Malta in November


Holiday Diary continued…

Thursday 24th November 2022

Woke to a cloudy morning, but not actually raining. Went for a run. There were fishermen today when we ran beside the coast, casting their lines into the grey sea. After a quick shower we walked round the corner, and found a tiny café next to the law court. We had coffee and croissants while watching the criminals arriving! (Rather fun to try and guess who was a lawyer and who was the criminal and what crimes they committed. Especially exciting if someone arrived with a police escort. I didn’t take photos, as I didn’t want to end up in court myself.)

I read some more of my Ethics book (this is part of my college course, and I have to write a review on it, and it is NOT an easy read. More like reading an encyclopedia than a textbook.) Gave up after a couple of hours, and we drove to Gnejna Bay. Much more fun than a boring textbook. It was windy, and there were kite-surfers jumping the waves. We ate ice-creams (not very nice ones, I think mine had melted and refrozen) and watched the surfers enjoying the wind.

Drove towards a red fort, which looked exciting from a distance but more like a public loo when we arrived. We could also see a pyramid, far away in the distance. We worked out it was on Gozo, but there was NOT a pyramid on Gozo, so we were confused. Husband stopped for a walk (not my choice) and we strolled across scrubby land towards a tower. Malta is full of towers. Some are beautiful, some are imposing, this was neither.

We then followed signs to Popeye Village. This was my choice. We weren’t sure what to expect — possible a hotel complex or water park, maybe just a hamlet with a cute name. It turned out to be a film set, used in the Popeye film. We didn’t pay to go in, as you could see it across the bay. It was rather fun. There was a car park with a restaurant (and toilets) and a surprising number of other people had driven down the narrow lane to see the village.

Dinner in Café Sei as Papannis was closed on Thursdays. We found it by using Trip Advisor, but I’m suspicious the reviews weren’t authentic. It was okay, and our food was pleasant, but it wasn’t worth the reviews it had received.

Friday 25th November

On the 25th November, Christmas arrives in Malta. We woke to sunshine. After our run, we had coffee and croissants on the balcony, looking across Republic Square to the blue sea in the distance. It was nice, though noisy as builders working on the Grand Palace opposite had their radio on full blast. Valletta IS noisy. If you live in a city you probably wouldn’t notice, but it was vastly different to our home in the countryside — not unpleasant, just different.

We drove to St. Paul’s Bay. This is where St.Paul was shipwrecked in Bible times. I assume there were fewer buildings in those days, though the hills would have been the same. We drove round the bay, and looked across the water to St.Paul’s Island (which has a giant statue of St.Paul on it).

We then drove to Selmun Palace. This was built by a charity who were raising funds to ransom Christians who had been enslaved by the Ottomans. The palace was beautiful, set on a hill top, and very ornate. I’m not sure it was very good use of funds though — I suspect the enslaved Christians would have preferred the money had been used to set them free. Apparently, there were so many people that needed rescuing that the charity had a lottery to decide who would be ransomed. Tough if your name didn’t get picked. The palace was used as a hunting lodge, and knights would stay there and hunt rabbits — the income was used to free more slaves. (Though I am deeply suspicious that the cost of the building was more than any income raised.)

Dinner at Papannis. Lovely. The bar under our apartment had live music tonight, which lasted until very late. Not so lovely.

Saturday 26th November

We woke to the sound of cranes at 6am. Short night. Yesterday, people were talking about heavy rain storms, but it was still dry so we went for a run. We have learnt that in Malta, if it’s going to rain heavily there is very little warning — a few drips and then an instant deluge. We therefore abandoned our normal route along the coast and ran in the streets near the apartment. We saw lots of Christmas lights, and a Nativity scene (as I said yesterday, Christmas arrives on 25th November in Malta). As soon as we felt the first drips of rain, we raced back to the apartment. We got inside just as it started to pour.

There was a big storm. It tripped the fuse so we had no electricity for a while, and the bedroom roof started to leak so I put a saucepan underneath to catch the drips. We ate toast and coffee in the apartment, and I tried (many times) to photograph the forked lightening over the sea, but failed.

After lunch, we walked quickly to the car park and collected the car. We drove to ‘Clapham Junction’ which is so named because there are lines of cart tracks in the rock. No one knows exactly when the tracks were made — some people date them back as early as the Phoenicians — at least earlier than 700 BC. They are at a prehistoric site near Siġġiewi. We parked (no signs, so needed to follow Google maps) and started to walk towards where we thought they might be. But then it rained, so we hopped back into the car. Drove to a viewpoint on Dingli Cliffs (basically all grey and windy). The rain stopped, so we drove back to look at the tracks. It took us a while to find them, but once we had seen them, and realised what we were looking for, they were easy to see — very deep grooves worn into the limestone. They were much deeper than I was expecting.

Nearby were some caves, which were part of a Bronze Age settlement.

Next, we drove to the Blue Grotto. There was a parking area, and a pathway along the cliff edge to a viewpoint. I spent a long time looking at a pretty cove and taking photographs. Husband then told me this was not the grotto, and directed me round the corner. The grotto was spectacular — much better than the pretty cove!

There were also some really interesting plants growing on the cliff. They looked like little trees growing from a plant not dissimilar to an aloe vera. When I got close, I realised that the ‘flowers’ on the ‘trees’ were actually baby versions of the parent plant. I think that the long stalk falls over, and deposits the baby plants at a distance to the parent, where they can then fall off and start to grow. (I spent ages trying to find them on the internet, but I never found them. If you know the name, please let me know.)

Drove back to Valletta and made it into the apartment before the rain started again. Malta reminds me of Cyprus, but with lots of churches and ancient forts and towers. Even tiny fishing villages have watchman towers, guarding the coastline.

Sunday 27th November

Our last day. We had to leave the apartment by 10am, and our flight was in the evening, so we were homeless for a day. In the sunshine, this would have been a treat. Not so much in the rain. We drove back to see the ancient cart tracks, because we had realised that we never actually found the main set. This time we followed the map, and found them — lines and lines of tracks, running to the edge of a slope. Then it poured with rain, and we were completely soaked running back to the car.

We found a hyper market, and used the facilities, and tried to think of somewhere that would be fun to drive to in the rain. Gave up, and went to the airport. Camped in the corner of a food hall for a few hours (I tried to read more of the stodgy Ethics book that has defeated me all holiday). Eventually it was time to check-in, and leave Malta.

If you fancy visiting Malta in November, it has some lovely scenery. There are fewer people, so parking and visiting attractions is much easier. Valletta is beautiful. If you are lucky with the weather, it will be warm and sunny — but we had lots of rain, and it gets chilly. It’s a fun place to visit, but personally I prefer it in the summer.

By the way, the ‘pyramid’ we saw on Gozo turned out to be the Citadel when seen through binoculars!

Thanks for reading. Have a lovely day, and take care.
Love, Anne x

(And if you can name the plant, please tell me!)

If you enjoy my travel blogs, you should read my book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary

Available from Amazon as a kindle book or paperback—it makes a great Christmas gift!

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A November Trip to Malta


Malta Holiday Diary

Sunday 20th November, 2022. Late.

Arrived in Malta. The Airbnb is a 20 minute drive from the airport. Staying in Valletta, which is pedestrianised, so parked in multistorey car park and wheeled our suitcases through the city. Rain was forecast but never appeared, so felt very thankful.

Dumped bags in the apartment and went to McDonald’s. Sometimes, when you’re very tired, you just want something very easy/familiar. It hit the spot. We were the only people, including the staff, who were over twenty!

The apartment is weird. It’s all on one level except for the bedroom, which is reached via a steep spiral staircase. The bedroom contains a bed—nothing else. We left our bags in the sitting room, changed in the kitchen. Very odd.

Monday 21st November.

We woke early and went for a run. (Well, ONE of us woke early, and then had a hard job waking the other—but we did both go for a run.) The apartment looks better in daylight. It’s right in the centre of Valletta, and has two balconies that overlook the city. The bedroom, whilst odd, is also wonderfully light and has a view of the sea. Husband carried up a small set of shelves, so I can put a few things up there.

We had breakfast in Eddie’s Café in Republic Square. They didn’t serve croissants, so I tried a Maltese pastry—which was flakey pastry (quite greasy) filled with cheese. I wasn’t a fan. Husband had Eggs Benedict, which was much nicer, so I ate some of that.

It then basically poured with rain all day. The bedroom has a tin roof, so I read an Ethics book while the rain rattled above me. The sea turned from blue to grey and then disappeared from view. We walked to a little Italian restaurant for dinner: Papannis. Great food and wine, with friendly service. Returned to the apartment feeling happy.

Tuesday 22nd November

Not raining. Brilliant! We ran through the Victoria Arch, along the coast, then up the hill to the apartment (one of us walked up the hill). Showered, then had coffee and croissant at Caffé Cordina in Republic Square. Perfect.

We can see a big dome from the apartment, so we walked there (it’s a big church, rebuilt after the war. A LOT of Malta needed to be rebuilt after the war.) We found our way down to Boat Street, and had a lovely walk next to the coast. As we passed the imposing city wall, we could see where the bricks had been cut from the rock. When the knights arrived in Malta, they must have cut the rocks into bricks (thus lowering the base) and built the wall right there (hence not needing to transport the bricks very far). Clever. The wall is now weathered, but I still wouldn’t fancy having to climb it to attack the fort.

