There is a reason……

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Yes, there’s a reason men wear their scarves in the house in Sicily at this time of year. It is to keep warm. It is colder than we expected. We came in through cloud, and although Mt Etna was right in front of our balcony, it couldn’t be seen.

We were staying in a wonderful B&B called Casa Cuseni. It is a national monument, and a museum. It was built in 1902 by an English artist, and turned into a B&B by his niece. There is a book written about it called ‘A House in Sicily’. It is full of art, and many famous people have stayed there in the past. A house with history.

You need to look at their website. There is too much to explain and pictures do it better. It is high on a hill behind Taormina, though not far in actual distance. Taormina is all on a hill, though the main street, Corso Umberto goes along on the flat.

We went down on the first evening to do the passageiata and saw more well dressed men with scarves. Taormina is beautiful place though full of tourists, even at this time of year.

image But it was rainy and cloudy and cold. We found a restaurant with local food and had yummy yummy yummy swordfish. A nice little taxi driver took us back up the hill. He pointed out a bride. Una sposa, he said. I said I think it is una sposa Americana, (I had heard the wedding group talking). He said yes, it is una sposa Americana. If it was una sposa Siciliana, it would have to be una sposa mafiosa!

imageBy this time I was feeling shivery and achy. It rained all day the next day and I spent most of it in bed. Etna didn’t show itself from behind indigo clouds (which were beautiful in themselves) so I stayed in end all day keeping warm. This is hardly a sketch, but it is representative of the day and the weather.

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Rome to Sicily

imageMorning, and here we were in Rome’s Fiumincino airport. We had several hours to fill in before our flight to Catania, but had needed to leave a slice of time in case of delays. We wasted a bit of it trying to find the stop for the ‘free shuttle bus’ between the terminals. Got some confusing directions. Because we had been up all night? No. Because you could walk it in 5 minutes with your luggage.

We had a plan.
A. Buy Desigual scarf at the Desigual shop in the terminal. Easy. We even got sconto (discount). This was to prove a very sensible purchase rather than an extravagance.
This is it

B. Buy TIM card. That’s a Telecom Italia SIM card. Done. I now have an Italian phone number.

In the early afternoon we flew off to Catania on Alitalia. We had somehow stumbled across a ridiculously cheap fare. When we boarded the aircraft, we seemed to have been given a semi-upgrade. The cabin had a 3-3 formation, and we were given a row of three seats each. How did that happen? I am guessing that because Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Alitalia are all part of the ‘One World’ Alliance. We are Qantas ‘frequent flyers’ and we had been Cathay Pacific business class passengers from Australia. We were probably ‘on their system’.

It was cloudy and we didn’t see Mt Etna. I couldn’t help wondering where it was. A very slightly bumpy flight. I never worry if it is no bumpier than the back of a bus, but someone screamed. Haven’t had that before. As the aircraft landed, there were red and yellow wildflowers in the grass between the runways. I had hoped the wildflowers would be blooming, and it was such a delight to see them so soon.

On arrival we were met by our driver and taken to the wonderful Casa Cuseni in Taormina. A national monument, museum and B&B. We were greeted by an elegant man, jeans, nice blazer and a perfectly tied light cornflower blue scarf. Or was it azzuro. Taormina is full of elegant men my age. All wearing scarves perfectly tied…..even in the house.

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The flight to Rome

image We had to check out of our hotel at 6pm so we got a taxi straight to the airport, even though our flight didn’t leave till after midnight. Hong Kong airport challenges even Bangkok airport in its complexity. Because we were so early, our departure gate wasn’t decided, so we were able to choose from four Cathay Pacific lounges. Not wanting to walk too far, we chose one of them that looked nearest the middle of the airport. Well…… up escalators, down escalators, up more, down more, and then, still following the signs…..we had to jump on a train. All the while wheeling our small suitcases and carrying our shoulderbags with iPad, sketchbook and paints, plus tickets, etc etc.

Finally we found it and fell gratefully into a seat. Got something to drink, and a plate of goodies to sketch. Some small custard tarts, and a creme brûlée. And we were not allowed to eat them until they were sketched. We also had plenty of time for some ‘real food’, salad etc. and shortly before midnight we were able to board the aircraft.

I should perhaps tell you about Cathay Pacific Business class, because it’s a bit unusual. They win many awards for it. Going up to Hong Kong, the seating across the cabin was in 1-2-1 formation. Because of travelling together, we chose two seats together in the middle of the aircraft like this

I usually prefer to be near the window, only because I hate travelling in the daytime in darkness. If I have my own window I can keep the blind up. But all my flights are at night, so it doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, the two centre seats face slightly away from one another. So, to talk you both have to lean forward and raise your voices over the noise of the aircraft. It’s a good formation for lone travellers but not so good for people who want to chat to their travelling companion.

On this flight to Rome, the formation of the seats was 1-1-1. So we had seats in a single row by the window. This one really is a herringbone formation. The back of your head is to the window, and your feet face diagonally across the cabin. Lie-flat beds, of course, and like sleeping in a narrow corridor in a sense, but very comfortable beds.This image shows you what it is like.

I think it is going to be great on the way home, when I will be travelling alone, because you are not actually sitting next to anyone. But for travelling with a companion, I prefer the traditional side by side format.

One tip for beginners in the lie-flat bed…..things get trapped under them. Before you start pressing buttons you need to be sure of the location of all your belongings, or you might have to get a steward to help you get them back again.

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Last day in Hong Kong

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The Hong Kong Harbour sketch still isn’t quite finished, almost a week later. So now we go on with the blog posts and I’ll catch up with the sketch when I can.

Another wet day, but regardless of that, off we went to meet Rob at Central on Hong Kong Island. I love going on the Star Ferry. We met at the Apple Shop, getting a bit of techo—stuff sorted out.image

Our project for the day was to go up the Mid—levels escalators.

An amazing thing to do, totally non—tourist and we have Rob Sketcherman to thank for the idea. Pouring with rain, but all undercover except for a quick dash across a road here and there, up up and up we went. imageEscalator on escalator, all outdoors, through the suburbs up and up. Looking our over suburban streets and at the back of suburban buildings, finding amazing things to sketch everywhere if only there was somewhere to sit and it wasn’t raining.

imageOur original plan had been to walk down through small streets and markets, but the rain didn’t allow. So down in a bus to……the computer mall. Some techo—shopping with a techo—expert is a lot of fun.

From there…lunch. Hopped on a tram this time, and went to eat congee. Beautiful rice rolls to start, and to drink a grapefruit and lemon drink. Very different from the lemon drink you have for a cold. It is salty, and made with the grapefruit skins.image Delicious, but I think the loquat and date drink from the other day still wins. These drinks are warm, because it is rainy and cold.

Then we sadly said goodbye to Rob, and went back to the hotel to pack and prepare for the long journey to Italy

 

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Yes, I did sketch in Hong Kong

imageSecond day in Hong Kong and I sketched. Posts are running late again, just like always when I travel.

Woke to the rain again. Rob had suggested we go to the bird park where all the old men take their birds in cages. The rain eased, so off we went, though not so many of the old men had made their way to the park that day. Himageowever there were bird vendors with beautiful birds like the one shown here, and another one Rob said was like a mango with wings (true).
As well as the bird market was a flower market, with beautiful orchids.image

Then we headed for the harbour for a quick milk tea, and then to sketch. By this time it was raining again, but we found a sheltered place. I began to sketch a panorama of Hong Kong Harbour right across the spread. Where is the sketch you say?image Not quite finished. Here is why.

The panorama of the tall buildings surrounding the harbour and The Peak behind, disappeared in the rain.image

Back to the hotel with yummy pastries from Panash, a rest and then out in the evening on a night bus ride. Back to Tsim Sha Tsui just in time for the evening light show, this time on a beautiful clear night.

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First day in Hong Kong

image This is just another quick sketch I did on the aircraft, just after takeoff. These Singapore orchids were between our seats. Unfortunately the cabin was dimmed for takeoff and they were just a smidgen too far away to be seen properly. Still, a sketch is a sketch. Bear in mind I am photographing the sketchbook in far from ideal conditions. That was the only sketch I did that day, what with travelling all night, and racing around Hong Kong in the rain in the daytime.image

Oh, yes the art shop. Rob led us to the train and we were there in no time. Many floors, many things. Unfortunately not the elusive brown ink. I did a lot less shopping that you think. But I got many waterbrushes, including the collapsible kind I have never seen before. Next we went to EAT. Rob took us to a restaurant at Central, where his partner Louisa joined us and we had very delicious noodles and dumplings of various kinds. Several days later when I am writing this, I think this meal still stands out among many other yummy things I have eaten since. Tsui Wah Restaurant. I shouldn’t have told you. Now you will all go! image

Fading by then, so back to the hotel for a relax, and then out again to see the Symphony of Lights on Hong Kong Harbour.

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The flight from Australia

imageI’ve been in Hong Kong. Several days with no wifi, except sometimes in a cafe. Flew up late on a Monday night on Cathay Pacific and slept in the herringbone formation. On Broni’s instructions we had to sketch what we ate and drank at the airport . As you see, it is red wine and a salad. It seems salads were less plentiful in Italy when I was there last year, and anyway, it’s still going to be cooool.

We arrived at 4.30 am Tuesday morning to a deserted Hong Kong airport, and rainy streets. Off in a taxi to the hotel and sleep. By late morning the rain had almost stopped so we went walking to get our bearings. I hadn’t been in Hong Kong for more than 30 years. We were staying in Kowloon, where I stayed both times before, but this time in an even more convenient hotel and spoiling ourselves with a harbour view. Found our way to the shopping centre nearest the Star Ferry. That was where I once spent a whole day during a Typhoon Warning No.3.

I belong to Sketching Workshop, on Facebook. It’s a fairly small (150) friendly group that is truly international. The previous week we gained a few new members. One was Rob Sketcherman from Hong Kong. In my welcome comment on FB, I said, well, I’ll be in Hong Kong on 1st April, and it’s not an April Fools joke.

So I got a Hong Kong SIM card, phoned Rob, and we were off on a whirlwind few days around Hong Kong with him. But first, to the art shop…..

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