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Ken and Marion continue to explore, Italy N to S

Ken and Marion start some travelling to mark Ken's 60th year, in Madiera, and now in Italy.

A new Clerihew marks each day.

Diary Entries

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Location: UK

From Sicily's sunshine to Geneva's grey day and grey Calvinist cathedral. Here's an original E. C. Bentley Clerihew about John Knox.

The sermons of John Knox

Teemed with disapproval of frocks

There was no acquiescence by him in

The monstrous Regiment of Women.

It's our last day in Italy and we intend to spend it in an gentle way. We're very aware that there's lots waiting to be seen just down the road, but our feet are tired and a nosegay of each place we've touched upon is all we can expect to cover with the itinerary we've adopted.

Villa Giulia is top of the list for a place to do nothing much in. Built in 1777 and extended a hundred or so years later it was the first public park are in Palermo. The original entrance overlooking the Foro Italico is of a monumental neoclassical design. The heart of the villa is the dodecahedron fountain, featuring a sculpture of a dodecahedral marble clock created by the mathematician Lorenzo Federici, each face of the dodecahedron featuring a sundial. This is supported by a statue of Atlas by Ignazio Marabitti, set in the centre of a circular fountain. And, today, a seagull sits on top of it all. Around this fountain are four exedra, designed by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda and intended to be used for musical performances.

But today the park is not awash with musicians, rather with photographers. A succession of families and bridal parties are entering the villa garden dressed to the nines. It is a fabulously sunny day. And the setting with bougainvillea, red roses, white blossoms, Palm trees and Cypruses provides an ideal backdrop for the snap-fest. Young sons, and some dads, are kitted out in shiny satin suits with piping and overstated shiny contrasts. Preadolescent girls are dressed as brides (could this be a first communion thing going on?). Elder daughters are in high platform stilettos, self coloured floating dresses, some full length, many not. And mums wear fuller versions of the same sort, best jewellery on, false eyelashes and talons shining in the sunlight. The photographers are dressed down: polo shirts and jogging bottoms, but are very firmly in charge constructing poses in front of the buildings or by popping heads though arches of bougainvillea, or leaning back to back with heads facing front cheek to cheek.

We both paint and get broiled in the full sun..... glorious.

For lunch we went back to the cantina on our street and shared a lunch of vegetables in oil and I had a fabulous arancini-esque fried wonder. It was the size of a small brick. When you bit into it the discovery was that it was an outer bread layer containing a minced beef and peas centre. The whole thing was encrusted with breadcrumbs. I imagine that the bread was folded around the meaty centre as uncooked dough, then the brick chilled for a bit before egging and coating with breadcrumbs and deep frying. I can't find the name of this variety as yet.

In the afternoon I shuffled around the waterfront and Marion returned to the Ortico Botanico for gentle plant-spotting fun.

Our hopes for a Sunday concert in the Piaza Magione gave been dashed. There was a sound check for one band around 7.30pm then under the guard of four soldiers the soundstage was unplugged and the men in black tee shirts went home for the night.

We consoled ourselves with an aperitif and street food apero deal at a bar on Magione. Marion has the tried and tested G&T, I opt for a Mojito, despite the lack of further Earnest Hemmingway Iconography on our Italian trip. The food was like an Italian tapas, tasty and filling. I then asked for a spina beer, because I'd noticed 'spina' being used for 'pression' on Sicilian menus. The patron heard Piña beer, which turned out to be a weiss beer (and was very palatable).

I'm never much good at sleeping when I know there's an early alarm to be heard.... we put both tablets on for 6am call.... and I proceeded to toss and turn through the night. I'm sure you could persuade me that I must sleep better than I think I do, but all that I know is the impression that I'm day dreaming all night long, aware of the room and sounds around me, but following a dream story in my head.

Come 6am we sprang to life, showered, had a cup of coffee in reception and were at the central station coach stand for 6.35am. The coach was there and we sat aboard until the 7.00 leaving time, watching Palermo coming to life. To the airport, more breakfasting and then in the air for two hours. We were in Geneva by mid morning, but the weather was indifferent and we discovered that museums and galleries are shut on Mondays ..... Bugger.....

