Viva Venezia!

2 02 2013

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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.

Enjoy!

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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.

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???????????????????????????????????????????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.

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????????????????????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

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

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

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?????????????????????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)

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Flight safety

5 01 2013


photo credit: licensed under Creative Commons from Beverly & Pack


photo credit: licensed under Creative Commons from Beverly & Pack

One of my favourite books, Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a trilogy in five parts) has its hero travelling the universe interminably seeking….who knows what. Well he thinks he is seeking the earth in some parallel universe – it has been destroyed in his own universe. Anyway, this is actually beside the point.

Because of his excessive travel and excessive boredom, and because he was trapped on a spaceship which was put in suspended animation while they awaited a delivery of moist towelettes so they could take-off, when his flight is actually involved in an emergency, he is the only one who survives because he is the only one who has actually listened to the safety instructions.

Flying with children who are somewhat nervous brought this to mind. They are the only ones on the flight who listen to the stewards doing the emergency instructions, and are the only ones reading the evacuation and emergency procedures card.

Airline staff are one of those stereotypes that often is the butt of comedy jokes. And none-so-more that the emergency procedures which is, after all, the most distinctive thing about them from the viewpoint of the flying public.

Who has not seen a hilarious skit where the stewards turn the safety presentation into a lesson on bondage? Oh – what? only me? Ah well. It stayed with me.

Australian comedian Adam Hills tells a story about a hostie who had integrated some Auslan sign language (Australian sign language for hearing impaired) into the safety presentation. Only in Australia is there sign language for “Fuck you, Fuck youse all” (youse being plural of you, for those unfamiliar with vernacular bogan). I won’t spoil the joke – it can be viewed here.

However, airlines are starting to get in on the joke. Air New Zealand has released this Hobbit inspired safety video. While it is a hit on Youtube, I presume it is also shown on flights. While the safety details are pretty much the same as any other safety video, one would have to be more concerned about finding an orc, or Gollum sitting alongside or behind you….and there are no suggestions how to deal with unpleasant fellow-passengers. Also notable, two of Tolkien’s grandsons make guest appearances, as does Director Peter Jackson. This isnt Air New Zealand’s first effort – a previous safety video (view here) features stewards and passengers wearing…..body paint!

Of course other airlines have tried to make the safety videos mire interesting, notably….Thomson Airlines (featuring small children, this video from Sri Lankan Airlines is animated, as is this offering from Virgin Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Cebu Pacific’s video featuring a choreographed presentation, which must surely make the routine more entertaining for staff, as well as passengers.

Fly safe!





amazing video…..from around the world

17 06 2012




Gumeracha Medieval Fair

6 05 2012

I finally made it to the Gumeracha Medieval Fair, after having seen advertisements for many years. Set in scenic Federation Park in Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills, the themed marquees, the central town square for entertainments and the large number of costumed participants and attendees made this an interesting variation on the town fair. Seeing a monk or a damsel in medieval costume texting on their i-phone made for an interesting look!

Federation Park features some amazingly large gum trees set around a creek. The fair covered both sides of the creek with a wooden foot-bridge to cross from one side to another. The food stalls were themed (sausage rolls became rat in a roll), a central “tavern” tent served spiced Mead and old-fashioned soft drinks, and in addition to the many stalls offering things for sale, there were also displays of wood-carving, knife-sharpening, blacksmithing and spinning. Displays of medieval warcraft including archery, catapults, and knights battling it out in sword-fights to win the hand of a “not-so-fair” maiden (turned out to be a man in drag) were complimented by displays where the exhibitors talked about how various weapons and household implements were made and used. Helmets and chain mail were available to try on – and to buy.

So all in all quite a fun day (it actually ran all weekend), although late afternoon light rain seemed to call the end of the fair slightly before the advertised time.

