Still in Palermo!

I’ve been in Palermo, capital of Sicily, the large island off the boot of Italy for 6 days now, waiting for a ferry to Tunisia! I was supposed to leave on Saturday, but missed the boat, getting lost whilst attempting to find a bus stop on a quiet street in the centre and struggling because of not possessing any Italian! Therefor I’ve spent the last two days moving from one small hostel on Via Lincoln to a large property on the other side of the city on Via Dante! This involved finding yet more bus stops then walking in the vague direction of the accommodation in humid weather with a heavy pack on my back. I had to cross several roads during my trip, with little help from the Italian shouting locals. Although, one kind Sicilian couple did help me find the building in question. I’m now ensconced on a couch inside Casa Amici Hostel, typing this latest blog! A nice big hostel on a first floor with comfy furniture and a balcony, where the included breakfast is surved daily. Palermo is a noisy, lively city with constant honking horns, busy traffic, smelly streets and obstacle cluttered pavements, often filled with fast-walking locals rushing to who knows where and pushing and shubbing their way on and off buses and in and out of doorways. The smelles of the streets largely eninate from the heat and blockages of the suers, mingled with the cooking of greasy kebabs, chips/fries, onions and an assortment of spices and herbs! The large sprawling city offers a plethora of historical churches covered in gold outside and paintings and frescos inside, but I avoided most of these as they all seem to lack audio guides. The one exception being the 12th century Cappella Palatina (Palatine Chapel), royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily with its famous mosaics It’s situated on the first floor of the large Palazzo dei Normanni (Norman Palace/Royal Palace). At present, the palace buildings appear to be only open to the public on weekends, but the chapel , gardens and grounds seem open daily. The building is, apparently, the oldest royal residence in Europe. A touch-screen audio guide is available in several European languages for a fee. However, this device is not user-friendly for blind/visually impaired people, because sight is required to operate the buttons to select and play each commentary! Fortunately, my girlfriend, Tatiana and I were accompanied by one of the palace’s staff members, who kindly started each commentary for us when required. Unfortunately, being severely deaf and using hearing aids, I found the English commentary difficult to hear and understand, especially as it played classical music in the background! For sighted visitors the chapel would be fascinating and spectacular, especially the mosaics. Palermo also has many squares, some of them quite interesting and atmospheric: Piazza Indipendendza near the Norman Palace, Piazza Pretoria with its Fountana Vergogna (Fountain of shame), named because the many naked statues on the monumental fountain appeared to represent the political and social corruption of many cities of 16th-17th century Sicily! Another lively area, full of cafes, bars, restaurants, shops is the Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena, a Baroque square at the meeting point of Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, Palermo’s two main avenues. The 17th century octagonal square is situated at the symbolic crossroads at the old city. 4 sides contain streetswith busy traffic, the other 4 sides are Baroque buildings, their near-identical facades contain fountains with statues of the 4 seasons, the 4 Spanish kings of Sicily, and of the patronesses of Palermo: Christina, Ninfa, Olivia and Agata. Nearby is the small La Martorana church with byzantine mosaics. I learnt about the scenery of the buildings in the piazza after meeting an Italian couple near one of the corners of the piazza. Luckily, the fountains were on and Tatiana and I were able to appreciate and enjoy the gentle flow of water emanating from one of these architectural bowls. The Palermo Cathedral (Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary), located in this central area, is also worth visiting. The large, 12th-18th century, multi-architectural stile church is free to enter. But, the crypt, royal tombs, terraces and treasury require a ticket. There are many more fascinating sites to visit in this thriving city, several f them of UNESCO Heritage status, but after two days trawling around the long streets and cobblestone squares in the heat and humidity of a late September summer I’d had enough and headed for the cooler domains of the hostels and cafes. I’ve spent my last two evenings eating kebabs and drinking coke or water, having brief conversations with other travellers in my accommodation and generally relaxed as I wait for the ferry to take me to Tunisia, country 132. After nearly a month in Sicily with its more friendly and helpful locals, more friendly than people in mainland Italy, to me at least, I’m looking forward to the next adventure and a different culture. Sicily’s highlights are the atmospheres in Palermo and Catania, Ortygia Island off Syracusa, and Ragusa with its historical charm and many steps to and from Ibla, its historical heart. Discovering the snack food arancini, croquette filled rice, cheese, tomato appitisers was wonderful and fulfilling. Whilst trying granini, a creamy almond-based sweet was less delightful, but worth trying. I also liked Cannoli, tubular pastries or biskits filled with sweet ricotta cheese. Sicily’s seafood pasta dishes are largely outstanding and relatively inexpensive. The swordfish cuisine is particuarly delicious. Sicily has so much to offer the traveller; great and tasty food at reasonable prices, plenty of historical Greeko-Roman ruins such as the Valley of The Temples near Agrigento and the buildings and ruins in Syracuse on the east coast, plus architecture from a variety of styles and periods. There are also sandy beaches and peaceful islands to escape the chaos of the larger cities like Palermo, Trapani, Messina. So there’s something for everyone. Ok, time to go, Tunis is next. I have to go and try and sell more Ebooks! Seeing the World My Way, republished, 2017 Seeing The Americas My Way, 2016 Available to download from all Ebook sites – a kindle device is not necessarily required. I’m editing my third travel Ebook as I finish this blog. Happy travels, Tony 😊

