Have you met Darth Vader?

Apparently nothing happened on the 8th as I do not have a single image but on the morning of the 9th my kid brother turned up on yet another one of his hugely powered motorcycles (he has a fleet of them) and I asked him to take an image. This one is his comfy BMW tourer that he uses to go away on with his missus.  He also has a CBX which he loves and is about 40 years of age but still pristine and a VFR which is a bit rapid to say the least.

He insisted on putting the visor down and so, ladies and gentlemen, I present my younger sibling, the very nice Mr. Vader (Darth by name) who really does not deserve the press he gets! Round the village / town where he lives (I am never sure of the proper designation) he is generally known as “Big Al” which makes me smile a little as I am taller than him. I dread to think what they call me behind my back. “Big Al’s Big Brother” perhaps or more likely, “That eejit that appears now and again, drinks a bit and plays the guitar and then buggers off again”. Really, at my time of life I don’t care.

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My brother, who really is a hardcore biker.

This admittedly short entry is only here to put this image in some sort of context.  Believe me, I head for mainland UK in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.

A strange day back in the old hometown.

Nothing to report for the next couple of days but on the 7th I knew I had to get to Belfast. As I have explained before it is ludicrously the only way I can buy a sailrail ticket back to London by travelling to the rail Travel Centre there. Still, I hadn’t managed to get to the city of my birth since I had been home so it was no great hardship.

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A pleasant enough journey on the train deposited me at the station and straight to the Travel Centre where a friendly guy dealt with me quickly and efficiently (look, I have my travel writing head back on now) so the rest of the day was mine. What to do? Well, obviously a drink or two would be called for but I fancied a bit of a wander round, just for the old times. Damn, I grew up here when it was a lot different.

First stop was always going to be the Crown Bar, a wonderful place which is actually owned by the National Trust and is arguably the most famous bar in the city. Nowadays tourists wander in the door, take a few photos and walk out without even buying a soft drink which I think is a bit rude but that is the modern world, I suppose.

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View from a snug.

I managed to bag a little snug by the door from which I could watch things going on whilst being relatively unobserved myself. Suits me and that is and was the purpose of the snug. If you don’t know what a snug is (they are all but extinct now) then look back to an earlier entry here where I explain it. A couple of pints and I was ready for a walk.

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Check out the windows, they are magnificent although sadly not completely original from years of IRA bombing of the Europa Hotel across the road.

Taking a couple of “back doubles” (i.e. backstreets and alleyways) I could still remember, I wandered down the side of Belfast City Hall which is a wonderful place to visit should you be in Belfast. They also have a really helpful Tourist Information place there. I only had a vague idea of where I was going, actually I had no idea, and so I headed for Royal Avenue which for the benefit of my UK readers is like the Oxford Street of London or, I suppose 5th Avenue in New York or wherever. It is basically the main shopping thoroughfare and I trundled along until a sudden thought hit me. I should go to Kelly’s Cellars but I had overshot the left turn for that so I took the next left into an entry which brought me back round but on the way I had to stop for a quick image of a mural on a little used walkway and which is so typical of Northern Ireland.

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This is so typical of Belfast.

I thought I should go to Kelly’s Cellars but I had overshot the left turn for that so I took the next left into an entry which brought me back round but on the way I had to stop for a quick image of a mural on a little used walkway and which is so typical of Northern Ireland.
There are obviously some brilliant artists in the country and most of them tend to do their work on walls rather than canvas or paper. The murals in Belfast and, indeed, the rest of Northern Ireland, are famous and there are organised tours which do nothing but visit them. Many of them are sectarian and glorify terrorists and history that would probably best be left alone although the genre seems to have extended now to non-controversial subject matter. I just thought this was a beautiful piece of work, not that I am any sort of art critic.
Memo to self. Do a piece on Belfast murals when you ever get round to it.

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Another place of my youth.

Having had my artistic fix for the day (I was never going to go to a gallery) I made Kelly’s. This is quite an odd place in some respects, mostly associated with my youth. Belfast really was tribal when I was a teenager and walking down the wrong street would literally get you a kicking or worse. Being where it is, Kelly’s would not have been the type of place I would have gone to because it was on the “wrong” side. What actually changed a lot of that, if only for a while, was the music. In about 1976 or 1977 the punk explosion happened and all bets were off.
I liked the punk scene and the music although, unlike many of my contemporaries, I never really got into the whole thing very much apart from one awful attempt to dye my hair purple and wearing old jackets I had bought in charity shops but it really was the big thing.  Sectarianism was still killing hundreds of people a year in a country of (then) about 1.5 million people but that all went by the board with the punk scene. We had some bloody good bands too, Stiff Little Fingers probably being the most famous, but others like Protex, Ruefrex etc. were also doing good stuff. I always liked the Outcasts because I went to school with Greg the bass player. If I can find the image of when we met at a school reunion 30 years later I’ll post it here. He hasn’t changed (and still plays) but I just look bloody old!
The thing about Kelly’s was that it didn’t matter about your background or religion or whatever. If you were into the music, that was enough. Sure, it took the rest of the country long enough to catch up. In fairness, rock gigs were the same. When I used to go and see the late Rory Gallagher (in my not so humble opinion still the best white blues guitarist ever) and people like Horslips (brilliant Celtic folk-rock band) nobody gave a damn who you were or where you came from but they tended to play in big venues like the Ulster Hall (Rory) and the Whitla Hall (Horslips), both of which were in fairly “neutral” areas. Kelly’s was a bit different.
In I went and not a damn thing had changed in about 40 years, it was exactly as I remembered except for the constant stream of tourists coming in for a pint of Guinness, a few photos and a bowl of the Irish Stew, speciality of the house and which looked and smelt gorgeous although I didn’t try it, it was far too early in the day for eating. Yet another one for the memory bank and, dragging myself away from the brilliant barmaid who was cranking my Belfast accent up by about 10% per hour (I came back to England sounding so broad) I took off again.

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It is a lot different to what I remember.

Partly by accident and, I suppose, subliminally by design I found myself at Smithfield market. Well, the image tells you what it looks like. In my day it was a collection of wooden shacks selling everything imaginable and some things you possible would not wish to imagine. I loved the place. I bought my first guitar in there.
I had learned a few chords on an old Eko Ranger 6 that my Dad had brought home (and never even lifted to my knowledge although he plays keyboards well) but I wanted my own and I paid £15 for a Harmony six string which is not a great make but I wish I had it now.  I read a quote from Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers saying it was his first guitar and it was unplayable but mine played reasonably well and I loved it.
As for the Eko, it still resides in my Dad’s house, bruised, battered but never broken and it features in an earlier entry in this set of blogs about this trip. Look for the entry where I constructed a capo from a bookie’s pen and a few hairbands! It has to be well over 50 years old now and the action is still pretty good. I suppose it is a bit like I am really – too old, rough round the edges and pretty ugly but still holding up a tune. I reckon it will outlive me!

Smithfield now is just sterile and wasn’t to my liking at all. Sure, I am glad they rebuilt it but it just isn’t the same. I had a look in a few shops but I might as well have been in Camden Market in London i.e. overpriced tat aimed at tourists. I do realise that I am starting to sound really old now but, as I have said, I can only write one way.
Leaving the 21st century predictablility of the new Smithfield I kept on walking as I usually do in search of something I could at least refer back to and which had not been swept away (i.e. blown up) by the the ravages of organised criminals posing as “freedom fighters” and subsequently replaced at huge expense to the taxpayer (i.e. me) on the back of the so-called “peace dividend”.

I obviously love the fact that you don’t have to walk about Belfast now wondering if you might have the front of a building blown out over your head and killing or maiming you, although that possibility still regrettably exists, but I cannot help but feel somewhere in me that the soul of the place has somehow got lost in translation. Certainly I have been away for a long time but I feel like a stranger in Belfast now even with my thick accent making me sound enough like a local to get by.

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An unusual hangout for me.

I walked along a few streets that I recognised by their location if not the premises there and came on the Mermaid Inn which is not a place I would have frequented when I was living there. This was not for any reason of personal safety as it is in a fairly neutral central zone, it just was not a place I used to hang out. It was OK although nothing special and a bit soulless so one pint in there was enough and back for another little trip down memory lane (there is an intended pun here for those that may know Belfast as it is an area known as the Lanes) with another aimless ramble.
I suppose it is entirely logical after 30 years but feeling like an outsider in a place I once lived was a very odd sensation. No, there was no animosity, far from it as Belfast people are renowned for their hospitality and I was greeted warmly wherever I went. I could not, however, help feeling like one of the numerous North American / European / Asian tourists who do so much now for the economy of a small country that would not have seen a foreign visitor thirty years ago as it was a war zone and that is not hyperbole, it is s simple statement of fact. I genuinely do not know how I feel these days about where I was born, strange as that may sound. Again, this seems a bit heavy but (all together now) I can only write one way.

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Leaving the Mermaid I took myself down to Cornmarket, quite a hub in the commercial area, and had a brief look at some meaningless piece of modern sculpture that someone clever enough to work the system had undoubtedly been paid a fortune to put there. You can get the same in any city but I could not help but look instead at a modern shopfront which, in my day, was the Abercorn bar and restaurant, basically a cafe and restaurant on the ground floor and a bar upstairs.

The Abercorn is etched on the minds of anyone who lived in Belfast at that time. On Saturday, 4 March 1972, it became the scene of one of the defining moments of so many others in the horror of what was wrought on my country by criminal terrorists posing as something noble over decades. The cafe was full of shoppers, mostly women and children when two teenage female IRA murderers left a 5lb. bomb in a handbag and walked out with it exploding two minutes later. It left two young women dead and about 130 injured, many with horrific injuries including losing limbs and permanent blindness. To call it carnage would be to much understate the case. For those not completely au fait with the politics of Northern Ireland, why was this done? Because the IRA believed that British soldiers used the upstairs bar. Why then place the bomb in the cafe? That was the thinking of what was effectively an organised crime syndicate masquerading under the pretence of being “liberators”.  Yes, I do feel strongly about his subject, very strongly and with good reason.
To use an ugly phrase with much currency in Northern Ireland at that time, they scored a spectacular “own goal”. The two young ladies they murdered were both Catholics i.e. on “their” side.  The lines are very blurred on this as not all Catholics are Nationalists and neither are all Protestants Unionists, as many of the first Irish Republicans were Protestant (e.g Wolfe Tone).  I really mean this, if you don’t know much about politics in Northern Ireland, then don’t try if you do not have many years left as it really is too convoluted and you will be dead before you ever even close to getting to grips with the intricacies.
Again, I understand that this is pretty heavy stuff and understandably incomprehensible to many who may some day read this. Remarkably for me, I make no apology for this writing as I seem to spend half my time here doing doing just that.
Perhaps I am finally getting my admittedly limited intellect around the concept of editorial freedom and I am actually finding it quite liberating after years of having to avoid even the most obliquely political comment on various sites for fear of bringing down the wrath of the usually self-appointed “internet police”. As always, I welcome any and all constructive debate here and I promise to answer everyone who may wish to contact me. In truth, it will not take much time as my readership is so meagre but I now have the “freedom” of the internet (on payment of a fee obviously). How I wish I had got into this gig at the start when it was a case of becoming a millionaire without getting out of your chair, what a life. Still, no point in crying over spilt milk and I probably couldn’t have managed it anyway, technophobe as I am.
Enough of all this and back to my nostalgic and ever so slightly disorientating meander round the capital of the country which seems to be causing all sorts of merry Hell in the Brexit fiasco currently being played out (October 2018) against a background of fine meals eaten by politicians and unelected bureaucrats in countries we either saved or fought against to save Europe from the yoke of Fascism.
If the reader is not aware (and why would they be outside Europe?) the major problem to implementing the democratic will of the British people (to paraphrase Robert Plant from a Led Zep live gig, “Does anyone remember democracy”?) that they should leave the much disliked Federal States of E is the border between Northern Ireland, the subject of this blog entry, and the Republic of Ireland.  The people of the Republic voted in a referendum some years ago against the will of Brussels (Treaty of Lisbon I believe although I may be wrong) so the public were sent back to the ballot box until the desired Brussels result was obtained.  They have done the same in other countries but that is the EU concept of democracy.
As far as I can see, E (as they will soon undoubtedly be called) stubbornly refuse to accept a “hard” border between a country that wants to bow the knee and one whose people voted not to. I was born in Northern Ireland in the 1950’s, lived there until the late 1980s and, for a long period of that time, there was a “hard” border. Yes, we were separate countries, yes there were border posts (before Republican terrorists started murdering Customs officers (my friend’s uncle was one such) as supporters of the British “apparatus”) but it never took more than a minute or two for my Father to drive my Mother, younger brother and I into the Irish Republic past the respective border posts. It may even have still been called Eire then, I cannot remember and life is too short to look it up. Anyway, it was never a problem. A “hard” border is only a problem to the multi-nationals who are all committed Remoaners (that is not a typo). Border posts are in place all over the world and yet it still keeps turning. Will the re-introduction of such cause the sun not to rise the next day? I think not.
Next up was a quick trip to one of the many “pound shops” that are such a feature of any British city centre these days and I love them. My primary purpose for visiting this day was that I was down to my last pair of reading glasses yet again. I really do not know what I do with them. I leave them lying at my backside, sit on the occasional pair and drop some others so often that the lenses become irrevocably scratched. I really am hard on them but fortunately I do not need prescription lenses so I stock up on as many pairs as I can lay hands on cheaply at any given opportunity. I cannot remember the name of this particular shop but, as the generic description of it I have given suggests, everything in there is £1 which is not a lot of money for any non-British people who may stumble upon this rambling.

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£8 the lot – bargain!

I bought three pairs of glasses, two hardback books which were each marked at about £17:99 and were titles by two of my favourite authors that I had not yet read. I bought three multipacks of chocolate bars for my Dad who loves anything sweet and the whole lot came to £8. At time of writing this in October 2018 that is $10:45US. To quote the Who, “I call that a bargain”.

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This brought back some memories.

