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Venice's Carnival (or Carnevale) is one of the best known in the world, perhaps after Rio de Janiero, but for that, it is a relatively modern entity, being revived in the 1980s as an attempt to attract the tourist dollar (or Euro.. or pound, even!). It has certainly been successful. Indeed, so successful that this year they actually had to stop people coming for a few hours because the whole city was full to bursting point. I had the very pleasurable experience of joining a squash (queue is not the word!) of people trying to make their way through the city, with policemen desperately trying to prevent serious injury! Oh, but don't let me put you off! I went to Venice a few times during the Carnival this year, because I was based locally. The Carnival lasts for the 10 days prior to Ash Wednesday, so it always encompasses two weekends. I went the first Saturday and Sunday which were thoroughly enjoyable, if a little packed, as well as the second weekend, which was a complete and utter nightmare. So what happens during the Carnival, well, apart from people wandering around Venice in costumes and masks, there are lots of cultural and social events. You can get a programme at the bus and train stations and main piazzas. Typical events this year included open air concerts, plays, masqued balls (the famous masqued ball in Piazza San Marco is free, but only if you are dressed in full costume and mask!), and many expensive looking dinners and canal/lagoon cruises which I didn't pay much attention to, being far out of my price range! There were also live links with national radio and television stations, concerts of a less traditional nature and someone giving out free temporary tattoos, of which I collected an almost embarrassing amount! It is almost impossible not to get caught up in the atmosphere, from the moment they release the doves in St Mark's Square, to signal the arrival to the finale, also in S t Mark's Square, and the masqued Regatta. There are things happening every day, of the 10 days duration, and of course, there are slight changes every year. There are also many traditional carnival goodies to eat, mostly involving hideous amounts of sugar and some very thin, fried pancakes things, which are lovely but if you drop them on the floor they shatter like glass (oh, yes, mine met a very sorry end!). I loved the carnival and hated it. I loved the first week, it was full, busy, but the second week I went it was almost impossible to breathe for people. So if you go, try to go near the beginning, I know it builds up to a climax, but trust me, it is not a happy place to be when the crushing takes effect! But I defy anyone who arrives not to leave with their own mask.. it is all too tempting, especially after a few of cups of the mulled wine they serve! I have my mask here, next to me as I type and I have mainly very happy memories,but I am glad I had the opportunity to go a few times! The prices do tend to rise around Carnival time and if you want a bit more tradition, so I'm told, head out to the island of Burano, where the pace is a little quieter.. and it is beautiful there anyway.
Somehow, I thought I might be the first person to submit an opinion on Pordenone! I doubt it is the first place to pop into ones mind when considering Italy as a holiday destination, and without wanting to be too rude, this is for a good reason. Pordenone is in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the region tucked away in the North-East corner of Italy, and the province of Pordenone borders Austria in the north and Udine in ther east and south, and Treviso to the west. So now that I've located the province, at least, geographically, we'll look at the town herself. Poor old Pordenone will never win any prizes for her beauty, although she has a charm which exists in many smaller italian cities. There is no large main piazza and the town seems to be something of a traffic hub, in serious need of a by-pass, but if you find yourself in the centre (if you find the centre at all.. it took me a few tries and lots of direction-asking!) you will find a pleasant enough town. The architectural style is definitely Venetian, being a part of the mainland Empire of the Most Serene Republic for centuries, Pordenone houses a most impressive town hall (which I thought, for about my first few visits was actually the cathedral!.. hmm.. i probably shouldn't admit to that!). It is in the centre, on Corso Garibaldi, and next to the town hall (which looks like a cathedral!) is San Marco Cathedral (which doesn't look like a town hall). It's quite a small cathedral by italian standards, and has nothing earth-shatteringly striking, but it is a pretty place and worth a visit if you find yourself, by some chance, in Pordenone without anything to do! The range of shops is good but not great, if you want to do your shopping in the area, Treviso is a far better bet, but there is a fair range in the town and there is a market on Wednesdays and a smaller one on Saturdays. Pordenone is a rich area, there is lots of work there and many ma ny industrial estates scattered in the surrounding countryside. There are a few museums, but I can't say I checked them out.. I was spoilt by Venice and almost all my trips to Pordenone were of a strictly functional basis.. it is that kind of a town! But the Museo Civico d'Arte is apparently very pleasant. I know I shouldn't recommend things I haven't seen, but if you are there, you'll probably not find many other things to do! It's on the main road, the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and usual Italian opening times (ie. not open monday and long lunch breaks!). As for the province it contains a very large American airforce base at Aviano, which is about 15 km north of the city. This leads to a large amount of young American men wandering around in town which could either be a plus or a minus! And it certainly does good business for a local clubs and pubs. So, it's not a town i'd go out of my way to visit, but i'm sure there are worse places in the world, just perhaps not many duller!
I picked up 'Midnight in Sicily' when I was considering a job offer in Palermo, if I go, I thought to myself, I would be better to know a little about the culture and history, and the front cover contained promises of secret revealed. So I bought the book, a little blind to it, thinking (perhaps a little naively) it would be a pleasant wander through a pleasant island, stopping off for a few mafia trials and judge-killings. (I hope that doesn't sound offensively frivolous.. ) Anyway, so back to the book, Robb is an Australian journalist who was based in Naples for a number of years, but went over to Sicily for the book (obviously.. from the title!). The book begins with a portrayal of the full frame of life in Sicily, starting from the market in Palermo, and moving briefly to some of the different regions as they interlink with different areas of interest, but these interests progressively get narrower until they all point to Mafia involvement. Obviously the mafia, or the Cosa Nostra, as it is known in Sicily, figures highly, and Robb gets increasingly pulled further and further into the web of control that the Mafia still holds over Sicily and the Sicilian people, and more importantly, the Christian Democrat Govt that ruled Italy for the post-war years. Robb uses the trial of Andreotti as a centre-piece of his book, and is quite clearly convinced, in a way the involved judge never was, that Andreotti is as guilty as sin.. Robb digresses to cover the literature and artistic heritage of the island, visiting the main protagonists and wangling invitations to the houses of the people who matter most (Mafia excluded!) but he provides a useful English-language introduction to the main issues regarding the maxi-trials (trials for mafia involvement) which took place in the last 20 years, and the evidence presented. The information he garners is not new, it has been published in Italian books many years a go, but it is collated and written in an interesting manner by someone who although an outsider, obviously feels for those it affects. The book doesn't, perhaps, flow as easily as it could.. it certainly follows no chronological script, it is neither a travel book, nor a history, but it is a fascinating read. I had to read it twice to follow some of the threads because they don't seem to equate sometimes, but then, I think that reflects well the life on Sicily. I would certainly recommend it, even to people who have no interest, wish or desire to visit Sicily, because it opens the lid on the sub-surface corruptions and movements of organised crime which, in the end, affected a far greater area than this little corner of Europe. You realise just quite what people had to live through and still do, and how power has a cruel and dark hand. This is definitely a book of heroes and villians and Robb does wear his heart on his sleeve. It isn't a light read, but it is a fascinating series of stories and events that certainly is worthy of attention. Maybe not if you are just on your way to Sicily for a relaxing holiday.. A Sicilian friend of mine, exiled on the mainland, said to me that Sicily has everything, it has beautiful seas, wonderful food, the climate which is divine.. God gave the island these gifts, he said, to ease the tears of the people who live there. This book made me realise why they shed their tears.
Treviso lies about 20 kilometres north of her rather more illustrious neighbour, Venice.. and in an attempt to almost pour the scorn mainland Venetans often feel for the Most Serene Republic, the tourist office of Treviso market the town as the 'city of water'. And if you want water, so you find it. The Sile wends her ways in a most picturesque manner around the walls of the old city. I've been living in Treviso for about 8 months now, and it is hard to feel an initial fondness but she can grow on you and there are certainly worse places to spend an afternoon or two (Mestre springs to mind as as immediate example of 'somewhere worse'!). But back to Treviso.. she is one of the richest towns in Italy and on some occasions it is almost possible to smell the money. Benetton and Stefanel are some of her more famous sons and the large Benetton in the centre of the town is one of the highlights of any tour because it's such a pretty building.. and it has nice toilets (very important for a town with no public facilities!). It is a walled town and within the walls you find almost every area of interest. There is a small museum of local interest, but there is a particularly impressive art gallery which had a highly successful Monet exhibition last year and plans more of the same. If you have the money here, you can buy in culture! There is a cathedral which looms across the western parts of the town, but the city's heart is Piazza della Signora which is beautiful by any standards with a few pleasant cafes for lounging around in and enjoying people-watching! Radicchio trevigiano is the speciality here, w hich is kind of a bitter tasting red chicory, only grown in the 'March' of Treviso (as the surrounding countryside is known). It doesn't taste as bad as it sounds, although they put it in just about everything here, if you arrive in the right season, and you can't reall y escape it! There is a big market every saturday morning and the transport connections are pretty good, it's about 20 mins from Mestre by train, an hour and a bit from Trieste and 4 hours from Milan. As for the people, they work hard and they spend their money. They dress extremely well, and I felt far more conscious of fashion here than in Milan! A couple of good restaurants if you make it here, my favourite pizzeria da Pasqualino is on the main Via del Popolo, on a small street opposite MacDonalds.. and Tony del Spin is more of a trattoria, serving good food at a good price and it is behind the Piazza della Signoria. Some nice bars, if you can find them, scatter through the centre of Treviso, and are worth seeking. There are a few pubs but they aren't as authentic.. still, if you wanted authetic pubs you'd stay in England!
