BABY ELEPHANTS ARE GORGEOUS

Just a day or two old

I was going to keep this one for mother’s day but I realised I’d forget all about it by next year so I thought it best to post it now.

It’s one I took when I was doing some work with the Elephant Help Clinic in Phuket many years ago. The baby elephant is wearing a lei because she’d just been blessed by the monks from the nearby temple.

Another fine mess I’ve got me Into

Intrigued by the recent email from WP I thought I’d have a look at the new themes they are offering. I shouldn’t have!

I seem to remember that in earlier days I could activate a theme to see how it would look on my current site but this didn’t happen. Instead clicking ‘Activate’ meant that I accepted the site – and of course, I didn’t like it – but I couldn’t remember the name of my old site, nor could I find it again.

Many changes of site and I’m still befuddled, left with a site that has caused me to swear and shout at the screen. It actually transported a page from the site I’d tried earlier (but with that page’s wording etc. not fitting with my content) and I had to delete the pictures and text block by block and then save the blank page!

For tonight I’ll leave it and I maybe able to get back to it tomorrow but if not, you’ll know why my site looks odder than usual.

It’s probably all my fault. I should leave well alone, but it’s like touching the surface when it says Wet Paint – Do Not Touch, I just can’t resist clicking to see what is hiding behind the italics!

Another Trio

Something a bit unusual I think, for Mama Cormier’s Thursday Trios.

These are total immersion suits that will keep you alive for at least 6 hours in freezing water. I photographed these some years ago when I visited the workshop of Survitec in Sweden. Survitec is the worldwide group that manufactures and maintains rescue craft for ships, planes, oil rigs and container ships, as well as the above survival suits. Chances are that whatever cruise line or airline you are travelling on, its life rafts will be serviced and supplied by Survitec.

It’s something we take for granted, but I saw at first hand how important it is for this safety equipment to be in perfect order and how thorough the inspection is – right down to the medicines for pain, the batteries for the torches, and the bottled water, carried on board. So, a big clap for SURVITEC for keeping us safe, in the air and on the sea, and for the engineers and mechanics who test everything in freezing waters.

Join Mama Cormier’s Thursday Trios HERE

The Godfather in Savoca

Al Pacino

Excitement is high among fans of The Godfather trilogy, with the release of the newly re-mastered films, three movies that are Shakespearean in drama, operatic, and complex. As one of those fans I delved into my archives to search for photographs I took in Savoca, location of a few major scenes of The Godfather, and a reminder of one of those serendipitous moments that occur from time to time in one’s travels.

A shady spot at the Bar Vitelli

It was in Sicily, about 30 years ago, when we came across Savoca, a medieval village perched on a hill overlooking the Ionian coast. We had driven through the mountains from Taormina, stopping here and there to admire villages clinging to the sides of the mountains and blue seas far below on which floated toy boats. We pulled into Piazza Fossia, saw a parking place opposite a pleasant looking bar with terrace which meant we could sit outside rather than in the inky black interiors preferred by the Sicilians, and entered Bar Vitelli.

The Bar Vitelli

We ordered drinks, and the owner graciously waved me inside to see what else was available.  What she really wanted me to see was her wall of photographs of the stars of The Godfather and various artifacts to do with the film.  Most were of Marlon Brando – although he was never in Savoca for filming – Al Pacino, Simonetta Stefanelli, who played Apollonia in the film, and James Caan. 

Then I made the connection.  This was the small, cliff-side café where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) sat with his two bodyguards (one of whom would later betray him) and drank wine. In fact, this small patio with the dappled sunlight playing on the tables, was the location of several scenes filmed over a six-week period during the shooting of the first Godfather movie. 

Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) had fled New York City to escape both police and the Mafia and came to Sicily to take refuge. Out hunting one day, he saw a beautiful Sicilian girl and immediately fell in love with her.

Back room of Bar Vitelli with photographs and connections to The Godfather

The Bar Vitelli, as it is now, was actually the home of the beautiful young girl he’d seen, and it is here he asks the café owner for permission to court his daughter, the lovely Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli). A later scene, depicting a traditional Italian family Sunday dinner and a still later scene of the eventual outdoor wedding reception, was also staged on the terrace of the Bar Vitelli and in the tiny piazza in front.

La Signora watched me carefully and when she could see that I was suitably impressed with the display she sat me down and told me tales of what it was like when she had Pacino and Brando in her café.  Of course, I knew that Brando had never been there but everyone’s allowed a little bit of licence and in that small village of less than 100 inhabitants, The Godfather had sprinkled a little bit of its magic on both the village and the Bar Vitelli. 

La Signora sits outside Bar Vitelli.

Savoca owes it’s connection to Hollywood to the fact that Francis Ford Coppola thought that Corleone, a town near Palermo and the book’s setting for The Godfather, looked too modern for his vision of the Sicilian village from which the family came. After much searching throughout the island, he found two small villages untouched by modernisation for his locations, – Savoca and Forza d’Agro.

At the time we were there, few tourists visited this remote village so La Signora was happy to spend time talking to us and showing us some more pictures of the stars of The Godfather, plus some newspaper cuttings she’d collected.

