Tag Archives: Tourism

Corfu

When Giovanni deposits us at the train station in Campobasso, huge clods of clay are stuck to the underside of my boots. I feel like a bunyip. “Look at the state of you,” Richie laughs, as passersby and early-bird commuters gaze in horror at the state of my boots. No self-respecting Italian would be caught dead looking like this.

“Take a photo of me with the train for Julian,” I demand, posing in my grungy boots. The train is a tiny one-carriage affair. It’s a fun ride. I wish my nephew was with me to enjoy the journey, chugging across the mountains of Molise on our way to the sea.

In Termoli there’s enough time to grab some bread, fruit and cheese before jumping back on the train, bound for Brindisi via Foggia. Richie listens to his new Smokey Tentacles mix as the train trundles through a flat landscape of wheat fields and wind turbines. We spot the first trullis – Puglia.

The man who drives the complimentary shuttle bus from the centre of Brindisi to the port customs office looks unimpressed when I press a postcard into his hands.

“Will you post it for me? I ran out of time,” I say, smiling apologetically. He takes the card begrudgingly from my hands. Before he can say ‘no’ we bolt for the ship. We’re late and we only just make it in time.

The boat sets sail from Brindisi at 7pm. I’m elated. In seven hours we’ll be pulling in to the port at Igoumenitsa – my first taste of Greek life.

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Stones of Florence

“In the smoke of the twilight, on a milk white steed,

Michelangelo indeed could have carved out your features.”

– ‘Jokerman’ (Bob Dylan)

It took me five days to befriend Florence. Not because it’s an unfriendly place, or difficult to like. It isn’t. It’s just that sometimes it takes a few days to warm to a city, and for a city to warm to you. You can break yourself on the history, artwork and culture of a place, and still the city demands more. It’s waiting for you to let your guard down, to catch you unawares. When all the dust has settled on the ‘sights’; when you’ve queued for hours; busted your guts to get an uninterupted view of ‘Primavera’; and still possess an open and curious mind, then and only then, will you be worthy to walk the stones of Florence…

Even in the rain Florence is lovely. Within two hours of arriving I found myself strolling beside the Arno, umbrella in hand, watching pewter clouds empty their contents over heads that didn’t seem to mind a bit. It’s a charmed life being a tourist in Florence.

My stroll along the Arno brought me to the courtyard of the Uffizi where I came, unsuspecting, on the sculptures in the Loggia de Lanzi: an open air museum. Wreathing in and out around the bases of the statues I wondered how the tourists and school children clustered grape-like around the feet of the Titans could carry on such casual chatter while rape, battle and subterfuge were going on above their heads.

On day two I hit the ground running. It was the national week of culture and entrance to state museums was free. Within the space of three days I’d checked the Galleria dell’Academia, Uffizi, Medici Chapel, Museo di St Marco, Bargello, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and Santa Maria del Carmine off my extensive list of ‘things to do and see’.

Like God on the seventh day (except this was my fifth), I rested: I ate breakfast, read in bed, did an hour of meditation, caught up on my journal, washed my hair…

By afternoon I couldn’t take it any more: as long as Florence was ‘out there’ and I was ‘in here’, I couldn’t be happy.

I slung my camera, my city map, my notepad and my reading book into my bag, grabbed the umbrella with no handle that I’d pulled from a bin in Padua, and took to the streets, in search of life and colour. I wanted perspective. I wanted height.

I made for Piazzale Michelangelo, but not without stopping at my favourite gelateria on the south side of the Pont alla Carraia: pistachio and tiramisu mousse (in honour of you Kay, and Holly).

The bus to the lookout was approaching. I jumped on to save my legs, relishing my place by the window, watching as scenes of city life dropped away – the Via Romana and the gate to the city; the long green gauntlet of lime trees marking the route to the lookout; the vast ochre and dun villas lining the Viale Niccolo Machiavelli; and the cool green olive gardens on either side of Viale Galileo.

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The Wonder of ‘Alhambra’

Richie and I tend to eschew the type of tourist ‘experiences’ that require you to part with fistfuls of money. Waiting in line at the Alhambra ticket office in Granada was a fairly joyless experience. Richie fidgeted with his respectably hairy chin and seemed as likely to bolt as a colt after its first taste of the bridle bit.

I watched enviously as tourists who’d had the prescience to buy their tickets online breezed toward the open gates; silk shawls fluttering and leather sandals slapping the hallowed earth.

Eventually, after nearly forty five minutes of waiting, we acquired two tickets. Audio guide NOT included. “You’re kidding,” Richie breathed as he inspected the tickets. 2 hours to fill before the allotted time.

We walked back downhill over the saddle of Sacromonte where the sound of flamenco heels rapping on timber floors was almost sufficiently enchanting to disperse our penny-pinching fugg.

Through white streets; past portholes leading into mountain dwellings (the interiors of which we were never likely to see), we succumbed to the sadness and dislocation of being gypsies… of sorts…

Back up on the Alhambra we made ready to enter with our ticket and tourist map. “Choose wisely which monuments you visit,” the guide warned us, “save your legs.”

Richie’s permaculture perversion did the talking as we followed the shaded cyprus walkway to the gardens of the Generalife.

With the first glimpse of terraced gardens, fountains and scalloped bowls of trickling water everything was forgiven.

Richie was rapt by a series of channels and cisterns transporting flumes of water from terrace to terrace.

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