Edinburgh Impressions Part 3 (June 2012)

British or Scottish?

So with all we know of Edinburgh, and Scotland in general (beautiful landscapes, in favour of a drink and anti English) what does the future hold for Scotland?

Its Democracy time and 2014 is a good a time as any for a referendum.  The question is, should Scotland leave the UK and become independent.

First of all, they are actually leaving the UK, the country is moving away from England at about two centimetres per year, but that’s beside the point.

The real question is in fact; what is the question?

Firstly, the idea at the moment is for Scotland to leave the UK, but still remain part of the commonwealth.  Which basically means it would have the same standing and connections to the UK as the other countries in the commonwealth (eg. Canada, New Zealand, Australia).   So it wouldn’t be a total separation and a complete cut off from the UK, and indeed Scotland would likely become the 28th member of the European Union and establish its own connections there as well.

Exactly what the vote will be on and how the question is phrased is to be discussed to death by the powers to be.  But a broader question is simply, what is good for Scotland?

I think anyone will agree that any major decisions of this nature should be asked in the context of, ‘what’s good for the people?’

On the one hand, you can take the Australian approach from the turn of the century -when asked if they would like to cut all ties to the UK- which said (by a very small margin) we’re happy with the way things are thank you, the commonwealth works fine for us.

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WHERE IT ALL SHALL HAPPEN- SCOTTISH PARLIMENT ON A SCOTTISH DAY

Indeed Scotland is function quite well, despite high unemployment rates, in the context of the European crisis things are in rather good order. (as at 1st June 2012 unemployment in Spain is 24%, 50% youth unemployment rate).

But is the ‘not broken don’t fix it’ rational going to cut it here.  Or more importantly,’ just because things are ok, can we not do better?’ seems to be taking some hold.

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NATIONAL GALLERY IN THE HEART OF THE CITY CENTRE

Two basic questions: Can the Scots run a country themselves and do they have resources to support themselves.

Short answer to both is, yes.  The oil fields within, what would be Scottish waters would make it a relatively rich nation for its size.  When it comes to bureaucracy, there has been a mostly independent Scottish parliament for over a decade, and ever since taking over control of things like education, the quality of education has actually over taken English standards.

Ok, so by that definition they qualify as being ‘able’ to do it, to be masters of their own destiny.  But should they?

And what is the view on the street?

Well it’s very mixed.  Sadly in the undereducated ‘3am youth’ (see previous blog) the perception is that it’s the only option.

This comes from a mix of prejudice against the English form some nameless atrocity from centuries ago.  But speaking to the educated working classes of Edinburgh you end up with a split decision, at least at the moment.

After events like the royal wedding in 2011, the Queen’s Jubilee in June 2012 and now the coming Olympics, it’s a very good time to be British.

There is much pride from the Scots as they look at the union jack with affection, and they feel a privilege has been bestowed upon them in their lifetimes. Rather than a crime has been lain atop their forefathers heads from centuries prior.

It is however still a feeling of the one human desire.  To be free and to be independent.   These two notions contradict.

There are of course people with strong feelings either way, and if current trends are anything to go by, it will be a narrow ‘yes’ for independence.  But by 2014 we should have a good idea of what the future holds for Scotland and its capital.

Until then it’s business as usual here in Edinburgh.  One of the most changing and organic cities in Europe, regardless of whether it stands as a proud Commonwealth, Scottish city or as a British city, it will remain a dynamic beautiful example of what people can achieve in a modern age.

Edinburgh Impressions Part 2(June 2012)

– Modern Culture

Well some things don’t change.  A city full of reverence and fear of the outside world, depressing treatment of the lower class in the putrid slums, superstition and a heavy handed English rule forced many Scots to down their ‘Scotch Whisky’ by the bottle.

But what of the people today? What has this created in modern terms?

Where do people go, what jobs do they do and what do they do in their downtime?

All the harsh situations of the dark ages helped to breed a strong people, stubborn and harsh in the face of danger, but also with the ability to laugh.

The Scottish sense of dark humour has prevailed over the centuries in rather poignant fashion.  ‘a wee graveyard shop’ is the sign that adorns a small souvenir stall inside one of the many inner city graveyards.

