3 Days in Rome February 2016


At the end of February I went to Rome for three days. I’ve been there before but that was a flying visit when I played at a festival in Florence. The last time I went I wasn’t over impressed, which may sound odd and slightly absurd, but I was only there for about five hours. During that time I went on the open top tourist bus, visited the Trevi Fountain and had a meal. Then I hightailed it back to Florence on the high speed train. Because the city didn’t look like it did in either of my favourite Rome films, Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita, I was disappointed and, yes, I know I’m sounding a bit stupid and trivial but that’s the way it is. I wanted to be mown down by a million Vespas and Lambrettas and it didn’t happen! It didn’t fit in with my preconceptions of Rome. In my mind it should have been noisy and anarchic and that couldn’t have been further from the truth. It is actually quite a relaxed and easy going place and nowhere near as big as I thought it was.

This time was an improvement and I became better acquainted with the more interesting aspects of the city and, apart from being attacked by a dog at one point that fortunately didn’t bite me but did shred my trousers, I had a really nice and interesting time. I had two whole days there which wasn’t enough to see everything but was enough to make me want to go back again.


Trip to Rome Day One


The first day I visited the Spanish Steps which are nice but are being renovated at the moment and are fenced off, then I walked to the Vatican where I stumbled on a mass being given by the Pope! I wasn’t expecting this but I was amazed by the efficiency the crowd were exited at the end. Although there were thousands of people in the square there was no crush or panic. A real lesson in crowd control! It is interesting that the Vatican buildings are so well preserved that they almost look new i.e. recently built. Intriguing, I suppose to look old, buildings need to have evidence of decay, it’s not enough to actually be old!

Which leads on to the next part of my tour, the Coliseum. This definitely looks old. Most of it isn’t even there! Apparently the stones of the outer wall were used to build the Renaissance buildings of the Vatican and other parts of Rome. What we see is the mainly brick inner wall but it is still pretty impressive, as is the Triumphal Arch.

That night I went to an Open Mic at a bar called The Public House. Met some really nice people and played a few tunes on a borrowed guitar. It takes place every Wednesday night. They also sell really good cocktails.


Trip to Rome Day Two


Day two was even more interesting I went to the Trevi Fountain and then walked along the Tiber to an interesting and dilapidated area of Rome called Testaccio. This is in the process of being regenerated but at the moment  is a fascinating mix of abandoned buildings, graffiti, a brilliant art gallery and ancient ruins. There are also people living and working there. A truly fascinating place as is the last place I went to, the Protestant Cemetry. This is where Romantic English poets Keats and Shelley are buried. I really love both of their work.They both died in their mid twenties within a year of each other. It is very evocative with some amazing sculptures and tombs. Again, well worth a visit.


The Protestant Cemetery

All this walking wore me out so I spent my last few hours reading in the garden of the National Gallery. Very relaxing and a lovely and peaceful place to sit.

There’s so much more to see so I’ll be back soon no doubt. Next month I am visiting Paris to check out the live music scene.

Visit to Sicily October 2013


In my quest to visit as many places as possible that I haven’t seen, I decided to go to Sicily, Italy in October, 2013. In case people out there think with all my travelling I’m rich!! I’m not!! My travels are achieved by finding low fares and staying in cheap hotels (most of the time!). I’m a jetsetter courtesy of Ryanair and Easyjet. I’ve become the master of the cheap deals.

As it turned out Sicily was an inspired choice. We stayed in a nice hotel in the centre of Palermo which is a fascinating city. It’s also surprisingly friendly (no Mafia jokes please) because it’s not too touristy. Mind you the driving in Palermo is possibly the craziest I’ve ever seen until I got used to it and realized that there was method in the madness! There is only one main rule and that is that you don’t stop for anything unless you really have to!! Ominously, as I drove around in a hire car, I realized that virtually every car on the island had a dent in it!! Still, I got through two weeks driving and only scraped a wheel on a kerb once which I got away with when it was checked at the end. Whew!!!

It really is very lovely but there is no way you can see the island in one visit. We stayed in Palermo and visited that side of the island including Cephalu and Agrigento. There are some great beaches that are pretty unspoilt or attached to fading old fashioned resorts. Very charming. The architecture ranges from jerrybuilt apartment blocks to remarkably preserved Greek temples. Erice is a picturesque town in the mountains with a well preserved castle. Monreale has a remarkable Norman cathedral that incorporates mosaics inspired by Islamic designs. Shows that even at the height of the Crusades they could learn things from each other. Quite astonishing really, and the weather was good most of the time. Also, Cephalu is a quaint old town with a beautiful beach where occultist Aleister Crowley had his headquarters until he was expelled by the Italians!

There was a bit of excitement while we were there. The riot police was out in force as a demonstration against austerity got out of hand. Very exciting!! The food was great, as you might expect. Palermo is incredibly varied with an area of posh designer shops and another that is still in ruins from the end of WW2. Will be back next year to explore some more. Here’s a gallery of pictures taken while I was there:

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“So Here I Am” a poem by Kenny Wilson

2013-06-02 16.44.05

so here I am in florence
connecting with the past
trying to find myself in a weird way
playing music in a strange land
full of cobwebs and fairies
that leap up at me and scare me
and wake me from my renaissance sleep

there is no past
only the present
where art screams from the river banks
and the railway lines
and I am lost again
my legs aching and my mind about to explode

i think I lost something here
and not my sanity
a weary contempt of the past
that did nothing but grind me down
and left me on the pavement
with nothing to think about
but oblivion and feelings of inadequacy

so here i am in florence

A Week in Florence


Pensione Ottaviani where we were staying. Excellent and friendly small hotel in the heart of the city.