— Tony Giles blind solo traveller, author of Ebooks:
*Seeing The Americas My Way* An emotional journey (2016) Available from Amazon – Kobo –
*Seeing The World My Way* A totally blind and partially deaf guy’s global adventures (2010)
Second edition is available from all Ebook sites.
Website: Facebook: YouTube:

Good news

Hi all followers. I hope everyone is well. I’m now in Singapore, country 115 on the UN list and 130 on my own list of countries. I have some good news. Both my Ebooks are once again available to download on both Amazon sites. This is excellent. I hope everyone who buy’s one of my Ebooks enjoys them and gets a smile if nothing else. Many thanks for following and supporting. I’ll have another video documentary to share soon. Warmest regards, Tony :).

Travels in Beirut

I arrived in Beirut, capital of Lebanon in the early hours of 2nd March 2018. I quickly discovered that people are, for the most part, friendly and hospitable. A 15-minute taxi journey took me from the country’s only international airport to my hostel, Saifi Urban Gardens, on Pasteur Street , Behind Coral Gas Station. The short ride in the cool evening air cost US$25 or 38,000 Lebanese Pounds, the local currency. The taxi driver struggled to find the hostel’s entrance, but after a few minutes and asking several padestrians, he found it and we descended a flight of deep stone steps before entering a building and ascending three flights of modern steps. The security guard helped me to my wooden bunk and I gained the wifi password, paid for the taxi and hit the sack. The hostel is attached to a language school for people wanting to learn Arabic. Breakfast is included in the price of an US$18 bed in a 6 or 4 bed dorm. Wifi is free. I spent my first full day in Lebanon sleeping and relaxing. I’d spent the Wednesday night, 28th February at Stansted airport, ensuring I didn’t get stuck in the snow descending on the UK and miss my flight. Thus, it meant Friday was a day of relaxation. On my second full day, a Saturday, I met up with a freelance photographer named Jacob Russell from England and, together, we did some filming for a show called the ‘Big Story’, a subciddery programme of CNN. It was during this filming that I discovered Beirut is rather difficult to navigate alone if you’re disabled! Many of the pavements/sidewalks are broken or full of obsticles such as small posts, rubbish, overhanging trees, plantpots and, most noticeably, parked vehicles! I found a phalanx of mopeds on the pavement, moments after departing from the hostel, these I was able to negociate and move around. The traffic was continuous and the fumes were heavy, an unpleasant smell and sound combined with constant banging and drilling from the seemingly, never-ending construction – horrific! I guess it lends the city an atmosphere of sorts! My first mission was to find the Place de Martyrs, crossing roads was a major challenge as there are no audio crosswalks or lights, so I had to simply lisson for when the traffic in front of me was quiet and chance it. Jacob helpde me, but there seemed to be very few padestrians in that area and doing this alone would have been more difficult. We kept having to leave the pavement and walk in the road alongside the busy traffic due to obsticles and unpassable pavements. Rubble was everywhere. On my third day, when walking into downtown with fellow travellers I’d met, we had to climb over low, concrete walls and walk over thick gravel – a challenging way to traverse a city! Once Jacob and I reached Place de Martyrs, a small square surrounded by traffic with a high monument in its centre, consisting of a tall stone base with 4 metallic figures on top. Two were nealing while two more were leaning back. They are a tribute to the martyrs who rose up against the Ottaman Turk dictaters during the First World War (1914-1918). They were just out of my reach, so Jacob found a plastic chair for me to stand on and I was able to explore the knee of one statue. It contain many bullet holes from the recent Lebanese conflicts! Jacob move the chair along to the right and I was able to grasp one of the figures’s hands. The figures are on a large scale and made of rustic metal. From Place d Martyrs we continued to the nearby Mohammed Al Amin Mosque with its striking amber-coloured blue-dome and 4 minerits. Jacob described the dome to me. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to film outside or inside the mosque due to the paranoia of the nearby security due to the mosque’s close proximity to parliament! Notwithstanding this, I took a couple of photos of the mosque’s outer colomns and we ascended the steps, removed our shoes and entered. I Enjoyed the soft carpet under my feet and listened as a local guide gave me a brief history of the mosque. Its construction began in 2002 and was finished in 2008. When people stand in line, one behind the other, it can, apparently, hold 5,000 people. We exited and took a taxi to Hamra, another of Beirut’s afluent districts. On Hamra Street which, amid its many shiny shops and tall tower blocks, contains the Red House, the oldest building in the neighbourhood. I don’t know if we passed as I only learnt about the famous landmark building later, but it was probably captured in the filming. I walked up and down a couple of streets, including passing a delightful florest with its aray of fine sents wafting towards me from the shop’s inner doorway. Jacob filmed me crossing a couple of roads before we headed to the Cornish, a long pedestrian walkway that parallels the Mediterranean Sea and runs from the harbour all the way to the point, where The Pigeon Rocks can be viewed just off shore. He noticed a small stony beach below the wall and helped me clamber down a series of broken rocks, put together as rough steps! Lebanon doesn’t have helth and safety! Once on the pebbled beach, I used my cane and stumbled towards where music emanated from some kind of boombox, found a largish rock and put my arse on it and listened to the Arabic music and the waves. I relaxed in the warm 22 degrees celcius sun. Eventually, Jacob found us a public minibus back to the area where my hostel was located and we headed home. The following day, Sunday 4th March, I met up with a group of travellers, who were staying in Beirut Hostel, roughly a 15 minute walk from my location. An English guy named Jason, from Surrey, had contacted me on facebook after viewing one of my recent documentaries. We arrived in Beirut around the same time and he asked if I wished to wander around Beirut with him for a day. I agreed so he, along with another English guy, Dave, a delightful guy from Turkey named Anil and a Dutch girl, Claire arrived around middday. We headed to the Mosque I’d visited the previous day, but this time, spent longer there relaxing on the exquisite carpet whilst people prayed all around us. Eventually we departed and wandered along the street, photographing nearby attractive buildings, including the closed 19th century Maronite Cathedral of St George and a series of roman colomns, reportedly once part of the grand colonade of Roman Berytus. Our wanderings led us to padestrianised Nejmeh Square with its famed clock tower and clusters of military personell, armed to the teeth and over-ancious! As it was a Sunday, it was alive with families and music booming from large speakers. Kids were on trampoleens and the aromas of various international cuisines could be smelt all around. I was in my element and absorbed the lively atmosphere. Eventually, after finding no Lebanese food in the near vicinity, we took a taxi to Dora District, my suggestion, and went in search of other food. We ended up upstairs in a tiny restaurant called New Indo-Lanka, recommended to me by Jacob. It was crouded and busy, alive with noise and conversation. Elbow to elbow, the 5 of us tucked into a delicious lamb curry, washed down by very sweet Indian tea! This accomplished, we haled another taxi and honked our way back to the area of my hostel. Unfortunately, someone got the name of the street we wanted slightly wrong and the taxi tookus in a wrong direction before gaining the correct information. Upon our arrival, the taxi driver, behaving aratically to begin with, became irate and demanded more money. He became angry and aggressive shouting loudly and demanding $20, even though we’d already agreed a price. The matter finally resolved. My new friends walked back to the hostel with me. There ended my first few days in fascinating,but complicated Beirut!

