Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Forty and da mummy

The title of this post has nothing to do with the inevitable approaching crisis ahead of turning 40 that awaits me, fortunately I have a few years to go yet. Rather it's what Julia called our most recent holiday destination, Forte dei Marmi, in Italy.

I had heard it was an über posh part of the Italian Riviera, and so I took great pains in packing what I imagined an Italian model turned millionaire's wife might wear so that I might blend in. Only think shorter, fatter, and a mixture of Next and M&S as opposed to Dolce & Gabbana or Roberto Cavalli.

There is something about places like Monaco and the like that have a way of awakening certain insecurities in me. Not a lot I can do about the reality that genetically speaking I was never going to be tall and built like a racehorse. Then there's the fact that although I try and make an effort with my appearance, I just cannot keep up with the perfectly groomed thing 24-7. I think you need a lot of time, money, and staff on hand so you can keep those French manicured acrylic nails from chipping, and don't ever have to let those tight white jeans from Joseph get tomato-sauced little hands all over them. It's taken a lot of therapy to get to this point, but I think, finally, I've just about made peace with it.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that although Forte dei Marmi is indeed full of shops like Dolce & Gabbana, Prada (that bastion of civilisation) and the like, it's also got a good mixture of informal restaurants, as well as people and families who don't all look as though they've stepped out of Italian Vogue. Although, admittedly, there are certainly still plenty of them that look as though they do. What I will say is that Italian women, certainly from around there, age very well. There's none of this letting themselves go to seed because they are of a certain age. Women from 60 and over were still beautifully dressed, attractive, and well put together and it was a good reminder that just because you get older, it doesn't mean that you have to fade into the background.

The Italians adore children, and Forte dei Marmi had a very family oriented feel, although don't let those 'screaming brat' phobes among you avoid going there on vacation because it's a lovely place. But yes, the eateries, regardless of how smart they were, welcomed children. So you're unlikely to get disapproving looks from the staff or patrons if you arrive at 9pm for dinner with your toddler. Something which the Italians appeared to enjoy doing, and something which Julia found very strange. A Gina Ford baby, she's never really been taken out at night, and is usually fast asleep in her little bed at 7pm every evening. On a few occasions this holiday, she'd look around in amazement, point and exclaim, "Night time! Stars! Moon!"

Everyone rides bicycles, young and old. I have never seen anything like it in Europe, outside of Amsterdam, but then I've probably not seen as much of Europe as I'd like to think. But yes, lots of people on bicycles, even in cocktail dresses, en route to dinners, clubs etc. Mostly cycling while talking on mobile phones and occasionally some cigarette smoking thrown in too, for good measure.

There is this fantastic central bit in the town which has a little funfare which operates every evening. You can drive these little cars around with your children, or even drive your own miniature horse-drawn carriage. There are also tea-cup rides, pony rides, dodgems, a mini games arcade etc. I think for kids under 13 and those adults who care to admit it, it's heaven.

Some of the negatives about Forte dei Marmi is that taxis are extortionately expensive. To contextualise we got back to Victoria station and caught a taxi which dropped Roberto off at work in W1 and then took me back here to NW3, and it cost around 26 pounds and I thought what a bargain. A trip of that distance and time would cost us around 70 pounds in FdM, standard. The other thing, which wasn't a negative for us, but may be for some people, is that there didn't appear to be any on the beach hotels. The beach is separated from the houses and hotels by a two-way main street, and split into beach clubs, which hotels have affiliations with. So in our case each morning after breakfast we'd grab some towels, put Julia in her buggy, and then walk the five minutes or so to our beach club.

There are also a gazillion people wandering around selling fake designer handbags, and watches, sunglasses, dresses and hats. A bit of a pain in the backside to be disturbed every 10 minutes or so, and so excessive that even Julia began to say, 'No grazie' when she saw them approach. Alternatively there were plenty of Thai women walking around offering massages and both Roberto and I got a very good reflexology one.

The beach clubs are very well organised, but I imagine in season get fully booked, so it may be worth reserving your spot when you make a hotel booking as I don't think that a reservation at the hotel immediately ensures you a reservation at a beach club. Our spot afforded us a canopied bit so that Julia could play in the sand and we could read without incurring third degree burns from the hot sun, plus a couple of loungers and chairs. A restaurant close by for lunch and a place to buy water and drinks. Perfect really.

A couple of memorable moments from our holiday included:
A much older permanently scowling bear-like Russian man behind us at the beach club taking full-frontal topless photos of his much-younger attractive girlfriend as she got a back massage from a itinerant Thai masseuse. Roberto, who was having lunch with me at the time, was in full tilt to get a good view. For academic purposes naturally.

A restaurant owner in Pisa happily telling us that the unborn bump on his very pregnant chain-smoking wife was also to be called Guilia.

The frighteningly loud and excessively ostentatious hour-long fireworks display that initially led us to think that Basque separatists had relocated and decided to include the Italian Riviera on their shit list.

Julia spontaneously bursting into a very loud and somewhat off key rendition of 'Twinkle Twinkle little star' in the Duomo in Pisa. Also, exclaiming, 'Amazing church!' and 'Amazing windows' pointing to the many beautiful stained glass windows in the cathedral.

I liked this part of the world enormously. It's close to Pisa, and that leaning tower really is worth seeing, trust me. Plus the Duomo, which, I imagine, much like many cathedrals and churches in Europe was built at enormous expense while the masses faced abject poverty and starvation, is, well, remarkably beautiful. And then there's Luca, and of course Florence - all train-rides away. We're already planning on going back again next year. Lets hope the strength of the pound versus the Euro improves, what with all those pony rides and gelati's to pay for.

No comments: