24 Sep 2014

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

5 Comments Cyprus

With the whole P & G split, I was torn, tattered and frayed. This shared custody thing sucks. For two weeks I have to look after Paul and for two weeks I have to look after Gill, and they think it is the other way around.

Gill encouraged me to go and make new friends and I did. I tried. I took up knitting. It was disastrous. I also helped Paul make a wonky table.

Making new friends is not as easy as you think!

 

Enough! It was time for a holiday. But where? Then one evening it came to me in an oily splash of brilliance. I watched while Paul ceaselessly shoved wedge after wedge of lemon drizzled golden fried Haloumi into his gob. Besides being slightly disgusted, I knew exactly where we would be going — Cyprus, the birthplace of Haloumi (and let us not forget, the birthplace of Aphrodite).

So here we are in Cyprus, right between a rock (Malta – the rock as it is colloquially known) and a very hard place (Syria – a stone’s throw away).

It is hot here. The Haloumi practically melts in your hands.

We brought along our own cash because we heard nasty things about the Cyprus bank machines robbing us blind — shutting down only seconds after deducting our money from our foreign bank account and seconds before dispensing it to us. Today, cashed up, we wandered through the old town of Nicosia. The city is shaped like a circle and at its core it is quite pretty. But there are also these ugly large walls and closed off streets running right through the centre. I found a shortcut, a crack between the walls, and went to make a dash for it, when all of a sudden a hundred voices were yelling at me loudly in Greek and then Paul was yelling too: “Land-mines”.

Cyprus lays claim to being the last divided though not internationally recognised city in Europe, though at a stretch you could argue the same for Belfast and Mostar. I would stick with Haloumi as a claim to fame; it’s classier and more palatable.

It seems we have to go through the checkpoint with our passports if we wish to enter the Turkish controlled part of Cyprus, otherwise we will both end up as lint.

With our passports at the ready we walked down the Ledra Street, the Main Street, and crossed at the checkpoint. It was painless and quick. Ledra starts off as any European high street, with designer shops, a Debenhams department store with an observatory at the top, the usual suspects, but as soon as you cross the border rapidly transforms into a gentrified Turkish Bazaar complete with an impressive mosque, a Hammam (Turkish Bath) and countless knock-off Nike and fake watch shops. The Turkish side feels friendlier, with megaphones blaring call to prayer, engaging shopkeepers and chatty waitstaff. Away from the tourist hot-zone, it becomes apparent the Turkish side is poorer. There are car wrecks in the streets and collapsing buildings on every other corner.

 

Turkish bizarre

Semiliye mosque from Debenhams

Turkish craft market

Turkish house

Turkish delight!!

Turkish cat relaxing after another life threatening crossing

Cyprus street art

Turkish street art

Back in our apartment, which is spacious and comfortable and only slightly noisier than front row at a Formula One race, we sweat in the afternoon heat and humidity and graciously accept the pair of earplugs our host has generously offered us for our siesta. They are soft, squishy and rubbery. They remind me a lot of Haloumi.

Whiskey wall

 

 

22 May 2014

Reflections In My Beer Glass

3 Comments Spain

Some great wines come from Binissalem

I am sitting in an airless room, slightly larger than a coffin. Paul is snoring gently as is someone in the apartment above. From the apartment below there is the constant and irritating scrape of metal cutlery against plates. Someone else is coughing. Outside, the streets are slick, wet from the recent rain, and the reflections of the bar and restaurant lights flicker in the black water puddles. It is cold and it is much better to be inside. We are back in Madrid. Our entire apartment is smaller than the sunny bedroom of the apartment I cohabited in Mallorca. There is no natural light — night and day are as one. Already I am pining for Mallorca.

I promised Paul I would not write about Mallorca. He wanted me to leave you with the thought Mallorca is simply all bars and senseless fun, rowdy Germans and raucous English, but I cannot.

Ignacio and Jessica

Cycling towards food

In the villages, of which there are many, everything runs at a slower pace. Cycling with friends through the narrow country roads, our nostrils are filled with the smell of straw and manure. We pass the wineries of Binissalem backdropped by the majestic Sierra Tramuntana mountains and we are at once grateful we are riding in the flat middle of the island. We pull over to allow the odd tractor to pass. For lunch we stop and eat traditional Mallorcan Pa Amb Oli’s (Ham, Cheese, bread smeared with the juice of tomatoes, hot green peppers and a type of seagrass). They are good and cheap and go well with beer.

