A Travellerspoint blog

Venice

sunny 31 °C
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We seemed to have a torturous trip from Syracuse with a delay at Catania airport then again at Venice airport. But we eventually got a water ferry to the island, down the Grand Canal and found our way through lanes and across canals till we reached our hotel. It all just got better from there!

We arrived into the evening, so immediately headed out to explore and eat. The concierge gave us directions to a trattoria - out the door turn left, through the first piazza, over the canal, veer right, over another canal, straight through the next piazza, over the next canal turn left and keep going. It sounded like we'd be walking forever (and probably get lost) but it was actually quite close. We only nearly got lost when, on the way back we found some lost Americans and kindly/foolishly gave then our map, as we knew where we were going!

We spent our first full day on Murano -not intentionally, but as we were walking to St Marks Square, we were talked into taking a free taxi ride to the island to see the glassblowers at work. We were told there was no obligation to buy, and that it was a free promotion by the city. I wanted to go to Murano anyway, so Trev agreed reluctantly. The taxi ride was a bit nail biting, as I think he was in a hurry, and it was certainly more hair rasing than the jet boat Trev took on Gozo! We got there safely and were pleased to sit through a "senior master" glassblower at work, then had a look around the showroom. It was all quite beautiful, and definitely works of art. But mostly way out of our price range, however there were some smaller pieces of jewellery which met my needs! We then continued wandering around Murano and were not disappointed whichever way we went.

The markets around the Rialto bridge filled another half day, with their fresh fruit and veg, including some things we couldn't identify, and the huge range of seafood. We even found a horse butcher, and better still some wonderful frommageries. The Rialto bridge itself was incredibly crowded and going through renovations (it seems most of Venice is constantly being refurbished). We did, however, find a nice bar at the base of the bridge where we enjoyed some G&Ts. We continued away from the crowds and found some places you could get wonderful leather - so, of course, we did!

On our last afternoon, having wandered far and wide earlier past St Marks, the Doges palace, the Bell Tower and the Clock Tower, we headed for Academia bridge and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. That was pretty fantastic! In particular I loved the sculpture garden, including one of three elongated figures by Henry Moore (we saw Moore statues on an earlier trip - in Dublin if I'm not mistaken!), and then was the amazing mix of art inside. I'm still wondering how you define the word "art" - there was much that I liked, and much I didn't understand,and some I really disliked!

We finished the day with a nice cold wine spritzer under the Academia bridge, watching the people and the traffic weaving their was down the Grand Canal. A nice watery finish to our few days in Venice.

Posted by TandTtravel 10:53 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (0)

Syracuse

Ortigia

sunny 24 °C
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From the mountains and twisting roads around Etna we made our way down south to Syracuse for a fleeting visit. The bus system served us reasonably well, although we hadn't counted on the number of cancellations, so our well laid plans stretched by a couple of hours!
The differences were quite apparent - from the landscape going to seaside (albeit stony beaches and rocky ledges for people to crowd onto and swim) to a more relaxed pace with more than one street for the crowds to pour down, and most important of all the food! We were offered a "traditional Sicilian breakfast" in both places - in Taormina I accepted and got a caffe espresso filled with creamy gelato with a brioche I was instructed to dunk! In Syracuse Trev took the plate (platter really) of prosciutto, raw (huge) mushrooms, boiled egg and giardinera! Both were great!

Syracuse had a market on every morning where all fresh produce was sold and people seemed to come from all over - good to see people other than tourists! The town was again full of churches more like Cathedrals, with baptisms and weddings going on over the weekend. There was an old fort partly restored, some Greek ruins, and we found statues of Diana, Minerva and numerous saints. Again the galleries and churches could have been confused for one another as there was art everywhere!

Ortigia also had more than its fair share of cats - we initially thought they were all underfed strays (a view reinforced in Taormina where I had the life scared out of me when I took rubbish to the dumpster and a skinny tabby cat jumped out at me!). Having seen the calmer more tame cats in Syracuse we decided they are just a smaller breed and very used to tourists.

Syracuse was lovely and definitely calls for a longer stay.