Heading back vaguely in the direction of the train station I walked past the premises of Fred J. Malcolm Jewellers which has not changed one iota in at least 40 years. It was here that I bought an engagement ring the one and only time I ever started to descend the slippery slope to matrimony.  My late Mother knew the man running the place as she used to dabble a bit in collecting antique silver and so I got a good price although it was still an arm and a leg for a lovely piece, £800 as I recall in 1986 or ’87. That was a lot of money then but I was earning what was probably more than was good for an irresponsible young man like me in those days.
The engagement didn’t work out and I am quite prepared to admit now, as I did then, that the fault was entirely mine and that the young lady really did deserve a lot better than me. I did hear years later that she was happily married with kids which was what she always wanted. I have not heard of her for decades and I suppose she may well be a grandmother by now. I wish her all the very best and I do hope she is happy as she was a truly wonderful lady and how she put up with me as long as she did is still something of a mystery to me.

It is strange that even after all years a simple walk round Belfast city centre still provokes such strong emotions in me and there was more to come.

Time for a bite to eat and I knew where I was going as it was a Tuesday and therefore grill night in Wetherspoons pubs all over the UK. Again, for the benefit of non-UK readers Wetherspoons is a huge chain of pubs which all do food and they even have a few hotels now. I believe there are about 880 outlets at the last count and opinion is much divided about them. They work very much on economies of scale and rarely buy up pubs but rather convert old banks, casinos, theatres, Post Office sorting depots, churches and just about anything else huge that you care to mention and convert them, always with a local theme. I use the examples given as I have drunk in at least one of each type with my local in East London being the old Half Moon theatre which I can actually remember in it’s former incarnation.

There may be more than one ‘Spoons (as they are called colloquially) in Belfast now but the place I go is the Bridge House which is actually two buildings knocked through. One was a fancy goods box maker and the other an undertaker. What is of interest is that the architect was Sir Charles Lanyon whose other works include the glorious and technically challenging Antrim Coast Road, the Palm House in the nearby Botanical Gardens and the main building of Queen’s University which is also a short walk away. All of these will feature in future entries here if I live long enough.

I mentioned that opinion is much divided in the UK and Ireland where they have now expanded about the Wetherspoon brand so please allow me to briefly explain why. Many people like them as they offer very competitively priced food and drink and others decry them, claiming they are putting traditional pubs out of business as they cannot compete. I must say that I am firmly in the former camp.

Pubs were, and still are, closing at an alarming rate for a huge number of reasons which I am not going to go into here and it was nothing to do with Wetherspoons. If anyone ever even reads this and is slightly interested, send me a message here on the site and I’ll talk you through it. In the interests of fair reporting, which I have always tried to do on any site I have written for, and have even more reason to do so on my own, I must say that the service in a Wetherspoons establishment can be sketchy sometimes and nothing short of unacceptable at others. Part of the business model is to have as few staff as possible, although they are very good to them, winning award after award for being a great employer.

I have eaten and drunk in their outlets all over the UK many times and the only complaint I can make about the food is that I was once served an eggs Benedict with a cold Hollandaise, that’s it. It’s not haute cuisine, it is not meant to be, it is just reasonably priced grub (freezer to plate for sure) done well.

A year or two back I took my Canadian friend Lynne to this self same place when we visited Belfast on a tour of Northern Ireland and Scotland. Now, they know a thing or two about eating out in large chain bars there and we had spent manys a happy evening in various Boston Pizzas which I absolutely adore but I have a slight problem with their portion control as one of their pasta dishes for one feeds me for three meals! Anyway, I took Lynne here and I remember it well. She liked the bar, ordered a Philly cheesesteak (I think that is what it was called) and pronounced it very good. I thought that was pretty good coming from a “North American” and, please trust me, I am not on the JDW payroll to write this.

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I swear I could live off spare ribs!

I don’t know if it was just a bit of nostalgia or whatever but I managed to get the same table for two that we had sat at the night we visited. I started on one of the new books I had just bought and had a couple of pints before ordering my dinner which was exactly what I had had when I was there with Lynne but there was no element of nostalgia in this – the spare ribs in Wetherspoons are bloody brilliant and I always order them on grill night. I am so glad to see they have actually migrated to the daily menu so I can get them any time I feel like it. Yes, they were as good as they look albeit that it was a slightly bittersweet experience dining alone.

Another thing I like about Wetherspoons is that their head man, a guy called Tim Martin, who is obviously no mug to have built up such an empire (for such it is) speaks absolutely my language about the whole Brexit nonsense that is going on now.  Yes, we are back to that again. Not only does he “talk the talk” about it, intelligently deconstructing the fallacious arguments of the political class trying to protect their own gravy train, but he “walks the walk” by sourcing as much as possible from the UK, offering special deals specifically marketed as “Free Trade” or something similar where they are offering products from non EU countries cheaper than the brands currently protected under Federal States of E diktat. Here is a great example and proves far better than I ever could why it is such a good idea to get out of the EU, deal or no, as soon as possible. I have to say I am really relishing this freedom to actually say what I want.

To go back to a former “life” when I wrote for a great travel website I answered many questions for first time visitors to UK who had been frightened off a bit by reading about obscene prices for eating out and I always used to recommend Wetherspoons. That has not changed. Certainly you can eat cheaper by going for a “meal deal” from any number of supermarkets (which are great for a picnic in the park or whatever) but for a sit down meal Wetherspoons is as good as any and, again, I stress that I am not being paid to write this. The breakfasts are great and the curries on a Thursday night are excellent. I speak as one who has travelled a bit in South and Southeast Asia and whose dear friend makes the best curry in the world (I will accept no argument on this point, you really want to taste it).

Where were we on this lunatic series of digressions which have, one way and another, taken me four days to write? Ah yes, I had a bellyful of delicious spare ribs and headed back to the train station for a lateish train to Portadown and thence a cab home, the last bus having gone at 1750! Honestly, public transport in Northern Ireland is criminally bad.

Well, I didn’t expect my little jaunt to Belfast to buy a train ticket to have taken so long and with so many verbal excursions to describe but there you have it.

I shall finish off this little, or not so little, trip soon and get back to UK to head straight into another bit of an adventure so stay tuned and spread the word.

Same old, same old.

There are going to be a few days rolled into one here, as appears to be turning into a habit on my little site as, barring a day out in Belfast, mot much of note happened before I returned “home” to London on 10th August and which begged the question was I leaving “home” or going “home”. The facts of the matter are that I lived in Northern Ireland for the first 28 years of my life and have now lived in London (when I am not on my seemingly endless travels) in London for 30 now. As always, any comments would be most welcome on the subject of what you define as home?

I was helping to look after my Dad a little although his care programme, between some wonderful carers who attend him at home, and my brother and sister-in-law who live about 500 yards round the corner ensure that there is nothing to worry about on that score. I was just doing some little tasks and trying to help out where I could. In truth, I think he enjoyed the company, and I know for a fact that he was well pleased on one day when my S-i-L had arranged not to cook for him (she is a brilliant cook) and I knocked him up an Ulster Fry, the dish which has featured so much in this series of blogs and which he declared to be very tasty so that was good enough for me.

I had fallen into a bit of a routine which, on the evidence or previous visits home, had the potential to bore me to tears and yet it didn’t. I was quite happy pottering about the house during the day, taking the odd day trip to Portadown or once to Belfast for reasons which shall be explained later, going to the local pub in the evening for a few drinks with friends and jamming occasionally. I was eating regularly (as the images show and which is not necessarily the case at other times) and reading a lot of good books (my Dad has no internet access). Leaving aside my Father’s health for a moment, it appeared to be doing mine a power of good.

