Catch Up Post 1 – Italy 2015

Well it’s been a while since I last posted – sorry about that. Things have been a bit hectic with trips to Birmingham on a regular basis taking our youngest son to and from Uni. Thankfully he has now graduated but we don’t get away from visiting Birmingham as he now has a job there and moved down there in April.

So back in 2015 Sheila and I achieved a lifelong ambition and visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum – all thanks to an Uncle of mine dying intestate and my inheriting a few thousand pounds. This paid for the trip to Sorrento, a bit of home decorating and left enough over to allow me to upgrade my scope to the HR80ED from Opticron.

The Sorrento trip was a short city break taken during Late May and early June 2015 – we stayed in the Hotel La Badia on the hill above Sorrento. The views across the bay to Naples and Mt Vesuvius were fantastic.

Mount Vesuvius from Sorrento

This was taken in the gardens of the Hotel La Badia.

 

On the Sunday we made the short boat journey to Capri, thankfully the first ferry over as by late morning the harbour area was like a refugee camp. There were hundreds of tourists and several cruise ships were disgorging more, ( the bane of the Bay of Naples – cruise ships come along and dump several hundred passengers thereby swamping an area) . Capri is geared up to taking your money as quickly and as efficiently as possible, prices are well above those in Sorrento – even for an espresso.  In the afternoon when we were waiting for the ferry back it was horrendous in the harbour area, crowds of people milling around. The queue for the funicular was humongous. One of those places I’m glad I’ve been but I don’t want to go back, except for just one view Belvedere Cannone – it’s not easily found and you have to climb a lot of steps but the view is to die for. My two snaps do not give it justice. Sadly I thought I’d got the panorama spot on – I hadn’t.

Sorrento is a beautiful place but there isn’t really a huge beach there, most of the resort is well above above sea level and that is reached within 6 feet of high water mark.

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Water level to the Cathedral Gardens level approx 70 foot

You can descend from the Cathedral garden to the beach via a long ramp that twists it’s way downwards, very pleasant when you are descending but oh boy it gets your calf muscles when you are climbing back up.

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One of the very narrow streets of Sorrento

The tourist areas are good and have a great many food outlets, ranging from good cheap stomach fillers to Haute Cuisine wallet strippers. If you visit Sorrento then the must go to destination is David – they are a Gelateria and that is an understatement. They produce some of the best ice cream dishes I have ever tasted. Be prepared to queue for a table .

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Marina Grande Sorrento

This little beach is a gem, not visited much by the tourists as it is tiny (but it calls itself largest) is used by the local fishermen. We didn’t discover this place soon enough as it is a great place to sit back enjoying a latte or a lager and indulge in a little people watching.

Herculaneum and Pompeii

The trips were on two seperate days and were roughly 1/2 a day each, not long enough for anything other than a taster. Both sites are from the same eruption of Vesuvius but whilst Pompeii got the ash, Herculaneum got the pyroclastic fallout – extreme temperature – which meant the paradoxically more was preserved at the latter site. We both knew about the sites as our interest in them was long standing, mine from primary school over half a century ago.

We visited Herculaneum first – much the better site as it is smaller and better preserved. Roughly 3 streets by 4 streets in area a lot of the buildings have an upper floor still visible, unlike Pompeii.

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Herculaneum – The houses in the distance are suburbs of Naples.

There are few if any plaster bodies here due to the high temperatures that struck the site during the eruption but those same high temperatures meant that there is a lot more wood preserved than at Pompeii. What is really touching is the boat houses – many hundreds of skeletal remains were found here – people who were waiting for boats to carry them to safety but for whom time ran out.

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The boat houses – those really are actual skeletons

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Herculaneum – These are wooden doors that survived the eruption. Now under glass due to numpties who can’t understand that touching is not allowed

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Herculaneum – household wall painting

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Herculaneum – mosaic, glass tesserae

Pompeii – what can I say – it’s a huge area, it’s THE tourist destination for anyone visiting Naples so it gets busy. The major buildings do get choked with people so not much fun on a hot day. The biggest traffic jam is at the Lupanar (brothel) as everyone wants to see the murals. They aren’t brilliant as time has taken it’s toll – if you like that sort of thing visit the Naples Museum and go to the Black Gallery – they’ve pictures and statues that should satisfy.

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Pompeii – the theatre

The state of preservation and conservation at Pompeii is much less than at Herculaneum, as the latter has been exposed for so much less time and has suffered less from people taking away masonry to build there own homes.

