This post has been through the wringer a bit, so hopefully formatted okay - hotly anticipated as I'm sure it has been, can't hold back any longer for formatting niceties!
I think I forgot to say last time that I had the good fortune to have no-one sitting next to me on the Brisbane-Dubai leg, so although it was only 2 seats and not the most comfortable in the world, I was able to stretch out a bit and lie down after a fashion, which was good even though I couldn’t sleep much.
Upstairs at Dubai airport proved to be very busy and crowded, and probably as much a cross-section of humanity as I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Frustratingly, all of this humanity appeared to have a trolley for their luggage, except poor me, and I couldn’t figure out where to obtain one. By the time I found out where to get one I would have gladly paid someone a lot of money for the privilege. Yes, I’m already regretting the 40 or so kilos of luggage that will be my constant companion for the next few weeks… Dad, you can commence the “I told you so’s” at your leisure. However, gritting my teeth and telling myself that this pain is but a temporary measure and I’ll be glad of it all when I’m finally installed in a (maybe?) fabulous apartment in Nice. And maybe I’ll finally get some toned arms out of the bargain – well, I can live in hope, right?
I arrived in Milan on time at 1.45 pm, sailed through passport control (once again, thank you precious British passport, my one true love), milled about for some time trying to find my luggage, which as it happened, was dumped on the floor on the far side of the carousel (cheers Emirates) and then out the gates to be greeted by R It’s so nice to be met at the airport by a friendly face! I do feel sorry for her having to hug me though, as I’m fairly sure that I stank after some 36 hours of travelling sans deodorant or changes of clothes or anything along those lines. The shower when we finally reached our hotel was bliss. Sadly, after a sloooow train trip (Malpensa Express, my arse) and a taxi ride through rush-hour Milan, it was 5 pm by the time we reached the hotel, so there was no time to make it to Monza for the pit walk and signing session, but that’s life. Frankly, a shower and a nap was worth more to me at that stage than Jenson Button’s autograph, and who knows if we would even have managed to get anywhere near them anyway.
After said nap – R only let me sleep for about an hour – we headed out for a very pleasant dinner, and then were tucked up in bed by 9 for the regulation 10 hours’ sleep. Happily, I feel pretty much totally on Europe time already. The whole trip was really timed very well for time-adjustment purposes in terms of setting off in the evening and so on and arriving in the afternoon. Plus I think it’s often harder to adjust to a few hours’ difference than a complete night and day reversal like this, because there aren’t the obvious cues that your time zone has changed etc.
Yesterday we headed out to explore Milan. In a way, it’s nice to visit a city that you don’t know much about and don’t have a list of “must-sees” for, because you can just take it as it comes and don’t feel that pressure to rush on to the next thing on the itinerary (unlike the rest of the trip). Milan actually is very nice – you don’t hear much about it except fashion and so on, but it’s a pretty place. We started off at the Duomo, a massive, massive cathedral – capacity of 40,000 according to the pages from Lonely Planet that I photocopied in the library (3 cheers for libraries, everyone!). Very impressive. After that, we wandered into a nearby department store for some fantasy shopping – Dior! Dolce and Gabbana! Jimmy Choos! Actually, a lot of the stuff wasn’t even that nice – well, the stuff on the sales rack that was actually in my price range if I wanted to be seriously extravagant (70% off designer fashion, anyone?) but I guess it was on the sale racks for a reason… I’ll just keep telling myself that I didn’t want any of the other tat either. Then it was a quick stroll through the famous arcade Vittorio Emmanuel II, which is pretty but nothing to write home about I suppose (oops, just did). It was getting on for lunch time, so we just walked and walked in a random direction to avoid the tourist prices, and ended up in a very nice park with a fountain, which called for some serious sitting around in the sun. Bliss! I must wring every degree centigrade out of summer before it’s back to winter, even if it is only south of France winter. Talking of such things, it’s probably around 25 degrees, sunny, and pleasant, if a little warm for walking at times. Unfortunately the temp doesn’t seem to drop very much at night, so it’s a bit uncomfortable even with the air con on in our hotel room. Which makes me dread the upcoming hostel scene, but oh well, what are you gonna do? Glad I wasn’t here a month ago though. I hate being too hot.
Anyway, I had a panini from a cart in the park, which was nice – and cheap. I think food-wise Italy is very manageable. Prices probably similar to what you’d pay at home, whereas I expect pretty much to pay double for everything in Europe. Oh, and the Duomo was free and the museum we went to later was 3 euro, so bargains all round! The museum was in an old castle, which was a big red imposing building – Sforza Castle for those of you playing along at home. It housed various collections of old furniture and Roman stuff and paintings. Nothing particularly amazing, but nice enough for a stroll about in the afternoon. After which I had a chocolate gelato sitting by the fountain outside, which was a serious highlight of the afternoon, and, one hopes, the first of many.
After that, it was back to the hotel to recuperate, which is where you find me now, dear reader, although I will probably add another exciting installment before publishing this on the blog tomorrow, as I’m cheaping out on paying for wifi by writing this in Word. Ah, nothing if not cheap and ingenious! Probably the plan is for a few sneaky drinkies tonight – hopefully we can take advantage of the aperitivo tradition, where you gorge yourself on free tapas-style snackies while sipping cocktails and then of course tomorrow it’s to Monza, packed lunch in tow, for the final practice session and qualifying! Excitement! Ruth got herself a gloriously tacky Raikonnen shirt for 12 euro from a street vendor, I’m hoping I can pick up a “non-official merchandise” Button or Hamilton thing somewhere as well – I’m sure I’ll be able to, even if Ferrari is naturally the team to support in these parts… Anyway, until tomorrow, I bid you adieu!
