A Travellerspoint blog

Mangia mangia mangia!

18 °C
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

On Friday morning we checked out of our Airbnb apartment, completing the interaction solely in Italian. Admittedly, there was not a lot of complexity to the conversation, but we still felt rather triumphant as we walked out the door. Lina and Bastiano met us at the Porta Messina, and we wound our way out of Taormina. As we left town, we passed a place called 'Baby Farm' which rather made me chuckle to myself as it conjured up amusing images that I'm not sure the proprietors were intending. Let's assume it was some sort of 'Farmacia' specialising in baby products, shall we?
We stopped in Barcellona (not to be confused with Barcelona - been there, done that) and met briefly with Dr Alessia before continuing on to admire the Basilica di San Sebastiano (troppo grande) and partaking in some granita at St Honore - a pasticceria that we remembered from eight years earlier. Barcellona was a busy place - more cars than people - and we had a quick refresher course in the Art of Crossing the Street (don't look, just go and walk with confidence), the Art of Parking (stop the car in a location that is convenient for you) and the Art of Driving (move the car in a direction that is convenient for you). There were few signs, and seemingly fewer rules, but when a sign said to stop it did so in English - maybe 'fermi' didn't fit in the available space as easily?
We arrived at Zia Venera and Zio Sam's place in Protonotaro, a village in the mountains. The house was just as we remembered it, but there were some new inhabitants of the animal variety. Umberto promptly introduced us to Mister Jack and Sissi (the cats), Fiamma (the rabbit) and Trudy (the puppy). After lunch we admired the views from the balcony, then admired Mimma and Domenico's wedding photos (I particularly enjoyed the prominent display of white socks).
Mimma took us back to Barcellona to visit Zia Santa and Zio Pepino. Mimma acted as an interpreter, even though she didn't speak English, because she was able to accommodate our need for slow and simple Italian phrases.
We returned to home base for a spot of Rummy with Valentina, Bea, Umberto and little Salvatore. Salvo had been a one year old with piercing blue eyes at our last visit - now he was a tiny nine year old boy with piercing blue eyes, and he was functioning very effectively as Umberto's shadow. We had a quiet dinner (no mean feat in an Italian family) and then retired to bed to reflect on just how lucky it was that I had studied Italian all through high school.
The weekend kicked off with breakfast of croissants and yoghurt (with toast to dip in it of course - any opportunity for carb loading should be seized with both hands), and continued with a game or two of Scopa with Zio Sam. An excellent way to consolidate one's ability to count in Italian! Tanino came and collected us and took us back to St Honore for granita (con panna e brioche, naturally - there's that bread dipping habit coming out again) and then we headed to lunch at Tanino and Graziela's new house. We met the king and queen of the family (Zeus and Regina - rather aptly named dogs), and enjoyed lunch together while practising our Italian and English language skills. We spent the afternoon sightseeing around Milazzo - first to the Capo di Milazzo (which is a spot I highly recommend for sunset viewing) and then the Castello di Milazzo (excellent for appreciating ancient buildings and seeing the town of Milazzo by night). While daylight allowed, we could see to the Eolian Islands, but the sight that most tickled my fancy was that of the beach showers. These were large mosaic structures shaped like penguins (not local to the area) and elephants (most definitely not local to the area).
Our touring for the day done, we returned to Zia and Zio's place for a big family dinner of pizza - the most ginormous pizzas I have ever had the privilege of eating! And one whole pizza featured the slightly unexpected toppings of chips and saveloys. Not what I had anticipated, but I had to try it (it was better than you would think).
