Mama Rooney in Cape Town

If you like this piece you can buy a kindle version of the book Ten Traveller’s Tales, which contains this story.

Greenmarket Square is at the heart of Cape Town. This small space at the centre of the city holds a busy open-air market where traders from as far north as  the Congo come to sell their carvings, paintings, jewellery, and instruments.

Walking around there’s plenty of good-natured banter from all the traders, both male and female; “How are you boss?”, “Would you like to take a closer look?”, and “How much money do you have to spend?” Some vuvuzelas were being blown and their cacophonous noise was occasionally intermingled with the chants from various countries’ supporters. The smell of cooked meat and fish wafted over now and then from the restaurants on one side of the square.

Most stalls are packed to the roof with items, stacked together and looking imposing and impressive. Some displays of necklaces were like a shimmering rainbow. Flags of some of the nations at the World Cup fluttered from some stalls. One stall though didn’t have many articles for sale. Doilies, place mats, and small table cloths were spread out on a very low table and behind it sat the owner. She was wearing a dark-red scarf tight over her head, a beige top, and a dress of pink and yellow floral patterns. She was of medium height and had very meaty forearms. The skin on her face was quite smooth making it difficult to discern her age.

“Where are you from, my brother?”

“England, though I live in Canada.”

“I am from Zimbabwe – I am going back there next Monday, so my prices are low.” She smiled and the teeth that were left were quite white with some growing at angles as though to cover the gaps.

Taormina in Sicily

If you like this piece you can buy a kindle version of the book Julian’s Journeys, which contains this story.

The bus headed northwards past several resort towns on Sicily’s eastern coast. The weather was warm and the sun was just beginning to come out, thought the top of Mount Etna away to our left, was covered in clouds and there was evidence of plenty of snow on the highest point that we could see. Just past Taormina’s railway station the road began to ascend the lower slopes of Monte Tauro, the hill that the town is situated upon. The culmination of this climb was a series of hairpin bends skillfully negotiated by the driver, his vehicle seemingly going to be too long, but always just fitting the twisty turns of the road. At the bus station, the nun turned to us, pointed outside and said “Taormina!”  After a journey of an hour, we had arrived at our destination.


After leaving our luggage at our bed & breakfast, situated on the slopes of Monte Tauro with superb views over the town, the coastline towards Catania, and towards Mount Etna, we headed into the centre. The main thoroughfare, Corso Umberto I, meanders through the town from the Porta Catania to the Porta Messina. Walking along this pedestrianised street I saw that almost all of the town houses had balconies full of potted plants, which enriched the faded facades of the buildings and their fragrances augmented the subtle hints of sauces and almonds emanating from the cafes and restaurants; I gradually began to unwind from the journey and to understand why, when combined with its staggeringly beautiful situation, this town has become so popular with tourists. This attraction started with the English nobility ‘doing’ their Grand Tour of Europe in the late 18th Century and continues to this day, judging by the number of visitors we came across.


Bridge across the Drina

Not including Mostar, I saw two outstanding Ottoman bridges in Bosnia. The first was called the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge in the town of Visegrad, built in 1571 by the brilliant Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who is mainly known for creating mosques such as the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. The bridge was immortalised in Ivo Andric’s Nobel Prize-winning novel ‘Bridge on the Drina’. The bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has 11 masonry arches with spans of 11 m to 15 m, and an access ramp at right angles with four arches on the left bank of the river. The 179.5 m long bridge is regarded as a masterpiece of Sinan’s, of whom UNESCO wrote “Sinan, one of the greatest architects and engineers of the classical Ottoman period and a contemporary of the Italian Renaissance, with which his work may be compared.”

The Homilies of Mush

There’s one original manuscript at the Matenadaran whose story, if it had taken place in another country, would have been made into a blockbuster film. The Homilies of Mush is the largest, surviving Armenian manuscript and was created between 1200 – 1202. This manuscript is associated with the Holy Apostles Monastery of Mush (now in eastern Turkey).

The Homilies of Mush was rescued during the Genocide in 1915 by two women, who split the 28kg parchment in two, and vowed to reunite the two parts in eastern Armenia. One woman reached Echmiadzin and gave her section to the church there. Sadly, the other woman died, but not before burying her half in the grounds of Erzurum monastery, also in eastern Turkey. Miraculously, this half was found by a Russian soldier who took it to Tbilisi from where it was reunited with the other half in Armenia in the 1920s. If the Homilies of Mush wasn’t priceless before 1915, it certainly is now. When I read this story, I could just imagine who would play the lead roles in the film.

Littondale Wall Building – British Tradition

Excerpt from a book of British Traditions

In 1842, Jeremiah Spalding built the longest wall in the history of the competition. It stretched 167 yards up the hill and was in a perfectly straight line. However, this wall didn’t win as it was just two feet high and one foot wide – the judges didn’t believe Jeremiah’s excuse that he was a grasshopper breeder.

The competitors mustn’t touch any alcohol during the contest – this was after an unfortunate situation in 1802 when Barry Cockerill consumed too much cider in the summer sun and started to build his wall across the path of the other participants. This lead to a sharp exchange of words and the cancelling of the contest until the following day, so that Cockerill’s wall could be dismantled.