I had breakfast as soon as it was ready in my San Marino hotel so I could get an early bus to Rimini. My friend John Harrison, who taught Art History, and with whom I had planned originally to go to Ravenna – before tickets in September proved so expensive that I opted out though he then went by himself – had told me there was nothing much to see there, but I thought he was wrong after a day of delightful exploration.

The tourist office had told me where I could keep my bag, opposite the station, and I had equipped myself with a map the previous day so I could set off at once to wander through the city. Though nothing was as memorable as in Ravenna, it had range of sights, Roman and mediaeval, and modern too, for this was Fellini’s city and they had a museum for him which was spread over several buildings and open air sites.

I walked past the house where he had lived as a child, nothing remarkable but it was on my way to the amphitheatre, which was small and charming, with no one else there except two girls from whom came a whiff of marijuana. Then it was to the Augustus Arch, put up in 27 BC when Augustus had consolidated his hold on the Roman State. Rimini was an important town in those days, for this was where the Via Flaminia, one of the famous roads of old Rome, ended.

I went back into the heart of the city then for the Malatesta church which had a beautiful 15th fresco by Piero della Francesca, and then it was back to another old entrance to the city, the Montanara Gate which gave access to the town from another Roman road, the Via Aretina.

Nearby was the Sismondo Castle which also housed the main Fellini museum, which was fascinating, not least for some of the scenes it showed from his pictures including the hysterically funny ecclesiastical fashion show in ‘Roma’. Outside the Castle were other memorials to him, but before I went to the other museum building I looked at another church and the grand city buildings, one of which housed an interesting museum of modern art.

After the second Fellini museum I went on to the Tiberius bridge at the opposite end of the main street from the Augustus arch, a structure Augustus had begun and which his successor completed 35 years later, in 21 AD. I also went to the very interesting City Museum,  which had a luscious Bellini amidst other joys. Next to it was what was called the Physician’s House, an archaeological site which showcased the foundations of a couple of houses, though what had been found in that of the Physician had been moved to the Museum.

And footsore again now, I hastened as best I could to collect my bag, and then took a train to Ancona, because my plan was to take a ferry across the Adriatic, to the Croatian city of Split on the Dalmatian coast.

Three of the pictures I mentioned in my description of the day in San Marino did not upload, so here they are, the tower and two items in the state museum. Then I add the entrance tower from outside and the stairs of the Public Palace, the place of the Crossbowmen, an old quarry where public performances are now held, the roof of the cathedral and a view through the gardens at the top of the hill. And then two modern items in the religious art museum of an artist they had a special exhibition for. Finally a picture of me as I got there, and my last glimpse of the tower through the bus window as I left.

I was up early on the 31st of October, for I was not sure how complicated the journey would be to get to San Marino. My main reason for going there was that it was yet another country, and the only small one in Europe which I had not as yet visited.

It is the fifth smallest country in the world, the third smallest in Europe after the Vatican City and Monaco, and since I had not stayed overnight in either of those I thought I should spend a night in this one. Sensibly I booked in advance, a bit worried about access to the hotel, but was reassured to find it was on the route of the bus to the city state.

After a very satisfying breakfast at the hotel I took an early train to Rimini, and found a tourist office at the station which sold tickets for the bus to San Marino. It left from a little way outside, and I asked the driver to stop at the hotel so I could leave my luggage there, but he forgot so I arrived in San Marino with the bag. But fortunately a little café by the bus station agreed to keep it while I explored.

This was just as well, for after that it was uphill all the way. You entered the walled city through St. Francis Gate where a wonderfully active policeman who was still there six hours later stopped traffic for pedestrians to cross. Close enough was the State Museum in a former palace, and then there was the grand if very small Public Palace. What they had within was delightful to view, but one felt very much in Toytown.

Then it was up to the St. Martin Cathedral and high up after that to the first great tower of the city, with great views to the deep valley below, and also to the hills on the other side of the town. The second and third towers however I thought beyond me, so having wandered through the pleasant garden beyond the tower I headed down, taking in further toytown museums on the way, of tedious modern art, of fascinating stamps which brought back memories of the joy of San Marino stamps in my brief stamp collecting days, and then a delightful museum of religious art housed in the cloister of what was now a nunnery. I was walking very slowly by then, and the helpful attendant told me I reminded him of his father, who was almost eighty.

And then, chastened, I made my way down to the bus station where I collected my bag and had a beer and a quick snack, fearful the bus would leave though the helpful bartender assured me it would wait for me. So it did, for it was full so there was a second, San Marino having been full of tourists, most of them Italian it seemed, accompanied often by dogs if not children.

And then I was dropped at the hotel I had booked, a few kilometres from town. I had kept going all day, but collapsed after I was in my room, and decided to forget about dinner, contenting myself with peanuts and the always handy Toblerone I had brought.

Once again, a host of pictures, the view from the top and the parliament chamber, the cathedral and the tower, three splendours from the state museum and two from the stamps and coins one, four of the museum of religious art including the cloister and its ancient ceiling, the entrance gate and then the sun setting as I went down the hill, the sun rising next morning from my hotel.

After a glimpse of Ravenna on Wednesday, I move now to the rest of the city. I seemed to walk incessantly that day, which made me feel exhausted at times, but I soldiered on, as I used to do when first seeing the wonders of Greece and Italy, determined not to miss anything.

A long day in Ravenna

From the tomb of Gallia Placida it was just a step to the San Vitale Cathedral, also magnificently decorated. It was built in the 6th century, with again with glorious mosaics, including on the floor, though the frescoes on the dome are over a millennium later.

Nearby, but requiring a different ticket, was the museum, housed in a 15th century monastery. It had a wonderful collection, ranging from classical sculpture to renaissance frescoes, including a lovely cycle from a 13th century church.

From there I trotted southward to another set of church buildings but first going to the tomb of Dante. Sadly my batteries were running out by now, but I captured something of the next wonderful building I visited, the early 5th century Orothodox Baptistery of Neon, the Bishop who supplied it with magnificient frescoes at the end of that century. And nearby was the Archbishop’s Musuem with within it the exquisite Chapel of St Andrew, in addition to some impressive ecclesiastical ornaments including a grand ivory throne made for a 6th century bishop.

After that I went to the new cathedral of St. Apollinaire, built in the 6th century by the Ostrogoth king Theodoric, and then tried to get to the Arian Baptistery but that was closed. I felt then that it was time for a rest, since I would not be able to get into my room at the hotel. But having changed and recharged my phone, I set out again soon since the Cathedral of St. Apollinaire I wanted to get to next was in a suburb, which required a bus ride. The bus meandered, but we finally got there, to find a very grand church built at the same time of the cathedral.

Fortunately, for else I would have had to wait an hour for a return bus, I got a lift and, though the young lady warned me she had to stop to shop, I did get back to the city in time to see the Arian Baptistery, not as splendid as the Orthodox one but well worth seeing.

Then, tired but determined to go on, I walked to the furthest monument in the city, the Mausoleum of Theodoric who had an uneasy relationship with the Byzantine emperor, though sometimes accepting his patronage. It was an unusual but elegant tower, with two stories of ten sides each.

Walking back I stopped inside the still impressive Brancaleone fort, for a beer which was brought with such filling snacks that I could not face anything more – except, back at my hotel, after an invigorating shower, some of the Toblerone I had brought with me. And then it was most welcome sleep, in what seemed an extremely comfortable bed.

I have a plethora of pictures today, starting with the walls of the tomb of Gallia Placida which I should have shown on Wednesday. Then there is the cathedral and statuary and a fresco from the museum, followed by Dante’s tomb and the Orthodox Baptistery. The Chapel of St. Andrew comes next, with after that the cathedral of St. Apollinaire, and then the Arian Baptistery ceiling. Finally we have the Brancaleone Fort in a lovely evening light, with then the Mausoleum of St. Theodoric, and my well earned evening beer in the gardens of the fort.

Today I write about a new city, where I recaptured the enthusiasm of my youthful journeys, and spent most of the day on my feet. The first picture is of the wonderful decorations in the tomb of Gallia Placida, and then there is the exterior of the Cathedral. But then for the record I have myself trying to sleep in the train, Florence station where we stayed for ages, and then I think Bologna before the church of St, John the Baptist, the first I walked to, though by mistake when I had still not quite oriented myself,

Ravenna after an overnight journey

It has been a very long time since I spent a night sitting up to travel, except in aeroplanes, and I was not looking forward to the night journey from Rome, especially because I had been in a plane the previous night. But the train was practically empty, and I could stretch in my reserved seat, and felt quite rested when we got to Ferrara soon after 4 am.

This was despite having got up constantly, at different stations, or indeed the same station for we spend ages in Florence. Later I realized this must have been because this was the night the clocks were put back, and so an hour had to be lost, and this was done I think in the first station we got to after midnight.

Ferrara was very bleak early in the morning, and it took me and a couple of Japanese who were the only other people to get down and wait, to find how to get inside the station from the platform. But it was warm enough there, and I snatched more sleep before getting into the train for Ravenna an hour later. There I fell asleep again, and only just managed to scramble out at Ravenna, when it was still very dark.

But there was a café a short distance away and I had coffee and a croissant and was told by the ladies there were I might find a hotel. But the first near to the station was full, and another one opposite still closed, so then there began another trundling of my case up the road, to investigate several hotels, and then back again to the other side of the station to look at others, all of which were full. In the last I tried on that side, the cheapest thus far, a nice young man said he might have a vacancy and I should try again in the afternoon. But then, going back to the hotel very near the station that had been closed, I was given the last room they had, to my immense relief.

There was however no rest for me then, for I could only have the room a few hours later, so I resolved with a deep sigh to see what I could of the city. Relieved however of my bag, I moved more quickly, and got to the furthest of the sights I wanted to see, the hotel having provided me with a map, just before it opened at 9.

But thereafter it was bliss all day. The first ticket I bought gave access to several monuments, beginning with the 5th century tomb of Gallia Placida which was just next to the cathedral of San Vitale. Her role in the intrigues that accompanied the erosion of Roman power, eastern or western, because of incursions by Goths and Huns is too complex to unravel, here or in my mind, but she was daughter and wife and mother to different emperors and the tomb she built is certainly regal. She never occupied it, being buried in Rome, but the splendour of its decorative mosaics, and the glorious colour of walls and ceilings, amply justify its having been declared a UNESCO heritage site.

Having posted on Wednesday about the high point of my last trip abroad, four days of relaxation with the Ridicki family in Croatia, I move back now to the beginning of that trip.

Rome after six years

Though the main purpose of this last trip was to see Daniel and his family in Croatia, I fear I am obsessional about not pursuing just the single objective when travelling. So I felt this time that I should see something new, and since it was near to Croatia I settled upon Ravenna, the city where Dante died and was buried, a repository also of the best days of the Byzantine Empire in Italy, after Constantine had moved the capital of the Roman Empire eastward.

But flying had to be to one of Italy’s major cities, and I decided on Rome, in part because it cost less, in part because I had not been there for six years, whereas I had gone through Milan on my previous visit, in 2017, to the former Yugoslavia. That had been to Slovenia, but in visiting the Istrian peninsula, I had also had two days in Croatia, in Pula and Rovinj.

I thought before going to the east coast of Italy to have a night in Rome, but when I got there, on the afternoon of Saturday October 29th, it was to find that all the hotels were full, not just those within the price range I had hoped for or was prepared to pay. I spent ages going to more than a dozen near the station, before I finally decided that the only thing to be done was to take an overnight train eastward,

I had started by checking out possibilities for the next day, bewildered at first by the fact that this had to be done on machines. To complicate matters there were two companies to be investigated, and though one had a helpful young lady by its machines, that did not go to Ravenna. Still, I managed in the end to find that one could travel relatively cheaply, though all options involved changes.