On Sunday morning we went adventuring with Domenico and Mimma - first stop: gelati. Of course. From there we went to Portorosa, where the rich people keep their boats moored up and waiting for the summer. We called on Salvo and his parents, and then had a big family lunch (only Alessia and Vera were missing) before heading off to Milazzo with Veronica, Bea and Santino. We explored the Venice pool (did you know that the Italian for 'selfie stick' is 'selfie stick'?) and went for granita in town, because we had walked up and down lots of steps and had definitely earnt it. We then farewelled Santino, and popped in to see Concettina, Tanino (another one), Maria Carmela, Cettina, Claudio and baby Clelia. Claudio earned us some massive brownie points by asking us all the questions we knew how to answer in Italian, thereby making us look proficient in the language and drawing compliments from everyone. Winner.
Mimma and Domenico took us to dinner at Zia Santa's, and we all sat in the lounge room talking while we waited for everyone to arrive. When I say 'talking', I mean other people talked, and we tried our best to understand. People kept arriving, the room was full, but still we did not eat. I wasn't sure who or what we were waiting for, but eventually my favourite word ("mangiamo") was uttered and we sat down to an absolute feast. There were lots of people (some whose relationship to us I still am not entirely sure of) and lots of noise (videos on phones to entertain the small people), so it was difficult to hear, let alone understand and respond appropriately in Italian! We managed a decent conversation with Nino, finding some cultural common ground with Ligabue and Montalbano. After all the dolci had been shared around (and we'd been forced to consume more than our fair share), it was time for bed. Time to rest our poor little heads!
Monday morning we spent with Tanino, exploring Tindari. From the hill, there are views across the whole region, and we could see all the other places we had visited so far, which was helpful for putting it all into context. We explored the nearby teatro greco, dating from about the 3rd century BC. Even if we couldn't understand all the informative signs, we got the general gist of the situation - and Tanino was able to translate the serious and formal written Italian information into language that was much more comprehensible to us. We managed to time our visit so that we could see the old church (approx. 500 years old) as well as the new one - the 'Sanctuary of the Black Madonna'. Simon had plenty of opportunities to use one of his favourite Italian words - 'bella'. The views, the weather, the church, the theatre - and most importantly, his wife. Haha.
For lunch we had leftovers (my favourite), and bread with sugar and oil, which sounds a bit strange but actually tastes amazing as long as you don't stop to think about the nutritional content of what you are eating.
We traipsed around 'lo zoo' in the backyard, and visited the Buccheri family plot of land that was absolutely filled with oranges, lemons, mandarins, and olives. A little haven of peace, quiet, and fruit.
Alessia, Lina and Bea popped over in the afternoon to begin the farewell process, and then we looked at the photos of the 'Festa d'Umberto'. Valentina and I formed an alliance based on being festa-less, but even that alliance couldn't save me from The Worst Rummy Tiles Of All Time. Ah well.
On Tuesday morning, it was time for us to depart Protonotaro. Simon had prepared some carefully selected Italian phrases, but when Zia started to tear up they were promptly forgotten and he had to make do with hugs instead. Tanino and Veronica drove us to the airport and we did our final farewells - but with the plan to catch up again in less than eight years.
We lunched at the airport - arancini and cannoli, because what else would you expect? - and then ended up scoring exit row seats for the flight back to Malta. Arrivederci Sicilia, e grazie per tutto!

Posted by Buccas 00:54 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

On the hunt for granita

all seasons in one day 20 °C
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

We were at the airport with plenty of time to spare - plenty of time for people watching, and more than ample time to eat our ftira with salami and cheese. I’m not sure than Hungarian salami and double gloucester cheese was necessarily a traditional Maltese filling, but let’s just go with it. Once our gate was announced, we queued for what seemed an excessively long time. I spotted an exceptionally brazen queue-jumping maneouvre (definitely not British), but karma got them in the end, when they were forced to check in their carry on suitcases, meaning they would have to wait to collect their luggage at the other end of the journey. Justice was served.
We waited, and still we waited some more. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 13.25, but that turned out to be the boarding time instead (thanks to an ‘operational issue’ on a flight from Venice). Once onboard, I was reminded that we were most definitely not in Britain anymore, as I was forcibly pushed aside in an act of unneccessary assholery by someone who obviously felt that it was more important that they be seated ASAP than to allow me to remain standing upright. Jerk. Oh and you know you’re flying to Italy when both of the emergency rows are completely empty - nobody was willing to pay the extra euros for leg room on a thirty minute flight, and the flight attendant had to beg nearby passengers to sit there.
We arrived at Catania airport, and Tanino and Beatrice were waiting there to meet us, looking much the same as they had 8 years ago (except that Bea had grown considerably taller). First stop - gelati and coffee. Because Sicily. I claimed an early victory by ordering my gelato in Italian - and even better, the waitress understood me. Poor Simon made a poor flavour choice by asking for ‘Bounty’ and then being told to say it in Italian - come si dice Bounty in Italiano?? From there we headed to Taormina, where Simon and I checked into our Airbnb and Tonino and Bea returned to their home.
We found some wood-fired pizza for dinner, and of course managed to seat ourselves next to an Australian couple in the restaurant. For once, Simon opted not to make friends with them as it appeared that Cheryl and her husband were not having the friendliest of conversations. It transpired that Cheryl was not a satisfactory seafood cook (I was just lucky that Simon didn’t feel the need to berate me about this too) and her mother was also entirely unsatisfactory. Poor Cheryl - she wasn’t having a good time. But we were! And did I mention that I won 500 again? Open misere again. Sorry Simon.
We awoke to the sounds of scooters and people exchanging their morning greetings. When I heard someone utter the phrase ‘ho fame’, I felt more at home than ever before. Buongiorno, Sicilia! There was a cafe across the road from our apartment, but they weren't selling granita because it wasn't summer... So we had to settle for fresh croissants in the sunshine. Tough gig. We strolled the streets of Taormina with no particular quest, except to appreciate Beauty and Excellence, which was easily done. We found it more difficult to stroll to a supermarket, but with a little assistance from some free wifi we managed that as well. I think you should always visit a supermarket at least once when you visit a new place - it really gives you a sense of the priorities of the local people. There was a massive stand of panettone, a wall of plastic cups and plates, and fairly unsurprisingly an entire aisle of pasta. Pasta, pasta, pasta - as far as the eye could see. Carb loading, anyone?
We were enticed by a sign advertising granita, and were rewarded for our curiosity. Granita - even in winter! We ordered in Italian, and the waiter responded in English, but hey, at least we tried. And so we sat with our granita and our brioche and lapped up the sunshine. La dolce vita, indeed. We roamed the ‘villa communale’, a garden with a higher plant:concrete ratio than you would expect in Italy, maybe because it was established by a Scottish woman who had moved to Taormina and decided to stay thereforever. She had given herself excellent views over the bay, and also had built several constructions that looked like cubby houses for adults (her ‘beehives’). The buildings were in various states of disrepair, which actually added to their charm, and it seemed rather arbitrary which parts had ‘vietato entrare’ on them and which bits you could walk through.
We went back further in time after that, to the Odeon theatre, dating from about the 3rd century BC. It was just casually tucked away in a corner off the main street, behind a church, beside some houses. As you do. We had arancini for afternoon tea (but not very good ones, I’m afraid) and spent the rest of the daylight hours available just wandering the beautiful streets and alleyways of Taormina. In the interest of balance, I should report that we won one game of 500 each once the sun went down.
There was plenty of rain the nextmorning, and it seemed as if it was going to set in for the day, but thankfully it cleared by mid-morning and just stayed overcast, giving the day a strange and hazy feel. We set off down the hill to Isola Bella, where I thought that the views had actually caused the camera to give up on any attempt to capture the beauty and instead decide to render everything it saw as a blurry replica. Eventually I discovered that a setting had been changed unintentionally (easily done when you can't actually see the screen) and the problem was fixed. We didn't walk across right to the island as we didn't like our chances of beating the waves, but it was lovely enough to appreciate it from the pebbly beach.
The walk back to town was all uphill and therefore rather less enjoyable, especially since it had become quite humid. But it was actually exciting to feel hot - because it may be a long time before experience that sensation again!
In the afternoon we met up with Veronica and clarified that our backpacks contained two weeks’ worth of travel supplies, and were not all we had for the whole year. We savoured some granita while practising our Italian skills (nothing helps you speak a language better than eating the food) and caught up on all the happenings of the past eight years.
Simon talked me out of having granita again for dinner, but I was allowed to have almond semifreddo for dessert because I was a good girl and ate all my verdura. Nom nom nom. Mi piace Taormina.

