Saturday, April 27, 2013
9:10 PM 0 comments
This was my second trip to Dublin, and I was determined to see Dublin beyond the usual pubs and literary heritage.
My guide Mairtin walked me through Georgian neighbourhoods and suddenly took a detour on Merrion Street to show me a place that he had loved as a child.
I entered the dusty, slightly musty Museum of Natural History which first opened in 1857 and was amazed to see high ceilings, and lovely floor mosaics and grilles with antique Victorian show cases filled with more than 2 million specimens from Ireland and all corners of the globe. The Dubliners call it the Dead zoo and the museum is typically Victorian design and spirit when people believed in ‘shoot it, stuff it and show it’.
Giant deer skeletons, mammals, birds and fish, a butterfly collection, insects pickled in jars, gigantic whale and shark specimens suspended from the ceilings this museum even has a dodo skeleton !
I even saw a polar bear shot by an explorer with the bullet mark intact.
There were beautiful glass animal figurines of hard- to- preserve animals like anemones and jelly fish done by a father and son glass maker duo from Dresden.
And the best for the last, the museum is free of charge! A great way to go back in time to old Dublin!
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
One of the most fascinating places that I visited in Greece was the island of Delos a boat ride away from the tourist heaven Mykonos.
Delos was the legendary birthplace of the twins Artemis and Apollo and a place where the Greek came to worship various gods and goddesses at the temples built there.
The island is an archaeological site- with excavations still going on. In ancient times the island was so sacrosanct that no one was allowed to spend the night here. In 167 BC, it became a hub of commercial activity and merchants settled here and built luxurious home. We landed on the island and spent a day walking through the ruins, with the sounds of bees and cicadas in the air, with a map in hand.
One of the most gorgeous sights on the island was the Avenue of the Lions. At one time there were between 9 and 12 lions, crouched marble beasts, standing guard at the Sacred Lake.
The lions in the photo are replicas but the real Naxian lions can be seen in the island's archaeological museum.
I loved these mosaics, well preserved columns, statues, and resident chameleons on rocks.
I visited the small museum on the island with some of the finds from the archaeological digs.
The only other people we saw were these students on a field trip..
I had a fresh orange juice here ( the owner said they were from Crete) and sat gazing at the ruins....A great way to spend a day away from Mykonos...
Friday, April 12, 2013
One of the best excursions from Madrid was the royal palace La Granja de san Il defonso also called ‘Little Versailles’. At one time a farm stood on the site of this palace which explains its name- ‘La Granja’ meaning farm in Spanish.
This slate roofed summer palace was built by King Felipe V, the first Bourbon king of Spain who came from France (he was the grandson of Louis IV)... He was probably homesick for France and he modelled this on Versailles, where he spent a large part of his childhood. The La Granja palace has hints of Moorish design and some Italian touches as well.
I loved my morning spent here walking around the extensive grounds, with trees from different parts of the world including giant sequoias, the spectacular setting at the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains and visiting the rooms inside, with one hall devoted to extravagant Flemish tapestries.
Felipe V got sculptors and designers from Paris who laid out elaborate gardens and 26 ornate sculptures which act as fountains.
The fountains are all cast from lead so that do not rust, then they are painted bronze or bleached to look like marble- all of them depict allegories and mythological characters ranging from Diana to Apollo.
The King first built this as a retreat but later it became a focal point of the court.
Photography was not allowed inside the palace, but I was amazed at the opulence: Carrara marble, frescoes, huge chandeliers, antique French clocks and 16th century Flemish tapestries that were woven form gold, silver and silk that they say took one year of work for just one square meter. The piece de resistance of the collection is the Honours and Virtues series, based on cartoons by Goya.
The fountains have pools, jets, spouts and basins and amazingly the original fitting and pipes are still in working condition- they are turned on certain special days and holiday.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
My front row seat to Uluru or the Ayers Rock in the red heart of Australia was the ultra stylish luxury tented property Longitude 131, with palatial tents named after famous Australian pioneers or explorer in muted shades of beige and brown.
Voyages which owns the hotel claims to have the best environmental practice in the Australian tourist industry. I hear that there was great care taken during construction- most of the work was done by hand without using heavy earth moving equipment and care was taken to see that there were no sacred sites in this area.
The tents are actually steel structures on stilts, with polyester roofs to reflect heat and rain. The ceiling dome supported by a tall pole has white flowing material billowing in graceful folds to give that illusion of camping.
I loved the contemporary colonial decor inspired by the luxury tented camps of Africa with each room themed on a Outback Explorer with hand drawn maps, paintings, photographs and memorabilia dotting the walls.
The Dune House in the middle of the resort is the ‘living room’ of the resort a communal space where you can meet other guests or relax. Where you can lounge in comfy leather couches the cosy library stocked with maps, books and games and have a few drinks or chat with friends.
All 15 rooms of the hotel look out into Uluru. The rooms have rustic stone floors, solar water heating and floor to ceiling glass doors that can be opened to let in the desert air with a mesh to keep out the creepy crawlies.
The room combines old world charm with the joys of technology with a I pad in every room loaded with Australian movies, books and games like monopoly as well as Bose speakers. The wardrobe and mini-bar have metal mesh-work doors which attempt to replicate early settlers meat chests.
In keeping with the eco friendly motif of the resort. I find branded stainless steel bottles for carrying water with a Royal Doulton pottery urn for refills. The resort makes the maximum use of the contrast between the wildernesses outside the creature comforts inside. The bathroom has a large sink inspired by the watering troughs for horses of early Australians.
The resort has no gym or spa- only a petite pool where you can soak with views of the red beauty. But the hotel offers myriad activities around the red centre ranging from walks and treks with a guide to explain the unique eco systems to a swish Table 131- a a candlelit five-course feast held in the desert under the stars.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Everyone is familiar with images of cerulean seas and swish resorts of the Maldives with rooms on stilts where alcohol flows and honeymooners basking on white sandy beaches. But these are some images of Maldives beyond the resorts.
I took a trip to some local islands and walked through the streets...I saw a football field in every island, a modern mosque with a loudspeaker playing prayers through the day.
Many houses have been traditionally built out of coral, though that is now changing. Each house had a joli- a rope seat in a wooden or metal frame. Bread fruit and almond trees lined the spotless sandy streets, swept by women every day.
Women tended to fires, made bread and fish broth; children played under the shade of trees.
I saw this tiny girl deeply immersed in her book!
Bright flags of political parties hung in garlands. Every village had a small boat building yard, a local store and a small school. Some islands even had souvenir stores for tourists who visited them.
This was such a vastly different world, compared to the tourist brochure Maldives!
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