David's Genoa Diary

From The Colonel's Website

The drama of the last night in Salzburg had faded into a bitter memory by the time we convened in Warwick one spring day to arrange Mission 5. It was to be Toulouse, and we had all come to accept that.

Little did we know that the acquisition of Buzz by Ryanair would throw a major spanner in the works. As it turned out, Ryanair had elected to drop Toulouse from its list of destinations and replace it with Carcassonne. This would add significant cost to our journey, and thus we began to move down the list of destinations until we found one that was feasible.

The first destination that proved to be affordable was Genoa and so, despite my reservations about visiting an Italian destination, we went ahead and booked. What a SHAFT it would turn out to be...

Friday, 23rd May

The last working day before a Colonel's Break is always a tough one, but eventually half past five came around and I thankfully packed my bags and headed for home. I half expected to find Michael on the doorstep when I turned into my street, but since he hadn't yet arrived, I had just enough time to finish tidying up.

At about ten past six, there was a knock at the door, signalling the arrival of Michael. For three of the Colonel's men (myself, Michael and the Little Lucky Leprechaun), the Genoa Experience had begun! We spent the next few minutes chatting to Rupert on MSN Messenger, before having a few games of Asterix.

At about half past eight, we headed up to the Star Inn for the first of two pre-Genoa meals. The original intention had been to make for Chilis or Old Orleans, but having been ditched by Rupert, we took the easier option.

On arrival, we made for our favourite seating area towards the rear of the pub. Not holding back, I chose the rump steak, while Michael went for the lemon chicken. I followed that with a chocolate brownie and then we both opted for coffee. It was, all things considered, a pleasant evening. Who needed Rupert anyway?

On the way home, we called at Tesco to buy some milk, lemonade and muller lights. It was about eleven o'clock when we returned home, and Michael suggested that we get some sleep, since there wouldn't be much chance to get any sleep the following day.

Saturday, 24th May

Having decided to make an early start in the hope that it would help us sleep that evening, we awoke promptly at eight o'clock in the morning. While enjoying a bowl of choco crunchies, we watched '10 Things I Hate About You' on DVD.

At about half past nine, we prepared ourselves for a trip into town. We walked down to the station and caught the train into Reading. We needed a quick trip to the bank to get some cash before heading for coffee. Unfortunately Costa proved to be either too busy or too small, or probably both, so we made for the Oracle centre for coffee and muffins.

After coffee we made straight for HMV to check the latest offers on features. The selection turned out to be a little poor so we decided to try Virgin Megastore. This proved to be a good decision. We bought 'Bend It Like Beckham', 'The Fellowship of the Ring', 'Minority Report' and series one of 'The Office'. We tried to acquire two copies of 'The Office', but all the rest had superficial damage to the box so we had to settle for a shared copy.

Pleased with our success at the Megastore we went shopping for some cool clothes to wear in Genoa. Eventually we found a rather good sale at "Officer's Club", where Michael bought a jacket, shoes and a t-shirt. I purchased some jeans, shoes and a t-shirt.

Having completed our spending spree, we phoned Rupert to find out when he would be arriving. He was dicking around and wouldn't reach Reading until about three that afternoon so Michael and I headed to Cafe Giordinos in the Oracle for a coke.

Having finished our drink and with no sign of Rupert, we began the walk back to the station. When we reached the station, we were shocked to discover that there would not be a train until half past two, meaning another 40 minutes of waiting around.

Finally the train arrived and we made our way back to my house. We phoned Rupert again, but he was still some way away and estimated another half hour at least. Michael and I had planned to go running that afternoon, but we decided to sit down for a while first.

About forty minutes later, Rupert rang to say that he was passing through Theale. We hadn't got around to going running, so Michael drove us to the station to collect him.

Turning into the station car park, we spotted Rupert standing by the ticket office. For another of the Colonel's Men, the Genoa Experience had begun. We returned to my house and Michael and I went running while Rupert, having not brought his kit, was left to spectate.

I completed three laps of my regular circuit and then waited with Rupert for Michael to complete his five laps. While we were waiting, we discovered a little sparrow that was looking a little unwell. When Michael had finished, the three of us examined it, but determined that there was very little that we could do, so we placed it gently into a nearby bush and headed home for showers.

The pre-Genoa meal was due to take place at the Star Inn that evening, and due to the early start in the morning, our meal would have to be no later than six o'clock. Therefore, at half past five, we set off for the pub, arriving about fifteen minutes later.

We found a table towards the rear of the pub, and Rupert put in our order. Michael was having lemon chicken, I ordered scampi, and Rupert wanted the sirloin steak in peppercorn sauce. We turned down the dessert, but opted for coffee to round off the meal.

It was seven o'clock when we returned to my house after the meal. We would have to be up at no later than one o'clock if we were to make it to Stansted in time for the flights, so we decided to try to get some sleep. I set up the video recorder to record the Eurovision Song Contest, and then made for the bedroom. It was a very hot night and I found it very hard to get to sleep, but I finally drifted off at about eleven, knowing that tomorrow, Genoa would begin.

Sunday, 25th May

I was woken by the alarm clock at quarter to one. Having had very little sleep, I was exhausted, but there was little choice but to get up and prepare breakfast. I put the coffee on while Michael showered.

While I waited for the coffee to brew, I found the start of the voting on the Eurovision tape. Once Michael had finished, Rupert went through the shower, with me showering last.

We then sat down with a cup of coffee to watch the voting in Eurovision. Shocked at the magnitude of the disgrace, and the despicable behaviour of the Europeans, we were thankful that Italy were not in Eurovision, since we would have had to cancel the hoilday if the Italians had been a party to that filthy debacle.

During the morning's viewing, I completed my packing so that we were ready to leave the house at a quarter to two. At that antisocial time of the morning, we encountered very few cars on the road and made very good time.

Michael had been elected to drive, while I sat in the passenger seat to direct, and Rupert caught up on some much needed sleep in the back. As we drove east along the M4, I spoke to Amal on the phone, to let him know that we were on the way.

We found Amal's house fairly easily, arriving at about three o'clock. Amal was waiting for us in the drive, presumably not wanting to wake his parents. We quickly, and as quietly as possible, used the downstairs toilet, pausing to admire the picture of Amal as a child.

On the journey to Stansted Airport, we listened to some music and chatted to Amal. A great cheer went up when we heard the familiar introduction to Busted's 'Year 3000'. Several loud choruses of this anthem took us to the vicinity of Stansted.

Concentrating now, we located the Mid Stay car park, and were directed to Zone K. As we headed towards a parking space, which we had picked out a few moments before, we noticed a shuttle bus waiting at stop 14. Thinking that this was a lucky break, we hurried into the space and quickly unloaded our luggage. Unfortunately, as we made our way to the bus stop, the bus departed.

A little irritated, we pressed the button to summon another bus. There appeared to be a ringing sound, and Amal spoke into the microphone, but there was no response. After a short wait, given that no bus had arrived, we tried again. A total of four more presses didn't seem to yield any results, and we were contemplating abandoning the wait and walking when a bus entered the parking area and headed towards us. Amazingly, it carried on past us to stop 15, dropped off the only passenger, and departed. Stunned, we relieved the tension by pressing the buzzer a few more times.

This seemed to do the trick as another bus approached. It stopped at stop 13 to take on some passengers, but seemed to dick around there for much longer than necessary. Fed up of waiting, we walked the 50 yards to stop 13 and boarded the bus to the terminal.

Michael found himself seated next to a woman who had just moved to Italy, and she spent the short trip to the terminal telling us how fantastic the country was.

Thankfully, five minutes or so later, we found ourselves at the terminal, so we said goodbye to our new friend and made for the check-in area.

Amal held us up for a while whilst he bought some euros, but on reaching the check-in desks, we found them to be closed, so we made for the nearest cafe to buy some coffee. Rupert and I sat down with the bags while Michael and Amal went to buy the drinks. They tried a near by coffee stand, but after keeping them waiting for about five minutes, the man on duty informed them that they were not yet open. Disgusted, they made for the cafeteria and returned moments later with four coffees and a muffin.

After finishing a leisurely coffee, we discovered that check-in had opened so we quickly joined the queue. We were a little concerned that we would reach the front of the queue before Chris joined us, but those fears proved groundless when we spied his familiar form winding his way through the crowds towards us. For five of the Colonel's men, the Genoa Experience was underway.

I spent much of the waiting time worrying that we wouldn't have time for a full British Isles breakfast at Garfunkels, which had now moved to the other side of the security checks. Fortunately, the queue was moving relatively quickly, and we were near the front, so it was not long before we were safely checked in and hurrying towards the departure area.

Most of us made it through security without a hitch, but Rupert was badly shafted and had to unpack his entire bag. Therefore, Chris and I hurried on to Garfunkels to get a table, while the others waited for Rupert.

At Garfunkels, we were shafted again. They refused to open a new seating area for some reason, instead expecting the five of us to cram into a booth for four.

Confused, and not entirely happy, Chris and I sat down and waited for the others. Shortly, Amal arrived and sat next to me, with Michael sitting next to Chris. Eventually, Rupert appeared, and stood beside the table.

Eager for our food, Chris and I placed our orders. We both opted for the breakfast burger, mine with egg and Chris' with bacon. We struck a deal on the potato products, with Chris ordering hash browns and me chips, with the agreement that we would split them between us. Rupert went with an omelet, Amal and Michael the Continental breakfast.

At that point, Michael noticed that Rupert was still standing and suggested that he sit down. Rupert angrily replied that he was just about to but wanted to sort something out first. This caused Michael to accuse Rupert of being in a poop. An unpleasant situation developed, with Chris getting involved to full effect.

Fortunately, the food soon arrived and we started to eat. Once we had finished, we tried to ask for the bill, but nobody seemed interested in serving us any more. There was much dicking around by the restaurant staff before we were finally able to pay up and depart.

This left us with a bit of a rush on to make the plane, but we finally reached the gate and boarded, taking up two rows to the rear of the aircraft. Myself, Michael and Amal took the row in front, with Chris, Rupert and a random girl on the row behind. Throughout the journey, a weird kid in the seat in front of me kept turning around and staring at us. We found this behaviour difficult to understand, but fortunately, the flight was short and we soon landed in Genoa.

We walked across the tarmac to the terminal, hurried through passport control and into the baggage reclaim area. I switched on my mobile phone and was pleased to discover that I had been connected to TIM, one of the Italian mobile phone networks.

Before long, we had all collected our bags, so we passed through customs and headed to the taxi rank. We managed to secure a beast five person taxi, and somehow communicated our desired destination to the cab driver. Rupert and Chris then took the seats in the front with the driver, while Michael, Amal and I took up the back.

