Murrieta wedding – part 2



I woke in morning still feeling unwell, but as the day wore on things improved and by our late morning ride in the minibus to the Promenade Mall in Temecula I was feeling better. We drove through the very quaint Temecula Old Town on the way to the Mall – it was very busy – chock full of visitors because it was Memorial Day weekend.

We had a quick bite to eat in the Mall then all piled back into the bus to prepare for the wedding. I had bought a beautiful Trelise Cooper dress and once I put that on I felt even better!

The ceremony and reception were at Hawk Ranch, a pretty venue in Murrieta – Roger drove several of us there in the mini-bus for the much-anticipated ceremony, and we arrived to find the place looking spectacular.

The ceremony was a seated affair down by the lake and with the celebrant Margaret being Simon’s godmother, it was a very intimate and emotional service.

Cocktails and delicious nibbles followed, and we began to notice the chill in the air, which remained throughout the evening. The speeches and seated dinner took place in the intimate, tree-studded area near the reception room – apart from the beautiful bride Alex, both Simon and Roger stealing the show with their hilarious comments liberally sprinkled thought heartfelt memories and thanks.

Mixing and mingling throughout the evening was easy and casual as had we met all the New Zealand guests at a function at home before we left, and then we had been brought together at the BBQ dinner at Hawk Ranch the day before – everyone seemed to feel at ease with each other and interaction flourished.

It was a day to remember for all, and we were so happy to have been invited to be part of it all.

Murrieta Wedding -part 1

We left in bright sunshine for Murrieta, a town south of LA which is the setting for the wedding of the year! Simon, the son of our great friends Roger and Frances, is marrying his beautiful fiancée Alex at Hawk Ranch. We are lucky enough to have been invited and are so looking forward to it.

Frances zipped down the highway and in no time we were at the Courtyard Temecula checking in to what turned out to be a very large two room suite.

After exploring the surroundings in search of lunch, which we found at a local Subway, we took the chance to explore the local Walmart and returned to the room to prepare for the dinner.

Roger took us to the dinner in the mini-bus and we were soon mixing and mingling with the other guests – it was relaxing and enjoyable and set the scene for a wonderful day tomorrow.


On return in the minibus ( where there were some very funny issues with getting Ralph safely in and out of his seatbelt – you had to be there) we hit the rooftop deck for nightcap drinks and great conversation – bring on the wedding I say! ……

Manhattan Beach will have to wait …



In the scheme of things we should have had two nice walks from the Westdrift down to Manhattan Beach in the last two days but since I have managed to get a doozy of a cold, that hasn’t happened. However, I came prepared as we have learned we must do and have hit the antibiotics so they should start to kick in…

I was looking forward to the sun warming my bones and lifting my spirits but yesterday we didn’t see the sun at all due to the marine layer – apparently temperatures are 10 degrees below the average for this time of year.

The golf course we overlook from our room

Shopping has been the main focus of our stay since we arrived and there are some real bargains to be had despite the exchange rate and my hubby is now the possessor of a beautiful Michael Kors Blazer which was the ridiculous price of $98 in Macy’s sale. Once I managed to get myself out of bed yesterday we headed back to Macy’s as they had cleverly left the security tag on the MK bag I bought. Passing by Gap on the way, I scored a quality linen tee for $10 , which came with free undies of my choice – a bargain to be sure….

The plan was to walk to the beach once Roger and Phil returned from picking up the minibus that will cart the blokes down to the wedding in Murrieta (while the girls get to travel in style with Frances in the Mercedes) – but there was a delay in picking up the van so we simply ended the day with pizza at Grimaldi’s.

What has become obvious is that serving sizes here are still enormous – and even at sit-down cafes (and the current hotel) drinks are served in paper cups (ugh!) and in-room meals are served in plastic containers- so unattractive and so wasteful…

But I digress – this morning I feel better as the sun is shining already- shortly we will be on our way – let the fun begin!

California Dreaming


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We love Los Angeles – the vibe, the bright flowers, the warmth and the long sunny days are food for the soul. We arrived here this morning after a very smooth and comfy flight in Business class. We were lucky enough to be picked up from the airport by Roger and Frances, taking the chance to catch up over lunch while we waited for our room at the Westdrift to be made ready.


