Monthly Archives: January 2010

Baroque Central – aka Noto, Scicily

Noto is known as the “Baroque City”. It is another rock-top town but was flattened in an earthquake in 1693. So they rebuilt it in the baroque style in a few years, finishing in about 1750. The result is a whole town in one style!
It sits about 17 miles South-West of Siracusa in the middle of nowhere in particular.
We enjoyed an afternoon wandering around the town and seeing the ancient edifices – many of them alive and well! The town seemed to have more than it fair share of octogenarians who sit around taking the micky out of all and sundry but mostly each other.


The top of the Cathedral

Many of the buildings are being refurbished on EU money and the glorious golden yellow makes them look as if they were built yesterday. This stone is the local sandstone and is very soft indeed – good for cleaning up but one has to wonder how they have lasted as long as they have.

Street scene or "not sure what this is"

Street scene or "not sure what this is"

We came across a model of the cathedral made entirely out of straw, I think. It had apparently been made to celebrate the local harvest festival.

Straw model of Cathedral

Straw model of Cathedral

Detail of Straw Model

Detail of Straw Model

For those who would like to get a flavour of the place, there is the usual collection of unsorted piccies at

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Sunday Lunch, Scicilian Style

Lunch out is a fairly rare treat. Budgets, and all that! Actually, Scicily is pretty reasonable for most things and eating out is not the bank-breaking event that it would be further North.

We took advice from our campsite hostess and set off to the first recommendation. Sadly full to bursting.

The next, La Masseria, is some 5 miles from – well anywhere really. It is in the middle of a working farmyard with all the country smells that this implies. However, the restaurant is known for supplying all its own food including meat, so perhaps this was to be expected.

Our first attempt to get into the restaurant landed up in a fairly large cow barn surrounded by tractors. We did manage to find the right door eventually and were welcomed very warmly into the busy dining room.

The first thing that struck us was the long table with 30 people sat around it. Clearly this was a special family occassion for somebody.

The patrone was undertaking most of the menial tasks, like laying up tables and clearing away. It was apparent that although he was the patron, the actual running of the place was firmly in the hands of his daughters and other female family members. I guess he would have had a good day if he didn’t get too severely reprimanded for failing in his duties.

It was a set 4 course menu. How civilised the Italians are – note the line following the Antipasti section! Where else would they have such an understanding of the clients needs?

Lunch Menu

Lunch Menu

The non-smokers amongst you may feel that such a break is of no benefit but you would be wrong! By the time we had eaten the Antipasta, we would have been happy to call it a meal and leave – we were full. So a 15 minute walk around the farm yard was almost essential to prepare for the next three courses.

Antipasti included Bruschetta, Focaccia with tomato and with ricotta and sausage, cheese, olives and chickpeas. Then two types of pasta – with ricotta and herbs and Masseria sauce – tomato based. Then sausage and roast meat with a green salad, then the piece de resistance, Ravioli fritti di ricotta, sugary covered hot ricotta puffs with the taste of freshly fried doughnuts.

The atmosphere was wonderful. With diners ranging from great grandparents down to babies, there was not a cross word and the children happily ran around all over the place bringing everyone into the extended family feel.

The main party was celebrating the 80th birthday of this gentleman.


Octogenarian posing for his picture.

We did eventually finish our meal, after about three hours…

Then we came to pay the bill. I was handed a bill for €36 and I offered €40 to recieve a €5 note in change. OK, so they knocked off the €1 and I figured that €5 would be a reasonable tip so I pushed it back to the patron with a thanks.

He looked at me as if I were crazy and then realised that I was offering a tip and laughed. “No, we don’t do that here!”, he said.

I think we have just found the only place in Europe where the restauranteur tips the customer!  We retired to bed for the rest of the afternoon feeling as if we could go several days without eating again.

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At Last, I Understand…

We have been nomads now for 18 months. During this time I have spent all too many hours reading motorhome related forums. When it comes to the topic of full-timing, somebody will always post the comment, “When you fulltime, you have to remember that it is a lifestyle, not a holiday”.

I have never understood this remark – until this week!

