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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Bari, Museum at the Sacrario

Sacrario dei caduti d'oltremare

At the ground level of the sacrarium, there is a military museum with displays on the campaigns the Italians were involved in. The casualties of those campaigns make up the names of those interred at the sacrarium.

It's a typical military museum with a variety of old guns, etc. It was interesting for me to see the maps and pictures of campaigns such as Tobruk which I had learnt from the English/Australian side.

This photo I found quite poignant.

The caption states that it's Australian soldiers helping an injured German soldier captured at El Alamein. 

One section of the museum, it's divided into various campaigns and countries.

It's not just World War II campaigns but older ones as well. This was the Eritrea and Somalia campaigns from the 1930s.

In the cases are 2 outfits from those countries, brought back as trophies.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Bari, Sacrario dei caduti d'oltremare

Bari, Sacrarium of those fallen overseas

The reason for my trip to Bari, in southern Italy was to visit this military cemetery. (An aside, I also had an extra language lesson! Being that it's a military cemetery or war cemetery I translated the English terms into Italian and was met with puzzlement. It turns out this particular site is called a 'sacrario' which translates into English as sacrarium, and I had to look that word up too! It means sanctuary, that does have a nicer connotation for those who visit their war dead, to visit a sanctuary, rather than a cemetery.)

Visiting the sacrarium was a step into family history for me as my mother has a family member whose remains are interred there. Other family members from my mother's side of the family had visited in the past and Mum had expressed an interest in going there as well, we happened to be in Italy at the same time so I organised the travel details for us to visit.

The Sacrarium from the road. 

It was built in the 1960s to house the remains of Italian soldiers who died in foreign lands, in Ethiopia, Libya, Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia (now listed as ex-Yugoslavia). From what I've been told the Italian government took the decision to transfer the remains of soldiers buried in foreign cemeteries when those buried in Africa were at risk of their graves being desecrated in the early 1960s. The remains of those in Europe were also transferred. In my mother's family's case their relative was killed in what was then Yugoslavia and had originally been buried in a cemetery in Ljubljana (now in Slovenia).

The Sacrarium is on two levels, up the stairs there are the main vaults holding the remains of the soldiers, it's divided into locations. We then knew to look in the Yugoslavia section (the Italians spell it Jugoslavia) and then it's in alphabetical order (not rank) to it's easy enough to find who you are looking for. The staff there were very helpful and found him for us and brought a ladder so I could go up and take a picture as his name plate was right at the top!)

Once up the steps there is this internal courtyard with the vaults around it.

From the courtyard looking across to the entrance and the sea beyond. It is a very nice setting.

At the back of the courtyard there is a staircase from which you go down into the crypt. There along the walls are lists of names, again divided into countries. This list is for those who died in Greece or Yugoslavia and whose remains were not found.

There are also plaques listing the number of remains that they weren't able to identify, so in Yugoslavia, there were 4,500 unknown soldiers.

This is the altar in the crypt, there is also a separate chapel that opens out into the grounds where a weekly Mass is still held.

I didn't know this when I took the picture, I was just taking a general grounds photo. But the arches in the background are a replica of a roman aqueduct from the Libyan war cemetery where the remains of those killed in Libya were initially buried. The central arch apparently was the entrance to the war cemetery.

The arches in the background represent the major African campaigns where Italian soldiers died.

The Sacrarium was both a lovely and sad place to visit. Lovely as it's a beautifully maintained way of honouring those soldiers who lost their lives and sad when you consider that they lost their lives due to decisions that their leaders had made.