The weather was windy (needed my woolly hat) but sunny. When we sheltered from the wind, it was very warm—tee-shirt weather—but mostly we needed a jumper and coat. This was unexpected, I had assumed Malta would be warmer in November.

Returned to apartment and I read more of my Ethics book (quite heavy-going). Fell asleep while reading, and woke up to feel the bed shaking—thought it was Husband trying to wake me—realised it was an earthquake! It didn’t last very long, but there was quite a lot of movement. I checked Twitter (which is always the fastest way to confirm an earthquake I have learned). The earthquake was measured at 4.4.

Dinner at Papannis again. Lovely.

Wednesday 23rd November

Lots of wind and rain (and church bells) during the night, so woke up tired. It was grey and windy, but not actually raining, so we went for a run. I love running next to the sea, there’s something that makes me feel like a child again.

Breakfast at Caffe Cordina again. Today the pigeons were annoying. They’re very aggressive, and as soon as they see food they try to fly onto the table. If people leave uneaten food when they leave, the table is instantly swarmed with pigeons. Not very hygienic. I don’t like city pigeons much (they’re like rats).

Went back to apartment and I tried to read more of the Ethics book. Managed to not fall asleep. Gave up, and we went for a walk along the south eastern coast. We could see warships and a cruise ship and more of Malta across the inlet. Malta is distinctive, with its cities of golden stone and steep walls rising up from the coast, and so many churches—domes and steeples in every direction. Which means lots of bells. The bells near the apartment were fairly random in when they rang, and some of them rang throughout the night.

Dinner at Papannis again—we will have to eat somewhere else tomorrow as they shut on Thursdays.

I will tell you more about our trip in my next blog. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

If you enjoy my travel blogs, you should read my book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary

Available from Amazon as a kindle book or paperback—it makes a great Christmas gift!

(You can read it for free if you have a kindle.)https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_1?crid=36HORPFE9BX3D&keywords=sarcastic+mother%27s+holiday+diary+anne+e+thompson&qid=1669889589&sprefix=sarcastic+mother+s+holiday+diary+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C52&sr=8-1

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Eight.


Last Day in Cairo

Blog Eight

It was our last day in Cairo, and we weren’t sure what to do. Neither of us especially like monuments, and we felt we had seen everything we wanted to. I suggested that we had a short drive, out of the city, to the hills we could see in the distance. There was a church, so we looked on Google maps, found a location that looked interesting, and booked a driver. It turned out to be one of our best excursions.

The church we were aiming for was called St. Simon the Tanner (or ‘the cave church’). On the way we drove through the Zabbaleen district, and this was amazing.

The Zabbaleen are the people who collect and sort out all the rubbish from the city; 80% is recycled. As we drove up the steep narrow street through the Zabbaleen district, we saw the people working. There were lorries and trucks and hand-pulled carts arriving with rubbish loaded high, stacked in huge sacks. The road was slow, often jammed while a lorry unloaded, tuktuks and cars edging round them. The rubbish was everywhere—carried on heads, balanced on vehicles, stacked on the roofs of the houses. Flies and smells are part of life here. The rubbish is then sorted—sacks neatly folded, plastics tied together—everything made tidy ready for sale to the recycling companies.

We passed several small shops and roadside stalls. One woman was selling packets of flatbread, and had a box of fluffy yellow chicks. I guess that chickens eat the food waste too. I have read that the Zabbaleen keep pigs, feed them on the organic waste, and sell the pork to tourist hotels. But we didn’t see any, and I have also read that during the swine flu epidemic—even though there were no cases in Cairo—all the pigs had to be culled. So I don’t know whether they are still there or not. I only saw the chicks, and some cows sleeping in a room under a house. (But I don’t think cows eat anything but vegetables.)

The people looked busy, and whilst they were clearly not rich, neither did they look desperately poor. They were clean, and well-nourished, it wasn’t a sad place, it was just busy. These people provide a vastly important service to the city, and I hope they are valued.

We drove through a barrier, and everything changed. The bustle of the streets became a smooth wide road, and instead of rubbish-laden trucks inching past each other, there were coaches of school children. We had arrived at the church complex.

The church of St. Simon the Tanner is relatively modern, with picnic areas and washrooms and signs. We followed the pathway down, under the wall, to an auditorium built into a huge cave. It was pretty, decorated with carved scenes from Bible stories, and the light limestone gave it all an airy feel. It seats 17,000 people—I expect an outdoor church is rather nice to attend. Unfortunately, alongside the Bible stories are several myths and claimed miracles; religion and superstition seem to have got muddled together.

Pretty place though.

On the way home, we stopped at the Citadel. I’m not too keen on monuments, and I much preferred the real-life-chaos of the Zabbaleen district, though the main mosque was spectacular. (And as I have said before, I think the design of mosques would be more likely to point you towards God and prayer than the highly ornate churches.)