Trieste is a funny old city and the Triestini are mad. Or at least, that’s what many people round here told me when I said I was heading to the border city for the weekend.Of course, I asked for clarification, but was just met with a sad nod of the head or a chuckle. Being assured it was not a malevolent madness, I felt quite comforted by this thought. Anyone the people here think are mad, can’t be all that bad! In fact, this made the thought of Trieste all the more appealing to me and I wasn't disappointed. I didn't really know what to expect of the city before I arrived. Trieste has many 'claims to fame'. She lies by the sea, and for centuries was the main seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, finally attaching herself to Italy after the First World War. She is the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Guilia region, being historically located in and area known as the ‘Guilia’. Trieste is just a few kilometres inside the Italian border and signs of her Slovenian neighbour are just about everywhere. In a way, you feel you are in Central Europe, the cafes seem more Austrian than Italian, the people friendly (and not in the slightest bit mad to my mind, but then, I’m from London!) but not friendly in the open Mediterranean manner, but a slightly more reserved, curious but not over-curious manner. I have travelled around many different cities in Italy, but in Trieste, more than most, the history breathes through every pore of the city. I’ve never been anywhere that has felt so close to the first and second world wars, for a start. It almost seems as if the city is still crying for the blood lost on her land. Most of the Italians who died in the First World War, at least, died in Friuli-Venezia Guilia, the autonomous region of which Trieste is the capital and the memorials to the war flood the city. There is one of the most touching tributes/memorials in the form of a large ‘Parco della Rimembranza’ clutching the side of the central San Guistanian Hill, which has a mixture of gravestones and monuments to those who died in the wars since 1914. The names are written along with where the person died and where they were from, from as far away as Sicily and Sardinia, and it was quite heartbreaking to stroll around, but more touching was the fact that some of the tombstones had fresh flowers, so people were still coming to remember their own family members. Back on top of the San Guistanian Hill, is the old Roman Forum and the Cathedral. This is reached by quite a long walk up a steep hill, but is definitely worth the effort, not least because walking there takes you through the heart of the old city, which, itself, is a revelation. The castle is also situated next to the old Roman Forum and there is a small museum, which wasn’t open when I was there, but is devoted to the archeological excavations in the area which uncovered the Forum itself in the 30s. Back down in the main part of the city the main things to see would be the Piazza dell’Unita’ d’Italia which is the largest piazza in Europe which faces directly onto the sea. The architectural style is here, definitely more Austrian than Italian and it is a perfectly beautiful area when the wind isn’t blowing too strongly. There are a thousand other places of note which would take too long to highlight so I’ll condense a little and aim for the heart which a guidebook might not tell. Trieste is famous for the ‘Bora’, a sharp wind that rises from the sea and whips the city up from time to time. I never felt it badly, but I have been assured my many locals that this is because I was lucky! It can get quite chilly here, tucked between mountains and the sea. Trieste has a very rich cultural life, with many galleries, exhibitions and teatre, and the people in the Tourist Informatio n Office were some of the friendliest I have ever come across, and gave me loads of free information (as would be expected!) but also postcards and posters and well, I left that office looking a bit overburdened but thinking ‘well, if this is madness, I’ll take it’, somewhat refreshing after Venice, that they seem so welcoming to tourists. Finally, you can’t go to Trieste or near it without a visit to the Castle Miramare. This is Trieste’s most famous monument/sight, and lies about 6 kms north of the City. It is a beautiful, but small fairytale castle, built by Maximilian of Austria for his wife, and said to be cursed. It is set within a nature park and the grounds are wonderful to explore and not too large. I didn’t actually go inside the castle, but there is a museum there, and it is set right on the sea. Trieste is a treat, I could honestly say, she is one of my favourite cities in the world because there is such character there that you can’t help be affected, maybe a little mad, but to me, that’s always been a bonus!
