Cruising in Corniglia – Cinque Terre

Crusie ship La SpeziaAs I drove through La Spezia, the city on route to the Cinque Terre, I caught sight of the cruise shop docked and my heart sank. Worse still when I heard there were 2 cruise ships in the following day!

This is now a regular pattern but I am slowly developing a rejection of the crowds, the invasion into my space and the deterioration of the villages as they become submersed by the masses. The season is in full swing.View of Corniglia and Manarola

Looking down on it all from my hideaway haunt, does not make it any easier as my village is so quiet and peaceful that I could spend all day just savouring the breathtaking view.

But the warm weather and the idea of a first swim enticed me out of my laziness to walk the trail down to Corniglia in the hope the masses had not yet discovered the quiet Marina of Corniglia. Or at least if they had, most would be put off by the 380 steps down to it, so it should be a safe bet. In fact I was not disappointed.

On the way down my favourite Enoteca was waking up tourists with a coffee reminding them to log out of Wifi and tune into Nature.

Others were having breakfast in the shade in the Main piazza while some were already into their first gelati for the day. The local gelataria boasts a new flavour of basil and lemon which is very refreshing.

Morning at Corniglia MarinaBut I was on a mission down to the Marina, to find a space and indulge for the day. The place was a hive of activity as locals were returning from early morning fishing trips, one man empty handed and grumbling when he saw the first teenager pull out 4 tuna fish and a satisfied grin. Quickly followed up by 3 youngsters throwing their catch of 15 tuna onto the quay with even more satisfied grins and chests puffed out, ready to brag about their morning catch. Posing for photos was obligatory as they boasted how they couldn’t get the rod back in fast enough….an impressive loot!

Fun for us all to hear the details of the catch and watch as the boys diligently gutted Tuna catch of the dayand cleaned their fish, boat and gear and took their haul up to the village to be shared amongst family and friends. I could not have wished for a more local atmosphere.

Some tourists joined us later in the day but their was space for all and  as the sun warmed our bodies the tempting water lured us in. The boys returned to climb the rock face leaping recklessly into the deep Tarzan style, while the rest of us bobbed about in crystal clear water, lulled occasionally by waves from the passing ferries.

After a satisfying first, second and third swim between tanning on the quay, I packed Corniglia Main streetup my gear and hiked up the 380 steps ( ufff ), dreaming of a basil and lemon gelati to keep me going on the trail home. On passing through the village I thought this is definitely going to be my prime spot this Summer. It still has a local feel, is not as overrun by the masses and has some creative handcraft souvenir shops if ever in need of a little gift. Corniglia souvenir shop

 

 

 

The most is made out of every spare inch of space, and the apparent shambolic décor of even the new cafes has its own attractiveness.

I will be back and besides there’s no bunnies in Corniglia!

De-Tours in Tuscany and Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, MonterossoAs the Garden tour in Southern Italy never ran this Spring, I was rather disappointed and thought there is nothing for it but to go out and find additional work to my day tours in the Cinque Terre. So after my wonderful trip in Cuba I revamped my CV, scouted the list of jobs and sent off various applications.

A whole new world opened up again: new trends, novel ideas, and varied responses, from “awesome….but over experienced, …. consider your application and contact you,” together with no reply and two interviews! Which in the end I thought was pretty good going, in a climate of heavy competition and economic pressures.

The new trends seem to be “Food guides” or anything to do with food. Day tours, in Florence, taking tourists for tastings at the market and local delicatessens, providing them with a real Tuscan insight on the local specialities. Maybe they found out I am vegetarian… as I didn’t get an interview even though I was sure I could win hands down talking about Tuscan food despite not eating all of it!

No interview either for the day tours in the fabulous 500 Fiat ‘bambino’ as the tour guide was required to have mechanical experience and to know how to double clutch. Double clutching I was sure I could manage but had to admit I wasn’t sure if the engine was in the back or the front, let alone fix it if we broke down on a country road!

A friend and long standing lover of Florence, Penny Howard, has been doing special tours/workshops and kindly offered to promote my day tours in the Cinque Terre so I now feature on her website: Beyond the Yalla dog. She does some very interesting workshops with local experts – on fresco painting, mask making as well as beautiful day trips to gardens and villas like La Foce. So check out her website and get in touch if you are interested in any of her activities. Thanks again Penny!

