Ragtag Tuesday – and Wednesday! A feast with orange accompaniments

I let myself off posting yesterday, Tuesday, because we were concluding a drive all the way from Yorkshire England, to the Limousin, France – all but 800 miles in two days.  You’ll hear why in my next post.  Just now, I’ll tell you about our Monday stop-over.

Les Hayons is a transport caff in Normandy, pure and simple.  We love it.  Truckers from all over this part of northern France aim to end their working day here.  They’ll have a quick wash, a drink, then head for the restaurant – refectory style tables where they can sit down among old friends and new and talk over the events of their solitary day pounding along the motorway.

I’m justifying an out-of-focus shot by hiding behind data protection. No trucker can be identified I think.

They’ll help themselves from a buffet-style first course, then there’s a choice of about a dozen home-cooked main courses – copious, traditional tasty food washed down with as much wine or cider as you want.  After that, a cheese board – local unpasteurised cheeses from the farms down the road, and finally ice cream or some such for pud.  The cheery noisy atmosphere, the decently cooked if simple feast puts us in holiday mood every time we eat there.

With so much food on offer, it seemed wisest to begin the meal with a simple bright orange carrot salad.

We stayed the night there too.  Maybe that wasn’t quite such a good plan.  The truckers stay in their well-appointed cabins built into their lorries.  The days of their needing a trad. bed in a trad. simple hotel room are over.  So, lacking a bed in a truck, we chose their former hotel instead.  Which was fine.  But though the truckers were all tucked up for 9.00 p.m.  or 10.00 p.m. that was because they were ready for the off at 4.30 a.m.  or 5.00 a.m.

Our alarm call was the sound of revving engines and heavy tyres crunching across gravel. We too were ready to roll at 6.30 a.m.  And barely a truck was still there.  Look at the scene the evening before.  Scores of trucks, neatly lined up in auditorium sized parking lots, protected by the orange glow of sodium lighting.

And we shared breafast in the bar with men in orange: workmen ready to go on shift and face the rigours of the day in their hi-viz clothing.  Life at our next destination is very different.

The RDP challenges for Tuesday and Wednesday this week were ‘orange’ and ‘feast’ respectivly.  Two birds with one stone.

From Pennines to Pyrenees

We’ve crossed the Pyrenees again.  To visit our daughter in Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from Port Vell.
A view of Barcelona from Port Vell.

And then we shall cross them back again.  To visit our friends in Laroque d’Olmes.

A view of the Pyrenees from between Laroque and Foix
A view of the Pyrenees from between Laroque and Foix

We’ll be in touch when we get back to England again.

Nation swap…. house swap.

Until the early years of the twentieth century, there had been thousands of Greeks living in Turkey, and Turks living in Greece, preserving their own culture and ways of life over many centuries.  But by the 1920s, both Turks and Greeks had been through a period of real upheaval, with a series of wars including the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922.  Senior politicians in both countries could see problems ahead if largely Muslim Turks remained in Greece, and largely Orthodox Greeks remained in Turkey.

Their solution though, was a  shocking one.  Following the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923,  thousands and thousands of Turks and Greeks were in effect deported from the lands where they and their ancestors had been living for centuries, back to their country of ethnic origin.  They were given almost no time to prepare or to pack belongings: they were displaced refugees. Large Greek communities such as Smyrna were quite simply emptied of their citizens, to be stocked with Muslim Turks and re-named Izmir .  The regional ethic mix which had prevailed for centuries ceased.

Greek refugees from Smyrna arriving at Thessaloniki 1923 (unknown source)
Greek refugees from Smyrna arriving at Thessaloniki 1923 (unknown source)

Though it’s hard to regard what happened then as anything better than ethnic cleansing, many Turks nowadays will say that now the dust has settled, and with the passage of time, both Greece and Turkey are the better for it.  Greco-Turkish relations have often been poor, and with the two populations now separated, there’s one less thing to fight over.

It’s a hugely complex issue about which I know next to nothing.  What I do know is that we spent the last morning of our Turkish holiday in Şirince, one of those villages that was forcibly de-populated, then re-populated, in this case by Turks moved out of Thessaloniki in Greece.  It’s a charming place, set on a hillside amongst olive groves and orchards; a tourist trap for Turks and foreign tourists alike.  But on a quiet warm morning in February, it was no hardship.  We used the time to sample the fruit wines for which the village is noted: mulberry, peach, morello, quince (no, we didn’t try them ALL).  We bought last-minute souvenirs: local olive oil, honey, pomegranate vinegar.  It was easy to feel, strolling through the narrow streets, that we might be in Greece rather than Turkey, even though we didn’t hear, as promised,  any of the older inhabitants speaking Greek.