Dante's Opus is a masterpiece without any doubt. Consisting of three parts, the most famous, Inferno, followed by Purgatory and Paradise, it follows the journey of the narrator character (Dante himself) from the dark woods through which he is travelling, where he meets his guide, Virgil, through to the deepest plumes of the circles of Hell, through Purgatory and to the highest reaches of heaven, ending with his gazing at the face of god (oops, sorry, I've given away the ending). Each of the three books has a different character, I know the Inferno best, and have read it a number of times, in different translations and even (although this is a bit pretentious, I admit!) in the original Italian (hard work, don't understand a great deal, but it's a labour of love!) Dante in some senses, epitomises Renaissance Florence, which was, indeed, his home town. He was born in the late 13th Century, a time when the political balance in Florence was delicately posed. Dante himself had been expelled from his beloved Florence and was living in exile in Ravenna. In 'The Inferno'. Dante makes his way, with Virgil, through the different levels of hell, passing famous people of the day, in Florence politics, on the way, as well as mythical figures, classical figures and a variety of sinners of all types. Of course the beauty is in both the satirical description and the power of the fear and depths of horror that face those who spent their lives in carefree abandon. Dante recognises people along the way, and of course, it is an intensely moral and religious effect. After the horrors of the Inferno, Dante and Virgil move to Purgatory in the second book, I've found this the least gripping, perhaps because hell and heaven are so much more graphic, but Virgil continues the journey with Dante, meeting and greeting the varieties of sinners of not such a high degree through the way. In Canto (this is how the books are divided, think of them as mini-chapters!)28, Dante meets his new guide, because Virgil cannot take him any further, and it is Beatrice, who guides Dante into the higher reaches of Purgatory and into Heaven. Beatrice was the love of Dante's life, who died a few years before he began The Divine Comedy and it is hard to think of a higher tribute to her, as his descriptions of her are breath-takingly beautiful. So Beatrice guides him on to Paradise. In Paradise, Dante again meets a variety of characters and it seems unfair to leave the description to that, but short of exploring each canto in turn, it seems the best way of summation. Of course, there is an emotional reuniting with his father, until he makes his way further and further up the different stages of heaven to meet the saints as stars in the sky. It is hard to overestimate the effect that Dante's work had and has on world literature. It is, in my opinion, the greatest piece of literature ever written. Look at the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, the depictions of Hell in the many cathedrals in Italy and almost without exception, they draw on Dante's descriptions of the Inferno of Hell. The Inferno is the best known and it is the most gripping of the three, because the stories of what people have done to deserve such fates is fascinating, but it is best enjoyed when balanced with Purgatory and Paradise, because the styles of his poetry differ. It isn't as difficult to read as it sounds (in translation, of course), there are lots of translations available, both prose and poetry, but start with the Inferno, and you won't be disappointed, and you will have a social and political history lesson of Renaissance Florence, such as a text book would be unable to provide.
There can be few more memorable sights than one's first glimpse of St Marks Square. The guide books recommend a first entrance in time-honoured fashion, on the number 1 vaporetto from the station (or Piazzale Roma, where the buses arrive and the big car parks are), alighting the boat adjacent to the square, and making your way through the piazzetta into the square itself. I think the best way to first see St Marks though, is when you are doing the general 'being lost in Venice' thing, and then, suddenly, you turn a corner, walk through a little underpassage and find yourself in the largest piazza in Venice. And it is big... It is hard to describe the square Napoleon famously described as the most elegant drawing room in Europe. On one side, there is the golden domes of St Marks and with the stolen body of St Mark and the stolen horses of Constantinople crowning her. The other three sides of the piazza are colonaded magnificently facaded buildings, palaces and museums, hiding those well-hidden Venetian secrets. The Quadri and Florian are the famous coffee shops which stand on the borders of the square, with equally famous prices. They charge you extra if the music is playing but you shouldn't even consider sitting down if you are on any kind of budget. Just as nice is to perch on a step and listen and look. Because St Marks is the heart of Venice, it is the place many tourists crowd to, but I was there last week and it was almost empty, so if you pick your moment it can be wonderfully sparse. The pigeons plague the square and the pigeon feed sold is laced with contraception, in a desperate bid to reduce the resident population. If you stand on the top of St Marks, you can see children running through the pigeons (and some adults!) to great effect! The poor pigeons do take a bit of a beating. Last week, I had the dubious privilege of watching one being eaten by a seagull in the centre of the square.. I can't promise such excitement on every visit, but in the snow, the square looked particularly special. St Mark's Square is also prone to the infamous 'Acqua Alta' when Venice floods. There are walkways erected and usually the waters come from about November till April and seeing the square flooded is quite spectacular, if you have wellies on, anyway! St Marks is centre of Venice, if not in a physical way, in a cultural and emotional sense, it is a place of demonstrations, of rallies and public meetings. It is unmissable. So go, but have your coffee elsewhere, and mind the pigeons!!
