Sunday, 8 March 2015
Ages ago, I wrote that shorthand appeared to be a dying art with so many new forms of recording technology available to new journalists today which made me fear this great skill may become defunct.
I am very happy to report, therefore, that it has never been so important in the modern newsroom. It has become compulsory at the university where I teach and having 100 words a minute is seen as the deciding factor on a CV when editors consider taking on new trainees.
Some of my students love it and others find it a chore and the early start each morning doesn't help their enthusiasm. However, almost all of them love a bit of Musical Teeline and we often challenge ourselves with our favourite songs from that brilliant blog as a way of making daily practice less like hard work.
Below is my effort to Alison Moyet's Windmills Of Your Mind. I am sure if any of my students read this then they will find a couple of errors but if they really want to challenge themselves, they should have a go at the original and best version by Noel Harrison which is much faster than Moyet's and harder to get down, as I found out when I had a go.
So here is my Teeline Shorthand to the deep and fullsome sound of Moyet's unique voice. I sometimes find putting myself into the same situation as my students helps me to better understand how hard they are working towards first their 60wpm exam and finally, via 70wpm, 80wpm, and 90wpm, their 100wpm exam. Some of them have those exams next week and I wish them, as always, the very best of luck knowing that they are trying their best, working hard, and are determined to achieve their Teeline certificates as their first step onto the road to their dream careers in journalism.
Having just heard this favourite classic by Carly Simon on the radio, I decided to play musical Teeline for fun one last time today. It's a great song and perfect for practice at an easy level.
Thursday, 4 September 2014
Our travel adventure in Italy quickly came to an end after leaving Pineto as we raced north towards Bologna. The owner of the camp site warned us that as we were leaving on a Saturday, there would be a lot of holiday traffic on the road and there was. We sat in a long hot queue and opening the car windows didn't help in cooling us down. The air outside was like a hot fan or hair dryer. As it turned out, there were road works ahead with traffic lights holding us up. When we eventually reached them, the car in front went through on red and my other half followed, so did the car behind, the one behind that and several more as the cars on the other side waited on green for a space to push through.
I had hoped to hang around at least another day in Bologna. A fellow anti-Nanny State and free consumer choice activist who lives in the city had kindly offered to be our tourism guide and I would have loved to take her up on that and spend time chatting over a cuppa and a smoke afterwards. I last saw her a few years ago when we both attended an anti-prohibition conference. However, it was very late when we arrived at the Cittá di Bologna camp site and our minds were firmly set on getting home as quickly as possible. We were both worn out and money was tight.
I have seen Bologna before. I stayed for a while back in the 1980s when I went with my mum to visit her sister and I went again about seven years ago with a friend. The only photo I got of the city to mark my visit this time was the mushrooms which grew around the tree on the spot where we pitched our tent. They were all dead by the next morning.
It was a glorious hot day as we packed up to leave. The car so far had been completely reliable despite my husband's fears that somewhere along the way it would break down. We'd done almost 6,000 miles. As he turned the ignition key, the car grumbled a bit and then died. He tried a second time but the engine refused to turn over. This was the last thing we needed and neither of us was sure what we would do if he couldn't get it going.
"Could it be the heat?" I asked. After all, the car was used to England where the hottest of summer days never gets above about 25 degrees and we'd pushed this car forward daily in temperatures ranging between 35 and 40 degrees.
He tried again and it was with a huge sigh of relief that this time the engine struck up. He said something about the heat being responsible for the petrol taking it's time to reach all the way through the pipe to the ignition switch (at least that's what I understood him to mean as one who has no idea about mechanics.)
Aosta was 400 km away but we decided to try and make it in one day without stopping. We took the autostrade, despite the cost, to avoid the winding mountain roads that we had taken on the way down and we hoped to find the camp site we stayed at when we first arrived in Italy. We knew it had wifi and we needed that to amend our ticket home on the channel tunnel Eurostar.
As we approached the mountains, the air outside had become much fresher and it was no longer warm. There were a few castles on cliff tops which impressed me more than the Castle Del Monte but I could only guess at how one would reach them to have a good look around.
We arrived in Aosta at 7pm and the first thing I did was drag out a jumper and jeans. It also started raining but that had gone by morning to make way for another lovely day that was warm but without the stifling heat which I was already missing. We headed for the Monte Bianco tunnel on the non toll road we came in on. It had cost just over 42 Euros to cross from France to Italy but just over 43 Euros to cross from Italy to France.
I wasn't looking forward to the drive because of the difficulty we had in finding camp sites on the way down. Luckily for us, we saw hand made signs leading us around a roundabout down a single track country road that led us to a lovely site that had a fishing pond and a swimming pool and pasture-like fields that smelled green and fresh. It rained really hard as the evening wore on so we sat for a while in the car until it eased off. The next morning we headed on towards Reims and hoped to camp somewhere near there but after a nine and a half hour drive, we still hadn't found anywhere. It was typical that when we didn't need a camp site we saw loads of signs pointing to several, but when the time came that we felt the need to pitch up, there wasn't a single one for miles and miles.
Exhausted, we had little hope that we'd find one and then a sign jumped out at us and we followed it. We'd gone much further north in France than we aimed to so we were, at least, ahead of ourselves. I'd hoped that we'd have time to go shopping in Belgium for cheap tobacco. We saw signs for Oostend and followed them but we didn't have to go far before we realised that we had crossed the border. it was only because the language changed that we realised we were in a different country. No border controls there at all. Tabac was advertised on big flags outside big stores and I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I bought my usual six months supply and we then headed back towards Calais. This was our last night and we didn't intend to waste it driving looking for campsites. We'd stay in a hotel.
France had some wonderful picnic stops and rest stops where we could pull over and make tea. We decided before we got to Calais that we'd have a cuppa because we hadn't had much to eat or drink since leaving the camp site. We passed one that had been closed down and blocked off so we stopped at the next one. There was a lorry parked there and the driver was at the front of his vehicle on his phone. My husband got the camping cooker out and just as I was about to get out of the car, he told me we weren't staying. He was hastily putting the cooker away again and when he got back in the car he asked if I had seen all the people running out of the bushes.
