Monday, March 28, 2011

The Dress Rehearsal at Westminster Abbey

Last week, I was invited to a dress rehearsal at Westminster Abbey. No, not that dress rehearsal.

The dress rehearsal I was invited to was for In the Beginning, a performance event about the King James Version of the bible that celebrates it’s 400th anniversary this year. The ever-innovative Bush theatre produced a “tour as theatre” or maybe it was  “theatre as tour” – I couldn’t decide - that took small audience groups on a journey around Westminster Abbey, celebrating both the book and the building. Before you get too excited, this was a one-night-only event that took place on the 24th of March. Before you get too sad that you missed it, let me point out three things:

First, Westminster Abbey isn’t going anywhere and you can and should visit or revisit this magnificent monument.  This is how the Abbey describes itself on it’s website: Kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, priests, heroes and villains - the Abbey is a must-see living pageant of British history. I agree. Pity about the entry charge that has now reached an eye watering GBP 16. If you are cheap like me, time your visit for one of the Sunday services that are supposed  to have wonderful music.

Second, the Bush Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush remains a great place to see new and exciting theatre and I highly recommend a visit to see one of their productions. Here’s their website.

Third, events celebrating the King James Version of the bible will take place throughout the year across Britain. Here is a listing of some of those events.

And finally, if, like me, you love a wedding, any wedding, a wander around Westminster Abbey right now is a great way to get excited about the upcoming events of April 29th. The fact that you will also encounter the resting places of Henry James, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling and Elizabeth I as well as Mary, Queen of Scots, makes it, as they say, a great day out.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Eureka, Verona!

Before leaving the subject of skiing in the Dolomites for another season, a word about getting there.

We have tried it all. We have flown into Venice, Bergamo, Bologna and this year - Verona. From these jumping off points, we have rented cars, taken taxis and taken combinations of trains and taxis.  If you want the bottom line after 7 years of trial and error of getting to Alta Badia from London, Verona is by far the best access point.

Its got an excellent airport that is big enough to have services but small enough to be efficient. The city is fantastic if you want to spend some time (more on that later). There are frequent, inexpensive train connections to Bolzano from which you can get a moderately priced, comfortable cab to the resort. (We’ve decided to leave the business of driving mountain passes in winter in all kinds of weather to the locals.)

A good local taxi company is Pescosta Alfredo, Taxi-Bus Alta Badia Tel: 0471 836393.

If you are interested in how Verona compares to other things we tried, here is a summary:

Venice – Good airport, great city but don’t go during Carnival and getting all your ski luggage on and off boats is not ideal. From there, it’s best to rent a car or use an expensive taxi service. Train connections not great.

Bergamo – Serviced by Ryanair. As they say, there is a sucker born every minute,  but we’ve had enough abuse and will not fly them again so bye bye Bergamo.

Bologna – Good airport. Nice city but longish train ride to Bolzano.

If you do decide to spend some time in Verona, here are some recommendations:

We loved the Hotel Accademia, a lovely well run hotel in the best possible location.

You won’t regret eating at any of these 3 restaurants that offer wonderful food and good experiences with excellent value:

1)   Antico Tripoli, Via Spagna 2 Tel: 045 8035756
2)   Hosteria La Vecchia Fontanina, P.tta Chiavica 5 Tel: 045 591159
3)   Al Pompiere, Vicolo Regina d’Ungheria 5, Tel: 045 8030537

Buy a Verona Card (1/3 days Eur 8/12), it pays for itself almost immediately.

Go inside Juliette’s house (as in Romeo & Juliette) even though 1) she never existed, 2) it is chaos outside and 3) looks cheesy. Inside is atmospheric and very nice. 

Photo: Holy Water Font (1495) from the Church of St. Anastasia, Verona

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A Ski Resort Where No Man is Left Behind

If you have been skiing since before you can remember, if you like your slopes challenging and extreme, if you catch the first lift in the morning and ski through lunch and meet your less capable friends for dinner – read no further.  This story is not for you.

Instead, this is a tale for all the unheralded fans of the great alpine sport who have been toiling away in ski schools and on beginner slopes while your friends  have been wizzing around fabulous resorts telling you all about how great it was over dinner. Yes, you who have taken up a difficult sport at a late age. You, who no matter how cold, tired and frustrated you are, come back year after year for more. You deserve better and guess what? It doesn’t have to be painful or boring, uncomfortable or ungastronomic. You can ski in one of six Italian towns in the Alta Badia in the Dolomites: Corvara, Colfosco, San Cassiano, La Villa, Badia and La Val with the best being, in my view, Corvara.

I have written about Corvara before – in 2008 2007 and 2006 – and if you need information about hotels, restaurants and transportation, check out these posts as not much has changed since then. That’s part of the charm of the place. The region still offers massive intermediate terrain – 460 lifts connecting 1,220 kilometers of pistes across three regions of Italy – with few lines, good food, good accommodations and good value. After all this time, we even figured out a better and cheaper way to get there which involved a flight into Verona, then a train to Bolzano and a taxi to Corvara.

But what struck me this year was how perfect this resort is for a group of skiers of mixed ability, in particular for those skiers who often get left behind. In our group, we had everything from rank beginners, to gung-ho fanatics. There were skiers returning after twenty years, skiers returning after surgery, someone who first learned to ski in Morocco and mostly people who learned to ski as adults. In many ski resorts, most of the members of a group like ours would have been confined to a boring, small part of the mountain. But not in Corvara and the other towns of the Alta Badia. In this alpine arcadia, almost anywhere you would want to go can be accessed via a blue run.

And I offer as evidence the expedition we made together to the Church of Santa Croce; a day-long ski tour that offers some of the best natural beauty and gastronomy in the Dolomites. Our group set off in the morning, happily making our way from hamlet to hamlet via lifts with views and along easy to moderate slopes until we eventually reached Pedraces and the lifts that took us up to the Church of Santa Croce and its fabulous panorama.

After our visit to the sanctuary, we skied down to a man with a horse and old fashioned carriage who took us to a hut (Trattoria Oies 0039 471839671) filled with teddy bears, witches and the hardest partying Italians I have ever seen on a ski slope, where we had an amazing lunch of local specialties with lots of wine. After lunch, those who were tired took a taxi home, those who were not skied.

And here’s my point. Everyone in our group, regardless of ability, had the chance  to ski from village to village. Everyone could particpate in a real ski tour. No one was left behind or excluded. It was for all a perfect day.

So the next time you go skiing with someone who says, “I’ll meet you for dinner” tell them “No way. We’re going to Corvara where, like Black Hawk Down, they leave no man behind.

Photo Credit: Gary Ransom