When I finally returned to the station, thinking that now train travel was much more complicated than in my student days – and not only when, armed with an Inter-Rail ticket which gave youngsters unlimited travel for several weeks, one could hop on and off trains as one wanted – I did however after a concerted effort and much help from strangers find that there was a night train to Ferrara, and then a very early connection that got me in to Ravenna well before 6 am. But there was no other option and I finally managed to pay and get the tickets, though I did then spend some time in the queue for the booking office that had an actual person in it to check that all I then needed to do was board the train.

But that was several hours later, and there was hardly anywhere in the station where one could sit. I then went to the left luggage place but that closed at 9, well before the train left, and I did not want to risk finding it closed. So trundling my bag behind me, I wandered into the streets of Rome, along streets familiar from times spent in cheap hotels by the station, including in 2016 when I had actually found a museum I had not seen before, and also went once more to see Michelangelo’s statue of St. Peter in Chains.

I had an entertaining evening, reminiscent of the diversions of younger days, and then had supper on the way back in a Bangladeshi restaurant before lingering in front of St. Maria Maggiore, for pictures of what I had begun to realize might well be my last sight of the Eternal City. Before that is a ruin at the entrance of the Giardini Nicola Calipari, one of the sudden joys one comes across in wandering through Rome.

My last post here before I went abroad at the end of October was the last post about the backwaters of Kerala. So a couple of weeks and more later I move to another journey, one in which I was able, as I do increasingly now, to reflect on past journeys too.

An idyll in Croatia

At the end of October I flew to Rome, the first international journey this year which I financed entirely myself. I had been out three times earlier, but for all these trips I had been sent a ticket for meetings although I did supplement these with further travel on my own, to England and to Georgia, to Rajasthan and to Kerala.

The main focus of my trip this time was Croatia, to stay with my dear friends Daniel and Branka Ridicki, who became very much a part of my life after I met Daniel a decade back. He stayed on in Colombo for several years, and produced for me a fantastic series of interview which is available on his youtube channel

http://www.danielridicki.com/the_past_is_another_country

while some can also be seen on

https://www.youtube.com/user/ReconcileSriLanka

He moved to India a few years back, and I saw him in Delhi, but then having given up his diplomatic post he went back to Croatia, and has now bought himself a lovely place in the country which he is busy doing up, together with Branka and his two lively daughters. I was able to spend a few days with them in that beautiful place, the first time I stayed home as it were while in the Balkans, after my first visit there 50 years ago when I stayed with the Kovac family.

I travelled much in the country that summer, but I also had days in between in a little flat in Ljubljana, where I read much and went for walks with Helga Kovac and Ayra the baby from Sri Lanka they had adopted. And this time too I had a very relaxing time with the Ridickis after intense travel, in Italy and then in Croatia.

Those I will come to but I thought it best to start here with the highlight of the trip, the tranquil country setting, the courtyard round which were several buildings, the main house, an outside kitchen beautifully painted by Daniel’s daughters, and a beautifully designed studio for Branka, a marvellous painter who gave me a picture for my 60th birthday that hangs in my cottage.

Beyond the inner courtyard is a verdant field, soon doubtless to be covered in snow, where perhaps there will in time be livestock. And on the other side, by the roadside, looking on the main house to the right and the red wooden outside wall of the kitchen, windows picked out in white, is an arbour where their senior dog Luna lay for a picture. Unfortunately I failed to capture perhaps the most evocative sight of my stay there, when I stepped out of the little flat they had given me after a restful afternoon, to see Daniel sitting in the arbour relishing the peace and beauty of his new setting. 

I had sat there myself as soon as I got there, after Daniel picked me up at the nearby station, for it was still very sunny. But three days later it had begun to rain so it was too cold for me to join Daniel there. But I recall that sight fondly, as I do the wonderful warm times in the kitchen where he produced the most delicious food.

I am posting a bit early today, for soon I have to leave for the airport, and I may not be able to post tomorrow. I thought it best however to conclude my account of Kerala, since this is the last post and there was no point in keeping the series hanging.

The 26th of September was my last day in Kerala but it was also unfortunately a Jewish holiday and the synagogue was closed, so I could not go in this time. And I suspect much has changed, for the road that gave access to it, which I remembered as a sleepy little street, was full now of touristy shops. Still, I bought there a delightful little fish, which I got at a good price, for it was early and I was the first customer.

Then, for I realized I had walked a long way, I took a trishaw back, and got down near the hotel as I thought, only to find that I was near the basilica. That was just as well, for I could then meander to St. Francis’s Church, which was indeed open, and look at the memorial tablets dating back to Portuguese and then Dutch times. But then I rushed back to the hotel so I could check out on time, leaving my luggage there while I went to have lunch by the sea.

This was a weekday morning, but the promenade was as packed as it had been the previous morning. The place was full of vendors of foodstuffs and toys, and I was tempted by mango achcharu which I had not tasted from a street vendor for decades, not since the days of the man who squatted outside the college gates with his delicious offerings. Having enjoyed this in only a slightly more sophisticated incarnation, I decided I would have snacks instead of lunch, and so, having walked to the end of the promenade, I had an ice-cream cone, and then, on the way back, corn on the cob, demanding more and more of the chili powder rubbed on it with a segment of lime.

I had sat for this, as for the achcharu, on one of the many benches alongside the promenade, watching the gulls floating in the distance and then swooping down to the shore by the seaside. That was a lovely sight, in the bright morning light, just as the previous night the ships going by against the setting sun had been. And my joy in the scene was tinged with melancholy, for I realized that this was probably my last time in Kerala, my fourth visit, twice for sightseeing, and twice in between for meetings, a workshop on liberalism for youngsters and then a gathering of the Australia Studies Association.

But now I had to leave, though the hotel proprietor had suggested, when I asked the previous afternoon how long the bus would take, that it would be quicker and easier to take the ferry to Ernakulam. When I got to the hotel he was out, but a visitor who turned out to be his brother engaged me in conversation, and said that he would be going back to Ernakulam and we could go together. So I waited while he had lunch with his brother, and then took a trishaw with him to the ferry station, and boarded the ferry which stopped first at Willingdon Island before getting to the mainland to get to the station for my overnight train to Chennai. The last four pictures are all from that ferry ride, with the tower of the synagogue and a detail from St. Francis’ church to start with, and then part of my feast that afternoon by the seaside.

It was a lovely afternoon, and the ride across the sea, dotted with islands, brought home to me as my previous visits had failed to do, the marvelous situation of Cochin, which had provided the European adventurers with their first main gateway to the East.

Once again I was up before dawn, that morning at Waves and Wind, and went up as the proprietor had advised to the bridge above the hotel to look at the sunrise. But that was not as good a view as the sunset had been from the hotel garden, so after it became light I read in my room and worked outside until breakfast. The proprietor, who had shown me his father’s house a little way along the lakeside, had however gone back to Quilon for the night, but he had said he would be back. So I waited for him, before getting a trishaw to the main road where I got a bus to Cochin, now Kochi, where I had booked a hotel in the Fort for my last night in Kerala.

Unfortunately the bus stopped miles away, so I had a very expensive trishaw ride to the hotel, which it took us some time to find. And it did not have much of a view, which was most disappointing after the splendours of the last four days. Still, it was near enough to the few sights I wanted to see, the Santa Cruz Basilica and the St. Francis church, which was closed though I noted that there was a festival there the next day.

