Little Italy

Fresh from China Town we head to the neighbouring district of Little Italy.

Once known for its large population of Italian Americans today the evocative neighbourhood holds only a handful of Italian stores and restaurants.

It has some well known neighbours, to the west by Tribeca and Soho, on the south by Chinatown, on the east by the Bowery and Lower East Side, and on the north by Nolita.

It might be small but it packs a lot into a few blocks including colourful artwork and this traditional / kitsch cigar shop complete with Pope and Native American Indian wood carving.

Mass immigration from Italy during the 1880’s led to large settlements of Italian immigrants in lower Manhattan and in 1910 Little Italy was home to almost 10,000 Italians, all bringing their food, language and culture vividly to life in its streets.

They also brought with them less desirable influences including organised crime and the Mafia.

These days the district is a shadow of its former self with its neighbour China Town rapidly expanding to takeover where gelaterias and authentic Italian restaurants once thrived.

But you can still see the red and white checked table clothes lining the streets and grab yourself a cannoli or traditional pastry.

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It is still a fascinating place to visit, still full of little details including this Italian flag coloured water hydrant.

You can also spot colourful wall art in hidden corners if you slow down and take a look.

Little Italy was the location of the fictional Corleone crime family vividly bought to life in the novel The Godfather and the three movies based on it.

Tenement buildings, once home to the immigrants who settled the area still line the narrow streets.

Below is the John Jovino Gun Shop. It has the dubious honour of being the oldest gun shop in New York City, it also claims to be the oldest in all of America.

Founded in 1911, most of its customers are in law enforcement.

Even though its heyday is over, in the sunlight, watching the older men lounge in the shade, you are still transported back to the early days of Little Italy where optimistic men and women from the old world made the bustling streets of NYC their new home.

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Jewel bright waters

We’re coming to the end of our Sardinian adventure but on the last day we see possibly the very best of this stunning island.

Hopping on a boat tour around the coastline from Cala Gonone we’re treated to some truly spectacular rugged cliffs and the most beautiful water yet!

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I can honestly say that I have not seen water this clear or this blue outside of Thailand.

In fact this is probably even better as it’s just a few hours from home and nowhere near as overrun!

Even swimsuit phobic old me can’t keep out of this gorgeous blue water.

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The lesser spotted smiling Marples is testament to just how invigorating and joyous it is!

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The limestone cliffs dramatically plunge into the turquoise sea, often erosion has created weird and wonderful sculptures such as the archway and Cala luna caves below.

It’s hard to believe that this gorgeous sight is only a short haul flight from the UK!

Then the boat drops us off on the lovely Cala Mariolu beach for a few hours of soaking up the sun and swimming.

 

Simply stunning

There’s no other words to describe our next Sardinian hot spot – simply stunning just about covers it.

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La Pelosa beach (Spiaggia della Pelosa) with its warm shallow turquoise waters and glittering white sands, is a true oasis of wonder.

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It could easily stand as possibly the best beach I have ever been to, it’s that incredible.

The beach is 300 meters long – and up to 60 meters wide in some spots and is overlooked by an ancient sixteenth century watchtower.

There are two main inlets, each with its own small harbour: The old port is Minori (small) and the new port is Mannu (big)

These unreal azure waters and pristine sands are like a little taste of the Caribbean but just under three hours from the UK!

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The imposing stone tower, the Torre della Pelosa,  used to be part of Sardinia’s marine defense system but now just serves as yet more stunning scenery.

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With it’s shallow waters barely coming up to waist height, this beach is a magnet for families and tourists alike.

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As it’s October we are lucky enough to get the benefit of relatively warm weather but the bonus of sparse crowds. I would imagine in the height of summer this place is thronged.

I could wax lyrical for every and a day about the crystal clear waters with gentle ripples revealing the pure white sands beneath.

The sea, the glorious sea! In places turquoise, in others azure, teal and cadet blue.

 

Soft fine sand swirls beneath our feet as we wade through the shallow waters of the bay.

In short, as close to beach paradise as you’ll likely to come in Europe. No wonder the man is jumping for sheer joy!

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We’ll do our best not to look too smug, but hey! Who can help it when the view is this good!

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If you’re heading to Sardinia then you’d be very foolish not to check out this slice of paradise. But try out of season to avoid the heaving masses!!

Paintbox pretty

Carrying on with our exploration of the gorgeous little Sardinian village of Bosa now.

