Torcello

“Don’t look now,’ said John to his wife, ‘but there are two old girls two tables away, looking at me all the time. I don’t like it. There’s something very strange about their eyes.’

The wife, Laura, turned and saw what she saw and laughed as she commented that they were two men actually.

He said: ‘…You mustn’t laugh. Perhaps they’re dangerous. Murderers or something going around Europe, changing their clothes in each place. You know, sisters here in Torcello this morning; brothers tomorrow, or tonight, back in Venice.’

We walked past a trattoria where Daphne du Maurier’s John and Laura might have sat as they demurred about the identity of the two women in the supernatural thriller ‘Don’t Look Now’ . 

Cross the commercialism of Murano, get past the chirpiness of Burano , and you find yourself on this tiny, once-abandoned island (about six miles off Venice) where tranquility has taken up residence. Most people would skip Torcello of the shy personality. You have to look beneath the reserve and maybe, just maybe, you will fall for Torcello?

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The vaporetto from Burano dropped us at a small pier where a Madonna with a child is carved into a niche on the walls. A stone tablet above confirms that you are indeed in Torcello. Past a curiously stagnant and winding river, framed by droopy willows and scraggly trees, you walk into the island. Red and green colours pop up along the promenade that leads into the heart of it. A small bridge straddles it with no protection on its sides. If you wobble on it, you would be in the river surely. Though I would not risk those waters. They lie strangely still and the weeds in them look like the life has been sucked out of them.

Plus the bridge was built by the devil himself in one night to win a bet. Then you have tales of unlucky lovers, the heartbroken heroine of the tale consorting with a witch (who you know is hand in glove with the devil) to bring back her dead lover to life, and then, the devil being the devil claiming the souls of children as his gift. The witch, however, died midway. Did the devil get his fix of dead children’s souls? Who knows. I climbed gingerly up that bridge and stood looking either way, staring at the lonely campanile sticking out above the pastel coloured house fronts, and wondered about Torcello’s ‘haunted’ reputation.

A handful of people live on it – the maximum number is possibly 20. A deep irony given that it was the first island to be inhabited in the lagoon, by the Romans of Altino who were fleeing marauding Huns. It preceded Venice. At the height of its glory when 20,000 people are said to have lived on it, Torcello acquired a utopian renown through the words of a 6th century writer. This man, Cassiodorous, wrote: “There is no distinction between rich and poor. the same food for all ; the houses are all alike and so envy – that vice which rules the world – is absent here.” Possibly laying the roots of for the democratic Venetian Republic that came up by and by. Torcello was eventually abandoned because malaria struck along with other problems. Now there are just two churches, a museum and a handful of eateries.

At an unpretentious trattoria called Locondo Cipriani, Ernest Hemingway spent four months in the 1940s as he wrote his book Across the River and Into the Tree. It is easy even now to slip into that world of Hemingway. Little would have changed since on this desolate island of reeds and bracken, where time tends to float by as if in a dream.

Get Your Pert Behind to Torcello:
Hire a private water taxi (if you are willing to fork out the big notes) or better still just board a regular ACTV waterbus from Venice. If you are working your way through the various islands, Torcello is a short boat ride from Burano. Vaporetto line 9 makes half hour runs between the two.

Where to Stay:

If you want to brood and contemplate upon the vagaries of life on the island of Torcello, do it like Hemingway and stay at Loconda Cipriani (www.locandacipriani.com). A double room is priced at €110 per night.

What to do:

You do not have much to do on the island – which is the delicious beauty of it.

Torcello’s Byzantine-Gothic cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta. Climb the 11th century campanile for views across the marshy island.

Museum of Torcello. Look out for the Throne of Attila. Who knows if he sat on it or not, but the bishops of Torcello surely did.

Church of Santa Fosca which is said to home the remains of a 15-year-old martyr beneath its altar.

Glass for Princes in Murano

A mile north off Venice is the cluster of islands called Murano. We crossed in a vaporetto (water taxi) from Venice to Murano on a day that was joyously sunny. The kinds that come wrapped up in a bow only once during a few miserably cold and foggy winter days spent in Venice. When we got off the boat at Murano, the first sight that greeted me was that of a bearded local dragging a sizeable carton on wheels . He looked like a fisherman, the lines of the years marked out on his weather-beaten face.

A rustic, atmospheric introduction but what lay after was anything but unassuming. Workshops, boutiques and factories cropped up in a row, flanking the grand canal. Stepping inside them, my senses were dazzled by the rich colours of delicately designed glassware — and, may I add sheepishly, the prices.

There we were at the heart of it all – Murano thrives on the art crafted by the glass blowers of the island. They have been at it for centuries. Somewhere towards the end of the 13th century, the Doge ordered the glassmakers to move their factories to Murano. Now there is a bit of dilemma about why he did so. But it sways between two schools of thought – one that the Venetian authorities did not relish the thought of their wooden buildings exploding with the danger of fire at large, and secondly this that they did not want the craftsmen to divulge their secrets to outsiders.

The glassmakers achieved exalted status soon. They could carry swords, evade prosecution by the Venetian state, and by the late 1300s, their daughters could even be wedded into blue-blooded families. The only glitch was that the glassmakers could not leave the Republic. If a glassmaker had plans of setting up shop on lands beyond his own, it would mean two things for the fellow – he would either lose his hands (sounded to me like Shah Jahan’s edict for the workers behind the Taj Mahal had travelled far – the Mughal emperor was supposed to have had their hands lopped off so that they could not replicate the glory of his tribute to his empress), or, he would be killed by the secret police.

We had to watch one of the glassmakers at work. It is quite a touristy thing to do, yes I know, but sometimes I feel that you have got to be a tourist to the hilt. We marched into one of the factories and paid up about 8 euros each to watch a third-generation glassblower go about his job with incredible ease. Within the time that we spent gaping at him twirling a long pole, the tip of it encased in a glowing cone of fiery melted glass, he had moulded a handful of pretty pieces of coloured glass including one of a horse rearing up.

Veneto-Byzantine summer palazzos and cathedrals apart, I was taken in by the iridiscent blue sculpture at Campo Santo Stefano. It was a veritable starburst in glass. I gaped more – by which time Adi was fairly tired of sulking and being ignored while I kept staring at glass. To not have your sulk acknowledged is worse than your partner shopping on the sly. My husband shall confirm both. He does the first, I do the second. At that point of time he had made the transition to Mr. Grumps. He had not been fed gelato on time.

Off we went on a gelato hunt which concluded the visit to the island on a fairly satisfied note. Not to mention the few colourful pieces of suspended, ceiling lamps that we bought before boarding the boat to Burano.

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Baked and bearded Murano locals
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Grand Canal
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Boutiques that line the canal
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Glass blowing – at the very heart of Murano is this art.
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Inside a glassmaker’s workshop
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The focal point of this shot being the horse. 
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Emerald hues of the Grand Canal and cathedral walls looming alongside.
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Blue glass sculpture at Campo Santo Stefano, the 19th century clock-tower.

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Post mint chocolate chip gelato, all is usually well.
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Murano’s lighthouse made of Istrian stone.

How to Get There: Look out for Vaporetto 41 and 42 from Piazza San Marco in Venice. You can also stop at the cemetery island of San Michele, that lies between Venice and Murano.

Where to Buy Glass: Go with your instinct. We stopped at a shop that was quiet but the owner refused to haggle (which was a bummer) but the relief was that we did not come out with products made in China.

Where to Eat:

La Perla Ai Bisatei. An Italian eatery where I stopped for cappuccino and a spinach puff pastry that delighted my tastebuds with its flakiness. The food is supposed to be good here and the prices reasonable.

Osteria al Duomo (www.osteriaalduomo.com) is a family-run affair and known for the freshness of the locally-sourced food it serves up.

A Luxembourgish Break

Here is a small duchy that packs a punch. In every way you can think of. I shall get there eventually. Make way for some rambling now, if you please.

