A Travellerspoint blog

What a difference a Bay makes

Two peninsulas cradle Port Phillip Bay – two very different stories

sunny 27 °C

The first recorded shot of World War I, the 'Gibraltar of the South', dozens of shipwrecks and entrance to the richest port in the world. All part of European history? Far from it! The other side of the world in fact. Down under, down south and down at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.

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The entrance is a mere three kilometres of deceptive, treacherous water with a navigable channel of only one kilometre…better known locally as “The Rip”. Peninsulas each side of the Rip lay sentinels to Melbourne’s ocean gateway and offer two of Victoria’s most popular and interesting coastal destinations – Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninisula.

With thundering surf on the ocean side and safe, calm water on the Bay side, they could be mirrored reflections of each other. But, the differences are deep and reach far back. As far back in fact, to the origin of the state of Victoria.

In 1803, Sullivan Bay, one kilometre east of Sorrento, was Victoria’s first, and unfortunately very short, European settlement. Under control of Lieutenant Colonel David Collins, the penal settlement was abandoned in less than a year due to the scarcity of fresh water, unsuitable soil, fear of Aborigines, lack of discipline and the escape of many convicts. The settlement was moved to Risdon Cove in Van Diemen’s Land, later to be known as Tasmania. One escaped convict was William Buckley who lived with aborigines for more than thirty years on the opposite peninsula.

Frederick William Woodhouse, The first settlers discover Buckley, 1861, State Library of Victoria

From Van Diemen’s Land, a young settler by the name of John Batman led an expedition back to the Port Phillip Bay area, and laid the founding stone of Melbourne in 1835. This meant Sorrento was again settled by Europeans. The grab for land claims and family holdings, of which many still remain, are the reason Sorrento is like it is today.

On the other side of the Bay, in 1853, Lieut. Governor La Trobe named the fishing village, Queenscliff . As the town prospered it was proclaimed as the Borough of Queenscliffe – the added’ e’ is now only used in reference to the Borough.


It soon became clear by the growing number of ships being wrecked, the Rip – named after the combination of tidal turbulence and dramatic variations of depth – was, and still is, one of the most hazardous channels in the world.

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Marine disaster bell, Queenscliff and the wrecked SS Cheviot breaking up at Point Nepean in1887.
Thirty-five lives were lost making it the worst shipwreck in Victoria's history.

To protect the vital shipping for this growing colony, each ship needed directing through these dangerous waters. In 1838, four men risked their lives by venturing out in an open whaleboat to steer ships through the Rip. This was the start of the pilot service that continues to this day. No longer in open whaleboats, but in fast, sleek, bright orange boats equipped with the latest technology. Despite the heroic efforts of the earlier pilots, more than 100 shipwrecks lay beneath the waves in this area of coastline.

An artists impression of the Sea Pilot's worst disaster when the pilot schooner Rip capsized in 1873 killing the pilot and three crewmen.

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A modern pilot boat heading out to the Heads and their berth at Queenscliff Harbour.

While the marine importance of Queenscliff was to set its character, a more important role would establish its style.

"Gold!" The word cried out around the burgeoning state. Gold seemed to be everywhere creating vast riches. At the height of the Gold Rush, Melbourne was the richest port in the world which meant a greater need for defence. A list was established of potential external enemies with plunder on their minds and an easy escape through the lightly defended Heads of Port Phillip.

An Australian Gold Diggings, Edwin Stockqueler, 1855, National Gallery of Australia

It was recommended in 1877, that fortification on both sides of the entrance to Port Phillip was of utmost importance. Queenscliff had, at that stage, a small contingent of army personnel to protect the growing pilot and customs activities as well as the vital lighthouse. The main fort was built on Shortland Bluff overlooking Queenscliff, which, to this day, is Australia’s largest preserved fort. Another fortification was established at Swan Island, situated just inside the bay, and others at Portsea and Point Nepean on the other side of the Rip.

Fort Queenscliff.
The Black Lighthouse in the background is built of black stone and one of only three black lighthouses in the world.

By 1886 the initial defence of Port Phillip was complete and regarded as the most heavily fortified port of the British Empire in the Southern Hemisphere – The Gibraltar of the South.

The establishment of Fort Queenscliff brought new growth and wealth to this seaside village. The military personnel had to be catered for and the added protection enticed new businesses that led to Queenscliff becoming a holiday resort.

