Category Archives: Arts and Crafts

Sicily – The Streets of Ortigia

The streets of Ortigia are a labyrinth of the unexpected and a treasure chest of discovery, something new and exciting at every twist and turn…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery… 

Sicily – I like a Kettle but Kim prefers a Washing Line

When travelling to Europe We have given up on hotels and preferred instead to stay in apartments.  They are generally cheaper, offer more space and are chock full of facilities.

I especially like that they have a separate bedroom from the kitchen and living accommodation because I generally wake first , sometimes over an hour or so before Kim and in a hotel room I am reluctant to get up and make a cup of tea for fear of disturbing here.  Many hotels in Europe don’t even have tea making facilities, so there is another consideration but in an apartment there is always a separate kitchen and a kettle.

The apartment  in Ortigia was brilliant for this even though I felt a little guilty that this was suitable family rooms converted to tourist accommodation.  A different debate that I won’t go into here.

Anyway, to get to the point, Kim especially likes washing machines and if the apartment has one makes a point of washing our clothes and hanging them out to dry in the Mediterranean way even if they don’t really need it.

Saint Joan of Arc and the Risk of Cross Dressing

I interrupt my sequence of posts about my visit to Sicily with another Saint tale…

The French seem to take this ladies wearing trousers thing rather seriously and after November 1800 it was technically illegal for a woman to wear trousers in Paris without a police permit.  Just over a century ago, exceptions were introduced for women riding horses or bicycles. Otherwise, the by-law remained in force.

Read the full story here…

Sicily – Ancient Greece and The Weeping Madonna

Pope Pius XII, in a radio broadcast on October 17, 1954

“. . . we acknowledge the unanimous declaration of the Episcopal Conference held in Sicily on the reality of the event. Will men understand the mysterious language of those tears?

I will come to this later in the post.  It is important…

Anyway, to start the story, from about 54BC Syracuse was developed as a Greek City, the biggest and the most important in the Western Mediterranean 

Two hundred years later under the tyrant Dionysius, Syracuse became the most splendid, most prosperous and the best fortified of all Greek cities.  The thought of tyrants mystifies me, why don’t people challenge them.  In 2023 there are fifty-seven tyrants in charge, mostly in Africa and the Middle East but the worst of all is Vladimir Putin.

Anyway, under Dionysius the naval power of Syracuse was vastly increased until its fleet was the most powerful in all of the Mediterranean.

Not surprising then that there is a lot of architecture to explore and plenty of archaeological ruins to see.

There were some to see in Ortigia but our intention today was to cross the bridge and make our way through the main city area to an archaeological site about a mile and a half away.

Suddenly there was a great contrast.  Ortigia is the historical centre of the city and is generally clean, tidy and well maintained but the street cleaning budget is not so generous once over the water.

We made our way to the site through a web of neglected streets that were untidy and grubby, not really somewhere to dwell, so bad that Kim wasn’t even inclined to linger in the main shopping street of the city and then along a busy road where the pavement was overgrown with weeds and thistles and eventually to the intended destination.

Almost immediately we were less than thrilled and as we walked to the ticket office we looked down on the ruins and were not impressed and over a coffee we debated whether or not to pay the admission price and go inside.  We decided against it for the following reasons…

1   The visitor reviews were mostly negative

2   The staff seemed most unhappy and unhelpful

3   We had to pay to use the toilets

4   Most of it was visible from the roadside anyway, no need to go in

5   It was €10 each admission

6   We had seen Greek ruins before in Sicily which were much better

This is Segesta on the west of the island near Palermo…

Read the Story about Segesta Here…

So, we left the disappointing ruins and made our way back to the city centre and specifically to the Church Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears, I’ll say that again, the Church Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears.  A massive and ugly construction built on the premise of a Marian Apparition*.

Now, this is the very unlikely story…

Sometime ago in Tuscany plaster plaques were  mass-produced and shipped to Syracuse for retail. One of the plaques was purchased as a wedding gift.  After it had hung in the humble home of a local family rather conveniently the image unexpectedly began to  shed tears for four whole days. 

Sent by the Pope himself an ecclesiastical tribunal scrupulously studied the plaque and had the tears scientifically examined and promptly declared it a true miracle.

It has been said that never has a miracle been so thoroughly investigated, nor approved so quickly.  I wonder if they had a structural survey of the house to see if the roof was leaking?

 

In a very short space of time there were reports of almost three hundred miracle healings, three hundred! attributed to the weeping Madonna and the Church and the City were quite clear on this matter and agreed to an appropriate construction to commemorate it.

The rather bizarre shape of the building was designed to represent a tear fallen from heaven and today the church is the destination of many faithful and pilgrims coming from all over the world.  Not many believers there today I have to report.  Actually only one.  We visited it of course (free admission) wandered around, saw the famous icon which wasn’t weeping today as it happened and compared it to the Holy Shrine of Knock in Ireland which is based on a similar unlikely story.

