Archive | May, 2012

China’s Secret Olympian

23 May

I remember the first time I watched the Olympics. It was the 1992 Games in Barcelona and I was living in the middle-of-nowhere in Botswana.

Though we were only little, my sister and I would gather round the TV desperate to see the people my mum told us were ‘the fastest runners/ highest jumpers/best swimmers ON EARTH.’

Having been such an Olympic enthusiast, you would think I’d be celebrating London’s 2012 games. 

Sadly, having grown up, I am very aware of the chaos that will no doubt descend on an already chaotic city, and secretly happy I have chosen 2012 as my year of escape. 

I would be free from any of the ‘there-will-be-tube-delays-during-the-olympics, why-not-walk-to-work’ signs (yeah right!)’, and all the hassle that will no doubt come with it. 

But after living in Olympic-free bliss for 6 months- a little bit of ‘2012 fever’ crossed my path in the form of a chinese man and a bicycle (!?!). 


Our paths crossed outside Rome’s Vittorio Emmanuele station, after I came across an excited quirmish of people desperate to have their photo taken with this unlikely star.

Guanming  Chen is the first person who is attempting to cycle from Beijing to London in time for the 2012 Olympic Games.

The former corn farmer started his journey in 2001 and has so far cycled through 13 countries on his old market bike. 

Why is Guanming doing this, you may ask? Because, he says, he wants to encourage people to cycle and prove that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. 

He may also be a little bit crazy about the Olympics. ever since he was a little boy he loved the message of the games. 

‘It is a bridge of friendship between countries- that is the soul of the Olympics,’ he says joyfully. 

So far he has ticked off China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Burma, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece, Italy, with France and England bringing his trek to a close. 

Despite cutting a very serene figure after such a mammoth attempt, Guanming’s mission hasn’t been without hardship.

He survived a hurricane like storm in the Chinese mountains and he’s lost count of how many dangerous falls he’s had. 

But, he says, human kindess in all the countries is what has kept him going. People feel compelled to help him on his journey, giving him money for rides or just out of charity. 

He says he is also very impressed by how ‘everyone, everywhere loves to recycle’. 

Indeed, Guanming  is rather thrifty too. He spends every night in the back of bicycle,where he stores all of his minimal equipment and luggage- come rain, storms or freezing conditions.

If he is offered a bed for the night, he politely refuses, adding with a smile, that he will never leave the side of his old, rusty companion. Image

Though the media has invited him to the Games (he assures me he has tickets waiting for him) and thrown in a comfy hotel room for good measure, he would prefer to stay in his usual abode once he gets to the big smoke. 

I ask him what he will do with his bicycle after he has completed his record attempt? Guanming says he will eventually donate it to the Olympic Museum- if they’ll have it. 

And after the 2012 closing ceremony, will he cycle all the way back to his proud family in Beijing? 

‘No,’ he says with a grin, ‘Next stop Rio de Janeiro 2016.’



Rome With A View

14 May

Piazza Venezia

The first time I visited Rome was on a high school trip when I was 16- years-old.

We were dragged around all the usual sites, though I didn’t really bother to remember the names, as my friends and I were more interested in meeting the real life italian specimen than any made of marble!

Fast forward 10 years and that coin I threw into the Fontana di Trevi must have worked because I now find myself a resident of the Eternal City.

Now, since my return, I have not had the time to take in all the sites I glossed over in my first visit, but I thought I’d use the opportunity, when friends and family visit me, to see everything bit by bit.

But one of the things I tell everybody to do when they first come over is to take the elevator to the top of Piazza Venezia.

It costs €7 and is never really too crowded (well, the two times I went there) and you are guaranteed the best views of Rome.

Rome summer holiday

Many of the Romans I have spoken to don’t really like Piazza Venezia- they feel it is too modern and covered what used to be a beautiful view of the Colosseum from Via del Corso.

But I think that the top of the monument gives a wonderful 360° panoramic view of the city and makes up for the over-the-top exterior (courtesy of Mussolini). 

Italy hills of Rome

Everything looks much nicer when you are looking down on it.

But a word of warning, be careful of the italian seagulls, not just on top of Piazza Venezia but all over Rome.

But they skulk around the statues and swoop if you have any food on show. And they seem to like gelato too!

Piazza Venezia

So make it the first thing you do, before you end up queuing for hours outside the Vatican or Colosseum, and you’ll feel like you can tick off most of your to do list.

Piazza Venezia


Five Things

3 May

Milano Italy purple flowers summer glycine armani antique fountainMilano Italy purple flowers summer glycine creeping vineMilano Italy purple flowers summer glycine beautiful building

Springtime in Milano.

church rome spanish steps

…and the flowers are out on the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Little London Rome Roma Italy Flamino

While househunting in Rome, we came across this street in the Flaminio area called Little London. Apparently due to the coloured houses giving it a ‘Notting Hill’ feel.

Shopping in Rome Lithos dog spaniel italy snoopy

One of the local residents in our area keeps watch over his shop. He comes out to say hello most days.

May Day caparezza elisa

We attended the free Primo Maggio concerto in San Giovanni square to mark Labour Day (La Festa Del Lavoro). R was involved in a short film by Giacomo Martelli which was played on the screen when Elisa covered ‘Strawberry fields’ by the Beatles. He even made a short appearance (it was screened on national TV though)

May Day

I couldn’t help but take a picture of the aftermath.

San Giovanni square

After celebrating until the early hours, we returned to our area, to a beautifully calm and slightly foggy Piazza di Spagna (with no tourists- a first).

Spanish steps Trinita dei Monti