Posted by: jameshensman | January 25, 2010

Welcome back…

It’s been a while. Enough said.

I thought I’d blog with an update of the things we’ve been up to since our last post… back in 2009! Tut tut.

First things first, thanks to Adam for his brilliant post – very comprehensive and entertaining. Not as entertaining as his skiing attempts, but close. By the way, Adam has put some videos of his skiing attempts on his own blog. Check them out… I’ll give at least a ‘B’ for effort. ;o)

December 2009

We had many lovely visitors in December which especially nice during the run-up to Christmas. Almost as good as being at home! I think it’s always hard being away from home around the festive season. That said, as you saw from our Christmas day photographs, James and I had a very lovely Christmas day and a ski-filled Boxing Day. Perfect!

We had lots of snow… though not a patch on the snow back in the land of UK…

Grom’s ice-cream flavour of the month was Panettone…

We enjoyed amazing fireworks in the largest square in the world (ahem) in the city centre on New Year’s Eve, together with music from Juliet Lewis and the Romantiques and Groove Armada. Juliet Lewis has certainly lost her way since she appeared in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. How did she think she would ever better that by starting a band and having a rock chick mid-life crisis? Oh dear, Juliet. Never mind.


We had a view from the top of the Mole on an almost clear day. This is momentous thing and I have included a photograph.

We also found some beautiful, beautiful hot chocolate on a trip out to the mountains. Evidence also pictured below.

January 2010

A brilliant start to 2010, the highlights being…

A visit from Adam and the chance to take him skiing. Oh yes, and the chance to walk around in the rain looking for the old Fiat factory in the wrong location. Only kidding.

Take-away Grom ice-cream in a box!.

A trip back to Sheffield and the chance to see much-missed family and friends. AND James’ graduation! You do now have to address him as Dr. James. Honestly, he insists. No exceptions.

More skiing ;o) In fact, on Saturday we were invited out to Briançon, just over the border in France, by one of James’ colleagues to join them for some skiing and dinner in the evening. And what a wonderful day we had! We met at their apartment, welcomed with tea (her husband is English after all!) and then joined her husband and one of their three daughters for some brilliant skiing. We went to Serre-Chevalier, a beautiful resort which links up to about three others, so it’s pretty huge, with amazing views and, on Saturday, some fabulous blue skies and sunshine! We enjoyed some skiing as a group for a few hours and then James and I went off together to explore further afield. As you can see from the photograph below, explore we did – that does appear to be me on top of the world! I don’t know if I’ve ever been so high!

Dinner in the evening was an absolute joy. Very homely surroundings, absolutely delicious food and wonderful company. The couple’s three daughters are all bi-lingual and were very excited to show us that they had the BBC television channels! One was very keen to know if I’d heard of a programme called ‘Hole in the Wall’; it was one of their very favourites. Once she had explained that there was a big polystyrene (or, poly-whatever, as she called it after checking with her Dad the correct word!) wall with a shape of a person cut out in a strange pose which the contestants had to replicate or fall in the pool of water behind them, I, shamefully, realised I did know the programme. The three then relayed with great joy the various challenges on the programme and we all watched it together whilst they recreated the necessary poses in the living room in front of the television. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed watching that programme so much!

In the vein of the title of the blog – we had some yummy cheese after dinner. Given that we were in France, there was Camembert, Tomme de Savoie (memories of Châtel!) and some Bleu d’Auvergne with pear. I particularly enjoyed tucking into the Camembert (I haven’t had any in ages!) and the Bleu d’Auvergne had a beautiful flavour (spicy and earthy) and a good amount of mould (set off to perfection by the flavour of the pear). Delizioso!

Low-lights of 2010 (includes a funny story for your enjoyment (NB: it was not funny at the time!))

There are only two, so don’t worry too much.