It was a peaceful way to end our holiday.  We’ll be back, as independent travellers next time.  And from now, it’ll be posts from misty moisty England.  For a while at least.


Of kangals, and other dogs and cats

This is Efe.

Efe at Miletus
Efe at Miletus

Efe took time out from his job as guardian of a group of nomads and their sheep wintering in the area, to accompany us on our visit to Miletus.  He’s a kangal, and we all immediately took to this handsome, gentle and affectionate dog, one of a breed popular in Turkey for its qualities as a fine guardian of stock.

Like many Turkish dogs and cats, Efe has a home.  But many others do not.  There are hundreds and thousands of animals whose home is the street, and who are on the whole tolerated and even regarded as part of the community.  Don’t imagine that these animals are mangy and sickly, with protruding ribs and rotting yellow teeth.  They’re well fed and healthy.

Turks apparently, when planning a move to a new neighbourhood, will look and see how street dogs are treated.  If they’re friendly and companionable, then that means the neighbourhood too is friendly.  If the dogs are aggressive or fearful than it’s not a good area.  Best not to buy.

Street dogs by the sea at Ayvelik.
Street dogs by the sea at Ayvelik.

These days though, street dogs are a problem, simply by virtue of their huge numbers.  So they are tagged, vaccinated and spayed or neutered to prevent the spread of rabies and other diseases, and to limit their population.

An Ephesus resident attempts to steal the show from our guide.
An Ephesus resident attempts to steal the show from our guide.

We saw cats too wherever we went.  But never so many as at Ephesus, which is rather famous as an unofficial cat sanctuary.  Looking round the site, we once saw 14 at a single glance, and they were quite at home as they lolled on marble pillars and lounged round the library.

Ephesus cats.
Ephesus cats.

These photos of street dogs and cats are among the less expected souvenirs of our trip.

A tour of Turkey

Ancient columns awit restoration in Priene.
Ancient columns await restoration in Priene.

We’ve just come back from a short holiday in Turkey.  We’ve just come back from our first organised tour.  We’ll happily go back to Turkey.  But we won’t be on a tour.  There’s only one plus in this form of holiday, as far as I can see, though it’s quite a big one: a Turkish guide, born and bred, brings many insights into Turkey, its people, and their way of life.  There’s a post or two coming about some of the things we learnt.

We were herded on long coach journeys from place to place, where after our official visit, we often had little time to linger, absorb, and just simply ‘be’ in ancient sites that have seen thousands and thousands of years of history.  Large tourist hotels are comfortable but impersonal.  The food they offer is perfectly tasty, but offers only a tiny glimpse of the country’s rich culinary tradition.  And then the herding continues, as we’re compulsorily escorted into stores selling carpets, jewellery, leather.  We longed for more free time.  I snatched the chance late one afternoon to work out how to catch a bus into the nearest town, Ayvalik,  and follow my nose for a few precious minutes.  But I only had three-quarters of an hour before I needed to come back and re-enter the system.

However.  In visiting Anatolia, we’ve seen glimpses of the most extraordinarily rich culture of the area, from pre-historic to post-Classical times.  We’ve seen those places I’ve known about since childhood, when I first heard all those stories about Odysseus, Helen of Troy et al.

Here are some of the photos I took as souvenirs.  Most of the places we visited have survived so well because they lost their reason for being busy, successful places.  Originally on the sea, they are now several miles inland, since Anatolia’s western coastline has been silting up for millenia.  One day it’ll link up with Greece, and who knows what ructions that will cause.

We visited Priene, already important by 300 BC.  It made quite an impression on us to walk its ancient marble streets, built on a grid system,  still intact, complete with gouged marks and notches to prevent slipping.  Its drainage system is still visible, its bouleuterion (council chamber), its temple to Athena, and its theatre, designed to accommodate 6,500 people.

Miletus was next, a city that was a centre of Greek thought from as early as 1000 BC.  It was fought over by Greeks, and Persians. Later Romans took over.  Alexander the Great, St. Paul….. they’ve all been to Miletus.  And the theatre here seats 15,000…….

The theatre: the space between audience and arena indicates that animal fights were held here.
The theatre: the space between audience and arena indicates that animal fights were held here.

Didyma wasn’t a city, but what a temple!   The Temple to Apollo here has 124 columns and used to have its very own oracle too.  What impressed us was the height of those columns.  How did those ancient builders do it?

Helpful tourist information.
Helpful tourist information.

And this was all on our first day……

Fast forward to Thursday and a visit to Troy.  I ‘did’ Troy at school.  I learned all about how it was occupied from the Bronze age until well into the 9th century , and how layer upon fantastic layer of history was preserved as each succeeding era built upon the remains of the last.  The site there was ‘sliced’ through by archeologists, first of all by the archeologists’ Bad Boy Heinrich Schliemann, who destroyed by over-enthusiastic excavation almost as much as he preserved, and disposed of his finds to a variety of museums.

Pergamum was perhaps my favourite.  It’s the city that invented parchment – made from animal skin- when the Egyptians declined to let its citizens have papyrus.  We reached the Acropolis, high above the modern city of Bergama by first a lift, and then a cable car: not an option in the city’s hey-day.  It has a dizzyingly steep-raked theatre cut into the hillside with spectacular views which reminded me of parts of the Pyrenees.  It has temples to a variety of Roman, Greek and Egyptian gods and emperors, and its library used to contain 20,000 volumes.  We could have spent hours there exploring: but we got little more than one (we had longer at a carpet showroom).

Then Ephesus at last.  This is an extraordinary town which deserves several hours at least of anyone’s time.  We got two hours. It was founded by immigrants from Athens in about 1000 BC, and because of its harbour, thrived under the Lydians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.  It was already silting up by the 5th century AD, and that was that for Ephesus.  Saint Paul wrote letters to the Ephesians, and more recently tourists have been sending postcards of the astonishing quantity and quality of its remains.

All human life is there, from latrines where statesmen would use the time to sit and discuss issues of the day, to brothels, to the 2nd century Library of Celcus, to a 24,000 seat theatre….  There are temples and terraced houses.  These houses are fascinating for providing an almost unique chance to see the inside of such dwellings: the mosaic floors, the wall decorations, the ground plans, the bathrooms and plumbing.

We’ll have to go back.  We haven’t seen the half of it.

Sunset over Ayvalik.
Sunset over Ayvalik.

Art knows how to swim

We hadn’t been in Florence long before we found this image, posted on  the side of a building, on a gas box door.



Then we found another.



Then two more.

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Each one is an iconic symbol of Italian art – Florentine art in particular – and each one is equipped with a diving mask.



We realised something was up when we saw that every one was signed ‘Blub’, with a slogan ‘L’arte sa nuotare’ – Art knows how to swim.



We needed to get back to England before we could find out more, courtesy of Google of course.

‘Blub’ is, apparently, more than one person. S/he is not available for interview, but will make the occasional statement.  Blub says that they’ll never deface buildings, only paste their images on gas box doors.  They aim to help beautify and improve the streetscape of Florence.

And why is each of the subjects shown under water?  Well, because for Blub, water is a symbol of obstacles in life, of the challenges we all face.  But art swims on and survives regardless.

‘L’Arte sa nuotare’ is a movement that’s spreading, apparently.  Last spotted in Barcelona.  Time for us to plan another visit to see Emily, then?

Meanwhile, here are the answers to a quiz you might have set yourself .

What are the originals of the pieces illustrated above?

1.  Raphael: detail from ‘Sistine Madonna’

2 . Botticelli: detail from ‘The Birth of Venus’

3 & 4.  Piero della Francesca: Diptych of Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro

5. Botticelli: Dante Alighieri

6. Michelangelo: David

Postcards from Florence

First view of Piazza del Duomo on the evening we arrived
First view of Piazza del Duomo on the evening we arrived

We’ve just come back from a few days in Florence.  How could I send you picture-postcard views  that are in any way better than ones you’ve seen a thousand times already in art books, travel guides – and postcards ?  Well, I can’t, obviously, so I shan’t even try.  Let me just give you a flavour of the city as it seemed to us for these few days in early June.

The Ponte Vecchio is crammed with tourists from morning till night.  But even here, you can find a bit of peace if you try.
The Ponte Vecchio is crammed with tourists from morning till night. But even here, you can find a bit of peace if you try.

We’d gone because I’d had an e-mail offer of cheap fares from a Certain-Irish-Airline-We-All-Love-To-Hate.  I discovered we could get from Leeds-Bradford to Pisa and back, the two of us, for £100.  We booked.  We found a last-minute deal on a hotel in nearby Florence.  We booked. We found we’d chosen well.  Despite being near the station, normally never a great part of town, this place was clean, well-appointed, cheerfully friendly, and within walking distance of almost everything – perfect in fact.  The weather was perfect too.  Sunny, cloud-free, and gradually getting hotter.