The short ride to the hotel proved to be a terrifying ordeal. The taxi driver seemed intent on getting us to our hotel in record time. Not only was he travelling at ridiculous speeds, but he also seemed to have no regard for the rules of the road. The route from the airport to the hotel took us through a tunnel in the cliffs, and as we approached, travelling rather quickly, we were surprised to discover that a toll was required, and that the barrier was down. The driver didn't even attempt to slow down, but drove straight at the barrier. Amal, Michael and I were convinced that there would be a collision, but at the last minute the barrier rose, allowing us to pass safely into the tunnel.

Finally, we arrived at the Columbus Sea hotel, at half past ten local time. We went in and were given our room keys immediately. Pleased that we would be able to freshen up before heading out, we all made our way upstairs to the rooms. Chris entered his and Dave's room, at the far end of our block of three, Michael and Amal took the room in the middle, and Rupert and I took the nearest of the three.

We all had quick showers and then prepared for our first day in Genoa. Leaving the hotel at half past eleven, we planned to make for the harbour area. Just outside the hotel, we noticed a small lizard on the wall. Amal failed to spot it before it ran under a plant pot, so we hung around waiting for it to reappear. Michael started to get impatient and accused Amal, Rupert and I of dicking around. Things were starting to go wrong.

Deciding to ignore the lizard, we set out once again. Our walk was a rather lengthy one, taking us from the edge of the container port, past the cruise terminal, where we encountered some enforced dicking around as a large number of tourists blocked the pavement, through a building site, which forced us onto the road for a while, and finally into the harbour area. There was a raised highway between us and the sea for most of the walk, which just added to the general unpleasantness of the area.

Following this mammoth trek, a general decision to find something to drink was made. We walked along a pedestrianised road, past a few shops until we noticed an ice cream parlour and opted for that instead. Everyone except Rupert opted for ice cream, and Amal paid the bill. Pleased with ourselves at managing our first exchange with an Italian, and surprised that he wasn't quite as rude as we were expecting, we headed for a table. We were just about to sit down when a man approached, saying 'No, No, No sit here!'.

We had just been well and truly shafted! It seems that we should have sat down first and then ordered. Subdued by this despicable behaviour, we took a walk while eating our ice creams. We walked past a huge aquarium and arrived at an old galleon. There was a five euro entry charge for the galleon, which a majority of us refused to pay.

There followed a short delay, while Michael thought about the route. All of a sudden, we were being accused, by Michael, of dicking around. I took exception to this insult and contested it, which resulted in an argument breaking out. The whole break was on a knife edge.

Despondent, we walked a little further along the waterfront, reaching a warped statue of a woman, with most of the body parts in the wrong position. At this point we headed up towards the old town.

We saw what we assumed to be a mafia operative reading the paper at the edge of a piazza, so we photographed him for the benefit of law enforcement and moved swiftly on.

As we entered the piazza, we had our first encounter with a Great Genoan as a huge dog started barking furiously, before taking a slash on a car tyre and running away. Michael and Amal would later comment that these huge dogs seemed to be unique to Genoa and coin the term Great Genoan to describe them.

We left the piazza via a narrow street that led into a maze of further narrow streets. All of them seemed to smell horribly of urine and worse. Finally we emerged from this vile labyrinth into a much larger piazza, dominated by a huge fountain. Many more Great Genoans were running around, and it was here that the name for them was coined.

Pictures were taken before we headed into a large building on the edge of the piazza that looked to be an art gallery. That's exactly what it was, but the entry charge of ten euros was far too high to tempt us. Even the dicking around boys had no interest, perhaps having finally learned the lessons of Newgrange.

We wandered along a wider street leading out of the piazza, in search of another cafe where we could buy a drink and get a sit down. We found a likely place, but were constantly wary of another shaft. We hung around outside for a few moments, then had a look inside. Eventually, we decided to go out and sit at one of the tables.

While we debated whether we were going to get shafted, Amal turned to me and said,'Basically, they f**ked us at that last place!'. I agreed and made a pact with Amal that if we were similarly shafted here, we were going straight back to the airport and getting a flight home.

The waiter soon arrived to take our order and it seemed that things were going well. Michael, Amal and I ordered panino, which was listed as a ham and cheese sandwich. Amal, being a vegetarian, requested just cheese, only to be told that this would not be possible as the panino just came that way. Rupert and Chris ordered pizzetta. It soon transpired that they only had one pizzetta left, so Rupert predictably gave way and ordered a panino.

When they arrived, the paninos turned out to be corners of stale bread with a layer of rather hard cheese and some ham. Very disappointing. Amal had no choice but to eat the ham, his first taste of meat in many years. The most amusing thing about the meal was that the pizzetta turned out to be a mere four inches in diameter—and this was Chris' entire lunch!

Having been the victims of a massive shafting, we christened the cafe Shaftissimo and paid the bill. Fortunately, Chris discovered that we were expected to take the bill inside and pay at the till before we walked away leaving the money on the table.

We walked up the hill, noticing a small waterfall in a garden to our right that we planned to check out later, and into a small park ahead of us, where there was an area for exercising dogs. Many jokes on a particular theme followed. Amal and I sat down to admire the views of Genoa, while Michael and Chris studied the guide book and Rupert, clearly not wishing to be associated with us, stood several yards away.

Eventually, we made the decision to try to find a restaurant for the evening and book a table. Michael had found a likely candidate in the book, and informed us that we somehow needed to get down the hill in front of us. Unfortunately, this didn't seem possible. The drop ahead of us was at least thirty feet, so we walked around the park and exited further along the cliff edge. Eventually, Amal suggested that Rupert could easily make it down on his own by leaping across the gaps and sliding down wires, and that he should therefore go ahead and leave the rest of us.

We eventually managed to find our way down the hill and onto a paved, pedestrianised street, lined with small shops, all of which appeared to be closed. When we finally found the building marked on the map, it turned out not to be the restaurant that we had been searching for after all. What we had found was a dilapidated pizzeria. Michael had been looking at the map upside down! We all cracked up in the deserted street.

Chris seized control of the guide book and plotted a route to the actual restaurant, that would also take in the waterfall that we had spotted earlier.

We managed to find our way back up the hill and around to the other side, where Michael stopped on a street corner and went 'bibble', as is the custom in Genoa. We finally reached a huge statue at the top of some steps, so Chris, Amal and I recreated the pose while Michael took a picture and Rupert looked on embarrassed.

Carrying on into the garden, I worried that it might be another shafting in progress in that there might not be another way out at the far end of the garden and so we would have to retrace our steps. We continued on anyway, spotting a turtle in one of the ponds as we made our way up the hill. After a short walk, we reached the waterfall, walked underneath it and carried on to the top of the hill. Michael posed for a 'Whole of Genoa My' photo.

We found another turtle in the pond at the top of the hill, but ignored it and made for the path down to the bottom. On the way down, we discovered a viewing area offering panoramic views over the port area of Genoa. Amal spotted a huge, almost cubic building with small windows in neat rows around it, though strangely there were no windows near to the edges of the buiding. Amal's opinion was that it looked like a prison, but he asked if any of us knew better. I suggested that it was the Ministry of Shafting, and that all shafts that happened in Genoa were coordinated within that building.

After a short delay at the viewing area, we found our way to the bottom of the hill, at the far side of the garden from the entrance we had used, and were pleased to discover that there was a way out. We took a few moments to sign the visitor's book and thank the Ministry of Shafting for their efforts.

As we emerged from the garden, it became clear that the only way to get back on the route to the restaurant was down a steep brick road. There were some steps running down the side of the road, but so uneven that they were more dangerous than the road itself.

We survived this decent, only to discover that the steps that would take us to the main street were littered with syringes. Amal, Michael and I checked our boots for needle fragments once we had passed through this junkies' haven, and fortunately they were clean.

Chris led us down some more dirty and smelly streets, past a large sign that read 'Amal', where Amal posed for a photograph, and into a piazza where the cathedral was situated. We headed down a well concealed passageway and discovered the restaurant that we had been searching for. Chris and Amal went in to book a table for half past seven that evening.

As we set off back to the hotel, we worried that we'd never be able to find the restaurant again that evening. We walked down some more filthy streets where Amal, Michael and I were becoming gradually more delirious due to lack of fluids. Everything somehow seemed hilarious and nothing mattered anymore. We passed a filthy beggar in the street and Amal and I speculated that he was once the mayor of Genoa, until the Ministry of Shafting decided to shaft him badly.

We were about to give up and collapse in the street when we discovered a small cafe with some outdoor seating. Rupert purchased a round of cokes, and we sat down at a table to recover. We were briefly harrassed by a Great Genoan that arrived with some vagabonds a few moments later, but the break was generally refreshing.

Having finished the cokes, it was decided that we would make for the station and check out trains for a possible excursion the next day. We entered the station and located a touch screen that provided information on trains. After a detailed search, we failed to find anything on Monaco-Monte-Carlo, so Chris queued at the ticket office to make some inquiries. When he reached the front of the queue, the man behind the counter sent him over to the information centre, at the other end of the ticket hall. Once inside, Chris approached the man at the desk and attempted to ask him about trains to Monte-Carlo. The man instructed Chris to try the ticket office. Fortunately, Chris managed to persuade him to give us the information we required.

Armed with a list of train times and the price of the tickets (38.80 for a return journey), we headed back to the hotel to meet Dave, who was due to arrive from Venice later that day.

Once back at the hotel, and having survived another bout of delirium on the way, we decided to have a few moments of chilling time in our rooms. Rupert and I collapsed onto our beds and checked out the television to see if there was anything interesting on. We were forced to settle for BBC World. We lay back and chatted for a while before falling asleep.

At about five o'clock, there was a knock on the door, and Rupert opened it to allow Michael to enter the room. He had come to see whether we were going to get ready for the evening meal. Deciding that I needed more time to rest, I allowed Rupert first use of the bathroom, while Michael returned to his room to get ready.

Several minutes later, Rupert emerged from the bathroom and I hurried in to take my shower. At some point during the shower, I heard voices out in the corridor, and recognising several of the voices, I took this to be the arrival of the final Colonel's man, Dave.

We were soon ready for the night out, so we departed the hotel and set out on the long walk back to the restaurant, during which, Michael attempted to explain our experiences of shafting to Dave.

As we headed along beside the container port, Amal and I focused on the VW building three or four hundred yards ahead, knowing that once we reached it we would be entering the old town. Unfortunately for us, as we rounded the building, we realised that the road continued on for another half mile or so before reaching the old town. We had just been shafted again, and this time we should have known that it was coming!

