Mount Etna redux

So, Sicily’s Mount Etna has kicked off again. She doesn’t take much of a break these days.

I must say I kind of miss my time living in the shadow of an active volcano. As a half-remedy, yesterday I jumped on a cheap-as-chips AirAsia flight from Singapore to Yogyakarta in Central Java, Indonesia, to explore the volcanic belt around Borobudur temple. Woke up this morning with the call to prayer echoing across the plain and snapped a couple of pics, below. Bit of a moody sunrise, but an impressive view nonetheless.

Mount Merapi, Java

Mount Merapi, Java

Borobudur, centre left (click to zoom)

Borobudur, centre left (click to zoom)

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How to pretend that you’ve read my book

I know I’ve been promising this for a while, but the photo galleries for Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany are now online for your viewing pleasure. Just click on the “Galleries” tab, above, and choose a chapter from the drop-down menu. (Chapters 11-20 are coming soon!)

The photos cover most of the incidents from the book, so if you’ve not read it yet, you’ll be able to look at the images and pretend you have. Regrettably, there’s no photo of Gill cutting my hair with her infamous “trepanning” technique and none of our Vespa crash or resulting injuries. (What sort of journo am I?) However, you do get some bonus photos of things that don’t appear in the book – such as this awesome pair of Cannibal Power slippers I bought in the Catania markets against my wife’s express wishes. (The bone in the cannibal’s hair even glows in the dark!) Continue reading

Catania sunrise

Early morning at the Porto di Catania, Sicily. A week later, Mount Etna filled the sky (and our apartment courtyard) with lava and ash following her most explosive flank eruption in a century and a half. The eruption lasted three months. (Hence the subtitle of my book…)

Lava and other palaver

So, Mount Etna kicked off again last week, with a bit of a lava show. Catania’s airport was closed briefly because of hot ash in the sky, and players from the Serie A football side AS Roma were left stranded in the city for a night. The latter doesn’t sound like the worst outcome in the world, except perhaps to the American travel writer Josephine Tozier who had this to say in 1910: Continue reading

First impressions

Black basalt streets; Baroque buildings of fading splendour; brief flashes of Euro-chic; a preposterous number of churches; corners of squalor; miniscule cars all dented and scraped; skinny teenagers riding in pairs on menacing scooters; baristas smoking outside their cafés; seven-foot Sudanese men hawking watches on footpaths; palm trees and sandy squares (my diary entry for the day reads: ‘Have we come to North Africa by mistake?’); tiny box-shaped altars cut into the sides of buildings for statues of Christ or the Virgin Mary; tired palazzi; red-tiled domes; difficult cobblestones; ferocious gargoyles; even more ferocious graffiti; tiny wrought-iron balconies filled with potted plants and laundry pegs; bright orange buses; Roman remains; and, hanging from the occasional window, a rainbow-coloured flag saying ‘PACE’ (peace).

From Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany.