Recently a mate asked how many times I had been to Britain and/or Europe, and when I answered ’20’, he said I should write a book.
I’m not in the mood for that, and for those who follow this website, you will be aware that I regularly post stories from those travels.
But, having had time on my hands, because of the ‘Chinese flu’ and its associated restrictions, I thought I would file a 20-part series on those trips, under sub-headings.
PURPOSE OF TRIP
A Mediterranean holiday, based largely around a 16-day coach trip of Southern Italy, with Albatross Travel, followed by a cruise with SilverSea’s ‘Silver Muse’. Our Albatross guide was Englishman, Richard Ellis from Somerset.
Italy, Malta, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia.
FIRST THING OF NOTE THAT I CAN RECALL
A walk (4km) around the broad walls of the beautiful Tuscan town of Lucca. Lots of other walkers and cyclists.
Explore grounds of grand old, Hotel Excelsior Palace, Taormina, where our group stayed.
A three-hour bus trip around Malta’s main island, from Valetta, where our ship was moored. Lots of road-side rubbish (like Sicily) and bad smells. The highlight was the Blue Grotto, where scores of young people were swimming.
Hills near Villa Reale, Tuscany, to the north east of Lucca, the town where we spent five nights at the start of our trip
Views of coast from Zingaro marine reserve. So many blue fish at Scopello, where I enjoyed a swim.
Lake Bled, Slovenia.
Republic Day ceremony in Napolean Piazza, Lucca. Great to see people in traditional dress.
Valley of the Temples, Agrigento.
Dubrovnik Old Town, Croatia.
FIRST MEAL I CAN RECALL
Mortadella panini at Lucca Railway Station.
Egg plant pasta, sword fish, tiramisu at Malvasia Restaurant, Taormina. Good, not great. Wine basic.
Cheese board and salami roll on board our ship at Valetta, Malta.
MOST MEMORABLE MEAL
Dinner at Pizzeria in Alberobello with other members of our tour group. The proprietor handed out free limoncellos and grappa.
A few options here. Family trattoria in Taormina, where my wife had rabbit (‘best rabbit dish ever’) and I had sardines. Also, seafood lunch at Vittoria’s at Porto Palo, right on the beach. This restaurant got a mention on BBC television series, ‘Sicily Unpacked’ and Vittoria, the proprietor, makes the most of that publicity. Also, Da Bacco in Palermo. Fried prawns were superb.
Maine lobster on board Silver Muse, after we visited Kotor in Montenegro.
FIRST PUB/BAR STOP
Ales Bar, Lucca. Beer (pilsener) and spritz, both flat.
Cyclops Bar, Taormina, where there was a male singer. I had a Messina Beer.
Porto Vecchio Bar, Mgarr Harbor, Gozo, Malta
MOST MEMORABLE BAR/PUB STOP
Astra Bar, Lucca. Sardinian beer. The proprietor (from Naples) has a relative at Wynnum, on Brisbane’s southern bayside.
A working man’s bar near our hotel in Agrigento. I had beer there with fellow Aussies, Lucas Scott and Steve Chidgey, while our ladies shopped. I mean, is that a stereotype or what!
Back street, air-conditioned bar in very hot Dubrovnik, drinking Zagreb beer and being served by a waitress from Bosnia.
None, although I met a kindred spirit in Roosters’ fan, Bob Cooper on the coach tour. Bob is a mate of Australian Rugby League CEO, Geoff Carr and my former Group 18/Gold Coast footy rival, John Chisholm. There also was an American college football coach, Todd Graham from Arizona State. I learnt a lot about him, from the man himself. He had recruited a punt kicker from Aussie rules.
Marie and I visited Viareggio in Italy, which once hosted the World Surf Life Saving Titles, even though there is no surf.
EVENT OTHER THAN SPORT
Pucini opera recital at San Giovanni Church, Lucca. The recitals happen every night of the year (although, perhaps not in these Covid times) and are so beautiful. On the night we were there, the soprano was Silvana Froli; the tenor, Simone Frediani and the pianoforte, Diego Fiorini.
World Motor Bike Tour Company visits Taormina.
Choir and orchestra at a church at Qala on the Maltese island of Gozo. A bishop celebrated Mass, along with the choir and orchestra. I thought it was recorded music at first, everything was so perfect.
St Zita Church, Lucca, which displays the mummified body of the Saint.
Terraced gardens in Taormina, where there is a memorial to a local, Sgt Salvatore Leone, who attacked British shipping in Gibraltar, on a manned torpedo, during World War II. He was killed by depth charges and his body never found.
KRKA National Park and its amazing waterfalls, in Croatia.
MOST UNUSUAL EXPERIENCE
Staying in a cave at Matera. Not as bad as it sounds. It was the Le Grotte della Civita Hotel, which has transformed a series of caves, or Sassi, into four star accommodation. Almost rivalled by staying in a Trulli (house) in Alberobello. These traditional houses have a beehive look.
Mt Etna. A four wheel drive bus took us to the ‘smokin’ area, where, just three months earlier, a BBC Television crew had to run for their lives, after the mountain erupted.
Drinking insipid Greek beer (Fix) on a private beach on the Greek Island of Corfu.
1 Lucca in Tuscany
2 Maureen Brooks (left) and Marie Ricketts at Vittorio’s, Sicily
3 Sicilian Coast from Zingaro Marine Reserve
4 Valley of the Temples, Agrigento
5 choir and orchestra, Malta
6 Staying in a cave at Matera.