Malcolm had never been to Florence, but once upon a time, I knew it well.  Once upon a time – more than 45 years ago in fact – I’d had two extended periods in the city working as an au pair between school and university.  I’d had plenty of time to explore the city, and to learn the language.  I’ve had plenty of time in the intervening years to forget both.  In fact a few years ago, when we went to another part of Italy, I found that whenever I opened my mouth to speak Italian, French came tumbling out….

I was pleased, so pleased, that this time, my Italian returned: haltingly at first, but getting better each time I had another go.  A couple of times though, it would have been to my advantage to converse in French – there were French guests at the hotel.  But guess what?  No French words beyond the most basic could be prised from my lips.  I seem to be strictly a one-language-at-a-time sort of person.

We soon learned that our visit wasn’t going to work as expected.  We’d always planned a mix of visiting some of the tourist hotspots with time at some of the less well-visited sites.  After a chaotic afternoon at the Uffizi, pre-booked at what we had hoped was a quieter time, the hotspots got pretty much junked.

Here's why the hot-spots got junked: so I could use my camera in peace......
Here’s why the hot-spots got junked: so I could use my camera in peace……

The sheer numbers of visitors and the noise got us down, and my best memories of the Uffizi this time are of those moments spent on the relatively quiet roof terrace, looking down on the Florence skyline.

From one busy place to another.  That's a view of the cupola of the Duomo, seen from the Uffizi.
From one busy place to another. That’s a view of the cupola of the Duomo, seen from the Uffizi.

I wanted to share the Museum of San Marco with Malcolm.  When I was in Florence in the 1960s, this was one of my favourite places.  Back in the mid 1430s, the monk whom we know as Fra Angelico took on the task of painting the cell of each monk with a devotional image: often the Annunciation or Crucifixion.  The monastery, even though now a museum,  is a tranquil place where it’s still possible to be quiet and reflective, and to be moved and inspired by Fra Angelico’s interpretations of the familiar Bible stories .

One of Fra Angelico's interpretations of the Annunciation, at the Museo di San Marco.  Wikimedia Commons.
One of Fra Angelico’s interpretations of the Annunciation, at the Museo di San Marco. Wikimedia Commons.

At first, we had a similar experience at the church of Santa Maria Novella.  But as the morning more on, the crowds increased, and the levels of noise: we were shocked by the difference we noticed between our first moments in the almost-empty church, and the later ones when the building was filled with people busily moving around and talking.

But what’s the point of going to Italy if you don’t spend time enjoying food?  There’s the magnificent Mercato Centrale, where every morning you can join the locals as they buy fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and cured meats and  cheeses.  It’s crowded here too, and vibrantly noisy, but that’s OK.  Get your shopping bag out and join in!

And then go over the road to Trattoria Mario for lunch.  It used to feed students and local workers, and now tourists are added into the mix: Not the sort of tourists who expect a watered down ‘typical Italian’ menu, and translated into English or Russian , but ones who are happy to join a table where locals are already tucking into the daily specials.  I was swept into the kitchen to watch the team cooking in an impossibly small space: here’s a photo.  Such fun, and such good food.

The kitchen at Mario's
The kitchen at Mario’s

The next day we headed over to the other side of the river, the Oltrarno, to Porta San Frediano.  This is an area of craftspeople, working people, and strictly no tourists.  And that’s where we found Trattoria Sabatino, and immediately felt at home.  It’s the sort of place we used to like so much in France: simple food, well cooked, and served to local workers in their lunch break.  As in France, the early customers were all men, but later, women, and even children appeared too.

We spent our evenings on the other side of the river too, opposite Santa Croce.  That’s where we found two bars, the same but different.  Buy a drink in one of these places and it’ll cost you.  But all of a sudden, it seems a good idea after all.  Because trays and trays of food and nibbles appear, and they’re for you, the customers, to eat – and eat – and eat, if you wish, without handing over any more money.

And of course we spent time exploring those narrow medieval streets, where  tall buildings shelter you from the glare of the sun.  We people-watched in sunny piazzas over shots of strong espresso.  We hung over the parapets of the many bridges over the Arno to enjoy the views and the sunsets.  And the sun became hotter with each passing hour.  We relished nearly every moment of our stay.  But next time, we might go off season.  February might be good.

In the end though, I have to give you one picture postcard.  Here is the Duomo, seen on the path towards Piazzale Michelangelo.
In the end though, I have to give you one picture postcard. Here is the Duomo, seen from the path towards Piazzale Michelangelo.