people might go to Venice and fail to have a good time, but I think they're almost all going to be people who haven't done any research, are a bit naive, and spent their whole trip wading through crowds and being snared by tourist trap restaurants, etc.
That said, on this, my third visit to Venice, I had pretty much just showed up, I'd only done a little bit of research for new places to visit (having focused most of my planning effort for the trip to Italy on Turin, Alba, etc). I'd done the now standard bacaro crawl yesterday, including three new bacari I hadn't been to before - but also recovering a lot of familiar territory. Up until this morning it had been, you know, nice enough, but almost like looking back through my own photos from previous trips rather than the excitement of seeing and experiencing those places for the first time.
I didn't mind too much, I knew it was a very short trip to Venice this time - I was here less than 24 hours - so my expectations were realistic.
Anyway, I happened to wake up quite early this morning. I'd watched the sunset from La Giudecca yesterday, Spritz in hand, which had been lovely for the atmosphere and the overall setting, but it was quite cloudy, so only really a hint of what I know a sunset can be like in Venice. So it occurred to me I was in time this morning to give it a second chance - this time at dawn rather than dusk. Worst case it would be cloudy again, and I'd just have a pleasant early morning stroll through the streets of Venice when there weren't too many people about.
Without really giving it too much thought my feet led me towards San Marco - my hotel was by the Rialto bridge, and you can actually get between the two in not much over 5 minutes when there aren't any slow moving tourists to work around. Even the streets on this major tourist thoroughfare had a magical quality at this time of the morning, the tacky souvenirs all hidden away behind the shutters, and barely a soul about, apart from the odd porter making their early morning deliveries.
On arrival in San Marco I saw a band of golden light at the horizon between the Basilica and the Campanile, and mostly clear skies - I knew at that point I was in for a treat.
To begin with, there was that band of light at the horizon, then further up in the sky dark grey clouds. I saw the sights around San Marco and over to San Giorgio Maggiore through a muted palette, but a majestic one of golds and silvers. I walked up and down the water's edge trying to get the right composition of silhoutted gondolas and lamp posts against that gold and silver backdrop. Probably every one of these frames had been composed a thousand times before, and plenty of them by better photographers and with better cameras... but of course I couldn't stop snapping regardless.
I noticed amongst the handful of other people also feverishly taking photos, just as I was doing, there was a middle aged Chinese lady who didn't appear to have any kind of camera with her at all. Strange really that she was the odd one out. I almost envied her for it - it must be lovely to have the peace of mind to just enjoy a scene like this without the fear that you might be missing out on a great photo.
After I'd been there about 10 minutes, the colours in the sky appeared to fade slightly and I thought perhaps that was the end of the show. In reality it had just been the warm up act. Suddenly, as though somebody flicked a switch, those brooding grey clouds were flecked with pink, and then came the oranges, and the peach, and the whole fruit salad inbetween. It had been elegant before, a sort of restrained majesty to it - but now it was a loud, unabashed, glorious celebration.
I took a lot of photos, some came out better than others - but a few scenes are particularly memorable for me. The view of San Giorgio Maggiore across the water partly in silhouette, against a backdrop of those pink clouds, like a watercolour painting - with the silhouette of a lone seagull in the sky, looking the way a child would draw a bird. Perhaps most showy of all, the sun shining through one of the arches of the Doge's Palace. Finally - at the risk of being overly melodramatic - although I suspect that horse has already bolted - the lion's head bathed in golden light. It's not really of any great photographic merit, but I wondered how many sunrises like this he had seen.
Of course, you can see wonderful sunrises anywhere in the world... but somehow here in Venice, with the way it illuminated the city's magnificent architecture with such gorgeous colours it's as though this is Venice's sun. Doing all of this purely for the sake of Venice. Like witnessing a magnificent stage production, and Venice is commanding the sun to come out of the sea, so the audience can marvel at the spectacle.
Sorry, I've gone a little off piste there, from the usual matter of fact writing style about what I cooked for dinner, and minutiae about how train schedules worked out.... but all of the above was a long winded way of saying two things:
1) Just when I was starting to think maybe I've "done" Venice now, it pulled out something utterly magical like this.
2) The Independent can bugger off.
It was a magical send off, and it almost felt like the city was giving me a parting gift.
I was beaming on my way back to my hotel for breakfast, then sad that I had to check out and head back to the station.
