• Visit to Brighton Sealife Centre

  • 5 ideas for a different day out in London

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  • August Desk Lamp with USB Charger Review

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  • High Tea at Castle Hotel Eynsford

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Visit to Brighton Sealife Centre

Until I was a teenager I had never left the country. My parents preferred to take my sister and I on stay-cations around the UK which you might think sounds a bit boring, but in fact these holidays make up some of my best memories from my childhood. We pretty much covered all of England and parts of Wales and Scotland too. I always loved going to the seaside as you could usually count on there being a Sealife Centre, one of my favourite attractions, nearby.

I am happy to say that I still get a lot of enjoyment from visiting Sealife Centres, although I haven’t been to one in some time, so when my husband and I spent a long weekend in Brighton recently we decided to pop along to see what magical underwater creatures were there. We sneakily booked our tickets online the evening before (to get a discount) and decided to pay a little extra for a special behind the scenes tour on top of the normal experience.

Situated right on the sea-front next to Brighton’s iconic pier, Brighton’s Sealife Centre is the world’s oldest operating aquarium! It has a number of different zones to explore including the Victorian Arcade, The Kingdom of the Seahorse, the Rainforest Adventure, the Ocean Tunnel and the newest exhibit Jurassic Seas.

I have to say that I was not disappointed. Brighton Sealife Centre hosts an amazing array of aquatic creatures; not only fish but crustaceans, amphibians and reptiles in all shapes, colours and sizes! Sadly most of the species represented are on the endangered list or have been rescued and cannot be released into the wild. The good news is that some have also been bred as part of the conservation projects.

The behind the scenes tour included seeing where the food is prepared, where they keep an eye on the water chemical levels and the breeding centre. It was great to get some more information on how the creatures are cared for.

I really enjoyed going around the Jurassic Seas exhibit which is new to the Sealife Centre and includes information about sea monsters from the Jurassic period. You also get to see some present day creatures who are not so evolutionary far from their Jurassic ancestors including mudskippers and horse shoe crabs who really look like they have just crawled out of the TARDIS!

I couldn’t quite believe it when we saw the impressive Anaconda enjoying a soak in her enclosure! I don’t think I have ever seen an aquatic snake at a Sealife Centre before.  My husband enjoyed tickling the starfish in the interactive rock pool. My favourites include the dazzling rays, spotty dogfish, clown fish, the longhorned cowfishand colourful stripy frogs.

Of course the Ocean Tunnel really was something else. A huge enclosure housing a number of large sharks, turtles, various fish and one giant ray who was just stunning! It really felt like I was underwater with these amazing, majestic creatures who swam so close over our heads!

I really enjoyed our visit to the Brighton Sealife Centre; seeing and learning about the different fascinating species and of course re-visiting a childhood favourite. I certainly recommend a visit for anyone who loves getting up close with aquatic creatures.

 

5 ideas for a different day out in London

Sometimes you just want to do something a bit different. Nothing is wrong with having a drink in your usual haunt, going to London’s lovely parks or catching a movie at the Odeon, but sometimes you yearn for something a bit out of your comfort zone. Here are my top 5 different things to do in London which I hope inspires you to try a new experience the next time you go out in the capital!

Take a risk!

If you’re looking for excitement, risk and the potential to win cold hard cash then try a night at a Casino. With grand décor, fantastic food and exquisite drinks try your hand at one of the luxury establishments in the city such as The Ritz or in true 007 style why not pay Mayfair a visit? Whether your game is roulette, blackjack, slots or even poker there’s lots of fun to be had in London casinos for an exciting night out on the town. Check out the London casino travel guide at casinojourneys.com for more information.

Musical Bingo

Speaking of making some quick cash; if sitting around with a group of grannies while someone calls out “legs 11” isn’t your idea of a great day out, then why don’t you try something a bit different – Musical Bingo! It’s just like normal bingo but instead of shouting out numbers songs are played and ticked off your unique card. There are several rounds with each one taking on a different theme for example a decade or genre. Musical Bingo is run by quirky comperes who entertain as well as direct the session whilst the DJs spin a medley of tunes whilst you mark them off on your bingo card. Prizes are won for one, two and three lines, and finally the Grand Prize: The Full House! For more information check out musicalbingo.com

Cocktails in the Loo

Are you bored of drinks at a run of the mill bar? Do you want to try something a bit out there? Why not head over to cocktail bar Ladies and Gentlemen which was set up in a disused underground Victorian lavatory! Opening in Kentish Town in January 2015 as a concept from craft spirit producer William Borrel, Ladies and Gentlemen offers quality cocktails based on a menu of homemade liqueurs and syrups, botanicals and herbs so you can sip your drink and admire the architecture (and old toliets) at the same time! The venue even has it’s own 16-litre copper and still produces bespoke spirits onsite, such as Kentish Town’s very own Highwayman Gin. To book check out the website ladiesandgents.co

Hunt the Treasure

So you think you know London pretty well right? Well, how about discovering places you’ve never seen before with an exciting treasure hunt around the city? City Hunt offers free treasure trails with multiple choice questions which you answer by studying plaques, shop signs and other details in the locations you’re sent to. Perfect for teams or individuals you’re bound to discover something new in hidden places and quirky spots as you solve between 20-30 clues, which submerge you in culture, history and heritage. Your score calculated by taking your average speed and correct answers. Designed to find new uses for empty and underused spaces City Hunt was originally created as part of Southwark Council’s Blackfriars Stories programme and has since grown in popularity as a fun day out in London. See cityhunt.co.uk to get started.

See something extraordinary

If you’re after something a bit more educational or fantastical then The Hunterian Museum is well worth a visit. Showcasing one of the oldest collections of anatomical, pathological and zoological specimens in the country with more than 3,500 anatomical and pathological preparations, fossils, paintings and drawings! Don’t miss out on the pieces donated by Edward Jenner (the pioneer of the smallpox vaccine) and Sir Joseph Banks (naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences). Favourite pieces include 17th century surgical instruments, carbolic sprays used by Lister (the pioneer of antiseptic surgery), the tooth of an extinct giant sloth donated by Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill’s dentures. Get a feel for the exhibits at hunterianmuseum.org

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August Desk Lamp with USB Charger Review

Desk lighting is one of those things you never really think about when you’re setting up your work space. Since mid March I have been working in a freelance capacity from home and sitting behind my computer for hours on end I have caught myself squinting at the screen and straining my eyes as I lose the day light. Luckily my desk is set up in our spare room which is at the front of the house which faces South and gets a good amount of light for the majority of the day, however , the light does eventually fade away!

I was recently sent the August LEC315 Desk Lamp, which comes complete with a very handy USB charger, in return for an honest review and I was very happy when it arrived and promptly set it up on my work desk. My first impression on opening up the box and setting up the lamp is how sleek and modern it looks, I love minimal design so this was really a perfect addition for my work space. It came folded flat in the box which shows just how flexible the arm of the lamp is, making it perfect for small spaces or for moving about to avoid glare. At only 720g it is easy to move around and find the perfect place for the lamp.

I really love the touch sensitive on/off and dimming settings. Simply run your finger along the touch-pad strip to change the light from dim to bright, which is a super fun action in comparison to turning a dial. The lamp comes with three ‘colour temperatures’, choose from ultra bright, cold or  (my favourite) natural light, ranging from 3000K – 6000K, so you can really personalise your space or change the light depending on your activity. If you’re concerned about energy consumption then this is a great light for you as it offers great energy efficiency with a maximum brightness level of 840 lumen from the long lasting, premium quality LED bulbs, making it very bright but affordable to run with an energy efficiency rating of A+.

A real added bonus is the USB port (5V / 1A output) on the lamp stand at the back which allows you to charge your smartphone or other USB devices (tablets, speakers etc) and frees up your computer’s ports for other uses. Despite having phone chargers in my bedroom and my lounge I don’t have one on my desk, so this comes in handy! I also really like that the lamp comes with an adaptable mains plug so you can choose from a European 2-prong plug or a British 3 prong plug. I think more electronics should come with this as standard to make life easier for travellers!

I really love the sleek, minimal style and the versatility of this desk lamp from August and am happy to award it 5 out of 5 stars for shining a light on my previously unknown working environment needs.

