A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Deb_Scott

Touring Turkey

sunny 40 °C

Within about an hour of arriving in Istanbul, I decided that it is a magnificent city and I'd love to live there. I really enjoy Islamic architecture and it was fab to see Mosques, Hamams and other interesting historical sites juxtaposed against contemporary architecture. Of course hearing the drums calling the faithful to breakfast for Ramadan at about 2am was a little irritating. We much prefer the lyrical call to prayer to drums beating up and down the streets. The first few days were spent dashing around the key tourist attractions before Scott headed home.

Fancy Turkish Delight
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Inside the Mosque
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Scott about to eat a yummy lunch
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View of the Blue Mosque from Aya Sophia
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Inside and around the Harem and Topkapi Palace
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Scott on the Bosphorus
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Out and about in Istanbul
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After waving goodbye to Scott, I hopped on a plane super early the next day and headed to Cappodocia for two days of exploring the landscape. Now, Scott wanted me to do a kind of tour for a raft of reasons. I resisted. Naturally. But I relented to keep him happy and settled for an independent tour that organises all your transfers, transport, accomodation and guides. Some days it could be just you, the driver and the guide and on other days you might be joined by a couple of others. Anyone who knows me knows that I abhor any type of tour and over the couple of weeks, I've decided that yeah nah. Even a luxury tour is not for me. I laughed and felt like a royal twit each time my luxury leather clad Mercedes Benz picked me up and drove me around. I like getting lost. I like communicating with locals. I like trying to figure out my way and I love getting away from touristy things especially those god awful tourist restaurants that I had to eat at while the driver went to a way better place with local people. My best day was the one day they mucked up my transfer and I spent an hour sitting in a cafe with the owner who also owned a small guesthouse and campground. I happily sat there attempting to communicate to his entire family for over an hour. On a positive note, the accommodation was lovely and it was quite nice being picked up and dropped off and directed around as if I was a child - on occasion. Also, it was nice for Scott to know where I was at all times considering the situation in Turkey at the moment. Anyway, here are a few pictures of stop number one.

Views from my cave dwelling
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The landscape around Goreme
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After a couple of days, I set out for Konya to visit Rumi's tomb even though I didn't know that he was buried there until I read the inscription. I wondered why so many people were here praying and so on. On the way, my driver stopped off at a Caravanserai that served as an important trading point on the Silk Road.

Rumi's Tomb
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The Silk Road stop
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My final destination that day was Antalya. I was so looking forward to the pool. The temperature crazily climbed up to 44 degrees and stayed hovering around 42 degrees the whole time I was there. Sooooo hot! I did manage to walk around without dripping too much and it was lovely to bob up and down in the sea. Unfortunately, I had to bring out my India temperament and give them the 'look' that says 'stay the hell away from me'. No - I don't want dinner and it is none of your business where I am going or what I'm doing or if I'm married and no I don't want to you to show me something special.

After a couple of days in Antalya, I journeyed north to Turkey's Disneyland tourist destination - Pamukkale. I met up with two lovely young women from Melbourne and we spent the day despairing at the crowds but enjoying the scenery nonetheless. In particular, I thought the theatre at Hieropolis was the best I had seen as the skene was still mostly intact and I don't believe it is a reconstruction.

Pic of Pamukkale's Terraces
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Hierapolis and the theatre
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I was eagerly looking forward to the next stop because the hotel was super duper lovely with a rooftop pool and bar. It was gorgeous and I enjoyed spending time reading and swimming before heading out to visit the Virgin Mary's house, Ephesus, the Temple of Artemis and a carpet cooperative. I was really fortunate to have a brilliant guide who gave me and my companions, (a Turkish couple) loads of interesting information about the historical sites. Luckily, there were no cruise boats in port the day we visited Ephesus so the place was quite empty considering it was peak tourist season. Not only that, I managed at least two minutes in Mary's house alone.

View from the rooftop pool
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Mary's house is a Christian and Muslim pilgrimage site
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Images of Ephesus
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Carpet mayhem - I can now spot a fake a mile off!
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After all of that, I hopped back into my chauffeur driven car the following day and headed north again to Canakkale but first, we stopped off in Pergamon. I did have some vague memory about the importance of Pergamon but didn't remember it until I was there and I was reading about the Pergamon marbles from the Pergamon Altar. Yes, of course. Anyway, they are in Berlin as most of Turkey's treasures it seems or Moscow or Vienna. Pergamon is a fantastic historical site even if it is rather ruinous. The setting is stunning and a little scary if you don't like heights. It was made scarier by the driver constantly looking at the scenery as we drove up the steep, twisting road exclaiming 'wow' every two minutes.

Images of Pergamon
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My booking manager emailed me to let me know that for Gallipoli, I would have to be with at least 20 other people and was I ok with that. It didn't really bother me but in hindsight, it would have been nice to do it on your own with a guide. In saying that, our guide was fabulous. He had maps, pointers and he used lots of gestures to convey the battles and plight of the ANZACS, as well as the Turkish forces. He also mentioned that Peter Jackson has visited Gallipoli nine times in the last 18 months. Hmmm - movie perhaps? As I mentioned previously, the day started with a mix up and I ended up sitting around for a while in the middle of nowhere in a little cafe which culminated in doing a rush job at Troy with a guide before literally running and leaping onto the ferry to meet up with my 20 other companions for the day.

Images of Troy
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ANZAC Cove
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The Turkish Memorial and the grave of a Turkish soldier
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The New Zealand Memorial at Chunuk Bair - I lost my hat as I took the photo!
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The Chunuk Bair ridge and evidence of trenches
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An extract from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's famous speech
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Why I adore Istanbul

Back in Istanbul for five days before flying home via Brisbane, I decided to take things a little slowly and try to explore attractions that are not on the hit list for the three day visitors. Istanbul is so fabulous because it has been ruled by three different great empires and it seems as if every monument or historical site has had multiple metamorphoses; a building may begin as a Roman temple to one of the pantheon Gods, a Byzantium church may then be converted into a mosque before then transforming into an art gallery or museum, for example. Where else in the world can you sit down and enjoy a coffee in a cavernous cistern that was constructed beneath a Basilica and now sits underneath a park? Stepping back a few streets from the hurly burly of the main markets, it is wonderful to discover boutiques owned and operated by people who have made the products and can explain to you where the materials were sourced and how, as well as who made them and when. Of course, if you want what you can buy in every major metropolis on the globe then you can do that, too.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me are the fabulous museums and galleries that sit very close to the 'big' attractions but are practically empty. This was particularly obvious in Italy, as well. The other day I strolled past a queue that would have easily been 50 metres long (if not longer) for the Aya Sofya to go to the Museum of Islamic Art and Architecture. There was just me and two other people in what I considered to be one of the best museums I have ever been in. The same could be said for the Istanbul Archaeology Museums and the Kariye Museum, as well as Suleymaniye Mosque. Here are a few pics of just a few of the amazing things I've seen in recent days.

More awesome tiles
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Porcelain Sarcophagi and a giant head
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A museum cat lounges on a cafe chair and tiles from Mesopotamia
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Pages from the first Koran written in the time of the Muhammad
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Mosaics and frescoes in the Chora Church also known as the Kariye Museum
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Around Suleymaniye Mosque
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The Blue Mosque
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The last day of this monumental nine months of travelling ended with one of the best experiences of the trip. The Culinary Backstreets tour was so, so amazing and I had just the best day and it only would have been improved if Scott was here to share it with me. Nonetheless, I joined five other people with chef Benoit exploring many different eateries, shops and other sights in and around the Old City of Istanbul. What I love about these places is that wherever you go, you are meeting an artisan or a craftsperson who has been making the product themselves and sourcing the ingredients from their home region. Most of these people have kept their traditions alive by passing down the skills through the generations. There was a lot of information to digest as well as food! Not only did we totally stuff ourselves with everything from simit bread through to sumac, we were even taken to the family owned shops and small factories that produced the cooking implements in which to create the yummy goods. Totally fascinating. Here are a few photos from my day out.

It started with breakfast - simit, olives, homemade marmalade and rosehip jam, three different cheeses blended with honey and rosemary infused with oil and vinegar
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After indulging in breakfast, we moved on to the spices and dried vegetables
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Next was the regional cheeses and butter
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All of the above was interspersed between visiting and eating a lot of lamb from doner operators and pide
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We all couldn't get enough of the 40 layered filo pastry stuffed with pistachio and other varieties of baklava
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After non-stop eating from 9.30 through to 1pm, we arrived at a Turkish delight shop where they make it upstairs in the family factory. They've been doing that for nearly two hundred years and let's just say they've perfected it!
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As we were wandering around, we stopped off at an organic hand crafted soap store and observed tea and chat time
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After all that gluttony, we then visited a beautiful small mosque
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Six and a half hours after breakfast and feeling disgustingly full, I thanked Benoit for a fabulous day and stumbled home in a food stupor with my other Taksim tourist companions. Just before I got to the door, I saw that the local block cats were getting their charity feed. For those of you who haven't visited Istanbul before, cats are revered and are everywhere. Apparently, a cat killed a snake that was about to attack the prophet Muhammad and another story goes that a Sultan decreed that cats were to be fed, watered and always cared for. And they are. It certainly is the perfect place to be a cat!

The cats that live just outside my apartment getting their daily feed of biscuits, water and meat, as well as a cat casually lounging about
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This time tomorrow I'll most likely be onto my second movie on the marathon journey home via Brisbane but it won't be the last of my travel blogs. After a period of reflection, I'll definitely be writing one final blog that will explore what this blessed time off has enabled me to really think about in the ways of living. See you then!

Posted by Deb_Scott 07:38 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Dumplings, Strudel, Sachertorte and Goulash

Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and Romania

sunny 33 °C

Compared to other places we’ve visited, we sort of breezed through Eastern Europe by spending just 10 days in Czech Republic, 4 days in Vienna, 3 days in Hungary and then 10 days in Romania. Although the Czech Republic is nice it is really just nice and the great time we had in Vienna was really down to spending time with Britta rather than anything momentous that was seen but we did think the city is beautiful. Overall, it would have been great to have spent less time in Czech and another week in Romania or at least a few days in Bulgaria. Oh well – I have a few ideas for subsequent trips now anyway!

Unfortunately, we only had two days of sunshine in Czech Republic which was a bit of a pain as we had planned to do a fair bit of walking in the forests. Usually, a spot of rain is not too bothersome but it was so cold after spending several weeks in Italy that we just wanted to hunker down.

Baked goods in Prague
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The most touristy bridge on earth
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One thing we really enjoyed were all the helpful people we encountered in Czech Republic. Our favourite conversation was with an 84 year old who said he learnt English first because he enjoyed the Beatles and secondly because he was part of the revolution and he thought it would be necessary. He informed us he then went on to be a tour guide after the fall of communism but he was now too old to keep up with the tourists. I’m not sure how good a tour guide he actually was though because he told us to get off at the wrong tram stop. Fortunately, I ignored his advice and we alighted at the correct stop!

Karlovy Vary was going to be a favourite destination due to the location of one of our favourite films titled ‘Last Holiday’ starring Queen Latifah but that turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The town was lovely but The GrandHotel Pupp allowed smoking in its gorgeous restaurant so we thought stuff that and walked straight back out; however, the rain had stopped for all of ten minutes so we camped out in the hotel’s terrace café and experienced the best apple strudel we are ever likely to have.

The best strudel ever
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The Pupp
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We totally adored Cesky Krumlov and partly this was due to the sun, the fact that it was less crowded and its fairytale atmosphere. Going for a paddle was a lovely change too but once again, it was all just ‘nice’ and a more compact version of what we’d seen before. In saying that, it was our favourite place in Czech Republic and not to be missed.

Paddling
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Dumplings
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Images of Cesky Krumlov
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Vienna is home for Britta and it was so cool to spend a few days with her. We were all on a mission to find the best Sacher torte and Viennese coffee on offer but we made a serious error by ordering our first coffee with no cream. Disaster. Other highlights included walking for miles around the city admiring the lovely tree lined boulevards and ambling around an art gallery, as well as enjoying an afternoon on the hills overlooking Vienna and then walking back down stopping off at a winery along the way.

With Britta in Vienna
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Relaxing with a wine on a day out in Vienna's hills
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Cake, coffee and more cake
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The beautiful Belvedere
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Boarding the train to Budapest we were hopeful of seeing something a little different but really Budapest is another ‘nice’ city with ‘nice’ buildings. After a couple of days walking for ever we decided to bus out to Monument Park and that was interesting despite it being a long way to go for less than a 45 minute visit. The park was established to show the public all those intimidating ugly Communist era statues and to give people a glimpse of what life was like under Communism. Looked awful!

Firstly - the statues
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Secondly - the lovely buildings
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Thirdly - the gorgeous synagogue and the moving Holocaust Memorial
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Finally - cafe and chocolates
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The thought of a 14 hour train journey was enough to make our stomachs’ curdle after our Indian experiences so we treated ourselves to a private double sleeper cabin with attached private shower and toilet. Awesome! We were so blasé about the train that we assumed the dining car would be the same standard as the one from Vienna to Budapest. We were so, so wrong. Ick – it rivaled the worst of India’s train dining options. In fact, on reflection, it was worse. Just as we were falling asleep at around 11.30pm, the train jolted to a stop and we woken with ‘passport, passport’. Scrambling to put something decent on, find the light switch and then locate the passports was rather difficult. Thinking that was all over, we then crawled back into bed only to be woken again by the Romanian border control about an hour later and they took some time flicking through the pages and muttering to themselves. Not quite as ridiculous though as the border control person in Bucharest who asked me how long I had lived in Romania and where was my residents’ permit. Eh? I had to tell her a couple of times that I lived in New Zealand, that I have never lived in Romania and I thought to myself I never want to live in Bucharest – just let me leave! I think the confusion was that I’d entered on a train and she couldn’t see the faint stamp of my entry, as well as the fact that I came from the small, undesirable nation of New Zealand whose inhabitants are regularly trying to illegally migrate to Romania overland from Hungary.

Romania though is a fabulous, fabulous country. We adored the scenery, the medieval fortified Saxon towns but most of all, we loved the very north. We spent a few days right at the top in Maramures County which borders the Ukraine. It was odd to think that less than 50 metres away (at one point) lay a picturesque country that was warring with itself. Looked peaceful and serene from this side which is admittedly a very long way from the conflict. Anyway, Sighetu Maramures is famous for its cultural traditions (totally normal to see a horse and cart, people raking up the hay and wearing their traditional clothing), the wooden buildings, painted monasteries and it is Elie Wiesel’s boyhood home until he was taken to Birkenau-Auschwitz

Elie Wiesel's House
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The very moving Communist Memorial and Museum
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A sample of traditional life in the region
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The sun setting over the Ukraine
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One downer though are the roads. All around the centre of the country, they are mostly good but if you are exploring out of the Saxon tourist triangle, they just disintegrate. You really can’t plan to go faster than 50 to 60 km an hour on the main road. Any deviation from the main road will mean a dirt road even in the biggish towns. We were sort of disappointed not to see a bear. Romania’s forests are vast and are home to a thriving bear population totaling around 6000. We did see a dead wolf though on the side of the road. It was huge and it must have been hit by a truck or so I hope otherwise it would have suffered, I’m sure.

Several images of the Saxon fortified churches and towns
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Our final stop was Bucharest before heading on towards Asia again. Well – it was ok but really, it was the same as all the other cities we’d already seen and it was so hot. Romania is super duper hot by the way and probably not to be recommended to travel in during July. Anyway, it had lovely trees some interesting architecture (the second largest building in the world built by their crazy communist dictator is unreal) and it has lots of wonderful eateries – with smoke fumes billowing all over the place. Honestly, we were so intrigued and appalled by the prevalent smoking that we started googling cancer rates and life expectancy for Russians, Czechs, Hungarians and Romanians.

The giant building in Bucharest
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Fabulous eateries in Bucharest
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And where would we be without a fang photo
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It was great to spend so much time in Europe but to be honest, aside from Sicily and the north of Romania, it is all rather (dare I say it) a bit dull and perhaps that’s too strong a word or perhaps a bit too repetitive in terms of architecture and food although the cultural differences were fairly obvious. Even though it was easy and relaxing, we won’t be back to this neck of the woods for a very long time or if at all except to catch up with friends.

Posted by Deb_Scott 11:08 Comments (0)

Mainland Italy

sunny 30 °C

It was sad to say goodbye to Sicily but we were looking forward to visiting Rome, Naples and Venice on the Italian mainland. When we arrived in Rome, we were greeted by Roberto at the metro station and taken to our airbnb apartment where Roberto filled us in on what to do and see before taking us out for a coffee and pastry. Our apartment was about 40 minutes from the centre of Rome and we had a Tabacchi (bar) below us that always seemed to have the same locals there from 8am to closing. There was little noise except for the Sunday night when there was a local football game on the big screen and the Tabbac crowd went crazy. We weren’t too sure if the local side was winning or losing!

A couple of selfies, ruins and the bamboo forest
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We knew that Rome would be manic with tourists and it certainly lived up to expectations with large queues and wait times to get in to the key sites. Fortunately, we had purchased our museum tickets in advance so we just waltzed on through the queues. As Deb had previously visited Rome, we decided to split up for a couple of our eight days and I headed off with the thousands to visit the Colosseum, the Vatican and Saint Peter’s while Deb visited the Gallery Borghese. Despite the crowds and the temperatures hitting a muggy 32+ these sites were highlights for us. It has to be said though that we were definitely experiencing Baroque and Renaissance overload.

Scott's Day Out
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Sculpture, Baroque and Byzantine Overload
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The real pleasure to be found in Rome though is to abandon the map and guide book and simply wander until you stumble across a hidden gem. It really was of no surprise that our favourite spots were little churches with 13th Century frescoes or a church that once venturing underground stood on top of a temple dedicated to Mithras. Indeed, the best museum we discovered had barely anyone in it yet it contained the best sculptures, mosaics and sarcophagi than anything else we had seen in Rome.

Roberto is a keen cyclist and Deb knew a bit about the importance of the Appian way so we took his advice and spent a day cycling down the 16 kilometre path. Along the way, we admired the Baths of Caracalla, Catacombs, Roman villas and other ruins. The Appian Way was the key Roman road that was built between Roma and Napoli. We could just imagine the feet that had previously trodden the cobblestones that our bikes bumped over. There was no marker though to indicate where Spartacus was crucified, however.

