Jan 9, 2017

Visiting Lisbon

John and I were in Portugal in 1997 but we didn’t visit Lisbon. At that time we rented a car and drove up the coast to Fatima and didn’t want the hassle of driving in the city.  This time we stayed in Lisbon for a week – no rental car.  We used our frequent flyer miles for our air tickets and our IHG points to stay at the Holiday Inn Lisbon Continental.  It was centrally located across from the large Parque Eduardo VII. The breakfast was extensive and well worth it. 

The must-do first stop is “Lisboa Story Centre,” a wonderful interactive presentation detailing the history of the city.  It is a self-guided tour through the various periods in the city’s history.  The climax is the film that brings reality to the catastrophic 1755 earthquake. Next we took the city tour and got off in Belem. I love the Tower of Belem with its wedding cake look. It is where Vasco da Gama set sail on his historic voyage to
India.  The iconic white, heavily ornamented Tower of Belem is a prime example of Maueline Architecture. Nearby are the historic Jeronimos Monastery, one of the most ornate churches in Portugal; the National Coach Museum with fairytale royal coaches; and the Monument to Discoveries celebrating Portugal’s leadership during the European Age of Discovery.  

Of special interest was the airplane statue near the Tower of Belem. The statue commemorates the first transatlantic flight by Sacadura Cabral from Portugal to Brazil – 5,209 miles - which inspired Charles Lindbergh five years later. Lindburgh’s 3,500-mile flight was non-stop from NY to Paris Near the marina there was an unimposing kiosk where we
booked a one-hour sail on the Tagus River in a traditionally made wooden sailboat for $10 pp. There was one other couple and John got to sail. We spent so much time in the Belem area that we missed the last tour bus ride to the center of town so took a taxi. There are several museums in the area including a Museum of Electricity and the Coach Museum with fairytale-like carriages.

To get a feel for the “old’ Lisbon we went to the Alfama and toured the Lisbon Castle. The castle/fort dates from the 11th century at the time Christianity was brought to Portugal. Before 1147 Lisbon was an important Moorish trading post with stronger ties to Africa then
Europe.  I was glad we took a cab because otherwise it would have been a long walk up the hill to the castle. The views of the city were great. Portugal is justly proud of its wine and there are wine-vending carts at the major tourist sites.  There were seats in the embattlements so we could enjoy the view with a glass of wine.  How civilized. 

First-time visitors should to go a Fado Restaurant. Fado is uniquely Portuguese. Typically it is a sad song with accompaniment and a dance that is performed at restaurants that serve Portuguese food. The food is wonderful and it seems Olive Oil is on everything . It is even on the breakfast table.  They use it like butter and I have to admit it was very tasty.

For those who want to travel to Europe and are hesitant because they fear terrorism Portugal is a good option as it has escaped terroristic attacks. The country was neutral in WW II so it was not bombed. Neutrality can be a good thing.  

Jan 2, 2017

John Brown and Hudson, Ohio

 No matter where I go there is always something new and interesting to do. John and I have been to Hudson, Ohio several times because our daughter and her family live there.  I thought I knew a fair amount about John Brown. We had been to his burial site North Elba, NY, near the ski jump in Lake Placid. For a time Brown settled in the black community which was created on land provided by the philanthropic and anti-slavery proponent Gerrit Smith.  

I knew that in the 1850s Brown and his sons fought against proslavery forces in Kansas. It was bloody and violent. We had also toured Harper’s Ferry, where Brown and a group of like-minded abolitionists led a raid on October 16, 1859 on the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in an attempt to get arms needed to led a slave revolt. It was unsuccessful and led to the death of two of his sons. The wounded Brown was tried for treason and murder, and executed. On the date of his execution, 16 months before the Civil War, Brown prophetically wrote, “The crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” He is most often portrayed as a wild man but other photos show just a time-weathered man. 

I was surprised to learn that Brown lived in Hudson for 20 years.
 Hudson has a brochure listing all the places that were part of the Underground Railroad.  I did a drive-about to see the places. Hudson was settled in 1799 and one of the settlers was Owen Brown, an active abolitionist and a “station master” on the Underground Railroad. He passed on his hatred of slavery to his son, John Brown.  The Browns and many
others in Hudson were supporters of the anti-slavery movement. John Brown ran a tannery. Originally, the John Brown family lived in a log cabin on the tannery site. By 1825, John Brown replaced it with a frame house. John Brown Jr. recalled, that as a child, he observed his father and mother aiding fugitive slaves at the house. There are several houses in Hudson that were owned by staunch abolitionists and most likely runaway slaves were either hidden in the house or on the property then helped to the next station on the “railroad” including houses on the Hudson-Aurora Road owned by Owen Brown. 

Owen Brown established the Free Congregational Church. Members had to swear they would fight against slavery.  It was here that John Brown gave his first public speech opposing slavery after he heard about the murder in Illinois of the anti-slavery newspaperman, Elijah
Lovejoy. The church is no longer there and the present building is the Town Hall. There is a plaque commemorating the event outside the Town Hall. Brown made his last public appearance in Hudson in front of the Free
Congregational Church before heading to Harper’s Ferry. I am sure it was interesting because the anti-slavery people in Hudson we divided when it came to the course of action. The Colonizationists believed that freed slaves should be returned to Africa. Many were sent to the country of Liberia. Pres. Lincoln shared that idea in the early years of his presidency. The Abolitionists believed they should be freed as American citizens.  This group was also divided between those who thought violence was the way and those who did not. 

Dec 26, 2016

Ostia Antiqua

There are two very different Ostias. One is referred to as Ostia Antica, an archeological site. It is in the suburb of the city of Ostia which is on a beach and where the people from Rome go to escape the heat. What a perfect blend – history and
beach just 30 minutes from Rome’s international airport.  John and I stayed at Hotel Sirenetta on the lido where the prices were reasonable enough so we could reserve a room with a balcony facing the Tyrrhenian Sea. The balcony was actually a huge L-shaped area and the hotel was unique – very artsy with a lovely garden area and close to the beach. 

I was most interested in visiting Ostia Antica. The train station was
a 10-minute walk from the hotel.  We got off at the second stop called Ostia Antica, and then it was another 10-minute walk to the ticket booth.  There was a long, slow line. I think the best time to go would be before 10 a.m. or after 1 p.m. to avoid the tour buses.  Once inside I wondered where
everyone went. The tree-covered grounds were not crowded. I find it amazing that 2000 thousand years ago the people of Ostia lived better than the people in colonial America 300 years ago. History is not a steady line of progress. At one time Ostia was an important Roman port with a population of 70,000.  Due to overextension of the empire and being unable to defend their borders plus inept leadership along with the mouth of the Tiber River silting up causing the river to change course; Ostia went into decline. Now the mouth of the Tiber is nearly two miles away.

John and I liked walking along the same road that the people of
Ostia did over 2000 years ago. They said “all roads lead to Rome.”  The famous Appian Way was 350 miles long and covered with huge stones – the very ones we walked on. There are many places where the old Apian is still used by vehicular traffic.  It is bumpy. I wonder what other roads have lasted 2000 years. I tried to imagine what the busy city was like. There
must have been many days when they could hear the rumble of chariots carrying Julius Caesar and other notables race by. The city must have been amazing.  They had a huge theater that held over 4000 people.  It is one of the oldest theaters in the world. Today they sometimes have concerts there.  The area in front of the theater was called the Square of Guilds. Nearby were the shops of the workers. Some of the buildings had mosaics showing what they made or what they were used for such as the mosaic of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, by the baths.

There were many baths in the city. Bathers would have an oil
massage. Olive oil was used instead of soap. The oil scum would build up on top of the water so servants would skim the oil off the bath water. There were cold and warm water baths. The baths were a place to discuss business of Ostia. The
same was true of the public toilets which had many “holes” so several people could be using them at the same time. Even today people occasionally euphemistically refer to the toilets as a place to “do their business.”

Dec 19, 2016

Exploring Gozo Island, Malta

Gozo is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, one of 21 islands that make up the Maltese archipelago. Over the years Gozo has been influenced by and/or ruled by a variety of people including the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Sicilians, French and British. It is a 20-minute ferry ride from the main island of Malta. 

The island is not only smaller than Malta but quieter and more rural. Because of its uniqueness it has been used in many movies. The Jolie/Pitt movie “By the Sea” was filmed overlooking a narrow bay with a great beach.  John and I recently watched “The Count of Monte Cristo” and the Azure Window and other locations were filmed on the island. The Azure Window is a 328 feet high arch topped with a flat rock that has become fragile so people are no longer allow on top but below is an underwater cave known as the Blue Hole. It is accessed by divers through a 262-foot tunnel. 

I am always astounded by what people were able to accomplish
 thousands of years ago. There are several megalithic sites on Malta. Sadly, the Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni, considered the most unique was closed for restoration. The Ggantija Temples is another of the important archeological site and it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There are two
temples that date back to 3600 BC predating Stonehenge and the Pyramids. It is hard to imagine how they were able to move and raise stones that weighed many tons. I wish I had taken a picture of John next to some of the biggest stones because the images don’t do it justice. 

The island is also home to a cave reputed to be where the Greek Warrior Ulysses met the goddess queen Calypso. On his way home from the siege of Troy Ulysses had many adventures.  All his shipmates were killed and after he was caught in violent nine-day storm he made his way to land (Gozo) where he met and was held by Calypso for seven years in a cave.  Visitors are no longer allowed in the Calypso Cave but we viewed it from above. 

