Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Summer of Sam

Meet Sam.

If you want to know what I've been doing instead of blogging recently, ask Sam.  If Sam could do anything actually useful like talk, he'd tell you about our long, heated arguments and our frequent and lengthy waits in the excruciating queue at the Orange store on the Champs Elysees.  And he'd tell you this in the sort of pikey accent reserved for drop-outs who wear trucker caps and jeans around their knees. Classy, Sam ain't.

I, on the other hand, am a class A fool:  A fool for falling for the hype that surrounded the launch of this much lauded apparatus. Everywhere I looked, Sam's praises were being sung. The c|net review was nothing short of rave, as was nearly every damn thing I read about it online.  The Samsung Galaxy S3 was calling to me and I was listening, despite its crass accent.

You see, I'd been hoping to 
replace my buggy BlackBerry with a smartphone that would help me develop my blog (how ironic) with a kick-ass camera, while allowing me to run the business of my life with easy PC syncing.  "Pas de probleme" came the assurance from Benjamin at the Orange store.  So, giddy with the idea of owning the latest bit of hot tech kit, I shrugged off my final reservation about touch-screen typing (as Benjamin also explained, the screen size would make the keypad easier to use than an iPhone) and with a Woo! and a Hoo! I left the Orange store proudly clutching Sam.

When I say clutching, I mean it.  Sam is a big boy, requiring a full stretch from thumb to finger to hold in place
.  Instead of specifications like RAM and Megapixels, the box should have included Optimal User Hand Size and a warning: "Not suitable for glove sizes 7 or under."  But the way the display model was mounted at Orange prevented me from appreciating this until it was too late, and I was 10 minutes from the store, with hand cramp.

The problem with Sam's size wasn't just limited to physical discomfort (as if that wasn't enough).  My thumb couldn't actually reach across the screen to swipe (and you need to swipe, not just press) the 'answer' icon when the phone rang.  Unless both my hands were free to engage in manual gymnastics, Sam kindly ensured that all my calls went straight to voicemail.  Even when using other, less urgent apps, my (not exactly stubby, thank you) thumb simply couldn't reach everything it needed to. Bigger might be better, except when it isn't.

The saving grace of Sam's size was meant to be the keypad, which definitely felt more comfortable to use than an iPhone's, but unpredictive text and the lack of a spellcheck rendered my ability to communicate null and void.

That a rake like Sam couldn't keep up with my potty mouth was almost the final straw.  The actual final straw was my inability to synch the ducker with Outlook as I'd been promised.  In total I wasted nearly four days of my life downloading programs and drivers, reloading programs and drivers, researching forums and crashing my computer before I finally found a thread buried in a chatroom somewhere that said the Samsung Galaxy S3 has problems syncing with PCs running Windows 7 on a 64 bit operating system.

And what did the good people at the Orange store do when presented with this piece of information? Nothing. Nothing, that is, except make me wait in line for hours, time and time again, just so that different people could give me the same non-answer. It wasn't until yesterday and my nth weary appearance at the store, that I was finally able to convince a manager that if he didn't take Sam back, he'd have a serial killer on his hands.

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. Call me a snob but there's just something down-market about Sam despite the high price. He's more hip-hop and gaming than communications and productivity. Not that a gal can't like a bit of rough, but if it's going to be a long-term relationship, rough's got to come with a brain.
2. Okay, you caught me:  That's iKamasutra.  I just downloaded it for the music. I swear.
3. Sam's camera was awesome.  (Which has nothing to with iKamasutra, fyi.)
4. That's how hard I tried to make my relationship with Sam work: I am now au fait with the term 64 bit operating system.
5. If you're having deja-vu about Orange's non-customer service, see this previous post.
6. I know, I know.  You're all saying iPhone...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A Beauty Contest

As we drove off into the sunset at the end of our legendary Italian adventure, Monsieur asked me which I'd preferred; Hotel Splendido and Portofino or Villa d'Este and Lake Como.

That was well over 1200km ago and I still haven't answered.

Both were exceptional hotels in exceptionally beautiful places.  As was the villa in Tuscany.  As was our stay in Beaune.  Beauty - extreme prettiness - was a savage theme throughout our holiday; our eyes had been forced to endure an onslaught of breathtaking vistas, poor things.

While I could split hairs about elements of the hotels' services or activities (I thought the food and restaurant service at Splendido was better, although Elio, the chief barman at Villa d'Este, was wonderful; and there's more to do in the Lake Como area than around Portofino, but I did see at otter near Portofino which trumps water-skiing on Lake Como in my opinion) I couldn't possibly chose a preference between the two because they were both so damn beautiful!

So let me ask you, dear style file followers, which do you prefer?

1. The view from the terrace of Hotel Splendido...

or from the terrace at Villa d'Este?