Want some more photographs of Australia?
St Nicholas comes to Hahndorf
Prehistoric Australia
Prehistoric Australia





Travel places to avoid

30 04 2012

Some people collect countries like scalps. And not every country has the same value. The more touristy, the less value. The more perceived danger, the more value. Even if you missed the “danger” period by a decade or more. And so I claim Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa – more exotic and exciting than England, New Zealand, Singapore (but no less enjoyable). We did manage to time our visit to Egypt six months after the hand grenade attack on the tourist bus outside the Cairo Museum, and six months before the machine-gun attack on the tomb of Hat-sep-Chut (which I know I have misspelled). The most exciting thing that occurred while we were in Egypt was the 18-year-old armed youth on National Service as tourist police who tried to pick me up in the Cairo Museum (“Come with me and I’ll show you the Tomb of Ramses II” – an original line, if nothing else.) The fact that I was walking with my boyfriend seemed to be irrelevant. (NB: Tourist Police are supposed to guard the tourists – most of them seemed to be 18, carrying loaded weapons and on National Service. Their impressions of western women – and I generalise here – seemed to be somewhat jaundiced. While as Australians, we were somewhat nervous being watched and guarded by armed guards, the South Africans we were travelling with were relieved and said they would be much less comfortable of the guards had not been there.)

The following picture was sent to me at work. I can’t quite work out the “logic” or criteria for allocating each cause of death to each country, but I note that China does not feature as having a notable cause of death. Perhaps the source of their longevity? Not sure the same can be said for much of Central Africa, which also appears not to have any specific notable deaths. And in sheer numbers, shark attacks really do not feature that highly in Australia, despite what we might tell tourists. (Diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and cancer feature more highly, as in many western countries, including England, another notable left off the list.)

And seriously – death by lawnmower in the US? Is that not an episode of Six Feet Under?

Like some more Australian KULCHA (culture) abroad? Try Australians abroad.





Prehistoric Australia

21 04 2012

at the entrance to the Naracoorte Caves National Park - perhaps fossils from the iron age????

Naracoorte is a small town in the south-east of the state of South Australia. It is about four hours drive from Adelaide, so more of an overnight stay than a day-trip, if being attempted with children.

Naracoorte was one of my favourite holiday places as a child – and more specifically, the Naracoorte Caves. These massive caves are naturally formed from the actions of water on limestone, and as well as featuring spectacular stalagmites (from the ground up), stalactites (from the ceiling down) helicotites (sideways!), columns and curtains (as they sound), they also feature fossils from prehistoric animals.

While there are no massive dinosaurs here, there are a large number of smaller fossils ranging from lizards and small rodents up to megafauna – giant prehistoric kangaroos and wombats, and my favourite, thylacaleo carnifex – the marsupial lion. The caves are still under excavation by archeologists so who knows what other animals will be found in the tonnes and tonnes of material yet to be sifted through.

The underground caves have guided tours while a few caves which have larger openings to the surface are self-guide. One of the caves is now home to a large colony of bats.

The rate of petrification in these caves is much (much) slower than the caves we visited in France, where the rate of water flow and the calcium load in the water was such that they could use it to petrify objects for the tourist trade. Here the stalactites, stalagmites etc grow at a miniscule rate.

another "iron age" fossil!

a banksia outside the caves

fairytale castles.....stalactites reflected in a perfectly still pond underground

these stagmites look like a nativity scene

stalactites formed along a crack in the ceiling

stalactites formed along a crack in the cave ceiling

a "curtain" stalactite feature

sink hole to the surface (looking upwards). These sorts of holes were how the animals fell into the caves and then were unable to get out again. Underneath these holes would be large piles of silt and rubble, unless a flood event had washed the rubble further into the cave.

Thylacaleo carnifex (marsupial lion)

Thylacaleo Carnifex (marsupial lion)

archeological dig

"Stanley" - megafauna kangaroo

thylacaleo carnifex - "Leo"

the archeological dig

Wet Cave

thylacaleo carnifex battling a giant snake

megafauna

megafauna kangaroo (model)

columns in White Cave - look like architectural columns

Flinders University archeology digs in White Cave - each stripe in the soil indicates a different period of time

leaving White Cave

Want more pictures of Australian sites? Try….
Adelaide Botanic Gardens
In the red hot centre
Old Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium