Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Venice, La Serenissima

While we have visited Venice three times previously, this time we had a week to explore the city and to see favourite things and visit new ones. It seems such a luxury, especially when the Emirates tickets allowed for a chauffeur driven door to door transfer, but in Venice via the luxury boats used as water taxis. A bit of a contrast to the abras of Dubai.

Water taxi

We zoomed across the lagoon in a fast and rather bumpy ride to our local square, Santa Maria Formosa, where we were met by our host, Lorenzo. A good thing too, as I doubt we would ever have found his B&B by ourselves.
Four immaculate rooms tucked away behind the campo, a nice little breakfast room and everything you need for a stay. Lorenzo is a fount of information. www.aitagliapietra.com

First impressions of course, are of the impossibly pretty calle and canals that thread the city and make it such a delight to visit.


Nearby canal

But there are also small things that catch the eye, the water fountains that someone has planted with flowers or the little shrines high on the walls of houses to protect the inhabitants.

Water fountain

Shrine to St Anthony, decked in immaculate white linen and silk flowers.

The graceful prow of a gondola

The genteel ?? decay

And then the lovely, big things, like Salute, my favourite church in Venice. She always reminds me of a pregnant lady.

Salute by day...

and by night

Rialto Bridge and a vaporetto

The Dogana and passing traffic

and the big things that are not quite so charming, such as the frantic traffic on the Grand Canal or the huge cruise ships that together disgorge up to 12,000 tourists a day into Venice.

Grand Canal traffic at Rialto

A princess line cruise ship dwarfing the buildings

The crowds at San Marco

The gondola conveyor belt

We visited the area of Canereggio especially to see the Jewish Ghetto area, the places where the term ghetto began, being the name for iron foundries which is the area where the Jews were confined after dark. We visited several synagogues which at first were hidden in the houses. The tiny cupola you can see in the corner covers part of one of them.

Canton synagogue

A visit back to Torcello was also on the list, the site of the first Venetian Cathedral and also of the tiny round church of S. Fosca. No internal photographs allowed in most churches these days. The weather was baking hot and shade in short supply as you can see from the photo.

Santa Fosca and part of the old baptistry
(or perhaps of an even older structure)

Of course you have to stop off in Burano for the colour of the houses, which seems to get a bit more lurid each time.

Burano and its leaning campanile

...and flowers to match the house

An early morning trip to the markets is also a must in Venice. The fish always looks fantastic. Given what empties into that lagoon it is a wonder that the fish is fit to eat, but just look at these beauties, with their olive and pink colours...

and the rather sad looking little cicale di mare

not to mention the fantastic fruit and vegetables.

Like everywhere, Venice has its oddities too, which Nick particularly loves to capture. Strange signs perhaps...


To where? And who says?

And then the politically incorrect that quite blows your socks off!

Wine bottles in Rialto markets. Something for everyone perhaps?

We enjoyed some really good food, but not very often. Mostly it was everyday cooking at prices that were just too high. Lunches tended to be pannini and a drink. We looked for something better in the evening. The highlight was Il Ridotto, with five tables a small jewel with cuisine of a very high order and the type of service one associates with really good restaurants, that little generous extra something, the beautiful glassware and so on.

Lynn's carpaccio of fish

Another night we headed for a recommended place, only to find the menu had nothing we wanted to eat. Nearby we found a tiny bar/cafe Il Mocegnio with an all Italian menu. We chose a plate of salume, calamari and a plate of papardelle with tiny prawns, a few cherry tomatoes and wilted, sliced zucchini flowers. All delicious. Lots of tourists walked past, but only Italians came in, two parties en famille having a great time. We revisited San Trovaso for a pizza meal too; delightful as always.

The churches of Venice are little treasure troves. It is sad for me as a photographer when I cannot take photos inside but I then try to remember what I have seen. After a time they blur. We made an effort this time to visit some of the chorus churches and also fitted in the Scuole San Rocco, covered head to tail with Tintorettos, so memorable for their use of light and shade to emphasise the story (though I can't help but feel they might look different with a good clean). The carvings around the walls in the main salon were also extraordinary, representing virtues and gifts in such detail.

Eventually we got to Redentore, Frari, Santa Maria Formosa, Santa Maria Giglio (with a modest facade to the triumphs of a particular admiral to honour his own exploits) and the tiny market church of San Giovanni Elemensario.

Nave, Redentore

We visited San Giorgio Maggiore and went up the campanile

Choir stalls, San Giorgio

Angel on altar, San Giorgio

and took a free, guided visit about the history of St Mark's Basilica and the meanings behind the golden mosaics that cover the interior (no photos, sadly).

As well we found the church of San Angelo Raffael open, the church from "Miss Garnet's Angel" by Salley Vickers. The guardian took a shine to us and we were shown everything (in Italian) including the beautiful frescoes on the ceiling of the baptistry as well as the paintings of the story of Tobias and the angel on the organ loft. He kindly bent the rules and allowed a photo or two but of course with no flash.

 Organ Loft with scenes from the Tobias story

So, incipient heatstroke aside, Venice delighted again. I don't think we would go in summer if we returned, and we might choose to stay closer to a vaporetto stop and maybe a bit more out of the way, back to Dorsoduro perhaps. We would try to follow our rules on eating out more closely (away from the crowds, menus in Italian, no pictures of the food, ignoring beseeching waiters who lassoo you outside) and we have found we need to take things a bit more slowly. Ahh, the perils of old age!!

The next post will deal with Mantua and Vicenza and points around.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sydney to Dubai and back again

(Click on the pictures to enlarge)
The Emirates limousine pick up from our home went well and we spent some time in the lounge waiting for the delayed flight from Auckland. I was disappointed with the layout of the business class cabin of the A380, set up in a 1+2+1 format, each seat with a console beside it so that the only place two people can sit together is each alternate row in the centre of the plane and only each alternate row along the sides is actually against the window. This meant that Nick and I were two seats apart along the sides which was a bit strange. However, the bar space at the back was nice and we made a date to meet there before going to "bed". I got some sleep and three movies. It is a long way to Dubai. We arrived early so we left the luggage and visited the museum nearby.

Dhow outside museum

It is in the old fort that guarded the town and we explored the old buildings and the courtyard and then discovered the main museum was underground, beautifully airconditioned. We spent some time there looking at the exhibits that mainly told of the way of life of the peoples of the area.

Heavy door of the fort

Cannon balls

Fort courtyard and tower

We took a tour with a private driver, seeing the mosque at Jumeirah which is the only one that allows non-Muslim visitors, and having an explanation of the mosque and the pillars of Islam. We thought it well done. The mosque is quite modern and very beautifully decorated.

Dome of mosque

Detail of mosque decoration

Mosque Arches

The driver then took us out towards the beaches areas but he kept stopping at galleries where I think we were expected to buy. The trip was rather a disappointment, not helped by the heat and the sandy, smoggy haze hanging over everything, so views of the Burj Dubai and the Burj al Arab were restricted.

We walked through the textile souks down to the waterfront. It was impossibly hot and very busy with people everywhere selling everything from slippers to blankets (who needs blankets here?) to lengths of fabrics, shirts and shawls. The architecture was interesting with high arched arcades to catch the air and doors into tiny shops. The water taxis there (abras) are a bit different from those in Venice.

Textile souk

Slipper seller

Dhow and abra on the creek

Because of the heat, much of the shopping is concentrated in malls. This must be one of the few places where a mall is a destination. Dubai Mall, next to the tallest tower, Burj al Arab, has over 1,200 shops, of which more than 200 are arranged into a gold and jewellery area. Gold and precious stones are everywhere.

Gold jewellery in shop

Rooftop, Mall of the Emirates, echoes the roof lines of the souk

In the Mall of the Emirates there is an indoor ski slope, rather difficult to photograph, kept at -3 degrees when outside is 45 degrees.

Down near the creek area, we visited the old house belonging to Sheik Saeed al Maktoum, now beautifully restored after having fallen into some ruin. By itself it shows how the families lived and kept cool, with shaded arcades and roof terraces protected from the sun but catching the breezes. But it was also full of photos of Dubai in 1959 or so, that make you realise what has grown up over the last 60 years in this city.

Sheik Saeed al Maktoum House
(the towers capture and funnel the wind)

The shady terraces of the house

The return journey
We returned through Dubai in October. We were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to First Class on the 777 for no apparent reason, though the difference appeared to be dinner on demand and a better choice of food, plus a free Emirates hand towel. The lounge at FCO in Rome was available to the business class and first class passengers of several airlines and we felt it suffered from that, as no one airline was taking responsibility, so there were quite shabby areas in the toilets, doors not closing properly and so on. The food was also poor, disposable cups of salad where the lettuce had gone brown, a few creamy things on a bread base, a rice salad and that was about it. We also had to ask someone to find a paper or magazine written in English. I know it was Italy, but they had German, Arabic and French, just not any we could find in English.

The plane trip was fine and I fitted in two films, one of which was Angels and Demons, which made me laugh as we had just visited all the main places in it on our stay in Rome. When we finally landed in Dubai they taxied a long way to a hard standing and then bussed us back to the terminal, despite there being many empty air bridges, heavens only knows why! Anyway, quickly through luggage pick up and took our Emirates car to the hotel, getting in about midnight.

The hotel, the Burjuman Arjaan had very lovely rooms, full suites with kitchenettes and dining tables and a spacious separate bedroom and huge bathroom.

Bed room

Living room

We got it on Expedia for a bit over $200aud whereas the rack rate is about four times that. However, it is not really close to anything except a mall, and the view from the room was of rooftops.

It is important to keep in touch!!!
(rooftop from our window)

Breakfast was anything you might want and included in the price. Dinner the next evening was available in the restaurant but the hotel was not licenced and there was very little in the neighbourhood. The young concierge rang around for us but really didn't know what was available reasonably close, so we ended up at a rather downmarket bar and grill at a nearby hotel. The steak was fine and it came with a small carafe of indifferent wine at about $24aud, so not at all pricy but the surroundings were tacky. Had I been feeling a bit better (nasty cold) we would have looked further afield.

We visited the gold souk and spice souk and it was quite fun to discuss the sacks with the sellers, these were rosebuds for tea, these were dried lemons, the bean was to grind to a powder and rub on injuries and so on. They all knew that they couldn't sell herbs or spices to us because of Australian quarantine laws. I did buy some Frankinscence.

Shop in the gold souk

Spice shop in the souk

The mall attached to the hotel was large and VERY expensive. Nice to window shop though really beyond our budget, but we passed a nice time having a look and a light lunch.

Burj Dubai, tallest building in the world
(the needle shaped one, from the taxi)

Emirates car to the airport again, through morning traffic and the smog. The flight home was delayed five hours while they fixed the in-flight entertainment, so we used the laptop to catch up on emails and blogs and had a light meal while waiting.

I have real questions about whether I want to travel through Dubai again. We like to break our journey so we don't arrive exhausted at our destination, but we are not beach people nor shopping people nor party people, which seem to be the main past-times in Dubai. We enjoyed the cultural side of things and some of the history and architecture of the city. We probably could have chosen better restaurants, which was our responsibility, the smog blocked most views and we found the heat absolutely enervating. The plus side were the Emirates transfers and the fare costs, which were far lower than any other airline in Business class because we got "companion" fares for oldies. We will have to see what is available next time we travel.
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