Images from our day cycling The Appian Way
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It seemed that everyday we were walking further and further and we were averaging close to 20kms each day. Our pedometer doesn't lie! Needless to say our knees and feet were moaning and groaning with every step. One of the frustrations of Rome and other places in Italy was the fact that everything closed down at 1pm and didn’t reopen until 4pm so often we were stuck in the middle of a city with three hours to kill during the hottest part of the day. Due to the high temperatures we were compelled to consume large amounts of gelato with Deb’s favourite being coconut and mine being fragola and limone. Gelato wasn’t the only food item we were consuming. We managed with no effort at all to eat crème croissants, pastries, cold meats and pasta.

Eight days later we boarded the train and headed to Naples. We were once again met at the train station by our airbnb host and taken to the supermarket before arriving at our apartment overlooking Naples. Here our host warned us that we needed to be aware of the danger that the “Free Cats” posed and it was important that we kept our screen door closed. Within 30 minutes we were visited by five cats who looked remarkably well fed and were very friendly. Immediately upon seeing a free cat, Deb got out the saucer and filled it with milk so it was no wonder they kept hanging around. We later discovered that our host fed all the cats on a daily basis. In Italy a “Free Cat” is actually a wild cat without an owner and we have had the pleasure of meeting some lovely and cunning free cats all over Italy.

One free cat
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Naples in its self is not really a go to destination as it has a rough reputation and the streets are dirty but it is a jumping off point for the Amalfi Coast and also Pompeii and Herculaneum. I'd also like to add that it has the most confusing public transport system in Italy. Our host told us that nothing has been upgraded since the recession so nothing makes sense! Great. Anyway, the Amalfi coast wasn’t on our agenda especially after touring around Sicily’s coast but we spent one long day visiting Pompeii, the 3D Virtual Archaeological Museum and the ruins in Herculaneum. We were the first in the gates at Pompeii which gave us the luxury of being able to wander along deserted cobbled streets and taken in the feel of the Roman ruins and imagine what life would have been like. Fortunately, we were the only ones at the Villa of Mysteries so we could gaze at the murals as long as we liked. On every corner we found the ruins of food vendor shops and bakeries and we could imagine the hustle of the busy streets of a population that was about to meet its end. Within two hours the tour groups arrived and we became part of the ebb and flow of people wandering around.

Photos of Pompeii
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Beautiful Murals from the Villas
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After Pompeii we headed to the 3D Virtual Archaeological Museum where we experienced a 180 degree 4D experience of the Mount Vesuvius eruption. We found ourselves the only ones there, which made a nice change. We finished the day with an exploration of the Herculaneum ruins before heading home. All in all we clocked up 29 kms of walking so were feeling pretty worn out.

For our final day in Naples we decided to check out the old part of town and to have a Napoli Pizza. On our way out our hosts invited us in to have a coffee so we had one of those interesting conversations where we didn’t speak very good Italian and they didn’t speak very good English.

We found the Pizzeria that was rumored to be the first in Italy to make pizza but also found a huge queue snaking out the door so we headed up the street and found a less crowded place to eat. I’m not exaggerating but we had the most amazing two pizzas we are ever likely to have in our lives. They were so, so good!

A street in Naples
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Although Naples isn’t the greatest destination in the world, it does have an awesome archaeological museum that we spent a morning admiring but its real tour de force is the veiled statue of Christ hidden away in a little church amongst the medieval lanes. We’ve lost count of the amount of Bellini, Boromini et al sculptures we’ve seen but this veiled Christ was astonishing and was Deb’s favourite sculpture.

The last leg of our Italy sojourn took us to Venice where Deb has already visited twice before but it was my first time there. We spent the first two nights in Padova, which is about 30 minutes outside of Venice but it has a wonderful history of its own. Padova was a lovely town with a vibrant town centre with plenty of good eating. We found a lovely wine bar and enjoyed pizza, tapas and red wine.

Venice was an amazing place but once again totally over flowing with tour groups. My first experience of the Grand Canal was reasonably early in the morning during a thunder and lightening storm that didn’t lessen as the day went on. It poured down and the next greatest hurdle was trying to avoid being poked in the eye by umbrella wielding tour groups.

The Grand Canal and Umbrella Mayhem
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I went to the Doges Palace by myself as Deb had been before and admired the paintings and furniture that contrasted greatly with the extension prison cell system that the Palace also contained. We continued our love hate affair with churches and visited a number of Baroque churches, rode the vaporetto up and down the canals and even did the ultimate tourist thing and had a gondola ride. We bargained our man down ten euros but it is still a total rip off. The best part about Venice though is undoubtedly the setting and the charm of ambling down so many little lanes and alleyways.

A few more pics of lovely Venice
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We spent our last night in a hotel in Venice so we could go out for a fabulous dinner. After all the amazing places we have eaten in across Italy, we managed to pick our only poor choice. It was away from the main drag and the menu looked good but it was really quite average. I guess you win some and you lose some. Here we come Eastern Europe!

Posted by Deb_Scott 10:20 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

'The Land Where Lemons Grow'

Three weeks in Sicily

sunny 26 °C

In 1787 Goethe travelled all over Sicily and was so captivated by the beauty of the place that his writings encapsulated a universal longing for the Mediterranean way of living that seems to haunt our imagination. In particular, he posed the question of, ‘Do you know the land where lemons grow…Do you know it well?’ (Goethe, Italian journey). So, I felt it was my duty to read the fabulous book by Helena Attlee titled The Land Where [/i[i]]Lemons Grow in order to fully understand the history and culture of Sicily and over our three weeks here, it certainly has become a favourite place of ours as well as a place to return to.

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On our first day, we stopped off at a TIM store to get an Italian sim card whereby the shop attendant was pleased to explain that Sicily is a place of contradictions. She couldn’t be more correct. Our first accommodation was set amongst a working class neighbourhood in Palermo’s La Kalsa quarter. Directly across from our tiny balcony live a Sicilian family that included: a whining child, the largest hairy bellied grandfather you can imagine with a bellowing voice that boomed throughout the street from early in the morning to late in the evening, a football loving father, a short dumpy grandmother who enjoyed talking (shouting) to her neighbours along the street and a mother who spent much of the day hanging out washing from the lines strung across the street. It was a wonderful introduction albeit a noisy one to life in a vibrant inner city suburb. Not so vibrant were the piles of rubbish and graffiti all over the place, however.

One fine day, we decided to head straight to Enoteca Picone to sample just a couple of glasses from their range of over 500 Sicilian, Italian and international wines. We were keen to only sample wine from Sicily so our waiter selected two wines of the Nero d’Avola variety. They were good but I’m afraid to say that niente compares to Central Pinot Noir; however, more pleasing to the palate was the enormous platter of Sicilian cheeses, cured meats and olives that accompanied the wine.

The wine shop
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A view of Cefalu on a day out of Palermo
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As soon as we picked up our tiny VW Upi, we started to drive through the land of contradictions that our sim card salesperson referred to. On my left lay the grey, concrete industrialization of the modern era and on my right lay great, green swathes of orchards bursting with sunsets of oranges and lemons. The scent was divine as we trundled along the motorway towards our first stop of Segesta.

Segesta is a gorgeous site comprising of the ruins of one of the most perfect Doric temples ever constructed. It sits on a small hilltop surrounded by a gorge and plentiful olive groves. Our accommodation was a tiny B&B just a couple of kilometres away so were able to see its beauty in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening when it was set alight by the setting sun.

Photos of Segesta
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Hungry (as usual), we scoured the landscape for a place to eat dinner and our destination, where we ate a lovely meal at lunch, didn’t open until 8pm so we bumped along a twisting metal road to a restaurant several kilometres from the main road in the hope that it would be open. We were rewarded with splendid views over the countryside and a true Sicilian meal accompanied by the most revolting wine I’ve ever tasted. Oh well – you can’t get it right all the time!

Our delicious lunch
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The Agriturismo meal - note the revolting 1/4 carafe of vino
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The following day we headed to Erice apparently one of the many towns founded by Aeneas. Set atop a very steep mountain, Erice’s medieval streets are now slicked with time. It was lovely walking along the remains of the Punic wall, gazing out over the sweeping views of the coast from the remains of the Norman castle and tasting pasticceria from Sicily’s most famous cake shop – Maria Grammatico.

Photos of Erice and the yummy pasticceria
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After descending the 750metre hill, we drove on the coastal route towards Marsala famous for you guessed it, Marsala wine. The sweet wine is just too sweet for our liking but it was nice to think about those Marsala casks been sent to Islay to be used for maturing some of the islands more expensive whiskeys.

Mazara del Vallo is one of many towns that owes its wealth to one of its many conquerors but this time it was the Arabs that gave the town its fame. It was easy to amble along many of the twisting alleyways pleasantly decorated with colourful tiles and then pop out at a superb piazza to admire a church or gaze wistfully into the window of yet another gelateria. Since we were in an historic Arab town, we decided to have an authentic Tunisian lunch. I settled on a fennel infused couscous whilst Scott devoured two heavenly savoury pastries.

Photos of amphora in Marsala and photos of Mazara del Vallo
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The true find in this little town though is the fabulous bronze statue of the ‘dancing satyr’ founded on the seabed by local fishermen in 1997. One of the highlights of our year so far but unfortunately the photos just don't do it justice.

