Tuesday, May 26, 2009

England (York, to be exact)


After the dry, hot, and blindingly monochromatic landscape of Malta, I was happy (and a little desperate) to get back into a country with trees, grass, colour and cooler temperatures. (Rain? Absolutely pounding, at times, but I drank it up.)

York is one of those mouth-watering, formerly walled cities, with two rivers (The Ouse and the Foss). For all you history buffs (if this bores you, please fastforward):

(from Wikipedia)

York (en-uk-York.ogg pronunciation ) is a former walled city, situated at the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England. The city has a rich heritage and it has been the backdrop to major political events throughout much of its two millennia of existence.

The city was founded and named Eboracum in AD 71 by the Romans who made it the capital of their Province of Britannia Inferior.[4] During the Roman period influential historical figures, such as Constantine the Great, became associated with the city. The entire Roman Empire was governed from York for two years by Septimius Severus.[5]

At the end of Roman rule in AD 415 the Angles moved in. The city was renamed Eoforwic and it served as the capital of the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria.[6] When the Vikings captured the city in AD 866 they renamed it Jórvík and it became the capital of a wider kingdom of the same name covering much of Northern England. After the Norman Conquest, the name "York", which was first used in the 13th century, gradually evolved .[6]

Richard II wanted to make York the capital of England, but before he could effect this he was deposed.[6] After the Wars of the Roses, York housed the Council of the North and was regarded as the capital of the North. It was only after the Restoration that the political importance of the city began to decline.[6] The Province of York is one of the two English ecclesiastical provinces, alongside that of Canterbury.


I didn't have much time in the city (only two nights), but packed loads into it. We stayed with Sean's nephew, niece and family -- super people, who wined us, dined us, and took us out to their local (mere footsteps from their house, and holy "Coronation Street" ... great characters, including a woman named "Plum").

Sean's nephews played guitar and piano brilliantly, and Sarah and I agreed that kd Lang's best song is "Constant Craving."

Keith and Sarah's house in York.

We did the "On\Off" bus ... a double decker tourist thing offered in over 80 cities around the world, with either recorded or live commentary that's usually pretty heavy on history. It's a good way to orient oneself with a new city (I'd done this before in London, Edinburgh, Milan, etc.), then go back and spend time at what interests you.

We did the Castle Musuem. (Excellent curating ... made me want to be a curator in my next life).

We walked. And walked. On a part of the old city wall that's still standing.
And through parks.
And the site of the old Abbey.
And through the famous area called "The Shambles."
We popped into the Minster.
Took a boat ride on the river Ouse.

Enjoyed the art gallery. (Here you see the rather conspicuous On\Off bus).

And I, the non-shopper, couldn't stop myself from going into the many wonderful second-hand clothing stores that raise money for Oxfam, etc. Got some great clothes for almost nothing.

Here are a few more shots of the city:

And the obligatory 'Shelley Before A Sign' shot. (Note: out of the shorts and skirts, and into a turtleneck).

On May 22 I flew from Leeds to Paris, stayed over in an airport hotel, then flew home. I never thought I'd say this about an intercontinental flight, but it was Terrific. Three seats to myself ... a 1.5 hour power nap ... and three movies, including "The Wrestler," which I quite liked. That last frame ... (Mickey Rourke ... the ugliest hot guy).

So Paris to Montreal, Montreal to Toronto, Toronto to Calgary, Calgary to Saskatoon. I rarely do anything the easy way.

Ta, amigos. Talk soon.

Friday, May 15, 2009

More photos from Malta.

View from the hostel on Gozo. (where I am now)
Stone walls like this divide the farms on Malta.
In my little writing room at St. Joseph's Home Hostel.

This is St. George's Beach, in St. Julian's, Malta. Hideous place.

A photograph taken while walking from Valletta to St. Julian's.
Walking from Valletta to the aforementioned hell-hole. About a 8-9 K walk. Great early evening light.

A photo taken as the ferry was departing for Gozo.

Flowers near Mtarfa.

This is the house Sean may have lived in as a baby. (Mtarfa)

Ha! This is the tourist information centre in St. Julian's\Sliema. What a joke.

And just try to find a working public phone in St. Julian's!

Another postcard for St. Julian's that attests to its "affluenza".

The buses on Malta and Gozo area very cool.

Today (May 15th?) we were in Rabat, the capital of Gozo. (Rabat is also known as Victoria.) It is halfway across the length of the island, and we walked. Traffic was quite ridiculous, and each community much resembled the one that came before. I sure miss trees.

More adjectives:

Sean: hustling, schizoid, unloved, car-wracked, exorcized.
Shelley: dust-blown, museum-tripped, wool and laced, hot-bussed, commercial.

Sean: unfocussed, amiable, dusty, neutral, sleeping.
Shelley: local-folked, two-tongued,cathedral-dominated, yellow, respite-homed.

St. Joseph's Home Hostel
Sean: hibernating, monastic,unrevealed, many-celled, compassionate.
Shelley: surprising, multi-lingual, open-armed, wind-passaged, sea-sided.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Photos from Malta.

Scenes from the beach near our hostel, and some of the hostel.

More to come when I have time. I'm sharing a public computer here.


I am in Ghajnsielem, a village near the ferry terminal in Mgarr on the small island of Gozo, Malta. (Or maybe I'm in Shambala.) Here, if you have coffee – not espresso, or café americano: our request for the latter was met with a 'Huh?' -- in Piazza Indipendenza at one of the plastic tables outside, you can view three different cathedrals. Gozo, like the rest of Malta, is very Catholic.

Arriving in Malta (on the main island) was bleak. There was no relief from the landscape of condominium-type, puce-coloured square buildings, no trees, scarcely any greenery at all … I felt it must be something like Egypt. Actually, it was hard on the eyes. Terribly hard on them.
Our first destination was the sea-side town of St. Julian's. Well …

imagine a hot day, a beach loaded with people, and not one person in the water …
imagine a landscape of strip clubs, bars, souvenir shops and boarded up businesses
imagine broken glass like landmines on the limestone rocks along the water
imagine a community that seemed to exist almost expressly for young Europeans looking to party

Sean and I have been playing this game where we each come up with 5 adjectives for locations we visit, then we share them.

St. Julian's (Sean): betrayed, sold-out (or souled-out), impermanent, generic, sad.
St. Julian's (Shelley): lunar, plastic, detonated, spoiled, surgical.

Then we got to the apartment we'd booked on-line, in a dreadful residential area even the taxi driver had a hell of a time finding, and learned that we had to share it with the owner, two Italian women, and three Irish, one of whom was so exceedingly drunk and obnoxious she got the lot of them kicked out. Eight people, one bathroom: not a good scene.

It was too much for us. And the internet wasn't working well. Though we'd planned to stay for 3 nights in St. Julian's on Malta, we told the owner we were leaving the next day. We did, though we had to pay for one of the nights we wouldn't be there.

Travel lessons learned on this day: always pick up maps and other info at the airport … it may not be available elsewhere. (the tourism information booth was a demolition site)

:don't settle … if you're not happy at one place, find another

After we dropped our bags at the apartment (and before we decided to leave), we toured the old city, Valletta. It was charming, and saved our lives.

Valletta: (Sean): dove-throated, heavy-stoned, intimate, breathing, imperturbable.
Valletta: (Shelley): spirited, breathing (we actually selected the same adjective!), valid, preserved, lyrical

The next day we spent travelling to Mtarfa, where Sean was born and hasn't returned since he was 18 months old. There's an entire essay involved in that day – everyone was very kind and helpful, but each had a different idea about where the hospital was, and the school his mother taught in, etc. We more or less left shaking our heads in disbelief and amusement. One lovely man took us into his palatial home (which Sean may have lived in as a baby) and showed us around, and I loved that.

Mtarfa: (Sean) sky-handled, islanded, blue-eyed, facaded, watchful.
Mtarfa: (Shelley) disremembered, caught-between, pale, flaking, ambassadored.

Finally, the ferry to Gozo, a much smaller Maltese Island. (There are 3).

And here we are.

St. Joseph's Home Hostel is singularly the best hostel I've ever stayed in, and I've stayed in several. It beats the funky Valencia hostel, the Honolulu surfing hostel, the three very good San Francisco hostels I'm acquainted with, and Makuto Backpackers in Granada.

We wandered around the large place, with its caged birds, and lizard-like creatures that might be skinks scooting along the stone walls, the potted plants, and antiquarian items, the paintings, impressive coloured glass chandeliers and iron grates. There is a huge games room, with a pool table and a tennis table, fooz ball and pinball machines. A library, an internet station, an expansive rooftop terrace. Up the curving stair, a balustrade sets off the large U-shaped second floor. There is a loggia-like walk, and from it, not far away, we see the ocean break against the limestone shore. On the south side, the ruins of a fortress, and before this, fields slip down toward the water, and then, to the right, the lane that leads to the diving site where three ships have been sunk.

We are so close to the sea we're lulled to sleep by the night waves. As I write, I am looking through an ornate, screenless, metal-grated window. Sea air on my arms and face. The palm tree out my window is slightly swaying. I hear small birds, and the ocean. No traffic. No people. No industry.

And this is what I love about hostels: sometimes you meet great people, like John-Paulo, from Italy, who has been doing NGO work in Somalia, and Susan, a Scots woman of about 50 years. Her powerful legs attest to her love of walking, and indeed, she is walking all over the island to various beaches and villages. A French woman just checked in; I don't know her story yet, but I will, soon.

And imagine this … there are only two restaurants in town, and only one open last night. It is about 85 steps from our door, and within it I had the best meal I've had on this entire trip. Spaghetti. Yum.

Photos coming soon.


Only had one night in Milan, but the city truly impressed.

Recommendation for fellow travellers: the Bernina Hotel. Boutique hotel near the train station, and you can walk anywhere from there.

Here I'm at the Milan airport ... we got off the shuttle at the wrong terminal. Oops.

This it the square where the Duomo is. The cathedral is second in size only to St. Peter's Basilica. The Duomo seats 40,000, and took 6 centuries to build. I'm standing before it in the top photo.

I often get a photo taken by city\town signs. Just because.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I make new friends while travelling ...
Picnics on the balcony on Leffe.

The Italian countryside ...

From a church window in Lovere.

In the cemetary in Clusone, Italy.

It was an incredible chore to find our B and B, Locanda Biancospino, in (or, rather, above) the village of Leffe, but after several attempts and more mangled Italian (I can't make much sense of the language), we found it, high on a hillside, and it's gorgeous.

Strangely, however, there are no phones we can use, breakfast is the same (croissants, toast, plus something sweet, like strudel, and yogurt) every day (oh, what we'd do for bacon and eggs!), and the walks around here all require Herculean legs and the lungs of an Olympic marathoner.

Still, what a view, and we're very close to the woods. Cuckoos and blackbirds sing all the day through, and there are farms with sheep and horses nearby.

I love the old stone haymows that are built above the houses, and how the farms and towns intermingle. Italy is quaint in so many ways ... old men using scythes to cut the grass ... small tractors ... women in housedresses sweeping off their patios, or in their suits (with shoulderpads) bustling around the cathedrals ... trucks large enough to transport two cows at a time.

We're all about the walking. Here are a few of our views.