Happy New Year

I hope you’ve all had a very enjoyable Festive Season and are looking forward to 2019. Of course, for those of you who continue to celebrate until Epiphany, just carry on!


We had a surprisingly lovely time before Christmas in Paris (see future posts on our trip) and spent our first festive season in Italy. We’ve previously spent the holidays in USA, Germany, Austria, Australia, UK, France, Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland. Last year while we were in Austria, we’d decided to spend Christmas 2018 at home in France. And that remained our intention until late November when a hotel we frequently stay at sent us news of their Christmas offer – sold!

We had a relaxing few days in the Italian sunshine enjoying some farniente and la dolce vita. (I’m far better at the latter rather than the former.) Of course, we’re accustomed to spending Christmas with just the two of us, doing exactly what we want. This year was no exception.

The hotel provided us with a slap up fish based Christmas lunch which was nice and light, providing like me you skipped dessert. That aside, we spent hours wallowing in the briny waters of their thalasso facilities and generally being pampered head to toe. Oh, and we might have had a few glasses of Aperol Spritz!


The warm sunshine encouraged us to take part in the daily walk along the sea front being amused by the antics of the children, and quite a few dogs. The town had embraced the Festive Season in a big way with plenty of attractions for young and old. Many of the hotels and restaurants were open for business, and doing a roaring trade.

We returned home after a leisurely three-day stay and continued to uphold our holiday mood, largely encouraged by the continued sunny weather. Even better, my beloved’s leg/hip has sufficiently improved to enable us to go out on our bikes together – happy days!

The Musette: Aperol Spritz

My beloved is OC Drinks in our household and has recently perfected the art of making one of our favouritve aperitifs, Aperol Spritz. We first drank this in Italy and frankly became addicted. It’s the perfect drink whatever the weather, or time of year, and immediately invokes a sense of La Dolce Vita. Since we enjoy drinking it so much, I thought I’d look into its history.

Aperol is a luminous, vibrant, orange drink made from gentian, rhubarb and cinchona, among other ingredients. Produced originally by the Padua-based brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri who in 1912 inherited a drinks company from their father.

It took the boys seven years of hard work to finally produce Aperol. Pre-WWII it became wildly popular all over Italy but it wasn’t until after the war that it started to enjoy international success, particularly after the creation of Aperol Spritz and the company’s “Il Carosello” advertising campaign.

In the 1950s the aperitif ritual, which originated in Veneto, initially saw Aperol Spritz served with traditional snacks called ”cicchetti”, small dishes that usually include tiny sandwiches, olives, crisps and small portions of local dishes.

In 2003 the Aperol brand was acquired by Gruppo Campari which positioned Aperol Spritz as ‘the perfect drink for social occasions’ – I cannot disagree! –  increasing sales to four times pre-acquisition levels.

Campari is not too dissimilar in taste and smell to Aperol, but it’s darker in colour. Importantly, Aperol has an alcohol content of 11% – less than half that of Campari. Aperol and Campari have a similar sugar content, though Aperol is less bitter in taste.

A ready-to-drink version of Aperol Spritz was launched by the group in 2011, which contains just 8% alcohol, giving consumers the chance to responsibly enjoy the drink at home with minimal effort.

On 29 June 2012, Aperol Spritz attempted the Guiness World Record for the ‘Largest Aperol Spritz Toast’. More than 2,600 people descended onto Piazza San Marco in Venice to secure the title. Why was I not invited?

Here’s my beloved’s recipe for the purrrrfect aperitif.

Aperol Spritz

step 1FILL A LARGE WINE GLASS WITH ICE

step 2COMBINE TWO PARTS PROSECCO DOC WITH THREE PARTS APEROL

step 3ADD ONE PART SODA/SPARKLING WATER

step 4GARNISH WITH AN (ORGANIC) ORANGE SLICE OR TWO AND/OR SLIVER OF ORANGE PEEL AND ENJOY!