Posted by TandTtravel 00:10 Archived in Italy Tagged sicily Comments (0)

Sicily - Taormina to start.

sunny 22 °C
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Took the bus from Catania airport and had amazing views along the way. Starting with a crowded, dirty city at the start, to the open expreesway through what used to be marketlands, then onto smaller village streets through many seaside towns struggling to stay viable. We were told by locals later that there were no jobs in the country (or even in Sicily) so people were all leaving - the economy was relying on tourism and the season had just started.
Taormina was certainly a tourist magnet! We walked directly uphill from the bus station, stopping for a Sicilian brekky (of granita coffee and brioche) on the way. We were glad of our walking practice in Malta as we realised that we'd get more experience with steps here! We settled in to a lovely apartment then again took to wandering the streets and lanes of the village - all really made for donkeys and now for people, but cars and motor bikes tried to compete. The going was slow for them, though, as they had to wait while vans stopped to make deliveries and to chat, and for people to get out of the way.

Again we'd found another town full of catholic churches, in fact in the region we only discovered one reference to jewish history which was a little area in Taormina. There was a big feast day on the Friday which had lead up celebrations for the 5 days beforehand. On the final day they had masses throughout the day, balloons festooned the front of the church, and they had the local town band and then a children's choir! All the towns people turned out to watch the evening festivities, alongside all the tourists muttering in different languages and taking many photos.

We walked up to the Greek amphitheatre (passing the convention center which was holding a conference for endocrinologists - most of whom were standing outside smoking when we passed - both ways!) which has survived hundreds of years having various bits refurbished over time till now when the stage area and first tier are used for productions while the upper three tiers are more like ruins which can be climbed on and provide a beautiful view of the surrounding coast up to the Messina Straights and downs to Catania, and of course, of Mt Etna.

For Trev's birthday we'd arranged a Godfather's Tour which took us out of Taormina town and into the surrounding countryside and the smaller and less touristy villages. We of course saw many of the sites used by Francis Ford Cuppola which looked familiar, although they had of course been modernised. Gone was the dirt path used for the couple to walk down to the village after the wedding, instead we could see the church where the wedding happened (unlike them who had to have a pretend altar set up on the steps, we could go inside and absorb the beauty of the the architecture and the art) and the we took a walk down the same path, which is now paved in local stone.

Inside on of the Cathedrals the guide pointed out a skull resting on the base of the crucifix, which was found to signify that there was a catacomb below. In this case the catacombs were only discovered late last century when they started restorations. We visited an area where they prepared, drained and bound the bodies readying them to lie in their crypt - a practice stopped early 1900. Later we stopped in many churches with a similar skull and crypt entries inside, showing the practice was widespread in the area.

we wandered through a few different villages, sometimes connected to the Godfather filming, but not always, and really enjoyed the quiet, slow approach to life. We were reminded many times of Glo's cousin - the mayor - and his village and home and way of life (not that we saw any boar skins, or bottles of wine cooling in the creek!).

On our last night in Taormina we went to the opera in the Taormina Opera House ( which makes it sound a much grander building than it was). It was quite a small hall, accoustically presented and with a beautiful terrace looking over Taormina and out to the sea. We heard a tenor, a soprano and a pianists who all performed brilliantly!

A final wander through the town and down to the bus stop the next day topped off a wonderful few days!

Posted by TandTtravel 23:16 Archived in Italy Tagged sicily Comments (0)

Valletta and beyond

sunny 24 °C
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Having started our trip by walking the city, we continued it in much the same way. The public bus system in Malta is wonderful, particulary for us staying in Floriana where we had a 5 min walk past numerous churches and the grainary (now a paved square with numerous small domes which capped grain silos used hundreds of years ago) to the Bus interchange.
We explored our local area and found lots of little shops, but no logic to their opening times! At one stage we were looking everywhere for a post office or a stamp agency (determined to send postcards to the kids!) And only found somewhere when we checked the internet. We arrived at the building about 4.30 to a sign that said it was open till 7pm, but it was all locked up! Not to be deterred we rang the bell and someone came down, turned on the lights and sold us stamps - as if this was quite normal! We got some lovely juicy mandarins at a local fruit truck, and saw some different fruit and veg which we couldn't identify, and we found a number of little grocery stores which seemed to specialize in different things. We were directed from one where we bought milk and water to another for tissues and washing powder.

At the far end of Valletta is the War Bell which was given to Malta to commemorate the George Cross awarded to the Maltese for their service during WW2. That sort of sets the scene for many of Valletta's highlights and is something I'll remember.

On a non war note, we visited and were impressed by St Johns Co-Cathedral (apparently many years ago it was decided that this Church was as important as the Cathedral in Rabat, so it was decided it should be a Cathedral also - hence the "co"). St Johns is an extremely ornate Baroque church full of amazing art work of the likes of Caravaggio, Mazzuoli, Bernini and Mattia Preti all courtesy of the old Knights who were determined to protect the Catholic church from the infidel Ottomans.