Venice is a city that it is impossible to arrive in without any preconceptions. I certainly had many. I thought of her, perhaps, as a fussy old woman, with an interesting and exciting history, now content to prostitute herself to the tourist dollar. I arrived in Venice almost wanting to be disappointed, but she charmed me... I am fortunate enough to be working in Venice at the moment, and living close by and have been living here now for a couple of months. I won't pretend to write a tourist guide because to visit Venice without a guide would I think, be a folly, but I'll try to share some tips and some impressions.. It is easy to be captivated by Venice. There is only one way in, the bridge to the mainland over which all cars and trains past, allows the city to rise in the distance. Piazzale Roma (where all cars must be parked and where all buses arrive) and the train station are in the east of the city. And for all the romanticism of the gondolas, Venice must be discovered on foot. Away from the well-trodden route from the train station to St Marks, via Rialto, you can discover things quite magical and the little underpasses between the houses where you have to crouch to get through, add a mystery to the city which is steeped in history. St Mark's tends to always surprise when it first hits you, because if you have been wandering around in winding streets, it is strange at first to see such a wide open space (even if it is filled with tourists and pigeons). If you are a museum person, when you buy a ticket to the museums around Piazza San Marco, you buy a ticket for all of them which you can use within 3 months. They cost 18,000L for adults. If you can't be bothered with the cost and the tackiness of the gondola ride, the traghettos offer an opportunity to ride in a gondola for 800L. They cross the grand canal at the points farthest from the bridges (onlny 3 bridges span the Grand Canal). Venetians always stand in gondoliers and tourists sit down, so if you want to blend in, just try crossing the Grand Canal standing up.. (better if you have someone to hold onto!) The gondoliers don't tend to ask for payment, they just expect you to hand them the money, so it can be a bit embarrassing if you don't know this and just walk off without paying (as I did the first time!). The further you go from San Marco, the cheaper the prices for food.. even the MacDonalds by St Mark's charges higher prices (if you really must go to MacDonalds, there is another one by the Rialto Bridge!). I have a friend who has lived in Venice for 10 years and he got lost trying to find his house last week, I get lost, an average of three times a day, and it is one of the joys of the city. It is a small enough city to never be too far from anywhere, and you have to discover some of the little idiosyncrasies that she throws at you to challenge you. It's a well-known Venetian old wive's tale that when anyone asked you the directions, the answer will always be 'go straight on'.. 'va dritto' and you will eventually get wherever you want to get. I didn't believe it till I tried it. I could write forever, but I'll stop now.. if you thought it was a tacky place, overcommercialised and overhyped, bite your tongue and go.. you won't regret it!
Puglia (or Apulia as it is known in English) is the 'heel' of Italy, just as Calabria forms the toe. Actually, it is the heel and the spur, but I'll move onto that momentarily. The largest city is Bari. I haven't been there, but it is spoken of as the big metropolis by the people around the area I am living. I don't want to be a wet blanket, I think to myself, but I've come from London... hmm.. anyway, as a stranger sometimes it is best to keep some thoughts to yourself. Anyway, back to the rural Puglia, and more specifically Gargano. Puglia consists of two peninsulars.. the Salento Peninsular, which is the actual heel bit, and the Gargano one, which although everyone insists, in deep and weird geographical terms, is actually a promentary and not a peninsular, I call it a peninsular. It is the 'spur' of Italy. Geologically, apparently (this isn't my own personal research evidence) it is more similar to parts of the Yugoslav coast than the Italian coast. The whole region of Gargano is a National Park. It is covered in the Foresta Umbra, which gives it a unexpected greenness for somewhere so hot - and it is hot. Around the coast, there are a number of beach resorts skirting the edges of the forest, from Rodi Garganico, through San Menaio, Peschici (where they won millions in a lottery syndicate last year, making the rest of the surrounding villages very jealous!), through to Vieste which is the largest and some say most attractive of the resorts. The resorts are built onto the sides of limestone cliffs with whitewash houses and lots of walking up and down and up and up and down again. The steps can be a challenge but i have seen someone negotiating them with a wheelchair. It remains a mystery to me why this stretch of beach is so under-developed to be honest. You won't find many people who speak english (unless you pop in to see me in Rodi!), you ce rtainly won't find much sophisticated holiday entertainments - it was a week before I even saw a television, let alone one that was actually switched on! It is quite isolated, and I wouldn't suggest the journey unless you can drive, because the private one-carraige railway is not always the most efficient, as it does have to stop for sheep crossing the road. Ryanair have started cheap flights to Pescara though, which opens up this area of Italy. If you want an area that is about as completely different from anything remotely sophisticated, but with good food, good wine, interesting characters by the bucketload (even if they don't speak English!) I could probably go on forever, because the topic is so broad, but will try to update as I go, and if anyone does chose to nip over to these parts.. leave a message!! I miss speaking English!!!
