July 21, 2008

Here Today. Gone Tomorrow

Well, the mammoth bike tour is over, and we've been back in Torino for a couple of days. We had an (mostly) excellent time and it was really interesting to get to experience some of the other Italies.

I gave up on the GPS tracking after a couple of days because the Sports Tracker app seems to struggle to track anything longer than half-a-kilometer, but luckily my Specialized bike computer is much more reliable (even if I did forget to clip it back into its holder once or twice after refreshment stops at bars).

According to the bike computer, we cycled (/pushed the bikes uphill...) 182 miles. The real figure (i.e. with the bits where I'd forgotten to clip the computer in, and some cycling round Ischia where I didn't take it) is probably nearer to 200 miles. When we got back we weighed the panniers and tent that we'd lugged round, and it turns out we had 35kg of luggage; a good job we only checked that at the end I think!

I'll write more about it in a while, but just wanted to check-in and mark the next mad phase that we're about to enter. Since returning we've been packng everything up into boxes because tomorrow I'll be leaving Torino and driving back to the UK.

I'm quite sad to be leaving Torino and Italy, but also excited about finding somewhere to live in Liverpool, which is where we're headed. But before I find us somewhere to live I need to get the car MOTed, which will be just outside Cambridge as usual.

So tomorrow we pack the car; then overnight I'll drive to Calais; on Wednesday catch a ferry to Dover and drive up to my uncle's place just outside Cambridge. Then once the car has its MOT I'll be heading to the North-West to my parents' and looking for somewhere to rent in the centre of Liverpool.

Until then, I'll leave the twitter updates at the top of the blog, as that's going to be the easier way for me to post anything for a while yet...

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June 30, 2008

The Crazy Inglese

Things have been busy the past few weeks, and I've been collecting quite a backlog of stuff to write about. Pretty much all of it is Italy- and Torino-related, as we're cramming as much as possible into our last weeks here. And at the same time getting some work done, and starting to plan and arrange things ready for the move back to UK and to Liverpool.

So, in addition to my blogging about supercar manufacturers and museums in Modena, there's the historic Lancia rally from last weekend and photos of the four-day party weekend as Torino celbrated its patron-saint day with a procession, a bonfire, and lots of fireworks.

However, none of that will be arriving on this blog any time soon, as we're busy packing stuff up ready for when I drive back to England at the end of next month. Which would give us plenty of time, but tomorrow morning we'll be catching the 8:20am train from Torino towards the coast.

We'll have our bikes with us, laden down with panniers and a tent, ready for a three-week-long cycle tour of Liguria, Tuscany and the Amalfi coast. As that takes in almost the entire length of Italy, we won't be cycling the entire distance, but will be using a combination of bikes and trains.

As a result, blogging here will be light, to say the least. I'm going to pull my twitter updates onto this page though, to give a taste of what we're up to, and our provisional itinerary is below. Hopefully my phone's GPS will work okay (once I've finished rigging something up to mount it onto the handlebars of my bike) and so in August there'll be photos and route maps.

The itinerary:

The Cinque Terre 1/7 - 4/7

Genova -> Rapallo -> Sestri -> Levanto -> Riomaggiore -> La Spezia -> Viareggio

Toscana (Tuscany) 4/7 - 9/7

Lucca -> Firenze (Florence) -> San Gimignano -> Siena -> Montepulciano -> Chiusi

The Amalfi Coast 10/7 - 17/7

Ischia -> Napoli (Naples) -> Sorrento -> Positano -> Agerola -> Amalfi -> Minori -> Vietri -> Salerno -> Pompeii

Roma 17/7 - 19/7

Err, just Rome.


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June 15, 2008

The "Olivetti: una bella societa" Exhibition

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June 04, 2008

Experiments in Mapping

When my mobile phone was up for renewal recently, I plumped for the Nokia N95 8GB - mainly because of the built-in GPS. We're planning a cycling tour round some of Italy next month, and I figured it would be cool to record where we've been.

It arrived just before our trip to Modena (thanks for the courier service Andrew :-) and I downloaded the Italian maps into it, which made it pretty handy for finding our way around the variety of supercar manufacturers and museums, but there didn't seem to be any way to pull the GPS data out from the phone.

Yesterday, Russell pointed me at the missing apps I needed to get things working properly. Location Tagger will add the GPS location info to any photos you take, and Sports Tracker will let you record where you go and then export it to Google Earth.

So when we were out for a training ride earlier, I tried out Sports Tracker. I couldn't get it to record data for very long, so I'll need to play around with it some more. I'm hoping that mounting the phone onto the handlebars might give it a better view of the GPS satellites than it gets in my pocket.

Still, it's a start, and it means that I can show you a short section and an even shorter section of today's 20-mile ride (I'll be continuing to rely on the bike computer for proper distance recordings I think...)


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May 31, 2008

Big River Update

As there has been lots more rain since Wednesday, the river level has risen a fair bit above where it was then. By yesterday it had almost submerged the bars on the Murazzi quayside, as you can see from the photo on this post from local blogger Axell. I cycled along past the bars on Wednesday, so that's a rise of around four feet in a day or two.

Today the sun managed to stay out for a few hours (although there's been another thunderstorm since), so I went for a bike ride and retraced our route from Wednesday. The water level seems to be dropping, and the clean-up operation has started. There were even a couple of hovercraft on the river, one with a film crew filming the devastation. They were very noisy, but extremely cool and manoeuverable.

Click on the photo to see all the pictures I've taken of the river over the past few days.

A hovercraft on a flooded river Po


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May 28, 2008

Big River

The weather has been pretty ropey for the past few days here in Torino. Yesterday we had lots of rain, and a pretty decent thunderstorm. Today was quite a bit better so we went out for a bike ride up the river.

All that water has to go somewhere, obviously, and the river is probably the highest I've seen it. It also seems to be carrying a hell of a lot of debris - tree trunks, plastic bottles, oil drums... so much junk in fact that it has started to collect around any objects in the flow. This bridge for example:

Debris forming a dam halfway across the river Po

It's hard to see from my mobile phone picture, but the stuff is forming a dam which stretches about halfway across the river. Here's a close-up of the dam taken from the bridge:

The natural dam forming across the Po

As the river was so high, on our way back we took a slight diversion to see what the weir in the middle of town was like. They're in the middle of maintenance work on it at the moment, and have built a small causeway across in order to do the work. With this amount of water in the river all being channelled into half its width by the causeway, we thought it would be pretty impressive.

And it was. Most of the causeway has been swept away; I hope they hadn't left the pile driver and excavator on it that have been there the past few times I've been past...

Heavy flow over the weir on the river Po

Lots of murky water pouring over it, you wouldn't be able to drive a few Minis across just at the minute!


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April 30, 2008

False Friends

I was supposed to be going to bed an hour ago, but was just having a leaf through the Lonely Planet guide to wind down before turning in. We're planning a trip to Modena in mid-May to check out some of the car-related sights - Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, De Tomaso... are all based in the Modena area. So, obviously, rather than wind-down, I've ended up opening the laptop and have been poking around an assortment of websites about all sorts of interesting-sounding little museums.

Quite a few of the museums can be visited only by appointment, which has introduced me to my latest false friend - richiesta.

A false friend is a word that sounds like an easy translation from one language to the other, but which isn't what you'd expect. For example, stufa doesn't mean stuffed, it means stove.

So when it says "le visite alla Fabbrica Maserati sono possibili su richiesta" it doesn't mean that "visits to the Maserati factory are only possible for the richest", it actually means that visits are only "by request".


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April 29, 2008

Blog All Collected Flyers - Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2008

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April 14, 2008

Share Festival 2008: Manufacturing Future Designs

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April 13, 2008

Share Festival 2008: Manufacturing Digital Art

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April 10, 2008

Further Adventures In Italian

The past few days I've found out a lot about 'dolore'. That's not the Italian version of Dolores, unfortunately - it's the Italian word for pain.

Since the start of the week, I've been suffering from frequent bouts of nasty pain in the left side of my jaw. They'd only last a few minutes, but were every hour or two and even combinations of over-the-counter pain-killers were only able to take the edge off the pain, not remove it.

Today was the first chance we had to go to a dentist to see what the problem was. Luckily the pain wasn't so bad that I couldn't go snowboarding yesterday (priorities, of course ;-) although I hadn't had too much sleep the previous night.

Rebecca came with me, which was great as that gave me much less translating, and less trying to understand or speak; plus some of the staff at the dental surgery could speak some English (probably a similar level to my Italian). So between us all, we managed to discuss whereabouts the pain was; whether it was affected by eating or hot or cold drinks; whether it was an ache or a sharp pain (Italians don't seem to do stabbing pain, but have cutting pain instead).

Then there were x-rays and experiments with super-cooled wads of cotton wool to see if the problem could be replicated or isolated. Luckily, while we were in the waiting room I'd idly discussed with Rebecca the Italian for 'smile' (which is 'sorriso'), so I understood the instruction when the dental nurse was taking the x-ray.

They decided it was most likely an abscess, and so I can now add devitalizzazione - root canal work - to my list of Italian experiences.

It was all very clinical and professional; the dentist even went as far as erecting a small trampoline in my mouth - apparently to stop any debris falling down my throat. It's a Canadian invention, she told me, and seemed quite surprised that I hadn't encountered such a device before. She also told me that my teeth were brutta (ugly), and had an extended discussion with some sort of electronic dental device salesman about the amount of amalgam in my mouth - all while pulling the nerve out of my tooth and filling it in again - so maybe she's come away with a less rosy view of NHS dental work.

My favourite new piece of vocabulary from this experience has to be dente del giudizio. Teeth of Judgement sounds much more apocalyptic and superhero-like than wisdom teeth.


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March 12, 2008

The Share Festival 2008

Share Festival graffiti logo Yesterday saw the start of this year's Share Festival, which this year takes on the theme manufacTURINg. I went along to the launch at the Faculty of Architecture department of the Turin Polytechnic, which is in the very pretty, ex-royal-palace, Castello Del Valentino.

Rather like the last event I attended here, I didn't understand most of what was said apart from when Bruce Sterling (who is the guest curator of the festival) was talking. I could work out a lot more of the words, but still only enough for half sentences here and there.

Anyway, I had a look at some of the exhibits (handily labelled in English as well as Italian), and picked up the festival catalogue (and one for the World Design Capital events too).

There are some very interesting events happening over the next few days for the festival, and it's frustrating to think that I probably won't understand much of them. I'm hoping to still attend quite a few, including Manufacturing the Streets this evening, and the chief designer of FIAT talking about the FIAT 500 tomorrow. Then on Saturday I want to catch Massimo Banzi again (I saw him at the Takeaway Festival last year) talking about the Arduino, and Donald Norman and Bruce Sterling (plus two Italians I haven't heard of) talking about Manufacturing Future Designs. At least with the last one there'll be some English spoken.

I'll be posting any photos I take of the festival to my Share Festival 2008 Flickr set and will post my notes here too. If you want to watch any of the sessions but aren't in Turin, they're streaming all of the events live.

And if you attend any of the events and spot a confused-looking Englishman, come over and say "Hello", or "Ciao", or "Buongiorno"...


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January 28, 2008

More Learning Italian

Since my 30-in-30 challenge learning Italian has fallen off my priority list somewhat. Obviously, given that we're living in Torino, there's a background level of exposure and learning going on, but I'd run out of easy materials to learn more.

I've been trying to get back on track though, and so have been taking my mp3-player out with me when I go for a bike ride and listening to some of the podcasts from learnitalianpod.com.

Then via Mark Simpkin's experiment I found the BBC languages website and the Learning Italian pages.

The lessons start from the basics, but there's also a fast track section if you know some Italian. I wasn't expecting to get too far with it, but was pleasantly surprised to get about 75% of the answers right on all of the sections. I'm learning more than I thought, but will be having a look at some of the lessons to brush up a bit.