5stars

High Tea at Castle Hotel Eynsford

When was the last time you treated yourself to something truly decadent and delicious? If it’s been more than a couple of weeks then give yourself something to look forward to and book a treat today! When a friend of mine recently came to stay the weekend in Kent I wanted to make sure she had a really lovely time and what could be more lovely than a tasty High Tea? Having previously enjoyed a fantastic Mother’s Day at the Castle Hotel in Eynsford I decided to book a table for a repeat visit.

The Castle Hotel restaurant offers an all day, seasonal range of delicious dishes made from local produce. They strive to create the best possible experience for customers by offering exceptional quality, service and value. I really love the interior of the Hotel, it has a fabulous shabby chic style with gorgeous grey painted wooden furniture, heritage patterns and they always have lovely fresh flowers on the tables. It really does feel like a country getaway.

Our table had already been prepared ahead of our arrival and we were very excited to see the array of sandwiches, scones and cakes lined up for devouring! Our High Tea included 4 types of sandwiches including cheese and pickle, ham and cheese, pate and prawn all cut into dainty triangles. We were also presented with ginger biscuits, fresh strawberries, scones with cream and jam and some stunning looking chocolate whoopie pies with cream and fresh strawberries. We had the choice of tea or coffee to go along with our veritable feast, we all went with coffee which was served in a lovely coffee pot and poured into our vintage floral cups which really added to the experience.

Of course we started with the sandwiches which were made on both white and brown bread with generous amounts of fillings. You can’t really beat a classic cheese and pickle sarnie! Once we had demolished the sandwiches we moved onto the biscuits and scones. I am a big fan of ginger biscuits, so I was very happy to see them atop one of the cake stands, they didn’t disappoint offering a crunchy outside, soft middle and a lovely warm hit of spice.

My friend, Amelia, prepares her scones cream first whereas the rest of us do jam first, so we had a good giggle about that! The scones were fresh and just the right level of crumbly with the strawberry jam and cream being most indulgent. I couldn’t wait to try the whoopie pie, although at this point I was pretty full! I was very happy to discover that the chocolate sponge was delightfully light, not at all how it appears, and the chocolate flavour was nicely balanced and not too strong for me.

If you’re in West Kent and looking for a port in a storm I can’t recommend the Castle Hotel in Eynsford enough. They have a great country atmosphere,delicious food and a beautiful interior. I award their High Tea 5 out of 5 stars.

5stars

 

Car maintenance: Changing A Tyre

I had my first driving lesson on the morning of my 17th Birthday. No messing about! It took me 3 tries but I passed 5 months after I got started and I was very lucky that my parents were able to buy me a car so I could spread my wings and get mobile! Ok, I mainly drove to and from school, but it was an exciting new level of freedom and made me feel quite grown up. Of course cars don’t just stay happy and healthy all on their own, now 12 years old my little blue Yaris has been lucky in terms of maintenance never having had a big problem and always passing its M.O.T.

However, you never know what’s around the corner and being prepared for problems such as getting a flat tyre on the road is important, so that when it happens you can safely repair the damage and get back on the road. I have never had a flat tyre in my car (thank godness!), but my mother tells a story of when she was going along on the motorway and one of her tyres blew. Knowing exactly what to do she started to prepare to change her tyre when a gentleman pulled his car in behind hers and offered to help (thinking she was a damsel in distress), and thinking that one day he might have to rescue someone who didn’t know how to change a tyre and not wanting to put him off, my mother let him take over and she was soon ready to drive off.

Changing a tyre is something all car owners should know how to do, at least the you can decide if you want to give it a go or not, should the problem arise! Here are the basic principles:

You will need:  Spare tyre (properly inflated), Car Jack, Wheel Nut Wrench. Gloves and a torch will also come in handy.

