Friday, March 30, 2012

Milan: Duomo Rooftop Pictures

The following are some more of my photographs from the rooftop of the gorgeous Duomo di Milano.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Milan: The Duomo

Things are heating up here in Italy all of a sudden. In the past week the temperature has changed from light jacket weather to t-shirt weather and everyone is planning various weekend excursions to nearby cities. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, Lodi is located just outside of Milan and with the cost of a train ticket being less than five Euros, it is the ideal destination for northern Italian day-trippers.

Amongst all of the highly entertaining things to do in Milan is one landmark that is on every tourist’s must-see list, I am talking about the Duomo di Milano. Completed in 1965, this gothic masterpiece took almost six centuries to build and is the fourth largest cathedral in the world.  Every year, thousands of people flock to its doors to see what all of the fuss is about for themselves. Last summer, I was one such person.

Even though I had heard about the duomo before visiting the iconic Italian building, I must admit that I made my way into Milan on that balmy June afternoon not knowing exactly what to expect. It was my very first time in the city and I had been avoiding it for several weeks because I usually despise tourist traps. Still, many people in Lodi had urged me to visit the duomo in particular and I decided that I had to go considering that I live less than half an hour away.

As I rode the Milan underground, pretending to be a local, all cool and aloof, I wondered what it was about the duomo that made it such a place of interest. I spent several years of my childhood in England, surrounded by the beauty of historical buildings and honestly I couldn’t see how this particular cathedral would be any more spectacular than places like King’s College in Cambridge and Ely Cathedral.

Feeling a little jaded as I exited the train at the appropriately named “Duomo” stop, I made my way through the maze of corridors leading to the exit and followed a sign that pointed up a steep flight of stairs. As I emerged into the daylight that shone on the Piazza di Duomo, I quickly discovered why the area is so popular.

Immediately in front of me, the duomo loomed large and hoards of people meandered around it snapping photographs and simply gawking in amazement. Before I could take the view in completely, I was pestered by a man selling birdfeed who promised that he could get several pigeons to perch on my arms should I so desire. I shook my head and scurried away quickly, obviously he was unaware that I have an irrational fear of being licked by a bird. Irrational because birds are certainly not known for their surprise licking attacks, but hey I am sure that there are a lot weirder phobias out there than mine!

After escaping my near brush with the banes of my existence, I decided to take a closer look at the façade of the building. It is made almost entirely out of white stone and marble and is adorned with literally thousands of intricate carvings. There are statues of interest covering almost every inch of it and it would be impossible to visit the duomo and not spot something new regardless of how many times you visit.

Aside from the impressive exterior, one recommendation that Italian friends had given me was to pay the fee and see the roof of the cathedral. Located along the side of the building, the entrance to the staircase that takes you there is hidden away somewhat, but if you ask any of the police officers or duomo staff, they will happily point you to the right place. There are two options for visiting the roof; walking up a seemingly endless set of stairs or taking an elevator to the top. The elevator option costs almost twice as much as the stairs and so I decided not to be lazy and challenged myself to the climb.

After paying the fee and passing through a metal detector, I began the ascent up a spiral stone staircase that took me in an anti-clockwise direction. After passing around the corner for the fifth time, I began to feel somewhat dizzy and other tourists around me laughed with one another about the feeling. “Are we there yet?!” hollered one boisterous American woman as she weaved her way around a group of fashionable Japanese youths who had stopped for a breather and asked me to take their picture. Although we were all becoming increasingly exhausted, there was a positive atmosphere in the air and we chatted happily with one another throughout our climb.

When I finally reached the top, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. Never in my life have I see something quite like the duomo’s roof. Simply, it was magnificent. It looked like something out of a fantasy novel or one of the “Lord of The Rings” movies. The roof was a treasure trove of white marble statues, each one more stunning than the last. Amongst the statues were white marble staircases that led to various hidden gardens of even more sculptures. I imagined what it would have been like to walk upon the roof as a religious pilgrim several hundreds of years ago. The only word that I could think to describe it was heavenly. In fact, if there is such a thing as heaven, I could picture it looking very much like the roof of the Duomo di Milano.