We took a torturous route through the Upper Barraka gardens (that part was lovely) via the Saluting Battery with its wonderful view across the harbour, down a miriad of stone steps, through underground passages, between derelict or working buildings to the Lascaris War Rooms. When we got there we were told that in t be War the place was top secret so no-one was meant to find it! When we finally caught our breath we were shown through the network of tunnels and chambers which originally housed Britain's War HQ in Malta. The defence of the island and all offensive operations by the Allies in the Mediterranean were waged from here. We heard of the many impressive feats achieved during WW2 and some of the obstacles they faced, we also heard that the HQ was continued to be used throughout the Cold War and the Battle for Suez Canal. For a s7amall p kace Malta certainly has played an important part in world wars!

We dragged ourselves away from historic Valletta and saw some other aspects of the island.
We took a boat trip to Gozo and Comino. Trev swam in the Blue Lagoon (reminiscent of when we were on a boat in Greece, I was happy to sit on board with a G&T while Trev jumped into the freezing Meditteranean!) and we had a quick look at the Inland sea, the Arch, and Fungus rock, then climbed to the Citadel which was being refurbished, so largely out of action!
we took the bus to the Blue Grotto where the sea really was bluer than anywhere else, and we had intended to go on from there to Hagar Qim then to Rabat, but this time we were let down by the bus system - the bus never arrived! There was some talk that it had broken down, so we went to plan B and came back to Valletta and headed for Rabat and Mdina.
The Mdina was Malta's capital about 500 years ago and is now a beautifully restored walled city. Although it was quite crowded it was amazingly peaceful. Again it had many churches and art was in abundance, with glass blowing and shaping taking center stage.
We went to Marsaxlokk on Sunday and settled into the throngs wandering the fish and "craft" market, before having a lovely seafood lunch.

All in all Malta was a wonderful place - highly recommended!!

Posted by TandTtravel 05:11 Archived in Malta Comments (1)

Malta and family remembrance

sunny 24 °C
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After a long flight we finally arrived in Rome and made our way to the hotel. I'd booked something in walking distance and had checked the route before I left home, but being tired and my usual confused self, when we came out of the airport I didn't recognise any of the landmarks I needed so we asked directions and were pointed in the totally wrong direction! So after a lap or two of the airport we finally found our hotel room and crashed.

The next morning it was off on the last leg to Malta. All went smoothly and we arrived at our apartment in Floriana about 2pm. We then headed staight out to look around Valletta. We were staying in a fantastic location within a 10min walk to the old city, and on that first afternoon we thought we could spend all our time there and not venture any further on the island.

Our first stop was the Information centre where they seemed very helpful and were very good at answering questions - you just needed to know exactly what to ask! So, in fact not very informative!

After negotiating the info centre we decided we needed refreshment - it was very sunny, and we were on holiday so we thought G&T were the go. They serve them here like they do in Spain - half a glass of gin over ice then a splash of tonic! They went down well!

We were in Malta to find Trev's Great Uncle's last resting place, so when we found The Knights Hospitallers we were pleased. We figured this would have been where James Reginald would have been looked after during his last days. It was an amazing place - we were able to wander through what was the Sacra Infermia which had operated as a hospital from the Crusades to the Great Seige, the Plague and then more recently the World Wars. This was the first place they used silver for implements to ensure cleanliness, and some of their treatments have evolved into current modern medicine.

The next day we walked away from Valletta to Pieta where there is a Commonwealth War Cemetary. As we approached Pieta we saw a large stone wall which looked very old (as does most stuff in Malta!) with palms and garden to be seen behind. We found a gateway and realised this was the site of the usual well kept Commonwealth graves, and so we made our way in. We found rows and rows of graves, mainly of the flat rectangles of concrete with military insignia and names engraved.  Of course we hadn't checked the records to know where to look, so it was just a matter of finding the appropriate period and reading all the names. I f course we were helped by the Rising Sun standing out to lead us to the Aust headstones. After about half an hour or so we found the headstone for James Reginald Lindley - his was a single cross with no military insignia, so we almost missed it! Possibly his parents had arranged for a headstone for him after the war - we'll have to investigate later. It was quite moving, seeing not only James's grave, but also so many others who died after serving and getting ill or injured at Gallipoli. It certainly gives you pause to think.

So, two days in Malta, and a very satisfying stay for us!

Posted by TandTtravel 05:10 Archived in Malta Comments (0)

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