Tag Archives: summer

Lake Como at sunset

Hiding under the airconditioning at Lake Como

It is hotttttt in most of Europe right now, and northern Italy is no exception. I spent the past week in Como, at a fantastic conference, but based on the following I think I need to up my hot weather game…

  1. I muttered several times over the week “It’s hot in the worm, Bernard”, which, a) no-one here gets the reference and b) it’s not even from the summer episode of Black Books.
  2. Last weekend, before I left Turin, I spent a hot and humid morning bussing out to Grugliasco to buy some bathers at Decathlon, the sports & outdoors superstore. My reasoning for going so far afield was sound enough: there might be a chance of swimming during a week next to a lake, and I wanted bathers that were sporty rather than string-based. Except the selection of bathers at Decathlon was only marginally less infuriating than at every other store in Torino. And I spent the whole week in Como itself, where the water is un-swimmably murky with duck poo.
  3. Actually, I spent the whole week in Como itself… except for a quick trip one evening over to Lugano, where there is a small swimming beach in the city park on the lake. I did not take my bathers.
  4. From my hotel to the conference venue was a 20 minute walk along the lake front. Lovely views, historical villas, just what you want to wake yourself up in the morning before a day of sitting listening to talks. Clearly the one thing I need to add to this was a heavy backpack with my ridiculous work laptop — the specs are amazing but the power adapter alone weighs as much as some laptops. What did I use all this computing power for? Most days, it stayed in my bag.
  5. Smart things to pack for a week of hot weather: a sun hat, light-weight shirts in pale colours, a decent sized water bottle. Things I packed: none of the above, and a pair of trousers and a cardigan I never wore.
  6. There are good drinks for drinking out on a piazza on a summer evening, like beer and spritz. Or, you could drink negronis and get up from bed every 3 hours to pee from the alcohol.
  7. One thing I did right: slept with the aircon on in my hotel room on Thursday night. Not strictly necessary, definitely environmentally terrible… oh my goodness it was amazing. It’s a good thing I don’t have airconditioning at home, because nothing else would stop me from doing it again.

I’m posting a day early because tomorrow I’m off to the south of Italy with a friend from Australia. And if the weather forecast on google is to be believed, I will actually be escaping the heat, at least by a couple of degrees. Thank goodness.

Torino Jazz Festival in Piazza San Carlo

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: it’s summer (and it’s still not Christmas)

A long lunch today. 19 of us including the kids, crammed round two tables put together to make one long one, talking and laughing and passing the wine around. A hot day; humid and still. We shift around, trying to position ourselves as best we can to get airflow from the fan. Then I realise why this scene feels familiar. It’s just like Christmas in Australia.

As J. pointed out, we even had cherries. Definitely Christmas. Continue reading

Mandurah foreshore, Australia

Continuing the great Aussie road trip tradition. Also, a jigsaw puzzle museum.

Taking a road trip has become something of a Christmas/New Year in Perth tradition for me. Never anything too ambitious, just get together with friends, pick a spot a few hours away where we can stay cheaply, pack a car, and get out of town for a couple of days.

I think the low-key expectations are important here. It’s easy to imagine some kind of movie scene, with the open road, perfect weather, background music exactly matched to the emotional tone of our conversations. Of course, the actual experience is more like mad traffic on the freeway, stonking hot weather and a broken car stereo.

Or, in the case of 2013’s trip, a 5-hour BONUS PICNIC STOP when we broke down 10 km from the nearest town and about 150 km from the nearest tow-truck operator open December 30th. Fortunately, we had a shady spot to wait on the side of the road, an esky full of food, and the people in the house up the hill brought us cool drinks and made sure we were ok. Unfortunately, there was some kind of decomposing animal in the gully just behind us and every time the wind came from the north, we got a good whiff of it. Also, by the 2 hour mark we’d exhausted most of the possibilities of “I spy” and couldn’t think of any other games. (“I spy” only made it to the 2 hour mark because “star picket” took a very long time, since there was only one of them visible in the whole area and it was halfway behind a tree.)

