Well that's it for my holiday snaps, you may be pleased to hear. You should think yourself lucky, I held back all the more conventional scenery shots, but I might drop in a few more bugs over the next week - that Stag was not the biggest mini-beast we befriended.
The guide book wasn't particularly complimentary about Vinci but it was only about fifteen minutes away so we thought we'd give it a whirl. It's a small town and at the top end there's the Leonardo Museum (awful website here) developed in amongst what I'd guess is the oldest part. It feels like you're in a walled settlement and it's kind of beautiful and compact because of it.
The book criticised the Museum because there's hardly any art, mostly inventions but I think that's what makes it so good. I mean, let's face it, all his great art is going to be in the world's best museums. Vinci is just a small town in a rural community between Pisa and Florence. Regardless of it's significance I doubt it's going to be able to compete financially with a major city. So I think it was pretty smart of someone to focus the museum's attentions (and funds) on Leo's hair-brained contraptions.
And there's loads of great scaled models, some interactive. Unfortunately, and archaically, you can't take photos inside (and anyway, I was having too much fun to even try some sneaky ones) so I can't show you anything but outside and around the museum it's lovely. Quiet, great views (it's fairly high up) and with some really interesting external design and decor. Definitely worth a morning or afternoon out if you're ever in the area.
Pisa was a surprise. I thought it would be just a tourist trap but as it was so handy we should just do it anyway: get in, have a quick look at the Tower and scarper. As it turned out, we were there all day, had a great time and weren't ripped off. Yes, there's a shed-load of trashy souvenir stalls selling cheap tat but thanks to the massive expanse of unwalkuponable grass surrounding the Tower/Cathedral/Baptistry-combo they were far enough away to protect our view of the stunning, just-cleaned ancient architecture.
That's not to say we didn't partake in a little trashy souvenirism, I mean, when in Rome…but it wasn't anywhere near as oppressive as I might have expected. And once you've seen one trashy souvenir stall selling snow globes and novelty leaning everyday objects, you've seen them all. I should know, because our boys made us do most of them. Still, for just a few euros they were delighted with their shiny souvenir trinketry: laser-etched Tower in glass block, novelty pen/map, Leaning Tower eraser and actually quite OK enamelled badges of the City's emblem.
We didn't get up the Tower, children under eight aren't allowed up (which we knew well in advance) so made the most of the surroundings. The Cathedral was loads of fun and the two mini museums informative and a welcome escape from the heat.
(I should have mentioned, this week is basically all about my holiday snaps. Normal service will be resumed next week so I won't be offended if you'd just rather skip all this and come back then).
Battleships. With Noah. First evening in the forest.
We were evenly matched when I spied, out of the corner of my eye, a leaf falling. About 30cm from the ground, its trajectory changed. Surprisingly, upwards and towards Noah.
The "Leaf" had wings; wings it was flapping furiously. And, uncannily, the "Leaf" was exactly the same shape as a beetle…only bigger. Much bigger. So fucking big, in fact, that had I not thought to interupt its journey towards my tired-from-travelling, non-big-bug-loving oldest son, our holiday may have taken a turn for the worst on its first day.
Casually, so as not to attract unecessary attention towards the intruder, I raised myself from my chair and lifted a rather large foam pool toy (Noah was concentrating on his next move).
Blessed by the flying beast's lack of similar grace - its ability to fly with speed clearly hindered by the sheer weight of its mighty, armoured shell – it wasn't even slightly tricky to deliver it a most satisfactory thwack, blasting the wee horned monster, at tremendous and uncharacteristically high speed, numerous metres through the trees.
Thankfully, both our boys soon grew to befriend and later even love what became frequent evening visitors to our tent (occasionally eight at a time - which was taking a bit of a liberty if you ask me).
While I dearly love you all and recognise that you all have your merits, I love Italy most. Others, rightly, love France, with its* long breads and thin chips, its superb steaks and beautiful pastries, its wonderful art and remarkable capital city. Many, many people adore Spain with its bulls and their fighters, the excellent Barcelona with all its Goudiness and that amazing Miró Museum up on that hill. Throngs flock to Germany that, generously, gave us Ludwig van B, Amadeus, Bach, Wagner, Kraftwerk and Scorpions; Kafka, Mies van der Rohe, Gropius and Dr Oetker. The Swiss? What can I say? Triangular chocolate, Helvetica and the watch I wear.
I won't go on and mean no offense to the many I haven't mentioned because, in those, I include my own homeland.
You are all fine countries with so much to give. It's just that, well, Italy is best. OK, it might not have the best flag (that's your's Switzerland) and it might not have the best graphic designers (because we've got them) but it has got the best cold cuts, the best scooters and Tuscany. Just ask the Dutch; they know, they're all there right now. And who can blame them; Italy is flippin' ace.
I'm going to make this quick; I'm supposed to be in bed; holiday tomorrow. But I was keen to leave you with something. And this is such a joyous piece of pocket mappery. Barely larger than a mini-Moleskin and, although dateless, I'd guess from around the 50s, this handy guide to the French capital is interestingly interesting. With multi-tabbed sections, beautiful maps and expandotious fold-outs.
Tab section 1 is an index of Rues (or "Rues" as we say in France), while Tab Section 2 is a collection of 20 maps, one for each Arrondissement. Bonus maps include one each for Jardin d'Acclimatation, Parc Zoologique, an overview of the city's regions and a lovely one at the front for the Metropolitain. No Harry Beck admittedly, but then this is the crazy French (no offense, I really do mean that in the most affectionate way), I doubt that they would stand for such conformity.
And to finish the whole poche-size marvel off there's a superb fold-out street map packed into the back. Bloody marvelous (as we say in Italy).
A tenuous link I know but we're off to Italy next week. You know, Italy. The leggy thing under Switzerland. You know. Switzerland. Where they make Toblerone and mountains. Muesli capital of the whole wide world. Land of Helvetica and the Apollo Program's watch of choice, the Omega Speedmaster. Legend has it, the birthplace of something called the World Wide Web; a ridiculously implausible concept that some people believe will be quite important in the future.