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"Oh Sicilia, you're breaking my heart ..."

with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel

sunny 30 °C

With school finished for the girls (Jun 21), and a decision made to return to Australia in late September, we now had just under three months to look forward to before confronting the world of job seeking, house sales, school decisions, and the many other responsibilities of ‘real life’.

Choosing our first travel destination was easy. Sicily has always been high on our wish list, and the chance to sneak down there before the July/Augusts hordes (and inflated prices) was too good to pass up. ItaloTreno whisked us from Bologna to Napoli in a tick over 3 hours – fantastic going compared to driving this route which would be around double that duration. We had built-in half a day in Napoli (before catching the overnight ferry to Palermo) with the thought of making a rushed trip to Pompeii, but in the end took the easier option of staying in the town centro.

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Nat contemplating eruptions of yesteryear

Nat contemplating eruptions of yesteryear

The first hiccup of the trip was encountered at the ferry terminal – we could store our two smaller suitcases there, but the big black Tosca (at over 20 kgs) wouldn’t fit in the locker. Without any obvious alternatives, I then spent the next four hours lugging the stupid thing around the busy streets of Naples. Funny to look back on now, but at the time it caused a fair bit of ‘Italia bashing’! Our main trek was to the Castel Sant’Elmo via the Vomero funicolare – a medieval fortress which afforded lovely views of Italy’s third biggest city - but overall in our short stay we failed to warm to this bustling, grimy metropolis.

arrivederci Napoli ... look out Sicilia!

arrivederci Napoli ... look out Sicilia!

The ferry trip to Palermo (over 12 hours) was completed without incident, and the kids had a great time exploring the innards of the big Tirrenia ferry, then finally collapsing in their top bunks for a deep sleep as the ferry rolled across the Mediterranean swell. Upon arrival at Palermo, we caught a taxi to the main train station, and then a regional train to our first destination - Cefalu.

CEFALU

no doubt this scene hasn't changed for many, many years

no doubt this scene hasn't changed for many, many years

Cefalu, the name of Greek origin, has seen a number of invaders over the centuries (like most of Sicily), and nowadays is a popular and delightful seaside town on the north coast. The main natural feature is La Rocca, which looms over the populace like a foreboding ogre, whilst the cathedral is the most famous man-made attraction.

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looking down from our bed and breakfast terrace ... Lisa preparing for her morning swim

looking down from our bed and breakfast terrace ... Lisa preparing for her morning swim


Gabi, Nat, and Tia ... end of another glorious day

Gabi, Nat, and Tia ... end of another glorious day

This first leg of our summer trip was enhanced by sharing it with our friends the Natale family. From Vermont, Lou, Katie, Tia, and Rowan had also elected to take a year off and live in Bologna, and we spent a lot of time together in language classes, at soccer games, and most importantly over restaurant tables. Our kids are similar ages, so it was great fun to spend time at the various Cefalu beaches, as well as ascend La Rocca one morning when it wasn’t too hot. They have now returned to the USA, and we hope to be able to visit them at some time in the future.

Katie and Lou looking well chilled with their granitas!

Katie and Lou looking well chilled with their granitas!


happy campers after the ascent of La Rocca

happy campers after the ascent of La Rocca


cef_roc_view.jpgcef_roc_view_2.jpg

We stayed a total of five nights in Cefalu, and aside from some long days at the beach, enjoyed walking the narrow and atmospheric streets of the old town; tasting the local treats of granita (fruit flavoured crushed ice) and cannoli (delicious cream filled pastry); and of course sampling the delicious seafood, headlined by swordfish. It was therefore with some regret that we caught the train to Milazzo – a port town further along the coast that supplies the ferry services to the Aeolian Islands.

most of these flavours sampled, and given a tick of approval

most of these flavours sampled, and given a tick of approval


Piazza Garibaldi humming at aperitivi time

Piazza Garibaldi humming at aperitivi time


Sicily's famous cannolo - worth travelling a long way for ...

Sicily's famous cannolo - worth travelling a long way for ...