I do realise that this is all a bit heavy reading for the occasional visitor to the site who does not know me, and let’s be honest, I have a meagre bunch of followers here who I thank for their support but, as I said in one of my opening pieces here, this is my last shot at blogging. I am not going to risk another commercial site being pulled from under me and so this is, at times, going to be pretty brutally honest. At some point this site, such as it is and may eventually become, will eventually float about the ether and provide my epitaph to some degree. At least hopefully you’ll be able to read it online as a diary of mine would be totally illegible due to my utterly appalling handwriting!

Yes, this started off as a travel orientated site and it remains so although not exclusively. For the first time I have complete editorial control albeit I still cannot free myself of the mindset of travel sites but I am getting there. I have all sorts of odd ideas like daily limericks and who knows what else.

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Proper cheese on toast, Tandragee style.

So back to Northern Ireland on what had turned out, yet again in my case (a very small case as it happens) on what was intended to be a five or six day trip and I was two months down the road. If you have read some of my other exploits and if you read any of the many that are still to come then you will know that this is the way I am and, frankly, it suits me. My idea of travel Hell would be an organised trip as in breakfast at 0730 sharp, on the coach at 0800 sharp, famous museum at 0900 sharp, you get the idea.

I might as well start with one of my usual subjects i.e. the fry-up or ( often not so) healthy alternatives to it. The image above shows a little variant which is probably marginally less unhealthy than the Ulster Fry which has featured so prominently here. Let’s be honest, everyone loves cheese on toast but I love making it with soda bread. The effort pictured above features the said bread, Branston pickle, and a decent Red Leicester cheese I had picked up on offer at the little local supermarket. A quick crack of freshly ground pepper completes the dish. Again, I will digress here so I warn you in advance.

I am all in favour of a bargain in my food shopping and hunt out special offers in the same way I will go to a fresh produce market late in the day as they are virtually giving the stuff away. Also, I will mostly buy “own brands” from supermarkets for many things as they are every bit as good and often produced in the same factories as name brands but there are a few things I will not compromise on. Pickle of that type has to be Branston, English mustard has to be Colman’s and Worcestershire sauce has to be Lea & Perrins. Just about anything else is negotiable but these are not. Certainly there are a thousand other pickles and chutnies available and some of them very good, but this type has to be Branston.

I will certainly buy other styles of mustard (you can read in my European jaunt of 2017 on this site of how I went to Dijon in France purely to buy mustard for a foodie mate) but there is only one English mustard although the multinational Unilever, apart from their failed bit to Eurify to a single base in Rotterdam recently in September 2018 are moving from Norwich, it’s original home to two sites in Burton (Staffordshire, UK) and Germany. No surprise there and I wonder how that will play out when, or if, given the spineless nature of our alleged leaders, we eventually actually escape the mendacious clutches of the Federal States of E.
As for The Worcestershire sauce (which my Canadian friends call “W” sauce as they cannot get their tongues round the pronunciation, which admittedly is odd. I doubt I could cook without it (not that I can really cook anyway) to the extent that when I go to visit my friend in Sri Lanka I take a bottle of it with me as it costs a fortune when imported there for the expats. As a further digression off a digression, if such a thing be possible, why are there two pronunciations of the word pronunciation? Answers on a postcard please, as they say!

How can I write so much about a couple of pieces of cheese on toast? Very easily actually and I have just edited the above paragraph fairly seriously before I took off into a further digression about the origins of these fine British firms. Then again, I do have to keep reminding myself that this is MY site and I can do what I like.
I know opinion is very much divided about my writing style, if it can be called that, but on other commercial sites I have written for before more people seemed to like it than disliked it. In truth, I can only write in one style although I am trying to rein myself in a little bit. Being naturally inquisitive (for which read nosy if you like) I simply have to research everything I mention even tangentially in a blog entry and then include it in whatever I am writing. I reckon I’d have made a Hell of an intelligence officer in some field or another.

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What, no fry again?

Right, back to the narrative. That was brekkie on the 2nd of August, and the 3rd was equally subdued with a toasted sandwich and some tomato soup for the morning meal. What was I thinking?

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That’s better.

Thankfully, normal service appears to have resumed on the 4th as you can see above. A friend of mine who is a real foodie speaks of “food porn” which I used to scoff at a little but I reckon this is full on XXX rated. I am actually salivating now just looking at this image even if I did cook it myself. I swear this is turning into an Ulster Fry site!

I’ve rambled enough here so I’ll break off for another entry where I finally get back to Belfast so stay tuned and spread the word.

Last throw of the dice.

The very fact that you are reading this, if indeed anyone is, should be regarded as nothing short of a miracle.

The very fact that you are reading this, if indeed anyone is, should be regarded as nothing short of a miracle. Allow me to explain briefly as I am well aware that verbosity is one of my many failings, most of which I have only recognised relatively recently. Isn’t it funny how the passage of time gives you a much clearer picture of yourself?

I came to the fascinating mysteries of the world wide interwebnet.com or whatever it is called somewhat late in life and, after being shown the basics by a then 15 year old “stepdaughter” (I was not married to her Mother) along the lines of how to answer an e-mail and other such mysteries which she took for granted, I set off on a journey of exploration into the ether. Yes, I did get numerous withering looks of the kind that only a teenage girl can muster and which suggested, all too obviously if unstated, that I should just crawl back under my rock and await the Grim Reaper in due course. No doubt some of you will have fallen foul of it and I was still only in my 30’s at the time so hardly geriatric.

I have always loved travelling since my first “solo” holiday i.e. without parents aged 15 when myself, my younger brother and two friends cycled round the Antrim coast road in Northern Ireland, my home country. In the days before computers and in the prevailing circumstances at the time everything was planned to the last detail by “snail mail” and a visit to the Youth Hostel Association office in Belfast. A call on a public payphone (remember those?) had to be made to our parents every night but it was a start and I loved it. We were never more than an hour’s drive from home but it was an adventure and I was hooked. Everything was so much more innocent then even in the awful situation of my homeland in the 1970’s.

 

I promised to try to curb my verbosity so I shall precis this as best I can now. Armed with my newfound wanderlust, I took off to travel when I could and had left home. Nothing dramatic but some decent trips which were all organised (think package holidays) which merely served to inflame my passion for more adventurous travelling. Like the internet, I was a late starter to independent travel for various reasons too boring to go into here.

My first trip outside Europe was when I was 28 and went to New Zealand for a friend’s wedding which I turned into a month long trip as that was the longest period I could take off work. I had a stopover in Bangkok on the way which was the absolute definition of culture shock, a few weeks hitchhiking round Australia which regrettably is too dangerous to do now (hitchhiking, not Austtralia which is relatively safe) and undoubtedly illegal, a week in NZ for the nuptials with a 20 person honeymoon afterwards if you can believe that and then home. I enjoyed it immensely, the freedom, the new sights, sounds and especially smells which was the first thing I noticed when I got to Asia. I still never get tired of the smell of a Southeast Asian night market although I have been to literally hundreds.

I never had the opportunity to do the full-time “going on the road gig” as I had a steady job when I left the Forces in 1988. OK, I could have done that but I had a plan which has now fortunately come to fruition and that was to work very hard, manage my finances as best I could and hopefully retire relatively early to do my travelling then.

Path in an old railway bed, Lunenburg, NS, Canada.
A path along  a disused railbed in Lunenburg, NS, Canada.

In the interim I contented myself with working a lot of overtime and saving it for time off rather than payment which gave me the opportunity for one decent long haul trip per year. I was greatly assisted in this by a succession of very decent bosses and the fact that my workmates were nearly all married with families which meant that they wanted time off based on UK school holidays (July and August plus Easter sometimes). My preferred travel destinations are mostly in Asia so I could work like mad all summer to let the guys get time off for the two weeks break with the family and then I could take a month or slightly more off in January / February when nobody else wanted leave.

I worked hard and managed to get early retirement on a modest pension plus the werewithal to pay off my mortgage a few months shy of my 50th birthday which I thought wasn’t bad for one like me who is so totally useless at matters financial. It sounds like an ideal situation and so it has worked out but at the time I don’t mind admitting that I was utterly petrified. I had literally worked every day of my life and was really unsure what I would find to do with myself every day for the rest of my time on this planet. There was always the danger of just sitting about moping and I really didn’t want to go that way.

My entire retirement plan was predicated on travelling a lot and, almost as importantly, writing about it. I was fortunate in that I had been a member of a superb travel website called Virtual Tourist for a number of years where I had developed a love for travel writing hitherto undiscovered. I had literally thousands of entries and about 10K images there. I had travelled all over the world to “VT meets” and formed many firm friendships which endure to this day as well as discovering that I really did enjoy the writing almost to the point of obsession. I was active on an almost daily basis and it really did give me a purpose. I know this sounds a bit overblown but it is the truth and I used to set up little projects like walking several long distance paths primarily for the purpose of writing about them although I enjoy walking and exploring for it’s own sake. Then the sky fell in.

VT had been bought out some years previously by TripAdvisor and they announced at the beginning of 2017 that they were shutting it down. No provision was made for us to save our work although fortunately some of the wonderful members (including the former CEO and the original programmer) managed to get us some sort of a rapidly thrown together system without which I would have lost 12 years and literally thousands of manhours of writing, researching, cross-checking and a lot more. As and when I get this site up and running I shall attempt to transfer some of that content here from the disorganised shambles that constitutes my computer “filing system” although I do realise that it is unrealistic to try to move it all, there is just not enough time.

At time of writing in April 2018 I am not long returned from three months in Sri Lanka and I have a few other little half-formed travel plans albeit that my travel is usually arranged, booked and undertaken on a last-minute whim which is just the way I like it. Being a single man with no dependents I can literally just get up and go at a moment’s notice and regularly do.

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Typical “road” in Burma / Myanmar 2006.

Approaching 60 I am glad to say that I am in perplexingly rude health given my somewhat dissolute lifestyle with the one slight problem being a bad back which I ruined by playing too much rugby in my youth. I compounded the problem by not retiring when my excellent physiotherapist told me to (you were right, Roisin) and then ludicrously coming out of retirement which finally did for it and I was forced to quit for good at the relatively young age of 31. I have not even been registered with a Doctor for over 20 years which must tell you something! The spinal problem precludes proper backpacking but I do manage to undertake fairly extensive trips with a small rollalong case which is the next best thing.

I am hoping against hope that this will be the first of many entries on a blog that I am not going to shut myself down on!

Stay tuned.

Time to check the mail, it’s finally over.

My final day in Rome arrived and so I packed up my meagre possessions, left the appalling hostel I had been staying in and headed straight for Mauro’s bar to say my goodbyes.

I would have liked to have done the whole trip without resorting to air travel but time was pressing and it would just have taken too long so I had done something I swore I would never do again and booked on a Lyingair (Ryanair) flight home. In light of subsequent events I am surprised I am not still sitting in Rome as they apparently think nothing of wrecking the travel plans of well over half a million people due to their incompetence and greed but that is another story.  Surprisingly for them, the flight was at a pretty reasonable hour in mid afternoon as they usually fly at the most inconvenient hours to get cheaper airport slots.

A leisurely lunch of Aperol and beer was followed by a strange request from Alicia the delightful young waitress who asked me to autograph her arm! Eh? What is all that about? Pub musicians of my calibre never get asked for autographs. Mauro joked that she was going to get it tattooed over and I sincerely hope it was a joke as her existing tattoo of Alice in Wonderland which you can just see in the image was very good and my scrawl, well, enough said.

There was then a round of genuinely emotional farewells with Mauro, Angela, Alicia and Mauro’s charming Mother whose name I still remarkably don’t know. When I had asked Mauro he always just said “The Boss” and that is what I used to call her which she seemed to find amusing. I really did love those people.

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I was planning to get the bus to the airport and managed to keep my wits about me enough to get to the stop in good time, having previously checked the timetable, but there was a huge queue in the oppressive heat and I just could not face it so I bit the bullet and hailed one of the numerous taxis in that area. The ride was certainly an experience as I have mentioned Roman traffic before and it is manic. The driver spoke no English and my Italian was still rudimentary at best despite my best efforts so I spent the time watching the Roman cityscape speeding by and occasionally my life flashing before my eyes as we hurtled towards what looked like another certain catastrophe.

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Miraculously we did not die and arrived at Ciampino airport in one piece. Ciampino is not the main airport for Rome but it is the one used by the cheapo airlines. Apparently it used to be the military strip for Rome and whilst the building has obviously had a bit of a spruce up it is not exactly what you would call world class. Still, it served it’s purpose and Ryanair unbelievably got me back to London not too far behind schedule.

If the reader has had a look at another of my blogs here entitled “Back where I belong” they can probably guess what happened next. One of my greatest problems in getting home is that public transport takes me to about 200 yards from my local pub so it was like a moth to a flame that I headed straight there for a quick one but no chance. Being lateish in the evening of a weekday there was only one of my mates there but I had not seen him for literally months and so we were there until closing time catching up.

Stay tuned.

20th July.

I reckon I should technically start another entry for this day as it was well into it when I eventually collapsed in my own home again, wherever home may before me.

 

Having been away for so long, I was going to share an image which showed what awaited me when I finally made it through my front door and it was not a pretty sight although marginally more pleasant than the milk I had forgotten to take out of my fridge before I left. Thank Heavens for sealed plastic containers is all I can say.  I stupidly took an image with my name and address on the mail (it had been a long day) and whilst I am not  the smartest man, I have enough wit not to publish that!  You’ll just have to take my word for the amount of rainforest that had been wasted on my mat and which was attempting to trip me and my poor little suitcase up.  It was a very tired but happy Fergy that crashed out that night, the mail could wait until the morning.

I suppose that brings me on now to a bit of a summing up as I believe is customary. This is the first blog of the many I have to transfer here that I have completed start to finish and I must admit it brings me a certain degree of satisfaction to have done so.

That only leaves three trips to Canada, three to Sri Lanka, Malta, the London Loop and Capital Ring and………………………… Looks like Fergy is going to be a busy boy one way and another. At least I have finished my West country and Lundy Island exploit which was another great trip and which you can find here.  They will all be published in due course if I live long enough!

So what were my impressions and thoughts after almost three and a half months away through eight countries? They are many and varied as you might imagine so I shall try and make them as vaguely coherent as I can.

As the late Dave Swarbrick once wrote in the lyric of a wonderful Fairport Convention song, “The more I learn it’s the less I seem to know” and this was certainly true of this journey.

Despite the relative proximity of all the countries I visited, there were some I had not even visited before despite considering myself a bit of a traveller. I think nothing of trekking off half way round the world and yet I had never been to Luxembourg which might perhaps seem odd to some.

I certainly learned so much in the conventional sense about history specifically but even my schoolboy French came back to a degree and I picked up a word or two in other languages as well albeit I usually struggle with them.

On a practical level I learned just how sparsely I can still actually travel. I did a lot of backpacking in my younger day and whilst my bad back precludes that now I always travel pretty light but this took it to another level. I have never done that length of a trip on so little kit and this brings me onto another couple of observations.

My backpacking days often revolved around youth hostels and I stayed in plenty this time round which proved to me that I could still cut it in that environment. I have always done that using hostels in Europe and cheap B&B’s in Asia but communal living has never bothered me which may well be due to my time in the Forces where it is often the norm.

By definition this style of travelling brings me into contact predominantly with people much younger than myself although that is rapidly changing. Thankfully the rigid age limits on hostels that I remember from my youth are all but gone and with facilities in hostels now improved beyond all recognition from what they were in my heyday it is becoming more and more common to see other “grey travellers” like myself. I have read numerous articles about the phenomenon and will not re-rehearse them here but this trip certainly reinforced the truth of it to me and indeed led to some wonderful experiences.

Far from being regarded as an object of curiosity as would have been the case in days past I was interacting quite happily with people mostly young enough to be my children and on some occasions even technically my grandchildren. Some of my very fondest memories of this trip are of sitting round a common room late at night drinking cheap supermarket booze (often very good), chatting in whatever mutual languages we could muster, sharing food and maybe knocking out a tune or two on an ancient guitar without a full complement of strings. Truly magical times that will live with me a long time and I hope I have been able to convey in some form in these entries.

Of course the other advantage to the hostelling style of travelling is that it keeps the costs down which brings me rather neatly to the vulgar subject of money but I know it is a consideration for travellers. Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU the £ has taken somewhat of a hammering against the € and I was prepared for that. I have a moderate travel budget and a few travellers tricks helped me to make it last to the extent that when I arrived home and did the accounting I found that I had lived marginally cheaper than I do in London which is notoriously expensive anyway. I certainly wasn’t out of pocket.

Apart from staying in hostels which is a huge money saver things like travelling by bus overnight saved a fortune although it is not something I would do regularly. The shared ride car system was a revelation to me and I would certainly do that again. I don’t eat much and catered for myself quite a bit or else just ate in local little cafes and bars which is much more my style of travelling than eating in posh touristy places which are often rubbish anyway. Apart from being infinitely more authentic it is a chance to meet local people in their own environment, not waiters in tourist hotels or backpackers working in hostels and which moves me nicely onto my last point. I promise you it is the last as this is rapidly turning into War and Peace.

It is one of my several travel mantras that I travel to meet people and I know I have mentioned it often enough in this series of journals or blogs or whatever they are properly called. Certainly it is wonderful to see historic sites and beautiful scenery and fantastic flora and fauna and whatever else but it is really all about people for me and this trip merely reinforced that. I had a wonderful time and could count on the fingers of one hand any vaguely negative experiences I had with people with none of them very serious whilst the positives would take me a week to relate. That is why I love to travel and that is quite enough philosophising from me for one entry!

A heartfelt word of thanks to anyone who read and / or commented on some, any or all of this little effort, it is genuinely appreciated.

There is so much more to come so, as always, stay tuned and spread the word.

A new discovery and an ambition fulfilled.

After my somewhat epic trek of the 16th of July (see previous entry for full details) the 17th and 18th were spent in my usual pursuit of hanging out in Mauro’s wonderful little cafe and there are only a couple of things of note to record here. Having booked my flight home for the 19th I was effectively kicking my heels and trying to make the most of my last few days in the wonderful atmosphere of Rome amongst new found friends without the hassle of trudging round endless tourist attractions in the increasingly oppressive heat.

I’ll deal briefly with the 17th as it only throws up a couple of images of note.

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I am so glad I am not in a wheelchair or pushing a pram.

The first, almost inevitably, deals with the disgusting (there is no other word) parking and driving in Rome.  I think the image says it all really.

The second image from this day (below) indicates the complete lack of respect some people, mostly young it has to be said, have for others especially in a situation of communal living.  In the rather crappy hostel I was staying in, this was the sole table for a dorm of eight or ten people, I forget exactly how many now.  They had not just popped out for a quick smoke, they had gone out for the night and left it like this.

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Did their parents teach them nothing?

OK, they did clean it up later, much later, i.e. about four in the morning amidst much girlish giggling, drunken shrieking having already having woken everyone else up by putting on the light when even night owls like myself had managed to drop off to sleep.  Appalling and, no, I am not going to launch into a diatribe here about modern youth.  I have spoken warmly about some of the wonderful hostels I stayed in on this and other trips and I really don’t have a problem with young people as I met so many great ones but, as with much else in life, the inconsiderate few spoil it for the many.  On then to the next day.

18th July.

So what is the title of this journal entry all about then? Well, the discovery wasn’t so much of a discovery as you cannot really miss Aperol in Italy, it is ubiquitous. The Italians are fond of an aperitivo (sp?) in the late afternoon / early evening and this often consists of a mildly alcoholic drink called Aperol which I was told was made of bitter oranges and which the Italians like to enliven with prosecco. Certainly I had seen it but had somehow never got round to trying it which I happened to mention to Mauro and in about no time flat he knocked me up one, refused to take payment for it and decided I should try a Campari for good measure, although I have had that before. I must say, the Aperol was most agreeable and I see now whilst editing this over a year later in the UK that it is becoming very popular, not to mention lucrative for publicans!  A baby bottle of prosecco and an Aperol in the pub I am sitting in now (which is very reasonably priced) would be the best part of £10.  I should mention that this was all to accompany the rather fine salad you see below which, as usual, he refused to take money for.  Contrary to perceived wisdom, there is such a thing as a free lunch, you just need to know where to be.

I told you I was turning Roman when I was there but “when in Rome” and all that kind of stuff.  Inevitably, with that madman Mauro and I, there was no way that one was going to be enough and it soon degenerated into a bit of a session with the front door locked. Honestly, I do not know how things like this happen to me all the time but I certainly am not complaining.  I live a charmed life and I know it.

As for the ambition realised well that was an easy one. In these days where there is a coffee bar every 50 yards (literally) in London and even the pubs sell it, I was obviously fully conversant with the concept of the “proper” coffee machine. In my flat (apartment) a coffee is a spoonful of instant, some boiling water and a spot of milk if it hasn’t gone off in the fridge. It certainly doesn’t involve hazelnut syrup, frothy milk, cinnamon and silly designs on the top. However, in keeping with my Romanization as mentioned above, I had found myself drinking more and more of the stuff but only espresso as the locals do and none of your capuccinos and lattes and the like. Honestly, can anyone please tell me what the Hell a flat white is?