I hadn't but he when he explained that as he began to set up the cooker, he saw lots of people suddenly appear out of the bushes with ruck sacks on their backs run to the back of the lorry, I agreed we should leg it. We didn't feel safe so we continued on towards Calais with no thoughts of stopping again until we got there. There are so many displaced and desperate people running to Europe from dictatorships and wars in Africa and the middle east that I think ultimately it is impossible to stop them trying to get in.
We arrived in the city after 3pm and starving hungry. Everywhere we went was closed. No cafes were open, no bars, no restuarants, no chippys, no kebab shops, no burger bars. The hotel said they wouldn't be serving food until after 8pm. The best we could do was head to a Lidl's we had seen where we bought sandwiches and cakes. We then drove into town later and noted that everywhere began to open up after 6pm. It appears Calais has the old English pub opening times of 11am to 3pm and 6pm to 11pm. We stopped at a nice bar for a beer when the city came back to life and then went sight seeing.
My other half liked the above building and the one below and we learned about the Burghers of Calais.
We stayed at the hotel drinking beer and smoking in the sunshine for a while before heading back into town for more beer as we wasted time until we had to head off to catch the chunnel train. We had four hours to use up but after two we got bored. We were going to spend the last two hours in the terminal looking around, maybe buying last minute presents, but when we got there we had priority boarding which we weren't aware of so we just drove straight onto the train as other cars queued. In another 35 minutes we'd be in England and we weren't even booked on this train. Then it hit me how quick this journey home from Pineto had been and I felt sad as I realised this was it, there was now no turning back. The travel adventure was over.
My other half soon got back into driving on the proper side of the road. We queued for an hour at the Dartford Tunnel otherwise we would have made good time home. I was thankful that the sun shone and the weather was hot. Everyone had talked about the hot summer England was basking in as we were in Italy. However, it didn't last long. Three days later the tail end of Hurricane Bertha hit us and the weather turned to hell. I've barely seen the sun since.
The car which had been great and hadn't let us down once during the long journey began to play up when we got home. It appears that some water got into the petrol somehow that led to it misfiring or, to use my mechanic husband's technical term, it was running like shit. The garage soon sorted that out for us for a tenner and it's running like its usual self again.
I've been asked if I'd do this again and in a second I'd have to say yes, if I was privileged enough to have both time and money in future. We didn't quite make it around the whole boot. There is the north, Venice, Verona, Burano, Padua, Trieste, and the Dolomites that we missed and which would be worth visiting again. Both me and my husband have the travel bug now and we both want to do another European road trip in future whenever we next get the opportunity. We both quite fancy travelling in Germany and Austria along the Rhine so that will be this year's research project as last year's was Italy's.
Now I have to get my head out of the memories of a dream trip and back into reality as work beckons this year like no other I've had for a while. I will try to keep this blog updated but posts may be rather sparse until I get to drips with my new routine and heavy workload.
To read the Travel Adventure in Italy from Part 1 to 11 click on the links below.
England to Aosta
Aosta to Lavagna
Lavagna to Terme Di Saturnia
Terme Di Saturnia to Zambrone
Zambrone to Ragusa
Ragusa to Agrigento
Agrigento to Trapani
Trapani to Messina
Messina to Castel Del Monte
Castel Del Monte to Pineto
Pineto to England
Monday, 1 September 2014
We weren't allowed to drive up to the Castel Del Monte but we were directed to a large car park up the road where we had to pay five euros for parking and a bus to take us there. I was gutted that I hadn't updated my press card which would have got me in free and meant we'd only have to pay 10 euros for one entry instead of 20 euros for the two of us. My student card from when I studied for my MA would also have got me free entry but it was out of date by almost four years. If only I'd known it would have been good for at least something because in all the time I had it while I studied, it was never valid anywhere for discount and I wondered what the point of it was.
It was another glorious day, if there was a bit of a strong wind, so before we entered the castle, we took a walk around it. My other half spotted this creature dead on the path that ran around the building. We thought it was one of those noisy things we'd heard in the trees that was a sort of squeaky see-saw serenade backdrop to our Italian trip because we heard them everywhere - but only on hot days. If it's even slightly chilly, they shut up. The insect we saw, however, was not a cicada but a Eupholidoptera Megastyla.
It didn't take long to see all of the castle inside and we were left with the feeling :"Is that it?" These bronze sculptures were laid out but I don't know what the significance is. My guess is that they are meant to reflect the astronomical and mathematical rigour of the castle's design. Of course, had I managed to get free entry for a decent write-up then I would have asked but in the circumstances, I approached the visit as a tourist happy to look at pretty things without really understanding why they were there.
Before long we we'd finished the tour and were outside heading back to the bus. I think I liked this little trulli village, built by an artist at the entrance to the castle's grounds, more than the grand building we'd just left.
We avoided spending yet more money in a cáfe so instead of visiting the one at the car park, we moved the car to where the camper vans were and got out the camping cooker and food, brewed up and made lunch. To our horror, the gas bottle ran out again so this would mean no more tea until we could get another and we had no idea where we should look. The rest of the trip without tea would be miserable. There was a camp site close to the Castle so we pulled in and hoped they'd have gas bottles for sale but there was no evidence of it so we drove out again. My other half was still chuntering about the cost of the gas bottle we'd bought in Lavagna and it seemed we had no other option but to fork out another 100 euros to replace it again.
We headed for the coast and kept an eye out for anything that looked possibly like a shop that sold it. Eventually, as evening wore on, we pulled into a very small site in Margherita di Savoia. We asked the man who approached as we entered if they had gas because we couldn't stay without it and he directed us to the bar on site where he said people spoke English. They did, a little, and enough to understand what we wanted and they went to great lenghts to help us. I sat with a strong expresso talking to a group of Italian women and their cousins, children, brothers and sisters, while one of the men took my other half around town to find a gas bottle. Sadly, he came back empty handed so we had to move on.
We stayed on the coast road and ended up driving for miles along a narrow pot-holed road through farmland. Old derelict buildings appear to have been inhabited by immigrants, or poor farm workers, as we saw washing hanging outside and tarpaulin pulled over crumbling houses with no roofs. On one side of the road we saw a load of solar panels, while on the other the field was being stubble burned. Italy's modern and ancient sat side by side everywhere.