The various passages and the roof’s twists and turns awakened my curiosity and I longed to explore some of the areas that had been sectioned off from the public because they were deemed too dangerous. Even though I wanted more, I must say that I was extremely impressed with the kind of access that tourists are given. Honestly, for the price of a ticket, you really do get your money’s worth and the views of the city are certainly the best in town.

Once I had spent over an hour on the roof, immersed in architecture and history, I decided to take a tour of the inside of the cathedral to complete my duomo experience. As I waited in the line to enter the building, I was thankful that I had worn a cardigan as visitors with bare shoulders, short shorts and mini skirts were being turned away by security personnel at the door. The signs posted inside the building stated “no photographs” but when I finally was allowed inside, I noticed that many people were simply ignoring that rule.

Compared to the roof, the inside was nothing spectacular and yet in terms of sheer enormity, the building’s interior was impressive. In particular I enjoyed the large stained glass windows that are located in the south of the cathedral and cover almost the entire wall in a kaleidoscope of rich colour. I also enjoyed peering into the crypts below through small windows on the main floor. These somewhat hidden rooms conjured images of secret meetings and intrigues and stirred the creative writer within me.

Overall I have to say that the Duomo di Milano is absolutely one of those places that cannot be missed. I started off the day being jaded and dubious and ended it as a wide-eyed tourist with a huge grin on my face. If you only have one hour, go and see the roof and if you have all day, spend it exploring the duomo and the nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. You may think that you will be bored of the area after several hours, but trust me you need the whole afternoon to really appreciate this architectural gem.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport Announces that Alonso is a Wizard

Maybe it’s just me, but the atmosphere in Lodi today is simply electric. People are walking around with an extra bounce in their step and Ferrari’s thrilling victory in Malaysia is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

I happened to bump into a friend of mine who used to work for Ferrari while on the way to purchase today’s Gazzetta dello Sport. Although she no longer is with the team, she still is very passionate about them and always speaks extremely fondly of her time in Maranello. She beamed at me broadly when she saw me wearing my Ferrari piquet polo shirt and we proceeded to chat excitedly about the race. She had been on the edge of her seat cheering on Fernando Alonso, just as I was and was very happy for the team. When I asked her about Felipe Massa, she replied that she couldn’t see him being replaced before the end of the season. Apparently Massa is very well liked at Ferrari and even though he is not performing, he still has many friends within the team.

After our very interesting conversation, I grabbed myself a copy of the Gazzetta dello Sport and anxiously rushed home to read it. For those of you who have never heard of the Gazzetta, it is Italy’s favourite daily sports newspaper and often publishes articles about Ferrari that range from celebratory to inflammatory within its light pink pages. Want to know what most Italian tifosi are talking about? Pick up an issue of the Gazzetta dello Sport and read about it.
An interesting fact about the Gazzetta is that one Enzo Ferrari even published an article for the newspaper in his youth. After his initial dream of becoming a famous opera singer failed as Enzo simply did not have the talent for the profession, the passionate Ferrari founder began perusing a career in sports journalism. At the tender age of sixteen, he wrote an article titled “Inter Milan-Modena 7:1” which was published in the famous newspaper. In addition to this, in 1924 Ferrari’s love of journalism saw him become one of the founders of the sporting newspaper Corriere dello Sport in Bologna. I am always amazed and inspired when I think about Enzo Ferrari’s many accomplishments, he was truly a remarkable person.

Back to the Gazzetta dello Sport, today’s headlines were naturally written in a triumphant tone. “Mago Alonso” or “Wizard Alonso” proclaimed the front page with a picture of a jubilant Alonso celebrating on the podium. Inside the newspaper, amongst the race analysis was an article about Sergio Perez’s remarkable drive. “Il Futuro è suo” it read, “The Future is his”.

When Perez turned around to look at the Mexican flag as it was being raised on the podium yesterday and then looked out at the crowd with an innocent smile, I couldn’t help but wonder what the future has in store for this talented young man. It seems almost certain that he will be wearing red sometime soon and it is my hope that his drive in Malaysia is just the first of many trips to the podium that he will be taking this year.

As for today’s newspaper, I plan on keeping it as a memento of this victory. It now joins my pile of old newspapers that includes headlines such as Jacques Villeneuve’s World championship in 1997 and Rubens Barrichello’s maiden win in 2000. I know that one day I will take it out, dust it off and smile when I relive this wonderful day. Forza Ferrari!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Malaysian Grand Prix: Red Revival

Today is a day that will surely live on in the hearts of tifosi all over the world for many years to come. Fernando Alonso has emerged as the surprise victor of a chaotic Malaysian Grand Prix that was run in changeable conditions and Sauber’s Sergio Perez has claimed the very first podium finish of his career.

Ferrari started out the weekend with the same form that they displayed in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. After Friday’s two practice sessions, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa could only manage to finish the day in sixth and sixteenth places respectively. Qualifying was a similarly depressing affair, with Massa failing to reach the final qualifying round for the second weekend in a row and Alonso only able to achieve ninth on the grid.

It was a telltale sign that the team is experiencing problems with their radical F2012 when Felipe’s engineer, Rob Smedley, reassured his driver over the team radio after Saturday’s session that he had done a decent job, despite only managing to set a time that was good enough to claim twelfth spot. When the field lined up at the start of the race, both McLaren drivers occupied the first two positions and another silver victory looked to be on the cards.

Thankfully the brutal Malaysian weather had other plans for the duo and after the race was initially red flagged due to a torrential downpour, Alonso ended up in first position after some quick work in the pits from his Ferrari team and some bad luck for Lewis Hamilton. Other potential challengers for the win, such as Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, suffered minor collisions that put them out of contention for victory.

Alonso led the field for the remainder of the race but not without intense pressure from Sergio Perez. In the final laps, Perez, who had at one point been six seconds adrift of the Spaniard was able to close up right behind the Ferrari. Unfortunately for the little Mexican, it was not to be his day and after making a slight error that caused him to run wide off track, the Sauber driver had to settle for second place. Although they would have preferred the win, the team was ecstatic with the result and Peter Sauber shed tears of joy on the pit wall. Sauber was joined by a very relieved Ferrari crew, who after a week of intense scrutiny in Italy, were able to relax if only for a brief moment.

When he was interviewed after the race a calm and collected Stefano Domenicali insisted that the team has a great deal of work to do before they can truly compete with the front running teams. Although he was still drenched in victory champagne and the team was celebrating all around him, the Ferrari team principal was very aware that if the Maranello squad is to keep their newly acquired lead in the driver’s championship they cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

Aside from Ferrari’s epic win, here are some of the day’s other stories that caught my eye:

1. Massa under pressure. After Fernando Alonso’s hard won fifth place at last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, many tifosi began asking exactly where Massa had been and when we could expect to see his replacement arrive at Ferrari. Despite the intense media scrutiny, Massa maintained that he wasn’t bothered by all of the negative attention and Ferrari decided to ship out a new chassis for him this weekend directly from Maranello as he was sure that the problems of balance that he is said to have experienced in the inaugural race were related to his specific car. “We really think it’s the right thing to do.” The Brazilian stated. “Every time I drove this car, I never had the problems that I had in Australia-I could not drive after the first lap.”