Posted by Buccas 08:02 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

V for Valletta

sunny 22 °C
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

The weekend arrived and with it, the promise of improved weather. Alas, alack, it turned out to be a false promise. By the time we arrived in Victoria, the rain was back. But once we boarded the ferry to Malta, the rain had eased up again and we had a dry crossing. We then disembarked and were welcomed back to the larger island with, yep, you guessed it, storms again. Luckily we had a 90 minute bus ride (that turned into a 120 minute bus ride) to get us back to Valletta while maintaining our dry status.
We checked into our apartment - situated directly across the road from a church, how very stereotypically Maltese! And then we got wet again. The ability to make a decision about where to have lunch was sped up greatly by the presence of rain, and we ended up with the best milkshakes of the trip so far. Hallelujah - proper milkshakes! With icecream! And real milk! And flavour! Turned out that our adventures had not been in vain at all. Much rejoicing was had.
We strolled the streets of Valletta looking for some sort of supermarket-grocery-store-food-retail-facility... But that was more difficut than we had expected. With some guidance, we ended up at Wembley, a bizarre general store that sold ‘fine foods’ as well as ‘less than fine foods’ and ‘dog food’ but not ‘food that Simon and Alison would like for dinner’. So we trudged back home to the apartment (in the rain - still nowhere near as wet as the day before), consulted the all-knowing Internet and found our nearest Lidl, and a bus route. Simon volunteered for shopping duty, and I took on planning duty. Playing to our respective strengths. After dinner (and some last minute Italian cramming), we drifted off to sleep to the sound of church bells and rain. How soothing.
On Sunday we woke to church bells and no rain - huzzah for sunshine! We acted like genuine locals and did a load of washing but didn’t hang it on the balcony like genuine locals. Our morning adventures included discovering a cat cafe - kind of like a shelter for homeless cats - and finding the weekly market. The market contained the usual assortment of socks, bags, DVDs, tools, sunglasses, and other random pieces of non-essential bric-a-brac designed to thwart the aspirations of KonMari wannabes the world over. I am disappointed to report that the Valletta market (held in Floriana) had absolutely NOTHING on the Murrabit Markets - only about one hundredth of the size. No plants, no books, no crafts, and definitely NO barbeque cooked by the local service club. No food at all, which ruined my plans of eating nothing but pastizzi for the day. Bah. So we had to go to Lidl instead, which stocked a surprising range of local delicacies - ftira (bread), Kinnie (softdrink) and a Twistie-like product that tasted a little of parmesan cheese.
After lunch, the sun kept on shining so we kept on adventuring. We cut a lap around the edge of Valletta, admiring the views of the water from every possible angle. We discovered that ‘gardens’ in Malta are actually ‘expanses of concrete and limestone archways with the occasional hint of greenery and excellent views’. We also discovered that the Maltese love a good plaque - any excuse will do. In ten years time, I would not be surprised to see a plaque unveiled to commemorate the fact that a decade ago Team Buccheri enjoyed their milkshakes in Valletta. The Upper Barrakka Gardens (not to be confused with the Lower Barrakka Gardens) were poised above the saluting battery, and at 4pm we were witnesses to an earth shattering kaboom as the time canon was fired. That stirred the pigeons up, that’s for sure!
As we relaxed with a milkshake (another good one!) and a latte, we reflected again on the brilliant mix of cultures here. You could just as easily find rabbit stew as a Sunday roast, and you could call home from a red phone box as you munched on buccellatto or bragioli. And if you wanted Sicilian cuisine spelt differently (kannoli, anyone?) then you were certainly in the right place.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from ‘the right place’, headed for home and settled in for Kinnie and pasta, with apricot yoghurt for dessert. I can only hope that apricot yoghurt has magically become more readily available by the time we return home (and I don’t mean apricot, mango and peach yoghurt - although that’s certainly the best available option). And I finished the night off by winning a game of 500 against Simon with a triumphant call of Open Misere. I can definitely gloat here because Simon won’t read this for another six months or so, and when he does, I will simply remind him how modest I was in the moment of actual victory.
The next morning, we thought it was about time we learned some Stuff and Things about Malta - after nearly a week, we had done a lot of appreciating the natural beauty, appreciating the local food, and unappreciating the weather, but we had very little idea about Malta’s history. So we filtered through the reviews of about ten different options for getting an overview of the historical situation. Malta 5D, The Malta Experience, Malta - The Musical, Much Ado About Malta - so many options, most of them gimmicky (and some of them invented purely for the amusement of anyone reading this). Eventually we settled on a film (”audio visual experience” if you believe the hype) called Valletta - Living History. It turned out to be a private screening, so we were able to enjoy the mildly awkward dialogue, lame acting and subtle messages about Malta being a great place to live/work without any of the distractions pesky tourists can cause. Kitschness aside, we learned Stuff and Things and felt better equipped to continue our explorations.
We grabbed a pastizzi to prepare ourselves for St John’s Co-Cathedral - definitely not a site to be tackled on an empty stomach. I think it would rate in my Top 3 Churches That Are Not Sagrada Familia (nothing will ever beat that), although the audio guide was a little dull. Needed the Monty Python touch - perhaps Doune Castle has ruined audio guides for me forever. Anyway - back to the church itself. It managed to find a comfortable level of ornateness (ornaticity? ornatification?) that was impressive and beautiful but not completely to the point of ridiculousness. I got the message that the Knights of St John had some serious dosh at their disposal, but they also jad some taste (or they employed people who did, anyway).
Back home for lunch, then back out to complete our day of learning, at the Fortification Interpretation Centre, chosen because it was free (hurrah) and because it tackled the topic of defence. We figured that by doing religion in the morning and defence in the afternoon we would have covered the two most important themes in one day. It was a very informative museum, and was definitely money well not-spent. We then proceeded to spend the money we had saved on gelati, as our little tribute to the original Sicilian inhabitants of Malta. We had the most amazing gelati, because not only did they taste delicious, they were shaped like roses. Che bella!
That evening we caught the bus out to Sliema with 400 or so of our closest friends, and scored ourselves a table at one of the surprisingly rare Maltese restaurants. Had we desired Italian or Indian cuisine, we would have been spoiled for choice. I guess Maltese people don’t go out for the food they prepare themselves at home. Anyway, we encountered our second Serbian waiter and promptly succumbed to the charms of the self-serve salad bar buffet. Mmm vegetables... We had rabbit stew and rabbit ravioli, and then caught the bus back home again. Another successful outing. The next morning we used the seventh day of our seven day bus pass to get ourselves out to the airport... Look out Sicily, here we come!

