Five lands

10 03 2013

The Port at Portovenere

Cinqueterre – five lands – is part of the Italian Riviera. I had planned to walk the coastline – a somewhat ambitious project at the best of times given my current fitness level, however upon arriving and realising that the walking trail was more suitable for mountain goats, I was very glad for the hop-on-hop-off water taxi that visited four of the five towns. (A month before I visited a couple of Australian tourists had been badly injured in a landslide and the walking trails were closed anyway. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it!)

The towns are arranged around harbours at the base of steep hillsides and cliffs. Apparently it is a great area for seafood, which can surely be the only reason why their intrepid ancestors decided to settle in such an inhospitable environment. While the sun shines, it is gorgeous. The footpaths in the towns are very steep, full of staircases and with little motorised transport. Some of the houses set on the cliffs certainly look too steep to possibly have motorised transport to their door. And you wouldn’t want to sleepwalk – you might fall off a cliff! The steep terrain also causes periodic flooding (see here andhere) which send walls of mud down the hillside and through the towns. There is however a train line cut into the side of the hill, and roads can be seen at the top of the hills. And the walking path, when it is open.

Here are some of the best of the Cinqueterre photos.


















Still a working port for local fisheries




View from our balcony, Monterosso




church at portovener
The stripy church that overlooks the entrance to the harbour at Portovenere reflects the stripy cliff-faces in the area.

If I won the lottery….Albergo Milano, Brunate

2 03 2013

If I won the lottery, this is what I would buy…

albergo milano in flames

High above Lake Como, perched on the top of a mountain by the funicular railway, sits an abandoned hotel. This imposing building has a majestic vantage point, overlooking the town of Como, the lake, and across the mountains and valleys into the distance.

The line up the hill is the funicular railway, below



The hotel is Albergo Milano, and it sits in the town of Brunate. I travelled by train from Milan to the town of Como, then walked around the edge of the lake to the funicular railway which took me to the top of the mountain. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had left the town of Como and entered the town of Brunate.

Brunate is a town of over one thousand people, situated atop the mountains overlooking the lake and with views over range after range of mountains disappearing into the misty distance. The roads run between houses perched on steeply sloping land, each angled to capture the amazing views.


view from the top (above and below)


The hotel is currently fenced off, a dusty shuttered building sitting waiting for its next life. In front are two rows of manicured trees, a shaded garden that on e no doubt saw elegant ladies taking the air, children running between the trunks and swinging from the branches, and perhaps afternoon teas sheltered from the hot mountain sun.

The former elegance of the hotel shines through its current condition. The shuttered windows have a patient waiting feel to the building; it is sleeping, awaiting someone to come and gently wake it for its next life, restore it to its former glory.

(Albert, the guardian of Albergo Milano shows us around the hotel)

This hotel captured my imagination, and stayed with me even as I travelled back to my real life in Australia. Thanks to the miracle of google I managed to identify it and find a partial history.

Now I just need the lottery or a fairy godmother / godfather, so I can restore it to its former glory and live happily ever after in Italy.









Postscript: The hotel has apparently had fire damage – which was not really visible when I saw it.

the business of Venice

24 02 2013

When you think of Venice, you think of canals, obviously. But other than the canals, there are no motorised vehicles in Venice. No cars, motorbikes, trucks. Nothing. And the narrow laneways lead to steps and bridges, making any form of wheeled or motorised vehicles impractical. So how does the business of Venice get done?

Given the difficulty of traversing the streets of Venice with wheels, everything goes via the narrow and sometimes crowded canals. An excellent documentary called Venice 24/7 looks at the practicalities of life in Venice – including street names and numbers that are non-continuous, making finding addresses for emergency services vey difficult. (I was unable to capture a fire brigade boat, but Venice 24/7 also follows the fire brigade.)

My other big question, is how on earth have they retrofitted an electricity grid system, running water and sewerage in an ancient town with established buildings, water all around, sinking an average 1cm per year into the mud flats (but not evenly), and regular flooding that also fills the basements and ground floor rooms of buildings, houses, hotels and shops.


Delivery boat on the Grand Canal


And this is how goods and supplies are delivered to and from shops and businesses – handcarts. (above and below)



Police boats (above and below)



Water taxi


Delivery boat unloading in the narrow canals


Police boat in dock


Early morning hand-cart deliveries, as the garbage waits to be collected (also using hand-wheeled trolleys)


TNT postal deliveries


Delivery of building materials – sand, concrete, bricks – also comes via boat


Water buses


More early-morning deliveries – preparing for the day before the tourists are up and about and the canals are crowded with gondolas. Note the crane on the boat furthest away, for unloading heavy goods.


Buses leaving bus-stops on the Grand Canal.


The boat on the left is the Magistrato Alle Acque – Servizio Informazione (Magistrate of the Waters)


A row of Ambulance boats in dock near the hospital (above) and an ambulance on its way to a job (below)



Waterbus driver – or pilot? captain?


Bus route around the Islands of Venice


Coast Guard


prison guards

Venice in the evening

23 02 2013


Piazza San Marco, with its distinctive pink (Murano) glass street lights.

Viva Venezia!

2 02 2013


It’s been a while since I posted – and even longer since I posted something on travel.

In October 2012 I travelled across the north of Italy, starting in Venice, then travelling to Verona, Milan (with a side-tripe to Lake Como) and then to the gorgeous Cinqueterre.

Venice is, it is true, very touristy. But I love touristy places. Being surrounded not only by locals, but by travellers from the world over. I love that everything is there, available to the tourist, when you want it. Being able to wander around and just pick a restaurant when you are hungry without having to book in advance. I love the touristy shops, displays and the sightseeing, all available and on tap. And I love that everyone is so patient with my very poor language skills – after all, I am unlikely to get fluent in every language for every place I want to visit.

And we were lucky enough, arriving in the beginning of October, to miss the height of the tourist season, when Venice is packed, but still got good weather.

Venice, like all the best tourist cities, is a city for walking. Yes there are the famed canals, and a multitude of water craft to choose from – the very expensive gondolas (85 Euro for a 40 minute tour through the canals, with specific sights pointed out – Casanova’s House, Marco polo’s House, Mozart stayed there, etc), the comparatively cheap water buses and easy to use (20 Euro) or water taxis. However, having experienced all of these, wandering through the back-streets of the city centre will show you the sights as you (and, it has to be said, hundreds of other people) discover quiet canals, picturesque bridges and charmingly distressed buildings.

And of course, high-end shopping. Every designer worth their salt has a shop in Venice. Quite how they manage to save their stock and their shop-floors in the regular flooding – well I don’t know. But window shopping in this town is amazing.

Venice is also known for Venetian glass – or more accurately, Murano Glass. The Island of Murano is one of many that make up the city of Venice. A scenic water bus journey of about 50 minutes, or if you are in a rush, a water taxi of about 10 minutes, away, and a variety of glass techniques, glass blowing, and much to buy from museum grade pieces to cheap necklaces and tiny glass animals.

Below is selection of some of the best of my many (many) photographs of Venice.



Tables with a water view…..

VeniceVenice sinks at about 1cm per year, so the buildings are constantly under strain as they sink unevenly into the mud.  Many Venetian buildings have damaged facades from centuries of slow subsidence, which only adds to the charm.

??????????????????????????????????????????????The famed Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal.  Note the traffic on the Grand Canal, where slow moving gondolas do battle with water buses, water taxis, private vehicles and the Venetian equivalent of trucks – boats moving everything from building supplies to retail goods to post office delivery trucks.


???????????????????????????????????????????Gondola station on the Grand Canal.  There is a centuries-old law that says gondolas must be black.

??????Water buses leaving and approaching the floating bus-stop at the Rialto Bridge, on the Grand Canal.

??????Traffic on the Grand Canal, lined with restaurants and gondola stations.


????????????????????Gondola Station.

???????????????????????????????????????????View along the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge.

??????Parking lot for gondolas.  Just to the left around the corner is the Hard Rock Café.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Piazza San Marco, viewed from a gondola.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Another view of Piazza San Marco from the gondola

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????One of many quiet canals, viewed from under a bridge.