Siracusa, or Syracuse to give it the anglicised name, sits on the south-east corner of Sicily, baking away happily in the sunshine, but don't be mistaken into thinking this is a place for sunshine and nothing else, for Syracuse, as with much of Sicily, has a history to be hold to torch to any European nation. Easily accessible by train (if you are taking the East Coast line anyway - if you are coming for Palermo.. um... good luck !! no.. honestly, if you are coming from the West, take a bus because the train is much much longer, but from the east, the trains are better.. anyway, back to Syracuse..), it is a fairly easy city to navigate and splits quite comfortably into two sections, the Old City, which is actually an island (although you wouldn't really notice, or at least I didn't for a while, which perhaps says more about my state of mind come to think of it, as I did have to walk over a large bridge with water all around it!). This section of the city is called Ortegia. It is wonderful for an aimless stroll, and the Duomo really is amazing, when you find it. It was a Greek Temple, prior to Christian conversation, and it certainly held its own to any other cathedral I've seen in Italy (except perhaps St Peters). Archimedes was one of Syracuses' most famous sons and you'll see lots of piazzas and roads named for him and a little plaque where he lived. It's very touristy, well, relatively, around this part, but it is where most of the departmental shops and main shopping area is. On the other side of the train station, walking in a northerly direction (although its a bit of a way and you may want to take the bus) are the Classical Ruins bit of Syracuse, in the Neapolis Archeological Park. It costs 8000L to get in, and for that you can wander around ruins to your heart's content, and the ruins really are very impressive. Most famous is the Greek Amphitheatre, but there is also a big 'Ear of Dionysis' structure which I grew particularly fond of. Its a really big cave and was used for prisoners because the echo inside it means that everyone can hear everything. Unfortunately, I timed my visit to the Ear at the same time as a large group of American teenagers which meant the noise level was quite staggering! Another thing, quickly to mention, is the preponderance of lemon and orange trees, the smell of the blossoms is overpowering and perfectly delightful. There are some shows on at the Greek Amphitheatre in the summer, but I didn't go and a girl I met on the train said it was a waste of money, but I can't really elaborate further. Just a couple of final pointers, although it's hard to stop when I get going! Firstly, the Archeological Museum on Via Teocrito is one of the best Archeological Museums in Italy, which is quite a high recommendation, and it has a great air conditioning system! It costs 8000L and closes for a siesta, so check the opening hours.. Also, don't leave Sicily without trying the pasties and the ice creams, the sicilians are justifiably famous for they ability to fine tune anything sugar-related to perfection!
This film seems to affect everyone of a 'certain age', and it is one of those films that was seminal to teenagers in the 80s (of which I was one.. just about.. well, ok, quite easily.. !). It was one of the first 'Brat Pack' films. Films for the teenage audience, which featured the same round of actors/directors. I can't even begin to count the amount of times I watched this, and if I tried it would only make me feel like I had spent too much of my adolescence sitting in front of the television.. Anyway.. back to the actual film! It is about a group of five extremely stereotyped students. One nerd, one jock, one princess, one weird and one criminal. They are all put in detention for Saturday together, and the film in about the time which they spend together. The action never leaves the bounds of the school and rarely moves outside the room in which they are having the detention. You can probably guess the plot - this isn't a terribly sophisticated film. They talk about a range of different things, they find they have things in common that they never knew, and that the divisions we make in school are rarely the ones that necessarily stay with us into adulthood. The plotline isn't as necessarily important as the development of each character, and to be honest, some of them are quite predictable, or maybe that should be, predictable to me as an adult viewer who watched it a million times as an impressionable adolescent. Watching the film now, it seems very unsophisticated, and a little simplistic. I did love it at the time so much though! If you haven't seen it, it is worth watching, just as a glimpse back at those days.. and because it is a cute film. It won't make any wild moral statements but it does capture the 'being a teenager' thing very well, which is probably why I liked it a whole lot better then than I do know.. every little tortured soul of a teenager will relate t o one of the students..
