Irregular Posts

Irregular Posts are experiential writings from the road.  They reflect what I am seeing and experiencing as I travel and photograph.  My travels are irregularly spaced to places all over the world.  Writings happen as I find time and the subjects to reflect upon …

“travel light and wear a smile.”  jack holmes

Irregular Post; Cinque Terra, Italy

Tuesday, April 25 2017  Riomaggiore, Italy

Buongiorno,

Well, that was a FINE visit. Some places are “GoBackTo”, Cinque Terre especially Riomaggiore is one. I had been here in June 2015 while Meg was hiking in Spain. I knew she would like it, so I brought her here. Last time I was in Riomaggiore, I had a single small room up the hill of the village. beyond the restaurants and shops and harbor. This time for our 47th anniversary, we had a sea view upscale “top floor” room on the harbor. We overlooked the narrow protected harbor the small boat launch, restaurant, and out towards the sunset. ;~}We arrived on Thursday afternoon on the local train. It stops at all of the villages; Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and my favorite Riomaggiore. A long tunnel through the hillside leads into the village. A musician was playing; the songs echoed greeting thru the tunnel.

The village has a long street leading up the ravine. Buildings are brightly colored, tall and not wide, sharing common dividing walls. Narrow walk-alleys separate some of the buildings with stairs that ascend the ravine slope to other tall narrows above.

There are a lot of visitors! Holidays! Last weekend- Easter and Easter Monday, this LONG weekend – National holidays, school vacation time is USA and elsewhere. I did not see these people midweek in early June. We decided to hike the villages from Riomaggiore to Monterosso on Friday, to avoid the Saturday crush.

It was a LONG day; 9 hours on the trails. I had forgotten that I took the train between two and did not hike some land slided trails. The toughest trail is #531 from Riomaggiore to Manarola. It claims the be one kilometer (5/8th mile). It doesn’t say there is an elevation gain of 400 meters (1300ft) in a half km and then a descent of 400 km in a half km!!! The ravine slope is terraced with small vineyard and vegetable plots; stairs and stairs and stairs. Great views of the Ligurian Sea and the now small buildings far below. I had a nice long running conversation with a fellow hiker, a Policia from Turino. He wanted to speak English; he reads a lot of John Grisham but doesn’t get to converse much. He had studied to be a teacher but became a policeman in the traffic division. finally asked about “…your president.”. “Not mine. You can have him.” I replied. “NO! NO! He is crazy. You must keep him.” Meg had been conversing with a young woman from St Petersburg Russia. She was on vacation studying wine. We told her of the wines of 5Terre; assertive whites, fruity in front, tart, and the slight salt taste/aroma of the sea in the back. We talked of terroir and the emotions of the wines. I love talking with fellow travelers.

Did I mention the trail was long? The older easy coastal promenade had been closed by landslide and not yet repaired!? over the past several seasons. Trails are steep with rock “steps” at irregular intervals and heights. They pass thru little terraced vineyards, short forest, overlooks to the sea 300 meters below and then down into a village. Now the streets with the holiday visitors who do not hike, shops with local product and shops with souvenirs and small restaurants and …. Narrow stairs ascending between tall narrow colored buildings, visitors and locals in the walk-alleys; foto-heaven.

The last 1 ½ hours from Vernazza to Monterosso was WORK. Legs tired from the ascent…descent. I did remember the stride of centering work weight off your ankles forward to your balls of feet. It takes pressure off the quads and moves you more fluidly over the “flats”.

The train back home was welcome. The restaurant under our building with great food and local wine; welcome. It was 6P and they had just opened for dinner. “Reservations?” “No.” “OK we have a couple of tables available.” Immediately another young couple; same conversation. They were seated beside us. They were from Detroit; he had studied at Tufts in Medford and she at BU in Boston. She celebrating becoming a doctor!; a trip before residency.

Again the wine with the taste of the sea’s aroma. Grapes grown on terraces in the warm sun with cool nights, with reflected light off the sea, and the salt air infusing the fruit. High alcohol, 13%, because of the high sugar content of the grapes. “No, the reds are not very good.”