RIP, B.'s mazda :( You were great until your head gasket blew and cost too much to repair.

Turns out cars need functioning head gaskets to go anywhere.

This year, between “I’ve been there twice in the past 6 months” considerations, “I don’t want to drive that far” considerations and “I don’t want to camp but we need to stay cheap” considerations and the general unavailability of places that met those contraints, we wound up staying in a cottage on a property not far from where last year’s breakdown happened. Fortunately, Donnybrook is much nicer if you’re staying there deliberately.

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Our digs. 5000% better than sitting on the side of the road.

In fact, we seemed to avoid mishaps entirely. The biggest problem we encountered was that at our designated leaving time I was still at the bank trying to sort out access to my money. My card had been reissued 6 months prior and because I’d never used the new PIN, I’d forgotten it. And then they wouldn’t let me change the PIN in person, I had to get them to mail a new one to me. Which they did, except to my Italian address. Let’s just say my bank genuinely tries to have good customer service and I would recommend them to anyone based in Australia, but they are not set up for expats.

In the end I borrowed some money from my parents (want to feel decades younger? hit up your parents for cash) and we were off. And the late start gave us an excuse to stop for lunch in Mandurah, which has an unreasonably nice foreshore. (Am I allowed to say that if I’m from Perth?)

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Too bad no-one can afford to buy property here any more.

Once we arrived, a lot of our time was spent hanging around playing cards and admiring the local wildlife. By which I mean my friend A. — who is very much a city person — valiantly survived her fears about the numerous spiders, moths, large ants and small lizards to be found in rural Australia. We did also see a kangaroo. This did not make up for the other animals.

But a road trip isn’t a road trip without some oddball attractions, so the next day we went out for lunch (and some post-lunch cider tasting) and then wound up in the Bridgetown Jigsaw Puzzle Museum.

Worth it for the carpet alone.

Worth it for the carpet alone.

Those pictures on the walls? Are all jigsaw puzzles.

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One of the less intricate ones.

Look, I’m not saying you should travel all the way to Australia to visit the Bridgetown Jigsaw Puzzle Museum, but I am going to point out that it’s entry by donation and it kept us occupied for far longer than you’d expect. Which is more or less the opposite of most world-famous museums, where you pony up 15 euro and get bored after 20 minutes. Just saying.

On our drive back to Perth the next day we detoured to the coast at Busselton, a town with an amazing beach and an amazing lack of a good route into/out of town. Well, it’s probably fine most days, but none of the roads are designed to take a lot of traffic and on New Year’s Eve it seemed everyone in the south west wanted to be in Busso. We got stuck in the only traffic jam of our trip, complete with people driving on the footpath to get into the turning lane (WHO EVEN DOES THAT?), but it was worth it for this:

Good spot for lunch on New Year's Eve.

Look I know there’s only, like, 5 people on this entire beach but there really was a traffic jam to get there. Australian beaches are just magically empty.

Aw yes.

Practical info for future reference: We stayed here and would definitely recommend it as a quiet getaway spot. (Power comes from solar only, so be prepared to go low-tech!) Beds were comfy and the kitchen was well-equipped. Also, a road trip tip from my sister: if your car has a cd player, whenever you’re at an opshop (thrift store/charity shop), keep an eye out for 90’s hits going super cheap. No road trip can’t be improved by Backstreet Boys.

Perth, Australia, from the air

Coming and going and the annual Perth trip.

I’m writing this from Perth, where a cloudless day has turned into a breezy summer’s evening. I’m listening to the neighbour’s windchimes and the rustle of leaves. I’ve traded my winter coat and thick socks for a tshirt and skirt. This morning, I did a load of laundry and it dried within an hour or two of me hanging it outside. Earlier this evening I sat around with my family drinking Spritz Aperol.

Sorry (not sorry) to my Northern Hemisphere readers for telling you all this.

A hastily-taken plane window shot -- it gives the general impression at least.

A hastily-taken plane window shot — it gives the general impression at least.

