I crossed the Grand Canal on the No. 1 vaporetto, alighting at Santa Maria del Giglio. Despite the long name it was little more than a wooden jetty in a quite culdesac. It is a small, relatively overlooked stop, overshadowed by the more flamboyant San Marco. It seemed a place where only locals went.
In true Venetian style, Musica a Palazzo is separated from the stop by a canal. With the Grand Canal behind me to act as a bearing, I passed along the Calle Gritti and into the Piazza Santa Maria del Giglio. At this time of day the piazza was empty, and I followed a network of twisting stairs and streets bearing no resemblance to my map. An arrow on a tiny handwritten sign led me down a dark alley, away from the blazing midday sun and into those days of Venetian glory and intrigue. I could hear water lapping at the buildings, and anything – or anyone – could be hiding in those damp shadows.
I passed an impeccably dressed Venetian. Sporting designer stubble and with his hair elegantly oiled, he sat smoking on a wall beside the canal. “Opera?” he asked, tossing his cigarette nonchalantly into the water.
Dante began TheDivine Comedy in 1308, while exiled from his beloved Florence. The pain of this banishment surfaces in his writing: You shall leave everything you love most, this is the arrow the bow or exile shoots first. (Paradiso, XVII). The poet never returned to his native city; even the tomb built for him in 1829 in Sante Croce remains empty. Yet were Dante to return to Florence today, much of the city would be familiar to him.
I’ve always been wary of airport hotels, but the Changi Crowne Plaza proved an impressive exception. I literally walked from customs (carry on luggage only as bags were checked through to the next day’s flight), down a flight of stairs and into the foyer. It was that simple. No shuttle buses, no ‘short’ taxi rides.
The subdued lighting of the foyer gave a timeless ambience perfect for international travellers with body clocks running at all different times. Decorations were quiet but elegant, giving character to the place where many airport hotels are completely soulless. Despite being at an airport, our room was quiet – and I even enjoyed looking over the tarmac at the planes. The blinds were heavy to allow for darkness and sleep at any time of day. No noise reached us from the other rooms. Continue Reading →
Where else to begin exploring Paris, but where the city began? Walking through the Île de la Cité covers some 4000 years of civilisation, from when the first Gauls settled here to those living statues who daily pose outside Notre-Dame for tourists.
Paris began her life on a boat-shaped island in the middle of the Seine. The city’s coat of arms proudly displays a boat tossed by the waves, above the motto fluctuat nec mergitu: she is tossed by the waves but does not sink. By the 3rd century BCE, the Parisii tribe had established a fortified settlement on what was to become the Île de la Cité, although other Celtic tribes had lived here from at least 2000 BCE. (Canoes dating back to almost 4000 BCE have been found on the banks the Seine.)
Without warning the rain tumbled from the sky. From the safety of the verandah I watched as fat drops danced across the garden onto the road. Squeals of laughter filled the air as people dashed for cover. In a matter of minutes the streets of Luang Prabang were deserted. Once the tropical rains begin, few venture outside.
It proved a bustle of activity in an otherwise sleepy town. I learnt this at the airport, which was new and bright and shiny. Resplendent in traditional Lao style, the multi-tiered roofs reach to the ground, while the so faa, or roof finials, stretch to the sky. From the plane the gold decorations sparkled amongst the verdant forest. The heat and humidity engulfed me as I stepped onto the tarmac, yet unlike many a tropical city, the air smelt sweet, and clean.
On the banks of the Arno, close to the Ponte Vecchio, stands a small and often missed museum. Hidden from the crowds milling outside the nearby Uffizi, the Museo Galileo – Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza sits undisturbed in the quiet of the Piazza de’ Guidici, a tranquil backwater in the heart of Renaissance Florence. The Ponte Vecchio is a few minutes away, as is the Uffizi and the Palazzo Vecchio. In the Piazza del Limbo stands the Santi Apostoli, founded by Charlemagne and one of the oldest surviving churches in Florence.
The museum’s origins are centuries old. It is housed in the 12th century Palazzo Castellini, which was known to Dante as the Castello d’Altafronte. (The Altafrontes were an important Florentine family involved in establishing the cloth trade, fundamental to the city’s growing economy.) In 1657, in memory of the recently deceased Galileo Galilei, the city of Florence founded the world’s first scientific institution, the Accademia del Cimento – The Academy for Experimentation. This beginning fostered a passion not only for the discovery of scientific knowledge and principles, but also for their application in all areas of human understanding.