Saturday, 27 August 2016

Hiking the Resegone

The Resegone di Lecco is a mountain with a serrated peak that resembles a saw. It is from this peak that the mountain takes its name; Resegon means "great saw" in the local dialect.

It appears in Italian art and literature and anyone who has studied the work of Manzoni will recognise it from the opening of his famous novel, The Betrothed. I studied this novel during my second year at university and was delighted to recognise the Resegone from Mazoni's description on one of my first commutes to work during my time as an Erasmus student in the Milan and Monza areas.

I spent an entire year observing this beautiful and iconic mountain through my train window and from a distance; in April, we decided to go and climb it.

We were lucky to choose one of those crisp and perfectly clear days. The sun warmed the lower grounds as we parked the car, with the air quickly shedding its velvety warmth for the sharp coolness of mountain air as we slipped upwards in the cable car. The car travelled up across steep hillsides, directly towards an imposing cliff face where it suddenly swooped upwards and deposited us at the top.

Except, it wasn't quite the top. We still had a lot of climbing to do.

As we made our way up, I began to remember everything I hate about hiking. The burning thighs, the shortness of breath, that frustrating dreamlike feeling of putting so much effort in with so little movement to show for it. My fingers swelled and my throat gasped for water and more than a couple of times, I plonked myself down on a rock and moaned about not wanting to go any further.

But of course, I kept going. Because then I remembered everything I love about hiking. The soaring views, the incredible sense of achievement, the isolation and the absorption into nature.

Once we had reached the highest point of our walk, we sat and enjoyed our apples (yes I know, I should have taken biscuits) with the birds and the mountain goats as well as a few other hikers sitting outside the closed rifugio. If you can catch these little boltholes when they're open, they are absolutely heavenly and will often serve up copious quantities of cheese and carb. They are also the most incredible resting places and have unbeatable views that no city restaurant will ever be able to compete with.

The only thing that was less than ideal was the toilet situation which was this little cabin (above) perched upon the edge of a precipice and a plumbing system that was evidently not functioning correctly. I chose to have a rather exhibitionist wee outside instead. 

On the other side of the peak, the winter snow was still holding fort. Michele can walk across snow like its concrete but I am an absolute catastrophe when it comes to slippery stuff. I kept falling over, absolutely soaking my trousers. The snow completely covered the path, which slowly snaked downwards diagonally across the mountain. 

In the end, I gave up and decided to slide down the snow to a narrow ledge of bare rock where I would be able to walk without slipping. My bum was already wet right? What else could go wrong?

It turns out that snow is a lot "slidier" than I'd realised and I promptly found myself hurtling towards the edge. At first I laughed as I enjoyed the slide. Then I began to scream "CATCH MEEEE" at poor Michele who luckily grabbed me just before I disappeared over the side of the mountain...

Perhaps it's time to book a skiing holiday so I can learn what snow is and, you know, don't send myself flying to my death next time I need to cross some snow...

I am pleased to report that I survived the descent intact (something that I don't have a wonderful track record of) and am alive and well. I have since gone hiking without incident and am slowly rebuilding my confidence...

A gorgeous day with gorgeous views. We finished off with a glass of prosecco for me and beer for him at the little chalet restaurant back at the cable car station before heading down to the carpark. Is there really any better way to spend a day?

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

An evening at Nottingham Forest - and the aftermath

One of the biggest differences between English and Italian cocktails is the alcohol content. In the UK, shots are poured into miserly measuring glasses before then being tipped into the glass, meaning that quite often half of your drink is left in a sad puddle on the bar. In Italy, they pour straight in from the bottle, often with abandon and what seems to be an uncanny instinct for when the pouring should stop. 

The result is often one, big, delicious drunken evening, no matter where you go.

But even so, there's one bar that I am always desperate to return to when I visit Milan. And that is Nottingham Forest on Viale Piave. It's a small and unassuming space from the outside but inside it is a veritable cave of wonders.

(Just to be clear, that's a drink the waiter's carrying in the first picture. A drink in a shoe.)

Before going there are a few things you must know. 

Firstly, arrive on time. The bar opens at 6.30pm and if you arrive even five minutes later, you may find yourself facing a wait of half an hour or more. It gets busier as the evening goes on so if you want to go for an after dinner drink, be prepared to wait a while. I prefer to go and get thoroughly sozzled before dinner - no waiting and it's much more fun.

Secondly, don't necessarily expect to find your favourites on the menu. The menu being a huge, thick thing full of pages and pages of haphazard cocktail lists and descriptions and details. The mixologists have been doing this for years and the cocktails each come in their own special glasses (or shoes).

Anglophones have it slightly easier with a reduced version of the menu. Even though some options have quite literally been lost in translation, you'll still be spoilt for choice. Alternatively, let the waiters know what kind of drink you like and they'll be more than happy to bring you a specially selected surprise.

The third thing to note is that you may very well be truly surprised. The double margarita comes in a chemistry set your eight-year-old self would have loved. Have fun mixing the flavours and experimenting with your own, tailor made margarita! The "thing" is even more of a surprise though. It comes in an odd ceramic container with two separate drinking holes (what are they called??). Each has been perfumed with a slightly different aroma so that the flavour of the drink changes depending on which side you drink from.

And finally, be prepared to get very, very drunk.

You can't fail to drunkenly stumble out of Nottingham Forest at the end of the evening. But why let it end there? Why not let your fuzzy mind decide on what to do next? Whether it's having a game of who can shout "boobies" the loudest (as Michele and I once did) or being escorted to the nearest pizzeria after too much absinthe with gold flakes (another true story), the night is full of endless possibilities!

We went for a delicious meal of chicory, anchovies and burrata, bottarga pasta and quinoa croquettes with ocapa and quail eggs at Time on Via San Marco. Oh, and more wine...

We managed to keep an air of sophistication about us, evidenced by the fact that we weren't thrown out of the restaurant in the end (success). However none of us can remember having any of the following photos taken - I blame the double margarita personally...

Apparently we finished the evening by leaving Brera via the old navigli canals and ending up in the fountains of Piazza Gae Aulenti where we tried to prove just how sober we were!

A perfect evening with two of my favourite people in the world. If only I could remember more of it!

Nottingham Forest has been described in better detail here and here.

Nottingham Forest
Viale Piave 1
20129 Milano
Closed Mondays

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Gallerie d'Italia, Milano

On the other end of the spectrum from Fondazione Prada, sits Gallerie d'Italia. I've written about this art gallery before but as much as it deserves a revisit in life, as does it deserve a revisit in words.

It used to be free entry but now costs €5 (or €3 if you're under 25 or over 65). Even so, it's not too bad considering the variety of art on show and the incredible setting. The building used to be the headquarters of the Banca Commerciale Italiana before being turned into a public art gallery to house the Intesa San Paolo collection. There's another one in Vicenza and another in Naples.

The exhibitions shuffle around every now and then to display the breadth of the bank's collection. This time we found many more historical pieces on show, giving the gallery more of a museum feel for the day.

Here are a couple of my favourites; this dude's excellent ancient battle armour.

And this amazing dish made of ivory, oyster shells and stag antler (not that, as a vegetarian, I should be lusting after a piece made of various animals but still, it's pretty and a vegan replica would do if anyone wants to make me one?)

I also loved this painting for its excellent exemplar of another fail at drawing animal faces. I seriously doubt that the painter in question had ever actually seen a dog or lion or whatever its supposed to be (unless its the devil??) before putting paint to canvas...

Amongst the older works, there's a contemporary exhibition too which is frequently reorganised to depict different themes.

And then you can move further into the old building, where interiors jostle with paintings for your attention.

The museum staff were also very friendly and helpful and chatted with me for quite a while about this painting about the cinque giornate battle in Milan. I love seeing old photographs of places I know well and pointing out the familiarities amongst the sepia. In this gallery, you can do the same with the famous sites of Milan. This painting clearly shows the typical Milanese buildings that still fill the city today, standing calmly in the background of this revolutionary uprising.

Here's a familiar view of the Duomo to anyone who has visited the Piazza Duomo and walked around its impressive, smooth, pink walls...

And here's a long lost view of the city of Milan, way back when the Madonnina (the little golden virgin Mary on the top of the Duomo) was, by law, the highest point in the city. How times have changed!

And finally, for any who have studied Italian literature, you might be interested to find that a wander into the gardens (where there may be an additional art installation) will take you straight to the house where Alessandro Manzoni, author of the first Italian language novel I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), lived. 

Gallerie d'Italia in Piazza Scala is a true gem of a gallery. Perfect for taking shelter on any of Milan's typical rainy or oppressively hot afternoons!

Piazza Scala, 6
Opening times: Tues-Sun 9.30-19.30 (last admission 18.30); Thurs 9.30 - 22.30 (last admission 21.30)