The casual approach to death and the ability to laugh at it was most likely a survival technique of yesteryear, now it’s one of the many things that mark the vast differences, culturally between the Scots and other people of the United kingdom.

But how much do the Scots actually drink?

Well there are around 600 pubs in Edinburgh, a city of only half a million people, so if that’s any indicator then probably a fair amount.

But quantity is not so much the issue, but perhaps mood and motive can be a sign of the people.

Spending a winter in Edinburgh can be a cold and miserable experience. The city is located near the ocean, freezing gale force winds can knock you off your feet.  Sunrise to sunset can be a matter of six or seven hours.  And if the clouds are aplenty, then actual sunlight can be desperately sparse.

It’s no coincidence that rates of depression and suicide shoot up drastically in the winter.  The wonderfully ornate and functional ‘North Bridge’ built in the 18th Century to connect the ‘old’ and ‘new’ towns is sadly very functional for this purpose at this time of year.

The local papers have stopped publishing the ‘events’ in recent years.  The less you talk about these things, the less they inspire others, or at least that’s the hope.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.  After a few harsh months of winter and snow, the sun of Spring begins to emerge, anywhere from March to May you see some promising signs.  The right flowers in bloom, the sun beginning to fight its way through the mist a wee bit earlier in the morning and retreating, battered after a long days battle just a little latter into the afternoon.

With sunshine comes new behaviour.  We as humans seem as linked to the sun as the plants and animals around us which we claim superiority over.  A sunny warm day (any temperature in double digits) has people flocking to the parks, barbeques in tow, maybe a few beers and a relaxed expression on their face.

‘Water of Leith’ 10 minutes from the city centre

It is a truly rare thing to have so much nature in the heart of a city.  Not just green parks either, or even the wondrous Botanic gardens .  Calton hill, adorned with Greek style temples and now defunct observatories gives a stellar view of the city in front, the ocean behind and Arthur’s seat, the long extinct volcano towering up over the buildings bellow.

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NATIONAL MONUMENT – CALTON HILL

Arthur’s seat stands over 300m above sea level , is only ten to fifteen minutes walk from the city centre, and takes a fit person only twenty minutes to climb.  Yet it gives you a truly stunning view of the city below, towers down over the aforementioned Calton Hill and clearly shows the hills rolling off over the horizon away from the city.

 

View from Calton Hill, Edinburgh Castle centre furthest from camera

So that is what the city has to offer for relaxation and nature, but what do people do to support their leisure time.

Well Edinburgh is like any city in that it has a wide variety of jobs on offer, things that keep a city ticking over, from tradesmen to council workers, emergency services, schools hospitals etc.  But the main industry that keeps the city forever changing and gives it an organic feel beyond what the aforementioned nature does, is hospitality.

As eluded to earlier, hundreds of pubs and restaurants are scattered right throughout the city and offer ample hours of work to any with the personality or skills to match (hopefully both).  The Spanish and Polish workers often take the kitchen porter jobs, with native English speakers taking front of house operations.

But what do the Scots do for work? Well they tend not to be in the city centre as much as people from countries just mentioned, but they do take on more of the skilled jobs in town which as a tourist you wouldn’t see.

The other answer is that they don’t… work that is.  Scotland has the lowest unemployment rate in the UK, yet the most amount of available Jobs.  Hmmm, having a quick think on that fact will make you draw one striking conclusion.  The Scots don’t like to work.  Well obviously a lot of them do, but there is a genuine issue with youth unemployment, coupled with an obsession with drugs and alcohol that is worrying for the government and society as a whole.

Going out any given night in the city and you will see without doubt, at least a few groups of Scottish youth staggering around causing a nuisance.

‘Big deal, every culture around the world has that problem’, comes the retort. True, most do, but it’s the way they cause the nuisance which is more than troubling.  Hurling abuse as well as empty beer cans isn’t uncommon, and heaven help you if you are English.  After all it’s YOUR fault that Scotland has all its woes.