Westdrift Autograph Collection

The hotel has been made over and has a very relaxed beachy feel to it plus it is very close by to all the shopping places we know – so off we set this afternoon just as the marine layer was lifting – quite late in the day for LA. Our our New Zealand dollar is not buying as much as it has in the past so we will have to be more frugal ….

Having said that we have wandered through The Point, which is a nice oasis beside the very busy Sepulveda Blvd and also El Segundo Plaza finishing up at a favourite eatery True Food Kitchen – elegant and delicious healthy food. We have done a few steps today and jet lag is setting in …. goodnight…


On the to the Point


The Point has delightful water features


Another Point Water feature


True Food Kitchen crudités, organic wine and skinny citrus Margarita – outstanding place to eat in The Point

The Grand Tour ends ~ in Rome


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Ah Rome – what a treat to be back. Five years had passed since we first visited staying at the delightful Lancelot near the Colosseum.  This time we booked a hotel just out of the main centre – the Courtyard Marriott as it offered parking, the rate was reasonable, and the rooms were good.  On arrival we discovered there was a shuttle into the Vatican, so once we had checked in we hurried off to catch it.

Around 15 minutes later we were at the drop-off point. What a sight! The queues to enter the Vatican were enormous… nothing like that greeted us five years ago, although we had booked our entrance ticket online. It was surprising to see so many tourists in what is essentially Autumn, so not the high season.

Thankfully we had no need to join the huge queue so we went in search of lunch to shore us up for the hop-on hop-off bus trip which would re-acquaint us with this huge and bustling city.  It was surprisingly hot as we sat under shade umbrellas on a narrow sidewalk eating our lunch while tour groups gathered beside us. It wasn’t that pleasant so we moved on as soon as we had finished, walking though St Peter’s Square en route to the bus stop:


The bus tour was at least an hour long and was initally not very good, but as we hit the more well known sights, the commentary improved and we rather enjoyed it. There are several companies offering this service and I think we would have been better to choose the I Love Rome service (pink and white buses and brochures) rather than the Red bus service we used. However it served a purpose, because we could now pick out the places we wanted to revisit – have  a look a some of the famous sights we passed:

Having completed the bus tour Phil and I decided to cram in as much as we could for the rest of the day. On our previous trip, I had not been able to wander the famous shopping streets so we grabbed a taxi and headed for the Via del Corso where I was able to pop in and out of shops at my leisure.


I spy Laduree!




How to display jewellery


Royal Crown’s pretty window dressing

On our last visit we had enjoyed the atmosphere at the Spanish Steps so we headed back there, and climbed to the stop of the stairs which was surprisingly empty presenting a good photo opportunity…


The fountain at the bottom of the stairs (Fontana della Barcaccia)  was quite a different matter with tourists surrounding it and at one stage, a woman was actually standing in the boat….

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Next we headed off toward the Trevi Fountain – with a quick detour into  a very pretty church I spied along the way:


The Trevi Fountain was ridiculously crowded – on our previous visit it had been busy, but nothing like this – tourists were shoulder to shoulder trying to the get their photos, and we heard one guide urging her clients to hold on tight to their bags and wallets. A bit of jostling got us closer to the famous landmark:


It appeared to me that the Fountain had been cleaned

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At the Trevi Fountain


It is a truly magnificent Fountain


Finally got the one we wanted, courtesy of a nice American lady

We completed a very busy day in a very rustic trattoria close to the Spanish Steps. It was lovely to see Rome at night with restaurants lit up like this one:

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For us it was the end of a wonderful few weeks spent with two people we love. Travelling with Roger and Frances has created a large bank of wonderful new memories – shared experiences that we will never forget. Hopefully there will be more to come… watch this space.


Goodbye Rome


Cheers Roger and Frances, thanks for the memories


Cheers to us

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Leaving Rome


The sun sets on our journey





Leaving Sicily ~to Naples by ferry …


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The ferry trip from Naples to Rome was an adventure for us all – I am not a keen sailor and certainly have no desire to join a cruise, so I was not sure how I would like this little jaunt. I had no need to be concerned. Getting the car onto the ferry went smoothly (though we had quite a wait in a queue because we arrived well before embarkation time) and what awaited us once on board was quite surprising.


The fit-out of the ferry was better than I expected. It was a Tirrenia line ship and we had booked cabins rather than sitting up all night during the crossing. The cabins were small, but very adequate, and the shower was excellent. The bar and lounge were large, comfortable and well-appointed and the dinner in the restaurant was surprisingly good.