I also learnt the actual story of my family member, our family comes from the peninsula of Istria, between WWI and WWII it was part of Italy. As the war progressed men were conscripted in the Italian army, my ancestor was 28 at the time (which was in the older age group) but he was an educated man, he was a teacher and was conscripted at the rank of Lieutenant. During the time he was serving in the army he was still studying and only 20 days before he was killed he had gone to Turin to take his final exams for his doctorate so he could be a professor. When I heard that part of his story my initial reaction was "What a waste". His family were devastated to lose him, but also what a waste to cut his life so short and deprive the world of the potential that he had. I also know that he spoke 5 languages, including English which was unusual at the time considering where he lived. (As children, my brothers and I loved to explore my mother's old family home, where many generations had lived. The attics were full of all sorts of interesting things, I remember being surprised in finding old books in English, my brothers found the uniform studs and sash from a military uniform. It turned out these had all belonged to this relative.) The other story I had been told about him was that he had helped 3 Jewish doctors escape from Italy (and the influence of the Nazi campaign of imprisonment and eventual extermination). The mother of one of these doctors wrote a letter to him thanking him for what he had done, it's a prized family possession held by an elderly aunt. 

My relative is only one of the 70,000 whose remains are interred at the sacrarium, so there are 70,000 other stories of men whose lives were mourned and cut short.

It's hard to see but this sign lists:

Those fallen in wars who are identified 34,461

Those fallen in wars who are not identified 40,389

The other lists are the amounts of soldiers who are interred at the sacrarium and the decorations they received.

Although this sign states it's the fallen from 1940 to 1945, that may have been the case initially when bringing the remains back to Italy. It now houses the remains from earlier campaigns such as Albania which predate WWII.

Bari also has a separate war cemetery which houses the Commonwealth War Graves. (The taxi driver with whom we had a confused conversation, at first thought we meant that cemetery, as while Mum and I sound like native Italian speakers, we don't know all the correct terms! We kept saying 'war cemetery' rather than 'sacrarium'. Although the 'war cemetery' as the taxi driver called it isn't 'The American cemetery' once we established we wanted the Italian one! It's the British and Commonwealth forces who are buried there.)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

North Queensland


Okay so not that much of a tourist attraction but there's just so much of it to see in north Queensland. According to our guide to the local region the sugarcane stretches south for over 2,000 kilometres. (That's a lot of sugar!) Australia gets all of its sugar from sugarcane, I was surprised to learn years ago that Europe gets theirs from sugar beets. (It seems there's not a lot of tropical weather for the growth of sugarcane!!)

Sugarcane used to be harvested by hand, with men going out into the cane fields and slashing at the cane with machetes. It was hard and slow work, and one that provided employment for immigrant workers. It's interesting to see the amount of north Queenslanders who farm sugarcane that have Italian surnames and yet speak English with broad north Queensland accents! Their fathers and grandfathers first went up north to earn money by cutting cane, some then earned enough money to buy their own places and their descendants continue to grown sugarcane.

The cane is now cut by a mechanical harvester which was invented in Australia. From the harvester it gets loaded onto large bins which run on railway lines, there are railway tracks running alongside the road. It's currently harvesting time so I saw quite a few sugarcane bins, either full or empty on the tracks. A train then transports the full bins to the mill.

Returning back to Port Douglas, we were stopped at one train crossing as a loaded up train was going into the mill.

At the train crossing in Mossman, with the old country hotel in the background. Mossman is an agricultural town servicing the local area.

This shows the size of the train carrying the harvested sugarcane to the mill (which is just further up the picture, there's some feint smoke in the centre which was coming from the chimney at the mill) The train with all its carriages was incredibly long, it really made an impression as to how much sugarcane is harvested 'up north'.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Mossman Gorge, North Queensland

Mossman Gorge

The second stop on the half day tour I did was at Mossman Gorge, which is about 10 minutes from Port Douglas. We arrived in the late afternoon and had a stop in the cafe at the Visitors' Centre for afternoon tea. And a very nice afternoon tea it was! Damper with jam, cream or honey, which was delicious and then there were a variety of drinks (hot or cold) you could select from. It turns out we all went for the tea, as it was a Daintree blend, so we supported the local industry!

