HOHO Virgin in Barcelona

Out my window this morning…Okay, so I am pretty well travelled I guess, but for some reason, I have never found myself on a Hop On Hop Off Bus.  Most cities have them and they’re designed to mass transport tourists directly to the sights, but I have somehow managed to avoid them, either by just going places on foot or by using public transport.  Today, feeling rather tired after yesterday’s stressful and exhausting adventures, we decided to get on the HOHO bus and just potter around Barcelona and see where we ended up.

We saw about four different buildings designed by Antonio Gaudi, his mark is definitely all over the city of Barcelona.
This building was a personal residence owned by some very rich earl – it takes up an entire block and the family typically lived on the bottom floor and rented out the top floors. The Segrada Familia in all it’s be-scaffolded and be-craned brilliance.  This is such a beautiful building and it is much further completed than when I was here 20 years ago, I dare say a trip back when it is finished would be well worth it… 

Barcelona really does have lots of wonderful architecture Sarria The Monestir de Pedralables The Palau Reial-Pavellions Guell – but unable to get a decent photo of the famous dragon gate… more Gaudi.Futbol Club of Barcelona
Pg. de Gracia – More Gaudi Painted under a street awning. In the pavement. We drove around for about two hours – most of my photos were crap.  Too many people, cars, lamp posts, trees in the way.  The commentary was good, but if I can’t move to a better vantage point or wait for people to leave my shot, I can’t take a decent photo.  So I guess HOHO buses are not for me.

After that we went down to the pier at the Port Olimpic for some lunch at El Cangrejo Loco, which was recommended by Antonio for their fabulous paella.  It’s a gorgeous spot right near the Playa Nova Icaria with gorgeous views.  Quite a nice restaurant. hoho 31ADuck breast lasagnehoho 32 Seafood paella.hoho 33

After this we bought the kids back to our hotel room for a much needed cool down in the pool.  Spent a few hours up on the roof with a few vodka breezers and some donuts that Mum bought… not a bad way to spend a bit of down time in Barcelona.  A bit later in the evening, the mob came over near our hotel for a bit of dinner.  The street our hotel is on – the Rambla Catalunya has a string of restaurants with alfresco dining in the middle of the road, so we chose one of those restaurants and had some more tapas and paella.  It was okay, but not great.  Took a few night pics of the area from the street and the hotel balcony…

While we were waiting for tables for dinner, there was a guy sitting on a park bench, playing a flute.  He was really quite good and seemed to be enjoying himself.  A few people were watching and enjoying him play, when a little girl walked over and put some coins in his flute case which was open in his lap (he had no cap/bucket on the ground as is customary), and then the poor guy looked all flabbergasted as he tried to give the money back and explain he was just playing.  It was very cute. So tired.  Going to have an easy sea day tomorrow in my hotel room, I think!

A sunrise, a military coup, a gothic cathedral and a tapas bar… Welcome to Barcelona!

Last day on the ship woke up to the most beautiful sunrise I have seen in years. Simply spectacular…Barcelona 1 Barcelona 2 Also woke up to the news of a violent military coup in Turkey affecting Istanbul and Ankara and oh shit – Mum is supposed to be flying to Istanbul in less than 20 hours.  So, of course that meant as soon as we got to decent wifi, I spent the better part of two hours trying to call travel agents, tour operators and travel insurance providers to find out how to cancel, rebook, claim a whole bunch of messy shit to change her plans.  The tour operator – Peregrine for anyone who is interested – were originally adamant that the tour was still going ahead.  That once they got out of Istanbul that everything would be safe enough for their passengers.  They did seem to be overlooking the fact that there were tanks in the streets in Istanbul, citizens rising up against the rouge military, a President holed up at Ataturk airport, and orders to shoot down planes that were not following lawful military commands!  There were over 80 people killed and hundreds injured when I was doing this, and later in the day some 3000 soldiers arrested and court judges exiled.  So yeah, saying you’re going to continue with your tour in a country with no stable government seems a bit well, fucking stupid to me.

Eventually, they came to their senses and cancelled the tour and were offering a full refund.  But the whole thing made for an extremely stressful morning, what I am sure is an enormous phone bill, a huge amount of disappointment… and a deep sadness for the people of Turkey that followed us around all day.  I love Turkey, and Istanbul has long been my favourite city in the world.  I hope things settle down for them.

By the end of that it was nearing lunch time… oh yeah, we ate, but you know.  There was jugs of sangria.

