A few days in Rome.

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When we were planning our trip to Italy, we came across a lot of negative feedback about tourist traps in Rome, so we were a bit apprehensive before our visit.  To our surprise, we didn’t encounter any unpleasant experiences during our stay. We stayed in HiSuite, a small hotel near Piazza Navona. It was an excellent location with easy access to cafes, restaurants and grocery shops. Interesting places like Ponte Saint Angelo or the Arc bridge was within walking distance.  We booked our sightseeing tour with a guide in advance. It didn’t disappoint us, as we were in a small group, didn’t have to wait in long queues and our guide could explain everything in English. We visited the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel with our tour guide. We had dinner in the famous Alfredo alla Scrofa restaurant, said to be where Fettuccine originated. I personally didn’t like the Fettuccine dish they served, but the ‘live performance’ of preparing the fettuccine dish was excellent. The appetisers, meat and the deserts we tried at Alfredo were excellent.

We also visited Florence for a day trip, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a very rainy day within hours of our arrival. Here are a few photos we captured before it started pouring.

Family vacation in 2014, Venice.

Our summer vacation in 2014 was spent in Italy. We decided to start from Venice, stay in Rome for a few days and then visit Florence before heading back home. We flew from Berlin to Venice on Alitalia flight. Our hotel in Venice was right at the heart of St.Mark’s Square. It was a good decision to choose a hotel in the area as we felt it were safer and had easy access to most main attractions in Venice. We walked a lot during our stay, got lost many times and discovered some hidden gems along the way.  As expected, Venice was full of tourists, everything was more expensive if you compare the prices with Rome or Florence. I was surprised to see many ‘illegal’ vendors selling ‘designer bags’ and other items on the road. When someone from the authorities is spotted or seems to be approaching them, they simply ran away with the goods, only to set up in another location. The chase and run incidents occurred several times not far from our hotel, right in front of many famous Italian designer stores in the neighbourhood. I was particularly drawn to buildings that were hundreds of years old. The architecture and craftsmanship of those buildings were mesmerising. The artistry, attention given to details and the designs used on different materials were impressive. Those buildings were built in an era when technology and modern equipment and tools were non-existent so one can imagine the man power used and the number of hours spent on such complex projects at that time. The admiration for those marvellous buildings would continue as long as it exists. Besides admiring the old architecture and workmanship of buidlings, the gondola rides on Grand Canal was very memorable.  La Caravella restaurant and Mamo Trattoria Pizzeria is among the favourite places we had meals.

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An unrelated post!

Now that I’ve published everything that was left in my draft folder for over a year, I feel I’ve accomplished something on this rainy Friday. 🙂 I need to look into the travel photos from 2014 onwards and refer to the little notebooks I carry (I know I’m old fashioned) write about more recent adventures. I hope it doesn’t take another year or more to do that. Let’s see how it goes! Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with my goals, but surprisingly last year, I managed to read 11 books. My target was to read a book every month before 2016 ends. The books I  managed to read are:

  1. The good earth.
  2. Sons.
  3. Inside Jihad.
  4. G.
  5. The Maldives Islamic Republic,  Tropical Autocracy.
  6. Norwegian Wood.
  7. Low Land
  8. Gestapo
  9. Hospital Babylon.
  10. Fan Girl.
  11. 90 Minutes in Heaven.

 

 

Summer 2014, first stop in Berlin.

We went to Berlin for a friend’s celebration and decided to combined it with a holiday in Italy. Our friend’s celebration was on a cruise boat. We started the cruise in the afternoon, on the Spree River.  Afterwards, we had dinner at FluxBeu, a restaurant with the view of Spree River lake. It was a short distance from where we got off the boat. It was during the World Cup 2014 and the match between Germany and Algeria was on that evening. So we watched the match on big screens at the restaurant and it was a fun day. After the celebrations were over, we did some sightseeing, visited some historical places and the Berlin Zoo.

 

Flamenco Dance Show.

* Another post from my old blog that I forgot to publish here.

One of the first bookings we made upon arrival to Barcelona was to purchase tickets to a flamenco dance club called Cordobes. Cordobes is in Las Ramblas area in Barcelona. Las Ramblas usually describe as the “heart of the city,” as it has many theatres and shows houses in the area, that dates back to the nineteenth century. Cordobes have had Flamenco shows since the 1970s. We knew Flamenco shows are popular in Barcelona, but never expected it to be as popular; to have three full shows per night. The first performance at Cordobes was at six thirty, followed by another show at eight thirty and the last show scheduled at ten thirty. The early show is the most expensive,  ticket combined with a tapas buffet dinner. The second show was at eight-thirty, had two options, one with tapas buffet dinner and the other with a drink. Of course, the prices differ, as the saying goes, you’ll get what you’re willing to pay. The last show at ten thirty was the cheapest, with no additional charges or add-ons of extra services. The ticket prices ranged from forty Euros to hundred and twenty Euros. We purchased our show tickets for eight-thirty, with drinks only option.

We arrived at Cordobes fifteen minutes early, to find, that people were mingling and queuing in front of the building. Soon after we joined the line, our tickets were checked by a staff and pamphlets given to us. The leaflet had information about the Flamenco dance, its history and a brief note about the venue and performers. Soon we were assigned to another staff, who took charge and ushered us into the building. I assumed the hall we were in could probably accommodate over a hundred people. The room looked like a cave. Its length was longer than its width. The stage was facing the narrower part of the hall, set in a setting that resembled the mouth of a cave. The seating arrangement for the majority of the audience was on either side of the stage, where the room looked wider and longer. However, about six or seven rows of chairs were positioned, in front of the stage, directly facing it. The room was fully pack in all directions, except for a small gap between the stage and the few rows of seats facing it.