At Portsea and Sorrento, the story was similar. The added protection of the Landed Gentry, made Sorrento the favoured, fashionable escape for the ‘rich and famous’.

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Affluence lines the foreshore from Portsea to Sorrento.

The wealth from gold and business successes allowed more time for excursions and relaxation. This created new enterprises. Paddle steamers joined the trading schooners that linked Melbourne to Queenscliff and Sorrento, the forerunners of the little steamers of Port Phillip Bay.

Ozone passing Pile Light, Port Phillip (Unknown c.1910).

Passengers on steamer ferry, circa 1920, Museum Victoria

Grand hotels were erected to cater for the visiting ‘well-heeled’ pleasure seekers. Music and gaiety, mixed with the invigorating sea air, established the southern-most part of Port Phillip Bay as the Queen of Watering Places. The hotels are still there, and most certainly, the reputation has survived.

Continental Hotel, Sorrento

Vue Grand Hotel, Queenscliff

Queenscliff Hotel, Queenscliff

A trip ‘down the Bay’ from Melbourne was a great delight. The wealthy purchased land and encouraged their professional friends to follow suit. Sorrento, in particular, made the most of this wealthy occupation, and continues to do so. Queenscliff also attracted the wealthy, but remained a fishing village offering safe anchorage for visiting yachts.

Boat shed and Queenscliff Pier

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Queenscliff Harbour

In 1914, these peaceful, romantic destinations were to enter the annals of war.

At midnight GMT on the night of August 4, declaration of war was made in Europe. As news of war reached Australia twelve hours later, a German steamer, the Pfalz, was rushing to reach the Heads and open sea. Not being fully coaled up, the Pfalz was approaching Sorrento when the order was given to halt the German steamer. The captain of the Pfalz ignored signals from Fort Nepean to stop until a shot was fired across the vessel’s bow – the first recorded shot of WWI.

SS Pfalz

History has a habit of repeating itself, and so it was to happen again, though less dramatic, at the beginning of the World War II.

On September 4, 1939, a small Bass Strait freighter, the Woniora, attempted to enter Port Phillip Bay without responding with a code word of a friendly ship. A warning shot was fired – the first official Australian shot of WWII. The Woniora quickly identified itself and was allowed to proceed through the Heads.

Peace returned and Queenscliff went into a state of dormancy as the popularity of the motor car opened up new holiday destinations further and further from Melbourne. This resulted in preserving the 19th century atmosphere of the unique fishing and maritime hamlet – its greatest asset.
Rather than slumbering, Sorrento took a short nap during this car invasion. Being populated mostly by wealthy land owners, the car took on a new role. The relatively short drive from Melbourne meant Sorrento was to become the ‘weekender’ haven.

The pleasure still remains in capturing the unique relationship between these two guardians of Melbourne’s ocean gateway. Both an easy ninety-minute drive from Melbourne, or alternatively, train to Frankston then bus to Sorrento or Train to Geelong and bus to Queenscliff. A car ferry operates every hour during daylight hours between Queenscliff and Sorrento. The forty-five minute drip is comfortable, scenic and quite often accompanied by playful dolphins.

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The Searoad car ferry on the water and at Sorrento

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Queenscliff Station was once on a branch line from Geelong.
It is now run by volunteers operating a tourist train to Drysdale and the popular Blues Train.

Both Queenscliff and Sorrento have a range of accommodation to suit any budget. Some of the old hotels are restored to their original grandeur and offer excellent weekend deals.

Dining is one activity that blends the locals with visitors. This is more evident in Sorrento. Here, meeting your neighbour for coffee or having an alfresco lunch on the sunny sidewalk with weekend guests is the norm.

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Queenscliff dining is more indoors. The wide streets are more for traffic than eating. A reflection of the fact that this is still a working village. But dining here is no less an experience. In fact, the elegant grand hotel dining rooms offer an ambience that absorbs you into the regions historical significance.

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Hesse Street, Queenscliff and The Queenscliff Inn

People on both sides of the Bay are at peace with their minds and their stomachs.



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Queenscliff Maritime Museum


According to the 2011 Census, the Mornington Peninsula had grown to 144,608 residents made up of 39,201 families and 83,526 private dwellings. The Bellarine Peninsula (including the Surf Coast) falls well short with 60,584 residents, 16,524 families and 38,065 private dwellings.