For an island that is about the size of Manhattan there are some
amazing sites.  Victoria is the capital of the island and home to the Citadel which is visible from most parts of the island. The Citadel was a safe place for the people when the island was under attack which happened many times. Control of the island meant control of a strategic part of the Mediterranean.  Often raiders and victors made the people of Gozo
slaves.  There is an excellent multi-media presentation in the Citadel’s visitor center. It tells the tale of one of the men defending the fortress. Bernardo Dupuo fought bravely but when the Ottoman Turks broke through the city walls he killed his wife and two daughters fearing they would fall into the hands of the invaders. He felt death was better than being taken into slavery. He then fought to his death. There is a street named for him and a memorial plaque outside his house. 

As historic as Gozo is it is still a place to enjoy the islands many
beautiful beaches, hike, dive and enjoy a fresh fish meal along the harbor. I wish I had planned on a two-week stay in Malta so I could have spent another week on Gozo. Many people, including the Jolie/Pitt family, rent farm houses there. 

Dec 12, 2016

Mdina, Malta's old capital

The name “Mdina” is a reminder that the Spanish Muslims (Moors)
ruled Malta from 870 to 1091.  Their influence is most notable in the language and food. During that time Christians and Muslims lived in relative harmony and the Catholic Church copied some Islamic rituals. Church bells ring five times a day inviting Catholics to pray and the Islamic month
of fasting called Ramadhan was transformed into Lent.  In the 1200s Charles II of Naples had all the Muslim inhabitants exiled or sold into slavery and the mosques were destroyed or converted to churches. Malta saw many groups come and go over the years each leaving their mark, however so slight, creating a unique culture.  

Mdina is a walled city and is called “The Silent City” because there is a limited amount of vehicle traffic. Upon entering the massive gate the most prominent sound is the clip-clop of the horses pulling the carriages called a karozzin along the cobbled streets. Needless to say, John and I had to take a ride.  While we rode through the streets I felt that I should give my

“royal” wave to those we passed. We were pulled by a famous horse that had appeared in many movies with his driver. I liked the dichotomy – horse and carriages within the walls and a classic car show outside the walls.  Mdina is also called “The Noble City” because it is still home to many of Malta’s noble families and impressive homes line the narrow, shady streets. I would have loved to stay in Mdina when the streets are lantern-lit nightly but John and I stayed in a great 5-star hotel – The Corinthia
Palace. It is called the “palace” because the home of the president of Malta, San Anton Palace, is across the street.  The gardens of the palace are extensive and have been open to the public since 1882.  We enjoyed wandering along the walkways, past fountains, ponds and a maze that was easy because the greenery is only
shoulder high. The gardens are surrounded by a wall giving it a “secret garden” ambiance. The grounds of the Cornthia are garden-like, also, and they even have their own herb garden. I was hoping to have a spa treatment while at the Corinthia’s but they were all booked so instead I enjoyed the pool – both pools – the indoor one with a hot tub and the multi-
level outdoor one.  In the evening we relaxed in the elegant Caprice Lounge before heading to dinner. One night we dined at the hotel’s Rickshaw Restaurant. It was one of the best Asian meals we have ever had. Again the problem was that we didn’t get to stay long enough to enjoy their many perks such as a free shuttle to the beach. 

One afternoon we had an awesome lunch in Marsaxlokk, a traditional fishing village with colorful fishing boats bobbing in the water. There were some beautiful handcrafted items offered in the vendor stalls that lined the waterfront.  The iconic souvenir of Malta is a filigree silver Maltese cross but the handmade lace and table covers were also exquisite. The
restaurants offer the “catch of the day” and they all had dining areas along the waterfront.  We ate at La Nostra Padrona enjoying their famed lampuka.  The dessert was unique - Imgaret - date-filled pastries deep fried served warm with ice cream. We couldn’t finish it all so we wrapped up some of them to enjoy later. 

Dec 5, 2016

Malta: Europe's Best Kept Secret

Many people had suggested we visit Malta. I don’t know what took
so long. I think Malta is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  The archipelago of Malta is located in the Mediterranean between the Italian island of Sicily and Africa. Malta is blessed with a Mediterranean climate. English and Maltese are the official languages. The main island is 17 miles long and nine miles wide there are an amazing number of historical sites dating back to Neolithic times.  The islands are home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites including the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples, and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. 

Even though more bombs fell on Malta during WW II than any other place the reconstruction maintained the island’s architectural integrity.  I loved the colorful balconies. Malta has an unspoiled look; John said it looks Biblical. It has been the setting for many movies including “Game of Thrones,” “By the Sea,” and “Popeye.” The set of “Popeye” is now a theme park.