It was a good last day in Cairo, and we returned to our room to pack, then sat on the balcony and watched the mesmerising traffic below. I have loved Egypt. One day, I hope to return. Thanks for sharing my trip.

I hope you have a lovely day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
anneethompson.com
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If you enjoy travel blogs, why not read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary ? If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!)  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary/dp/1790374235/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3CNCN6G2O4XUE&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668419480&sprefix=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary+by+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C69&sr=8-1

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Seven.


Memphis and the Red Pyramid

We wanted to visit an agricultural area, and the Red Pyramid because it looked as if it was in the desert rather than sandwiched between cities. Husband negotiated a car without a guide, because we wanted to plan our own route. This took some nifty negotiation, but he managed it.

When the car arrived, there was further negotiation about the route. The driver (who had 42 years experience as a tour guide—a sentence I heard a few times that day!) was insistent that it was much better to drive to the Saqqara area of pyramids, and look at those first. Then, if we wanted he could drive us to the Red Pyramid, and after that if we still had energy we could drive to Memphis (which had a small museum).

The driver spoke only to Husband during this negotiation, which I was very happy with. Male dominance is a thing in Egypt, but to be honest it rather suits me. The men are comfortable in their superiority and therefore only address other men. I don’t much like being spoken to by random men in the street, so was happy for all the touts to confront Husband. The women have a sort of secret understanding between themselves, so as I made eye-contact with women, they would smile, and nod, and I felt great unity with them. Mostly, I liked it. Being underestimated is usually a good thing I find.

Husband politely (because everything is polite in Egypt) insisted that we would first visit Memphis. We knew that Google maps showed this as an agricultural area, so we chose a small museum within Memphis as our destination. I suspect the driver had a planned route, that would take us to various places on the way where we could spend money and he would receive a percentage, and we rather ruined that. I didn’t feel guilty.

The museum at Mit Rahina was wonderful—my favourite museum so far (and Egypt has done very well with having non-pompous museums). The drive there was exactly what we hoped, and we drove beside a canal from the Nile, on a small road passing date palms, and sugar beet, and buffalo and goats. They were digging the silt from the river, and putting on the fields to fertilise them. We passed mosques and villages, hump-backed cows led by a man on a donkey, a camel under a load of branches, children playing, white egrets perched in trees above the water.

The museum itself was a large outside area, with traders selling crafts along the edge, and various ancient artifacts arranged in the middle. I had the impression that these things—the leg from a statue, a plaque with hieroglyphics—had been accidently dug up by builders, who simply drove their diggers to the museum and dumped their finds on the ground. Instead of being in glass cases, things were propped up against trees. Fabulous. We saw a big statue of RamsesII and an alabaster sphinx (smaller than the one in Giza, but in better condition).

The Red Pyramid is also worth visiting. There were very few tourists (only two other groups when we were there) and the pyramid is plonked in the desert, where it should be. The desert was packed hard sand and bits of crumbling stone from the pyramid. We were able to walk round in silence, while the other tourists were talked at by their guides (Husband joined in at one point, and told some Americans how old the pyramids are—I pretended I didn’t know him!)

We drove further across the desert to the Bent Pyramid (there’s a clue in the name). It was windy and there were lots of flies, but it was still brilliant. Behind the pyramid was the remains of a temple, made with ancient bricks. The bricks were made with mud and straw—just like the bricks described in the Bible story of the Exodus (when Pharoah got cross with Moses and told him they couldn’t have straw). How marvellous to actually see them (though I think these would be older than Exodus).

The pyramids and Sphynx in Giza are definitely worth visiting if you visit Cairo, but I really recommend that you go slightly further and see the Red Pyramid. They give a much better sense of history because they feel less ‘commercial.’ There are also no touts there, so you don’t need a guide.

Whatever you do today, I hope it’s good. Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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I will leave you with some more sights as we drove through the countryside.

If you enjoy travel blogs, why not read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary ? If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!) 

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Six


The Coptic District

We decided to visit the Coptic district, which is the oldest part of Cairo. The car dropped us near the ancient city wall, and we followed the crowds, walking along the street to where there were steps going down, and signs directing us to various places. There was no big sign saying This way to the Coptic district so we were a little unsure where to go—usually we avoid underground passages in unfamiliar cities—but we walked down the steps.

The hidden entrance to the Coptic District of Cairo.

There was a short tunnel, under the old city wall, and then we were in a narrow lane, the walls lined with books for sale. It was very unexpected! Tour groups and local people all seemed to be walking in the same direction, so we followed the crowd, round a corner, to a junction with signs on walls and archways in the wall. It was too busy to check our map, but I remembered we planned to see the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus so we followed the sign for that. It all felt rather disorientating to be honest, and I was disappointed because I knew there were several places I hoped to visit but I was beginning to think it would be too difficult to find them.

