Category Archives: France

Northern Spain – Pilgims and the Way of Saint James

Pilgrims' way Santiago de Compostella

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Burgos lies on one of the principal pilgrim routes of the Camino or the Way of Saint James and during our visit we had to share the streets and the restaurants and the hotel with dozens of foot weary walkers all sharing their hiking tales as they walked towards their ultimate objective – the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located in the most northwest region of Spain in the Province of A Coruña and it was the European City of Culture for the year 2000.  I didn’t know this but after Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Christendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important ninth century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.

Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination because it is considered the burial site of the apostle, James the Great.  Santiago was one of the twelve disciples and a devout follower of Christ but in 44 A.D. he became the first of Apostles to suffer martyrdom when Herod Agrippa arrested and (according to the story) personally beheaded him (this seems rather unlikely to me) in Jerusalem.   According to legend Santiago had preached for a while in Iberia prior to his execution and after his death his own disciples returned his body by boat back to the peninsula (this also seems rather unlikely).

On the way they were caught in a storm and almost certainly doomed when a ship miraculously appeared, led by an angel, to guide them to land and safety.  They buried the saint near Compostela, ‘field of stars,’ where Santiago lay forgotten for nearly eight hundred years.

The tomb was conveniently rediscovered in the ninth century in a time of great need when Christian political and military fortunes in Spain were at their lowest ebb after they had suffered defeat time and again at the hands of the Muslims, until that is God revealed the Saint’s remains, and inspired them with the confidence that he was on their side, fighting in the battlefield with them through the heroic figure of Santiago and the holy saint became a warrior.

Santiago Pilgrim

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and there were many here in Burgos who could be instantly identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travelled, all eventually arriving at a single destination.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

I have been giving some thought to perhaps tackling the Camino myself one day and have been looking at the various different routes.  I have to say that I may have a preference for the one that starts in Plymouth in the UK because that would seem to include rather a nice cruise on a P&O ferry across the Bay of Biscay and an evening in the duty free bar followed by a just short stroll from A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela.

Way of St James

St James the Apostle is the Patron saint of Spain and if El Cid represents the secular aspects of heroism and military conquest during the Reconquista the spiritual hero representing the religious justification and the Christian ethos of the crusade against the Muslims was Santiago.  In ‘Don Quixote’ Cervantes wrote – ‘St. James the Moorslayer, one of the most valiant saints and knights the world ever had … has been given by God to Spain for its patron and protection.’  Since the reconquest ‘Santiago y cierra España’, which means St James and strike for Spain has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies.

The truth was that as the Northern Kingdoms began to assert themselves they needed spiritual assistance and justification and in this era of crusading reconquest there was a need for the living presence of a religious-national figure as an emblem of Christian strength and supremacy that was capable of rallying around themselves the Spanish Christian forces.   This was to be Santiago whose image fulfilled the desire of the Iberian Christians for heroes to emulate, and unite them in their struggle for political and religious independence from Muslim rule.

An important manifestation of the crusading mentality during this time was the creation of an iconic patriotic creation of Santiago and the mythical military contribution of St James to the Reconquista was the inspirational presence of the Saint on the battlefields of the peninsula.

The most famous of these was the legend surrounding the battle of Clavijo in 844, where the vastly outnumbered and demoralised Christian forces were inspired by the appearance of St James in a full suit of armour riding on a galloping white horse with a sword in the right hand and the banner of victory in the left.

Modern historians dispute that there ever was such a battle but the story goes that the night before the encounter, Santiago appeared in a dream to the leader of the Spanish forces, King Ramirez of Castile, and promised him a victory over the Muslims.  The following day, at the height of battle, the warrior-saint appeared on the battlefield, leaving behind him the defeated infidels that he has slaughtered and crushed to the ground and in front of him what remained of the terrified enemy promptly surrendered.  Thus was born the legend of Santiago Matamoros, the Moorslayer.

Burgos Pilgrims Weary

Germany, Heidelberg

Heidelberg Castle Germany

“A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude.”                                                                                                                                         Mark Twain – ‘A Tramp Abroad’

Heidelberg has an iconic status as a centre of Germanic history and culture. In 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the Emperors of Austria and Russia and the King of Prussia formed the ‘Holy Alliance’ in Heidelberg and later in 1848, the year of revolutions, a German National Assembly was established here.  During the Nazi era the authorities built a large stadium on the edge of the city where the SS would parade and have massive rallies.  Luckily the city avoided destruction during the war, it is said because the US army rather liked the look of it and fancied setting up shop there but in fact, as Heidelberg was neither an industrial centre nor a transport hub, there was nothing worth bombing and Allied air raids focused on the more important nearby industrial cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen.