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Enjoying a drink in the large and comfortable lounge


Dinner in the restaurant


The lounge

The crossing itself was very smooth, and early the next morning our arrival in Naples provided a very pretty picture as the sun came up:


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Disembarking was easy, despite the fact the car was right in the back corner of the ferry and we were soon on our way to Rome for the last day and night of our Grand Tour.

Sicily was a revelation. I had not recognised what a hub of civilisation it has been – over 3,000 years many cultures have impacted on this region – in particular the Arabs, the Greeks, and the Normans plus there have been French and Spanish rulers too, all contributing to the creation of a fascinating, unique and vibrant culture.  Personally this short trip gave me a colourful, and really enlightening look at a part of Italy I had only dreamed of seeing …


Monreale is a perfect example the beauty created by a blend of cultures

Next post : Rome


Palermo part 3 ~ Magnificent Monreale


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We got really brave today and ventured out in the car to visit the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site of Monreale Cathedral.  The roads were surprisingly quiet (perhaps because it was Sunday) and in no time we were parking in a local carpark just a short walk from the Cathedral.

From the outside the Norman Cathedral the Moorish influence is obvious with delicate patterning hinting at what can be found in the exquisite and grand interior.


Having been converted to a mosque during the Arab occupation beginning in the C9th, the church reverted to Cathedral status again when the Normans drove the Arabs out two centuries later and it presents a wonderful mix of Arabic, Byzantine and Norman styles – in both the architecture and the dazzling mosaic art within.

When we reached the Cathedral the huge C12th bronze doors with panels depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament were open:


Panel of the C12th Cathedral door created by Barisano di Trapani

Mass was being celebrated but there were many people standing at the back, taking photos – among them our guide Claudia from the previous day. We assumed it OK to be there but it seemed intrusive so we left. Once Mass had finished the doors were closed until they re-opened at two thirty, so we explored the local area before sitting down to lunch in a trattoria adjacent to Church. We found our way into the peaceful public garden beside the Cathedral too which offers a good view down to the bay.

Closer to opening time, the town started filling up with visitors and we joined a higgledy-piggeldy queue to it in. It was certainly worth wait. The interior is truly spectacular:


The statue of The VIrgin Mary is simple and beautiful



Christ Pantocrator (the Almighty) looms large over the central apse- note the shimmering gold mosaic surrounds


The glass Mosaics portray biblical characters


The tomb of William II of Sicily stands in the Cathedral


The glass mosaic work in the Cathedral is incredible

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The massive altar

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Beautiful geometric mosaic work adorns the Dado

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Perfect arches

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Huge columns with intricate capitals

There is no entrance fee for the Cathedral but there is a charge if you want to ascend the tower – two Euro and it is worth it provided you are not claustrophobic … while the entrance initally is quite wide, it quickly becomes quite narrow and dark – but braving it offers you not only a great view of the magnificent cloisters which you can see as you cross an open-air part of the roof, but also continuing on to the top offers panoramic views of the city and town below.



The beautiful Cloisters


She did it! Hold on tight, it is steep


The top most part of the climb


View from the narrow corridor leading to the tower

With our visit to  the stunning Monreale Cathedral complete we made our way back to Mondello to pack up and say goodbye to our lovely host Robert.  The final leg of our journey was about to begin  – the ferry trip from Palermo to Naples and the drove on to Rome.


The artwork on the entrance way to B&B Mondello resort – done years ago by a 15 year old boy who is now a recognised artist

Next Post – The Ferry to Naples and on to Rome…







Palermo ~ walking through history, part 2


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Claudia continued our tour along Via Vittorio Emmanuele, past a local landmark (Argento Vincenzo) where intricate marionettes are made.  The Sicilian puppet (pupi) theatre tradition has been recognised by UNESCO, being inscribed on the ‘Representative list of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’.  The range of puppets is impressive and we were delighted when Claudia introduced us to the elderly maker of these fantastic creations. He slowly made his way from his workbench to the shop entrance, large puppet in hand. I was quite surprised when he let us have a play with it!  I was tempted to bring one home, however they are too fragile to cart around Italy in a suitcase….

Along the way I also resisted the temptation to buy one of the ubiquitious lemon juicers you see in all the tourist areas (I did cave in and buy one later though):


Next stop was the Chiesa del Gesu, (The Church of the Gesu), a stunning example of the Baroque, where ornate marble relief work is the main feature, along with the beautiful roof painted in rainbow of colours:

In contrast to the quiet Gesu, the market we walked through offered a loud and somewhat chaotic scene, where sellers were hawking their wares, sometimes reverting to English when tourists like us walked by. The colour, the vibrancy, the sheer clamour of this place was really exciting – we were able to finally taste prickly pears, and were given fresh pistachios as Claudia is obviously a favourite with the local vendors …

Here is a sample of what we saw – fresh produce, meat and fish, in a rainbow mish-mash of colours – oh and we stopped to try the highly recommended cold coffee (Caffé freddo)  – delish, but we were not so keen on the idea of that Silician delicacy, spleen sandwiches!


Prickly pears are quite delicious


I think these are tomatoes?!



The inevitable peppers









White onions


Fish stall


Roasted onions!


Red veges


Poor swordfish


Caffe freddo

As we headed off toward the Quattro Canti, Claudia took the opportunity to detour into a side street where the vendors specialised in making kitchen equipment:


pots and pans




Utensil for handling prickly pears

The Jewish Quarter was close by so we wandered through, continuing our walk until we came upon the Renaissance Fontana Pretoria, the so-called Fountain of Shame – thus named because of the naked statues which encircle it. The fountain was originally made in Florence then bought from its noble owner by the Palermo Senate and transported in pieces to be relocated in its current position in front of the City Hall.

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The C14th Praetorian Palace (now the Town hall

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The C17th Church of Saint Joseph dei Teatini viewed from the stairs of Santa Caterina Church

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In front of the Fountain of shame

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Fontana Pretoria from the stairs of Santa Caterina church

A pedestrian only street took us along to the Quattro Canti. The street was lined with pink and white stalls, set up in preparation for an upcoming icecream festival:


Pedestrian only shopping street

At last we reached the famed Quattro Canti,  which was smaller and more grimy than I expected – but spectacular nonetheless. It is at the intersection of the Via Vittoria Emmanuele and the Via Maqueda. The curved buildings on each of the four corners have three levels. On the bottom level the sculptures in the fountains represent the four seasons; on the middle level are four Spanish kings, and the figures on the top level represent Patron Saints. It was rather a thrill to stand in the middle of the piazza (Piazza Vigliena) viewing the facades, each adorned with marble statues.


Charles V (Spring) on the South Facade


Philip II (summer) on the West Facade


Philip IV (Autumn) on the North Facade


Philip III (Winter) on the East Facade with Sant’Agata above


Charles V



Philip IV on the Autumn, North Facade with Olivia di Palermo

Claudia completed the tour with a walk to the C19th Teatro Massimo, which we had seen from the bus the day before. It is a magnificent structure on the Piazza Verdi. Built in the neoclassical style, it is the largest opera house in Italy :


Teatro Massimo comes into view


Tours of the theatre are available, but we decided to forgo this option in favour of lunch in a shady square – in the company of local pussy cats….

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Palermo ~ walking through history …part 1.


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We met our German-born guide Claudia Pace outside the entrance to the Palazzo di Normanni (Norman Palace). Claudia is an attractive and intelligent woman who has lived in Italy for thirty years. We discovered she is passionate about Palermo and her tour was one of the best we have taken.


There were a couple of busloads of tourists lingering at the entrance, but Claudia slipped us in through the entrance to the stunning palace before the large groups. As we waited to enter she pointed out a flowering tree called choresia speciosa, which has a very pretty pink flower, and produces pods which burst into wads of cotton-like substance – a stunning tree when it is in bloom but with a very thorny trunk!


As we ascended the stairs to the Capella, Claudia pointed out the fossils encased in the marble.


Once into the Palazzo proper, we waited in the courtyard to be allowed to enter. The Capella Palatina (Palatine Chapel) was built by Roger II, the first king of Sicily in the C12th.  It is absolutely breathtaking with its stunning golden cupola sitting above the main aisle in the sanctuary and its richly mosaiced walls.


My amateur photos are the best way to show how spectacular this glittering mosaiced chapel is:


The wooden carved roof, Arabic honeycomb-like carving (muqarnas)



Glittering gold mosaic works


this is in the Sanctuary in the main apse


Marble pillars gold mosaics and the wooden roof


While these photos do not do the beautiful interior justice, I think it is obvious that the Chapel is truly an outstanding example of Byzantine art.

