Monday, 25 February 2013

February Snapshots of Belfast

Without any topic to string these photos together, here are just some sights of Belfast from over the last few weeks such as the ethereal Titanic Memorial in the grounds of city hall.

Titanic Memorial

Some cold but nice dandering on the sunny days...

Trees at Layon Place

And with plenty of bright red lanterns for the Chinese new year.

Chinese red lanterns outside Belfast City Hall

Some would say cracking.

Crack in the Paving

As always, plenty of traffic.

Traffic Signature Lighting Mast

The Belfast Giants honoured Graeme Walton's long service with a testimonial game in which the popular Pizza eating on ice featured.

Pizza eating on ice

The weather wasn't always dry and sunny, but Belfast still has it's charm.

February Belfast Scene

Sadly we still have this on the streets - illegal flag protests. Here some are blocking the street at the front of Belfast city hall... yet again! (plenty of space on the pavement yer eejits!)

Illegal Flag Protest in Belfast

Don't even get me started on what those claiming to stand up for the UK did at Seaview. Pure hateful and despicable bigotry. Thankfully football fans and football stood strong that day. I'd go so far as to say that the clubs did NI, the UK and Ireland proud. I do feel sorry for the police though who had to deal with the small group and their warped perception on life here in Northern Ireland. Speaking as a non-religious, comprehensive school educated Yorkshireman/adopted Northern Irishman: I honestly think that the people illegally protesting the democratic decision to fly the flag on special days DON'T understand what the United Kingdom is. Either that or they at least don't understand how the rest of it functions OR maybe they're being coerced? I say this because going by their actions to date they certainly don't understand what the UK tries to represent in this day and age. Sure, when BNP/UKIP related individuals also show up to these things, you can gauge the sort of thinking behind it for yourself.

I know everyone has a different slant and perspective on life but maybe we could start to show all arrested the 5 episodes of the BBC show 'Wonders of Life'. Surely worth a shot in the hope they'll gain a new found respect for reality and their own existence though I'm sure some minds could even warp that. D'oh, I got started. I'll not even begin to start to type about the politics.

Due to things like the above, this flying machine has been gathering more air miles.

Belfast Police Helicopter

Where all that will end up - who knows. The summer is probably going to be interesting given the stance and political maneuvering going on. No doubt some more stains on humanities intelligence knowing the mentality of a small amount of people in this part of the world.

That's something that will run for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, you'll find us being big kids jumping on this on the way home after a Giants game.

Musical Squares at Custom House Square in Belfast

And this I have no explanation for other than it's a way to get to the other side of the road without waiting at the traffic lights.

An Underpass in Belfast

Maybe the underpass will lead to March?

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Pictures of Pompeii

Not the best place to be 1,934 years ago. Sat at the foot of mount Vesuvius, the Roman city of Pompeii was the victim of a volcanic eruption which covered it in ash and volcanic rocks.

Roman Forum in Pompeii

Many natural disasters happened before and after the Vesuvius eruption and around the world will happen again. It's just a matter of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time in relation to natural processes. What is special about Pompeii however is that the event, as well as being destructive, preserved so much. It turned the city into something of a time capsule. It locked away a Roman city, protecting a moment in history from the renewal and changes that would have been made had it not been buried.

Combining both a love of ancient history as well as environmental science, this place had intrigued me since I learnt of it’s existence at primary school. So it was the one main thing I wanted to do when visiting Naples. On the day we visited Pompeii we ventured through Naples on the tram from the port and caught a train to the Pompei Scavi station which is just down the road from the entrance of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pompei Scavi train station

If I remember correctly, the entrance fee was €11 per person. To help make the most of the trip we also hired 2 hand held audio guides and they were extra (€10 for 2).

Pompeii Heritage Site Audio Guide Handset

I'd recommend the audio guide if you do ever visit. It really does give lots of good information and helps you build the picture in your mind of what it must have been like to live in Pompeii at the time it was a thriving city.

I'll not type too much about it as the pictures really speak for themselves but just to say being there is like stepping back in time, walking and sitting on some of the oldest streets you'll ever have chance to and seeing the buildings that made up a complex Roman society. Yet despite the gap in time, an awful lot is so familiar, the result of what was passed down through the ages in more than just our DNA. Take for instance:

Buildings for business and legal affairs. Like this 2nd century BC Basilica and surrounding administrative buildings

Roman Basilica in Pompeii

Side of Pompeii Roman Basilica

And large civic spaces such as the forum.

Panorama of Pompeii forum

View of Vesuvius from Pompeii

Civic monuments.

Arch of Caligula in Pompeii

Changing rooms.

Changing Rooms in Bath House

Public Bathing.

Interior of a Roman bath in Pompeii

Roman Baths in Pompeii

Shops including take aways!

Food sellers in Pompeii

Shopping street in Pompeii

Religious buildings.

Temple of the godess Fortuna Augusta in Pompeii

Temple of Vespasian in Pompeii

Streets lined with houses.

A main street in Pompeii

Roman Street in Pompeii

Interior decorating.

House Entrance Pattern mosaic in Pompeii

Manufacturing and food production like this bakery.