This weekend, Massa has blamed his fifteenth place finish on tyre degredation and after Sergio Perez challenged for the race win against Alonso, he became one of the most-wanted men in the Formula 1 paddock. It is no secret that Perez has close Ferrari links and he is the favourite to take Massa’s seat for the 2013 season. Now there is even more speculation that Perez could jump into an F2012 as early as the next race in China. Stefano Domenicali denied the rumour directly after the race and yet I really can’t see how Massa can carry on this way. I love Felipe and everything that he has achieved for Ferrari in the past. I love his character, his commitment and his passion. Still, all of these things alone are not enough to keep a seat in the competitive world of Formula 1 and Ferrari cannot afford to be overly sentimental during times of desperation.

2. Karthikeyan the cucumber. The HRT team started off the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend by obtaining a dream result by their standards when both of their cars qualified for the race on Sunday. For the habitual back markers, the situation became even better, when an inspired decision to put both cars on wet weather tyres instead of intermediates saw Narain Karthikeyan running in tenth position when the race was red-flagged on lap nine Unfortunately for the Spanish team, points were not on the cards as Pedro de la Rosa suffered issues off the line and Karthikeyan became involved in collisons with several other drivers.

One of Karthikeyan’s collisions involved Sebastian Vettel, who is no stranger to being adversely affected by the sluggish Indian. In the aftermath of the race, the World Champion slammed the HRT driver in an interview with German television. “Some people need to look more where they are going” He explained. “As in real life, there are a few cucumbers on the road.” The FIA agreed with Vettel’s assessment and penalised Karthikeyan twenty seconds after the chequered flag was dropped. Although disappointing, the result should not deter HRT, who can gain some satisfaction from their improved performance this weekend.

3. Kimi’s nap. Those of you who read my blog regularly will already know that I have a fondness for Kimi Raikkonen and his sometimes dim moments. Today, at the very place where the world first became aware of his love of ice cream, Kimi Raikkonen admitted that he was taking it easy during the race. For the Finn, it was his very first time driving on intermediate or wet tyres and rather than race full out to make up positions, Raikkonen instead concentrated on keeping his car on the road. “I didn’t have any experience driving on the inter tyres or the wet tyres.” He stated. “We’d only done one installation lap and it was a bit odd feeling to go in the race directly with tyres we haven’t run. But I just tried to stay behind the others, stay on the circuit and then push harder and harder. In the end it took a few laps for me to pick up the speed when I changed for the drys but after that it was okay.”

Raikkonen ended the day in a solid fifth position and brought his points tally for the season up to 16. In contrast, his unlucky team mate, Romain Grosjean, has failed to score a point despite looking very quick in the Lotus.

4. Formula 1 Gazebos. Did anyone else notice the Gazebos that teams such as McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari erected on the grid when the red flag was waved on lap nine? The colourful tarps sprung up quickly in the torrential rain as team personnel scrambled to protect their precious machinery from the Malaysian downpour. While McLaren and Mercedes had managed to set their mini-fortresses up seemingly instantly, Ferrari took several minutes to figure theirs out. “Ferrari is even slow at erecting gazebos.” Remarked my boyfriend Luca cheekily.

Actually, it really only seems to be the F2012 and Felipe Massa who look slow at Ferrari this year as the team has been fierce in the pits especially. At the Australian Grand Prix, Ferrari had the fastest pit stops of the weekend and today their sound strategic decisions and quick tyre changes enabled Fernando Alonso to take his first win of the season! Good job guys!

Now that the Malaysian Grand Prix is over, the teams will head back home for a short while before travelling to Shanghai where they will start another Grand Prix weekend in three weeks time. Until then Ferrari can hold their heads high once more, knowing that their driver is leading the world championship and work to make up the performance gap to teams like McLaren and Red Bull. If the season’s first two races are any indication as to what the rest of the year will be like, we are certainly in for a thrilling championship.

**Photographs for this post were provided by Gianluca Martini**

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Teaching English as a Foreign Language

If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country where the majority of the population do not speak your native language, you understand that finding employment as an outsider can be an especially tricky process. If your language skills are less than perfect, the task ceases to be merely difficult and instead enters the realm of the virtually impossible.