Back room of Bar Vitelli

I never got back to Bar Vitelli but I saw a short film a while back that showed it looking exactly as it had been when I visited, and as it was in the film – right down to the bead curtain in the doorway.  La Signora is no longer alive and the bar/restaurant is now successfully run by her descendants: Godfather tours (along with Montelbano tours) are now big business in Sicily, and Savoca is a port of call on the trail. 

It was nice to know that it hadn’t been commercialised at all and that the stone-flagged walls covered in greenery and the terrace with vine covered pergolas, still offer shade to travellers, along with coffee granita, supposedly the favourite drink of both Pacino and Coppola when they were there.

When I watch the 3-hour long film again on March 26th, I will be carried back 30 years to when I sat on Al Pacino’s chair in Bar Vitelli and heard first-hand from la Signora that, although Pacino may have come from New York, he was molto Siciliano.

This was the prettiest house we saw in Savoca, and we were told it belonged to someone very important. I wonder who it belongs to today?

  1.  In Savoca, apart from Bar Vitelli, the nearby Church of San Nicola was used as a location for the wedding of Michael Corleone and Apollonia. The church is only a short walk from Bar Vitelli.
  2. Bar Vitelli is housed in the 18th century Palazzo Trimarchi, located in the Piazza Fossia, the town’s main square, near the Town Hall.

The Godfather:

The Godfather revolutionized film-making, saved Paramount Pictures from Bankruptcy, minted a new generation of movie stars, and made the author of the book, Mario Puzo, rich and famous.  It is compelling, dramatic, and complex and it started a war between Hollywood and the high echelons of the Mob as the makers had to contend with the real-life members of the Mafia.  Location permits were withdrawn without notice at inconvenient times, Al Ruddy’s car was found riddled with bullets, and ‘connected’ men insisted on being in the cast (some were given film roles, whether due to threats or talent nobody knows)!

Action- One Word Sunday

This week’s theme from Debbie is ACTION. Linked to Debbie’s here

Ready to hurtle down the slope on the famous basket ride in Funchal, Madeira

Is praying action? Not the Klu Klux Klan but Penitents during Holy Week in Malaga.

The lock-keeper’s daughters open a lock on the Gota Canal, Sweden

Camera, Action. A tourist takes a photograph in Grenada, Caribbean.

Saturday Sulpture:

Outside the Caen-Normandie Museum of WWll in Caen, France.

That joyful moment in 1945.

Based on a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt which appeared in an issue of Life magazine in 1945, this sculpture has been much criticised by women’s rights groups since it was erected at the city-owned Mémorial de Caen. The French group, Osez le Féminisme, said at the time “we cannot accept that the Mémorial de Caen holds up a sexual assault as a symbol of peace,” but the city-owned Memorial de Caen refused to take it down. They based their objection on the fact that the sailor had been observed kissing ‘all he met, young and old’.

There are many copies of this sculpture (by Seward Johnson) in other parts of the world.

Life im Colour: White/Silver

I didn’t think I’d have another picture to add to Jude’s White/Silver challenge but I suddenly remembered the whiteness of lovely Stavanger in Norway, and I offer a selection to link to Jude here.

A hilly, colourful street in Stavanger

Link to Jude here.

Pull Up a Seat: Photo Challenge

We are in Seville for both of my seats, the first one a lovely tiled seat in the Plaza de España which I’ve mentioned in another post here, a gorgeous extravagance of tiles, walkways, streams, bridges, more tiles, all within the Parque de Doña Maria Luisa.

A very elegant tiled bench in Plaza de España, Seville.

And still in Seville we are on our way to the Alcazar when we came across this painter, oblivious to the passersby who photographed her and walked around her as she sat on a flimsy white stool. She worked quickly and the paintings looked good, good enough for her to sell quite a few while we stood admiring the finished pictures. By her feet she had different types of frames and she offered to change the frames of any on display if needed. I liked her bicycle behind the finished pictures, it made the whole thing seem so casual and a long way from high-art.

Near the Alcazar, Seville, Spain

Sculpture Saturday: Seville

In the lovely Maria Luisa Park in Seville is a monument to the Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer and his poem Amor Eterno (Eternal Love). The statue depicts three women symbolizing the three states of love, excited love, possessed love and love lost. Behind them are two bronze pieces, ‘wounded love’ and ‘love hurts’ and a lifesize statue of the poet Becquer. The group of female figures is sculpted from a single piece of marble.

Glorieta de Becquer –  Monument was constructed in 1911 by Lorenzo Coullaut-Valera, in collaboration with the architect Juan Talavera Heredia and Catalan sculptor Federico Bechini.

The Cypress tree around which the monument is located was planted in 1850, according to some, and in 1870 according to others, and it is one of the individual trees of the Parque de Maria Luisa. The monument can be found along the Avenue de Becquer at the roundabout of the same name.

View from the other side with statue of the poet Becquer and the two bronze figures with the seated females.

Hundreds of trees line the avenues with exotic touches provided by colourful tiled benches and Moorish fountains and pools and there are numerous seats around the park and the famous monument from which to enjoy this beautiful green space close to the River Guadalquivir..