1. It has to be said that our return to Turin was marred somewhat by a small incident with the car in the airport car-park. I shall explain… We had a wonderful flight, the plane had only fifteen or so passengers on it and the crew were wonderful – only two announcements and only one trip down the plane with the trolley (a vast improvement on our flight out of Turin with an Irish budget airline who shall remain nameless). We had some amazing views of the Alps as it was lovely and clear and upon landing sailed through the baggage pick-up as we only had hand luggage. We were feeling pretty smug… even if it was minus 4 degrees when we walked out the doors.

So… the car. We found the car and James tried to open it with the clicky keyring… ah, the battery had gone. But never mind, we still had the key so we could get in. But, oooh, then a noise. Ouch – an ear-piercing alarm of a noise. And it was ours. And we couldn’t turn it off. The clicky keyring thing was needed to deactivate the alarm… Ah. We got in the car. It was minus 4 outside and it was a no win situation – outside it was well below freezing but the alarm was slightly less ear-piercing. In the car it was probably around zero degrees, maybe one or two, however, the alarm was deafening. So, we attempted to think. We could (a) split up, one of us return to the flat to retrieve the other clicky keyring in which there was a fully functioning battery on the airport shuttle service. A pricey and very time-consuming plan; or (b) drive home in the car… with the alarm going off. Any guesses which we went for?!

… Let me just say there were a few hairy moments as some police cars passed us on the motorway. I’d also just like to quote part of our conversation before we left the airport car-park –

James: “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Amy: “We could be stopped by the police because they think we have stolen the car and locked up in custody until our Italian improves to an extent that we can explain ourselves!” I think I made a fair point.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen and we got back to the flat safely and without (major) incidence.

2. … Oh yes, and Grom’s flavour of the month: coconut with chocolate chips. What a disappointment for us coconut-haters! Fingers crossed for February’s flavour.

In no particular order, please find the photographs to which I have made reference (be sure to hover over the photos for some hilarious captions):

Well, a whopper of a post there! Hope you enjoyed it.

Lots of love,

Amy xxx

Posted by: The Travelling Bum | January 12, 2010

Grom, But Not forgotten

It is my honour to post as a guest on the legend that is the Italian Cheese Diaries, this is a little late as I have been struggling to lift my arms after failing to complete a days skiing, but we will get back to that later.

Day 1 – Was this in the Italian Job?

The main reason I have wanted to go Turin is the Italian Job, if images of Michael Cain are not appearing in your mind, then go watch the proper film!

We did managed to find a few locations, my favourite has to be where the gold was unloaded!
After hijacking the security van from the truly hapless Italians it was driven into a little courtyard for the waiting minis this is the view looking inwards, I was stood where the van would have been.

The big church was good too – just hard to get a picture in the rain and with all the tram wires.
This is used twice, once when Beckerman describes the plan on film and once when the three minis criss cross down the steps following a wedding.

After much walking there was a GROM (see below) and a great pizza from a restaurant near another filming location, one of the arcades that was driven through.

Where they unloaded the gold

Where they unloaded the gold

The big church

The big church

Day 2 – Oh there are two Fiat Factories…

There is a wonderful market in Turin, its huge and has many, many wonderful things. There are markets like this all over the world, just seems like England’s are not as good, or as much fun.

After a fun few hours in the market adding to my personal supply of sausages and salami, getting some provisions for a very nice evening meal the mission was the Old Fiat factory – one of the most iconic buildings in Italy, for some people (me included) one of the most iconic buildings in the world!
Funny that it took two attempts to find it, the first attempt saw Amy and I sheltering in at a bus/tram stop in the rain with James trying to figure out where we where and needed to be!

We did finally find the right factory, as my lovely picture shows – also found the building with the funny curved roof – just around the corner, but be aware there are deep puddles near by!

The Old Fiat Factory

The Old Fiat Factory

Genuine Mini and the funny roof they drove up in the film

Genuine Mini and the funny roof they drove up in the film

Day 3 – The record for the quickest fall after getting skis on goes to…
Having got my skis on I fell almost immediately, then couldn’t get up! This may well be a record.