Posted by Buccas 03:12 Archived in Malta Comments (0)

Wanted: winter sun

rain 20 °C
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

Our flight was genuinely about as exciting as you could expect a 7am flight to be - in between snoozing and reading, we caught glimpses of Mont Blanc and the Alps, which was rather lovely scenery to while away the time with. As we approached Malta, it looked fake - with the blueness of the ocean and the white border as the waves crashed on the cliffs, it definitely looked as if it had been drawn by an artist. And the fakeness only increased as we got closer - from the air, Valletta looked to be a city made entirely of cardboard cut out buildings. Thankfully the tarmac was genuine, and we had a smooth landing with the usual Ryanair arrive-on-time fanfare.
We grabbed some lunch at the airport (burritos of a relatively high standard for an airport) and headed to the bus stop. The bus timetable indicated that our X1 bus was due to arrive at 12.45, or 13.15. When it arrived at 13.00, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. An optimist would say the 13.15 bus arrived early, a pessimist would say the 12.45 bus arrived late - but in my somewhat sleep-deprived state all I could process was that the bus was there, and it was going to take us away. Much to the disappointment of the taxi drivers who had been lurking nearby and hoping to pounce on some disgruntled would-be bus passengers, we all filed on and promptly went not very far at all. Apparently peak hour traffic starts early in this place. From the bus driver’s reactions, I gathered that the slow rate of travel was not the usual pace. Anyway, we arrived at the ferry terminal after about 90 minutes, and we arrived just in time to watch the ferry pull away from the harbour. Brilliant. We didn’t have to wait too long (maybe half an hour? My sense of time was out of kilter) and we were onboard the Melita and cruising to Gozo. At the Gozo ferry terminal, we dodged the taxi drivers again and caught a bus to Victoria, then to Xlendi, and then settled ourselves into our Airbnb. Phew. I managed to wake Simon up in time for dinner, where a friendly Serbian waiter advised us on Maltese traditional dishes and taught us to say ‘cheers’ in Serbian, since he didn’t know how to say it in Maltese. Must look that one up later. The local beer (Cisk) was quite palatable, and the local limoncello variant quite acceptable (especially when it comes at no added charge to the meal - nink win).
First impressions of Malta were that it was the strangely beautiful love child of Italy and the UK. There were familiar British supermarket shopping bags being carried everywhere on the bus, they drive on the left (mostly, anyway), the power points are British, and there are places called Pembroke and Victoria. And yet the currency is euros, the weather is mediterranean, and the buildings are distinctly European. And the language! One minute I’m tracking okay and understanding every sign I see, and the next minute there are bus stops with words I can’t even attempt to pronounce because they contain characters my keyboard won’t let me replicate. A bizarre mix of familiarity and exoticism. What a splendid place to visit!
Our first morning in Xlendi was delightful - popped into the local store for supplies and pastizzi - because how can you expect to truly understand a place if you don’t eat their traditional foods? We were surprised at how difficult it was to find sunscreen though - the slip/slop/slap message obviously doesn't translate well into Maltose. And I suppose the British visitors who come here are looking for winter sun, not winter sunscreen. We had to settle for anti wrinkle cream with SPF30+ as it was the only thing available in plane friendly quantities. We took our youthful, pastizzied selves off on a walk around the coast, admired the cliffs and whatnot until a whopping great crack of thunder told us not to venture any further. It was like an almighty warning sign from the sky - and we had just enough time to get back to the bus stop in town and jump on a bus before the rain started pelting down. As we headed to Victoria, we formulated a plan, which was to jump on the first bus that was going in the approximate direction of some sort of sight and take it from there.
