YES I’m not wrong, the Queen is abdicating and leaving the throne and the crown to her son, Prince William Alexander! Beatrix of The Netherlands is hanging up her sceptre and going into retirement. Now there’s a thought, and you heard it first from me.
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Fruitarian hero
Janet is leaving clues in fountains. Silvia says that my lips are in a far far better place than my mouth. Sauro says to focus on the mosaics, and he thinks we got money from the CIA. Well the truth is WE DID NOT KEEP A DOLLAR; every last dime of that ransom went straight to the UKIP gang’s account, in Smirnovsk . Peter says it’s about an election scam, but he’s got it under control, with a beer truck. Some people think we are in Italy. It’s a mystery!
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I went to Ospedale Maria Nueva for my second INR – altogether more cool and laid back than Sant Orsola Bologna. It’s like guys, chatting as they work – one sticks the needle in, the other applies the sticky tape, and they know some jokes, and they went for a few drinks the other day. In comparison, Bologna was all matrons, exclusively female staff – no joking, but lots of control.

The town is in every direction so overwhelmingly grandiose, so elegant, stylish and appealing. Poggi was an amazing designer contractor, credited with stunning houses, villas, palazzos, museums, public squares, roundabouts, roads, towers and parks all round Firenze. He designed Baroness Von Meck;s house where Tchaikovsky stayed, but we are assured that their relationship was purely epistolary.
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David’s statue was oriented to face in the direction of Rome when his statue was erected. As he scowled and had his sling ostentatiously on show, this was taken to mean that Firenze was warning Rome “leave us alone or you could get some too”.

Feelin groovy, we’re on our way to San Gimignano, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Well, actually a small place just 4kms outside San Gimignano. Like a bridge over troubled water, Ponte Vecchio lays down and we say bye bye love to Firenze. In the car it’s all the sound of silence, because it’s been raining and we’re scared of slip slidin away. The driver says don’t worry, I am a rock and you are homeward bound.


I am very sorry about the shaky camera work, I am in fear of international gangsters and on the run from a murder rap.

The Uffizi Gallery is an unending tsunami of humanity, moving just one step at a time and listening with earphones to very cool radiocomms devices which hang around their necks in standard neon colours. The group leader or art guide has a small mike hanging under her chin and speaks into it discreetly, sometimes waving aloft a pennant with a teddy bear or some such tourist group mascot, that the followers can follow.

There is a delightful roof terrace café, in the open air among other roofs and towers. Stupidly, I started a new war in the Caucasus because I wanted to get a good shot of the Duomo roof from this angle. This required that I stand briefly on one of the few rest benches around the edge of the cafeteria, in order to get a clear shot over the parapet of the terrace. But all the benches were fully occupied by exhausted tourists who would not relinquish their rest place.

I chose the best located bench and waited blatantly for someone to move. They were four Russian ladies, who were having a fag and had no intention of being good Samaritans. In fact they brought in a fifth associate with a quick feint to right & left while the gap was covered. To get my own back, I stood stubbornly in their group photos and looked at the camera. Once shots were fired, there was no going back, and I found my reflexes took over – with a lightning-fast combined ninja kick & chop, as used by the SBS, I had tossed two Russian babas to a sudden & certain death in the Uffizi quad, before you could say Caravaggio. I got the pic I was after and called in the CIA clean-up squad. From then on, no one got in my way as we admired the Botticellis and the Corregios on the 1st floor.

Rosemary had a rendez-vous with an officer from Southwark Council & lecturer wife and they agreed a new strategy for some failing schools in Bermondsey.

We want to visit San Gimignano, but it is very difficult to access in the hills, due to being occupied by little green men, and our travel agent, Citalia, have a policy of not dealing with them.

You really must send those children on an educational semester trip to Firenze as soon as possible or we will be totally overtaken in the culture wars by the Russians, the Koreans, Japanese, Americans and Italians who are squeezing us out. Already you can hardly find baked beans or fish fingers on offer in the Piazzas and Trattorias. Preferably book your kids on an art course or a cookery course, so they come back home, more refined, and with new skills.

The women I eliminated at the Uffizi were part of the Capoeira/Zumba gang because we overheard them plotting when we reached the smelly back-street gym in Pescia. They were aiming to smuggle the David statue to Smirnovsk, and then they intended to ransom him for $10m, with the threat of some serious anatomical harm. It was they who stuffed the receptionist in the minibar, because she was trying to shop them to George & Connie in the CIA. And her boyfriend, the pizza chef, was done in simply because he knew too much.

There is nothing left to do now, except to find the ring-leader and round up the remaining oppos. The only doubt nagging at me, is which side is Janet on? The weather is warm – approx. 20C, if a bit overcast and humidity a bit high around 62%.

There’s no place like Duomo

I made a sketch for you
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Brunelleschi built this great Duomo, using municipal funds, because it was originally designed to host 1440 inter-city gymnastics and show-jumping competition. After the event, they quarrelled whether it should be a music venue and Juventus said that only they could fill it on a regular basis. They added the giant dome, when someone suggested it could become a planetarium.

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However, thanks to inspired PR work, a number of massive evangelical congresses were held there in the 1460s and the church finally put in the tower, in order to offer bunjee-jumping as an additional visitor attraction. It was claimed that the footprint was the wrong size & shape for indoor football, and the catering could never cope. They designed a feature called “The Gates of Paradise” and if you paid 100 Euros to go through them, you were guaranteed a comfortable place for the afterlife. That really sealed the income of the place for a few hundred years.

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Michaelangelo put himself into the scene of Jesus’ burial called Pieta, along with Mary and Mary Magdalen, even though he wasn’t alive until about 1500 years later. But the Romans didn’t complain and time travel was quite widely accepted in those days. This is why the pope never criticised Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

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We saw the scaffolding they used for the build operation and it’s still quite sound. To cheer the place up, they got a really good deal from StatuesRus, and they sold miniature copies through Sculptures4U.

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Hotel Berchielli, right on the lungarno, has a very big and posh foyer, so it was pure chance that I spotted an old lag from Cold War days who was masquerading as a porter. He was watching me in the mirror, and I was watching him, watching me in the mirror. I decided to confront him but he done a runner and we chased him up to the hotel’s roof giardino.

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I had him cornered, but then, from behind me, I suddenly heard the languorous tones of George’s familiar Texan voice. A partner in the CIA whom I’d worked with in Ulanbator and in Petropavlovsk, when we were breaking the Baltic uranium gang. He and Connie, his sidekick, pose as Dallas lawyer and wife, corporate executive deputy assistant vice president. But they are actually two of the agency;s deadliest operatives. They were in contact with the Bosch family right from the start. Dallas loves to shoot birds, sail his boat and Mrs D likes Sonoma county red wine.

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It turns out that the murdered pizza chef knew the receptionist in the minibar because they found his number on her mobile phone. What is the link? Janet sent me a coded message in a plastic bag, which she dropped in a drinking fountain, near to Michelangelo’s David [not very hygienic or clean-streets-friendly]. It said “Don’t go to the Uffizzi shop.” DNA revealed that they both did a Capoeira class at a shabby gym in the back streets of Pescia. This is clearly the hub of their operations so we are on our way, pdq.

I hope we pass a few Museos and Palazzos and Chiesas and fine Piazzas as we race over there. It looks as though Janet is ahead of us, and she could be wreaking havoc!

At last, we finally say: A ROOM WITH A VIEW

Escape from Lucca
So now we have come across two deaths on this holiday, and both of them violent events. The pizza paddle was wiped down and put in a polythene evidence bag, for DNA analysis.

The body in the minibar was taken away with the stained roller suitcase once the Italian version of scene-of-crime officers had swept the rooms for evidence and fingerprints.

The Swedish couple who were booked into that suite next, seemed a touch reluctant to occupy the accommodations; well there was no other vacant room, so they had no choice. We popped in to cheer them up and we all had drinks together from the minibar.

Maybe there is no connection at all between these events – different M.O. , different locations, etc but same result each time and it all adds to the crime statistics for the region.

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There was a phenomenally beautiful young woman at an adjacent table during breakfast, and kept looking at me and seemed to be mouthing some silent but very urgent words, with her lips. But then I thought it might be the sugared croissants, because there were no plain ones.
We finally bumped into each other at the muesli and cereals table of the self-serve breakfast. She whispered to me, almost imperceptibly: “Be careful, they will try to frame you for Napolitani. Beware Firenze.”

Well, we didn’t want to hang around in that locality any longer and the Inspettore had only said not to leave the country. So we made a quick get-away with a dash to the railway stazione. Now we were aiming to go on the lam, looking to lay low for a few days at Hotel Berchielli in Firenze.