LIPARI

Lipari's cleverly named 'small harbour'

Lipari's cleverly named 'small harbour'

The most populace of the Aeolian Islands, Lipari is not glamorous, but certainly retains a rustic charm in the few villages that dot the coastline. Upon alighting the Ustica ferry, I walked straight into tourist error #2 for this trip – a 10 euro taxi ride to the hotel that took two minutes! A cursory glance at Google maps before the trip had suggested that it would be too far to walk … this was patently not true as we discovered to our detriment.

Gabi emulating Melissa Wu perhaps?

Gabi emulating Melissa Wu perhaps?


lip_harb_view.jpgthe Aussie contingent - Gabi and new buddy Isabelle select their fish of the day

the Aussie contingent - Gabi and new buddy Isabelle select their fish of the day

Four nights in Lipari was not enough as it turned out, but we enjoyed many highlights including: a day trip to the other side of Lipari & Salina by small boat; getting lucky with our hotel, which had a lovely pool, and was not busy (Hotel Aktea); walking around to spiaggia bianca (the white beach); eating a Top 10 meal – involtini di pesce spada (swordfish rolls) - at a terrific place in town called La Cambusa; and finally meeting a nice Aussie family who were currently living in Bucharest, Romania of all places – Damien the dad was in the mining trade.

setting off on our very enjoyable trip to Salina and the other side of Lipari

setting off on our very enjoyable trip to Salina and the other side of Lipari


lip_e_sal_1.jpglip_e_sal_4.jpggirls took a shine to the 2IC

girls took a shine to the 2IC


Lisa looking content after lunch in Lingua, Salina (Lipari in the background)

Lisa looking content after lunch in Lingua, Salina (Lipari in the background)

As always with travelling the good goes with the bad however, and our return ferry trip to Sicily proper (this time to Messina) was in an airless, smelly ferry that had both girls feeling unwell, and made poor Nat sick. At Messina we had a short wait before jumping on the train to Giardini Naxos.

GIARDINI NAXOS / TAORMINA

looking up to Taormina from the bay of Giardini Naxos

looking up to Taormina from the bay of Giardini Naxos

After our underwhelming experience in Positano last year, we had vowed to avoid glitzy, heavily touristed destinations (read Taormina – Gai Waterhouse’s favourite holiday destination no less!). However we were eventually flying out of Catania on the east coast, and I had purchased two opera tickets for Lisa’s birthday to the famous Teatro Greco, so back to the American/Russian ‘tourist experience’ it was ...

north from Taormina to Letojanni

north from Taormina to Letojanni

Hilton may be showing its age after 30-odd years, but the hotel garden is reaping the benefits

Hilton may be showing its age after 30-odd years, but the hotel garden is reaping the benefits

Giardini Naxos is at the other end of the bay from Taormina – around 5 kms away – and retains a distinctly 1970’s scruffy feel. It does have better beaches however, and we managed to score a reasonable deal at the Hilton for three nights. We didn’t plan anything more ambitious than a few lazy days by the poolside/seaside, along with an afternoon trip into Taormina (day trips to Mount Etna were quite expensive, and Gabi’s ongoing travel sickness issues ruled it out unfortunately).

Lisa in Piazza IX Aprile, but where is Gai?

Lisa in Piazza IX Aprile, but where is Gai?


restaurant - check; menu - check; now to find a cracker meal and vino to match ...

restaurant - check; menu - check; now to find a cracker meal and vino to match ...


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To be fair to the Taormina locals, it really is a stunning town sitting atop the rocky outcrop – not their fault if every second rich tourist wants to parade up and down the main promenade Corso Umberto I. Lisa and I arranged a babysitter at the hotel on our last evening, and caught the bus into the centro, from which the Teatro Greco is a short walk. Built in the 7th century BC , it is a lovely intimate amphitheatre, and we both enjoyed the performance of Rigoletto.

tao_isola.jpgcute Isola Bella

cute Isola Bella

tao_rigo_1.jpgfuzzy first photo, but super experience seeing Rigoletto at the Teatro Greco

fuzzy first photo, but super experience seeing Rigoletto at the Teatro Greco

A nasty early start the next morning (4:30am) to ensure that we arrived at Catania airport on time, and then it was off to Slovenia, a country neither of us had visited before!