Although not an industrial centre one thing that Heidelberg is famous for is the manufacture of high quality printing machines used in the newspaper industry.

Next to the car park was the terminus for the city Heidelberger Bergbahn funicular railway which runs up the side of the Königstuhl hillside and stops off at the City’s famous castle on the way, so we bought a combined ride and entry ticket and took the short trip to the castle entrance.

The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps but lays mostly in ruins because it has only been partially rebuilt since its demolition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1537 a lightning-bolt destroyed the upper castle before damage by later wars and fires and in 1764 another lightning-bolt destroyed some rebuilt sections and it was abandoned as being cursed by bad luck.

It was lovely walking around the ruins in the sunshine and under a blue sky the red roofs of the houses spilling down the river made a dramatic vista.  Inside the castle there was a museum of apothecary but with the sun shining we wanted to be outside so we didn’t stay long and when we had seen as much of the ruins as we wanted too we walked back down to the city centre and made for the Marktplatz.

Heidelberg Germany

The market place was another of those German picture book town centres with half timbered medieval buildings painted in gay colours surrounding an immaculate cobbled square with a central fountain and statue.  On the northern side and facing the sun there were restaurants and cafés with pavement tables and chairs so we selected one and sat in shirtsleeves in what was by now surprisingly strong sun and we had a drink and watched the World go by.

Before we left I paid a visit to the gent’s bathroom and I mention this not to be indelicate or to provide any unnecessary details but just to say that German lavatories must be, after Switzerland, the cleanest in Europe and so spotless that I almost felt that I need to wash my hands on the way in.  Toilets in Greece would come bottom of any list and there wouldn’t be many Loo of the Year awards being handed out in France or Spain either.

After the short break we continued our site seeing by walking to Heidelberg’s famous bridge which sweeps across the River Neckar close to the market place.

The double-armed bridge gate dates from the late middle ages but the first stone bridge, supported by eight posts, was built by Karl Theodor in 1788 which explains its official name ‘Karl-Theodor-Brücke’. The towers served the bridge keeper not only as an apartment, but also as a dungeon for prisoners.

In 1945 parts of the bridge were destroyed by the retreating Nazis (they enjoyed blowing things up)* as they retreated from the advancing Allied army and both rooms above the gateway were subsequently refurbished as artistic apartments.  We crossed over to the other side and then back again and slipped into the busy main shopping street which runs parallel to the river.

The day was slipping away now and we were mindful of the journey back down the A5 to the Baden Airpark for our late flight home so before we left Heidelberg we needed to find somewhere to eat.  I wanted to return to the restaurant we had used at lunch time but Kim seemed determined to find somewhere else, which at four o’clock in the afternoon was difficult as this is not a popular time for eating anywhere.

She found a likely looking place and we went inside but immediately she didn’t like it so we stopped only for a drink and then she gave in to my plan and we went to my preferred choice.  It was empty of course but the food was excellent and our final meal in Germany was just as successful as all of those in the past four days.

 

*  Except for the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy which is the oldest bridge in Tuscany and by happy chance the only one in the city that, allegedly due to a direct order from Adolph Hitler himself, wasn’t blown up by the retreating Nazis as they abandoned Italy in 1944 towards the end of the Second-World-War.  Knowing just how much the Nazis used to like to blow things up this must have been a one-in-a-million fluke!

Germany, Autobahn to Heidelberg

Heidelberg Germany

Despite the gloomy weather prediction of the restaurant manager the previous evening we opened the metal shutters on our last day to see some promising patches of blue sky and whilst we had our final breakfast the sun began to shine and it looked as though we might finally get some better weather.

As we packed our bags before checking out and leaving we had to decide on an itinerary that would pick up as many towns and villages as possible for the blue sky pictures that we wanted and we eventually agreed on Gengenbach and Freiburg and once we had paid up and said goodbye we headed out of Offenburg on the familiar route south.

We had only gone a short way and reached the village of Ortenberg however when cloud began to build up and out on the other side we could see thick mists obscuring the top of the forest so we had to make a quick decision before we had travelled too far because if we were going to turn back we needed to do it soon.

In the rear view mirror we could see that it was still sunny behind us so we didn’t take long to decide that that was where we needed to be so we agreed to change our plans and visit the city of Heidelberg about a hundred and fifty kilometres to the north and not soon after the 180º turn we were heading back into the sunshine.

Just outside Offenburg we joined the Autobahn number 5 and headed north.  Although there was fierce competition for road space with BMWs and Mercedes, with considerably more power than I was packing, the little Ford Fiesta exceeded my expectations and did very well indeed and was soon holding its own at a steady one hundred and twenty kilometres an hour and the thing really could go.    Although it was fast and busy the Autobahn felt strangely safe, much more so than our UK motorways, and I put this down to the fact that the lanes seemed wider, it was not so cluttered with barriers and bridges, the entry slip roads are more generous and it felt more spacious and for these reasons the lorries felt somehow less intimidating.

It wasn’t all plain sailing however because there were long stretches of road works for the first eighty kilometres all the way to Karlsrhue which kept slowing things down and then just when the road cleared the satnav lady did something inexplicable and slowed us down even more.  The A5 went all the way to Heidelberg but at Karslrhue she took us off and dragged us on a detour through an industrial estate and then the outskirts of the city.  I had another argument with her and after the unnecessary detour she took us back to the A5 at the next junction after wasting twenty minutes of our time.  I can be completely accurate about that because almost immediately we overtook an army convoy that we had passed twenty minutes earlier back down the motorway.

I had imagined Heidelberg to be a sleepy little medieval university town so it was disappointing to find that it is really quite large on account of it being part of a densely populated region called the Rhein, Neckar Triangle.  Heidelberg lies on the river Neckar, twenty kilometres below the point where it joins the Rhine at Mannheim and turns out to be an important industrial centre which was a bit of a surprise.

To get to the tourist old town required a drive through the busy commercial centre before arriving on the western bank of the river.  We arrived just after midday and we set about looking for a car park.  We were nervous about this because we visited the city once before in 2007 and had completely failed to understand the car parking arrangements and we had driven around in circles before stopping for only the briefest of stays and then giving up and going to nearby Speyer instead.

We were determined not to make the same mistake this time but despite, as I thought, following all the signs carefully we found ourselves missing them all and doing the circuit again.  I concluded that the signs are either very confusing or I am incredibly stupid!  Luckily lust a millisecond before my patience expired we found an underground car park right in the altstadt.

Heidelberg Germany

Germany, Across the Rhine to Strasbourg

Strasbourg Cathedral Alsace France

“Rising above the high-pitched roofs with multi-storied dormer windows, several churches stand out on the skyline. The cathedral, whose single spire dominates the Alsatian plain, and the four old churches …  fit coherently into an old quarter that exemplifies medieval cities.”                                                          UNESCO

We parked the car in an underground car park close to a part called Petite France which is a popular corner of the city where the full flowing river splits up into a number of canals, and cascades through bridges in a small area of attractive half-timbered houses and cobbled streets and we walked through crooked lanes and alleys that followed the southern loop of the river that surrounds the old city.

As we walked the rain followed us across the border from Germany but it was only light and it wasn’t cold so it was quite pleasant walking around the little streets making progress towards the main square and the Cathedral.

The  historic centre, the Grande Île, was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, and this was the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city center.  There were some grand buildings here with lots of medieval half timbered houses that had avoided destruction during the two world wars but the best building of all was the mighty sandstone cathedral which dominates the whole of the city.

At one hundred and forty two metres, it was the world’s tallest building from 1625 to 1874 and it remained the tallest church in the world until 1880, when it was surpassed firstly by Cologne Cathedral and then Ulm Münster.  Today it remains the sixth tallest church in the world and was described by Victor Hugo as a “gigantic and delicate marvel“, the cathedral is visible far across the plains of Alsace and can be seen from as far off as the Vosges mountains in France and the Black Forest in Germany.

There was a very typical French café next to the river where we enjoyed a very gallic snack of croque monsieur that was in total contrast to the Teutonic hospitality that we had become used to over the last few days and it felt strange to be trying to communicate in basic French rather than the basic German that I had been finding so difficult, vin rouge and bier grande seemed much more natural than rot wein and bier vom fass.