According to UNESCO, Valletta, the walled capital of Malta, is

"one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world." It was established in the 1500s by the Knights of St. John, a Roman Catholic order. The interior of St. John’s Co-Cathedral is a masterpiece of Baroque art with dazzling gilded pillars and elaborately painted ceilings. In the Oratory
is Caravaggio’s “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” painting, and the only one he signed.  Have you heard of the term “The stinking rich”? It is said that the term came from the practice of burying wealthy and influential people inside the churches and cathedrals. The term comes from lingering odor of rotting corpses. Interesting.

From the Upper Barrakka Gardens John and I had a panoramic
view of the world’s largest and deepest natural harbor and a view beyond the harbor to the three fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea, and Cospicu, best known as the Three Cities.  We were not on time for the Noon Day Gun, a reminder of when Malta was an English colony, Hong Kong still fires their Noon Day Gun. We did hear it when we were touring the Three Cities.

The Three Cities was a change from bustling Valletta. Visitors usually only see the Three Cities as it is pointed out on a bus tour. The area is claimed as the “cradle” of Maltese history. Is has been in use since the Phoenicians arrived in the 8th century BC – maybe even before. The palaces, churches, forts, and bastions are older than those in Valletta. It is the place where it is said they have the best fiestas. 

One of my favorite places was the historic house/museum Casa
Rocca Piccola. It is has been the home of the royal Piro family since the 16th Century.  The family still lives there. The current owner is the 9th Marquis de Piro. The Marquis was answering questions for visitors; his wife was taking tickets.  The house is an example of how the well-to-do lived and some still do. They
had their own chapel. Of special interest were the bomb shelters where the family sought safety during WW II. There were three shelters cut out of solid rock that could hold 100 people during the bombing raids with a private room for the family. 

As always there was a lot we wanted to do but just didn’t have the time. We love museums but, in reality, the whole island is a museum. 

Nov 28, 2016

How to make octopus Maltese style

Malta is an island in the Mediterranean so seafood it very popular.
 One day John and I had lunch at La Nostra Padrona, a seaside restaurant in the picturesque fishing town of Marsaxlokk. The weather was beautiful – perfect for dining alfresco. Malta can be very hot in the summer so seaside dining,
where it is usually cooler, is very popular. It was busy when we were there but there were many restaurants to choose from.  Most restaurants also have indoor dining. John was able to pick from the “catch of the day” while I had a great salad. Our lunch was excellent and ended with a typical dessert – imgaret a deep-fried date pastry served with ice cream. I loved walking along the waterfront where there were vendors selling a variety of goods including many locally made items.  The Maltese fishing boats are very colorful as they bobbed in the bay. 

One day we scheduled a ‘hotel day’ - reading around the pool,
enjoying the spa and learning how to make a traditional Maltese recipe. Ramla’s Executive Head Chef Christian Borg showed us how to make Qarnit Moqli. Chef Borg said Maltese cooking is simple, colorful, and tasty.   He explained further that many countries invaded Malta over the years so many recipes are a mix of Italian and Arabic cuisine.  
Qarnit Mogli is usually served as a starter but we found it was enough for a lunch.  John, the seafood lover, declared it excellent.  I am not a lover of seafood but, of course, I tried it.  The flavor was wonderful. I knew it would be from the aroma when it was cooking; however, I found the octopus a little too chewy to my liking. I really appreciate it when a hotel’s chef will take the time to share his expertise. I think they appreciate it when someone shows an interest in their work which often goes unacknowledged.  

Qarnit Moqli
2 whole medium-sized octopuses
1 medium fresh chili, diced (amount used depends on how hot you want it)
1 lemon
1tbsp black pepper corns
6 bay leaves
10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small red onion, diced
2 – 4 sprigs of fresh mint 
2 – 4 sprigs of fresh basil 
10 cherry tomatoes cut in half
1tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, diced
½ cup white wine
1tbsp capers 
1tbsp pitted black olives, roughly chopped
Freshly ground pepper as desired
Extra virgin olive oil as desired 
Crusty white loaf (Hobz tal-malthi) or bread bowls

Boil the octopus together with half the chili, half the lemon, black
pepper corns, bay leaves, and half of the garlic. Let it boil gently until the octopus is nice and tender (approximately 40minutes).
When the octopus is ready separate the tentacles from the head and cut them in half. Remove the beak. Cut the head into three thick slices.
In a frying pan add a dash of olive oil, when warm  add the onions until it starts to become soft then add the rest of the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and chilies.  Add the octopus and white wine. Cook over medium heat until it is reduced by half. Add the capers (rinse these before adding to the pan) and the olives and let them cook slowly for about 5 minutes.  Finish with a squeeze of lemon, freshly ground black pepper, and more olive oil. Scoop out the center of a bread bowl and fill with octopus mixture. Garnish and serve.