The 310 bus was the first available option, so that decided our fate - we were off to Xwejni Bay to see the salt pans. There was one more almighty crack of thunder just as we jumped on the bus, but by the time we arrived in Marsalforn things had calmed down and there was just a light sprinkle of rain, which eased off soon enough. The storm was still visible out at sea, and the dark clouds served to highlight the dramatic coastline. The salt pans (shallow pools designed to harvest salt by encouraging water evaporation) were strange squares at the edge of the land and were definitely worth catching a random bus to see. We were certainly getting our value out of our weekly bus passes already - and it was only day 2! We wandered around Marsalforn, where we found a Scottish bar and numerous cafes and icecream vendors - most of which were closed. Anyone would think it was off-season and miserable weather or something. We managed to stay dry until getting the bus back to Victoria, where the rain resumed and we appreciated the bus driver opening the doors early so that passengers could wait on the bus instead of standing outside in the rain. I don’t think that’s what ‘bus shelter’ actually means, but I liked it.
We made it home only slightly soggy on account of some serious puddles, and settled in for a big night of movies, spag bol and cards. Oh yeah.
The forecast for Friday was downright horrendous - according to the oracle that is the internet, the day ahead was going to be consist of non-stop thunderstorms and constant rain. Turned out the internet was only half right (who woulda thunk it?) and the thunderstorms were nowhere to be seen. The rain, however, was omnipresent. Wonderful. And things didn’t get off to a great start when I left my phone in the apartment, meaning that we missed the bus into Victoria by 30 seconds. Gah. But we figured it was only a 30 minute walk into town, and that was a much quicker option than waiting an hour for the next bus, so off we went. The rain was relatively gentle - enough to make us damp, but not enough to stop us appreciating the views, the prickly pears and the springs.
From Victoria, we caught the bus out to the Ta’ Pinu Basilica, which was impressive mostly because of the way it looked somewhat like a fort in the landscape. Across the road from the church was Ghammar Hill, a pilgrimage site with statues representing the stations of the cross all the way up the hill. At the top of the hill, the rain continued and the ampitheatre/shrine resembled more of a swimming pool. From here we could see across Gozo - and would have been able to see across Malta as well, if it wasn’t for the fact that the skies were grey and cloudy. Back down the hill, we sheltered in a phone box until the bus came to shuttle us back to Victoria.
In Victoria, we found shelter near a pastizzeria and had lunch for the princely sum of three euro, which got us a rabbit pie, a spinach and olive pastry thing, and two pea pastizzi. Not bad when you’re on a budget. As we stood scoffing our delicacies, we played the people watching game, which culminated in seeing a man walk past with a large plastic bag over his head. Perhaps he was ninking too, and couldn’t afford any other rain protection strategies?
It kept on raining, but we figured that we may as well keep sight seeing, because we were fairly drenched at this point and couldn’t possibly get any wetter, could we? The next bus took us to Dwejra, which is apparently full of tourists in summer. There were still a few brave souls out taking photographs but nothing we couldn’t handle. We checked out the inland sea, and admired the bravery of the people jumping in boats to go out to the ocean via the tunnel in the cliff face. It looked like a pleasant spot for swimming (when the weather allowed) but the jellyfish warning signs put me right off. From there, it was a matter of navigating the Great Waterfalls of the Dwejra Carpark to get the best views of Fungus Rock and the Azure Window. And then we felt compelled to spend a lot longer than usual on the porch of the nearby chapel, which offered the highly desirable combination of shelter and views. We dripped on the bus all the way back to Victoria, and made it back to Xlendi just in time for the rain to ease off. After all that adventuring, we were done for the day and turned our attention to being warm, dry and fed. Mission acccomplished - and washed down with a cup of finocchio tea.