What woes exactly I can’t quite see, the country isn’t falling apart by any measure, they are incorporated into the UK’s National Health Service (free universal health care), their education is better than in England.  Why so angry?

As with most anger (especially that which is thrown around at three am), it’s not entirely rational and the anger towards the English in particular is no doubt largely linked to the years of harsh rule from many generations ago.

But again, the city is working and is a very beautiful part of the world and many Scots will say so.  Many more than the ‘three Am, damn English, why are you looking at me, by the way do you have a spare smoke?’ folk on the street.

 

Just to point out my lack of professionalism, here is another belated thought.

Edinburgh- Sophisticated or not?

To answer I give you some photos of the magnificant National Gallery and a brand new display of British 2012 athletes.

You can find this wonderful gallery on the main street of Edinburgh!

The city has a similar display of Science and Technology photos in a park 5minutes from where this photo was taken, and within 10minutes walk you will find two museums, 2 other art galleries, and possibly the most inclusive, impressive (AND FREE!) National Museum you may ever come across.

So the answer is an easy and obvious yes, and the people of Edinburgh value it, as most of these sights are free or very cheap.

That speaks volumes about a people.

Edinburgh Impressions Part 1 (June 2012)

An Introduction

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, a rare green gem amongst European capitals.  A city that captures the imagination, and dazzles with beautiful monuments, medieval architecture, and stunning samples of the natural wonders that Scotland has to offer.

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EDINBURGH CASTLE overlooking the city.

People started to congregate there in the Bronze age, but it didn’t become a city of note until the 16th century and boomed during the European Renaissance.

During the 18th Century the city became known as the Athens of the North due to the Greco-Roman style architecture in addition to the rise of the Scottish intellectual society which was leading Europe in many ways at the time.

These times have been commemorated on Calton Hill where the National monument was built and left unfinished in 1829.

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FROM TOP National Monument on Calton HIll

BOTTOM Hollyrood Palace.

Taken from ‘Arthur’s seat’

The city started out rather small as most medieval cities do, and was secured by defensive walls around three sides.  This caused the city to go up rather than out and makes it seem almost unnecessarily ‘tall’ even today.

So why were there only walls around three sides? Well the fourth side was protected by a medieval, gravity operated, state of the art, sewage system.

That is, the waste was thrown out of every window, rains would wash it down the hill, and a big lake of rather rancid stench would form a barrier to keep invading forces out, and also the scared masses in.

In 1766 a competition was run to see who could design a solution to the now rampant problem of overcrowding.  The result is what is now referred to as ‘New town’ and resulted in the giant lake of poo being drained, eventually to be replaced by the current train station and for the giant ‘North Bridge’ being built over the top.

This enabled the city to expand and conditions to improve drastically.

Insert compensation joke here. Monuments of one of several Graveyards.

The result is a city of contrast from the old to the very old, and a mix of modern with the endeavour to not upset the look and feel of the city.  Nature has been preserved as well as any place in the modern world resulting in a city with a wonderful kaleidoscope rarely seen throughout the world.

Fast Facts:

Founded in: has had human settlement since the Bronze age

Became British in: 1603 when King James VI succeeded to the English thrown uniting the two kingdoms

Population: approx. 500 000

Number of pubs: over 600

Anzac Day April 25th 2011

It’s been two weeks since my last visit to a war time historical site. Auschwitz in Poland was a depressing but nevertheless enlightening sojourn into the depths of European history.

My next destination is Anzac Cove in Turkey.  It is the sacred place of pilgrimage for Australians and New Zealanders.

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In 1915 World War I had raged through Europe for months and already millions lay dead in the trenches as Germany marched towards Paris in France in the West, and Moscow in Russia to the East.  The British and French knew they were going to have a hard time of it getting to Germany directly, so a second plan of taking Germany’s ‘weak underbelly’ was instigated.

Germany was allied to the once great Ottoman Empire, now known as Turkey.  If the British and French could break through the very narrow straight known as ‘The Dardanelles’ than they could get supplies to the Russians who could attack with great force in the East.

Sounds simple enough….

The Naval advance made by the combined British and French Navies ended in disaster. With battleships on the bottom of the ocean or at least damaged, it was decided that the army would have to do the job.

In go the combined forces of India, Britain and of course the Anzacs.

The campaign lasted about eight months, ultimately in defeat.  But it shaped not only the baby faced men who fought there, but also the baby faced nations of Australia and New Zealand and was a definitive turning point in both nation’s history.

I have since travelled throughout the Balkans, traversing previously explored areas such as Budapest, Serbia and Macedonia.  I had an overnight stay in Greece before an overnight bus shot me across the Greek-Turkish border.  The change of scenery is shockingly beautiful and makes me crave a return trip via car instantly.

This thought is shared by most visitors to this vast flat country of rolling green hills and expansive shimmering lakes.  The freedom to explore at your own pace is an enthralling idea.

Upon arriving in Istanbul, the first view a traveller receives is something inherently surreal.  Since arriving on Turkish soil there has been little variation in the view beyond what was afore mentioned.

Rolling green hills and beautiful lakes, only occasionally detracted from view by some unsubstantial outcropping of civilisation.

Over one hill, then over another and suddenly after a few hours of watching the sunrise and glimmering morning light rebound off the too perfect plastic green, the entire horizon is swallowed by a drastically inorganic monstrosity of modern civilisation and chaos.

That’s right, the bus has arrived at Istanbul.

Istanbul’s population is so large that it’s not widely known.  It is estimated at being over 20 million people in size, and upon seeing it, you can definitely believe so.

The idea of a city looking ‘inorganic’ is perhaps strange, but for anyone who has visited any significantly large cities, you are probably like most in your observation in saying that the city, when approached by ground from the outskirts, tends to creep towards you, growing in density.

As you get closer to the city centre, you would see a gradual increase of human life and an equal but opposite effect on nature.  In that way, the city crawls almost organically to life as you approach it.

Istanbul however is like some city from a movie you’ve most likely seen.  The main characters approach some futuristic city and there it is in all its blue screen/modelled glory.  A large patch of grass/sand/rock or what have you, and there is the mass of a city, perched just so.

Istanbul is indeed, ‘perched just so’.  It doesn’t seem real.  Like a cheesy effect it stands in all its monstrous glory, overshadowing the glorious plains of impossibly green grass that had been the only filler of the landscape thus far.

Navigating your way through the city proper is a daunting experience.  The tiny streets weave off the major squares and centres into oblivion.  Any one street can lead you for an hour long journey which, with improper directions you may find yourself in a part of town where you not only did not intend to be, but you perhaps sense you shouldn’t be.

After handling the behemoth of Istanbul, the 7 hour bus ride out to ANZAC cove was almost a relief.  An early departure of 7am enabled us to reach Anzac Cove by mid afternoon.

Unfortunately the Turkish Government had chosen this year to hold some grand ceremonies to the exclusion of any non-Turkish visitors until after 6pm.

We are all left to wait in the sun for a few hours before getting inefficiently moved through a security scanner.

So how long does it take a couple thousand Aussies and Kiwis to get through a single security scanner…… hours.

The poor organisation is dealt with and we are finally in the cove itself.  We take our seats in time to watch the sun set.

The view over the cove is amazing.  The three grandstands and grass areas are set up like a concert.  The stage has a pedestal which is occupied occasionally throughout the evening by the MC who talks a little about the history and also introduces the guests and the military band.

All proceeds as planned, we all freeze half to death to the sounds of brass band music and documentaries over the big screen.

Finally in the shivering pitch black of Anzac Cove’s dark black night, the dawn creeps forward over the horizon and is nearly upon us. Finally the real business can get underway.  The official dawn service begins and is gone in a flash.  The ode, the minutes silence, some solemn words.  Before we know it, after all that waiting, it’s done.

At this point I would say the journey has been interesting, but is it the defining spiritual moment I was hoping for?

It may have fallen short, but to be fair I had a high standard to compare to when I had previously been to the Isurava war memorial near Kokoda in Papua New Guinea (That’s a whole other story!)

Was it worth the trip?

