All posts by maristravels

About maristravels

There are still some countries I haven't seen and some things I haven't done and won't do now (like trekking in Nepal) but I've covered a fair bit of the globe as a traveller. I've been a professional travel writer, blogger, and photographer for some years now, love cinema, theatre, books and art (well, not all of it). I try to cover these subjects in blogs when they crop up in my travels. I live in the UK and these days I travel mainly in Europe and Asia.

Syracuse – The Other Bits

After my earlier Post on the Greek and Roman theatres in Syracuse, I thought I’d like to show you a few of the more colourful parts of the city.   I hope you’ll enjoy the photographs that follow of the transparent seas around the island, Piazza Archimede and its magnificent fountain, the food market, a few more ruins – for how could one not include them as they are part of the street furniture.

Just to recap.  In the 5th century, when Dionysus reigned, Syracuse was one of the biggest and most powerful cities in the Mediterranean, embellished by gardens, fountains, palaces and temples.   Plato called it “an ideal city”, one of enormous military power capable of withstanding the might of Athens and Carthage. 

Today, what remains of those days of glory, is preserved and presented to the visitor with pride, not hidden away or wrapped in cotton wool, but open to all who wish to, literally, enjoy touching the past, like the Temple of Apollo right in the middle of the city by the market-place.

With your back to the sea, you can walk either straight ahead to the old town and the Duomo, or to the left through the Porto Marina and into the old town and Ortygia.  Either way, strolling around Syracuse at your leisure is sheer pleasure.

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Although the image of the fishermen mending their nets is captioned, I hope you notice the massive cruise ship in the background, the old and the new side by side, the old struggling to make a living, the new a disaster, or a dividend to a city?  The jury is still out on that one in Sicily.

As you leave the ruins of the 7th-century Temple of Apollo you will find yourself in the Corso Matteotti with its 14th-century Greek palace, and from here it is a short walk to the Piazza Archimede, opened in 1878 and dedicated to the Greek mathematics and physics genius, Archimedes (287-212 BC), and one of Syracuse’s most illustrious sons.   

In the centre of the Piazza is the beautiful Artemis Fountain by Giulio Moschetti (1906) dedicated to Diana the goddess of the Hunt (Diana was the Roman name of the Goddess, Artemis the Greek).  Appalled by the erotic pursuit of Alpheus the river god, Arethusa had asked the Goddess Diana for help: Diana then transformed Arethusa into a fountain which emerged on the nearby island of Ortygia, the core and oldest part of the Sicilian city, where you will find the spring named after Arethusa.  In the fountain, Alpheus peers from behind the goddess while the nymph is about to slip into the water below where, as the tale goes, she will blend with the stream before re-emerging in Ortygia.  Charging horses, Tritons and nymphs splash in the waters of the fountain and a good hour can be spent just walking around the admiring the work.

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 If you choose to go through the Porta Marina you will find yourself surrounded by fading Baroque Villas and Palaces facing the sea and hidden in the narrow alleyways, secretive dwellings with shades of a once glorious past still clinging to them.  Along this long, narrow promenade you will pass the Church of the Holy Spirit which is worth a visit if time allows (but remember you have the Duomo and Santa Lucia alle Badia to explore as well).

Despite the lack of beach facilities the area around here is popular with swimmers, and often you will see people diving off the rocks into the near transparent waters or sunbathing in what looks like dangerous places along this rocky foreshore.  

There is another church right by the Duomo, often missed by visitors because of the wonderful golden-coloured Duomo with its complex history which stands beside it, and this is the Santa Lucia alla Badia church which houses The Burial of Santa Lucia by Caravaggio, above the altar.  Caravaggio had arrived in Messina from Malta in December 1608 where he was commissioned to paint the Burial of Santa Lucia for the church of the same name: he completed this in less than a month.

It is difficult to see this picture because the church is kept fairly dark – I presume to preserve the painting – and no photography is allowed.  