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January 26, 2008

Interesting Advertising

Looking through this list of inspired adverts reminded me of a photo I took on the banks of the river just before Christmas.

Photo of a car trapped in a bubble with artificial snow

Just by chance I happened upon this full-size rally car trapped in a plastic bubble, complete with fake snow being blown round it. I'm not sure exactly why they'd set it up down by the river - it's not the busiest of areas this time of year, and so it was a bit isolated, but it was definitely different and intriguing.


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December 05, 2007

Mountains and Biking, But Not Mountain-Biking

Picture taken from Ponte di Sassi in Torino with the Alps in the background

Since moving to Turin I've hardly done any cycling. That's mainly a location thing - in Cambridge we lived on the outskirts of the city, and so cycling was the best mode of transport; here we live in the centre with most of what we want in easy walking distance.

We also use the car less than we did even in Cambridge. I think a lot of that is due to it being a five-minute walk from the apartment - you can get to a lot of shops more quickly than you can get to the car. In many ways I prefer not having the car so near as you actually consider whether or not it's the best option, and it often isn't. I still don't know if I'd deliberately choose to park so far away however...

Anyway, that's not what this entry is about. It's about getting back in the saddle and enjoying yourself. I went for a ride along the river, spending most of my time away from the main roads. I got a closer view of some of the locations used in The Italian Job (one of these days I might do an Italian Job tour of Torino and post some photos); watched the ducks, gulls and herons on the river; and got some wonderful glimpses of the mountains - like the one in the photo above, taken from the Ponte di Sassi (Sassi Bridge) at the mid-point of my route.

And if you want to see some closer shots of the mountains, Rebecca has posted the photos from our recent walking expedition.


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September 29, 2007

Bruce Sterling @ Circolo dei Lettori

Event link (Location)

See also: Review on the Experientia blog

Last night I went to my first "geek gathering" since arriving in Italy. It was an interview with the author Bruce Sterling to mark the launch of the Italian translation of his latest book (Shaping Things or La Forma del Futuro in Italian) but before I get onto the interveiew, a quick note about the venue and the audience.

It was held by the Circolo dei Lettori (Circle of Readers) in the Graneri della Roccia Palace, not quite as grand as some of the other palaces in the city, and it doesn't stand out particularly on the street. However, that's more due to there being so many grand old apartment blocks in Turin, rather than it being an unimpressive building. The interior was more impressive, with a wide staircase taking us up to the first floor, through an ante-room and into the venue for the Presentazione. That room was suitably palatial, with a huge ornate chandelier, and marble bas-relief statues adorning the walls. The projector screen in the corner looked positively out of place against such decorations and the rows of sculptured, delicately-legged chairs laid out for the audience.

The audience itself was unlike those I've encountered at similar events in the UK; it had a much more varied composition - a wider spread of ages, and a lot more women. Maybe that reflects Turin's design slant, compared with Cambridge's comp. sci. leanings.

Luckily for me, Bruce doesn't speak Italian; so I was able to understand everything that he talked about and also the introductory short film that was shown at the start of proceedings. However, that does mean that the rest of this is skewed towards what Bruce said, as everything else was conducted in Italian - most of which I didn't understand.

I was amused by the only question or comment made by an audience-member, who pointed out that the chair in the film wasn't very beautiful. Bruce said it was based on a design by one of his friends, who wants to explore and expose the abilities of these new computer-controlled digital routers (that'll be the type that shape wood, rather than ones that connect bits of the Internet together), and agreed that it did result in something fairly ugly. It shows that the new hi-tech tools have a way to go before they match the craft of the Italian chairs we were all sat upon.

The Arrival of Spimes?

The film (which you should probably go and watch, rather than just suffer the following summary) gave a glimpse into the world thirty years from now, as imagined by Bruce. A couple, shopping from the comfort of their own home can find and interact with the individual craftsman-designer who makes a chair they like. They can see how the design is mapped out on computer before being sent to a computer-controlled fabrication plant; track it all the way to their doorstep; then, because it's a "spime enabled" chair, they can integrate it into their house's object-information-management system and start using and enjoying their new acquisition. Unfortunately, it gets damaged in a thunderstorm, but because of the spime it's easy for them to contact the designer who offers them a free replacement in exchange for the old damaged chair and the metadata about how it broke (all of which is contained in the spime, which is fortunately undamaged).

