Monday, July 16, 2012

Museums, Souks and More Malls.

There just has not been enough time and it has been too hot to see everything that we would like in Dubai.

This morning we set off to explore old Dubai. We visited the museum located in the old sector of Dubai in an old fort, which houses a series of recreations of life as it was. It was not so much the contents of the museum but how it was displayed, that was so impressive.
Later, we visited 2 other interesting museums, the Al-Ahmadiya School, the first school established in 1912. It was particularly interesting to us and we walked through the museum for about 1 hour without seeing another visitor.

From there we walked to the nearby Heritage House where again we spent time looking at the displays. We were greeted with dates and tea but drank about a litre of water each from their refrigerated dispenser. Again we were the only visitors during the hour we spent there. We particularly enjoyed the display on children’s games and delighted in the fact that their games had incredible similarities to the games played by all children.

We also visited the souks but found them somewhat disappointing in comparison with other more traditional ones we have seen. Dubai is just too modern a city and it seems the locals prefer the modern mall so we joined them and visited several more.

We have visited our last sight, eaten our last meal, packed our bags and booked our wakeup call because we fly home tomorrow. We leave after an early breakfast in the morning.

                                         The old fort is now a modern museum.

                                           At the museum, the pearl merchants.

                                                    At the museum,from an archaeological dig, 2 bodies entwined.

                                         At the spice souk.

                                        At the old house museum, the wind tunnel, an early form of aircon

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Abba Dabba Abba Dabba Abu Dhabi

If you do not know what the title means, ask us to sing it for you. You must be too young to know.

We set off bright and early in a hired 4 wheel drive, complete with driver. We did not need to engage low gear because there is an 8 lane highway linking Dubai (population 1.8 million) with Abu Dhabi (1.3 million), the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It was a fascinating drive on a super highway where speed cameras monitor your speed…. to check you are not going too slowly! The traffic all rolled along at 140 kph but if you do under 60, you face a big fine. It took just over 1 hour to cover the 140 km.

The skyscrapers of Dubai quickly gave way to desert but the process was soon reversed as we drew closer to Abu Dhabi. Forty years ago there was nothing much here but sand and a few fishermen’s shacks. It is a modern, thriving city that we found far more picturesque than Dubai. The architecture is both extraordinary and outstanding with a huge number of projects currently under construction.

Our favourite place that we visited was the Sheik Zayed Mosque, the 3rd largest in the world (the other 2 are in Saudi Arabia). It is one of those places that are impossible to capture adequately on film. Externally, the architecture is simply stunning and internally, elaborate and spacious. In the main prayer hall is the world’s largest carpet and the largest chandelier. The welcome was genuinely warm and we were able to visit all areas.

We were aware of the dress code but Gail had to don a robe to cover her hair, arms and head. Each robe was freshly laundered, made in a lovely fine fabric and embroidered on the sleeve with a gold motif.

We also enjoyed a visit to the 7 star Emirates Palace Hotel. This former palace was as elaborate as you could possibly imagine and included museum quality works of art.

The king is one of 32 brothers (his father had 5 wives) and he was the eldest but he has nominated his youngest brother as the crown prince.

We also saw the 4 main royal palaces, lunched in a mall, visited the Abu Dhabi Corniche (beach), a heritage village, the F1 race track and the Ferrari “theme park”.

On the way back, we saw 3 islands being built in the sea with architecture that will rival anywhere else in the world. In a few words “Yabba dabba doo Abu Dhabi”. If you do not know what this means, then you are too old!

                                                 External view of the Mosque

                                         A closerlook.

                                           That lady seems familiar.

Interior of the mosque

The hotel cake shop -  we did not have time to stop for morning tea!
The garden of the Emirates Palace Hotel

Part of the foyer of the hotel

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Miles of Malls

We arrived in Dubai last night and even though it was after 11 pm, it was extremely hot, like living in a hothouse.

This morning after breakfast, we checked out the rooftop pool – the water was like a warm bath. They actually have to cool it. The sun lounges under the umbrellas did not look inviting so what did we do?

We went shopping. The air conditioned Metro station is 1 minute walk from our hotel. We caught the air conditioned train to Mall of the Emirates which you walk to from the station via a moving footway in an air conditioned covered walkway straight into the shops. There are 472 shops but we did not actually visit them all. We did spend nearly 2 hours in one shop! It is almost the end of the annual Summer Shopping Festival but we were able to help the economy just a little.

Apart from the shops, cinemas and children’s entertainment, Mall of the Emirates has the world’s largest indoor ski slope! We watched a chairlift taking skiers up to the slope to ski down. We saw people throwing snowballs and parents towing kids on toboggans while wearing parkas, gloves and boots – over their traditional dress! Outside the temperature was in the high 40’s but on the snow field, it was cold. To complete the scene, there was a large snowman, Christmas trees with fairy lights and a snow cave for children to play in.

We visited several other malls, did some more shopping and took the air conditioned Metro to the end of the line where the skyscrapers give way to the desert. We also visited the Deira area of Dubai where they were actually cheaper not dearer! A great way to spend a day.

                                        Gail shopping in the Mall of the Emirates.
The city gradually gives way to desert.

On the snow fields inside the mall.  Other malls had sandpits and paddle pools because it is just too hot to play outside.
The architecture in this city is absolutely fascinating.

Mall of the Emirates entry.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


During our visit to Corsica, Napoleon was a recurring theme and it is exactly the same here in Elba. At the Treaty of Fontainebleu, when he abdicated, he was granted the kingdom of Elba. He was only here for 9 months before he left Elba and was then captured by the British and sent to St. Helena where he eventually died.

In his 9 months here, he certainly achieved a lot. We visited the theatre that he had constructed as he did not consider his nearby summer residence was large enough for theatrical performances when he entertained guests. We were unable to visit this residence as it was closed for restoration.

We did visit his main residence which was about 8km away. The walls at the entrance had the monogram N on the stone walls, the gate pillars were topped with bronze eagles and the drive sweeping through the extensive grounds looked quite impressive. The house is still furnished and the large Egyptian room, a reminder of his Egyptian campaign, came complete with a pool growing papyrus.

A separate wing contained a large gallery with interesting Napoleon memorabilia, including originals of political cartoons of the day.

                                         The eagle guards the terrace at Napoleon's house.

                                       One of the formal rooms.

Le Tigre Exchange

The Egyptian room


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Enchanting Elba

Our journey from Corsica to Elba was a hard slog given that the islands are so close to each other. We caught a ferry to Livorno, a taxi to the station, a train to Piombino and a ferry back to Elba, but as soon as we came into the harbour at Portoferraio, we were enchanted with the beauty of Elba.

We walked from the port across to the beachside where we found a hotel with a room overlooking a quaint little beach. A swim soon washed away the hassles of our journey.

Exploring the town, we climbed to the citadel where we visited several forts with their spectacular views over the harbour and beaches. The place seems little changed from Napoleon’s days and we visited the theatre that he had constructed, the Duomo, an old Roman villa and the archaeological museum.

We have given Napoleon a blog entry of his own but we think he did not get too bad a deal being exiled to such a beautiful spot. Can’t imagine why he did not want to stay here!

                                           View of the town from the citadel.

                                         View down to our beach from the ramparts.

       What do we have in common with Mick Jagger?  We have all had our photo taken with Nonna Adua. 

Monday, July 9, 2012


Bastia is a beautiful city with a great waterfront and marina alongside a very busy port. We explored all the churches and public places and loved the citadel with its spectacular views.

The Genoese governor’s palace is a spectacular building and the adjacent square now contains a large number of outdoor restaurants.

We sail tomorrow to visit Elba but as a number of ferries are not running we have to go via Livorno but this will conclude our Napoleonic saga.

                                          Bastia's colourful harbour.

                                       Bastia's citadel in the noonday sun.

Cap Corse

We spent a full day travelling from St Florent to Bastia even though it is only 25 km directly across the peninsula. We travelled up the west coast with its extremely rugged coastline and very narrow winding road. It is however, one of the most beautiful drives if you get a chance to look at the view. There are many beautiful beaches, mostly gravel, high cliffs overlooking the coastline, Genoese watchtowers and totally spectacular scenery.

Across the very north, you can only access it via a walking track except for Barcaggio where there is a modern marina full of luxury yachts and rich people. We visited the honey and wine villages of Rogliano and Macinaggio but being Sunday afternoon, we missed out on tasting. We did sit and have lunch on the breakwater with the water surging up to our ankles.

The east coast of the cape is still rugged but not as mountainous as the western side. There are lots of wineries, fruit trees and opposed to rocks and cactus on the west coast.
Our favourite village of the day was Erbalunga where the pedestrian only sector on the coast even boasted a Michelin starred restaurant overlooking the very quaint little harbour.

We arrived in Bastia and found another Napoleon mad city. We selected Bonaparte Hotel, just up the road from Napoleon Hotel and look forward to exploring Bastia in detail.

                                          Gail's view.

                                                      Rob's view.

                                        Erbalunga's harbour setting for its Michelin restaurant.

Where the Mountains Meet the Sea

What a perfect setting! In the foreground, beautiful beaches ringed by golden sand with aquamarine water and in the background, huge, rugged mountains so steep that many beaches can only be reached by boat. To top all that, so many wineries that it is impossible to visit them all.

We headed from Corte to L’Ile Rousse and Calvi but both towns were packed out because of a Rock Festival, so we drove to St. Florent, which started life as a quiet fishing village but is now a superb holiday spot with its marina filled with billion dollar yachts.

We decided to swim at a quieter beach just out of town but stopped at several wineries along the way. Cap Corse is a significant wine producing region and we loved the delicate rose gris but were also able to try some of the specialty wines of the region – an unusual sweet red wine called rapu and vin d’orange, another dessert wine.

We finished the day with one of the best meals of our trip. St Florent has Michelin starred restaurants set between pizzerias and is well known to foodies. We particularly enjoyed a pork filet mignon and delicious veal in a mushroom cream sauce, all washed down with rose gris, just the drink for a summer evening.

                                       The harbour at St Florent with the evening light.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Heart of Corsica

We spent today walking in the mountainous interior of Corsica and visiting the old capital of Corte.

Heading out from Ajaccio, we drove up into the mountainous interior, with our first major stop being Bocognano. This is a marvelous town that has about 400 inhabitants in winter r but many more at this time of the year. We sat in the village drinking coffee looking at the incredible mountainous scenery.

Eventually we drove out of town and visited Le Voile de la Marie, a waterfall, which involved a very steep climb to get there.

We drove on to Vizzavona where we set out for a second major walk to Boucle de la Cascade des Anglais. This was yet another steep climb, located at the highest point of the road as it crosses the central mountains.

Passing several more beautiful villages, we stopped at a valley cut by a road and Rail Bridge, the latter designed by Gustaf Eiffel, of tower fame, before arriving in Corte.

Corte is a fascinating town, said to be the most Corsican town in Corsica. We visited the old town with its incredible citadel built in the 14th century. After visiting the sights, we sat in a very old wine bar, sampling the local fare.

                                           The mountains at Bocognano.

                                                     The Voile de la Mariee

                                             Climbing the trail to the cascades.

     Resting enroute to the cascades.

                                          The Eagles nest perched above the Citadel in Corte.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Two Capitals in One Day

We are in Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica but on the way we visited Filitosa, the prehistoric capital of Corsica.

Filitosa is a real open air museum with menhirs (standing stones), remnants of Neolithic villages and a quarry all of which have been there for 8,000 years.  The menhirs still have clear facial features and are beautifully displayed.  The quarry shows where the stone came from to make the menhirs.

This site was only discovered in 1946 and is still maintained by the same family who discovered them.
The central monument.

A very old smile.

Rob going in.

The Menhirs looking down on Rob at his relative youth.

Rob coming out

We knew this place was old when we saw the dinosaur.

Mad About Napoleon.

We are in Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. To get here, we drove past Napoleon Bonaparte Airport, down Napoleon Bonaparte Drive, past a statue of Napoleon to our hotel, the Imperial where a bust of Napoleon is in the foyer and his portrait is on the stairs.

We visited the old town, seeing all the usual sights – cathedral, citadel, fountains etc. In the cathedral we saw the font where Napoleon was baptized and visited Maison du Bonaparte, his childhood home, now a museum.

Join us in the quest to identify his specific birthplace. Was it bed A, B, C or D?

We also managed to fit in a swim as our hotel room overlooks St. Francis’ Beach.

                                   Is this Napoleon or is it Marlon Brando?

                                              Bed A

                                                   Bed B

                                                Bed C

                                            Bed D

This is the font in the cathedral where Napoleon was baptised.  The metal ornamentation was added later. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Meeting the Menhirs

We visited 3 Megolithic sites after parking the car and walking down a track.

The first was the Stantari Alignment which was a group of several rows of standing stones that had been erected at the end of the Neolithic period. We could just make out faces on some of the statues but archaeologists have been able to distinguish belts, loincloths, arms and hands on the statues making them quite different from standing stones in other parts of the world.

The second site, a little further along the track was the Renaghju Alignment that has been accurately dated to 4500 BC as there had been a village on the site as well as the standing stones.

We walked on through an oak grove with huge trees growing amidst granite boulders providing some instant relief from the hot sun.

We reached the Funtanaccia Dolmen, a collective burial chamber and a place to respect the dead. It dated from around 300 BC. It was built from huge rocks with a single large stone sitting across the top.

It was a fascinating visit to the remainder of such an old civilization.

                                        The Stantari Alignment. The Menhirs all in a row.

                                          Gail meeting the Menhirs at Renaghju.

                                        The Menhirs at Renaghju were a far more relaxed lot.

                                         In the oak grove.

                                          Robert inspects the Funtanaccia Dolmen.

                                         We swam in this bay earlier and here we are waiting for dinner.