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Pompeii – not where the Lupanar is so no people

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Pompeii – one of many streets – this one close to the cafe.

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Obligatory naughty picture – not obvious until the guide poured water on it.

Glad I went but even gladder that we took up the optional vist to Heculaneum as that was so much better.

Right that’s the first update – next one shortly

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Majorca 2013 – Part 1

Friday 14th June
2.30pm and we are waiting for the taxi to whisk my wife and me off to the delights of Leeds & Bradford airport for the flight to Majorca. Jet2.com again, they are cheap and cheerful and usually on time. Two weeks in the sun and hopefully a few days birding for me.
There was a stag group on the flight, quite a subdued group really, their worst prank was continually hitting the call button. They did buy 3 bottles of the ‘champagne’ during the flight. The plane made good time, we landed at roughly 8.00 local time and after the normal hanging about for the luggage to appear, we had only a few minutes to wait for the pick-up bus to carry us to the car hire depot. I asked for a Ford Focus and got a Hyundai i-30, nice car but boot space limited. The drive from Palma to Alcudia was fun, I only upset one other driver when I had to hang a sharp right to get the correct slip road.
First bird of the holiday was a House sparrow at the airport, sadly the bulk of the drive to the resort was in the dark thanks to a knobhead at the car hire depot who was either stupid, senile or just plain bloody-minded and took forever to sign a piece of paper and pay for a tank full of gas. Got to the depot in daylight and left in the growing gloom.

House Spuggy

House Spuggy

Saturday 15th June
My god the sun is bright early doors in Majorca, breakfast on the balcony and we are taking in the area. The resort complex is towards the North Western part of Alcudia, at the side of the smaller of the two man-made lakes. We are on the top floor, normally a bit of a bind but we got a roof terrace and a couple of sunbeds to ourselves, plus the views are to die for. There’s a couple of house martins building a nest on the eaves of the balcony to our left so something interesting to look at. Plenty of swifts tazzing about, slowly dawned on me that they weren’t commons, got a couple in the bins against good background and ticked pallid swift for the trip.

The partial nest

The partial nest

House Martins - all 3 of them

House Martins – all 3 of them

First gull of the trip is… yellow-legged, buns, I did so want it to be a different species. Got used to seeing them around the resort complex over the holiday. Distant bird flying South – scope and first Purple heron, also a few egrets but too far off to make any other call.
A walk to the beach later in the morning gave me more yellow-legged gulls and then the first Audouin’s gull of the trip. Most days there were a couple of them hanging about on the beach, never landing for long.

Yellow-legged gull

Yellow-legged gull


The walk back gave me a nice spotted flycatcher and young,lots of food begging, the first Sardinian warbler of the trip and later in the day collared dove around the resort complex. As this was Majorca and not Lanzarote I didn’t need to rule out African this time. Early evening and the flyover egrets/herons were very nice, managed to id a cattle egret this time, then a lone bird flew close, darker than the egrets but smaller than the purple herons, got the bins on it and thought I had the id, jumped for the scope and managed to get it in focus and nearly had an accident. I’m looking at a bittern, first one on Majorca and I can hardly believe it.

Sunday 16th June
Morning and a walk to Port d’Alcudia got me the first picture of Audouin’s gull, a singleton on a roof but it’s snapped. We saw other birds on the walk, but by now the litany was establishing itself, house martin, swift, flycatcher, sparrow, woodpigeon/collared dove. These were to be ever present, in fact the spot flys were by far the commonest bird I saw.

Audouin's gull

Audouin’s gull


Afternoon and it’s off to the S’albufera to blag a permit for the fortnight, took bins but not camera. 15 years since I’d been here and last time you could drive up to the visitor centre, not anymore. You got to park outside the reserve, and as the car park only holds about 15 cars it was with relief we saw someone leaving as we arrived to park up. Then you need to yomp a kilometre to the office to get your permit. It seemed churlish not to have a bit of a birdwatch whilst there, so I nipped into the Sa Roca hide for a few minutes, my wife was sat in the shade of the trees by the vc so I couldn’t be long. I managed to rack up both egrets, stilt, Kentish plover, Cetti’s and fan-tailed warblers (bugger zitting cisticola for a name) as well as a particularly vocal nightingale just by the path to the hide. On the walk back couldn’t find the heron/egret roost so unable to get night heron.
Back at the resort complex had an osprey fly between our block and the next hotel along as we were getting ready to go for our evening meal, once more the camera was in another room. I really got to get into the habit of carrying it around with me at all times.