Tourist Eco cartI did get an interview for driving tourists around the centre of Florence in an electric golf buggy, but fortunately declined as the pay was a pittance and with the crowds in the city these days I thought I could be ‘dangerous’! Worse still they were keen to Florence rickshawsencourage the 6 of us to drive their newly acquired rickshaws – power assisted bicycles – where I thought I would be even ‘more dangerous’ and potential tourists would take one look at me and think ‘she won’t get us very far!” So no go.

Finally I fell across a new Aussie/Italian tour agency called Tuscany Untouched who are offering day tours, weekly tours and customized tours with the slogan “Live like a local, with a local” So here I am, their new ‘local’, taking day tours and potentially weekly tours when Matteo is not available. So spread the word as we are both looking forward to a busy season ahead and you know how much I like working with tourists.

My first tour was to the Natural hot Springs at Bagni San Filippo in the gorgeous area of Val d’Orcia, near Pienza. A truly relaxing day for all of us.

Contact me directly especially if you or friends are interested in a tour in the Cinque   Terre or fill out Tuscany Untouched booking form for anything that takes your fancy or you would like us to develop for you.


 

The unexplored treasures of Casentino in Tuscany

Porciano CastleThe area of Casentino in Tuscany is rarely explored by tourists, yet it is home to ancient monasteries and parish churches, centuries old forests,  medieval castles and traditional handicrafts. A place where Dante Alighieri, father of the Italian language, found refuge after his exile from Florence, and the birthplace of Michelangelo.

The valley was once a prehistoric lake as fossil traces have shown, later home to the Etruscans and if you look into the Arno river as it flows under the Ponte Vecchio you will see a part of Casentino float by as the Arno originates on Mount Falterona.

And its not the only thing in Florence that comes from the Casentino area – as the beams inside Brunelleschi’s Dome on the Cathedral come from the forest cultivated by the monks of Camaldoli, floated down on the Arno River.

Castle at PoppiThe place is full of legends and plots against the Florentines, mostly organized by the Count Guidi family who had castles not only throughout Casentino but all the way to Northern Italy. Legend has it that they could get a message from their Castle in Poppi to the border of France in less than 8 hours using a system of flames and mirrors from tower to tower.Poppi- Castello di Conti Guidi

 

 

 

At their Castle di Romena the Guidi family hired Maestro Adamo to make counterfeit florins with the idea of flooding the market with inferior coins bringing the ruling Florentine families to their knees. But the Florentines found out and Adamo was burnt at the stake while the Guidi’s got off scot free! They were known as a blood thirsty lot, which their nicknames indicated – Guido Guerra ( the war maker), Guido Bevesangue (the blood drinker), and housed Dante at the Castle for a period of 5 years after his exile from Florence.

 

Locals and pilgrims pass through the area stopping at the ancient parish churches like – Pieve di San Pietro a Romena……

continuing on their way to the Monastery of La Verna, that sits on a spectacular rocky outcrop. Count Orlando Cattani captivated by Saint Francis’ oratory on love and forgiveness, donated the mountain to him as a hermitage for those in need. Saint Francis loved the wilderness and spent many years in retreat here. It had a bustling atmosphere when we passed through and the friars were very welcoming.

 

 

Casentino woolCasentino also boasts traditional handicrafts that are sort after to this day. Panno CasentinoCasentino wool has been around since the Etruscans, quite distinctive for its frayed ringlets that make the wool both warmer and more durable. Originally the effect was made by

Casentino jacket

Photo credit: Jane Telford

 

beating the cloth with a stick, a process now which is done by machine. In the Middle ages the monks wore robes of Casentino wool and the House of Savoy ( the royal family of Italy) in the 19th century used the bright orange cloth as a decorative and warming cloth on their horses. The bright orange became the tradition on overcoats and jackets although not always the colour chosen, as seen here on my workshop colleague.

