Category Archives: Travel

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…

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 – 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 – The Unlikely Story of Saint Lucy

The Doumo Square is probably the very best part of Ortigia,  claimed by Sicilians to be one of the most beautiful in all of Italy, the elegant piazza stretches in an oval shape that caresses the Doumo,  dazzling white of alabaster and marble and flanked by grand aristocratic Palaces and the magnificent Cathedral.  Even though I have heard it before I certainly wouldn’t argue with that rather  extravagant claim.

Next to the Duomo is the Palazzo Senatorio, the city hall, built in the seventeenth century on the ruins of an Ionian temple. Opposite stands the Palace Benventano del Bosco, rebuilt at the end of the eighteenth century and to the right of the Duomo, the medieval Episcopal Palace.

We found it to be the perfect place to sit in the midday sun with a coffee and a cannoli, admire the architecture and people watch as folk strolled back and forth.

Naturally we visited the Doumo which has a long and complex history. 

The origins of a temple on the site date to prehistory. The great Greek Temple of Athena was built in the fifth century BC. The temple was a Doric edifice with six columns on the short sides and fourteen on the long sides. 

It probably looked something like this…

The Doric columns are still there because when the first Christian church was built there, the columns were incorporated into the structure, linking the worship of the past with that of the present.

Now it looks like this…

The columns make the Cathedral more interesting than it might otherwise be but most of all  I do like unlikely Saint stories and I was interested in the tale St. Lucy (Santa Lucia) who is the patron saint of Syracuse (St. Agnes is the patron saint of Sicily and St. Francis of Assisi  of all Italy, by the way).  I just mention that in case I get challenged.

Anyway, St. Lucy was a  virgin and a martyr who was one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, having a widespread following before the 5th century. Because of various traditions associating her name with light (Latin – Lux)  she came to be venerated as the patron of sight and the blind and was depicted by medieval artists carrying a dish containing her eyes.

Gift shops in Syracuse are full of Saint Lucy…

Not to be confused with Aunt Lucy…

Lucy came from a wealthy Sicilian family. Spurning marriage and worldly goods she vowed to remain a virgin in the tradition of St. Agatha. An angry suitor who was rejected  reported her to the local Roman authorities, who sentenced her to be removed to a brothel and forced into prostitution;  Romans were clearly not that tolerant of women’s rights it seems.   

According to legend this worldly order was thwarted by divine intervention.  Lucy became as immovable as a rock and could not be carried away, not even dragged away  by a team of oxen.  So she was next condemned to death by fire, but the wood to make the fire, again by divine intervention would not burn.

Finally, when all else failed she was stabbed in the neck through the jugular (I made that jugular bit up) with a sword and she was dead.  That seemed to work as well it might.  There are clearly limits to the power of divine intervention.

Lucy died in the year 304 at the age of twenty-one and was most likely a victim of the Christian purges carried out under orders of the then Emperor Diocletian,

She is venerated as a saint in the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox churches. She is one of eight women (including the Virgin Mary) explicitly commemorated by Catholics in the Canon of the Mass.   She is also the patron Saint of virgins.  She is one of the best known virgin martyrs, along with Agatha of Sicily, Agnes of Rome, Cecilia of Rome and Catherine of Alexandria.

The cathedral holds a number of supposed relics of St. Lucy, a number of bone fragments, a robe, a veil, and a pair of shoes.  Twice a year on the first Sunday in May and on 13th December on her feast day, a statue of Saint Lucy is brought out of the cathedral and paraded through the streets. The silver statue incorporates three fragments of her ribs within its chest. 

Rather a shame that we would miss that by just a couple of days.

The cathedral shares the Piazza Duomo with the now deconsecrated Church of Santa Lucia which is used these days for exhibitions and functions but which still resembles a church both inside and out and was well worth a visit so we stopped off there on the way back to the apartment.

In a small room (an ex chapel I guess) was an exhibition of artwork associated with Saint Lucy including a copy of ‘The Burial of Saint Lucy’ by Caravaggio which I am reliably informed is quite famous.

Other Unlikely Saint Stories…

St Edmund, the Patron Saint of Pandemics

Saint James and Santiago de Compostella

Saint Patrick and Ireland

Saint Spiridon and Corfu

The Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck

Saint John of Bridlington

Santa Eulalia and the Thirteen Tortures