  1. First things first you will need to remove the hubcap by turning the wrench anti-clockwise to loosen the wheel-nuts but don’t remove them!
  2. Place the jack under the frame, where it will meet the metal of the frame, near the flat tyre. If your jack hits plastic and not metal it can damage the plastic so be sure it’s on the metal! According to tyre dealer Point S most modern cars will have a notch either behind or in front of the wheel well for this purpose so look out for this!
  3. Get your jack working! You will need to pump or crank it up until the tyre is lifted off of the ground with enough space to manoeuvre your spare into place. Make sure the car is stable, if it doesn’t feel safe then lower the jack down, fix the problem and start again. No-one wants a car to fall on them!
  4. Now is the time to remove the wheel-nuts completely and then remove the tyre. A neat trick is to place your flat tyre under your car so if it should fall then it lands on the old tyre.
  5. Put on your spare tyre ensuring that the rim is aligned with the wheel bolts properly, add back the wheel-nuts and use your hand to tighten them before using your wrench to make sure they are on good and tight. Don’t do them up one at a time as this might result in a squiffy tyre, but do a little bit of one and then move to the next and repeat until they are all equally nice and tight. Make sure you keep an eye on your jack, if you use too much force you might upset it.
  6. Hooray, you’re ready to lower your car back to the ground and remove the jack. Double check the wheel-nuts with a last tighten up and replace the hubcap. Don’t forget to pick up your old tyre and take it with you to get replaced or repaired.

I hope you never have to change a tyre, but should the worst happen remember these steps. Or, if you’re not sure, call a recovery company such as The AA which I am a member of.

Review: DiCAPac Smartphone Case for cyclists

Recently my husband, who is a big cycling geek, had been struggling to use his mobile phone for navigation at the same time as cycling and he needed to find a solution which would enable him to secure his phone to the handlebar of his bike.

Luckily he was offered the chance to review the DiCAPac Smartphone Case* for cyclists from Mobilefun as a solution to this problem. The DiCAPac is a universal waterproof case designed to fit any smartphone up to 5.7 inches, perfect for my husband’s Samsung handset. It offers a secure waterproof case at the same time as allowing the user to still operate the touch screen which is essential for anyone navigating on the go.

The Pros:
  • My husband can keep his phone in a protective case without the need for changing the case for a phone mount.
  • The waterproofing is excellent and he’s tested this extensively.
  • It fits his Samsung Galaxy S5 perfectly, with or without the protective case that he has on it. It would likely fit any standard phone on the market. The reviews on the product page even state that it fits the Samsung Note 3.
  • The handlebar mount is sturdy and it doesn’t slip on the handlebar at all.
The Cons:
  • It’s a little on the floppy side, and there is some wobble when going over bumps/potholes on the bicycle. This is completely understandable, it’s a thin waterproof case that is oversized to fit the bigger phones. The wobble comes from the case itself, not the mount, which is solid.
  • It offers no shock absorbing capacity, but this was never an advertised feature.
In conclusion, it’s a perfect phone mount for those that need it for short trips on the road, such as going to places that you haven’t been to before. It requires no special cases or fittings on the phone, and you simply slide it in and roll the case shut.
My husband awards the DiCAPac Smartphone Case for cyclists 4 out of 5 stars.
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4stars

Working at the car wash!

When you think of family bonding you might not think of washing cars, however, on a particularly sunny recent weekend my husband and I joined my sister and mother for a big effort car wash! On the list were my mother’s Toyota Yaris Verso, my sister’s gold Toyota Yaris and my own blue Toyota Yaris, all of which had been a bit neglected as of late and were pretty filthy!

Luckily I had been sent the gloss detailing kit from BD Clean in exchange for an honest review, so we had a great selection of car washing products to get the vehicles back to looking their best. The gloss detailing kit contains BD Clean Snow Foam, BD Clean shampoo & BD Clean Gloss Detailer all of which came in handy 500ml spray bottles. Check out the playful packaging!

The Snow Foam is a pre-wash in the form of a concentrated cleaner that produces rich, long-lasting foam (pH neutral and wax safe) that clings to your car which breaks down dirt, grime and stubborn stains. It’s best used via a pressure washer to activate the thick foamy goodness, allowing it to remove any dirt and grime which might otherwise scratch your car when cleaning with a sponge. I had never thought of my car needing a ‘pre-wash’ but it makes  sense when you think about it, just like soaking dishes before washing!

The next stage was the Shampoo, formulated specifically to be the purest, most effective paint shampoo for getting your car squeaky clean but not damaging the paint work. The shampoo has a luxuriously thick texture and has been designed to leave your car clean, smear free with an attractive high shine finish. Not only is it gentle on your car but it has also been designed to be gentle on the skin! Mix in a bucket of water as per the instructions and then use a soft sponge all over the car to remove any lingering dirt.

The final stage is the Detailer, designed to leave your paintwork in beautiful and shiny condition. BD Clean have engineered their product to remove all water marks, fingerprints and post-wash dirt or dust quickly and easily.  This product adds an extra layer of protection to your car’s paintwork which repels dirt, dust and oil. I particularly like this last stage as it really made a difference to the car’s finish once we had buffed all around with the detailer.

You can see some before and after photos of my sister’s gold Yaris below which had an impressive array of mud and spider webs before we got started! After a good pressure wash, shampoo and buffing it has come up really bright and shiny (despite a few dings!) We had a really fun, if not exhausting, time washing the family cars and I recommend BD Clean to anyone looking to add a little something extra when it comes to car washing products.

 

Infographic: Annoying Business Phrases

For six years I lived and worked in London. A year ago my husband and I moved to Kent, where I am originally from, looking for more of a country lifestyle away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The majority of my years working in the city were in digital marketing agencies which simply love jargon, buzzwords and all manner of annoying phrases – most of which seemed to either make no sense or try to reinvent the English language. My biggest pet peeve was when a manager of mine would say ‘ideation’ rather than brainstorming, there is just something about the sound of that word being said out loud that makes me cringe!

When I spotted this infographic highlighting the top 50 annoying phrases heard in the workplace I couldn’t help but read through every single one and found myself nodding along. Unfortunately ‘ideation’ is not among them, but I strongly feel that it should be!

What workplace phrases annoy you the most?

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Introducing Ugly Water!

I put my hand up. I am an addict. Yes, that’s right, I am hooked on fizzy drinks. Pepsi Max in particular! Despite knowing that it’s not healthy for me I can’t help it! I have tried a number of times to give it up and find some other healthier option which satisfies my cravings for a sweet and fizzy drink without the amounts of sugar and acid which come hand in hand with my favourite tipple, so when I heard about the new range of sparkling waters from Ugly I was keen to give them a go!

Ugly doesn’t apologise for it’s brutal honesty when it comes to their selection of all-natural fruit infused sparkling waters which have no sugars, sodium, artificial sweeteners, artificial colourings, artificial preservatives, artificial flavourings, soy, nuts, gluten, or GMOs. It really is the ultimate free-from drink! Ugly’s products are simply sparkling water infused with 100% natural fruit oils and essences. At the moment there are 2 flavours: Lemon & Lime and Grapefruit & Pineapple.

The Ugly range is the first to bring this level of free-from drink to the UK, however, similar products have been available in the US which have seen the healthy option becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to syrupy, sugary drinks instead the public have been seeking something more natural to quench their thirst.

I was sent 2 cans of both flavours to try in return for an honest review. The first thing that hit me was the beautiful bright and colourful branding with a modern twist. I have to admit that I found the foil top stating that ‘because you’re already sweet enough’ quite charming. Don’t they look perfect for taking on a summer picnic or to the beach?

I have to admit I was pretty dubious that I would actually like the drink seeing as I am a Pepsi junkie and not that keen on regular sparkling water so it was with great trepidation that I opened my first can and poured myself a glass of chilled lemon & lime. A revelation: I didn’t not like it! In fact I found the Ugly drink to be crisp and refreshing with a good balance of flavour and fizz. It wasn’t quite sweet enough for me (no surprise there) but I didn’t find the lack of sweetness off-putting.

I really do hope to give up sugary fizzy drinks some day, and having tried Ugly’s natural flavoured waters I think that it might be possible!

Are you a fizzy drink junkie? Or an ex-junkie? Let me know your tips below!

Top 5 Things to do in Sicily

Last year I was lucky enough to have been invited to a epic tour around Sicily by my parents, joining them and my sister on a jaunt around this beautiful Mediterranean Island stopping at a number of sites of cultural and historical significance along the way. Having really enjoyed a previous trip to Sorrento in Italy I was very excited to see what Sicily had in offer and I was not disappointed!

If you’re looking for a holiday full of magical sites to see and places to visit then Sicily is a great choice.  Our holiday was a package put together by a tour guide company which made it rather pricey but if you want to find your own flights to Sicily you can use a site such as WishSicily.com which may work out cheaper. Choosing your own stop offs will mean you can take advantage of all Sicily has to offer from history and culture to food and modern entertainment.