The church was built in the 11th century, in honour of Sergus and Baccus, a couple of Roman soldiers who were martyred for being Christians. I had read that under the church is a cave, where it is believed Mary and Joseph lived when they ran to Egypt with baby Jesus, to escape King Herod. Several places in Egypt claim to have been visited by the holy family during their time here, which I guess makes for good tourism, but it’s easy to mock—and who knows? They must have lived somewhere and maybe afterwards they told people, and it was remembered.

We found a sign to the cave, and went down some steps, to the area below the church. Much of the Coptic area has stuff below it, because it was built on top of a Roman city. We were in a long line of tourists visiting the cave, so there was no great atmosphere to it, and it was hard to imagine how it might have been, with a young couple and a baby sheltering there.

The church itself was very glitzy, with lots of icons, gilt and tourists. Places like that don’t inspire me to pray, I find it hard to discover God under all the religion, but I guess people are different. To be honest, I found the mosques, with their ornate outsides and big empty interiors to be much better at inducing thoughts of God and prayer. I feel there must be a balance, something between the plain ugliness of a Baptist church and the distracting gloss of a high church. Somewhere special, but that doesn’t distract away from God.

Anyway, next we went to the Coptic Museum (because the Ben Ezra Synagogue, which I really wanted to see, was closed for renovations). We wandered into a private area by mistake, and were stopped by a friendly smiling man who turned out to be head of security. People in Egypt were always friendly. After being pointed in the right direction, we went to see the Nag Hammadi manuscripts (which are the source for Gnosticism—the belief that spirit is entirely separate to anything physical, and that Jesus was spirit, not physical). They also have the oldest surviving copy of the Psalms of David, but that was being restored so we couldn’t see it. We did see some very cool examples of early letters, written on pottery, in ancient Greek. (The museum also has very clean public toilets, if you’re interested.)

Finally, we visited the Hanging Church or Al Kineesa Al Mu’allaqa. It has a barrel-shaped ceiling, and white pillars that represent the 12 disciples, with a black one for Judas. Again, there were lots of icons, and gilt, and red bricks, and tourists. Part of the floor was glass, so you could peer down at the Roman towers below. (Which actually makes it less of a ‘hanging’ church and more of a ‘suspended’ one.)

We walked back to the hotel along busy roads. It was more of a slog than yesterday, and I found the constant honking of horns, the music of Cairo, to be very draining. We saw more poor people begging this time, including a young boy. I am uneasy refusing children, but I had no food to give him and money would possibly end up with the wrong person—so I told him no, and then felt guilty for the rest of the holiday and carried packets of Hulahoops everywhere in the hope I would see him again (but I never did).

At one point the road was very crowded with men, all waiting outside the Kuwait embassy. They queue there to apply for visas so they can go to work in Kuwait. It rained, quite heavily at one point, which I think is very rare here. Fingers up noses and men peeing behind parked cars seem to be a thing here. But mostly, I am interested by how friendly everyone is, how children smile and say hello, and people wave at us from buses, and greet us when we pass.

Later, there was a thunderstorm, and more rain. We watched from the balcony as big puddles formed on the roads. An unusual sight in Cairo. Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
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Cairo, Egypt. Blog Five.


Visiting a Souk

After breakfast in the hotel lounge, we took a hotel car to Khan Al Khalili – a sort of bazaar in the Islamic district of Cairo. The hotel cars are more expensive than using local taxis, but they’re easier than trying to explain in non-Arabic where we want to go, and we know they’ll have seatbelts and not take us to the wrong location. We found places in the guidebook that looked interesting, booked a car to take us there and then walked back to the hotel. Neither of us especially like museums or monuments, and this proved a good strategy for seeing some of ‘real Cairo.’

The car dropped us, and we walked round the corner, into a myriad of ancient lanes lined with stalls, a whole mishmash of sights: Chickens and rabbits and pigeons in cages. Men pulling wheeled carts. People balancing crates on their heads—one young man on a bicycle had a plank on his head stacked with eish baladi the local flatbread. Stalls selling fruit, and cloth, and drinks.

There were stray dogs and skinny kittens—cats were everywhere—sleeping on a food-cart hotplate, sharing a beggar’s blanket, curled under stalls. We watched eish baladi being fried in a sizzling vat of oil, hoisted out by a net on a long pole, the oil dripping off, then heaped on a stall for the flies to feast on. There was a fabric shop, with burst sacks of fresh cotton on the street outside. The streets were busy, with uneven hard-packed mud to walk along, and I felt as if I had wandered into a stage set. It was marvellous. It was also the wrong place! We checked the map, and realised we should have been across the street, in the lanes that make up the bazaar—we were in a market intended for locals (much better, in my opinion).