Thankfully if you are an English native speaker, there is one type of job that you will instantly be able to find, even though you may not feel particularly qualified to do it. No, I am not talking about fruit picking for below average pay, I am of course referring to becoming a language teacher.

I was first introduced to language teaching earlier this year when a friend of mine told me that her husband was looking to improve his English. At first I was a little bit apprehensive but after several lessons and once I got into the swing of things, I became hooked. I love the idea that I am enriching someone else’s life and in my case, also improving my Italian. Even though for me teaching is only a hobby that I share with Italian friends of mine, from what I have observed if you are looking to make money teaching in Italy there are many opportunities to do so.

The following are therefore some of my recommendations for teaching English as a second language:

1. Have a plan. I remember when I was younger and first moved away from Montreal, Canada where I am originally from. My mother hired a French teacher to come and speak with me once a week. It was her hope that I would be able to maintain my fluency in the language despite no longer being exposed to it on a regular basis. Unfortunately for me, the teacher was unprepared and never had a plan. As a result my French suffered and I am sad to say that it is now even worse than my German! The lesson that I learnt from this experience is to always have a decent lesson plan. I usually type my plans up on paper because they look more organised that way and also so that my students have room to make notes about the things that we have discussed.

2. Communicate. A thirteen year old girl will not want the same kinds of lessons as the forty five year old C.E.O of a multi-national company. Make sure that you get to know your student before making lesson plans and check in after every lesson. I usually spend about five minutes at the end of a session talking about potential subjects of interest and also which particular activities the student found especially helpful.

3. Mix it up. Nobody likes to do the same boring thing day in and day out. Instead of being predictable, challenge your student by constantly thinking of new activities that stimulate your student’s senses. The quickest way to fluency is to immerse yourself in a language and your student will absorb far more information if your lessons are interactive as well as informative.

4. Be punctual and professional. I know that this sounds like a given, but you would be surprised how many people comment about my punctuality. Apparently a good English teacher is hard to find. Always show up to your lessons five minutes early and don’t clock watch. Be patient, understanding and respectful of your student at all times no matter how many mistakes that they initially make. Always dress conservatively for lessons, no cleavage bearing tops or ultra short skirts. Don't be overly casual even if you are just participating in a language exchange.

5.Have fun. If you are sitting across from your student twiddling your thumbs and yawning for the majority of the lesson, your lack of enthusiasm will rub off onto him or her. Show passion for your language and don’t be afraid to improvise from time to time. If you see teaching a language as a job, chances are your student will see learning a language as a chore but if you see it as an opportunity to get to know some wonderful people, everyone will have a fun and educational time!

I hope that these tips have helped you. Like I said, I am not a professional language teacher and I do not earn a living from teaching. Instead I have forged some wonderful friendships and learnt a language along the way. Knowledge is an amazing thing and there is no better feeling in the world than when you empower another person with it. Good luck!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ask Gianluca: Melbourne

Gianluca Martini is a rare type of enthusiast. He is one of the biggest Ferrari fans that I have ever met and yet his passion for motorsports and Formula 1 in particular mean that he values good racing over results. With more than thirty years of Formula 1 viewing under his belt, the Melbourne native has been enamoured with cars for as far back as he can remember. Add to that an engineering degree and you get one extremely well-educated fanatic. Since getting to know him, I have come to view Gianluca as an invaluable source of both information and witty commentary. He has a talent for picking drivers who will be the next big thing and for remembering obscure facts that most of us have long forgotten.

This past weekend, Gianluca was fortunate enough to attend the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and with Albert Park also being his home circuit, I decided that he would be the ideal person to give me the inside scoop on the Australian Grand Prix. Earlier today I asked him some questions about what the event was really like.
Danielle: As you know, I’ve never been to Albert Park during a Grand Prix Weekend before. What is the atmosphere like throughout the event?