The park was the site of the Expo 29, which had the Plaza de Espana as its centrepiece. My favourite way to see the park is to take a carriage ride through it – and yes, I know it’s a bit touristy and kitschy but nevertheless, it is a magical way to view this park. Large enough never to feel crowded, it is also a delightful place for a quiet stroll, a kids’ runabout, or a boat ride.  A more energetic option is a bike for four with sunshade – the front seats have belts to strap wriggly young children in safely. They are for hire in the road opposite Plaza de España.

An Artist in Ice

Birthday Party on the Beach

The Buffet table at your holiday resort looks stunning, the food arranged with aesthetic attention to detail, and dominating the centre is a beautiful carving in ice, a pagoda, a ‘plane, a fantasie in ice with coloured lights making it dance and dazzle, or a bird, its neck an opaque white and the translucent wings poised as though to take flight.  In a few hours it will have dissolved into a puddle.

The people who create these centrepieces are artists in ice, men and women who have the ability to create these beautiful animals, birds, and flowers in frozen water to add a shimmering brilliance to the tables.  And they do this knowing it will all disappear in a few hours. Performance art? Or art installation?

Khun Panas Suchantra at the Dusit Thani Resort in Hua Hin, Thailand, was the resident artist in this ephemeral medium when I was last there.  He is involved in every aspect of the work, from the early discussions with the F & B Manager, the chef, and the General Manager if the event is of importance.  

I watched him work on various carvings over a three week period and never tired of the theatricality of the scene as he chipped and chopped, moved around with speed (the ice continues to melt as he works on it) and created delicate ice flowers and feathered wings with the precision of a mathematician.

Most ice-carving artists use many different types of chisels, plus a saw, to get their effects.   Initally, a V-angle chisel is used to score the outline and to draw on the uncut ice, gouge chisels with their round tipped blades are used for making patterns, and flat chisels are for shaving.  The saw is used for cutting and carving (see photograph below).

Khun Panas  often works outdoors in a covered Pagoda overlooking the sea, a piece of performance art that is much appreciated by the visitors to the hotel who gather round to watch in silence, as a solid block of ice is transformed into a three-dimensional sculpture. 

As he works, the mateial starts to melt and there is a sense of urgency about his actions but with a few quick movements he saws off a piece of the block on which he outlines a shape before beginning to chisel away the excess.

With the outer shape of the subject delineated he starts on the base cutting into the ice to enhance the main figure.  After that it seems but a very short time before the ice-carving is complete, to be taken into the kitchens and stored in the freezer until it is ready to be placed centre table at the buffet.

Japan is the country that has elevated ice sculpting to high art: you only have to look at the Winter Festival in Sapporo to see what visions they create.  It goes without saying therefore, that the best and most expensive tools come from that country, seasoned by years of experience in making Samurai swords.

Tools of the ice-carver’s trade

Sculpture Saturday – Cardiff

IN MEMORY OF THE MERCHANT SEAFARERS FROM THE PORTS OF BARRY PENARTH CARDIFF WHO DIED IN TIMES OF WAR

Challenge hosted by Sally Kelly over at Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition.

This striking Merchant Seaman’s Memorial in Cardiff Bay is in the form of a sleeping face fused with a ship’s hull. This was made by riveting plates of metal together, a traditional technique used in early iron and steel ship building. The sculptor Brian Fell, whose own father had been a merchant seaman, was commissioned to create the work in 1994 by Cardiff Bay Arts Trust, Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, Merchant Navy Memorial Committee and Cardiff County Council and it sits in Tiger Bay, Cardiff.

The ports of South Wales played a vital role in supplying coal from Welsh mines to fuel the world’s ships, especially warships and the allies were dependent on merchant vessels to transport troops, food, ammunition, raw materials and equipment. Shipping lanes ran around Pembrokeshire and around the island of Anglesey to get to and from the port of Liverpool and to access the Atlantic; within these lanes German U-boats targeted ships, sinking them with torpedoes and sea mines.

Over 150 vessels were sunk off the coast of Wales during the first World War alone.

Challenge hosted by Sally Kelly over at Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition.

When Democracy Ruled

Image by Carol M. Highsmith – https://commons.wikimedia.org

Depressed by the current news, the arguments, the depths to which politicians and supposedly clever men and women are sinking, I think back to how years ago Franklin D. Roosevelt was a beacon of light to a world deep in a fiscal depression. As he saw America through a war and put in action methods to help Europe build itself up after the second world war, he laid the groundwork for 20th century democracy in the western world. Less than a century later, we stand to lose it.

FDR had many faults, he was a human being after all, but he was a giant compared to what we see today.

Sculpture Saturday: Budapest

Challenge hosted by Sally Kelly over at Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition.

Heroes’ Square, Budapest

Designed in 1896 to mark the 1000th Anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin, Heroes’ Square (a name given to it in 1932) was designed in 1896 for the celebration of the Millennium of Hungary. The 36-m high column, topped by the Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown and cross, dominates the square. Around the base of the column are sculptures of Magyar chieftains from the 9th century mounted on horses. The colonnades that run behind the column hold 14 statues of earlier rulers and statesmen from King Stephen to Lajos Kossuth.