The Palace houses the seat of the Sicilian Government, which was the first European Parliament, and we were lucky to be able to view the Parliamentary chamber:


The Chamber- Sicily is an autonomous region of Italy, with special status




The artworks depicting showing strength in difficult situations are meant to inspire the politicians


As our fascinating tour continued outside, moving towards the magnificent C12th Duomo, Claudia pointed out a group of men playing cards, apparently a common past time in Palermo, (gambling).  As we passed a tree with plastic chairs chained to it, she explained  this is so they don’t have to take them home and bring them back for the next game….


We also passed the  beautiful Park we had seen the previous day on the hop-on hop-off bus.


We soon reached the Cathedral with Claudia explaining it encompasses many architectural styles. It was built on the site of a Muslim Mosque, and displays Gothic and Neoclassical features but is not richly decorated like the Monreale Cathedral. Surprisingly,  it  boasts a type of sundial:


Claudia had much more to show us, and we were hanging on her every word as she introduced us to the rich history of the city…

Next post – the walking tour part 2.


Palermo ~ Mondello


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Palermo is a lively, historic and quiet thrilling city – filled with crazy drivers who practice even crazier parking, doing what they do in their own inimitable way. Our taxi driver told us the people of Palermo could be characterized thus: they were either sleeping or acting crazy – and that pretty much sums it up. Despite the traffic chaos it seems that they take life at their own pace, albeit with much energy and gesticulation – there is a theatrical element to watching Sicilians go about their daily lives …

We decided to stay out of the busy city in a stylish B&B in the seaside suburb of Mondello. The B&B Mondello Resort is a real oasis of calm, located in a leafy and pretty street,  behind a high fence. It is modern and elegant, with just a few suites, and a great pool. The owner, Robert was there to greet us, and made us feel very welcome, inviting us to take a Prosecco or coffee with him. Once settled in we wandered off to explore the town, after lunching in a nice shady spot at Bar Alba (recommended by Robert):


Gate of B&B Mondello


Walking to lunch


Homes on the hills – some occupied some not or incomplete so it seems


Boats on the beach near the Charleston


Looking up to one of the private beaches

A relax around the pool was fitting before we ventured out to a low-key local bar for drinks, and then on to a very stylish and modern restaurant, (Badalamenti Cucina e Bottega) for which we had to make a reservation as it is so popular. The meal was excellent and I loved the stuffed zucchini flower entrée and tasty arancini, but the service and staff demeanour were somewhat disappointing.

In  the morning we took a walk,  heading in the opposite direction to the previous day. Mondello is just lovely – there are public and private beaches, the location is beautiful, the waters are a clear blue/green and there is a really relaxed feel to the place.

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Breakfast on the Terrace before the walk

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Roger contemplates the pretty foreshore

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Cute house on the shore

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The church is an interesting shape

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Mondello Beach

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There are plenty of places to escape the sun to enjoy food and wine

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The quiet street of B&B Mondello Resort

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There is a stingray in the water

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Boats on the Mondello foreshore

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Looking out to the Bay

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Art Deco Charleston Restaurant

Later, we got a taxi into town to ride the hop-on hop-off bus so we could get a feel for the city. The tour was informative and set us up well for our private walking tour with our guide Claudia, scheduled for the following morning. Palermo turned out to be more of an elegant city than I had expected – the refined Via Liberta leading into town is lined   with high-end fashion houses and reminded me a little of Madrid. Here is a bit of local colour for you, as snapped from the bus:


On the hop-on hop-off bus


Teatro Politeama Garibaldi


Intricate light


Balconies and street colour


Light stands in front of a church – would like to see it lit up in the evening.

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Public executions were once held in this Piazza Marina



Onc quarter of the Quattro Canti in the Piazza Vigliena – each corner has a three level building adorned with Baroque sculptures


Interesting arch


Villa Bonanno – beautiful public gardens behind the Norman Palace


Part of C12th Duomo from the bus


Horse sculptures atop of the Teatro Politeama

On our return we walked up the  area full busy seaside restaurants and had dinner in a local trattoria  – more swordfish for me – can’t get enough of it.  …

Next Post – a walk through history in the Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel