Keep Treading Water Shelley, Byron's On His Way

Wednesday 24/8/2005

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Diary and Notes

Aah, a good, lazy morning doing nothing but sitting in the allotment and feeding the cat. Even the cat gets pasta with its dinner here, little pasta stars with some fish - I should have taken a photo or two. I got half way through my holiday and started wishing I'd taken photos of all the cats I'd seen, they are everywhere. The Italians sure do love their cats and every rooftop, doorway and paving slab seems to have some overfed moggy lazing out in the sunshine digesting its four course lunch.

We lounged around in the sunshine until lunch, popping into the odd café for a coffee every now and again. Coffee in Italy is very odd, very odd indeed. People I know who've been to Italy before have commented on the coffee but I just didn't believe them and thought they were exaggerating.

Firstly it's quite strong, sometimes so strong you think you'd need a knife to cut it, but the really odd thing is just how small a cup of coffee is. In Britain if you order an espresso in an Italian style café you get a tiny little cup of coffee about ½ full - in Italy the cup is half the size and is almost completely empty - there will be a little droplet of coffee just covering the bottom of the cup, enough for half a small sip if you are lucky.

It also seems that the more you pay for a cup the less you get.

But that said, the cafés are really cheap and you can get a cup of coffee for about 70 cents which even if you take into account the portion size makes it cheaper than a coffee in Britain.

The town I'm staying in Varese Ligure is a small, quiet place off the tourist trail. There's a small medieval castle in the centre (which is right in front of my bedroom window - I'll make a page of photos in case anyone is interested in seeing my holiday snaps) a ring of shops and houses around the castle and not much else. The house I'm staying in used to be the home of a seventeenth century Italian poet, Gio Andrea de Ferrari and opens diretly onto the centre of town, right next to a café.

Anyway, enough of this holiday stuff, what's for lunch? Another tasty Italian treat I hope.

I wasn't dissapointed.

Marcello's mum made us lunch today and very good it was too. A few bowls of trofiette with home made pesto sauce to start, along with some focaccia, a little salami and cheese, then an exceptionally good fruit and custard cake and a really ripe peach. I had a glass of wine or two and was feeling full of vim and vigour. This Italian living is really good for the soul.

After lunch we went to Portovenere, a posh little Mediterranean resort with old tightly packed streets and loads of tourists buying glass trinkets and wooden baubles. Portovenere is famous as the place that the poet Shelley drowned and was a favourite haunt of him and Byron. There's a little cave here called Byron's grotto and all the tourist shops are named after Byron who seems to have been a hit with the locals (a lot more so than that big mincer Shelley).

We strolled around and I took a few photos then we went into a little bar for a beer.

One thing about Italy that I can't say is great is the beer. The photos above demonstrate that the Italians don't really care much for the stuff - a bottle of imported Watney's Red Barrel for instance (Watney's went bankrupt back in the late 70's) and really old Sainsbury's Bedford Pale Ale aren't my cup of tea at all. You're much better off sticking to the wine. The bottles weren't really for drinking, a bar we went into had a massive collection of old beer bottles from around the world - I thought the opportunity to photograph an old Watney's Red Barrel relic was just too good to pass up.

After a few hours soaking up the sun we headed back to Varese Ligure for dinner - a top quality pizza - it would be a crime to come to Italy and not have a pizza at least once.

Now I know that some time ago on my blog I had pizza for dinner. It was a frozen Tesco pizza at a kids party around my friends Simon and Kath's house. I believe that the wood oven cooked capricciosa pizza (artichoke, capers and pepperoni) today was significantly different and I wont have anyone saying I've been repeating dinners. I also had a plate of bresaola served on rocket with fresh parmesan to start with, all drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil as is the custom - superb. The pizza itself was fantastic, the pepperoni is nothing like the salami type stuff you get in Britain and was more like pastrami. We also shared a focaccia alla fromaggio, which is nothing like focaccia at all but is more like two very thin crispy pancakes stuffed with a slightly sour cream cheese - really quite special indeed.

The entire meal, including a litre of wine and assorted other drinks, was about £8.00 per head - I think I may not want to come home.

Cake Blog

The fruit and custard cake above. Very good indeed.


One thing worth mentioning about the town of Varese Ligure is that it is the only 100% sustainable environmentally friendly town in Europe (and possibly the world). Everything grown is organic, everything that can be recycled is recycled and energy use is kept to a minimum. This should be perhaps the eco holiday destination of every hippy/crusty and foody on the planet. Let's all go there now and irritate the locals - wont that be fun.

See here for info on the sustanable development: Varese Ligure