Gianluca: It’s a good atmosphere but generally speaking people aren’t Formula 1 enthusiasts. They’re present more so because it’s a big event. In terms of knowledge I would say that it’s average which is slightly disappointing really. It doesn’t compare to Monza for instance, where you know that most of the crowd are motor-racing enthusiasts. In Melbourne, I feel the race is seen more as a social event than a motor race.
Danielle: Are you saying that there are no Formula 1 fanatics in Melbourne?

Gianluca: Not at all! There are some die-hard Formula 1 fans definitely, but not like in Europe where the majority seem to know what they're talking about. This weekend for instance, I had to explain to a guy sitting in front of me that Michael Schumacher made his come back in 2010, not this year!

Danielle: So tell me more about your personal experience. Where were you sitting?

Gianluca: I was sitting on the start/finish straight directly in front of seventh position on the grid.
Danielle: What was that like?

Gianluca: It was great for the start of the race and the pit stops. It was also exciting to see the beginning of a slipstream manoeuvre. Specifically Alonso would get sooo close to the car in front a few times I thought he was going to fly over his back wheels, the precision was extraordinary. All of the aircraft displays and action are centred around the start/finish straight, but in terms of seeing Formula 1 performance, apart from at the start, it’s probably not the best place.
Danielle: So if you could sit anywhere on the circuit, where would you sit?

Gianluca: At turn eleven/twelve, which is a fast chicane where the apex speed is around 220kph. Turns one and two is also a good position to sit, drivers tend to get greedy under brakes and more often than not drift wide across the Astroturf or gravel trap - I think it must be the most used run-off area in the whole Formula 1 calendar!
Danielle: Friday must have been brutal with the weather being so changeable. How did you manage to keep dry?

Gianluca: Huddled under a plastic poncho that I brought with me to the track. As a Melbournian I know that it can rain at any given moment regardless of what the weather forecast is or what the sky currently appears to be!

Danielle: What about what other people were wearing? What was the funniest fan outfit that you saw all weekend?

Gianluca: There was a woman in my grandstand who was wearing a Ferrari cat hat, it had two ears and a cat's tail. I’ve never seen a Ferrari cat hat before and I have no idea what a cat has to do with Ferrari. It was certainly unique; I’ve never seen them sold anywhere.

Danielle: If you had to guess, what would you say that cats have to do with Ferrari?
Gianluca: Maybe she’s a Massa fan and believes that Massa deserves nine lives. At the current rate, he'll need 20 though, one for each race haha. She was clearly a Ferrari fan; she had the jacket, the t-shirt and clearly the quintessential Ferrari cat hat!

Danielle: Aside from people wearing strange outfits, did you notice anyone else who was interesting at the track? What about celebrities?
Gianluca: I saw plenty of drivers and team personnel because I was sitting right in front of the pits but one that stands out in my mind is Lenny Kravitz. He looked absolutely ridiculous with his beanie and dark sunglasses even though it was nearly night time and pissing down with rain. Then he mentioned something about not knowing anything about Formula 1, yet he got a personal garage tour of McLaren and I had to sit out in the rain! Yes I’m a disgruntled fan…damn you celebrities!

Danielle: Let’s talk about the actual racing itself. Was there anything that you noticed that people watching the race on television might have missed?
Gianluca: Kimi Raikkonen’s start! It was fantastic because he just shot between two cars. People watching on television would have probably been concentrating on the front of the grid as opposed to eighteenth position. Vitaly Petrov also stopped right in front of me when he had his steering problem. And of course Alonso's millimetre perfect overtaking moves, unfortunately mostly on lapped cars!

Danielle: What about the cars themselves, did you notice anything that was of particular interest to you?
Gianluca: I spent a fair bit of time trying to work out how the DRS F duct stalls the front wing of the Mercedes.