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Posted by happellfamily12 15:19 Archived in Italy Tagged beach friends sicily ferry cefalu palermo naxos taormina natales giardini lipari aeolian isalnds Comments (1)

Big game hunting in the Middle East

Tracking Tiger, the Goose, and Wee-Mac

sunny 24 °C

Turkish Airlines (voted Europe's best airline for the last two years ... querying the strength of this form however) dangled the bait with cut-price fares to the Middle East, so with the blessing of the 'trouble & strife', I booked a return ticket to coincide with Abu Dhabi's annual pro golf tournament. Normal direct fares with Emirates, Qatar, or Etihad are around 650 euro return, but the TA ticket was 340 euro, the catch being a stopover in Istanbul each way. On the journey over the break was 6 hours, allowing a quick city visit, but only 2 hours on the way 'home'.

ISTANBUL

Upon arrival mid-afternoon, a very efficient metro train ride, followed by an equally efficient and interesting light-rail ride (I kid you not), deposited me right near the blue mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) in the city centre. It cost around $3 for these fairly lengthy rides ... can someone remind me again why this is so hard in Sydney and Melbourne? Anyway, the blue mosque is quite simply mind blowing - and that's just from the outside - so hopefully a return visit in the future will allow time for an internal tour.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

A brisk walk (it was only about 8 degrees) takes you past the Topkapi Palace - home to the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years - and down to the Bosphorus. Ever since 007 cavorted with Tatiana Romanova on this famous strait of water in From Russia With Love, it has been an ambition of mine to visit, and what a frenetic, fascinating scene it presents. Cars, ferries, street vendors, fishermen, locals, tourists, mosques, neon signs, honking & tooting ... it has it all, and in the gloaming this evening was especially beautiful. A chicken shawarma and a local Efes beer provided an effective filler until the 8:30pm Abu Dhabi leg of the flight.

twilight on the Bosphorus

twilight on the Bosphorus

ABU DHABI

A 2:30am arrival time saw most passengers stagger off our flight, but a subsequent 130km/h taxi ride into town quickly blew away the dozy cobwebs. A prompt check-in at the Cristal Salam Hotel was followed by four fitful hours of sleep, and then it was off to the golf course (please see below).

Abu Dhabi fails to flatter on the city approach - the buildings, whilst modern, are uninspiring - and it is only when you get to the waterfront that you gain an appreciation of the development over the past ten years. The catalyst for the city's rapid ascent was the death of then ruler Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan in 2004, and the subsequent succession by his son Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan. Whilst not on the same scale as Dubai, it is still an incredibly impressive, albeit slightly surreal city, and has further ambitions with projects like the Louvre Abu Dhabi expected to be completed in 2015 (the Frenchies apparently receiving 500 million for allowing the association!).

wall of glass ... Jumeirah Etihad Towers etc.

wall of glass ... Jumeirah Etihad Towers etc.


Emirates Palace Hotel - self proclaimed 6 stars - after peeking inside, hard to argue

Emirates Palace Hotel - self proclaimed 6 stars - after peeking inside, hard to argue


world's first gold dispensing ATM (in the EPH lobby) ... it's a cliche, but what will they think of next!

world's first gold dispensing ATM (in the EPH lobby) ... it's a cliche, but what will they think of next!

The Al Nahayan family are said to be worth 150 billion collectively, and were instrumental in bailing out Dubai a couple of years ago when the Maktoum family ran into some strife. Our Dubai friends - see next section - said that the previous trend of living in Abu Dhabi and commuting to work in Dubai has now reversed, with Abu Dhabi living costs rising so rapidly that it is now cheaper to live in glitzy Dubai. Funny old world ...

looking north along Corniche beach

looking north along Corniche beach


popped this one in for the Dumas boys - quirky street poster worked well I thought!

popped this one in for the Dumas boys - quirky street poster worked well I thought!

DUBAI

A painless 90 minute bus ride on a luxury coach - for the very reasonable price of $7 - deposited me into Dubai, and onto a much anticipated catch-up with an old buddy from my Hong Kong days. I attempted to purchase some wine before our dinner, but at the carefully hidden liquor store (in the otherwise garish shopping centre), was told I needed to be a citizen to make the purchase - the only alcohol consumption for tourists has to occur in (hotel) bars and clubs. Nevertheless I somehow managed to gain a sore head from our dinner, and struggled a bit on the early morning trip back to Abu Dhabi for Day 4 of the golf.

looking back to the city centre from what (I think) is the new suburb of Ibn Battuta

looking back to the city centre from what (I think) is the new suburb of Ibn Battuta


from the apartment balcony of our dinner venue which is based in The Palm development ... massive and impressive

from the apartment balcony of our dinner venue which is based in The Palm development ... massive and impressive

ABU DHABI HSBC GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP

The Middle East is now a key part of the European golf tour, and always manages to attract strong fields with good prizemoney, beautiful weather for January (mid-20's), attractive golf courses, and well-run tournaments. Combine that with some serious appearance money dished out to the game's superstars, and you get a very attractive package for players and spectators alike.

What cannot be relied upon however, is for said superstars to play some decent golf on Thursday & Friday, and thus qualify for the weekend rounds. I was desperate to see both Tiger and Rory McIlroy (Wee-Mac, after compatriot Graeme McDowell was branded as G-Mac!), but fate intervened and sent them both packing on Friday night ... with their million plus appearance fees. Rory was not so surprising - he signed with Nike the week before for a reported 200 million - so had to contend with new equipment. Tiger actually made the 'cut', but was then later penalised 2 shots for an incorrect drop, so missed by one.

giant oversight : confirm that overpaid stars make the cut before committing!

giant oversight : confirm that overpaid stars make the cut before committing!

Five years ago this may have been a problem, but the Euro tour now has such depth that there was still plenty of good players to see. Without wishing to bore non-golf fans, I particularly enjoyed watching established stars Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, Peter Hanson, and Martin Kaymer, and was also excited to see rising stars Thorbjorn Olesen (from Denmark), and Bernd Wiesberger (Austria), who is built like a brick outhouse, and hits it into the next postcode.

Jason Dufner ... The Doofster hails from Auburn, Alabama, and is one laid-back dude

Jason Dufner ... The Doofster hails from Auburn, Alabama, and is one laid-back dude


Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie play up 18

Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie play up 18


sartorially splendid Matteo Manassero ... 19 years old and already three tour victories

sartorially splendid Matteo Manassero ... 19 years old and already three tour victories


SSP Chowrasia - India's golfing answer to VVS Laxman. 5 foot 'nothing'; comfortably last in driving distance; can play however.

SSP Chowrasia - India's golfing answer to VVS Laxman. 5 foot 'nothing'; comfortably last in driving distance; can play however.

Warm weather, attractive and tough golf course, not too many spectators, and good facilities made for a fun couple of days. In the end, the very likeable Jamie Donaldson from Wales triumphed, making it two wins in eight months after playing for 11 years and 255 tournaments without a victory ... dare I say there is hope for us all!

Paddy Harrington ... one of the true good guys on tour

Paddy Harrington ... one of the true good guys on tour


possibly one that got away from Justin Rose; Thorbjorn Olesen an emerging talent

possibly one that got away from Justin Rose; Thorbjorn Olesen an emerging talent


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Posted by happellfamily12 13:11 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged trains golf friends buses abu dubai dhabi modernisation Comments (2)

Celebrity Blog - Joff & Wendy

Honeymoon II ... Big Game in Africa, Ever Romantic Venice, and then a sample of La Rossa

sunny 28 °C

Walking back with Dan to casa Happell from Bologna train station, first impression? Hot. Quite big, bit dusty. Probably exacerbated coming from all that aqua in Venice. Thankfully a gin and tonica wasn't far away, nor a cooling breeze atop one of the Happell's due terrazzi. A welcome retreat.

First in the schedule of events? A gymnastics display. Naturally. Gabriela and Natalie dazzled us from our mattress-side seats with a series of remarkable feats, including somersaults and eventually a backflip. Bravo! Could this be why their parents moved to Europe? Access to the best coaches and 'technology'? Rio in 4 years should reveal all. Delicioso Italian-style roast chicken topped off a wonderful welcome to Bologna.

Natalia Happellova

Natalia Happellova

"molto buona" chef!

"molto buona" chef!

Day two we slipped on our tourist shoes ... time for a serious sample of the Bolognese lifestyle. And what better way to get our bearings than from Bologna's highest point. 400+ steps later we'd climbed Torre degli Asinella - the tallest of the famed Due Torri (Two Towers). Apparently a tower was the height of fashion (ed : nice one Joffa) a few centuries ago. If you wanted to impress your neighbours, a ridiculously high tower was the go. There used to be nearly 200 watching over the town, but now only a handful remain.

Wendy wouldn't blow out a candle ... not sure about the Happells but ...

Wendy wouldn't blow out a candle ... not sure about the Happells but ...

While Dan and Gabi slipped home for some schooling, Wendy and I enjoyed a stroll around town, including Neptune's spectacular fountain - just off the main piazza in town (Piazza Maggiore). And onto the quieter, atmospheric streets of the old town where the fish, meat, vegetables, and delis made a mouthwatering sight. After meeting Lisa fresh from Italian class it was lunchtime. More tasty, fresh, simple food expertly ordered by our 'local' hosts.

Il Quadrilatero - start point for any delicious home cooked meal

Il Quadrilatero - start point for any delicious home cooked meal

We spent the evening with another Aussie-in-Bologna, Mitch Dowd and family. Great to catch-up and hear them wax lyrical about their Italian adventures so far.

Dan, Jayne, Lisa, and Mitch

Dan, Jayne, Lisa, and Mitch

some good looking boys at the party Nat ... stop playing on the ipad!

some good looking boys at the party Nat ... stop playing on the ipad!

Yours truly, Mitch, and his boys Ewan and Hunter

Yours truly, Mitch, and his boys Ewan and Hunter

Next day, Dan suggested a trip to Parma, home of the famous cheese and prosciutto. Like so many interesting places, just a short train-ride from Bologna. Gabi (Nat was making her daycare debut) led the way to a delicious lunch before we found the sights, including an impressive cathedral, baptistry, attractive piazzas, and impressive gardens.

well satisfied gourmands after a lovely lunch at Ristorante La Forchetta

well satisfied gourmands after a lovely lunch at Ristorante La Forchetta

some mirth alongside Piazza Garibaldi

some mirth alongside Piazza Garibaldi

Giardino Ducale - Wendy and Gabi had a great time here in the open spaces

Giardino Ducale - Wendy and Gabi had a great time here in the open spaces

Our farewell dinner was at a local trattoria Dan and Lisa were keen to try. And what a feast! Spectacular seafood including a dish I 'couldn't possibly finish' but somehow managed to (ed : still got it Jonnie!). No wonder the waiter declared us the 'No.1 table' for the evening. For which the award seemed to be the run of the Meloncello bottle - a delicious canteloupe flavoured liquer. Found room for that too. By the time we left the restaurant, our Italian heatwave had broken. The rain was tumbling down. Not that we noticed ... Bologna's famed porticoed streets came into their own and we navigated a passage home, with barely a drop.

mmm ... still room for tiramisu non?

mmm ... still room for tiramisu non?

any more Meloncello and a map would have been required for the homeward navigation

any more Meloncello and a map would have been required for the homeward navigation

Sadly, the next morning it was time to leave. A final caffe at Dan's local then the challenge of driving to Lucca awaited. Nothing compared to the challenge of selling your house and moving to another country. Our hosts have already seen and done so much, it was a privilege to be part of their adventure. And it's really only begun.

the only way to start the day ...

the only way to start the day ...


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Posted by happellfamily12 15:53 Archived in Italy Tagged bologna friends sites tourist guests parma Comments (2)

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