Sicily and Malta.1 – Intro

 

 

We returned from a holiday in Sicily and Malta on October 22.

It had started on October 8, dreadfully stress-loaded, with  a 2.5 hour Toronto delay on the tarmac in Air Canada 890, followed by an Air Canada “welcomer” in Rome October 9 who commanded us to “Run!” to our replacement flight – an impossible and dangerous marathon pre-destined to fail epically. We “ran” for 25 minutes…

Though we were both almost 74, no motorized transportation was offered. In fact, when requested, it was denied. We missed that replacement flight and, at one point, my wife and I were so breathless that I was worried that one of us would have a serious medical incident at FCO.

We went to about 4 disinterested, misinformed Alitalia desks/gates until we finally found a veteran Alitalia  supervisor who knew exactly how to solve our problem in about 10 minutes. He and his super efficient staff got us and our bags on Flight 1741 to Catania that left at 3 PM, 2.5  hours after our original Alitalia flight 1711 had been scheduled to depart.

Our destination was Siracusa, that ancient, sacred place that was once more important than Corinth or Athens. We easily found the Interbus kiosk at Catania Airport  that sold tickets to Siracusa for €5.70 pp and arrived at Maison Ortigia in the dark. Emanuele was waiting for us and for a few other patrons of his B&B who had also been delayed in their travels.

The beauty of what we experienced in these two ancient, war-torn lands more than made up for the stress we went through on October 8th and 9th in getting there.

Catania to Siracusa
Route from Catania to the island, Ortigia (ancient Siracusa) is a 63 km bus trip.

 

A Special Book

 

I have just finished The Stones Speak by the prolific, much-loved, 20th Century writer, Thórbergur Thórdarson, born in 1888, who grew up on a remote family farm named Hali in southeastern Iceland, very near to Hvannadalshnúkur, the highest peak in Iceland at 2119 metres.

I bought the book at the Þórbergssetur museum, where our tour group stopped on July 18th, two days into our 10 day bus tour. The centre was built in 2006 in Hali, (near Reynivellir in Southeast Iceland) and is dedicated to this unique man. He was largely self-educated, being too poor to attend high school or university.

The Stones Speak, translated in 2012 by Professor Julian Melton d’Arcy of the U. of Iceland, is Thórdarson’s only complete book that has been translated into English. Written when he was in his 60’s, this is an inspired, witty and sometimes caustic collection of his earliest memories – those of a precocious, hypersensitive visionary who lived very close to nature.

The book is, in my opinion, a must-read for folks who plan to visit Iceland and really want to work at understanding its recent (20th C.) history and its people. The introduction and notes by d’Arcy deserve to be read both before and after reading the book. They even contain the simplest, best guide to Icelandic pronunciation that I have found.

I went to Iceland because it was my wife’s choice and must confess that, uncharacteristically, my only research before the trip was to google the heck out of each place we were visiting on our Ring Road tour and look for things worth escaping from the pre-arranged options to see. And because we were arriving in Reykjavík (KEF) at 6 AM on the red-eye from Toronto on July 16th I was looking keenly for the most interesting places we might explore that day on our own. Our Grand Hotel was only a half-hour walk or a # 15 city bus from the centre of town. These were, for this dyed-in-the-wool self-directed traveler, the vital facts, since we were not due to meet our tour director at the hotel until 5:30 P.M.

Combined with the superb tour itself, reading The Stones Speak has given me wonderful, intensely personal insight/hindsight into the unique Icelandic people. It was, for me, not an easy read. It does not grab you like The DaVinci Code. I put it down and picked it up several times, as I have done with Proust, until realizing that, by making margin notes and studying maps and breaking down words in what is for the superbly gifted Daniel Tammet this oh-so-special language, I fell in love with Iceland and humanity in general, starting with the folks in 1890’s Suðursveit. 

If you have already visited Iceland, take the time to study The Stones Speak. You will, through it, reconnect with human nature and, perhaps, yourself.

P.S. If you have not gone yet, check out Guide To Iceland, a great website community to which my post travel research luckily led me. They justifiably claim to be an “unrivalled source of information.”

 

Newfoundland, 2005 – Part One

Englee Causeway To Bar'dIsland
Englee – Causeway to Barr’d Island

On Sunday, July 17 at 1:45 AM we arrived at St. Johns, Newfoundland after a 3.5 hour Canjet flight from Toronto to begin an 11 day self-directed driving tour of that beauty-filled, sooo friendly province. On the plane we shared three seats with a charming young woman from Pouch (“Pooch”) Cove, not far from St. Johns. The time flew by. Got our bags and rented a metallic grey Chrysler Sebring at the airport and slept at the Airport Comfort Inn.

We used Maxxum Vacations to organize our route, a rental car and our accommodations. They do an excellent job of putting tours together.

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A map of our tour

Wasting no time, after breakfast we headed eastward from the airport, driving around the south shore of Conception Bay, past Carbonear to a small place called Salmon Cove, where there was a community festival that sounded like fun. It was.

Near Salmon Cove we visited a place near Victoria that had some Newfoundland ponies, a uniquely beautiful, small, muscular animal ideally suited to The Rock that is now considered endangered. There are only a few hundred left mostly in Newfoundland and some in Ontario. I don’t know if the place where we saw them is still there. If you are interested, Google “Newfoundland ponies” or start here.

In Carbonear we visited the alleged grave of the Irish Princess, Sheila Nageira Pike, whose rather preposterous myth includes being captured by a pirate and rescued by yet another pirate. The museum in Harbour Grace was closed, but we still had to drive to our downtown hotel, the Delta St. Johns, and check in, then walk to catch a great dinner theatre at 7 P.M.

Monday, July 18: History, Old and Older… and Geography

Visited Signal Hill, drove south to the big dig of an early 17th C. community called Ferryland and visited the easternmost place in North America, Cape Spear, on the way back to St. John’s.

More to come…

Vienna and Melk – May 16

Detail of Courtyard
Detail of Courtyard

May 16: goodbye Insight Vacations Highlights of Eastern Europe Bus Tour. Now for four self-planned nights in Vienna and a change to more  affordable digs. The concierge at the Hilton on Am Stadtpark was very helpful. He suggested leaving our bags with Hilton and leaving asap for Melk. I phoned the amazing Tina at K&T Boardinghouse, where we had booked 4 nights months before, to let them know we would be arriving much later than 9 AM because we were seizing the nice day and going to Melk. Tina suggested 6 PM and promised there would be someone there to welcome us. Going to Melk first made it possible to buy a money-saving 3-consecutive-day transit pass for our last 3 days in Vienna. We grabbed the U3 line right across the street. It took us 3 stops to Westbahnhof Station where we bought our tickets for Melk Abbey for €51 pp. These combi-tickets included the train from Westbahnhof Station to Melk, admission to the Abbey, a Danube boat from Melk to Krems and a train on a different line from Krems back to Vienna.

Vienna ►Melk  Melk ► Krems ► Vienna
Vienna ►Melk
Melk ► Krems ► Vienna

Read on for some photo souvenirs from our trip, followed by a description of our new digs and our Schnitzel dining fun evening in Vienna: Continue reading “Vienna and Melk – May 16”

Vienna – A First Taste

Klimt's The Kiss welcomes us to Vienna
Klimt’s The Kiss welcomes us to Vienna

On May 3 we landed smoothly in Vienna at about 08:40, more or less on time, after an overnight flight with three names operated by Austrian Airlines direct from Toronto. If one must wait for one’s bags and be bombarded by marketing, let it please be four illuminated panels of The Kiss. Always. I’m very OK with that. We had selected Insight Vacations’ Highlights of Eastern Europe bus tour because it began and ended in Vienna and included Budapest and Warsaw, where we had friends-well-met on our 2013 Camino Santiago. This enabled us (well, me) to add a precious four more days of self-guided sight-seeing in amazing, once-imperial-still-magnificent, Vienna before flying home on May 20. The itinerary also included two nights in Budapest, Kraków, Warsaw, Berlin and Prague plus one night in Cesky Krumlov. As bus tours go, Insight delivers one of the best. They use excellent tour directors, more legroom on the bus and centrally located, classy hotels. We weren’t disappointed. Out of seven tour directors on as many tours with Insight since 1995, we had six who were stellar and only one selfish, mercurial, intimidating, paranoid, should-have-retired-long-ago jerk. That was on a 2011 tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Say no more. We had a welcome dinner planned for that evening with our tour director, Kari Anne. Her poster asked us to meet for roll call at about 17:30. Our room was ready at 10:40 when our transfer arrived at the Hilton Hotel near the Stadtpark, on the western edge of the famous Ringstrasse, a 12-minute walk to St. Stephens Cathedral, Stephansdom.

