Volterra, Italy – History and Handbags High in the Tuscan Hills

Painters, artists and writers have been drawn to this part of the world across the years.

Volterra, Italy – History and Handbags High in the Tuscan Hills

I was lucky enough to spend a week working in Tuscany. I know, sorry, stressful but someone had to do it, I’m such a martyr for my cause eh? On an afternoon off I was driven to this joy of a ancient mountain town, Volterra.

I’d seen it from a distance across the valley from the work location. High in the clouds first thing in the morning, safely nestling above the expanse of green valleys and hillsides later in the day.

I’m glad I wasn’t driving the roads are winding with huge drops to certain death on one side, although as a passenger I’m not sure which took my breath away most, the vertiginous drops or the STUNNING panoramic views beauty of nature all around! So if you do drive you may miss out on the numerous opportunities to look past the trees and extreme drops to the famous Tuscan views.

Volterra Tuscany view from the town over hills
Breathtaking!

Painters, artists and writers have been drawn to this part of the world across the years. It is a calm, light, green, panoramic countryside and it’s very easy to understand why so many found it inspirational.

‘I am a product of my native land, Tuscany, Italy’ – Andrea Bocelli

We arrived in Volterra and parked in a municipal underground car park. Ignoring this very concrete 1970’s spiral of a carpark as anything other than a convenience, we got walking shoes on, credit cards and cameras at the ready and started the wonderful stroll. Starting with a view over red tiled roofs and out to the far fields rampant with greenery and various farmed crops.

This gem of a town hidden high in the Tuscan hills is worth the drive. Don’t miss the panoramic views near the car park on the main road into the town. The heavy red tiled roofs sit solid and reassuring as you look out over the valley, on the edge of town, although the brickwork is quite wonky in places. No doubt after years of carrying the burden of the deeply ridged terracotta tiles. It all adds to the sense of place, rooted strongly to this mountain top in this country of earthquakes and tremors.

The Romans built an impressive theatre here, wow they must have been fit to hike up those hills! No straight Roman road would climb this high. Surprisingly they still trekked all the way up here, despite the lack of straight roads to ascend the hills,  and built amongst other things a huge theatre.

‘Roman Theatre of Volterra’

Spend a few of your euros to see the historic sites, you can get a multi saver although as time was limited I just chose to spend time at the ‘Roman Theatre of Volterra’. As I wandered around paved pathways and stared awestruck as mosaic floors and marble columns, still standing all these years on, I knew I was walking in the footsteps of Roman poets and actors in leather sandals alongside Roman goddesses in long white robes and gold headdresses.

They had the right idea building here, truly near to their gods in the clouds, although I can imagine them moving elsewhere in winter. This place is HIGH!

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Vietnam – The Hanoi to Hue Overnight Train – Not for the squeamish but an unmissable experience

British Rail would be twitching and litigating against such apparent recklessness

Hanoi train station

The station in Hanoi is quite bare compared to Europe’s sign-written, commercial railways. Stark grey concrete and not a word of English or at least none that we could see. No shops or the niceties of vending machines or cafes.

The trains are utilitarian and reminiscent of a film noire.

 

It’d make a great cold war film set. In comparison to the madness of colour, sound and constant frenzied friendliness that is Hanoi it just made me feel cool, cold almost and quite vulnerable.

Vietnam's bustling red lanterns and fast motorbikes

It was quite an odd feeling on a hot and humid day. 

This was when we were sure that going on a G Adventures accompanied group trip was worth the money. The vast open station with platforms lined with long anonymous aged trains was quite daunting. You know in an exciting way.

Officials in Vietnam like a good uniform preferably with braids and metallic trimmings demanding respect.

I didn’t get to grips with who was the police, security or rail staff throughout the whole trip. We meekly followed our impressively uniformed train guard and Cambodian travel guide across train tracks, YES, we walked across the train tracks.

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Why You Should Go On A Bike Ride In Hoi An, Vietnam

My untrained eye didn’t deceive me on that one as the seat dug into places it really shouldn’t, or at least not without due invitation!

Why You Should Go On A Bike Ride In Hoi An, Vietnam

What better way to immerse myself in the culture of Vietnam than to cycle. While somewhere in town a tailor was creating my beautiful hand made clothes, I decided to pass the time seeing a bit of the ‘real’ Vietnam.

Now let me admit I can ride a bike in the tradition of ‘you never forget’ however I have still to master the art of jumping up kerbs and no hands trick cycling a la BMX style. This basic skill of mine is enough to enable me to get from A – B but not in any artistic, or too speedy, fashion.

You can therefore imagine my trepidation / terror…

…when the cycle man arrived with a bunch of bikes with varying degrees of rust and dents, in my amateur opinion very aged brake cables and decidedly uncomfortable looking seats. My untrained eye didn’t deceive me on that one as the seat dug into places it really shouldn’t, or at least not without due invitation!

 

Well I had decided to try everything I could

I would embrace all new learning experiences with a smile so I got in position and set off. Wobble wasn’t the word to quite cover the way the cycle heaved quite violently at every bump, and let’s put it this way Vietnam is not known for its smooth pot-hole free highways.

Cycle_ride_in_Vietnam_with_local_cow

We took our life in our hands…

to cross a major junction, remember I can’t do hands free so…mirror ( what mirror), signal (WHAT NO HANDS) manoeuvre (don’t go too fast they will hit you!) took on a threat level as significant to me as a two year old walking across the UK M1 motorway. OK I admit it I was scared. It lasted approximately one minute until I reached the other side and then the absolutely stunning beautiful although rather bumpy raised grass pathways between the rice fields.

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5 Things To Do In Doha, Qatar – The Up And Coming Jewel Of The Middle East

The good thing about Qatar is that whilst it isn’t cheap, it isn’t prohibitively expensive so try it now before the crowds.

5 Things To Do In Doha, Qatar – The Up And Coming Jewel Of The Middle East

I’m sure most of you have heard of Dubai, but Qatar may not be on your radar, unless of course you’re a soccer fan. In which case you’ll be aware the FIFA World Cup will be held there in 2022. I’m not going to dig any deeper on that, just please don’t judge a place or its people until you’ve been there.

Dubai is leading the field in this area in the development of tourism but Qatar is not far behind, and with all the positivity and enthusiasm I’m sure they will soon be not far behind. The good thing about Qatar is that whilst it isn’t cheap, it isn’t prohibitively expensive so try it now before the crowds.

The modern hi-tech airport in Doha is an award winner and their staff are probably the friendliest airport staff I’ve come across. I’m impressed as I’m sure it’s not easy to keep your calm when stressed travellers are shouting in every language you can imagine. The taxi rank is easy to find, the taxis are all aqua blue.



You’ll no doubt be ferried down the city centre roads which are 6 lane motorways. They are packed with the biggest variety of 4x4s doing U turns and lane jumping you’ll see. If you don’t need to drive, don’t, it’s a skill here so let the taxis take the strain. The taxi drivers are mostly Indian, I asked ours if he liked driving in Doha or India. He laughed, much preferring Doha, as in India he advised us the traffic is just as chaotic but there are people, cattle, dogs and tuk-tuks as well. He thought the actions of the Ferraris, Bentleys and 4x4s were much easier to predict!

If you’re heading across the globe you may be offered a stopover in Qatar, you can do much worse. Try to arrange a long weekend in Doha, it has some real gems.

1. Museum of Islamic Art

Doha_Museum_architecture

I could easily spend a full day here, on a regular basis. It’s a huge well designed modern museum, packed with well protected and well labelled artifacts from across a huge swath of the ancient and modern muslim world.

The various galleries span three floors. The fourth floor was closed on our visit, I think probably to prepare another exhibit. There was a temporary ‘threads’ exhibition on the ground floor, all of which was stunning in it’s beauty and history, it included unique an no doubt highly prized historic pieces. The whole museum is an educational, artistic and informative haven from the heat. If I lived in this city this would be a regular haunt.

Doha_jewelled_falcon

The cafe at the entrance is worth a visit too, although menu quite small, it’s ideal for a drink and snack. The free parking and free entry is great, and unexpected.

They should ask for donations as I’m sure all the tourists and locals alike would give generously. The fund could go towards continued protection of our art and histories, vital work in these troubled times.

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Vietnam – Mekong Delta Day Trip – Coconuts, toffee and snakes

‘Hello love, here’s your jacket spud and beans and by the way how about holding a Python later.’

Vietnam – Mekong Delta Day Trip – Coconuts, toffee and snakes

We had Mekong Delta trip as an item on the Vietnam to do list. You may already be familiar with my 1 – 2 – 3 method of planning a trip.

No? Well quick recap:

1 – MUST DO THIS!

2 – Really want to do this

3 – Will I have time / money to do this?

So back to the Mekong. It was a no 1 but prior to the trip I’d not booked it. We knew we had a few days spare at the end of our Vietnam tour so a trip to a local agent would not be a problem. We’d compare prices and get the best deal.

In hindsight maybe we should have done that, however as we had travelled and enjoyed our whole trip with the tour guide we didn’t. We took his recommendation and slotted into a trip he knew about.

We climbed on board a very rickety boat, very rickety!

If it’d been at the beginning of the journey it would have made me nervous but by now we’d melted into the way of the East. We’d accepted their Health and Safety concerns aren’t managed quite as they are in the West. Those who’ve been there will understand I am using a tad of understatement here! Some others on the trip were ‘newbies’ apparent by less creased clothes and a more nervous demeanour.

Vietnam Beauty

The local guide chatted to us in English and gave us a small printed map of our trip. We’d be out all day and see a lot, lunch included. The first stop off was reached and I took my life in my very shaky hands as I climbed up a rusty ironwork bridge to land. I love land. I don’t like bridges.

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No Spoiler Book Review – Autobiography – The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto Che Guevara

You will learn so much about this iconic figure from 20th century history I don’t want to spoil it for you, but wow it’s worth the read.

No Spoiler Book Review – Autobiography – The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto Che Guevara

Title: The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

Author: Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

Translation: Alexandra Keeble

Copyright: Che Guevara Studies Center & Aleida March

Ebook: 

Audio Book: 

Blurb: In January 1952, two young men from Buenos Aires set out to explore South America on a 500cc Norton. One of them was the twenty-three-year-old Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

Written eight years before the Cuban Revolution, these are the diaries of Che Guevara, full of disasters and discoveries, high drama and laddish improvisations. Touring through Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela, his greatest concerns are where the next drink is coming from, where the next bed is to be found and who might be around to share it.

Within a decade Che Guevara would be a household name. His trip might have been the adventure of a lifetime – had his lifetime not turned into a much greater adventure.

More recently made into an Oscar-winning film starring Gael Garcia Bernal, ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ is an extraordinary account of a hero in the making.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland – A Night at The Museum with Awesome Art Classics

The exhibits are displayed in smaller rooms, well spaced so browsing and taking your time is easy and enjoyable.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland – A Night at The Museum with Awesome Art Classics

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland - A Night at The Museum with Awesome Art Classics

Product:

Art Gallery, shop and cafe

Location:

Argyle Street, Glasgow, Scotland

Van Gogh

Overview:

This gallery is housed in a beautiful, classical architectural jewel of a building in Glasgow city. We parked up in the cheap on-site car park and walked through the small gardens to the entrance. Entrance is free, with a voluntary donation of £5 minimum, it’s well worth the donation!

The gallery is spread over three floors, with cafe and shop to visit before you leave. The shop has some really well designed souvenirs, reasonably priced and not just the usual junk.

The exhibits are displayed in smaller rooms, well spaced so browsing and taking your time is easy and enjoyable. The downstairs rooms are a bit more chaotic as they are aimed at education of the young. Lots of laughter and running between the tactile displays shows they’ve got it spot on.