Yet another trip to Alassio

The rationale for our most recent trip was a few relaxing days away so my beloved could use the hotel’s Thalassotherapy facilities to sooth his hip which is becoming ever more painful. Of course, I too enjoy the jets in the salt-water therapy pool and found the warm herbal baths soothed my current chesty cold. We also attempted to be digital free for the trip. I succeeded but my beloved and his iPhone are rarely separated, only when he misplaces it.
I always enjoy the splendid views on the drive over to Italy particularly when the weather is still warm and sunny. So sunny in fact that after our arrival we sat out on the beach on the hotel’s loungers enjoying the warm sunshine. We’ve stayed at the hotel many times but sitting on the beach is a first for us. I did have a quick paddle in the sea but frankly preferred just listening to the waves lap the shore. I find that really relaxing.
Obviously at this time of year, the place is blissfully quiet. There’s a few holiday makers, but it’s mostly residents. All of which means it’s easy to get tables in our favourite restaurants. However, because my beloved can’t easily walk far, we confined ourselves to those closest to the hotel – no hardship.
We first saw this particular hotel back in 2009 during its renovation, while we were staying in Alassio on the cycling club’s annual trip. We stayed in a nondescript hotel at the far (noisy) end of Alassio which was favoured by OAP coach parties. Someone on the committee had organised the trip and I assumed had chosen this particular hotel so as to remain within our budget. However, I later found a number of much nicer hotels, with better facilities, including car parking, for the same price.
The presence of so many OAPs in the hotel meant that if we didn’t go in for breakfast and dinner promptly they’d picked the buffet clean, just like a bunch of locusts. Not that the food was anything to write home about. The hotel also made us unforgettable packed lunches to eat while we were out riding around the area. After three trips with the club where neither the accommodation nor the food lived up to its billing, we decided to call it a day. Instead, we decided we’d go on our own, staying and eating when and where we wanted.
We took my parents to Alassio the following October, my mother’s last trip abroad, to show them the hotel where we’d stayed when I was eight, in neighbouring Laigueglia. We ate however in the restaurant just down from this hotel which was still undergoing renovation. My father was much intrigued by the works and we promised to take him there once it had been completed. A promise we sadly never got to keep.
Lunch was an enjoyable affair as the restaurant has a conservatory over the sea which affords diners lovely views. We had one of the prized corner tables which I’d pre-booked. My mother had the fried fish which she insisted on eating with her fingers. My father was always concerned that her behaviour (she had Alzheimers) would attract undue attention but no one batted and eyelid and the staff were very solicitous. Eating at that restaurant always brings back warm memories of that luncheon.
We’ve spent time in the area most years either because of cycling events such as Trofeo Laigueglia and the Giro d’Italia, it’s a useful mid-way meeting point for clients from Milan and Turin or as a lovely place to enjoy a few days of fare niente. It’s a change from where we live, even though it’s only just over the hour up the motorway and, because of its sandy beach, the place has a real seaside vibe.
When we were last there in April, we noted with some dismay that our favourite place for Aperol Spritz and nibbles had changed hands. We rapidly found somewhere else to enjoy our evening drink and nibbles. There’s not exactly a shortage of great bars. This time we needed to find one closer to the hotel and chanced upon one near the main station. This bar’s Aperol Spritzs were excellent, as good as my beloved’s, and the nibbles plentiful, all for a bargain Euros 5,00 per head! This has now superceded the excellent and longstanding Bar Roma, where Ernest Hemingway used to drink – that man drank everywhere!
During our brief trip, we took full advantage of the thalassotherapy facilities and I enjoyed a bracing walk around town on my own, ostensibly to get some food to take back with us though I did, of course, indulge in a spot of harmless window shopping. We may try to fit in another trip, post my beloved’s hip-replacement op, as you can never have too much of a good thing!
Please note that in order to maintain my digital detox, all the photographs were taken on previous trips

Missing Il Lombardia

Yesterday, was the race of the falling leaves, one of the five Monuments (major Classics races) of the cycling season. We should’ve been there enjoying the live racing, drinking Aperol Spritzs in some of our favourite cafes and appreciating the wonderful scenery. We weren’t there for two reasons: my beloved’s hip and the parcours.

We prefer to stay in Como rather than Bergamo to watch the race. We’ve done Bergamo, it’s a perfectly lovely town but it’s much further away from us by car than Como. We like it when the race starts in Como, as it did in 2016. Last year’s race started in Bergamo and, thanks to traffic problems, we had a nightmare of a journey to collect our accreditation. Naturally we were expecting this year’s race to start once more in Como. It didn’t. It started in Bergamo, again.

Consequently we were more than happy to watch the race on the big screen. The main action at the pointy end of the race involved last year’s winner who lives nearby in Lugano, Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), initially going mano-a-mano with the winner of this week’s Milano-Torino, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). The latter dropped the former and prevailed to win his first monument and become the first Frenchman to win the race since Laurent Jalabert in 1997.

Despite missing out on a trip to Como, it’s not all doom and gloom. We rather enjoy a bit of la dolce vita at this time of year, the cycling is merely an excuse or rather our reason to visit. Instead, mindful of my beloved’s soon-to-be-replaced hip, we’ve decided to spend a couple of days in Alassio at one of our favourite hotels which has a Thalassotherapy treatment centre. My beloved will be able to soak his cares away during the day and we’ll be able to enjoy nibbles and Aperol spritzs galore in the evening. We’ll be strolling along the shore rather than the lake – a result all round!

In order to have a complete break, we’ll be leaving the mobile phones, iPads and Macs at home. It’ll be a three-day digital detox. I wonder how we’ll fare?

(Two images from the race courtesy of RCS and La Presse – D’Alberto / Ferrari)

Holiday photos: day 26

My beloved was due back from his business trip late on Saturday evening. I was just about  to go out, having wrapped up reviewing the day’s stage for VeloVoices, when my phone rang. It was my beloved who had missed his connecting flight from Madrid to San Sebastian due to the late arrival of his inbound flight from Heathrow. He’d be back around midday on Sunday.

While he’s been away I’ve been enjoying the jazz festival.  Mornings I head for my morning walk along the beach before going to my favourite breakfast spot, to order an americano y tostada con tomate, the latter comes with olive oil, salt and a raw tomato paste (header photo of my DIY version). It’s delish and has replaced my usual avocado on toast. I sit outside and listen to the band playing in the San Martin market. They don’t appear to be part of the Festival, I think they’ve just jumped on the bandwagon.

Breakfast over, I head to La Brexia market for fresh fruit, salad stuff and olives before wending my way back to the flat, again via the beach. And no, before you ask, the shins still haven’t tanned! Afternoons have been taken up with watching the Tour de France and the European Water Polo Championships.

Most evenings I’ve walked along  the seafront, sat on a bench in the park opposite the Town Hall and listened to whoever’s been playing on the stage there. Some evenings I’ve treated myself to a sorbet from my favourite ice cream shop, other times just some water from the Heineken stand – the Jazz Festival is sponsored by Heineken.

If the music hasn’t been to my taste, I’ve continued my pursuit of the best Aperol Spritz in town. When it comes to bars, I look carefully at its clientele. San Sebastián has loads of elderly – as in much older than me – chic ladies, probably widows. They tend to gather in groups in the evening to enjoy a chat and a cocktail or two with a pintxos or two. If there’s plenty of glamorous grannies, I’ll go inside or sit outside. I now have further contenders for the prize and will allow my beloved to have the casting vote, something he rarely enjoys.

 

Holiday photos: day 22

While the cat’s away, the mice will play. In my case this means while my beloved was back in the UK on a business trip, I could do exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately for him his absence coincided with the San Sebastian Jazz Festival,  where many of the events are free. I took full advantage and  it was very pleasant sitting in an adjacent bar, sipping something chilled while listening to some music. Or, as I later discovered, listening while lying in bed with the window open.

My beloved’s absence also coincided with the final exciting days of the Tour de France and the European Water Polo championships from Barcelona. What many of you won’t know is that my beloved is a former water polo player. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in chlorine-scented pools watching him play. I even qualified as a water polo referee, one of a few woment to do so at the time. Strutting round a pool blowing a whistle at will, where my word was law, rather brought out the worst in me!

It’s quite amusing to contrast the physiques of the athletes in the two sports. Typically, in weight terms, 1 water polo player = 2 – 3 cyclysts. Looking at the physiques of the former, I can’t help think it’s not just their mother’s cooking that has built those splendid rippling muscles.