Still, the journey back to Turin was a pleasant one. Again I had a change at Bologna Central, and from there back to Turin I was back on the excellent Frecciarossa 1000, in the extreme luxury of Executive class. I had lunch on the train, delivered to my seat - mozzarella to start, followed by penne with Gorgonzola - both wisely sticking to the principle of using very high quality ingredients but keeping the actual cooking simple. It is on a train after all.
On arrival in Turin I met Dad and Janie at the apartment, and we spent the remainder of the afternoon shopping for things to take back to the UK. First I wanted to go to the toy shop down the road to get something for Erika, then we headed to the big Eataly in Lingotto where I mostly bought lots of pasta.
We were back at the flat just after 6, and for an aperitivo we had the torbolino I'd brought back with me from Venice, served the classic way, with roasted chestnuts (fortunately I'd found someone selling them on a street corner near us). We sat out on the balcony, and there was a tiny hint of a sunset to look at.
For dinner we went to a restaurant near the flat specialising in food from the Piedmont/Liguria, where I had two courses of wild mushrooms, including more deep fried wild mushrooms in batter. I think I preferred the version at Vico Palla in Genoa where they were all porcini - it's actually kind of scary to not be able to recognise what you're eating when you're having wild mushrooms!
Finally Enrico, the owner of the flat we'd been staying in, invited us to go for a drink after dinner (I think we probably could have done with an earlier night given our very early start the next morning, but it seemed rude not to accept the kind offer!). So we had one last drink at our "local" - Caffe Mulassano, and Enrico showed us the button which makes a spinny thing go round on the wall, apparently used when you can't agree who is going to pay the bill.
Unlike earlier in the week, they had their own vermouth back in stock, and although it required quite a bit of persuasion, I got them to do us a half and half of their vermouth and their aperitivo - something like the original cocktail called the Milano e Torino (Campari and vermouth) from which the Negroni is descended. The barman seemed stoically unconvinced by the idea. I wonder if Count Negroni encountered the same thing when he first asked for gin instead of soda.
- Wednesday in Venice
- [Wednesday 26th October 2016]
Turin isn't particularly close to Venice, it takes about four hours by high speed train. On my trip to Italy last year I had gadded about all over the place, but as Dad came along this year it was a different type of holiday, and he much preferred to be based in one place. I had ummed and arred a bit about whether I really wanted to go all the way to Venice on this trip - but in the end I didn't seem to be able to resist.
Dad and Janie stayed behind in Turin as they thought it would be a bit too much travelling. So this morning I had a relatively early start and got a Frecciarossa 1000 leaving Turin just after 8am. Of course I chose Executive class again, although given the timing of the outbound trip I didn't really get to enjoy much of the onboard hospitality - a bit too early for lunch, and Italian breakfasts are not much to write home about.
I had a change of trains at Bologna Central, which looked very different from last time I had changed trains there back in 2012. That time we'd only just made our connection with barely a minute to spare. This time it seemed to take forever to get from the platform I arrived at, to the platform the onward train to Venice went from.
Anyway, not long after midday the train was crossing the lagoon to Venice, over that long rail bridge, which feels a bit more like being on a ferry given the views of the water.
On arrival I immediately launched into a bacaro crawl - as I was only going to be staying one night I didn't have much with me, so it was no great inconvenience to carry my luggage around, and probably too early to check into my hotel anyway.
My first port of call was a new bacaro for me - Bacareto da Lele. Presumably "bacareto" is a diminuitive of "bacaro", and this place was really tiny - inside there was only space for a handful of people to stand, and almost all the customers were outside. Most appeared to be locals, as far as I could tell - at the very least they were talking Italian (or maybe even Venetian) and they certainly didn't look like tourists. They mostly focus on little sandwiches for their cicchetti offering, and the ombra (glasses of wine) are also in miniature, which is the way I like it. Even by bacaro standards this had the impression of somewhere nobody lingered at for more than a few minutes, but I actually rather liked that about it.
Next, another new one for me - Osteria da Codroma - apparently a favourite of Nigella Lawson. This looked more like a restaurant on the inside, and unlike da Lele, which had a healthy throng of people outside, it was fairly quiet here - just a couple of guys at the counter, and one table of people sitting down. The wine glasses were quite large here, which again felt less bacaro like to me, but I suppose standing outside, with a barrel to rest my glass on, by the canal with a little Venetian bridge made for a nice enough setting.
Next I dithered a little, thinking it might be nice to have lunch, and attempted to get across to La Giudecca so I could visit Snack Bar La Palanca, but I couldn't get any of the machines for the vaporetto to sell me a ticket. Instead I just headed back "inland" and went to Cantinone Gia Schiavi next. I ordered from the slightly intimidating landlady there and she rather curtly corrected my naive attempts to formulate Italian sentences as I went along. I did manage to have three rather nice ciccheti there though despite this, and also a Spritz con Select which made me really feel like I was properly in Venice. I only discovered this bacaro on my previous trip, but I would definitely put it in my top 3 - it's a lovely spot opposite the San Trovaso boatyard, and often accompanied with the ringing of the bells of the campanile of San Trovaso church.
A bit more wandering ensued, and I came to my fourth bacaro of the afternoon - another of my top 3 - All'Arco. It had actually been closed on my previous visit to Venice, but I had liked it so much on the first trip I went there twice. I think I managed the pinnacle of my Italian for this whole trip while I was in here, and succeeding in negotiating the entire transaction without any English. Although I think the nice chap who runs the place was sort of humouring me a bit. I had a particularly delicious ciccheti here - some kind of cream cheese, flavoured with truffle, with a piece of porcini on top. A delicious morsel.
After leaving All'Arco I walked 5 metres round the corner into Cantina do Mori. All'Arco almost always seems to have a buzzy crowd around it, but do Mori, despite being the more historic of the two - and probably the oldest bacaro in Venice - has often been empty when I've been. Perhaps it's something about the lighting in there which puts people off - it is a bit dingy - or maybe it's the rather melancholy persona of the chap I assume to be the owner. All'Arco seems to just accept the inevitability of the tourists and tries to make the best of it - the staff always seem quite cheery and welcoming. At Cantina do Mori the owner really seems to wish things were different. I did my best to try and get him to perk up a bit, asked him (in my best attempt at Italian) what his favourite of the wines on offer was - I even offered to buy him one, which he politely refused. That did just about get a smile out of him though. I personally don't mind the dim lighting at Cantina do Mori, and the fact it is more of a place for quiet reflection than many of the other bacari. Even the rather glum owner adds some sort of poignancy to it. This is probably the place where you get most of the sense of the ghosts of Venetians of centuries past.
I thought it probably time to go and check in at my hotel at this point, so hopped across the Rialto bridge, and was warmly greeted by the staff who all seemed to remember me from last year.
After a bit of a rest at my hotel, I headed out again, feeling somewhat peckish. I think you probably can just about eat a full meal's worth of cicchetti whilst on a giro di ombra (the Venetian phrase for a bacaro crawl) but it's a bit harder if you're only choosing the vegetarian ones. So I decided to revisit Arte della Pizza, the excellent little backstreet pizza place, where they seemed a bit reluctant to make a whole pizza to order at this funny time of day, but relented in the end. Obviously I know full well pizza has nothing whatsoever to do with traditional Venetian cuisine, and generally any mention of pizza on the outside of a restaurant in Venice is pretty much a sure fire sign it's going to be a tourist trap, but Arte della Pizza actually does seem to mainly serve the locals - it's not a restaurant, more of a takeaway place with just a couple of stools and a shelf. While I was there I saw quite a few regulars come and go, who the staff seem to know by their first names, which is obviously a good sign. The pizza is really rather good too.
I was a bit unsure what to do with myself after that. First I went to the wine shop I remember having seen a sign outside last time advertising the sale of torbolino - the new season's wine, still not quite finished fermenting. I was hoping to just have a glass on the spot, but it turned out they only did off sales. So I bought a litre of the stuff, which they put in an old plastic mineral water bottle for me, and was charged the trifling sum of 2 Euros and 50 cents. And people say Venice is an expensive place to visit?
Then I finally managed to get onto a vaporetto - an old lady having advised me I should just buy the ticket onboard, as most of the ticket machines still seemed to be playing up. I think I did a bit of back and forth, having managed to get on a vaporetto in the wrong direction initially, but eventually I was heading down the Grand Canal and across to La Giudecca.
I got to good old Bar La Palanca around 5:30, just in time to see the sunset, such as it was today, given the slightly overcast skies. I had a Spritz con Select and stood by the water's edge, looking back to the main island, and I think, on balance, this was probably my favourite part of the day.
