Wednesday, July 30, 2008


We have arrived in Rome following our six and half hour train trip from Reggio Calabria. We are revisiting some of the best and seeing many new places.

Today we saw several churches including St Bernardo with paintings and sculptures by Bernini, the President's Palace and a new museum - Mercati di Traiano located next to the Forum that provides an overview of the Forum. It includes many objects that were discovered as late as 2006 in the Forum area. It incorporates Trajan's Market, a 3 storey supermarket built by the ancient Romans.

We have also revisited the Roman Forum with its wonderful sequence of ruins but some of the buildings that we visited last time, are no longer open. We went to the Colosseum and whilst it is the biggest ever constructed, we still have a soft spot for El Jem in Tunisia.

We were thinking of you today Helen...... Happy birthday. We have a bottle of bubbly to toast you very soon. Pity you are not here to share it.

Bronzi d' Riace

If asked what are the best marble sculptures in the world, you might answer David or Venus de Milo. What about the best bronze sculptures? We would suggest they are Bronzi d' Riace A & B.

These 2 bronze warriors were found on the seabed in 1972 and are Greek sculptures from the 5th century BC. They are amazing. Worth the trip to Reggio Calabria and the wait for the museum to open just to see them. The rest of the museum was also interesting.

Reggio Calabria has a great location on the coast opposite Sicily but has little else going for it except for the beach and A and B.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Seven Golden Pearls in an Azure Sea

The Aeolian Islands have been wonderful and a great change of pace. We have visited the main five islands from our base on Lipari. Each has its own special charm and we have swum in the beautiful bays and coves of all five.

Lipari has a great coastline and the largest town. We have also visited the historic section including museums and the Norman cathedral. We have been round ther island by boat and swum at the pumice quarries.

Vulcano is just that! An active volcano with the smell of sulphur and thermal springs. The other great volcano is Stromboli that has lava flows. We left in the early afternoon and saw a red sunset and as day turned to night, we could see the red glow of the lava. All this from the comfort of our boat without the three hour climb each way. On the way, we visited the beautiful island of Panarea with its overhanging cliffs that we swum under.

Salina was especially interesting as the birthplace of our brother in laws father. We enjoyed a special local dish for lunch and swam in several beautiful coves.

We depart tomorrow by ferry to Reggio Calabria back on the Italian boot. From there it is Rome and home via Seoul.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Aeolian Islands

We are now on the island of Lipari in the Aeolian Islands. This morning, we walked to the train station and 2 trains, a bus and a hydrofoil later, we had arrived.

We settled in to our apartment for about 4 days so will be exploring from this base. Lipari is very picturesque and we have another bottle of prosecco cooling. It is hard work.

Taormina _ Giardini Naxos

Yes more Greek stuff! Taormina is a delightful city divided into 2 sections. The upper level is the old Greek section and the lower area on the coast dating from 735 BC was the 1st Greek colony in Sicily. We are staying in the coastal strip called Giardina Naxos. We can swim and it is near the train so we did not need to lug our things up the hill.

The bus trip to the top was just like a few others we have described, only in a large bus. The area is as scenic as the Amalfi coast. There were dozens of hairpin bends to negotiate and on almost everyone, we met a bus or truck going the other way........ Someone had to back up. There were views both sides over the amazing coast.

The archaeological zone centres around the Greek theatre. it was built in the 3rd century BC but was later almost totally rebuilt by the Romans. it has views over the coast and also across to Mt Etna, the highest volcano in Europe. Amazing!

Unfortunately it is another Greek ...... or Roman ruin, ruined! Seats for a performance and staging and lights just do not fit in with the scenic ideal. We also saw the Odeon and other historic monuments.

The swimming was a pleasant break and the water much cooler than in Tunisia. Also enjoyable was the Sicilian prosecco and the frizzante rose.