After getting past this little problem I shuffled my way up the carpet lift and somehow managed to get off at the top. My first few runs all ended in a fall, one due to a kamikaze ski baby!

By lunch time I was in a great deal of pain and needed a break and not surprisingly food.
Picabo Street and Franz Klammer went to do some proper skiing while I limped off to the café for lunch and fall in a three foot snow drift on the way.

Lunch was brilliant – a piece of chicken – a proper piece – about the size of a small child with a huge pile of chips and a nice gravy. The hot chocolate was stunning, never had any that good!

I will also mention that the French here are friendly – maybe I’ve been unlucky in the past or more likely my attempts or assaults on the French language are so offensive I deserve a sullen response. Here the people are friendly, are not offended by my French and happy to speak English!

I will be back in Montenegro sorry Montgénvre (I had some pronunciation issues.

After lunch I managed a fall free descent of the baby/learner slope as the second picture shows, such poise and skill, then there is me in the foreground! I was now in a huge amount of pain and decided to give up – as much as I wanted to go on I also wanted to walk (apologies to the proper skiers).

On the floor again

On the floor again

A natural

A natural

The professionals

The professionals

Picabo Street and Franz Klammer went of to practice skiing backwards and catching some air off piste (or something like that) I retired to the tacky souvenir shops of Montgénvre and a bar. I also had a chance to take a few pictures.


One of the great joys of Italy is the food – Pizza was by far my favourite Italian food type (and still is, but closing in rapidly is Ice Cream, more specifically GROM’s offerings. Not even the addition of a weird flavour like liquorish would put me off – I just wouldn’t try it.

The ultimate flavour combination: Pistachio, Creme de Grom and Bacio

The most suicidal flavour combination: Coffee, Double Chocolate and Dark Chocolate.

Grom In A Box is an amazing idea – you give them money, or you shiny new Grom Card and select your combination, in return you get a takeaway box they do 500g and 1kg, but the options are endless!

James and Amy (with her two GROMs) Amy with more Grom...

Further Reading/Shameless Plugs

More detailed note will soon be availiable: Hurricane Glass

More pictures will soon be available: Lunar Caustic

Posted by: jameshensman | December 25, 2009

Buon Natale

Merry Christmas to all.  Here are some photographs for you to enjoy.

Sci domani, penso io 🙂

Posted by: jameshensman | December 24, 2009

Buon Feste


There is so much snow here, it’s wonderful. The ground is covered and the city is looking beautiful. Today, the mist cleared and we could see the mountains from our apartment – they’re still magnificent and now frosted with a skiable glaze.

On the downside, Maureen and Chris’ flight back to the UK was delayed by a day – the plane never left Gatwick. They got home safely in the end: the Italians aren’t stopping for the snow, they just have to wait for their English counterparts to keep up.


Panettone is delicious. It’s like some kind of miracle-cake: it get stored in a bag, in a box, in a supermarket for a few weeks, and then pops out all moist and fresh when you want it. I think the texture is like a bun, a sweet and yeasty dough. Amy says it’s like a cake. Whichever, it’s tasty. Not recommended for haters of candied peel though: that seems to be a requisite ingredient.

Museo Egizio

Turin hosts the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts outside Egypt, at the Museo Egizio. The collection is pretty spectacular: there are mummies in their multiple coffins (displayed, behind glass, open like an exploded drawing assembly diagram). There are numerous pots: clearly the ancient Egyptians liked pots. Or maybe they just made _really_ good pots capable of surviving the millennia. Or maybe pots are of little interest to tomb robbers and owe their prevalence to their mundanity. The first room is full of pots, anyhow.

Subsequent rooms are more exciting, with beautiful statues of the gods, (complete with dramatic lighting, very Italian) some original documents that enabled the deciphering of hieroglyphs, wonderful funereal scrolls, re-created tombs, jewellery and fossilised bread. Worth a visit, if you’re in Turin.

