Ian's Travels

ITALY - May 2015  (actually Borgo a Mozzano, Tuscany)

Imagine four weeks under the Tuscan sun in a three hundred year old converted paper mill perched high on a hill with a stream running past your door. It dosen't get much better than that.

We minded a house (the mill) for an English couple who had to return to Devon on a family matter. They gave us their keys, their car and we drove them to the airport in Pisa and waved goodbye. From that point on we visited everything in Tuscany that stood still long enough for a visit.

Lucca, a nearby city was wonderful. Walled, it is full of old churches, narrow streets and lots of places to sit, drink wine and watch the world go by. Pisa was amazing. You could walk right up and touch the leaning tower and I was surprised at how large it was and how much it leans. We found a little cafe across from it and again, sat and drank wine. After a few glasses the tower didn't seem to lean as much. Strange, that.

Carrara, where for two thousand years the marble quarries have supplied wonderful white stone to artists like Michelangelo, who visited these quarries to personally pick out the piece of marble for his giant statue of David. The marble is cut from the mountainside in huge slabs and shipped out on trucks, leaving the hillsides looking like mountains of snow cut smoothly with a shovel. After the quarries, we drove down the shore road toward Pisa and had a late lunch of seafood in a wonderful little restaurant overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Florence was another wonder. Actually I wondered where all the tourists had come from for Florence was chock full of them. It was difficult to get around because of the mobs of tourist and Florence is probably the only place in Tuscany I wouldn't return to when I go back. Mind you, one of the best meals I have ever eaten was in a restaurant just south of Florence. It was on the estate of Nicoli Machiavelli in the middle of Italy's greatest Chianti wine region. In the Machiavelli family since the 13th century, part of the estate has been turned into a restaurant second to none. Hard to find, it sits on a back road surrounded by endless  acres of well maintained grape vines. This eight hundred year old eatery is an experience not to be missed.

The island of Elba is another place I had to see. We took the car onto a ferry and sailed to the place where Napoleon spent his first exile. For one hundred days he lived in a huge mansion high in the hills overlooking the main port of Portoferraio. He took over the administration of the island while there and to this day is well thought of for the good he did while there. Of course he was also planning his escape for a return to France.

These are just a few thoughts and observations of a place I could live. It is beautiful, friendly and tolerant. Everyone should visit Tuscany at least once.




Israel - September 2010

In front of the Damascas Gate on the north side of Old Jerusalem

  We were also surprised at how well Arab and Jews got along and how pleasant both were. We learned shortly after our arrival that the phrase for 'thank you' was TODA. When entering a parking area I said TODA and the attendant smiled and corrected me. He said he was an Arab and the proper way to say thank you was 'su cra'. (these are all phonetic spellings)

No one seemed to mind when I asked if they were Arab or Jew and at all times we were treated well and with a smile and especially when I tried to say a word or two in their language.

We drove to Gaza but couldn't get in. We then drove to the Egyptian border and looked across at the land of the Pharaohs.

We visited and swam in the Dead Sea, paddled in the Sea of Galilee and walked the streets of ancient Jerusalem. I stood at the Western Wall and placed my hand on it to say a short prayer. It was an important moment for me.

Neither my wife nor I ever felt threatened, in danger or uncomfortable at any time. The opposite is true. If you get a chance to visit the Holy Land, grab it, you will never ever regret it.

Israel was a blast. We were there a week and could have spent a month. The people were great, the traffic horrendous, and a surprise awaited us at every turn. We were surprised at the amount of agriculture. We saw great plantations of oranges, nuts, cotton and vegetables. They even have a large section of their airport planted with grapefruit trees.