Bologna, Rimini & Milano

Trip Start Feb 10, 2008
Trip End May 13, 2009

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Friday, February 22, 2008

So where where we? The hostess had brought my first glass of Piper-Heidsick champagne as we levelled out after leaving Tokyo (I will work my way conscientiously and thoroughly through the drinks menu over the next 12 hours) and I make my usual weak joke about this being the best champagne I've had today (many of my friends have heard this before and are no doubt groaning), and the young Japanese lady beams me a smile and says very sincerely that she's very happy it's the besy one I've had today, and I try and keep a straight face as she misses my rather limp witticism - after all she probably thinks it's normal for gaijin (foreigners) to start drinking champagne in the morning and in her eyes I may well have already drunk a few today.
In economy class you get a little plastic tray and cutlery but in Business Class a tablecloth is laid and proper metal cutlery. The lunch menu is amuse bouche, terrine of lobster with crustacean mousselline sauce, cold carrot soup, steamed fillet of perch & black sea-bream with creamy boulabbaise sauce, and a selection of sweets and chocolates. I'm afraid even with all these fancy names it's still airline food ... I try all 3 white wines - a French Macon Villages, and Italian Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli, and a Japanese wine Aruga Branca Clareza 2005. The tasting notes say that the Aruga family has a 70-year history of wine-making and they use the Koshu grape, which was originally imported from China 800 years ago - how fascinating! I guess they call it Branca because of the Japanese problem with 'l' (ie it should be Blanca), although I have heard quite a few Japanese people pronounce 'r' and 'l' perfectly in both Italian and English.
We fly for hours over northern China and Russia - there are mountains, then ice-fields as far as the eye can see, fissured by huge cracks and crevasses. I have a Japanese dinner of braised pork with egg-yolk sauce and assorted vegetables and pickles, and accompany it with a small bottle of chilled Tenryou sake, and an aged and potent shochu distilled from barley. I watch a beautiful sunset, then after 12 straight hours we arrive at Rome airport.
Tokyo to Rome on the same day - what a difference. After all the order and politeness of Tokyo here I am again in rambunctious Italy - people milling everywhere, talking animatedly, crumbling buildings with graffiti scrawled over, etc. I've missed my train for Rimini so I contact Steve and Karen, a couple from the US who I met in Sicily in May last year. They have been living and working in Bologna for the last 4 months and I want to catch up with them before they leave for home, and they invite me to a farewell party given for them by a friend, so next morning I catch the train to Bologna. Karen's sister, Laura, is also visiting and Karen takes us for a walk around Bologna, the highlight being the Church of Santa Maria della Vita (St Mary of Life), where there is a fantastic set of terracotta sculptures called "the Mourning of the Marias over the Body of Christ". The expression on the women's faces and their bodies towards the body of Jesus are incredibly life-like.
The party that night is fantastic. It is hosted by Rachel, who was one of the first friends Steve made when he first came to live in Bologna many years ago. Rachel has a beautiful house on a hill in Bologna and I really can't do justice to its gorgeous interior and decoration. A huge table is set for 16, and each place setting has beautiful plates, cutlery, and several glasses, many of them in coloured Venetian glass. Champagne is flowing, wonderful food is being served, wine is being poured from decanters, agitated and convivial discussions are being held among the guests, many of whom are medical colleagues of Steve's from the hospital where he is working - I am agog again that as an ageing backpacker I have somehow managed to get to a high-class shindig like this. Desserts are served and the highlight is Steve's zabaglione with fruits of the forest - it has been specially requested by one of his colleagues, and it is the most beautiful yellow colour - Steve says from the yolks of the eggs. There is some left over so I have it for breakfast next morning.
Steve drops me off at the station next morning with another of his friends, Titi, and we catch the train together - me to Rimini to stay with my cousin, and Titi to Pesaro, about 20 minutes further on. I spend a relaxing week in Rimini again. Gianluca's apartment is like a hostel - there are friends from elsewhere constantly calling in and staying a night or 2, so there's always someone around and we go out often. At the Castello Sismondo there is an exhibition of Federico Fellini's dream notebooks - for 30 years he kept a notebook by the side of his bed and recorded his dreams, then transferred them to 2 large books, along with his illustrations. Needless to say, if you have seen his films, he had incredibly imaginative dreams.
I am on my way again to Leysin in Switzerland and on the way I stop off at Milano for a night to visit my friend Gabriella, and we go out to dinner with a couple of her friends. Milano is full of tourists - there is a large tourism conference, and also a fashion festival. There are hordes of beautifully-dressed people walking the streets, their arms weighed down with shopping bags. Although the weather is quite warm (16-18 degrees), as far as Italians are concerned it's still winter as it's February, so everyone wears coats and furs. Italians only change their clothes when the season changes, not before, no matter what the weather.
I wander around the city on a Sunday morning enjoying the mild weather and eventually work my way across to the Duomo. I climb the steps of the Duomo, which I didn't have time to do last year, and get close-up views of the thousands of sculptures, gargoyles, and carvings on it (over 3400).
That afternoon I catch the train for Vevey in French Switzerland, where Charlie Chaplin lived for much of his life.

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valeriavine on

life is beautiful

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