Posted by: jameshensman | December 23, 2009

Our traditional Piedmontese meal

Now, a little while ago, we mentioned that we had been invited by James’ boss to the village where he lives for a meal full of traditional Piedmontese food. We were very excited but did not realise how FULL it would actually be.

We were collected from our apartment by one of James’ kind colleagues who had offered us a lift. After meeting up with various other colleagues and forming a convoy (a word the Italians don’t know it would seem…) we set off out of the city. It became apparent that it was a good job that we were offered a lift as we would never have found the restaurant ourselves. We went through tiny deserted villages and then up what appeared to us to be a dirt track… but we were wrong. This was actually a street and after much climbing in the poor little Fiat Panda we were squeezed into we reached the restaurant. The weather was foul (thick mist/rain and cold) and this further added to the feeling of adventure.

We arrived at about twenty to one. We gathered from the Italian conversation in the car that we were actually late… but it didn’t seem to matter. We were ushered upstairs to a private room above the restaurant. There were two tables the length of the room (our party was around 30 people) and the other side was set aside from a typically large Italian family who were hosting a surprise birthday party! It was very exciting, particularly as we were seated in time to see the intended surprisee arrive and joined in with the singing of Happy Birthday for him! Obviously, this was tricky for James and I, not knowing the Italian version, but our hearts were in the right place.

As soon as we were seated, we were given an apperitivo (something strong and pink coloured, like a rose sherry) and some delicious deep-fried tiny balls of herby pizza dough – wonderfully simple and tasty. Then the food did not stop coming… for over FIVE HOURS. We ate for five hours. Never before! Never again! Especially the course which just consisted of deep-fried offal. Ick. Liver, spinal cord, brain, lung,… I won’t go on. In fact, I shouldn’t concentrate on the only course I didn’t like, the rest of the food was amazing and delicious! Below is a note that the waiter provided us with (there was no official menu but after a kind request from one of our fellow diners for details of all the food we had eaten, this was given to us). Also note that there was a second meat course as well, after the deep-fried offal. Guinea foul accompanied by a wild boar stew, together with all the trimmings (vegetables, potatoes). Blimey.

Posted by: jameshensman | December 13, 2009

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches…

… the answer to that question in relation to the sad little tree found in our wardrobe at the apartment, is, not very. Despite James’ scepticism that the tree could never be beautiful, I knew that all it needed was a little TLC. It took a few hours (all in all)… but look at it now!

It’s beautiful and covered in spicy gingerbread biscuits so smells lovely too.

I am adding a poll to this post for two reasons: 1. I’ve been dying to add a poll on something, but nothing suitable has come up until now; and 2. Whilst James and I discussed the sad state of the original tree discovered in the wardrobe, I suggested that we buy a real one, just a little one. They’re expensive here, just as they are back at home and James said he would rather have twenty ice-creams (from Grom) than use the money to buy a tree. If it were a choice between Christmas tree or no Christmas tree I would much rather have a tree! Christmas isn’t Christmas without a tree, and it’s only acceptable to have them at one time of the year.

Posted by: amywyles | December 6, 2009

Skiing at last!

We are remiss with blog. Sorries.

There is snow! Lots of it, all over the mountains. So much, in fact, that Sestriere was on the (national, local? I can’t tell) news. Further, this weekend is an italiano-vacanza-bonanza! Tuesday will be a national holiday, and so of course, Monday is pretty much a holiday too. ‘Bridging’ the French call it, and it’s rife here in the ice-cream capital of the world too.

Everything points toward a day’s skiing.

The lower mountains aren’t sufficiently snow encrusted as yet, so we drove up to Sestriere – where they held the (skiing part of the) winter olypics in 2006. An excellent day was had. The snow was in excellent condition, most of the lifts were open (thought the Via Lattea connections aren’t open yet), and there was a special price because it’s the first weekend – bonus.

