Tuesday, 17 April 2018

'Pieces of China'

My book Pieces of China'  is now available in shops and online. It has been well received by those who have read it. If you are interested in a personal story involving working and travelling in China you will find this book interesting.

You can also order copies from me via email: francesmckay@hotmail.com
Cost $AUD25 plus $8 p&p within Australia or $AUD16 overseas.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Some Dogs of Myanmar

On our recent trip to Myanmar apart from all the wonderful sights I couldn't help photographing the array of dogs  around the streets, temples and eateries.
Workshop Dog

Sagaing Monastery Dog

U Bein Bridge 'Sentinel' Dog

Street Dog in He Ho town
Kyun Kay Lay Village Dog
Restaurant Dog

A Forlorn Temple Dog

Friday, 3 March 2017

Amalfi and Rome 2016


We left Naples on an early train to Sorrento, from there we caught to bus to Amalfi. The bus was extremely crowded and we had to strap hang for 2 hours around the coast with its nail biting corners and a narrow road.

Our accommodation Amalfi Hotel was in the centre of town and easy to find. We were only staying two nights so just thought we would relax rather than go hiking. The town is touristy but has a great atmosphere. Who couldn’t love staying here? We were just happy to experience the atmosphere and just wander around for the rest of the day.
Amalfi Coast

The next day we went to the Amalfi Paper Museum, which was very informative. Amalfi paper is very famous as it is made from cotton and is used for all the government and Papal documents as it doesn’t deteriorate like wood pulp paper. Then to the Duomo, what town in Italy doesn’t have a church or two?

In the afternoon we took a little cruise to the Emerald Grotto and around the coast a very relaxing afternoon.

The next day we were leaving for Rome our little R&R break would be over.


We caught the bus to Sorrento and were able to get a seat and sit for the return journey. We retraced our journey to Naples then to Rome. The Hotel Capri was close to the station and easy to find. I read that Rome is a city of 900 churches and I decided to count them down as we walked around.

Close to our hotel there was a pleasant café so we decided to have a coffee to revitalize ourselves after our travel. The barista was gorgeous and oh so charming, so Italian.

I had been to Rome twice before so I was happy to give all the big tourist sites a miss. Our first afternoon we just walked around to re-orientate ourselves. We found a restaurant close by where to have dinner on our first night.

We woke up to a very loud church bell a block away from our room window plus rain. To add to this the other downer and we’re not fussy but the breakfast supplied by the hotel was terrible it would have been better if breakfast was not included like other places we’ve stayed.

We decided to head for the Jewish quarter, they had been in long before the Christians arrived. Rome has the longest surviving Jewish community outside the Holy Land. I read about this in the Melbourne The Age, Traveller section on June 11th 2016 and wanted to visit the area. The tour of the synagogue was very informative and the accompanying museum is noteworthy and we managed to spend some time looking at all the displays.

After our visit we had lunch at the restaurant recommended in the article ‘Ba’Ghetto with its ‘specialty Jewish cuisine from the Rome area’ and didn’t disappoint.

We meandered around the market gazing with great interest at all the produce wishing we could buy some to take home, but it wasn’t a practical proposition. We were amused by packets of pasta in the shape of the ‘Star of David.’

Before we knew it the day had disappeared.

The following day no sleeping in the ‘alarm’ from the nearby church bell was on time. Apart from the bells, thunder, rain and hail greeted us. This morning we decided not to have the breakfast at the hotel. Across the road to the café where the charming barista was serving. We had our typical Italian breakfast of coffee and croissant each but had bill shock it cost 16 euros, considering in Milan the same breakfast cost only 5 euros for two, and to add to the insult to it Mr. Charming didn’t even serve me!

As the weather wasn’t conducive to going to the gardens we went to the Liberation Museum instead, which set out about the history of the liberation of Rome after the Second World War and though it is not one of the major tourist highlights it certainly is worth a visit.

The weather cleared and we caught the metro back to a more central station, ambled around then went to the Napoleon museum assembled in 1927 which holds a collection of various objects and memorabilia of the extensive Bonaparte family. There was also a temporary exhibition of modern mosaics with the minutest pieces to make up the pictures.

Totally weary after walking around all day.

We breakfasted a lot cheaper today. The weather was fine on our last day so we decided to the Villa Borghese, we meandered through the park and finally made our way to the Museo e Galleria Borghese which has some wonderful art works on display. Not reading the information correctly I found out I should have booked as we were unable gain entrance for about two weeks. There was a museum shop and café, I looked at some of the items and was interested in buying some and we were also thinking of having a coffee there also. However I wanted to go to the toilet, but only those who had an entrance ticket could use it. I offered to pay and even went to the ticket counter. Too bad by now I REALLY needed to go. I was told there was a toilet in the park 10 minutes away. But where? It is like Hyde Park so you can’t expect to use the toilets in the museum, though I can’t recall an Art Gallery there.
Gardens near Villa Borghese

We left, I didn’t buy anything, then found a small café, bought a coffee and was able to use their toilet!

After spending all morning in the gardens we walked back to the centre of the city and had a pizza lunch. We then went Keats-Shelley Memorial House which overlooks the Spanish Steps. Keats, Shelley and Byron were Romantic-era poets who lived part of their lives in Rome. My mother loved their poetry and it was great to go to the house and see documents, letters and copies of publications. It was sad that I couldn’t relate this experience to my mother as I know she would have been rapt.

Inside Keats-Shelley Memorial House
When we were leaving here the hordes of people milling around the Piazza di Spagna was unsettling, I hate being in crowds like that. So we continued down the street glad to leave the crowds behind.

The day was disappearing fast another coffee break and made our way back to the hotel to collect our luggage to start our trip home.

One thing on this trip to Italy and Sicily was the pervasive presence of security everywhere, especially around railway stations and top tourist attractions which is probably no surprise in this day and age.

Last point my counting down of the 900 churches as I wandered around I ended up with I about 728 to go which meant I counted 122 churches without even trying!!

Thursday, 2 March 2017


We arrived in Napoli at 6.00 in the morning. Cars, trucks and people disembarked the ferry. As we walked to where there were many taxis I asked the Italian woman just behand me about the cost of the taxi into the city. She was more than friendly as she said the taxi drivers rip off everyone, but said she was going to the central railway station and we could share the taxi and fare with her. Major problem solved. She negotiated the fare and even than she was not happy with the taxi driver. So what hope would we have had with my minimal tourist Italian?
Napoli Street

Our hotel Europa Grand was just around the corner from the station, easily found. We dropped our bags at the hotel and with a map went to explore Naples. We wandered in and out the streets. Of we visited all the major churches and cathedral. We discovered subterranean Naples, Roman archeological remains of a town on which the modern city has been built. In the museum shop we were given a brochure for a recital by a well-known singer of traditional Neapolitan folk songs.

Seven Works of Mercy- Caravaggio
We also visited Pio Monte della Misericordia which is famous for its art works especially the wonderful Caravaggio painting of The Seven Works of Mercy.

Unfortunately on our first day walking back to the hotel Alan was unlucky again and had his camera stolen from his backpack, the problem being it was sitting on top of clothing so easily accessible.

On our second day we visited Pompeii, the tourist infrastructure around and in it has certainly changed since my last visit in 1989. It was a great day. I had forgotten how large the site was we walked around for hours. Some areas were fenced off for restorations. One can’t go to Naples without visiting Pompeii!

On our way back on the train was very crowded and at one of our stops it was announced we all had to get off the train which remained at the platform and go across to the next platform. I and everyone else thought there must have been mechanical problems. We all dutifully arrived at said platform and waited for about 5 minutes then another announcement and we all trouped back to the original train on our way back to Naples. Go figure!!
Pompeii dog

That night we went to the recital of Neapolitan folk songs which was very enjoyable.

Day three we visited the 13th century Castel Nuovo which overlooks the ferry port as well as the Museo Civico within to castle. From there we headed to the palazzo Reale but unfortunately it was closed and we could only view the magnificent Opera House from the outside. After lunch we went to take the funicular but it wasn’t our day as that was not running, closed. Notices gave directions to the metro which we took, but still didn’t make it to the castle on the hill. We walked around the district Leopoldo, but it wasn’t the most productive sightseeing day, although it was interesting to see areas outside the usual tourist places.

Our last day in Naples we woke up to rain, so decided to go to the Archeological Museum. A very long line at the entrance, so quite a wait. We spent hours in there all so very fascinating.
Magnificent Roman mosaic

Had lunch just opposite then went to St. Elmo’s Castle which provided a great view of the city. Quite a steep climb from the station.

Naples is a noisy, chaotic and some say dirty city, but I love its vibrancy, the noisiness reminds me of Asian cities. Even the new metro trains are noisy, just prior to the doors automatically opening a sound like a starting gun is heard. In spite of the theft of my husband’s camera (which can happen anywhere), we never really felt unsafe, no more than anywhere else I’ve travelled.
Naples from St Elmo's castle

The next day off to a quieter, relaxing two days in Amalfi.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Second Week in Sicily

Ragusa Marina

Our journey to Ragusa Marina turned out a bit more complex than expected. I booked a B&B there on a recommendation of a friend who had driven around Sicily. We had taken the train and arrived in the modern part of the town with no idea how to get to the area of our B&B. We went to a café, across the road from the station, for lunch then asked them how to get to the seaside area. Luckily a bus left nearby. When we arrived at Ragusa Marina we had no idea where our B&B was located. After a phone call I was told they had sent me a text message which I had not received. Anyway all worked out well and our B&B was quite nice though breakfast supplied was very minimal. We then spent the latter part of the afternoon exploring the town and wandering along the beach. It is a beach resort town though quite pleasant.
Sunset over Ragusa Marina

The next day we travelled back into the main town to go to Ragusa Ilba the historic part of the town. We wove in and out the back lanes down many, many steps and ended up and the town piazza, very lively with many restaurants and dominated by the cathedral. After exploring the area we caught the bus back to the modern section of the town, then back to Ragusa Marina.

For all the Inspector Montalbano tragics   Ragusa Ilba and Ragusa Marina are featured in the television series. There are tours involving other areas featured in the series and so we decided for the fun of it to go on a half day tour, which included visiting the delightful seaside village where his ‘apartment’ is situated and can be rented when not being filmed plus some other sites. Off to Scicli which was an Arab stronghold, then a royal city under the Normans. After the earthquake in1693 it was transformed into a Baroque town when rebuilt. Of course on this tour we were given the Montalbano ‘features’ then had time to explore the town and have lunch before we returned back to base around 2.00pm, rested then went out afterwards for a stroll, then dinner.


The next day off to Agrigento which turned out to be a marathon journey. To start with we had to return to Ragusa to catch the train to Gela, then a bus to Agrigento, however the train was an hour late, then we had a long wait for the bus at Gela and finally late afternoon we arrived in Agrigento. The tourist office was near the bus station and was still open when we arrived. I managed to get a map plus the directions to the street of our B&B, which was just around the corner. The only problem was that at the number of our accommodation and what was located at it didn’t match up. An abandoned building. A travel agent came out of his office to help us, I showed him the information about our accommodation, he phoned them and they collected us. WE were very lucky.

There appears to be two levels of the street and we were on the upper level, all sorted. The Kerkent B&B was the best. It was close to the main road through the town down a lot of very steep steps. We strolled around, eventually had dinner along the steps near our B&B.
One of the many steep streets Agrigento
The next day, Friday we visited numerous churches a bit of an overkill and generally enjoyed wandering in and out the streets and laneways. We had dinner at a wonderful restaurant called ‘Naif’ recommended to us by the B&B.

On Saturday we visited the Valley of the Temples and is the site of the main temples dedicated to Zeus, Heracles, Concord and Hera as well as many minor shrines. We arrived early even it was around 2.00pm we returned to town. It was a very hot day and we were tired on our return and decided to have a rest back at our B&B.  Afterwards we booked our train to Palermo for the following day.


Left for Palermo on Sunday on 10.14 train then took a taxi to our B&B Vado Massimo which was near the main thoroughfare. After a few hiccups of not receiving a text message we were eventually met to sort out our accommodation. After we settled in we went to explore the area. Down from our road was a glorious theatre, and the performance this night was Madame Butterfly, we managed to get tickets in the ‘gods’ as there was nothing else available. It was an early performance so we decided to have dinner afterwards. That sorted we walked down the main road to the magnificent crossroads Quattro Canti, with sculptures and a fountain on each corner. After just generally wandering around we went back to the theatre. The singing was great and the production was interesting. Afterwards we had dinner just across the road from the theatre, like many of the audience.

Palermo has a rich and varied history with vestiges everywhere and is a great place to explore. We put in a full day sightseeing. San Cataldo built in the 12th century maintaining the Norman-Arab style with three distinctive red domes as well as Arabic inscriptions. We visited many sites, the Norman Palace initially built by the Arabs then became a Norman palace under King Roger II, however the
Palatino Chapel
Palatino Chapel is a standout, a mass of amazing mosaics completely overwhelming and beautiful. We also visited St Giovanni degli Eremiti monastery was built in 1132 for Roger II over the foundation of a Benedictine monastery and displays an Oriental influence. A wonderfully peaceful interlude. Of course various other churches visited in passing. That night we attended a traditional Sicilian puppet show. The puppets are large and surprisingly very heavy. The show presents traditional stories from the past. Delightful entertainment and well worth experiencing.
The famous Sicilian puppets

The following day we checked out the port as to where we would be catching the ferry to Naples the following night, it was a very long way so a taxi would be an option. On a recommendation we decided to go to Monreale. We decided to catch the bus, however with the pushing and shoving at the entrance Alan had his wallet pickpocketed. It was picked up and handed back, luckily the credit cards were quite invisible, so only the money was taken. Very annoying.

The Cathedral of Monreale is considered the pinnacle of achievement of Arab-Norman art. It was
Cathedral of Monreale
founded in 1172 and a Benedictine monastery was built next to it. The interior is famous for its magnificent gold mosaics representing episodes from the Old Testament. The same style of decoration of the Palatino Chapel only on a grandeur scale. Certainly worth the visit.

It was our last day and we were determined to visit the Oratorio S del Rosario di Santa Cita the stucco work of Serpotta is overwhelming covering the walls with putti, each with a different expression and pose, statues, floral emblems etc.  Like many of the visitors we had been seduced by the BBC program Sicily Unpacked to make this visit. We also visited the San Domenico church and the Oratorio San Domenico with stucco by Serpotta and an altarpiece painted by Van Dyke.
Some of the Stucco of St. Cita

Nearby was the Palazzo Mirto a great example of a nobleman’s mansion built in the 18th century a great place to visit. Also close at hand was Palazzo Abatellis a Catalan Gothic building which is now used as the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia consisting of 19 rooms. On the ground floor is the fresco The Triumph of Death by an unknown artist. It is worth a visit, though a few more captions in English on the more modern paintings would have been handy.
The fresco The Triumph of Death

After further wanderings and a cup of coffee we went to pick up our bags and catch a taxi to the ferry for Naples. The surprise was the departure pier was a lot closer than we had sussed out the previous day.

We were taken to our cabin after which we booked our table for dinner, which was delicious. The ferry left port at 20.15 we watch Sicily gradually disappear into the distance. We were now on our way to Naples.

Friday, 10 February 2017

First Week in Sicily


From Genoa we left for Catania, it was easy to get to the airport buses left from outside the main railway station. We arrived late afternoon and was dropped off from the airport bus at what we were told was the city centre. It was Sunday and the main thoroughfare we were on was ‘dead’. Nothing was open. We walked down this road for what seemed a long way and eventually found the ‘real’ centre which was definitely bustling.
Duomo Piazza

As it was late we had lunch then found our way to our B&B which was close by. We dropped off our bags then off to see the nearby sits. While there an Indian contingent were celebrating with a colourful parade, music and chanting. We went to the Duomo the main cathedral which is worth a visit and sauntered around the Piazza looking at the various interesting buildings and the fountain with an elephant motif. There is a strong Indian presence here.

The following day we strolled around the fresh food market which is close to our accommodation, noting at how lucky we are at home in Melbourne having access to all these delicious Italian foods. Then to the mad frenzy of the fish market.
Fish Market Frenzy

We then walked along the Via Cruciferi with its many churches along the way to the Benedictine Monastery which was also worth a visit as it is quite extensive and we whiled away more time than we expected.

In the morning, having been unsuccessful in finding the laundromat we had been directed to, we set out along Mt. Etna St as I had found information on the internet that there was one along this street. Unable to find it I went into a shop and asked about it. I was directed to a customer who happened to be a woman who runs a laundry, she gathered us up and we dutifully followed her and left our washing with her. Obviously more expensive than a laundromat but at least we had our washing done.

The following day we went to Taormina a beautiful town but there were hordes of people (I think a cruise ship was in). We were recommended to go to the café Bam Bar to have their specialty granite and brioche found remarkably easy without a map. Well worth the visit. Though it rained a bit we managed to see much of this wonderful town with its fascinating sites and top quality shops. On our return to Catania we went to pick up our washing.
The best granite  café Taormina

A visit to Mt. Etna is a must and we took a half day excursion there, it was a small group of five. Paolo our guide was very informative. We were surprised to learn that Mt. Etna is actually a system of a number of volcanos, not just one and that lava moves very slowly. We didn’t go to the top but were able go visit a few of the lower craters. Then we went to cave which was cold, and had to wear a hard hat because the ceiling was low and a torch was the only light. The cave is a lava tunnel the features pointed out were lava blisters and lava ‘stalagtites.’ We were then taken to produce outlet to sample olive oil, olives, various pesto, honey, wine and limoncello. We restricted ourselves to just a few small bottles of olive oil and limoncello.
One of the many craters Mt. Etna

Our last day in Catania we took a spin on the ‘Hop on, Hop off’ bus is was mildly interesting not enough to ‘hop off’ anywhere. After this we went to the Ursino Castle which was worthwhile.

Then lunch and a visit to the Verga Museum which proved elusive as it wasn’t where indicated on the map so we gave up.


We arrived in Siracusa around 10.00 am we has a coffee then went to hunt out our accommodation and found it with minimal difficulty. Our B&B is on Ortgyia – the island in the more pleasant area of Siracusa. We visited a number of sites around the area and had a delicious lunch with a sea view at Mokrito restaurant.

The next day we had a trip to Noto a ‘seriously’ Baroque town of many churches and various buildings in the gorgeously over the top Baroque style. The town has a beautiful opera house which seats 380 people, not bad for a small town.
Baroque Church Noto

By lunchtime we were ‘Baroqued out’ and decided to catch the earlier train back, however we followed the wrong ‘Stazione” sign had a magical mystery tour and just made the train.

On our last day we went to the Archeological Park, there was much to see and definitely was worth the visit (both Greek and Roman theatres for starters). As we had arrived there early we
Theatre at Archeological Park
managed to return to town before it became too hot.

We returned to Mokrito for lunch as we had enjoyed their salads previously.

Early evening we went on an excursion around the bay which enjoyable. We visited some of the caves along the coast. The coolness of the caves and the cool breeze over the water was a nice change to the heat of the day.

On our return we went under a VERY low bridge and we all has to duck with our heads in our lap.

That night we went to dinner at a restaurant close to our accommodation, the food and service was good but the boss (Basil Fawlty) and one of his poor waiters (Manuel) was like ‘Fawlty Towers.

Sunday, 22 January 2017


We arrived in Genoa by train from Monterosso. From Genoa we planned to fly to Catania but decided to spend a few days here. I had been given two conflicting appraisals of the place. One that as a city it was worth a few days stay and the other there is nothing there it’s just a port city. However I was sure we could find some interesting places to visit and if not, we could easily do a day trip to Portofino which is not that far away.
Castello D'Albertis

Our hotel MSN Galles was close to the station though not in the most salubrious area. It was lunchtime when we arrived and after settling into our room we set off to the Maritime Museum close to our accommodation. We had lunch there then then visited the museum proper. We enjoyed many of the exhibits about Genoa’s maritime history but the two we enjoyed the most were the Emigration history display and the one on literary illusions around sea monsters and exotic sea creatures.

As the weather was very hot we returned to the hotel for a siesta. Once refreshed we went to the historic centre wandered around and found a great bar which had the best apertivo, that was hearty enough to serve as our dinner.

On the hill overlooking the city was an enticing castle. We arrived at the gates before opening so had a coffee at the café opposite. Very pleasant. Castello D’Albertis was fascinating. It was built in the neo-Gothic style from 1886-1892 for the sea captain Luigi Maria d’Albertis and houses his collection of ethnographic and archeological findings from his various voyages around the world. The collection also includes models of ships and yachts, nautical equipment, photographs and his library.

From there we went to the Royal Palace, building began in 1618 for the Balbi family, after changing hands it was eventually sold to the Royal House of Savoy in 1828. In 1919 the building was acquired by the government. It is a magnificent building which befits a royal palace with many superb frescoes in every room.
Royal Palace

We fitted in a couple of churches St. Annunziata del Vastato and the Jesuit church as well as an exhibition of the artist Mucha. A very full day.

On our last day here we visited the Risorgimento Museum, it was down a side street and could be easily missed. The only disappointment was the limited English translations on many of the displays.

Also worth visiting Nicoli Grimaldi and Tursi Palaces as well the Musei di Strada Nuovo with each room decorated in a different style and beautiful artworks on display. Finally we visited the St. Lorenzo cathedral.

Genoa a birds' eye view

The next morning we were flying to Catania. In two and a half days there was more than enough of interest in Genoa to make it a worthwhile place to visit.