A preshow announcement was made informing us, that the show will be conduct, without using microphones, speakers and sound systems; hence, the organisers appeal for total silence during the performance. Filming or still photography using a camera or phone is prohibited, until they signal the audience to do so. Shortly after those briefings, it was show time. The music was played solely on guitars. Singing sounded like ballads, and there was a beautiful connection between the singers and the dancers. It looked as though the dancers movements and emotions get charged with the words from the vocalists. Dancing began as a gentle heel tapping on the floor, followed by a slow, gracious movements of arms and rhythmic hand clapping. Gradually the songs and the tunes from guitar became livelier, louder and the dancer’s moves became faster and more vigorous. Each performance ended with frenzied heel tapping and body movements with a sudden loud cry of excitement and handclapping from many performers.

The information on the Cordobes Flamenco dance club described the performance in these words. Flamenco does not tell a particular story, but speaks of the human condition in general or everyday life. It is music and dance, created in its purest form. The continuous improvisation from the artist, and the mystery of “Duende”; the playful interaction between guitar, song and dance create a dialogue with each other, which is inspired and created through intuition.”  Flamenco is performed in religious festivals, rituals, and church ceremonies and in private celebrations in Spain. In 2010, Flamenco made it to the list of UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

A trip to “Princess Island.”

Princes’ Island is situated in the south-east of the Istanbul city, in the Sea of Marmara. The Princes’ Islands consist of a group of nine islands. We were told that during the 7thCentury of Byzantine period and later during the Ottoman Empire, the members of the royal family were exiled to these islands. We decided to take a day trip to its fourth and largest island, named Büyükada. We went there by ferry. We bordered a ferry at Kabatas ferry docks situated on the European side of the Bosphorus, near the famous Dolmabahce Palace. Our ferry boat stopped at one or two islands, (I forgot to write the names) to drop off a few passengers before we reached Büyükada. The trip to Büyükada turned out to be an excellent experience. When we reached the island, we realised that it prohibits motor vehicles, so there were no cars, buses and motorbikes, etc. The only way to go about is on a horse carriage, bicycles or on foot. I thought hmmm this is my kind of island and wished if back home in the Maldives, the government would ever introduce such a policy in our tiny little islands. I know it’s some wishful thinking! 😦 Anyway back to Büyükada experience. We rode on a horse carriage and first visited a red pine forest. It was my first time to see a pine forest. After that we walked all day, some parts of the island were quite hilly, and it was beneficial if you think about missing workouts while on holiday.  I have a thing for beautiful architecture and gardens, and at the time of our visit the gardens had so many colourful varieties of blooms, the sight itself was pleasing and satisfying experience for me. One part of the island had so many restaurants, it gave me the impression that the area is exclusively allocated for catering businesses. All along the seaside, there were numerous restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream places with outdoor seating so that people can enjoy the sea view and the fresh breeze or air and just relax. Coming from an island nation that has bad land use plans (labour quarters and warehouses built at the seaside blocking the view and very few places that people can sit and enjoy the sea view), I could not help but wished if we could take places like Büyükada as an example in planning our islands.

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Day Trip to Bursa.

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During our stay in Istanbul, we went to Bursa for a day trip. To go to Bursa, first, we took a bus to the harbour, where the ferry boat leaves to Yalova. The bus boarded the ferry boat with its passengers, and we disembarked afterwards. Once the bus is parked in the boat, we were asked to proceed to the upper deck of the vessel. There were other buses parked on the lower deck, and many other passengers were already on the first deck when we went up.  Time passed quickly as we chatted with some fellow travellers, gazed at the greyish blue sky while enjoying the light breeze of air.When the ferry docked at Yalova harbour, vehicles were unloaded first, then the passengers and we boarded the bus we came in. Our first stop was at a hot spring. It was the first time I ever saw one, so I was super excited. I washed my face and hands from the water in hot spring before goint to explore the area. As we walked we found a mansion with a beautifully landscaped garden. It was said to be the retreat home of  Mustafa Kemal, the secular leader and the father of modern Turkey. After his death, the mansion was converted into a museum.

Our next leg of the journey was an uncomfortable bumpy ride with sudden sharp turns, as we climbed higher up the hill. But the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful as we passed some agricultural estates on the way up. By the time the bus stopped, what seems like to be the middle of nowhere on the road side of a narrow two-lane road, I was about to throw up from car sickness. The bus driver signalled us to follow him, so everyone followed him into a trail into the jungle and then we saw Sudüşen Waterfall. The water was cold, like chilled water. Few people with their children were camping or picnicking in the area. Some of them were soaked. An old lady was sitting in the vicinity of the waterfall with a strange kind of stove. She was making flatbreads. Her helper was another woman, who filled hot flatbreads with cheese, potato or a combination of both. It was sold for a Euro and was surprisingly delicious and filling. After that, once again we boarded the bus and rode up to Bursa without another stop. By the time we reached Bursa, it was around 2 pm, the heat was unbearable. We had a late lunch at a restaurant with a traditional Turkish setting.  The food and ambience were praiseworthy. After we had finished sightseeing in Bursa, our bus boarded the ferry back to Istanbul. As we cruised on the Marmara Sea towards Istanbul, it was close to sunset. The horizon was beautiful with shades of red, orange and yellow.  By the time we reached Istanbul harbour and started ourjourney back to the hotel, it was still rush hour. Our driver, Ismail Bey,  who didn’t speak a word of English babbled in Turkish and made us laugh with his gestures. We forgot how tired we were and didn’t mind stuck being in the traffic for another two hours or so.

 (I understood that it is common to use Bey, while addressing men in Turkey. Similarly, ‘Gul’ is added after women’s name.)