Saturday our quadriceps moaned; rebelled; protested the short walk/climb to the church 400 m above Riomaggiore. It is on the top of a promontory We could have walked to another coastal resort town about 5 hours away BUT….! It was good that we did not because the way home was the ferry and it had been shut down because of rough seas.Sunday we trained to all the other villages to fotograph. We had hiked in and then out on Friday, now we needed to be there for some exploring time. It had become showery and cool. I wanted the “atmospheric” shots. Really, there was no sun for the day, so it had to be the atmospherics. I must say the holiday crowds were IMPRESSIVE and not in a good way. There WAS lively crowds in and out f shops and restaurants and on the streets and on the TRAIN!!!! Still, I love this 5Terre. Best if I return some September/ October for grape harvest.

Foods? We never had a bad meal. Not high creative or gastronomical. But well done and consistently GOOD. Pesto is a local invention from up the road in Genoa. Here it is not heavy basil taste but a more even cheese/pine nut with faint basil sauce. It holds onto the pasta, coating the folds and indentations of the favored local pasta shape. Fruiti del mare; seppie (a squid relative), bream, swordfish , mussels, clams, and fresh anchovies! They will have some beef and vegetarian for those not into fish. There is ALWAYS pizza, dozens of kinds of thin crust yummy pizza! There is also some thick crust/bready single pieces for take away.

Monday was leaving day. ;~{ But the good thing was that the ferry was running again. “Cash Only” said the ticket window sign. One way for two to Monterosso; stops at Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso. No stop at Corniglia which is on top of a 200 m cliff over the sea. Trains to Genoa and our hotel near the airport? We find a couple of OK alternatives that give us time for a last lunch in 5Terre. Up a side street away from the resorty beach and shops. For me; panasotta (like a triangle ravioli) with walnut cream sauce for the pasta and then grilled swordfish for secondi. Meg pesto on local shaped pasta and salad for secondi. OH! and wine as well. Taste the fruit and the sea before the train back.
Our business 4 star hotel was, by local bus, inconveniently located near the airport in an industrial area. BUT near enough to a neighborhood with a fine pizza menu! 6 pages of pizza varieties. 6 PAGES; life is tough. “Not too much to eat since we have an early flight and we do need to get some sleep.” I have a tough time sleeping with a very full stomach. Must be the age!

Cinque Terre, I am returning. It might be a couple of years but I am going back.

“Travel light and wear a smile.”

Irregular Post; Genova2

Thursday, April 20,2017

Buongiorno,

After walking the “same” narrow alley-streets and piazzas it was time to see other parts of the city. Porto Antico is on the semi-circular harbor The Old city hugs the harbor and then expands away. Away up the amphitheater hill that surrounds and overlooks the port. Old town is poorer than the terraces up the hill. There are stores that are old school; internet cafes with phone center, laundry stores, tailors etc. Up the hill the are satellite dishes on apartment buildings. Small market stores are fewer and more upscale in product and clientele Public elevators, funiculars, and long stairs lead you up up up the “rows of the amphitheater”. Nicer homes appear in the apartment building mix. Way up is a “Castle” built by some rich one in the 20th century; very eclectic architecture because he could. It looks out over the lower rooftops with narrow streets between, and down to the harbor, the cruise ships in their berths, the refurbished docks where local and tourist alike enjoy the Porto Antico. Far out is La Lanterna, the lighthouse guarding the port entrance.

In a small upscale mercado, a few dozen people are sitting at tables; empty wine glasses and plate settings. They are watching three cooking demonstrators doing their thing while a guy with a microphone walks and talks. WE could stay but it is too soon to eat.

We take a funicular down toward the Stazione Principe. Surprise! It exits onto an alley that ends across from our hotel. “I don’t want to eat beside the hotel.” So we are back on the narrow alley-streets that we have been on so often before. Now we can’t find any of the ubiquitous small ristorantes. Pizza? Pannini? No. We want lunch. Finally we are down in Porto Antico. Here we enter “Eately”. There is one in New York where it is a Mario Batali owned spot. A modern mercado-restaurant. There is a supermarket of high end products and meats and fish and wine and bread and… In the “supermarket”, there are sections where the restaurant food is a certain type. Panninis, burgers beer in one, seafood in an other, typical genovese in another.