The Mossman Gorge is at the southern end of the Daintree Rainforest which is the oldest rainforest in the world and has World Heritage listing. (Yep research!) 

A fairly new addition is the visitors' centre, with a cafe, art gallery and gift shop (and toilets!) From the visitors' centre you take a shuttle bus to the gorge itself. This was put into place as the constant stream of vehicles going down to the gorge was causing some environmental damage, so to reduce the traffic on the local roads, tourists park their cars (plus the tour buses/vans) in the carpark at the visitors' centre and use the shuttle bus. (I did see a few hardy souls who were walking as well, it's quite a distance)

The gorge is lovely, being there late in the day there weren't many people so quite peaceful.

The Mossman river, the water is flowing quite fast from the rainforest covered mountains which can just be seen in the background. The water level is low at the moment as the northern part of Australia is just coming out of the Dry Season. The Wet Season is when it receives large quantities of rainfall.

Path through the forest, there's a circular trail that takes you around the gorge.

Water flowing into the swimming hole. There's a tiny beach if you want to go in and swim. It's one of the attractions of coming to the gorge, to swim in the fresh water. It is crystal clear, you can see right to the bottom and see the fish swimming around as well. I passed on swimming, cold water doesn't appeal that much to me!

In the upper part of this tree, you can see a vine with its leaves either side. It looked like a little ladder to me, and it appealed to my sense of fantasy. I loved the Magic Faraway tree books as a child, so this tree had a little ladder for all the magic folk to return to their homes.

This tree had a sign nearby explaining that some of the flora in the rainforest is parasitic, and this was a good example, with different plants attaching themselves to a large host.

It was a lovely way to spend some time wandering around the gorge. Apart from the environment I was quite impressed how the running of the tourist development at the gorge has a high presence of the local indigenous population. There is a community that lives close to the gorge and there seems to be a commitment that the visitors' centre provide employment to locals. The front of staff workers, (at the cafe, giftshop, gallery) and the shuttle bus drivers that I encountered were all indigenous.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Shantara Resort, Port Douglas

Shantara Resort, Port Douglas

Loved it, highly recommend!


I ended up selecting the second most expensive option! It was an one bedroom apartment with walkin pool access. It wasn't the most expensive as I opted not to have the daily service of the room. (For a 3 day stay it was fine) Other options were a studio with pool access, apartments or studios with balcony views of the pool. Being able to just stroll out and into the pool was fabulous so worth the extra money!

The patio area, all you had to do was open the gate and you were at the pool.


The resort is located on the main road into Port Douglas close to the town centre. It's a five minute walk to Four Mile Beach in one direction, probably about 15 minutes to the Marina (where the reef and boat cruises depart) in the opposite direction. And 5 minutes to the Macrossan St, the main street of Port Douglas with the restaurants, cafes and shops. So excellent location.


It was an apartment so separate bedroom, it had a well equipped kitchen with everything you would need. 

Entrance and lounge area


Bedroom with Japanese shoji screens to close off the room. (Loved that little touch of Japan)

The bathroom had a spa bath (jacuzzi for north Americans!)

The screens to the bathroom did close for privacy!

 And there was even an extra TV in the bedroom if you wanted to watch in bed. The way the complex was built, there were 2 wings, each wing had its own pool.

You could access the patio from sliding doors both from the lounge and the bedroom, and beyond the patio to the pool.


There was a small spa in the resort that offered a variety of massages, I went for the aromatherapy and it was lovely. 

The opposite wing to where I was staying, the pool had a BBQ area if anyone wanted to use it.

Other pool with BBQ.


The staff were really helpful in giving recommendations on where to eat based on what you said you liked. (There is no restaurant, cafe or bar in this resort) There is car parking under the resort if you drive up like I did, so very convenient.

The best thing about this particular resort/apartment hotel was that it is 'Adults Only' so no children around. With it being school holidays that was fantastic, it was quiet and peaceful around it pool, it was absolute bliss!!! So if you're after a restful escape this is the place for you!