While we sat in the Café Montmartre the weather started to improve and the sky started to lighten so we stepped back out into the street and revisited the Cathedral and the surrounding streets and for just a brief moment there was a break in the cloud and a pool of blue sky opened up over the city.  It didn’t last long however and the clouds closed in again as quickly as they had parted and with no real prospect of improvement we walked back to the car park and left the city.

I liked Strasbourg very much but one thing that did let it down was quite a lot of dog waste because the French don’t seem to have a problem with, or a conscience about, letting their precious animals take a poo on the pavements.  It is essential to be very careful when walking in France!

The French authorities are trying to tackle the problem but are making little progress and even heavy fines (€440 for a first offence) have had little impact.  In Paris it is estimated that there are sixteen tonnes of dog do every day, which causes four thousand five hundred accidents a week.  Removing it costs €15m a year!  And let’s not forget that that is €15m of tax payers money that is spent on clearing up for selfish dog owners who have abandoned their own social conscience.

Leaving Strasbourg by a different route from the way we came in was a lot more straightforward than I had imagined except that if there were to be a traffic light count and city league table I wouldn’t be surprised if Strasbourg came top of the list for having the most.  We crossed the Rhine at the industrial town of Kehl   and back in Germany there was an easy drive back to Offenburg where before returning to the Rammersweeir Hoff we needed some room supplies.

It was Sunday and we were startled to find that the supermarkets and the convenience stores were all closed and there was a near moment of panic until we tried a garage which thankfully had a fridge full of German beer and some screw cap wines to choose from.

We were back at the hotel quite early again today but this time there was no rugby on the television so we had to channel hop through the German stations and rely on BBC World for an English speaking option.

In contrast to the previous night the dining room was practically empty when we went down for dinner and as this was the last night we treated ourselves from the expensive end of the menu and Kim had a larger than necessary fillet steak and I had a veal cordon bleu which proved to be a real struggle to finish.  This was our final meal at the hotel and the quality of the food had certainly matched what we had enjoyed the previous year.

Strasbourg Cathedral Alsace France

 

Germany, Across the Rhine to Alsace

Strasbourg France

“What is it that gives a frontier its magic? Not the fact that that it is a territorial or political boundary, for these are artificial, dictated by history.  Perhaps it is language that gives to the crossing of a frontier its definitive flavour of voyage.  Whatever the answer the magic is there.  The traveller’s heart will beat to a new rhythm, he will examine the strange new coinage.  Everything will seem to be changed, including the air he breathes”  –  Lawrence Durrell

It was another disappointing morning and there was a slight drizzle in the air but the weather looked brighter to the west so we decided to drive in that direction and visit the French city of Strasbourg on the other side of the Rhine.

After breakfast in the hotel we drove through Offenburg heading for Strasbourg and followed the road to the border where the road crossed the Rhine and passed into France through an immigration control without any sign of activity.

The Rhine is one of the longest and most important rivers in Europe; it begins in the Swiss Alps and flows for one thousand three hundred kilometres to the North Sea.  That’s only about half as long as the Danube and it certainly doesn’t make the top one hundred longest rivers in the world, coming in at only one hundred and eleventh but is still very impressive.  From the very earliest times it has been an important trade route and today it remains a vitally important transport link that serves the industrial cities of the Rhine through France, Germany and the Low Countries and today, just like every other day, it looked businesslike and industrious with huge freight barges transporting raw materials to the factories along its banks.

All of a sudden there was absolutely no mistaking the fact that we were in France.

The river is about three hundred metres wide and in that short distance there was a total transformation from one country to another.  The architecture, the language, the dog shit on the pavements and the French grunge was in total contrast to the clinically clean German towns and villages that had been left behind on the other side of the river.

Strasbourg is the seventh largest city in France and is regarded as the cultural cross roads between Germanic and Latin culture.  In the recent past Strasbourg has been passed between Germany and France like an unwilling baton in a relay race.  Before the French Revolution it was a free city but the fanatical Jacobins seized it for the Republic.  In 1870 after the Franco-Prussian war culminated in the creation of modern Germany  it was ceded to Berlin but after the First-World-War in 1918 it returned to France.  In 1940 the Nazis seized the city and it was liberated again in 1944 and has remained French thereafter.

I have often wondered about national boundaries and how people stop being one nationality and become another and speak another language just because there is a line on a map but here it was easy to understand because the River Rhine creates a very clear boundary between two very different cultures.

