Milan Flying Visit

4.30am the diesel engine is purring outside and I am paranoid the neighbours will complain. Quite why taxis just won’t switch off engines while waiting, I cannot fathom. After all, we are meant to think GREEN. Quietly shutting the door (if that is ever possible) and for the first time in years, I don’t have to alarm the house, the bane of my life as I am never sure I’ve done everything. Taps, windows, lights.. then getting the code right, without alerting the police.

There’s actually someone home and not the husband!

The ride is quick. Straight through security as check in was done a week earlier. I had only handluggage to struggle with so into the lounge. Yes, proper duppio and some bottled water. The WiFi was free. Quick emails….. how impressive is that, at 5.30am in the morning!!! A quick read of the papers and I head off to the gate. Flights are always on time this early. The staff are great after a night’s sleep and even the jokes aren’t as cheesy. Dead on time for the take off slot and we’re off.

Milan terminal 2, ten minutes early. I’m on a roll. The Malpensa Express at €11.50 is really not that painful, 40 minutes and you are in downtown Milano, so I thought. Wrong choice. We ended up being pushed or pulled (I can’t remember) to the next station and had to wait for the next train. Hmm, maybe the slower coach ride to Centrale at €6.50 would have been better. Hotel – two and a half hours later. At least I’m on the top floor with a view, the local petrol station. When in Italy do as the Romans do, in this case, feed them to the lions.

Dinner was exceptionally good. It always helps to have a hunky Italian with you. No idea what was said and no menu was brought to us. I only understood that no fresh “ricci” (sea urchin) was available – my only request for the evening. Scallops, prawns, mussels (cozze) and then a salad of pulpo and the freshest baby green leaves lightly dressed in DOP EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). Hmm, then lobster linguine. By then it was impossible to get any dessert in. Lovely bottle of Sardo white to wash it all down. Now even the hunk began to worry about the bill. We did not leave the hunk to do the washing.

Sleep -have been up for twenty hours.

Montepulciano and Montalcino

Heart of Tuscany – where bedbugs do bite, rustic cooking does exist and such deep holes on the dirt tracks, chickens can’t cross… but, absolutely breathtaking scenery and the Black Truffle is king.


Best of all, the working ‘original’ Cinqucento at the Agriturismo.

Bit of advice – get a SatNav. It’s crucial for sanity if one intends to enjoy the view and not have one’s head stuck in a map while the driver abuses one. Sign posts are few and far between and directions suddenly disappear as fast as they appear. Alternatively – be blessed with C, our virtual routemaster. Thank God for mobiles!

The motorway stops are clean, the duppio is marvellous and they double up nicely as supermarkets with a fantastic array of salami, cheeses and all things culinary. Great stop before the airport and much cheaper, too.

Montalcino is devine. A hilly little place with shop after shop selling the local Brunello and Pinci pasta. Definitely worth a stop and walk. Look for the little bakery selling the local panforte.


Lucca in Toscana

Tuscan life. Flight to Pisa from Gatwick was painless. Car rental: remind me never to accept an upgrade of any sort ever again in Italy with or without the Sat Nav! It was almost instant implosion, coupled with murder, suicide and divorce all in one. The brand new Merc Estate was almost left in the walled city of Lucca in a quarter turn position down the wrong way of a one way street.

Things calmed down after a good soak in the jacuzzi, checked emails on the free WIFI, and, we did have a marvellous dinner over a great bottle of Frescobaldi Chianti Reserva. Even managed to strike up conversation with a German couple and shared wines (they ordered a Brunello). Best of all, no driving back to the hotel. The car was parked in a lock up garage.


Puccini’s house was small. His statue is in the square by the Hotel Puccini (don’t stay there if you have luggage… pedestrianised area and there is NO way you can drive there!!!) There is even a shop that sells all things Puccini.

A walk along the wall is a must with a bag of fresh figs – both green and black.

Shanghai, China

As Virgin Atlantic flight 250 gently descends onto the runway, my heart begins to flutter. The most exillerating feeling runs through me. Shanghai for the 4th time in just over a year still cannot stop me or bore me.  I am about to spend time in one of the world’s most excitingly sensual cities, again….

Pudong’s new terminal 2 is antiseptically clean. There are no queues. The plane was only a third full. The usher points to Counter 44. Hmm, never a good number to be stuck with. A slight irritation occurs. I am asked for my name in Chinese, written in Chinese. It makes no sense as I scribble the Chinese characters on my landing card. I do it as best as I can. When the light flashes on the counter asking me to rate my experience at the peril of the immigration officer, I press the non committal button but only after my passport is returned to me. No, she didn’t deserve the top extra smiley face.

Luggage was out, lifelessly revolving round the new squeaky conveyor number 8 by the time we had gone through immigration. Everything in my life is about numerals. I’m Chinese, I reassure myself. Nothing wrong with that.

A HSBC cash machine is the next stop. Checking carefully as 3000RMB is expelled. We head for the taxi rank. 88YongShou Lu by JinLing Lu is the destination. For the first time in months, Mandarin hits my ears. It seemed so normal.

The Toyota heads off. The smell of Shanghai is numbingly oriental. At 8am in the morning, the sun is shining. There is no pollution in the crisp air. The forty minute trip included a sightseeing tour, passing the construction site of Shanghai’s 2010 Expo, filled with cranes and labourers with the firework like sparking of electric saws in the distance.

People everywhere. Bicycles, bells, hawkers, as we head into the city centre. The aromas change. The noise changes. Roads narrow down drastically. I am tranced by the skill of the taxi driver.

New Harbour Apartment block is the same. It felt like I had never left Shanghai. Same receptionist, anal to the minutest detail on the check-in form. The meal cards are carefully counted. Each one with a neat stamp of the issuance date. The bell boy, in his royal blue uniform and pillbox hat takes our luggage. 1601. That’s OK, my mind still working overtime on numerals.

Time didn’t matter anymore. I was in Shanghai. Racing through my mind, Zhengjien Baojis, hairy crabs, XiaoLong bao, and everything Shanghainese. But I wasn’t hungry. Adrenalin pumping I couldn’t wait to hit the city. All my favourite spots.