Thinking that we had survived the latest bout of shafting, we pressed on into the old town, walking along narrow streets that were now filled with people drinking beer and street salesmen selling hand bags and cheap jewelry. The unpleasant smells of urine still pervaded the streets, and we had several encounters with angry and probably rabid Great Genoans. As one such street opened out into a small and typically filthy piazza, we noticed that a white van was trying to enter the street ahead of us. Rupert, Amal, Dave and I moved aside to let it go, but once ahead of us, it immediately slowed down and blocked us in, the street not being wide enough to get passed it. Michael and Chris, who had been a little ahead of us at that point, had managed to get in front of the van and were now extending a rather large lead. As they had the only maps, and thus were the only ones who knew the exact location of the restaurant, it seemed that a major shafting was in progress.

Miraculously, we managed to stay in touch with them and so survive the journey to the restaurant, but as we approached, it became clear that all was not as it should be. The restaurant appeared to be locked up, and at half past seven in the evening! Thoroughly demoralised by this super-shaft, Amal and I collapsed, vowing that we would walk no further.

Fortunately, Chris was not to be denied his food, so he pushed open the door to the restaurant and descended the steps. He was immediately confronted by a waiter, who informed him that the restaurant was not yet open and that we should wait outside until they were ready to seat us. This left us feeling slightly relieved that we would actually be eating that night, but a little annoyed that we couldn't go to our table right away.

Following a short delay, the waiter returned and directed us to a table in the non-smoking section. I was seated at the head of the table, with Amal to my left and Chris to my right. Rupert was next to Amal, Michael next to Chris and Dave at the opposite end of the table from me.

As I opened the menu, it quickly became clear that I had been shafted again. Not being a fan of pasta, I was stumped by the vast array of pasta dishes on offer. Eventually, I selected a pasta and scampi combo, hoping that the emphasis would be more towards the scampi than the pasta. I decided to follow this with roast beef, feeling confident that I would at least be able to enjoy some food that evening.

Moments later, it became apparent that I had been drink shafted. We had somehow managed to find the only restaurant in the Western world that did not serve Coca-Cola! Stunned by this omission, I was forced to order mineral water while the others selected their wine.

It seemed an age before our food arrived and when it did, I was disappointed, but not surprised, to discover that the majority of my meal resembled a bag of elastic bands. There were about five scampi spread out over the mound of rubber, but they were not even peeled and looked as though they were picking their moment to get up and walk off my plate.

Disgusted, but starving, I set about my meal with muted enthusiasm. In the event, it was not as bad as I had expected, and at least it had cured that unpleasant empty feeling in my stomach. As the plates were cleared, I began to look forward to my roast beef.

I shared a few gags with Amal to pass the time, and Dave eventually managed to communicate to the waiter that we required more mineral water—though only the still variety and not the soluble aspirin in a bottle that they had seen fit to provide in addition to a bottle of still earlier, and that we had forced Chris and Rupert to drink.

When the beef finally arrived, I stared at it in shocked horror for several minutes. It was bright red, and streaming with blood. I could almost believe that the cow was still alive somewhere out the back, with a huge gouge taken out of its side. Worse still, the meat was cold and served with a salad. Was the concept of (warm, cooked) meat and two veg. totally alien to these people? It seemed so.

Just when I thought that I had the worst of the deal (jointly shared with Michael, who had ordered the same thing), I glanced up at Rupert's meal and nearly vomited. He had a raw steak on his plate! The thick slab of flesh really did look freshly sliced from a cow, though the chef had taken the trouble to brown the outer layer to a depth of about a millionth of an inch, just to give the impression that his services were required by the restaurant. Rupert claimed that he was enjoying it, which I found a little concerning.

After forcing down the almost raw beef and leaving the salad, I still felt hungry, so when the dessert menu was offered, I readily accepted. Amal cautioned me against having anything, fearing that since I had already been shafted twice, a third time might destroy me. Understanding his concern, but with hunger the over-riding need, I took the risk and ordered a chocolate dessert.

Meanwhile, Dave had managed to persuade Michael and Amal that one of the desserts on offer was a pseudo-Colonel. He claimed that it contained exactly the same ingredients (vodka and lemon sorbet) though mixed together, not separate as in a genuine Colonel. Convinced, Michael and Amal decided to share one of these, while Chris went for one on his own. We also ordered coffee for everyone except Chris.

We filled in the waiting time with some more gags, Amal claiming that I was stealing all his best ones. Eventually, the desserts arrived and I was delighted to discover that my chocolate dessert looked extremely appetising. It didn't disappoint. When I sampled my first mouthful, the taste was just incredible. I pointed this out to Amal, who became hugely jealous, not helped by the fact that he and Michael had been thoroughly duped by the fake Colonels. They seemed to be simply a small glass of vodka with minute amounts of lemon sorbet added to make a cloudy, yellow drink. Disgusted, Michael berated Dave for a while, whilst I taunted Amal with the quality of my dessert.

Shortly after the dessert were finished, our coffee arrived. The tiny espresso cups did not come as much of a surprise—this seemed to be the way of things on the continent. What did shock me was the fact that they were almost empty. There seemed to be just a thin layer of coffee in the bottom of the cup, more like a stain than a drink. After everything that had happened to us, that just took the biscuit. Unable to stop myself, I started to crack up. Fortunately, I managed to avoid bursting into hysterics until the waiter had left the table.

It appeared that Michael had noticed me begin to crack up, but hadn't realised why. It soon became apparent to him as the waiter delivered his coffee, and he joined me in a fit of hysterics moments later.

After we had calmed down, we had to explain to Dave that we were not cracking up at the espresso cups themselves, but at the fact that they were almost empty. We speculated that the waiter had filled the cups, poured the coffee out again and left us with the dregs. Of course, he hadn't, had he?

Amal, out for a spot of revenge over the dessert shafting, then challenged me to down my espresso. Rupert tried to stop me, but I was determined not to let Amal get one up, so I poured the lot down my throat. Amal seemed really amazed by this, but I didn't quite get the point.

Coffee completed, we requested the bill, but it was another half hour or so before we managed to get out of the restaurant, having handed over about fifty euros each for the meal.

Not yet ready to punch the sack, we wandered down to the marina area. There were a few bars about, but surprisingly few people. Rupert was a little wasted by this time, and seemed in the mood for hugging, so he, Amal, Michael and I engaged in a group hug before continuing.

We crossed a huge paved area on the waterfront, arriving outside a pizzeria, which we decided looked suitable for the last night meal. It was reasonably cheap, and after the fifty euros we had just forked out, that was a powerful consideration. On the plus side, it looked reasonably up-market, unlike the majority of Italy's pizzerias. We decided that we would return there in two days time for the draw.

Walking on around the marina area, we noticed an American Bar, but decided not to enter at that stage. There appeared to be a huge arcade just ahead of us, and Rupert excitedly checked it out. We all followed him and emerged on the other side, beside the water again. Rupert assured us that there were no good games in the arcade before we continued.

Several huge yachts were moored in this section of the harbour, and we noticed that a party seemed to be in full swing on one of them. They had set up a barbecue on shore, beside the boat, and it was surrounded by people. They also had a music system blaring out some unpleasant sounds.

Deciding not to join them, we hurried on to the end of the harbour. We had hoped to find something interesting there, but there didn't seem to be anything at all. The open sea was obscured by rocks, and there were no buildings other than warehouses. Genoa had just petered out. We assumed that the narrow channel of water that curved away into the darkness led to the sea, but this was not obvious.

Looking out over the harbour, we saw the Columbus Sea hotel lit up in the night. It couldn't have been more than two or three hundred yards away by the direct route, but therein lay the shaft. In order to keep our feet (and most of the rest of us) dry, we had about an hour's walk ahead of us.

Rupert, still a little the worse for wear, decided that he was going to somersault over some railings. I offered to hold his bag and coat for him, but ignoring my generous offer, he dumped them on my foot.

Having almost had a nasty accident with the railings, Rupert sat down against a lamp post, leaving his belongings where he had dumped them. Disgusted, I booted them away and vaulted the railings in the correct manner.

As we drifted back the way we had come, I confronted Rupert about the bag issue. It seemed to have arisen due to his inebriated state, so I decided to forget about it.

Arriving back at the American Bar, and having seen nothing better, we decided to go in for a drink. There followed the usual confusion—should we order our drinks at the bar and then take them to a table, or just sit down and hope that someone would take our order?

In the end, we decided to find a table. The seating areas were all in the open air, but it was a pleasant night so that was not a problem. We descended some steps to the rear of the bar and were shown to a table by a waitress.

The environment was a pleasant one, which came as a surprise after our experiences earlier in the day. The bar was located in the marina area of the harbour, just across from the restaurant that we had earlier located for the final meal venue. Our table seemed to be on a huge floating pontoon, a level below the main bar, which was on a small pier.

When the waiter arrived, I ordered a coke, with Amal and Michael also opting for soft drinks. Rupert and Dave then ordered from the selection of beers, leaving Chris, deprived of the cider option, also having to order a beer just to look cool—it didn't quite work!

Our drinks arrived promptly, along with a selection of crisps, nuts and other nibbles, which we consumed happily. There followed a lengthy conversation, with much comedic banter, before we decided to continue the long trek back to the hotel.

Tired and aching, but in high spirits, I managed to make it most of the way, before succumbing to the shaft. We had reached the Volkswagen Building, having walked what seemed like miles, only to discover that we still had an extremely long way to go. Rupert, Chris and Dave hurried on ahead, so I decided that the best option was just to sit down and let the shaft take me.

Fortunately, Amal found some inner strength, and he dragged me back to my feet and propelled me along the street. Twice more, I almost gave up, but each time Amal was there to rescue me.

Eventually, we made it back to the hotel, only to discover the biggest shaft of all! The gate leading into the hotel car park, and then to the main entrance, was locked. I couldn't believe it!

Just when it seemed that we would have to spend the entire night on the pavement, Dave decided to press a button on the wall. Suddenly, the gate began to swing inwards, allowing us access to the front of the hotel. Expecting another shaft, I did not finally feel relief until we entered the lobby of the hotel and reclaimed the keys to our rooms.

Finally, thoroughly exhausted, I followed Rupert into our room, and we got ready for bed. Having rushed through the bathroom, I greatfully collapsed onto my bed and quickly went to sleep after only a short chat with Rupert.

Monday, 26th May

Our alarm went off promptly at 7:00, but Rupert switched it off immediately and it was another half an hour before either of us made a move for the bathroom. By then, I wasn't even sure whether the alarm had gone off at all.

A quick trip through the shower didn't really help to wake me up. I had slept fairly soundly that night, but lack of sleep from the previous day was still catching up to me. As I dressed in my cool t-shirt, knowing that I would need it in order to make an impression in Monte-Carlo, Rupert quickly utilised the bathroom.

Several minutes later, we were both smartly dressed and ready for the excursion. At that point, there was a knock at the door, and Rupert opened it to allow Michael and Amal to enter, also appropriately dressed for the trip. They were closely followed by Chris, who was wearing shorts and a bright blue Cambridge University Brass Band T-shirt.

Amal and Michael couldn't believe it and made several comments about Chris' lack of style, particularly given that we were headed for Monte-Carlo. Chris eventually agreed to change, but not until he had been for breakfast.

We entered the restaurant and made straight for a table. The restaurant was quite small, with two rows of tables on either side, and a breakfast bar running down the middle. Most of the tables on the near side seemed to be taken, so we made for a table for six on the other side of the bar. However, the waiter didn't seem to want us to sit there, instead ushering us to the only available table on the near side.

This table was circular, and large enough for six people, but seemed to have been occupied recently and had not been properly cleaned. Disgusted with this shafting, I decided to check out the breakfast options.

At the breakfast bar, there was a small array of cakes, some pastries and croissants filled with chocolate or custard. In the far corner of the restaurant, there was an array of fruit juices and a coffee machine.

I selected a couple of croissants filled with chocolate, a small piece of cake and went over to the drinks table. There I collected a glass of orange juice and a hot chocolate from the machine. At this point, I noticed that there was also an espresso machine, but couldn't be bothered to find out how it worked, not seeing the point of espresso anyway.

Most people were quite restrained in their selections, but Chris, predictably, was not. He started with the cereal, worked his way through the yoghurts and fruit, finishing with a selection of cakes, croissants and pastries.

During breakfast, talk turned to the espresso machine. It seemed that nobody knew how to work it. Eventually, Dave decided that it must be easy and, just to prove it, went over to the drinks table. He returned moments later with a small cup of espresso.

Not to be outdone, we all took turns visiting the espresso machine, which turned out to be a rather simple device. Unfortunately, it wasn't really worth the effort for a few drops of concentrated coffee.

Finally done with breakfast, we returned to our rooms to prepare for departure. Chris, fulfilling his promise, removed his band T-shirt, opting instead for his Craig shirt.

It was not long before we were ready to go. We departed the hotel and set off on the dreaded walk into Genoa. The station was a little nearer to us than the marina, but not much.

When we arrived in the ticket hall, Amal and Chris joined separate lines and waited to see who would reach the front first. It turned out to be Chris, so Amal wandered over to help. Between them and Rupert's money, they managed to purchase five return tickets to Monte-Carlo. Dave, it seemed, would not be joining us, and had opted to dick around in Genoa for the day.

It looked like we were going to have to make a mad dash for the train, so I hurried on ahead. I soon found myself in a tunnel, with steps leading up to the platforms above me at regular intervals. Dave dashed past me and up the steps to our platform, but I decided to wait at the bottom to make sure that the others found the correct train. They had the tickets, after all, so if the train decided to leave it was no good me being on it.

Fortunately the others were not long in coming, and we quickly said our farewells to Dave, giving him some final warnings about possible shaftings, and boarded the train.

Our train was one of those old fashioned affairs with a corridor down one side and six person compartments opening onto it. We walked all the way to the rear of the train before turning round and heading back towards the front. Eventually, we found a compartment with five vacant seats, though the middle aged woman in the other seat did not seem too pleased at the thought of sharing her compartment with us!

The journey was long, but scenic, with many views of the Meditteranean coast of both Italy and France. As we travelled, Chris started working out the financial situation using a table that he had devised which allowed him to work out who would owe whom by the end of the break. The rest of us helped him for a while before relaxing to enjoy the scenery.

We finally made it to Monte-Carlo three hours later. Disembarking the train, we hurried down the steps and along the passages of the station until we emerged in the harbour, at the famous Sainte Devote corner on the Monaco Grand Prix Circuit.

The Grand Prix itself was due to be held the following weekend, and preparation was already well underway. Crash barriers lined the streets, making it very difficult for pedestrians to move around. We wanted to cross the street and walk up the hill towards Casino Square, but this proved to be an exercise in futility.

There did not appear to be a gap in the barrier, so we headed for an underpass, only to realise that it brought us out in entirely the wrong place. Trapped on the lower part of the circuit which runs along the harbour front, and unable to proceed because of the barriers that lined the road, it appeared that the only way out was to retrace our steps.

Fed up with this, I hopped over the barrier, into the street that was still being used by cars and now had no pedestrian areas due to the Grand Prix baggage. The others soon followed and we eventually reached a side street that sloped up to our left, leading to the road to the casino.

After a few brief stops to check out the views, we reached Casino Square. While Rupert and Amal stood on the steps of the casino, the rest of us crossed the road to take some photographs. Rupert displayed his usual reluctance to have his photo taken, but he reluctantly agreed to the ordeal.

Having satisfied our photographic needs, our thoughts turned to food. We decided to check out a large restaurant in the square, but quickly dismissed it as being too expensive. The decision was made to move on around the Formula One circuit and try to find something better.

Around the corner, as the road begins to descend towards the harbour, we attempted to cross a bridge that had been erected for the race, but discovering that it was chained off, we retraced our steps to the nearest gap in the barrier. Once on the other side of the road, we entered a large shopping centre.

The lobby was dominated by a Formula One car from the Sauber team, but there was no time to linger—Chris had detected food. We hurried after him as he ascended two escalators and arrived outside a pleasant looking sandwich bar. Amal and Rupert gave us their orders and went to find a table in the non-smoking section.

Michael and I stayed behind to help, but we left all the ordering to Chris, our resident Frenchman. It was such a relief to be back in a country where we almost understood the language, and we took full advantage of this by exchanging two cans of sprite for two oranginas, something we never would have attempted in Italian.

Laden down with food, Michael, Chris and I went in search of the others, eventually finding them in a separate seating area, across a corridor from the shop. There was also a large screen television showing live coverage of the French Open tennis, which we kept checking as we tucked into our food.

Amal, Michael and I had ordered tuna paninis (proper paninis this time, not like the rubbish at Shaftissimo), which unfortunatley contained tomatoes for some strange reason. We quickly removed these foreign objects and offered them to Rupert, who refused on the grounds that they were contaminated with tuna. Interestingly, Michael and I managed to eat our tuna even though it was contaminated with tomato.

When our lunch had been concluded, we made our way back to the street to continue our walk. We headed down the hill and around the Loews hairpin, which Amal had been looking forward to seeing, because he remembered it from the television.

A short time later, the road turned to the right and led us down to the water front. There was a pause while we took some more photographs and admired a plaque that claimed to be Mika Häkkinen's car. There was also a model of a Formula One car in a flower bed on the other side of the road. We never did find out what that was.

We walked under the tunnel and checked out a souvenir shop with the aim of buying a mascot. The shop was shamelessly cashing in on the Grand Prix, and was so full of junk that we quickly gave up looking.

Our walk then took us through the chicane, and along the harbour front. We passed several large yachts, and began discussing the likely costs of such things. Amal guessed at a few hundred thousand, and was scorned for it by the rest of us. Chris pointed out that some cars cost that much, and suggested a few million was a more likely figure.

At the far end of the harbour, we spotted some Formula One motorhomes. Most of the top teams were already in place for the race. Amal paused briefly in front of a silver yacht and demanded that Michael take his picture.

As we attempted to cross the street, we discovered that the traffic was mayhem in this area of the circuit. The roads were still open, but the barriers meant that space for pedestrians was limited.

Eventually, we managed to cross the street and duck behind an advertising hoarding. The path then took us past a restaurant where we noticed a large contingent of Ferrari mechanics eating their lunch.

Michael and I wanted to go in and harrass them, but the others were not keen on the idea. Disappointed, we carried on around the circuit until we came to the end of the pit lane.

At this point, we had a choice. Either continue around the circuit, or take a path up the hill to our left and visit the royal palace. We chose to visit the palace, deciding that we would complete the last portion of the circuit on our return.

On our way up the slope, we had a great view along the pit lane and out across the harbour and we paused for a few moments to admire it. A few yards further on, the way divided. A path curved upwards to the left, and some steps led off to the right. They seemed to join up again about a hundred yards further up. Rupert, Chris and I opted for the path, while Michael and Amal took the steps. Thankfully, we did indeed meet up again further up the hill.

We soon arrived at a road, which we crossed and continued up the hill. We passed through a steel gate that had been erected for the race, presumably to stop people getting any kind of view of the circuit from up there. The gate was opened for the time being, though, so we ignored it.

As the path continued to wind its way up the hill, I commented that I expected to see Brian Blessed leading an expedition to reach the summit, but we never came across him.

Eventually, we reached the top of the hill, where the path brought us out into a square in front of the Royal Palace. We spent a few moments looking around the outside and some photos were taken, but we had decided that it was not worth trying to get in.

Michael and I suggested a mission to locate some Tarte au Flan, a delicacy that we had sampled on a previous visit to Monaco. The others, having no better ideas, agreed, so we set off to explore the narrow streets around the palace.

Unlike Genoa, the narrow streets of Monaco did not smell of urine, and they were not infested with vermine and Great Genoans. They were, however, lined with many small shops and cafes. It was into one of these small shops that Amal went, in order to buy a waterproof, since the rain that had started almost the minute we arrived was still continuing on and off. He emerged moments later with a red plastic sheet wrapped around him, and a smug grin on his face.

We wandered the streets for a while, but found no trace of the Tarte au Flan. The best we could find was some Tarte au Flan like substance that seemed as though it could be a reasonable alternative. Eventually, we made for a small cafe to buy drinks. Chris and I waited at the bar to place the order while the others found a table. We ordered three Cokes, a diet Coke and a vanilla Coke (for Chris) and I handed Chris a twenty euro note to cover it.

Chris asked me if I thought that twenty would be enough and I replied that I certainly hoped that it would be enough, because if they were expecting us to pay more than four euros for a Coke then we were being seriously ripped off.

Eventually, the woman behind the bar finished pouring the Cokes and handed us the bill. It came to twenty euros and fifty cents. I was absolutely disgusted. It seemed that a regular Coke came in at four euros and a vanilla Coke at four fifty. What a rip off!

While we were at the counter waiting for the drinks, Michael came over to show us the menu that he had been studying at the table. I was delighted to discover a picture of the Colonel, with the outrageous price of eight euros fifty. This was the closest we had come to the Colonel since Mission 1 in Paris.

As we took our seats at the table which, despite being the largest table in the cafe, was too small for the five of us, I shared my disgust at the exorbitant price of the drinks. Michael and Amal agreed that we had just been shafted all the way from Genoa. Rupert, on the other hand, predictably tried to defend the cafe by pointing out that they probably had to pay high overheads to have such a well located establishment.