Danielle: Did you manage to work it out in the end?
Gianluca: Schumacher spun in free practice three and got stuck in the gravel. The crane had to lift his car up and he was standing in front of the front wing to block any views of this DRS F Duct device. You could tell that he was trying to block it because he was spreading his arms out and ensuring the car wouldn’t be lifted too high so nobody could see under it. Obviously that means there is something to the rumours and that the system exists because thus far it has only been speculation really.

Danielle: What about HRT? Exactly how bad is their car in person?
Gianluca: I actually really like the car! I think it’s one of the best looking cars on the grid in terms of the shape and the minimalist colour scheme is classy but it’s visibly slow, even in a straight line.

Danielle: What was your favourite support race category this year?
Gianluca: Australian V8 Supercars. They have probably the best set of drivers outside of the Formula 1 grid at Albert Park and usually produce close racing along with a fair bit of commotion.

Danielle: Was there anything about this year’s V8 events that stood out to you?
Gianluca: The stupid rules that they trialed. First there’s a qualifying 'race' and every three laps the last three cars are eliminated until there are ten cars left. At this point, if the ten cars are too far apart they call out the safety car to bunch the field up and then restart the race for the remaining 8 odd laps.

Danielle: That’s one way to force competition. It makes DRS look tame.
Gianluca: Yes, it makes DRS almost seem like a good idea doesn’t it? To be honest I’m not entirely sure that I dislike DRS. What I don’t like about it is that it gives only one car the opportunity to use it at a time. The driver who’s the faster car is in front but with DRS, he’s disadvantaged by being in front which is against the whole point of motor racing. In terms of overtaking though it’s no different to the turbo boost button they had back in the 1980s although then you could also use it defensively too.

Danielle: Imagine if DRS had been around when Gilles Villeneuve was driving. It would have certainly altered his legend.
Gianluca: Yes, he’d have been in trouble. One of the skills of motor racing is being able to defend your position. With DRS, and if both cars have similar performance, you almost have no chance.

Danielle: Alright, time for a conclusion. What is the most annoying thing about Albert Park as a venue?
Gianluca: I don’t particularly like the layout of the circuit. There are too many chicanes and left/right or right/left combinations. It doesn’t have a nice flow to it, not until the last sector anyway. The other thing would be vantage points. It’s not like Sepang for instance, where you can sit in one spot and see most of the track. All the views are pretty limited.
Danielle: I know what you mean, Canada’s like that too.

Gianluca: Yes, because they’re both street circuits essentially, surrounded by concrete walls and trees.
Danielle: Finally, what is the best thing about Albert Park as a venue?

Gianluca: The organisation is excellent, you'd have to try really hard to get lost going to/from the circuit or making your way around it. It’s a four day event and the programme is filled with so many things to see and do, both off and on the track. There are historic parades, car shows, aircraft displays, stunt motorcycle displays, concerts, 'jet pack man' and a massive support race program including V8 Supercars and the Porsche Carrera Cup. It’s pretty impressive, there is something going on all the time. There’s almost too much choice, you literally could not see everything.

Danielle: Did you say 'jet pack man'?

Gianluca: Yes, he’s basically a guy with a jet pack who flies for a pretty short amount of time, like 10 seconds, until his fuel runs out. There’s a video of him on Youtube actually. He was on the pit straight and trying to fly over a bridge, it was bloody loud. Unfortunately one of the days he couldn’t do it because he had a problem with his jet pack and only hovered a metre off the ground - understandable as you don't want to be falling from a 20 metre height with only your legs cushioning the landing!
Danielle: Sounds epic. What was his name?

Gianluca: Jet pack man…literally.
Danielle: I love Australians!

**Photographs for this article were generously provided by Gianluca Martini**

Monday, March 19, 2012

Recco Part Two: Basking Amidst Beauty

As I mentioned in my blog post last Tuesday I was fortunate enough to get to spend several days on the beaches of Recco this summer. After an initial day that was filled with rain and produced some quite dramatic photographs, I went to bed hoping for sunshine and an authentic taste of Italian beach culture in the morning.