Posted by DenOS.08 21:12 Archived in Australia Tagged churches boats trains melbourne victoria restaurant cruises museum dining transportation seaside sorrento peninsula car_ferry queenscliff alfresco port_phillip_bay pilot_boats Comments (2)

Ho Chi Minh in passing

My enriching journey to view the embalmed Vietnamese leader


I feel I need to preface this article with an explanation why I went to view the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh.
- I’m not Vietnamese - I’m Australian - I’m of an age I could have fought against his army, but didn’t - I know of others that did
- I know of others that did and died - Back then, depending on your view, he was the enemy.
I visited him not as a tourist. I visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi to specifically view his embalmed body for story research and to close a chapter.

Setting the scene


Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the Ba Dinh District of Hanoi looms large and out of place in this land of French and lotus-inspired architecture. Based on Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, one could be forgiven for thinking they were standing in front of any Soviet authoritarian style building in a number of countries. The hardly noticeable curved roofline adds very little Vietnamese style or character and seems at odds with its purpose. Built over two years (1973-1975) to house the embalmed body of the revered leader Ho Chi Minh, the mausoleum is an anomaly. It was Ho Chi Minh's wish not to be embalmed, but for a simple cremation and his ashes spread over a rice field.

The mausoleum faces Ba Dinh Square where, on 2 September 1945, Ho declared independence for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Behind the granite mausoleum and the neighbouring and much contrasting French designed Presidential Palace, is the sprawling and leafy Botanic Gardens. Considered the green lungs of Hanoi, the gardens were established over thirty-three hectares by the French in 1890. They have since been reduced to ten hectares.

It is here were my tale begins.

It wasn’t my initial intention to explore the Botanic Gardens of Hanoi. But for anyone considering viewing the body of Ho Chi Minh lying deep within the mausoleum, the gardens will come first…well, almost. Let me explain.

I left my hotel in the Old Quarter at 8.00 am with the knowledge public entry into the mausoleum started at 8.30. The cyclo trip cost 20,000 dong ($1), and took less than half an hour.

As I approached the distant grey bunker-like mausoleum, the heat and humidity was rapidly increasing, as were the number of people joining an even greater number of people with the same intent.

After some confusion as to the entry procedure, I was directed to a small kiosk where I was ordered to leave my camera and camera case. All bags, cameras and mobile phones are prohibited inside the viewing chamber. I was given a numbered key ring in exchange for my camera and told, with a unclarifying wave of the hand, I could claim my camera on the other side of the mausoleum after the viewing.

Getting to and from the kiosk meant breaking through a long queue that faded well off into the distance. Having already discovered how extremely generous and friendly the Vietnamese are if you show politeness, I was graciously allowed through on both occasions.

Feeling naked without my camera and slightly worried if I'll ever see it again, I had a problem…where was the end of the queue? This is where the Botanic Gardens became unintentional itinerary number one. I backtracked along the line of people deep into the gardens, twisting around every tree, garden plot, pond and patch. In my haste, the heat and humidity was transforming my shirt into sweat induced irregular patterns and I was becoming an item of interest. Here was a tall sweat-stained foreigner walking rapidly in the wrong direction and quite possibly the only foreigner at this early hour.

With still no end of queue in sight, things suddenly became even more baffling. The queue forked off in two directions. Which fork do I take? Ask one of the brown-shirted policemen keeping the crowd in order, I thought. I got a silent, uninterested nod and an arm pointing in one direction. Hoping he wasn’t showing me the way out, I faithfully followed his direction till coming to a park gate and a main road beyond. Had my fear of being ejected come true? No, the queue continued down the street and still no end in sight. I approached another policeman who seemed as confused as I was, or was it the language barrier? I contemplated blending into the line there and then, but with suspicious brown-uniformed eyes on me, I set off further down the road.

It was now over half and hour since starting my journey to find the end of the line and I was beginning to doubt if, indeed, I ever would. Then I came across another gate that led back into the gardens. The queue I was following suddenly stopped to allow a shorter line to enter a gate back into the gardens. I tagged onto the end only to have the marshals hold us up to allow my previous line to enter before me. Had I missed something? Had I made the wrong choice? After an anxious wait, my newly adopted queue started off. I was now implanted into a line, that I hoped, was heading towards my intended destination. Aware of the distance I had travelled to get to this point, I had to accept a long, slow journey ahead.

