Saturday, 12 January 2008

More driving in mountains

Today we set off to have a better look at Oman and found ourselves once again driving through mountains. I have to say the mountains in Oman are VERY different to the mountains in Italy. When I think of mountains I think lots of trees lining winding roads with babbling brooks running through them. And of course our recent trip to Italy was through mountains covered with soft and sparkling snow.
Well the mountains in Oman are not at all like that but they are also beautiful in their own way. The are stark and stunning. There is scarcely a tree or even a shrub to be seen. When science fiction writers look for inspiration for their descriptions of the landscapes of alien planets I think they must just drop in on Oman.
The Omani mountains look to have literally burst through the crust of the earth. The shapes are sharp and angular. The colours form in tiers from ochre to green and purple to grey. Some seem to have been laid "layer upon layer" like folds of pasta as it comes out of a pasta machine. Other parts look like they have been forced into concertinas where the folds wrap back on themselves leaving twists and turns of colour that resemble giant clam shells across the landscape.
We wound our way through the mountains to the town of Sohar on the coast of the Gulf of Oman, a northern section of the Arabian Sea.
We had lunch at the Sohar Beach Hotel. It was the first time since leaving Australia that we have been able to hear the surf breaking and washing on the beach. It is such a lovely background to lunch and a glass of wine ......... aahhh!
We drove along the sea front at Sohar, watching the surf and reminiscing about our days at home on the Central Coast where every square inch of the waterfront has cafe's and shops. This beach in Oman had a lovely sea wall and a beautiful promenade - and not one person out for a stroll. It was a perfect day for kite and wind surfing, for a quick dip for the kids (even though it was fairly chilly!) and a picnic on the beach - but not a soul in sight. It reminds us just how different the culture and lifestyle is here in the Middle East. No teenagers hanging around the beaches with their boards looking for a break. No cars lined up with people gazing out to sea and listening to the radio. No groups of girls eyeing off the guys showing off on their boards! We really are a long way from home and today we felt it.
However not being the types to allow ourselves to slip into the maudlin we headed back towards the 'desert camp' through the stunning mountains and along the twisting highway. We remind ourselves that we are living our dream, travelling and having adventures we would have only talked about if we had stayed at home. We would never have seen the mountains of Oman in all their grandeur had we not taken on this adventure.
So to all of you at home - we miss you and we love you...and some days are just harder than others when we are so far away.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Italy - La Roma

The last few days of our holiday had been reserved for Rome. We had about 2 and a half days to enjoy the sights and see all the things tourists are supposed to see in Rome. It would have been lovely to stay on and get the ‘feel’ of the Italian capital but I really think summer may be the time to do that and we will return one day and enjoy Rome in the sunshine. Our last day was spent in the wind with a chill factor of about 0 degrees – plenty of walking to keep warm and still needed a brandy to take the chill off!

So what did we see in Rome?

  • The Colosseum
  • The Area di Tito and the Palatino
  • The Pantheon
  • Palazzo Venetia
  • The Spanish Steps
  • Circo Massimo
  • Walked along the Tiber
  • Castel Sant Angelo
  • Piazza del Popolo
  • Mausoleo Augusto
  • Piazza del Repubblica

and much more…we visited a couple of churches, we strolled through parks and corsos... we also hopped a bus that had a commentary in English and saw many of the sights from the top of an open double-decker bus.

The highlight was the Vatican and the Basilica San Pietro. There was a life size (in fact probably larger than life) nativity scene in St Peter’s Square and despite the queue of about an hour to gain entry the Basilica was magnificent and worth the wait. I have to say that all churches, mosques and monuments I have ever seen just pale into insignificance when compared to the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican City.

The Christmas music played over the loudspeakers was beautiful and made us both a little homesick and reminded us that this year Christmas was without family and friends. We missed them all very much.

So for all our friends and family and many colleagues and chums from across the years we wish you a Happy New Year and hope that all you want for 2008 occurs for you. We will still be here for Christmas this year and there will be no Christmas break for us as the Muslim Calendar changes and Eid Al Adha does not coincide with Christmas this year. We look forward to a mid year break in June/July and will be planning on seeing as many of you as possible when we are visiting home. In the meantime there are more adventures planned for us so keep your eye on this spot! Happy New Year everyone.

Italy - Teramo and surrounding areas

After settling into Casale we decided to go exploring the surrounding territory and set off to find the Adriatic Sea which is only about 30 minutes away from Teramo. We found a town called Giulianova, and then wound our way down the coast to Pescara which is the major seaside town in the region. Along the way we stopped and looked at the shops and had coffee and wandered the streets of the small towns which were busy with preparations for Christmas.

Giulianova had markets in full swing and it was lovely to amble along the seafront looking at all the goodies! Ron bought a pair of slippers to keep his tootsies warm in our mountain cottage.

Pescara has a wonderful seafront and there were a few restaurants that served fresh seafood. We stopped at one and were delighted by the service and the ambience. The sea bass we ordered was cooked in Sicilian style with olives, capers, garlic and tomato. The waiter served the fish onto our plates at the table. After carefully removing the skin he filleted the fish and served it – just so clever and done with such pizzazz! (and no bones JC)

Everywhere we went people were very welcoming and interested to say hello but after that there was not much happening – we didn’t speak Italian and very few people spoke English. The younger people seem to be learning and grateful for the opportunity to practice but the older people have no interest in speaking, learning or understanding English, and like the French, can be quite put off by having to try. We gave a big effort and we ended up understood most of the time.

I must thank Barbara and John Rogan and their friend Giuseppe for their assistance in finding a doctor and translating for me when I desperately needed some medication for acute neuralgia experienced as part of a viral illness. Also the young people, Lucianno and Giovanna and friends who took me to the hospital when my temperature reached over 40 degrees and I thought I was dying! Giovanna was a nurse at the hospital and was just wonderful during our midnight dash (isn’t it always midnight when you get the sickest!). It is at these times that hospitality is tested to the extreme and these people in Italy were wonderful. The Universe will deliver a great 2008 for them I am sure.

We had a few days of complete rest – I slept 20 hours out of 24 for about 4 days! Ron read books and waited on me as I recuperated from the dreaded lurgy and then it was off to the coast and into the mountains again. We were not going to let the virus ruin too much of our holiday.

We visited Castelli which is a renowned centre for Italian Ceramics. As it was Christmas we thought we would buy a hand painted Nativity set to have as a Christmas memory of our trip. It is a beautiful set with about 15 pieces of 20 cm in height. Every Christmas as we set it up we will remember this lovely white Christmas in Italy. I was really happy to see the prices they were charging in Rome at the Vatican for a similar set – about 10 times what we paid. Doesn’t a bargain give you such a warm happy Christmas glow!

Teramo put on a Christmas Pageant that was just a pleasure to see. I think the young people in the play were music and drama students from the local University. Their voices were fabulous – in a real operatic tradition – and the pageant was colourful and spectacular and very moving.

Our holiday saw us take in the whole province of Abbruzzo – so if you want to know anything about the area just let us know – we are now Abbruzzan exzperts!

Italy - on arrival

We arrived at Leonardo da Vinci Airport (Rome, Fiumicino) to a crisp welcome. The sun was shining but the air was fresh and very cool! We had left behind temperatures close to 30 degrees for 10-15 degrees, so we felt the chill a bit.

Our little Ford Focus was waiting to be picked up and we had our directions to follow to send us on the way to Valle San Giovanni in Abruzzi. Fortunately the owners of our little cottage were able to give directions which meant we did not have to drive through central Rome and we could skirt the city following freeways. We had decided to keep our Rome experience till the end of our holiday and head straight for Villa Casale.

Leaving Rome behind we climbed higher and higher into the Apennine chain of mountains. We were headed for the highest point – the Gran Sasso d’Italia – the Big Rock of Italy, which is the gateway to the region of Abruzzi, a mountain of rock that soars 2,912 metres above sea level. In fact we didn’t have to go over it as there was a 10 klm tunnel dug through the rock and so we actually went under the Gran Sasso, but not before getting some lovely photos of the recently fallen snow. Every turn in the highway was a new postcard picture of houses tumbling down hills, church spirals and fortress walls. All of these covered with a dusting of snow about 2-3 feet deep. With the sunshine glittering off the fall it was just picture perfect.

We travelled past L’Aquila which is the largest town in the area and headed for Teramo, the town closest to our village. On arrival at the village we met Paolo Riccioni the local grocery store owner and he showed us to our lodgings. They were charming – a lovely wood stove to keep us warm, gas central heating and more than enough of all the comforts to keep us happy. My sister, Helen, had arranged for a welcome pack of wine, cheese, prosciutto, sausages, bread and cake and so we were able to settle in to a nice warm meal and a glass of wine on arrival. And then off we went to explore where we were.

Teramo is a small regional centre but it has all you would need including a good sized shopping mall with all the modern conveniences. It is also in the area of the most ancient archaeological sites in Italy and so it is rich with culture and tradition…and no-one speaks English! This proved to be quite a challenge for us but one we enjoyed and seemed to get along well enough. We picked up a few essential phrases and managed to be served what we asked for in the restaurants and shops, even if it did take a little bit of fine negotiation.

Here are some pictures of the trip and also our little cottage in the woods! The one of us in the snow is out of focus – but I think you ‘get the picture’ despite the blur! - the focus must have been frozen!