And with all the sight-seeing, don’t forget to stop occasionally for a snack at one of the many good cafes and restaurants around (very much cheaper in the modern part of the city, by the way), and make sure to have an ice-cream and that Sicilian favourite, a Granita.

 

 

 

SYRACUSE, SICILY

My recent trip to Syracuse gave me lots of material for posts but as I have written before about this Sicilian city I thought that this time I would hone in on the Archaeological Park of Neapolis which holds Syracuse’s most important Greek and Roman remains.  The Park covers approximately 240 square metres and the Greek and Roman periods are divided by a green, tranquil oasis in the midst of the ruins, called Viale Paradiso.

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Between the two cultures, through the Viale Paradaiso.

The Park came into being between 1952 and 1955 with the idea of bringing together all the monuments, pillars and stones which previously had been located on various private properties and were not accessible to the public.  The result has been an outstanding success.

The Roman part dates back to the 3rd century AD and the Amphitheatre (seen below) is the largest in Sicily at 140 x 190 metres, and it is recorded that the first performance of Aeschylus’ Etnean Women was performed here in 476 BC.  To avoid this turning into a history lesson, I shall leave the images, with captions, to speak for themselves.

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The Roman Amphitheatre which originally had a pool in the centre. Gladiators and animals entered from tunnels left and right.

Not only was the amphitheatre used for drama: political life was played out here too, especially the assemblies in which all citizens participated.

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One of the tunnels through which the animals and gladiators would have entered the amphitheatre.
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Part of the Roman remains at the Archeological Park of Syracuse, Sicily.

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The Greek Theatre has more to offer in the way of remains (but excavations are still ongoing on the Roman side), possibly because it is mostly carved from the rock and is in a certain sense permanent and incapable of being seriously damaged.  There are 8 stairways to the top of the theatre with various walkways running along the seats.  At the top is a rectangular terrace sculpted from the rock dating back to when it was first built. 

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Cave of the Nymphaeum

Caves and niches in the walls of the terrace would suggest offerings to honour the Gods or the Heroes, the above Cave of the Nymphaeum being one of them.  This 6-metre deep cave takes its name from the large basin covered with a vaulted ceiling in which a small waterfall tumbles originating from a branch of the ancient Greek aqueduct.  Statues discovered of the Muses dating from the 2nd-century BC are now on display in the Regional Archeological Museum.  

 

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The Spanish carried off much of the remains in the 16th century but what is left is still impressive

The Ear of Dionysius

Possibly the most interesting and popular sites in the Park.  While this looks like a natural cave it is really the result of tons of material having been extracted from the quarry of which it was a part, over many centuries.  The large cave known as the Ear of Dionysius is 65 metres long and 501 metres wide, narrowing towards the top.  The name was given to it by the painter Caravaggio who visited in the 17th century (and whose painting of St. Lucia hangs in the small church by the Duomo) and who thought its shape resembled that of a human ear.  Popular tradition has it that the cave had been used by a local tyrant to imprison his enemies whose whispers he could hear from the small opening at the top.  I like this version.  Myths are always more fascinating than facts.

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Another view of the Cave of the Nymphaeum

Macumba in Rio

A sleepless New Year’s Eve night led me to the BBC’s Radio 4 where the World News was describing scenes at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.  Over one million people were there, it was reported.

My mind flew back to my own New Year’s Eve on that beach, back in the nineties.  We had gone down late afternoon to see what the local scene was like, having booked our table, laid out our fancy clothes for the Gala Dinner and put some champagne on ice for later.  We took only a few dollars with us, just enough for a coffee or two, because Rio then was a dangerous place and alcohol was flowing fairly freely.  Nor did we take our cameras for the same reason.

We didn’t return to the hotel until early next morning, at about 6 a.m. I think, but it was one of the best nights of my life, certainly the most memorable and the best New Year’s Eve ever.  No matter that we missed our New Year’s Eve dinner, champagne and party hats – what we had experienced was something raw and real: it was electrifying.

This is what I wrote shortly afterwards (and I’m sorry I have no photos to illustrate what I’m writing about):

The atmosphere was electric.  Yesterday the city had felt like any other Latin city, but tonight was different.  Tonight it was no longer Latin, familiar and accessible, but African and strange.

This pulsating city is home to two potent factors that combine to produce the drama that occurs on New Year’s Eve in Rio – a youth culture of music and carnival and an older one of belief in ancient Gods allied to the Catholic saints of the original Portuguese conquerors.  These two cultures meet in Macumba, a powerful cult based on old beliefs and pagan rites, where the Christian saints are given attributes of the African deities brought to Brazil with the slaves.  Described as the Brazilian voodoo, it’s a mistake to dismiss it lightly.

Macumba is a matriarchal religion with the officiating priests being women.  They had been setting up their tents since midday ready for tonight when the five-mile stretch of beach would be converted to a canopied village of churches, counselling-chambers and sickrooms when they would be called upon to cast spells, cure sicknesses and console the sorrowful. 

The priestesses were huge women dressed totally in white from their shoes to the white kerchiefs on their heads,  Above the dresses, their black faces glowed in the light from the many candles.  Men play a humble role in these ceremonies and tonight they were acting as servers, replenishing and lighting the huge, strangely sweet-smelling cigars the priestesses chain-smoke in order to encourage the Gods to visit.

The beach had been filling up steadily since dusk, and now, an hour before midnight, there was standing room only.  The beat of the drums had been a constant throb in the air since noon for the musicians of the Samba Schools use this occasion as a dress rehearsal for the Carnival in February.

Around me, magical powers were being invoked.  Love potions were distilled, prayers said for sick relatives and friends, and secret desires were whispered in consultations with the priestesses.

In the circle of brightness formed by the lights from one canopied area, a young man writhed convulsively in the grip of a strange power, the heavy beat of the drums adding to the frenzy of his movements.  The heat from the burning candles, the press of bodies, the rhythmic chanting of the white-robed woman who circled the body in a spinning motion and the heady aroma of the smoke from the sweet cigars were hypnotic.  The eyes of the young man glazed over as the slid to the ground in a trance.  Two male acolytes picked him up and carried him to his family who sat outside the circle.  They were smiling and happy as they sat waiting for him to recover.  Obviously, for them, the magic had worked.

A circle of light marked other petitioners whispering requests.  A nod from the priestess and another votary entered.  The priestess placed her hands on the woman’s head, took another cigar and began to spin around her.  Round and round until the petitioner too started to move, her body circling from the waist until it seemed one half would divorce from the other.  Faster and faster the priestess turned, her feet moving rhythmically and her whole body a crescendo of power.

The tempo quickened, the atmosphere became charged, bystanders became affected, fell into a trance and collapsed.  One elegantly gowned and bejewelled lady, an onlooker from the hotel opposite the beach, fell crashing to the ground as a power beyond her took control and she too was reduced to a writhing, moaning bundle of Haute Couture.  I felt the immense power of Macumba.  I shifted nervously and kept my eyes studiously averted from the white figure, afraid of what she might do, afraid of what I might do.

Suddenly, there was a cry and the woman in the centre slumped to the ground.  The priestess bent and spoke to her; she didn’t respond or move.  A single wave of the hand and the helpers picked the woman up and carried her down to the sea where she was immersed in the cooling, restorative waters.  The onlookers hardly took their eyes from the priestess.

The drums grew more frenzied as midnight approached but business continued unabated beside the canopied tents.  Gangsters and grandmothers, transvestites and toddlers were all fervently dancing the samba.  The beach was a heaving, pulsing mass of bodies moving to the same rhythm.  Increasing in size were the groups by the water’s edge where the recovery of those who had succumbed to the spells went on.