We attempted to draw our drinks out in a vain attempt to get value for money, but it didn't seem to be working. During one of our regular rants, Rupert suggested that we steal the menu featuring the Colonel, in order to compensate ourselves. I thought that this was an excellent idea, and stashed it under my fleece. It then turned out that Rupert was only joking, and now felt really embarrassed that we were actually going ahead with it. I had the support of the remaining Colonel's men, however, and was determined not to give way.

Before we left the cafe, I needed to visit the toilet. I was disgusted to discover that this would set me back another fifty cents, so Michael and I decided that we would attempt to cheat the system. Since the money was only required to get the door open, we realised that if we held the door for each other after using the toilet then we would only have to pay once. It turned out that Chris also needed to go, so three of us managed to use the toilet for the fifty cent charge, which wasn't so bad.

Our pot needs taken care of, we left the cafe by the back door, with the menu safely secured under my fleece. Rupert was still embarrassed that the suggestion had originated with him, but I knew that he would get over it.

We walked along some more narrow streets, briefly peering into a small church before arriving outside the cathedral. We weren't that interested in going inside, but a few photographs were taken outside.

Chris noticed another interesting building a little further on, so we set off in that direction to find out what it was. There was a small garden slightly beneath us as we walked along the road and we resolved to pay it a visit on our return.

On arrival at the building, we discovered a small submarine on display at the foot of the steps. What we had thought might be some sort of rudimentary parliament building turned out to be the maritime museum. In the best traditions of the disgruntled boys, we refused to go in, and instead made for the gardens that we had seen earlier.

The botanical gardens provided us with a pleasant stroll, during which Chris gave a lecture on the various plants. The rest of us were more interested in the statues of naked people in various compromising poses, but Chris seemed unimpressed with this.

We paused at the top of the cliffs overlooking not the harbour of Monte Carlo, but the open sea. Yet more photographs were taken before Michael and I decided that it was time for some Tarte au Flan.

Heading back into the maze of narrow streets, we made straight for the shop selling the pseudo-Tarte au Flan. Chris ordered five slices and we made sure that four of them were intended for the rest of us before walking back towards the royal palace.

Outside the palace, we found a suitable perch beside a cannon that gave us a great view over Monaco, including the famous football stadium. This proved to be an excellent place to enjoy our Tarte au Flan.

For some reason, Amal found his Tarte au Flan a little heavy for his liking and decided to throw it away. At the prospect of more food, Chris reacted swiftly. He informed Amal that he would happily eat whatever Amal couldn't manage. Amal agreed to give Chris the remainder of his Tarte au Flan, even though Michael and I suggested that he would be better throwing it over the cliff edge.

We enjoyed a few minutes of chilling while we ate our Tarte au Flan, before we decided to return to the harbour and the formula one circuit. Chris may have been tempted by some more food, but followed the rest of us as we made for the path to the harbour.

On the descent, we were again treated to some fine views of the city. As we reached the point where the path divided, Chris, Rupert and I this time took the steps, while Michael and Amal took the slope. The alternative route didn't seem to add much to the experience, but it was amusing anyway.

It did not take long to get back onto the circuit, and we made immediately for the pit lane since the main straight was heaving with traffic and the pavements were barricaded off. The pit lane was filled with mechanics preparing their garages for the race, and Chris paused by a Williams truck to have his photo taken. Amal refused to do likewise beside a Ferrari truck.

The end of the pit lane also brought us to the end of our walk around the circuit. At that point, the path disappeared under the grandstand that overlooked the harbour. A new plan was required. Michael and I suggested that we should wander beyond the Grand Prix circuit and see what else Monte-Carlo had to offer. This plan was accepted so we crossed the main road and found a gap in the barrier on the other side. We then turned up what looked to be a major street near the station that led us away from the harbour.

Several minutes later, it seemed that this was coming to nothing, and I was getting very thirsty so we gave up on the walk. We managed to find a small take-away place to buy some cans of drink and then gave an American woman directions to the Casino before heading back down the hill to the station.

Concluding that it was getting quite late, and that we still had a substantial train ride ahead of us, we decided to try to get an earlier train than we had originally planned. Unfortunately, there would not be a train to Genoa for another hour and a half.

Dejected, we wandered back to the Sainte Devote entrance and discussed our options. I was feeling a little unpleasant after a whole day of walking and, for me, thoughts had turned to getting ready for the evening. I was therefore pushing for a chilling option. Amal was also ready for a break and seemed keen to chill.

That seemed to settle the matter. The nearest decent chilling location appeared to be the shopping mall where we had bought lunch, so we set off back there. We enjoyed another drink in the same cafe as before and managed to kill the time before the train was due.

Shortly afterwards, we were back at the station. Chris and Michael hurried on ahead to check out the train situation. When the screens came into view, though, the situation did not look good. Every one was delayed.

A moment later, a crowd of people dashed down the stairs to our left, coming from the platforms, and headed out of the station. This was a little disturbing, as the huge numbers of people dashed around Rupert, Amal and I on their way to wherever they were going.

When the area had cleared, we decided to head up to the platforms and try to find Michael and Chris. We eventually located them on a bridge at the far end of the platforms. They were just returning from the ticket office and did not look pleased.

Our resident Frenchman, Chris, had discovered that there had been a rock fall in one of the tunnels along the French coast, and that all trains had been stopped until the track could be cleared. He had also received assurances that a train for Genoa would be departing in less than an hour, but I was doubtful. Chris then gave some advice to an English family while the rest of us paid homage to the Ministry of Shafting. It was amazing that their power could reach so far.

As we made for the platform, we discovered a stall selling various souvenirs and decided to try to find the latest addition to the mascots. Eventually, we found a small bear with a cheeky grin on its face and wearing fake Ferrari overalls with 'Formulino' written on the front. After all that had happened, a name was obvious, and so it was that Shaft joined our party.

The train arrived several minutes later, about when we were told to expect it, which was amazing. We left it to our resident Frenchman to find us a suitable compartment. He managed to secure one after asking a French girl if she was travelling alone. It later turned out, though, that he might have asked her if she was single. Anyway, she allowed Chris to help her put her bags in the overhead luggage rack so that we could all sit down.

I sat down opposite the French girl, with Amal to my left and Michael to my right. Chris was next to the French girl on her left and Rupert to her right. She seemed quite absorbed in our conversation as we travelled back towards Genoa.

When the train stopped at Ventimiglia, just across the border into Italy, she made a move to leave the train. Chris, gentleman that he is, helped her with her bags. She said goodbye to all of us as she left the compartment and stepped off the train.

Rupert thought that she was a lovely girl and Amal suggested that Chris could have had a real chance with her. She was quickly forgotten, though, as the vacant seat was taken by Shaft.

Unfortunately, Shaft soon became annoyed, first when I rested my feet on his seat, and then when Chris started stroking his face. As he reasonably pointed out, the rest of us were not stroking each other's faces, so he didn't see why he should put up with it.

After a three hour journey, the train finally pulled into Genoa. It had been a long day and we were all exhausted. We were reunited with Dave, who was waiting on the platform. He had spent an enjoyable day dicking around in Genoa, which had included a visit to the Ministry of Shafting. In fact, Dave claimed that it was actually a theatre. We laughed at his naivete in not spotting the obvious cover-up.

Realising that we didn't have time to go back to the hotel and freshen up before eating, since this would add at least an hour to the evening, thoughts turned to a suitable venue. We tried checking out a restaurant near the station, but it didn't really seem suitable, so we decided to make for the harbour.

We therefore headed down another narrow and smelly street, inhabited by two rabid Great Genoans, emerging by the water front. We found ourselves near the scene of the very first shafting at the ice-cream parlour the previous day. A pizzeria was situated beside the water and, being knackered and not wanting to spend the evening dicking around, we decided to try it out.

The evening proved to be a strange experience. The seating area for the pizzeria was outdoors, and covered by a sheet of tarpaulin. There were a large number of long tables, and it seemed that we were the only customers. Another group of people were sat at a small circular table smoking, but they seemed to be the staff.

We were seated at one of the long tables, with Dave and Chris opposite each other at the far end, Michael next to Dave and Rupert next to Chris. I sat next to Rupert, with Amal opposite. We were handed menus, which were also paper place mats, and began to study the options.

Eventually, having done our best to interpret the Italian menu, I opted for the old reliable four cheese pizza. Nothing could go wrong there. Of course, I had failed to appreciate that I was in the city of shafting. Genoa did not disappoint. When the pizza arrived, it exactly matched the description. It consisted of four cheeses on a pizza base, and nothing else. No tomato puree, which made for a very strange meal. I had been shafted again.

During the meal, we discussed possible plans for the following day, which would be our last full day in Genoa. Dave was keen to visit the Cinque Terra, which, he informed us, was a collection of fishing villages to the east of Genoa. I was under the impression that we had just had the customary excursion for the break and, given the intensity of the day, was keen to spend the last day chilling. Amal seemed to agree. As usual, though, we were over-ruled and it was decided that we would go to the Cinque Terra. I had managed to squeeze out the small concession that we would spend most of the day chilling, but this seemed to disregard the dicking around boys' huge propensity for their favourite activity.

Slightly disgruntled, I ordered a tartufo for dessert. Amal and Michael appeared to have a deal going involving a tartufo and a tiramisu. Once again, the dessert had come through for me. The tartufo was extremely tasty.

The meal was again rounded off with espressos, which were slightly more generous than the more expensive ones we were served the previous evening.

As the bill arrived, we all threw in approximately what we owed. Some people, having only large denomination notes, had to throw in too much and would be refunded from the change. Michael began counting the money, eventually announcing that we were a little over. Dave suddenly shouted out, a little angrily, "Well, I've got an extra five euros in there!"

This outburst was a little shocking. Michael seemed particularly taken aback, but he responded by saying "Don't have a cow, mate!", in the style of David Brent from The Office. The whole thing seemed hillarious, maybe because we were knackered, but the situation was diffused.

With five euros returned to him, Dave left the restaurant along with the rest of us. I assumed that we would then make for the American Bar, but Chris and Dave both announced their intention to return to the hotel. Amal agreed with them. We therefore made our way back to the hotel. I later discovered that Michael and Rupert would have been quite up for a trip to the American Bar, and I was left regretting not discussing it with them at the time.

The long walk back to the hotel seemed especially hard that evening. We had endured a very long day, so it was with great relief that we collected our room keys from reception and made our way back to the rooms. Rupert and I gratefully collapsed on our beds and went to sleep almost immediately, hoping to be fully recovered for the final day.

Tuesday, 27th May

Our final full day in Genoa began with a panic. We were woken up by a banging at the door, and Rupert opened it to reveal Michael and Amal, who were ready to go for breakfast. It seemed that we had really screwed up with the alarm that morning. Rupert instructed them to go ahead and promised that we would be done shortly. We then hurriedly got ready and made our way to the dining room.