More Old Greek Stuff

Siracusa is the location for one of the great cities of the ancient Greeks and much remains today. We travelled by bus arriving at Catania three quarters of an hour late, leaving us 3 minutes to find the Siracusa bus, buy the tickets etc. In 3 minutes, the bus pulled out and we were aboard.

On our first day, we walked out to Ortigia, an island linked by several bridges. We saw the remains of the Temple of Apollo and walked down to the cathedral. It had a beautiful Baroque facade but incorporated the 5th century BC Temple of Athena with all the columns intact. We also saw the old defence walls, a castle and a great little harbour, the Porto Piccolo.

The next day , we ventured to the Parco Archaeologico. This was outstanding with a great Roman amphitheatre as well as the famous Greek theatre. We also saw Archimedes tomb. He was killed by the Carthaginians when they destroyed old Siracusa. He did not drown in his bath.

The Archaeological Museum is full of old Greek stuff, much dating from the 5th and 6th century BC along with great pottery and sculpture from the latter period. We saw the beautiful Anidyomone of Venus and lots more.

Siracusa is another wonderful place to visit. Despite its later Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Spanish rule, its Greek heritage remains in this delightful Sicilian town.

Apologies in delay in posting but couldnt find any old Greek computers.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Valley of the Temples

From Palermo, we went by train to Agrigento to visit the Valley of the Temples. This involved going from the north coast to the south via the mountainous interior. A wonderful trip!

Our destination was the ancient Greek city of Akragas, founded according to legend by Daedulus, the one who added wings and flew to the sun. The city fell to the Carthaginians in 406 BC and was sacked and burnt.

The Valley of the Temples extends along Via Sacra and we saw The Temple of Concordia, built in 430 BC. This is the largest remaining intact temple. it was most impressive with huge Doric columns. We also visited the Temple of Juno dating from 450 BC with many columns still standing. Nearby was a line of Byzantine rock dwellings, a Roman tomb and the Temple of Heracles, the oldest dating from the 6th century BC. Still impressive if showing its age!

The second section of the valley included the temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest Doric temple ever built, although unfinished at the time of the Carthaginian attack. It incorporated giant figures known as Telamone. We also saw the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, quite controversial as it was partially reconstructed using parts from various buildings.

This place is magical, one of the best!

We have now travelled down to Siracusa to explore more Greek ruins.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

If the Duke is Getting Married, Dont Stay at the Hotel

For our final night in Tunisia, we returned to our hotel in Carthage as we had left 2 bags there. We spent the morning sightseeing at nearby beaches and returned to the hotel for a late checkout prior to our ferry for Sicily sailing at 9 pm.

As the afternoon passed, the hotel became very chaotic as the new owner of the hotel was getting married that night. At 4 pm they finished assembling the walkway from the boatlanding to the wedding chapel that they had constructed. They then started painting it but stopped at 4.45 for a swim. All the hotel patrons were evicted from the pool and when we ordered lunch, they were more interested in taking deliveries of the wedding breakfast food than serving us. By the time we left at about 5.30, the painting was finished, new tables had been put up for the reception, the grand piano had been put in place on the boat landing and 100s metres of tulle decorated the building. The wedding was scheduled for 9 pm so perhaps it was all ready.

Our sailing was delayed and instead of watching the wedding in progress as we sailed out of the harbour, we had finished dinner and went to sleep at midnight before we had sailed.

We have arrived safely in Palermo if a few hours late and have spent 2 days looking at the beautiful churches, the old palace that is now the Sicilian Parliament and today went to Monreale to look at the brilliant Duomo and the associated buildings. While we were at the cathedral, we saw a wedding taking place.

Monday, July 14, 2008

In the Footsteps of Ulysses

We travelled by louage and the ferry Ulysses to the island of Djerba........ that faraway atmosphere and gentle landscape bathed in light, that fascinating island where, it is said, Ulysses companions, intoxicated by the mysterious lotus fruit, lost all desire to leave.........

