a belated 'nice to be back'

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Greetings to all. Nice to be back – meant to post this when I got back a week ago but things got away from me.

Looking forward to catching up on all I've missed – been without internet for about two weeks (the hotel in Verona gave me a code for the internet for my computer which collapsed the thing – and then collapsed their own system the next day and the boat didn't have internet).

Started with a few days at the annual Vinitaly – a massive event for Italian wine, and beyond. Over 4,200 exhibitors and 150,000 people attending. Mostly trade but on the weekend, it is also for the public. Most of the great Italian producers there – had one morning bouncing around Barolo producers (Clerico, Conterno, Eltare). Seems every stand hires a Miss Italy to serve their wines. Could not have been happier.

Went out into the mountains to a tiny grappa producer – I don't normally like grappa but this was good. Tiny production – he only works 20 days a year. It was way out near the Piave (sp?) River (apparently it is famous in Italy as the Germans were never able to cross it in WWI – not so sure about WWII), which looked very trouty to me. Asked if it had trout and they said it now had to be regularly stocked because of some disease that got into it. Apparently, every year they have the trout eggs flown over from Tumut in the Snowy Mtns of Australia.

Next day was supposed to be visiting Prosecco for vineyards and production. Turned out it was for the benediction of the grapes. I was mistaken for a Catholic priest from Australia. Seriously. The actual local priest was very insistent that I invite him to Australia – by which I gather he meant I should pay for him to get there (fat chance). Apparently, his only non-religious skill was shooting guns (was sooo tempted to ask about more pertinent matters that have featured in the press of late but felt that might not be considered polite). All very bizarre. After that one, and I heard more than two dozen speeches in Italian that day and actually had to give a few myself (in English, fortunately) but never really worked out why or what they should be on but no one seemed to mind as long as someone was giving a speech, we went to another benediction. This was bigger – another 8 speeches but none from me, thank god. They had an oompah band and also the local band of accordions and one weird chap with a drum on his back and a plastic chook. All very surreal and not sure whether the grapes appreciated it or not.

Finally got into Verona itself on the last day. A few us went in and had a great lunch. The main dish was polenta and horse and it was seriously good. I spoke to the owner about his wine list as he had a fantastic collection of amarone. We narrowed it down to a few – he made a recommendation and then came back with two bottles. He'd found an old one – his last – which we were welcome to at the same price as the current and he had a second bottle for us as a gift – one of those we'd talked about – because we'd been interested and he wanted his guests to be happy. We were very happy by the end.

Then to the Romeo and Juliet balcony, which is purely for the squillion tourists a year as apparently the place was a brothel till around 1930 and has absolutely nothing to do with Juliet or anyone connected. They say there is a tradition where one should be photographed with one's hand rubbing the right breast of Juliet (the statue) – you can see it has been rubbed shiny compared to the rest of the statue. I would have thought rubbing the representation of a 14-year-old girl or whatever she supposedly was, was material for a shrinks' conference, but when near Rome... (and no, I neither rubbed it nor had my photo taken).

Then a day's train journeying to meet my friends. Verona to Milan to Ventimiglia – all going so well. Then for the last connection across to Nice/Antibes, 15 minutes before we leave the platform, French rail goes on strike. My first chance all week to actually have a cigar so sat there with a lovely Hoyo des Dieux and tried to think of a plan B. A few trains running so managed to get across and headed to the boat.

My old friend Woody and his partner Gina (and their 4-year-old son) have a fantastic boat – the Martello – which was in Antibes. The marina there is apparently the biggest in Europe for private boats. It takes 2,000 boats. Then around the corner, is the “International Quay” which has a further 19 boats. Woody was there – to be honest, only because friends of his ran the place. Paul Allen of Microsoft fame usually parked his 150 metre boat where Woody was but he was out so we had it for a day or two (we saw it later – amazing, choppers, every bell and whistle). If a spot comes up in this part of the marina, you can lease it for the next ten years for a mere 23 mil Euros, plus costs!!!! And some boats apparently are so large, they need to lease two spaces. That is 46m Euros just for a few square metres of water. Has the world gone mad?

The boats here were amazing. Abramovich normally has his 130 metre one here (we passed his new digs – the first thing built at Antibes on the Cape for many years – several times. He is apparently pissed at the locals as they would not give permission for his own marina for his new boat which is being built – 552 feet!! Apparently for a mere 600 million pounds. He is also having another runabout built as well – just 375 feet. And has apparently given one of a similar size to his ex-wife – or his accountant, depending on who you believe – and has a few others this size as likes them all around the globe).

The Corinthian VII, apparently owned by a German shopping centre widow, was there. It is one of the five largest in the world, I'm told. She uses it two weeks a year. Rest of the time it sits idle. Different world.

Woody's boat is brilliant though at just 30 metres, dwarfed by a few. More staff than passengers – got to love that and as I told Rob, I got very used to being called Mister Ken. Captain was a Kiwi (yet surprisingly a really decent guy and very competent – found out later among his many talents – pilot, electrical engineer etc, that he was also fully trained in both armed and unarmed 'close personal security' – Kiwi jokes kept to a minimum after I found that out – interestingly, and without wanting to inflame old discussions, though I have missed the forum, he absolutely hates guns. His view of handguns is that there is absolutely no purpose for them whatsoever other than to kill people, but I'm just the messenger). He used to work for Abramovich. He is fanatical about soccer, not just Chelsea, and there is always a soccer game being televised to the boat, even if it is only Russian schoolkids. One member of the crew has the sole job of ensuring the satellites are properly aligned at all times for the reception so no soccer is missed. Also said he was thoroughly liked by his crew and considered a very good boss.

We bounced around between Nice, Antibes, Port Gallice, St Tropez – love that place – Cannes and then when the volcano struck, holed up in Monte Carlo for a week.

Woody couldn't get back to London and my flight, the very day the ash hit the fan (one great Pommy headline re the politicians' handling of the mess was 'Out of the flying pan and into the ire'), was useless.

Finally got out a week later on exactly the same flights as last week, just a week later. Nice to Frankfurt to Singapore to Brizzy, the stumbling wombat permitting (and a healthy chat coming up if not).

Still, so far, given that I could have had the week on an airport floor or a German park bench, a luxury cruiser with a chef who was Barbara Bush's personal chef when she was in the White House, and staff bringing regular cocktails and even ironing the undies, things could have been worse.

Don't you just hate a crisis!

Will post a series of the photos.

the boat.


another tough day. post-9-1272887936.jpg

as you can see, i ran into rob during the trip.post-9-1272888002.jpg

st tropez - one of my fave places. post-9-1272888088.jpg

the cemetery at monte carlo must surely be the most valuable land on the planet used for that purpose. right on the water. this headstone was "1903 to 2006". not a bad innings. post-9-1272888118.jpg

more to follow.

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this is the inside of the boat - all mahogany etc. just superb.


king of the world!!


the top deck with the jucuzzi and the bbq off to the left.


the boat.


greg norman's first boat. post-9-1272888595.jpg

a tough morning just around from abramovich. near port galice.


woody and myself out on the mattress. post-9-1272888700.jpg


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the harbour at monte carlo with preparations for the race well under way. walked the track almost every day. spectacular location. post-9-1272888835.jpg

a few more of the boats there. amazing. post-9-1272888860.jpg

one of my faves. to give perspective, that is a reasonably large pool on the top deck. post-9-1272888898.jpg

another angle. post-9-1272888957.jpg

these are strategically placed around the city for folk out on a walk. post-9-1272889004.jpg

if you want lunch on a different perspective, we'll just open the side of the boat! apparently the owners have not been back for some time as their doctor allegedly fell off the boat and into the props and turned into soup so the owners bolted back to the mid east to avoid any nastiness. but the doc's family did become very rich. post-9-1272889133.jpg

the building on the left is the local monte carlo kennel club. diferent world indeed. post-9-1272889171.jpg

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ducasse's famous restaurant - louis xv - at the hotel de paris next to the casino. most expensive dish on the menu a mere 550E!!!! but lunch, the degustation, was a relative bargain at just 140E.post-9-1272889404.jpg

casino. post-9-1272889501.jpg

the cars around the casino were amazing. this got everyone excited. it is something called an excalibur?? post-9-1272889531.jpgpost-9-1272889593.jpg

some of the others.


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finally, some odds and ends. the weird band guy at the benediction.post-9-1272889898.jpg

the famous romeo and juliet balcony and the statue rubbed shiny.post-9-1272889923.jpgpost-9-1272889951.jpg

the horse and polenta dish, which was fantastic.post-9-1272889982.jpg

and finally, woody and i contemplating what the plan should be. post-9-1272890005.jpg

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Just amazing stuff Ken it must have been a blast being stuck there while we were all stuck here.

Hey Ken have I told you lately how much I HATE you. ;)

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i just take it as read.

That shot of you and Woody on the bow.

I'll bet you were thinking.

You know , what we need about now is a **** load more of that fine volcanic ash.

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That shot of you and Woody on the bow.

I'll bet you were thinking.

You know , what we need about now is a **** load more of that fine volcanic ash.

i was all for the volcano!!

and as for caps - typed it out in the normal part first which always does caps. don't get used to it.

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Hi Ken,

Great to have you back and happy to see that you enjoyed yourself on the MED.

But, if you took the 3 and a half hour drive to come see me,

here is what you would have seen only 15 mins. from my place,

OK, the boats are not THAT big, :rolleyes:



But the rest would have largely compensated ;)







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Welcome back Ken!

Nice pictures from a world, far, far away from my own... B)

oh rest assured......normally far far away from kens as well :D

Welcome back mate!

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Comparing La Grande Motte and Monaco ! Come on !!!!

Ken , great set of pics ! I live fairly comfortably but everytime I go to Monaco I get stunned by the luxury there. A world apart indeed. You can thank both your mate and the volcano, great combo !

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Welcome back Ken. :D

What a great report followed by stunning pictures. It really is indeed a different world out there mate.

I've travelled Europe a great deal but have never been to Monacco, would love to head over sometime.

That horse and polenta dish, simple but I bet amazing.

The Europeans love horse meat, being from Austria, I've tried Kare (A spicy stew type dish) as well as Sauerbraten (A roast type dish intricately marinated). :clap:

Looks like you had a great adventure and you sure blended well into the lifestyle. B)

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Welcome back.

For something that was thrown together at the last minute, that sure does look like one hell of a trip. How come my work trips are absolutely nothing like that?

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