And then I had a look at the elegant buildings of the Kerala Club, before a long walk on the beach, when I could not resist a paddle before dinner. That was at a lovely little restaurant by the seaside promenade, and I ate as the sun was setting, buriyani with squid and lime juice. And then I walked past the Chinese fishing nets, before an early night.

Getting up early next morning was not much use since coffee proved impossible to get. By the time I was told it would be available I had finished work on the computer, so I set off and walked along the street alongside the sea, but there were buildings all along the way and I only just glimpsed the sea at one of the ferry terminals. But then I came across a hotel that, unusually, had a lakeside view, housed in a beautiful old building that had been renovated. It had a canopied restaurant on the lake, and I had breakfast there, lingering over the view with my coffee before then setting off to the Matancherry Palace through little side-streets intersected by canals and bridges.

I could not remember the Palace at all from my first visit to Kerala, way back in 1989, when I had also slept in Cochin. I should have, for it had splendid colourful frescoes on the wall, though sadly these could not be photographed. But I loved the building and its ceilings, the view over the lake, and also the pictures including of a family cricket team. Then it was on to the Jewish synagogue, which I did remember from 1989, and the plaintive declaration of the custodian who said there were just over 20 Jews left in the town, which had boasted an influential Jewish settlement for two millennia. Now, I was told by the security guard, there were just two left, an old couple in their eighties.

Once again there are lots of pictures, for I realize that poetry here lies in these rather than my prose. I begin with sunrise and early morning at Waves and Wind and then sunset in Cochin, Then we have the Kerala Club and the view at breakfast next morning, followed by the Chinese fishing nets and then the view from the Cochin Palace and details of its ceiling and a decorated door.

I had wondered during that day what to do on the next. Though Ashtamudi Villas was delightful, I thought I should try something different, so in the afternoon I booked into Waves and Wind, which I had been thinking of the previous day, believing that it was on the seashore. But that evening I was disabused of this notion by the proprietor of the Villas who struck up a conversation as I was working in the tented area after my coffee.

A little later he approached me again to say the other hotel also belonged to him. He was wondering if I minded staying at the Villas another night, since some friends of his would be at the Waves, and they were wondering about getting another room, the place having just the three. But I said I thought a change would be nice, not least because I wanted a sea beach. He corrected me, for that hotel was also on the lake, but the view of the water there was wider, looking westward, and he understood my desire for a good sunset.

I had wanted early coffee, but the boys at the hotel told me firmly they got up long after sunrise. They provided me however with a kettle and coffee and milk, so I was up before dawn and at the edge of the lake as the sun rose. Then I worked under the tent as it got hotter, having to wait till the boys were up for breakfast. That included a delicious savoury omelette, plus hot toast with lashings of butter and a bit of jam.

They suggested I wait till late morning, to allow the other hotel time to get my room ready. Meals were not easy to get there, they said, so I decided to order lunch, which was good enough though sadly the restaurant that serviced the place had no prawns. Till then I read in the cool of my room, and after that they arranged a trishaw which took me to the other place. That had a lovely lawn on the shore of the lake, with rooms set back, and I had the place to myself till evening, to work outside – here too wifi was excellent – and to read and sleep in the warm afternoon.  

This place had just the one boy in charge, but he was good about coffee which I had outside as the heat of the sun diminished, and then my friend the proprietor turned up, as did his friends. I asked him about a beer, but he said it would be complicated to get some, and instead offered me some brandy, which I drank by the side of the lake as the sun set. I then worked a bit more on my computer outside the room, but realized it was time to go inside when the others in the hotel appeared. I read and had cajdu for dinner and then slept without disturbance, though I saw next morning that the others had had lots to eat and drink after I had retired.

I start with two pictures of the glorious sunset there before going back to sunrise at the Astamudi Villas and the tree trunk on which I could sit with my coffee, in between pictures of the villas early morning when no one else was up and the Waves and Wind in the afternoon, and then myself against the waters with my afternoon coffee, in the bright light of sunset and then as night fell and lights came on across the lake.

Rajiva Wijesinha

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