Archive for the ‘Europe Road Trip’ Category

Monte Isola

With great sadness, we left our Grand Canal terrace and garden. We would have been very happy to spend another week/month/year there.

We trained it to Verona. Lorna and I had gone there 20 years ago, and for some reason I remembered exactly where everything was. This is odd because when we went to Bergamo a couple of years ago, I had initially no recollection of having visited there before even though we had parked in exactly the same car park!

Juliet’s balcony was horrible (as last time). The children wanted to see where Letters to Juliet was filmed. Grandma persuaded Tilly to rub the statue’s right breast. Large numbers of women were pushing their way through to ensure long term love. It was pretty unseemly, and – as they were jostling the children to get their place on the pedestal – I thought it was unlikely that their dreams would be fulfilled.


The August heat made wandering the streets a difficult experience, so we headed up to Giardini Giulio with its exemplary views over the city. I sensed the party behind me were not enjoying the route march there, but they soon were quietened when they realised that this was a haven of quiet and shade.

We left my parents behind in Verona (they had tickets for the Opera) and took the train to Lake Iseo, the smallest of the Italian Lakes. We played dominos on the train and watched the countryside fly by.

We like lake holidays. The non-salty water is kind on Tilly’s excema (which has cleared up a lot in the last year) and you get the same beach experience. A couple of days previously, we had gone for a day at Venice Lido beach. It is a great beach, but Tilly wouldn’t go into the sea.

Lake Garda is too crowded to get around; Lake Como is wonderful, beautiful houses and gardens everywhere and – in the North – great watersports. But we wanted to try somewhere new, so Lake Iseo it was. Most of you know that Lorna’s first criteria for a holiday is that there are few English people there (preferably none). We have seen only Italians so far, so a big tick for her.

We are staying on Monte Isola, the largest island in the lake. Traditionally, it makes boats and nets for fishing. In recent years, it has branched out into making nets for Serie A football. They have a reputation for quality, though this may be because most Italian games I have watched don’t put any pressure on the net.


There is an alimentari that stocks everything except fruit and veg. We therefore had to go to mainland for fruit and veg.

We have timed our visit to perfection, as the annual Festa is taking place while we are here. The whole village eats together every night. There is a signature dish every night plus a few other choices. Tilly was distressed to find Carvello con Rucola on the menu for the first night (and no it wasn’t the Rocket that disturbed her). Last night’s Stracotta d’Asina con Polenta was not much better for her. They clearly have something against equines.


The food is priced in lira, which shows either a backward-looking community or – given the state of Italian finances – perhaps a very prescient one.

There is also a band every night. Personally, I’m looking forward to Hotel Stupido on Tuesday night.

Nancy and I cycled around the island (9 km of hills) yesterday and we also went for a swim in the Lake. We have a sailing course for the next 2 days. Happy times.

Twitter handle: @julianxbishop


Things to do with children in Venice – Go to the Biennale

The children were adamant that they didn’t want to see any more churches! A few years ago, we could have bribed them with the promise that they could light a candle. This no longer works.

They were more than happy to see a modern art exhibition. We had been to the Peggy Guggenheim twice before, so we decided to spend two afternoons at the two main sites of the Biennale with the children. This exhibition rubs every two years (hence the name) in odd ending years from June to November.

It’s a huge exhibition. Of course, there is a mixture of dross and thought-provoking exhibits. To me the best installations were:

1. The Clock by Christian Marclay

There is a large cinema screen and multiple very comfortable sofas. The film lasts exactly 24 hours and consists of excerpts from films where time is seen or mentioned. The time referred to on screen is always that of the time zone you are in.

We spent 45 minutes watching this exhibit and could have spent the whole day. The clips were sometimes familiar, and sometimes new to me. They ranged from Laurel & Hardy to Columbo. They were predominantly English language films.

I would love to have a copy of this film and stream it live into my kitchen at home onto a flat screen TV dispensing with our clock.

2. Car crash Opera

You enter a room to see a BMW that has been totally wrecked/written off. The front is caved in; the bodywork scratched; the wheels are unaligned; and the tyres deflated.

You then enter a second room consisting of 12 music stands. Each music stand has different words of a score on it. You hear an opera aria and quickly appreciate that the aria sung corresponds to one of the scores on the stands. They all tell a story of how the car accident happened.

The third room is a film of an opera diva singing one of the 12 stories.

3. Clay modelling

There is a room and lots of different colours of modelling clay. Visitors are encouraged to add their “art” onto the walls of the room. My kids really liked this one. Overall, it’s an impressive sight. Tilly stayed for 30 minutes, and was pleased that fellow visitors were taking pictures of her adding to the exhibit.

4. Wax works (Urs Fischer)

The premise behind this exhibit is that there are multiple wax statues complete with lit wicks. Some are fairly new statues and you see a flickering flame at the top of their head with wax running down their head giving the appearance of hair; others have been there longer, perhaps the head has become gnarled and fallen onto the floor.


5. Swiss house (Thomas Hirschhorn)

Each nation can produce an exhibit. Towards the end of the first afternoon, we were tired and only had energy forgone final exhibit. Nancy chose Switzerland over Russia and one other. Lorna was expecting something traditional (and dull); I was expecting the opposite, a reaction to the stifling culture there. This exhibit is not for children*. It consists of horrendous pictures of mutilated bodies from war or torture as part of more ordinary scenes from normal life. A lot of work had gone into this installation.

6. South africa photos (David Goldblatt) & sound

This set of installations are housed in stud walls lined with (horrible) flock wallpaper. The walls are not parallel with the surrounding structure, given an odd vertex to walk down. One room is a sound exhibit. The others are photos from South Africa. Nancy spent over 30 minutes in one room, where there were photos and interviews of a number of ex-offenders.

Interestingly, it didn’t make me want to return to South Africa.

7. Dead stuffed pigeons. Everywhere, like in Hitchcock’s The Birds

8. The cafe at the Giardini

You need to rest after an hour or so, and there was nowhere better than this Retro 1950s cafe.


One final piece of advice:- get your tickets from Arsenale not Giardini (the queues are much shorter). The Arsenale buildings are works of art in themselves. That said, I think the installations at the Giardini are slightly stronger. There are installations elsewhere in Venice, but we didn’t see them

*This was our fault. The installations that are not appropriate for children are clearly marked.

By the Grand Canal in Venice

There is no place we have visited more in the world than Venice. We’ve been here six times now.

A few years ago, we hired a Palazzo for the whole family for the week. This Palazzo had provided five doges and was full of history. You know the type of thing:- paintings on the ceilings; marketery on every door; and mosaics on the floor.

It was inconceivable that this could be improved upon and yet……This time, Lorna found a merchant’s house directly on the Grand Canal (see pictures) with both garden and terrace both with Grand Canal views. We paid the same price for this 3 bedroom apartment that we paid for a tiny hotel room 15 years ago.

Views from our bedroom window and terrace:-



Garden and terrace:-


We were again joined by my parents who escaped a looting-strewn London. How they got that wide-screen TV in carry-on luggage, one will never know. We arrived from Kiev at the same time as they did.

Tilly and Nancy woke up late, so we forewent the Disney-crowd pleasures of St Mark’s Square, preferring to visit some of the outlying islands in the lagoon. We went to see the glass blowing of Murano, where Tilly negotiated a horse that had just been demonstrated to her (down from €20 to €10).

Lorna and I had been to Burano before, but it must have been in a different season and tide level. Each house is painted a different colour from their neighbour, and it produces a fantastic sight. We played a game of Venice cricket. 1 run for a crucifix; 2 for a church; 3 for a nun; 4 for a monk; and 6 for the pope. A wicket was taken for each cat or dog that the other side saw. This must have been a treacherous pitch (with enormous boundaries) for Lorna and Tilly were all out for 20. Nancy and I picked off the 21 needed with ease. One point of (even) more minor interest is that we have concluded that very few people wear crucifixes these days.


We then went to Torcello. This island rivalled Venice in the 14th Century, housing some 50,000 people. It is now home to only 20, with most of its former glorious buildings having been used for buildings in Venice. What there is left now appears for sale, and it is now mainly countryside

Historically, we’ve found food in Venice to be very poor. With so few people living here now (they’ve moved to Mestre), there’s little incentive to build up a reputation for good food. We’ve therefore elected to cook for ourselves (and enjoy the view of the passing traffic). After (quite) a few drinks, my father toasts “Salute” to all the passing gondolas, taxis, trade boats and vaporetti.


Lorna has excelled in her selection of accommodation so far this holiday. Our airport taxi dropped us off at a faded building just off Independence Square. It looked like he had got lost. From there, a slightly scary lady gave us some keys and some instructions of where to find our apartment. We followed them across the street into the perfect example of a cold war block – colourless, uncared for, broken. As we climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, I felt like Bernard Sampson meeting an underworld contact. It looked wonderfully unpromising. We opened a Fort Knox of a door to find …… a most modern decor. White leather sofa, very large cinema TV, high speed Internet, all the mod cons you could hope for. All for £72 a night. Lorna had struck gold again and all within 150 metres of the equivalent of Trafalgar Square.


We visited two nearby churches and then walked down Andrew’s passage (a long and winding road full of tourist stuff). Lorna had been observing Ukrainian women’s bottoms. She said “I bet you can’t find a Ukrainian woman with a bottom”. I have to say that I was more than happy to take up this challenge. After a couple of days, I have to report that I have failed. However, I have concluded that Paul McCartney was most certainly right that the Ukraine Girls really knock you out.


Kyiv has a wide river, Dnipro, running through it. Sensibly, the Ukrainians have preserved this area as a leisure area rather than have luxury apartments and its Centre lining its shores. We went to an area called Hydropark, presumably named because of an indoor waterpark there. We meant to go this watermark, but ran out of time having spent all our time on Dnipro’s wonderful beaches. This will undoubtedly be THE place to go for football fans next summer. They have outdoor gyms (which Lorna spent a little more time observing than was polite); beach football courts; zip lines; boats; water slides. Nancy and I had a swim in the river. I wouldn’t recommend drinking the river water, but it was clean enough. Nancy and I also went canoeing around the island for 70 minutes. I can report that Nanvy has exceptional stamina. Though some of the beaches near the bridge are crowded, most round the rest of the island were deserted. Nancy was particularly interested in the nudist beaches, doing little in the way of kayaking at those points. If you are in Kyiv on a hot summer’s day, go to Hydropark. It’s a short ride on the metro (20 cents) and is next to free when you get there. Incidentally, watch the speed of the escalators on the metro (I’ve been on slower roller coasters).


Lorna finally mastered the Ukrainian for “local food speciality”. Having traveled around Ukraine, asking for the local delicacy and getting exactly what the children were eating, she finally got the local speciality. Her Chicken Kyiv was apparently very nice.

We liked Kyiv a lot and will come back here. In both architecture and culture, it has a splendid mix of European, Soviet and Ottoman. It also has its problems. I don’t know what Ukraine’s Gini index is (measure of disparity in earnings), but suspect it will be very high. Ukraine is 140th in list of places to do business and corruption appears to be widespread; this does not augur well. At the weekend we were there, the local newspaper carried an opinion poll which said that only 41% believed that independence was positive. While most of the youngsters thought it was good, the older members of society were living on very little. It’s probably good therefore that the average life expectancy for men was only 63.

I thought Lviv would be the destination of choice for next year’s European Championship, but Kyiv beats it.



Known as Lwow by the Polish who ruled until the 2nd World War, Lvov by the Russians who took over as a result of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact and now Lviv, this is a beautiful European City perfect for a City Break. You could easily spend a summer here.

If you are thinking of coming to watch some European Championship football, this also would be a great place to come. That assumes, of course, that the stadium is finished (see photo). It would be devastating to the Lviv economy if this didn’t happen. The rest of the infrastructure seems to be mostly ready. Though, with full size bottles of Vodka at £2.50, I’m a bit worried about what some English fans might do.


We tried to get tickets for the ballet at the Opera House, but it’s closed for most of August. The girls settled for riding the Segway around the pedestrianised square outside the Opera House. It was very entertaining to watch many 4 year olds hare around the square with complete disregard to pedestrians or other square drivers. Benches along many of the Prospekts were taken up by chess or draft players, the better of them attracting sizeable crowds.


Measuring 142 by 129 metres, Rynok (or Market) Square is another Unesco protected place. We had drinks in the Italian Garden. You will recognise this from a number of films, as indeed you will much of Lviv.


We had a late lunch at Veronicas. We had dough balls (which are a kind of mashed potato wrapped in ravioli pasta) with different sauces. I think I’ll try cooking them when I get home. Dinner was at a Jewish restaurant, Pid Zolotoiu Rozoyu. This was one of the most interesting venues I have ever seen. If you go there, book a place on the rooftop for a view on the City. The terrace also has a place for the children to play, a Trabant. I’m not sure how they got it up there, but I’m glad they did. Unfortunately, we didn’t book and so had to settle for a lower floor, a library. Fantastic place nonetheless.