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There were some funny SMS messages while we waited for the train, but you know the trouble I’ve been having with technology, so I took no notice. Then, on the train, as were going through Monte Carlo, a really surprising thing happened. A woman hawking herbal remedies and organic cosmetics from a basket in the carriage, suddenly threw down the raffia container on the floor and it exploded into flames right in front of us. Very odd.

We managed to extinguish the fire with a few bottles of San Pellegrino (regrettably my favourite – the Arancia amura flavour). But people were looking at us strangely now.

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at last, finally we say A ROOM WITH A VIEW
How do you ike that view?

The town is simply crawling with day-trippers and tourists from every corner AND an awful lot of people take the xtra day off from Liberation Day until Monday morning. It’s brilliant for hiding out in the crowd, but very exhausting. There is a pic of police stopping people in the street in the search for us.

The old bridge was built by Romans but it collapsed in a flood in 117 and again in 1333. It was rebuilt by Taddeo Galdi and was a base for wool dealers and butchers and greengrocers. However in 1590 the Grabd Duke Ferdinando was had a hand in the precious metals trade, decreed that only silver and gold could be traded on the bridge, and so it remains to this day.

Blue Bridge

A bloom with a dew

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Lucca is very fine, with tree-lined piazzas and little public gardens and all pedestrianized; magnificent great edifices in the grand style along each side of the square with statues and fountains and many huge churches. There are 4km of medieval wall around the old town.

Maria Luisa Borbonia brought fresh clean running water to the town in 1843, and they were very appreciative so they erected a statue of a goddess with a boy in Piazza Napoleone. There are inumerable bicycles and tandems and toddlers in the roads as you wander around.

Although they have just finished the elections, Christiane dreams of being president; she says she was selected by public acclammation and she acts accordingly.
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To cut a long story short, we have a LOT of communication challenges. Dircon say that I have been kidnapped by the forces of evil and am emitting spam at a horrible rate, so they cut off the account and I have had no access to mail or addresses to write to you. BT Openreach disconnected our telephone bell, but they won’t repair it unless Plusnet submit the complaint. Plusnet say to go to their website for FAQs. I fear that the iTIM mobile broadband may have been consumed already. The Samsung Galaxy S2 GT19100 cellphone won’t sync with the ASUS 1025C EeeePC, and I made a foolish bet with Rosemary that I could survive happily as a fruitarian. So now I am living the life of a fruitarian.

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The train was late due to an accident on the line (apparently someone smashed his rival over the head with Pela di Pizza – the long paddle they slide into the embers to pull out the crispy “quattro staggione”. There was blood and brains everywhere, so at Santa Maria Novella we missed the connection to Lucca and then we came out of the wrong exit at Lucca stazione.

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The taxi refused to pick us up because we have too many suitcases, and he refused to ask base to send an MPV to pick us up, so, in the end, I rang the hotel and the hotel suggested we go back to square one. Luckily there is an angel based in the minicab office who arranged for taxi numero cinque to fetch us.
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There were police in the hotel foyer and corridor because “a crime had been committed” and we could not go to the rooms booked. There was crime scene yellow & black striped ribbon across the door to our junior suite and we were interviewed by Inspettore who said “do not leave this area”.
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Pisa is closed as you probably heard on the news, because the GPS monument-monitoring company has detected some force 1 seismic tremors with an epicentre very close to Piazza Maggiore. They are the world’s leading technical experts on measuring world heritage inclinations – ITP, Italo-Tekka da Pissa sp.

We attended the opera in Chiesa San Giovanni and found it most touching. Every time anyone walked down the aisle, you can feel the floor tremble beneath your chair. But they assured me that this is normal and nothing to worry about.

The Mezzo-soprano went higher in ecstatic euphoria than anyone I have ever seen in clothes and the Tenore went effortlessly louder and more stentorian than any sergeant major – it was thrilling. The pianist played an intermezzo of the most lilting and delicately nostalgic reminiscence. They all made some mistakes, but what’s a few notes among friends?

Lucca has plenty of teenage youngsters whose jeans only join at the knees and who reveal underpants when do that tribal high-fist-touching routine to salute each other. We are in town for the 25th April Liberation Day parade and celebrations.

