Nuwara Eliya – Sri Lanka’s Mythical Wonder

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It’s been the most unimaginable couple of years since I started travelling full time for a living. Even though it felt like I’d been on the road forever the urgency of the places I’ve never seen continued to seduce me away from what most would consider a good life. That was until I got to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka: a place so astounding it brought me to an abrupt halt, made me stop and stare in utter wonderment. I was bewitched. For the first time in a long while a place felt like home.

Read my full post at TikiChris.com

How I Discovered Tranquility in Verona at a 19th Century Villa

Italy’s major cities are cracking down on tourist-led misbehaviour. Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice and Verona have seen a wave of bans including and not limited to bottles, selfie sticks, picnics and food trucks. The bans stem from the general decay of urban centres as much as their visitor led debris.

Anyone who travels to Italy in the summer months will agree that its cities are overrun by tourists. I spent last summer in Florence and was astounded by the number of people in its main square – Piazza della Signoria. The waiting time for entrance to the Uffizi Gallery was SIX HOURS and yet I, like everyone else, queued up to enter. What drove me to stand in line for six hours ask the sane amongst you? It’s worth it. Totally and utterly worth it. Herein lies Italy’s double-edged sword.

So, late this summer when I visited Verona I was desperate to avoid tourist traps. Even in October the city was packed with hordes of visitors. It’s easy to see why. The simple formula of great weather, good food and rich history literally sit side by side. The 1st Century Roman amphitheatre dominates the city and all the al fresco dining and coffee drinking happens around it.

However, this time round I  approached Verona the Italian way. At the recommendation of a good friend (who happens to be Italian) I made the wise choice of staying at a villa away from the city centre. This meant that each evening when I was at the end of my tether being a tourist I could steal myself away to an authentic and far more satisfying Italian experience.

Al Giardinetto

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I stayed at the magnificent 19th century Italian villa, Al Giardinetto, in the quiet neighbourhood of Borgo Venezia. It was just 15 minutes from the city centre but far enough away from the crowds that I could still enjoy tranquility. The villa is owned by Rosanna Rossi who purchased it in 1985. Everything about its rustic charm appealed to the romantic in me. High ceilings, tiled floors and lace curtains that fluttered in the breeze as you flung open the deep green shutters was a far cry from what I encountered in the city.

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Entrance to the villa was through its pretty giardinetto (little garden) complete with olive trees and a swing. It was perfect for a quiet coffee with my host before I set off for the day.

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Inside, every detail was a nod to this home’s history. Watercolour pictures of flowers in the garden, the home and Verona adorned the stairway and the muted colours faded into the wall.

The Rooms

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My double room up stairs was as rustic as I expected it would be. Twee pillowcases, quilted sheets and more hand painted pictures complimented the terracotta tiles on the floor and the windows rose from the floor all the way up to the ceiling. It was warm and comforting and  I certainly had a  feeling of home.

The Food

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In keeping with the homely feeling of Al Giardinetto you can expect lots of home cooking from Rosanna. Starting with a home-baked chocolate cake dusted with icing sugar on arrival to a hearty Italian breakfast with coffee. It begs the question – why would you want to breakfast in the city.

Three Things You must Do in Verona

Visit the Amphitheatre

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A short taxi or bus ride from the villa brought me straight to the busy heart of the city. The Verona Arena (Arena di Verona) is enormous and on the outside appears to be crumbling. However, this 1st Century AD Roman amphitheatre is the world’s third-largest to have survived and is still used today. I have it on good authority that during the Opera season it hosts magnificent performances. 

Piazza delle Erbe

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By all means stroll around the city and through the market. It’s a pretty town with lots of places to eat, fountains and medieval buildings covered in ancient murals. However, I covered it all within half an hour. So I recommend not spending more than 30 minutes here. After I’d seen the market and amphitheatre there was little to keep my interest. Save the day and head out of Verona to Lake Garda.

Lake Garda

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From Verona Porta Nuova the train to Dezenzano del Garda arrived here in under 30 minutes. After my decision to stay at Al Giardinetto this was the second best decision I’d made. It would be a waste to visit Verona and not visit the largest lake in Italy. Its name evolves from Germanic word warda, translating to place of observation. It is certainly that. I arrived here in time for the sunset and dinner. As it was October I did not have any difficulty finding a place to eat. However, if you’re visiting in summer I imagine you would need a little more time to get a table.

It is undoubtedly popular with tourists and there is no way around this. However, the lake itself is magnificent. Clear, blue and surrounded by villages and mountains. Its vastness reduces the human impact in that I failed to notice anything or anyone else other than the lake. This is one not to be missed.

 

 

 

Al Giardinetto is located at Via Tiberghien 11, 37132 Verona.

For bookings visit www.bnbalgiardinettoverona.com

 

 

 

 

Arts and Culture in Qatar

The Fire Station Gallery, Doha.

A flourishing art scene may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the Gulf state of Qatar. That however, is exactly what is happening in the Qatari capital of Doha. Artists, musicians and writers have come together in a converted fire station, in Wadi Al Sail, to work and collaborate.

In one gigantic acknowledgement of the role creativity and heritage plays in Qatar’s development, The Fire Station Gallery provides a contemporary space for resident artists to showcase their work.

My first stop on this cultural exploration of Doha was a visit to The Fire Station Gallery. At the time of my visit, it was host to the first exhibition of it’s kind in the Middle East; Over 120 works by Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti following the larger exhibition at the Musée National Picasso in Paris. It is an exceptional show in an avant-garde setting. Furthermore, it’s curated by Fondation Giacometti director Catherine Grenier and the pieces are on loan to Qatar from the Musée National Picasso, Fondation Giacometti and several international collections. Most importantly, the exhibition is free, making it accessible to everyone and runs until 21st May 2017.
(You can see my pictures of the exhibition at The Fire Station Gallery here:
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Fire Station Gallery, Doha.
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Brunch al fresco at Cafe 999, The Fire Station Gallery.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha.

My second stop was the pièce de résistance of Doha – The Museum of Islamic Art. The building designed by Chinese American architect I. M. Pei is an astonishing ode to Muslim architecture and history. Arches, water features and geometric patterns central to Islamic design compliment punctured, sculptural light fixtures inside and outside. The building stands alone on an artificial peninsula and is surrounded by it’s own park.

Spectacular entrance to MIA
Museum of Islamic Art.
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Museum of Islamic Art.
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Museum of Islamic Art.

Inside, the museum is home to a collection of artefacts curated since the late 1980’s which includes manuscripts, textiles, metal work, ceramics, jewellery, wood work and glass. Art from Spain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India and Central Asia dating from 7th – 19th century are displayed here making it one of the most complete collections of Islamic art in the world.

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Dagger and scabbard – India (1800)
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Qur’an and case – Iran (18th – 19th century).
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Jewelled falcon – India (circa 1640)
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Armour for horse and rider – Turkey (Late 15th century – early 16th century)

It was my first time in a museum of Islamic art and I found the artefacts breathtakingly beautiful. It is however, difficult to explain the vastness of this collection when it spans over 1400 years and collates objects from Persian, Mongolian and Ottoman empires. The MIA requires half a day at the very least if you are to do it justice and it will be time well spent as it is unlikely that you will see another collection of this size any where else.

At the end of the visit I couldn’t help feeling that Qatar’s arts and cultural development feels a great deal more homegrown and evidently more authentic. As I delved into this further, I found that this is owing to it’s museums being passionately spearheaded by it’s own ruling family. *Forbes magazine describes the head of the Qatar Museums Authority, Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, as “arguably the most powerful woman in the art world today”. As the person responsible for securing the purchase of the world’s most expensive painting (Paul Gauguin‘s When Will You Marry?) in 2015, the accolade is justly deserved. With such credentials Qatar’s cultural development should come as no surprise. It’s creating truly unforgettable experiences. Go see for yourself. I highly recommend them.

  • In collaboration with – Qatar Tourism Authority, Qatar Airways, The Sheraton Grand Doha, Qatar International Food Festival and Falcon Tours. 

www.visitqatar.qa,

www.qatarairways.com,

http://www.qifoodfestival.qa

http://www.sheratongranddoha.com

http://www.falcontours.com

*https://www.forbes.com/profile/sheikha-mayassa-al-thani/ (and Wikepedia)