We have been very happy with our nomadic existence but there have always been two nagging thoughts.

The first is “We really shouldn’t be having a life without responsibilities and commitments. It’s wrong. We will have to pay for all this self-indulgent fun sooner or later. It is The Law, be it Sod’s, Murphy’s or whatever…

The second is “We should be doing something. Just sitting around in the sun is no way for people to live. What would the Rev. Calvin have to say? Where is our Protestant Work Ethic?”

Last week all that changed. We have seen the light and we are born again.

It started with an old conversation about writing a book. For those who didn’t know, Liz and I used to write for a living. Really boring factual stuff, usually commissioned by publishers. Nevertheless we enjoyed doing it and managed to make a living out of it. Then Liz found some information from the British Library Theatre Archive Project and started to think about the possibility of a book based on this material. A few more days and it became clear that the topic really fascinated her and we decided that “the book” should be started. Really started. We even researched software to make the gathering of information more orderly.

At much the same time, whilst reading the daily questions and answers on the forums, I started to think about how the same questions came up over and over again. I thought about the way in which only the bare bones of answers were forthcoming because that is the nature of forums. Actually, one of the forums, http://www.MotorhomeFacts.Co.UK, had instigated a little project where members were asked to contribute articles for a collection of FAQs. The project resulted in a useful collection of informative articles and then stopped there. Noone had thought about who owned the copyright and therefore doubts were raised about publishing the articles other than amongst the members. The project has stalled since last March as a result. All that useful information and few people able to see it!

I will write an Owners’ Reference Handbook, I thought, and started to put down an outline.

A few days later and we realised that our attitudes had changed. We both had a purpose. We were no longer feeling guilty about being pure hedonists. We felt Calvin might smile upon us again.

We had moved from extended holiday mode to a lifestyle choice. Where better to be writing our books but sitting in the sun overlooking the blue Mediteranean in January. Oh, it feels so much less self-indulgent even though we know it isn’t really!

Anyone want to proof read Chapter 1 – 3500 words on Gas?

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An Underwater Trip to the Supermarket

Yes, we know that the UK comes to a halt when it snows. We know that is because it is rare and we are never ready for it.

But before you complain too much let me tell you the story of my journey to the supermarket yesterday…

The idea was simple. We had invited some friends round for a drink & pizzas at 7pm so it seemed a good idea to pop out in the Smart car to get a supply of wine.

The next village has a small Conad but not much in the way of quaffables. Liz wanted to get the van respectably clean inside, so I decided I would do the shopping alone. I knew there were supermarkets at Ragusa, 19 miles and 40 minutes in the car. But we had been there a couple of days ago. Why not go somewhere new?

I consulted the map and decided that I should go to Gela. The guide book said it wasn’t worth visiting so I wouldn’t be wasting a trip out without Liz because she wouldn’t want to go there anyway. It is 28 miles and 55 minutes according to Autoroute, so off I set at about 12:45.

The weather forecast said we should expect 14mm of rain over 11 hours! But, hey, it doesn’t rain in the car or supermarket; it wouldn’t worry me.

The trip there went pretty much as expected. A few puddles across the road and a couple of them quite deep but nothing to cause alarm. Reached Gela at about 2pm, filled up with petrol and bought cigs etc at the Tabachi. Now for the supermarket…

I drove through the town but didn’t see one. I drove round the outskirts and didn’t see one. I drove round the inner town and didn’t see one. But I did see a large police station. So I parked outside and approached the door. It clearly wasn’t intended to be the public entrance, so I asked a policewoman passing by where the main entrance was. Somehow, she decided instantly that I was not a local and was English. Must have been a detective! Anyway, she told me that there was no public area and then immediately told me to follow her. She led me into the centre of the building which was designed rather like the spokes of a wheel. In the middle was a large atrium with a number of policemen having a conversation.