From there I got the vaporetto back to San Marco, and wandered back to the Rialto area through the windy streets as it was getting dark. Possibly popped back to my hotel for a bit first - I can't remember now - and then headed out to fit in one more bacaro - another new one for me this time - Osteria Alla Ciurma. I think I have come to the conclusion the bacari are very much daytime places, some of the more traditional ones would already have been closed by the time I got here, just before 8 o' clock. You do see people who I assume to be Venetians out and about in the daytime, but once night falls they all seem to disappear, and places like this seem to be exclusively colonised by tourists. So it's hard to form an opinion about Alla Ciurma, probably deserves a revisit in daylight.
I had sort of run out of things to do again by this point, after an unsuccessful meander about I got back on a vaporetto again, heading back to San Marco once again. I vaguely thought I might go into Harry's Bar, knowing full well it does tend to just be full of American tourists, but the group of young ladies who were also on the same vaporetto, and gave the impression of being on something like a hen party (albeit a comparatively civilised one) rather put me off.
Instead, I found myself drawn back to the back bar at Caffe Florian, wherein I had a nice chat with one of the head bartenders there (I think I had met the other last time), although I suspect I may have inadvertently caused some slight offence when tasting my second cocktail - a Tintoretto - and remarking how light it was - compared to a Negroni.
Venice takes on a funny sort of atmosphere at night time - I'm sure it can be mysterious and alluring, but by the time I'd left Florian the dark streets and increasing scarcity of people felt actually ever so slightly menacing. I had a distinct desire to be indoors somewhere bright, warm and cosy. So I decided to just call it a night, and head back to my hotel.
- [Tuesday 25th October 2016]
In some sense today's visit to Genova was the motivation for this whole trip to Italy. Some time earlier this year I had begun daydreaming about the meal Chie and I had at Osteria di Vico Palla back in summer 2014, while Erika had dozed in her buggy tucked under the table. The mandilli di seta had been one of those particularly evocative food memories from a holiday which, in honesty, hadn't been entirely a success. I think I must have mentioned it to Dad at Easter, and the idea of Dad coming along on this trip came from there.
It's about a 2 hour train journey from Turin to Genoa, and it did feel a bit like we were going there just for lunch - on arrival we got a taxi from the station directly to the restaurant, and we only really stayed in the city for about 4 hours or so. Still, I was quite happy with that arrangement, and am pleased to report the food at Vico Palla was exactly as I remembered it. In fact even better this time around as they also had deep fried porcini on the menu, which seemed a very decadent use of such a prized mushroom, but here in Italy they can be found in abundance, and this was actually a really nice way to cook them - it really sealed in the flavour. I hope Dad and Janie really enjoyed the meal too - I think they did.
After lunch we took a stroll along the harbour - which had a lot more superyachts than I remember - and then into the city for a meander through the windy streets. I had a couple more places on my todo list for the visit - first I wanted to pop into a caffe called Marescotti having seen it last time, and having been intrigued by the title "liquoreria". They did indeed sell a large assortment of liqueurs, aperitivi, etc. Most interestingly I discovered they had a Genovese vermouth, which I of course had to buy a bottle of.
Then we went to relive the other wonderful food memory from my previous visit - the blissful gelato at Profumo di Rosa. We chatted to the lovely lady who ran the place, and I told her what happy memories I had of being there with Erika, having her first proper gelato.
From there we gradually meandered back in the direction of the station, taking in the very grand Via Garibaldi en route. It took another couple of hours to get back to Turin, I think we got back some time around 8, and then I think we just stayed at the apartment for the remainder of the evening.
- Monday in Turin
- [Monday 24th October 2016]
Didn't really have anything planned for the day. I had considered going to Milan, but when I looked into it most of the places I most wanted to visit (the Camparino, Nottingham Forest etc) closed on Mondays. So I just mooched around in Turin.
I suppose to some extent this was just as well, as I needed to do some laundry in the morning, and figuring out the Italian washing machine took some effort. It was a combined washer dryer, of which two functions only one seemed to really work - everything came out absolutely dripping wet. I eventually realised he radiator in my room was on, so managed to hang some things there, and the rest out on the balcony.
So after my morning of domestic chores I headed out, around 11:30, thinking I might have a nice bicerin somewhere, then lunch. Al Bicerin seemed the obvious venue for this, but I was rather taken aback to see a queue out the door! On a Monday morning in October! So I headed on instead to take a look at "Caffeteria Vermoutheria Barolino Cocchi", which I'd had on my list and was interested to see what a "vermoutheria" entailed. As the sun was not yet over the yard arm - it wasn't even quite midday - I couldn't quite bring myself to have a vermouth, and just had a coffee, thinking I would come back later on in the day. Bizarrely it's actually open during office hours, Monday to Friday, which struck me as a bit bizarre for somewhere which was surely primarily a bar.
