Romania’s spectacular Bucegi Mountains

Here's me at Omul summit

Here’s me at Omul summit

Looking across the tops, back in the direction we had just come from.

View across the mountain tops, from near to Omul summit.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” Psalm 121 has always been one of my favourite parts of the Bible. (For the benefit of non-native English speaking readers, this is the old language of the King James Bible published in 1611, which is more beautiful than modern versions). I’ve always enjoyed reading the words or hearing it read aloud, but only recently have I directly experienced its practical truth. Mountains really do refresh you not only physically but also spiritually. It’s not surprising that so many of the world’s religions besides Christianity view them as sacred. Think of the Greeks with Mount Olympus, home of the gods. Continue reading

Lucca and the Puccini Festival

The Amphitheatre in Lucca

The Amphitheatre in Lucca

Curtain call after Turandot, Torre del Lago

Curtain call after Turandot, Torre del Lago

Having been to an opera in the Verona Arena the previous year, I was keen to go this year to the Puccini Festival, which takes place every year in Torre del Lago, where the composer lived for much of his life. I based myself in Lucca, where Puccini was born. There are many Puccini related sights in Lucca, including his birthplace, and an exhibition of costumes from his operas at the Giglio Theatre. The town also has several impressive churches including the cathedral, San Frediano and the St Michael church, with its beautiful façade. Continue reading

A few Lucca and Torre del Lago practicalities.

Torre del Lago in the evening

Torre del Lago in the evening

Lucca street

Lucca street

Lucca accommodation

You can’t go wrong with Guest Apartment Margherita http://www.guestapartmentmargheritabb.it/indexh.php

Puccini Festival tickets

These can be booked online via www.puccinifestival.it . You don’t get an e ticket- you must print the payment receipt and exchange it for a ticket in Torre del Lago.

Transport to and from the opera

I looked into several possibilities for where to base myself to get to the opera and back afterwards. Continue reading

Odessa: Boulevards, Opera and the Potemkin Steps

Opera House, Odessa.

Opera House, Odessa

 

The Potemkin Steps.

The Potemkin Steps.

Odessa is one of Europe’s great cities. It has long, tree lined boulevards flanked by impressive buildings. It has a beautiful opera house, and its historic centre is high above the port, at the top of the Potemkin Steps, the city’s best known attraction, made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film, The Battleship Potemkin. Continue reading

Chernivtsi, Ukraine: University town and centre of cultures

Chernivtsi Central Square.

Chernivtsi Central Square.

The approach to the University. There is a tradition that students do not walk on the gravel except at the start of the year and on graduation.

The approach to the University. There is a tradition that students do not walk on the gravel except at the start of the year and on graduation.

With another public holiday weekend, I had the chance to explore some areas of Western Ukraine, which I hadn’t managed to see on my trip the previous month. I was especially keen to see Chernivtsi, another city in an area where there are so many cultural influences. I’d been in 1993, using a Baedeker guide from the 1930s, but this time I had more up to date information. Chernivtsi was an important city in the Habsburg Monarchy, and a university town from 1875. Continue reading

Chernivtsi practicalities

Chernivtsi Central Square by night

Chernivtsi Central Square by night

Chernivtsi Accommodation

I stayed at Allureinn on the central square. The main advantage is the location, and the room was comfortable and clean. The electrical system is unusual- there are some dials next to the bed on what looks like a radio, but actually you turn these to work the bed and table lights as well as the TV. Fine once you understand it! Staff are helpful, and there is always someone available who speaks English, though not all the receptionists do. Continue reading

Khotyn and Kamyanets practicalities

Chernivtsi bus station

Chernivtsi bus station

I went to Khotyn and Kamyanets on a day trip from Chernivtsi by public bus. I had an early start (at 07.50) and it was a long day, but I felt I had enough time for both places. I returned from Kamyanets on a bus which was due to leave at 17.30, actually left around 18.00, and which got me back to Chernivtsi around 19.20-19.30. Continue reading

Western Ukraine, May 2014

Rynok Square, Lviv

Rynok Square, Lviv

The Lviv opera house

The Lviv opera house

When I told friends and colleagues that I was planning a trip to Ukraine, they thought it sounded a bit crazy, as the media was full of reports of the conflict in the east. Actually the west of the country was calm and a long way from the unrest. I’d been lucky enough to see Crimea in August 2013, and had been planning the trip to the western part of the country, to make a comparison, long before the maidan demonstrations began. Continue reading