Pompeii Panificio

Entertainment venues.

Indoor Roman Theater in Pompeii

Large Roman Theater in Pompeii

The site is much larger than I anticipated and though we managed to cover a fair chunk of it, there is a lot more that we know we didn't see. Indeed there will be more to see in the future as the archaeology on site still continues to this day. Not so far away are other sites such as the once the Roman port town of Herculaneum - we didn't have chance to go there but I read that it is also worth a visit. Pompeii was thought-provoking and enchanting as a connection to the past. Certainly well worth using our only day in Naples to see. It was an eye opener to how little has changed and a reminder as to how valuable scientific understanding of our natural world can be.

South West Pompeii

On the way out we called into the shop for a fridge magnet. We couldn't resist buying one which has a little cartoon Vesuvius saying ‘I’m Sorry’.

We ended up spending so much time in Pompeii that when we made it back into Naples we didn't have very long left to see the city itself - especially after we slightly wandered off the beaten track and ended up finding a yummy small pizza place. Once we located a bus we made it back to where we had to be - by the port - and got a drink, a Naples fridge magnet and a look at a fountain.

Naples Fountain of Neptune

We then walked past a castle before heading back to the port.

Port of Naples

Seemingly as quickly as the day had begun, we were back on the ship and sailing off to visit another Roman city... indeed, THE Roman city itself... Rome.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Messin about in Messina

Ah Messina... what to say about Messina. From the ship it very much looked the part, a city flowing down from the hills into a busy port but before we had even set off from Belfast on this trip we'd struggled to find anything to do in Messina.

Messina View

We had just one thing on the list. Watching the astronomical mechanical clock move. The rest of the things to do, if they existed, we'd hope would reveal themselves when we got there. They didn't.

I suppose I should give Messina the benefit of the doubt. To be fair we didn't see much of it, just a square mile or so. Saying that, our lack of exploring was more a symptom of having trouble finding anything interesting or fun to do. If you are fanatical about churches or boats you might be OK but other than that...

Port of Messina Entrance

Sooooo... here is what we did.

Getting off the ship and dodging the horde of scarf sellers, it was a nice surprise to find a 13th Century Church just a stones throw from where the ship docked. Here is the Church of Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani.

Messina Church of Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani

We stopped for a look before making it over to the Cathedral of Messina.

Cathedral of Messina and Astronomical clock tower

And here is the Fontana di Orione outside the Cathedral in front of the clock tower.

Fountain of Orion

Inside the Cathedral it was suitably cavernous, donned in the usual garnishing of symbolism and wealth but impressive never the less.

Inside the Cathedral of Messina

Mary and Jesus icon in the Cathedral of Messina

Back outside the Cathedral it was a bear pit of tour touts and swarming pushy trinket sellers. Going by a seller/tourist ratio it was probably worse than the big tourist locations like outside the Colosseum in Rome. I really didn't like the atmosphere.

Outside the Cathedral of Messina

It was a captive audience as everyone who wasn't selling was there to watch the mechanical parts of the clock tower move.

Messina Astronomical clock tower

Move they did... a Cockerel here, a Lion there and some bell ringing. It was slow going but all the gold coloured things got where they were going in the end.

Cathedral of Messina Mechanical Clock

So we wandered a little out of the way to find a fridge magnet. It was something like being in a more built up Italian version of Lurgan on a Sunday morning but this was a Monday... in a city. Maybe we were just in the wrong area?

Messina Street

Norngirl still wasn't very mobile and a lot of Messina is up hill, plus it was raining so we then negotiated a price to go on an historical road train tour to see the other few (pretty much all religious buildings) sights in town. Yeeeeeeaaah... it never set off, they couldn't get enough people to fill it so we ended up getting our money back.

With loads of time and nothing to do we wandered back towards the boat in search of a cafe or wine bar. Down by the port we found both and also a lot of the other tourists who had been watching the clock too. First we had some local Messina beer in a cafe, it was alright like, nothing to write home about but nicely refreshing.

Messina Beer

We then found a gelato shop almost next door that had been mentioned to us on the ship. The guy serving here was the politest and friendliest person I came in contact with in Messina. He didn't even mock my attempt to order in Italian and made me feel like it actually worked without the comfort blanket hand gesture.

Last but not least we settled down in a coffee/wine bar. Ordered Red wine, got steadily tipsy and put the world to rights whilst in view of the Church of Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani again.

Wine in Messina

Church of the Annunziata dei Catalani

And that was that, our entire trip to Messina. As days go it was nicely relaxing once we'd found the bar.

We headed back on board the cruise ship and continued our relaxing day of drinking with a sail away cocktail. From the top of the ship Messina still looked like an interesting place even if it flattered to deceive.

Messina Panorama Sicily

To see us off on our safe travels having maybe helped convert the water into wine for us was HeyZeus himself - well the Madonna della Lettera anyway.

The Big Jesus at the Entrance to the port of Messina.

As for ever going back. I'd still like to see Mount Etna so having to travel through that part of the world again might not be out of the realms of possibility, however, if I did, I probably wouldn't hang around in Messina. At most it would be a comfort stop for the all the healthy things like ice cream and local wine.


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