For lunch I went to a pizza place I had starred on the map at some point - not really sure why - and I suppose the pizza was decent enough, albeit a bit soggy in the middle. It was incredibly cheap, I think my lunch, including an optional glass of wine (I went for water instead) came to a trifling 7 Euros 50.
Wasn't sure what to do with myself after that. I had a look around on my phone for any grand caffes I might not have been to yet, and found I wasn't that far from Caffe Platti, which would be a new one for me, but was one of Turin's most famous. So I headed there. I had a slightly arduous time ordering a vermouth - and stopped just short of saying "You know, the thing you city is bloody well famous for!", but did eventually manage. Turin is spoiled for these grand, opulent caffes, and here I wanted to describe the interior as some kind of rococo, but I'm probably a bit out of my depth.
I didn't linger long, and after that went back to the apartment, where I spent most of the rest of the afternoon. I think I may have actually had a nap for a bit.
Around 5, I purposefully headed out again, not quite believing that the opening hours for the "vermoutheria" I'd poked my nose in at earlier could be correct, but indeed it was now closed. What a bizarre place - I wonder who their customer base is - it's certainly not on the tourist trail, if such a thing even exists in Turin.
I met up with Dad and Janie briefly at Caffe Fiorio near the apartment for an early evening aperitivo there, but I didn't really feel like eating in, and instead I did a bit more aimless wandering, this time in the direction of Piazza Vittorio Veneto. I vaguely considered trying to have dinner at Porta Di Savona, which I get the impression is one of Turin's most famous restaurants, but the combination of not quite being able to tell whether there was anything vegetarian on the menu, and having a feeling it might be fully booked, put me off. Instead I ate at the vegan restaurant near there - since electing a vegetarian mayor recently Turin seems to be developing a growing culture of vegan/vegetarian restaurants. Somehow though I wasn't really bowled over with the meal.
I then popped over the river to a wine shop / bar a colleague had recommended, which had a better than average selection of vermouth, and had a quick drink here plus bought a bottle (of "Belle Epoque") to take back to the UK. Headed back toward the apartment after that, finishing the evening with a final drink at our "local" - Caffe Mulassano.
- Alba White Truffle Fair
- [Sunday 23rd October 2016]
One of the benefits of being based in this corner of Italy for a week at this time of year was being able to go to to the Alba White Truffle Fair. It's staged every weekend in October, and most in November, and people come from all over the world to eat, buy and learn about white truffles.
I hadn't been before, and wasn't quite sure what it was all going to be like, particularly as a lot of the website is in Italian. I had the impression if it was just a case of visiting a market of sorts then it might not be quite enough to fill a whole day out, so I had also enrolled us on the "truffle sensory analysis" session in the morning. This turned out to be quite a good beginner's course starting with general information concerning what exactly a truffle is, where they're found, and what their life cycle is; then moving on to an exercise in how to evaluate the quality of a truffle, and pick the good from the bad. Thankfully although the course instructor spoke in Italian, he was accompanied by a translator who gave us the English version in near real time. There were of course twists and turns when it came to our turn to evaluate some truffle samples - and the vast majority of the attendees failed to pick the one the course instructor deemed to be the best specimen. The particularly surprising learnings from this included the fact that a truffle can actually have too intense a smell, and that's not considered a positive thing (?!?). Also one of the truffles had lots of little holes in it, having been partly eaten by some kind of parasite. That was obviously a bit off-putting to look at, but again in the topsy turvy world of truffle evaluation this is apparently a positive thing - since the little critters only eat the best truffles.
Forearmed with this new knowledge (or more rather a sense that I really had even less idea what I was doing than I originally thought) we headed into the fray of the stalls selling truffles, and I did my best to choose a prize specimen. In the end, it was more a whim than anything else - some of the stalls were manned by the truffle hunters themselves, selling their own bounty, and I chose one of those. A particular truffle caught my eye, about the right size for a meal for three, and not too crazy a price, and the hunter told me had just unearthed it last night. That's always one of the things I've found a bit off-putting about buying truffles in London - the people in the shops never seem to be able to tell you when it was dug up, and for smaller truffles it'll be past its best within 3 or 4 days. So I was very pleased with my purchase here, and it was especially nice to be able to shake hands with the man who had found it for me.
I also bought a nice looking truffle shaver while I was here - a really smart looking one with a wooden handle.
That aside though, the market area of the truffle fair was pretty busy and none of us felt so inclined to browse for an extended period. So after a while we headed out into the streets of Alba for a wander round, and had a slightly frustrating time trying to find something for lunch (ended up just going to a focaccia place).
We then rounded off our visit to Alba at a lovely little caffe called Pettiti, which, from the mirrored signs I could see used to make its own vermouth - so I was reminded of Caravatti in Mantova. Then after that we go the train back to Turin.
We planned to have a late dinner that evening, so I popped out for an aperitivo beforehand, this time trying a bar called Farmacia, where they served Negronis in little medicine bottles, which was a cute idea.
Then the grand finale of the day - our truffle extravaganza for dinner. We started with a pasta course, using the local version of tagliolini they call tajarin in the Piedmount, in a simple buttery sauce, with a bit of a Parmesan type cheese I'd bought, and, of course, a generous covering of the shaved white truffle. Then we followed that with a fonduta, per the Elizabeth David recipe - the Italian version of fondue - also with more shavings of white truffle on top.
- Saturday in Turin
- [Saturday 22nd October 2016]
I'd decided it best to not plan to do too much today, thinking we might all be a bit tired after the long journey yesterday, and also as we were planning to cook while we were here we should probably take the opportunity to stock up on food supplies. So the morning was spent at the cast sprawling market in Turin, which, it being a Saturday, was really full swing. Amongst other things we bought fresh porcini and some really nice looking fresh parpadelle to have for dinner later.
Also at the edge of the market I found an impressive wines, spirits and liqueurs shop which helped to partly answer the ongoing question I've had over these past three visits to Turin: "Where's all the vermouth?". It was a real Aladdin's cave, and I was able to find both a bitter aperitivo and a gin made in the Piedmont, which, along with quite a few interesting options for local vermouths allowed me to buy everything I needed for a Negroni Torinese, or perhaps a Negroni Piemontese.
Had a pizza for lunch, at a place which didn't look particularly wonderful on the outside (and hardly anyone else was eating there) but turned out to be decent enough. Although I perhaps slightly regretted ordering the strange "fried pizza" for which I forget the exact name they used on the menu. I thought this might be something like a fried calzone, but instead it was an oddly deconstructed affair, with sticks of fried bread, accompanied by raw tomatoes and mozzarella - more like a salad than a pizza really.
In the afternoon we decided to get the rack railway up to see the Basilica di Superga. The weather didn't really bode all that well for our time in Turin, and Dad thought today might be about as clear as it was likely to get. It was still too hazy to really appreciate much of the view from the top, but I suppose it made for a pleasant enough afternoon outing regardless.
On the way back to the apartment we stopped off at Pasticceria Abrate (confusingly pasticceria means a place selling sweet pastries in Italy, but often these places are more like bars) for an early evening aperitivo, and I managed to talk the bar staff into giving us a sort of vermouth sampling board. I didn't quite recall exactly which was which, but I think Del Professore was one of the stand out winners.
For dinner I cooked, and we had a tomato salad with burrata (Dad apparently had that before) to start, followed by the parpadelle with porcini, which came out rather well even though I do say so myself.
After dinner I was in the mood to see a bit more of Turin's night life - especially given that our remaining nights in Turin would all be Sunday / weeknights. I started off by heading back to an old favourite, Caffe San Carlo. I ordered a Negroni, and asked if there were any variations the bar man could perhaps do for a break from the norm, but he only had fairly run of the mill ingredients to work with, and suggested I ought to go to a more specialised cocktail bar for that.
So I consulted Google Maps, and found "Mago di Oz" which was a lot more modern / youthful but did have a few more interesting bitters / vermouths to experiment with Negroni variants. Actually getting the drink I wanted proved to be a challenge though, the slightly unhinged barman there took me under his wing, and kept insisting I try "just one more" of his own personal concoctions - each of which he also had one of himself - and then, honestly, after that one he'd make me the drink I actually asked for. I'm not sure I ever got the drink I originally asked him for. When I finally called it a night and asked for the bill, he asked me how many drinks I'd had, I shrugged my shoulders and said I didn't really know. He said he didn't really know either.