Because of this I expected to be a mixed up sort of a place but actually not a bit of it because, thanks to an intense period of Francization immediately after the war including the forced suppression of the use of German and other local dialects, Strasbourg is definitely French which is appropriate really because it was here in 1792 that Rouget de Lisle composed the Revolutionary marching song La Marseillaise, which later became the national anthem of France.

It is an interesting fact that France is one of four nations (together with Andorra, Monaco, and Turkey) that has never signed the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Strasbourg is in the French region of Alsace which itself lies on the major European political fault line that more or less follows the Rhine and separates France from Germany.  It includes the independent states of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland which are collectively a legacy of the old independent European state of Burgundy which ultimately failed to survive because of its vulnerable geographical position lying as it did between the states of France and Germany (although not existing as we know it today until 1871) which from the fourteenth century onwards were always grinding horribly against each other.  And it is quite possible to imagine that the disputed regions of Alsace and Lorraine might themselves also have ended up as an independent state.  In fact in November 1918 the Diet of Strasbourg proclaimed an Independent Republic of Alsace-Lorraine but this only lasted a few days before French troops arrived and occupied it.

Strasbourg France Alsace

Germany, Freiburg and how to Marry a Local Girl

Freiburg Merchants Hall Münsterplatz

After a short stop for coffee at a ski lodge café we returned to the car and rather disappointed by the lack of really thick snow we began a descent down to the city of Freiburg.  To give it its full title, Freiburg im Breisgau is one of the famous old German university towns, was incorporated in the early twelfth century and developed into a major commercial, intellectual, and ecclesiastical centre of the upper Rhine region.

Statistically it is the sunniest and warmest city in all of Germany but that certainly wasn’t the case today.  As we parked the car and walked towards the city centre there was a steel grey sky, the pavements were wet and the colour was bleached out of the buildings and streets and after just a couple of minutes we knew that it was unlikely that we would be seeing the best of Freiburg today.

In the centre of the city in the cobbled Münsterplatz or Cathedral Square there was a small unhappy looking market where people were rushing past the stalls because it was too cold to stop (except for the fast food van that was doing brisk business and had a queue of people lining up for fasnacht doughnuts) and we did our best to find the cheerful bits of Freiburg’s largest square.  The square is the site of Freiburg’s Münster, a gothic minster cathedral constructed of red sandstone, built between 1200 and 1530 and which is memorable for its towering needle like spire.  We went inside and it was cheerful and warm with large stained glass windows and friezes on the walls that commemorated the various traditional trades of the city.

Freiburg Black Forest Germany

It didn’t take long to do a full internal circuit of the Münster and fairly soon we were back on the streets complete with the city’s unusual system of gutters, called Bächle, that run throughout the centre.

These Bächle that were once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock are constantly flowing with water diverted from the River Dreisam.  During the summer, the running water provides natural cooling of the air and offers a pleasant gurgling sound but we didn’t need cooling down today. There is a saying that if you fall or step accidentally into a Bächle, you will marry a Freiburger but I imagine there is a much greater chance of just breaking a leg.

Freiburg also has probably the rudest gargoyle in Germany…

Gargoyle Frieburg

From a an aerial photograph inside the Cathedral we had seen that Freiburg was heavily bombed during World War II and a raid by more than three hundred bombers of the RAF Bomber Command on 27th November 1944 destroyed most of the city center, with the notable and thankful exception of the Münster, which was only lightly damaged.

After the war, the city was rebuilt on its original medieval plan and in the streets that ran off of the Münsterplatz we entered a world of colourful buildings that completely surrounded the modern new main shopping street running through the centre.  We walked through streets of half timbered medieval buildings and but for the fact we knew that they had been rebuilt from the ruins of the war we could easily have been in the mid sixteen-hundreds.

We liked Freiburg and after our walking tour stayed long enough to finish the visit with a snack and a drink in a busy city centre café and then with the afternoon slipping away and with plans to see a Fasnacht carnival later on we left the city and walked back to the car.  On the way out of the car park the ticket machine flashed the message ‘goot fahrt’, I thought ‘thanks very much and after that glass of gassy German Pils I just might.’

