What came first- the chickens or the blog?

In the Pink for Giro d’Italia

It’s all very exciting here in our little city. The world famous Giro d’Italia cycling race begins here, this very day, and we have all got pink fever.
Just as the Tour de France has yellow shirts, the Giro has pink ones. This is because the Italian newspaper that supported it -La gazetta della sport- is printed on pink paper.
Our city has certainly embraced pink on public buildings, trees, shop fronts, clothes, hair. With strong winds the pink cherry blossoms are airborne covering the streets with pink blossom confetti. It’s all very pretty. Later on today Gillyboy number four and I hope to catch a fleeting glimpse of the pink Lycra clad cyclists as they whizz by on the route about 2 miles from our home.
It’s wonderful to have good and positive coverage of our city and our country after so many years of being known for bloodshed and violence. It’s just a pity the weather is so blustery and showery.
Even the Gillybirds are entering into the spirit of the race, though pink eggs appear to be too much of a challenge.



This is our City Hall looking well in pink, and our famous landmark cranes, normally yellow, but welcoming the cyclists with a lovely pink hue.

Photos from the Belfast Telegraph
Except for the hen on the bike, which is pinched from a local restaurant, The Potted Hen!

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Cave Canem (beware of the dog)

If your life, family and home were under imminent threat of being extinguished by a dramatic volcanic eruption what would you take away with you as you tried (in vain) to escape? This is a question I asked myself this week.
We took a detour via London on our way home and made a planned visit to the Pompeii and Herculaneum – Life and Death exhibition at the British Museum.
In AD 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed these two seaside towns with a couple of hours. This disaster preserved the towns until 1700 years later when archeologists began to uncover them. Most of the items on display were brought to London especially for this exhibition from Italy, making a journey identical to our own but without the tedium of going through passport control.

One of the first exhibits you see is the cast of a guard dog, still wearing his collar and chain, caught in the throes of what must have been a sudden but painful death, guarding his master’s home until his end.
As you pass by the many amazing exhibits- preserved food, household items, carbonised furniture, a little baby cradle, some spectacular wall frescoes, there is a mosaic from the doorway to a house of a black dog, wearing a red collar studded with stones representing jewels and the legend “cave canem” – beware of the dog. And wouldn’t you know, they tell us the the cast of the guard dog was found outside this very house. He must have been a well loved pet to have had his image produced in such detail by the tiny square tesserae that made up the mosaic, and to have proudly worm a jewelled collar. And also to have given a warning to would-be burglars.
It reminded me a little of the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby I blogged about back in June.
Some of the fleeing townspeople were instantly burned and were left as skeletons, still wearing jewellery, carrying purses, doctor’s tools, swords, keys to their property. Others were covered in heavy layers of volcanic dust which hardened around them, and that is how casts of their postures as they met their death were made. There is a family – mum still holding a small child in her lap, a man crouched against a wall, his hands covering his mouth and nose. The impact of a sudden and violent end to so many people (around 16,000) is still very evident and moving even now in 2013.
Certain things touched me more than others- the cradle, the dog, the freshly baked loaf still bearing the baker’s stamp, and a little gold ring with the image of a mother hen and three chicks engraved on it.
Ordinary lives snuffed out without warning.


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That Roman Feline


Another thing we noticed about Rome is the vast number of stray cats roaming freely among the tourists. In the tourist shops there are numerous postcards depicting dozing cats resting on famous monuments. At the Coliseum our guide pointed out the two “black panthers” who live among the ruins.
There are so many that in recent years the council has rounded them up for neutering to keep numbers under control. There is a famous cat sanctuary at Torre Argentina in Rome where they house, feed and treat some 250 strays within one of the oldest temples in the city. It is open seven days a week and run by cat loving volunteers who come from all over the world. Visitors are also welcome. we gave it miss ourselves as Mr Gillybirds is allergic but for some of my cat loving readers this would be a purrfect tourist destination.
For five Euro you can “adopt” one of these moggies. You receive a certificate bearing your cat’s name and a dedicated phone number to call to check on how many lives your chosen cat has left.

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A Little Ice Bow Wow


Continuing our musical interlude in Italy we are now in beautiful Rome, the Eternal City. Italian taxi drivers certainly drive you as if wishing to take you to your eternal destination as quickly as possible!
The weather here is extremely hot and we have been cooling off with lots of delicious gelato at every opportunity. One thing I have noticed is how integrated dogs are into every daily experience, sitting at the table in a restaurant, being pushed around in dog buggies or carried in handbags, in baskets on bicycles. If you don’t want to bring your dog into the shop, outside most shops there is dog parking too.


Close to where we are staying is a beautiful park- Park Borghese- which had a huge area with lots of space for Roman dogs to roam around and plenty of trees for relief.