OK. Genovese! A good glass of wine, SUPER bread (coarse sourdough), a pesto for Meg and a vegetarian cream sauce pasta for me. Bread in Italy is always brought (you pay for it) and it is usually awful (think scali bread in the USA)! This Eately bread was well worth eating and mopping up the sauce that the pasta did not catch.

The last walk/tasks for our Genova stay; post cards and the proper stamps to Hong Kong for the Grandboys, writing the cards while having an afternoon cafe, money from secure ATM, and walking the mosaic sidewalks of the newer part of Genoa. This walk takes us past the site of Christopher Columbus’s childhood home (reconstructed in 1800s) just outside of the old city gate. Past the FANCY shopping stores of VERY high end names. Beside fancy folks with tiny dogs in their arms, a lady with two large white greyhounds, past kids with loaded backpacks, past folks looking like they are from the 1950s. This is a city waiting to be on the tourist map.

BUT, We are tired. “There is more to see but I’m done.” says I. This part of Genoa is a 30 minute walk back across the old town to our neighborhood by the train station and University of Genova. It is time to repack for the train leg to Cinque Terre. Paulo, of our next home-hotel, will meet us at the train stop in Riomaggiore.

“Travel light and wear a smile.”

Irregular Post; Genova, Italy

 Tuesday, April 18,2017

Irregular Post; Bagnols2

Friday April 14, 2017

Bagnols en Foret

Bonjour,

            Noisy-quiet here.  The boys run and scrum and follow and jump and climb or chase laughing and occasionally voice significant displeasure with each other.  As you might expect, sharing is not yet  high on their list of behaviors.  Sometimes they sit and read with Meg or Alice or Francoise (Alice’s mother) who joined us from Paris mid-week or play with Daddy and the legos or Papy with long balloons.

            Since David can not drive with his foot injury, I drive us in my tiny rented Fiat Panda to the big Carrefore in Frejus to do the shopping.  Unbelievable the variety of meats and cheeses and pastry and prepared dishes and wines there.  Want a whole fresh rabbit (skinned and gutted for sure) for roasting?  Varied fresh lamb and veal cuts?  Assorted fresh terraines or pates? Got it.  They had a wine special earlier in the week; 50 euro store credit when you buy 150 euros of wine.  Got it. 

            Tuesday we visited the beach in Ste Maxime (Turkish kabab for lunch), historical centre Frejus on Thursday (Lebanese take away for lunch).  David’s foot injury limits the kind of places we walk and visit.  Francoise saw Meg take a foto of a rotisserie roasted lapine (rabbit) beside the roast chicken.  She bought it for dinner. 

            Frejus was called Forum Juli when founded by Julius Caesar in 44AD.  There is a large ancient forum, aqueduct, and a fine  archaeological museum (not yet visited by us) there. It is a “go back to” when the kids are not with us.  

Irregular Post; Bagnols Again

Monday April 10, 2017

Bagnols en Foret

Bonjour,

            Quietly eventful.

            KLM flights to Gena via Amsterdam began last Thursday with hard rains in Boston. Storms in the south and midwest screwed up air-traffic so that there were bad lines at terminals in BOS. After 90 minutes in one line we were hailed “Anyone for Amsterdam?  Follow me.”  Four couples left the LONG line and started a short expedited line for check-in.

            “OhOh!  Your reserved seats do not exist!  I’ll have to find new ones.”  said the agent.  “OK.  I have two near each other but not together; #26J and 27H”.  It turned out 26 and 27 are separated by toilets.  I am in an exit row with “extra leg room”.  Our new Global Entry card allowed us quick easy TSA pass through; very nice! 

            The plane was not at the gate when were supposed to load. “It is being towed over here (Terminal A) from terminal E.”  Through the rain, and occasional lightening, it appeared and carefully avoided the wings touching any other plane.  We did take off after only 100 minutes delay.  Not a problem as we had a four hour layover in Amsterdam. 

            Genoa is a small airport, easily negotiated for baggage, passport check, car rental, and exit on a Friday afternoon.  We have a Fiat Panda!  A “cute” little diesel manual shift car.  The trunk is only large enough for our two backpacks.  Out and onto the autostrada heading for a night stay in Finale Ligure, Italy, an hour from Genoa and three more hours from Bagnols. 

Finale Ligure

Destination an agritourissmo specializing in fruits wine and honey, Il Pernambucco del Contessa,  for the night. 

Il Pernambucco

The area is well known and visited for off road biking and rock climbing.  There is some hiking as well.  We did go up to a five century old church and peek into the obviously used space; no benches/seats in the quiet small stone chiesa.  

            At dinner there were 7 bikers from Milan, three more didn’t make dinner “Too tired.”  No menu, we were served the meal of the day. Four courses with local wine, cooked by the wife and son, served by the owner Rafael.  He had fine English.  Antipasto, pasta with mushroom sauce, milanese pork with roast potatoes, chocolate custard with amaretto, and a small glass of his orange liquor like limoncello.  And yes we did drink the whole bottle of local rose.  We did sleep well.  Breakfast was breads, his fruit juice, his marmalades, his honey, ham and cheese and italian coffee.  Total cost for room and board and a bottle of his orange liquor 150E. !!.

 

            Bagnols for lunch.  The driveway is under construction so we park on the hill above the house and walk down.  This walk down is tough for David as he has a foot injury that requires he not walk on the right foot and he must use crutches.  He was walking barefoot at Alice’s grandmother’s in Paris.  A lost sewing NEEDLE was in the carpet and found his foot.  Deep and buried near the ball; minor surgery with anesthesia. 

            The family fly to Nice from Paris to continue the vacation.!. Wrapped and crutched he became a passenger.  A visiting nurse comes to the house to check his progress and change his bandages three times a week.  He hops about on his left leg and occasionally uses one crutch in the house and supermarket.  It does take two crutches for driveway etc.  “The feeling in your toes should return gradually in the next couple of months.” said the nurse. “It is normal after that probing for and extraction of the needle.”

            Tristan, almost 3, and Gabriel, 16 months, are BOYS and Brothers.  Tristan is tri-lingual and Gabriel, has a few words.  They are both napping this afternoon after running and playing all morning.  I am napable now as well. 

“travel light and wear a smile.”

Irregular Post; January Paris

Thursday Jan 12 2017

Bonjour

“Paris in winter?’

Yes, as you know, Paris in winter doesn’t really do sunny skies. Although we did experience one welcome morning with partly cloudy for a couple of hours. Typically, damp or drizzle or mist or light rain or just damp. Layer for all possibilities and, if you can, look currently stylish.

We have been on the go almost all day, every day. We got a Metro pass in December with our picture on it. It can be loaded for 7 days of unlimited rides on all trains and buses but it can only loaded for Monday to Monday. Meg is the Metro genius; I just follow and look for the signs.

Based on recommendations, we had reservations for food at two upscale establishments and visited three museums and a couple of markets and MANY streets. Louis Vuitton Museum, European Museum for Photography, the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation Museum. Lunch at Aux Lyonaise and dinner at L’Atelier.

Louis Vuitton Foundation is a Frank Gehry architecture building and had a major exhibition of master painter works that were in a russian collector’s collection; Picasso, Matisse, and MANYMANY more. Being the only museum open on Monday it was CROWDED. They do not have the infrastructure to handle those crowds. We waited on line for 90 minutes to buy tickets. TIP: do not go on Monday without a per-purchased ticket. GO for the earliest time they open in AM. Be prepared to look through crowds at the paintings.  Enjoy the interior architecture; it reminded me of the Star Wars Death Star

Tuesday’s lunch; hearty three course Lyonaise luncheon by Alan Ducasse (David got the reservations for us). Great food, done well, and presented well. Fotos later of the fare that included the charcuterie, my Pork Belly and super mashed potato and Meg’s quenelle (fish mousse). A super clementine tian with pistachio ice cream for me and cheese for Meg to finish. Meg noticed that there were very few women in the restaurant. Actually only about 10% and they were accompanied. I guess it is businessman’s power lunch spot.

