Italian adventure finds Woodbridge link

WHAT does Woodbridge have in common with the land which gave the world pasta? TONY COOPER travelled all the way to Italy by train and discovered a link between Vittorio Emanuele II (the king of Italy) and Woodbridge.

WHAT does Woodbridge have in common with the land which gave the world pasta? TONY COOPER travelled all the way to Italy by train and discovered a link between Vittorio Emanuele II (the king of Italy) and Woodbridge.

IN my wildest dreams I've never imagined the Queen of Egypt in the guise of a drum majorette before. But that's how it was!

I was in Monza, Italy and - for a brief moment - images of the famous amphitheatre at Verona flashed through my mind as the marching band burst forth, with the opening bars of the Grand March from Giuseppe Verdi's great operatic showpiece Aida.

The crowd roared! Yet it was not a gathering of opera buffs but a crowd of motor-racing fans.

I was attending the Italian Grand Prix and the marching band got the proceedings off to an atmospheric start on the starting grid.

I based myself in Milan, renting a nice-sized apartment, and my journey to this great northern Italian city - which boasts one of the world's grandest railway stations - was by train.

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I enjoy travelling by train and I enjoy, too, the atmosphere and ambience of big main-line railway stations like the Gare de Lyon and the Gare du Nord. From an architectural point of view I find they're grand in every sense of the word.

My first culinary experience in Italy, a country famed for good food, was slightly disappointing to say the least. The portions were miserably small and in the end, even the stuck-up waiter sympathised with me. I later found out that I was in one of the best restaurants in town.

But this part of Italy was one big adventure for me as it was new territory to discover. And one of the big discoveries I made was Lake Como. I hadn't realised just how close it was to Milan - only a 30-minute train journey away.

Although Milan itself provided a good base, Lake Como would have been much better, just for the simple reason of temperature. The hills around the lake provide cool winds to enjoy while Milan in high summer is stifling hot.

The city is awe-inspiring and has been having a major spruce-up since the millennium, with tons of northern industrial grime being scraped off its public buildings. The cathedral, as you can imagine, is the most dominant and it's breathtaking.

Standing proud in the piazza in front of it is the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II (of the house of Piedmont and Savoy) who - along with Giuseppe Garibaldi - united the kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily) and made Italy the unified country it is today. He became king in 1861.

I made a chance discovery about him on a recent visit to Woodbridge. Passing the Bull Hotel, situated near the Elizabethan shire-hall just off Market Hill, I saw his coat-of-arms displayed on the front of the hotel. Curious, I called into it to find out more and discovered that he was a regular visitor to the town and always stayed at this well-appointed hostelry.

The owner at the time was John Grout, an internationally-known horse-breeder, who could accommodate and train up to170 well-bred horses at a time. Such was his reputation that Victor Emanuele was one of his many distinguished customers as, too, was the German Kaiser and the Viceroy of India as well as the crème de la crème of fashionable society.

However, the old king needs a good clean-up because his statue is covered in bird droppings. A ready-made target if ever there was one! He doesn't seem bothered at all and he overlooks a majestic-covered 19th-shopping galleria that bears his name, recently restored to its former glory.

After the bustling and crowded city of Milan, Lake Como provided a tranquil and peaceful haven to enjoy. Perhaps, that's why George Clooney has a place there.

I only spent a day there, but what a memorable day…and, as time was at a premium, I made the most of it. I took in Bellagio on the southern shore - a must-see - and soon discovered why it's called 'the pearl of the lake'. It was one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited in Europe and with its narrow-cobbled streets, breathtaking views and glorious villas it was simply enchanting.

I travelled there by bus from the town of Como and returned by boat to the town of Lecco. The best of both worlds, I reckon!

Milan was okay, but one thing's for sure, the next time I attend the Italian grand prix I'll be staying somewhere on Lake Como and, hopefully, it will be this year. The race is on September 10.

With map of Milan, Monza, Lake Como, and Bellagio

Where: Italy

How to get there:

By train all the way from Ipswich, then Stratford East on the Jubilee Line, to get the Eurostar at Waterloo.

Eurostar to Paris (Gard du Nord) within three hours. On arrival in Paris, it was straight over to the Gare de Lyon to catch the high-speed TGV train to Italy. And a 15-minute journey on the metro.

What to do: Splash out on a ticket to see the Grand Prix in September.

Cost:………………………

Contact: Rail Europe 08705 848 848 or see www.raileurope.co.uk

Hospitality: The author paid for his own trip.

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