Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Even if you love BN, you MUST LOVE Malaysia MORE!

After Project IC, ALL Malaysians across the political divide MUST vote out BN in order to put our house in order.

Even if you love BN, you MUST love Malaysia MORE!

The next GE is not about PR or is about Malaysians taking back control of our destiny.

Project IC shows how the system has been compromised by greedy leaders to subvert our nation. If we do not act for this elections, your vote could become meaningless the next time. Please share this message with others if you care about FREEDOM.

A Full Day - Venice Tour (5)

We spent the second day going to the outer islands of Murano and Burano; the former is famous for beautiful glass ornaments and the latter for lace.

In ancient Venice, the authorities encouraged people to go there to learn new skills with just one proviso- you cannot leave once you are skilled. I guess that was an early version of how to protect intellectual property!
Still a few managed to escape and that is why we find other places in the world with such skills too.

This early morning shot shows a small boat unloading supplies - it has a small crane for heavier loads. Adds to the costs of transporting goods.

As we had a few minutes waiting for the private water taxi, we explored the hotel a little and decided to have some fun.

"How do you waltz in this?" The correct hand placement should be at the waist and not the hips!

My wife hiding between the 2 costumes and that really shows how wide that costume was.

A view of the hotel interior - showing the reception

and the lobby. The 2 "dolls" are located opposite where I am seated.

The display was to advertise the rental services they had at the hotel. We saw a few hotel guests in costume when they were walking back after a day's parade.

The water taxi was a few minutes late; so we ventured into the hotel's private garden that are supposed to be the largest in Venice.
This site was formerly a monastery and the garden had a tall wall. The hotel site stretches from the small canal in front to the Venice Lagoon at the back. There were a few hotel suites on both sides of the garden. 

Finally we are away on the private water taxi provided by the glass factory.
It was about a 10-minutes ride from the hotel directly to the glass factory.
The downside was we had to watch the glass-making process that was interesting enough (20 minutes) and visit their very expensive showroom.
The exhibits were really beautiful but we both would not consider paying in excess of $20,000 to be a wise investment. OK if you are a millionaire, though. 

At the glass factory...only a few women enter this trade and it takes many years to be considered a master.

My wife trying to mimic the glass clowns!

A collection of glass flowers in Murano - beautiful when they caught the sunlight!
A quiet bridge in Murano

Burano is famous for its brightly coloured houses...reminded me of Carmelito in Buenos Aires that has a more vibrant air.

Captured this "2-headed" lady on the vaporetta on the journey back to Venice.
Some were models on a day's shoot. We were rushing back for a 4:30 appointment with a local tour guide but were about 15minutes late. I had left his phone number at the hotel so had no way to contact him. Later we found out he had waited maybe 10 minutes for us and then left. We walked about 20 minutes from where the vaporetta docked to the Rialto Bridge, the rendezvous.

This is inside one of the numerous churches you will find in Venice. Just pay a visit and take a break from the busy routine that makes up most holidays.....but you have to pay to enter some churches.
Our night program was called "Love Duets" at the Palazzo Musicale. The singing was in Italian but that was no problem to appreciate the quality of the 2 singers, a tenor and a soprano. The setting was the hall of a palace and there was no sound system. No need for such as when the two sang, you could feel their energy vibrate in your was that powerful. As the singers were at a distance of perhaps 5 meters, the effect was a little hair-raising at times!
You can see 2 of the sets for the Love Duets. The audience was about 20 and we met a young Chinese engineer who was on her own. The audience numbered 30 or fewer.  
By the time the concert ended at about 10pm, we were tired and headed back for a restful slumber. Do you burn up more energy during holidays?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Trip to Venice (4)

During Carnevale you will find people dressed up with different types of costumes - these three were sitting outside the Palazzo Ducale and made and an interesting shot with their fancy costumes.
This intricate mosaic landing was part of the interior staircase in an earlier post. The work is very fine and I daresay the workmanship is far superior to what we find in the best homes today. 

Another view along the Grand Canal. The water level was pretty high and the water lapped close to the floor of some high tide, some building would be flooded.
Another picturesque figure...his headgear indicates he could be a high palace official.
Some gondolas near San Marco. The church in the background is San Giorgio and we took a lift up the tower to view San Marco from the other side of the Grand Canal. The No2 boat station is about 200 meters from this point.
Such a sweet smile from this pretty lady in her intricate costume.
San Giorgio is on an island that contains only church buildings.

These seniors looked pompous in their costumes!
This little boy/girl? was picking confetti from the ground. At first we thought it was a fat puppy!
The Rialto Bridge taken at night - this is a good place for food and souvenirs.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Enjoying the Venice Carnevale (3)

 Our first day in Venice was a stark contrast to the night before.
The sun was shining, the sky was a glorious blue and it had stopped raining.
So we headed out at about 10am for our tour at the Palazzo Ducale at 11:45am.
You can also visit the place by yourself but we joined the Secret Itinerary tour that takes you into areas not open to those with the normal entrance ticket.
This is the wider lane that leads to the main shopping area in our district. You will observe that the lane is still wet from the rain.
As this is a residential area, there was not much going on at 10am on a Sunday morning.

 A group of friends dressed for the Carnevale. Most masked participants are really sporting and willing to pose with you. I have never come across this some parts, people expect some money.

 We got on the No1 vaporetta that was headed to San Marco, the centre of attraction for Venice, with or without the Carnevale. Both the No1 and 2 ply the Grand Canal and No1 is considered the slow boat; stopping at all the boat stations. No2 is the "express bus" so you must check where you are going before boarding.
If in doubt, ask the crew.
Important note: You must validate your ticket at the machine in the boat station before you board the vaporetta. With the 7-day ticket you only need to validate once as that marks the date and time of the first use.

On the route, we saw many interesting buildings with different styles as Venice has Greek, Islamic and Roman history dating more than 1500 years. 
 The photo (left) shows gondolas in their parking lots. The right photo shows part of the Rialto bridge, this area is good for cheap buys.
You can negotiate for a slight discount if you buy a lot from the smaller shops.

Gondolas and water taxis make up the smaller craft that ply the canals. There is another type called "traghetto" that have a strange practice - passengers are supposed to stand while being rowed a short distance; usually at a canal crossing. The fee is between $1 to $2 compared to the vaporetta fare of $6 for a ride (valid for 60minutes).($ to represent Euro)

This is the Grand Staircase of the Palazzo Ducale, the official residence and office of the political head of the Venetian state - at its height of empire, Venice was a powerful seafaring nation.
Visiting delegates would climb this impressive staircase to be welcomed by the Ducale, who would be waiting at the top of the stairs. 
The group of about 12 who went for the Secret Itinerary tour conducted in English that lasted for about 80 minutes. During the planning and on tour, we found Rick Steve's book on Venice a very helpful guide. There were 3 Romanian couples in this party and they all spoke excellent English. 
In fact on the flight into Treviso, I was seated next to a young Romanian couple who were going skiing. They had lived in the UK for a few years and Romania will soon join the EU.

Being the official palace of the head of state of a powerful city nation, the Palazzo Ducale(PD) had really beautiful finishing for the interior areas that were open to the public. This was the main stairwell inside the PD.
The photo at right shows how the state managed to control its interests.
This is a "letter-box" for informers to report crimes anonymously so that the "secret police" could investigate.

Sometimes, torture was used and judgements given after the trial was conducted.
We were taken to a room where the prisoner was strung up with hands tied behind the back for a few minutes.
This basic torture is called "strappado".
We were not allowed to take photos during the Secret Itinerary tour. 

This photo was taken in the Palazzo Ducale Museums. Can you guess what that is?

After the tour, we headed outside to where the action was. It was a riot of colour Venetian style. These gallant gents posed with my wife. They would have made good bodyguards!

There were a few stalls in the square selling costumes and masks for those who had the urge to join the masquerade.

The costumes were varied; from the wealthy merchants to hermits, from bubble bees to masked courtesans; we even saw a Star Wars trooper!

Carnevale has a nice family feel about it and even the children were not left out.

Away from the main centre of activity, we crossed a few bridges in search of a quick lunch.

Here a private water taxi sails away from the Bridge of Sighs in the background.
That is the white bridge linked to the Palazzo Ducale that leads to the jail.

We also saw these 2 ladies posing near a lamp post. If you think about it, Carnevale would be a fantastic opportunity for cross-dressers. With a mask and a dress, nobody would recognise you!

This last shot of San Marco basillica was taken at about 7:15pm when the sun was setting. Those mosaic tiles had some gold infused in them and hence the brilliant colour.
We were out and about from 10am to almost 10pm when we returned to our hotel. With all the walking and bridge crossing, I reckon we would have walked at least 6km on the first day.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Venice Trip - (2)

We arrived in Venice after travelling on the RyanAir bus from Treviso airport to Piazzale Roma, the place on the island where the buses terminate and the water transport begins.
The island is easily accessed by the boats called vaporetti or by using a good pair of shoes and crossing many bridges usually fewer than 20 steps up and down; except for the major bridges across the Grand Canal.
As I mentioned earlier, we purchased our 7-day ticket for €50 and that entitled us to the entire network operated by the company, including travel to a few islands.
Some practical advice for vaporetti and Venice - try not to carry more than the airline cabin luggage in case you have to walk as there could be a few bridges to overcome and you also have to get on and off the boat with your bag.
For our 5-day trip, we had 2 cabin-sized bags plus a backpack and we checked one of the cases in by paying extra for 15kg. RyanAir is very strict about cabin luggage-ladies must put their handbag into the hand carry and the total must weigh 10kg or less. Ladies who carry giant handbags beware!
The scene at Piazzale Roma was chaotic as bus passengers scurried for shelter from the heavy rain and strong winds.
It took about 10 minutes in a bus shelter before we got our bearing right and headed to a tobacco shop about 100 meters across the road.
We bought the €50 tickets and then headed to the nearby Grand Canal vaporetti stations. The hotel had indicated ealier the stop where we should get off. It sounds pretty confusing at first but after a few trips it's easy enough for folks like us who cannot speak Italian.
We were able to locate the proper stop after a walk in the pouring rain and even before we reached the stop, we saw evidence of the fury of the wind gods - a few  €7 umbrellas were abandoned, their flimsy frames shattered by the ferocious winds. I had an anorak and my wife had a rain coat so we had some protection; except that our shoes got wet.