Base of Millennium Column in Heroes’ Square, Budapest
Magyar Chiefs at base of Millennium column, Budapest

Wanted: Hot Chestnuts

Hot Chestnuts for sale in Lucerne, Switzerland

It’s a cold and wintry day here, the skies are grey, not blue like they were yesterday, and my mind flies back to this time last year in Lucerne where, along the lake dotted with boats and swans, the hot chestnut sellers were doing a roaring trade. I can smell them now and I long for some. Some Swiss chocolate wouldn’t come amiss either.

Walking Towards Autumn

Today I changed my walking route, left the sea behind me and turned inland. I had no plans, no set route to follow and no idea of what I wanted to photograph.

First, I meandered through Los Altos Park which was deserted: it was eerie having this space all to myself. Normally a place full of dog-walkers, chattering children, and elderly folk sitting on the benches reading, today it was empty despite a temperature of 16 degrees, blue skies, warm sun and no wind. Covid space? Too late in the day? Who knows, but the place was all mine.

Los Altos Park, Sandown

Not far from here was what used to be one of the area’s oldest hotels but unfortunately, it closed this year due to a series of misfortunes. The grounds are now deserted, the building, once a grand manor, now stands forlorn its windows no longer shining a light to welcome visitors. There was no one to disturb me or chase me away and I felt a terrible sadness at the loss of this great mansion, its tennis courts now a coach park, and its grounds being overtaken by nature.

The lane in front of the hotel. I didn’t go further into that darkness!

Further into the gardens I came across these seats looking so forlorn as they sat amid the falling leaves. Nearby a couple of palm trees, stretched towards the light, valiantly fighting to survive. They were definitely in need of some TLC.

Although I felt sad that the bracken (or was it fern) was now running rampant over the garden wall I cheered myself up with the thought that this would provide a cosy home for the winter for the wildlife I’d seen on my walk (a couple of hedgehogs, lots of spiders and odd creepy-crawlies and I’m sure there were lots more keeping out of my way).

And then I came upon the sunken garden and this splash of colour, a glorious cascade of scarlet leaves, Virginia Creeper I think, that must have migrated from the wall of the old house and settled here to decorate these steps. And just a bit further on, the brilliant red of the Holly berries – a dazzling display of colour amid the dying of the year. It seemed the autumnal red of the Virginia creeper led me to the winter of the Holly.

Thursday’s Special Words

Linked to Thursday’s Special at Paula’s here

First up is Impregnable and I give you The White Cliffs of Dover. We don’t know if they are but it’s a good song and a nice idea.

The White Cliffs of Dover

and not far from here is Dover Castle which commands the Strait of Dover, the shortest sea crossing between England and continental Europe, a position of strategic importance throughout history and whose underground tunnels housed troops. war rooms and hospitals from the early 19th century right up until the Second World War 1939-45.

The castle visible today was established by Henry II (r.1154–89), in the decade 1179–89, creating at Dover the most advanced castle design in Europe, a sophisticated building that combined defence with a palatial residence.

Dover Castle, Kent

Next word is Volte Face and there are so many in the political field today that it’s hard to choose. However, anyone who reads politics these days must agree that the winner in any volte face competition has to be

Boris Johnson

Linked to Thursday’s Special at Paula’s here

SCULPTURE SATURDAY: Scottish Memorial in France

I debated with myself whether or not to post these images as some might wish to argue that they are not sculpture. Yet they were brought into being by a sculptor whose name unfortunately, I have not been able to find (I am still searching).

So here is the Monument to the Scottish fallen in World War 1, an unusual sculpture of granite slabs slotted together like dry-stone walling which stands in a field adjacent to the British Military Cemetery on the road between St. Laurent-Blangy and Gavrelle and which was unveiled on 9 April 1922, the fifth anniversary of the battle. Located north of the village of Athies it is not far from the battlefields of Loos and Arras.

Pont du Jour Memorial to the Scottish fallen

Around the field are individual stones with the names of Scottish battalions who fought here.

And a close-up of the plaque on the monument.

Ypres to the Scheldt 1915-1918

Narnia in Belfast

NARNIA – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Clive Staples Lewis (known as Jack), the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was born in Belfast on November 29th, 1898 to the comfortably off Albert James and Flora Augusta Hamilton.  He grew up happily in a house called Little Lea, a house that is generally credited as the one from which he derived the inspiration for the stories which have given pleasure to so many people.  It was a large, gabled house overlooking the River Lagan, with dark, narrow passages and a library that was crammed with books including two of his favourites, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

Little Lea (photo Wikkiwand)

During the second world war many London evacuee children were sent to live in Belfast’s supposedly fresh country air to avoid the bombing and the air-raids (despite the fact that the Northern Ireland capital was also subject to severe bombing).  Like the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, several groups of children stayed with Lewis at his country home and they played with Jack and his brother in the large overgrown garden in a Northern Ireland not then plagued by bitter civil strife, although there were always tensions.

Entrance to Little Lea – photo Mari Nicholson

The first Narnia book was published in 1950, since when they have sold more than 100 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages, opening up a world of magic to children who have lapped up the stories of the mythical world found behind the wardrobe.

