Wednesday, May 2, 2018

We aren't astronauts (a holiday album)

The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft. It seats over 500 people on two decks, and can travel on routes of over 15,000 kilometres without refuelling. Last month, this monster of the skies took my youngest son and I on a near-18 hour flight towards Europe.

The view of Mount Taranaki as we travelled from Wellington to Auckland

I had been on one of those extra-long hauls once before, but had somehow forgotten how punishing they can be. It was worse for Ambrose, as the dozens of personal television screens around him played on his ASD, proving a significant source of anxiety. We arrived in Dubai sleep-deprived and already teetering, our three-week holiday threatening to fall over at the very first hurdle. We are not designed for this, I told myself as we took our second dose of clock-resetting melatonin. We aren’t astronauts.

I would rather not, Air New Zealand

The second flight, a mere 8 hours long, took us the rest of the way to London. In the space of one day, somehow, we recovered. Ambrose had just received his first phone for his tenth birthday, a cheap model with a nonetheless remarkably good camera - better than the trusted compact digital I used to take on my earlier trips, a short decade ago. Unfortunately, it took us some days to realise the lens was covered by a piece of protective blue film, so his very first pictures look like heavily filtered postcards from another era.

He  was especially fascinated with the tall buildings. The gherkin, the shard, the walkie-talkie (his favourite). He couldn’t get enough of them and snapped them from every angle, whenever they peered in-between other buildings.

In stark contrast with my last visit, London was grey, cold and wet. I got sick immediately. Nevertheless, we saw friends, caught up with my sister, visited the Tate Modern and the British Museum. We enjoyed an array of excellent soups. We stopped by at Highgate to pay our respects to a great man.


While London was a sure-fire hit, I didn’t know what the boy would make of Italy, a place of antiquities that – I feared – would have no meaning for him. His older brother, at the same age, was easy to persuade of the historical and aesthetic merits of monuments. I knew with Ambrose it would be different, in ways both delightful and unpredictable.

As it turns out, I need not have feared. By far the most treasured moments of our journey have to do with the time we spent with family and friends, and aren’t pictured here. But the places themselves, which he was seeing for the first time (including the inside of churches, along with the very troubling images of Christ on the cross), made their impression, although I was not always able to communicate to him the conventional sense in which they could be said to be special, unique.

What follows is a gallery of those impressions, through his eyes and mine.

We both thought this London street sign was a kiwi seen from behind.

London frieze.

Piazza del Duomo, Milan.

Responding to street art, Milan.

In my home town we stayed in an old typical casa di ringhiera ('guard rail house').

'Look, behind you!' (At the museum of Natural History in Milan. Here Ambrose was re-enacting a photo taken years ago by his older brother.)

A diorama at the Museum of Natural History.

Posing fiercely in front of the fierce Saint Ambrose, patron saint of Milan.

The two of us outside the church where my parents got married, in Pieve di Coriano.

Ambrose spent an afternoon with his cousin's Year 3 class in Quistello, and left with this rather wonderful card.

The astonishing flooded crypt of the church of San Francesco in Ravenna.


This cat.

This horse at the church of San Giovanni in Urbino.

Ambrose did his best to play with every dog on the Italian peninsula (this is Pongo).

Outside Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, Ambrose saw his first swallows. Here he is, trying to photograph them and demonstrating how there are things that are more important than the Italian Renaissance.

Small boy meets tall tower, Florence.

Cicli Pieraccioni, Florence.

Ponte Vecchio.

Neptune under wraps. 

Street art, Florence.

Pisa is 30 people posing for pictures like these at any one time.

Eating pizza in Piazza dei Miracoli.

The wonderful worn-out marble steps of the tower of Pisa.

A boat off the Ligurian coast.

Camogli put on a show for us.

The next day was the first warm day of the year, and we had the place practically to ourselves.

What do you even say about San Fruttuoso?

Liguria was magical and we didn't want to leave. I love this photo of the sea that Ambrose took, and I might as well end there.