When we arrived, we found that the others had already begun their breakfast, so we took a selection of cakes and pastries from the buffet and sat down at the vacant places on the circular table that the others had managed to acquire. Unfortunatley, the choice at the buffet was considerably reduced from the previous day, which was rather disappointing.

Talk soon turned to plans for the day. It had already been decided that we would visit the Cinque Terra, and Dave suggested that our first port of call should be Vernazza. Having no experience of this region at all, we simply nodded our agreement.

The walk to the station was predictably torturous, made all the more so by the heat of the morning. Chris suggested a short cut down a subway that looked like something out of a horror movie. The plan seemed to work though, as we eventually emerged on the platform of the station.

We quickly made for the ticket office and bought six tickets to Vernazza before making our way down to the platform, which was underground. The train soon arrived, and turned out to be a double decker, which pleased me and Michael.

I took a seat on the top deck next to Rupert, with Michael opposite. Chris, Dave and Amal took a block of four in front of us. As we settled back for the ride, we noticed that the windows were extremely dirty. This was a little annoying since we were expecting some spectacular views, which would now be obscured.

The journey to Vernazza took about two hours, which was quite a trial on top of the six hours of train travel from the day before. It was a relief when we finally reached our destination.

We followed the crowds along the platform and down the steps to the street. Vernazza appeared to be a rather quaint old village with narrow streets which were lined with small shops.

A short walk brought us to the harbour. There was a small piazza set back from the water with a number of bars and pizzerias around it. There was a tiny beach that looked rather grim and several sunken boats in the harbour. A harbour wall stretched out into the sea to the right and we headed in that direction to check out the view.

The wall was protected by huge rocks on the side facing the open sea, and several people were layed out sunbathing on them. we walked to the far end, only fifty yards or so from the shore and paused for some photographs.

The view along the coast was spectacular and we made sure to capture it on camera. There was also time for a photo of all of us, including Shaft, our newest recruit. Dave was looking after Shaft for the time being, and attached him to his rucksack once the photos had been taken.

Inevitably, our thoughts turned to lunch. Chris pointed out that this was just the kind of place where you could find a bakery and then sit on the rocks with your sandwiches. I was a little doubtful about this. There seemed to be nowhere to sit other than on the rocks, which were uneven and had gaping gaps in between them which could easily swallow a lunch.

There seemed to be some sympathy for this idea, so we headed back to the piazza and checked out the restaurants. Amal and Michael nipped into the nearest and had a peek at the menu, but were not convinced so we moved on to the next one where Chris took command and requested a menu. He seemed satisfied with what he saw, so we sat down. I took a seat opposite Rupert, with Dave next to me. Amal sat next to Rupert with Michael next to him. Chris sat opposite Michael.

Dave announced that he was not keen on spending much money, and managed to convince Chris to share a pizza with him. The desire to spend less money was causing conflict with Chris, though, and he eventually opted for a starter as well to satisfy his appetite.

Amal was the only one of us not to order a pizza, opting for the seafood and pasta option. I decided to take another gamble on the quattro formaggi. As we relaxed waiting for our food, a discussion about options for the afternoon was initiated.

Dave seemed to be pushing for a walk to the next village. I was not happy about this and Amal and Michael seemed to agree. We were of the opinion that it would be good to get back to Genoa in reasonable time so that we would arrive at the last night Stammtisch feeling fully refreshed.

Finally, a compromise was reached. We decided to have a walk around Vernazza after lunch and then take the train to Monterosso, one stop down the line towards Genoa. This seemed a reasonable course of action.

After lunch, having had our fill of chilling for the time being, we set off to begin our walk. For some reason, we seemed to be heading back to the harbour wall. I was a bit confused by this but followed anyway. Right at the shore end of the wall, there was a set of steps leading up the cliffs to the left and I followed the others up them, expecting at the very least some fine views.

I was to be disappointed. The steps ended at a small rocky platform that gave exactly the same view as before, but from a few feet higher up. A bit disgruntled, I descended back to street level.

The others then decided to try another set of steps that they had discovered. Fully expecting more of what we had just wasted our time on, and becoming slightly disgruntled by what I perceived to be dicking around, I elected not to follow. I had assumed that they would be back down in about two minutes, but I was about to be shafted.

When they had not returned after what I judged to be several minutes, I attempted to find somewhere to sit that was more comfortable than the rock. I had just got my spot picked out when I heard Chris shouting from somewhere behind me. It seemed that the others had discovered some passages between the buildings on the cliffs and had decided to explore them. Hoping that this would be worth my while, I followed Chris up the steps.

We quickly reached the place where Chris had left the others to follow me, but saw no sign of them. I couldn't believe that they had left us, but that was obviously the case so we set off down the passage. It was a very narrow alley between two buildings, and at one point there was a huge drop down into someone's back yard to our left.

Eventually we reached a branch in the road, with some steps leading up to the right and the path continuing ahead. Unable to believe that the others had just dicked off, Chris and I debated our options. We eventually elected to try the steps.

The steps proved to be rather steep and far too narrow, especially when a large number of people started coming down the other way. It soon became apparent that we had chosen wisely as we spied the others ahead of them. I was slightly worried, however, as they seemed to be in the process of paying for something.

When we caught up with them, it became clear that they had just paid to go into some sort of rudimentary fort. I was disgusted that they had done this without consulting me, though I guess it's probably better than consulting me and then doing it anyway, which is what would have happened had I been there.

Fearing some sort of Neolithic Crap along the lines of Newgrange, but seeing no likely chilling zones where I could wait for the others to finish dicking around, I had no choice but to let Rupert pay my one euro entry fee.

The fort did provide the views that I had been expecting earlier, but by now, having chased the others through the narrow passages, not knowing where they had gone and finally catching up with them only to discover that they had forced me into some dicking around at the Neolithic Crap, I had become massively disgruntled. The heat was also overpowering and I hadn't had enough to drink, so I was in no mood for dicking around.

There was a sizeable tower in the centre of the fort, which the others made for, but I was not ready for another climb, so I found a suitable area for sitting.

Eventually, the stone seat became rather uncomfortable, so I decided to go and get Rupert's one euro's worth. I walked around the edge and admired the views, which I had to admit were quite spectacular.

Having gazed at the view for a suitable length of time, I decided to try the tower. Inside there was a spiral staircase that was just about wide enough for one person, but proved extremely tricky when someone tried to pass you going in the other direction. At the top, I had a quick look at the view, but it was not much different from before, and I judged the effort to be wasted.

I quickly descended the tower and, judging that I still had about twenty cents of Rupert's money to recoup, I made for some steps leading into the fort on the far side. At the bottom, I discovered a small chamber filled with art work. The others were down there admiring it. I couldn't believe it. A greater display of dicking around I had not witnessed since the infamous Sacre Coeurs incident. When Dave suggested that it was time to make for the station and get the train to Monterosso, I was the first to leave.

It proved a short walk back to the station, and a train arrived almost immediately. The journey to Monterosso was suitably brief and we emerged on the platform to begin our discussions.

By this time, I was fearing that the whole last night experience, which in many ways is the highlight of the break, was about to be ruined. I campaigned vigorously for an immediate return to Genoa so that we would have plenty of time to get fully refreshed for the Stammtisch and still have some time chilling there before going to the restaurant.

Michael and Amal seemed to agree with this point of view, but Michael quickly checked the timetable and discovered another train, which departed at twenty past four. He suggested that this would give us some time in Monterosso and still get us back to Genoa in time for the Stammtisch.

I was doubtful. First of all, the ticket issuer at Genoa station had not given us this train as an option for our return journey and I feared a shafting in progress, and secondly, I was secretly worried that once dicking around got started, there would be another debate and we would find ourselves on the half past five after all.

Chris decided to ask at the ticket office whether we could use our tickets on the twenty past four and was told that we could. Almost convinced that we wouldn't be shafted, though with these Italians you never knew, I agreed that we should spend some time in Monterosso.

We left the station and almost immediately found ourselves on the sea front. Monterosso, at first glance, looked far superior to Vernazza. In fact, it really was the sort of place where you could just find a bakery!

Instead of a bakery, we located a cafe on the beach and decided that it would be a great place for chilling. Since Michael, Amal and I were well known as the chief proponents of chilling, Chris, who had a certain loathing for chilling and had decided to spend his time dicking around, turned to us and said 'Dave and I will see you later then'.

Dave, who was a central figure in the dicking around boys, then caused a sensation by replying, 'Will we?'.

Michael and I found this hillarious. Not just the fact that Chris had automatically assumed that Dave would spend the afternoon dicking around with him, but that Dave had gone against expectations by refusing.

Rebuffed by his leading supporter, Chris decided to go off alone. However, Rupert clearly felt obliged to support Chris and agreed to go with him. I found this absolutely typical of Rupert.

As we ordered our drinks, an iced coffee for Michael, an espresso for Dave, a cappucino for Amal and a coke for me, I realised that, being reduced to four we were now the perfect number for chilling. The location was excellent and we had a pleasant half hour before our conversation turned to Chris and Rupert. We began to wonder what they had found to do. Since there appeared to be nothing other than a car park in the direction that they had taken, we suspected that they had found nothing to do and, being too embarrassed to come straight back and admit defeat, they had spent the last half hour hiding just around the corner.

After some time, they returned, just as we decided that it was time to make a move. We paid up and Chris went to buy himself a can of Fanta. Dave purchased a chocolate bar called Loaker for sharing out later.

We took a brief walk along the shingle beach and I began to engage in my favourite beach pass time—throwing stones into the water. Eventually, we noticed a huge rock and I announced that no thrower had ever reached it. Michael, picking up the recreation, asked whether the contest was to hit it or pass it. I replied that he would be lucky to get halfway and invited him to try. Michael I declined, saying that he had never thrown a rock before and would like to see how it's done. I immediately threw and hit the rock right in the centre. Michael then skimmed his stone and bounced over the rock. The others watched in awe.

The recreation of Jason and the Argonauts over, we continued along the beach towards the station. Barring some brief problems with a gate that Amal thought we couldn't get through until Chris pushed it open for him, we reached the station without incident.

As we waited for the train, I suddenly realised that the Little Lucky Leprechaun, who was enjoying his first day out of the hotel room on the break, had not even seen the light of day and had missed out on all the photo opportunities. I quickly arranged a picture with Michael, who held the Leprechaun for the photograph.

The train arrived shortly afterwards. It was only a single decker this time and was extremely crowded. I quickly grabbed a seat, but Chris told me that he had found three spare seats further down. I quickly took one of these, opposite Chris and Rupert. Amal, Michael and Dave found seats further down. Hot and a little exhausted, I settled back for the long and boring journey back to Genoa.