And now the flower-sellers arrived, peddling their wares to the crowds on the beach, for by tradition white flowers are thrown into the waves at midnight to appease the Goddess.  If the offerings are carried out to sea, then Iemanja, Goddess of the Sea, is pleased and will accept them, but if the tide carries them back to land, then she is displeased and the year will be a bad one.

Friends and families had set themselves up and had staked out areas in which to lay out their food and drink, and the presents they would send Iemanja at midnight. Some were pathetically poor, some rich, but all had the same sense of what Iemanja wanted – cigars, wine, fruit and bread.  Those from the favelas, the shanty-towns that crawl up the hillsides and surround the city, had less to offer – perhaps a half-smoked cheroot, a slice of papaya or a little wine in the bottom of a bottle, but this Goddess is not greedy.

There was a moment of panic when it looked as though the little boats wouldn’t sail and people rushed headlong into the sea to make an artificial tide on which they would float.  Others jumped into full-sized boats which they had left ready and pushed their little gift-laden craft before them in the hope that once far enough out they would sail on.  And now, as the candles flickered on the bobbing boats, thousands of white carnations came flying through the air their blossoms carpeting the sea like snow.  The perfume of the flowers mixed with the smoke from the cigars was a rich and power opiate.

The drums played on until dawn.  As the sun came up some little boats could be seen floating ominously back towards the shore. With that resilience that keeps the Cariocas forever optimistic they were re-launched by their owners immediately.

Later I learned there had been an estimated one million people on Copacabana Beach that night.  I hope the Goddess answered some of their prayers: I hoped the magic worked. 

Something worked for me though. A couple of hours ago I searched YouTube to see if last night’s spectacle had been caught. It had, but there was a lack. There were had BIG screens, pounding music from electronic devices and everyone was taking selfies and jumping up and down. I know it sounds smug, but … no camera, no money, no ‘phone, no tablet, just total immersion is something otherworldly gave us something to treasure for the rest of our lives, images that are not on my phone but are burned on my mind.

Ginseng

A Gift Box of a very Special Ginseng Root

It used to be the root that made people give that nudge and wink smile that relegated the Ginseng root to the realms of sexual innuendo, it’s popularity relying more on its reputation as an aphrodisiac than a health supplement. Promotions along the lines of Appeases the Thirst of Women and Activates Manly Functions kept the root firmly in the field of sexual problems.

Nowadays, however, ginseng is recognized as having qualities that stimulate all senses and it is even credited with preventing breakdowns in both health and the nervous system. These claims may sound outlandish but, to the believer, the root is the antidote to everything. Two grammes a day is the recommended dose to keep one healthy and this can be taken in many forms. However, the jury is still out on the efficacies claimed for the product.

Some buyers place great faith in the shape of the root

Geumsan, the Capital of Ginseng

Geumsan, a small town just three hours south of Seoul, is the undisputed ginseng capital of South Korea where the 10-day Ginseng Fair and Market is attended by thousands and tons of the root is sold. Here the emphasis is solely on the plant with hundreds of tons of the product on sale as well as by-products of the root – ginseng tea, chocolates, cereal bars, jam, shampoo, soap and face creams.

It can be bought bottled, dried, raw, peeled, sliced, shaved, or steamed. A big trade is also done in ginseng wine and chicken gingseng soup. The wine at 13% alcohol has the obvious effect of perking most people up very quickly, proof, to the believers, that the root is working.

Different types of Ginseng

The Ginseng Fair and Market at Geumsan, Korea

The emphasis at the fair is on health and well being and Geumsan is the place to snap up not only fresh raw ginseng but the processed products.

At the fair there is a doctor pavilion and visitors can experience traditional treatments – including acupuncture – and discuss the ginseng effect with specialists. Many oriental doctors are there to lecture on the medical effects of the root and there are special pavilions where they treat children for various childhood illnesses. South Koreans believe there is nothing that ginseng cannot cure.

