Which is Italy's most beautiful island?
Well, I've now been fortunate enough to spent time on each of Italy's three largest islands, Sicily, Sardinia and, most recently, Elba. While Sicily has a unique history and culture, and the crystal clear waters and immaculate beaches of Sardinia are almost impossible to beat, for me Isola d'Elba is Italy's most beautiful island.
A lush, green, mountainous interior with hidden bays, quaint fishing villages, and vibrant beaches, it seems better cared for than its southern neighbour Sicily and more authentic than the ever-popular Sardinia. The beach resorts are discreet, seldom rising above a single storey and the back drop is invariably green, the ubiquitous Italian stone pine, providing a natural and soothing alternative to the concrete that defines other resorts.
We focussed our attention on the north-eastern corner of the island, staying in Nisporto and making day trips to various beaches in the area. The furthest we ventured was to the vast sandy beach of Lido Capoliveri and the refined luxury of Biodola.
While our accommodation at Nisporto was basic (barely satisfactory if the truth be told), lacking both air conditioning and mosquito blinds that are essential luxuries in the height of summer, the location was spectacular, just a stones throw from an intimate stoney bay, the frequently passing ferries on the horizon a constant reminder of the islands summer-time appeal. With some gentle persuasion, we even came to love the immaculate rounded pebbles on the beach which, with the correct footwear, made for a refreshing alternative to sand. Take-away pizza on the beach followed by a late-night family swim was one of the memorable highlights of our week's stay on the island.
The food, as you would expect from Tuscany, was unfailingly fresh, delicious and abundant. Prices compared favourably to the often over-priced Sardinia and service was unfailingly good-natured and friendly.
In terms of history and culture, we found little of genuine interest. But then again, we were barely looking.
A future trip, perhaps avoiding the harsh heat of the Italian high summer, beckons.
Full of beautiful enoteca and surrounded by lush vineyards, Verona is really a wine-drinking city.
But sometimes, especially in the hot summer months, wine just doesn't quite hit the spot.
Here are some of my favourite places to enjoy a decent pint, watch the match or just hang out.
As sure as night follows day, a long weekend in Italy will be followed by a strike of some kind
A recent long weekend in May (what the Italian's call a "ponte") was no different.
Rumours of impending industrial action at my son's school began to circulate the night before.
Nothing is official. Details are sketchy. Rumours abound.
As I take the garbage out, a neighbour mentions the dreaded words.
The rumour is that the school's catering staff will be on strike tomorrow. Strikes by ancillary staff are the most common and the most disruptive. Notification of such strikes usually advise that full services cannot be guaranteed and that some disruption to your child's education may occur.
When teaching strikes are announced, often at the last minute, the kids must turn up at the school gate at wait to see if their teacher is involved. It's only on the morning of the strike itself that you discover whether your child will be able to go to school or not that day. This of course makes forward planning all but impossible and, for those parents who work, without an extensive network of relatives, babysitters and grandparents, to fall back on, it is a logistical nightmare.
By the time I've dumped the rubbish and got back upstairs, the news of tomorrow's strike has reached my wife. Her phone has been beeping incessantly with rumour and counter-rumour from the mum's WhatsApp group. Strike tomorrow. School closed. Strike tomorrow. School open. Teachers are involved. Teachers aren't involved. Bring a packed lunch. Don't bring a packed lunch. Wait and see.
To add to the general sense of confusion, Wednesday morning dawns and the heavens have opened. For the first time in weeks it's raining. This isn't the cold, hard, wet rain that comes at you from every angle in Scotland. No, this is what we you might call a light drizzle. That said, it's enough to cause panic on the streets, as the local kids are shipped 200 yards by car and are each unnecessarily equipped with a large umbrella.
At the school gates, it's a scene of utter chaos and confusion.
Kids grapple with their golf umbrellas, parents manoeuvre their excited offspring towards the narrow gate that somehow 300 children must simultaneously pass through. A priest leads a group of 15 or 20 kids who, following their communion the previous day, have attended a celebratory early morning mass at the church. The teachers are completely ill-equipped to introduce any order to proceedings. One plucky 10 year takes matters into his own hands, and begins to yell at the top of lungs. "Prima A" he shouts, the first class to enter. "Prima B" he yells. Umbrellas tangle in hair. Dogs bark. Children are screaming. The priest seems to mutter a prayer under his breath. I watch with an air of bewildered attachment from the other side of the road. I need a coffee!
To disperse the chaotic traffic away from the school itself when children are arriving and leaving, the road in front of the school is usually closed to all traffic and no vehicles are permitted with a 200 metre perimeter. But, today is Wednesday - market day so the alternate route is blocked by the market. This means that buses, which would normally be diverted away from the school, instead pass right in front of the school gates. But the road is completely blocked by parents, priests, kids, dogs and umbrellas. There's absolutely no way the bus can pass. But somehow it does. Bemused commuters peer out the steamed-up windows at the scenes of chaos and confusion. The driver, I notice with incredulity, despite the utter confusion as he navigates the chaotic street, is chatting idly on his mobile phone. I often wait for up to 30 minutes for a bus to pass in the morning. This morning in the space of 10 minutes three buses somehow navigate this chaotic scene of chaos.
While some parents attempt bravely (or foolhardily) to usher their children towards the gates, getting caught up in the unruly scrum, others, myself included, observe proceedings from a distance. It's typical, one harassed mother remarks, a strike always follows a long weekend.
In the end, the kids are all allowed pass through the school gates, the parents soon disperse and the road reopens to the brisk morning traffic. Before I know it, I'm alone, gazing across the road at the school gates. It's time for that coffee.