?????????????????????The Island of Murano, where Murano glass is made.

?????????????????????Shops in Murano.  The entire island seems to be glass shops, souvenir shops, and restaurants.

?????????????????????Main canal in Murano Island.

?????????????????????Main canal in Murano island


?????????????????????Murano.  We had lunch at the restaurant on the right, under the white canopy.

?????????????????????Canal in Murano Island, taken from a bridge.


?????????????????????Canal in Murano Island, taken from a bridge.

???????????????????Gondoliers ply their trade on the Grand Canal near Piazza San Marco.  Photo taken from a restaurant.  Note how many people are in the one gondola out in the water.  Given the price, this is not a bad solution!

???????????????????Gondola station near Piazza San Marco

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Detail of one of the shopping arcades that line Piazza San Marco.

?????????????????????????Basilica San Marco, and tourists.  A moth after we were here, the entire piazza was underwater in one of their frequent Acqua Alta – which appears to be a very high tide.  News photographs showed people in bathers floating over the top of the chairs in the foreground.

?????????????????????????Tourists in Piazza San Marco, and the very distinctive pink glass street lights.

????????????????Gondola station near Piazza San Marco (another photograph taken from a restaurant table).

??????Venice is a town for walking, with narrow laneways, stepped bridges over smaller canals, occasionally opening up to massive stone churches, elaborately decorated (above and more detail below)


Cruising for Trouble

31 03 2012

Cruise Ships and a tall ship in the Bay of Sorrento, off Sorrento, Italy, 2011. No reason to think any of these have had trouble though!

Guess what I got for Christmas?

I got a brochure for a cruise around the Mediterranean stopping off at points north, south, east and west of the sea – a quick jaunt around fifteen countries (ish) without having to unpack or move hotels. Sounds fab?

January 13: The cruise ship the Costa Concordia hit a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea just off the eastern shore of Isola del Giglio, off the western coast of Italy. The Captain, it is alleged, steered the ship too close to the shore – allegedly a common practice to give passengers and people ashore better views – and then bailed out in one of the first lifeboats that was launched. Investigations continue – at least 30 dead.

February 27: A fire on the cruise ship the Costa Allegra left that ship without power and adrift in the Indian Ocean 200 miles southwest of the Seychelles. This area is frequented by pirate ships.

March 31: Cruise ship the Azamara Quest is adrift powerless in the waters south of the Philippines following a fire that took out its engines.

Alarmingly, googling “cruise ships 2012 incidents” brought up way too much information – much more than I really wanted to know. (If this is your thing, or you want to scare yourself precruise, try here and here.)

Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something?

Where Da Vinci lived

23 02 2012

Da Vinci spent his last few years in the picturesque town of Amboise, where he was provided with a house and gardens by his patron. This property is now preserved as a tourist attraction providing interesting insights into the many and varied inventions of Da Vinci – and a copy of the Mona Lisa!

The house is set in a large well-kept gardens. While the house itself is furnished much as Da Vinci would have known it, the basement area is full of replicas of some of his inventions – some which were not made in his day, but built from his drawings. Notably a large number of these are weapons of some sort – more accurate long-range cannons, machine gun, etc. Presumably this was at least in part due to who his funders and patrons were at the time, and the type of inventions they required of him.

The gardens feature a number of large working models of other inventions which are sturdy enough for children to play and experiment with, as well as some posters of his diagrams of anatomy.

Da Vinci was trained or self-taught in many areas of endeavour – anatomy, botany, engineering, art, geometry. In an era where we are encouraged to specialise in one area of study from mid-secondary school, he is a salient lesson in following your interests, and the intersection of many fields of endeavour.

screw-based helicopter

replica tank made up as a children's roundabout

screw pump for raising water

wheel for lifting heavy objects

poster displays of Da Vinci's anatomical drawings

two layered bridge to combat the plague (waste went across lower level, people on upper level)

working kitchen garden

Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
La Seine
Theme Parks, French Style