A flight on an early morning from Heathrow landed us in Luxembourg’s only international airport. Without mis-adventures what are we? A public bus, for which we had to pay nothing (because on Saturdays they charge nada), took us past very modern and tall buildings into the heart of it when we suddenly realised that we had left our destination somewhere behind. They do not announce bus stops (they just want you to be observant individuals, darn it). So all you have got to do is keep a careful count of bus stops on the small brochure that the information desk at the airport hands you. Of course, we reached somewhere else. From where we sat in another bus with a driver who looked like he was not having a good day and reached our stop in a matter of a few minutes.

Yes, Luxembourg City is so small that you can conveniently walk around it without breaking a sweat. If you have two days in the city, I would strongly recommend getting a feel of the city in a day (it is that small and you will have seen everything, I promise) and the very next day head north to the Ardennes or south to the Moselle Valley. We did not get to do either of the two because we had to head home the next evening. So we just spent time mooching around town.

Now getting back to that statement about how and why the small capital packs a punch.

Firstly, the only remaining Grand Duchy in the world, ruled by Grand Duke Henri, does fairy-tale with flourish. Straddling two deep gorges, Luxembourg City is filled with pale pink chateau-style houses with turrets and towers, viaducts, sand-hued bastions peeping through, willows poetically drooping over emerald green rivers, spires of churches shooting for the heavens and stories of counts and dukes fighting for control of the tiny duchy. The father of this small land would be Siegfried, a count in the Ardennes – that rugged terrain which spans Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France and known for the fierce battles fought in it during the two world wars.

There is a legend that the count was lured to Luxembourg by a mermaid called Melusina whose domain was the waters of the river Alzette. Psst: You will see her soon. No, no, I am not trying to spook ya. Melusina truly sits by the river even today, very pink and thoughtful.

Melusina or not, Siegfried must have fallen in love with the rocky promontory known in those days (10th century) as Lucilinburhuc. That is if he was romantic. But if he was a shrewd ruler, he would have looked at the strategic position of it and thought of it as an excellent proposition for building a defensive fort. In any case, he paid for it with lands he owned in a nearby commune in Luxembourg to the Abbey of Saint-Maximin in Trier. Then having acquired it, Siegfried proceeded to castle up. Around which the town came up.

Instead of paying up a hefty 18 euros per person for a tour of it, we did a self-guided walk. The walk around the promontory that is called the Bock, the gorges and the fortifications is just too charming. You cannot take your eyes off the view from every part of it. The viaduct with rows of cypresses standing like tall, spare soldiers alongside, the startling sandy hues of the sandstone cliffs that glow so golden in the sun, the roads winding down from the plateau to the lower part of town, the glassiness of the Alzette and then the blue palette of the sky in the backdrop. It all comes together like a dream.

Secondly, this is a city that thwacks you solid when you are hungry or thirsty. Wander into any restaurant and Luxembourg City will make you see stars. A cup of coffee in a cafe will set you back by 4.50 euros. Nothing is for the hoi polloi here. In fact, I suspect there is nobody who would qualify as a commoner in Luxembourg City. The average salary monthly there is 3,189 euros. So dear friend, if you have felt poor in Luxembourg, you are not alone.

I had a premonition at the airport. A blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee at a stall in the airport cost us 11 euros. The kind of price I would expect to pay at a fancy old-world cafe in Europe. Boy, were we glad that we were there just for a night.

Thirdly, it has one of the best chocolateries in Europe. That is reason enough to make me go wild. With chocolate. Who wants anything else in this world? Wait. Don’t answer that. Just humour me.