Bronze Statue by Ross Wilson in Belfast – photo Mari Nicholson

As a child, C. S. Lewis constanrtly made up stories about a place he called “Animal-Land“, a land inhabited by animals, mice and rabbits who rode out to kill cats.  These stories he related to his brother as they sat among the coats in their grandfather’s old wardrobe. He even created detailed maps of the fantasy world.

The Narnia story

By chance, four young children from wartime England discover a magic land called Narnia, lying beyond and through an ordinary wardrobe.  Once through the wardrobe and into the mythical land, Edmund, one of the children, betrays his siblings to a wicked witch who has been holding the world of Narnia in thrall to winter.  Spring can only come to Narnia and the betrayal be forgiven when the lion, Aslan, agrees to die at the witch’s hand.

Little Lea, C.S. Lewis’s home in Belfast

Looking around the area in which he grew up, it is not hard to believe that his surroundings inspired the mythical land of Narnia.  The craggy, heather-draped Mourne Mountains just a few miles away, Belfast’s own Black Mountain, and the lakes, rivers, forests and ruined castles with which the area abounds played their part as sure as the tales of hobgoblins and giants from Irish folklore and the Norse sagas which were, apparently, Lewis’s favourite reading.

The Drive at Little Lea – photo Mari Nicholson

CS Lewis spent his childhood holidays in Rostrevor, a small seaside town about 50 miles from Belfast which faces across the Lough to Carlingford in the Republic of Ireland.  In one of his letters to his brother Lewis wrote that the mountains that loom above it (the Mournes) made him feel “that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge”.

Looking towards the Mournes from Warrenpoint

At Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor, a Narnia trail will bring you into the world of Lewis’s chronicles., meeting Tree People and beavers along the way.  The walk starts and finishes within Kilbroney Park and the trail is entered, like the magical world of Narnia itself, through a ‘Wardrobe Door’ and along the way you’ll find features like Tree People, The Lamp Post, The Beaver’s House and Aslan’s Table.

 Enter at your peril though, as the curse of the White Witch lies upon the land.  It is always winter and Christmas never comes and you run the risk of being turned into stone especially if you eat the forbidden sweets.   

If there is time and if you are fit, climb the mountain to Cloughmore (trans. big stone) the granite boulder that stands 1,000 metres above Rostrevor – a perfect model for Aslan’s altar – where the final chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe come to life. With a little suspension of disbelief you can imagine the creatures that worship there – the Well Women, centaurs and unicorns – and, of course, the great Aslan.

Before you go. The jury is still out on some of the places that inspired Narnia but the 17th century Dunluce Castle on the Antrim Coast is believed to be the basis for Cair Paravel, the royal fortress in Narnia. 

Belfast at dusk – photo Mari Nichiolson

NOTES; Unfortunately, it is not permitted to enter Little Lea, Lewis’s former home, as the house is privately owned but fans of the book seem satisfied to stand outside and gaze at the one-time family home.

Any tour of Lewis’s Belfast must encompass the magnificent bronze of The Wardrobe (called “The Searcher”) by Ross Wilson which has been erected in central Belfast and the many murals on Belfast’s walls which refer to the man and his work.  However, Belfast today is one of the most vibrant cities in Europe and murals are changing rapidly.  CS Lewis wouldn’t recognise today’s Belfast were he to return, from the magnificent Waterfront Concert Halls and Visitor Attractions to the Titanic Museum, but he would recognise that the soul of the city is still intact.

A private taxi tour is an excellent way of seeing the area and the Belfast Tourist Board will be happy to advise on this.

The Giant Fish on Belfast’s Waterfront

The Amalfi Drive

White Houses Clinging to the Rocky Hillside

Known as The Amalfi Drive (formally Strada Statale 163) the coast road along the shoreline from Sorrento to Amalfi (and on to Salerno) is one of the most poular drives in Italy.  Originally built by the Romans, it is one of the most photographed coastal routes in the world, seen in countless films like Under the Tuscan Sun and the Humphrey Bogart classic Beat the Devil (1957) featuring a young Gina Lollobrigida. Gamers may recognize it as a setting for fictional tracks in Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo 4 games.  UNESCO actually named the Amalfi Coast an outstanding example of Mediterranean landscape and gave it a place on the World Heritage List.

So far down the boats are hardly recognisable

Carved out of the side of the coastal cliffs for the greater part of its route, the road gives vertiginous views down to the Tyrrhenian Sea and to the towering cliffs above. It passes through Positano, the village of the rich and famous where fabulous villas accessible only on foot from above, by helicopter from the air, or by yacht from the sea, are built into the sides of the mountain, making it a major tourist attraction.

We originally took the guided tour by coach as this seemed the easiest way to experience the drive, and we were right, but we enjoyed the trip so much that we took the local bus a few days later and enjoyed it even more.  

Positano

 We decided against stopping off at Positano however, having been warned against this by a fellow hotel guest who had been left standing for hours as the buses returning from Amalfi were all full when it reached Positano so no chance of getting on one.  Amalfi filled the day however, and we managed to fit in a trip to Ravello as well.

