Location: Norma to Palermo, Italy
From Tivoli we went by various trains and buses to Norma, a bit of a sweat. Norma is high above the Ligurian plain, up on the clouds we went up and up, round a score of hairpin bends in a bus. Evidently there used to be a Roman town there called Norba. The museum receptionist/curator told us all about it most enthusiastically at great length on Italian. Unfortunately our Italian extends to Dove el autobus? posso pagare? Voglio Una pizza etc etc so it was all rather lost on us. But it was an excellent museum, beautifully laid out and clearly much loved. The best bit for us was the basement section with rooms full of enormous ancient storage urns.
We arrived in Naples yesterday early evening to find the entrance to the metro line we wanted closed. Lots of police Lurking about. Why? We never found out, but it made our journey rather complicated.
The flat where we are staying is in an old five storey house on Via Toledo, part of the old town. Our flat is on the fifth floor- but luckily there is a quirky 3 passenger lift which looks like its made of chicken wire and only works of you put a 10 cent coin in the metre inside the lift. A bit like a wind up musical box. But it gets us there. Must ensure we never run out of 10 cent pieces!
On the fifth floor there is a peripheral black and white diamond-tiled balcony decorated with plants, geraniums, yuccas etc., running round the central stair well abyss. Off the balcony are aged, heavy doors various, one of which is ours. We have a bedroom and bathroom in the flat and there is a shared kitchen and communal sitting room and big balcony in the sun. Today we walked to the Orto Botanico to get the feel of the place. Lovely garden with magnificent old trees. Then down to Piazza Garibaldi through the part of the city where poorer people live. It is very dirty and full of rubbish, cars and of course people. Very lively but feels quite stressful and edgy. The posher areas are swept and kept clean.
Today we went to Pompeii, underground to Piazza Garibaldi main station then Circumvesuviana train. We had to wait some time for this and as we waited the platform filled up and filled up with tourists like us. By the time the very short train arrived it was a sardines situation. Sometimes however it's good to be old with wrinkles and grey hair.... A kind and rather dishy young man got up and gave me his seat. Fantastic! Poor Ken had no such luck.
The ride took about 40 mins, stopping at many stations so later Ken too could sit. Pompeii was totally amazing. So much of it, so much excavation, so many beautiful villas, gardens and theatres etc. the best for me were the house of Julia Felice with its lovely garden and reclining dining marble benches surrounded by frescos of the Nile and the Villa dei Misteri with its mysterious frescos. The lives of the people who lived so long ago still seem so real.
When we got back to Naples we visited the Santa Chiara monastery which has a cloister covered in frescos of Old Testament stories in beautiful colours and a central garden tiled with majolica. Qubtrastauite gorgeous. Lucky for those nuns/monks!
On our last day iaples it was raining off and on so we decided not to take a trip to an island and went first to visit the Duomo and its luxurious treasury of St Gennaro. He whose blood is held in a phial and brought out three times a year. It then liquefies, usually. If it doesn't a disaster is at hand.....hmmmmm. After that we went to the marvellous Museo Di Arte Contemporaneo. A beautiful building with an extraordinary collection including many big names: Anish Kapoor, Joseph Beuys, Jeff Koons, Richard Long etc etc... But very few women artists represented. Great film by Francis Alys of 2 kids in Kabul rolling/unrolling film reels round the city.
The next day, yesterday we came to Ravello via boat across Naples Bay to Sorrento, then bus to Amalfi and then another up to Ravello. It was worth it. It's high up above the sea with roads and vine terraces spiralling around the hill contours. Evidently Michael Escher fell in love here- with his future wife and with the place. Some drawings to prove it. Many other famous names came here: Garbo and Stokowski, Andre Gide, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Vita Sackville-West. The latter came to help design the utterly wonderful garden at Villa Cimbrone. A place of vistas, avenues, statues, roses, lavender, umbrella pines, urns overflowing with plants - a piece of heaven.
Here we are in Palermo. From Ravello we bussed back down to Amalfi then took a boat to Salerno. Luckily the railway station is very near to the tourist port so we found our train to Reggio Calabria there. It was a gourmet hour journey through the rest of Southern Italy. Reggio Calabria is ostensibly pretty run down with streets full of rubbish and someone homeless sleeping on a mattress on the pavement as we walked by. We have not seen many homeless people, surprisingly. I thought there would be a greater refugee presence.
The hotel right down by the port was fine and the hotel receptionist directed us to a great restaurant La veranda villegianna which had delicious antipasti marinara and linguine con vongole. The next day we took a ferry to Messina, just 35 minutes, and then a bus to Palermo 2hours 39 mins. The bus went through a hundred tunnels, past jagged green clad hills. Our hotel room looks over the Orto Botanico through a canopy of Jacaranda trees in bloom. The first day here we went to the Orto. It is lovely, full of great old trees, ( ficus macro phyla columnaris, Washingtonia robusta, jacaranda) water features, hot houses. In the palm house there was a great exhibition by 100 artists celebrating Pam trees.
The next day we walked around and round. Saw beautiful and not so beautiful churches. Sat in a lovely small garden at St Giuseppe del eremites and did a pic.
Today went to Monreale on the bus. Amazing cathedral with glittering mosaics. Lovely cloister. Later visited Teatro Massimo and did guided tour but it was a a bit of a let down after the Viennese Opera. Needs tlc. There was a 24 hour Beatles music play going on in the main foyer. Hideously amplified!
Later still went to Museo de marionette. Full of great puppets. Very sad, chilling Classe morte of children by Tadeusz Kantor.
I do like Palermo, it's such an intense mixture of medieval lanes of house, winding around in very up straight lines, baroque faced churches, shining marble pavements, piazzas with palm- filled gardens and avenues lined with purple-flowered jacaranda trees (pavements also covered in fallen purple flowers) So easy to get lost as we discovered.
Location: Tivoli, Italy
My favourite places in Milan were the gardens beyond the Castello and the walk alongside the canal from Porta Genova Metro to the piazza near our hotel, La Vignetta. We did not manage to get into the Galeria Poldi-Polzoni as it was closed on Tuesdays. Milan is big and busy of course with cars, motor bikes and tourists. The metro is v efficient and useful and full of people on their phones, as is the metro everywhere.
On the bus from Geneva to Milan we stopped at the Swiss- French border for passport control. A black ?African showed a sheaf of papers to the policewoman/Douane. She took them away, along with many other peoples passports ( not ours). She returned all the others after a short while, but not the African's. She came to him and told him to get his baggage and come with her. He did so without demur. He did not come back on the bus.
We were born with a lucky card. What it must be to be born with a different hand, which means travel, money and many things are always in doubt and up for confiscation, Do Not Pass Go, Go to Jail, Do not pick up £200.
By the Milanese canal were many black men behind displays of sunglasses, handbags, belts etc spread out on cardboard packing cases. The Guardian today says 28% of Italians are below the poverty line. The Italian courts, after 3 trials came to the conclusion that a hungry man who stole sausage and cheese from a supermarket had not committed a crime.
The Genoese harbour is full of very upmarket posh yachts.
In Genoa the best thing was the Castello Alberis, the one time residence of a sea adventurer, Captain Alberto Alberis. It reminded me of Cragside, an idiosyncratic late Victorian castle/mansion built on the foundations of a older house on a mountainside, full of treasures from seafaring travels. The Captain was more adventurous than Armstrong. There were photos of him and the indigenous peoples he met in nearly every corner of the globe, particularly women. Marvellous photos of women in every kind of dress from starchy European grand dames and nuns to skinny smiling Arabs in la Terra Santa and beautiful Africans in the Sudan. We sat and sketched in the garden.
Cinque terra Manorola is very beautiful, hanging on to the cliffs. Terracotta , yellow ochre, orange, red , umber painted house rising in drifts from the green-blue sea which sparkles continually in the sun. The sea sky interface is so blue, endlessly blue.
But it's full of tourists.
We eventually found our apartment after losing our way and losing our folder of tickets and addresses in the tourist info place. It's hanging onto a balcony path which leads to nowhere but a view of the sea and the tiny railway station with toy trains coming and going to Genoa and La Spezia.
Lunchtime called us so we went to find a trattoria, and what a trattoria we found.... LaTrattoria del Billy. Higher up by the church, St Lorenzo there was a sign. So we followed it and came to the multilevel restaurant with utterly delicious smells, full of people and lots of waiters. We waited our turn and drank good house red wine and ate bread soaked in olive oil till our crab tagliatelle arrived. We tangled with that. I rather unsuccessfully, then a whole sea bass between us. All delicious.
Sitting now on Lucca station platform surrounded by admiring pigeons who think they must be onto a good breakfast, waiting for train to Siena via Florence. This time yesterday was in Manarola leaning on the balcony wall trying inadequately to sketch the flowers and verdure tumbling down the cliff side below to the intense green blue sea.- cineraria, aloes, yuccas. Wonderful, colourful Manarola with yellow and orange ochre-washed houses hanging over the sea.
We took the train, or rather 3 trains to Lucca. All fine, no problems. Lucca is surrounded by ramparts very similar to those at Berwick, just like the Stanks. We walked along the top for a while and then through the town to Ostello San Frediano, an old monastery converted into a youth hostel with sumptuous marble floors and great vaulted ceilings...not like the YHA as we used to know it. Our room was ornamented with putti pictures.