Well after the dawn service we move along the beach and up over the hill for a ten minute hike which takes us past the Turkish Ceremony.  We respectfully keep our antics to a minimum as the rows and rows of ornately dressed red outfits with red streamers flash in the morning light.

Drum beats and dance moves keep our attention as we steal a look on our way past.

Another ten minute walk and we have arrived at the Australian War service for a 10am start.  The area is again another football field style grandstand on an area known as ‘Lone Pine’.

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The Australian 1st Brigade attacked on the 6th August as part of a major offensive.  What followed was 5 days of pitch black underground ferocious battles out of your nightmares.  Grenades, rifles, bayonets, fingernails, digging tools, whatever was at hand were used to literally tear the enemy apart until the Australians finally captured their objective.

The area was so heavily bombed and desolate that only one single Pine tree remained.

The symbolic descendent of said tree now stands gloriously in the middle of our ‘sports field’ as the MC and band keep us entertained.

The MC regales us of stories of our forefathers and what they went through in this gory battle.  He finishes his telling with a most poignant piece of information.

There was approximately 8000 confirmed casualties on both sides and under our feet is an unknown number of bodies, easily in the thousands, after only 5 days of battle.

As the mid morning sun beats off the grand pine tree, those figures and descriptions of what went on nearly 100 years ago rock me to my core.

Like my experiences in Papua New Guinea, I have gained a new respect for not only my relations, but everyone else, Australian, New Zealand and even the Turks who fought for those long months in 1915.

So my worries at the dawn service, ‘was it worth my effort to come here?’ Are shoved away violently to the back of my mind.

The fact that the whole Gallipoli campaign ended up as a failure for the ANZACs makes the waste seem even more futile.  The horror they went through, the constant shelling, the freezing to death in the winter, the feeling of exhausted defeat.  The closer I get to understanding what they went through, the less I actually understand.  I guess in a way, I hope that I never have to understand.

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Maybe that’s what they were fighting for?

Lest We Forget…

It’s just history -Auschwitz -April 2011

After the highlights of bright and wonderful Sicily, one of the jewels of Europe, it’s time to move onto the opposite end of the spectrum.

Poland is a wonderful and interesting country, full of history and culture, good food and an appetite for driving towards a better future.

However, like many parts of Europe, it has a dark past.

One would be hard pushed to find a darker history then the horrors of the concentration camp Auschwitz.

I won’t go through an in depth history of the holocaust, but here are a few impressions of the sights that await any brave visitors.

Basically, when it comes to the concentration camps during the Second World War, Auschwitz was the first, the original and sadly the best of the lot.

The twin camps, Auschwitz and the second instalment, Birkenau (which was never completed) speak of German efficiency at its most ruthless.

The camp extends for  a greater distance then Auschwitz and there were plans to make it nearly twice as big.

At its peak, the camp was burning thousands of bodies every day.

Today, the camp is kept as an eerie reminder of the worst of atrocities in recent history.

As you are guided through the various buildings, each lined up perfectly in order, the eerie feeling of death is very tangible.  The barbed wire, the watchtowers couple perfectly with the fog that creeps through the camp and looks unlikely to ever leave.

The fence-no man’s land

Various areas were used as torture or slow death facilities.  Methods of suffocation and starvation were used as well as the basic firing squad when the victims had suffered enough.

Moving onto the registration and accommodation buildings, the faces of the first batch of prisoners are arrayed the full height and length of stretches of corridors.  The photo concept of record keeping was abandoned as it was quickly realised that the prisoners were soon unrecognisable after weeks of harsh treatment in the facility.

A horribly impersonal numbering catalogue system was used instead to keep track of all the prisoners, although ironically, most of the records were destroyed by the retreating Nazis just before the end of the war.

The corridor of cold faces stares back at you as you peruse the stunned expressions.  Hundreds of photos line the walls with the person’s name, date of arrival, and date of death.

Few of the dates on display are more than a few months apart.  Some deaths occurred in a matter of days.

To start with, the camp was actually intended as a work camp.  However when the motivation changed to complete and utter genocide, the process of accepting the prisoners changed in a grisly fashion.

It eventually got to the point that train loads of exhausted prisoners were unloaded out of their carriages and unceremoniously herded to the left or right at random.  One direction meant the gas chambers, more or less dead on arrival, the other direction meant working.  Merely a slower way to die.

One tenth of ‘the shoe room’

So many people were being gassed and burnt that the huge furnaces couldn’t be totally effective.  This has led to rooms such as the ‘shoe room’.

Thousands and thousands of pairs of shoes, piled up behind glass walls.  Each shoe not only represents one person, it represents the thousands that were successfully burnt and only this one shoe remained.  And this room of thousands of mix matched shoes, each shoe representing thousands upon thousands of lives simply wiped away goes a fair way to telling the story of this horrific facility.

The luggage room displays mountains of luggage piled on top one another.  Each suitcase has painted in crooked nervous hands, a name, date, address and identification numbers.

That way their belongings could be sent to them when the prisoners reached their new homes.  They were lied to from the beginning about being relocated to new homes, right up to the end when they were told to strip down and enter the rooms that were ‘only showers.’

The living conditions of the ‘stables’ speaks more of the efficiency of the camp.  There were literally animal barns torn apart and relocated, now used for human ‘storage’.

Mass toilets in a long row of holes sitting right next to each other.  Rows and rows of bunk beds with mattresses of straw.  The lack of sanitation, the infestation of flesh eating rats all added up to some of the worst conditions imaginable.

Is it all doom and gloom?

Not quite.  Stories of bravery and mateship shine through the darkest of dark.

And a philosophical point of view to conclude.

As you look over the sight of pain and suffering, looking beyond the barbed wire fences, within a stone throw of the facility, you can see newly constructed buildings.  Houses constructed from the very materials of the torn down death camp.

Ex-residents returning after the war shed new light and hope amongst the death and decay.

So what’s the message?

What you have just experienced in this horrible place is indeed just history.  Shocking history yes, but history nevertheless.  Time rolls on, and life continues, we owe it to those who suffered to never forget and never let it happen again, but let’s not dwell on the lowest moments of humanity, let the hope of a renewed future light our way and again… Never forget.

Sicily- A Mediteranean cake of culture April 2011

So Sicily is basically a province of Italy.  Yes it is an island, but legally it is linked to Italy like any other area.

In reality however the people are a hybrid of various cultures making up a Mediterranean cake full of interesting ingredients.

Sicilian culture cake:

*Take one part Greek

*Take one part Roman

*Take one part Byzantine

*One part Germanic

*One part Arabic

*One part Norman

*Two Parts Italian

Mix in a football shaped island and leave to set in the Mediterranean.

Mt ETNA tallest volcano in Europe

The result of all this is what at first appears to be an Italian settlement.  Quickly however you start to see the differences in the nature of the people, the food, and the way of life.

Normal Italian food is of course, pasta and pizza.  There is an abundance of such food, but suddenly you start to see spiced rice dishes.  Saffron, nutmeg and cinnamon appear in a variety of dishes and baked goods.

The Arabic influence moved the food more than any other, there is also a seafood element that simply came from the geography and practicality of being on an island.

Perhaps the island Mediterranean thing also brought about a more relaxed approach to life as compared to the mainland Italians.

Some would say a little too relaxed which has led to the current crisis of over 30% unemployment, compared to the 25% in Mainland Italy.

But what does Sicily have to offer the tourist?

First thing that hits you is the impressive coastline.  Flat coastal settlements that go for miles are broken up as soon as you head inland.  Merely a few hundred metres will have you colliding into huge cliff lines that run the line of the coast and give you impressive views of the ocean and the settlements throughout.

As mentioned, amazing coastline!

The small towns and old forts planted precariously on top the huge peaks give the impression of a tough fight ahead for any would be conquerors.

Not too tough obviously as the island has been conquered by no fewer than four different peoples since the Romans were forced out in the 400’s AD.

Moving around Sicily, the history of these past conquerors jumps out at you.

In Agrigento, the ancient Greek temples speak of a time of total dominance.  The flat harsh landscape is broken up by various temples, some intact, some not so.