Before the interview, most of the knowledge I had of Bruce (and his work) was focused around spimes and how they'll make everything trackable and self-knowledgeable. By self-knowledgeable I mean that objects will know where they've come from; how they were made; how they've been used; and how they should be destroyed. Kind of a cross between some kind of smart label and a black-box recorder.

There's this assumption that the spimes will become more useful and valuable than the objects to which they're attached. In the film, one of the characters even goes as far as to say so: "They gave you a free chair because you gave them all our 'meta-data': our user records, a full video account of the lightning damage... Those data are worth more than the chair."

It's not at all clear to me why that would be the case.

I can see that in some cases it would be useful to know how your product had been used, and to get information about how the product failed, but only for a fraction of the products you sold. Surely the cost of providing a replacement would soon outweigh the value provided by the information?

It Isn't All About Spimes

A lot of the advances and changes pictured in the film are already with us, something Bruce himself pointed out during the talk. The Internet lets buyers and designer-creators find each other, interact and make and sell things. New fabrication technology helps designers manufacture items that beforehand would have required the economies of scale of the mass-market. And RFID tags or the combination of printed labels and humans being able to recognise "www.blah..." and type it into a computer provide the smart-labelling and information-providing side of spimes.

The breakthrough idea in Bruce's book isn't spimes, it's the understanding that the current linear manufacturing process of design-make-sell-use-discard needs to become a proper cycle where the discard step is replaced with some form of feedback of the physical object to the manufacturer. Spimes are just an enabler for that process, and the added information is a sweetener to make accepting the product at the end of its (initial) life more palatable.

I think it's a rather utopian and slightly unrealistic view of how things will turn out.

The main problem I have is that the world isn't so neat and never will be. What happens with with objects made from other component objects, like a car? Does that have a multitude of spimes, or just one? What about products that use discarded other products as their raw materials - like these Grolsch bottle goblets? Do they keep the original Grolsch spime or get a brand new one?

At the end of the day it doesn't matter. Bruce is a sci-fi writer, and this is just one imagining of one possible future world. It will be up to us to craft the actual reality as time progresses. I agree with him on the main theme that there needs to be a sustainable re-interpreting of products when they outlive their current use; and I hope there's some truth in his prediction of a shift from huge, faceless mass-manufacturing towards smaller, more human individual designers and craftsmen. I wouldn't go as far as the sole designer though - from experience I know that can be a pretty lonely work life at times - and I think working as a small team would be more enjoyable, and also let people focus on their strengths rather than having to be designer, manufacturer, marketer, salesman and businessman all at once.

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September 21, 2007

Run To the Hills

Photo of the Alps from Aosta An added bonus of having people come to visit is that it gives us that added push to get out of Turin and explore some of the surrounding area. On Saturday we did just that, and headed off into the Alps.

We've been into the Alps to the west of Turin before, when we first arrived by car and also when we took some visitors to Sestriere; so this time we struck out to the north - past Ivrea and up towards Monte Bianco (or Mont Blanc, if you're on the French side).

Our destination was Aosta, about an hour and a half's drive from Turin and an easy run on the autostrada. It's a picturesque little town, very much a town rather than just a ski resort (in contrast to Sestriere, where there wasn't that much to do when we visited as it was the middle of the summer).

Aosta is sometimes called the Rome of the Alps, as there are old Roman ruins and ancient walls and arches everywhere. We spent a lovely afternoon wandering around in the 33 degree sun browsing the shops and soaking up the atmosphere in little cafes.

My favourite bit of Aosta is its relationship with the surrounding mountains. The streets are fairly narrow and the buildings a few storeys high, so at every corner you get a fabulous glimpse of a different fragment of snow-capped Alp, framed by these old apartment blocks.