Later we went to see the Palazzo Pfanner garden with its statues and lemon trees. The gorgeous scent of the lemon blossom pursued us everywhere. Total knockout. Then on to the Orto Botanico sheltering against the city walls. Lovely 'suggestive' pond (according to the blurb) with beautiful yellow irises, water lilies, terrapins and a Florida swamp tree with extraordinary lumpy roots projecting all round.
Meal in eve at small restaurant near hostel. Learnt that a tagliere is a selection of slices of something- in this case meat and cheese.
From flat Lucca to hilly Siena, what a change. Siena runs up and down cobbled streets and stairs, full of twists and turns which leave me wondering why I have come back to the same spot. But full of fascinating stuff: piazza del Campo where they have horse races twice a year, on cobbles, competitions between the members of the different contradine who divide the city into communes.; the Duomo with incredible floor inlaid with marble pictures and a Libreria room with beautiful illuminated music manuscripts and amazing murals.
But now we have come on 3 different trains to Tivoli, the town which has the Villa D'Este, a garden of fountains, statuary, roses, irises, ancient cypresses and pines. The scents are overwhelming. I could just lean on a balustrade there and look and breathe it in for hours. Luckily we went there first thing in the morning before the hordes of Japanese teenagers with selfie sticks, and French and Italian schoolchildren arrived in their shrieking groups. Grumpy old woman!
Then to Villa Adriana - Hadrian's villa or rather Hadrian's palace complex- 6 kilometres away in a bus. Vast acres of Roman temples, baths, villas, ambulatories, forums, stadiums and everything else that a Roman might need, all built in rust coloured terracotta brick, set around with a thousand aged olive trees with silver grey green leaves and tall tall Mediterranean pines and avenues of slender cypresses. Wonderfully we could walk on the very mosaic floors where Romans trod. I could feel myself floating along in white toga with purple trim.
Finally to Villa Gregoriana, not really a villa but a gorge with immense cascade from tunnels through the rock engineered in 19th century. There was an amazing rainbow effect by the cascade, but a lot of climbing up and down among lovely trees. At the end a very welcome Nastro Azzurro beero.
Location: Lubeck, Germany
I forgot the puppet museum in Lubeck. How could I? It's a treasure house for puppet fans. It houses a collection made by a photographer called Fritz Fey. He must have been a fanatic as the museum contains room after room of puppets from every quarter of the globe: India, China, Indonesia, Africa, Italy, France, Russia, Korea, Japan, as well as many from Germany itself. What ingenious ideas puppeteers have had to present their travelling shows. In one display we saw a kind of one man tent with a small stage at the top. The puppeteer stood in the tent with his head behind the curtain at the back of the stage, a selection of puppets round his belt which he manipulated on the little stage in front of his covered face. There were tiny puppets and then there were life size puppets, dressed in gorgeous clothes for performing in the courts of kings. And some videos of heavenly animations made with puppets. Wonderful stuff.
Location: Lubeck, Germany
We travelled from Gdansk to Lubeck by train on Monday. It was a long journey with a change at Szczecin , stopping at every small station. We left Gdansk at 9.10 and arrived at Lubeck at 8pm. Happily we had booked a place right by the station so were able to check in and then proceed to restaurant easily.
Lubeck I will remember mainly for our visits to the museums for Gunter Grass and Thomas Mann and a jazz session at the Funambules bar. The visits to the two museums were particularly good because a lovely woman talked to us and told us a mass of interesting information at both museums. We met her as a reception person at the Gunter Grass house and she realised that we were going to have difficulty with the material as there were no English translations - and we have very limited German. So she talked us through many of the exhibits in the first area, explaining about his art, his love of cooking, his love of dancing (particularly tango) his sculptures and the fact that he would stand on his head at every 5th birthday ( but he stopped after his 75th). She talked about his time as a teenager in the Waffen SS and how he was the first German author to write about the experience of the German people in WW2.
The next day when we went to Buddenbrooks Haus to see the Thomas Mann exhibition she was there again by chance. And so she explained to us the house and it's importance to Thomas Mann and to the writing of Buddenbrooks. How lucky we were to meet her.
In the evening we went to the Funambules bar and ate (lots of different smoked/salted fish and divine potatoes for me) and then waited till Jazz Akzente started. They were excellent, alto and tenor saxes, lead and bass guitar and drums.
Today we visited Rostock, another Hanseatic centre.
Tomorrow Hamburg and home to Newcastle. Incidentally I learned on the Hanseatic museum here that Berwick used to have a Hanseatic trading post. I'll have to find out where that might have been. I suspect the main export would be wool - more sheep than people in Northumberland they say...