As it got dark, we still found no camp sites, or shops and we had little faith that we would this late on. All we could do was find a main road, which was quite a challenge in itself, and then head to the nearest city Foggia to find a hotel, get wifi, and search for gas suppliers, before heading onwards with the journey. At least we had a travel kettle and adapter so we could brew up there.
It had been ages since we stayed in a hotel at Pisa and we'd forgotten how lovely it was to have a real bed, room with space, a TV and all the comfort that goes with it so we decided to stay two days and to hell with the budget. We looked up gas suppliers and found a shop nearby, also Googling directions so we didn't get lost trying to find it. The shop had gas but none like the one we bought in Lavagna so they wouldn't fit the regulator we thought was universal for use in Italy when we bought it. In the end we got a great deal. A huge bottle and new regulator for 35 Euros. Bargain.
With some time on our hands we went into nearby Lucera because, according to my Rough Guide to Italy, it was a prettier town more worthy of exploring. We had a good look around and then decided to head back to the hotel for rest. However, we got lost in Foggia and it took a couple of hours driving around to find the hotel again. We ate in the hotel restaurant that night. It only occurred to me half way through the meal that I was the only woman in there. I think it was the sort of place where travelling workmen stay but there was a police station right next door so maybe the police drop in as well. We had veal cooked in pink peppers. My other half was going to tell the grandkids that he ate Pepper Pig but we feared that might traumatise them for life. He'd already told them that his jelly fish sting was the result of a fight with a giant octopus which he won.
We decided to head for Chieti which is said to be the the oldest city in Italy. We left Foggia and headed for Pescara because Chieti was on route along the SS 16 road. We saw a young women sitting in a layby alone texting. My other half immediately claimed she was a prostitute but I said she might just be waiting for someone to pick her up from there after work or something. Then we saw another woman, and another, but this time they were pacing up and down the layby in a very short skirt and very high heels. Every layby we passed along a 20 km stretch had a beautiful young, scantily-clad woman showing her wares in the 39 degree heat with no shade. I eventually agreed they must be sex workers when we passed one young women who was naked from the waist down and motioning at us to pull over... (and to think my husband got told off by police for not wearing his T shirt on a hot day).. The women waved at drivers going past. Motorists hooted their horns. The occasional car or lorry had pulled in and, presumably, doing a deal with the girl they had chosen.
It was a long drive along a mountain road when we pulled off the SS16 for Chieti and the town itself was very pretty and very traditional. We took a walk in the park where there was a huge memorial to the Italian dead of the First World War. We couldn't really work it out but there were posters advertising a beer festival and we assumed it was there because tables were being set out and as we left, many people seemed to be heading that way.
As we made our way back to where we had parked the car below the hilltop town, we passed a traditional Italian barber shop. My husband had enjoyed a close cut throat wet shave in Pisa and he needed another since his beard had got a bit wild and his hair needed a trim. The barber was an elderly man who spoke no English at all. My other half showed him what he wanted by using his finger to shave down the sides of his face, but something was clearly lost in translation. He came out with his head shaved and polished but his beard was left intact. The barber couldn't understand, didn't want to be bothered, or simply didn't have the time to give him a shave. My other half was also a little disturbed that every time the barber said something, he tapped him on his nose as if dealing with a playful toddler.
After Chieti we headed back to the coast to find camping and we stayed at Pineto. The gate was manned by an an Italian Vigilante and others were parked just on the other side of the gate although to book in we had to go into the camp and to the reception. I wasn't sure what they were but the name "vigilante" carries a lot of baggage in English and it made me feel a little uncomfortable. The site was also the second most expensive we'd stayed at but the facilities didn't warrant such a high price - and you had to buy tokens at extra cost to use the showers. The other over priced camp site was in Rome earlier in the trip but it, at least, had more to offer by way of service. Although my camp site guide book said there was "inevitably" some railway noise, because the site was right next to a railway line, "it wasn't intrusive." We clearly camped too close to it. Trains rattling by every hour through the night and woke us both up. We hardly had any sleep.
We arrived very late and left quite early so we didn't do much sightseeing but the seaside town has a tower, which we saw as we drove past it.
Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion, plus the ever decreasing budget, but it was there, that next morning, that I decided the time had come to head home. If we could get easily to Cortona or Assisi, both on my wish list of places to see, then I wanted to stop by but in the event we didn't see any signs pointing that way and we'd have had to have worked out a route to get there, which we didn't, so we continued north towards Bologna. Our travel adventure was almost over.
In the next post we go back to Aosta and head for France and the channel tunnel train home.
Thursday, 28 August 2014
Sicily was wonderful and the memory of it will live with us for a very long time. In addition, we identified a few places that would be worthy of a week or fortnight's holiday should we ever make a return visit. After getting off the ferry from Messina to Villa San Giovanni on the mainland, we faced a very long drive around the sole and heel of Italy's boot. I'd heard a lot about the trulli town of Alberobello and determined that we shouldn't miss it out but we were a long way from getting there.
We pulled into the Campeggio Doccica at Palizzi Marina. We needed food and so drove into the main town of Palizzi to find a supermarket but we ended up getting a takeaway which consisted of a hotdog sausage baked within a bread roll and a couple of arancini but it was all cold by the time we got them back to camp for our supper. There were lots of young people about doing their hair, looking very dressed up, and we realised later that the camp site was holding a birthday party for someone. There were older people and families on the site too and they all seemed to know each other. We felt a bit isolated but at least we could understand the music that blared out until 1am. It was all English and American and included tracks played by Santana and Queen.
The next day we packed up to leave but when we went to pay for the pitch, there was a delay as the person who takes the money wasn't around. Instead we were invited to play a game of table football with an Italian man and his son. Suffice to say, just like the England team in the World Cup, we got whupped but it was an entertaining way of hanging around.
We took the coast road and went through lots of little seaside towns which were the same in character as any seaside town you find in Britain. Rubber dinghies, rubber rings and surf boards hung outside little shops that also had flip flops, sea shoes and postcards for sale. We eventually managed to find a better road that moved a bit faster and drove for miles across a country landscape on one side with the sea on our right. As long as we could see the ocean, we knew we were heading in the right direction. We weren't entirely sure of where we were going next but we headed for Taranto which sits right at the top part of the inside of the heel.