- London to Paris to Turin
- [Friday 21st October 2016]
I had originally planned the week in Italy with Dad to be while Chie and Erika were in Japan, but as it turned out we actually set off in the morning today, and Chie and Erika wouldn't be flying out until the evening. So I felt a bit bad about that, but Erika seemed to be excited about going to Japan - despite feeling slightly under the weather - so it wasn't too traumatic when we said our goodbyes.
I'd booked us into Standard Premier on the way out, knowing that we had a relatively early start, and would probably be nice to have breakfast on the train.
On arrival in Paris, following the advice of the chap who had been sharing our table with us, I ordered an Uber to get us from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. I've only ever used Uber in America before - I don't use them as a matter of policy in London as I'm in the apparent minority among my peers of actually really liking black cabs, and feel as a Londoner that's where my loyalties should lie. The last time we used a taxi in Paris though, the cheeky blighter took us right round La Perepherique, and they also charge you a Euro for each suitcase, which I think is a bit of a cheek. So I feel no such loyalty to Parisian taxi drivers. The Uber across Paris was embarrassingly cheap - something like 11 Euros, and it was also very handy as I didn't have to use cash.
I had decided en route that we should have lunch at a grand looking brasserie near Gare e Lyon called "L'Europeen" - partly because Dad had mumbled something about how there wouldn't really be an opportunities to have seafood in the Piedmont, so I thought he might like this place as that was one of the things they specialise in. He ended up ordering sauerkraut and sausages. My "assiette vegeterienne" was of course a complete joke, but I was entirely expecting this, it being France, and happy that I had a week of excellent Italian food ahead of me, where effortlessly delicious seems to be no problem whatsoever, unlike their French cousins. I did at least enjoy the bottle of Pol Roger we had with lunch, and I suppose the setting had a sort of glamour to it.
Most of the rest of the day was then occupied with the TGV journey from Turin to Paris, which should have taken 5 hours and 37 minutes, but thanks to being stuck behind a slow train for some of the route ended up taking closer to 7 hours. So that did sort of drag a bit towards the end, especially after the Veuve Clicquot ran out and it got dark, but we got there eventually.
We took a taxi from Porta Susa to our apartment for the week, which was next to the Piazza Castello, and in the same building as one of my favourite caffes from my previous trip - Caffe Mulassano. So of course after meeting our hosts (who conveniently lived next door, so didn't seem to mind our late arrival too much), we headed straight Mulassano for a triumphant "we're in Italy!" drink.
- Packing and Grandad Nick
- [Thursday 20th October 2016]
My last day at work before the trip to Italy, and in fact my last day working from the Victoria office. While I was away, our things were going to be moved to the new Kings Cross office, so at the end of the day today I had to pack up my desk and put everything in moving crates. I'd been working in Victoria for just shy of a decade, and whilst it's hard to feel too much sentimentality for the office building itself (especially as my time there had been split between two different office buildings), I had grown rather fond of the area, and quite a few of my favourite pubs and restaurants are in the vicinity. Obviously there's nothing to stop me from going back to visit all those places, but I suspect that will probably be a fairly rare event from now on.
Anyway, I didn't have time to dwell on this too much, as I had to get back home to meet Dad and Janie, had arrived from Devon, and were going to stay with us for a night ahead of the trip to Italy. I couldn't quite be bothered with cooking the night before going away, so I ordered in an Indian takeaway from Tiffin Tin, which Dad seemed to quite enjoy, and slightly incongruously served it with a bottle of Nyetimber.
A bittersweet sort of a day all round really - although I was obviously looking forward to the trip to Italy, Chie and Erika would be flying off to Japan the next day, and I always seem to get quite melancholy when on the brink of having to spend time apart like that. Particularly as Erika seemed to have picked up a bit of a cold, and was a bit feverish at bedtime.
- Stayed At Home
- [Wednesday 19th October 2016]
Decided to work from home today - in the run up to moving offices I'd found the prospect of commuting all the way down to Victoria particularly tedious. Plus cutting out the commute in the evening meant I could spend a bit more time with Erika - and we only had this evening and tomorrow evening before they went off to Japan, and I went off to Italy. In fact looking at my location history it sounds like I didn't leave the flat all day.
- [Tuesday 18th October 2016]
Turned out to be my penultimate day working from the Victoria office as I worked from home the following day.
Don't really remember much about today apart from that. I think we had some kind of nabe for dinner, according to chat history, and in the evening Erika tried on some hairbands which Grandma Mary had made for her.