We saw the jet d'eau, We found the hotel that we started this holiday in, did a fair bit of walking around .......but mostly sought shops and cafes for warmth. Eventually, settling in a bar with entertaining bar staff, we ate sandwiches and had a drink.

The cathedral, a Calvinist institution, seemed a bit lack lustre after all the mosaics of Sicily. John Knox got a number of mentions in the cathedral and would have loved it's austerity. Gothic structures of plain stone internally and externally. The best bits were the choir stalls in the misericords: 16C hand carved wood, the underneath of each meagre monk's seat with a different image. We saw a crayfish, a dog, turtle, a man sleeping, and a small boy sliding down a pew.

With tongue in cheek, we chose for our final meal of the trip to be in a Swiss pizzeria!

The flight home from Geneva was half full, and on time.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Location: UK

Sicilian Puppetry

Orlando or Roland, he's the very same knight

Sicilian or French he still gets in a fight

Romance and chivalry is what the man does

And fighting with dragons gives him a buzz

Monreale. 8 Km out of the centre is a hillside town called Monreale a pilgrimage point for tourists..... because of the beauty of the interior of the church. Full shine greets us as we leave the hotel door for the Central Station. We're catching the AST white bus. All the bus firms seem to use white, and there are many buses but no formal bus stops. The Tabacceria Ticket Man said over the square to the left and this is accurate enough advice for us to find one waiting. We sit on the bus for 25 minutes before setting off ..... The principle seems to be to wait until the bus is near full before starting ..... timetables pah ......

Through markets and university buildings we exit the main city and climb through suburbs. It's a short half hour and we arrive in a back street. Up those stairs and to the right is the instruction.

We reach the Main Street which is narrow and over hung with large arches of Christmas lights... those reading this at any time but December might ask, 'Why Christmas lights at this time of year, Ken?' And my immediate danger response would be, 'I've no idea, Reader, but they mean business, there's a lot of them!'

Founded in 1172 by the Norman King William ll, it flanks a monastery of the Bendictine Order. There's a pedestrian square with a museum of modern art in old buildings on one side and a an entrance to the cloisters in the corner before the next side which is the southern end of the church, an18C porch sheltering a bronze door from 1185, between two square bell towers.

The cloister capitals are supported by pairs of graceful marble pillars, plain pairs alternating with highly ornate mosaic inlaid pairs. The arches themselves are Norman in that they are rounded, not peaked, but their doubling of layered decoration make them seem quite Saracenic. The cloister is a good long walk for the monks, plenty of time for a spot of meditation.

The interior glitters with mosaics carried out by Byzantine and Sicilian artists, it was said the the Norman King was trying to outdo the Archbishop of Palermo with this royal sepulchre. The mosaics depict biblical scenes as a cycle: Noah's Ark and Old Testament stories on the nave, the Gospel stories on the side apses. And the ceiling is panelled in gold.

The outside is more plain except for the three apses which has a rich decoration in marble and tufa. And just past the exterior of the apse end ops the church you get a superb elevated view of the Conca d'Oro: the Golden Conch enclosed by hills and the sea which is now over-filled with Palermo.

Back in Palermo we searched the Asian shops of Via Maqueda for presents and stopped for a sandwich near Piazza Bellini and the Quatro Canti.

Then further along north west before reaching the Teatro Massimo the third biggest opera house in Europe. There's a weekend of The Beatles programmed today with a 24 hour marathon of local bands playing The Fab Four's back catalogue. We heard 'Don't let Me Down', 'Hey Jude', 'Something' in the background as we took a guided tour of the building. The main theatre space is impressive with boxes in tiers all the way around the sides and back and a single raked floor of seating on the ground floor. From the Royal Box we saw a rehearsal with a female vocalist and an oud player improvising above a recorded sitar drone, a great version of 'Across the Universe'. There was an round oratory chamber with a domed ceiling that gave it a very specific acoustic... mostly for the orator him/herself if you stood on the centre spot it markedly amplified your own voice. And some dancers being put through a routine.

It was interesting seeing some rehearsal in progress, but a it was a bit of a disappointment... not much info and the fabric of many of the rooms and entrance halls is eroding fast.... It could do with some loving restoration work.

Then to the marionette museum. This is a Patterson / Farmer tradition that we follow to seek out puppet centres on our travels. And this was a great example. The core of the collection is a vast set of Sicilian Knights and Saracens who are for acting out the traditional tales of the island. These were a range of puppet type and size, including a number of dragons and royal figures. There's Orlando (Roland), one of Charlemagne's knights, and the Norman knights of King Roger of Sicily. And Saracens (Moors). Baroque paladins, really, since their costumes are often more reminiscient of sixteenth century decoration than medieval armor and clothes.

Then were rooms devoted to the Puncinello tradition from different countries, Asian shadow puppets and stick puppets, Vietnamese puppets on a blue table featuring fish and mermaid figures, and a number of specific shows and their puppets: abstract table puppets, waxwork life size children 'Classe Morte' sat in forms representing Jewish children lost in the Holocaust.

As we pass by on the way back to the hotel Piazza Magione's rock stage doesn't look ready for a performance tonight, may be Sunday?

Later we shared our Saturday night with lots of Sicilian families in a back veranda space at the restaurant we frequented on our first night. It was fine... we asked for the TV to be switched off when we first sat down but as people arrived the football went back on......... we slipped away...

Monday, 23 May 2016

Location: Palermo, Italy

Giovanni Falcone hero and judge

A fighter for truth, who would never budge

For all the progress that was won

Killed in the nineties by the Mafia gun

Our first full day in Palermo.

We set off of a trail of ecclesiastical sites starting with San Domenico, a church from 1640 but whose Sicilian Baroque facade is from 1726. Internally it's a big, light and not showing off too much although the alter features inlaid marble, and hammered silver work. The cloisters to the side of the church are graceful featuring paired slim columns, some with barley sugar spirals, in while marble.

Just down Via Maqueda are the Quatro Canti. It's essentially a crossroads with gateways to each of the four roads which meet, highly decorated with sculptures and topped with Sicilian Eagles. My favourite church of the day is on the SW corner of the crossroads: San Giuseppe del Teatini. It's ceiling is lush with full paintings in browns, blues and flesh tones, the floor is a grid of white, terracotta and green marbles, its pillars topped with golden decorations.

Close by is St Caterina's but it is fully closed for renovation at the moment. Sharing the site by the Bellini Square are St Caraldo's and St Maria dell' Ammiraglio. The first is medium sized and internally is completely covered in Norman mosaics: golds, Browns and navy blues predominating. It's a mixture of Norman and Arabic Mosque styles, with Arabic writing on some of the pillars. St Maria's is a fine example of a 12c Norman church sporting red Arabic domes on the roof. It was used as a post office in the 20 C but renovated in the '80's. It's lost most of its decorations, but it has a fine mosaic floor, and the crucifix and stained glass window both are adorned with Templar Knights red crosses.

This is tuk-tuk and horse carriage country ...... 'yes please, you speak English?' .......but it's a bony sight and many of the roads in the centre storico are pedestrian, which is a joy.

After the magnificent churches we've seen and having been wowed by its exterior, the Duomo is a bit of a let down internally. Outside you are impressed by its size, the mixture of Gothic, Catalan and Norman styles from 1184 up to the 18C dome. But inside it's white marble a creamy white decoration, simple, large but lacking the mosaics and interest of the other buildings.

Above the government accommodation there a huge helicopter is hovering and a second helicopter, a police aircraft is circling around it or investigating it. Eventually they both head off.

At the Palazzo dei Normanni close by there's a great ceremonial coach on display with Mother Mary riding at the back. It's quite old, we think, but is covered in new hessian in navy blues and golds which give it a contemporary look.

After mozzarella and tomato sarnies we're ready to paint in the grounds of San Giovani degli Eremiti. Similar to St Caraldo's and St Maria dell' Ammiraglio, it sports a bell tower which we scale with building site helmets on and a church complex with Arabic domes, Norman styling (1132) and a 13C cloister where we settle to sketch for an hour or two. Beautiful.

We got a bit lost on the way home, trying to but presents and also take diagonal short cuts across town. There was a wedding to spot on the way with lots of men in plumed hats, navy blue uniforms with white epaulets and white sashes, red stripe down the leg to knee high boots!

But then we hit upon the Piazza Magione, close to home and where there's a concert and information days planned to mark the anniversary of Gionvanni Falcone a Sicily judge who achieved a lot in the fight against the Mafia only to be assinated in his car on a country road. Tired but home after going twice as far as we should have done we drank a little vino rosso and got ready for an evening pizza.

It was at 'Ciccio Passame l'Olio' .... 'Chubby Pass the Oil'..... a posh joint on Plaza Magione. It's painted white throughout with white tables and chairs. The senior management all wear white and the chefs and waiters are in black.

For our first time on this Italian trip they didn't have a house wine available by carafe, a house wine, or a wine list. Our main criterion in all wine choice is price, then by grape variety if there's not too much of a differential between prices. So, said the waiter, what wine would you like? ..... but fruity, or dry do we like our wine?..... I'll bring one and you can taste it. I was a bit blunt when he brought the bottle and started to take off the foil. 'What is the price of this wine?' I asked, feeling a bit gauche and uneasy but needing to know. Anyway he quoted a price of 14 Euros, which is fine compared with UK restaurant prices, and that was the price on the bill at the end as well. And it was lovely wine. Nice pizzas. The management bods in white mostly chatted together around the cashier's area but kept breathing down the necks of their hard working staff for no real purpose other than to assert power, it seemed to me. On checking 'Trip Advisor' back at the ranch I read one or two similar comments about the lack of published drinks prices.... one person being stung for expensive beer in the bill tally at the end (prices different to those quoted at the table).

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Recent Messages

From Alice
Great trip, really enjoyed reading about places I've only dreamed of visiting, glad you're safely home! Xx
Response: Hi Alice. Thanks for your reading. Loving the Jane's jam from your mum's plums! Ken x
From Jane
Hi Ken, Thanks for the postcard. We are getting ready for our holidays too!

love Jane xx
Response: Plenty of holiday chicken action here. Live chucks n the corner of a restaurant and pottery ones on the sreet.
Love, K?xx
From Chris Bostock
Oi! you've missed a bit - we all wanted to know what Afghanistan is really like.......really glad that you're back closer to your other home and looking forward to seeing you soon Chris
Response: The nearest to conflict was in Novisad, Serbia..... requesting a black coffee for breakfast.... eventual diplomacy was achieved with a modified breakfast ticket from the manager.... and we were asked to leave any guns with reception!
See you soon.
Happy Birthday for tomorrow Ken. Have loved reading about your adventures in Eastern Europe...yours and Marions...both blogs quite compulsive reading but very different styles. Love to you both. Julia
Response: Thanks Julia x Off to feast on Bulgarian goodies!
Steer clear of the Crap those fishermen are catching!

LOL Dave
Response: I'll stick with the Pkie, Prech and Truot then.
From jeannette et patrick
Nous sommes allés à Villejésus dimanche,maman commence à aller mieux,nous espérons que cela va continuer.Mes parents pensent trés fort à vous et vous souhaitent encore un trés bon voyage.Ici encore beaucoup de soleil et nous profitons de la piscine.Tout est différent de la premiére partie de voyage
bises à vous deux
Response: Baignez vous bien! Nous profitons du beaux temps ici en Romanie aussi.
Les nouvelles de Michelline sont bonnes. Nous esperons que ca continue.
Bisous a tous,
Ken et Marion
From David
Love the photos and the wedding bands sound good too, nice to see and hear them in context. We are all off to see the Queens and Kings again soon!

