Three Delightful Days in Venice – Best Blogs Series

English: The Torre dell'Orologio (Clock tower)...

English: The Torre dell’Orologio (Clock tower) in the Piazza San Marco in Venice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: The Rialto Bridge over Venice's Grand...

English: The Rialto Bridge over Venice’s Grand Canal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Basilica di San Marco, Venice

English: Basilica di San Marco, Venice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today we leave Venice forFlorence, after three delightful days.

Our first day, we were talking to another couple on a ferry and received the following advice:

You are going to be ripped-off in Venice anyway, so you might as well enjoy it!

For us, Venice was a city of extremes, and a thin line between the best and the worst.

The architecture is stunning, truly amazing and attracts millions of photos each year. The historical sites are amongst the most visited tourist sites in the World, including:

To really enjoy Venice, follow the locals and not the tourists. For example, North of the Rialto Bridge to the West of the Fish Market is an excellent area to sample authentic Venetian restaurants, with many little bars full of the Venetian equivalent of Tapas. For us one of the greatest highlights was stepping out of the rain into a wonderful wine-bar in a little alley and sampling some of the Tapas-style  dishes for lunch. This area is also good for fish restaurants at more reasonable prices. It boasts some good shops too.

Around St. Marks Square, expect to be seriously ripped-off, with outrageous prices, and some very mixed service. However, if you want a really wonderful experience in St. Marks Square, visit Cafe Florian which dates back to 1720 – we had a wonderful fresh fruit salad with ice-cream and a glass of sparkling wine  – it will be a special memory for us.

There are, of course, some of the finest shops in the World in Venice and prices are perhaps amongst the highest too. It is important to remember that Venice has been in serious decline for centuries, with the main industry now being tourism. Many young people are forced to leave Venice for opportunities in other Italian cities or overseas, for the more ambitious. Venice now attracts unscrupulous waiters from around the World who will try to demand a tip in addition to fifteen percent service included on the bill.

Venice is seriously crowded, so be prepared. The crowds, along with the high prices and indifferent service, make it hard to really enjoy all that Venice has to offer.

Given the opportunity, we shall certainly return to Vienna and perhaps Prague or Budapest but we do not think we shall not return to Venice. However, we would certainly recommend the experience, after all it is Venice!

Beautiful Bagan Myanmar (Burma) – Best Blogs Series

Bagan at sunrise, Myanmar

Bagan at sunrise, Myanmar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Shwezigon, Bagan, Myanmar Швезигон, Б...

English: Shwezigon, Bagan, Myanmar Швезигон, Баган, Мьянма (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Bagan, Myanmar. Bagan became a centra...

English: Bagan, Myanmar. Bagan became a central powerbase of the mid 11th century King Anawrahta who unified Burma under Theravada Buddhism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We were sorry to say farewell toMandalay, as we checked out of  hotel  thanking the staff for a pleasant stay. Our car took us  to the Mandalay airport for a short flight to Bagan. It was an early start and we were in Bagan airport by 8.00 AM. We were transferred to our hotel on Mount Popa, an extinct volcano, also now a nature reserve and a national park. We had the afternoon at leisure, which was very pleasant given the stunning views from our vantage point on the mountain, the kind of view where you stare at the same space for several minutes but find it difficult to move on, as the beauty is so stunning. Unfortunately, the hotel itself was a series of disasters for us –  they have the monopoly here, it is the only hotel and they used that to their advantage and the customers’ disadvantage. We were glad to leave the hotel, but sorry to leave the view the next morning.

We were met by our guide and driver, who took us next to the base of Popa shrine,  which is believed to be home to the ‘nats’, ancient Burmese animist spirits. We climbed  to the top for stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Our guide on this leg of the journey was excellent and we were pleased to learn that he would accompany us for the rest of our trip in Bagan.  We started our climb up the seven hundred and fifty steps to the top and we had lots of company in the form of monkeys joining us and crisscrossing our path in front of us. We were told to hold on to our cameras firmly as the inquisitive monkeys liked small items. There was much “monkey poo on the steps up the mountain – but periodically, volunteers were cleaning areas for tourists and we were asked to show our appreciation with a small note and that was understandable as it wasn’t a very nice job to volunteer  for! In addition, there were hundreds of vendors selling their touristy wares, so quite an exciting atmosphere that made the climb up easier, however, once there the views were truly spectacular. Later we descended the hundreds and hundreds of steps along with the hundreds and hundreds of monkeys,  and we were met outside by a herd of water buffalo and more street vendors, what a lovely scene!  Next, we started our interesting scenic drive  to Bagan proper.

We traveled and stopped at many small villages and local markets and even saw the family ox walking round continually in circles for the production of both palm oil and peanut oil, using a very old style circular mill attached to the ox. We were able to sample the palm juice, wine and spirit. We learned that in these parts peanut oil was the most healthy oil  for cooking being the lowest in cholesterol but unfortunately many Burmese people could not afford it and used substitutes that were higher in cholesterol.  Burmese people typically like fried and sweet food and we found this diet difficult to enjoy as we don’t like either very much, however, there are many other choices too.

Bagan compares to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, with some of  the most impressive temple complexes in the world. Bagan is home to the world’s largest collection of Buddhist temples, pagodas and Stupas, with some dating back to circa 8th century.  Unlike  Angkor Wat,  these have not yet become a UNESCO world heritage site and sadly have not had the funds needed to maintain and restore them. The temples are surrounded by a stunning landscape of rolling hills and forests. We suspect that Bagan is probably not yet a UNESCO world heritage site for two reasons:

  1. The politics of the former military government; and
  2. The fact that many of the temples had been modified by kings over the centuries – frequently embellishing them with gold but sadly changing the original unique architectural features.

We had a typical Burmese lunch in New Bagan, where the hotels, restaurants and shops are located. New Bagan has now become popular with the locals as a residential area. Old Bagan is where the historical sites are located.  After lunch we  checked into our hotel for three nights – it was comfortable and the staff were very friendly. We unpacked and relaxed for a few hours.

Around 4 PM, we were picked up for our next viewing by horse and cart  among the temple plains, we rode through the temple complex on our bumpy ride which lasted about one hour, stopping to enjoy the magnificent sunset over the temple complex from up high. Along with tourists from various parts of the world, we climbed up to the top of this holy temple to see the wonderful sunset and take photos, it was very hot, but well worth the effort.

Once again, reflecting on our wonderful day over a drink in our hotel, we were so pleased to be in Myanmar! Of course, we are still way behind editing our photos and video footage but for those eager to see photos please open this link. More about Bagan to follow.