Today was, as Mum would say, a day of adventures. We left the hotel at 9 am, and eventually got to our seats at the GP at about 12.15 – this for a trip involving a metro ride and a 20 minute train journey – plus, as we found out, a 20 min or so bus ride and 45 min slog through the park at Monza. Conveniently, we turned up just as the final practice session ended. It was mui frustrante walking through the park being able to hear the roar of the F1 engines increasing from a distant bee-hive hum to planes taking off at the airport and be unable to see a thing. Anyway, a word more on the journey – if you can believe it, it rivaled the trip over to Europe in both awfulness and sweatiness (on my part and that of everyone around me). The train was pretty much as packed as the Lahore Express – well, in the doorways it was, at any rate. Frustratingly, inside the carriages there was actually plenty of space, but despite yelling and imprecations from R and I, no-one was moving out of the doorway area, so no-one could actually board the train. Finally, with the help of a (we think) Finn who was equally disgusted with the bovine stupidity of the crowd, we man-handled our way in and barged past everyone and into the carriage. Great success! We didn’t get going for about 10 minutes after we should have, by which time I was dissolving into a fetching puddle.
Anyway, we got there eventually and found our places on the stand – predictably, we can only see about 2 seconds of the action, although you can see the start/finish line and the first chicane if you crane. Turns out F1 cars are FAST and LOUD! I know that’s Captain Obvious statement of the century, but it’s impossible to realize just how fast and how loud until you’re there. Perhaps installment #1 (actually installment #5 but the first 4 are of even poorer quality) of my am-cam qualifying footage will kinda show just how fast they speed past. It’s quite good though, at least in qualifying it was, because you know when they cross the start/finish line and post a time for quail that they’re coming, and you know exactly who it is. Capturing them on film is a tough call, as my small blurry shots will reveal. Highlights were Hamilton getting pole and Kubica stopping on the side of the track right in front of us.
It was very hot and sunny – 27 degrees according to the announcers – until just before the start of the GP2 race after quail, when the heavens opened in one of the heaviest rain showers I’ve seen. I think this is karmic punishment of some sort for my saying to R yesterday evening (when it also rained) “it can’t possibly rain at Monza two years in a row”… famous last words indeed. It poured, and despite my umbrella, we got absolutely soaked to the bone. It was miserable proceeding back through the park, on the bus, then the train, then the metro, and finally arriving back here for a much-needed and gratefully-received shower.
Despite all the hassle, and despite the fact that it took us from 9am to 6 pm to do a round-trip and we only managed to see an hour of racing (!) it was a great day. In between times we lounged about in the Monza woods and soaked up probably a little bit too much sun (I have the world’s most uneven tan right about now, and if it’s fine tomorrow – touch wood – it will only get worse). Happy with the grid, Button’s only down in 6th, but most importantly, the Red Bulls are down in 9th and 10th. Pity Barichello’s ahead of him, but only in 5th, and of course Hamilton for pole!
What a fantastic day! I am absolutely shattered though! It started out with R and I being more cunning than an entire barrelful of weasels. You will remember that yesterday we were stuck on the cattle train of death, which departed from Centrale station. On Sunday, free trains went from Centrale. Busy much? We thought so. Therefore we formulated a cunning plan to avoid Centrale like the plague and take a train from Porte Garibaldi instead. We knew that trains went to Monza from there because our return train had stopped there on Saturday – only small problem was that we didn’t know when or how often trains went, and we couldn’t get on the internet (and our helpful hotel guy wouldn’t tell us) to verify. So we turned up, hopeful, and after a false start when a train official told us no trains went to Monza, found one that actually did and left in 10 minutes! And best of all, it was absolutely empty – bliss! So if anyone’s ever doing the trip in future, don’t tell too many of your friends, but be smart like us. AND it pulled in at a different time to the cattle train, so we got seats on the bus to the track and everything.
We turned up in time to watch the GP2 race, which was quite good even though we didn’t know anyone or what was happening really – but there was some overtaking and quite a few crashes in front of us. GP2 races are, I believe, more eventful than F1 races as a rule – don’t know why we don’t all follow them really! Anyway, race kicked off at 2 pm, which was 3 ½ hours after we got to our stand – filled with book, icecream and general anticipation. The race wasn’t exactly incident-packed, but it was still so cool being there, the time just flew by like an F1 car (ahhh, lame but apt analogy). There really is nothing like being there, and I consider it 210 euros well spent. It was a lovely hot day (slightly too hot perhaps but not humid or anything so manageable), great atmosphere, and while Hamilton crashing on the FINAL LAP was a blow and a half, I’m pleased that Button got second and increased the lead over the Red Bulls by quite a lot. Since Monza is the kind of track supposed to favour the Red Bulls, I’m going to make a call and say that Button has the championship in the bag now. Obviously Barichello has been closing in the last few races, but he only took 2 points here and I don’t see him taking the championship. This is definitely Button’s year, and well deserved
Journey back was fine – a crew of Italian beer salesmen gave us a lift partway through the park in their open-sided seatless beer truck, which was fun – one of them manhandled me down from it in a sort of fireman’s lift around the knees (I squealed) – R got the ‘carrying across the threshold treatment. Travelling is so great in that it somehow frees you to interact with people in a way that you might never do normally at home. And I must say, I’m loving Italy and the Italians – there’s a great Italian-to-tourist ratio so far (although I expect that’ll change on the rest of the trip) and they seem generally friendly, warm and lovely. We were out of the hotel for about 11-12 hours, lots of walking, lots of standing about. My back is killing me and I’m exhausted, but great day, fantastic experience!