Stia is well know for its wrought iron work, and anyone searching for quality wooden furniture can find it here. The forests produce the most beautiful wood together with chestnuts which have been ground in old flour mills like the one below for centuries.Mulino Grifoni Open to visitors as a tourist attraction, the miller gives a great explanation on the process and the changing nature of grains, working on the reintroduction of old grain types known to be healthier for us.

Mulino Grifoni AD 1696 inscribed over the entrance!

So just when you think you have seen all of Tuscany, make sure you have incuded Casentino on that list.

 

Still saving Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The Save Vernazza voluntourism project has started again for its 5th year in a row in the Cinque Terre. So far 990 tourists have given a hand in restoring and preserving the fragile territory in 116 excursions since 2013, as “Even Paradise Needs a Gardener”…..as the motto goes!

If you are travelling in the area and would like to be involved, check the work calendar and contact coordinator Irene di Martino: info@savevernazza.com And if your dates don’t coincide, contact Irene anyway and she may be able to set up a special “gardening” day for you.

And for those of you new to this blog and perhaps unfamiliar with the Save Vernazza organisation I have included their latest video here.

Yet while Save Vernazza and its contributors worldwide continue to offer their help and donations, some problems still facing Vernazza and the Cinque Terre in general need urgent attention from the powers that be – namely the Cinque Terre National, Park, The Councils, Trenitalia and the Liguria Regional Office. A game of ping pong regarding responsibility continues between them resulting unfortunately in no major progress on the issues.

Recent articles in the Travel and Leisure magazine and the local Ligurian newspaper Il Secolo XIX highlighted the problems of the Cinque Terre being on “Everyone’s Bucket List”

The Via dell’Amore the path linking the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola is still closed from 2012 after the rock fall knocked 4 Australians off the path seriously injuring two.  And while the Mayor indicates he is currently securing national funds to make the path secure again, locals are dubious and believe it has been closed by the Police Commission until compensation has been resolved and the Council is reluctant to guarantee the security of the path in the future.

Tourist overcrowding has already begun, as I saw over the Easter period, from Cruise ships and bus and train daytrippers and no limits have been imposed, apart from the price increase in train and bus tickets and the Cinque Terre Card.

The high road connecting Vernazza to Monterosso  is still closed after the landslides of 2011 and what remains open between La Spezia and Vernazza has intermittent partial closures as minor landslides continue. The major use by tourists coaches reaching up to 25 coaches per day creates additional difficulties. At Easter only one public toilet was open in Vernazza as the other two are under renovation and will still be inadequate to Vernazza stationcater to the crowds, increasingly eating takeaway. Painted arrows on the station stairs attempt to regulate the traffic flow. The trail between Manarola and Corniglia remains closed after the landslide in 2011 and 2013 and unlikely to ever reopen putting additional strain on the public transport system. As locals exit the villages, preferring to rent out their apartments and live a quieter existence in Levanto or La Spezia, their terraced lands become abandoned and put the entire area at risk.

Gianni Franzi, a long standing restaurant owner in Vernazza says “The problems are many and the situation seems to have got out of hand. There are third-world roads, on which emergency vehicles must pass; the collection of waste creates huge problems and is not practical; there are too many ferries creating even a noise pollution. This massive tourism that crosses the villages without knowing the history, territory and the environment must be regulated. The mayor and the park have to listen to the needs and citizens’ suggestions. If we go on like this we do not build any future for coming generations.”  (il Secolo XIX  14/04/2017)Cinque Terre

I hope I have not put you off, as I believe the Cinque Terre is best seen by individual tourists who prefer to stay for a few days to appreciate the area but who now make up a small percentage of the 2.4million tourists per year.  We can only hope that our suggestions are being heard, as Save Vernazza is also very active in any public meetings.

Cinque Terre, Vernazza


 

 

Spring fever in beautiful Pienza

View of PienzaAs Pablo Neruda said “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming”. I have just spent a few days at my artist friend in Pienza bathed in glorious Spring weather and fields of wild tulips and cherry blossoms. The gently rolling hills of Tuscany can not get any better than this area of Val D’Orcia and I am always pleased to be back.