This is the Holy Shrine of Knock…

We were happy to leave the Shrine and the City and make our way back to the island of  Ortigia.  We didn’t like it there especially and wouldn’t be going back unless a miracle occurred.

Very Unlikely.

We crossed back over the bridge and the contrast was immediately there again.  How odd that one hundred yards or so can make such a difference.  We walked around the fishing port where weary fishermen were enjoying a well earned lunch break and ambled our way to the main square of Ortigia under the shadows of the Doumo, found a bar with a table in the sunshine and settled back to enjoy an early afternoon glass of wine.

Later we returned to the apartment, sat on the balcony and had another.

I have more to tell about the Blessed Virgin Mary in a later post coming up soon.

* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported

More posts about a Marian Apparition…

Montserrat and the Black Madonna

The Royal Monastery at Guadalupe

Fatima in Portugal

The Holy Shrine at Knock

Sicily – Doors and Windows of Syracuse

“I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.”
― Elizabeth Taylor

I am always looking out for doors and windows to photograph and Syracuse did not disappoint…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

I do like doors, I really like doors, especially old doors, I speculate about their history, who passed through them and what stories they have to tell…

Sicily – The Cannoli

Cannoli are Italian pastries consisting of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling containing ricotta, a staple of Sicilian cuisine.  Delicious.

Whenever we stopped for morning coffee break it always involved a cannoli.

Image

Sicily – A Washing Line in Ortigia

Sicily – Lost in a Syracuse Street Maze

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe – Italian Journey

Looking for a short Winter break we decided upon Sicily. We had first visited the largest island in the Mediterranean in 2009 when we went to the capital Palermo and had a shared desire to go back and see more of the island.  The island of Passion, History, Garibaldi, Opera, Crime and an active Volcano.

We had booked flights for 2020 but Covid put paid to that and then again in early 2022 but Easyjet cancelled the flight out to Palermo.  The return flight from Catania remained operational so because of that we only got a 50% refund.  Undeterred we booked again for December this time to Catania there and back and a few days in the ancient Greek/Roman/Byzantine/Norman city of Syracuse. 

The early morning flight left at the scheduled time and approached Catania late in the morning and on its final descent passed surprisingly close to the volcano Mount Etna which is less than twenty miles from the city centre.  Not quite as close as Naples is to Mount Vesuvius at only thirteen miles but Etna at eleven thousand feet is almost three times as high and is in a near constant state of activity.  Rather like living next door to an unstable man with a loaded gun.

We had a sort of vague plan to visit the mountain but soon after arrival learnt that this may not be such a good idea in December because the peak was covered in snow, the railway line was blocked and it was bitterly cold and we didn’t have suitable clothing so we shrugged our shoulders and took the bus to Syracuse, forty miles away to the South.

Once on the bus we slipped out of Catania  through edge of city suburbs with streets and streets of unattractive apartments which looked as though they had been put up in a hurry at a time when neither style or good design was considered especially important. 

Like most of Sicily, Catania suffered greatly during the Allied invasion of 1943 and lack of finance, Government corruption and the influence of the Mafia has in some areas restricted the process of rebuilding and regeneration.  The Mafia took control of the post-war building contracts and skimmed off most of the money by cutting back on basic building standards.

The route through the city of Syracuse wasn’t especially promising and for me first impressions were  not that good.  Sicily is one of the poorest regions in all of Italy where those living below or close to the poverty line is as high as 40%.  Compare that with Aosta Valley in the north and neighbouring Switzerland where the figure is 0.1%.  Italy is a country of many contrasts.

From the bus terminal we had to walk a mile or so to our accommodation which was on the island of Ortigia which is the historical centre of the city and the modern day tourist area which is connected to the mainland by a couple of bridges.  Once across there was quite a transformation as suddenly everywhere seemed more cared for and wealthy and my early misgivings began to quickly ebb away.

After we had found the apartment, approved it and settled in I went off to do an important job – find a shop for some beer and wine so that we could sit and relax on the charming little balcony.  I found one quite easily, made the necessary purchases and then set off to return which turned out to be a problem because I had neglected to bring with me either a map or my phone and I couldn’t remember the street name that I needed. Whoops.

I estimated that it was barely five hundred yards away but I was hopelessly lost, completely disorientated and just couldn’t for the life of me remember the route back.  My mind had gone completely blank. I explored the deep holes of my memory, the crevices of my mind but there was nothing there.

Ortigia is built on a grid system inherited from the Ancient Greeks which I suppose in theory should make things easy but my problem was that every street looked exactly the same and I quickly became lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleyways. 

I realised the next day when I had finally got my bearings that at one point I was barely twenty yards away but I had turned around and tried again and repeated this mistake several times over.  A shopping quest that should have taken ten minutes by now had taken almost forty and I thought that I was surely destined to wander the streets of Ortigia for eternity.  