I have no argument with those who say that the 50 Kilometre Amalfi Coast drive is probably the world’s most beautiful and thrilling, piece of tarmac-ed sightseeing in Europe.  If you can ignore the hairpin bends, the crazy Italian driving, the narrowness of the road that means your vehicle could possibly plunge into the churning sea below, the views are spectacular.  The road is built at a very steep angle, zigzagging backwards and forwards and from the window of your vehicle you can see craggy rocks thrusting through the foamy waters below.

One of many Medieval Watchtowers on the Amalfi Drive

Despite the heavy traffic, all fighting for space on hairpin bends, the Amalfi Drive is a fascinating trip with every corner revealing an even more stunning view protected by Unesco.  Pastel-coloured villages are terraced into the mountainside, medieval watchtowers guard the coast, and here and there huge colourful ceramic urns In yellow, blue, green and red, announce a “ceramic factory”.  Among the green slopes of the cliffs are scented lemon groves and a profusion of pink and white oleanders, and enticing restaurants locate on precipitous corners daring you to stop for a coffee. This white-knuckle ride is one of Italy’s greatest wonders but it is not for the faint of heart. It is 80 kl of narrow, S-curve roadway strung halfway up a cliff with the waves crashing below.

At the end of the Drive you have Amalfi, tiny, expensive but one of the easier towns of those strung along the coast to walk around.  It rises gently up the hillside from the waterfront rather than clinging vertically to it like some of the other coastal towns, like Positano for instance.  Hard to believe that this very touristy town had a glorious history as a maritime republic on a par with the better known Pisa, Venice and Genoa. 

Nevertheless, Amalfi was a trade bridge between the Byzantine and western worlds for centuries with a population exceeding 70,000 (today, less than 5,000).   Unfortunately, there are very few historical buildings of note as most of the old city, and its inhabitants, slid into the sea during the 1343 earthquake.

Pull Up a Seat – September 2022

I don’t know if the challenge is still going and I can’t seem to find a recent post from XingfuMama, but I thought I’d post this one anyway.

I’ve posted today on Southend-on-Sea but I didn’t include this picture in the piece as I thought it would be nicer as a stand alone picture. The seat in the picture is one on Southend-on-Sea Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world at 1.34 miles.

The wrought iron detail is fascinating, covering as it does the Victorian/Edwardian era clothes, boating, building sandcastles, and the donkeys which were used to give rides on the sands. Not too comfortable on which to spend a long time, but pleasant enough for a short stop on the way to the end of the pier.

Southend-on-Sea

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A Day on the Pier at Southend-on-Sea

Once a place where Kiss-me-Quick hats were almost as obligatory as a fistful of ice-cream from the famous Rossi’s, Southend-on-Sea is now a City and looking to become a proper grown-up resort.

Sunday excursions to Southend-on-Sea by train were our big break from the workplace when I lived and worked in London way, way back , so when the opportunity came to experience a day out in that fondly remembered place, my one desire was to once again walk the 1.4 mile Pier.

Southend-0n-Sea Pier
Amusement Park by Southend Pier

There wasn’t time to do much more because we had to fight our way to the end of the pier in a gale blowing off the North Sea, a bad-weather day that kept most people off the Pier apart from a few fishermen and a few intrepid walkers. The train still runs down the pier and we caught it back to the town (I can’t get used to calling it a city when there is a beach and an amusement park in front of me) when the clouds really turned black.

From the town there is a lift to the esplanade (photo above) but for those who don’t mind a climb and some extra leg-work, the walk down the slope past cafes, shops and ice-cream parlours is quite pleasant or there is a way down incorporating steps and platforms.

The kiosks and entertainment spots I remembered on the Pier are no longer there, just a vast expanse of boardwalk leading you to the end. So, here are just a few photographs of the Pier at Southend-on-Sea on a rainy, windy, day, when some flashes of blue lit up the sky to make us think the weather was on the change but it wasn’t, it was just nature teasing us.

Looking Across to the Kent coast from the end of the Pier

And when you’ve taken it all in, the views to Southend, the views across to Grain Island and the Kent Coast and the grey waters of the North Sea, then head for the modern tea-rooms, or sit on the steps as many do to enjoy the last rays of the sun, on the end of the longest pleasure pier in the world.

Tearooms on Southend Pier

Some people say that the Blue Plaque to Laurel & Hardy, on the pier, says all you need to know about the place, but it’s got more, a lot more, going for it, not least great restaurants and lovely people.

We caught the train when we saw these clouds approaching!

Recommendation: I was lucky enough to be taken to a decades-run family restaurant noted for its seafood, and if you need a recommendation I can say without hesitation that I had one of my best meals, ever (middle skate with brown butter if you’re asking) at

Tomassi’s, 9 High Street, Southend-on-Sea SS1 1JE. Open daily until 7 pm. Phone 01702 435000

Friendly Friday: Favourite Photo Challenge

Linked to the Sandy Chronicles

Chef Eddie does his thing

This picture is one I love because it captures, for me, a moment of total relaxation during a cargo ship cruise we took about 30 years ago. The ship was ‘The Author’, one of what I learned to call “the big whites”, boats of the South African Safmarine line.