The Calabrian countryside was littered with fires burning in the distance. It was very dry and barren but quite lovely and the sea was azure blue. This beautiful scenery was contrasted with old rusty industrial relics, big factories and lots of half built apartment blocks and hotels. We didn't know whether work was abandoned due to the economic crash Italy has endured, or workers were on a rest day or siesta, but clearly there are some moves to develop the area's tourism and expand some of these little seaside places in an area where few foreigners go.
We were racing back to the north and we didn't stop to do any sightseeing. We'd spent more than half the budget but we still had the whole east side of the leg and the heel to explore so we decided to play safe and be selective about where we visited. We'd accepted that we'd already seen a lot and we'd never see every city, town, village, hamlet or tourist attraction in the country.
We drove all day and ended up pulling into the Pineta camping village because it simply got too hot to drive anymore. We endured a night of bad karaoke coming from somewhere nearby but it wasn't a big problem for me because I'd got myself some earplugs.
After that we drove past Taranto and then pulled over to decide where we'd go next. Ideally, we wanted to drive around the whole heel but this would add extra cost to the petrol so we went for Lecce - the town right in the middle of the heel - instead.
To save money, we'd started pulling over at picnic stops, taking out the camping cooker and making our own tea. At Lecce there was a big car park right near to the historic attractions so before we went to have a look around, we had a cuppa first. There were many camper vans there which could stay overnight. This type of trip is more cost efficient in one of those because you can pretty much pull up anywhere safely on the roadside for free and at special park ups in towns for a small parking fee.
We had a good couple of hours in this ancient town and then set off towards Ostuni and Alberobello via Brindisi. The road signs were not very clear on that stretch of road and having seen none for Ostuni, which was on the map before the trulli town, we wondered if we had somehow missed it because we couldn't work out where we were. We came off the road to retrace our steps backwards via the coast road but soon worked out that wouldn't help.
We really thought that we missed it and as time was getting on, we pulled into a camp site called the Meditur Village which was a bit like a hotel for campers. The reception was marble, very posh and very, very cool as the air conditioning made it feel like the sort of cold summer day we get at home. My other half wished he could put the tent in there but the pitch we got was very good. We had no idea where we were and so had to ask. The staffer who took us to our pitch pointed on our map to Specchiolla. We asked if we were far from Ostuni. It was just 20 km ahead of where we were were. It was great to know that we were still on the right track. There was a great supermarket on the site and unlike the many others we had seen on camp sites during our travels, this one actually sold more than a few Italian delicacies, wine, dried food and bread which always sold out quickly. My other half got some cornflakes and real milk and I got some bacon and eggs. We had a breakfast fit for kings the next morning and felt good as we hit the road again.
I'd noticed my husband scratching his ankle a lot as we drove on the road to Lecce and then I saw a huge ant that must have got into the car with us when we packed up that morning. We both already had something like 30 mosquito bites each but now we were covered in ant bites on our legs that itched like mad during the night. The treatment cream we'd bought from home helped a lot but it was almost gone. The Meditur camp site shop also sold packs of treatment and repellent wipes which were great, really soothing.
Ostuni is known as the White City and they worked hard to keep it that way. We saw an old woman scrubbing her white steps as we wandered down some of the narrow passageways and up stepped streets.
We could have hung around there for a while but we had to move on and I really looked forward to getting to Alberobello. My husband liked to browse in estate agent shop windows everywhere we went. In Ostuni there were quite a few trullis for sale and often for less than our little bungalow at home is worth. I guess if I decided to move out there and buy one in retirement then they'll be a lot more expensive as they call Puglia the new "Chiantishire" because of it's current fascination with British tourists who are snapping up cheap properties for renovation, holiday homes and to live in.
Alberobello isn't far from Ostuni so we drove straight there arter leaving the White City and headed for a camp site mentioned in my camping guide book but again we lost the sign and ended up elsewhere. We stayed at the Bosco Selva site which was very spacious and not too packed out. There weren't many travellers there when we arrived and of those who stayed, they seemed to be mainly foreigners. Our neighbours were French. I wanted to stay another day because I loved the site and the area but we'd already decided to stay one night at different camp sites on our journey back north.
The owner gave us a map of the UNESCO world heritage site and said it was not too far and easily reached by walking. This was good news. The car was a blessing and a curse. It was great for getting us to places we wouldn't normally be able to reach via public transport but it was a pain sometimes to try and find parking and then find the car again after we'd left it somewhere. The walk, however, seemed to take a long time and we reckon it was more than a km as the owner had said.
The town itself is very charming but very busy with tourists getting underfoot everywhere you went - says a hypocritical tourist who probably got under the feet of others. We visited the Trullo Sovrano which is a small museum giving something of the atmosphere of trullo life, with sweet, rounded rooms that include a re-created bakery, bedroom and kitchen. The entry price of one euro and 50 cents made it the cheapest museum that we visited and it was well worth the money.
I took some pictures and again those pesky tourists got in the way as I tried to get shots of the inside, but not always and I sometimes had a clear shot.
It was a very hot night and after we walked back to our tent, we sat in the light of our small lamp drinking tea and looking at the map trying to decide where we should go next. The Castel Del Monte wasn't far and and I wanted to see it as I thought Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose literary medieval crime novel was set there because of it's eight sides.
I wasn't greatly impressed when I saw it, and it didn't take very long to look around, but the countryside around Andria, it's closest town, was stunning. At one point it felt like we'd taken a trip back in time when a goat herder, who looked for the world that he'd just stepped out of a 19th century hillside, skillfully stopped his animals from crossing at a roundabout we were going through. I'll write more about that tomorrow and the women on the Foggia to Pescara road as I promised. I think this series, that I initially only intended to be a couple of posts, is almost at an end as our sightseeing trip became even more of a road trip race up north as our budget depleted.
Wednesday, 27 August 2014
We left Trapani and headed for Palermo but we weren't looking forward to driving through it. I also wanted to get to Corleone if possible. Palermo was hectic and so we decided to keep on driving straight through it. Traffic came from all directions and the motorway merged with the road that went through the city. We saw the turn off to Corleone but we'd have had to cross two lanes of traffic to get to it and neither of us fancied that much.
In the event, we decided to forget it and keep on towards Cefalú which is a fashionable beach town but, apparently, not over-developed with tourism. The camp site in my camping guide was easy to find but there was a problem. Cars were not allowed on the site because they lock the gates at 11pm, and we couldn't take our car to camp with our tent so we left to find somewhere else to pitch up. Our tent was just big enough to sleep in so the car was the suitcase, wardrobe, kitchen cupboard and the storeroom so we couldn't do without it.
We didn't drive very far from Cefalú when we came across the Rais Gerbi down the road at Finale di Pollina. The sites we liked the best during our trip weren't in my camping guide book and this was another little gem that didn't get a mention.
There were shaded terraces for the tents, which were cool and near steps that led down to the sea. We both loved the funky-looking white bungalows pictured above. If we ever make it back there then we might stay in one. They did look very inviting. The campsite was family run by a very friendly group of people. We had a swim in the sea but we didn't stay in long before heading to the bar near to the reception. As we sat in the heat, the owner stopped to chat with us and asked why we weren't down on the beach keeping cool in the sea. We explained that since the jelly fish sting we'd been wary. He told us that they can kill but, of course, this far down south the sea was "entirely safe."
By now, we'd gone from taking a leisurely drive along the coast, staying a few days at a site to see the area around, to a race to get off Sicily and back to the mainland. This was now, effectively, the start of our journey home even though we were still a long way from getting there. There wasn't much else we wanted to see on the island, after missing out both Palermo and Corleone, so we headed straight for Messina and the ferry.
Because we'd gone from camp to camp, and stayed just one night at each place, we hadn't done any washing for a few days. My other half's T shirts were a bit grufty but it was so hot, he decided not to wear one until the next camp when we could get it done.
The temperature was at least 39 degrees so it was with some relief that we stopped at a service station at Acquadolce for a drink and a refresher and to stretch our legs. I really wanted a cup of tea but getting a good one in Italy was always difficult. We did take a big box of Yorkshire Teabags with us but that ran out at Letojanni and since then we'd been buying whatever we could get our hands on but it was in danger of busting our budget at the extra cost of almost £4 euros every other day for a box of 25 Twinings. We're both fussy teapots and the tea has to be good. We tried the slightly cheaper Star brand but it was awful and the lesser expensive Liptons which was a bit better but still didn't give us the hit we needed that only comes from a nice cuppa with plenty of strength.
At various service station stops, I managed to get a decent brew. If they put too much milk in then I'd just get a black cup of tea and mix them, or I'd ask for black tea and then put milk in myself afterwards. My other half long gave up trying and had chosen coke as his drink of choice when on the road. I asked for an English tea at Acquadolce but the abrupt barman said no. "verde e limone" (green and lemon tea) was all they had so I declined and went for water which I don't find as refreshing. Tea lovers know for a fact that tea cools you down when it's hot and warms you up when it's cold. Water is just boring and it warmed too quickly in the heat.
As we pulled in, we noticed a police car parking up. After our drink, we prepared to leave. I made for the toilets and he went to the car. When I came out, the police were walking away from my husband who was putting on his least grufty T shirt that he'd dug out of the washing bag.
"I just got told off and told to put my shirt on by the police," he said.
The officers had approached him and in my absence he had absolutely no idea what they were trying to tell him. One pointed to his shirt and my husband thought he was just showing him his badge. "Very nice." he said, still bare-chested. The other police officer frowned, pointed to his chest and said "shirt - you - shirt."
The penny then dropped and he realised what they were trying to tell him. Perhaps they didn't like his tattoos, or perhaps it's thought to be indecent that men don't wear shirts in public although we'd seen plenty of bare-chested men on beaches and in beach towns so we weren't sure. He did as he was told anyway. Neither of us wanted to fall foul of the law in Italy.
We made it to Messina in good time but finding the embarkation point we needed was another round of madness, reversing, and doing U turns in the road. He'd long since dropped his English attitude to driving. Kids washed the car windscreen whenever we stopped at traffic lights and it got a bit annoying because one after the other, they wanted to be paid. We eventually got to the dock and began to drive down the traffic lane for boarding. My husband stopped and waited when I said that maybe we should check with the ticket office nearby before we got too far into the lane to go back just in case we were in the wrong place because we had a return ticket and couldn't travel with any other ferry company than the one we'd booked with.
As I feared, our tickets weren't valid there and we needed to get out and find the ferry we'd sailed in on. Unfortunately, cars were now starting to come in behind our car so we couldn't get out. He drove over the metal lumps that divided the lanes but didn't tell me until much later, when we were nearly home in fact, that the metal had ripped a chuck out of the car tyre that already had a nail in it and, like the other front tyre, cracked rubber.
We came off the ferry on the mainland at Villa San Giovanni. We didn't know where we wanted to go after that but we followed the boot round the sole and headed for Puglia which has become the new favoutite of the English and I can see why. I loved it.
More to come in tomorrow's blog post about Ostuni, Alberobello, women who line the road between Foggia and Pescara, and the contrasts we found between old Italy and modern Italy living side by side.
Monday, 25 August 2014
We left Punta Secca and headed for Agrigento via a coastal road. We wanted to see the ruins and have a quick look at nearby Porto Empodocle, the town that the fictional "Vigata" in author Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano series is based. I also fancied seeing the town made famous by the Godfather films, Corleone, if at some point we could get to it easily. It was inland and not on our route around the island. We might have made it from Palermo but we'd have to see. We were both really apprehensive of driving through Sicily's capital city when the time inevitably came, although we both wanted to see it.
The parched Sicilian countryside was stunning. I could imagine Michael Corleone walking across that vast unspoiled rustic landscape. The occasional old derelict stone buildings crumbled on top of hillsides. Remote, off the beaten track, country back roads we used were perfect to get a feel of old Sicily but they also seemed to be the sort of places that people took rubbish. We came across bin bags, tattered shoes and clothing, domestic appliances, and an old sofa and mattress dumped on the roadside.