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We’re heading up into the mass of tiny colourful alleyways in the town now and the further up you go then more rainbow like it becomes!

This quirky little town is chock a block full of paintbox coloured delights. Each house competes against its neighbour in an eye popping display.

I love the emerald green and warm orange of the houses above.

The man lounges against a peppermint green corner while I am captivated by this literal rainbow of a street.

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When the October sunshine hits the walls it creates a vivid spectacle and we’re lucky to have it almost to ourselves.

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Could this baby blue and orange wall be any more delicious? Or how about this pink and orange combination with a sculptural plant for added delightful detail?

It feels like the town is gearing up for a festival with its strings of bunting all fluttering in the breeze.

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Whether you’re a colour fanatic or just enjoy strolling around little back streets, Bosa should definitely feature on your Sardinian wish list.

Mercato del Capo

Moving on from the rather disappointing La Vucciria market we head onto the far more bustling and hectic Mercato del Capo.

First we walk through the textile and cloth merchants section. With every texture and hue of fabric on show it’s a colourful sight.

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I loved this little haberdashery / homeware stall with its vivid wool balls, fans and other miscellaneous items.

Everywhere you look there’s amazing details, whether it’s the weather beaten religious posters or the weather beaten stall holders!

Food comes in every colour of the rainbow, here’s a selection of reds and greens. Tasty!

Then you head across to the somewhat gruesome fish mongers with their heaps of shiny fish, slippery squid and beady eyed prawns.

Sicilian men pass the time with good natured squabbles and occasionally passionate outbursts!

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Every stall is a fascinating spread of everything needed for home cooked meals. Here’s a nut, seed and jam stall.

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Vivid bunches of peppers are temptingly displayed along with mountains of produce.

A young stall holder takes a break from selling everything from bottled water to cheeses.

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Finally here’s another look at the bright little chilli peppers that can be found on many stalls.

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Lots more pictures to come of this fascinating old market.

In the clouds at Castelmola

While the views from Taormina are spectacular, its tiny cousin Castelmola, 1,800 feet above sea level, offers absolutely stunning ones.

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Cobblestones, ruined castles and winding alleys almost devoid of tourists, offer a breathing space.

Although the sun was beginning to go down, as our little bus trundled up the hill towards the village, you begin to appreciate the views.

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You’re dropped off in the main square where pretty cobblestones and terracotta roofs retain the sense of unbroken tradition.

The castle in Castlemola is a ruin. There is little of the castle itself to see, but it’s well worth making the climb for the views. Below is the castle cafe seen from the village square.

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As is common around Sicily, every alleyway is an open air art gallery.

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Heading upwards to the ruined castle finally gives us the most spectacular views of our entire trip.

The name Castelmola apparently comes from the Norman castle dominating the centre of town and from the shape of the rock on which it stands, which vaguely resembles a millstone or “mola”.

A few more colourful details from around the town itself. Apologies for jumping around but this new “improved” WordPress layout seems to be a nightmare for inserting pictures!

Here’s another vertiginous view over the bay from the castle.

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More artwork on the ancient village walls.

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Head down, through Via De Gasperi, the main street of the village, past shops selling lace, embroidery and souvenirs and you pass the Bar Turrisi below which exhibits phalluses of wood, clay and ceramic.

We take a break for pizza and beer at a rustic restaurant and, if you squint, you can see the brooding Mount Etna in the background.

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Gargoyles and grotesques adorn the walls outside the famous Cafe Turrisi which has a bizarre collection of phallic decorations!

Below is the door of the church of San Niccolo’ di Bari .

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Final taste of Taormina

Here’s a final post about the pretty hillside town of Taormina before we head even further up the mountains to Castelmola.

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By now the sun is blazing and the narrow streets are congested with tour groups and serious shoppers. But there’s still a unique charm to be found in the meandering lanes and hidden corners.

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Whether you’re marvelling at the ornate stone carvings of the old buildings or rummaging for the ideal souvenir, you can easily spend a few hours meandering this tiny town.

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If pencils and aprons aren’t your thing then you can take your pick from the mountains of tasty local produce.

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Everything is so photogenic, even the packets of pasta!

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Don’t forget to look up though or you’ll miss quirky little details such as these colourful ceramic heads set into the windows.

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Peering down shady side streets or peeking through rustic doorways gives you tantalising glimpses of the hidden lives of the town’s inhabitants.