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Ah, that view from Chemin de la Corniche which is considered to be Europe’s finest balcony. It is a cobbled promenade from where you can have a wonderful insight into why the city had captured the attention of Holy Roman Emperors to the houses of Burgundy and the Habsburgs. Why, everyone wanted a bite of it, including the Prussians, and the French and Spanish kings.
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On the left, you see the Bock. From which the city gets its epithet, Gibraltar of the North.
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Every angle of it is the subject of a few clicks.
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His imagination ran riot here. Above him are loop-holes in the Bock cliffs for canons that once were stationed there.
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There you go — Melusina. She gave Siegfried seven children but he refused to give her space. The story goes that she used to lock herself up on weekends, and egged on by his friends, the count gave in to peeping through the key hole of her locked door. “O ye of little faith, Siegfried,” she might have said, but what she definitely did was vanish. He never saw her again. 
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The city stands at the crossroads of two important Roman routes that ran through it. Straight ahead in the quarter known as the Fishmarket (at the junction of the Roman roads) stands the oldest church (it goes back to the 1oth century) in the city, St. Michael’s.
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Church of St. John, home to one of the few hundred Black Madonnas in the world. In the courtyard, stands the Neumünster Abbey. From time to time, it has served more the function of a prison and barracks than as an abbey. During WWII, the Nazis used it to imprison those who protested their occupation of the city.
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Luxembourgers in the old days would enter or leave the city, always watched by soldiers on duty at the gates. The gates would be shut once the sun set, not because they feared attacks, but because they were paranoid about desertion of their own troops. Apparently, it was a common feature for a large part of the troops to leave town in the cover of the night.
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Pont du Château, an 18th century two-story road bridge. Before 1735 when it was built by Austrians, there used to be a wooden drawbridge that connected the Bock with the upper parts of Luxembourg City. But if you want to make the connection through the Pont du Château, it gives you four options. You can walk over it of course. But if that seems too staid, you can pop into a spiral staircase that is located under the main arch, or walk the passage under those small arches. Better still, disappear underground into a tunnel and emerge in the upper city.
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We met barely a handful of people as we made our way down steep, winding paths to this church. But in the 18th century, this very place must have been swarming with people. For one, the citizens of Luxembourg were bound by “a sad privilege” as they had stated in a petition then. They considered themselves to be “living in a fortress, a privilege that is inseparable from the lodging of soldiers”. Both groups, soldiers and citizens, were thoroughly miserable, living in cramped conditions and constantly jostling for space.
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The husband and very own guide armed with a map takes a breather as we descend into the valley of the Alzette.
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Chemin de la Corniche in our backdrop.

Grund

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Views from Grund, a quarter below the city on the banks of the Alzette.
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Roads that lead to Grund.
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The houses of Grund, the quarter with just about 750-odd residents.
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In these alleys are the European headquarters of Amazon.
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Houses on the Grund.
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And then, there are these houses too in Grund, on the Alzette.
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From Grund, you look up and spot Old Town.

Old Town

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Let’s wander into its alleys.
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The Grand Ducal Palace
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Right opposite the palace will you see this piece of treasure.
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Inside a 15th century house, you will find just a wonderland of chocolate, European style.
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Those cakes are luscious enough to make you hungry even if you are not.
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Now this should back my statement up. Can you imagine the creamy goodness of this red velvet cake on your tongue? Are you feeling immensely greedy? Want to chase me with a club? I am done here.
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Bob Marley, Kafka and my man watch me as I unleash a vast reservoir of appetite.
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Mint tea. No I did not have that. I had something more sinful in store for me.
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It started with this stick, a big block of dark chocolate at one end of it along with a shot of cointreau in that plastic vial.
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That is how you bring a short holiday to a smashing end. With adequate amounts of hot chocolate, cliffs, spires, ditzy roads winding all over the place. And an odd yellow crane in the backdrop. Because life is a tale full of anti-climaxes.

Thus we wind down to the end of my short but sweet time in Luxembourg. Till next time, toodles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How We Fell in Love with Vienna

Vienna stole in upon us on a gusty summer’s night and caught us unawares after a subdued start to our weekend break. The day we caught the early morning flight to Vienna from Heathrow, the results of the monumental Brexit referendum had just been announced. The elderly cab driver in Northampton quizzed us on our reactions, co-travellers opined ‘Now, if the Scottish want to leave us, bollocks to them’, and stewards gabbed about it. Brexit travelled with us to Vienna.

From cool English climes we were driven straight into the arms of a suffocating heat wave in the Austrian capital. My hair frizzed up promptly and my peace of mind ebbed in directly proportional measures. The Turkish doorman at the hotel announced, “Everyone who comes in through the doors says, ‘Aaaah the air conditioning, I think we shall spend the holiday inside the hotel.” Right, as tempting as that was we pushed ourselves out of the hotel plonked helpfully on the Ringstraße, Vienna’s ring road that wraps itself around its old town. In front of the iconic Vienna State Opera, we were accosted by a man in a white wig, yellow brocade waistcoat and breeches to buy hideously expensive opera tickets that would make you scream something obscene. We wound up watching Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) instead at the Vienna State Opera after laying our hands on a couple of standing tickets. There we stood transfixed by the beauty of it – you can never underplay the emotions of good opera.

In its aftermath, enveloped in a haze of operatic enchantment, we armed ourselves with cans of chilled beer and fortified by Käsekrainer, those scrumptious Austrian sausages filled with cubes of cheese sold at street carts and spicy noodles rustled up by Afghan migrants, we explored the baroque beauty of Vienna. Everything was magnificent, and those palaces, fountain nymphs, gods and goddesses, churches, they cast an imperial aura over the city. Horse carriages clip-clopped by.

History lurked around every corner we turned. Hitler had addressed an Austrian German crowd in 1938 from the balcony of the Neue Burg, a branch of the Hofburg Palace which was the stronghold of the Habsburg monarchy. The way to the palace was through a massive gate, Michaelertor, and it housed a museum dedicated to the Austrian cult figure of Sisi. The beautiful empress of Kaiser Franz Joseph I, formally known as Elisabeth of Austria, stared back at me from shop windows and palace banners. She was known for indulging in fripperies such as washing her hair with essence extracted from eggs and cognac and tightly lacing herself – which is how she maintained a slender figure, an enviable sense of fashion and lush long hair. Sisi was a woman oppressed by her mother-in-law and the rigidity of courtly life. So she championed independence, penning poetry and indulging her passion for wanderlust.

“If I arrived at a place and knew that I could never leave it again, the whole stay would become hell despite being paradise,” said Sisi. She was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist in 1868.

In front of the stunning Rathaus, we watched a Euro football match with a passionate crowd. How every experience adds to the memories of a place.

We met up with a couple of my friends in Vienna who were bound the next morning for Budapest. We spent an evening near the impressive St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its richly tile-glazed roof, talked politics and travel, drinking copious amounts of beer till the pubs shut down, and then gave in to late-night grub from food stalls while buskers played sweet music to us.

Vienna by night is truly unmissable.

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The Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) upon the Ringstrasse
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The muse of poetry, Erato, sits astride a winged horse atop the opera building
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The Mozart costume sits askew upon that paunch
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Twenty-two-carat gold leaf ceilings inside the Vienna State Opera
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Schwind Foyer where there are 16 sketched oil paintings by Austrian artist, Moritz von Schwind
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Allegorical statues stand all around the beautiful, old staircase inside the opera
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Views from Schwind Foyer
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Before the opera commences…
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Lest you cannot catch the opera inside the hall, it is screened for the public outside the opera
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Outside the Vienna State Opera
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Where the streets wind off into classical beauty on a gusty summer’s night
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The lady, she peers, inside Hofburg Palace
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Sausage fest
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Käsekrainer

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The 19th-century Neue Burg
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Empress Maria Theresa on Maria-Theresien-Platz
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Rathaus
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 Euro match on a giant screen at the Rathaus
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Football passion at the Rathaus

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Neo-Gothic Votive Church by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian

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Albertina Platz

Ye Old Cafés and Horse Traps

An inevitable part of being in Vienna is setting out on the museum route and making pit stops at coffee houses. We absorbed Vienna’s Habsburg history in the Schönbrunn Palace and could not but miss out on Mozart’s birthplace. Warned by a friend, I skipped the museum dedicated to Sigmund Freud. He had fled to London with everything he owned to escape the Nazis. The museum in Vienna has barely nothing to show.

My wish of meeting the Lippizaner Horses at the Spanish Riding School was in vain. “They are on holiday,” beamed the blonde girl behind the till. I dismissed it. What a joke! The girl reiterated, “They actually go on holiday during this period and return in August.”

I drowned my sorrows in cake.

We sat in the luxurious café of Hotel Sacher and sliced into Sacher Tortes, with dollops of whipped cream. We tried tortes at cafés which are institutions in Vienna. If I shut my eyes, I can almost taste the goodness of the Cleopatra Torte at Demel and the intimidating mound of shredded pancake known as Kaiserschmarrn at Central Café where the family at the table next to ours snickered at the monstrosity of it.

A cup of Viennese coffee and a slice of cake go hand-in-hand at these traditional coffee houses which the UNESCO has listed as pieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage”.

In the late 19th & 20th centuries, Freud, Hitler, Lenin and Soviet politician Leon Trotsky were patrons of Café Central. Not to forget the chess players who met there regularly, lending it the nickname, Die Schachhochschule, or the Chess School. These old cafés, they continue to be sticklers for tradition with their marble table tops, bentwood chairs and gilded columns. There time stands still as you spend hours at leisure but pay just the price of coffee.

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The Lipizzaners were on holiday, so I came back with a magnet
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Hotel Sacher
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Original Sacher-Torte at Hotel Sacher. The Sacher Torte was invented by an Austrian patissiere, Franz Sacher, in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna. The Prince was throwing a party and is said to have declared, “Let there be no shame on me tonight!” But there is a legendary tiff between Hotel Sacher and Demel because both claim precedence over each other for the cake. Give both a go.
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Post Sacher Torte
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Demel is an absolute visit in Vienna. The pastry shop goes back to the year 1786 in Vienna and still bears the title of Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court.
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Pastry-making at Demel
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Inside Demel
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 Cleopatra Torte at Demel
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Café Central
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Café Central 
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Café Central 
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The Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor’s Mess) was a favourite with the Austrian emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I. The Kaiser’s table was never without it. 
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The why and wherefore of the Kaiser’s girth 
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Viennese Goulash at Central Café 
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Central Café

 

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The Romance of Ronda

The southern region of Andalucia in Spain is a sun-soaked landscape, awash in bleached yellows, browns and greens. Its sierras dotted with gorse and sparse vegetation swoop into valleys of whitewashed towns that the Spanish call pueblos blancos. Once in a while, vineyards terrace this arid terrain. There is an atmosphere of the primitive and you are indeed witness here to an older European way of life. The Andalucian civilisation is supposed to be the oldest in the Western reaches that traded with the Phoenicians. A wild halo hangs about the sierras where service stations are few and far between. Drive through them on a Sunday as Adi and I did and you will spot lone bodegas with their shutters down. 

A heat haze hung about us palpably. Right across the Strait of Gibraltar is the northern tip of Africa from where the Calima blows towards Málaga, casting over the landscape the mien of a place lodged faraway in time. With tales in our heads of the Moors, the mixed race of Berbers and Arabs who crossed into Spain from North Africa, who occupied Andalucia for seven centuries, we came upon the ancient hill town of Ronda.

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Sun-bleached Andalucian mountains 
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A bodega

About 100km from Málaga, Ronda is a picture of quaintness, bringing together images of al-Andalus of the Moors and medieval citadels. 

In this old town, there is a small museum on the bandits who in the 1800s roamed the hills of Ronda. The Museo del Bandolero has these old prints that narrate jaunty stories of young bandoleros. In the late 1800s, a traveller passing through Málaga remarked upon the way of the bandit bedecked in his various amulets and charms. He noted: “The favourite and original method of the Malagueño highwayman is to creep up quietly behind his victim, muffle his head and arms in a cloak, and then relieve him of his valuables. Should he resist, he is instantly disembowelled with the dexterous thrust of a knife……” The museum is a winner in every other way. I have not come upon the likes of it anywhere else. But then, you could argue that bandits did not flourish just about everywhere.