Photos of the Dancing Satyr
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Once again, we headed towards our second ancient Greek site but this time it was the huge remains of Selinunte which also happens to be famous for its production of celery. It really is all about the food in Sicily. The ruins of ancient Selinunte, once a large settlement at the westernmost reaches of Magna Graecia, loom high on a promontory above the sparkling Mediterranean. Now one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe, it boasts one of the largest Greek temples in the world. Unfortunately, the mega temple was reduced to ruins during the Punic wars but we were gobsmacked at the size of the fallen columns and the scale of the ruins that took a couple of hours to explore.

Images of Selinunte's Ruins
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Magna Graecia’s other supreme site is just over a 100 kilometres away from Selinunte and is more of a tourist hotspot. At one time the fourth-largest city in the known world Akragas as it was known, is home to Sicily’s most impressive Greek ruins. Huge, towering apartment blocks and raised motorways dominate the north of the city today but the ruins take centre stage in the south. The temples are impressive and we loved exploring the ruins but of real excitement to me, was the amazing museum stocked to the brim with highly decorative amphora and intricate jewellery. Flashbacks of studying classical art and architecture at university reminded me of the importance of amphora as I wandered wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the collection.

Photos of Agrigento
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We’ve seen so many Greek sites so we were very eager to examine the world’s best preserved and most extensive set of Roman mosaics. For the past few years, millions of euros have been spent restoring this impressive villa and we felt very lucky to be able to get to Sicily to view them. The lavish villa was constructed over a period more than 50 years from the late 3rd century to the early 4th century AD and its public and private rooms, peristyles, luxurious thermal baths and gardens with pools and fountains were laid out on four natural terraces. We got there just after opening and just as well because as we were leaving there were close to 15 tour buses in the carpark. Awful and unpleasant considering the walkways are no wider than a metre. At an estimate, we probably took around 50 photos of the villa but none of them really do it justice so we selected just a few of the best as you can see below.

The amazing mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale
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The day was balmy and the air was fragrant with the smell of endless orange and lemon orchards so we decided to head even further inland to the Greek ruins of Morgantina. At first, we gazed across large blocks buried in hip height grass and despaired but then we caught our first glimpse of mighty Etna and just down the hill 50 metres away, lay a lovely little ruin of a Greek theatre and several remains of shops, kilns and magistrates’ houses.

A couple of pictures of Morgantina
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Looking at the GPS, we decided to take a 10 minute longer route to Ragusa rather than backtrack in order to enjoy more of the splendid countryside and views of Etna. Driving along more twisting narrow roads alongside endless wheat fields, I had a sense we were going in the wrong direction but putting our faith in the GPS we carried on. Suddenly, the road crumbled away – literally. The sign towards Caltigarone was quite clear but the road looked as if it was at least 500 years old and hadn’t been repaired – ever. This couldn’t be right we thought but maybe it’ll get better? So we drove and bumped along a road that soon resembled a goat track with deep ruts, giant stones and grass growing down the middle. Only a four wheel drive vehicle should’ve attempted this but we carried on and on and on in a car that was entirely unsuitable and with a phone that had now lost all reception. After two hours and fearing we would end up bottoming the car out or ending up rolled over in a ditch, we came across a man dumping his building rubbish in the middle of the road. It took me, Scott and said dumper about 20 minutes to clear the road of rubble so that we could get past; however, we were pleased we saw another human and a vehicle after two hours in the middle of nowhere. Thinking things could not get any worse because we were on a sort of proper road again, we kept coming across closed roads. To cut a hellish story short, our ten minute diversion ended up taking three hours.

In 1693 a massive earthquake completely destroyed many of Sicily’s villages in the South of the Island. As a result, they were rebuilt completely in the Baroque style with elaborate churches and gorgeous piazzas. We spent the next day driving and walking around Ragusa, Modica and gorgeous Scicli. To be honest though after seeing one Baroque church you’ve seen them all. Of note, a funny little man in a Scicli church forced me to take numerous photos of Christ wearing a skirt. Later, I discovered that the painting was quite famous and that many people travel to Scicli just to see it. Looked a bit weird to me but there you go.

Baroque Overload
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Most visitors to Sicily cling to the Eastern shore due to its beautiful beaches and the looming presence of Europe’s largest and most active volcano so we knew that the tourist hordes would be plenty. Much is made out of the archaeological zone in Syracuse because of its Greek theatre of which Aeschylus’ plays were performed and the Roman Amphitheatre. We couldn’t have been more disappointed. The Greek Theatre was covered in wood for performances, the Roman Amphitheatre was shut and the place was swarming with tour groups. A total rip off and completely underwhelming compared to previous historic sites. One redeeming feature of the day though was exploring another fabulous museum until Scott said, ‘urgh another pot’ (referring to more amphora). I ended up in a giggling fit when he then rounded a corner and saw a really cool ‘pot’ and said, ‘Hey Deb, this pot’s in good nick, eh?’. Oh dear. Greek amphora is not his specialty. More to Scott’s taste was exploring the catacombs so while he did that, I sat outside and ate a kitkat.