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September 14, 2007

Dusko Goykovich Quintet @ Piazza Valdo Fusi

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August 30, 2007

Ain't It The Life

There's something about being able, when you're stuck in a rut in front of the computer, to just grab your notebook and a pencil and disappear off to a nearby piazza.

A bit of exercise; a change of scenery; some fresh air... and a lack of distractions. I soon had all four of the designs finished where I'd spent the large part of the afternoon at home struggling with the first.

So I had time to relax... watch the other people in Piazza Carlo Alberto - the young couples hanging out, the mums with little ones in pushchairs, the group of accordion players chewing the fat and playing little tunes to each other, the lady working for the council pottering about in her recalcitrant orange Ape emptying the bins...

All while reading about North-west England from the time of my childhood in Tony Wilson's 24 Hour Party People. Compare and contrast. Some things, like the piazzas and the people's appropriation of the space so different; other things, like the industrial heritage and areas of deprivation, so similar.

Then after a while soaking up the afternoon on one of the many stone benches, Rebecca and I retired to the Sfashion Cafe, to a table on the edge of the piazza for an aperitivo (early evening cocktail - a Torino-Milano for me, which was rather pleasant) and some further brainstorming on my designs.

I couldcan get used to this.


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August 09, 2007

A New Musical Genre?

Last night we headed over to the polytechnic district of Torino for Jazz at the EDP, which I think was a slightly misleading title.

The EDP part was okay, as the event was at the Educatorio Della Provvidenza. It's the "Jazz" part that wasn't as convincing.

It wasn't like any jazz that I've heard, but then an accordion and harp duo aren't your typical jazz line-up. (I don't know what it is about accordion players in Torino, it must be the French influence, but there are a lot of them about. They regularly appear at restaurants in a similar manner to the obligatory flower-sellers. At one meal we were treated to three different accordion acts!)

Their choice of songs wasn't very jazz-inspired either, more popular classics or at a push I guess you could call it jazzed-up classics. I was trying to work out how to describe it when I was listening to it, and the nearest I could come was that it sounded like music from a TV drama. Given the audience's enthusiastic applause I imagined we were being regaled with classics from the past thirty years of Italian TV and I just didn't have the right collective memory to enjoy it.

Pondering the description further, on the way home, I hit upon Those Were The Days, My Friend as another similar track; at which point I identified the genre linking them all...

Songs with accordions in. Those Were The Days, My Friend, the Theme from Bergerac, the music of Duo Millemiglia (the duo playing at the EDP). Once you add an accordion, the pull of the songs-with-accordion genre is like a black hole.

However, I think we saw the best harp-and-accordion duo in the land last night. They were very talented and the music was better than I think I've made out so far - I don't think I'll go and see them again, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if I did. Our fellow concertgoers were much more impressed. At the end of the show there was such appreciation that they had to come out for three encores!

I haven't worked out if that was just Italian passion, and all events have such drawn out endings, or that the harp-accordion duo is a much celebrated Italian format and these guys are at the top.

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August 07, 2007

More Apartment Photos

Rebecca has just posted a few more photos of the new apartment on her blog, including a shot of the fantastic lounge ceiling.

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August 03, 2007

Remember, They Drive On the Wrong Side of the Road Over There

Despite a decade of owning left-hand drive cars, I'd never taken either of them back to their natural habitat. Moving to Torino was a hell of a way to change that!

Our roadtrip started last Thursday with the run from Cambridge down to Birchington on the Kent coast. The rain had started whilst I was loading the bikes onto the back of the car, and didn't let up for the rest of the day. By the time we were repacking the car so that Rebecca could fit in it (she'd travelled down earlier that day for her Dad's retirement party) the clouds were throwing all they could at us.

With all boxes of non-essentials abandoned at Rebecca's parents' place (their delivery and delivery method still to be decided...), the next morning the weather had relented and we left for Dover under blue skies.

Compared to the histrionics at Stansted, customs at Dover was a non-event; we were waved through after a flash of our passports - I hadn't even had chance to open Rebecca's!