After some retail therapy (sorry for all the dog related puns) a light lunch in the local trattoria, a run around the park, the Roman doggie enjoys a bowl of dog ice cream- Icebau. Available at most ice cream shops the makers advise us it is low calorie, rich in fibre, gluten free, lactose free and available in three delicious flavours- rice, vanilla and yoghurt. You can also buy the mix to make fresh at home for your dog to enjoy and to cool off with. After traipsing round the Coliseum and Forum I seriously considered having a bowl myself. When in Rome….


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Eating Pizza in Pisa

Like our youngest Gillyboy, you may have noticed that when earth threatening disasters happen in movies, they usually occur at famous landmarks. Aliens are just malevolent tourists at heart. Yesterday evening we witnessed sunset in Pisa at the Leaning Tower and thankfully there was no alien invasion just a lot of hawkers who were selling “genuine fake Rolex watches” (their words) and fabulous replica handbags which I had to walk away from for fear of imprisonment for purchasing counterfeit goods 😦
Mr G and small G climbed the tower and waved merrily from the top. I stayed on terra firma (well away from the handbags) and we were impressed by the simplicity of the Baptistry and Cathedral, after the overly elaborate Florence buildings.
Anyway. Pisa is lovely, the tower leans at the most unnerving angle and we finished off a beautiful evening with pizza in Pisa.

Mr Gillyboy and Littlest Gillyboy being tourists

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Just Like Goldilocks

Usually our family takes holidays in the same places every year – the French Alps or the Algarve in Portugal. The routine, the destination, the roads, the things we like to do are all familiar and welcome.
A few days ago Mr Gillybirds and our smallest Gillyboy landed in Rome to embark on our musical interlude in Italy.
The drive of 360km to our destination, a small spa town in Tuscany was a real eye opener. Italian drivers must lie in wait for tourists in their unfamiliar hire cars and hunt them down. They certainly seem to enjoy tail-gating as a local sport. Still we survived the auto strasse and didn’t actually get lost until 5 miles from our final destination, in the pitch dark, on what appeared to be nothing more than a winding donkey track leading higher and higher, with tighter and tighter bends. The GPS gave up and the atmosphere in the car was getting a little tense. “We are going to have the most amazing views” says Mr G (the driver). “If we ever find the place” says I (navigator) close to ripping up the printed google map directions. But we did find it eventually and it is so worth it. To be somewhere completely new,- language, views, culture, food – all unfamiliar is scary and exciting at the same time.
Today we took the funicular railway down to the spa town Montecatini Terme to visit the Spa. It is the most beautiful place, very elegant tall columns, decorative fresco ceilings, piano music wafting gently over those partaking of the waters. All very Jane Austen-ish. There are four types of water on offer, and each can be drunk either hot or cold. They were identified by name too. Gillyboy reclassified them – too salty, quite salty, too sulphurous, just right. There is a sign forbidding you from taking any of the water outside the Spa. Seriously though I don’t think Evian need lose any sleep.
Treatments using spa mud are offered too. The water was certainly not the best tasting and I felt sorry for people in the past who went there for medicinal purposes hoping for cures. Mr G remarked how it was strange that everyone there but us were quite elderly and hoped the water wouldn’t have that effect on us. And he stopped me from drinking too much of the water offering fertility!!

Our main reason for being here is to attend a concert at this Spa tomorrow night given by the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra in which Gillyboy number 2 plays trombone. We can’t wait! But in the meantime Gillyboy number 4 would like another ice cream pizza please! Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.
The joys of summer!

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An Italian Musical Interlude

Just in case you want to know what our musical journey is all about, here is an article from our local paper with details –

Arlene Foster, Minister for Trade and Industry, bid the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra ‘arrivederci’ as the 80-strong ensemble embark on a four-concert tour of Italy.

The CBYO is the senior ensemble of the City of Belfast School of Music and will play concerts in Florence, Rome, Montecatini and Ravello. The Minister visited the orchestra at their final rehearsal in the BELB School of Music.

“The City of Belfast Youth Orchestra is a tribute to the young people themselves, their parents and their teachers because they are part of the effort to showcase Northern Ireland as a country of talented, bright and enthusiastic young people who view the arts as intrinsic to their sense of identity, as well as a skill which will help them in future careers,” said the Minister.

During the CBYO will play to some of the most powerful people in Europe including senior officials from the British and Irish Embassies to Italy and the Holy See. Orchestra leader Fergus McBride said he and his co-musicians were delighted to be seen to be as ambassadors for Northern Ireland.

“The arts play a fundamental role in the economic regeneration of Northern Ireland, and Belfast in particular has benefited from this,” said Mr McBride.

“Having a vibrant arts sector is a signal to investors and visitors that we are a sophisticated and lively society which enjoys life to the full. Our continued respect for the creative and expressive will undoubtedly bring increased success in business and industry, and of course, enhance our general health and well being.”

The CBYO embarks on biannual tours throughout the world. Recent tours have taken them to France, Spain and Slovenia and they have performed regularly at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

“We pride ourselves in presenting a very positive image of Northern Ireland. The CBYO has continually demonstrated in recent years that it can proudly own any world renowned concert platform through its highly-acclaimed performances,” said CBYO manager Robert Briscoe.


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