An immediate conclusion you can draw from looking at this page is that I spent most of my time in Tel Aviv at night. Sunset is early now, as in England, but bizarrely the weather is gloriously sunny and hot in the days rather than grey and shitty. Short days and beach weather sit oddly in my mind.
Tel Aviv is a great city, especially for nightlife. So the more night, the more fun. It is a young place. It is new, proud, and vibrant like a lusty teenager raging his way through a pack of fags. It is not the easiest city on the eye for sure – the buildings are messy and shambolic, and most of the oft lauded Bauhaus architecture is quite frankly in need of rehab. The clean lines and smooth stucco frontage of the style loses all its harmony when it is cracked and dropping off. Abrasive, humid sea air has taken its toll on the plaster facades. There are some beautiful examples though, but it is no urban ideal of european modernism. To say so would be a bit like extolling the grace of Dagenham because there is a particularly intriguing Regency cottage somewhere amongst the public toilets and mangrove swamps. Not that Tel Aviv is anything like Dagenham, mind.
However, I would really recommend Tel Aviv as a place to go for a party. The residents are liberal, interesting and sternly independent. They have a reputation for being somewhat gruff, but I have always found that they are very fun and nice, and really just not up for bullshitting. A good illustration of the typical service culture: I was in a bar last night and the waitress bringing our drinks alerted me to her presence by bumping me in the shoulder with her bum. Well, her hands were full weren’t they?
One of the epic, aesthetically challeng ed/ing beachfront hotel skyscrapers
You see these escort calling cards EVERYWHERE scattered on pavements by crossings. At first I thought that Israeli pimps must be very messy, then I realized that this littering must be intentional – everyone looks down at their feet when they walk!
Sicily is one of my favourite places on earth. The combination of epic landscapes and heady individual freedom makes it a great place in which to adventure. Below is some advice which I wrote for my uncle, who is just about to go. I have laced it with some of my photos. Obviously, my advice is based around a set itinerary, but I thought I should post it here because what is the internet for, if not for sharing one’s experiences with others? [That is the most naive thing I have ever said]
We stayed in the historic quarter which is a good idea for several reasons: it is convenient for walking to the main attractions of the town; the area is overwhelmingly atmospheric; there is good accommodation there; it is very authentically Sicilian, not just a tourist zone.
We only stayed one night in Palermo, so are perhaps not the best advisors. We went for something a bit different to cap off the holiday http://www.palazzo-ajutamicristo.com/English/History1.htm . This place made for a bizarre and fascinating experience. It was hauntingly beautiful, shabby, and thickly aristocratic. It reminded me of that gothic building in Blade Runner. The room was comfortable enough, but not thoroughly clean and a bit pokey. We could park the car inside the the palazzo courtyard, which was very handy. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there for more than one night at the price, but it was worth it just for the brief experience of feeling like a mediaeval Palermitan aristocrat! Perhaps you might find a more well appointed palazzo for the blend of comfort and character?
I would highly recommend visiting the markets amongst all the other sights, the produce is epic. Of course the cathedral at Monreale just north of the city is a must- the most breathtaking mosaics and tons of gold all over the walls.
It is a very touristy town, developed to accommodate the coach-loads of day-trippers who will be visiting the temples until the end of time. We stayed in a basic, functional hotel, and I get the impression that the rest of the accommodation there is not up to much (I might be wrong though). Apparently some people stay in nearby San Leone, but we were not terribly impressed. You might be able to find something nicer upmarket, or perhaps in the surrounding countryside.
My favourite town in Sicily. Definitely stay on the island part, Ortygia, which is very beautiful. The baroque streets are prettier, more friendly, and less ghostly than Palermo. The surrounding ocean is gorgeous – I loved wandering around the ports. Parking is totally hopeless on the streets, so you just leave your car in the car park just on the north of Ortygia and stroll back to your hotel – most of which are not too far away.
We stayed in Hotel Gran Bretagna http://www.hotelgranbretagna.it/ (just for the name of course) which boasted ancient frescoes in some of the rooms. I’m sure they were lying – most of the decor was a bit tired to be honest. However, I remember the place feeling spacious and comfortable, and being right in the middle of things with a nice Juliet balcony. I would recommend staying somewhere in that area but, mind, the one way system is hilarious and the driving is sociopathic as usual.
Ground zero for tourism in Sicily. The rolling hills have clearly been overdeveloped to accommodate the billions of tourists. In comparison to other places we had been to in Sicily, it seemed a bit hackneyed. On the other hand, we did say to each other while we were there that if we had just turned up on the plane straight from London, it would have seemed like paradise.
We stayed in the hills overlooking the town. It is one of those sketchy Italian coastal drives, like around Lake Como or the Amalfi coast, where you have to squeeze your car into improbable gaps between rocks and hard places at eye-watering speed. We found a charming guest house in a hill-top village which gave us great views over Taormina and an electrical storm that night.
I imagine there is no shortage of high-quality hostelry in Taormina, which would be much more appropriate if you want to spend a longer period there relaxing.