As a fruitarian, I find that I have great deal more zip and dash about me than in the earlier phases of life. You should really try it. For meals, we are at separate tables, not all together around the same table like in the film. It is a wee bit cramped navigating a route from your minitable to the sugared croissantsm coffee machine and orange juice. One family got fed up and this was the “crime” which we had heard about. A receptionist was killed with one of those 4-wheel suitcasees when she refused to restock the minibar. The body was found, stuffed inside the minibar, in the maggiore suite next door to ours. She won’t make that mistake again.

A rune with a pew

We are celebrating with the Italian people the election of an equal opportunity President. They are passionate about eliminating ageism and discrimination against elderly people and have therefore selected Signor Georgio Napolitano who is 87 years old for their new head of state for the next 7 years. This will give their economy the kind of boost it needs. He will be 94yrs when his term of office finishes, but he might stand for a second term.

I want to visit one of the agri-turismos where they squash the balsams to make the excellent vinegar, but my companions are against cruelty to balsams and are adopting orphan and homeless balsams to protect them, so the excursion looks a bit unlikely. Anyway, there are four levels of balsamic excellence: pure, 1 year, 10 years and 500 years which is the best, but reserved for saints. I will try to persuade them visit a refuge for abused Parmigianos, which may be more socially responsible.

Instead, as an outing, I went for an INR blood test, at Saint Orsola’s Hospital; they only do blood tests for outpatients from 7.30 to 10.00am, it cost 6 Euros and the result was given me by hand an hour and a half later. The hospital doesn’t look at all like UK hospitals with grand architectured entrances and civic amenity signage all over, they look just like blocks of flats from the street, but the efficiency is the same: queues of very elderly and sick people standing & waiting in line to be processed.






I had a fight with a couple afterwards, in the car park, where we were queuing for taxis and they took the taxi which I had telephoned. But the wife was bigger than me and the driver was not a neutral referee, so I judged discretion would be the greater part of valour, and I retreated after cussing them in English, which they could not understand.



We had tortellini in chicken broth, which was just like the old country, when uncle used to sit on the roof of the shtetl, singing mournfully all evening, and sometimes dancing a bit, but grandmother disliked that.

I can’t tell you where the chicken came from because there are no animals at all in the countryside – no chickens, sheep, lambs, cows, horses, pigs, dogs.


The pavlova was very nice with raspberries and blackberries and blueberries and a delicious creamy caramelly chewy centre. We wanted to watch TV this evening and there are 863 TV stations, but they haven’t got any programmes. It’s a mystery that the new president will doubtless sort out.






A roof with a flue

Bologna was started by some Etruscans about 600yrs BBB (before the Big Bang) as a university for cooks and builders.
The Romans originally called it Banana, but later on, they straightened it out. They were not very good at geography because they thought the Pennines would be an obstacle to their road building plans; but they made it an A road, hence you can now drive the Apennine way

L1040862There are some lovely views over the roofs and towers and churches from the hills in the public park on the edge of town.


At first it was a port town so you can still find porta Nuova, porta Castiglione, porta Saragozza, porta Felice, porta Mascarella, etc . Then they built seven churches inside each other. About 100 yrs after BBB they invented spaghetti and ragu which brought lots of tourists and they made loadsamoney.


Egidio picked a fight with all the contender Popes outside Rome and he kicked their arse, so only the pope from Rome was legit from then on. He became ruler and saint and started a college for Spanish students who still come to Bologna to study how to cook spaghetti and build good walls. The professors were were so important that they were buried in green pyramids.

They had nothing much to do, so they had a competition for building towers and 200 people built towers, going taller & taller, but they had to stop when they started leaning. To compensate, they invented shopping therapy and made 30 miles of shopping mall called portico, with fancy painted ceilings and cafes all along. It still works a treat.


In school, some of the boys kept playing with frogs and electricity and valves – which was allowed in those times. Galvani and Marconi were given detention and the teachers made Marconi assemble kit radios and broadcast from one tower to the field outside town. Galvani was made to generate subterranean hydro-electric power. There were no rules about child abuse at that time in history.


We met some very nice people from the Reconstructed Communist Party (Rifondazione)in the main square who are running a campaign for a wealth tax and against excessive pay for heads of industry. They are opposing useless prestige projects like a bridge to Sicily and a fast train into France. They are also very worried about private schools getting all the subsidy while state schools and teachers are under severe austerity.

Bologna is still known as La Dotta, La Grassa and La Rossa because its people are so well educated, so good at pasta ragu and so very socialistic.
Fortunately there were very few living people in the Archaeology Museum when we went round, so it was restful and highly cultural. I found some roman coins which had been left in a fountain and no one wanted, so I trousered them pdq. Later about a million school kids and parents and random tourists came flooding in, so we made a quick getaway.


The Peruvian Pan’s Pipes flute band from the Fast Show were playing in the square which made a very nice ambience and some Spanish people in catalan costume were dancing and singing merrily near to Galvani’s statue.

Schnakerhausen sind ganz geschnitten (please translate)

IMG_0952Have you ever noticed that some places are, “just right”, from the start?
The pavements and gutters are clean with no fag ends or chewing gum; the front gates are freshly painted, the gardens & windows have all go flower boxes with geraniums in bloom; a van goes around to collect & deliver the laundry and police cars cruise into the station for breakfast.
The orchards and vineyards are clean & tidy; the white lines on the road fresh and bright; the economy ticks along perfectly like a model train set, as they all charge each other and pay each other courteously. It’s like this all around Lake Garda.
History tells us that the Romans liked it too and they put Verona in as a tax toll booth on the main roads from the North over the mountains and from the East and the West and South. Many people came – Goths and emos, from Florence and Venice and Rome came Viscontis and Medicis and Scaglias; Napoleon looked in and finally the Austrians, Otto & Friedrich.
They all found the red marbles very attractive and took pebbles for building from the Adije river along with bricks from the Incas & Mayas in Valpolicella and slices of yellow sandstone which made excellent work surfaces. Then they were born again and started opera with Aida in 1913 when Verdi came on the scene, who has been eclipsed by Placido Domingo who is playing in Rigoletto v. Nabucco in July.
I gave some instructions to the centurions who were guarding the forum, which call the amphitheatre. We are getting along quite well in conversation since we had good German teachers at school.

We rode the town-tour-train which is exceedingly bumpy and there is a Vatican and a lot of international heritage walls. Day trippers from every corner of the world. We saw Juliet in the window but it was too cold for her to come out.
Lunch was nice in a narrow side street and we shared 2 pizzas among 3. There an oompah band in red cottons and lederhoes in the square. Then everybody got drunk and very noisy. The schnakerhausen have ganz geschnitten.

An appeal: How many gentlemen of Verona?

An appeal: How many gentlemen of Verona?L1040780
Dear reader, once again we need your help urgently: how many gentlemen of Verona? I have stopped too many people in the street with this question, but no one is quite sure if it’s 2 or 3. Tomorrow we visit Shakespeare’s B&B in Verona and you can only kiss Juliet if you know the answer. So please email pronto. Thanks.L1040781

Today this beautiful red car was parked in front of the Town Hall and it was whispered that the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the cousin of the Arch-Duke Albert of the Hapsburgs were doing a documentary about Tuscan spaghetti, but we could not stop to meet them.

We did meet a very nice family from Bosch who tried to help with the broadband issues, but Jacob Lindale did not know that the SIM card has to go INSIDE the dongle. I had to figure it out all alone. Anyway we promised to buy more Bosch, so if you purchasing a dishwasher of a washing machine please consider the reliable brand.

The air is warm and there is wonderful strong sunlight with a cooling breeze.

We strolled around this little place and in an underwater meadow we stumbled upon these standing stones; one with hammer & sycle signs and another with sword and spear drawings.
This is some of the earliest evidence of the Arsenal challenging Millwall to a meeting after the match. Fortunately there was a DVD buried with the grave goods which helped a lot with the analysis. I guessed that they could be important and dated them to 2000BC, so they were quickly photographed and taken in to the museum. L1040778

As I had my trusty trowel with me, we took a look around the site and were pleased to happen upon some bronze figurines and drinking vessels and a few pottery dishes which we have given to the town.

The little place is now hosting some larger parties of people from Germany who come for the pizza. The piazzas are now busier, the pedestrian areas are more lively and the Largos are crowded with these folk living it large.L1040748

Both Christiane & Rosemary thought the lighting in the museum was its strongest point and they admired the presentation, particularly a rotating cake table which could be used to view the object from behind as well from the front. Most impressive items overall: there was a very stylish self-serve coffee machine and a sweets vending machine just outside the toilets which will also both be long remembered. L1040763

We have had a bit of a run-around trying to get an INR blood test because they only take blood from 7.30am to 9.30 and it’s quite a long way.