Monday 28 March 2016

A trip to Sabaudia - day 6: Sabaudia to Home (Sunday)

[Day 1: Rome | Day 2: Rome to Sabaudia | Day 3: Sabaudia (thursday) | Day 4: Sabaudia (friday) Day 5: Sabaudia (Saturday) | Day 6: Sabaudia to Home (Sunday)]

Sunday dawned clear and bright, but it was our last day. I was neither clear nor bright, partly due to excess wetness on Saturday afternoon, the copious red wine at the evening meal, and then the regrettable mistake in the cocktail bar where an "Americano" turns out to be a  cocktail as well as a coffee.

We were an VIII and a Quad, with me coxing due to enthusiasm for rowing by Will, and also me cricking my back whilst trying to put my socks on, it isn't easy you know. Chris and Brian still hors de combat. The water was still and we rowed quite decently, though the Quad refused my challenge to a race to the death.

And then, it was all over bar the washing the boat and each other down. Here we all are (I have resisted the urge to add a Ukrainian for scale): Front L to R: Brian, Will, Simon E, Me; Rear L to R: Lewis, James, Anne, Simon L, Pamela, Lorraine, Dan, Amanda, Amy, Chris, Keith.

For fans of completeness: lunch was yesterday's carefully pre-bought cold pizza, bus from hotel left 1:30 to Ciampino 3:00 where we broke into our separate parties, the bulk sitting around in that characteristic state of modern budget travel; I was pretty tired by then. Back in the UK just before 7 pm and the trudge through customs.

Saturday 26 March 2016

A trip to Sabaudia - day 5: Sabaudia (Saturday)

[Day 1: Rome | Day 2: Rome to Sabaudia | Day 3: Sabaudia (thursday) | Day 4: Sabaudia (friday)]

Today Dan and a few others were keen to cycle in the afternoon, and I decided to join them, so after breakfast we wandered into town, carefully went past the first cycle shop, and hired bikes in the second cycle shop. They didn't have proper racing bikes for hire - they did have one rather nice one but that was demo only - so instead Dan, Amanda, Pamela and I got "town bikes" - pah - but in practice they were fine. Except for Amanda's on the steeper hills, when the chain fell off, but of that more anon.

So, first, the rowing, and we ventured on 2.5 lengths of the lake - originally it was to be three but we saw sense thank goodness. Featuring the usual warm up and exercises, followed by a few gratuitous starts for the fun of it, a significant amount of shipping water from various washes, and then some "battle paddling" of us versus the launch. Which is fun until you work out how to do it. Version one had us going off, James setting the throttle to match us during the first 20 strokes, and then us trying to stay ahead for the following 3 km ish. Or however long it was. We were forced up from 21 to 28 in order to stay there, but we did. The next one was shorter, and I realised it was easier to not pull quite so hard for the fist 20 strokes, tee hee.

Lunch, then bikes. A few more people decided to join us, but didn't because the shop was out of bikes. In practice this was probably good: getting four people to agree on a route was hard enough, even though there was only one way to go. Which was: along the beach, around the mountain, along the coast on the far side to the end, and then (for me) over the top and back. Or in more detail: we set off and happily cycled along the beach road in the sunshine, stopped to look at the tower at the end, then went into territory new to me, as the road gently rose through the forest roughly parallel to the ridge of Monte Circeo. Vair nice, and after a bit we came to the turning that would take us around the shoulder, fairly steeply up, with Amanda obliged to push her recalcitrant bike; but we made it up and into Sant Felice Circeo. An old town - now much extended - and we failed to stop for coffee which was a mistake because it is the last convenient stop. But there's a nice view of the sea. And so on round, up and down a bit but mostly contouring in the way that contouring is never really level; and eventually to the end of the road in a track and a path - we left our bikes - to a view of the sea and the cliffs under Monte Circeo, since we'd come all the way round. Then back - with a false start, sorry, it is amazingly easy to get lost - and then we split at the bit where Google maps clearly showed a zig-zagging road up the mountain, and I could clearly see from below the lines of masonry walls underpinning it. The others went back on the coast road, I headed up. I went straight past a locked gate - obviously - and only realised a bit later that I'd missed my path, and that if you looked closely you could evade the gate. Then I got lost again in a maze of excavation and finally realised - when another cyclist on a real mountain bike went past - that the true path went up the tiny track I'd ignored. At which point I was forced to admit that the "road" up the mountain was actually a track, and I could not cycle it, I would have to push my bike. Not quite the whole way - I rode perhaps 50 m -  but the vast majority.