The people in the Carpathian Mountains looked Eastern European. It was partly what they wore, but mainly their hairstyles. There is nothing wrong with that. In Lviv, they dress differently and they also have more interesting hairstyles. Spurred on by this, I had my hair cut. Better haircut than many –

One taxi driver told us some interesting stories. He had gone to Communist Youth Camps (known as Pioneer Camps) when he was a boy, but hadn’t enjoyed it because there were only so many Concentration Camps one could visit. He also said that education had deteriorated since the fall of the Soviet Union; otherwise everything was now better. We found a fascinating Soviet English text book published in Moscow in 1988. Incredible propaganda, alternating wonderful articles on how good things were in the Soviet Union with denigrating pieces on how terrible life was in the USA.

We left Lviv wishing we had spent more time there. There appeared to be 40 interesting restaurants to try and double the number of cafes.

Don’t go jumping waterfalls

I mimed a waterfall and made a gushing sound. “Водоспад”, said Maxim, the brother of the owner of the house we are renting. “Tri km trek”, he said, bringing his total number of English words he had used with us since we had known him to two (if you count km as a word)

“He means walk”, said Lorna. No, he meant trek.

We walked out of our rented house into the mountain forest. We fairly soon came upon the stream. Nancy whinged because one of her shoes got wet. I vowed that mine wouldn’t.

The waterfall was 3 km upstream. We crisscrossed it a hundred times in getting to near the top of the mountain. Across tree trunks, jumping on stones and wading in the water. I stepped on a stone full of slime and sat in the stream; it wasn’t that cold. Lorna wedged herself bottom first in between two rocks; unfortunately, she was too far behind for the rest of us to help…or take a photo.

Nancy and Tilly loved it. Lorna lamented her not accepting Maxim at his word. I calculated how long it would take (…until we got half way). Maxim was a mountain man. He knew which berries were edible and where to find salamanders. We didn’t see a single person. We had a great time.




Day 3 – Carpathian Mountains. Mainly food

Given the paucity of any fruit or veg in shops here, I was growing concerned about the potential level of scurvy amongst Ukrainians. Lorna had hypothesised that perhaps everyone grew their own. Today we found the market area in an unexplored part of the town. It was strewn with hundreds of smallholders offering their produce. After just 1 day of poor food ( we went mad. Blueberries, blackberries, peas, porcini mushrooms, peaches, eggs, onions…. The girls remarked that it was much more fun than shopping at a supermarket.

I typically go horse riding once a year. Today was that day. All of us plus the children from our Ukrainian tourist neighbours took a two hour trek into the mountains. It was pleasant, but – unlike yesterday’s waterfall trek – not off the beaten track. On our way into the forest, we saw many large houses being constructed. I had earlier taken a run down the mountain into another part of the town and seen scores of derelict buildings that were never completed, presumably the victim of the downturn from a couple of years ago.


We took a 30 mile drive to the Romanian border. We played a game of animal cricket. You score 1 run for every flock of chickens you see on your side of the road; 2 for a dog; 3 for a cat; 4 for a goat; and 6 for a cow. You lose a wicket for every petrol station. Given the rural nature of Ukraine, both sides of the car were soon scoring like England versus India. Tilly and I had racked up 200 for 1 in no time, while Lorna and Nancy were slightly behind but with no wickets lost. It’s a good way of getting the children to look outside their window.

After last night’s (poor) meal, we went to the best restaurant in Yaremche. We wanted to sample Hutsul cuisine, and the Hutsulshchyna restaurant seemed to promise this.


The food menu stretched to a dozen or so pages, all in cyrillic script. Lorna can read Ukrainian, but doesn’t understand a word. Lorna requested something vegetarian and non-tomatoey for me; something steak-like for the children and something traditional for her. Again, she received more or less the same meal as the children. If you happen to be passing through Yaremche, we can recommend this restaurant. My wild mushroom soup had multiple delicate flavours, and my “something with mushrooms and potatoes” (we know very few words in Ukrainian that relate to food) was also great. There was a (grumpy) band playing Cossack-style music, and the restaurant contained all the well groomed people we had seen that day in town. We had been warned that this restaurant was expensive. Certainly, in Ukrainian terms, it was; however, it would have been under £10 a head if Lorna had not had half a bottle of Chablis 2007 (which was £30). Infinitely better value than yesterday’s meal.