There is a restaurant along the coast from Taormina called Naomi. The food is good, but remarkable in its quantity. When we walked in we were sat down and, without a suggestion of menus, they started bringing food. I lost count after the twelfth course, I think. I admit that I started to become preoccupied with the possibility of splitting open. Nice drive to get there. Naomi is bizarrely high-lit by an enormous neon sign advertising itself to the coast. Vulgar but effective.
While the beach in Taormina is pretty enough with l’Isola Bella and such, it is nothing in comparison to the raw beauty of the wilder beaches. Lo Zingaro is a nature reserve near Castellammare del Golfo and San Vito lo Capo which has the most stunning white pebble beaches. The coves are lined with grottoes and the seas are light blue and warm, with lots of tropical fish. The rest of the reserve is rugged Sicilian countryside with ancient settlement caves and plenty of wild life. We stayed in a beautiful little place near the resort called Baglio La Porta, which I would heartily recommend to you, although many opt for the village Scopello.
Also, the Imperial villa at Casale is incredible. I think it was a Diocletian’s country retreat. It has vast mosaics intact, preserved by mud, or something. It is a good stop to make between Agrigento and Siracusa.
If you do venture that far out west, Erice is worthing visiting for the epic panorama.
The food is coarse, and less reliable than the north of Italy. The fruit is the best I have had anywhere in the world: plums that you suck out of their skins like honey nectar, and big grapes which are sweet and complex in flavour like dessert wine. Seriously, mind out for the prickly pears – the spines are tiny but impossible to get out of your skin. The locals call them ‘bastardi’ or even ‘bastardoni’.
I hope some of this is useful!
Rome is stuffed with cultural sights. A turducken of archeological, artistic, and anthropological marvels accrued whilst serving as the heart and soul of two of history’s greatest empires. Both ancient Roman and Catholic power have found their nemesis in Germany. So maybe it is with an element of smugness that hordes of goths, visigoths, and vandals still pour into the holy city by the bus load.
Today, Germanic excursions to Italy are more toned down. Gone are the cruel axes and wicked war-thongs, gleaming helmets and scarves made of human meat. Now the uniform of the Hun horde is a brightly-coloured, print-your-own t-shirt and a practical sun hat (the same for every member of the platoon). I can see the practicality in this. In the seething crowds of the Vatican or the Trevi Fountain, it is easy to lose one of your school children or church group (the two main types of German gang I could discern).
But if I were a sixteen year-old on a trip to Rome and my teacher offered me ein ‘sehr cool and funky team shirt und hat it’s very nice and hipsterkatten ja’, I would feel like a bit of a wally to accept. Anyway, I have included some pics of crowds in Rome so you can play ‘Where’s German Wally?’. See how many different clans you can spot. You get extra point for finding an act of rape’n'pillage, and special prize for macabre moustache plaits.
Oh and here’s something puerile, a wry graffito, and some excellent gnocchi.
We leave the motorway at Besançon and start the climb into the Jura mountains. The road to the Swiss border snakes through pine forests and steep mountain cliffs, topped by the occasional mediaeval fortress. Although we had already driven hundreds of miles across France, it was only when we reached her eastern borderland that it felt like we were really on a voyage. It is a beautiful warm evening and now we are off the motorways we can wind the windows down and smell the countryside around us, rather than a German air conditioning unit. The air smells of thick grass and pine resin, of things which have been drenched in sunshine.
The drive is dramatic and beautiful, a pleasant contrast to the sprawling flats of northern France. I think that motorway driving across France is better in winter. The countryside seems glacial and pure, like a sci-fi landscape inhabited by the colossal wind turbines they so love in Gaul.
As we race through the forest we listen to music randomly ranging from Trentmoeller to Keith Jarrett. It really feels like you are away when you travel by car. You feel the road passing beneath you, you take in the smells and details, you feel the culture slowly changing as you go. This is why I like to take the car across the channel by ferry. The tunnel is quicker, but I miss the sea-air, and watching a coast disappear as another grows larger. Also,there is nothing quite like returning to your home port at night after a long journey – the cluster of gold lights surrounded by black are cosy like the embers of a coal-fire in a dark room.
Emerging from the Jura border mountains we see Lake Geneva framed by the Alps in silhoutte. The plush residences around the lake shimmer like a constellation. It feels like we have stolen our way into a hidden valley of the rich and glamourous. We stop for dinner at Bavois in the farmlands overlooking the lake. The food is great, but there are many flies inside, which are vexatious.
I notice that petrol is cheap in Switzerland, and much higher grade: 100 RON, which makes the V6 purr happily. I clean the flies from the windscreen at the petrol station only to find the most obscenely massive bug-squash on the front grill. I think at first it was a small plant. I realise it is actually a stick insect, its disguise just as effective after its humiliating demise.
We drive up the twisting mountain roads above Sion, surrounded by looming, black mountains. When we awake the next day the view of Valais is familiar and stunning, and hardly marred by the big, fat, red crane doing its business. It used to be a quiet town here, but now it is becoming built-up. We shall take the cable cars to the high peaks and see what they look like without snow.
On the other side of the mountains is Italy. I am excited by the prospect of a drive through high mountain passes and the descent to the great northern lakes. There the long-established elegance of Italian civilisation is set against the mighty serenity of the Alpine backdrop. This combination makes for one of the most beautiful locations in the world, as I remember. I have not been there for years.