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Le Penseur, Auguste Rodin – The Vatican Museum, Rome

Some of the most important art in the world is there and folk just barge you out of the way and literally run through the galleries

Le Penseur, Auguste Rodin

Le Penseur, Auguste Rodin – The Vatican Museum, Rome

Some say size matters, boy did they get that one wrong. Always choose quality over quantity!

I am so lucky, I have seen some of the most beautiful, historic, thought provoking stunning art. I’ve visited Paris to see Mona Lisa, despite what you may have perceived from the media images, she’s tiny! None the less she’s worth the trip. Wow! Amazing.

Whilst on a recent trip to Rome I was walking around the breathtaking Vatican Museum. A huge number of people almost run through that place. It’s bizarre. Some of the most important art in the world is there and folk just barge you out of the way and literally run through the galleries to get to the Sistine Chapel.

Shame.

Now the Sistine Chapel is just indescribable, although I will try in a future blog post, but please people…

slow down…

take a breath…

take in the beauty around you…

As I meandered through the long halls and enjoyed the galleries held securely in between, I was surprised to see an artwork I’d not even realised was there. It wasn’t mentioned in my brochures and my research had missed it, my bad.

Stood on a humble pillar, within a small off shot gallery sat this gorgeous man. He wasn’t drawing attention to himself, he sat quietly, some visitors almost knocked him from his pedestal in their haste to pass him by.

Who was this tactile, bronze, muscular naked figure quietly demanding my attention? Silently calling out to me to reach out a hand and almost tentatively touch his shoulder, I resisted the temptation, as you do with a forbidden love.

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What To Think About When Planning A Month Long Trip Around The Greek Islands

Travel planning is like decorating, it looks easy but it’s always so much easier for the professionals.

This summer I arranged a month long back-packing trip around the Greek Islands. If you’d like to do the something similar but ‘don’t know where to start  here’s a few tips that may help you get started.

You can also share my thoughts as I planned another ‘holiday of a lifetime.’

Travel planning is like decorating, it looks easy but it’s always so much easier for the professionals. Don’t be put off using a travel agent. They get a bad press but they know what they are doing. Even if you just talk through options and take away their brochures, you’ve learnt something.

You can just get online, right now, book a flight and start travelling. HOWEVER that may not be your best idea.

On a budget? Being impulsive may not be the cheapest option.

Have to stick to a set timescale? The ferry’s don’t run every day, so you could get stuck and miss your flight home.

Prefer to know where you are going? Plan it, or you may not see the islands you’d like.

For holiday planning I get a huge cheap notepad, nothing fancy and not a travel journal, not yet anyway. That comes later! Scribble down your ideas and date them. Things change, it helps you keep track. At this stage you are FREE to do whatever you want. Be creative and don’t rule anything out.

Try using the 5 W’s (+ 1 H) as I do.

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My Desert Island Discs – Thank you BBC Radio 4 for the inspiration

Ask everyone, they remember their first love. It’s embedded in their emotional map.

Radio 4 Desert Island Discs

My Desert Island Discs

BBC Radio 4 transmit Desert Island Discs and have done so since 1942.(Copyright probably BBC, I did look but couldn’t find the official reference for it)

The programme has the same theme tune as the original, it’s now become a radio institution, recognisable across the globe.

The radio programme has one presenter, currently Kirsty Young, who interviews a celebrity, academic or public figure about their life. The conversation is held against a back drop of their favourite pieces of music and the reasons behind their choices. If they were stuck on a desert island, which eight pieces of music, discs, would they like to have with them.

A extra dimension is also which books would they need with them on the island. The guest is ‘given’ the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible. Remember this did start on the BBC back in the forties. The Bible can now be exchanged for any other book of religion or philosophy.

At the end of the programme the guest must decide on ‘saving’ just one book. They are also allowed one luxury item.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have every intention of becoming a best selling author and will therefore get on the radio show for real at some point soon. However in the meanwhile I thought I’d share my current Desert Island Discs  shown below in no particular order.

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