There are so many things to do and places to see on this island that I wanted to give you the run down of my favourite 5 activities which we took part in during our visit to inspire you.

Mount Etna

You can’t come to Sicily and not visit Mount Etna! One of the most famous features of the island, Etna is an active volcano on the east coast between Messina and Catania and is the tallest active volcano in Europe standing at around 10,922 feet high and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Greek Mythology says the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under Etna by Zeus, and the forges of Hephaestus the blacksmith were said to also be located underneath it. We didn’t spot any Greek Gods during our visit but the experience was magical indeed with the transformation of the landscape from lush Mediterranean vineyards and orchards to black volcanic rock and a beautiful layer of crisp white snow against a deep azure sky. There are several levels you can visit on the volcano including a trip up to the ridiculously cold and icy summit (if you’re feeling brave), or if you’re happy admiring the view from below you can find a number of little shops and restaurants available for tourists to find both heat and souvenirs. I really loved my visit to Mount Etna. The sense of peace and tranquillity really tugged at my soul. I really recommend a visit.


etna

Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio

Sicily is an island of astonishing Churches. Set in the Piazza Bellini in Palermo the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is certainly one of the most amazing specimens with stunning architecture and design. It belongs to the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church which includes the Albanian community who officiate the liturgy according to the Byzantine Rite in the ancient Greek language. The most fascinating aspect of the Church is all the different religions represented in its decoration which is due to the many different peoples who have taken ownership over the years, resulting in a number of transformations in art, architecture and culture. I could hardly tear my eyes away from the spectacular interior, which is dominated by a series of 12th century Byzantine mosaics (made with very thin but very real slices of gold) depicting religious scenes. This really is a must-see.

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Villa Romana del Casale

Living close to a Roman Villa in Kent I thought I had seen some fantastic Roman mosaics, but nothing could have prepared me for the stunning examples of this decorative style at the Villa Romana del Casale just outside the town of Piazza Armerina. Built in the first quarter of the 4th century this villa contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa complex is concentrated around a ‘peristyle’ a courtyard featuring pillars, surrounded with public and private rooms. The inhabitants enjoyed their very own thermal bathhouse as well a large basilica to the east and a huge formal dining room. The majority of the floors are covered in fascinating mosaic designs, the most impressive of all being the the Great Hunt which sees all manner of animals being chased along the corridor by hunters. This is certainly a villa I would like to have lived in, in it’s heyday!

villa

Valle dei Templi

The Romans weren’t the only ones to make their mark on the Sicilian landscape. The Valle dei Templi (valley of temples) is an archaeological site in Agrigento, Southern Sicily and is a ridge which dominates the landscape with no less than seven Doric-style (identified by the simple circular capitals at the top of columns) Greek temples sitting on it! It is the largest archaeological site in the world with 1,300 hectares made up of Temples dedicated to the Greek Gods and Goddesses: Concordia, Juno, Heracles, Olympian Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Vulcan and Asclepius. Although it was a long walk I really enjoyed starting at the top and travelling along the valley to see the imposing and impressive temples whilst our tour guide gave us more information on the life and times of the people who created them.

temple

Syracuse Greek Theatre and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica

The Greek Theatre at Syracuse was first built in the 5th century BC and later rebuilt several times with even the Romans renovating this picturesque and grandiose venue. It is set within the extraordinary Rocky Necropolis, a collection of cemeteries with rock-cut chamber tombs dating from the 7th to the 13th centuries BC covering around 5,000 tombs. It is again an UNESCO World Heritage site.  The theatre saw performances of works from playwrights the likes of Epicharmus, Phormis and Deinolocus. Although the scene building has been destroyed you can still see the “Stairs of Charon,” which allowed the actors sudden entrances and exits. Just above the main theatre there is a terrace excavated from the rock, the “Via dei Sepolcri” (Street of the Tombs) which you can access from the central stairway. The main feature of this terrace is the mystical grotta del Ninfeo, where water flows into a grotto carved into the rock, assumed to be a Mouseion or sanctuary of Muses which couldn’t be more suitable for a theatre!

theatro

Have you been to Sicily? What were your top sites? Let me know below.

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