“Which one of you lot speaks English?”, says my guide. One of them steps forward and says to me “I speak a little but I would do better in French.” Now, I have a policy of always trying to speak the local language even if offered English, knowing I can give up and resort to English or French is a bonus. I asked where the local supermarket was. I explained that I was looking for an IperCoop, Auchan or a Simply sort of supermarket. Immediately his friend said “You will have to go to Catania for that but it is a 100 miles!” No, said I, I want somewhere more local. ” Well you could try Licata, there is a big shop there!”, offers another one of the policemen.  Now Licata is another 20 miles further along the coast on small roads. It would mean another 45 minutes driving.

“No. is there not a shop in Gela?”, I say. My first volunteer agrees that there is a EuroSpin in Gela and he watches while I put its location into my GPS.

At this point, I remember that I also want to buy a USB Hub so I ask where I might get one. He doesn’t understand what that is because I don’t know the Italian or French for USB or Hub. But we manage to establish that it is a part for a computer. Now yet another of the assembly of policemen goes off to one of the offices and fetches another lady who is clearly one of the station IT staff. She does know what a USB Hub is and also knows that there is a distributor in the town who may be open. Sadly, none of them know the name of the relevant street so the GPS is not going to help.

“Don’t worry about that” says my new friend. Yet more policemen are fetched and they explain to me that the new policeman will drive there so I can follow!

I thank all the now considerable gathering and off I trot after my new guide and his colleague. A large police van is fetched and waits for me to get my car behind it. Off we go on what turns out to be a 10 minute journey snaking round the back streets of Gela. Once there at the closed shop, I say my thanks and farewells to my guides, who seem to have thoroughly enjoyed escorting this strange car with the steering wheel on the wrong side.

At this point, I can log the spot on the GPS and set off to the EuroSpin. This turns out to be a sort of poor man’s Lidl. It has a reasonably large wines section but there is nothing on the shelves priced much above 5 Euros. But that is OK. I am not looking for expensive quality and I select 6 bottles of assorted mysteries to try.

At this point I had been in the shop for the best part of 45 minutes. When I came to leave, it was pouring down – like a cloud burst and customers are refusing to go out to their cars. I explain to one fellow that I am going out into the downpour. I have my umbrella and I am English so I am well used to such weather. This causes much amusement to the cowering customers and off I go.

Now to drive back to the computer shop.

As soon as I get onto the main road; a dual carriageway, I realise that the puddles have become street-wide rivers! The closer I drive, very slowly,into town, the deeper the river becomes. It isn’t helped by the fact that the water has pulled a sheet of plastic, that covers the underside of the front of the Smart, down at the front. I now have a large water scoop! Every so often I have to pull over onto the river bank, get out with the umbrella and re-clip it under the front bumper. Not fun.

On reaching the inner ring road, I see complete chaos. The problem is that Sicillian roads are built without two features common to all UK roads. No drains and no camber. None at all!

As I plough cautiously down the main drag, the first thing I see is a very large section where the water is about 30cm deep. I can tell this because, sitting right in the middle of it and all alone, is a lovely new drowned BMW. What else? The driver can’t do anything about it because the water is higher than his sills. Without drains that might have eventually allowed him to dry out, I am not sure what the future holds for him.

I decide that, under the circumstances, I could use the service road around this urban sea, even if it does mean going the wrong way down the one-way system. It is Italy, where No Entry signs are only advisory after all! This gets me some progress. Then the service road comes to an end but there is another one on the other side of the main road, so I cautiosly motor-swim across to it. At this point I realise that I am leading a little convoy or mostly 4x4s in my little Smart car!

Eventually, I make my way onto the main road out of town where the tarmac is only 10cm below water level and getting better as we go up hill. There is a new phenomenon to deal with now.

There are many potholes that have been patched with tarmac. The water pressure has caused most of them to erupt like small volcanoes. I quickly learn that if you see a puddle surrounded with black pebbles arond it, don’t go through the puddle – it is a bit like driving off the edge into a small swimming pool!

This lesson learned, and observing a few drowned Pandas in them, I am making better progress but there are still sections which are really too deep for such a small car. However, I decided that when I got an Italian 4×4 right up behind me, it would be wise to pull over and let it pass. This way I can chose my own speed and course. This decision led me to the solution. I had let a small lorry past me who then plowed immediately into a deep bit. As I was now fairly close behind it, I discovered that his double wheels pushed most of the water to the sides and I could follow in its tracks without getting submerged – as long as I continued to tailgate it.

