Category Archives: Europe

National Pizza Day (USA)

February 9th in the USA is National Pizza Day. 

First, the facts…

… Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.

Read the full story Here…

 

Greek A to Ω – Α (Alpha) is for Αθήνα or Athens

The top of the Acropolis is huge but there isn’t really a lot to see, no statues, no paintings, no exhibits, but a rather barren archaeological site in the thirtieth year of its restoration with tens of thousands of pieces lying strewn in the dust and long since stripped of its treasures, a stark marble ruin surrounded by ancient brick and concrete, so once a full circuit has been completed, although it felt as though I should stay longer the truth is there is not a lot to stay around for.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Read the Full Story Here…

Recycled Posts – The Wedding Party

The picture was in 1906, only fifty years or so before I was born  but in a Merchant Ivory sort of way reveals a completely different way of life to the 1950s separated as they are by two World Wars and a global economic depression.

Edward VII was King, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the Liberal Prime Minister and Keir Hardy was leader of the Labour Party with only twenty-nine seats in the House of Commons.  Australia and Canada were Dominions of the British Empire, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the USA and across Europe Kings and Queens still ruled.

Read the full story Here…

Sicily – An Art Exhibition and a Religious Procession

Our final afternoon in Ortigia and we had by now made our way around the island and and I am certain about this, walked  every street but there remained one last thing to do.  To visit the World Heritage site, fortified castle situated at the very southern end of the island promontory.

To get there we walked along the seafront which I found all rather odd, surely this was one of the best spots in the town with sweeping views over the sea to the west.  This was the place for big fine hotels, tourist apartments and swanky bars but not a bit of it.  The buildings along this stretch were all run down, many abandoned and boarded up and most in a state of serious disrepair.  I came to the conclusion that there must surely be plans for them and someone somewhere was preparing for  a programme of restoration and renewal.  Quite possibly restrictive planning and development rules are slowing down the process, this is after all a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

This is what happens when regulation kicks in.  

After passing the neglected buildings and crossing a curious piece of wasteland (curious because almost everywhere else in Ortigia is developed and built on) we came to the entrance to the fortress. 

The entrance fee was €8 and I have been known to walk away from an €8 entrance fee.  I might have done so today especially as we had already walked through the museum before arriving at the pay desk so there was an opportunity there to walk back out, but on this occasion decided to splash the cash.  

The inside was quite interesting if you like castles but parts of the interior were closed which is often an issue when visiting historical sites out of main season which is a more convenient time to carry out maintenance so we walked the walls and eventually came across an art exhibition in the castle vaults.

Here was a stroke of luck because Italian sculpture and Italian artist Davide Dall’Osso had an interesting exhibition display. Dall’Osso experiments with light and shade and the exhibition consisted of a number of transparent polycarbonate studies which certainly made best use of the location and the sunlight through the windows.

I am no art expert so I rely on this passage from his website which seeks to explain his work…

“Light, which shapes the transparent matter of his works and continuously redefines forms and emotional boundaries. The circular economy with the reuse of industrial waste of polycarbonate and plexiglas for the realisation of his works. Transparency, allowing oneself to be crossed and modified by light, metamorphosis, are the main colours of Dall’Osso’s sculptural language, which he expresses more through the fusion of polycarbonates.”

I liked it and we stayed around for sometime watching the shifting light and shadows as the sun moved around the castle building.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Walking back to the apartment we couldn’t help noticing that there was a lot more activity than usual, litter bins were being emptied for a second time today, the streets were being swept again and a gang of men were filling holes in the roads with tarmac.  There were more police than usual and temporary signs warning motorists not to park or risk having their cars towed away.  Clearly something was taking place and this was the preparation. stage. 

I asked a policeman what was going on and he seemed surprised that we didn’t know that today was The Feast of The Immaculate Conception and that early in the evening there was to be a big procession.  As it turned out today was a holiday all over Italy and other Catholic countries too in celebration of the Virgin Mary.  So that explained why the streets had been busier than usual all day long.