The area has UNESCO World Heritage status: as it is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good Val d'Orciagovernance and to create an aesthetically pleasing pictures. The landscape of the Val d’Orcia was celebrated by painters from the Siennese School, which flourished during the Renaissance. Images of the Val d’Orcia, and particularly depictions of landscapes where people are depicted as living in harmony with nature, have come to be seen as icons of the Renaissance and have profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking.

PienzaThat sense of harmony prevails and I could spend hours along the walls of Pienza absorbing these views in the changing sunlight. Or, as we did, take a stroll to the ancient Church of Corsignano with its decorative monsters above the doorway from the 12th Century, although parts of the church date back even to the 7th Century!

Complete harmony in nature. Pienza too is an absolute delight with its elegant Renaissance square and harmonious buildings, as Pope Pius Piccolomini had the money and power to transform his birthplace (Corsignano) into a Utopian dream city.

But that’s not all as the strong scent of the local food speciality, namely the pecorino cheese, wafts along the street and the delicatessens display other tempting delicacies like pici pasta, dry porcini mushrooms, salamis, local honey and extra virgin olive oil.

The quaintness of the place continues with unique shops selling exquisite linen ware, and the kitchenware shop is full of copper pots and pans, basket ware, handmade knives and unusual olive oil servers.

My artist friend Enrico Paolucci is hard at work on a special ‘owl’ commissioned for a birthday surprise so I am left to wander the studio taking photos of his new work ( a homage to his father, Aleardo) and make the most of his hospitality.

After work, dinner in a quiet spot in Pienza and a late night stroll to catch the magic of the moment. Pienza never loses its charm nor the Val d’Orcia, Tuscany, its harmony with Nature.

Prevo – the halfway point, Cinque Terre

Prevo Cinque TerreMy little village of San Bernardino sits directly above Prevo in the Cinque Terre. A sparse group of houses at the halfway point on the coastal trail between Corniglia and Vernazza. I can’t quite see it from my terrace but I am sure the builders can who are currently redoing my roof. I did promise them a job with a sea view and they are indulging in it….perhaps just a little too long for my liking. But then builders are builders the same the world over, nothing ever seems to run to schedule!San Bernardino

 

Prevo is where I sneak into the coastal trail, on my way down to either village and surprise most hikers by looking fresh and energetic still, when they have just panted there way up the hill on countless steps. It is the highest point on the trail (208m above sea level) but most tourists don’t know that and look relieved to hear that it is all downhill thereafter.

Prevo cafeFrom Corniglia the hike up is a little less as Corniglia is already 100m above sea level, nevertheless it is with some relief that tourists find the bar Il Gabbiano at Prevo where they can catch their breath and enjoy a great fresh fruit juice and fantastic view. Tourists from Vernazza appreciate it even more!

All the locals know that it is easier to follow the trails from Corniglia to Vernazza and Monterosso than vice versa, so bear that in mind if you are over here.

For those who choose to stay here in Prevo, as many of the houses rent out on Airbnb, they are in for a quiet retreat, a full immersion in the Mediterranean flora, fabulous sea views…….and a long walk back from dining out! But forewarned they usually love being away from the crowds in the villages.

It’s still pre tourist season, a time to indulge in the late winter and early Spring flowers – like the Mimosa whose yellow blooms make a striking contrast against the turquoise sea. Purple pig face hang along walls which has me thinking what an Aussie mix of flora. Hardy rosemary is in bloom, and the red stalk flowers of the aloe vera are readily seen along the trail tucked in amongst the prickly pear. Officially the coastal trail is Trail closed Vernazza Cornigliaclosed, meaning those who use it hike are at their own risk. When it reopens late March the Cinque Terre Card will be required for entry at a fee of €7.50 or €13 per day including trains. The rest of the hiking trails, known as the high trails are all free…..and I might add just as good if not better!

Trail damage Vernazza

 

I see that another portion of the dry stone wall along the coastal trail has collapsed, a pretty common  occurrence and the National Park will probably try to fix it. Other areas have had major steel nets and cables extending the more volatile slopes and they appear to be holding up well and a great security for hikers and local landowners. It remains a fragile territory and any new landslide or collapsed wall is like a wound in our sides.  The  dry stone walls, that keep this territory together and gained it Unesco Heritage status, if put together are twice the length of The Great Wall of China! It’s a pity we don’t have a Chinese army of people to keep tending them and the terraces!