Barcelona 3 Public fountain on the corner of some building… so cool.Barcelona 4

Barcelona 27

On our way back from the Ramblas area where we found some lunch, we wandered past the Barcelona Cathedral and decided to go in and have a look.  It’s a brilliant gothic cathedral and very imposing just in its sheer size.Barcelona 5

Saints looking down at you as you walk in.Barcelona 6Above the doorway into the cathedral…Barcelona 7This cathedral has the typical high vaulted gothic arches and is lined with little naves on either side of the main part of the church.  Each one is dedicated to another saint and holds a scene with elaborate paintings, statuary, tapestries, and ornate gold painted carvings.Barcelona 11 Barcelona 10
Barcelona 22Barcelona 21There’s a lift that goes up to the roof, so we got a chance to go up and have a look at the city roof tops, as well as see some of the restoration efforts that are happening as they repair the roof.
Barcelona 24 Barcelona 23 The outside of one of the stained glass rose windows – there are many of these above the buttresses, but from the ground inside you can hardly notice them they are so high off the ground.Barcelona 25We also had a chance to go out the side where there is a huge cloistered courtyard, with many tombs of important cardinals and bishops, as well as more naves dedicated to saints.  This beggared belief to me – there were 13th-15thC paintings out in the courtyard naves that were not protected, not in humidity controlled environments and just outside!  Bizarre.

Barcelona 17 Barcelona 16 Naves in many nooks to the right…Barcelona 15 This nave is OUTSIDE!  Paintings and all.Barcelona 14Centre of the courtyard.Barcelona 13 Barcelona 12 There was also a museum area within the complex, which was a ‘no fotos’ area.  But we still managed to get a snap of this Rowan Atkinson look alike on the ceiling…
Barcelona 14A

In the centre of the cathedral were stalls heavily decorated with heraldry of members of the Order of the Golden Fleece.  I’ve seen these images on the internet for years (and yes, have a whole bunch of them on Pinterest under Heraldic Achievements), but it was amazing to seem them all together.Barcelona 19
Barcelona 20 Barcelona 18 Last nave as we were leaving the cathedral.
Barcelona 26We eventually got back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and then went to find our own hotel.  By happy coincidence – or just me being forgetful – it turns out we have a rooftop pool, and nothing could have been more welcome this afternoon.  We went up for a quick swim, cooled right down, and came down for a bit of a nap before meeting back up with the others for some dinner.

They took us to a quaint little tapas bar that they had found when they were in Barcelona last year and we hooked into the sangria and shared a lot of delicious tapas.  It’s called Rebelot, and is one of those dodgy looking places full of old furniture, mismatching chairs and weird stuff on the walls, but seriously good food.
Barcelona 29Barcelona 30Grilled octopus with chorizo on hummus.
Barcelona 28AMarinated duck breast with asparagus and orange flavoured puree something? 😛
Mini lamb burgers with cheese, caramelised onions and salad – sans burger.
Barcelona 28Scallops carpaccio with avocado and tomato salsa with dill or something.
Barcelona 28BAll fantastic – 10/10. Would go again.

It was then onto another bar for more drinks, then eventually back to the hotel.  All up a very stressful day to start with, followed by a bit of touristy stuff, and a great relaxing meal with good company to finish the evening.  I am exhausted – and know not how to say that in Spanish!

Amalfi Coast – Sorrento and Positano

So much happened today, I had to break all the photos into two posts!  After Pompeii, we took a drive down the Amalfi coast to Sorrento.  All I could really remember about Sorrento from my last trip is that there were lemons, (which means limoncello), lots of bright and gaudy ceramics (almost as bad as Port Merion), and there were these inlaid wood jewellery boxes that were well and truly beyond my means when I was travelling in my youth, a la Top Deck!   I also remember the drive in and out of the place, and an incident on the way home from a nightclub where one of our fellow travellers was yelling at a taxi driver to slow down on the crazy hairpin turns and then the drunken idiot decided it would be a good idea to pull on the steering wheel of the car!  Yeah Quentin, what a wanker – don’t miss that particular waste of carbon.

Anyway, the drive down today was spectacular and happily devoid of anyone trying to kill us.  We did a bit of ‘speed landscape photography’ on the way given there were very few safe places to pull over for photos…

The town of Sorrento is pretty much as I remember… quaint winding streets, lots of cafes, lots of restaurants, lots of lemons, lots of ceramics, lots of scooters and lots of tourists. 

We stopped and had lunch at a fabulous rooftop garden restaurant before having a short wander around town.  AuntyMary ordered the ENTREE sized antipasto (it was enormous!), and we had a seafood risotto and some cannelloni all to share.  Absolutely delicious.

Sorrento Food 3 Sorrento Food Sorrento Food 2

‘Ciao bella!  Want to see my scoot?’ *wink*  #WorstPickUpLineEver  #PreHashTag All the ceramics – and there were plenty of stores just like this one…! Oh and did we mention the lemons?   Sorrento; where even the graffiti is sweet…

After leaving Sorrento, we followed along the Amalfi coastline to Positano, for more hair raising twisting and turning mountainous roads with stunning views of the sea.  The colour of the water in this part of the world is simply beautiful.

You can see the road winding along the edge of the cliff.  Our driver obviously knew the area very well, and was confidently cutting back and forth on the hairpins.  There was more than one passenger feeling a little nervy about the drive though! The bay at Positano.   Positano is a bit of crazy town.  It’s another ‘playground for the rich and famous’ type of place, and attracts many visitors every year – in fact, I feel many more than the little town can comfortably accommodate  It’s perched on? hanging off? the cliffs with crazy meandering little streets all leading down towards the beach.  It’s full of art galleries, jewellery stores, resort style clothing and of course – FOOD.  So many cafes and restaurants and all designed to best maximise the view. Wonder what real estate goes for in this area?  Mind you, not sure I’d ever want to live here, the beaches are all pebbles, there’s no where to park and everywhere there are soooo many steps and steep roads to the water. All the towns along the Amalfi cost have their own nativity to the Santa Maria to keep them safe…   Such a cute town, and such a building challenge I should imagine!

Pompeii again.

We had a large group to go through Pompeii today.  Mt Vesuvius erupted in 70AD and completely buried the city of Pompeii, which is a completely unique time capsule that shows what live was like in the first century.  Pompeii was totally buried beneath a rain of ash and volcanic material as Mt Vesuvius erupted, leaving the entire city frozen in time and a huge amount of information about ancient Roman life has been found here.

Before the eruption, Pompeii was known as a vacation getaway resort town, that also had a strong commercial port focus.  But after the 79AD eruption, it remained buried until 1700 years later.  Lots of ancient shops and streets are remarkably well preserved, along with vivid frescoes and striking plater casts of the remains of people died, caught by the swift volcanic ash.The amphitheater of Pompeii was primarily used for musical productions. With excellent acoustics, this theatre held about 2000 people.

On any of the main thoroughfares through Pompeii, you can find commercial trading site, shops, shops and more shops.  This store has a marker on the sidewalk that tells people that food is available here.  Many Pompeians would be out their entire day and would not return home for their midday meals, so they would stop by, what were effectively, fast food vendors to grab quick lunches.

Pots where food would be stored and kept warm to sell to workers and passers-by. Walled edge of the amphitheatre directly opposite the ‘fast food’ store. Typical Roman house.  This house however had a few more bits of information that tells us something about its inhabitants.  The large plinth doorway tells us the inhabitants were quite well off.  The seats outside the house tell us that this is apparently a politicians house – people would come to meet and air their grievances and concerns with the local politician and would wait their turn in the street. Further evidencing this as the home of a politician was this little piece of propaganda.  As it turns out, Pompeii was in the middle of an election period when the volcano erupted, and a good deal of electoral propaganda can be found on the walls.  This sign is telling citizens to vote for “Cornelivm”, the man who owns the house above.  A little further down the street is the House of Menandro.  This is a very well preserved example of a wealthy Roman’s home.  The entry foyer/lobby has the typical water feature and open roof, designed to create a type of evaporative cooling system, and to catch water from the opening in the roof for a pretty indoor water feature.  Off this room would be all the bedrooms for the inhabitants of the house. The frescos are just remarkable – nearly 2000 years old and still quite vivid.  Pompeian Red is a thing because of these frescos.  The blue colour is apparently the most expensive colour to paint your wall with as it was made with ground lapis. The detail is beautiful – it makes me feel we have lost something in the art of interior decor in the modern era… Further through the house are rooms that would have been used for business, for entertaining, for visitors, for cooking, slave quarters – an entire complex to house a Roman household. The central garden courtyard is further back in the house, behind the central fountained lobby and bedrooms. Most Roman homes did not have a private bathhouse, but this home did.  It has a small frigidarium and tepidarium for the wealthy nobles who lived here.
Bathhouse.  I am certain this house is not the only example, but the owners of this house fled the volcano – whether they survived or not is unknown… what is known is that they locked all their wealth and goods into rooms with their slaves to protect them.  The slaves in their desperation smashed down the walls in an attempt to escape, but were likely too late to get away.  Ash rained down on Pompeii for two days, but the people here had no idea what was happening or how long it would last.  At the end of it, the entire city was covered and considered lost.
We went for a walk up the top of a small hill to have a view over the city.  Here we got to see the winding streets and how tightly packed the city was.
The view down over the streets was from an elevated position, which we later found out is an un-excavated part of the city.  We were standing on top of more ancient Roman ruins that it has been decided to leave buried for future generations.  You see, due to Mt Vesuvius’ close proximity comes an awareness that it will erupt again one day.  And everything that has been excavated could be destroyed.  Again.  So they have left a large section sealed as it were for after that eventuation.

Mt Vesuvius (below) used to be one peak, but is now Mt Vesuvius on the left and the valley created by the eruption is called the Valley of the Giants.  Under all this vegetation in the foreground is more ancient Roman ruins to be unearthed one day.

All the roads, walls and monuments and frescos in Pompeii are authentic ancient monuments, but there are artworks dotted throughout the city that are modern bronze works based on impressions of Pompeii.  There were a few (the large faces etc) in some of the pictures above as well.

I saw this one and really loved it.  Huge enormous hands wrapped around a winged torso.

The pic below is for yale…

This area is the entrance walkways to the public gymnasium, which leads through to a public bath house.  More beautiful frescoes line the walkway.
Inside the entry to the bathhouse has the most incredible ceiling, with very fine bas relief styled work.  It’s very intricate and would have been stunningly colourful.   Detail of the ceiling – just gorgeous. This room is the frigidarium for this bath house.  It was for men only.  People used the bath houses much like a steam, a hot bath and then a cold plunge at the end to refresh the body and close the pores of the skin… however, it was felt women didn’t have a strong enough constitution for such things, so they were not permitted to use the frigidarium room.  The frigidarium roof:
The walls of the frigidarium: And the pool of the frigidarium: The other ares of the bath house were two hot bath house room – one tepid, one really hot…
Back outside in the main square of Pompeii with Mt Vesuvius in the background. Along the left of the square is a large ‘warehouse’ that is open to the elements.  It houses many of the ancient artefacts that won’t fit in the Napoli Archeological Pompeii Museum!  All these items are authentic Roman artefacts found in Pompeii.  Tables, jars and amphorae that held olive oil, wine, that weird fishy paste/sauce (garram? arum?) that Romans were fond of. During the excavations of Pompeii, a particularly cluey archeologist discovered that they were unearthing ‘bubbles’ or cavities in the ash that occasionally had human remains in them.  These cavities turned out to be where humans had been caught in the ash and had died, and subsequently decomposed.  The archeologist (whose name I can’t remember) decided to pour plaster paris into the cavities to see what they were and discovered people, frozen at the time of their deaths.  Most of these casts are now in the museum and are being tested for DNA to find out more about the people who died in Pompeii.And then it seemed we were leaving our tour.  With a few of us having been here before, we asked the guide if we were going to the red light district, as attitudes to life, love, sex, and death were very different in ancient times and it’s interesting to see how the Romans’ views differed from our modern views. Our guide, Monica, claims was told by her company that we were  not going to the brothels as part of our tour of Pompeii.  We asked amongst ourselves and none of us had give that directive, so it seem she had taken it upon herself to censor our tour, possibly because we had four teenagers travelling with us.  So suddenly we didn’t have time to go to the brothels at all.  Bit disappointed for the others, but having been through them before, I was not too bothered.   She did walk us back down a street we had already taken to show us a sign that pointed to the red light district (can’t believe we walked right past it and she didn’t point it out… bit prudish). 

All up a great visit to Pompeii, (and I keep saying this when I travel) and I’d love to go back again even, so long as it wasn’t so hot!  Stuff this travelling in the high season.  🙂

Messina, Sicily

Today we were on Sicily, in the port of Messina.  Messina is a city of some 250,000 people with a breathtaking natural scenery, an impressive architectural heritage an ancient history.  It also has a a series of recorded natural disasters which Messina has managed to weather – including a very serious earthquake that turned into a tidal wave in 1908.  Evidence of buildings affected by the earthquake (or not re-built since) dot the town of Messina. There is plenty to see and do here but we had put our day in the hands of Matteo and Antonio to guide us to a little town called Taormina, to find a very well reputed restaurant called Taverna dell’ Etna, in search of some good, authentic Sicilian food, followed by a little shopping.

Our driver Giovanni drove (exactly as you would expect an Italian to do – at breakneck speed and with a supreme almost zen-like confidence) through the winding hills to the town of Taormina which is a world regknow resort situated approximately 700 feet above the sea level.  The gorgeous little town has been a famous resort since Roman times and has superb views over the Bay of Naxos in the east and the equally impressive Mt Etna volcano in the west.  

We found our restaurant, after a somewhat ‘interesting’ drive through the winding mountainous roads, and were led to a patio with magnificent views towards the Mt Etna.  Messina 1 The view from Taverna dell’Etna
Messina 2The restaurant itself didn’t exactly have the most sophisticated decor, but then that is often the case with little hidden gem restaurants!  It was late afternoon by the time we got there for lunch, but they were kind enough to stay open.  We were so hungry, would you believe – I don’t think anyone took even so much as a single photo of the food!  We tried local calamari, fresh anchovies, prawns, mussels, clams and octopus dishes.  Some lovely fresh salads, several absolutely delicious pasta dishes – one with pumpkin, buffalo cheese and who knows what other yumminess, as well as some mixed grill.  The food was fantastic and washed down with spritzes, some crisp dry local white wine and after dinner, some locally made limoncello, served chilled in frozen glasses.  The service was also excellent, they were very accommodating to stay open so late in the afternoon, when I’m sure they would all have preferred to be off on siesta by then.

Messina 1A

Messina 4 Views down to Naxos Bay.
Messina 5 Messina 6 Taormina evidences both Greek and Roman history in its architectural style, as well as a significant medieval quarter with castle ruins intermingled with modern shops and restaurants, known as the Corso Umberto.  It’s an adorable little village with loads of character.Messina 7 Messina 8

After lunch we had down the Corso Umberto for a bit of shopping, and a stop for a gelato (limone, of course), and a drink on the lovely terrace of a local hotel – the Hotel Metropole Taormina.  We popped into the cathedral in the town square and I was amazed to see several medieval paintings (13th – 15th century) just hanging on the walls – no glass, no humidifiers, no alarms, no nothing.  

Messina 9 Lots of higher end shopping in this town, but the only thing any of us bought was gelato and later, more wine!Messina 10 View from the Hotel Metropole…Messina 11 Messina 12 Messina 13 Messina 14

Further down the Corsa, and past all the popular shops, we were picked up to head down to Taormina Beach of a quick dip and/or a stop in the shade.  The beach is all tiny pebbles, no sand at all.  While all the local kids were busy playing with their blow up beach toys, our kids were busy ducking under water to try find and pick up the biggest rocks!

Messina 15 Messina 16

Then we were on a very important hunt for cannoli. Cannoli is a Sicilian dessert and according to our Italian friend, Antonio who was driving today’s adventures, the stuff we call cannoli in Australia is nothing like it at all!  So he had Giovanni take us to ‘the best pastry shop in Messina’.  And we ended up the Irrera Bakery, a famous pastry shop not far from the ship that has been making cannoli for the lucky residents of Messina since 1910.

Cannoli at home is usually a soft round pasty with a custard like filling that is sickly sweet – actual cannoli is a slightly crunchy pastry shell, that is left empty until right before you eat it, and then it is scooped full of a fluffy ricotta slightly lemon flavoured filling, and is not that sweet at all.  Messina 17

The staff at Irrera were somewhat alarmed that we wanted cannoli to take away and weren’t having it on the spot.  They warned us several times that it had to be eaten as soon as possible and that we shouldn’t leave it or the shells would go soft.  Didn’t think it was a big deal, but they seemed seriously concerned about their reputation and the warning was repeated by the staff member who was taking payment as well.  And then we get back in our van and Giovanni our driver, was also warning us that they had to be eaten straight away or they’d go soft!  So, apparently that’s a thing.

Then it was back to the ship (after a small hiccough over a mobile phone left behind at the pastry shop which was, thankfully, recovered without too much ado).  None of us felt like dinner, but I went to the dining room to find out how everyone else’s day had been and to watch them have dinner.  😀

After dinner, we went up to the rooms with a drink, and tried out cannoli, and the staff at Irrera would be pleased to know that even two/three hours later, the cannoli was still crunchy and absolutely delicious!