Cala Deia

The crew making themselves uncomfortable

Lunch at the Cala Deia Chiringiti

A group of us visit the almost perfect village of Deia. We have lunch – whole grilled calamari — at the Chiringiti (beach bar) overlooking the bay. It is delicious and also goes well with beer. Afterwards we spend the afternoon on the beach. It is not comfortable. It is neither a sand nor pebble beach but large round rocks. We forgive the lack of comfort; it is such a stunning spot. The water beckons. We send Carlitos in first to check for medusas (jellyfish). They are small but they pack a powerful sting. He finds three and carefully steers them away with a stick. We venture in. It is a magical place.

On another day, on the flat sand perfect beach of Es Trenc, we sit on the beach eating stuffed berenjeñas (eggplant) that Bàrbara has prepared the day before. They go well with beer. There is a super-yacht anchored perhaps a hundred metres out. On the top deck there is a helicopter. We joke about what we would do if we had such a ridiculous amount of money and then we fall asleep in the sun.

In the village of Alaro we watch a concert under the stars. We eat wholesome organic vegetarian food. It goes well with beer. Afterwards we visit one of the local bars. We talk about how life in the villages — only a few kilometres from the centre of Palma, and only a few kilometres from dozens of glorious beaches and bays — goes on virtually unchanged. Bàrbara tells us how her great-grandmother lived her whole life in the village and never once visited the sea. We laugh at the thought and order another beer.

Our almost daily walk along the long promenade from Molinar into the centre of Palma passes several beaches. Bodies of all shapes and sizes leave their impression in the sand. We sit at the über-cool beach bar and have a beer and watch all that bare flesh in the late-afternoon sun.

Only one thought crosses my mind: Everything goes well with beer. You can even drink it on its own!

Paul leans over and throws in his two cents worth – Al, I got an idea.

Oh oh. I hate it when he thinks.

Why do biquini (bikini) manufacturers in Spain bother making the top half? No-one wears them. We should go into business making bikini bottoms. We’ll undercut the market and make a squillion.

I signal to camarero and order another beer.

Port d'Andtrax

Afternoon contemplation

Just add beer

Beer

 
 
 

 

08 May 2014

Are You Speaking English?

6 Comments Spain

Back in Spain again!!! Yes, that old chestnut. So rather than bore you with all the details, I will simply say it has been very nice. Malaga for a few days of cheap eats and silliness. We even did a cultural walking tour through the old town, Alejandro and Pedro will be pleased to know. We learned lots, including that Larios, the guy who funded the beautification of one of Malaga’s main boulevards conveniently forgot to pay his workers, hence the coppery green statue of him got its colour. The workers revolted, removed his statue and dumped it in the Mediterranean where it remained for eight years. Good old Franco saw to it that the statue was recovered. Below it now, a less greenish statue stands: a tribute to the workers who really built the street.

More deserving than a photo of Larios's statue. You dirty rat. Building in Malaga.

El Molinar revisited. The capital of Palma de Mallorca in the background.

El Molinar seafront houses

Sunset walks

And now we are in Mallorca where the sun oft shines, the days are long, the beaches are flat and the second language is German. We are staying in lovely sleepy El Molinar, but for three days (out of curiosity) we moved to El Arenal — the German quarter. It is the equivalent of Magaluf, the English resort area to the west of Palma. The beach is wonderful, however the town like Magaluf is ugly and cheap and was established for one purpose: to drink. Grown men stand on the sides of the road drinking via metre long straws from plastic buckets of spirits. Let's simply say they were three long days. Our plight was partly saved by a group of Irish and Scottish lasses who also found themselves in El Arenal by mistake and invited us up to the rooftop bar of their hotel to lounge around and chat.

Hou’s aw wi ye? a Scottish girl asked.

Yer a wee thing. Another handed me a drink: Get it up ye, she said as we toasted with our paper cups.

And I also discovered: Ye kin make hael sentences wae jist sweer wurds, and Irish girls shouldn't spend too much time in the sun.

It was bliss, there in the German part of Spain, a crowd of us native English speakers gathered, and between us we understood not a word!

 

El Arenal, view from the rooftop bar in the heat of the day

Lang may yer lum reek (May you live long and stay well)


 

30 Apr 2014

The Devil Made Me Do It

1 Comment Italy

San Luca Portico walk - 666 porticos, devilishly difficult

Sanctuary of the blessed virgin of San Luca

Leaning towers of Bologna

Looks level to me. Tower number two. Climb at your own risk.

Bologna's misfortune is its proximity to Florence, Venice and Milan. They steal Bologna's limelight — a good thing perhaps.

It is an elegant city, clean and easy to navigate all year round because it has more than forty kilometres of covered porticos. It has it's own leaning tower or two. And an Apple store to fix faulty iPhones. What more could you want? There is a lot to like about Bologna, although at night, except for certain student areas, it is so quiet you can hear a pin drop.

The longest covered walkway in the world is in Bologna. Rain, hail or shine, the 666 arched porticos provide shelter and lead out from the city for almost four kilometres to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca church high on the hill. It is a steep but pleasant walk. The views from the top make it all worthwhile.

We met an American guy and his gorgeous Italian girlfriend who told us she would take us out for dinner for some real Italian food. We were excited … PIZZA again!!

Ferrara is a short train ride from Bologna and has largely intact fortified walls surrounding the city. We walked the nine kilometre walk and then visited the castle. Afterwards we ate pizza.

And then to Milan? It is a beautiful city, mixing both old and new and succeeding. What can I say about Milan except we had to keep walking, never stopping?

Two reasons:

  1. To work off all the pizzas (to allow us to eat more pizzas).
  2. As soon as we stopped there was always the threat of being tossed a coin and being mistaken for beggars. The Milanese are that fashionable.

Tuck in your teeshirt wont you Paolo and wipe that pizza sauce from your face.

And you, little one, soft one with the sharp tongue, any danger you might buy a new suit?

PS: It seemed only fitting that our departure from Italy would be via Milan Bergamo's Il Caravaggio airport. We wondered how long it would be before we bumped into him again.

 

Ferrara city walls

A walk around Ferrara

Castle Estenza moat, Ferrara

Shopping mall, Milan

Milan cathedral

The height of fashion, Milan

A different side of Milan. The new Bosco Vertical (Vertical Forest) green buildings. Impressive.

 
 
24 Apr 2014

White knuckle ride

Comments Off on White knuckle ride Italy
 
 
 

Finding religion - Easter Sunday mass


I can't say enough good things about Salerno. It is a great city, gritty in parts but alive and not at all touristy. The nightly stroll through the city at a slow pace is a sight to behold. Step in with the crowd. The entire city mobilises and takes to the streets for a few hours. Later, (after 10pm) the bars begin to fill until they overflow. People spill back out onto the streets until there are far more people out in the streets than there are in the bars. They stand around clutching drinks and chatting ALL night long. In the square outside our apartment there must be three hundred people standing around outside the two tiny bars that can accommodate perhaps thirty people between them, yet somehow it all remains very civil.

We took a ferry up to Amalfi because the ferry to Positano was cancelled. Of course it was! The coastline is rugged, impossible, stunning, yet in a country unable to organise a single efficient bus, train or ferry service they have somehow managed to build houses that hang precariously on the sides of cliffs. An amazing feat!

Amalfi was pretty, crowded and full of souvenir shops and tourists. To get away from it we walked the mountain road to Minori — a couple of villages away — for lunch. To get back to Salerno we caught the bus. This is the best thrill ride you can have for under €3. Get an oceanside seat and join in helping the driver steer the bus, oohing and aahing, shrieking and braking for him, closing your eyes while he has long animated gesticulating conversations on his mobile phone while hurtling towards a bend. He trumpets the air horns loudly and the bus shudders to frequent and sudden halts. People grab onto the seats in front of them in anticipation. To my immediate right there is a thin concrete barrier separating the bus from the Mediterranean many metres below. From my elevated seat the barrier disappears and there is nothing, just blue. The road is too narrow and the oncoming cars often have to stop and reverse back to allow us to pass. It is beautiful, however I vow never to do it again.

Scratch that thought. The next day Luca and his mate, Mario, invite us for a barbecue on a private beach. They have the keys to the access gate to a private beach road. It is an offer too good to refuse. The bit they don't tell us is it is on the Amalfi coast and we will be going on the back of Luca’s scooter. Okay so I was wrong, this is the best thrill ride you can have and it’s free. Luca tells us he is a good driver, then proceeds to tell us about a bad motorbike accident he had two years ago. His motorbike was a write-off. He fared slightly better.

You only live once!

We spend most of the ride in the oncoming lane, weaving and ducking. I think I may have found religion.

A private beach, Italian food, sun, wine, good company — what's not to like? In the back of my mind there is a niggling thought: the white-knuckled ride home.

I have been dreaming of hurtling pizzas. It is time to head north.

 

Private access road to the beach. Mario - only an Italian can wear plaid shorts, an orange shirt with white stripes, a white watch, yellow shoes, a hat and somehow look stylish. Luca on the scooter.

 

Didn't anyone think to ask the Aussie how to light a barbecue?

Leave it to me boys - Stella