It is good to see some new trail railing has been put into place by the National park, and very welcomed at the favourite place for the panoramic shot of Corniglia where it was on such a wobble I thought the next tourist that leans was going to do a long gravel rash slide down to the beach below!

Prevo 5 TerreNothing that I ever write about the Cinque Terre is sensational as my aim is for those who visit to understand the complexities of this unique and beautiful area and respect its frailties. While man labours hard to remain in control, it is never enough for the work required and Mother Nature knows who is really ruling the roost!Corniglia to Monterosso

Winter Solace at Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre dawnA mild Winter sun peaks from around the promontory, as dawn breaks on the Cinque Terre. Night lights still twinkle in Corniglia  welcoming the new dawn and another peaceful day.

At risk of being boringly repetitive, I say again, it is a favourite time for me to be here. No one on the trails hardly, so you can here Nature talking, caressing the foliage, sweeping the leaves into another pile while waves massage the rocks smooth.

Vernazza Downtown in Vernazza the washing is already out and there’s a strong aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries. I imagine many a grandma is busy making pasta or baking a cake for the family at lunch later. Vernazza cafe

 

 

 

 

 

My favourite bar the Blue Marlin is still closed, as are many of the tourist shops, restaurants and gelaterias. And the flood barriers in doorways are a permanent fixture during the winter since the flood of 2011.

Only locals on the main street, and so good to see kids and young parents, amongst the elderly,  as most of the population is definitely 60+. It’s great to see the fishing boats parked again in the main square, their flashy striped covers a cute contrast to the sea lashed pink of the building behind. Such a sense of belonging is reassuring, as is the peeling façade that battles timelessly against the salt spray, yet loses the fight each year. Nature quietly reminding us who is in control.

Burgus bar, VernazzaThe Burgus wine bar is one of the few places open with 90’s music blaring from the night before, not quite what you might expect or appreciate over a morning caffè latte!

In the nearby terraces, farmers prune their olives or paint their fruit trees against disease while others do the necessary renovations and maintenance required before the tourist season starts. And while I don’t have any terraced land, I have still pruned the fig trees that sprout from my wall and cleared the blackberries from around my fabulous agave cactus.Agave

The National Park volunteer hunters are out in their iridescent vests, rifles at the ready and walky talky radios transmitting where the wild boar have moved to. Such an impossible hunt,  as the boar invariably slips away into rampant  blackberries and thumps down from terrace to terrace. Such a lot of damage caused by the boar, an imported race that has run riot, breeding profusely, rooting out food at the base of the dry stone walls causing them to fall or remain precariously unstable. Another never ending battle. Although the hunters seem as pleased just to be out together, and to have another story to tell back home of the one that got away.Vernazza Madonna + child

As I head back to the car park  I see the Madonna has had a new coat of paint on her frame, keeping a trusty eye on locals and visitors as they enter the village of Vernazza or take a walk to her sanctuary at Madonna del Reggio.Vernazza

 

Rum and chocolate in exotic Cuba

Drinking Rum

Leaving Havana to explore the rest of Cuba, starts with a good shot of rum at our first stop! The Forbidden Fruit  tourists seek, along with cigars, is produced from sugar cane introduced in Cuba by Columbus. And while the sugar cane production is now heavily reduced there is still sufficient to produce the famous Cuban Rumrum!

We did manage to crunch on some cane to savour the succulent juice in the Valley of Los Ingenios ( near Trinidad) and see the ruins of the sugar mills, slave quarters and watchtowers now an area with Unesco Heritage status.

 

Bailing dry riceOn the way, rather caught by surprise to see bales of rice lining the road ready for loading, the rice having spent the day spread out along the road for drying. The mind boggles to think of how the traffic manoeuvres in one lane….they must drive like Italians!! Let alone the flavour the asphalt may give to the rice!?