They still like real, paper, vintage books in Vienna
They still like real, paper, vintage books in Vienna

Continue reading “Vienna – A First Taste”

Jamaica

Strawberry Hills Swimming Pool
Strawberry Hills Swimming Pool

On April 6 we flew to Jamaica and began a fascinating 8-day adventure by car. We traveled with old friends, W and B. W was born and raised in Trinidad. Almost 50 years ago W and I taught chem and math in the same secondary school in southeast Trinidad. We go back. Lots of stories and laughs then and since. Continue reading “Jamaica”

Specific Travel Area Categories Added

Over the last two days I have created separate categories for four popular areas or countries in which I have traveled and written posts on.

Some of you may be primarily interested in one country or area. Categories have been created for the following  areas so that you can see the grouped posts for them:

  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • South America
  • Spain

Other important categories will follow, “Please God.” It’s the least I can do, since I tend to write as the spirit moves on all sorts of topics and there are well over a hundred posts since I started this blog. Thank you for patiently enduring my shotgun approach to blogging topics. I do not apologize for this style; my primary motive for blogging is not the amassing of large numbers of followers, but I am grateful for those of you who persevere and find something worthwhile here from time to time and I enjoy reading your blogs very much.

The South America category is still pretty small, but I hope to post on my two-month “Summer of 1965” trip to Guyana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador in chronological form with stories. I have, at last, scanned my old 35 mm slides of that great trip. I’ll also include an earlier trip to Caracas, Venezuela.

Morocco Reading

These are the books we read before visiting Morocco. All of them I would recommend.

Marika Oufkir: Stolen Years – Twenty Years In A Desert Jail

Paul Bowles: A Sheltering Sky

Tahir Shaw: The Caliph’s House – A Year in Casablanca

Barbara Hodgson: The Tattoed Map

Tomb of Muhammad V

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We visited Morocco for 6 days on the guided part of our 2011 holiday in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Do not shortchange yourself with the one day tour of that amazing, welcoming country.

Rabat is the capital. King Muhammad VI is, like his grandfather Muhammad V was, a much loved and wise ruler. They are part of a dynasty that has reigned since 1631 – the Alaouite Dynasty, founded by Moulay (Saint) Ali Cherif, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad via the prophet’s daughter, Fatima and his cousin, Ali. The Alouites are Sunni Muslims.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the fledgling United States and has had a treaty of friendship with the US that is the longest standing T of F in existence.

Under then “Sultan” Muhammad V, Morocco was an ally during WW II. Sultans reigned in Morocco but at that time it was a colony ruled in bits by France and Spain. Promises of self-rule were made in return for help during the war, but these were not kept. Movements grew here as they did around the world, in support of workers and autonomy. Muhammad V cautiously supported the independence movement. The French rewarded him with exile to Madagascar in 1953. This caused such trouble with the people that he was back within two years. Shortly thereafter Morocco became an independent kingdom, with the popular Sultan now the King.

His son, Hassan II, became king when papa died in 1961. Hassan was not a nice King and more than one attempt was made on his life. Malika Oufkir, daughter of a general implicated in a failed assasination, was imprisoned by Hassan, an ordeal that lasted 20 years and spawned a wonderful book, Stolen Lives, that Anita and I enjoyed reading in our Morocco research before taking the trip. Oufkir and her close family members eventually escaped from their isolated desert prison.

Hassan II died in 1999 and Muhammad VI, his son, replaced him. While some, again cautious, reforms have taken place, Muhammad VI is not without his problems, one of which is an outdated Islamic penal code that resulted in the suicide of a rape victim faced with the decidedly unpleasant ruling forcing her to marry her rapist.

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Looking away from Muhammad V’s tomb are the impressive remains of an interrupted (by his death in 1199) attempt by Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour to build a massive mosque (look at those columns!) and the largest, tallest minaret in the world. The red sandstone “Hassan Tower” was inspired by the beautiful Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech, also constructed under the reign of Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour. At the time the strict Almohad Caliphate controlled Morocco, a good chunk of coastal North Africa and southern Spain. By this time the Golden Age of Islamic Andalusia, which spread much culture, including Greek philosophy, throughout Europe had been taken over by this harsh way of interpreting Islam.

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The gate was protected by two of these colourful guards. Green is the colour of Islam.

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Above: The top of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.

Travels In South America

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Machu Picchu: A place I will likely revisit this autumn after 46 years. I was 22 when snapped by a Peace Corps friend while checking my watch against this sundial at the wonderful Inca site, of whose magnificent existence the pillaging Spaniards fortunately never learned.

Continue reading “Travels In South America”