Festa dell’Immacolata is celebrated throughout Italy on 8th December. The day recognises that the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived without original sin – something with which, in Catholic dogma, every person is considered to have been born.  Most of us have been making up for it ever since of course.

By Pontifical decree, it is the Patronal feast day of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Philippines, Spain, the United States, and Uruguay. By royal decree of King John IV (1640-56), it is designated as the day honouring the patroness of Portugal.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse takes place in the Giudecca district where the Church of San Filippo Apostolo is located right where we were staying and after further enquiries we established that it would pass directly below our balcony.  How lucky was that, we were going to miss the Feast of Saint Lucy in three days time but tonight we were going to see the big one.

So we opened a bottle of wine and took up our front row seats and waited.  Bang on time the drumming started and the band began to play.  The Church was less than a hundred yards away so the procession soon reached the corner of our street and the statue of Virgin Mary came into view carried on the broad shoulders of a dozen or so strong men.  Even so the statue is so heavy (250 kilo or thereabouts) they have to stop every twenty yards or so, set it down on stout stakes whilst they draw breath.  On account of these frequent stops the parade took twenty minutes or so to pass by and we enjoyed every minute of it.

It was a wonderful way to finish the holiday.

Cheapskate Travel – Part Two

Commenting on a recent post, a long term blogging pal of mine (who knows me so well) suggested that I am a cheapskate traveller.  I am so proud of this, it is like getting the Leaping Wolf badge in the cub scouts or the elementary swimming certificate at primary school…

Moving on…

…In Cheapskate Travel Part One I took a look at complimentary shampoos and shower gels and such like in modern day hotel bathrooms.  Today I turn my attention to complimentary sachets of sauce and mayonnaise etc. in pubs and restaurants.  Some people might say that these are not complimentary or ‘freebies’ in the strictest of interpretations but I am going to include them anyway.

The sort of place that I eat out in don’t have tablecloths or silver cutlery, they don’t have salt and pepper pots or side dishes with a range of accompaniments they have little sachets of sauces and mayonnaise and all sorts of exciting little packets to experiment with.

Mostly these are made available in a big heap next to the door so whenever I go to one of these places I make sure that I get my fair share.  They really come in useful for days out and picnics and for a few days away at the caravan and stop having to cart lots of stuff around from the kitchen and the fridge.

I especially like the little jars of marmalade and jams that hotels make available for breakfast and always make sure that I take a few away with me from the dining room.

One time we stayed in a hotel in Thetford in Norfolk,  The Bell Inn, or rather we didn’t stay there because it was so bad, really, really bad, that we refused to sleep there.  Despite my complaints the hotel charged us anyway for bed and breakfast and we went elsewhere for a room only arrangement and paid again.  That really hurt I can tell you.  My wallet pocket was aching that night.

In the morning we wondered what to do about breakfast and as we had already paid for the rubbish Bell Inn in Thetford, that is the Bell Inn in Thetford in Norfolk by the way, we went back and ate as much breakfast as we possibly could and took away a bag full of marmalade and preserves which came in useful over the next few days on a caravan holiday in Kessingland in Suffolk with my grandchildren.

Every cloud…

 

 

Cheapskate Travel – Part One

Commenting on a recent post, a long term blogging pal of mine (who knows me so well) suggested that I am a cheapskate traveller.  I am so proud of this, it is like being nominated for an award at the Oscars, like winning an Olympic Gold Medal, like getting a mention in the New Year’s Honours List.

It reminded me of this post that I put up first in February 2014…

Complimentary Shampoo and Shower Gel…

“I still enjoy travelling a lot. I mean, it amazes me that I still get excited in hotel rooms just to see what kind of shampoo they’ve left me.”  –  Bill Bryson

Read the full story Here…

Sicily – Trouble With Traffic

“To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it!”  –  John Steinbeck

By the third day we had used up the breakfast supplies that we had bought on day one in the street market so we needed more.  Having convinced ourselves that we had paid a premium price at the market and having identified a LIDL supermarket barely two miles away we walked there instead.