Daintree river Queensland

Daintree River

Let's go spotting crocodiles!

The point of this trip was rest and relaxation for 3 days so I hadn't planned to sign up for the many tours offered at Port Douglas. The best tour to do is to sail out to the reef and do some snorkelling, it's an amazing experience to see the underwater colours of the fish and the coral. It's at the top of my list of recommendations of what things to do when visiting Australia. Having said all that I didn't go out to the reef! This isn't my first trip to north Queensland, it's my third and I had snorkelled at the reef previously so I didn't this time. But I had thought of doing at least one tour. In the end it was "What half day tour can I do?" I ended up choosing a trip to the Daintree river and Mossman gorge, I hadn't been to either before.

The Daintree river looking out towards the sea.

Thanks to the helpful guide on our tour I found out that the river is 35km long and it's salt water. (Later I found out that 'Daintree' was actually the surname of Richard Daintree who was a geologist and the Queensland agent general in London at time the river was named by a European not something indigenous!) The Daintree is on the World Heritage register.

We were driven to the ferry crossing (there's no bridge across the river if you're heading north) the tour boats leave from there. The one we were on was solar powered which was great as it was really quiet and no exhaust fumes, which tend to make me ill! (Not a good sailor!) We had been told that the morning tour, as it was high tide, hadn't spotted any crocodiles, so our expectations were low, and luckily so was the tide! A few minutes in and we saw our first croc, an adult male called 'Nick' as he had a nick on one of the scales on his back.

Nick the croc.

Croc number 2!

Small croc!

Baby croc!

Our boat skipper was terrific as he was able to spot the smaller crocodiles for us, they were really hard to see. I've zoomed in a lot in the pictures I've taken.

We also saw these small crabs which have one large colourful claw. I tried to find out what they're called, I thought at first they were called 'mudkips' but that's a Pokemon (I've spent too much time with Pokemon obsessed children!!)

We went down one of the small tributaries which had thick mangroves either side.

Where you see mangroves you also see these aerial roots sticking up. The mud the mangroves grow in, is very dense and there is no oxygen, so the trees send up roots to absorb oxygen from the air. Interesting trees!

The trip down the river was great, mostly due to the really good boat skipper/guide. He even had a camera and screen on board and would zoom in on a creature so we could see it, such as a green tree frog which is quite small! The boat was quiet and log and narrow so you could get a good view and being relatively small, he could get in close to the banks of the river.

It was a nice way to spend an hour on a river.

This is the website of the tour company I went with.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas

Port Douglas, Four Mile Beach

(It was named pre-metric conversion!)

Tourism came to what was the very small fishing village of Port Douglas thanks to a beautiful stretch of beach, called Four Mile Beach. (Australia does use the metric system, but the beach was named pre-metric conversion which happened in the early 1970s, so it's not Six point whatever kilometre beach!)

The beach is hard packed sand so it's possible to ride a bike the length of it, a cyclist went past when I was on the beach. Charles Kingsford Smith (famous Australian aviator) landed on Four Mile Beach in 1932. It was also used for planes to land when bringing the mail from Papua New Guinea, the first airmail service. (Helpful information brochures! I read them all!)

This was the town end of the beach, Macrossan street end, the beach then goes south to the resort end.

Looking south toward Cairns. When I saw this picture it reminded me of something a Japanese friend said on her first trip to Australia. "Big sky!" Not something I really thought of or was aware of, until she pointed it out.

I was fascinated to see on the beach these small round holes with balls of sand around them. I assumed they were done by crabs. I've since researched it, they're made by ghost crabs. The crabs come out at low tide and feed on the nutrients in the sand, when finished they create a ball with the left over sand and throw it over their backs! I didn't see any crabs, just the holes and balls.

Those elevated piles are sand balls around a circular hole, all made by a multitude of small crabs!

Another piece of Australiana, the public BBQ. These were dotted next to the beach for people to use, there are picnic tables nearby.

An amazing old tree, it's a Moreton Bay Fig. Those are aerial roots coming down from the branches to help support the tree. A favourite tree for children to climb, there were some trying to climb this tree on the other side!

Lovely as the beach was, the hotel room had pool access from the decking so that meant more time spent at lounging by the pool than the beach!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Port Douglas, Queensland

Port Douglas

A tropical paradise (a cliché but true!)

When looking for a tropical getaway Port Douglas is the perfect destination. I had been before so knew how lovely it was. Others may report on its beaches (spectacular) trips to the Barrier Reef (a must!) and the Mossman gorge and Daintree river (coming shortly) I'm going to live up to my history nerd background and look at Port Douglas' past.

It was established as a port in 1877 for the inland gold mining area which needed a gateway to the sea. Like most Australian towns the first major buildings were the hotels. One still proudly boasts its foundation date.

It's been sympathetically restored complete with wooden sash windows open out onto the street. A newer extension of an outdoor eating area has been built to the right of the picture.

The Court House hotel, opposite the wharf, the original hotel was destroyed in the 1911 cyclone and then rebuilt. 

I thought this church was really sweet. This is not its original location, it was moved here in the late 1980's. It was a former catholic church, it's now non-denominational, it still holds services and can be booked for weddings and funerals.

A lovely example of the wooden architecture of early Queensland.

The inside it's a tiny church perfect for a small wedding, a window was cut out behind the altar and there's a beautiful view of the ocean. A lovely setting for a wedding in the tropics.

The statue of a soldier resting his hands on an upturned rifle can be seen just about every country town large or small in Australia. These are the memorials to those killed in World War I (or the Great War as known when these statues were placed). Australia lost a huge amount of men (more per capita than other countries fighting in WWI) and in the years after the war there was a major push to build memorials to those who had died. This one was unveiled in 1923, the names of those who died in WWI are on the front, on the left hand side are the names added of those who died in WWII and one who died in the Vietnam war.

In the main street (Macrossan street) next to the Central Hotel is the Ironbar, loved the use of old galvanised iron, very rustic Australia! I remembered this restaurant/pub from my first visit. They hold cane toad (a feral pest, a major problem to the environment) races here, very funny to watch!

The restored Court House, it's the second oldest wooden courthouse in Queensland (I read the sign!). It now houses a small museum, a good example of Australian architecture, with the wide verandahs to help keep the building cool.

Port Douglas was a major town in north Queensland until the 1890s when the railway was put through to Cairns. Port Douglas then steadily declined, the road from Cairns to Port Douglas was only put through in 1933.
View from the lookout memorial to the local councillor who pushed for a road to be built from Cairns to Port Douglas. It opened in 1933, Cairns is where the feint hills in the background are.

 By the 1960s the population had fallen to 100 and the school closed. Fast forward to the 1980s and the airport at Cairns was upgraded to an international airport, and in 1987 with great fanfare a major resort was opened in Port Douglas and that brought about its revival. Something that I could see quite clearly as I contrasted all the construction that had occurred from my last visit to this one. On my previous visit Port Douglas was still very much a village, it's now a town.

The tour guide who took us to the Daintree spoke about some advice Bill Clinton gave at a speech to the local chamber of commerce, which was to make sure no building would go above coconut tree height. So no high-rises, nothing is higher than 3 floors, it preserves that small town feel.

Trivia Alert! (I looked it up and Bill and Hillary Clinton holidayed at Port Douglas after an official visit to Australia and he was in Port Douglas on September 11th 2001. I can vaguely remember that as the Australian airforce came and got him and he managed to get back to the US despite the shutdown of the airspace)

Now there was also a pioneer cemetery that I noticed on the road into Port Douglas. I had thought of going to have a look, but then the attraction of lying by the pool and reading won out over the history nerd side of me!