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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Memories of Venice

Venice was a hectic place to finish our European vacation but just about the most fun. After taking many trips, I have come to realize that the places you go are secondary to the people you travel and share the experiences with. Noel and I did many things in Venice but most importantly, we did them together. We ate, shopped, did some sightseeing and got a little tipsy.

It started with the shopping experience. She is definitely a bad influence but what a great time we had being bad. Jewelery particularly the gorgeous Murano glass necklaces tops the list. The lace purchases in Burano were complemented by the telling of the long history of the lace makers themselves, viewing several pieces of their lace artwork on display and drinking espresso at the post-shopping respite in the garden at the back of the shop.

The meals of Venice were definitely the best of the trip. Dinners at little out of the way places like Enoteca al Volto and the three hour seafood lunch on Burano at Trattoria al Gatto Nero were the stand outs. The service at the later restaurant was fabulous. Our waiter whose family has owned the restaurant since the 1940s was particularly attentive and made many useful menu suggestions. The dessert of the Burano biscuits dipped in a fruity dessert wine was a highlight. He incidentally spoke English with an accent that he latter confessed he attained while studying at the University of Edinburgh.

Of course, we did the tour of the Grand Canal by boat, had a Bellini at Harry's Bar, saw the fabulous mosaics of San Marco as well as the Doge's apartments and other things Venetian too. Although we did not have the romantic experience in Venice in an overpriced gondola ride, we did finish our European vacation with the very James Bond experience. A speedy near dawn ride in an overpriced water taxi through the many rios (water streets of Venice) and across the open waters of the Lagoon to Marco Polo Airport.

Saturday, June 06, 2009





We departed the boat/cruise today and took a local bus to Salona which is the ancient Roman settlement. Today, the ruins are surrounded by the new city of Solin. The walk about the site took almost 3 hours and it was quite marvelous. This is a truly a hidden gem and well worth the price of admission...about $5 Canadian.

The highlights include an ancient amphitheatre which was sadly mostly dismantled by the Venetians, a theatre and adjoining Temple, necropolis, thermae (Roman baths). Salona was a Roman city reaching its height during the reign of Diocletian (and probably his birth place).

It is also the site of the first Christian colony in Dalmatian. The emperor Diocletian was famous for martyring the local Christians and the first martyr of Salona were Dominus. St. Dominus got his revenge though as the Cathedral of St. Dominus is built over Diocletian's mausoleum and his body is missing too. Hmmmmm?

The exercise work out we got from walking the grounds was quite a direct contrast to the lazying about on the boat over the past few days. Our last pilgrimage was up to the citadel overlooking Hvar town which was a somewhat steep vertical climb up many stairs and a winding incline. However, the reward was our splendid views as we surveyed the lay of the land. It reminded of the Stations of the Cross trek I made on Gozo. Our meal that evening was fish Gregada in the restaurant named Hannibal. This a soup-like dish consisting of fresh fish cooked in olive, white wine, herbs,garlic and potatoes. Just delicious!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Dubrovnik and beyond

Walking the city walls of Dubrovnik

The Stradun from the city walls.

City walls from outside the city
Fountain in
Clock Tower in the old Renaissance square

The order for the good weather finally came in. We had two days of thunderstorms and heavy rains as we toured Dubrovnik. It was quite pretty despite the deluge. We walked the walls of this ancient city which is the best way to see the place. The main street known as the Stradun was a washed limestone finish from many years of pedestrian traffic.

The street was created to join the old Roman town of Ragusa with the newer settlement of the Croats...thus creating the city of Dubrovnik. Ragusa was hence originally an island with a different language and people. There is a mosque, a synagogue, and over a hundred churches and one cathedral. The old middle square has a Venetian palace called Sponza which houses the memorial to the defenders of the city during the aggression of the Bosnians and Montenegrins in 1991, In fact, several houses were destroyed by fire and the city walls were damaged too.

Our city guide was called Paulo, an Italian ex pat who was quite flamboyant and I suspect gay as well. He had dyed blond hair and orange trimmed sunglasses. He spoke animately and passionately about his adopted city with speedy and colorful descriptions and with theatrical gestures. Although he may not have always been factual, he was definitely entertaining.

We wander through the old Franciscan monastery, the orthodox church of St. Nicolas and St. Blasie church who is the patron saint of the city. At the end, we finally exited through a hole in the wall facing the sea to small bar called Burz at land's end to gaze on the towering 25m walls from outside the city. We took an extended walk of the city walls the following day. The occasional downpour did not diminish the grandeur of Dubrovnik.

Today, the sun came up and Noel and I worked on our tans. It was hot enough that I braved a swim in the cool and fresh waters of the Adriatic in Lombarda beach. We are now in Korcula, the reputed home town of Marco Polo. Boy have the locals milked their association with this traveller for all its worth. There is a hotel, restaurant, tower, local house, a bar and several souvenir shops with the Polo adage! We are taking a break from our seafood diet today to try some local beef and lamb specialities.