Tony Travelling!

It’s snowing all over many parts of the UK tonight! Yet here I am, sitting in a cafe in Stansted Airport, waiting for a flight to Istanbul and onto Beirut, Lebanon. If the flight goes to morrow morning and, they allow me entry into Lebanon, it will be country 126! Feeling a little tired after a day of travelling on trains from Exeter, Devon all the way to first East Croydon to see a mate, and then onto Stansted Airport, but I’m excited to be moving once again. So keep warm everyone in the UK, busy working tonight, or stuck in cars on the motorways. I’m thinking of you all. Cheers, Tony :).

A day out in Canterbury

My partner, Tatiana, and I visited Canterbury Cathedral, the head of the Anglican church in England. It is an important, historical, religious monument and building of significance. I’m not religious, but love visiting historical churches and cathedrals, because they are a part of British history, which I find fascinating. Our history tells us where we came from and what we have become and, can often, give an indication of where we might be going in the future. Anyway, my real point is, that Canterbury Cathedral is not only fascinating, for its scale and architecture and sculpture and stained glass windows but, more importantly to my girlfriend and I, for having such a magnificent audio guide with tremendous descriptive commentary, full of intriguing information. Notwithstanding this, there is also a detailed 3-D model of the cathedral along side a tactile floor plan. Accompanying the model is an audio description on a Daisy Book machine, available for all blind/visually impaired visitors. It is only available in English, but it gives the blind/visually impaired person a detailed description of the cathedral, allowing an individual to follow the directions along the cathedral by running their hands over the model whilst listening to the description. After feeling the model and floor plan of the cathedral whilst listening to the commentary, I was able to form an impression of the inner layout of the building in my mind’s eye. It was most constructive and will allow me and other blind/visually impaired people to better understand the cathedral’s size, scale and layout, and make navigating the huge monument much easier and more enjoyable. Thank you Canterbury Cathedral for providing the helpful and useful model and audio description. Maybe other significant buildings and monuments throughout the UK could follow suit and provide such tactile models and audio descriptions as it would enhance the enjoyment and gratification to any blind/visually impaired visitor. I strongly recommend visiting this British historical/religious place in the heart of Canterbury, in Kent on the southeast coast of the UK. Thanks for reading and listening. Enjoy, Tony :)