Racking my brains I suddenly remembered that the apartment was opposite a puppet museum so once I had found a direction sign it was plain sailing all the way, I found my way back, opened the wine and enjoyed an hour on the balcony in the delightful sunshine.

“Why have you been so long?” asked Kim

“Oh” I said ” It was a bit further than I thought”

My stress levels leaked away and returned to somewhere near normal.

 

A to Z of Postcards – Y is for Yorkshire

Top Ten Posts of 2022

As we leave 2022, please excuse my annual self-indulgent post to begin the new year as I peer through the keyhole to look back over the last one.

Ireland Inch Beach

The top ten most visited posts on my Travel Blog always surprise me but then I don’t pretend to understand how search engines work.  I say visited pages rather than read because I am neither so conceited or sufficiently naive to claim that a visit equals a read.  I know that a lot of people will arrive here by mistake and swiftly reverse back out via the escape button!

No. 1

Mount Vesuvius

 

I first posted this in March 2010 so this one has been around a while and with 722 hits and a thirteenth year in the Top Ten is becoming a stubborn stayer.  It is also No. 3 in all time page views with 19,400 recordings.  It has been viewed every month since first posted.

No. 2

Royal Garden Party

First posted in June 2009 the post has 552 hits in 2022, almost double the previous year and staying in the Top Ten for the fourteenth successive year which by that measure makes it my most successful post.

In total it has 23,750 visits which makes all time second after my post about  Norway, Haugesund and the Vikings at 24,722.  This one has been around for a long time ( since June 2009) and has always been popular especially around the Spring and Summer when invitations to the Royal Garden Party are going out and when people are wondering how to get one or what to wear if they have one.

Another post that has been visited every month since first published.

No. 3

Bratislava to Vienna Without a Passport

This post was from March 2022 and comes in with 400 hits, I cannot imagine why.  It links back to a much earlier post of December 2009 which was spectacularly unsuccessful…

Travel Issues – Forgotten Documents

No. 4

Catalonia – In Search of Norman Lewis

I must confess that I am rather pleased about this one.

I posted this in July 2013 and it first made the top ten in 2015 before dropping out the following year so I am glad to see it back again.

There are some posts that I have written that I would like people to read and this is one of few that have achieved that. Before visiting Catalonia in 2013 I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis which is an account of the Costa Brava in the 1940s and the approach of mass tourism.  In this post I attempted some research and some interpretation of the book and the area.  It has recorded 288 visits and in this case I like to think that this is because of the subject rather than the pictures.

Another post that has been visited every month since published.

No. 5

Turkey – A problem with Stray Dogs

Another maverick post this one.  I first put it up in July 2013 and it received a few hits but suddenly this year it has had regular visits and finishes the year with 288.

No. 6

Malta, Happiness and a Walk to Mellieha

I have written several posts about my visits to the island of Malta, this one is from May 2015. I consider some of them much more interesting than this one but where they have sunk without trace, this one just keeps on attracting hits.  280 hits in 2022 and seventh successive year in the top ten.

No 7

Streets of Naples

I visited Naples in April 2018.  Recently In February 2022 I  editing my pictures and sharedethese images of an exciting and eclectic city that I hadn’t used before in my posts…

268 hits this year.

No. 8

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Antoni Gaudi

This is the ninth successive year in my top ten for my post about the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.  After I had taken a look at the official Twelve Treasures of Spain I thought it might be fun to draw up my own personal alternative list.  I included Antoni Gaudi in a general rather than a specific way.  I posted this in March 2013 and this year with 256 visits it has risen one place to number eight.

This is another post that has been visited every month since posting and with a total of 7.,456 recorded hits is number 7 in my all time list.

No 9

Poland (Wroclaw), The Anonymous Pedestrians

This is another post that I am happy to see in the top ten with 360 visits.  I wrote this in March 2014 after visiting the Polish city of Wroclaw and finding the street statues of the Anonymous Pedestrians.

The statues are a memorial to the introduction of martial law in Poland on December 13th 1981 and the thousands of people who disappeared (‘went underground’) in the middle of the night courtesy of the militia. In a symbolic statement the fourteen statues were erected in the middle of the night in 2005 on the twenty-fourth anniversary of the introduction of martial law.

A total of 248 hits in 2022 and with visitors every month since originally posted.

No !0

The Island of Hvar

Published in January 2022 and has 242 hits.  I can offer no explanation why.

If you have read one of these posts or any of the 3,200 others on my site ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’then thank you from the bottom of my heart!  I guess it proves that George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) was right when he said: “The three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”  

Total visits in 2022 – 48,500

Total visits all time – 1,147,447

Countries where most visitors come from – UK, USA, India, Australia, and Spain.

Most viewed picture in 2022…

A little disappointing, I like to think I have posted one or two good pictures of my own during the year but most clicked is a picture of Casa Batlló  in Barcelona that I scanned in from my collection of postcards…

I would be interested to know about other people’s most popular posts in 2022 and the possible explanations why?  Comment and let me know.  I’m a sucker for statistics!