The Best Ginseng

The Raw Roots of Ginseng

The best ginseng is considered to be South Korean, opinions that come from Hong Kong and China, major importers of the crop. This has a lot to do with the shape of the root which the Chinese take to resemble the human body (ginseng from other countries resembles a carrot). It is said that it is the acidic soil in Geumsan that contributes so much to the quality of the ginseng as well as the heavier than average rainfall.

The plant is quite pretty above ground

The people of Geumsan can convince you of anything – their marketing skills are way above what anyone would expect from this small town – but they emphasize that Ginseng should be taken over a long period. So whether you take the root as an aphrodisiac, for its health properties, or to cure some illness or disease, remember that it does not have an immediate effect.

Ginseng is available in all countries from health shops and other specialist shops, but to find a variety of the root, seek out the Chinatowns of western countries where it will be found in abundance.

STEYNING – A Sussex Town

If life in Brighton becomes too hectic, then a few days in Steyning are guaranteed to put things back in perspective.   Or so I found this week when the fine weather brought more people to Brighton than I’d anticipated and my ‘quiet’ time became distinctly unquiet, although I did enjoy some fine walks along Brighton beach and along Palace Pier.

One of the prettiest Sussex towns, the Saxon town of Steyning (its history dates back to the 8th century) has more or less everything – a meandering high street, historic buildings, good shops (including an Independent Bookshop) and magnificent countryside all around, the South Downs to be precise.

Steyning had been a trading powerhouse in the early middle ages as a river port for the downland wool trade, but the silting up of the River Adur left it up the creek, so to speak.  The Black Death hit the village hard and the competition from other ports added to its economic woes, but the loss to the medieval folk of Steyning is our gain today.

The bypass has also been of benefit in this respect because, unlike many other small towns and villages in Sussex, the High Street has been spared the constant heavy traffic that makes a toll on the roads and creates noise and pollution.

Steyning is pretty well preserved, with many Tudor style half-timbered houses alongside some smart Georgian townhouses.

The preponderance of wood is especially noticeable, from the many old wooden doors to wooden fencing dividing the pavement from the road.  Below are a few of the doorways that took my camera’s eye.

There is only one high-street grocery chain in the town and the many independent retailers offer an eclectic range of foodstuffs ranging from organic to exotic: the range of coffee shops/restaurants is truly amazing, many seeming to have a bakery shop as an add-on.   Outstanding is the Independent Booksellers in which we whiled away a couple of hours, emerging later with bags full of wonderful books, some bought as Christmas presents.  It was the sort of shop where one comes across books one just knows will suit someone, the sort one doesn’t find in the big bookstores anymore.   As a consequence of the mix of old-fashioned and modern small shops, shopping in Steyning is easy paced and very enjoyable.P1030559

Steyning holds an Arts Festival every year, there is a Museum in Church Street, and in St Andrew’s Norman church in the nearby village of Bramber, where there is also an evocative ruined castle, there are some interesting carvings.    

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The South Downs Way passes just to the south of Steyning and climbs through the magnificent countryside around the Steyning Bowl, making this a perfect area for walking and cycling.   Wonderful country pubs abound in this area. 

It has now become my favourite place outside Brighton.

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Castelmola, Sicily – Medieval Village

From the natural terrace built around the ruins of a Norman castle, you have a spectacular view of the Ionian coast, majestic Etna, Taormina, the Bay of Giardini-Naxos, the straits of Messina, and the Calabrian coast:  on a clear day you can even see way beyond Catania, as far as Syracuse.  You are nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, you are in Castelmola in Sicily.

Castelmoro from below

Part of the attraction of Castelmola is gazing up at it from Taormina (as in the featured photo taken from the main square in Taormina,  and above from another part of the town) and wondering how on earth you can get up there.  It looks like the top of the world, this tiny village perched on a craggy hilltop above Taormina.  Not so long ago the village was inaccessible, visited only by a few intrepid travellers who hiked up the seriously uphill mountain paths for about 90 minutes, or drove up the curving, almost perpendicular road, to the top.  Nowadays a bus makes the 15-minute journey every hour from Taormina and things are changing, although slowly.

 

The result of this remoteness is that the people of the village have kept their dialect, their customs and their lives entirely to themselves.

Casteldemoro

Founded in the 8th century BC it was first conquered by the Greeks and afterwards by Saracens and its interesting mix of customs and traditions reflect this history.  The entrance to the village is marked by an ancient arch of Greek-Roman origin, built in 900 BC, and this dominates the Piazza S. Antonino, the main square of the village.  In earlier times the entry was through a gate carved into the rock which was moved to the front of the castle in 1927.

 

This relatively modern Piazza Sant’Antonio, built in 1954, is one of the main squares of the town and attracts the local elders who like to sit on the benches in the square to watch the village activity and the arrival and departure of the buses.  From this Piazza of white and black lava stone, bordered by a white balustrade and tree-lined sidewalks, there is a panoramic view of Taormina, its town, beaches and islands.

 

From the Piazza, roads lead off to other parts of the village, every corner offering more spectacular views whether it’s over the velvety green mountains with their trails delineated as though someone had poured them in swirling patterns on the slopes or the craggy peaks of the barren side.  The street names, numbers and signs are locally crafted in stone and wrought iron, and the pastel-coloured houses range from palest primrose to sky blues and apple greens.  In fact, it is a typical Sicilian village, better preserved than most, as it has not lost all its inhabitants as have most of those in the interior of the island.

 

That said, a fair number of the inhabitants depart in the winter for the slightly warmer temperature along the coast but during the rest of the year, they man the restaurants, bars and lace and embroidery shops for which the village is famed.

One of the most famous and most eccentric attractions is the Turrisi Bar which has a bizarre display of phalluses in wood, clay and ceramic – a sign of abundance and a good omen as per the Hellenic tradition – in every size, from large stone sculptures to bathroom taps, paintings and wooden carvings.  This ancient emblem of fertility is celebrated here in flamboyant style, and among the gifts available from the shop is the locally produced almond wine in phallic-shaped bottles, referred to, of course, as the “elixir of love”.

As so often in Sicily one passes from the profane to the sacred in the blink of an eye and in just a few steps you arrive at the Cathedral which dates back to the 16th century (rebuilt in 1935), known otherwise as the Church of St. Nicholas of Bari, in the Piazza Duomo. There isn’t a lot to hold your attention here but it has a rather beautiful pulpit and a wooden statue of Mary Magdalene which, I am told, is of the school of Bagnasco.   I confess I had no knowledge of this sculptor but I found a reference to one Rosario Bagnasco who worked mainly in wood, and who was active mainly in Palermo, so I presume it is his work. Looking towards the Bell Tower Before you leave, look to the beautiful bell tower which offers a wonderful frame for a photograph of Mount Etna in the distance behind it.

CASTEL DEL MOLA

So if you find yourself with a day, or even a half day to spare when you are in Taormina, or if you want to see one of Sicily’s loveliest medieval villages, then be sure to visit Castelmola where you will find narrow streets and quiet solitude in a community of just over one thousand residents.  In fact, if you visit out of season and find your way up the mountain to Castelmola you may feel that you have the entire town to yourself.

 

 

 

Saint-Symphorien Cemetery World War 1

I read in the news that Theresa May, Prime Minister of Great Britain, is to travel to France to lay a wreath on the graves of two young British soldiers who were killed during World War 1.  One of them was the first man to die in that ‘war to end all wars’ and the other was the last man to die.   It reminded me that I had visited Saint-Symphorien cemetery where they are buried, a couple of years ago and I thought I would re-post my original piece but to my surprise either I hadn’t posted anything about that particular battlefield or I had somehow deleted it.

However, it is still in my mind now so I thought I would just put up a few photographs of the cemetery because it is so different from all the others in France, being in woodland, and having a more peaceful appearance.  It is also the only cemetery, I believe, in which both British and German soldiers are buried together.  My visit to Ypres last year was very different.   There massive cemeteries like Tyne Cot just filled one with a deep, deep sadness as the ranks upon ranks of white gravestones spreading across the fields could not but remind one of the carnage of that war.

First though, the gravestone of the young James Parr of the Middlesex Regiment who was the first man to die, on the 21st August 1914.

First British Man to die in World War 1

And the gravestone of Private George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers who was killed on the outskirts of Mons at 9.30 a.m. just 90 minutes before the Armistice came into force.

Headstone for G.E. Ellison, last man to die in WW1

The cemetery:

German Grave in Saint-Symphorien Cemetery
A German Grave in Saint-Symphorien Cemetery, near Mons

And just to finish on, not far from here is the spot where the first shot was fired in that war.

First shot in the Great War was fired here

And the steely grey canal over which many battles were fought in this area.Le Conde Canal with Storm Clouds

Rain in Sicily

Marooned in my very nice hotel in Syracuse where it has rained now for 3 days.  And when I say rain, I mean torrential rain falling from the sky non-stop.  As most of what I’ve come here to see is outdoors, like the Roman and Greek theatres, that’s not good news, although I did manage some of the smaller sights before the deluge.  I’ve been here before so it’s not too bad for me but my travelling companion is very disappointed.

We were luckier in Taormina where, although we had heavy rain there too, we managed on the good days to do the essential sights.

To those bloggers with whom I usually keep in touch this is the reason for my silence.

To compound matters I left my ‘phone in the security section at the airport (now awaiting collection when I get back), my IPad locked me out, and as I can’t retrieve its text code on my mobile OR landline, it asked me the usual security questions like mother’s maiden name, first pet and first school: no probs.  Then it asked me when I opened my Google Account!  Can anyone remember when they opened theirs?  So I’m still locked out.

I always carry my little Kindle in my pocket for convenience and it has been my saviour.  It never asked me daft security questions and it just logged on to the hotel internet like a pro. when I remembered this morning that it also does emails.  WordPress needed my password which I couldn’t remember so it I’ve had to get another, but that’s OK, I’m online now and have read a few blogs.

I don’t think I can upload photos though, so will not be posting until I’m home again.

Meantime, here’s to the Kindle, much better value for money in my opinion, and a definite thumbs down for the IPad.  This is the second time the IPad has done this to me so I should have known better than to rely on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newport, Isle of Wight, a Second Look

On the green in the middle of the town stands a memorial to the last little chimney sweep to die here, and just a few miles away a lovely old pub is the site of the last hanging to take place.  I’m in Newport, the main town on the Isle of Wight, sometimes referred to as the capital.

Valentine Grey

 

The Island is well known as a favourite holiday resort for walkers, cyclists and families with young children, but Newport itself is often dismissed as merely a shopping area.  Yet Newport was the hub of the Island’s rail network until the Beeching cuts of 1996 closed its railway along with many more on the island.  This was a cut too far as the roads can barely cope with the increased traffic that was the result of such drastic pruning.

The only remaining train line runs from the ferry terminal at Ryde to the resort town of Shanklin with stops at Sandown, Brading and Smallbrook (for the Steam Railway), and the hub of the transport network is now the bus station in Newport where routes from across the Island terminate.

A quick visit to the town and you could be forgiven for thinking it is a town of chain stores from the ubiquitous M & S to H & M and Primark, but this historic town centres on two elegant squares surrounded by Georgian and Victorian architecture, and the town’s quay from which goods from all over the world were shipped along the Medina River from the port at Cowes, is just a short walk away.

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Riverside Pub in Newport, The Bargeman’s Rest

Swans float serenely on the river ignoring the canoes and kayaks, the sailing boats and the odd small yacht or two that are on the water, and on the terrace of the Quay Arts Centre people relax with coffee and cakes, tea and crumpets or lunch.  Inside the Arts Centre is a constantly changing art exhibition, dance classes, open mic occasions and an upmarket shop selling exquisitely crafted goods in silk, silver, ceramic, pottery and paper.

There was an extensive Roman settlement on the island and there remain two Roman villas, one of which is open to the public and whose remains provide a fascinating insight into country life in 3rd century Britain.  Discovered in 1926 when foundations were being dug for a garage, subsequent excavations revealed the remains of a late Roman farmhouse built around 280 AD with a superb bath suite, underfloor heating and remnants of mosaic floors.  You can peep into a Roman kitchen and see a slave preparing a Roman feast and there is a hands-on activity room where you can make a mosaic, repair a broken pot or weave a blanket.  Outside, the plants Romans would have used are grown in the beautiful herb garden.

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Carisbrooke Castle – Copyright David Hill (Flickr)

Newport is probably more famous for the nearby castle of Carisbrooke in the village of the same name, but although there have been fortifications on the Carisbrooke site since Roman times, what one sees today dates largely from the 12th to the 15th century.

Carisbrooke Castle Copyright David Hill (Flickr)
Carisbrook Castle – Copyright David Hill (Flickr)

Carisbrooke Castle is most famous as the place where Charles I was held prior to his removal to London and his execution by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians. The castle is said to be haunted by the King’s young daughter, Princess Elizabeth, who died during her incarceration in the Castle.

The donkeys of Carisbrook Castle are very popular with children of all ages.  In previous centuries, water for the castle’s occupants was drawn from the 150 foot deep well by two donkeys powering a draw-wheel, walking approximately 270 metres to raise one bucket of water.  When the castle lost its defensive role this practice stopped.

When the castle was restored in the 19th century, the equipment was renewed and the donkeys have been raising the water for the benefit of watching visitors ever since then. English Heritage is keen to say that the donkeys enjoy the exercise and are never over-worked.

Nearby Parkhurst Forest is home to two prisons which together make up the largest prison in the UK: it was once among the few top-security prisons in the United Kingdom. Their names, Parkhurst and Albany, were once synonymous with the major criminals who were housed there, it being presumed that any escapee would have a problem getting off the Island (as indeed it proved on the few occasions when a breakout occurred).

Crowds enjoy the music festival ©VisitIsleofWight.com

The famous Pop Festival shows no signs of losing popularity despite competition from other towns and cities across the country.  Seaclose Park on the east bank of the River Medina has been the location for the revived Isle of Wight Music Festival since 2002 and it is one of the key events in Newport’s events calendar!

So if Newport, Isle of Wight is on your itinerary, please wander around its streets and alleyways, look at the façades of the houses and try and guess in what century it was erected.  Find the row of old Alms Houses and if time permits, take a walk along the banks of the Medina River and try and visualise the days when sailing ships sailed up here from Cowes carrying a cargo of rice from Carolina.  And when it comes to time to eat, whether your taste runs to Mac & Cheese, Burgers, or Fine Dining, Newport can supply you with the best, with the Golden Arches for fast food and Hewitts and Michelin-starred Thompsons for truly superb food.

The Guildhall, Newport.jpg ©VisitIsleofWight.com

 

Whitehall Palace – Banqueting Rooms

Travels with My Camera

To London last week with the British Guild of Travel Writers for our Annual Summer Outing which this year included a visit to the Banqueting House in Whitehall, a tour on a Big London Bus and a Cruise on the River Thames with City Cruises, the boat that allows you to get off at any stop along the route.  The open-top bus tour and the river cruise took place in blazing sunshine and although London sights are familiar, the landmarks and historic sites never fail to thrill.

London Bridge

The Banqueting House is the last surviving part of the Palace of Whitehall*.   It was once the greatest palace of its time in Europe, almost totally destroyed by fire in 1698, but I knew nothing of its history until this visit.

The Great Hall © Historic Royal Palaces/Peter Li
A view of the great hall and its ceiling decorated with paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens…

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