A frustrating afternoon ensued. We metroed to BOTH photography museums in very different parts of the city only to find them both closed!! Cartier-Bresson was supposed to be open on Tuesday but they were NOT as the website said. Later we found out that it was to be an evening Opening Reception for the new exhibit of his work for a famous book that was translated into English as “The Decisive Moment”. The European Photography Foundation Museum was not open as well. Meg looked for the famous ice cream store in the Marais.  We found it but it was closed with the ice cream only available at cafes for a dear price. Across the Seine in the drizzle we walked. Shakespeare and Company for English books? Nope could not find it. Walked past the hotel that Jane and Nancy and we stayed at in a few years ago.  The through the streets to a rush hour metro and back to the hotel   TOO FULL from lunch we didn’t need dinner!  We just relaxed with some tea.

Wednesday was the opposite at the photography museums. The  European opening time was 11A and we were there.  Some very provocative stuff from people that I was not too familiar with. I had heard of Harry Callahan but did not know his stimulating work. The Serrano work was related to homeless of NYC and later Brussels. Powerful when in print but disheartening when seen in public on the streets of Paris etc.  An interesting Nixon collection of 24 prints of four sisters from spanning the decades from young to middle age.

We talked photography with a Toronto photographer/professor and later met him again in another part of the city at Cartier-Bresson in the afternoon. He had also been unsuccessful in visiting in the afternoon. While viewing the exhibition, I was approached by a young man with a video camera and microphone. He asked if I would be able to do an English interview about the new exhibit and Cartier-Bresson for Belgium TV!!!   “Sure.”   He had questions and I answered knowledgeably (fortunately). He had filmed my/us before in the exhibit before he asked and then more filming after. Very interesting; it reminded me of us being extras in a tiny movie in Lowell but this time I had a speaking role!

Back to home/hotel ”Astotel 34B” dress for dinner. Meg changed her trousers for black leggings and dress. I put on a different shirt under my standard sweater. Off we went in the drizzle for a 6:30P reservation (by David) at Joel Rubichon’s L’Atelier. I understand that the 6:30 time is done mostly by tourists. Serious diners do not go until after 8P . Old folks like me need time to digest some before I go to bed at 10P.

Interesting concept restaurant inspired by the fusion of Spanish tapas and French cuisine.  We sat on high bar chairs at the fancy viewing bar looking into the open kitchen. One could talk food with your near neighbors.  I could see how they make the famous mashed potatoes that taste soo gooood. Food is $mall plate$ to main entree$. We ordered small and medium sized plates from light to hearty for sharing. A start of carpaccio of sea breen LOVELY; light, thin slices in a citrus “broth” and a traditional ceviche to share for comparison. Chestnut soup with three kinds of “bacon”.  Switch from white wine to red for the heavier food to come.  Then burger sliders with foie gras and frites, (David’s favorite). To finish we had two mains that we shared; breast of pigeon!! with foie gras wrapped in a savoy cabbage leaf, and marrow on toast. Meg really did not like the medium rare pigeon’s texture so I had to eat hers. We both finished up with the marrow on toast. Interesting and filling.

Dessert time. Meg had four sorbets one of which was a basil sorbet. Yummy. I asked the “waiter” for help; “The Pear”, he said. “OK”. Amazing; a “standing pear” on a bed of pear sauce (like apple sauce) but wait! The pear was hard-solid; No hollow!  The exterior was a thin sugar shell that had been molded and was filled with pear sorbet and pear sauce and some raisins. FULL after 2 hours of fine dining. It did lighten my wallet a little.

Drizzle as we walked back to the Metro. The light beam from Eiffel swung across the sky behind some restaurants and wet winter streets. Drizzle when we walked back to the hotel.