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Get me, the Roman barista and, yes, I did really make some.

I had long wanted to have a go at making a coffee on one of these things so I asked Mauro and naturally he agreed. He walked me through it and I don’t know what all the fuss is about as the machine does all the work. He didn’t look overly impressed at the result but I drank it anyway and it tasted all right to me so I suppose I can now technically add Fergy the barista to my somewhat eclectic CV.

My last couple of days passed pleasantly but all too quickly as the last few always do on any trip and soon it was the 19th which I’ll deal with in my next and final entry on this blog.

We are almost at the end of this rather crazy journey so you might as well stick around one more day for the endgame.  Stay tuned and spread the word.

I get gloriously and happily lost (again).

16th July.

My last entry dealt with my first foray into proper sightseeing in the Eternal City and I was pretty fired up to do a bit more. Not only that but I had resolved myself to walk as I am a firm believer that this is the best way to see any city. The previous day I had singularly failed to take an image of the Vatican due to equipment failure. OK, to be perfectly honest I had forgotten to charge the battery of my camera which had given up the ghost at the crucial moment and so I thought I would have an early start on the hop on – hop off bus as my 24 hour ticket ran to 1100 and then walk the rest of the way. Well, that was the plan anyway!

It all started off so well on a glorious Roman summer day which was to pass through being a complete navigational cock-up into one of the best days of the whole trip. I had my little free map from the hostel which was frankly about as much use as a lawnmower on a submarine but I had a rough idea at least. I knew I had to walk across the Tiber and there are plenty of bridges at least, which is handy, so I picked one which looked particularly attractive and for some inexplicable reason I actually felt quite emotional. I have no idea why, perhaps it was just that I was walking across this hugely famous river in the heart of one of the most iconic cities in the world and I had never been there before, it was just one of those “travel moments” that I have from time to time.

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I have a feeling the bridge I used was the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuele II but I would not swear to it. At this point I decided to deliberately go the “wrong” way as I fancied getting an image of the river but I knew that if I retraced my steps I would be back at my “launchpad” for the Vatican.

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Fanciest shutter I ever saw.

Naturally, with me being me, I was taking random pictures of anything and everything and the image above shows a piece of “graffiti, if that is not too crude a word for it, that my untutored eye would not have found out of place in a fine art gallery.  Shame the local thugs had not demonstrated the same artistic ability in their crude daubs adjacent.

 

I wandered along the riverbank, noting the many little riverside bars and restaurants set up in marquees but none of which was apparently open much to my annoyance. With the photo duly taken, it was back to where I had started and what should have been a fifteen minute or so walk up the hill to the Vatican. This is where things started to unravel.

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This is NOT the road to the Vatican.

I had a quick beer in a little local bar and I stress that it was a quick one and one only and then I took off along what I was quite sure was the uphill and very short walk to the Holy See. Wrong and I had a feeling it was wrong. I was certainly going uphill in what had by now becoming fairly blazing hot sun but whilst I should have returned to the bridge and regrouped I just kept ploughing on. Where was the problem? I was having one of my little adventures and I knew that if worst came to worst I could blag a taxi somewhere to take me home.

Onwards and upwards as they say but nothing is ever simple for me. I had worked out where I was and a route back down to the river but the entire road, including the pavements was blocked off for works and I mean completely blocked off. OK, resort to Plan B (I had not even had too much of a plan A) so I thought I would go the long way round via the park and perhaps I could find a path that would lead me back up to the Vatican City.

Find a path? Not a chance. Beautiful as the Parco del Giancolo undoubtedly is (it affords some beautiful views over the city as you can see above, even on a hazy day) paths are in pretty short supply so I just kept walking and what treasures were to be discovered and there proved to be quite a number.

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The Lighthouse.

First up in this ancient city was a not so very ancient monument at all but nonetheless impressive.  It was, would you believe, a lighthouse in a city I had never associated with seafaring to a great extent.  It merely dates to 1911 when all four of my grandparents were still alive but it is impressive nonetheless and is undoubtedly situated in the right place, namely just about the highest point in the city.  It was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Italy, which I shall come to in a moment, and was funded by donations from Argentinians which is not as odd as it may initially sounds when you read on about Guiseppi Garibaldi and his rather daring and tragic wife Anita, herself a South American.

Garibaldi Monument.

I found a wonderful memorial to Giuseppe Garibaldi who, as well as being credited as the unifier of what is modern Italy, had many adventures and military campaigns in the Americas and of whom I knew remarkably little.

It is very true to say that I constantly learn whilst travelling which I suppose is one of the major reasons I do it. If I may quote here from an excellent old Fairport Convention song, “For the more I learn it’s the less I seem to know” which was written by the late and much missed Dave Swarbrick, a fine musician who I had the pleasure of meeting.  Such it was with Garibaldi on my trip to Rome.

Despite going to a good school, Italian history past the Romans just was not on the agenda. Yes, I had some sort of vague idea which I had read somewhere long after I left that seat of learning that he was an important personage without whom modern day Italy would not exist and that there was a biscuit named after him which may be true or purely another historical myth. Disregarding the biscuit (to which I am quite partial) I managed to find out, on this day of getting lost in Rome, quite a bit about this remarkable character. I have researched a little further since and found out more and I intend to continue that line of enquiry. Such is the joy of travelling, I never stop learning and hope I never will.

I could go on now to regale the reader with a full history of this fascinating man but I shall not as it is all available online and undoubtedly done better than I could. What I will speak of is this rather magnificent monument to the man which is sited on the highest point of the Janiculum Hill, one of the seven upon which the city is so famously built. It is an appropriate site as it is where he had a fairly famous “last stand” (although it turned out not to be his last) against Roman Catholic troops called in from places like Austria and France by Pope Pius IX who he had already effectively banished from Rome, if the reader can imagine that. A Pope banished from Rome?

The monument itself is very impressive and well worth seeking out, albeit that I had found it completely by accident but a quick word of warning here. I had fancied getting up close to it for a few images on my pretty basic compact camera but the antics of the Roman traffic precluded this as the effigy is effectively in the middle of a traffic roundabout and you really do take your life in your hands trying to get near it.

It is to the design of Emilio Gallori but was not unveiled until 1895, some 13 years after his death.

Anita Garibaldi Monument.

I found the magnificent memorial to his wife Anita, apparently a formidable woman who fought alongside Garibaldi and died tragically young of malaria. She is quite revered in Brazil as an agent of independence and the memorial also serves as her final resting place after her first hurried burial near Ravenna where she died.

If I knew little about Garibaldi, I knew absolutely nothing of his wife who has transpired to be an equally fascinating character if not, indeed, even moreso and yet again gives further credence to the old cliché about travelling broadening the mind. Like most clichés it has a sound basis in truth. Had I not managed to completely lose myself I would have probably gone to my grave never having heard of this incredible woman.

For a woman who played such a prominent role in the founding of modern Italy, it is a little surprising that she was not even Italian, whatever that meant at the time of her birth in 1821 as Italy was essentially a group of principalities. She was Brazilian and of very humble Azorean stock who had earlier relocated to South America. She met Garibaldi (himself from what is now France) in 1839 and they became lovers, comrades in arms and eventually national heroes.

Her wonderful memorial atop Janiculum Hill close to that of Garibaldi himself and I actually found hers the more aesthetically pleasing, not to mention historically accurate of the two and the central image of her riding away from potential danger with a weapon in one hand and clutching an infant child in the other I found to be hugely emotive somehow. Given the social mores of the time she really is a fine example of feminism which I suspect some of the more extreme of that movement in the 21st century might do well to study.

Her memorial is made all the more poignant in that it is her final resting place although this is in itself contentious. Having died of malaria in 1849 Anita’s remains were hastily buried near Ravenna where she had died. There is some suggestion that dogs dug up and desecrated the remains after which they were moved and it was not until 1932 that the Fascist leader Mussolini had the remains removed from the alleged second resting place in Genoa to be placed in the base of the current monument which is the work of Mario Rutelli. Hopefully it is the poor woman’s final resting place and I must say that when I eventually shuffle off this mortal coil I can think of many worse places for my ashes to lie.

Again, this monument is not on the standard tourist Roman tour but is well worth seeking out and the reader may even try doing it deliberately and not by getting as lost as I was!

They came from all corners of the globe.

So there I was on Janiculum Hill, apparently so named for the Roman god Janus (from where we get our English word January) and I had seen the monuments to Guiseppi Garibaldi and his redoubtable wife Anita which you have already read about. This was all well and good, I was admittedly lost but having a great time even if it was stinking hot, but there was something that was puzzling me.

All over the hillside, which is where Garibaldi made a famous stand against the French as sent by the Pope (Pius IX) who wanted nothing to do with self-determination for the Roman people, I found fairly uniform sized busts of generally bearded or at least mustachioed 19th century looking chaps atop plinths with dates of birth and death (if my appalling Italian serves me here).

It appears that Garibaldi was joined as brothers in arms by many men from all over the globe, including my own country, the UK, who shared his political ideals and these are the men commemorated here. Many of his comrades were South American as he had certainly had a few exploits there and his wife was Brazilian of Portuguese Azorean extraction.

Somehow I found these memorials to long dead men stangely affecting and I could not help myself quietly singing a song called “Viva la Quinza Brigada” (sp?) which I learned from the singing of Christy Moore and which was written about the International Brigade fighting against Franco’s Fascists in Spain in the 30’s. It was just the concept of idealists, be they right or wrong, travelling half way across the world to take up arms that had worked it’s way into my skull. Whatever the rights or wrongs of their cause, they died here and that makes it a place worth visiting.

I have been told before that I think far too much all the time, especially when I travel, and this is very probably true. However, I make no apology for this and I was glad I saw these memorials, albeit accidentally.  I would recommend any traveller to Rome with a day or two spare to go up Janiculum Hill and view this, not to mention the many other attractions and superb views. It is arguably my favourite place in Rome and these monuments are well worth seeking out.

Another slightly unexpected building I passed was what turned out to be the Finnish Embassy, not that it was unusual in itself but the location has to be one of the most pleasant diplomatic postings in the world with that stunning view over Rome.  A whole lot better than, say, Kabul for sure.  I noticed they also advertised classes in the Finnish language (amongst other regular cultural activities) and I wish them much luck with that as Finnish is a ludicrously difficult language unless you are Hungarian.  Go on, I’ll bet I have piqued your interest now and you’ll look it up.  I’ll give you a clue, do a search on Finno-Ugric languages as it would take me forever to explain here.  Personally, in several weeks in that lovely country I learned the word for breakfast which has more vowels than I have ever seen, how to order a beer (obviously) and please and thank you and so I wish polyglot Italians “in bocca al lupo” with that.

On and on past the gates of the park and I eventually came upon what could just about be described as a hamlet where I stopped in a tiny locals bar for much-needed refreshment.

Directly opposite this excellent hostelry was a small museum to Garibaldi which I visited before heading back towards town. I only found out it was a museum by chance as I had thought it was just a very ornate old city gate, which it also is.  There was not a vast array of artefacts but what there were proved interesting and there was a particularly harrowing audio-visual piece (pictured and available in English) about a man whose young sons were all executed before his eyes during the “Battle of Rome” or whatever it is officially called.  Definitely not one for the youngsters but very well done.

I thought I had already had a pretty good day’s sightseeing and learning considering I had only the vaguest idea where I was but I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and done what I love doing on the road, just wandering at random and hoping for the best.

I eventually managed to get to the Tiber again by way of some ludicrously steep steps and a very well-tended war memorial and then cross the river by way of a small island which I did not even know existed.

My knowledge of Rome was indeed lamentable. The island is really pretty tiny yet it boasts no less than a basilica (pictured) and three hospitals which I can only surmise is some sort of historical quirk for keeping infection out of the main city,  I really have no idea. Hot as the sun was I was still thankfully not in need of hospitalisation but I could have murdered a drink which proved to be no problem as there were a few little bars dotted about from which I chose the Tiberino which was a pleasant if expensive choice with just a word of warning which I suppose still proves I have not quite shaken off my habit of reviewing as I did for Virtual Tourist.  The “facilities” are down some rather steep steps as I suppose is normal in an old building like this and I did not see an accessible toilet (although there may be one) so if mobility is an issue for you it may be a problem.  Actually, I do not see a problem with reporting things like this, it is my site and if I care to share what I believe to be helpful information, so be it.  As I have said many times before I still have not quite worked out what form this site is to take which I know is not a good way to run it but I rather like my scattergun approach.

Pausing to look at the impressive 1,000 year old basilica which was regrettably shut. I wandered across the delightful pedestrian “Ponte Quattro Capi” aka “Pons Fabricius”, which I discovered is the oldest bridge in Rome in it’s original state and dates to 62B.C.  Not only does it speak volumes for the standards of Roman construction but it was a bit of a thrill to think I was walking across a bridge that perhaps legionnaries, centurions, senators, gladiators, slaves and all the rest may have walked over.  This day was just going from good to out the far side of brilliant.  How I love getting lost.

I eventually regained “my” side of the river, so I was in with half a shout of getting home in one piece, all good.

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The Pons Fabricius bridge to “my” side of the Tiber.

Once there, I had a reasonable idea of where I was heading but that did not stop me going a bit crazy again. Read on.

Despite my pretty dodgy back and advancing years coupled with the still fairly stifling heat of the late afternoon I reckoned I had a bit of walking left in me and so I kept going. Probably more by good luck than good judgement I found an area I vaguely recognised from the previous day’s bus trip and by dint of following the route of the tour buses I knew I was getting back to more or less where I wanted to be. Naturally with me being me, there were a few diversions on the way and, as long as I was still vaguely orientated I reckoned I was still ahead of the game.  Some of the diversions are pictured above but don’t ask me what they were, impressive as they seemed to be.

These diversions included the not very Italian sounding “Public Bar” which I would normally have given a large swerve but it turned out to be great and eventually, more by good luck than good judgement I suppose, I ended back up in the hostel, utterly exhausted but very happy.

It is a strange dichotomy in that I can read maps pretty well and yet can manage to get myself completely lost somewhere like Rome yet I can always find my way home even after visiting numerous purveyors of liquid refreshment which is what happened this evening and I can tell you that after the exertions of a very warm day my head had hardly hit the pillow before I was fast asleep.

This rather extended journey is approaching a conclusion but there is still a little more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.