This involved crossing the bridge over the water again and venturing once more into the untidy side of the city which involved a very dangerous walk along an abandoned industrial site with crumbling buildings and potholed streets.  An area which once provided employment but now nothing, not even hope.

Road construction in Sicily it seems makes little or no provision for pedestrians and there is an almost complete absence of pavements which requires those on foot to take their chances at the side of the road or in the intermittent cycle lanes which provides little help at all because motorists just drive along them regardless.

In Italy, traffic regulations currently in force were approved by the Legislative Decree number 285 of 30th April 1992 and are contained in the Italian Highway Code called the Codice della Strada, but anyone visiting a busy Italian city or town would be certain to dispute that there is such a thing as traffic regulations or a highway code in Italy.

Crossing the road is especially dangerous, there are pedestrian crossings but they haven’t been repainted since Mussolini was in charge and car drivers just ignore them.  Local people seem to have the hang of it, they just step boldly out into the road, look straight ahead and ignore the obvious danger

The only exception to this is nun’s.  Italian drivers will not hit a nun – you see groups of them breezing across eight lane highways with amazing impunity, so if you wish to cross some busy place your only hope is to wait for some nuns to come along and stick to them…” – Bill Bryson

Italy it has to be said has some insanely different driving rules to the rest of Europe and the traffic was murderously busy and dangerously hectic along this stretch of road.

Here is a general speed limit of fifty kilometres an hour but Italians generally ignore that and this is the second problem – the drivers –  because, in my opinion,  one of the biggest mistakes in the development of the modern world was to introduce the Italians to the motor car.

Italian drivers obey no rules and have no self-control, no manners or tolerance; junction priorities mean nothing because show a moment of hesitation and this is interpreted as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to pull-out, cut you up or just simply push in.  They are impatient and, show a split-second of indecision and they go for their car horn like a trigger-happy wild-west gunslinger.  At a junction or a roundabout the Italian driver narrows his eyes and flashes a ‘do you feel lucky punk’ sort of glare while his right foot hovers menacingly over the accelerator pedal.

Traffic lights are another good example of these different rules because each one resembles the starting grid of a formula one grand prix. 

At an Italian traffic junction there is an intolerant confusion of cars all impatiently throbbing with engines growling, exhaust pipes fuming and clutch plates sizzling whilst behind the wheel the drivers blood pressure reaches somewhere beyond boiling point. 

A regard for the normal habits of road safety is curiously absent so although the traffic light colours are the same as elsewhere they mean completely different things.  Red means slow down, amber means go and green means ‘pedal to the metal‘  At a junction an Italian driver simply points his car at the exit he is aiming for and five seconds before the lights go green he shuts his eyes, presses the accelerator to the floor then races forward and may God have mercy on anything or anyone in his way.

If the normal rules of driving do not apply here then the normal rules associated with parking definitely are completely irrelevant.  But it does look like great fun.  Sometimes there is a small and hopelessly inadequate car park full of impatient drivers looking for non-existing parking spaces, blowing their horns, waving their arms and shouting at each other in that classic Italian driving style.  

More from Bill Bryson…

I love the way Italians park… it looks like a parking competition for blind people.  Cars are pointed in every direction, half on the pavements and half off, facing in, facing sideways… fitted into spaces so tight that the only way out would be through the sun roof.  Italians park their cars the way I would park if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap.” 

So, we completed our shopping and as we suspected it was a whole lot cheaper than the street market by as much as 40% in our estimation and we had the bonus of sensibly priced bottles of wine.

But now we had to carefully negotiate our return journey, this time with shopping bags.  We were so glad to cross the bridge and get back to relatively normal traffic conditions and as we passed the cathedral we said a quiet thank you to whoever it was that had been watching over and taking care of us…

 

 

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