The ferry crossing was smooth enough, and soon we were on the French autoroute heading south. Largely surrounded by English cars and caravans, but as we put distance between ourselves and Calais the numbers fell away to be replaced by locals. Not that any of the roads were busy, and we made good time as we crossed the country; stopping only for péages (that was a little confusing at first: you get a ticket when you join the toll road section, and only pay when you leave the toll roads - even if that's on a different autoroute), petrol, driver changes and lunch.

It felt strange to have the communication roles reversed whilst we were in France, with my schoolboy French being slightly better than Rebecca's. Still, I was quite surprised and pleased to find that it got us by - including a discussion about the power output of my Integrale with an enthusiastic fan staying at our hotel in Chambery.

Breaking the journey in Chambery meant that the final leg into Torino would only take a few hours, and as we were only picking up the keys to the apartment in the afternoon it meant we didn't need to rush our trip across the Alps. So rather than take the long tunnel Ferré du Fréjus through the mountain, we could enjoy the twisty roads the beautiful scenery over the Col de Mount Cenis.

And the scenery was beautiful. Take a look for yourself. The roads were also nice and windy, but with a fully-laden car and two bikes hanging off the back I couldn't enjoy them properly... this time...

Our last stop in France was overlooking the Lac du Mt. Cenis where we pulled into a little café for some lunch and then it was down the mountain and into Italy. Customs between France and Italy was literally a non-event - there was a barrier that we assume was the border control, but as it was raised and the hut beside it deserted we're not totally sure.

The run into Torino was pretty smooth too. A couple of toll booths to navigate (back to the UK style of toll where you just pay a flat fee to pass the toll booth) but at least here I don't have to get out of the car to pay, and we were soon in the cut-and-thrust of the city traffic.

Even that wasn't as bad as I'd feared. The Google directions again proved that they aren't the easiest to follow once you get into a built-up area, but after a brief stop to retrieve the Torino streetmap from the back of the car we were soon on territory familiar from our earlier visits. The one-way system (which of course doesn't apply when you're learning the city by foot...) provided the occasional hiccup but didn't prevent us from arriving in Via Mazzini pretty much on time.

Three days. Three countries. A thousand miles. Two people who both had a ball.


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The Good and Bad of Italian Broadband

I'm slowly feeling more at home here in Torino as we ease our way into la vita d'Italiana. Getting Internet access in the apartment has been a big help as it means we're less isolated from everyone we know, and also meant access to things to read.

Our boxes of books were one of the first casualties in the great it-won't-all-fit-in-the-car purge, and it hadn't taken me long to read the latest issue of evo and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which were the only reading material to make it with us.

On Tuesday afternoon, two nice men from FastWeb visited and spent four hours running a cable from the basement of our block into the apartment. When they left, we had a new phone number and a box on the wall with three ethernet sockets for Internet access.

As we're in the city, we can get the latest, hi-tech solution for our net access. It's pretty cool to have a fibre-optic cable running all the way into the apartment, with only the last few metres of networking done over copper (or a combination of copper and thin-air...).

It also means that we get a synchronous 10Mbps connection. None of this really high download speed but paltry upload channel like we had with NTL Virgin Media back in Cambridge. In reality, according to the speedtest.net, we're getting about 4.5MBps downstream and 2.3Mbps up. That should at least make things like Skype and Bittorrent run better.

The downside of FastWeb is that you don't get given a proper IP address. Most of the time you don't notice, but it means that there's no easy way for me to connect to my home network when I'm not in the house, and I had to spend the first evening reconfiguring my email server before I could receive anything.

It's good to be back online though.


Posted by Adrian at 10:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 11, 2007

Hip Hop Jamming in the Square

The simple ideas are often the best.

  1. Drag the big leather sofa, a couple of armchairs and a low table from the bar onto the arcaded pavement
  2. Set up your decks on the table
  3. Invite a couple of your mates round with their saxes and trumpets
  4. While away the evening mixing and scratching together old funk, soul and hip-hop tracks as your friends jam over the top

Even just as a spectator it was a great evening. Hopefully it's a regular occurrence at La Drogheria (I'm sure we'll be back on a future Monday night to see if it happens every week).


Posted by Adrian at 09:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 10, 2007

Nuovo Appartamento

On the same day that we witnessed the launch of the Fiat 500 we also went for a look round a few apartments.

We saw two on the first day, and a couple more over the following days, but it was soon obvious that the first apartment we saw was the one we wanted to live in. Yesterday morning, after lots of trips to the cashpoint to withdraw the money for the deposit and the agent's fee; our first brush with Italian officialdom to get our Codice Fiscali (a bit like a National Insurance number, and actually a pretty painless undertaking); and lots of flicking through the huge Italian-English dictionary to decipher the contract... we signed the lease.

Although it's only a one bedroom place, it's bigger than most of the others that we looked at and there's a double sofa-bed in the lounge so that wiill serve more than adequately as a guest room. There's the almost-obligatory balcony leading off from the main living area, and even better, there's a big terrace out to the back.

As you can see from the photos it's in a lovely old apartment block and has gorgeous parquet floors. What you can't see in the photos are the fantastic frescoes painted on the ceiling of the lounge and bedroom. They're a bit old and faded now, but add that stereotypical old-world feel to the place. I'll take some photos when we move in.

The area also seems really cool. There's a cafe-bar opposite, a pub downstairs, little shops selling milk and cheese or hundreds of types of pasta within a few metres, and it's right in the centre of town. The main station is a couple of minutes walk away; it's about quarter of an hour's walk to the river; and the rest of the city-centre is within easy walking distance.

There's even an underground parking garage below the apartment block, but I'll actually be keeping the Integrale in a bank! Our landlord used to work at a bank about five minutes walk from our front door, so we're renting a space in their secure car park.

Like Rebecca, I can't wait to move in so we can explore properly.


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500 Meets 500

A row of old Fiat 500s By chance, the first day of our flat-hunting trip to Turin coincided with Fiat officially launching the new 500 . The new car's badging has reverted to "500" rather than "cinquecento", presumably so that they can gloss over the boxy 90s incarnation and maximaise the nostalgia-effect for the retro-looking new model

I've never been to the launch of a new car before, although I expect that most other car launches aren't quite like this one. The entire town was in party mood for the "Festa da Cinquecento", the Festival of the 500. That wasn't the official name (all the signs I saw said "500 meets 500"), but summed up how the locals were celebrating the birth of this baby Fiat.

There are bits of new 500 dotted around the window displays of lots of the shops in the city - a steering wheel here; a dashboard or light cluster there - and the main piazzas in the city were host to a range of events throughout the day. At lunchtime the kids were taking part in races almost reminiscent of "It's a Knockout" or dancing in front of the stand for the local radio station; and by night there were huge video displays up showing the main event down by the river.

Piazza Vittorio Venuto leads down to the River Po, and there (along with the river bank) was where the main action was. The piazza, bridge and all along the river were packed with people - it really felt as though everyone in the city had come out to mark the occasion.

There were also hundreds of old Fiat 500s, from all over the place, parked up everywhere. The photo on the left is just a few that were in Piazza Vittorio Venuto. I'd never realised there was such variety in 500s - ordinary ones; sporty Abarth ones; camper models; cars with ski-racks on the back; even 4x4 versions which were veering towards seeming Bigfoot-style.

It all seemed a bit strange at first - there was all this celebration about the original 500 and festival atmosphere, but it was as if someone had forgotten that there was a new model to promote. All day we'd been finding new events or pockets of old 500s, but there was hardly a picture of the new one, never mind an actual car.

As it was nearing midnight, there was a huge firework display over the river, and I think that they had one of the new cars suspended suspended from wires over the water when the fireworks went off. I'm not sure, because we weren't in a position where we could see one of the screens, and there were too many people crowded round the river to get a look at the action.

It felt a bit of an anti-climax, so we started heading back to the hotel, calling into Piazza Castello on the way to see if the rumours of free Spumanti at midnight were true. We didn't find any wine, but did arrive just in time for the sirens and police escort as a convoy of new 500s snaked its way through the city to the sound of much cheering and horn-beeping.

The new Fiat 500


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