Pisa International Airport is the largest airport in Tuscany, which really isn't saying a lot! It is used as a gateway to Florence, and the connections from Pisa Airport to Florence are very good, but I'll come back to that in a moment. Even though it is the main airport of Tuscany, Pisa is quite a small airport, especially if you are used to flying out of the UK. It isn't the kind of airport you should leave to do your shopping in, let's just put it that way! Located to the west of Pisa, it is easy to find. There are trains directly from Santa Maria Novella Station in Florence to the Airport itself and also trains from Pisa. It costs roughly 7000 Lire to Florence (about £2.30 and the journey takes an hour). There are also buses which run both into Florence and into Pisa. The bus into Pisa is a local route and costs 1500L (50p) and I don't know how much the bus to Florence cost, because the train is much easier! Inside the airport itself there is a coffee bar/pizza shop, which is good for snacks and the like and not excessively expensive. There is a restaurant and a self service restaurant upstairs, which is overpriced and not very pleasant, so avoid if at all possible. There is a newsagent which sells some books and magazines in a range of languages, a fine wine and food shop, a gift shop which is very expensive and some kind of clothes shop which I didn't investigate fully. And that's about it! There is a tourist information point where the staff speak English and where you can buy the train tickets to Florence or Pisa (if you want a train ticket to anywhere else you have to go into Pisa - I know because the woman at the information was rather shocked when I tried to buy a ticket for Rome.. she gesticulated profusely and asked me why I hadn't flown directly to Rome (!!)- I don't think it was a common request!. There is a bureau de change in the airp ort and a bank as well, and some car hire desks, but it isn't the most comprehensive airport you will find, but it serves its purpose well enough. Once through security there is a duty free shop, but I've never been in it, as both times I was at Pisa Airport, it was closed!! So don't count on spending your last lire at the last available opportunity! If you do fly from Pisa, it is worth noting that the last train to the airport leaves at roughly 6pm, so if you have a later flight you will have to get the bus, or even a taxi to Pisa Central station(which costs about £3 - it isn't such an awful thing to have to do!). There are trains that run from Pisa Central into Florence at all times! Buon viaggio!
This opinion, really is on general bereavement services and what should or shouldn't, is and isn't available. I am coming from this (unsurprisingly) from a personal viewpoint, so forgive any tendencies to melancholy! I thought of this as a friend of mine was writing a dissertation for her MA (Social Work) about the different services which exist for children who lost a parent or sibling. She asked me for my opinion, because I was eight when my mother died, and was good 'first hand' research material! She explained to me in some detail about the services which were available, for example the Child Bereavement Trust which provides counselling support, and Cruse, which provides support for parents and children who have suffered from bereavements. There were also other smaller regionally based groups which provide holidays and camps for children who have experienced bereavements who receive funding from the likes of Children in Need, Help a London Child and the Millenium Commission. And she asked me for my input, and surprisingly, to myself, I was angry. I was angry with her for asking me, and I was angry with the organisations for not being there 20 years ago (even though some of them, for example, Cruse were). When I analysed my own reaction to this anger, I realised that perhaps, firstly, I hadn't 'dealt with' the issues from my mother's death sufficiently at the time for it to have caused such an unreasonable reaction at a later date, and secondly (and this is not a very noble thought, but bear with me for a moment), I was, in a sense, jealous of the children who, today, did have access to these services. All I'll say, so as not to drag this out or veer into the realms of 'unrelated to subject', that if I had known at the time, that there was another child (apart from my siblings who didn't count!), who knew what it was like to not have a mother, who knew what it was like to hav e only your father at school days and open days, when usually it was mothers who made a particular effort and for people to ask why your mother hadn't come, for kindly teachers to insist you make a mother's day card for your grandma, because she had decided that today everyone would make a mother's day card and she didn't want me upsetting the other children (!!!), then I think I would have been a lot better balanced as an adult. Having got over the pouty nature of my outburst to my friend, I did give her the interview she wanted! But back to the issue at hand of bereavement services, just a note, that even though everyone experiences grief in their own way, knowing that there is someone else who might understand, is vital, even if they don't feel it in the same way, and knowing that you are not strange, unusual, morose or just plain weird for the emotions you are feeling, is vital, especially for a child.. I mean, god knows, you're feeling bad enough.. and sometimes the people who want to help the most, help the least! So seek out the services which are there and don't be afraid to ask. It isn't a sign of weakness but of strength!
Having spent considerable periods of a mis-spent youth between Leeds and Manchester, and moved to London just seven years ago, I can't claim to be well-versed in the joys of urban living as opposed to country life, having never really known any other alternative, and like most ways of life, it has its good and bad. Cities are fun, but dirty, they have more to do and more people to meet, but they are 'less friendly', that is the perception anyhow. I hated London when I arrived at 21, I didn't know anyone and it seemed to big, but it was where the work was, and it is still where a lot of the work is. My job (I'm a social worker or was, until last Friday!) has enabled me to glance behind the glossy surface, and see a very different London from the one I am lucky enough to live in. Behind every window of every tower block there is a story, some of which I have had to share and others which I have wanted to share, and the range of experience of life at its best and worst, is held within the heartbeat of this fine city. Cities in general and London in particular, are more accepting of difference, they are more tolerant in some ways, because there is nothing that London, (and some Londoners!) haven't seen before. No challenge they are yet to face. Yes, there are problems here. I have seen them almost every day, but there were never enough to drive me away, well, not until now. The wealth of cities, as with anywhere, is in the people who live there, and the vibrancy, the multicultural vivacity of London, is her richest asset, richer than the history or the heritage in my opinion. Londoners are as varied as the city they inhabit, the north from the south, and the east from the west. Of the areas I know, I would always have one of the warmest regards for Tower Hamlets, having worked there for a long period and through working there, getting to know my own 'little patch' of the borough intimately. It has the best and worst that London has to offer. A refreshingly vibrant outlook, juxtaposed with painful poverty and desperate need. Move West, and you have The City, the financial heart of the country, and the continent, even, and you find the contrast ever more stark. I could list each area that I have come to know and, in a way, love, but that isn't what this opinion is about, it is about the good (or not) of urban living. It is, of course, about personal preference. Some people are 'city' people, some people not. Environments offer different things for different people at different stages of their lives. I loved living in London, and working here, and am grateful that the Londoners who I worked with allowed me to share their lives, however briefly, but at a different stage in my life now, I'm leaving London in a couple of weeks, which is a bittersweet, and somewhat refreshing new stage. So I'm leaving city life soon, but that's another story, and perhaps more opinions will follow from overseas! But I'm glad I 'did' London. I think everyone should give it a try. The people aren't ogres, they are as friendly as northerners (I'm a northerner myself so I can say that with some ease!), they just might not take to you easily. Londoners don't chat on the tube or the bus, but that doesn't mean they are not friendly, there are just too many people in the city to make an effort to know all of them, it isn't coldness, it is tiredness, invariably, but when you have cracked the surface, you see that the city doesn't make people better or worse, just different. I know I'll certainly miss the buzz and the vibrancy, the colourful markets and the cosmopolitan nature of the city when I'm in my little seaside town in Italy next month.. hmm.. maybe I won't miss it too much!
Cats certainly do come in many different shapes and sizes. And a less interesting world it would be if they didn't. I had a pure bred grey Burmese cat, and I don't think I have any other kind now. It was an accidental meeting between Tara (cat) and I. Her owner, a friend of a friend, could no longer look after her, due to family circumstances, and I agreed to look after her. It was a bit of a hate-at-first-sight. She was not a happy kitty in those early days. I worked all day and she sat in the lounge, alternately snarling and shrieking. Burmese cats can bawl their hearts out, well matching the their famously noisy Siamese cousins. And boy, did she scream.. At one point, someone asked me on the telephone if my baby was alright, to which, I had to explain it was actually the cat and not a baby screaming! Burmese cats are incredibly affectionate. They have a reputation for being one of the more intelligent breeds. I'm not sure if Tara was a prime example of intelligence, but she was certainly much more sociable than many other cats I have come across. She was a fussy little beast. She knew what she wanted and had a great little habit of jumping onto the whichever chair you were just about to sit on, but one of her more endearing qualities was that, almost dog-like, she would stare out of the window when I left the house and be waiting when I came in. I don't know how much was Tara personality and how much was Burmese personality, but the Burmese cats are known to be particularly good with children. They are incredibly affectionate as a breed, if a little noisy. They are small, heavy-boned, but delicate cats. Tara was a slim cat, but heavier to carry than many others of her size. People would often think she was a kitten still growing, even when she was 15! They demand more attention than moggies, because they like having people around or other cats. But they really are beaut iful creatures, if a little expense, and would always be my first preference as a breed. They are short-haired and have much shorter faces than Siamese cats. There are silver grey and brown strains and they are incredibly beautiful, although I'm sure everyone says that about all the different breeds! If you want a cat that is affectionate, good with children and loyal to an almost dog-like extent, it is definitely a breed to consider, although they are quite expensive as pure bred, there is a Burmese Cat Sanctuary which re-houses unwanted Burmese cats, unfortunately, I can't remember the contact number, I'm sorry.