When I awoke the next day my prayers had been answered. The sun shone brightly, people wandered about wearing shorts and dresses in the streets below my hotel and there was not a cloud in the sky. After eating a very relaxing breakfast on my hotel’s terrace, I changed into my bikini and a sundress and set off for the closest beach, which was located only a few steps away from the Hotel Elena. Once again the hotel’s receptionist proved to be helpful and gave me the advice not to pay the twenty Euros that it costs to visit one of the tourist beaches but instead to bring a towel and set myself up beside them for free. She also offered me a massive beach umbrella, which she said that the hotel would normally charge for but that because I was staying multiple nights she would allow me to have at no cost.

When I arrived at the beach, the atmosphere was very laid back. It was still fairly early in the morning and there were only a few locals sprawled out on their towels, basking in the sun. I put my towel down on the rocks and lathered myself in sunscreen because I am insanely pale and always manage to get myself burnt if I spend more than several hours outside. Although the rain had stopped, the current was strong and the red caution flags that I had first noticed on the previous afternoon still warned potential swimmers that the water was far too dangerous to frolic in. I am a very strong swimmer and in my youth even competed at a high level so I decided to try and wade out to see what the water was really like for myself. Almost immediately I discovered that swimming was going to be impossible as the current pulled me out into the ocean and I struggled to make it back onto land. When the Italians say that the water is dangerous, they really aren’t exaggerating!

After my escape from the abnormally strong waters, I elected to follow the example set by the locals and attempted to cultivate one of those beautiful golden brown Italian tans that many of them sport. Almost as soon as I had assumed my relaxation position, a tall man was standing in front of me, blocking the sunlight. He had with him a massive collection of handbags and spoke with an accent. “Ciao bella, la borsa!” he exclaimed, which made me laugh because I couldn’t imagine who would want to buy a designer knock-off purse while attempting to sunbathe. The whole thing was a little bit strange but I never felt threatened and once it became clear that I wasn’t interested in anything that he was peddling, he moved along.

After lying out there for a few hours and eating several popsicles and a hotdog, I decided to go for a walk and explore the coast in the daylight. As I made my way up the hill towards the cliffs that I had seen on the previous night, I noticed something very funny and amazing. Nestled amongst the rocks was a small bar that was serving alcoholic beverages. It was a beautiful setting and I’m sure that it gets a lot of business, but I also couldn’t help but think about how extremely dangerous it was. Considering that there were no barriers and one could simply wander off the cliff and onto the jagged rocks below if they were not careful, I definitely don’t think that I would choose it as a drinking destination. Still, there were many locals out on the high rocks, with the waves crashing below them, baking in the sun and laughing with their friends.

After marvelling at the Italians and their easygoing attitude, I found my way onto a little rock beach where many people had congregated. This was definitely no tourist destination and the only language that I could hear around me was Italian. While most people applied sunscreen and worked on their tans, a few were sitting out on the large rocks, with their feet dangling in the water, I decided to join then. Almost immediately when I sat down, a friendly local struck up a conversation. She was retired and had chosen to live in Recco because it was lovely place that was close to her family in Milan. When I asked her about the weather and horrible water conditions, she replied that it was extremely abnormal not to be able to swim in the water and that usually many people swim far out onto rocks that are located off shore. It was a real shame and I absolutely longed to have an experience like that. Still, the crashing waves, that splashed cooling water onto my body every few minutes, were refreshing and I had a wonderful day.

Overall Recco is a brilliant place to have a vacation but just keep in mind that it can be a bit of a rip-off if you go to the more touristy places. My recommendation is to explore the area a little bit before picking your final sunbathing spot and to ask the locals about their favourite beaches if you are in doubt. Hopefully I will get to visit the area again in the near future, when the weather is a little bit better and I am able to swim in the water.