The only minor downside was that most of the rest of piedmonte was also there. Italian people aren’t so polite when it somes the the whole queuing thing. Well, I think _most_ of them are quite polite, but it’s always the minority spoiling it for the majority (that’ll be the teacher in me speaking…).

After battling our way onto the main lift a few times (30 minute queues! unheard of in Portes du Soleil ;)), a nice Italian chap, who was equally frustrated in queuing, pointed out that there was another lift, from just a bit further round, which went to almost exactly the same place!

Off we skied, and sure enough, a newer, shinier lift, with no queue, going almost all the way to the top. The rest of the afternoon was bliss. Today was also nicely rounded off by the beef daube-stew-casserole-barfignon made yesterday, to which we came home to a big bowlfull.  Yummy.

Some pictures for your enjoyment below.


James (and Amy too) xxx

Posted by: amywyles | December 3, 2009

Impression of Turin II – the lesser known tourist sites

Our second go as guest presenters.

A second attempt to visit the Basilica was successful yesterday – magnificent views over Turin and well worth the visit.

Yesterday also saw a visit to Turin Cathedral, home of the Shroud of Turin – alas it is not on show until next year.

The photographs below are the non-obvious things to see in Turin.

We have really enjoyed our few days here – obviously seeing Amy and James was important, but the tours around the city were superb, finishing today with a visit to Porta Palazzo market.  It is superb – the variety of food and fish is incredible.

Goodbye and thanks for putting up with our two contributions – we are heading off to the station now to journey to Bergamo ready for our flight early tomorrow morning.

Bye, and if you are visiting Amy, James & Turin in the next few weeks I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

John and Elizabeth

The metal Bull in the floor in San Carlos Square – standing on it brings luck.

For Adam – the Golden Donkey bookshop!!

Wonderful toilet and bidet – the sort everyone should have. If you find this you WILL appreciate the search as there is a Grom next door.

Classic Italian parking – not the worst, but still worthy of an entry.

Fantastic chocolate cabbage and pumpkin.

Fantastic Panettone and Pandoro in a shop somewhere in Turin city centre.

The thinnest building in the world, known as 'A Slice of Polenta',close to the biggest square in the world, eh Europe, eh Italy, well in Turin then!!

Posted by: jameshensman | December 1, 2009

Impressions of Turin

The Cheese diaries return with a guest presenter.

After three days in Turin I feel I have gained a reasonable impression of the city.  After arriving via Bergamo on Sunday we have walked about 20 miles around Turin.  The area around Bergamo was lovely, but this was tempered by Milan in the rain – if you arrive at the station don’t hang around downstairs as the scammers will be around.

So what are my thoughts about Turin – generally I think it is a lovely city with many old fashioned features.  The things that stand out :

– the large number of people selling umbrellars when it rains

– the fantastic ice-cream at Grom

– the large number of book shops (shame they are mostly Italian books)

– the superb cafes with incredible pastries

– the efficient transport system

– the incredible fruit and veg (and most other things) market

– the English pub selling Tetleys that looks nothing like any of the 3000 pubs I’ve been in the UK

We have tried to speak some Italian, but then they ask you questions in Italian and this makes you feel stupid.

Today we went to see the Basilica, which overlooks Turin giving a fantastic vista of the surrounding area – please if you are visiting DON’T go on a Tuesday.  It’s literature proudly announces that it started operation on 26th April 1884 and operates every day – every day except Tuesday!!!  After a four mile walk that was a shame!  Two trips to Grom (the Ice cream shop) has improved things – you won’t like it Adam, don’t even bother.

John and Elizabeth

Posted by: amywyles | November 26, 2009

Ice-cream of the stars…

So there I was, browsing the Grom gelateria website (as you do), in the hope that there might be a sneak peek at next month’s menu…  There wasn’t, but I did find this.  We eat ice-cream with the stars.


Love to all, xxx

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