The following day, we explored another little village, slept the afternoon away and then headed into Ortygia for an aperitif. Ortygia is a bustling mix of piazzas, markets, a lively restaurant scene, churches and plenty of sights with a brilliant blue sea wrapped around it. We didn’t’ take very many photos due to aimless wandering around all the little lanes.

Images of Ortygia and another 'pot'
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Our last two days spent in Sicily were on the strip of coast that lies just below mighty Mount Etna. Initially, we thought about walking through forests and being very active but after a busy three weeks, we elected to go for a honey tasting and then spend a day wandering along the Cyclops Coast.

Images of Etna
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A morning spent wandering along the Cyclops Coast where Polyphemus hurled rocks at the fleeing Odysseus
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A couple of photos of our final airbnb accommodation in Sicily
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This photo sums up our food odyssey in Sicily
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We’ve adored our time in Sicily and I know that we’ll be back one day. Our favourite spots were definitely on the Western side of the island and we enjoyed all of the delicious food that always tasted so fresh. We are definitely not going to miss hair-raising driving along twisting, cobbled lanes nor are we going to miss those frustrating Sicilian opening hours.

So yes Goethe, we do know where the lemons grow and it is true that wherever you travel in the countryside you are never far away from the pleasant smell of citrus orchards wafting through the open windows of the car.

Posted by Deb_Scott 05:46 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

The UK

all seasons in one day
View A Year on the Road on Deb_Scott's travel map.

This blog doesn't include what we have done in Islay as we've already covered that in a previous blog. This time, we are simply going to put up a few pictures of the places we visited with a caption. All in all, it was a bit of a race around Scotland and England but we did manage to see a lot and most importantly catch up with great friends.

A day out of Chelmsford to visit Ely. The sun was shining and we enjoyed a cup of tea and a very odd coffee in the Ely tearooms.

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Our next stop was Stamford and then onto Chatsworth House. I think we both look as if we own the joint!

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Eyam was the next stop and it was our first experience in a youth hostel. Naturally, it was swarming with school children but we did have the kitchens to ourselves and the bathrooms.

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The next day we shot through York and headed onto Middlesborough to spend the night with Paula and her lovely daughter Ruby. Some of you may remember the Facebook pic of Tilly the dog cuddling up to Scott. She was gorgeous.

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The sun was shinning when we drove over the border and it didn't stop for about 10 days.

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Driving around Argyll and Bute, we stopped off at several Celtic and Iron Age sites. Mostly we saw burial cairns, prehistoric rock circles and standing stones.

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The scenery on and around the Isle of Skye was simply spectacular albeit very chilly!

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It was great visiting Eileen Donan Castle, as well as exploring the ancient sites around Glenelg. Travelling on the mini ferry was a thrill, too.

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One of the highlights of our trip was our visit to Culloden. I'd visited about 15 years ago but it is a whole new interactive experience now and well worth the eleven pound entry fee.

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Just a few miles from Culloden and south of Elgin, lies the minuscule settlement of Birnie where my great, great grandmother came from. In 1866, she upped sticks and headed to NZ. It was really neat to see the family church which is the oldest standing and still in use church in Britain. Also, we found the farm and the old school house - now a pub.

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It was so cold in Edinburgh but we walked around for a couple of hours and stopped off in a whiskey bar. The most shocking thing of the day was spending seventeen pounds on just four hours of parking.

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We decided to spend a night in York so that we could see it properly so we stopped off on our way back down England.

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If there was a spot to live in England then Chester would be high on our list. It is such a wonderful medieval market town with lots to see and do. The sun certainly helped, too!

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Travelling towards Chartham, we stopped off at a favourite place of mine - Igtham Mote.

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Our final stop before London was Chartham where Scott's ancestor's came from. We stayed in a delightful airbnb and enjoyed a great meal at The Artichoke formerly operated by the Cozens clan way back in the 1840s. Also, we spotted the grave of Daniel Cozens (the publican) and then we enjoyed wandering around the church grounds and the village green.

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You'll be wondering why there are no photos of London. Unbelievably, I was only 'with it' for two out of our five days as I ended up with a nasty stomach infection (only in England, eh). In fact, I'm still not entirely over it; however, we did meet up with family, friends and get to do just a little in the time I was vertical. We love this part of the world but I'm pretty sure we won't be back for a long, long time. Anyway, off to Sicily!

Posted by Deb_Scott 11:21 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

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