Nonetheless, it is a lovely path, strewn with iris and amaranth, and with gorgeous views, I recommend it if you're hard enough. However, about half way up - thank heaven for GPS altimeters - the skies darkened and the rain came in, and I started to regret my decision to lighten my rucksac by, for example, leaving my raincoat out. On the plus side, the biker I'd seen earlier came back down again, so I got to feel like an explorer again, with no certainty of making the top. I pushed on.

After many twists and turns I was rewarded with some stunning views of Monte Circeo, and out to sea, and a distinct feeling of wetness. Coming to the end of the path I saw a huge barred metal gate ahead of me and thought "I am not going back. How am I going to get over that?" but happily it had a tiny sally port cut into it and I was through, onto road. I wizzed along - still in pouring rain - along a kinda summit ridge but downwards, till I found a deserted cafe with a porch to shelter in and feel wet till the rain nearly stopped. Then down, quickly but carefully, to SFC where I found a nice cafe to sit in and shiver uncontrollably while I warmed up. And so home, happy to do the forested bit while it was still fairly light; a lovely sunset sky of pink underlit clouds coming down to the beach; and a fairly safe bit along the beach road.

Back at the hotel a warm shower and dinner; interrupted by someone saying there was someone come about a bicycletto - oh, yes, I'd put off the business of returning the bike till later, the shop owner turned up and seemed very happy to get the keys back, I didn't even have the wit to apologise but we shook hands and were both content. And so dinner, and later on cocktails, Keith and I both rather confused to order an Americano and get a red alcoholic drink.

Friday 25 March 2016

A trip to Sabaudia - day 4: Sabaudia (Friday)

[Day 1: Rome | Day 2: Rome to Sabaudia | Day 3: Sabaudia]

Friday is the sunny day as evidenced by the light streaming in from my window. B'fast and down to the lake. Start off with a "ladies VIII" filled out by three men in the bows, me being three. The traditional two trips down the lake and back, somewhat uncomfortable because for one reason or another the balance was poor. On the few occasions that will reminded us to sit back at the finish and rock over it went sat for ten strokes or so, but it didn't last.

As yesterday, at lunchtime I went for a run, Keith helpfully offering me an orange he had cadged from breakfast, I must remember to do that tomorrow. Along the beach again, only this time in the sun, and then go off an explore the tower. It turns out to be private, somewhat to my surprise, but the considerable wall can be turned and I do, taking moderate care not to be more obviously visible than a man in a fluorescent green tee shirt has to be. There's an abandoned house with the roof falling in, then a closer also abandoned but not in total disrepair house, then the tower which  has is non-beach-facing side covered in scaffolding. Behind, a terrace and so on and an abandoned swimming pool. In all, a gloriously situated place sadly in need of care and attention and money.


Since I have time, so up the track and try following the "yellow" path so see where it leads. It heads straight up like the "red" one, but only for 500 m or so, and then gentles and starts curving round right towards the ridge, which it intersects. So you get views, back to the lake and out to sea; and then at about 250 m there's a little summit, where I pass two people; and then at 430 m the "true" forepeak which you see from the main peak, where a party of three are having some tea. I go on a little past them for a better view of Monte Circeo. From this side the extensive cliffs that separate me from it are clear. It is all quite limestoney, pleasantly vegetated, and at this time of year a pleasing temperature, and the plants are soft rather than spiky. Decide that this is a nicer path than the red route to the true top.


And so down, via the same route. Then its the run back along the beach, the intrinsic pleasantness of which can't disguise the fact that I'm really quite tired by the time I stop at 16 km. Meet Brian running out about 1 km before I stop. And so, back to the rowing club in time for a five or perhaps ten minute rest and drink and banana (thanks James) before I need to start rowing.

Afternoon outing: now down at bow, with an odd-handled blade and where the feet are a little odd: there's very little slack in the heel restraints, but decide not to fix that as it will encourage me not to extend forwards. The outing is much better sat than this morning so I'm much happier; I'm mostly trying to survive and perhaps that helps. Warm up in sixes, some finish exercises, some starts and then some pieces.

Wend my weary way back towards the hotel for a well earned shower (discovery: the reason my shower produces only dribbles is the head, which is adjustable, duh) and collapse before dinner.

A Stone Pine apparently, says Amy.

Thursday 24 March 2016

A trip to Sabaudia - day 3: Sabaudia (Thursday)

[Day 1: Rome | Day 2: Rome to Sabaudia]

Sleep well overnight. Breakfast: buffet. Fine in quantity and acceptable in quality. Plenty of coffee and more cake than I could eat. I always feel I've let down a buffet if I can't scoff the lot. Amy discovers "BlueFi" app that allows you to use your phone's BT as a walkie-talkie, so we'll try that to mitigate lack of wiring. Grey skies outside but no rain; off for our "early morning" outing at 9:30 - hands on time; not M1 "turn up about then and faff a lot" time. Chris "sick man of Europe" Wood still sick but will be spotter in the launch.

Outing: front-stops work most of the way down, some bursts on the way back, and 4 * 500m pieces on the second way back, clearly I've forgotten something. In general it went well, though lacking the oomph of the full IM3 VIII. Others out in the Quad. Will coxes with a megaphone.

Now its lunchtime, but I rather fancy the run along the beach and maybe a shot at the prominence at the end. So elect to skip lunch, it is but food, and head off. Over the bridge over the lake, turn left, and almost immeadiately there's a side path down to the beach. Which is sandy, and empty. To my right the sea, to my left the quite tall and quite uniform dune about 20-30 feet high, with houses spaced out and the odd quiet bar. I follow vehicle tracks for a km trying to find some firmer sand, then head down to just above the sea and its better there. Steadily eat up the km, though not quickly, stopping every km for a pic as the hill gets closer. The beach is longer than it looks, and my watch shows 6 km by the end. Trend up, over a little road bridge over the exit canal, and where the road swings left I continue straight up a stony track. Just on the end is an old fort, which wiki said was to guard the canal. After about a km of gently rising track the "red path" turns uphill and continues straight up the hill side with neither zig nor zag; I start up jogging but am soon reduced to a walk. Its steep enough to need care and moving from one footrest to another on the slippery soil. About 2/3 of the way up there's a break in the trees - otherwise I can see no distance - and the path starts zigging; and just when I'm wondering if I'm going to have to turn back a little more push gets me to the top. 541 m says wiki, which I'll take over the just-less-than 500 that my GPS offers me. Great views, back over the lake and into the distance, and over the summit down to the far side, whatever that is. Look around but there's no rest for the wicked so head off down. There's a tempting "yellow path" that I suspect would be friendlier, but I can't be sure where it goes so stick to what I know. I don't run down but I do bounce from tree to tree. And so to the "easy" track, and then to the road, and take the road rather than the beach. easier but more boring, especially since its tree lined and I can't see lake or sea. GPS gives out at 14 km with 4 km to go, and running that last 4 km was quite hard.


But I get back only a little late, in time to leap in and cox the afternoon outing, which went fairly well. Same exercises, Dan still stroking, Will in at 6 with great enthusiasm, and James in the launch again.

Finish around 5, shower there, head back quite slowly, lie down for a bit, go down for pre-dinner drinks with Brian and Amanda and Chris; some others turn out to have been out on the town. Dinner: mushroom risotto is good, followed by decent pork and roast potatoes; and a choux pastry.

Then its time for a bit of video watching, and pore over the mornings outing. To my surprise I'm still over-reaching at the catch, because I thought I'd carefully backed off, but no. That's rather interesting; clearly I need to back of even further. And I also need to watch out for going in ahead of Dan, especially at 30.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

A trip to Sabaudia - day 2: Rome to Sabaudia (Wednesday)

Set alarm for 6:50, intending to run before b'fast. Wake then, look at windows, see it as grey, and go back to sleep. Rinse+repeat, and get down to b'fast at 8:15 to find others already there. It turns out, as I really knew, that my drapes plus curtains plus windows plus shutters look out to an inner courtyard through scaffolding and masonry, and are thus always grey no matter the state of the day. Buffet is decent but unexciting, except for the yoghurt machine which is exciting. Plenty of coffee anyway.

After: go for a run! Of course. This time take a little more care with route, and route finding, and go somewhat more slowly. Start off by heading E to the green blob which turns out to be a park / tree-covered hill about 1 km in circumference; run round it, and from there it is just a little way to the river. Then a nice long loop along the river - forced off briefly when the bank runs out - and see a couple of tents / cardboard shelters under bridges. But mostly quiet. This time go onto the island and run all around it, then back quasi-direct via Trajan's column and Vic Emma; 11 km. That then gives me just enough time to cool down, shower and pack in time for our advertised 11 o'clock departure.

By this time we've picked up Anne and her son Joe and his bike; and James and Amy who made the trip down by train. Aim to catch bus, from railway station, but its rammed, so get taxis instead, which are a E30 flat-rate, quite cheap with five in. Traffic jams, but get there well in time so coffee+sandwich, Simon E and Lorraine find us, and Lewis, so we're now complete. Now all we need is the 16-seater Dan hired to get us to Sabaudia and... its here. Of we go; takes about 1:30 with rain in the latter half, still better now that later. And so to our hotel, La Palme. A quick unpack and then dinner, which is pasta with a subtle trick: the pasta is only the first course, there is a second course of chicken, but I'm full so refuse that. Then fruit.

After a false start we troupe (or do we troop?) off down to the lake, which is say 10 mins walk away. There's a rowing club, with a fairly small building - men's and women's loo and changing and showers, office, gym - and a large grassed area for boats, no inside storage, even most of the blades are left outside. Many of the boats are visiting, there are many sculls and doubles / pairs and a quad or two from the Ukrainian national squad, and some from Egypt. Find an "OUWBC were 'ere" sticker. There's our VIII, which is indeed an Empacher, looking slightly unloved - it clearly hasn't been out in a while. The hull is good, the inside acceptable - except there is no speaker wiring. WTF? Well, we'll do without for the moment. Also all the footplate adjustment nuts are actual hex nuts, not wing nuts, so require a rigger jigger to change. Weird. But with the cobwebs removed and the slides smoothed down we're ready to go: Dan stroke, me 7, Amy, Simon L, Lewis, Brian, Amanda and Anne at bow; with Will coxing. James T is supposed to be coaching from the launch but has wandered off to be shown the lake; he later shows up with Chris on board and they watch us, getting quite close but keeping the wash off us.

Its pretty good: the shell is fine, we're rowing quite nicely, the lake is calm and clear, and the experience is novel. After we turn and come back we have a view of the coastal mountain chain which is beautiful. About 7 km in total. Meanwhile, Keith and Simon E have gone out in a double, we need to work out outing-sharing in some fair manner. Some folks hang behind to do ergs, the perverts; Chris and I head back to shower+rest before dinner at 7:30. Which turns out to be... pasta! With tiny lobsters. And again its a trick: there is fish to follow, which I refuse. I do have some salad though. Followed by pineapple. Followed by the bar, and a coffee, and a long round of staring at the video from the launch. Which is really very good: much better than from-the-bank or even the GoPro on a tripod. I'm almost finally convinced about over-reaching, and can clearly see me breaking the elbow early. And the late legs. Lots to see!

Tuesday 22 March 2016

A trip to Sabaudia - day 1: Rome (Tuesday)

[Day 1: Rome | Day 2: Rome to Sabaudia | Day 3: Sabaudia (thursday) | Day 4: Sabaudia (friday) Day 5: Sabaudia (Saturday) | Day 6: Sabaudia to Home (Sunday)]
11665388_10154020871982350_9124643154955021736_n Finish work at 9:30, reluctantly leaving the mystery of lack of RF on u28-crs for later. Home, back, bed just before midnight. "Your alarm is set for three hours from now", gee thanks. Up, 2:50; cycle to Queens', it is a lovely still night. Chris and Keith are already there, Will and Simon L turn up and we all drive off to Stanstead, meeting up with Brian in the car park waiting for the bus to the terminal. Nothing untoward, we have time for some pre-flight food and drink in Starbucks, board and off. I do the puzzles in the Torygraph that Simon got because TG+water bottle was cheaper than just water; its a mad world we live in folks. A glorious view of the Alps as we flew over, snowy rocky peaks sticking out of a sea of cloud, all the inglorious lower ground and works of man covered up.

Land, meet Dan who has just seen the mysterious and enigmatic Rose off. Debate into-Rome options (bus to nearby train station then train in is cheap, but bus won't leave for 30 mins) 7-person taxi in is only E11 each, so go for that. And so to our hotel, with the odd ruin passing by as we get there. The Hotel Nord Nuova would be terribly convenient for the railway, which is why we picked it; still, we needed some way to choose. Outside it is somewhat unprepossessing - the area is unfashionable at best - but inside is fine and my room is good. Instead of going to the cafe round the corner that the hotel recommended - well they would, wouldn't they - we go off into town for lunch, following Dan's lead because he is El Capitano and because he's been here for the weekend. We meet Keith in a nearby park - most of us are at the hotel, Keith is at a nearby Airbnb, which turns out to be a very nice apartment let by an elderly Italienne who speaks no English. And so to the Cavaliero Blanco, or something quite similar meaning White Horse probably, which is perhaps more of a tea room than a restaurant its not quite clear, and anyway it is only quarter to 12. But instead of ordering their nice cakes we order lunch, perhaps if we spoke the lingo we would have more flexibility, as it is we mostly grunt. But, it works.

After lunch, everyone else went off for a tour of the City led by Dan, but I am special so went on a run instead, after perhaps slightly contradictorially spending 3 hours in a doze to make up for the early start. I had no map, so kinda memorised the route from my laptop and took my phone into which I'd impressed the route. Getting down to the Tiber worked OK, though I was uneasily aware that getting back would not be trivial and I'd veered off to the right a bit; running along the Tiber was lovely, it is very quiet and calm because it is cut about 30 feet down; I ran as far as the island, a bit past, then back and then the phone came into its own because the cached map and GPS location was enough to guide me. However, I got too cocky, took a wrong turn, got turned around in my head, and...well, look at the trace for details; it adds up to 14 km of spaghetti.

Back, shower, who is where? The boyz are by the Pantheon and I almost join them but it is late; and Chris who is slightly sick is having a pizza next door so I join him. The quattro formaggio is very good, but I always forget how heavy such a thing is, and so fail to finish it. Later, join the boyz for a quick drink before turning in for the night.

The hats belong to Dan, of course, but also to Simon L, because they have poor taste.

Monday 14 March 2016

Book review: Confluence: Child of the River / Ancients of Days / Shrine of Stars

I enjoyed this, but it is too long, and too derivative. As I said reviewing Something Coming Through: read 400 Billion Stars instead.

Of course, being long is good if you want something to fill in time; which I rather did; so that's not a good complaint. However, the material does perhaps get stretched thin, and the bits that McAuley doesn't have a good back story for become a bit too obvious, instead of staying only glimpsed.

If you follow the obvious reviews, you'll see people noticing the obvious debt to Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun; and indeed the much less successful Long Sun series. Apart from the obvious stuff, which is so obvious that I tend to think it was intended to be noticed, there are more subtle hints for the cognoscenti, like one of the minor characters being called Azoth.

The overall cycle - stop reading me here if you have any intent to read the book - is like Wolfe; in the way that it carefully constructs a circle in time; though McAuley's circle is heavy and clumsy compared to Wolfe. The shrines and avatars are blatantly Wolfe.

The return of one spaceship after millions of years is very much in the line of Across Realtime (which, if you haven't read it, should be on your must-read list along with A Fire Upon the Deep). As is the idea of a group of rather lost "people" left wondering "WTF happened?" after everyone else Transcended. In Realtime this is neatly handled by not being handled at all; in Confluence it is constantly alluded to by the Eye of the Preservers and so on; but after a while it becomes clear that it will never become clear and he really has nothing to say about the subject.

There are some terribly odd bits of physics. A simple illustration is that the Prefect's energy pistol has three shots, then needs a day in the sunshine. But that wouldn't be close to enough (OTOH the weird knife that likes being stuck in fires is nice). A more complex one is the way the sun rises then sets, by the whole world tilting then tilting back. In terms of conservation of momentum that's insane, even to someone who has allowed themselves arbitrary gravity manipulation.

However, all that is balanced by a decently told story. Some portions struggle for a kind of eloquence: the idea of Yama "freeing" the indigenes with his blood is nice, as long as you don't stop and think "hold on, what's the point? If that was the point, why not do it a million years ago?"