A Goan in Macau

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In Sun After Dark (Bloomsbury; 2005), Pico Iyer writes, ‘The modern, shifting world has brought disorientation home to us, and mystery and strangeness; even in the most familiar places we may come upon something unsettling …’ As I walk through the streets of modernised Macau, I recall these lines from one of my favourite travel writers, and I realise that I am confronted with the opposite. This Special Administrated Region (SAR) of China was administered by Portugal from the mid-1500s to 1999, after which it was ‘handed back’ to the Chinese government. All around me, I can hear what I guess is Cantonese, but every now and then, a Portuguese word or two drifts to my ears and I turn around in search of the speaker, in vain. It seems as if familiar ghosts of the past are haunting me in this remote Far East Asian territory.

I was born on the west coast of India, in Goa; a state which, like Macau, was also under Portuguese rule for over four centuries. The few Goans I’ve spoken to about Macau have nostalgic notions of an ex-colonial sister-seaport. Macau, like Goa, also had a diverse population of missionaries, businessmen and soldiers moving through its port. Similarly, locals took on Portuguese influences that are imprinted in Macanese architecture, culture and food. Like fraternal twins, Goa and Macau have similar interiors with different outward appearances. For example, take Goa’s Latin Quarter, Fontainhas, where the street signs are blue lettering on white tile. But here, although it’s the same mock-azulejos design, the signs are in Cantonese and Portuguese – the two languages that locals communicate in. Macau’s churches, protected by UNESCO World Heritage status, remind me of Old Goa’s similarly preserved clutch of ecclesiastical buildings.

Continue reading here

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Breakfast curry in Bangkok

(Published in Coldnoon)

I’ve never really taken to the idea of travelling around South East Asia, but a visit to Singapore a few years ago changed all that. The variety of cuisines and aromatic combinations of food on offer at Lao Pa Sat market and every shopping mall food court enlightened my tastebuds to the promise of Asian food way beyond just the Indian curries I was used to consuming.  So, when I arrived in Bangkok on holiday with my parents, I was anticipating a hearty food fest sandwiched between sight-seeing and shopping.

I may be a foodie, but I confess that my even my usually accommodating palate has boundaries.  After three days of eggs and tinned chicken sausage for breakfast at our hotel, I surveyed the limited choices on our breakfast menu for something different and ordered a Thai red curry instead.  To give you a bit of context, Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, but I’m quite traditional in my tastes.  I’m more of a Full English or Eggs Benedict kind of girl.   Coming from Goa in India, I’m used to rice with curry for lunch or dinner, but never for breakfast.

To continue reading, click here: http://coldnoon.com/breakfast-curry-in-bangkok/ 

Martha’s Vineyard – playground of politicos and celebrities

Rounding off the list of my top five favourite places I’ve visited so far (Florence, Venice Washington DC, Bali) is Martha’s Vineyard in the US of A.

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View of Edgartown harbour

I’ve done an earlier post of my visit years ago, but this was too brief and I decided to do a longer piece to do my visit justice.

It made a huge difference that I was there with my friend Corinna, who showed me around the place and discovered parts of it all over again with me.  I also got lots of me-time while she hung out with her family who were there to celebrate the 4th of July weekend en masse.  So, not only did I get to visit the famous playground of Democrat presidents, affluent liberals and A-list celebrities, I also got to see it decked out in its full patriotic regalia.

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Vineyard doorway dotted with Red White and Blue

Everyone who’s visited knows the few institutions that one must visit here.  Mad Martha’s ice-cream parlours are one of these.



As the legend of Mad Martha goes, born in 1880, she married a Harvard graduate stock-broker who eventually left her after he was ruined in the notorious stockmarket crash of 1929.  Left spouse-less, penniless and homeless, her bewilderment and extreme circumstances affected her so deeply that some say she developed a ‘mad’ look in her eye that led to friends referring to her as Mad Martha.  She eventually met and stayed together with Irving, an illiterate ice-cream maker.  He taught her everything she needed to know about the business and the product while relying on her to boost sales through marketing tactics that she learned and applied.  After he died, Mad Martha set up an ice-cream parlour on Martha’s Vineyard (not named after her!) which continues to draw crowds because of the original recipes that use butterfat and New England cream, creating the slow-to-melt product that have made her parlours famous.  Even though she died in 1950, her ice-cream legacy continues on today.  I only got to visit two of her many parlours across the island.  And yes, the ice-cream was very very good!

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Awkward pic of me scoffing down some lip-smacking ice-cream drowned in melted hot fudge!

I also loved the original boards advertising various flavours and combinations.  I don’t think they’ve been updated in over 50 years and are a part of the charm of this little shop.

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And talking about charming shops, one of the retail outlets I was lucky to get to visit before it …

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Entrance to Midnight Farm and its rustic charm

…closed down permanently last December (2016), was ‘Midnight Farm,’ part-owned by silent partner and famous singer Carly Simon (of ‘You’re So Vain’ fame).  This unusual and attractive shop in Vineyard Haven carried rustic handcrafted pieces, high-end clothing, reclaimed vintage furniture, quirky jewellery, books and other unique pieces.  Walking through it felt like I was in an oversized living room full of nostalgic nooks and curiosities.

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Inside ‘Midnight Farm’ – now closed


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The Black Dog shop in Oak bluffs

The Black Dog, a tavern pub and shop, also in Vineyard Haven, is another established institution on the island that is great for shopping.  There are lots of little stories elaborating why its called The Black Dog.  My favourite one is that it’s named after the original tavern’s founder’s black, sea-faring labrador who became a constant fixture around the inn, when he wasn’t aboard the owner’s boat.  The Black Dog has become a strong brand seen not only on The Vineyard but also now in Nantucket.  If you see people wearing T-shirts with a black dog on them, you’ll now know what it’s all about.

One rather rainy day, Corinna and I had a hankering for a bagel breakfast and made our way to ‘The Slice of Life’ cafe in Oak Bluffs.  It’s a small, cosy space that is full of lively chatter and obviously popular with locals catching up with friends over coffee or looking for a post-hangover brunch cure.

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Slice of Life cafe entrance in Oak Bluffs

I’m not kidding when I say that they have an extensive selection of breakfast choices on the menu.  It took us ages to choose as we pored over and shared notes on potential choices.  Buttermilk blueberry pancakes or Breakfast nachos with scrambled eggs?  Ocean park scramble with applewood smoked bacon and garlic potato pancake or Crab cake bagel with fried egg?  I finally chose the less adventurous Fireworks bagel, in honour of the 4th of July holiday mood, with fried egg, bacon and Blackforest ham sandwiched between poppy & sesame seed bagel bread, and a cappuccino, both of which filled up the breakfast shaped hole inside me.


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Fireworks bagel at The Slice of Life in poppy and sesame seed bagel bread.

The island seafood was something else entirely!

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The very full Seafood Shanty on a busy holiday weekend

Lunch at the ever-popular ‘Seafood Shanty’ in Edgartown was another offer of tempting choices until I finally settled for a thick clam chowder, the coastal New England must-have specialty, and scallops with sticky bacon.  Worth every penny!

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New England clam chowder
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Scallops & sticky bacon

Before you think that my visit was all about eating out and shopping, here are some of the sights I enjoyed visiting across the island.

I visited two of the island’s most interesting lighthouses: Gay Head Lighthouse and Edgartown Lighthouse.  They’re both so very different – the first located atop a cliff, overlooking the choppy waters of atmospheric Nantucket Sound, hitting the cliff edges under its protective eyes.

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Gay Head cliffs in Aquinnah
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Gay Head light house in Aquinnah

And the second was basking in the busy harbour of Edgartown, full of millionaire’s yachts making sure that they didn’t get stranded on a sandbar.

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Edgartown harbour lighthouse
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My shadow waving back at me 🙂
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Children’s memorial at Edgartown lighthouse

At the base of Edgartown’s lighthouse is a series of stones forming the Children’s memorial where one can have the name of their child of any age, who has passed, to be etched in a stone and placed here at the lighthouse’s base for all eternity.  It’s a wonderful thought, one that I’m sure gives hope and feeling to a lot of families who have lost their children.  It’s a first that I’ve come across in my many travels.

Next, we come to the Gingerbread houses.  They look like this –

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….a bit of this….

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Gingerbread house cookie-cutter porch

…and one of them looks like it was dipped in liquid pink antacid (which is what I needed to take after looking at these overly cute-sy houses).

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Overdose on ultra-twee cutesy pink hearts – never thought you’d see them on a house, eh?

Once I got over the start of an ulcer and kept my lunch down, I learned a bit about the history of the houses which made them a little more appealing.  I knew the part about Martha’s Vineyard being a haven for the whaling community in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Whaling captains and officers basically built the island up with their wealth and affluence until the demise of the industry with the discovery of oil as an alternative energy source that was more efficient than whale spermaceti oil and blubber.  There are 318 houses still standing today, all built over time to house the attendees of the seasonal Methodist Camp that was regularly held on the island.  The camp began as a meeting place for Methodists from all over the country and initially people were housed in tents around the camp’s rural acreage.  Over time, as the meetings established a regular schedule and attendance, along with a permanent camp building to hold meetings came a few houses to hold regular attendees.  They’re called Gingerbread houses after the decorative details of the architectural style which make the houses take on a cookie-cutter look.  Garish brights balanced with pastels, picket white fences and hydrangea bushes all add a certain something to the overall look.  One of the houses has been converted into a museum where you can get a look at examples of the interiors and how people lived in these miniature, tent-like, make-shift summer cottages.

When I visited Haiti in Nov 2009 I was amazed to find Gingerbread cottages in Port au Prince too, though I wonder how many are still standing after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the region in 2010.

Unsurprisingly, the island has simply amazing seafood available everywhere.  The done thing to do here is to buy a pint or a quart of deep fried seafood from a crab shack, park on the beach and watch the sunset, munching on your treasure while sipping a cold beer.  But, I’ve gotta say, the seafood is really a deep distraction from a gorgeous sunset.

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Just another gorgeous sunset sky on The Vineyard

We stopped at The Bite clam shack to buy boxes full of deep fried clams, oysters and scallops.  I don’t think I’ve eaten as much seafood in my entire life as I did on Martha’s vineyard.  It’s also when I discovered that I had an allergy to large quantities of rich seafood eaten all together.  We’d been eating scallops, clams and oysters, crab cakes and lobster rolls, and by day 3 on Martha’s vineyard the back of my eyes started to itch and my lips started to get a little swollen and itchy too.  I just paced myself after downing a histamine tablet and realised for the first time in my life that I had a slight shell-fish allergy.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely!  (she said, her mouth drooling).

What a clutch of fried clams looks like.  Yummy!

I realise that there’s a lot more about my trip to share, which I will do in Part 2 of this post. Look out for it soon!

Visited July 2009

Bavaria’s concentration camp in Dachau

Warning: This is not an ‘upbeat’ travel tale.

Deep in upper Bavaria is the unassuming German town of Dachau.  Unfortunately, it’s only claim to fame is its international notoriety for the concentration camp set up in the east of the city that was responsible for about 32,000 documented deaths during the Second World War.  Thousands more were undocumented.

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Memorial sculpture erected in 1968 within the camp

Visiting Dachau was a heart-breaking experience.  As you enter, the sterility hits you and it seems that the starkness has been cultivated on purpose, to convey and hide the horrors that occurred here.  But, after a minute walking around you’ll feel it.   It’s hard to escape the intensely sad feeling that settles over you, mostly because of the combination of a weird melancholic energy that lays low and heavy over everything.  Add to that the deathly stillness and silence that everyone who visits seems to immerse themselves in and you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with imagining what it feels like to walk around here.

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My friend Maria standing in the vast empty spaces of the camp grounds

The shock begins from the gate itself as we imagine all ‘workers’ passing through these gates saw these words ‘Work will set you free’ also loosely translated as ‘Virtue through labour.’  The incredible lies that bound these spaces of incarceration together still resonate throughout politics today, perpetrated by politicians of all race, creed, colour. The stark reminder lies here for us all.  History is doomed to repeat itself.  Politicians still lie.  We have not learned the lessons, only how to cover them up better.

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‘Work will set you free’


The eeriness spread across the camp is magnified by the exhibitions inside one covered space which outlines a narrative history of this death camp.

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As I read through the narrative, I found myself stopping only towards the end when I started reading through a few of the explanations of photographs of the scientific experiments that were carried out on inmates.  There were stress experiments on people to test the extreme effects of hypothermia and ways to revive as well as high altitude experiments to test affects and potential ways of recovering from unconsciousness.  The prints said that the original documentation was burned or lost after the Nazis heard the Allies were coming for them.

Walking around the camp, we saw the dormitories where we learn that inmates slept five or six to a bunk with barely a blanket to cover them.

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Bunk beds in the overcrowded dormitories
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Bathroom water taps

The worst thing to see at Dachau is these chimneys which one could easily walk past without realising they were a part of the furnace that incinerated the bodies of those inmates who were killed in gas chambers and then piled into furnaces to be incinerated.

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While the preservation of these camps seeks to keep alive in our memories the atrocities that human beings can rain down upon their own species, the hope in creating this ‘museum’ was that we would learn the lessons and pass them down through generations.

The harsh reality of our lives today is that genocide is alive and thrives in countries across the world.  There are no memorials for their dead.  Have we not yet learned the lessons? Obviously not.  In some countries, those who have perpetrated genocide through complicity and other means are still handed power and have been handed power time and again across the world.  Like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia under Pol Pot in the 1970s which wiped out at least a quarter of the Cambodian population.  Think Rwanda 1994.  And of course, most recently, the ongoing mass genocide of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people in Myanmar which is continuing to shock people across the world as visual images of the atrocities perpetrated by its regime are starting to be released.

And so it continues.

Visited in 2009





Communing with Stonehenge

I can’t explain why a bunch of upright stones is such an integral part of English heritage.  However, I could join loads of historians in speculating. Something to do with Celtic ritual, Druid worship, lay lines in Salisbury? Are they part of an astronomical clock, a religious temple or a burial ground?  Historians can agree on one thing – no one knows for sure why people dragged these forty ton rocks across the plains to Salisbury hill.  Maybe the stones were meant to mark where UFOs should land (I just love conspiracy theory).  Whatever the reason, they’re ancient, they’re protected and well, I finally got to visit them.  So here they are:

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And, boy, is there a lot of study and speculation about it all!  Luckily there are also some concrete facts too, like these below:

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I was told that there was a time when the stones were just lying about and visitors could wander amongst them.  Now they’re protected and you can only view them from a distance.  So, there we are.  If you don’t drive, the best way to see them is by a group tour bus of some sort.  It’s about a two-hour train journey to Salisbury from London.  But then, you have to get to the site which is quite a distance from Salisbury and that will be the challenge without transport of your own.  In any case, it was worth a peek and if you’re in the lovely town of Salisbury, make sure you visit the historic cathedral.


Visited in Sept 2012

#stonehenge #england #greatbritain #salisbury

Titian and Tiramisu in Venice

I’m so glad that I visited Venice with my friend Maria when we both had the chance to. She knew a smattering of Italian, much more than my meagre ‘Capuccino’ and ‘Pizza’ abilities anyway. So, she was in charge of booking accommodation at a modest three-star bed and breakfast family run hotel, and figuring out the transport basics to get us there by train from Marco Polo airport.

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Venice was one of the top ten cities on my bucket list. Ernest Hemingway was a regular at the city’s popular Harry’s bar, author Henry James wrote ‘The Aspen Papers’ here and poet Robert Browning’s last home was a palace in this little lagoon. If that wasn’t enough for this writer to dream of rocking gondolas then watching movies like ‘Summertime’ and ‘The Wings of the Dove’ clinched it. There’s nothing quite like the beguiling backdrop of Venice to bring out the best in tragi-romantic storylines.

As our train slid past deluged sandbars scattered around the city before crawling into St. Lucia station in Venice, I couldn’t help wondering how such a tiny lagoon of a city, apparently drowning in the Adriatic Sea, had managed to become the seat of financial, trading and religious power for so many centuries.

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Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

With 160 canals running through and around Venice, one can’t help but realise that it’s the delicate latticework of its 400 or so bridges that keeps the city stitched together. Thank God for the solid foundation of larch pikes drilled into the muddy seabed, mounted by thick marble slabs on top of which the brick and wood structures of Venice are built. The candy striped and plain wood markers outside house entranceways and windows help residents mark the level of rising waters every year, when Venice has seasonal flooding. That’s how they keep track of danger points when they know they have to evacuate their homes to higher ground. I can’t even begin to imagine the level of water damage that ground floors in all homes and hotels have to suffer often during the year.

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Note the seasonal water damage on beautiful, old buildings

There are only two ways to explore Venice – by foot or by boat. Vaporettos, or water buses, are an effective way to get to all the major attractions and a much cheaper option than the black and blue Gondolas sliding their way up and down crowded canals. Venice is the first place where I learned that waterways get clogged up with traffic too.

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Tourists boarding a gondola for a ride

You can buy a ticket on the vaporetto or get anything from a three-day to a week’s pass from one of the launch stops dotting the city’s main waterways.

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A vaporetto stop

Of course, the only way to see the city’s guts is to slip on your most comfortable shoes and traipse up and down those bridges of Venice, which will make you wish you had spent another half hour on the stairmaster at home. Right away, Maria and I decided to walk around the city and promptly got lost after an hour. But, it was only our first day there, and everything was sign-posted so we wandered around enjoying the atmosphere and the spirit of Venice all around us.

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Church of dei Frari in the background, containing Titian and Canova’s imposing tombs

It’s a haunting city, besieged by a host of moods from melancholic fogginess to sun-drenched optimism. You’ll find yourself picking up the city’s ever-changing mood of the moment. Whatever you do, don’t miss taking photos on Rialto bridge…

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That world famous view of the Grand Canal from Rialto bridge

…and the Bridge of Sighs (Ponti dei Sospiri). When we visited, unfortunately the Bridge was being ‘renovated’ and was almost entirely covered in tarpaulin with Chopard advertising on it. By the way, the reason for its name is because this bridge connects the Doge’s palace which was the seat of justice, to the prison. Prisoners convicted and sentenced at the palace court were led across this bridge into incarceration and legend says that their sighs were the result of their last view of Venice before they entered the prison.

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The Bridge of Sighs shrouded by advertising while renovation work was being done

Whether it’s agony or ecstasy you’re feeling, make sure you don’t miss the art and architecture of Venice that brings students and established professionals of the same over to this soaking city time and time again.

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The multi-scalloped basilica of St. Mark’s

From the decadent Baroque folly that is St. Mark’s basilica to the neo-classical lines of the Doge’s palace, both at San Marco’s Piazza, you’ll be transported to a place that no picture postcard could have prepared you for. Track down Tintoretto’s ‘Stealing of the body of St. Mark’ in Venice’s museum of art ‘Accademia’ which illustrates the story of how the city of Venice came to adopt St. Mark’s Lion as its own emblem. If you look closely at the detail on one of the basilica’s entrances, you’ll find a painted etching of the story.

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Painted detail of St. Mark’s body being smuggled out of Alexandria

The story goes that in 828AD two merchants smuggled the body of St. Mark out of Alexandria by covering it with pork to get past Muslim custom officials. When the body arrived in Venice a chapel was built to house the saintly remains. That chapel was gradually built over into St Mark’s Basilica where the saint’s remains are apparently buried under the altar.

Paolo Veronese was brought before the Inquisition in 1573 to answer the charge of irreverence in a painting intended to represent the Last Supper. Instead he changed the name of the masterpiece to ‘Feast in the House of Levi’ which can also be found at Accademia.

Veronese’s painting ‘Feast in the House of Levi’ in Accademia

This museum also has a great collection of Titians, Tintorettos, Canalettos and Canovas. If you’re an early bird who wants to avoid the jostling crowds, take advantage of the early morning opening hours of the museums and galleries. By 11am all of Venice is coffee-ed up and pounding the cobblestones in search of their own Muses.

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Late morning crowds of people at St. Mark’s plaza

A couple of interesting sightings for us included Tintoretto’s humble house along the canal in Canareggio and Canova’s tomb in the Church dei Frari.

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The Italian sculptor Canova’s massive tomb facade at the Church of dei Frari

If the inundation of Italian Renaissance art and architecture leaves you longing for something more abstract, expressionist, realist or surrealist instead– visit Peggy Guggenheim’s collection of 20th century modern artist’s works at her palatial home in Venice, now converted into a museum housing her own personal art collection of Brancusi, Picasso, Duchamp and Max Ernst (her husband). Peggy was a patron of Jackson Pollock – the American abstractionist most famous for his series entitled ‘One’ and you’ll find two rarely seen Pollocks on display here.

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Jackson Pollock’s ‘Alchemy’ at the Guggenheim in Venice

We even found Peggy Guggenheim’s grave in the palace garden where her ashes are interred, next to the graves of her dogs.

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We were tired of walking around all day and through Peggy’s palatial home turned art gallery, so we refreshed ourselves at the museum café with home-made Tiramisu and freshly pressed Italian coffee.

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Fresh Tiramisu at the Peggy Guggenheim museum cafe

If you’re looking for something special to buy as a memento beyond postcards of the incredible sights you will have already seen, the information point opposite the Vallaresso boat stop past the gardens facing the canal of the Piazza San Marco will have books on Venice aplenty, translated into English. You could grab a carnival mask to adorn your wall at home – they’re available to suit any budget, or pick up a wad of Venetian paper, famous for its quality and raw texture. Then again, you could easily take a boat trip from Piazza San Marco to the island of Murano to watch the art of glass-making and pick up a set of exquisitely blown, Venetian glass goblets for your dining table.

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A shop that sells nothing but Venetian masks for carnival or as mementos

You can’t go wrong with Venetian coffee, keeping in mind that this is the real, full-bodied, sun-soaked flavour of Italy infused into every sip you take. But, you must have it Venetian style, standing up at a coffee bar.

If you must sit down at a cafe, then do it in style at Cafe Florian on the Piazza San Marco. Around since 1720, some claim it is the oldest cafe in Europe and was a favourite hunting place of Casanova. Be prepared to pay an exorbitant 10 Euros for a cup of coffee with more on top if the musicians are playing. For the cheapest and the best coffee, stand up at the St. Lucia train station’s bar for the best espressos and cappuccinos at 1.50 Euros (2009 prices) a pop.

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Coffee at the train station

While in Venice, we decided to stop and relax over long, leisurely dinners only, trying out some of the restaurants in Canareggio and Castello, and avoiding tourist traps as much as possible. Keep in mind that you’ll only find Italian food in this city – like a Panini lunch at one of the sandwich bars dotting the city.  But infinitely preferable is a slice of pizza and a coke for all of 4 Euros (2009 prices) – not the healthiest option but definitely filling when you need to replenish all the calories spent waiting in lines to get into the Palazzo Ducale, the Basilica San Marco or the Campanile on the Piazza, which I was told has the best views of Venice from its bell tower.

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Lucky to get a seat at the hole-in-the-wall pizza stand

We went in search of Venice’s five hundred year old Jewish ghetto, mostly because I wanted to see the seat of so much intrigue in medieval Venice. Shakespeare’s work was influenced by this Venetian community, which had a reputation of its own in his time. Read the ‘Merchant of Venice’ if you want to know what I’m talking about.

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Square in the Jewish Ghetto

After visiting Academia, I finally understood why people make such a fuss about Titian, after seeing his grandiose, large-scale paintings on display.  Here’s his first Venetian commission that forms the altarpiece inside the Church dei Frari…

Assumption of the Virgin by Titian (his first big Venice commission)
Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Titian

…which incidentally also houses Titian’s tomb, grand-arch included, not far from Canova’s.

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Titian’s imposing tomb

Venice is one of the few places that I’d love to visit again, along with Florence, Washington DC and Bali – all of which are on my list of top five places I’ve ever visited.  I’m glad I got to go when I did, and the next time I’ll make sure to spend more than just 3 nights there, so that I can take in more of the city.

Visited in May 2009

Some of my favourite artworks at the Smithsonian

Washington DC is one of my top five cities in the world to visit.  It isn’t because it’s the home of power-mongering politicos, journalists and spies, but because it’s the home of the largest group of museums and artefacts on display FOR FREE.

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Posing in front of the Castle, the first Smithsonian building, completed in 1855 which is now a Visitor’s centre

This is the home of the 19-strong museum and research collection of the Smithsonian.  Each museum has a selection of timed, free tours led by experienced, knowledgeable docents, most of whom are art historians or cultural curators themselves.  It’s one of the best ways to learn about art and certainly how I began to explore collections.  I knew little to nothing about art for the first two decades of my life and didn’t have much of an interest in it.  Now, I know that that was because of a lack of understanding and context.  I started to learn about artists and their work after visiting the National Gallery in London (another free institution) where I tried to make it to as many free gallery tours as possible.  Next, I visited the British museum – one of my favourite places in the world to be, after the V&A. The Victoria and Albert museum is where I still go to dream.  The William Morris room in their Canteen is where I go to revel in something beautiful while feasting on tea and their scrumptious lemon tart.  But, I digress.  The point is, I started to learn about artists and their work from free gallery tours at these museums.  So, by the time I visited the Smithsonian, I was in awe at the size of the collection and the variety of themed museums on display.

Besides having its own theme, each structure has its own unique design, interior space and attractive personality.  If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the National Air and Space Museum is probably the most visited and it’s easy to understand why.  The building is shaped like a large square block hangar, and once you’re inside, you’ll see why.


The ceiling is loaded with dangling airplanes from when the Wright brothers began to fly and speaking of the Wright brothers, there’s a room with their story and one of their original gliders (the one that didn’t crash, of course!) is on display along with the chronological story of their success displayed in a room.

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The Wright Flyer – the first heavier-than-air plane with a successful flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina by The Wright Brothers

The ground floor is full of Astronaut suits, Mars probes and photographs, the Apollo 11 command module and lunar samples.  There’s a permanent special exhibit where you can squeeze through a narrow space and walk around a Skylab and view the actual insides of a space rocket – gym, kitchen and research lab included.

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Posing in front of the Apollo 13 capsule

But, I confess, its not my fave museum.  Whenever I visit the Smithsonian I tend to spend most of my time at the National Art Gallery, American Art gallery and the Museum of the American Indian.  A few of my favourite highlights from the art galleries are here:

American Art Gallery –

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Alexander Calder mobile in the East wing lobby of the National Gallery of Art
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Two stunning Mark Rothkos.
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Andy Warhol’s ‘Green Marilyn’ – 1967
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Edward Hopper’s ‘Cape Cod Morning’ – 1950
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‘Cape Cod Evening’ by Edward Hopper – 1939
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Childe Hassam’s ‘Allies Day’ – 1917
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Georgia O’Keefe trio
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‘Sailing the Catboat’ by Winslow Homer – 1875
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‘The Last Supper’ by Salvador Dali
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Pandora by Odile Redon
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Marcelle Lender dancing the Bolero in Chilperic by Toulouse-Lautrec


Visited in 2009, 2013 & 2016

My London Loves

A sunny Summer’s Saturday in London is precious purchase when you live on a landmass oft-swept in mad maritime climate. Here’s a visual representation of one of my favourite Saturdays, from when I lived in London aeons ago:

1) There’s nothing that quite comes close to spending a couple of leisurely hours of brunch with one of my closest friends – someone whose creative spirit and sense of joie de vivre always seems to stimulate me. I strongly recommend the Huevos Rancheros at Giraffe, with fried egg, chorizo, black beans, avocado and jack cheese to line your stomach for the rest of the day.

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Huevos Rancheros for Brunch at Giraffe restaurant on South Bank, Waterloo

2) A stroll along Southbank especially when its sunny, is always a lovely treat. We had to stop by the second-hand bookstalls in front of the National Theatre, of course and spotted prints of old maps and some lovely old editions of books.

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3) One of the things I love so much about Southbank is that it is full of surprises. We were treated to a display of the Red Arrows spurting Britain’s glorious colours.

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4) The sun was feeling a bit shy that morning, so occasionally the grey vista of London’s skyline exposed itself to us. We walked to Temple station where I bade my friend farewell and decided to go exploring on my own. I wasn’t far from the Templar church, made famous by the Da Vinci Code so went in search of it. I came across the magnificent Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand.

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5) And found myself on Fleet Street, which was the established collective name for British broadsheets for about four hundred years until the 1980s when their headquarters began to shift to cheaper locations around London.


6) While taking photographs I spotted the easy-to-miss alleyway entrance to the Templar church’s courtyard

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7) Unfortunately it was closed for a private event. I’ll definitely come back again though.


8) I then caught a bus back past the Strand to Trafalgar square and the National gallery

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Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square

9) Where I spent way too much time (actually not enough) ogling the Impressionists that I love so much.

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‘Powerless structures, Fig 101’ by Elmgreen and Dragset

10) I remember the first time I walked into this particular room in the gallery and saw my first living, breathing Van Gogh painting. It was sunflowers.  Over time though, I grew to fall in love with these two little fellas below:

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Two Crabs by Vincent Van Gogh

11) And my first Monet – the Waterlilies. I couldn’t believe that I could walk into this gallery any day for free and sit in front of the actual paintings of Great Masters, meditating on how close I was to them, although separated from them in life by centuries.

12) I strongly recommend taking the free tours offered at museums.  I decided to go on the 2.30pm one where you are taken around the gallery for an hour, learning about 4-5 key paintings in the collection. Here’s a little about the National gallery –

  • Built in 1838
  • Contains only Western European paintings from the mid-13th to early 20th century – all modern paintings (ie 20th century onwards) are housed at the Tate.
  • has a collection of about 2300 paintings on display at one time.
  • Sainsbury wing (newest wing) opened in 1991 to house the early Renaissance collection

Here are a few tid-bits from the tour for your reading pleasure:

Why was Caravaggio considered so avant-garde for his time?

We looked at the example of The Supper at Emmaus, painted in 1601. Unlike paintings at the time, Caravaggio put the two disciples in this painting in tattered rags, dressing them like peasants instead of in regal robes. Jesus himself was portrayed without a beard, appearing almost effeminate. The open arms showing broad gestures and emotion were too controversial for Caravaggio’s critics and gained their dislike. But, the most surprising element of all was the artist’s ability to structure the perspective of the painting so that the viewer felt like a participant in the painting.

What’s Michaelangelo’s style doing in every other Italian painting?

Sebastiano del Piombo’s Raising of Lazarus was drawn from original designs by Michaelangelo. Art historians know this only after discovering the drawings in archives. This is how they came to realise that, at a time when Michaelangelo and Raphael were the most sought after artists in Rome, Michaelangelo was probably producing drawings for a number of great artist’s works, without getting the credit for it. There are certain giveaways, like the muscular nature of the figures and the sometimes odd perspectives of the figures and how they are laid out in the picture. For example, Lazarus in this picture, if he stood up, would be abnormally taller than anyone else in the picture because of the extended length of his legs and torso.

How did the French painter Claude (Gellee, not Monet) make it big in Rome?

Claude came to Rome, like so many other artists, to make his name. But, he first began as a chef to earn a living while he built up his career. Over time, he became known for his landscapes and seascapes. At the time, pictures of landscapes and seascapes weren’t valued above historical pictures, which required a certain amount of learning and education plus understanding of the world from the artist. It was believed that any fool could paint a landscape. Claude couldn’t paint figures well, but he kept on doing them so that he could convert his land/sea scapes into historical paintings by including figures from biblical stories and myths in them. His paintings became so prized in their time that fakes were reproduced at an incredible rate. Claude began keeping a diary of his drawings so that, if asked, he could confirm whether he had actually painted something or not. Turner and Gainsborough learned about elements of light in painting from studying Claude’s paintings.

Why does England have so many Canalettos in the country?

There were so many brilliant artists in Venice at the time that Canaletto decided to specialise in order to make a living out of his art. He painted scenes of festivals and big events in Venice to sell to a particular audience: young, English gentlemen who were completing their Grand Tour in Venice, to round up their university education.

So, there you have it, a few of the things that makes one of my favourite London weekends.

June 2012

Pretzels and Schnitzel

What do Lederhosen, Swiss army knives and Weinerschnitzel have in common? You can find all three in the medieval, island town of Lindau.

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Lindau harbour

On the eastern edge of the freshwater lake Bodensee in southern Bavaria is the beautiful island town of Lindau. This German town is one of the most beautiful locations on the Bodensee (also known as Lake Konstanz) which also touches Swiss and Austrian borders. On a hot summer’s day, there’s not much that beats sitting on the promenade of Lindau harbour watching yachts and ferries coming in on the glistening waters while sipping a cold Weissbier. The wonderful thing about this island town, connected to the mainland by only a narrow strip of road, is its collection of historic buildings which bring alive the medieval feel of the town. The island is small and can be enjoyed as a full day trip. From the train station, head over to the marketplace first, where you can view the churches and the state museum before walking around the rest of the island.

The marketplace’s atmosphere is dominated by three main structures surrounding the fountain of Neptune, the King of the Seas in the centre. St. Stephan’s church, in one extreme corner of the market place, was built in 1180. Enter quietly to note the contemporary feel brought on by the cream coloured walls with pastel green embellishments, modern stained glass windows and use of open space that flows between the pews, the altar and the baptismal font behind it.

In sharp contrast, the inside of the Catholic church of St. Mary’s is a breathtakingly kitsch, Baroque vision of Italianate marble, gold and silver work. I was enamoured with the intricately carved wood ends of the pews which formed an ornate fantasy of flowers and leaves entwined against a background of fish scales and shell-like motifs. The massive silver organ at the back-end of the church is impressive and fully functioning.

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Baroque church interiors

At the opposite end of the marketplace is the 18th century House Cavazzen that once belonged to a wealthy merchant and is now the city museum (Stadtmuseum). It has a rich facade of colourful frescoes on the outside and contains collections of glass, pewter, paintings and furniture from the past five centuries. If you’re an Art Nouveau fan, the 3 Euro entry fee is worth the visit to the two rooms containing furniture and collectibles from the Jugendstil period.

From the marketplace, head west to the Diebsturm or ‘Thieves tower’ which was built around 1370 and housed prisoners in medieval times. It’s a curious structure with four mini-towers built into the pointy roof. The roof tiles sparkle in brilliant multicolour, making an otherwise plain tower rather attractive.

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Multi-coloured tiles of the Diebsturm roof

Next to the Diebsturm is the Peterskirche church and war memorial. This is the oldest church in the region, dating back to 1000 AD. However, what makes it truly remarkable is what it contains. I walked through the entrance into complete darkness. There was a button to the right of the entrance to switch on a light. Not knowing what to expect, I pressed it and gasped at the sight of the 15th century fresoces by Hans Holbein the Elder that came to life when the lights came on. These are the only wall frescoes by him that are known to exist in the world.

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Close-up of Han Holbein the Edler’s wall fresco inside Peterskirche

From the church, head toward the harbour via the Old Town hall, a large box-like structure crammed into one end of Reichsplatz. The brightly coloured frescos have been refreshed and contain wonderful detail.

Lindau harbour is only a stone’s throw away from this spot. You’ll easily spot the yellow and green tipped Mangturm, which once formed a part of the island’s fortifications and served as a lighthouse for some years. It was built in the 13th century and was in use until 1856. Don’t miss the Rapunzel plait lowered from the tower window. For Euro 1.60, you can climb up the tower for a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding mountains.

The promenade goes all the way around the harbour entrance, where you can get a closer look at the magnificent lion statue, the heraldic emblem of Bavaria, and the ‘new’ lighthouse flanking the mouth of the harbour. From here, you can catch day ferries to other lakeside towns in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants along the promenade. The Marmosaal cafe and cocktail bar serves a great selection of food from breakfast to regional specialities and everything in between. They have tables outside for you to enjoy the harbour view with a Weissbier or if it’s wet and windy, the inside is a combination of chandeliered luxury with brocade-covered sofas and high-backed wooden tables and benches.  There’s even a mock altar behind the bar.

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A lion guarding the entrance to Lindau harbour

After your meal, you’ll want to digest with a quiet walk from the promenade along the west side of the island. The old wall runs around this side and at the westernmost point, you’ll find the Pulverturm or ‘Powder tower’ dating from 1508 AD. It forms a part of the island’s fortified wall.  The views from here stretch across the lake to the Swiss and Austrian alps in the distance.

View from Lindau Pulverturm
View from Lindau Pulverturm

The final must-see item is one that many tourists miss, simply because it’s just off the island on the mainland. It’s the local cemetery in Aeschach, where people have been buried since the plague came to the island in the 16th century. This beautiful, old cemetery has mausoleums dating from 1510 to 1915, in a range of styles including Baroque, Renaissance, Neo-classical, Gothic and Jugendstil. They are laid in a beautiful park, shaded by tall trees. Not far from the cemetery entrance are the remains of a Roman villa dating back to 200AD when the first settlers came to Lindau. Stones from the Roman ruins were used to build the cemetery.

Jugenstil mausoleum at cemetery
Jugendstil design on a tomb in Lindau cemetery
Baroque tomb in Lindau cemetery
Baroque tomb design in Lindau cemetery


Lindau is two hours by direct train from Zurich and three hours away from Munich.  The best time to visit is from May to August when the weather is warmer and great for walks along the promenade. Food and drink-wise, Bratwurst (sausage), kasespatzle (cheese noodles) and Maultashcen (dumplings) are the regional dishes to sample. Pretzels or Flammkuchen (flatbread) go very well with a local Weissbier (White beer).  Drink up and enjoy a hot, summer’s day out at this character-laden town the next time you’re in the area.

#jugendstildesign #lindau #allgau #germany #bodensee


Visited in Sept 2012


Visiting Fatehpur Sikri’s Sufi saint

Forty-three kilometres from Agra lies Fatehpur Sikri, the once-capital of Emperor Akbar’s Mughal Empire.  He moulded the city into his capital and lived there for about thirteen years before being forced to move out due to lack of a sustainable drinking water supply.   The impressive, colossal edifice that is called ‘Buland Darwaza’ or ‘Gate of Magnificence’ was the entrance to his capital city.  It’s a steep climb up uneven steps, but its worth it for the interesting prize encompassed within its inner courtyard.

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Apart from the unimpressive views of a generally uninteresting sprawl of houses, buildings and cars that stretch into the barren dirt, there’s not much to appreciate once you get to the top.   Maybe it’s just me, but I found the entrance a little smaller and less impressive than it seemed from the bottom of the staircase.  Don’t get me wrong. The gateway is still a muscular hulk of a thing.

However, I was more interested in the tomb of Salim Chisti.  Akbar built the glowing white marble mausoleum to house the body of this Sufi saint.  The story goes that Akbar approached the saint asking him to bless him and pray that he would have a son.  After the birth of three sons, Akbar’s ties to the saint got much closer and he held the saint in so much esteem that after his death, he built this tomb in his honour.  It is considered to be one of the best existing examples of sixteenth-century Mughal architecture.  When you go up close, you can see why.  The intricate curves of the glowing marble are mesmerising and the internal panels of jaliwork run along the edges of the area of the structure, showing haunting patterns of evening light across the marble floors.

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Truth is, I hadn’t heard of the myth surrounding Salim Chisti’s tomb until someone mentioned it to me.  The story goes that thanks to Akbar’s wish being granted, Chisti’s tomb became a place of pilgrimage by infertile couples.  In order to have their wish granted, they’d have to tie a piece of thread around the filigree marble of the tomb.  After someone did this once and had a child after, it because an established practice that spread across the country.  The myth has evolved into a grant-any-wish situation for anyone who ties a thread around the cutwork marble wall that separates the inner tomb from the person viewing it.  The lady I met who told me the story was actually on her way to the tomb to remove three threads that she had tied around the tomb twenty years ago.  Although she didn’t tell me what they were, she said all her wishes came true and she was fulfilling a long over-due promise to herself to untie the threads to thank Chisti for granting her favours.

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And yes, I made a wish and tied a thread too.  Hasn’t come true yet, but maybe…one day.

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What was disappointing to see, however, were the filthy grounds and hallways running around the tomb.  Besides pigeon shit and feathers everywhere, there were bits of chip packets, juice packs, crumpled bits of paper scattered here and there.  Walking around the tomb, there were some lovely details in the walls and hallways worth noting.

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I didn’t have time to visit the rest of Akbar’s palace at Fatehpur Sikri.  I did come back and do that on another trip.  But, that’s for another blog!

#fatehpursikri #agra #salimchisti #mughalarchitecture #mughaltomb #emperorakbar


Visited in 2013