LOL Dave
Response: You can't see on my pictures (I was busy with video camera) but may be on Marion's, but the lead trumpet player lin the wedding band 2 looked very like Ciocarlia's number two trumpet player?.. but they're from Romania ... may be a distant cousin?
Nous suivons votre voyage avec plaisir.Maman n'est pas encore en forme,mais rien de grave.
Pour le moment ,elle se repose.
Nous pensons fort à vous
Bises à vous deux de la part de toute la famille.
Response: Les nouvelles sont meilleurs que nous avons pense...... on espere que'elle sera en forme bientot.

Bisous a tous.

Ken and Marion
From Anne Clarke
Hi Ken
Julia directed me to your blog as she said it is wonderful - and I agree !! You certainly are having a wonderful "adventure". Take care of yourselves - see you when you return to the N.E.
love ANNE
Response: Hi Anne

We're off on the final phase of or trip on Tuesday to Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and in and around the River Danube to the Black Sea.
x Ken
Welcome back to the beautiful British summer. Have had recipe withdrawal symptoms. Love to Richard and Chris from me and have a great wedding!!!! JULIA
Response: Wedding was fantastic and meeting with Richard and Chris went well... we'll have a show called 'Doon the Wagonway' in Jan-March period 2010!
Fantastique! What better way to celebrate the longest day.
And congratulations too on your win, the painting looks tres beau, fresh colours, nice lines of light on the rooflines and good perspective. L'artist done good!
Goosegogs and hollyhocks here too, we always get caught up at this time of year, as far as our NE climate will allow. Although we are having les deluges they certainly help it all to grow extra fast.
Lots of love to you both and keep shaking up the cherries!
alice xxx
Response: See the new pictures of the garden Alice! The sunflowers are as big as the ones in the field. I'll up load a set of growing field soon.
Ken and Marion x
Hi Ken

You really must get this published beyond the blogs. It is compelling reading and I miss the days when you miss a day. There is a unique style to your writing and the recipes bring an added
( special ingredient)!!! In the best writing the pictures are vivid in your mind as if you are already there and you are achieving that very successfully. What a brilliant year you and Marion are having. Julia
Response: It's good to know that good people like yourself are reading. I'll try to keep up daily..... it mostly depends upon how busy life gets.
We're having a great time.... not spending too much money, so I think we'll survive and girding our loins for the Danube trip in August... the train tickets to Vienna are bought, and various apartments in Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and beyond, reserved......

But for now bring on the cherries, steep them in cognac and let there be music (along the road with David, le Reunionais).

From Mary K
Hey!- lovely to catch up with you in Sands, I am glad to be back with my fully functioning fan oven that does a wonderful pavlova, with or without the vinegar! Elaine made it to the top of An Tellach with Oz,Phil and Jack, the rest of us wimped out, but put on a fine ceilidh for them! we had a bit of practise at the local ceilidh in Poolewe, where we did some tunes we learnt in the afternoon workshop. Happy travels and thanks for the lovely recipes
Mary xx
Great to see you, Mary. It was a good do all round and your Pavlova prompted me to make one for friends in France. They would be excited to have you onboard at the local ceilidh, wish we could have been there. I've been a bit wabbit(as they say in Poolewe) since all the driving and flying back and forth but this weekend we're visiting loads of gardens.... let's see if they can match Inverewe!?
From jeanne et patrick
pas besoin de téléphoner à mes parents,j'ai des nouvelles de villejésus et de belles photos des endroits que j'aime
Nous espérons vous voir en charente . A notredernière visite,personne à la cagouille masquée bizz jeanne et patrick
Response: Mais parents aiment ecouter leurs filles par telephone!
Villejesus est tres belle maintenant. Marion est devenue chasseuse....... des orchidees!
Nous esperons vous voir bientot.
Bizz K and M
From Tony Hopper
this is making a fanastic read, it all sounds incredible. great journey so far. have a safe trip to France.
Your photographs are great and it would excellent to see them all to music when this adventure is eventually complete.

Response: Hi Tony

I'm starting to blog again. Hope you're all doing well.

Best .... Ken
From Nicky Smith
Hi Marion and ken,

I've just signed into your blog to see you are back on home shores!! What a wonderful trip you've had just scanning the final few entries......wish I'd known about the blog earlier!!...we were delighted to get your card which was here when I got back from China. I guess we were in Shanghai at the same time! All fine at no 62 and we look forward to seeing you and hearing more on your return! take care and enjoy the rest of your 'year'

Nicky and Storm xx
Response: Thanks Nicky. We're in Weardale and heading to France on 1st April for the next four months before Marion's daughter's wedding on 25th July in Newcastle. We loved Shanghai and were amazed at how developed it was.

We'll keep the blog going in France before and then there's the Eastern Europe finale to our travels in August, September and October!

Ken x
From fleur
Now I feel I know something of your experience. I had a similar adrenaline-rush ride in a taxi from Mumbai airport and landed eventually near the Taj- but the Salvation Army hostel behind the seafront. I wish I could catch those trains with you and have the wonderful vegetarian food served in the compartment. I guess you will have much to say about conversations with other passengers, whom I always found curious and generous with 'tiffin' and advice.
I can't believe that this is your last leg of the journey and you'ill soon be back at the Nook, one of the best places on earth!
Love Fleur
Response: Off to New Delhi at 18.00 on a sleeper train!

Ken x
From wearhead juniors
received Gaugin postcard today. It has been a really hot day today,we have had windows open and the temperature is 9 degrees. Spring has arrived.
We saw the galloping horses of Xu Beihong, famous Chinese watercolourist yesterday. see if you can find any on the internet.
From wearhead juniors
Postcard arrived today - from New Zealand. Snow has now all gone and the sun is shining!
Response: We move from Shanghai to Bejing today to see The Great Wall of China. Raining and cold here!

From Eric & Katie
Just read the Sydney blog. Wow! makes the local scene here sound great. Gotta read the rest now!

All the best


Response: Thanks for a great time in Avalon.

You're now included in the blogs.... photos yet to be sorted on mine.

Ken & Marion x
From wearhead juniors
we hope you have a good flight to Shanghai. Send us a postcard when you get there. from snowy weardale
Response: Thinking of you as we sun ourselves! Will send you a postcard if we can find a post office!

Ken and Marion
From Chris Bostock
Congratulations are really in order for your just keeping going! As a gentle snow falls on Newcastle we sympathise with all your dreadful heat problems...a little. Richard and I on stage this Friday, do come - very easy access to toilets!!
Best of wishes Chris
Response: Have a good do on Friday.... love and a shovel
From jeannette et patrick
votre voyage est parfait
espérons vous revoir en charente.
mes parents sont très heureux de recevoir de vos nouvelles nous comptons sur vous ,pour nos futures destinations.
toute notre amitié
Response: Jeannette, Patrick, Micheline et Jean

Nous attendrons notre sejour en charente cette annee..... en avril

toute notre amitie bises Ken et Marion
From alice
Right. Cats are now embarking on walking programme forthwith! Not sure about my outfit however, maybe fake fur would do it..?
The beach looks sensational, gloriously blue ocean. Love to Sarah John and Eleanor.
Alice x
Hi Alice. All you need is a retractable dog lead, a tight harness and a wardrobe designed to show the paw marks.... you got the cats easily to hand.

Love from Ken and Marion ... some lovely gardens here x
From Jane
Hi Ken,
I'm not keeping up with every blog, but enjoying a glut now : )
Your list of fishes made me laugh imagining their appearances and behaviours that won them names of 'convict' and 'Idol' and then some little grey ones : )

Have a fab NZ leg and exchange a hug each with Mum from me to you both.

love Jane x
Response: Much love Jane.

We saw albatrosses galour yesterday. Everything good with us ... off to Christchurch today!

Ken x