DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 22, 2017
MONDAY, MAY 29
Sensational views of snow capped mountains in Turkey, as our Cathay Pacific flight takes us from Hong Kong to Rome. A large drone flies by as we pass over Greece. Should I be worried? Has the cabin crew seen it? Oh well. Albania looks wild, as in, THAT wild, I don’t ever want to go there. Great views of Mount Vesuvius and Bay of Naples. Absolute chaos at border control in Rome. Lots of rude people, particularly Americans, pushing and shoving. One Yank pushes through, telling his wife, that no-one knows them, and to keep going. I say, “Everyone is so glad that that they DON’T know you, mate”. Get an embarrassed look from the Yanks, and applause from some of the other tourists.
Train to Lucca, sitting opposite a mum and her two little girls, one of whom scratches her nails on the table all the way. Catch a glimpse of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Been there, did that, back in 1977, when we climbed it. Temperature 32 degrees in Lucca, and we get a warm welcome from Andrea and Bernadette at our apartment near Piazza Bernadini. My first beer, at Ales Bar on the square is flat. Both exhausted. Early night.
Photo 1: Marie Ricketts in Lucca
TUESDAY, MAY 30
Walk the broad walls (4km circuit) which surround old Lucca. Lots of other walkers, and cyclists. Coffee and hot chocolate at Cafe de St Zita, near the church which displays the mummified body of the Saint. Lunch at touristy Cafe de Monica, then two Sardinian beers at Astra Bar. Our barman has nice eyes, says my wife.
Photo 2: cyclists on the wide walls of Lucca
WEDNESDAY, MAY 31
Train to beach-side, Viareggio. Deep fried cod for lunch, from canal boat. Pay 15E to swim at a private beach, the first time I have paid to ‘surf’, and this place DID host the world surf life saving titles, in 2014. There is no surf. The water temperature is lovely, and there are lots of fish. African and Pakistani peddlers try to flog their stuff, as we try to relax on our deck chairs. Wouldn’t happen at Burleigh. Don’t speak too soon, Steve. Walk the Esplanade, and return to train station, via large, beautiful park, where families are out in force.
Back in Brisbane, News South Wales belt Queensland 28-4 in the first match of the State of Origin series. My wife is delighted. Six penalties and six scrums in the match. Man of the match is NSW forward, Andrew Fifita. After 10 series wins in 11 years, maybe the ageing Maroons are on the decline.
THURSDAY, JUNE 1
Thought I felt an earthquake overnight! Bus to Villa Reale in lovely countryside to the north east. An old dear gives the driver an ear bashing for being late. She never lets up. A stage has been set up at the Villa, for a concert of some sort. In 1806, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister, and Princess of Lucca, bought the property. From this point on the Villa took the name ‘Reale’ (Royal) from Elisa’s title as Queen of Etruria. Our female bus driver thinks she is born to rule, and drives aggressively on the return trip. The old dear, who had berated the male driver on the outward trip, wouldn’t have stood a chance with her.
To Bar Astra – our favorite – where the barmaid politely reminds me it is vino bianco, not blanco, when I order a white wine. Close. The proprietor (from Naples) has a relative at Wynnum, on Brisbane’s southern bayside. Marie has a rest and I have two beers at Bar Puccini, where the staff are so friendly. They wave madly as I leave. Maybe they were glad to see the back of me!
Tonight we see magnificent Puccini opera recital at San Giovanni Church. The soprano is Silvana Froli; the tenor, Simone Frediani and the pianoforte, Diego Fiorini. These recitals happen every night of the year.
In Antibes, our son, Lliam and business partner, John Degotardi have an eight course degustation meal as they wind down, following a German business trip.
Photo 3: Lliam Ricketts and John Degotardi hard at it during their business trip to Germany
FRIDAY, JUNE 2
Republic Day ceremony in Napolean Piazza is a bit hap hazard, and the attendance modest. But it is interesting, and great to see people in traditional dress. Great views from Guirigi Tower, which has trees growing on top, as you would expect. Buy craft beer, nuts, licorice from market at Villa Bottini. The craft brew people are delighted that I have chosen to sample their wares, in an area where wine is king. Walk the walls one last time, and have refreshments in Amphi-Theatre Square, where sprinklers are employed at some cafes, it is so hot.
Hard to believe, that 10 years ago today, we were attending the 60th wedding anniversary party – at the Lismore Workers Club – for my wife’s parents, Kevin and Mary Donnelly, now both deceased.
SATURDAY, JUNE 3
Our train to Rome gets up to 260km an hour. Taxi driver in Rome almost gets to that speed, but is friendly and efficient. We talk about Italian migration to Australia. He tells us about actress, Anita Eckberg, on Via Veneto. Check into Hotel Victoria, and then walk to Spanish Steps, past the hotel where we stayed back in 1977, on our Trafalgar under-30, 18 day tour of Europe. Those were the days. This time we are embarking on a 16 day, Albatross tour of southern Italy. Meet our tour guide, Englishman, Richard Ellis from Somerset, and other members of the group, at our hotel’s rooftop bar.
Gabriello Burtuzzo, from Chermside in Brisbane, has a great Italian name, but a real Aussie accent. There are 22 people on the tour, 21 from Australia, and one from New Zealand – Kathrine Smith. Terry and Justine Sanders from Sandgate, on Brisbane’s northern bayside, are originally from New Zealand. Helen Norris from Perth, once worked for Premier, Richard Court.
SUNDAY, JUNE 4
Wake to the news of terror attack in London.
Our coach driver, Andrea, is from Rome and supports Lazio. A couple of motorway breaks on our way to Alberobello in Puglia. I have a great chat with Bob Cooper from Sydney, (an ex Commonwealth Bank employee) who, like me, is a Roosters’ rugby league man. He is from the eastern suburbs, and is a friend of Australian Rugby League chief executive, Geoff Carr, one of my contacts, when I was a journalist. It was a tradition for me to have drinks with Geoff and his mate, John Chisholm (former Surfers Paradise Pirates’ captain-coach) at the Clovelly Hotel, the day before the grand final. Bob also knows ‘Chisa’. Bob’s wife, Margaret, is not so keen on footy, and rolls her eyes at the prospect of Bob and me forming a ‘team’ for the rest of the trip, talking about the Roosters over a beer or two.
Our Trulli (house) is called Ciliogio. While it doesn’t have the classic beehive look of most of the other traditional houses in the town, it is equally beautiful inside.
Drinks at Central Bar with tour guide, Richard, Bob and Margaret.
Then DISASTER. As our tour groups enters Trattoria Terra Madre, Margaret trips and snaps her fibula. Off to hospital, her trip over. Our dinner, at tables next to a vegetable garden, is lovely, but a cloud of doom descends over proceedings, given the seriousness of Margaret’s injury. This is when a tour guide really earns his (or her) money.
Photo 4: Steve Ricketts (left) with Bob Cooper in Alberobello.