My visitors today

Monday 15 April 2013

A little bit of my life for a change

Genoa station

Living in an N-scale model of Nürnberg!

I was invited to Italy for Easter weekend to live like a princess in a medieval tower in Albenga! Well it was not quite exactly like that, I was invited to Albenga and once I was there I felt like I was living like a princess because the B&B was in a medieval tower and led to all sorts of day-dreaming!

Ligurian Coast Express

From the double-decker train to Albenga

I had enthusiastically traveled once before, in Cyberspace on You Tube, on the coastal train that runs through many tunnels from Genoa, along the Ligurian Sea coast, towards Ventimiglia, chopping its way through the headlands and trundling just metres from the beach on the straight stretches.

The reality show was much better than I could ever have imagined especially as we had missed the Intercity connection in Genoa which meant we had to go instead by the regional, stop-everywhere, train. These trains are double-deckers like those that I have traveled on in Germany and Sydney, Australia, so that was a treat in itself.

Memory Lane

Before I continue with the Ligurian holiday story, I have to explain that this holiday adventure had actually begun the evening before when I had landed for the first time ever at London City Airport, right in the middle of Docklands, just minutes from the City. Landing at five in the evening I sped my way from the airport to meet a friend at the Wyndham Theatre for a performance at 7.30! The theatre is just behind the National Portrait Gallery, opposite the shop that I worked in for about six months in 1979, after I finished my BA in Fine Art. A trip down Memory Lane, nearly thirty-five years down the lane!


I may have worked just in that spot in London opposite the theatre but in those days I did not have money to spare for theatre tickets and my love of theatre had not developed so much that I would have scrimped and saved to buy one. A shame really as it was so handy.

The theatre visit was to be a surprise. I had not been told what I was going to see and I had been very good and kept my fingers away from Google. I am so glad that I had done so.

My friend teased me at first, pretending to move away from the Wyndham towards one of the many other West End theatres. I was disappointed because by this time I had read the posters and knew who was performing there but at the last minute he steered me into the door, up many flights of stairs, through many tiny lounges, into the gods, where with a glass of white wine in my hand, I took my seat.

It was amazing to sit in a wonderfully old, over-the-top theatre, looking down almost vertically on to the actors. It was even more amazing that one of the actors was Rowan Atkinson! Yes, there was Mr Bean on stage in front of my own eyes. I had been afraid that I might drop off as soon as I had a moment to relax but with so much to feast my eyes on there was no chance of doing that anymore.

More than just Mr Bean

I must say I was very impressed. Of course Rowan Atkinson was not playing Mr Bean, he was St John Quartermaine in Quartermaine’s Terms.

The play was brilliant, the stage set was brilliant, I was in my element and it was the perfect beginning to the trip to Italy that was to begin the next morning.

I had heard and read that London‘s West End theatre is amongst the best in the world. I saw Tommy Steele in Half-a-Sixpence at the London Palladium when I was a teenager on one of my first solo trips up to The Smoke, and the memory of the wonder of that still remains with me, but I had never seen a real grown-up play in the West End of London before.

As some readers will know I am a regular theatre-goer in Nürnberg. I love everything about the theatre, from meeting friends beforehand, people-watching as the other punters arrive in their glad-rags, the first rise of the curtain, the interval drink waiting at a numbered table, more people-watching, and then the final curtain call – maybe even a premier party afterwards to boot. I do of course enjoy the plays that I watch too, and never have I seen a play of the quality of Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms, staring Rowan Atkinson. I was mesmerised from the very first moment. Everything was perfect. The acting was of a much higher calibre, the stage set-designs so artistically executed. It was just like real life, nothing appeared to be faked, and nothing appeared to be acted. Even a little bit of Mr Bean could be seen in the movements of Rowan Atkinson’s hands, the raising of his eyebrows and the tweaks of his lips.


The tower where I lived

Going overnight from a play set in a language school in 1960s Cambridge, to a medieval tower in a town on the Italian Riviera, was like moving from one stage set to another.

Italy, all foreign to me

I left my home near the medieval old city of Nürnberg at 18.00 and the next day at 16.00 I was unpacking my clothes in a medieval tower in Albenga, Italy.

After a flight from Germany - to be greeted by the bright lights of London and a wonderful evening in an amazing theatre in London, a few hours sleep, an horrendous ride travelling on a crowded M25 (I will never get used to how close people drive to each other on British motorways or how little time they leave to get somewhere even though they know the roads are always crowded), and an uneventful flight with a bumpy landing in Genoa I was beginning to wonder where I was.

I think if I had travelled to anyway else I would have been quite disorientated but it all felt so nice as I found myself in a scaled down version of the place I had just left the day before! I enjoyed thinking of myself being in an N-scale layout of a G-scale Nürnberg. It was like living in the layout on my coffee table at home, only the streets seemed even narrower and the buildings taller. Albenga is a city of towers, with originally over fifty with half of them remaining today, having survived earthquakes and wars. The B&B were I stayed was in one of these towers, one that lost the top bit in an earthquake at the end of the 19th Century.

Some of the beautiful painting

I fell in love with Italian culture immediately. I loved being in another foreign country, at times I found it quite reminiscent of 1989 Budapest. I loved not understanding the language but then realising that I did indeed understand quite a lot. I had been very sensibly advised, by my British host at the B&B, not to get too confident and to avoid the temptation to guess, he had obviously come a cropper doing this before he mastered the lovely melodious language!

There was much more that I enjoyed about being in this medieval town.

As dusk fell I imagined I was in a Dickensian novel. As darkness fell the shadows cast fears around every corner and I thought that any minute now the Artful Dodger would scamper by with a policeman close on his heels. It was a lot creepier than the G-scale version of Nürnberg where I am glad to say I feel very safe as the shadows appear in doorways even though it does remind me of the film The Third Man!

Although the coffee houses were similar to those that I am used to in Germany the coffee was out of this world and much cheaper too.  As it was Easter there were not only beautiful cakes on display in these cafes, there were also the most amazing and most enormous Easter Eggs that I have ever seen.

Easter eggs
I think I can honestly say that my favourite part of Easter in Albenga was the cafes with its coffee! 

My favourite cafe
I had relaxed and also slept more than usual. I realised later as I headed for Norwich that I was, for the first time in months, no longer tired. The plentiful supply of fresh, sea air had probably helped. As I strolled on the dark grey, sandy beaches I had lapped up the warm wind on my face as the chilly, but not ice-cold, sea lapped around my feet (note that I  did not paddle in the north sea a week later as my sister and I battled against the east wind blowing off the sea at Gorleston. Yes, it was invigorating like in Italy, but it was so bitterly cold, as usual).

Home from home on the beach too

In Italy it was more than a touch warmer than I am used to in my homeland and the wind had a different feel to it too. Not lazy like our Norfolk wind that cuts straight through anyone trying to battle against it. On the beaches of the Italian Riviera it was quite blustery at times too, there were even breakers on the sea big enough for a surfer to enjoy, but there was some warmth in the air. This warmth is the reason why cyclamens were in bloom on balconies, palm trees were lining the promenades, and orange, lemon and kumquat tree in many streets and gardens. To top it all the birds were singing and swallows diving over the river estuary for insects.

As usual I found my pockets full of stones and shells as I prepared to pass through the security checks at the airport but most of my treasure, sea-washed shards of ceramic tiles were safely placed in my suitcase at the end of each day, collected for use in a homemade mosaic souvenir of some sort.

I also spotted many shoes in the flotsam and jetsam I think if I lived by the beach I would have created an arty sculpture with them as there were so many. Fortunately I did not have a suitcase big enough to transport them home, they would have been a bit smelly too.

On the beach

On my way travelling back to Britain I wrote a list of all the things that I had enjoyed about Albenga and Italy. I have written about some of them above. Still on the list are –

·         the beautiful clothes and the elegance with which they are worn, even when bundled up in winter.
·         the lovely family orientated living
·         the handsome men
·         the potatoes roasted with sprigs of rosemary
·         how children and woman are treated so carefully by men
·         the trains and the stations, the coastal line
·         the shoes, everyone wore nice shoes
·         ice cream, gelato 
·         the paintings in the alleys

Art in the alleys

In the area of Italy that I visited it was obvious that I was not in a country as wealthy as Germany, with council taxes abolished by the previous government there was an obvious lack of investment in the maintenance of the town but these cut-backs were not noticeable in the dress, especially on this holiday weekend when families were out promenading and eating in restaurants together, everybody dressed in finery. 

Sharing holiday impressions

I took many impressions back home with me to snowy, windy and cold Norfolk and even shared some of them in the form of coffee, chocolate and multi-coloured pasta. Unfortunately the lovely ice cream, like the alley ways and beaches could only be shared through the photographs. 

Lemon and mint

Pasta trees in Norfolk

On yer bike!

Blustery and wet holidays
Yesterday as I arrived back in Germany after a very cold, wet and wintery, Easter holiday for everyone, whether in Germany, England, Hungary or Italy, spring arrived too.

In order to make use of the warmth and the energy that I have stored up while on holiday this afternoon I carried my bike up from the cellar at work, I got help to pump up the tyres then I peddled the ten kilometres home.

What a treat

I really enjoyed whizzing through the countryside after having seen it only from the window of a bus or tram for the past six months. I hope that the sun stays with us for a few days so that I can get my legs used to the twenty kilometres a day whatever-the-weather ride. 

It is not only the cold weather that has stopped me from riding my bike for so long. I have been worried about cycling, especially in the city traffic, because I have been so tired after a day at work. I was afraid that I would not be concentrating well enough to be on the roads in the poor light of winter. I hope that my fresh start today is the beginning of several months enjoying the fresh, early morning air and the warm, evening sunshine as I travel to and from work.

It was a good start back at work.


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