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Even the dullest of walls is enlivened with intricate carvings or detailed stone work.

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Headto the town’s main square Pizza IX Aprile and you can admire beautiful panoramic views out over the Bay of Giardini Naxos.

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Below is Pizza IX Aprile, Taormina’s main square.  The imposing pastel facade of the Church of San Giuseppe, looks out over the square.

The church, dedicated to St. Joseph, was built in the seventeenth century.

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The church was the centre of the “Brotherhood of the souls in Purgatory” so in the facade and inside the church you can see human figures in the flames that symbolize purification from sin. Cheery!

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Below is the clock-tower that acts as an entrance gate to the part of the town that historians call “the 15th century area”.

Originally dating back to the 12th century, the tower was razed to the ground during a French invasion in 1676. What you see today is a reconstruction from 1679, when a large clock was added to the tower.

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During the early 20th century Taormina became a colony of expatriate artists, writers, and intellectuals. D. H. Lawrence stayed in the town as did Truman Capote. Tennessee Williams, Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais also visited.

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It continues to be a home for artists who capture the stunning scenery around the town in vivid colours for you to take home and hang on the wall.

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Painted carts are a symbol of the island although I didn’t manage to catch sight of a whole one. The nearest I came was this ornately painted cart wheel.

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Below the man takes a break on the Piazzo Duomo fountain. This Barocco style fountain, built in 1635, is in Taormina marble.

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Ancient architecture sits cheek by jowl with cheerful tourist tat such as Limoncello aprons and intricate wooden toys that Geppetto himself would be proud of.

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You’ll more than likely spot lots of puppets or marionettes which are a core symbol of Sicilian folk-art. The marionettes are the major props in the Opera dei Pupi, a traditional form of Sicilian entertainment.

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The subject matter of the Opera dei Pupi comes from Sicilian history, works of literature, folklore and comedy.

A common performance pits Norman knights against the Saracens and you can see these puppets above and below.

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Below is The Duomo, Taormina’s main cathedral, which was built around the year 1400 on the ruins of a small mediaeval church. Plus close up detail of the Duomo fountain.

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Everywhere you look in the town you can find colourful artwork lining the streets and festooning the walls.

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The man refused to take a peak under the cardboard dude’s posing pouch, spoilsport!!

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Heading back along Corso Umberto, the town’s main street, I am distracted by the colourful fruity spectacle of ice lollies in every conceivable flavour.

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Lemon, raspberry, strawberry, orange. Whatever your fancy, there’s a sweet treat with your name on it!

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Shops and artwork line the streets offering souvenirs to suit every pocket whether it’s cute little miniature bottles of Limoncello or the tiny yet detailed Martorana Fruit marzipans.

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I was utterly distracted and enchanted by this particularly vibrant side street stall that was groaning under the weight of Italian specialities such as lemons, chillies and pasta.

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Just in case you’re tempted, signs give you far warning of the hot and spicy nature of the tiny yet powerful chilli seeds.

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Colourful tourist trail

Continuing on our breakneck, incredibly uninformative tour of Taormina now with yet more pictures of stuff that I have photographed!! (It’s no Lonely Planet blog – let’s be honest!)

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Aside from the multitude of colourful Maiolica pottery there are plenty of other artistic delights to pore over.

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From art shops and abstract images to tiny tiles spelling out everyone’s love of the town, there’s little dots of colour to be found everywhere.

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Here’s a few more of the colourful tiles and ceramics that adorn every street, wall, step and doorway.

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I am enchanted by the oversized, human head plant pots. Some are traditional Moorish style heads while others are a more contemporary take on the original style.

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Another common feature across Sicily are the intricate, hand painted tiles that adorn walls.

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Used as decoration and for advertising purposes, these detailed scenes are little masterpieces in their own right.

P1060818The Bam Bar is one particularly fine example of how these tiles are used to great effect to advertise local delicacies.

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Featuring Sicilian traditions such as the delicious crushed fruity iced treat Granite as well as Limoncello and Arancia – meat or cheese filled rice balls.

P1060819If all this tiling gets a bit too much then why not take some time to enjoy other expressions of individual artiness?

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Whether it’s an electricity meter or a corrugated garage door, nothing escapes embellishment and decoration.

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Even relatively grey, dull buildings get a dose of charm with eclectic collections of ceramics and plants.