When we entered the bazaar proper, it was very crowded. Many of the shops were aimed at tourists, and stallholders called to us, inviting us to look, telling us they had the best products, the lowest prices. We had come to look, not to buy, so we disappointed them. Like all roads in Cairo, traffic and pedestrians shared the space. There were tuktuks here (we didn’t see them in the centre of the city) and they mingled with the lorries and bikes and pedestrians, vying for space in the narrow lanes. The air was full of pollution and spices and the sharp tang of limes from a nearby stall. A woman sat on the kerb, her short round body swathed in flowing black, selling bunches of mint. Children sat nearby, screaming at cars when they passed in some noisy game. Men with shiny round trays carried glasses of tea.

We passed the faded finery of ornate mosques, and crumbling walls, and red brick buildings; all powdered in brown pollution. The road was often uneven, often with holes or dirtied by dog mess.

When we reached the centre of the market it was even busier, and many of the products were the same as you would see in an English market—cheap clothing and plastic houseware. Inflatable legs were strung over the walkway, modelling various brands of trousers. Large dolls (like American Girl Dolls) stood in rows, modelling baby clothes. There were windows displaying sexy lace underwear on voluptuous mannequins—yet all the real women seemed to be covered from head to foot in flowing robes. (No one seemed to see the irony of this.)

Random men approached us at intervals, to practise their English, or to give unwanted directions. Always polite, always with smiles, sometimes overly persistent. We smiled back, and walked on.

There were constant car horns. Speakers blasted a sport’s game commentary or an Islamic sermon. The call to prayer echoed from minarets. I saw smiles, lots of smiles, especially when we responded to vendors’ calls in our limited Arabic. There was also lots of spitting in the street, and fingers pushed up noses, and loads of shopping carried on heads—all very different to an English market.

It was a fabulous walk back to the hotel. The sun was hot, the air thick with pollution, but there was so much to absorb, so much life to be part of. Wonderful.

Thanks for reading, I will tell you more about our visit in another blog. Hope you have a lovely day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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*****

Visiting Cairo


I have always wanted to visit Cairo, to see the pyramids. I have heard about Egypt, that mysterious place that people in the Bible ran to whenever there was trouble, ever since I was a tiny child in Sunday School. As I study the Old Testament, and learn about Moses, and the Hebrews living in Egypt and then miraculously leaving, it makes me want to visit even more. Our trip to the British Museum, to look at all the stuff the English took from Egypt in the past, and my knowledge of Pharaohs and how they were buried, has all fueled this longing. So, when Husband suggested a trip to Cairo, I leapt at it!

I prepared by downloading the Duolingo Arabic app, and practising my Arabic every day. I mainly wanted to know how to ask where the toilets are, and to be able to recognise which door has ‘Ladies’ written on it. Unfortunately, neither Duolingo, nor the CD I bought, ever got to this essential information. I set off for Egypt able to say things like, ‘Hamid is from Oman’ or ‘The house has a new door.’ Not as helpful as I had hoped.

I read a few guidebooks, and chatted to friends who have visited Egypt, and packed things they recommended. My case was full of long skirts, chaste shirts, and tatty bags to carry a water bottle and an umbrella, without appearing ‘rich.’ I took my money-belt, as apparently pickpockets are common in Egypt. I also ordered a hijab and hair cap from Amazon. In Dubai, I disliked being stared at, and found the best thing was to dress like a local. I decided I would watch from the taxi from the airport, and see whether most women covered their hair or not, and then I would copy. Warned Husband I would not be looking my best during the trip. I showed him my hijab, and he laughed, told me I looked exceedingly grim, and no one would dare to come near me with that face. I’m sure he meant it kindly.

I also bought some books, mainly about the Exodus, and whether it could possibly have happened or not. They were hugely interesting, but too heavy to take, and I only read a little before it was time to go. Might have to plan another trip. Many of the places mentioned were several hours drive from Cairo, and this was slightly less secure. The travel advice was that touristy areas were safe, but possibly not other places. We decided we would stay in the city, and see what we could. (I secretly told myself I would visit again if I like it.) Husband booked The Sheraton, which also has a casino, so I hoped it wouldn’t be too tacky. It was walking distance from the Nile (Oh wow! Can’t believe I am going to see the Nile!) and right next door to the Russian Embassy (which perhaps wasn’t quite so good, given the current politics).

We arrived Friday evening. As we drove from the airport, I saw faded villas that had once been beautiful, mingled with ornate minarets and tall concrete apartment blocks. Cairo is busy and noisy and has a faded charm. I loved it.

Our hotel room was lovely, with a tiny balcony that gave a glimpse of the Nile. Oh wow! I am looking at the actual NILE as I write this! When I was a child in Sunday School, listening to stories of Egypt, I never imagined I would actually see the river Nile. Amazing.

