A Travellerspoint blog

November 2015

Postcard from Positano

sunny 25 °C

Dear All.
Just a quick note to say that everything is just fine here on the beach in Positano on the Amalfi coast…
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We would write much more but itˈs 25 degrees, the sea is warm, the pizzas and gelatos are delicious, and the wine is cheaper than water – so we are taking a few days off.
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Wish you were here.... Ciao for now.

Posted by Hawkson 08:27 Archived in Italy Comments (6)

Our Grand Tour

sunny 23 °C

The picturesque Italian city of Sorrento was one of the stops on the European Grand Tour that became an essential part of the education of young members of the British aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Those fortunate (and rich) enough to enjoy the exotic sights and cultures were expected to write about their experiences and here is what we imagine we might have written at that time.
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We are not, apparently, the first visitors to discover the ancient Greek city of Sorrento on the Amalfi coast south of Naples. This heavily fortified rocky outcrop was seemingly inhabited 600 years BC by the Greeks but the Romans eventually captured it, lost it to the Spaniards who in turn lost it to the Turks. It is now firmly Italian and there are hereabouts many summer palaces built by the Neapolitan nobility from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Indeed, we are guests in one such elegant mansion – the Palazzio Marziale, circa 1464 …
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Our bathroom is decorated in the finest Italian marble while the foyer is most splendidly furnished …
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This elegant abode overlooking the Bay of Naples lies a safe distance from the still active volcano of Mt. Vesuvius, (more about which we will write later), and we have no concerns as we wander the narrow lanes examining the many hand wrought trinkets offered by the local artisans…
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All manner of wooden objects are inlaid with the most intricate of designs requiring many hours of skillful work. However, we fear that in time these local handicrafts will be usurped by men using machinery in such far off lands as China…
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Lemons grow in such profusion on the sun-drenched hillsides that the peasants ferment the skins to make a pungent liquor they call limoncello. It has neither the refinement of brandy nor the sophistication of port, but it is nevertheless an amusing libation…
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Lemons are so plentiful that all manner of foods and toiletries are scented with them in this part of Italy and there are numerous shops that exclusively sell lemon products…
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The narrow lanes of Sorrento, snaking twixt the magnificent mansions and palaces, are so thronged in the months of summer that it is said to be impossible for the bearers to carry a Gentleman about in a litter let alone a donkey cart. Fortunately for us we have arrived at a time conducive to taking an evening stroll without being accosted other than by the many restaurateurs whose premises abut the lanes…
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The ancient fishing port which lies at the foot of the sheer cliff is also a tranquil place at present…
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However, we are thoroughly enjoying the delicious fresh seafood that the Mediterranean sea provides, especially the sardines, octopus and mussels.

Posted by Hawkson 09:45 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

Renovating Rome

sunny 24 °C

While Senor Berlusconi’s personal safety deposit boxes might be bursting at the seams, the Italian government has been flat broke for years. So first time visitors to Rome might be a touch miffed to discover that someone has flashed the cash and many of the revered sites are closed for renovation.
Climbing the 136 Spanish Steps is a ‘must-do’ in Rome, but it is a ‘don’t do’ since a swanky Italian jeweller named Bulgari paid 1.5 million euros for a facelift…
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Throwing three coins into Rome’s 18th century Trevi Fountain is the only way to ensure a safe return to Rome – but what happens if the waterworks have been off for the past 17 months while it was spruced up at the expense of Italian handbag king Senor Fendi?...
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And then there is the Coloseum…,
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This colossal pile of rock, bricks and mortar was slapped together by the Romans exactly two thousand years ago, (give or take a few), and it has been falling apart ever since. Now Diego Della Valle, founder and chief executive of the Italian fashion house Tod’s, has stumped up 25 million euros to fix up the joint. You can see the scaffolding through the Arch of Constantine…
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The Colosseum is one of the most gruesome places of entertainment ever devised. Gladiators, prisoners and slaves fought an astounding menagerie of ferocious animals, and each other, for the enjoyment of the senators and the masses who filled these fifty thousand seats...
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Lions, bears, tigers and even alligators, were set upon defenceless naked people and in just one series of events two thousand men and six thousand animals were slaughtered. Beneath the arena was this maze of cages and cells where the animals and prisoners were kept before their event…
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Following each massacre the arena was cleared of bodies and re-set by hoisting up trees and other props through trap doors. Once the stage was set the fun would begin again. The events were sponsored by rich merchants and influence pedlars who knew a good marketing opportunity when they saw it - just like Bulgari, Fendi and Tod’s today.

However, in a stroke of sheer good fortune, we happened to be in Rome on the very day that the Trevi fountain was to be re-opened, (a mere 8 months later than advertised). Four thirty pm. (Italian time) was the advertised moment and we joined an exuberant throng of thousands for the occasion…
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And then, promptly at 5.17 pm. (a mere 47 minutes later than advertised), Mr. Fendi’s successor pulled the switch and the Trevi Fountain was back in business. Now we could all throw in our three coins, (but not if we knew that for the past thirty years the daily haul has been scooped up by a couple of dodgy villains dressed as council workmen).

Posted by Hawkson 23:29 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Vienna - The Pleasure is in the Details

sunny 13 °C

Thirty percent of Vienna’s magnificent buildings were damaged or destroyed by American bombing towards the end of WWII but you would never know that by touring the city today. Grand edifices abound in all the great European cities and there is little overall difference between the architectural styles depending on the era of construction. European architects have emulated one another for centuries while leaning heavily on ancient Greco-Roman designs. An example is the Austrian Parliament building in Vienna with its façade copied from the Acropolis in Athens…
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However, it is the detail that singles out the city as being distinctly Viennese like this little ornamented banister on the Parliament’s steps…
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Or the carved pillars that decorate the front of Vienna’s iconic delicatessen, Julius Meinl
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But it’s not just the architectural features that tell us where we are. There are the numerous trams that circulate through the largely pedestrianised streets and the fleets of horse drawn carriages waiting patiently outside the cathedral for mass to finish on Sunday morning...
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...there are the whimsical pedestrian lights reminding us that love is around…
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…and there are battalions of ticket touts masquerading as great composers and musicians as they compete to put bums in the seats of Vienna’s numerous concert halls…
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Perhaps the most iconic highlights are the famous Viennese coffee houses where you can sometimes watch the pâtissiers at work….
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…where you can buy a chocolate cake in a box (at a price)…
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…and where you can dine in a restaurant which has changed little in three hundred years.

But all good things must come to an end . We must either leave or loosen our belts. Auf Wiedersehen Vienna – majestic; cultured and a delight to the eye and the palette - we are off to Rome.

Posted by Hawkson 01:03 Archived in Austria Comments (5)

Viennese Royalty

sunny 14 °C

Vienna is a regal city full of magnificent buildings befitting its past as the heart of the Hapsburg Dynasty and capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is a tower of the 14th century Romanesque cathedral, St. Stephan’s, in the city centre. It was rebuilt in the 1950s after being destroyed in WWII…
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When Franz Joseph, the last emperor of Austria, slipped quietly out the back door in 1918 (after screwing up the world with WW1 because his nephew and heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Serbia), he left behind several comfy pads in Vienna. This is the Schloss Schönbrunn – probably the comfiest of all…
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This 300 year old pile of 1441 rooms, (and that’s not a typo), started life as a little hunting lodge in the countryside where the Emperor could relax after the frenzy of banquets and balls in the big city and shoot wild boars.The Schloss is one of the most visited palaces in the world and it is impossible to see it without hordes of tourists blocking the view…

Photography is strictly forbidden inside the palace and this is one of the many lavishly decorated state rooms that we cannot show you…
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While this is one of the small state dining rooms set for Christmas dinner as it would have been in 1800…
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The extensive gardens of Schloss Schönbrunn are open to the public free of charge so it is not surprising that throngs of tourists stroll its many tree-lined avenues…
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Our tour of Schönbrunn took us through just forty of the palace rooms leaving more than fourteen hundred unseen. But forty gilded rooms stuffed with opulent furniture and priceless pieces of art was enough. And in the evening we visited another gilded palace – Austria’s State Opera House – for a electric performance by the State Ballet and State Symphony Orchestra...
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No photos allowed inside, but Sheila looked regal in the magnificent foyer as we waited to enter…
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Posted by Hawkson 06:31 Archived in Austria Comments (4)

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