It was another two hours before we arrived back in Genoa and we then had to survive the long walk back to the hotel, so it was with great relief that I finally entered my room and collapsed onto the bed. We had agreed that the evening would work on the traditional Stammtisch format, so there was no set time by which we had to arrive at the American Bar for pre-meal drinks.

I was incredibly knackered, mainly due to lack of fluids on such a hot day, so I decided to get some sleep before getting ready to go out. Rupert also felt like resting up for a while, so we both relaxed and talked for a while.

Eventually, Rupert made a move for the shower. While he was getting ready, I tried to get some sleep, but without much success.

When Rupert finally emerged, ready for the evening out, I realised that it was time to make a move. From somewhere, I found a sudden burst of energy, and decided to throw Rupert onto his bed and then orm on top of him.

Expecting a soft landing, I was surprised when we carried on falling straight through the bed. We hit the floor with a bang, but I was more shocked by the fact that we had seemingly broken Rupert's bed.

We quickly extracted ourselves from the wreckage and removed the matress so that we could take a look at the damage. It wasn't as bad as we had first thought. The bed consisted simply of a metal frame with small planks of wood stretched across it that fit into slots in the metal. None of the planks seemed to be broken so it was just a question of getting them back into the slots.

This turned out to be easier said than done. The wood didn't seem flexible enough to bend into the frame and after a while we gave up. Eventually, with Rupert prising open the metal frame and me inserting the planks into the slots we managed to fix it. Panic over, I headed for the shower and prepared myself for the Stammtisch and final meal.

The genius of the stammtisch format is that you can arrive at any time within the stammtisch window, so when Rupert and I were ready to go, we set off without checking on the others. I was fairly certain that they would have left before us, and this was confirmed when we reached reception and noticed that the keys to the other rooms had been deposited.

With the Little Lucky Leprechaun in my pocket, we set off once again on the trek to the far side of the harbour, but this time I was in high spirits. The last evening of the break is a great occasion, comprising the Stammtisch, the final meal and the draw, and I was really looking forward to getting the evening underway. Rupert and I chatted excitedly as we made our way to the Stammtisch location, and the journey didn't seem quite so arduous as before.

As we drew nearer to the American Bar, Rupert and I began to search for the others. Rupert thought he noticed Dave at one of the tables on the upper level near the bar, but changed his mind when he realised the figure was wearing a shirt. I chuckled at this, but as we got closer, it turned out that the person was indeed Dave, and he was wearing a shirt.

We soon joined Dave, Chris, Michael and Amal, who had indeed all arrived before us, and greeted them in the traditional way. They already had drinks in front of them and Rupert and I helped ourselves to the generous supply of nibbles as we waited to be served. We were also offered the last two mini paninis, a new feature that seemed to have arrived with the cocktails. They were a little cold having been on the table for a while, but still far superior to the paninis we had been fobbed off with at Shaftissimo on day one.

It was not long before the waiter arrived and we ordered another round of drinks. Chris, Michael and Amal opted for cocktails, Dave and Rupert for beer, and I went for a coke. More nibbles arrived, including another plate of mini paninis. The Stammtisch was a fine occasion and we opted for one more round of drinks before making our move to the restaurant for the final meal.

As we left the American Bar, it was with some sadness, since it was unlikely that we would be back. It had proved a fine chilling area and had worked well as a Stammtisch location.

On the way to the restaurant, we passed the weird statue that we had first seen on the first day. Chris commented on how ugly the thing was. I replied that he had had worse. Chris nodded and replied that it was harsh but true.

We soon arrived at our choice of restaurant, the outdoor pizzeria that we had spotted that first evening. A waitress greeted us and showed us to a table at the far side.

Amal sat down at the head of the table, with me to his right and Michael to his left. Rupert sat next to me, with Chris opposite him and Dave to his right at the opposite end of the table from Amal. The Little Lucky Leprechaun and Shaft took their places at the centre of the table.

An excited discussion was well underway when the waiter arrived to take our order. When Dave continued speaking, the waiter shouted at him to be quiet. Dave turned to him and said 'Don't have a cow, mate!'. This caused much hillarity. The waiter then began an argument with Dave over who spoke the most languages. Dave claimed that he had won by claiming to speak Tibetan.

The argument over, we all ordered pizzas. Amal, Michael and I went for the seafood pizza. We also ordered a litre of white wine and a litre of red, with a coke for me.

With the order dealt with, it was time for the first of the evening's rituals. Michael took a paper and pen that he had brought with him and wrote the names Steve and Little Lucky Leprechaun on two pieces of paper. These were then folded and placed into a glass along with four blank pieces of paper. We then took turns to draw a piece of paper from the glass. I was disappointed to draw a blank. Amal was even more disappointed when he drew the Little Lucky Leprechaun and would have to take control of him during the main draw. Michael was drawn to play the part of Steve.

Next, Michael wrote the numbers 1 to 7 on more pieces of paper and then folded these into the glass. We took turns to draw a number. I drew a 5, which meant that I would be the fifth person to reveal my destination. I would also be the fourth person to draw a destination from the glass, since that would be done in reverse order of revealing.

When two carafes of wine (one red, one white) and my coke arrived, we decided to begin with the first destination. Rupert indicated that he held the number 1, and so would be the first to go. He stated that, on his skiing holiday the previous winter, he had flown into a very interesting looking city that he would like to revisit. His choice would therefore be:


Michael and I quickly pointed out that he had actually flown into Geneva. Rupert, who was a little wasted, didn't seem to mind and opted to stick with his choice.

There followed a short debate as to whether we should immediately reveal the next destination, and it was decided to go ahead. Second to reveal would be Steve, played on this occasion by Michael. Before we had left for Genoa, Steve had given Michael an envelope with his choices of destination, and Michael now opened it and removed the note. It read:


My destinations in order of preference:

Malmo (Southern Sweden. Can get to Copenhagen in 30 mins via bridge) Berlin—need I give reasons? Tampere (Finland) Near lakes—good for countryside. Nice city for culture/restaurants. I feel I have selected destinations in keeping with the winter/Xmas break mood.


and Michael read this out in a comedy Geordie accent. Steve had come to the conclusion that Sweden, with all the resulting line penetrations, and the possibility of an excursion to Copenhagen, would be a great choice for the winter break so his final selection was:


There followed a short break in the ritual while the food was delivered. Amal, Michael and I were very pleased with our seafood pizzas. They were rather large and absolutely covered in various different types of fish and shellfish. The waiter also delivered another two carafes of wine. Michael couldn't believe it and began to realise that we had probably overdone it with the wine.

Dave seemed to be having some more banter with the waiter, who ended up bringing a rather nice looking waitress over to meet us. She had a brief chat with Dave and then left.

Before we tucked into our food, we decided that there was time to reveal the next destination. This honour fell to Amal, who said simply 'My choice is BERLIN. There's no explanation needed.'.

I was amazed that Amal had finally chosen a decent destination, though a little suspicious that he had been coached by Michael. Anyway, so far so good. Three destinations revealed and all of them good.

As I tucked into my pizza, which didn't disappoint, Dave, who was eager to press ahead with the revealing decided to reveal his choice. He said that he had enjoyed his visit to a Southern European destination so much that he would like to visit another one, so he had chosen:


I glanced at Michael in disgust. The first poor destination had entered the draw.

Having nearly finished my pizza, and it being my turn to reveal next, I launched into my speech. It was well known that I had a long standing pact with Steve that we would each put Copenhagen into the draw at alternate destinations. I had decided to hold true to this pact, so my choice would be:


We decided to take a time out at this point to finish our pizzas. The seafood pizza was incredibly good, but proved to be a little too much in the end. I managed to finsh most of it, but had to leave a small amount of the topping. The waiter arrived to clear our plates and we ordered desserts—a mixture of tiramisus and tartufos.

Attention then turned to Michael, who would reveal next. He told us that he had thought hard about his choice, and had come up with something that would work well as a winter break. He informed us that it had a Christmas market and sounded similar to Salzburg. His choice was:


Another good choice. The draw was weighted heavily in favour of something good. Only Chris was left now, and so we waited eagerly, though with a little trepidation, for him to reveal his destination.

Chris admitted that he had not given much thought to his choice. He was therefore going for something that had been in the draw before, and sounded as though it would be quite good. He had opted for:


I suppose it could have been worse. In fact, I had on occasion been tempted to choose it myself, but whether it should immediately follow Genoa, I was doubtful.

It now only remained for us to select a choice for the Little Lucky Leprechaun. As usual, he could choose a city, country or region that would be decided by popular assent. We discussed the options and narrowed it down to a choice between Holland and Norway, which Dave said that he would be happy with as long as we didn't go to Oslo, which he thought would be rubbish. After much debate, the Leprechaun eventually went for:


The draw was complete. Not a bad selection all told, with only Seville that I was really unhappy about.

Our thoughts on the forthcoming draw were interrupted by the arrival of our desserts. The waiter seemed to be laughing as he delivered Dave's tiramisu. It soon became apparent why. The waiter had arranged two ice cream cones on top of the tiramisu so that they looked like a pair of comedy breasts. We all found this rather amusing, if a little surreal. Hillarity over, I tucked into my tartufo.

Next up was a new regular feature of the draw, Kurt's Veto round. Everyone (with the exception of the Little Lucky Leprechaun) would have the option to put forward one destination that they didn't like for Kurt to veto. If any destination received three or more votes, then Kurt would use his veto and remove that destination from the draw.

It was time for the first of many live telephone link-ups with Steve in Newcastle. Rupert generously allowed Michael to use his phone for the call. Michael gave Steve a quick summary of the destinations in the draw and asked if he would like to put any of them forward for veto. He declined. Michael passed the phone to me and I congratulated Steve on his choice of Malmo. We just had time to share our hopes for Copenhagen winning before ending the call.

Michael began to hand around pieces of paper for everyone to write down the destination they wished to see vetoed. I decided that Seville had to go and wrote this down.

We folded our slips and dropped them into a glass. Michael then shook the glass and began to count the votes in the style of the ITV reality television show Survivor. He drew each piece of paper, revealed it to the rest of us and read out the destinations voted for. It went something like this:


What a disappointment. It was looking good after Seville had received two votes, but it seemed that only Michael, Dave and I had the courage to use our votes. Michael had joined me in selecting Seville, while Dave had rather wasted his vote on Malmo. The reasoning seemed to be that he didn't want to visit Copenhagen by the back door.

Drama over, it was time to move on to the rehearsal draw. Rupert immediately complained that the rehearsal was not really necessary and was simply a waste of time. However, as Michael began to fold the pieces of paper ready for the rehearsal, Rupert began to ask all sorts of questions about what should happen during the draw and hence proving the value of having a rehearsal.

The glass containing the destinations was shaken and then handed to Amal who drew first on behalf of the Little Lucky Leprechaun. He drew Zurich. Rupert made a rather poor job of a Barthez. Chris was next and he eliminated Berlin. Michael eliminated Seville and I followed that with Lisbon. At this point things were looking good and I began to wish that this was the actual draw. Dave took the glass next and threw the cat among the pigeons by eliminating Copenhagen. The glass passed to Amal for his own go and he eliminated Heidelberg before Michael, last to go, eliminated Malmo. Rupert revealed Norway as the winner and the Little Lucky Leprechaun celebrated with a Shearer.

At this point, the espressos arrived. The waiter had a tray with all the drinks on, but for some reason took only one cup and came over with it. He approached Dave saying, 'This is for you', just as he pretended to trip and spilled the cup over Dave. The cup turned out to be empty. Another great gag from our waiter.

As the waiter served the rest of the espressos, he noticed that something was going on with all the paper strewn over the table, and asked what we were up to. Dave, his new friend, made a feeble attempt to explain, but soon gave up claiming that it was complicated.

Once we all had our coffees, we settled back for The Draw. The whole break had been building to this point and in the next few minutes, the destination for Mission Six would be decided. We were suitably apprehensive.

With great ceremony, we all shook the glass until, finally, it was passed to Amal. On behalf of the Little Lucky Leprechaun, he eliminated:


Disaster. The Little Lucky Leprechaun consoled himself with a Barthez, while I lamented the loss of a great destination.

Second to go was Chris. He improved the outlook by eliminating:


Michael was next and he drew:


The draw was now going extremely well. Both Southern European destinations gone. I would now be happy with whatever ended up winning.

The glass passed to me and I eliminated:


I felt a little guilty at eliminating Steve's destination. In view of our pact, it seemed like a betrayal.

It was now Dave's turn and he eliminated:


A pity. I had been quite looking forward to going there. Things had become very exciting though, with only three destinations left and Copenhagen still going. The tension was mounting as the draw approached its climax.

Amal took the glass for his own draw and eliminated:


It was strange how many times someone had eliminated their own destination.

The tension was now unbearable. Two destinations left, and still Copenhagen was in the running. I was really excited and starting to believe that this was the one. It seemed a shame that Steve would not be there to witness Copenhagen's eventual victory, but I knew that he would soon get over it.

Michael took the glass for his turn and removed a piece of paper. Rupert then removed the final piece, ready to reveal the winner. As the tension mounted, Michael eliminated:


I was gutted. Another second place. So close, only to fall at the final hurdle again. In the subdued atmosphere, Rupert revealed the winner as:


Michael celebrated with a Shearer and I announced, in the style of Terry Wogan, that it was Heidelberg next time.

It seemed strange to be unhappy with Heidelberg, since I was sure that it would make a great destination. However, with Copenhagen yet again coming so close, I couldn't help but be slightly disappointed.

We relaxed and discussed the possibilities for the next break while I attempted to get Rupert even more wasted than he already was by giving him the last of the red wine.

Eventually, it was time to go, so we paid the bill and left a generous tip. For once, there was no debate. We bade a fond farewell to our new friends as we departed, knowing that we probably would not be back.

Before setting off on the long walk back to the hotel, we paused for a group photo by the marina. Dave set the time delay on his camera and we all struck cool poses for the picture. Photos complete, we discussed plans for the rest of the evening. Michael and I were keen to make a final trip to the American Bar, but the others seemed ready for bed, so with great reluctance, we set off back.

As we began the long journey for the last time, Michael decided it was time for another phone call to Steve. Michael called him, using Rupert's phone again, and filled him in on the draw. Steve seemed disappointed that Copenhagen had not won, but was happy with the eventual result. This was followed by a drunken conversation with Chris, who was somewhat worse for wear, and then an equally drunken conversation with Rupert, who was also very wasted. Steve and I had a quick chat to console ourselves over Copenhagen's narrow failure.

Just as we were leaving the marina area, Michael commented that we had not yet managed a 'Stop telling me what to do!'. Dave seemed eager to remedy this and we decided to head for the old town and find some cones. A few yards behind us, by the main road, we discovered a whole line of traffic cones that we had somehow failed to spot earlier.

Since we had only managed one cone in Salzburg, I thought that we should now do two and thus work our way up again. Michael agreed. However, Dave, always eager for a spectacular demonstration, suggested that we take advantage of the abundance of cones and do as many as possible.

Somehow, Michael and I allowed ourselves to be persuaded. Amal immediately declared that he was not willing to pick up a cone or do any shouting, but was prepared to take the picture. Therefore, myself, Michael, Dave, Chris and Rupert all picked up cones and held them up like a speaker system and shouted 'Stop telling me what to do!', while Amal took the picture. This seemed to amuse a local tramp who was watching the whole incident.

We carried on with the long walk, passing the VW Building that had been the scene of so many shafts. I was exhausted and suggested that Rupert give me a piggy back. Rupert obliged, and picked me up. As he tried to take a few steps, it became clear that he was still extremely wasted. He staggered to the left into some railings and I worried that I was about to fall twenty feet onto the railway line. Deciding that it would be safer to walk, I asked Rupert to put me down.

It was not long before we arrived back at the hotel, where we quickly made our way back to the rooms. I said goodnight to the others and collapsed onto the bed. It had been a great evening, but now all that was left of the break was the journey home. It was with this cheerful thought that I fell asleep.

Wednesday, 28th May

We were woken by the alarm at about seven o'clock. For once, we didn't just switch it off and go back to sleep, knowing that we were not blessed with time that morning. Quickly, we got ready and made a start on the packing.

By the time the others were ready to go down to breakfast, Rupert and I had nearly finished our packing and decided to join them, leaving the rest until afterwards.

Breakfast on our final morning was rather disappointing. There was much less variety than on previous days and I, not being a great believer in the concept of breakfast anyway, didn't really bother with it. I remained unimpressed with the general standard of the breakfasts at the Columbus Sea Hotel.

After the shortest breakfast of the break, lasting only about thirty minutes, we left the restaurant and made our way back to the rooms. Chris and Dave stopped off at reception to order a beast five person taxi to take us to the airport.

It didn't take Rupert and I long to finish packing our cases and we soon left the room and made our way back to reception. We joined the others and checked out of the hotel before sitting down in the foyer to await the taxi.

After several minutes, the taxi had not arrived and we were getting a little worried. The receptionist assured us that it was on the way, but we could see a shafting in progress. Amal, Michael and I continued to wait in the foyer while the others wandered outside to see if they could find the taxi.

We were beginning to contemplate alternative arrangements when Rupert ran inside to inform us that it had finally arrived. We quickly carried our cases outside and loaded them into the cab before jumping into the back for the short ride to the airport.

Check-in was not busy and we soon made our way through to the departure gate. I accompanied Rupert on his traditional search for some whiskey at the duty free shop. He made a few purchases before we returned to the others.

There was just time to complete the tabulus which showed us who owed whom at the end of the break. As ususal, Rupert was a major creditor, with Chris and Dave the chief debtors. We all agreed to settle up when we returned home.

As the departure lounge was getting busy, and a queue seemed to be building, even though the flight wasn't anywhere near to boarding, we decided to wander over and join it. Michael and I left the others to worry about this while we took a quick pot stop, knowing that it would be a while before we would be able to take another one.

There was quite a delay, during which time we were not given any information, before it was announced that our plane would finally be boarding. Immediately, all pretense of order broke down. Suddenly the charge was on to get on the plane. Rupert, Amal and I couldn't be bothered with pushing people out of the way and we drifted to the rear. Michael, Dave and Chris managed to get themselves further to the front and we hoped that they would save us some seats when they had boarded.

For ages we seemed to be getting nowhere, but finally we made it onto the plane and set about locating the others. We finally clocked them towards the rear of the plane, where they had reserved a block of six seats. Rupert made for the rear row, beside the window, and I followed him, taking the middle seat. Chris took the aisle seat. On the row in front, Dave had the window, Amal the middle seat and Michael the aisle seat.

As the plane prepared for take-off, Michael and I made the usual comments that it was still Genoa, Genoa was still happening and that it was Heidelberg next time.

When we finally lifted off the runway, we declared that Genoa was over, though the Genoa Experience would go on, and it was Heidelberg next time.

After a two hour flight, during which I managed a quick doze, we landed back at Stansted and made our way through passport control to baggage reclaim. Eventually our bags arrived and we exited through customs.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to two of our number. Dave and Chris would be taking the train back to Cambridge and so would not be travelling any further with us. We shook hands and promised that there would be more opportunities to meet up later.

The remaining four of us walked out to the front of the terminal where we caught a bus back to the car park. It was an extremely warm day and we noticed a lot of people sunbathing on the grass around the terminal building, which seemed slightly weird.

When the driver shouted for bus stop 14, we requested a stop, finding ourselves back at the same stop where we had been shafted a few days earlier. Michael was pleased to see that the car was still there. We loaded the bags and then I took the passenger seat, with Michael driving and Rupert and Amal in the back.

The journey back to Amal's house was slightly subdued as we all began to come down from the weekend away. It took a little over an hour to get back to Amal's and Michael suggested that we get some lunch before heading off. The others agreed so Amal took us to a rather nice pub in Boreham Wood. We had an hour or two of chilling and a fine meal, which Amal then announced that he would pay for. Michael and I protested that this was too generous, but Amal responded with, 'Get over it, man!'.

After leaving the pub, we drove to Boreham Wood station, where it was time to say farewell to another of our number. Rupert would be taking the Thameslink into London to catch a train home from there. It was sad to say goodbye to Rupert since I had seen more of him than any of the others on the break, but for another of the Colonel's men, the Genoa Experience was over.

The farewells were coming thick and fast and it was not long before we had returned Amal to his house and found ourselves having to say goodbye to him as well. We managed to postpone the inevitable for a few moments by wandering into his lounge and having a look around, but in the end we had to leave. For another of the Colonel's men, the Genoa Experience was over.

I was feeling really deflated by this time, now that there were only Michael and me left. We quickly made it back to the M25 and were soon cruising along the M4 back to my house. The journey was uneventful but fortunately brief.

I carried my case up to the front door and unlocked it, entering the lounge. Everything was as I had left it three days ago. Michael had decided to stay for a while so I made us pints of milkshake as we had a final chat about the holiday.

All too soon, he decided that it was time for him to make his way home. The journey would take him another hour and a half or so and he wanted to be home at a reasonable hour. I reluctantly agreed and walked him out to his car. As I waved him off, I realised that the Genoa Experience was over.

Now totally deflated, I returned to the lounge and collapsed onto the settee. I began to reflect on the break. Genoa was certainly not the nicest city that we had been to. Far from it. But the experience had been a fantastic one, not to be forgotten. As the depression washed over me, I consoled myself with one thought:

It's Heidelberg next time!