I will tell you more about our trip in another blog. Thanks for reading. Stay safe.

Love, Anne x

LaThuile in the Summer


Things to do in LaThuile in the Summer

LaThuile has the most beautiful walks. You can find a map at the Tourist Information but this is relatively unhelpful as the walks are miles and miles long, and are more serious hikes for serious hikers than the sort of walk that’s actually enjoyable. However, it is possible to cheat, and drive part of the way.

I write this after a beautiful 2-hour walk through a valley, a short drive from the town.

  1. Leave LaThuile on the SS26 towards San Bernardo pass. After passing Ristorante Lo Riondet, start to look for a parking place on the right—it’s at the next big corner.
  2. Follow the track through pine trees, catching brief glimpses of the most beautiful valley in the world (see previous blog).
  3. When you see a bridge over the river on your left, turn off the main track and cross the river. If you look up, you will see a cave above you. (If you venture up there, let me know what was inside.)
  4. Follow the track to the left. It goes uphill slightly, but nothing scary. You will pass some derelict houses and some cows, and depending on where the farmer has laid his electric fence, you might need to cross it. (Note on electric fences: If you touch the wire, it hurts. A lot. However, the stick securing it to the ground is not usually electrified—so test this theory by touching it with a blade of grass, then you can lift the stick, shimmy under the wire, replace the stick in the ground.)
  5. When the path forks, take the left fork, which heads down towards the river.
  6. Cross the river on the footbridge.
  7. Either turn left, and follow the track back to the car, or continue right for a while until you reach the farmhouse/viewpoint, then retrace your steps.

Another good walk, that’s slightly shorter, is to Lake Arpy. Take the SR39 from LaThuile, and park at the top of the mountain, where there’s a pub and a couple of car parks. (The car parks are easy to find, a space is less easy, so you might need to abandon your car on the road somewhere.) The footpaths up are clearly marked, and relatively easy (though slightly steep in places). The lake is very pretty, and in the summer people sit up there, reading or chatting. Some (silly ones?) even swim in the icy water (but not for long!) There are good views of Mont Blanc as you walk back down. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the lake from the car park.

If you fancy a drive rather than a walk, then going to look at the glacier in Courayeur is fun. You never manage to get especially near to it (unless you’re a climber) but the road, Via Val Veny, rises above the town to opposite the glacier. You have a good view of the Mont Blanc tunnel.

There is a little church on the hillside: Notre Dame de Guerison. Inside are lots of votives left by climbers who are thankful to still be alive. There have been icons there since 1753, and a chapel since 1781. When we visited, there was a service, and a surprising number of people had driven up the mountain to attend it. Opposite is a small gift shop, for people who want to buy a fridge magnet with a saint on it.

Looking down on the Monte Bianco tunnel!

You might enjoy Courmayeur itself. I didn’t. It was okay for a quick stroll, but there were too many designer shops and designer people (the sort of people with matching socks and weekly pedicures and a touch of plastic surgery). I enjoyed our first visit (see previous blog) but was disappointed when we went back. Perhaps it’s better in the rain, when you just want a cosy café and a decent coffee (those, it has).

Hope you have some fun days this week. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.

anneethompson.com

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The Prison Camp in La Thuile


At one end of La Thuile, away from where most tourists would wander, is the remains of a prison of war camp. There are a few worn signs, which are all in Italian, so I photographed them and typed them into Google Translate. It seems that the camp was in use during both wars, and the prisoners worked in the local mines. During the second world war, prisoners came from Yugoslavia. I’m not sure who they would be, though I have read elsewhere that Jewish prisoners were used as slave labour in Italy, for things like keeping the mountain passes open, and in mines. I guess it’s possible they were also part of the camp in La Thuile, and used in the mines here.

There’s not much left of the camp, and it’s hard to see whether the buildings were barracks for guards or dormitories for prisoners. Most of the buildings are on private land, so it wasn’t possible to get very close. Below are some photos, and the translation of the information signs. It’s hard to glean many facts from either.

Translation of Prison Sign:

First World War

Already during the First World War it is known that over 50 prisoners of war were employed in the work of the mines. In 1918, “the 31 prisoners of war were awarded a wage of just under 1/3 of the normal worker, ie 3,400 lire per day. By making a downward calculation it is possible to establish that, at the end of the First World War, the prisoners of war who find employment in the anthracite mines of La Thuile amounted to about one hundred units. They were guarded by military personnel and housed in special barracks in the Villaret region.”