Agrigento Temple

The old temple of Zeus is in bad shape (it was so big that the foundations couldn’t support the roof!) but the grandeur of the temple is still apparent today.

One of the surviving ‘sleeping giants’ that stood about 7 metres tall gives a glimpse at its size.  There were over thirty of these statues all the way around the temple, ironically holding the weight of the roof that eventually collapsed.

When you climb to the ‘cliff side’ settlement of Taormina and you look down on the spectacle of Sicily whilst sitting in the actual seats of the Greek-Roman theatre, you find your breath escaping, and it’s definitely not the altitude.

A massive theatre carved into the side of the cliff, what amazing showcases were on display two thousand years ago?  What plays and events would have been seen by the Sicilian paying public with the most stunning views behind the stage?

The combination of Greek-Roman architecture and truly amazing nature is unique to Sicily.   But one thing that overshadows the whole lot is MT ETNA, the largest volcano in Europe.

It stands 3329 metres above sea level and towers over the local fertile farm land as it smokes away almost constantly over its snow-capped peaks.

The last significant eruption occurred as recently as August 2007.  Driving up the mountain now you can still see the rebuilding process going as the lifeless craters of volcanic ash still lay there, stretching off, far out of sight.

Waistland after the 2007 eruption of MT ETNA

Sicily is a visually spectacular, historically significant and very interesting part of Italy.  The people are as different from the mainlanders as they claim to be, whilst still keeping that charming Italian appeal and zest for life.

The infrastructure is still catching up, but if you can get a car to make up for the lack of public transportation, then you will see an incredible part of Europe that is more than worth the effort of getting to.

Journey To Sicilia April 2011

In terms of Italy being a boot, I am currently at the ‘heal’ and am seeking a train that will take me to the ‘shin’ before training it down to the ‘toe’.  From there A ferry will take me to the ‘football’ that is being booted into the mediteranean.

Sounds like a groovy journey of anatomy and adventure.

Firstly a drive from the ‘ankle’ town of Matera where I have been spending a wonderful weekend with my couch surfing family.  My hosts drive me to the train station about twenty minutes out of Matera, where they proceed to ask the attendant about trains, times and also civil war.

Well that’s what it sounds like as my two companions get in a shouting match with the attendant, two men sipping their espressos then start waving their hands and begin to bellow out their objections.

‘No no, Belesconi is going to destroy our country!’ One man is yelling (I assume).

‘No, I believe the unification movement is dead and buried’ shouts the other.

‘I think the quality of pizza in this country is depreciating,’ says the attendant.

This maelstrom of conflict leaves me spinning out, translation is not an option, I just have to go with it.

The dialogue abruptly stops, my friend turns to me and quite calmly asks if I’d like a coffee for breakfast.

‘Ummm, ok.  Is everything alright?’ I ask nervously.

‘Sure, the lady just said that we’d be better off heading to the next station, it’s just a ten minute drive.’

I’ve just had one of those ‘We’re not in Cansas anymore Toto,’ moments.

When a shouting match that consumes the entire room is required to simply ask for directions, you suddenly become aware that you are surrounded by Italian stereotypes.  I Love stereotypes!

After an espresso and baked sweet, a quick drive and a farewell from my lovely hosts leaves me on a train.  Then another, then another.

View from ONE of the trains

I have a one hour stopover and a sudden change of platforms nearly leads me onto the wrong train.  The announcement is in Italian, all the attendants are Italian, their English is bad or non-existant.  My Italian is even worse!

I have to leg it over the train tracks to make it onto the other platform in time, but I get there!

Then, another stopover and another train and I finally reach the ‘toe’.  A ferry takes me to Messina in the island of Sicily.  Finally I am here!

Another delayed train and I finally reach my destination.

The end result.  As the crow flies I travelled a path of about 350kms in about twelve hours.

This piece of crap would have been quicker then the Italian train network

A word of warning, if you are travelling in Italy, heading away from the west coast (Naples, Rome etc) is a great deal of fun, but logistically it is a nightmare!

Haven’t said that, it was well and truly worth it!

Now bring on Sicily!

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