The route home was not qiite what I intended. The GPS had clearly been on the vino again and there were several blocked roads; either with drowned vehicles and some with official barriers.

By the time I got home at 7pm, the 55 minute 28 mile journey had taken me three solid hours and 44 miles.

Now just consider that this was all caused by about half an inch of rain over an 11 hour period!

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Christmas and New Year Celebrations

Ben (eldest son) arrived to stay with us on Christmas Eve. He flew Alitalia from Heathrow with very little fuss or delay. He came Club Class and passed on a useful tip. Apparently, seat prices are based on demand level. At holiday times such as Christmas Evev, there are many wanting Economy Class but few wanting Business Class. Net result, his Club Class ticket was less than Economy!

Ben joined Julyan in the “Spare Room” – after a hasty bit of clearing up!

We decided to have Christmas Lunch in the campsite restaurant. Now this is not a question of allowing the Sicillians to serve a suitable meal and turning up to eat it. This was a guided menu by the three Brits on site. After all, we know how it should be done, don’t we?

We got the ball rolling by putting the idea to the management, who took it up with enthusiasm. Guiseppe immediately offered a menu.

At this point, our neighbour, June, took on the correction of the proposed menu. She is a Brit married these many years to a Swedish farmer living in Gotland. June explained the essential core must be stuffed Turkey and that Christmas Pudding is essential.

The turkey was no problem and Guiseppe duly ordered one. Stuffing was not in the Sicilian repetoire so June volunteered to make it and apply it to the bird. This was fine until the bird arrived on Christmas Eve. Guiseppe had ordered a 10Kg bird. What was delivered was a 16Kg bird – boneless! This presented June with the problem of how to stuff a boneless turkey and Guiseppe with severe doubts about it fitting in his oven. However, on the day, June went and managed to sew the bird back together around the stuffing and the thing was negotiated into Guiseppe’s humidifying oven.

June had a 1Kg Christmas pudding and we persuaded Ben to bring another with him. Guiseppe was still insisting that the final course would be Cassata. Patrick took on the task of making the Brandy Butter.

Liz ordered crackers from Lakeland in the UK which duly arrived. She had half with the balloons that you make funny animals out of, and half with musical whistles that each diner blows on cue to make a tune (musical score supplied). It appears that June had made two annual attempts to bring crackers to Italy but they had always been confiscated as explosive devices so she was delighted that Liz had found the way.

Guiseppe brought his entire family along including his very elderley parents-in-law and three delightful daughters.

In laws

In laws



Guiseppe Wife & daughters

Guiseppe Wife & daughters

There were about 10 happy campers to make up the party.

Julyan, Liz, Ben, June & Lars

Julyan, Liz, Ben, June & Lars

Happy Campers

Happy Campers

We were very impressed with the tolerance as assorted Brits wandered in and out of their kitchen demanding working space, utensils and attention. It seemed just fine with all concerned.

The meal started with 3 types of vegetables cooked in different ways, followed by a sort of giant Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach. The turkey was then brought in cut in enormous 1cm slices, roast potatoes, stuffing and a sort of ham roll which most of us were too full to eat. This was then folloed by the Christmas Pudding which Patrick made several attempts to get to the table still flaming. Guiseppe made it work by following him into the restaurant with an enormous spoon of hot brandy which he poured and lit on arrival. This process caused considerable amusement amongst the non-Brits but was sampled by almost everyone. Finally came the Cassata. This was delicious creamy sort of cross between a cheesecake and a  Panatone.

We left the meal hardly able to walk and spent most of the rest of the day very quietly or sleeping.

Julyan went home on Boxing day and Ben left the day after.

The day Ben left, first Patrick and then Liz went down with extreme colds. These took over a week to recover from. We were extremly grateful for Ben’s Christmas present of full boxed sets of Prime Suspect, Brideshead Revisited, The Office and Porridge. We watched several hours of these day after day whilst we coughed and sniffed. What a wonderfully timed present…

We were aware of the New Year celebrations going on around us. The Sicillians appear to have a love affair with fireworks. For at least two weeks leading up to Christmas, there seemed to be a series of firework parties every night. On New Years Eve the place seemed to explode over a 4 hour period. From our seaside position, we could see them in all directions along the bay. A wonderful sight indeed.

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Italian Lessons on Traffic Management – Seriously!

It is a standing joke that when you hire a car in Catania and return it without any extra scratches, the hire company will give you a certificate that qualifies you to drive anywhere in the world!

On first impressions, the city is chaotic and terrifying for the Northern European driver. But somehow the traffic does keep moving, albeit slowly and in jumps and starts. Pedestrians seem to be able to get where they want to go and scooters – well they are a law all their own. The best advice is to never look in your rear view mirror because doing so is worse than cholesterol for your heart.

Then, after a day or so, you become slowly aware that the city works. There are more vehicles per square meter than is possible, but it works!

Eventually, you start to wonder how. What is it that makes this traffic anarchy, not only work, but actually feel less stressful than Paris, London or Munich?

Contra-Flow Bus Lanes

The first thing that struck me is that all the bus lanes, and there are many, go against the flow of traffic.

This has two effects. Cars do not enter the bus lanes like they normally do elsewhere. In with-the-flow bus lanes, the thought is that “I can just nip in for a moment to get through and any bus will have to wait a moment if one appears. I can even park in the bus lane if there are no yellow lines to say I can’t. After all, the bus can pull out to get past me.

With the against-the -flow, you know that you would meet head on and you would be holding up the whole system while you tried to get back on your own side of the road. Of course, parking becomes a total blockage and is not risked. It would become immediately apparent when the next bus arrived and be very embarrassing to the perpetrator.

Double Parking – A Good Idea, really

Catania benefits from many wide streets. Almost all of them have marked parking bays next to the curb. However, double, even triple or quadraple, parking is the norm. There is a convention that makes this work.

Basically, if you want to park for more than 10 minutes or so, you need to find a parking bay on the kerbside. This can be done by double parking until one becomes vacant.

If you are only going to be a few minutes, you double park near your destination without worrying about the cars you may be blocking in.

If you need to get out and are blocked, sound your horn. If you are double parked and you hear a horn, check to see if it is you who needs to move your car and do so as quickly as possible.

If you are parking in an inner bay but only intend to be a few minutes, either put your hazard warning lights on or leave your car protruding into the double parking lane. This warns otheres that you will be moving soon and they should avoid blocking you if possible.

For the system to work requires patience but given that parking only takes a few moments under this system you can afford a couple of minutes delay – it is a lot quicker than having to drive around for 15 minutes trying to find a non-blocked parking spot, probably 5 minutes walk away from your target destination.

Traffic Lights

There are very few traffic lights even at major intersections. Negotiating these crossroads requires an awareness of other drivers and extreme caution. The result is continuously slow moving traffic and very few accidents! Nobody assumes right of way.

Of course you do need to concentrate and not allow yourself to mentally drift off…

Pedestrian Crossings

These are plentiful, very wide and only rarely covered by traffic lights. They are also largely ignored by pedestrians.

The rule is simple – drivers always stop to allow pedestrians to cross the road irrespective of where they may be.

Where there are pedestrian lights, drivers will stop to allow pedestrians to cross but as soon as the crossing is clear, they do not have to wait for the red light to change but can proceed anyway.

This approach saves a lot of wasted time and makes the delay of getting pedestrians across no longer an irritating delay beyond the neccessary.


Speeds above 10 or 15 miles per hour in a town is very rare. Strangely, this does not seem to be a problem.

There are two reasons for this.

1. The traffic is usually moving to some extent. You always feel to be making progress.

2. You know that when you get where you are going, you won’t be wasting a lot of time finding somewhere to park

3. You get used to planning your journey on the slower but reliable pace.

It is interesting to note that even when the streets are empty, drivers still tend not to drive much faster.

If Catania were an English town with the traffic density it has, there would be constant gridlock. Accidents would be frequent and road rage predominant.


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Catania, Sicily – Love at first sight

On leaving Rome, we intended to spend a few days at Pompei and to see Naples. By the time we actually got on the road, we decided that we couldn’t face it as we hadn’t got the energy to spend more time sightseeing. We wanted to get somewhere warmer and to settle down for a month or so.

We covered the journey from Rome to Sicily in one go – all 500+ miles of fairly unmemorable motorway. Yes, we did look at Vesuvius as we passed but, apart from promising to go back on the way North in the Spring, we took no heed of its presence.

Ferry from San Giovanni to Messina

We spent a night in a service station just outside San Giovanni so that we could do the last part of the journey in daylight.

As we drew into the port, a man came up to us and asked for details of the vehicle. We told him that the van was 7.6 meters, weighed 5 tons and that the trailor was another 4.4 meters and weighed about 1.5 tons. We told him we were British and that we were two adults. He wrote all this down and then said he could give us a discount and wrote on a piece of paper “5m” and showed it to us. Thinking he was the official ticket man, we just nodded acceptance of whatever he said. At this point he indicated that we should draw forward in front of the ticket office and get out to pay for the ticket. He came with us to the ticket window and explained rapidly to the rather tired looking man inside that he had agreed a discount for us. The ticket was issued and E60 was paid. Now we had heard from some friends who had a slightly larger van but no trailer that the crossing had cost them E75. We seemed to be getting away cheap so when the original man then asked for a E5 tip, we paid without questioning the process. Indeed, no-one questioned the loading of our 12m rig on a ticket that said 5m. Quite how this arrangement happens, we have no idea!

The trip across was quick at about 20 minutes but it was obvious why this stretch of water is said to be the busiest channel in the world for shipping. There must have been a dozen ferries crossing the path of all the merchant and passenger traffic that passes between North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean and the West coast of Italy. There is a lot of it.

A short trip down the coast took us out of the rather uninspiring town of Messina, under the spectacular towns of Taormina and Castel Mola (of which more later) and on to Camping Jonio in Catania. We had decided that this could be our initial Sicillian resting place because of its proximity to the airport, Mt Etna and the busy city of Catania, where we thought our Christmas visitors would find things to see and do, rather than just looking over a beach in the middle of nowhere.

One look was enough. The campsite is small and a little cramped. It is in need of some maintenance but is also right on the rocky seaside as well as being no more than 2 miles from the city centre. In fact, we have been told that last year, during a storm, the waves put the lower part of the site (where we are) underwater and everybody had to be evacuated.

Spare room

Camping Jonio, Catania

The view from the van window is looking towards the Lebanon. I get great amusement from looking at the ships going to and fro and being able to look at to see what they are, where they are going to and have come from. Maybe it is a bit like trainspotting but, hey, what’s wrong with that?

Liz in the front "garden"

Liz in the front "garden"


The Festival of Santa Lucia at Siracuse, an hour’s trip South, proved to be a fascinating event. Held in December, it is not done to amuse the tourists but is a genuine local celebration. St Lucia, a local martyr, is now kept in edifice as an enormous silver statue which is taken round the old city every year with much pomp and ceremony. The thing weighs a considerable amount and even with 30+ porters can only be moved about 10 yards at a time with a five minute rest between movings. Since she is carried about 2 miles, it takes from midday till late evening to complete the pageant.

Santa Lucia appears

Santa Lucia appears

It was a matter of some surprise as we found our way to the starting piazza that the first people we met were Lars & June, our Swedish neighbours at Catania! We had a good day occasionally meeting up with the procession but also exploring the rest of the old city, finally landing up eating roast chestnuts in the dark but crowded streets before coming home.

Cooking lessons

One day, we were invited to attend a demonstration about cooking fish Sicillian style in the campsite kitchens. Liz attended to cooking bit

Culinary discussion

Culinary discussion

and we all enjoyed the proceeds.  There were six different fish: Griddled squid salad; Fried Calamari; Mascolini as ‘Sicilian Sushi’; Pasta with Swordfish & Prawn sauce; Spatole; Griddled Trout (Liz thinks).  All this in a mixture of Italian, English, Dutch, Swedish & German – it was delicious.

Fish lunch

Fish dinner

Julyan & Georgia
These two came out to spend a bit of their Christmas holiday with us. Of course there had to be a real  Mediterranean storm that day so they put down in Palermo before coming on to Catania about 4 hours late. They couldn’t believe how close we were to the sea and the enormous waves but, by then, they the crashing surf couldn’t keep them awake.

By this time, we had become used to Catania and took great pleasure in taking them into the chaos via the famous fish market.

Fish market

Fish market

where they were offered unidentified raw fish to sample.
The city is not a pretty place. It has a few wide and majestic streets with the big shops but for the most part is run down almost to the point of dereliction. There are some 500,000 people living here and almost all of them seem to be out in their cars on most days. It is very live. It has an air of relaxed excitement and chaos and is almost irresistable! Double and even treble parking are common but you can always find a parking place – just draw up onto the hatched areas on the road or the pavement!

The largest active volcano in Europe, Etna is always there but doesn’t actually seem to dominate the town even though its summit is a mere 17 miles from the town centre.

Etna from Catania

Etna from Catania

It has many moods and most of them are unpredictable. Julyan had every intention of skiing on it but had sprained his ankle. We had to go up and have a look at it, of course. The day we chose was sunny and clear with a sealevel temperature of about 18 degrees. As we climbed up the 2000 meters (by car!) the temperature dropped to about zero, with a biting wind. It was damned cold up there and we couldn’t go up the rest of the way to the summit as the cable car was closed because of the wind!!!

Snowy Etna

Snowy Etna

Catania from Etna

Catania from Etna

We didn’t see it ourselves, unfortunately, but Etna was apparently spitting out sparks one night while we were here.

Taormina & Castel Mola
From Etna, we drove down to look at Taormina and Castel Mola, two towns perched improbably on a rocky promontory to the East of the mountain.
Many photographs were taken except, in a drastic error of navigation, we drove up the mountain to the very top of Castel Mola, way beyond the “residents only” signs, where none of us had steady enough hands to take them!

Taomina dressed for Natale

Taormina dressed for Natale

Seriously narrow street

Seriously narrow street

Towards Acireale

Towards Acireale

Three wise monkeys in a bar?

Three wise monkeys in a bar?

We learnt about bagpipes made of whole sheep. We were entertained by a local rock band. Although a town that earns its living from the tourists at other times of the year, it is unquestionably picturesque and we were almost the only non-Italians there.

Georgia returns to UK – just about…

A nightmare! The flight from Catania on Monday 21st December was cancelled because of bad weather and the next BA flight was not until Saturday (Boxing Day). The first task was contacting BA in London who arranged for her to go via Alitalia to Rome and then BA from there on the Tuesday. On presenting herself at the check-in, it turned out that the ticket had not been issued. However, the plane was very late departing and this allowed time to get that sorted out and off she went. Although late, the flight to Gatwick was also late and she just managed the connection in Rome. On arrival at Gatwick, she learned that her bag had not been so lucky. On top of that, she had missed her Megabus to Sheffield and she was too late to catch a train either. The only hotel able to put her up was the Gatwick Hilton at a cost of £150. At least they gave her a free upgrade to a 3-room suite. Just to make life even more difficult, her phone was running low on charge by this time and, of course, the charger is in her missing bag. Still no bags on the following morning so she had to get the train without it to get back to Sheffield. Poor Georgia, but she did seem to be able to keep cheerful despite it all. And BA are responsible for all the extra costs. Sometimes it pays to use scheduled carriers!

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More of Rome and Roman VIPs

Our first visitor was Jo.

Now it would seem sense that when you have visitors, one should scout out the ground and arrange for as many guided tours as possible.

In Jo’s case, this was always going to be a problem as she is a classical historian who has been known to attend informal Latin reading groups as a “leisure” activity.

However, we set off to sus out the ancient sites with great enthusiasm only to find that, even with an audio guide, they made no sense whatever. Eventually we leaned that  the Roman habit of recycling their land over and over again meant that it was entirely possible to be standing on the site of three or four temples/palaces, none of which have more than a few stones as evidence and they are stacked one on top of another.