Ronda has two halves and the Puente Nuevo, or new bridge, divides Ronda into the Mercadillo (new town) and La Ciudad (old town). Yet two more older bridges span the El Tajo gorge. The oldest having been constructed by the Romans during the reign of Julius Caesar, and the other, a Moorish bridge which leads to an exotic hammam, Baños de los Arabes, the former bathing houses of the Moors. 

Rainer Maria Rilke who arrived in town in 1912 from Paris was transfixed by Ronda. He noted: “The spectacle of this city, sitting on the bulk of two rocks rent asunder by a pickaxe and separated by the narrow, deep gorge of the river, corresponds very well to the image of that city revealed in dreams. The spectacle of this city is indescribable and around it lies a spacious valley with cultivated plots of land, holly and olive groves. And there in the distance, as if it had recovered all its strength, the pure mountains rise, range after range, forming the most splendid background.”

The obvious highlight of Ronda is El Tajo, a gorge that plummets 492 feet into River Guadalevín. I was enchanted by the sprawling vista of the Andalucian country on either side of it, a thousand fireflies buzzing in the quiet of the afternoon, and imparting it with an other-worldly air. The Puente Nuevo turned out to be a repository of hoary stories. Above the central arch of the bridge is a secret chamber. During the Spanish Civil War, between 1936 and 1939, many a Nationalist and Republican was tossed out of the windows of the chamber into the gorge. Ernest Hemingway recalled these incidents in his novel, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. When pages from the past are riddled with blood, you get these forbidding stories that trickle out of the most innocuous of places, as keepsakes. 

Old Ronda

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The late-15th century Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor built after the Reconquista upon where once stood the main mosque of Ronda
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Puerta de Almocábar 
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The museum of bandits
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Old prints of bandits

 

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The bandit’s way of life

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Near an old minaret in old town

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Catching a spontaneous shot of  couple on the cobbled lanes of Ronda
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Peeling plaster and old buildings
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The road that leads to the Puente Nuevo

El Tajo

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Puente Nuevo
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At the bridge
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Guadalevín beneath the gorge
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Fireflies at the Puente Nuevo

The most bloodthirsty aspect of Ronda awaited us at the Mercadillo. The new town, which is not so new because it dates back to the 15th century and makes you realise that the old town must be ancient then, has its share of beautiful old churches and plazas and cobbled alleys. It is in the new town that you come upon Plaza de Toros, Spain’s oldest bullring. My interest in Ronda’s bullfighting heritage began with Hemingway’s written records of his obsession with it. Ronda, according to ‘papa’, is the town where you should see your first bullfight in Spain. Every year there is a festival in Ronda called Corrida Goyesca when its bullfighting past is recreated with flourish 

With stories of moors and bandits, bullfighters and writers in the air, Ronda became a honeypot for the Viajeros Románticos or Romantic Travellers who during the 18th and 19th centuries wanted to travel through the lesser known parts of Europe. Alexandre Dumas, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles – they all found themselves beguiled by this old town. And why not, they were walking in the footsteps of the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Visigoths and the Berbers. Just as I in turn walked in their footsteps and fell into a state of enchantment upon finding myself in Ronda.

New Town

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Plaza de Toros, Ronda’s bullring, which was the first to host bullfights in the country.
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Cayetano Ordóñez better known as Niño de la Palma. His parents owned a shoe shop called La Palma hence the nickname. Ordóñez had faced over 3,000 bulls. He was also Hemingway’s inspiration for the character of Pedro Romero in The Sun Also Rises
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That plaque outside the bullring is a tribute to Hemingway who arrived in Spain in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War and wrote of Ronda as the place “where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone. The entire town and as far as you can see in any direction is romantic background….”

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Hocks of ham

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Tiled alleys that open into the Iglesia del Socorro

 

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Adi next to the figure of the father of Andalusian nationalism, Blas Infante, in Plaza del Socorro.
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Behind me is Hercules and the two lions he aims to tame

Back at El Tajo for one long last look before leaving Ronda. No wonder Rilke had avowed lasting love for it when he had said: “I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda.” 

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