It was very hot again so we thought that was probably why we could see fires in the distance. In some places the dry grass on the roadside verge was burning. We saw smoke often as we drove along. Sometime flames spread across whole fields, getting perilously close to farmhouses, and sometimes just small burning patches of dry grass. We surmised that they were probably a mixture of spontaneous fires from the dry heat, and stubble burning by farmers which still went on in the south.
The Greek Temple ruins dominated the landscape on the approach to Agrigento. We pitched at Camping Nettuno and then went sightseeing. It was a long afternoon of walking around in the heat but the ruins were worth seeing up close. There were lots of fossilised shells embedded in the rocks and I later learned it was because the ruins sit on a high ledge that was once at sea level.
We paid 10 Euros each to get in but that didn't include entrance to other features on the site such as the villa built by Englishman Captain Alexander Hardcastle who was the first to begin major excavation and restoration of the now famous site. In fairness, an extra entry fee of just one euro each was the price to have a look around that but we couldn't work out quite where we should get the ticket from. We were also expected to pay more to see the Kolymbetra Gardens but by then we were too hot to be bothered although I managed to take this photo before we made for the bar and grabbed a cool drink instead.
Before heading back to the campsite, we decided to have a look around the town of Agrigento. There were lots of shops, big, small, and specialist, little alleyways and stepped passages. We followed a sign for a Monastery that took us up an incline of narrow streets but when we got there we found it was a B&B so we went back down again. We were both tired and decided to get the car and go off in search of a supermarket, head back to camp and cook. Beggars waited by traffic lights and when they changed to red, they went down the line of waiting cars with their hands out for money. Some motorists gave and others didn't.
I hadn't seen the beach at Nettuno despite the fact it was immediately opposite our tent but I resolved to have a look before we packed up and left the next day. Agrigento was scorching hot in the daytime but our camp site on the coast, a few km from the town, got very chilly as the evening wore on. I wasn't the only one who needed a jumper and jeans that night. After the heat of Letojanni, we tended to camp in shade where we could so I didn't feel really warm again until I was under the glare of the sun the next morning. The beach was beautiful. Gorgeous scented white flowers grew wild in the sand. Two Dutch boys I'd seen on the camp were collecting huge dung-beetles in a bucket. I picked one of the flowers and kept it with me in the car because it was so delightful.
We came to the traffic lights and the same African man asking for money the day before was in his usual spot. When he got to our car and stuck his hand out, I placed the flower in it. He looked surprised for a minute and then a broad white smile spread across his face. He sniffed it as he moved on to the next car.
We did pop over to Porto Empodocle - now known as Porto Empodocle Vigata - but it was chaos. They are not currently filming Montalbano so I don't know why the centre of the town was blocked off. A policewoman was directing traffic so there was lots of horns pipping and a general crush of cars with everyone trying to get past her first. From what we could see, there was a huge industrial, and not particularly attractive port in the distance, but of course there was probably a lot more that we weren't going to see. We decided to get out of there as quick as we could and head for Trapani - our next planned stop.
We got lost again and ended up going through a town which had signs to Trapani that pointed all ways so it seemed no matter which way we went, we ended up back in the centre again. After an hour of going in circles, we approached the same arch in town that we had gone through many times before. We were both getting frustrated and we began to argue. I warned him that the light was changing to red at the arch but he stormed that he didn't give a shit.
"Italians don't stop at red lights so why the bloody hell should I!" he said and with that, there was a sudden screech of brakes as a car was coming into the archway from the bend you couldn't see from our side expecting the arch to be clear because it was controlled by traffic lights. I just squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the impact that luckily, either due to the skill of my husband's driving or that of the oncoming motorist, never came. Nothing worse happened than a few angry hoots of the horn afterwards. We decided to take a sign, any sign, and head for it to get out of this Groundhog Day town, trauma has prevented me from remembering its name. We headed back towards Agrigento and once back on a main road, we finally found signs to Trapani and onwards.
We were flying around the Sicilian coast a bit too quickly but I think we were both feeling a bit jaded and, if I'm honest, I was starting to feel homesick. My husband had just come along for the ride - or rather was my driver on a tour that was more my dream than his - and was ready to go home whenever I gave the word. I did contemplate getting a ferry from Sicily to Genoa up in the north. After all we had done top to toe and it would save the car a lot of work if we cut the driving short, but my other half didn't want to do that. He said not going all the way around the boot as we had planned would be like saying we were going to climb Mount Everest only to get a ski-lift to the top.
I think we were both at our lowest point in Trapani when we got lost again. That was a point more than any other other when I wished I could have just been beamed back home like they do in Startrek. We had a day out there looking around and we saw more churches, another beach, more alleyways and passages, more piazzas and shops, although Trapani is different in character to a lot of the Italian towns we saw because of it's Arabic influence. However, it was still all becoming rather repetitive. We arrived about 4pm, parked the car until 9pm near a big park by the sea, my husband said he knew the name of the street we were on, and then went off down some steps to explore the town. After about three hours of walking around, we stopped for a drink and a bite to eat. My other half fancied an ice cream afterwards and went back into the bar to order one as I polished off my beer. He looked at his change when he came out, counted it and then counted it again. He swore blind that he'd been short changed by five Euros. I told him to take it up with the bloke who served him but he didn't see the point as he and the barman didn't speak the same language.
He was frustrated enough about that but to add insult to injury, he didn't even like the ice cream he bought. It was more of a sorbet than gelato. A very old lady hobbled past us with a plastic cup outstretched mumbling "poverina." I felt very sorry to see someone of that great age in those circumstances so I gave her a euro that I happened to have sitting on the table in front of me. Seconds later, a stocky man came by just shoving his cup at me and gasping as he did so. I looked up to see he had what looked like a brass bolt in a tracheotomy. I didn't have any more change to give. Later I saw both him and the old woman in another part of town. They were close to each other and I wondered if they were together, mother and son, perhaps.
It was getting on for 7pm when we decided to go and get the car and head back to our camp site at Valderice, another coastal town a few km away. We didn't like driving in the dark because the damn blinkers you have to put on GB headlights, to stop them blinding continental drivers on the road at night, made them rather dim. We tried to retrace our steps but we couldn't find the area where we'd parked our car. Trapani has sea on three sides and more than one park and my husband couldn't say or spell the street where we'd left it. He struggled to pronounce anything in Italian and although he knew it in his head, and would recognise it when he saw it, he couldn't tell me what it was.
We walked for almost two hours and no matter which way we went, we always ended up coming back to this building. It was starting to get dark and I worried that the police would tow the car away if we didn't pick it up by the time the parking was out at 9pm. I suggested we come out of the labyrinth of streets and walk around on the beach road. We walked for a while and still didn't see the big park near the sea where we'd left the car. He was convinced that we should go back into town again but I was more sure that if just kept on walking a bit more, we'd be sure to find it. He's always had a better sense of direction than me and this time he was determined he would get us where we needed to be so I followed. We came to the centre of town and he was sure that if we just walked ahead a bit more, we'd see the sea, the green park with a fence around it and the car park where we'd left the car. Then we saw a German family of tourists looking at a map so we stretched our necks towards it and tried to take a discreet look when they caught us. I asked if they spoke English. The man said he did, a little.
"Do you know where the big green park is, with a fence around it?" I asked. He pointed to a big green area that didn't look very far away. "Is it this way or that?" I pointed ahead of me and behind me. He looked blank. A police officer was standing nearby.
"This man will help you," he said, so I approached the police officer.
"Do you speak English?" I asked him.
"Yes, a little," he said.
"OK, we have lost our car and we're trying to..." He put his hand up to stop me. His colleague spoke better English, he said, and he called him over and explained something in Italian.
The second policeman asked me what the problem was.
"We've parked our car ..."
"What do you man parked?" he said.
"Parcchegio," I said.
"One minute..." he said and went off to fetch an Italian waiter from a bar close by.
The waiter came over and I began to explain again that we had lost our car because we couldn't find the place we had parked it.
"What do you mean lost?" he said and then had a discussion with the Italian policeman.
"One minute," he said and went off to fetch his barman who he said had better English and he would help us.
By now the Italian policeman thought we'd had our car stolen and he got on his radio to report it. I was getting frantic wondering if the madness would end. My husband was going through all kinds of funny sounding names in hope that one of them would strike a chord with the barman who'd recognise the name of the street he was trying desperately to pronounce, and all I wanted to know was whether the bloody big park was ahead or behind us and how far. It was when the Italian policeman said he needed our registration plate to complete the theft report that in desperation I stepped outside of the bar, approached a group of customers and asked if any of them possibly spoke good English and could help us.
A lovely Italian man stood up. I explained our dilemma and he understood perfectly. He translated to the Italian policeman that our car was not stolen, just mislaid, and we were trying to find the big park we had left it.
"Ah!" said the policeman. "You worry if we take it away because it's after 9pm?" he said and he got on his radio again.
"Well yes," I said, "but more than that we just needed to find it." I turned to the customer who spoke English. "Is it this way or that way?" I asked him.
"That way, just ahead, about 100 metres behind that tree up there."
I apologised for interrupting his meal and he was very gracious about it. The policeman decided to go on ahead and make sure we got to the car park and when we arrived, I hugged and kissed that car. I've never been quite so pleased to see it. In the kerfuffle of mixed messages and language problems we had just been through, my husband wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't be nicked for being in a stolen car somewhere on the way back to camp but happily it ended there.
If we'd not stopped to speak to the Germans with a map, and not got involved in the unfolding misunderstanding that followed, then my husband was right that after getting back into town we were almost there, and I was right that if we had walked a bit further around the main road then we would have found it.
As we walked around lost and feeling glum and helpless, we saw the most bizarre sight that didn't fully register with us until we got back to camp and relaxed a bit. A man on a scooter doing about 30mph, and wearing no helmet, was dragging a cooker on its side behind him. There was a hell of a screeching noise and sparks flew up from the ground. I wondered what use it would be when he got it back to wherever he was taking it - or maybe he was heading for one of the remote back roads somewhere to dump it.
In the next post, which may or may not be tomorrow due to a busy day ahead, we drive through Palermo, contemplate getting to Corleone, and head back to Messina for the ferry to the mainland and the journey ahead around the sole of Italy's foot, the heel and the east coast up the leg.
Sunday, 24 August 2014
It was deathly quiet when we arrived in Ragusa. A couple of police officers were standing opposite the church above and even though it was a Sunday, there was no flock of people either coming in or out of Mass. We parked around the corner and then went for ice cream at a cáfe nearby. Ahead of us in the queue was an English family, from London, with two kids. We had a quick chat. They were very interested to know about our trip and said that I was very brown-skinned so it was clear we'd been in Italy, and under the sun, for some time. I explained that I tan very easily but fade just as quickly when the sun doesn't shine - hence I'm almost back to my usual skin colour after almost three weeks of being back home under the usual summer grey cloud.
It was quite refreshing for both me and my other half to have someone new to talk to other than just each other. We did feel somewhat isolated due to the language barrier and of course we could never spark up a conversation with anyone, apart from the occasional Dutch, German or French tourist we met along the way who often spoke better English than we did. I felt handicapped and ashamed at speaking no Italian. People we met along the way who did speak English were often fluent in another two or three languages as well. In Letojanni, our neighbours on the camp site were a young couple with a little three year old girl who came to chat and on realising that we didn't speak the same tongue, decided to try and teach us a few words, and likewise picked up simple English words in return like sugar/zucchero. She was particularly interested in our sugar dispenser and how it worked. I showed her, intending to pour just a few grains in her hand but a big pile came out into her tiny palm which she looked at for a minute and then shoved into her mouth before then licking her hand clean.
The family we met in Ragusa was struggling in the heat so after a chat and a "buon viaggio" they decided to leave the cáfe in search of shade in the park behind the church. We hung around at the bar for a bit longer and then did the same. I was looking over a fence at the countryside in the distance when I noticed my husband was called over to a bench where an African man was sitting. They chatted for a while and when I saw him sit down, I figured this could take some time so I joined them.
The African said he was from Gambia but he felt English because the country was, until recently, in the Commonwealth which he felt attached to. However, he felt betrayed because our Govt is doing nothing about the dictator who runs Gambia and whose persecution of people who don't agree with him forced this man to run for his life leaving his family, wife and children, behind.
He'd left the country by escaping into Libya. He said the people there are "crazy" and he showed us the scars on his legs which he said were caused by a machete. From there he'd paid a lot to sail on a cramped rickety boat which only had enough room for him to sit crouched and bent with many others looking to get to Europe. He cried all the way and didn't expect to survive. Many others don't. He had applied for asylum in Italy and was awaiting all the documentation he needed to be able to work there but it was a long, slow process and he was struggling to scrape a living in the meantime.
He said he was staying at a camp where other Africans lived but he spent his days in the park in Ragusa because he liked it there better. He couldn't sell goods like we'd seen others do in Pisa because he needed the money to invest first and he claimed, desperate African migrants are often exploited by better off African migrants who take their money and then disappear. The upshot of his long and tragic story was that he wanted some money so he could call his wife who didn't have Skype. We had no change and we didn't want to give him a note. We'd been approached by so many beggars on the journey and we couldn't keep giving money away especially as, by now, the budget was draining away and we had to think about the places we really wanted to see once back on the mainland and how we might shorten the trip home to ensure the money didn't run out before we got back. The African needed more help than we could give and from people better connected than us who could make the changes he needed in hope for a better life. We moved on and left him sitting there with his thoughts and memories. My other half was cynical about his motives for wanting money. I felt guilty at not being able to help in any way.
Although it was quiet in the town, we felt we should check out the car and it's a good job we did because we'd parked in a residential spot which could lead to the car being towed away. We moved it to a safer place while we explored as much as we could of Ragusa before the need to go off and find a camp site which was most likely to be found on the coast.
It was when we stumbled across the other church, or rather the Cathedral San Giorgio, I recognised it from my favourite detective TV series Inspector Montalbano although I hadn't gone on any kind of pilgrimage in the commissario's footsteps.
I'd forgotten all about it by the time we found a camp site which wasn't the one we were heading for. My camping guide book indicated that a camp site at Santa Croce Camerina was about 20 km away so we headed for that, did our usual thing of losing the road sign and ended up following signs to an Agriturismo site instead. We didn't know where we were but assumed we were in Santa Croce Camerina because we hadn't passed any village sign to tell us differently.
The reception at the Capo Scalambri was manned by two older men. One spoke very good English and the other was in difficulty just trying to write down our English details. We had quite a conversation. I tried using some of my limited Italian, I did want to improve my language skills, but the English speaking owner insisted that I speak English which he clearly understood better than my pigeon Italian. They were a proper pair of characters. The English speaking one insisted we try his wife's home made limoncello which he was selling, along with other farm produce, at 20 Euros a bottle. He carefully laid out two biscuits each for us, before pouring two shots of the very strong cocktail and instructed us that we must first eat the biscuits before downing in one gulp the limoncello. It tasted a bit like strong medicine with a kick to the back of the throat. The other man then decided to go off and pick us some fresh veg and came back with a bag full of auberginbes and peppers. Because we had no fridge, no ice for the cool box, and no other means of keeping food fresh, we couldn't get through it all before the veg started to turn which was a shame because I've never tasted peppers as juicy. I'd never tasted aubergines at all. Neither of us were very keen on those but we felt obliged to eat as much as we could because of the very kind gesture. It felt like a sin to throw it away.
Upon arrival, I noticed a huge poster on the wall outside of the reception of Inspector Montalbano and the dog he saved from fighting, Orlando, and remarked upon it asking if the men were fans of the series.
"You have that in England?" the English speaking chap said incredulously. "Yes, I said, "I love it and watch it every week that it's on."
"Well, he said, "his house is about 1km away from here if you want to go and see it."
I couldn't pass up on that opportunity so the next day we went in search of it. It didn't feel like a km away because we literally just drove around the corner and there it was, It took a matter of minutes to reach it via a walk along the beach from our camp site, although I have to say it's less impressive in real life, probably because there were lots of tourists hanging out nearby, and a family was staying there because the place is rented out to holidaymakers as a B&B.
We soon found out that the place we were camping at was called Punta Secca. Montalbano is an iconic figure in that part of Sicily. A local cáfe announced that they sold arancini - the favourite food of Inspector Montalbano and behind the counter was a framed photo of actor Luca Zingaretti and, I assume, the owner. In the local tobacconists, they sold fridge magnets with the house on, books about Montalbano the series, and the novels by Andrea Camilleri.
I had my first taste of arancino in Taormina and it was scrumptious but that sold at the Punta Secca bar was orgasmic. I didn't see it on sale in any part of Italy except the far south and Sicily and certainly I haven't seen it sold at home. If cooked correctly, it would make a great popular addition to the pasta and pizza so loved by the British but no one seems to have capitalised on it here yet.
I had my third arancini in Trapani which wasn't very nice, hard on the bottom, and soggy inside. My husband thought it funny that after three arancini, I was considering myself an gourmet expert.
We stayed three days in Punta Secca. It was a lovely marina village with a very strong community spirit. People stopped and chatted in the street, said hello as they sat outside on their terraces as you passed by and it had agreat feel to it. The weather of course was glorious until the last day when the sun was hot but marred by a very strong wind which made swimming in the sea impossible. A life guard stayed on the beach warning people not to go in the sea. The beach was almost empty except for a couple of people with towels over their heads and us. The strong wind also created a sand storm and we felt like we were enduring death by a thousand cuts as tiny grains of sand whipped across our legs, arms and faces and hurt.
Our favourite part of the day was morning when the bread man, fish man and veg man came round at various times to sell their produce from a van. Each called our their goods as they circled the site. "pane! cornetto!" the bread man repeated as he went, "pesce!" the fish man yelled but the veg man who had a deep and scratchy voice sounded his produce as if singing a song. I wish I'd been able to video it because I can't even repeat all the word he sang except for the first two :"patate, manana, ...., .... ,...." and the middle and last last vowels of the last unrepeatable word was dragged out and elongated before he began his little song again.
Our next destination was Agrigento where we saw the Valley of the Temples and we took a very quick look at Porto Empodocle which changed it's name in honour of author Camilleri's fictional town of Vigata, but more about that tomorrow.