The Roman Forum and The Palentine Hill

We resorted to taking photos fairly indescriminately in the hope that we would work it all out later. We did manage to piece most of it together and for those with a fascination for these ancient things the pictures, all correctly labeled as far as we know, are here – all 113 of them!

A tip for those who follow us: Go first to the Visitor Centre on the Via dei Fori Imperiali where you will find the only map of ancient Rome that we ever found that made any sense. Sadly it is a display that you can’t take with you so we took a photo of it…

Map of Roman Forii

Flushed with this success, we followed this up with a trip to the Palentine Hill. Again a bunch of piccies here, this time 228 of them!

It was about this point that I began to wonder what a blog is for. Well, it is good to be able to tell everybody where we have been and what we have doing there. But, to be honest, I think the real reason is to make a record of our travels because we will forget it all very soon. So, sorry folks, this is about our needs rather than your entertainment!

Viterbo and a Bath!

Jo has an old friend who lives near Rome at Viterbo, so she went off to spend a few days with Matilde and we went to visit for a day. The highlights were a very nice lunch at a local restaurant where Patrick not only ate Corgette flowers on a pasta base, but enjoyed them. The other was a trip to the baths:

Hot Baths at Viterbo

These are ancient spa baths where the water comes from a (very) hot spring and is fed in at one end of the bath. The result is that the closer you get to the input end, the hotter the temperature. Only suicidal lobsters and, momentarily, the macismo kids go anywhere near it. The rest of us float lazily somewhere in the tropical region – only gemtly moving to warmer or cooler as the mood takes us. Strangely, one can stay in the bath for some hours without going wrinkly (or, at least not more so than when we entered).

VIP #2 (and a Phototracker)

While Jo was staying with Matilde in Viterbo, daughter Claire came to stay with us for a few days.

It is interesting that when we had a house, we never really had a spare room at anytime. When the kids were at home, all rooms were needed for them. Then they grew up and left home but, somehow there were always other purposes that “spare rooms” could be put to… Now that we don’t have a house, we suddenly have spare rooms wherever we are because most campsites have “bungalows” to let. Not a phenomenon that we expected when setting out on this lifestyle. This is possibly the first time Claire has ever come to stay with us as an independent adult!

Certainly, this was the occassion of my first trip on a tourist sightseeing bus. Certainly it served the purpose of getting around Rome in fairly ordered and effortless manner but would not be a habit for me. It seemed quite strange to see things passing by without the opportunity to go and poke my nose in to the nooks and crannies and taking photos was difficult from the top of the open bus. They just don’t adjust so you can get the shot you want!

Actually, this trip was the first outing for my new toy which Claire had brought out from the UK for me – a GPS photo tracker. This little box just sits in a pocket while you take your photos. When you get home, some clever software matches the date/time stamp on the photos with the date/time/GPS coordinates captured by the device and then writes the precise location into the EXIF of each photograph. This allows for the photgraphs to be overlaid on a map such as Google Earth. Not only does this aid in the identification of the subject matter in the phots but enables us to create a file which can be sent to anyone who wants to know where you have been and what you saw. An example of that trip is called Bust Trip of Rome and is here but, beware, it is 9Mb big. A full set of 59 photos taken on the bus is here.

The Colesseum

We kept our visit to the Colesseum for Claire’s visit. While it is undoubtably impressive and the feeling of actually being at such a significant place in the world cannot be described, the visit was a little dissappointing as so little of the important underneath is accessible to the public.

The interior of the Colleseum

How it is that the tourist authorities think that it is feasible to visit the Colesseum and the Forii using a 2-day ticket for all of it is beyond me. Each seems to merit a least 2 days with a rest day between them all!

Somehow, I have failed to make a gallery of the Colesseum. Possibly because there are so many photos of the place and we failed to find any aspect which is not already so familiar.

We were sad to leave Rome but we really could not have coped with much more sightseeing and the weather was getting colder. Time to go South…

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