From Havana, our first stop was the Bay of Pigs – Playa Girón, and the museum dedicated to the disastrous invasion by USA of Cuba. An interesting video of the invasion from the Cuban point of view and other artefacts associated with the Revolution – the uniform of the volunteers teaching illiterate farmers, and the white shoes – symbol of what the Revolution brought to a teenager, whose mother was shot dead while protecting her during invasion.

Playa Girón Cuba

 

After that, a moment of relax, swimming at the nearby waterhole and in crystal clear water at the coral beach.

Cienfuegos - Palacio de Valle

 

 

Cienfuegos our next stop, a colonial town with neo classical architecture and wide avenues where we were treated to a cocktail on the roof terrace of the rather bizarre Palacio de Valle, an ornate Spanish, Moroccan, Italian mix.

 

Che Guevara museum - Santa Clara

On to Santa Clara the next day, to be immersed in the dramatic story of  Che Guevara in his Memorial and Mausoleum. Documents, photos and various memorabilia makes it a fascinating visit but unfortunately no photos allowed inside.

 

 

The next base is Trinidad, the most touristic of the cities outside of Havana and with good reason. A perfectly preserved Spanish settlement built on the wealth amassed in the past from the nearby sugar cane fields. Colonial mansions and cobbled stone streets lined with multi coloured houses. Salsa music every evening on the steps beside the Cathedral and traditional African dance performances. A Cuba -Trinidad Cowbay Cubanoteworthy Art gallery in the main square and  women in garish lycra chat in the streets or saunter past more classic car beauties or stray cowboys.

Waterfall Trinidad

A local hike to the waterfall in lush countryside provides a welcome break from the tourists on another day.

Camaguey instead had a much more local feel and a sweet grandma ran my homestay. Known as the city of clay pots for water collection and easily visited in bicycle rickshaws to see more colonial mansions,  artist galleries and the local market with food stalls and herbal medicines. Yet again Nightclubs and salsa venues for locals and tourists to add pizazz to their evenings.

Dancing Santiago

 

On to the chaos of Santiago the second largest city in Cuba and our home stays bounce to the blaring street music that only ceased with the electricity black out! And if you can’t beat’em it’s best to join in! Fidel's tomb - Santiago

 

 

 

A more sombre moment in front of Fidel’s tomb.

 

 

 

Travelling on through beautiful lush terrain and velvet mountains, bring us to the chocolate capital of Cuba – Baracoa, for our last few relaxing days. We can still see the damage left by the hurricane of November, with skinned Royal palms sprouting new growth and some roofs still to be replaced.

The atmosphere is layback, as is the music, and the place is exotic in both artwork and people.

Our cacao plantation visit is a highlight as we pile into another classic car ( a little less chic than those of Havana) with an erotic gear stick change that had to be photographed to be believed and a mad driver who has us laughing all the way!

The cacao plantation is a women’s cooperative and they are proud to explain the plant and process to produce some mouth watering chocolate that we are able to sample, oddly wrapped in leftover alfoil from the pharmaceutical company!

Baracoa beachThere is so much to tell about Cuba, a simple blog post cannot do it justice. 17 days of continuous stimulation and enjoyment, I loved it!

My head is still full of the music, the colour, the warmth, the vibrant atmosphere and fond memories of great laughs with wonderful travel companions.Cuba map

For those interested, I found the tour via www.responsibletravel.com  which linked to www.locallysourcedcuba.com and am very happy with both agencies.

Beach Trinidad

Cuba just do it….before it’s too late!

Music, colour and classic cars – Havana Cuba

Havana street

Cuba – vibrant, colourful, exotic, brash and unabashed, a fantastic trip of the expected and unexpected, full of laughs and a joy to the senses!

The biggest difficulty has been sorting my 900 photos and to present a selection which renders a complete picture of Cuba: its warmth, humanity, starkness and contrasts.

So this is only part 1 on Havana and part 2 will focus on touring the island.

 

Classic cars from pre Revolution days abound on the avenues, filled with Classic car tourtourists waving and filming like VIP’s, or sit patiently waiting the next client in a quiet elegance. Exteriors and interiors are exquisite; hand stitching on sumptuous leather, some complete with a bar, and gleaming bodies in brash colours. Gorgeous, even to a non car enthusiast like me, and the drive a definite highlight of our tour. To think they have continued to maintain, restore and repair these old carcasses, despite the embargo, demonstrates Cuban ingenuity, resourcefulness and patience.