Here we are. First day on a trip to Florence staying at a delightful little hotel called Pensione Ottaviani right in the heart of the city. The beautiful church of Santa Maria Novella is just across the road and the Duomo is a short walk away. The weather is good but not too hot. Perfect weather for sightseeing. The only problem is deciding where to go first. It’s Sunday so there may be problems visiting churches unless we attend mass. No, I think maybe the best thing is to visit the Piazza del Duomo and then to the Ponte Vecchio and across the river to the Boboli gardens and the Palazzo Pitti. Yes, that’s a good idea.


Palazzo Pitti. Grim palace that looks a bit like a prison. Home of the Medicis at one time. The Boboli Gardens behind are very nice.

The Palazzo Pitti is a pretty grim looking place that was the residence of one of the wealthy dukes that dominated Florence. It looks a bit like a prison from the outside and there are no benches or chairs to sit on in the square in front. They obviously still want the peasants to suffer! The Boboli Gardens in the rear are very pleasant and afford a very good walk if you can afford it. The reason for going inside is to view one of the best exhibitions of Renaissance art there is with works by Raphael and Titian and many others. They are hung in the way they would have been presented originally and so give a different perspective to the paintings than in a normal gallery. There are some excellent pictures in there but also quite a few that I would consider mediocre. In some ways I found it quite a depressing litany of images of the rich and powerful who don’t really deserve to be remembered. They stare blankly from the walls and you feel they are trapped forever in their own conceit. The whole experience is like a homage to a vacant and meaningless materialism. The religious pictures sit uneasily with the portraits. Why did they want pictures of the dieing Christ on their walls? The sheer scale of the opulence of the palace scream out against any kind of humility or charity. This is a truly bizarre experience and one that is quite tiring because there are so few chairs and benches inside as well. Time for a nice cappuccino I think.


Florence, place of great cappuccinos!! Or should that be cappuccini!

OK, time to move on. The Duomo is a truly astonishing place. It’s size is immense. Apparently, it took over a hundred years and the genius of Bruneleschi to work out how to put a roof on it without it falling down. It represents an amazing ambition to create something that had never been done before. This cathedral dominates the city of Florence and is clearly visible from all the vantage points in the surrounding hills.

Another view of the Cathedral and the Campanile. Astonishing buildings and so big!

Florence is a lovely city and is very self contained. The people are also very friendly even though it is packed with tourists, even in October. It is easy to walk to all the main attractions and the restaurants are also good. It’s a bit on the expensive side but I suppose that’s to be expected. Next stop is Ponte Vecchio which is truly remarkable lined mainly with jewelry shops.

Ponte Vecchio

The first big exhibition we went to was at the Palazzo Strozzi called “The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism”. This was a fascinating exhibition that demonstrated the variety of artistic expression that was taking place even under the cultural,totalitarian restrictions of Fascism. There were some disturbing examples of Fascist and Nazi art alongside experimentalism and expressionistic work. Things got really bad in 1938 though when Italy enacted it’s own racial law under pressure from the Nazis. The holocaust had reached Italy! This is what the curator says about the exhibition:

“The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism comprises 96 paintings, 17 sculptures and 20 objects of design and tells the story of a crucial era characterised by an extremely vigorous arts scene in the years of the Fascist regime, against a backdrop that included the embryonic development of mass communication in Italy – radio, cinema and illustrated magazines – which stole numerous ideas from the “fine” arts and transmitted them to a broader audience. This retrospective illustrates an era that profoundly changed the history of Italy. The 1930s also witnessed the increasing mass production of household objects, which led to dramatic changes in people’s lifestyle, allowing ordinary families to live out a dream of modernity surrounded by designer objects, a practice that continues to this day”.

I would recommend this exhibition if it comes your way.

Programme for the exhibition

Palazzo Strozzi

Josephine Baker.

Crude propaganda using Futurist techniques with a touch of Art Deco!

Dream Complex No.1

It’s a hard slog walking around exhibitions (but in this case worth it). Time for a nice sit down and a rest outside the Santa Maria Novella church.

Santa Maria Novella

Sue outside Santa Maria Novella

Nice caffe!!

Beautiful cloisters at Santa Maria Novella.

Mmm, Special Effects! That’s what that button does!!

The church of Santa Maria Novella is beautiful and contains many astounding frescoes. Unfortunately they don’t allow you to take photos ( a common thing in most museums and art galleries which I think is a bit mean really). The stand out feature though is the crucifix painted by Giotto. It is a sublime and beautiful piece of work.

Crucifix painted by Giotto.

We spent two days travelling round Florence on an open top bus. Fortunately, the weather remained good for most of the time although there were a few heavy showers at times. The view from Piazzale Michelangelo is breathtaking and it contains one of the many copies of David, the sculpture of which Vasali said that once you’ve seen it you’ll never need to see another sculpture. The original is in the Accademia which we visited and it really is breathtaking. The hands and feet look like they might start moving any minute! It is enormous and seems to be alive!

Michelangelo’s David

Thursday night we went to the open mic at the Irish pub “The Fiddler’s Elbow” on Piazza Santa Maria Novello. Not many people there but had a really good time. Was asked to play at a Bob Festival to be held next May. That’ll be fun!

On the last day we went to Pisa where we were flying from. Spent the afternoon having a meal with the leaning tower in the background. Very nice!

The leaning tower. Nice hat!

The cathedral at Pisa.