Thursday, October 28, 2010

Grumpy At The Colosseum


When you go to Rome, this is what you do: You find the Colosseum. It's not hard because it's a really old, big thing. You go down there with your map and you mingle with the people. There will be lots of people because everyone wants to experience this big old slaughter house. Pick your target. Walk up to them as you look at your map, puzzled expression on your face.

“Scuzee... can you tell me where the Colosseum is?”

Regardless of their nationality, they will understand by the words scuzee, Colosseum and your puzzled expression and the way you are carrying the map that you want to know where the Colosseum is.

“There,” they point.

You don't look at where they are pointing, just at their face. Then back at the map. “I think it must be around here somewhere.” You circle an area on the map where you think the Colosseum must be.

“Turn around. Look up. There. There is the Colosseum. Behind you.”

You continue looking at the map. “See, I came down this road, took a left and I think I should have maybe gone right at that fork... do you have any idea where it is?”

They think you are mad and so they move away, telling their spouse that they think you are mad.

You turn around and there are some guys dressed as Roman Centurions. They make their living by wandering around in these costumes, brandishing their wooden swords and letting you pay them for taking your photo with them. Pretty silly way for grown men to make a living. Still, they are your next targets.

“Bongiorno, Centurions,” you tell them.

“Bongiorno. Photo?”

“Yeah in a minute. Steady on. Firstly, I need to know where the Colosseum is. You must know about the Colosseum? The big stabby place? You know Colosseum?”

Long pause. “Si... yes.”

“Do you know where it is?” You ask. “I can't seem to find it on my map.”

“Eh... turn around. The Colosseum, it is behind you. You cannot miss it.”

They look at each other and burst into Centurion laughter. They say something in Italian about crazy foreigners and the Colesseum. They laugh some more of their Centurion laughter.

“But I can't find it,” you push on. “I need to find the Colosseum on the map. I thought it would be easy to find, but I can't find it. I've been looking for ages. I thought you might be able to help...”

“Signore... I assure you, the Colosseum is right behind you. Trust me. You are at the Colosseum. Look.” The Centurion points with his wooden sword.

You drop your shoulders a little and turn around. You eyeball the Colosseum for a couple of moments, then turn back, open the map again and say, “Okay. Fine. But where is it on my map? I've narrowed it down to this area but I just can't quite pinpoint the exact location on the map...”

There is about as much point in doing this as there is a point to this column, but you will enjoy yourself. And you can take this with you anywhere you go. Eiffel Tower. Sydney Opera House. Statue of Liberty. The Pyramids of Giza. Amusement every time.

Grumpy is Lee Bemrose, freelance writer at He still can't find the Colosseum on his map.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Postcard From Pisa and Florence

Seems I haven't written anything here since I was in Levanto... probably because I haven't written anything here since I was in Levanto. It's hard to do all the touristy/traveller stuff you have to do and find the time to sit down and write about it too. You lose half a day in transit even for short hops and researching the new place and booking accommodation and train tickets in foreign languages chews up as much time for a long stay as it does for a short one. Then usually we arrive (the city rejoices) we and head out to get a feel for the place.

From Levanto we went to Pisa, mainly because I wanted to see the Leaning Tower. We were a bit naughty and booked a five star hotel a little out of town because we'd never experienced five stars before. It was kind of our style, but kind of not. And we only did it because of my new best friend which comes up with some amazing deals. Quite frankly, Park Hotel Argento in Levanto was a bit better than Abitalia Tower Plaza in Pisa, and it had one less star. Both were luxury places, but Levanto is Levanto (soooooo pretty) and Pisa is Pisa (not so pretty, but with pretty bits and a fascinating history). And the emotional shower in Pisa wasn't a patch on the one in Levanto. You getting the impression I liked Levanto? So peaceful. Actual quiet when sitting outside watching the sun go down. The quiet you get when the doof has packed up and everyone has gone but you've decided to camp over that extra night... real peace. And when the surrounding villages up in the hills chimed their bells, each village just out of sync with the others and with its own arrangement of bell-ring... so peaceful.

Anyway, Pisa. Loved seeing the tower. Was very quickly annoyed with the crowds all doing that silly photo of pretending to hold the tower up. First guy who did that shot, funny guy. Everyone else... oh just stop it.

Still, the tower is wonderfully kooky. It has an elegance, but it's a silly elegance. Didn't climb it, did sit and admire it. Did go to all the attractions in the Plaza Del Duomo – there's a museum with amazing fresco work from about a thousand years ago, the cathedral, the Baptistry (beautiful moment in here when these angelic voices started harmonising into the great chamber. We were up on the second level way up high and peered over the edge. I asked The Dreaded One who was doing this. She said that guy there, and pointed to a single figure with his head tipped up to the high ceiling of the dome, and sure enough, he was sending out notes of varying length which would soar up to the ceiling and bounce back, and he would open his mouth and harmonise. The acoustics were so perfect that he could get three notes, maybe four, going at a time. After a few minutes in which everyone inside had stopped in their tracks to listen, he moved off. You have to love that kind of stuff), and the Opera Museum, I think, which was a general museum of all things Pisa. Oh yeah, and the memorial cemetery which has gone through a lot of shit and was nearly destroyed during the war but which is being restored to full splendour as I write. I love that these things survive and that people care enough about them to ensure they survive.

We were in the museum soaking up the very rich history of Pisa, and there were hardly any tourists in there. It was kind of good because It was quiet and I got some shots of the tower from angles you don't normally see, and the toilets were without queue and that's always a good thing, but it was kind of depressing that just outside the walls there were thousands and thousands of people taking those stupid photos and buying junk souvenirs and that was their experience of Pisa.

We explored on foot, quite enjoyed parts but it wasn't really our place. Was happy to have been, happy to leave.

Florence is a bit different. We are not here for long enough. Dumped our stuff off and went straight out to the Ponte Vecchio... no - lunch first, then the Ponte. It's the only one of the original 13th century bridges across the river to survive the war. Fucking disgusting how much great architecture and art has been destroyed by war. I'd like The War to pop around to mine one day (except I don't currently have a mine) so I can kick its Goddamned retarded arse. And I know, yes, human loss is tragic and unforgivable in so many ways, but we are transient anyway; the stuff we leave behind should not be transient but should be a reminder of the beauty we are capable of. In my opinion.

We checked out this strange bridge of jewellery shops and gelato bars, had a look at the size of the Pitti Palace, walked back into the centre of town to look at the Uffizi Gallery, spotted the great dome of, erm, one of the great domes, and realised that we had bitten off more than we could possibly chew in three short nights.We booked an ectra, feeble night in Bilbo's Florence holiday home.

Next day, nothing was open. It's nuts. The crowds this place pull are immense, and all of the major attractions close on the same day. I love your titties off, Florence, but get a clue and stagger your closing days. Where is the sense in everything being closed on the same day? In fact, here's an idea – with unemployment being as high as it is, hire extra staff and stay open all week. It can be done. The big dome... Brunelleschi's Dome was open on Monday and fuck me you should have seen the crowds. Because nothing else was open. Nuts.

So we went shopping. The markets are amazing, sprawling through the streets in a massive maze of shopping and shopping and shopping. It felt wrong to know that Leonardo and Dante and Michelangelo and their cronies were about and we were going shopping, but what else could we do? Sorry Renaissance masters, we tried, we really did.

The Dreaded One bought a stunning one-off coat made from a variety of dead things' fur (it's a bit nice) and I picked up the biggest winter jacket I've ever owned. I kept seeing coats that seemed good but she kept saying they're not big enough for me in the UK and New York in winter (it's true, I'm not good with cold), so in the end I have this thing that weighs about my body weight in feathery down filling and weather proof shell. If it warms up a little here (which it does with annoying frequency – everywhere people are taking off winter jackets to be in T shirts as soon as the sun comes out only to have to put them back on again a few minutes later when the sun goes), I take this coat off and it feels like I'm carrying a sleeping bag around. All I can say is, UK and New York? You'd better be reeeeeally fucking cold.

Yesterday we went to Galleria Dell Academia which houses the statue of David, amongst other artistic treasures. I'd been planning to see the rest of the stuff and leave David for last. Kind of like how you eat your vegies first and save the roast lamb for last. But fuck me if I didn't take the first turn and THERE HE WAS. In all his glory. Brilliant. So the rest of the Academia was going to be nothing but vegies. Awesome.

Different galleries have different policies about photographs. Some you can, some you can't, some you can so long as you don't flash. I checked around and couldn't see any signs. Besides, we'd just gone through airport-tight security and they let everyone in with their cameras so it must be okay. Still, best to be discreet and don't flash. I took a photo of one of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures and FLASH! Shit. I put the camera away after switching off the flash and looking around like it wasn't me you didn't see me you can't prove it.

Nothing. Cool.

Took in a few more of the unfinished sculptures because they really are amazing. Everyone bangs on about how he was releasing the figures from the stone, but it seriously appears that way. They really appear to be struggling to get out of the stone.

But the towering figure of David under his dome really pulls you in. I approached some of the way but still kept a distance, took the camera out, raised it above my head and fired off a shot without the flash.

“NO PHOTO! NO PHOTO!” came a cry that was to become amusingly familiar.

They have a little sign on the wall just before you reach David saying that no photos or video are allowed, but that's it. So everyone assumes it's okay to take photos and the caretakers or whatever they're called (Gallery Shouters?) spend all their time shouting NO PHOTO! NO PHOTO! It's a bit stupid and a bit funny. I couldn't help thinking about the interview process... “Right well your CV seems quite excellent. You've almost got the job. There's just one more little test...”

Also, this is a flash mob prank waiting to happen. It would be a cack. Get hundreds of people in there (again, they let you take your camera in) and at a given point everyone goes totally paparazzi on David's arse, flashes popping all over the place. These people take the NO PHOTO thing very seriously... they would have a seizure. “NO PHOTONOPHOTONOPHOTO... NO YOUYOUYOUANDYOUNOPHOTO!!!!!!”

Ahem. I do take the art seriously, but my mind also wanders a bit.

Statue of David. Awesome chunk of rock and it awakened my interest in the story of David. Stayed up late reading about the statue and its history as well the biblical stuff. This is what does it for me with art – the portraits of wealthy people and royalty don't often do it for me, but if there are great stories in there, ya got me. I love the stories.

Spent most of today in the Uffizi, and stories and stories and stories. I'm even getting a bit interested in reading the bible because there are some amazingly good stories there. A lot of blood thirsty, angry stories, but they are powerful stories nevertheless.

And I saw a painting of the story of Ulysses today, told in pictures on wood in the 13th century, and I'd forgotten how well I know that story. That one rocked my childhood. The story of Ulysses and Penelope and the faithful dog Argus. Great story and one I should read again.

Okay, there is more to tell. Stuff about our Hobbit Hotel in Florence, about the room in the Uffizi of statues all cowering from overwhelming forces with hands raised but who I suspect started the whole thing of taking photos of holding up the Leaning Tower, about stuff and stuff and stuff, but The Dreaded One is back from having her hair cut before we leave for Rome tomorrow, so it I'll leave this lengthy ramble here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Via Dell Amore

I had read about this place years ago without ever imagining I would be here. Couples in love, they engrave their names on padlocks and lock them, then throw away the key. Cynical bastard that I can be and cold to tradition, I love this kind of shit. Lately I've been seeing cathedrals and memorials of war and so much art dedicated to Christ being murdered, but here was a living, growing monument of love. And it was a bit fucking cool.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grumpy With Testicle


Recently at a cool little place in Southern France called San Rafael... a restaurant across the road from our hotel looked a bit cool. Kind of place I really wanted to go to. But the entrance was a bit weird and the place just didn't seem to be open. Off-peak season so plenty of places do close. But I kept an eye on it anyway. The door was closed and there were security cameras there, and a buzzer like it was really exclusive. After two days I googled it and there appeared to be two restaurants in the same area with the same name, same paintwork, same menu. Odd. Then I got my Sherlock on and realised I'd been keeping a close watch on the back entrance of the restaurant. Oh I am sharp.

Unfortunately this wasn't the most embarrassing thing to happen in San Rafael.

The restaurant was very French. The menu was all in French. I recognised the word canard so I ordered that dish because I like duck a lot. The Dreaded One recognised the word for veal and ordered the veal. Bottle of French pinot noir and all was good in the world.

Being the (sophisticated) Viking that I am, I finished my meal before The Dreaded One and she asked me to help her with her meal. More than happy to because I like veal almost as much as I like duck. I tucked into the veal whilst continuing to regale her with hilarious stories that spill so easily from the head of this bon vivant and raconteur. After my fifth mouthful of veal, I stopped talking and stopped eating, because all was not right in the world.

“What's wrong?” The Dreaded One asked.

“This veal...”

“Yes? Good?”

“Weird. Weird texture. I've had it before.”


“By accident. It's...” I scrutinised the lump of meat on the end of my fork and continued chewing.

“I don't think it's the flesh of the veal,” The Dreaded One offered.

“If it's not the flesh of the veal... what is it?”

“I think it's an organ of some sort.”

Then it came to me. “Testicle!” I accused.

“Don't jump to conclusions. It's not necessarily testicle.”

“You knew it was testicle all along, didn't you. You tricked me into eating testicle!”

“I don't think it's testicle.”

“I can't believe you made me eat something's testicle.”

“I didn't make you eat testicle. I offered it to you and -”

“Ha! So you admit it is testicle,” I accused as I aimed my fork with its bite-sized piece of testicle skewered on the end. “Why didn't you just tell me it was testicle before I started eating it? You think it's funny to trick someone into eating testicle?”

“It might be something else altogether. Like brain or liver or -”

“I've eaten testicle before – by accident – and I know the texture of a testicle when I put one in my mouth.”

Clearly I was making a rock solid case because The Dreaded One stopped arguing back.

“Yeah, well, you can laugh now – 'ho ho ho, I made Lee eat testicle' – but I will have my revenge. Oh yes.”

“You know – for someone of such average intelligence, you really can be so very silly.”

“Whatever. But I will have my revenge.”

And I will.

Grumpy is Lee Bemrose, freelance writer at He knows that revenge, like testicle, is best served cold.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A sandwich? Yes, I would like a sandwich. Oh, a sandwich.

So we're in the tourism place looking for info on getting a boat from Saint Raphael to St Tropez and there's a woman having a deep discussion with the tourism human in wounded English. I can't help but tune in, and the information she is trying to get out of him is where is a good place to get a sandwich. Seriously, unless you are blind (and given the distinct lack of walking cane or guide dog, I assume your eyes are okay), get outside and take a fucking look around. Tourism guy didn't graduate from Tourism Uni to tell people where to find a good sandwich... although he was good enough to mark a place on the map that does good sandwiches as well as home-made doughnuts.