Sunday was a big day for the crew when they had the brai, or barbeque, a tradition that was almost a religion for the South African crew on board. It was dress-down day when even the captain sported shorts and tee shirt, hair-cutting took place in quiet corners on the decks, and the crew relaxed in their ‘civvies’.

I was surprised that a barbeque was allowed on the deck, but I was assured all was perfectly safe. Eddie, the chef, had everyone’s favourite food ready, from salads to heavy carbs, fruits to exotic vegetables, and a fine selection of meats, fish and shellfish. As passenger we numbered only 7 but we had become friends with the crew over the course of our trip from Tilbury via northern Europe to South America. In fact we were their ‘shoppers’ as well, as some of the countries we stopped at would not allow the S.A. crew to disembark (political not racist) so we were given shopping lists when we disembarked – usually tee shirts for themselves and a gift for a Mum or a son or daughter.

I know this isn’t a good photograph, it’s blurry and lacks definition but it’s one of my all-time favourites because that holiday was one of the best ever and that evening sums it up so well. I must add here that I don’t go on cruises as floating hotels are not my cup of tea but a trip on a cargo-ship is a world apart.

On “The Author” we mixed with the crew as they went about their work during the day, and in the evening we socialised with them over drinks and dinner, played games in either their lounge or ours and swapped books and DVDs. Some evenings we lay on our backs on the deck and were taken through the star system by one of the crew, seen to its best away from the lights on land.

Thirty years after and I’m still in contact with one of the captains and two of the crew. It was an unforgettable holiday and I remember every minute of my time aboard “The Author”, Eddie’s great food, and the treats left in our cabin daily, from warm biscuits to gooey cake, the ever-changing menus due to the fresh produce he picked up at the different ports, and the tears and the hugs when we all said good-bye to some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Lens Artists Challenge: Picking Favourites

Linked to Toonsarah who is hosting this week’s Lens Artists Challenge

It is with great trepidation that I sit down once more to enter one of the photographic challenges on the site, but I’ve been looking at various entries in different categories and especially Sarah’s today so here I am. I haven’t posted for a few months now but I have managed to dip in and out of the site and kept up with what’s been happening.

I said “with great trepidation” and I meant it, because after seeing some of the entries in today’s challenge and some of those from former weeks, I realize how far short of “artistic” my work falls. Being more interested in the words than the pictures I’ve never looked really closely at my images, or taken enough time to get them right.

Apologies over. Here are a few of my favourites, and I stress the word favourites as I can’t claim they are great!

  1. This is one of the monuments to World War ll spotted along the coast of Normandy. I do like this picture mainly because of the sky, the clouds were wonderful on that day and seemed to change shape every few seconds so I was lucky to get them just when they looked especially good.

I didn’t get to know the Normandy coast well until a few years ago when, with a friend, I spent 10 days touring the area. I loved the horses trotting along the beach, their passengers snugly wrapped up in carriages behind them, the serious tourists with their maps and photographs of relatives who landed on these beaches during WWll, and the fact that the food in Normandy was as good as I remembered from many years back. And I loved the fact that the museums and monuments, cemeteries and commemorative parks are still there to tell the story of what happened in France between 1939-1945.

The Library of Celsus at Ephesus, Turkey

This is Ephesus in Turkey. It’s a print taken probably about 30 years ago and yes, it did win a prize.

I don’t think it’s a great image but I think it does show the magnificence of that place and when I look at it I can still remember my awe as we walked in and faced this extraordinary facade.

Ephesus was an ancient port city lying just 80 km from Izmir, and whose well-preserved ruins are in modern-day Turkey.  Once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading centre in the Mediterranean region, it survived multiple attacks and changed hands many times.

Today it is one of Turkey’s most significant ancient cities and it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015.

Ephesus came to prominence under the ancient Greeks and became a city under the Romans in 133 BC and the capital of Asia Minor in 27 BC, seen as its historical turning point as it then became second in importance only to Rome.

Ephesus is also important from the point of view of Christian history in that St. Paul wrote his “First letter to the Corinthians” from here, St. John wrote his gospel here, and it is believed to be the final resting place of the Virgin Mary.

The facade of the library of Celsus which looms over the city and which you see above has been very carefully reconstructed from original pieces. It was originally built in 125 AD and Celsus is buried in a sarcophagus beneath it.

Apart from the facade of the library, there are many impressive ruins to see in Ephesus. Allow at least 4 hours to see it all, the amphitheatre (largest in the ancient world), the Odeon with its Corinthian-style pillars made of red granite, the 2nd century Temple of Hadrian, the aqueducts and the Agoras.

Sadly, Ephesus died, by reason of silt building up in the harbour to the point where no ships could reach the city. Without ships, trade died, and without trade the city died and was abandoned.

Torii Gate at Miyajima, Japan

I have so many Torii Gates in my files that the problem was picking out the one I like best but then the problem was, do I want one with a boat, with a beach, or set in a forest? In the end I decided on this misty morning scene.

I think everyone has seen images of Torii gates, the most famous of which is probably the above gate near Hiroshima, but there are many dotted around the seas, all calling out for a photograph.

A Torii gates represents the boundary between a sacred shrine and the human world. Once you pass through the torii gate you have entered the sacred, special space. 

Originally Torii gates were white, but now they are mostly painted red because the colour symbolises vitality in Japan and it is believed red gives protection against evil. (It is also said that as red paint contains mercury, the gates are preserved for longer – practical as well as spiritual).

White was the original color of torii gates which were more common than red ones until the arrival of Buddhism in Japan. After the separation of Shinto and Buddhism was officially implemented in the mid-to-late 19th century, some shrines started to paint over their red torii gates with white again, but they are fewer in number than the red.

Although the most photographed appear to be those that are located in the waters, torii gates appear in many inland spots such as the base of famous mountains, or along forest routes. These gates are said to embody the deity which is believed to exist in nature, sacred mountains and the ocean.

If you do come across a torii gate on your travels in Japan, as a mark of respect and if you wish not to offend your hosts, it is a good idea to bow before entering through the gate.

Linked to Toonsarah who is hosting this week’s Lens Artists Challenge

Leonardslee Gardens, Horsham, Sussex

I was promised a picture-perfect display of glorious colour, a sensual overload and a vibrant experience in one of the loveliest gardens in Sussex. And that is just what I had.

From March to June, the 100-year-old majestic rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and towering magnolias with which Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens are planted, offer a late spring experience like no other.

Jewel-coloured rhododendrons light up the woodland against a backdrop of red and green acers whose leaves re just beginning to take on their summer colouring. Many more are reflected in the waters of the 7 lakes that dot the woodland, doubling the colour and the display. I hadn’t realized how highly perfumed rhododendrons were, until my walk through the landscape of Leonardslee. One path that was lined with blowsy, yellow rhodos was a sheer delight and the scent almost overwhelmed.

You have to stop and smell the flowers when you walk through an avenue of yellow rhododendrons

It’s not only about flowers and trees though, hidden among the 240 acre woodland gardens is an exquisite Rock Garden with mini waterfall, ferns and the makings of a fairy-glen. And just off the main walkway is the enclosure for the resident wallabies whose interest in their visitors, charms everyone Not all the wallabies are in enclosures, only those needing protection – some of the younger joeys and the pregnant ones – so you may have a close-up encounter with a friendly wallaby as you amble round the park.

The sculptures, strategically placed to attract your attention, seem to be an organic part of the whole so easily do they sit among the flowers and trees. All of them demand time to look and ponder – and wonder at the quotations that accompany them. The current exhibition, The Walk of Life, is by South African Anton Smit and is a wonderful complement to the display of colour, the calmness of the lakes, and the birdlife.

Some of the plants at Leonardslee are extremely rare and the gardens are a living example of successful biodiversity. Nearly 200 rare and endangered plants are grown here by a dedicated team of gardeners.

The colour and vibrancy of the blossom is echoed in the birdsong that is a constant as you walk along the pathways or sit by the lakes and you’ll spot a vast variety of birds and animals even without trying, from green woodpeckers to electric blue kingfishers, yellow wagtails, peacocks, blue tits, Canada Geese and herons who congregate at the shallow lakeside where carp feed on the surface. You may also meet some of the shy fallow deer, a cheeky squirrel or two, and, of course, the wallabies, brown and white.

The Grade l listed gardens are at their vibrant best at the moment, and with plenty of seating dotted around the lakes and on the lawns, it is a perfect time to indulge in a day out.

A carpet of purple blossoms under a large rhododendron tree

Go earlier in the year for the daffodils and the bluebells and to walk through the camellia grove with its hundreds of varieties of camellias,or early April to see the magnificent magnolias bloom. Whatever time of the year you visit, you’ll find something to please and a restful area to commune with nature.

Water Irises on an island of flowers in the lake

And when it’s time for tea, you’ll find Leonardslee Tea Shop all you could hope for, with seasonal delights, home made biscuits, locally sourced food, cream teas with warm home-made scones. What more could you wish for.

Except maybe to spend the night in the fabulous Leonardslee House Hotel.




How long is a Week?

Last time I blogged I said I was taking a week off on my eye consultant’s advice but this has turned into many more weeks than originally thought.

Still no improvement on the eye front but having another series of eye injections. One eye has more or less given up on me, and the other is stable at the moment but has periods of behaving badly. Bright sunshine makes for difficult days when I have to keep the blinds drawn indoors and can’t venture outside and my reading, computer work and tv watching, are all drastically reduced.

However, I did manage to get away for a 3-day trip to Gothenburg for a 50th birthday party which was brilliant. No time for sight-seeing, as it was purely to visit family and talk but great to be able to hug and be hugged by family again.

And last week I was invited to lunch in the New Forest with a friend who was driving there, making it all possible. We had a glorious day and we drove through the wilder parts of the forest, avoiding the towns and villages, pretty though they are, and just enjoying the sight of the wild ponies and donkeys along the roadside.

Lymington Quay

We had a late lunch in the lovely old Ship Inn on the Quay at Lymington (high recommended by the way) and watched the swans in the water for a few minutes before catching the ferry back to the Isle of Wight. A few pictures here of my day out.

Meantime, I’m still rationing my time online, time spent reading and time watching TV but I’m now managing to read some of the blogs from those I follow. I don’t comment yet, but I’ll be back soon!

Words and Images from around the World