29 June 2011

Dodging the crowds in Venice

It’s been 10 years since we’ve been to Venice. Back then we were struggling backpackers. We bought our rolls in the supermarket, stayed in the campgrounds off the main island, and saw all icons from afar.

Fortunately part of the beauty of Venice is exploring the canals on foot and getting lost meandering from church to cathedral and everything in between.

This time, however we chose to stay in the heart of Venice, just off San Marco Palazzo, so we could truly take in the city.

In the 10 years since we were last in Venice the crowds appear to have trebled, could be that we were there during the Venice Biennale, but it certainly wasn’t peak season when we were here this time, unlike the last time we were here.

We got up early so we could beat the crowds to the Doges Palace (Ade had already been up since 6 taking photos without the crowds).

I can’t believe we didn’t make the effort to go inside the palace when we were here all those years ago. Each room is better than the one before it, more majestic, with unbelievable artwork adorning the walls.

The tour takes in the palace, including the Doge’s private apartments and the council chambers, as well as the prison.

The contrast between the opulence of the palace and the dark, depressing prison is striking. The two are separated by the Bridge of Sighs and it must have been the longest walk for any person condemned to the prison.

The canals of Venice have lost none of their charm, even if they are now more full than ever of gondolas and one of our favourite things to do was still to get lost in the side streets overlooking the canals.

Two days in Venice isn’t really enough, we missed seeing the inside of the San Marco Chapel because of the long queues, but it’s one more reason to head back there, probably in another 10 years, when the crowds will no doubt have doubled again!

20 June 2011

Three days in Singapore

Ahh Singapore – a city of shopping, efficiency, strict rules against chewing gum and … frogs?!

We arrived in Singapore at 6am and headed straight for our friend Barb’s place, she had convinced us that we needed to see the frog farm in Singapore – they don’t write about it in the travel brochures, nor was there any information on it at the airport.

But, on next to no sleep we took a cab and headed for farming country.  Even the taxi driver laughed at us as we told him where we wanted to go.

The farm itself is a little disturbing, thousands of frogs trapped in small concrete pens – all ready to be sold off to become someone’s meal – and I thought they only ate frogs in France!

But the region was beautiful - full of unusual farms accessed by a shuttle bus that drives from farm to farm.

After the frog farm we visited Bollywood Veggies – a large edible garden that you could take hours to meander through.

The greenery in this part of the country, close to the border with Malaysia, was quite unexpected and quite beautiful, and seemingly a world away from the Singapore most visitors experience.

Of course, we had to do the obligatory tourist sites – Little India, yep it’s authentic, as soon as we stepped into this precinct people were trying to get us to buy their wares; Arab Street; Orchard Road and Raffles Place.

We also caught the train out to Sentosa Island to witness all the kitsch of the various “worlds”. I loved it, but was very surprised to learn it’s not a man-made island! The island itself formed naturally, but has now been turned into a giant “theme park” complete with fake beaches and rocks, as well as a Universal Studios theme park. Another of the main goals for Sentosa Island was to reverse the trend of declining greenery, and slowly increase the “percentage” of the island dedicated to natural forestry.

Even the airport at Singapore is amazing - complete with indoor butterfly sanctuary for viewing while waiting for the plane. You can view butterfly cocoons, and watch hundreds of butterflies suck nectar from the flowers. It is the most amazing airport we have seen.

Singapore is a beautiful country, it is incredibly clean, easy to navigate and friendly but in some ways it is a little too perfect, almost soulless. Still, I’m definitely heading back for the shopping!