Posted by Buccas 10:08 Archived in Malta Comments (0)

Farewell Scotland

overcast 12 °C
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

The wind picked up on Friday, and swept us away from Skye. We drove back across the island (filling up the car with suprisingly cheap petrol in Broadford), crossed the Skye bridge and headed south. We stopped at Spean Bridge for lunch, where we were lured into a cafe by what turned out to be the false promise of cullen skink. Luckily there were other viable lunch options available, and we were able to continue on our journey with full (albeit skink-less) stomaches.
On we drove, through Fort William, past Ballachulish (site of our first segway experience), and into Oban. Oban was the site of a distillery, but as we were too late for a tour, we just enjoyed the smells from outside and went into the cafe across the road for a hot chocolate. Seemed a reasonable alternative.
We arrived at John and Elaine’s at the perfect time for a wee blether and a cheeky pint at the Horseshoe Inn. This was our third trip to Bridgend in four years, and there were plenty of familiar faces (human and canine) at the pub. The whole point of travel is supposed to be to experience new things, but when presented with something familiar it is always rather comforting.
John and Elaine put on an amazing spread of venison and haggis for dinner, and we exchanged plenty of hilarious food-based puns. We were introduced to the phenomenon of Still Game (comedy as Scotttish as a can of Irn-Bru) and washed it all down with a wee dram of Talisker.
We set off on Saturday morning for a spot of rambling, when the weather allowed. The rain lingered long enough to put us off going for a long walk in Taynish Nature Reserve, but we checked out the old mill, evaluated the picnic facilities and racked up a few more steps by doing the maze-that-was-not-actually-a-maze. We enjoyed views of Jura (the island, not the whisky), and managed to do just enough exercise to warrant having lunch at Tayvallich Inn. The seafood specials were appreciated by everyone but me, but I was more than happy to appreciate the non-seafood options. The sky brightened again in the afternoon, so we took another walk near Loch Barnluasgan before heading home to watch Australia beat Scotland at rugby by one point (using some questionable strategies). We took Islay and Jura (the spaniels, not the islands) for a walk, and then were brave enough to show our faces at the Horseshoe again before dinner.
Sunday was a relaxed day - the weather was shite, but we didn’t fight it, just embraced it. Perfect weather for a full Scottish breakfast, a load of washing and some scheming and photo sorting. John and Simon had a play with the drone, which concerned me somewhat as I don’t know that I want to be a drone widow when we return home. Hopefully Simon will have forgotten about that in a few months time.
The next morning we took Smarty Pants for his final roadtrip. We had a crack at Popmaster again but didn’t even make it to double figures (curse my inability to remember Kylie Minogue songs from the early 90s!) We stopped in Gretna Green for lunch and contemplated renewing our wedding vows but decided to continue on and beat the peak hour traffic. We had what would have been a scenic drive through the north of England if the weather hadn’t conspired against us, and eventually arrived back in Otley to discover Annie and Andy’s house looking much more wallpapered, painted and carpeted than when we had seen it last. Quite the transformation.
We spent the next day in Otley returning Smarty Pants, lunching with James at Wetherspoon’s, and watching Dr Doolittle with Rosie, who was not quite her usual bubbly self. Stephen and Lesley came round for dinner, and we caught up on recent travel/renovation/employment developments. Unfortunately Rosie became less and less bubbly and more and more unhappy with life as the evening continued, and I’m sure the night seemed rather long to Annie and Andy but to us it was incredibly short as we were out of the house and in a taxi by 5am. By 5.30am, we were through security and waiting at our gate at Leeds airport. Efficiency at its best.

Posted by Buccas 01:58 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 108) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 9 10 .. »