2.  The view from our terrace at Hotel Splendido...

or from our terrace at Villa d'Este?

3. My juice at Hotel Splendido...

 or my juice at Villa d'Este?

4. The swimming pool at Hotel Splendido (flutter-kicking Monsieur not withstanding)...

or the pool at Villa d'Este...

or even the pool in Tuscany?

5. And what about the vineyards of Tuscany...

versus the vineyards of Burgundy?

6. Not to mention doing my nails in Tuscany...

and my pedicure at Villa d'Este.

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. I'm serious. Please let me know which you thought the prettiest part of our damn glam drive to Italy was.  Or the coolest. Or the part you'd most like to do. Then let's rob a bank and book it for next year.
2. I'm really serious. I want to know what you think. You can leave a comment below OR you can try the super cool 'poll' that I've added to the sidebar on the right.
3. I'm not really serious about the bank robbing thing, fyi.
4. My crappy blackberry camera didn't do justice to the stunning scenery that we saw.  So, as of yesterday, I am now a former blackberry user in favour of a Galaxy S3 with a great camera.  And terrible communication features and appalling battery life.  Which is driving me mad.  But it has a great camera.
5. Okay fine, so my post degenerated from a beauty contest; beauty therapy contest. You got me.
6. And for those who'd like to know exactly where to find all this darn beauty, the googlemap of our trip can be found here.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Do the Lake Como-tion

Before we get to the good bit, let me tell you about the bad bit.

The bad bit is the bit of highway that reaches from Florence north to Milan and Torino.  The E35 stretch of Italy's A1 artery is one of the ugliest drives I've ever taken, with an electrified Mussolini-era train line on one side, and factories and warehouses everywhere else.  The industry to blight this landscape?  Food.  And good food at that.  This is the road that connects such culinary capitals as Parma (...giano), Modena (balsamic vinegar) and Bologna (as in Oscar Meyer, but more).  Perhaps the side roads reveal the region's rich farmland to be a bucolic idyll, but as it was, the prettiest thing we saw from the E35 was ye olde Barilla spaghetti factory:

As you can plainly see, Villa d'Este was a sight for sore eyes. 

Even the bathroom amenities were stunning:

And I could hardly complain about the view from our terrace:

Do you have a bucket list?  One hundred 'holy cow' things that you just have to do before you die but pretty much reckon you never will?  Well, number 42 on my list was to cruise Lake Como in a Riva, and on day two of our three night stay at Villa d'Este, 42 came true.

Welcome on board!  Please make yourself comfortable while we head up the coast and meet the neighbours.

This first house, in a platinum blonde yellow, is Donatella's.

This next one, with the very private garden and gazebo, belongs to my mate George.  (That's Mr. Clooney to you.)

And finally, this sprawling estate, with the sharp looking Cyprus trees, is Sir Richard's.

I can't remember the name of our captain but he was evidently a sharp wit.  Like me.

That night we headed up the hill behind the hotel to have dinner at Il Gatto Nero, allegedly my mate George's favourite restaurant, although I suspect that a lot of places in the area claim to be George's favourite restaurant/bar/turkish bath.  It was nonetheless 
spectacular, with friendly service, fabulous food and an amazing view.

It also had an amusing menu:

In case you're wondering, the veal with tuna souse from the cat looked and tasted much more appetising than the description suggested.

Now I'd like you to feast your eyes on this:

Check out the moustachioed dude and his nifty goatee-ed friend.  At first I thought they were Italians; the kind of Italians that you don't mess with unless you wanna swim with the fishes.  But boarding the small boat to the town of Como together (this secret spy shot was snapped waiting at the ferry dock) I overheard them speaking English with a distinct Manchester accent.  What, I wondered, could this group of spiffy Mancunians be up to?

Welcome to Como, host of the annual Swing Crash Festival, with events such as Dance Camp, "The Dirty Stompers" and Vintage Hair Styling - and lots of street dancing and live music in between.

We couldn't believe our luck for visiting Como while such a zany festival was going on.  It added a wild party atmosphere to what's already a lovely town with amazing shops, good (and inexpensive) restaurants and little delights around every corner.

And all that is just a 10 minute ferry ride away from the picturesque village of Cernobbio and Villa d'Este, which ain't no Bologna.

Style File Followers Take Note:
1. Apart from all the food factories, Ikea's massive main Italian distribution centre is located on the E35. It took us almost a minute to drive past - it was that huge.
2. I know what you're thinking and don't worry: I had a pedicure the day after that photo was taken.
3. If you think I'm anal with my packing list mind-maps, check out Richard Branson's trees and tell me he shouldn't be in therapy.  
4. The M&S bag should have given it away.  
5. Sorry for the ultra-long post but some of those pictures are far too pretty to stay hidden in my c:drive.