Havana Malecon - waterfront We soar past beautiful buildings from colonial days, elegant monuments to heroes of the past in stylish piazzas, luscious parks, fortresses that protected the city and housed the gold, before cruising the Malecon – waterfront.

In the old centre, an afro/salsa beat draws me along streets and past characters in colourful garb who pose or waylay tourists for a fee.

The air is full of energy and the place chaotic, where locals continue their lives amidst tourists squatting at a wifi hot spot or queuing for a bank, while they shop on the street, queue outside the pharmacy or pick up their monthly ration quota.

Havana street scene

In stark contrast to the elegant Colonial buildings, everyday housing is dilapidated although our various Case particolares – homestays, were comfortable, clean and gave a little insight into what lay beyond the crumbling facades.

Havana University

Amidst the chaos is the impressive University building, with a mix of old and new architecture and likewise the Contemporary Cuban Art Gallery housing a sophisticated selection of superb art works, rather unexpected. The Cuban Classical  ballet Company entertained us with a performance of The Nutcracker in the glorious Grand Theatre and we left spellbound by the atmosphere and costumes.

A testimony to the investment made in Health, Education and Culture during the Revolution, on which the country continues to survive by exporting its scientific expertise to Latin America and Africa. Over 30,000 Doctors in Venezuela still today.

Havana souvenir shopTourism obviously remains the second major income for Cuba with over 3million tourists per year and cruise ships were seen regularly in various ports. And while many have the idea Cuba will change in the post Castro era, so best to be seen now, my impression is that it will take years! So you still have plenty of time yet!Havana street art

 

 

The music will still be playing, the facades still crumbling and the classic cars still cruising. There may be more Coco taxi HavanaCoco taxis to take tourists around town, a cute recycled coconut chassis with a motorbike motor and 3 wheels as tourists seek cheaper options, while locals use the bicycle rickshaw.

I continue to savour memories of my coconut ice and churrito snack as I lapped up the sunshine  before returning home to below zero temperatures in Italy.

Part 2 Cuba on tour to follow……


 

 

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!

Xmas FirenzeIt’s that time of year again, and the days seem to disappear in a rush.

There is just a smidge of snow on the mountains near home, not really enough for Santa and Rudolf to sleigh down on, but I think he arrives via a smartphone App these days! And while I have seen a few letters to Santa publicized I think the rest are probably emailing or whatsapping! How the world changes. We are also hoping Santa may have solution in his sack to our current government crisis….??

Yet Florence still has its reassuring traditions – the Nativity Scene is back beside thenativity scene Florence Duomo along with the Xmas tree and Xmas lights adorn most of the streets in the centre giving the place that special magic.

The wonderful panettone and pandoro cakes have been in the supermarkets  now for ages – which makes me wonder how much preservatives must be in them? But I succumb every year and my pandoro star will get it’s good shake of icing sugar and a little warming in the oven when my first Xmas guests drop by.

And the faithful guardians of our city keep a watchful vigil on us all.

So I thank you all for reading my posts and am open to any suggestions you may have or things you may be curious about in Italy but didn’t know who to ask. Ask me via the comments box or email anytime.

Gourmet cooking school and foostoreFor any Melbourne readers I add a little plug for my niece’s Gourmet kitchen cooking school. If you’re stuck for a gift idea she has lots of interesting kits, gourmet delicatessen items, Xmas hampers with a difference, recipe books and gift vouchers for doing a cooking class on all sorts of wonderful foods – Thai, Spanish, Pasta making, Japanese etc and currently helping many make delicious macaroons for Xmas. Check the website here or drop by at 20 Margaret St, opposite Moonee Ponds Station.

I hope this year has been a good year for you all and wish you a Very Merry Xmas and a Happy, Serene and Healthy 2017!

I am off to Cuba in January for a few weeks so will leave you with just a taste of what the atmosphere may be like in the video below…….you never get too old to dance!!!

Gente di Zona with Marc Anthony – La Gozadera