It is the Tunisian Gold Coast with luxury hotels full of Europeans who fly in and never leave the hotel until they fly out again. We have swum in the balmy sea but having found no lotus fruit in the market place, we leave again tomorrow.

Star Wars in Tunisia

We headed inland to visit the troglodyte village of Matmata via a taxi and 2 louages through the hot, dry, desolate region. It was so hot that even the sheep and goats only spend a few hours out each morning before being placed in an underground room.

Among the places we visited was the dwelling that featured in the Star Wars movie. Even some of the props remain. We had a drink in the Star Wars bar and it all seemed like it was from another planet.

We stopped at one house and had mint tea and bread after checking out the house. We visited another that was set up like a mini museum complete with wedding outfits etc.

A fascinating place to visit but so hot it took us the afternoon of sleeping and swimming to recover.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Day At Monastir

We set off today for Monastir, again travelling by luage. We visited the mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, the first leader of the Republic of Tunisia. He was a visionary and introduced change and modernisation. He separated religion and state and gave women new freedoms. As a result of his reforms, Tunisia is today one of the most liberal thinking Muslim countries.

The Ribat is located right on the coast and we had wonderful views of the city and beaches from its tower. It had very interesting walls and gates. The Great Mosque dates from the 9th century but as we were visiting on a Friday, we couldnt enter. We then spent some time in the Medina and mada a few purchases despite the small bag we have with us.

We were back in Sousse in time for a late lunch abd an afternoon visit to a fascinating musuem. it was an old home of a wealthy noble complete with furnishings as if they had just gone out for the day.

We also fitted in afternoon drinks and a swim.

We are off to Gabes tomorrow.

A Roman Gem

El Jem is a wonderful place to visit. It is halfway between Sousse and Sfax and in this small town is the 3rd largest Roman Colosseum of the Roman era. It simply dominates the town.

The Colosseum, 148 m. X 122 m. is one of the last built and dates from the 2nd century. We walked around and climbed to where people had watched the gladiators, lions and Christians die a terrible death. We also explored the underground rooms including the holding places for the various combatants.

We visited 2 small amphitheatres and the El Jem Museum. it had an outstanding collection. If the Bardo in Tunis has the worlds best mosaics, this must have the second best! Many showed scenes form the Colosseum and they also had the marble statues all minus their heads. many of the mosaics came from nobles houses and we saw an extensive group of Roman villas.

Wow! What a place!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sousse and Kairouan

We selected a beachfront hotel with magical views over a beach that never sleeps. People are swimming when we go to bed, when we get up during the night and at first light. The room is very modern and comfortable, complete with a frig and a nearby supermarket that has a good selection of Tunisian rose. We have had several swims each day.

We visited the Sousse Medina and strolled through the souks. We went into the Ribat, a fortress that dates from the 8th century. Sousse actually predates Carthage! The Ribat has wonderful walls and a tower that has great views over the city and the Great Mosque. The sea breeze was refreshing as we had visited later in the day.

The port has about 6 replica Carthaginian galleons that you can go out on day trips. They anchor just off our beach.

Today we caught a bus to Kairouan,one of the 7 holy cities of Islam and the most important in Africa. It was the former capital of theAghlabid Emirs, situated 57 km west of Sousse. The temperature was a pleasant 48 degrees!

We walked through the Medina and visited an 18th century residence of a governor. It is now a carpet shop..... surprise, surprise. We also visited the Berbarouta, a well where the water is drawn by a camel and they believe the water flows directly from Mecca. Also went to the mausoleum of Sidi Abid el Gloriani and also the Great Mosque. This is the oldest mosque in Africa and actually incorporates Roman columns. It is a most interesting building and worth the hot trip to Kairouan.

The city has 1,300 mosques but we did not quite get to them all. We caught a luage or shared taxi that was actually a mini bus back to Sousse and a petit taxi to the hotel. In no time we were swimming in the Mediterranean.

We stay in Sousse for 2 more days and will visit El Jem and Monastir.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Carthage, Home of Hannibal

We are literally staying in Carthage on the coast but the remains of the city are spread over a very large area. It is very hot today but we have visited most of the famous landmarks.

Amongst the places was the Carthage Museum ...... good but not as good as the Bardo, the amphitheatre that is the 3rd largest in the Roman world, the cisterns that were very extensive; the Roman theatre and odeon and several villas. Along the coast itself the Roman baths, the Punic ports and Tophet where child sacrifices were made. This a most extensive remains of an ancient civilization and we spent over 6 hours walking round the sites.

We have extended our stay in Tunisia by a few days in addition to the 3 days that we are currently behind schedule. We hope to sail to Sicily on 17 July instead of 12 but have allowed lots of time for our final leg.

Dont Ask the Pilot for Directions

We arrived in Tunisia on Friday and settled into a hotel in the city centre. We were walking down the main street, when we bumped into the copilot from our flight. he was very pleased to meet us and insisted that he help us on our way. Dont ever ask the pilot for directions.

We visited the Bardo Museum. This was magnificent and is one of the worlds great museums of Roman antiquities. There were 100s of mosaics but also pottery, jewellery etc. from Carthage, El Jem and Sousse. We will visit all these places. There were also items from a ship that sunk in the 1st century and has been recently salvaged. Another interesting item was the oldest known burial mound, over 40000 years old. This is a must see museum.

We have also checked the cathedral and a village to the north called Sidi Bou Said. This is blue and white Greek island style village. We went to the Carthage coast and have selected a hotel where we are now in residence that combines proximity to the Carthage site and is right on a beautiful stretch of beach and the cooling Mediterranean Sea.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Casablanca, Mosque and Beaches

This morning we visited the Grand Mosque of Hassan II. It is on the coastline and extends out into the Atlantic. We joined a tour to see this large and impressive building. It is the 3rd largest mosque in the world with the highest minaret 200 m.

It is magnificent with beautiful marble floors covering the huge hall that can accommodate 25000 worshippers. It even has a roof that opens. It incorporates cedar from the High Atlas and marble from south Morocco. The chandeliers are of murano glass from Venice and lower electronically. The doors are impressive covered in titanium to resist the salt and the external walls are mainly beautiful tiles.

We visited the ablution hall with 41 marble fountains and the hammam. All this was built in 6 years from 1987 to 1993 by 2500 workers and 10000 craftsmen.

Later we caught a taxi and took in Paradise, Eden, Tahiti, Sun Beach and Ain Diabs Beach with Sidi Abderrahmans mausoleul built on rocks off the coast. Despite the idealistic names we were not inspired to swim. Most people use the private pools rather than the ocean. The waves break 100s of metres off the shore and the sand looks grotty. We did stop off at one of the drinks places prior to our return.

Tomorrow we fly to Tunis.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Climbing the High Atlas Mountains

For our final day in Marrakesh we hired a car and driver and headed off for the High Atlas Mountains. The Atlas rise to over 4000 metres and Morocco has ski fields adjacent to the Sahara. In winter you can see the snow capped mountains from Marrakesh

Only the highest peaks have snow in summer. We drove up the beautiful Ourika valley stopping to visit Berber houses and checking Berber jewellery. We also looked at Berber carpets but despite their efforts we did not buy any.

From the end of the road we started climbing. Over several hours we laboured in the heat until we reached the waterfall. It was one of the most difficult climbs we have made. Sir Edmund would have been proud of us. We made it up to the top after crossing VERY flimsy bridges without handrails and crossing the creek many times. We climbed up water worn slopes and a full on rock scramble. Getting down was just as difficult.

We had a cold drink on the drive up after crossing a suspension bridge and after our climb we had lunch after crossing another bridge to get to the restaurant.

By the time we got back to the hotel we had just enough energy to dive into the pool.

Back to Casablanca tomorrow.