Schauinslandbahn Germany Black Forest

Padova, Sightseeing and Shopping

Padova Italy

““Do you like that?” I’ll say in surprise since it doesn’t seem like her type of thing, and she’ll look at me as if I’m mad.  That!?” She’ll say, “No, it’s hideous” “Then why on earth,” I always want to say, “did you walk all the way over there to touch it?”  but of course…I have learned to say nothing when shopping because no matter what you say…  it doesn’t pay, so I say nothing.”  Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From a Small Island’

There were some decisions to be made over breakfast today because this was our last day but it would be a full one because our Ryanair flight home wasn’t until late this evening.  We could return to Venice but although there was more to see we had filled two days there already, we could go to nearby Vicenza, or we could stay in Padova.  As we were lodging in Padova it seemed rude not to visit, lots of tourists bypass the city in the rush to Venice so we all agreed that we would spend the day here in the Shakespearian setting of the Taming of the Shrew.

Checking out was a chore – I have never understood why it takes some hotels so long to produce the bill – It was pre-booked with an agreed rate, we stayed the number of nights that we contracted to and we didn’t have anything from the mini-bar – simple, so irritating therefore that it took a prolonged head-scratching fifteen minutes, endless staring at the computer screen and three attempts to get it right, it was a good job that we weren’t in a rush!

It was a glorious October morning, bright sunshine but with a dainty autumnal crispness to the air and we made our way towards the city stopping first at the site of the ancient Roman amphitheatre where just a few walls now remain, having been demolished long ago as a convenient source of recycled building materials.

Next to this is the Scrovegni Chapel which, on account of the Giotti frescos inside is reckoned to be the main visitor highlight of the city.  I have seen it described as one of the most important artistic works of its kind; it takes your breath away, it makes grown men weep, it makes your knees buckle, it deprives you of the power of speech – but sadly none of my travelling companions had any desire to queue and wait to see it so I agreed to bypass this artistic treasure but thought that I might come back later by myself.

This reminded me of a visit that I made to Paris in 1990.  I went with a group of work colleagues, we had just lost our jobs in local government through compulsory competitive tendering and were going our separate ways and decided on something special to mark the occasion.  Whilst there we visited the Louvre museum and like everyone else went to see Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa.  My friend Martin spent a few seconds gazing at what is possibly the world’s most famous masterpiece and then declared, “It’s ok but I wouldn’t want it hanging in my front room!”

Padova Italy

So we carried on into the familiar sounding Corso Garibaldi and came across the inevitable statue of the hero of Italian unification.  After the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 the state worked hard at making sure Garibaldi would be remembered and the number of streets, piazzas and statues named after him makes him probably the most commemorated secular figure in history.

Such was the romance of his story that Garibaldi was at one point possibly the most famous man in Europe.  In London in 1864 people flocked to see him as he got off the train. The crowds were so immense it took him six hours to travel three miles through the streets. The whole country shut down for three days while he met the great and the good.  Literary figures including the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson and Sir Walter Scott lauded him as the “Italian lion” and “the noblest Roman of them all“.  The English historian A.J.P. Taylor made the assessment that “Garibaldi is the only wholly admirable figure in modern history.”

Although my friends don’t care too much for art, archaeology or history they do like shopping so they were collectively delighted when we arrived at Piazza della Frutta which is a heaving daily market with literally hundreds of stalls selling everything and anything that anyone could possibly want but do not need.  Momentarily overcome by the shopping opportunities presented here we stopped for a while at a pavement café to catch our breath and to plan the inevitable assault on the merchandise.

I am sure that I have mentioned this before (most likely several times) but I am not a keen fan of shopping especially of the browsing variety so the prospect of time wasted pushing through a market looking at things I had no intention ever of buying didn’t especially thrill me so whilst the others dawdled through the crowded lanes of the market picking over the merchandise and making the occasional unnecessary purchase I moved on to admire the buildings and the architecture which is something that I prefer to do.

Adjacent to Piazza della Frutta is Piazza dei Signori where there were more market stalls but also wonderful buildings soaring up into the perfect sky and then Piazza del Doumo with thankfully no market stalls and in contrast peaceful and serene with pavement cafés and bars and old meandering lanes and alleys probing through the old Jewish ghetto area but sadly no entrance to the basilica because it was closed for lunch – what happens if I need a Priest in an emergency I wondered, what if I have some sins to urgently confess? Anyway, I thought that I might come back later and the plans for the end of my day were becoming suddenly quite seriously congested.