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Here’s a close up of the delightful detailing on this backstreet door that had me very over excited!

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Clearly someone out there enjoys covering everything in pattern, (almost as much as I enjoy photographing it!)

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Ceramics a plenty!

Following on with our waltz around Taormina this entry is simply a riot of colour and pattern. Apologies in advance for the length of this particular post!

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Ceramics and pottery are in abundance across Sicily but seem to be particularly evident around Taormina.

P1060608Everywhere you turn there are displays of jewel bright plates, bowls, spoon holders and pots. It’s a pot lovers dream!

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Souvenirs aplenty line the streets and jostle for space on every available surface, from back scratchers and tambourines to magnets as far as the eye can see!

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At least one of these colourful delights was quickly snapped up for my epic fridge of magnets (which in itself I think should be classed as a wonder of the world)

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A speciality pottery of the region is Sicilian Maiolica ceramic. Maiolica is tin-glazed pottery finished in dazzling colours. Sicily is by far the most active centre for Maiolica or Majolica production.

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Tin glazing creates a brilliant white, opaque surface for painting. The colours are applied as metallic oxides to the unfired glaze which absorbs pigment creating vivid colours.

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The coloured glazes were thought to be initially brought to Sicily by the Arabs of North Africa in medieval times. The art of making Maiolica pottery then spread from Sicily across Italy during the Renaissance.

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It is thought that these type of ceramics were called “maiolica” because the glazing and firing techniques used to create them were similar to those used on Majorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands.

Moorish potters from Majorca are believed to have worked in Sicily and it is thought that their wares reached the Italian mainland from Caltagirone.

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There are lots of different styles of Maiolica ceramics, distinguished by their colour-schemes, the type of objects made and the motifs painted on the pottery.

A common theme in Taormina and the surrounding areas are the rather unusual and striking Moorish heads that sit and stare at you from steps, windows and doorways.

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The heads, also called Saracen heads, are typical of Caltagirone, a town close to Taormina.

The legend behind the Moor’s head vases says that a beautiful girl was living in seclusion and spent her days cultivating flowers on her balcony. One day a young Moor passing by saw her, ravished her and she fell in love with him.

However he then announced he was leaving to go back to his wife so she cut off his head and used it as a vase for her flowers – that way his love was forever hers. Since then, flowers grew lush in the vase and the neighbours, envious, built vases shaped like a Moor’s head.

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Another common ceramic motif to be found around the island is a woman’s head with three legs and no arms.

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This rather uncomfortable looking creature is called a Trinacria and is the symbol of Sicily – apparently its shape mirrors the triangular shape of Sicily.

The island of Sicily was known as Trinacrium by the Romans, meaning “star with three points.” The Trinacria symbol is made up of the head of Medusa surrounded by three bent running legs and three stalks of wheat.

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The three bent running legs represent the three capes of Sicily – Peloro, Passero and Lilibeo which also create the three points of the triangle.

The three ears of wheat represent the fertility of the land and Medusa represents the island’s protection by the goddess Athena, the patron goddess of Sicily.

These armless ladies can be spotted everywhere and it becomes a bit addictive to find them!

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There’s so many colourful joy filled things to snap that at least another post or two will purely be souvenir pics!!!

Taormina

Escaping the grime of Catania we head on a train to the gorgeous town of Taormina. Situated 250 metres above sea level the town has been a tourist destination since the 19th century.

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First off we nip off the train and hit the beach which is below the old town. This area is known as Mazzaró -Taormina Mare. Sadly it’s a grey day and it isn’t looking its best!

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After mooching around the shoreline for a bit we head up into the old town.

Usually you can grab the cable car up and this takes about two minutes but due to flash floods before we arrived, it was out of action so we took one of the tiny buses up the hill.

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The bus drops you off in a little square just below the old town. Heading up into the main area you are quickly in the midst of a bustling tourist throng.

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Taormina is a tourist mecca and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a gorgeous dollop of loveliness in a so far, rather grimy island.

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The main street is lined with at shops, restaurants and souvenirs stands. Straight away one of the most intriguing and colourful sights is the array of ceramics and pottery that can be found everywhere.

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Delicate lace parasols make for a pretty display.

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Meanwhile the man has found a classic vespa and quite fancies himself on it.

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Prepare yourselves for lots of pictures of ceramics and artistically painted doors . . . . .