Unfortunately there is no other news, it is not known where they were housed, where the special barracks were, but the presence of prisoners and their work in mining are attested in the first as in the second world war. Surely it was a place near the mouth of the mine, perhaps the place was already this … [sic]

Second World War

The set of buildings that insist on this area were born between 1941 and 1942 when the Cogne, “for exceptional needs, had to undertake the construction of barracks for housing prisoners of war, militarized workers from the army and military surveillance personnel at the concentration camp for prisoners” who will work in the mine. The building project is dated November 1941 and the request for the concession is presented by the Cogne Society to the Municipality of La Thuile on May 28, 1942.

The document shows that the constructions are “partly carried out and partly to be carried out. […] These are temporary barracks raised to a single floor above ground and will be built in timber with walls covered in” Eraclit or Populit “slabs. 2 cm thick, plastered, with a roof covered in Marseilles tiles on a timber frame.” The camp consists of the dormitories, the refectory, the prisons and a small infirmary inside the fence as well as the building for the guard, offices and lodgings of the Commando, non-commissioned officers and troops. From military archive documents it is clear that this is the camp for prisoners of war called Campo P.G.N. Porta Littoria.

The opening date is not known but on 1 March 1942 there are 250 ex-Yugoslav prisoners of war, more precisely 131 Serbs, 113 Montenegrins and 6 annexed Italians; in the following months the number and the provenance will be constant. The P.G. 101 and a mandatory work camp in the mine. The prison camp was closed on August 8, 1942 ‘following the cessation of use of labour by prisoners of war in the mines of the Soc. in Cogne.

Consequently, they are probably sent back to the camp, where the interpreters return. It is therefore open for a few months, a part planned on the south side will not even be built. [sic]

***

If you happen to know anything about the prison camp, please let me know. It doesn’t quite fit with the beautiful village in the Alps that is La Thuile today. I suspect in a few years, all remains will be removed, as the new houses being built are gradually getting nearer. LaThuile is beautiful, but I wonder what secrets it holds.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.

anneethompson.com
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Best Lunch Date, Ever…


I have just had the most amazing lunch. Not the food perhaps (though there was nothing wrong with it) but the venue? Wow! We have just arrived home, and I have a slight headache (you will understand why in a minute) and I am bursting to tell someone.

We had lunch at the top of Mont Blanc!

Preparing for the descent.

It was such fun. First we drove to Courmayeur. Well, strictly speaking, first we went to the local Pharmacy in a panic because we read on the website that it was essential that we wore the correct type of face-mask—but after that we drove to Courmayeur. We followed signs for the cable-car (the funivia) and there was plenty of parking underneath. Italy seems to do parking very well (either that, or we have been very lucky so far).

There was then some confusion, with a ticket office, and several different queues which didn’t seem to lead anywhere and no helpful signs, and loads of people. We had already bought our tickets online, so we joined a line that looked promising, and managed to get the piece of paper we needed to walk up to the cable car. I don’t like heights (as you know if you read my blogs regularly) so I was extremely pleased to find a seat, in the middle, where there was hardy any view through all the standing passengers to the scary plummet as we ascended the mountain. Hardly anyone wore masks, I think only the foreign tourists, who had also read the website, were wearing them. The website should perhaps be updated (I write this in August 2022).

The cable car stopped midway. There were amazing views, and paths you could walk along, a little botanical garden, and deckchairs. The deckchairs were full of lounging bronzed people who had stripped down to their underwear. I don’t think any will make the cover of Vogue, so I will spare you a photo!

We then caught another car up to the top of the mountain. Again, not too scary if you kept your eyes shut the entire time. It was crammed full of tourists, and athletic looking people with climbing gear, and dogs. I love that in Italy, dogs are welcome just about everywhere.

The top of the mountain had various viewing platforms, but we went straight to Bistrot Panoramic. It sits on top of Pointe Helbronner (which I understand is one of the peaks of Mont Blanc). The views were amazing. The restaurant walls were glass, and the seats were transparent, so wherever you sat there would be views. We were slightly early, and managed to have a corner table. After a quick gin and tonic, this was fine, and I rather enjoyed it. I had some red wine too to prepare for the descent (hence the slight headache now).

The meal was a set menu: a potato dish (like Dauphinoise potatoes but with bits of ham), a soggy-bread-and onion dish (nicer than it sounds) and a vegetable soup over pasta dish. We chose a mushroom dish and a sausage in tomato sauce dish, to accompany the cheesy polenta (which all went together very well, but would have been not great alone, as the mushrooms were a bit slimy and the polenta needed more salt). Dessert was apple cake (which was apple pie!) and tiramisu. We finished with coffee. All very nice, and when put together with the view, completely fabulous.

The table next to us had a huge dog curled up asleep. Next to the door of the restaurant was a bowl of dog water. I now plan to return, with my dog (maybe not Kia, as she’s a bit old now and would snarl at everyone).

We spent some time taking millions of photos, then went back to the car. As lunch dates go, it was perfect.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

And we saw Maria!!!!
Thanks for reading.
anneethompson.com
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