York, England, 2017

We have a busy year of travelling planned for 2017 which started with a trip to York last weekend to meet some friends. As usual we got the train up from Reading arriving late Friday afternoon to a decidedly chilly platform. As it turned out that was to be the high point as far as the weather was concerned and affected our decisions on where we went.

Saturday morning we met up with our friends and decided that given the cold, wet conditions we needed to start with something indoors and so we made our way to the York Museum. Actually I think that’s a bit of a misnomer as the museum is less about York and much more to do with social history of the UK. There are some interesting exhibits but the real attraction is the recreation of a Victorian street. Turns out that the shop fronts here are all originals taken from streets from across the UK – no doubt now replaced by big glass fronted windows. The street goes on for a surprising distance and includes quite a variety of shops.

Exiting the museum the rain was just as hard as when we went in. Hoping that it might ease off over lunch proved not to be the case and so another dry option was sought. First choice was to visit the minster but the £10 per person price tag was off putting and so finally I got to go round the cathedral like building that houses the railway museum!

Now I’m no train spotter but there are some beautiful machines housed in the enormous museum buildings. They have managed to collect together a vast range of machines spanning both ages and continents. However, I really only have eyes for the marvels that are the steam trains, such magnificent pieces of engineering, some of which have wheels taller than me.

Unlike the minster entry to the Railway Museum is free but I’d have happily paid to go round and so made a donation instead.

Sunday was spent plodding round the wet streets of the Shambles, a narrow set of quaint streets around the minster. No doubt in days gone by they would have been selling snacks and souvenirs to tourists visiting the minster. Not much has changed as there between the Fat Faces and the White Stuffs are shops selling bags of fudge and tacky fridge magnets.

York is a lovely place which much to do and see but try and go when it isn’t wet and cold.

Art

It’s been a while since I have posted because, well, because life has got in the way and basically I forgot! However, I thought that a trip to the Old Vic on Saturday to see Art was worth a mention.

It has been many many years since we have been to see Art – the play about three friends and one painting – in fact a quick Google suggests that it might be as much as 18 years. The last time the purchaser of said painting was Art Malik and this time it was Rufus Sewell. The play has a bit of the emperors new clothes about it with Serge (Sewell) buying a white canvas and waxing lyrical about to his friends whom he expects to also see the beauty in this all white painting.

I’m reminded of a trip we took to the Tate Liverpool where there was a picture by the American artist Ad Reinhardt. The canvas looked black but the more you stared at it the more that colours that had been painted underneath came through. Helen to this day insists that there was nothing there and it was a waste of wall space whilst I found it fascinating. So I can sympathise with Serge that his friends don’t really get the picture or the fact that he has spent €100,000 on it.

Of course the play isn’t really about the picture itself but is used as a device to bring the tensions in the relationships between the three men to the fore and in particular between Serge and Mark. It is all beautifully done and the three playing the parts we saw at the weekend were brilliant as was the set (with the worlds largest coving) and the music.

One aside is the ridiculous no photography rule that the theatre had. I quite understand that there shouldn’t be any pictures taken while the performance is underway but the bouncers ushers were on anyone that even tried to take a selfie long before the performance started. I don’t understand the point of this. No doubt many people would have posted the picture to social media which would have promoted both the play and the theatre. In this day and age it seemed very short-sighted. Oh and it wasn’t me trying to take a picture this time!

10cc, Reading Hexagon, 23rd October 2016

Thirty four years ago, on 13th March 1982, I went to my first ever gig to see 10cc at the Oxford Apollo. At that point they were really only 5cc and were distinctly past their best but I was hooked. Last week I saw them again. They are now down to 2.5cc but really rather much back to their best.

As is in vogue right now the first half of the show was taken up by playing the whole of one album – Sheet Music, which, in my opinion is their best along side The Original Soundtrack. Inevitably this means putting up with some rather dodgy material along with some cracking tunes.

Sheet Music was released when 10cc where at their very best and the original four members were all together. Only Graham Gouldman of the original quartet now remains but for this performance one of the original members, Kevin Godley, had created a video soundtrack and had even contributed the vocal to the operatic, Somewhere in Hollywood, which was a nice touch. It has some great lyrics including: “He’s out on the patio | With his polaroid and scenario”.

The second half of the show was a spirited romp through a number of the groups hits along with a few lesser known tracks such as Feel the Benefit from Bloody Tourists.

The fact that the group are still going strong and that the place was pretty full seems to suggest that there is still an appetite for 10cc. Which is why I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a big money offer for the original four to get back together and play again. Maybe there has and it has been rejected? Whatever the reason that’s a great shame as they made some really classy music together including one of the most sublime pieces of all time… I’m Not in Love.

Sicily 2016 – Day 11 – And home

So the holiday is over for another year. Time has really gone quickly and we have packed an awful lot into our two weeks and had a great time. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly.

What I’ll miss

The barque architecture – the places we visited to the south of the island were superb, even if the most of them were churches. The buildings that were built up after the earthquake are stunning as we discovered in Ragusa, Scicli and especially, Noto. All are recommended for a visit.

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In the steps of Inspector Montalbano – the very reason that we came to Sicily in the first place. Having seen the scenery on the TV series we decided that it was just the place we would like to visit and weren’t disappointed. Also going to the places where it is filmed and seeing some of the buildings used was great fun.

Lemon Soda –  After walking around under the hot Italian sun there is nothing more refreshing than a can of Lemon Soda. Similar to a bitter lemon but not as, well, bitter. Great shame that it’s not available in the UK so maybe I’ll have to look at importing some in.

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Arancini – On holiday in the past we have struggled to find something less than a full meal to have for lunch when all you really want is a snack, a quick sandwich. The Arancini is a local delicacy and just what’s needed for a quick lunch on the go. Pyramid in shape it is mainly rice with a tiny amount of filling.

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Courteous Drivers – I have to admit that this one came as a bit of a surprise given how poor the standard of driving seems to be generally in Italy. In all towns we visited drivers would stop to let you cross the road pretty much anywhere, not just at a marked crossing. They would even pull up sharply to let you do so. Probably just as well though as parking right across a pedestrian crossing was also popular making it difficult to cross!

What I won’t miss

Biting animals – The flies round here are vicious and liked to feed upon us at regular intervals. Having got what they came for they left behind an itchy spot that remained for several days as an unpleasant reminder. Next time we’ll remember to pack some strong repellent.

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Sicily 2016 – Day 12 – Scicli

Today is our last day in Sicily. Boy has it gone quickly. 

It was back on the train again today and once more in search of Inspector Montalbano. This time it was to Scicli which is used for other parts of the fictional Vigata including the police station (shown above). 

It’s odd seeing places from TV for real as they are nothing like you expect. Clever camera angles hide things you wouldn’t want in a scene and the inside might be disconnected from the outside. So it was today. Stepping into the “police station” (in reality it is the town hall) is not what you see on the TV. No long corridor leading to the inspectors office instead there are stairs at the top of which is the mayor’s office used in the series as Montalbano’s boss’ office. Very confusing! Good fun though and we’re keen to watch some episodes again to see how they make it all fit together. 


So tomorrow we fly back but as if to ease me back into the ways of work it all kicked off back in the office. This only served to remind me how things have changed over the years. Maybe ten years back we would go off and it MIGHT have been possible to reach me by phone but more likely was that the only contact would have been a postcard from me saying “glad I’m not there!”. Today I can be much more hands on thanks to my pocket computer that can also make calls. This is not a stress free way to have a holiday. 

Sicily 2016 – Day 11 – Siracusa

Decided to have a more relaxing day today after the couple of train journeys we have taken over the last two days. 

In the morning we went back into the island part of Siracusa – Ortiga – and made our way to the market. It was an odd mix of amazing fresh fish and vegetable stalls along side those selling the sorts of tack you see in the independent pound shops in the UK. It was an opportunity to also sample some local wears such as delicious sun dried tomatoes and a local cheese. 

After finishing at the market we wandered the streets looking in the touristy shops which again were a mixture of cheap, tacky tourist stuff and more thoughtful gifts. The sour and miserable server in Zara was a nice reminder of home though.


We have passed a few times now a quaint looking little tea shop cum bookshop but it has always been shut but tonight the stars aligned and we found it open. 

I started with a hot chocolate with hazelnut which arrived below and was, basically, hot Nuttella and delicious. Next up was a much needed English breakfast yes which I’ve much missed. 

Tomorrow we are back on track so to speak. 

Sicily 2016 – Day 10 – Noto

We’re obviously getting the taste for local train travel as we were on the same train as yesterday this morning. This time we were taking a shorter trip to the town of Noto. As yesterday there was a walk from the station to the interesting part of the town and once again there were no signs of where to go, no maps available to guide all of which I found really strange given the reliance these towns place on tourism. Nevertheless it was worth the wandering to find the right place as it is beautiful.


Once again Noto is another place that had been destroyed by the earthquake of 1693 and rebuilt in the local baroque style. What this means in practice is lots and lots and lots of churches built in prominent positions in wonderful sandstone.

I thought this as we wandered around Ragusa yesterday but why does a place need quite so many churches? There were literally two virtually touching each other today. You could probably hear the confessional taking place in one in the nave of the other! I know people like to worship their gods but there seem to be more churches than people.

Today we followed round a pre-set tour of the town from our guide book which took us past all the sights (churches!). Again I was surprised at just how quiet the town was and the only people there were tourists. It is coming to the end of the season here and one wonders how the shops and bars manage once the tourists have gone.

After getting the train back to Siracusa we came down to the water front and watched the sunset with a Lemon Soda/white wine which is a very pleasant way to end the evening.

Sicily 2016 – Day 9 – Ragusa

Before you travel to a new place you have to make certain assumptions as to what you’ll need. So it was this time when we hired a car for the whole two week period. To date we have used it only twice. Once to get from the airport to the first hotel and the second from the first to the second hotel. Rather than go out and visit places with the car we have relied on public transport which has worked really well. It has been less stressful and has allowed me to finish a book and write this blog post as we travel back from Ragusa. 

It’s fair to say that the only reason we are in Sicily is because we saw it on the Inspector Montalbano TV series and fell in love with the place. The series is set around the (fictitious) town of Vigata which in reality is Ragusa where we traveled today. It is a two hour train ride from Siracusa but we almost didn’t make the train as we were on the wrong platform – only in Italy could they have TWO platform 2s in different parts of the station! The train was interesting in that it was two tiny carriages and was full of tourists, the majority of whom got off at Noto (a trip for a different day). It rumbled it’s way across the Sicilian countryside until it reached Ragusa. 

Ragusa is really two separate towns: Ragusa Superiore and Ragusa Ibla. Let me tell you there is nothing “superior” about Ragusa Superiore at all whereas on the other hand Ragusa Ibla is stunning. “Superiore” in this case means “higher”, much, much higher but the views down across Ibla are superb. 


Because the trains are so infrequent we had a full six hours in Ragusa and that was more than enough time. For somewhere so beautiful there was hardly anyone about and very few shops which I found very odd. This also made it difficult to find an ice cream!

Like most TV series only parts of Montalbano are filmed in Ragusa but we were able to see the cathedral (Duomo) and the views which feature so prominently. We weren’t able to find the bus stop where Salvo picks up the stroppy Livia but all in all it was a great day. 

Sicily 2016 – Day 8 – Siracusa

When we first arrived here a couple of days ago one of the first places we made it to was the castle right at the end of the island. This being Italy we had missed the tiny window of time when it was actually open but did happen to notice that it was open today and, because it was the first Sunday of the month, for free too! So we spent this morning looking around it. 

English Heritage, National Trust et al all make a pretty good job of interpreting what you see as you go round any of their properties. That seems to be a peculiarly British thing as I have found nothing to match it anywhere on the continent. And so it was in the castle which was an interesting structure but I have absolutely no idea how old it is or what any of it was used for so I cannot impart any of that knowledge.

Next was a wander round the little winding streets of the town looking at the shops. The hours kept are pretty leisurely here with a looooooooooong break for lunch. I’m sure in their defence they would say that they are open longer into the evenings but they are not that longer. Of course the only time you want or need anything the shops are shut but you just have to go with the flow. For us this meant sat outside at a cafe opposite the Duomo watching the world go by.


Our final stop of the day was at the railway station to buy tickets ready for our journey tomorrow. We didn’t need to engage the chap behind the counter as he probably spoke as much English as those working behind the counters at Reading railway station speak Italian. Fortunately the ticket machines speak impeccable English so sorting the tickets was a simple job.

It has become a thing now that each evening before we eat we go to a cafe overlooking the Apollo ruins. In fact it’s become so much of a thing that the waiter even knows our order! It’s very pleasant in the setting sun sat here in shirtsleeves and I’ll miss it when we return.