The 34B is the best hotel we’ve used in a long while. A three star MODERN comfortable well appointed with a fine buffet breakfast in a large open room. Each gets their own two cup pot of tea or coffee. “More?” Snacks and beverages are available all day and evening. We had some hot tea before retiring to our room. People use the room as a meeting space, work space, and relaxing space all day.

OKay. Repack time and get ready to head back home. We’ve been on the road a month. Time to get back to “work”. I have to prepare for a show next Wednesday at Pinkham Notch Camp. I am sure there is a ton of mail and end of the year things waiting. I wonder how winter in Andover looks. Oh well…..

“travel light and wear a smile.”

Irregular Post; Malta3

Sunday Jan 8, 2017

Hey!

Free wifi at the Malta International Airport ;~}

Sweet. BUT. This is a COLD January for Malta. Mid 40s with gale winds and occasional 5 minutes of hail or driven rain. In bed, the wind howls over the roof top and past open courtyards. Ghosts of old and ancient wars are awake and prowling.

Friday was a museum day. The ferries between Sliema and Valletta were shut down Thursday AM as the seas even in the inner harbor were to rough. It is suspected they wont be running until Monday AM. All the boats in the harbor were anchored out in the middle, away from the docks and retaining walls. Local buses were packed and as a result warm.

The Archeology Museum is closest to the bus terminal so that was the goal in the AM. Malta isn’t prepared for winter weather. “It only lasts a month. Maybe more this year.” In side the museum we only unzipped the jacket layers. It was still cold but at least no wind. Interestingly Malta was first settled from “Sicily” 7000 years ago by agricultural megalithic peoples. Stone burial structures older than Stonehenge and Pyramids are found here. These people disappeared after 2500 years; drought?

4500 years ago permanent people (Bronze Age) arrived and the islands have been inhabited since. Because of location it has been fought over often. Famously the christians and muslims sieged in the 1500s. WWII saw massive bombings by axis forces. There is a War Museum that we spent cold time in in the afternoon echoed this history from a military viewpoint. Winds whipped thru exposed corridors and a short hail fusillade hit.

Saturday we took buses to the southeast to Marsaxlokk.  More sheltered but still a hard bite even in the spots of sun that occasionally light the harbor and the colored boats. A working fish harbor. It was far to rough to go out so there was a lot of fixing work; hulls and nets.

We found a recommended local eatery. “Ask for the fish of the day not a specific one. They’ll bring out the new fish just brought in and you choose what you want.” Yupe! Sea bass, Sea bream, Red mullet, and another one. We choose to have the bream and mullet mixed. Yummy with roasted potatoes and vegetables and Maltese chardonnay.

Sunday AM we finished visit with walk about the local harbor and local savory pastry for eating; spinach-olive-tuna is especially nice. The bus to airport was PACKED. Now we await the direct flight to Paris on Air Malta. Well that was nice; there is a piano near where we are waiting for the plane gate to be announced.  Every once in awhile a traveler sits at it and plays a short “concert” to the appreciative applause of the other travelers.

travel light and wear a smile.”

Irregular Post; Malta2

Friday, Jan 6 2017

Hi, they speak English here.

Malta IS a hidden jewel in the Mediterranean. English is the official and common language but Maltese is the one locals use with each other.  The country is made of 7 small island with Malta being the largest at about 900 square kilometers, the second largest is Gozo at 25 sq km.  It is not very expensive.  Food and architecture is a fusion of Maltese, Italian and other Mediterranean influences.  It looks and feels very different from any place we’ve been before and yet it is very comfortable and inviting and visually stimulating.  Few Americans are here because it requires at least one plane change for a long travel day.  For us, it is a can-go-back-to place.  Gran Canaria was a nice been-there-did-that place.

We spent Thursday on Gozo.  An hour by local bus #212 from Sliema to the ferry. HopOnHopOff bus for the little island; not our usual choice of transport but it was a good compromise for Gozo.  The time between HopOff and HopOn stops is about 45 minutes.  I could have used an hour but then the next bus would have been another half hour later.  It WAS 50F AND Gale windy on Thursday; hanging about extra-time waiting for bus was NOT in the cards. We wore ALL our layers of clothes that we had planned for returning to January Boston.  We did NOT sit on the top of the double decker bus very much.

Most exciting was at the Azur Window at the northwest corner of Gozo.  This is an arch somewhat like Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  But it is exposed to the winds from the north across the open sea. Salt spray and gale slashing winds and crashing waves onto jagged limestone rocks.  My glasses were useless in a minute.  I kept the camera lenses for the most part protected. I shot downwind whenever possible.  We found out today, Friday, that 6 tourists who got too close, were washed off the rocks just before dark.  They were saved and hospital repaired.!!.

Another exposed coastal stop was Marsalforn,  Here the waves were being funneled into the bay and crashing onto and over the retaining walls at the harbor edge.  Restaurants were gathering outdoor chairs and tables, tying down flapping awnings and exposed/loose walls.  Small fishing boats were being loaded onto trailers and taken away.  On the edge of the harbor, piles of wave tossed seaweed strewn the road and swirling water washed through the street.  I will try to attach a 2 second video I took of this.

Local bus travel is interesting as usual.  We have a 12 ride pass that we share.  Getting on a bus at the origin/start of a trip is fine; you get a seat. We are staying in a simple guesthouse near the harbor where the buses originate.  Soon many tourists from fancier digs up the route get on.  Seats are now scarce.  Soon there are no seats and people have to stand as the bus winds its way.

On the way back we might not be the fortunate sitters.  More savvy bus riders know where to stand and get on early.  Returning from the Gozo ferry, Meg got the last seat…beside a baby stroller.  The owner stood while her husband sat with the little boy. After awhile some locals got off near where I stood.  I got a seat beside Meg and the lady got the seat behind with her husband and 9 month old baby.  El Ambassador Pequeno introduced us all to each other. They are Argentinians, living in Scotland, on vacation in Malta.  We shared some stories of travel with little one, and other things.  Like Tristan, El Pequeno Filippe, was intrigued with my beard, and my simple Espanyol.

Today, Friday, was tough weather; 47F, gale winds, spits of heavy rain, a few minutes of small hail.  Museum Day in Valletta! But the winds had curtailed the ferry across the harbor.  Bus #15 to Valletta.  But the museums and houses were not really heated.  “We have only one month of winter so its not worth doing too much.” said our guest house host.

Archaeology and history of the island group (over 7,000 years).  Cold, we needed warm food INDOORS.   A few places were filled, others asked if we had reservations.  “Friday business lunch time is very busy.”  OK found one with an open table for two.  We shared a mushroom soup with marrow, then each had calamari in chili cream sauce spaghetti (again spaghetti?) with a glass of red French Rhone wine; 37 euros for two.  Meg wanted clams linguini but the clams were all gone.

The war museum detailed extensively, in unheated rooms perched on the gale winded sea cliffs, the war history of Malta.  the 15th century; Knights of St John vs the Ottoman Turks (christians vs muslims).  Wars between French and English.  World War I and especially II    Cold and dark we found the last two seats on the bus home.  The bus windows fogged immediately with the pack of sitting and standing commuters.  Good thing we are the end of the line since we couldn’t see the landmarks.

“travel light and wear  a smile.”  Jack

Irregular Post; Malta

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hi,

          “Say WHAT! Malta? 2017?”

          “Well, Yeah, Malta. Sliema, Malta; across the harbor from Valleta, the capital.”

Christmas weekend in Nice we had some cool weather and clouds. But in the afternoon, the clouds gapped at the horizon and partly broke overhead. Some amazing sunset colors appeared along the Cote d’Azur. I think I sent them last week.

Bagnols was nice after Nice. We had a fine time with David, Alice and the two grandsons, Tristan and Gabriel. Gabriel was in the depths of bronchitis and unhappy when we arrived at lunch time. He had seen the doctor in the morning but Tristan was in good spirits.

We had time to tour some small hill towns and wineries, drove some narrow curvy roads, ate some yummy home made food and drank some excellent local beverages. We were in bed by 10P every night including New Year’s eve. Weather was fine with frost in the AM and mid 50s by late afternoon.

“Malta?”

“Oh yeah.” Last summer while waiting for a plane from Newcastle to Nice, we had talked to an English couple who were heading to Malta for their 15th time. Having never been to Malta, it seemed like a good idea to fit it in when we planned this trip. So here we are, in a Sliema guest house at 30 euro a night, across the harbor by water taxi from Valleta.

Malta is a mix of many Mediterranean influences; Sicilian (90 minutes away by ferry), English, Continental, North African and Turkish. Approaching Valleta by ferry it visually reminded both of us a little of Istanbul but with church steeples and domes not the mosques. Buildings are of sandstone; tan/yellow/beige, three to five stories tall, and tight packed along narrow one way hill streets. Buildings all have narrow balconies over the street. They reminded us of Spanish colonial balconies in the Americas and the Jewish quarter of Marrekech. We spent the day walking, photographing, touring. Many visitors were about even though the week after New Years is not a busy time.

Malta is famous for the Knights of Malta = the Knights of St John from the time of the crusades. It is famous for the bombings it received in WWII. Now it is famous as the Hidden Jewel of the Mediterranean. Visitors from Europe and the Far East (China and japan) are everywhere. We haven’t seen evidence of many Americans. (are they “traveling as Canadians” like during Bush’s presidency?)

A story; I needed to have a watch band replaced. In Bagnols, David had given me a nice older Skagen analog watch to replace a digital one I had broken in the summer. I wore it a couple of days and broke band. On a whim, I stopped in one Valleta shop that did watch repairs he said it needed a special band because of the design. He gave me a fancy watch address. We went there but they said that they didn’t service that brand anymore and gave us another address. The third address said he carried the brand but “did not do repairs”. He thought a minute, checked his watch, “He’s open.” He gave us the name and location of someone who should be able to help. Yupe! I found and got in line behind four other customers. They all had watches and/or clocks that needed batteries or ??

The tiny shop had a hundred clocks on the wall, all different kinds and all with the same CURRENT time! My turn. He looked and went to a special box with leather bands; “not a metal one for this watch.” Three black ones to choose from; choice made, he took a tool and cut the band to fit the watch, new springs, cleaned and done, 13 euros!! Now I don’t have to guess time or ask Meg for it.

Food here is a mix of culture. With so many europeans about, and Sicily so near, it is not hard to find familiar food. Maltese have their own influence in this fusion. Arrival night, Tuesday, I had a super octopus spaghetti with olives and capers. Meg had fish soup and salad.. And we split a pint of Carlsberg beer. Last night after touring Valleta I had rabbit spaghetti. Meg had a Maltese ftira (yes that is how pizza is spelled); pizza with anchovies and olives. This time we each had a pint of local beer, Cisk. For lunch today, we each had asparagus soup with truffle and an interesting new dish for us; fried rabbit livers with a raisin wild mushroom ragout.

Octopus was twice cooked, once to partly cook it and the second to mix it into a garlic, olive oil, caper sauce with a little tomato. Then the pasta was added to finish it. Rich, filling and wonderful. And then added to the AND FILLING! The rabbit is cooked in both/water/gravy sauce and finished with the pasta. Mine was the front quarter of the rabbit, judging from the clavicle and long leg bone. The fried livers were delicious; surprisingly large, rich in a caper-raisin-rabbit jus.

Rabbit was introduced to this small island for the European nobles to hunt. Locals were prohibited from hunting them. Some rabbits got away and you what they did. Now rabbit is a national dish.

Tomorrow, Thursday, we’ll use local buses and a ferry to visit a small island, Gozo off the NW coast of malta. It will be cool with wind. Locals are saying that this is late February weather for our visit, low 50s. Yes, we are layering to stay warm and no outdoor dining for us or a lot of other people as well.

“Travel light and wear a smile.”