I always find landing in Perth a surreal experience. I’m sure it’s partly the sleep deprivation — this year, I had Christmas in Munich with extended family which was super-fun but not sleep-conducive, then a day-long stopover in Dusseldorf on Boxing Day (more on that in another post), then Dusseldorf-Beijing-Singapore-Perth1.

Perth doesn't have sheep grazing on the banks of its river. Dusseldorf does.

Perth doesn’t have sheep grazing on the banks of its river. Dusseldorf does.

But landing in Perth is also weird because it has become something that marks the turning of the year, a point where time folds in on itself. Every year, I have a head-spinning moment of wondering if I’d ever really been away or if my life is Perth in late December/early January and everything else is a dream.

Yes ok, the sleep deprivation definitely contributes to the literal dizziness of that feeling. But the annual cycle is real. Except it’s not quite a cycle. People have gone on living a year here while I’ve been living a year elsewhere. Friendships evolve. Places change. New buildings go up, others get knocked down. And even after living in Perth for years and years, and visiting regularly, there are still things I notice for the first time when I arrive again. This time, it was the smell. A warm dirt and eucalyptus smell, a smell which I instantly recognized as “Perth smell” even if I’d never realized it before.

So for now, this coming and going is part of my life. I like it, even if it does make things more complicated. Like the immigration entry form. I am yet to decide whether I’m a “visitor from overseas, country of residence: Italy” or an “Australian returning to Australia”. Can I be both?


[1] Pro-tip for anyone attempting a similarly stupid-but-cheap itinerary: in Beijing, you have to line up to get your passport stamped even if you’re transferring from one international flight to another and don’t leave the airport. It’s a long queue, maybe have a snack on hand? But don’t get caught out like the people ahead of me in line did — they got almost to the front of the hour-long queue before they discovered that since their connecting flight had a stopover in Shanghai, it was actually a domestic flight and they had to go to a completely different desk to get a Chinese entry stamp.

A walk out of town

The other week, as I was popping down to the shops to buy some eggs, I noticed an odd sticker on a lamp post. It was a cartoon-ish figure of a pilgrim, and below it was an arrow labelled “Roma”.

“Odd choice of street art,” I thought. Except there, across the street, was another, placed exactly as if to show hikers that yes, they were right to cross the street and keep going.

Turns out, I live on a walking trail, the Via Francigena. Or rather, one of the Vie Francigene, since it turns out there’s several routes which diverge and converge as they make their way towards Rome. This clearly needed some exploring.

So after lunch I set out again towards the shops, and kept going. The trail headed for the river and more or less followed it exactly.  That day, I made it to San Mauro, about 10km from central Torino, before I turned back and walked down the other side of the river.

Trail sign! Rome seems and implausible goal.

Trail sign! Rome seems an implausible goal.

Going past the Jewish section of the cemetery on the way to the river.

Going past the Jewish section of the cemetery on the way to the river.

This lamp post will be warm in winter.

This lamp post will be warm in winter.

Under the bridge.

Under the bridge…

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And through the trees.

So obviously, having reached San Mauro, the obvious thing to do was set out the next Saturday, get the bus to where I’d left off and keep going. The first 10 minutes was through the suburbs, and I wondered if I’d misjudged and was about to spend the next few hours walking past peoples’ apartments. From one of them, I could hear someone practising the piano, and old tune I couldn’t quite place (and they couldn’t quite play). It was a hot afternoon, and I was tempted to bail or at least make a substaintial gelato break before I went any further. But once I reached the farmland it was good going:

Country style trail marker!

Country style trail marker!

Looking back on the Superga.

Looking back on the Superga.

Navigation was never difficult.

Navigation was never difficult.

On the banks of the Po.

On the banks of the Po.

Peaceful afternoon.

Peaceful afternoon.

It took me a bit longer than I’d planned and I developed a good sized blister¬† on the ball of my left foot, but I made it the 19 km to Chivasso which conveniently has a regular train service back to Torino. (I certainly wasn’t walking back!)

So. On to Rome??