The vaporetta is a water bus that can take about 80 passengers and the boat was quite full; so getting in with our luggage caused some problems. About 2 rows in the front were reserved for the handicapped, those with babies and those above 70 - so we did not qualify. The Italians are quite disciplined about this and even though there were no elderly on the ride, the seats remained empty. I even watched a woman educate her kid not to sit on the reserved seats and the kid obeyed her.
I sat there and got a few annoyed looks!  

If you study the vaporetta route map, Piazzale Roma is on the Grand Canal, the old river that winds through the island of Venice. We were headed for Orto on the northern part of the island and facing the Venetian Lagoon, the body of water between the island and the mainland.
The moment the vaporetta entered the lagoon, the waves started rolling the boat. For non-seafarers it was a scary experience and I guess the waves were at least one meter high. 
Even when the boat docked, it was heaving about 400cm at the platform and thus you had to time your landing - a heavy suitcase is not going to help so travel light unless you get a private water taxi.
Even with a private taxi, the boatman will only help you get your bag on the jetty and after that you are on your own as he cannot leave the boat unattended.

We managed to disembark safely at Orto and struggled to get to the hotel. It was not the bags but the howling winds that would have rendered any umbrella useless. The next step was to locate the hotel....I had been informed of "a 2-minute walk" but when you arrive at night and not sure which direction to turn in blinding rain and chilling wind, it's a different story altogether.

So I let my instinct lead me and we managed to find the Boscolo Venezia without any detours.

This is the main entrance - there is a small canal in front but the vaporetti does not service this route as it is too small-maybe 12 meteres wide. The hotel, a former monastery, sits on a large piece of land that stretches from this canal to the Venetian Lagoon. The picture was completely different when we arrived - heavy rain, howling wind and bitterly cold. What a difference a day makes! 

 This is the first bridge of three across three canals that would end at the Grand Canal. You can see the hotel's red marquee in the middle of the photo.

This is a narrow lane between houses just after the first bridge; maybe 1.5meters wide. This district
is known as Canereggio, the largest in Venezia.

When we arrived on Saturday, our original plan was to attend the new Abba band that was performing at the San Marco square but the weather was so bad, we decided to stay indoors and enjoy the hotel's amenities.

However, when it was time for dinner, we wanted to explore the area around the hotel and decided to follow the route to the Grand Canal as we figured there would surely be some shops or retaurants nearby. The hotel receptionist had advised us to cross three bridges, maybe a "10 minute walk" to reach the Grand Canal.

We found a cosy restaurant just before the second bridge - it was patronised mainly by locals so we decided to give it a try. The locals were drinking wine and eating various tid-bits at the counter and we asked for a table - we were the only customers there.

We ordered a small decanter(250ml) of their table wine, one set dinner and a vegetable soup and the food was enough for two of us.
The bill came to about  €32 and that was our most expensive meal during the holidays. One of the dishes was seafood spaghetti that was excellent and the hearty mixed vegetable soup came in a large bowl.
 The spaghetti was cooked "al dente" and the mouth-fill was excellent unless you like your food mushy!
We also met a friendly Bengladeshi waiter who was waiting to get his PR papers as he had been there for quite a few years. Sorry I do not remember the name of the restaurant but I believe it had the name "Seafarers"?

After dinner, we walked across the third bridge and came to the main shopping area in the district.

This was the evidence of the earlier storm-it appears that two people(lovers?) had sheltered from the rain under the narrow doorway and finished their drinks. When the rain eased, they abandoned their brollies and continued on their way. Or maybe they had a fight and destroyed the umbrellas in the process?
One thing about the buildings in Venice - there are very few places to shelter from the rain.

That's me with an umbrella borrowed from the hotel. There is one other incident worthy of note in this area.
There was a hatless man about 40+ kneeling in the rain and bitter cold with an outstretched hand with a plastic cup. He just stared vacantly ahead and really was so unobstrusive that everyone could have avoided him as he was not blocking the way.
What was so compelling was his stoic stance....maybe he was doing some kind of penance? Even when we gave him some coins, he did not look at us but merely uttered "grazie" in a firm voice.

When we finished window-shopping in the rain and headed back to the hotel about 30 minutes later, he was still there- a lone, forlorn man kneeling begging in the rain.

That sums up our first night in Venice. This was my second trip to Venice - my first had been some 40 years ago, when I took a summer coach ride and spent 1 night here. My wife came to Venice maybe 12 years ago.