Settling into the rhythm of slow shuffling feet, I did a rough calculation. It was now after nine o’clock and the mausoleum closes at eleven.* I had just walked at a brisk pace for well over thirty minutes to get where I was and the snail pace we were now progressing made me wonder…would I finally get to Ho Chi Minh's solid and foreboding Pearly Gates only to have them close in my face?

I was soon to realised that whatever the outcome, for the next couple of hours, the experience of being in the company of a group of Vietnamese of varying ages would be something to cherish.

The meandering, endless line of people was controlled by a small army of police and marshals and apart from the odd young male attempting to queue-jump, whom the marshals berated and sent to the end of queue, there was self-imposed respectful order. It was difficult to imagine such a thing happening in Melbourne and the crush to get into the MCG to see a football game.

But, the police and marshals can be harshly unforgiving at times. A teenage boy left the queue to retrieve a hat blown from a toddler’s head, on returning the hat and to his place in the queue, the marshals ordered him to the end of the line. To the marshals, he was a queue-jumper despite protests from his family and those around. I learnt there and then that while totally unfair to this well-meaning youngster, in this country, you do not argue with those in authority.

Because if this discipline, those in front, behind and beside me would be my constant companions for some time. Most were families of two or three generations, from babies to perhaps eighty or ninety years old. It’s difficult to determine the age of the older Asians, as their skin tends to retain youthful resilience.

The younger ones in my immediate company smiled and tittered behind raised hands at this bedraggled, sweaty westerner. I smiled back, said, “Hello” and watched as they went into a giggling huddle. Immediately in front of me a mother had a baby in her arms with its head resting on the mother’s shoulder and facing directly at me. Even at this early stage of life, the sight of a greying, bearded, fair-skinned Westerner is a sight to behold, and behold she/he did. Not once did it blink or its bewildered stare deviate from me.

The giggling, chatter and the odd quick glance in my direction, had me feel something of an oddity, of which I surely was. My sweating, dishevelled appearance was not a good advertisement for Western values among the neatly dressed paying their respect to Uncle Ho. Was this an affront to Uncle Ho? Was I being disrespectful? Probably, but here I was and all I could do was hope the scorching heat would overcome the high humidity and dry out my shirt before too long.

When travelling you inevitably meet many locals, even creating long-lasting friendships, but, apart from waiting at train and bus stations, becoming integrated into a group going about their cultural routine is something different. My immediate neighbours consisted of the six or eight people directly in front and maybe six behind. After their initial curiosity, giggling and teetering at my inclusion, I was soon accepted.

Feeling more relaxed, I turned my attention to the baby in front who continued to focus on me as if mesmerised by some alien being. I shook its little hand hanging limply over the mother’s shoulder which provoked another round of laughter. The mother turned sharply to see her baby had latched onto my finger and wouldn’t let go. It took only an instant for the her to evaluate the dangers of such contact, and, with a broad smile, she accepted we were now firmly attached…possibly for the remaining metre-a-minute journey. I had become a focal point, or maybe just a source of amusement to quell the boredom of a slow journey ahead. Young males began practicing their English by asking me 'where I from' and responded to my 'Australia' reply with, surprisingly, “Aussie, Aussie”. This evoked more giggles from the young girls, as they too, relaxed in my presence.

In contrast, the elderly were more constrained toward me. It was the men in their sixties who eyed me with a degree of suspicion. Being of similar age, I felt they saw in me as past enemy. Remember, this is Hanoi, the seat of the North Vietnamese push for Reunification and the stronghold of the Vietnam Peoples Army in the 60s. Though I took no part in the conflict, in their eyes I could have once been in their gun sights as they could have been in mine.

Whether I was of no further interest or the motion of the mother's slow stride lulled the baby to sleep, I finally had my hand back. Freed up, I took out my notepad to jot down some observations and again attracted the attention of the young. They closed in around me to see what I was writing and in what language. It was obvious they were interested in learning another language, as people in most countries are, except, unfortunately, for my own. It saddened me that I could not converse with these young people to learn more of their lives and ambitions. All I could do was share a smile with them and feel accepted.

An hour into the journey and the heat had soared to around forty-degrees celsius and my shirt was drying nicely. Those around me were now fanning themselves as fan and bottled water sellers patrolled the line. I exchanged some Dong for a bottle of cold water but the fans were sold out. One gentleman of about fifty something must have felt sorry for me. He moved a little closer, and while continuing to fan himself, directed some of his breeze in my direction. This was done without looking at me or showing any sign that it was intentional. The mother in front was also fanning herself and sleeping baby and very discreetly directed some of her generated breeze toward me. I was touched by such generosity to a complete and foreign stranger.

As we slowly progressed, the orderly patience of these people amazed me. The young children, who would have been bored out of their brains within a few minutes back home, entertained themselves and rarely ventured from the line. I felt that the few teenage boys who did attempt to jump the queue, were seen as Western influence breaking down centuries of cultural tolerance and patience.

After endless paths and seemingly retraced steps, we finally came into view of the mausoleum. Turning into Ba Dinh Square, young girls in traditional white pants under long, white, side-split tunics replaced the brown-uniformed police. Each girl wore a badge showing their name and a photo in school uniform. These smiling, immaculately dressed young girls presented a cultural sensitivity to the occasion.


Further up the avenue we entered a canopied walkway. Beside keeping the line tightly organised, it also offered welcome relief from the heat. The mausoleum was now within reach. White uniformed guards replaced the girls to watch over the now sombre crowd. Children stopped playing and dancing and a silent respect of the occasion had taken over.

Reaching the towering granite building, I noticed a group of three guards in brilliant white ceremonial uniforms at a side entrance. Two were armed with rifles while the third kept an eye on his watch. Was my timing fortunate? Could I be about to witness the changing of the guard?

Photo from external source.

We’re stopped to allow the three guards to march in regular step formation onto the paved surround leading up to the entrance. Approaching the entrance they changed to a goose-step, a slow, straight-legged stride with arms swinging across the body. They turned, and, without breaking stride or rhythm, climbed the steps to the large double-doored entrance. Without hesitation, the guards being replaced descend the steps in the same slow, ceremonial march back to their quarters. The two fresh armed honour guards took up their positions each side of the entrance and the change-over completed.

We're now allowed to climb the steps, and, in orderly single file, enter into a contrasting world. From the glare of sunlight and oppressive heat we are suddenly enclosed in sombre semi-darkness and chilled air. Despite the dull light, the presence of red is both political and a relief within the cold, grey structure.

This is one of the holiest sites in Vietnam and the following buddhist protocol must be adhered to and is strictly enforced by ever alert honour guards:
- wear clothes that cover you up, and that means no shorts, singlets or sleeveless shirts
- hats must be removed
- hands must be out of pockets
- don't even think about smuggling in a camera/phone
- don't talk or smile and continue to walk slowly and without hesitation
- you are required to bow
- always maintain a respectful attitude.
Any deviation from the above and the guards will not hesitate to single you out.

The appropriate deadly silence is disturbed only by the gentle movement of cool air that controls the internal atmosphere. Not even breathing of the continuous line of viewers can be noticed. It's as if the solemnity of the occasion has everyone holding their breathe.

Then, suddenly, you're in his presence.

Very few photos of the embalmed Ho Ch Minh can be found. This is from a news source and shows members of the communist party surround the body of North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh at the opening of the mausoleum.

There is no lingering to take in the detail. The movement of the queue must not pause or falter. The sudden impact of casting your eyes over this man, Ho Chi Minh, is all-consuming. Even now I struggle to remember all I witnessed. There are four sentries. One stationed on each corner of the bier that supports the glass sarcophagus wherein his embalmed body lies. The make-up and pin-point lighting on face and exposed hands crossed on his stomach, has the initial impact of a wax model. The familiar grey goatee beard is there as is the familiar khaki suit he's dressed in. The cosmetics applied have given life to the flesh, yet the missing soul cannot be replaced.

The long anticipated view of the man is only but a fleeting glimpse. But for those I'd spent the last two hours in the company of, it was a decades long deep and meaningful offering of respect.

  • It's estimated around 10,000 people visit Ho every day. If you intend to visit the mausoleum, check for current opening and closing days and times as they could vary. For two months of the year (October and November) the mausoleum is closed when the embalmed body is sent to Russia for preservation maintenance.

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After reclaiming my camera, a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Museum was next on my agenda. The building is next to the Mausoleum and in contrasting style to the Soviet edifice…white, as opposed to grey, a little more inviting and people enter and leave without police control. Once inside I'm greeted by a large wood carving of the revered man hovering over you in the clouds. But it's the interior that attacks the visual senses. It's more a walk through a dream world than casting an eye over the man's interesting artefacts and mementos. This museum brings the cultural imagination of the Vietnamese to a futuristic level. After all, a future was all Ho Chi Minh wanted for his people.

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Before leaving this district, I passed by the iconic One Pillar Temple (Chùa Một Cột). Constructed by Lý Thái Tông, who ruled between 1028 and 1054, and based on a dream. Lý Thái Tông was childless and dreamt of being handed a baby son by Avalokiteshvara (the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion) who was seated on a lotus flower. Not long after, his Queen gave birth to a baby boy. In honour of the Bodhisattva, the Emperor ordered the temple be built to represent a lotus flower rising from the water.
The pagoda was destroyed in 1954 by retreating French Union Forces after the first Indochina War. It was rebuilt a year later.

As I travelled back to my hotel reflecting on my visit with Uncle Ho, I saw what I my research wanted me to see. But unexpectedly, and to my mind, more importantly, was the time spent in the company of his admirers. My presence was in stark contrast to their culture, as was the growing contrast in the younger generation. Western fashion and values are seen infiltrating their way of life. But, the greatest surprise came from these same young Vietnamese. They were unaware Australia took part in what they call the American War. This was a good thing?

Posted by DenOS.08 19:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged people gardens temple vietnam museum hanoi guards mausoleum ho_chi_minh Comments (0)

Venice from the altana

Rise above the crowded back streets and canals for a different view of Venice

View Darwin & Dili & Italy with passion on DenOS.08's travel map.

Life in Venice can be very confining. Narrow alleys that never feel the sun’s rays. Canals quickly clogged by by more than one gondola or where water taxis manoeuvre through them by touch. Where houses are higher than they are wide, unless you live on the Grand Canal, of course. But Venetians are very adaptable. They conquered living on a timber pylon city with water lapping at their doorsteps, so it was only natural to reach for the sky, to access the sun and take in the vista of Venice from above.

Around 1500AD the first ‘altana’, or roof terrace, was built. A simple open-sided wooden platform primarily for the hanging of laundry to dry in the sun. While not intended to be a focal point of any building, the construction was often basic, simple and often precariously located like left-over scaffolding.

One of the first paintings picturing an altana - by Carpaccio (from the year 1494)

Before long Venetians were finding ways to access their roof tops. This then led to the realisation that the altana had the potential for more use than just drying clothes. Herbs and flowers could be planted in pots as a culinary garden and decoration. Tending the pots and hanging clothes soon became so enjoyable in the warm sunlight that the altana evolved to a place of leisure as well. Family and friends would gather to play and relax. The warm sun transformed living in Venice. Now there was an opportunity to rise from the stuffy, often overheated rooms below to breathe in the fresh air that sailed over the rooftops. A simple structure now became ones own penthouse.

Pianta prospettica di Venezia, from the year 1500 shows roof-top structures spread all over town

In the 1480s it became the fashion for Venetian ladies to have loose curls of hair flow down over their ears to their chin. The desired hair colour was blonde, to attain this, the ladies would sit in the relative privacy of their altana with hair spread out over a large circular disk worn like a hat. With the aid of the juice of a lemon or two and the sun, bleaching would hopefully occur.

Two Venetian Ladies detail of a painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Vittore Carpaccio.

Today, the altana is a value-added piece of the real estate in Venice. Furnished with sun lounges, a table and chairs attracts higher rent, or, for the home owner, extra floor space for relaxing and entertaining. Rental apartments make the most of this attribute in their advertising and are heavily sought after and booked well ahead.

An ancient picture of Hotel Concordia facing the Piazzetta dei Leoncini and the northern facade of the Basilica di San Marco

The altana today (from the Concordia brochure)

On my recent visit to Venice I stayed in a top floor apartment with the delightful benefit of an altana. Breakfast overlooking canals and roof tops is a great way to plan the day. With landmarks such as bell towers and cathedrals sprouting from the sea of terra cotta tiles, the panorama opens up like a map for a day of exploring. Though juggling a mug of hot coffee and a plate of toast, eggs and bacon as you ascend the steep steps can be a bit of a challenge.

Internal stairs leading up to the altana at our Ca’ Malvasia apartment

Then, after a day of successfully winding through back streets, crossing countless bridges, several vaporetto canal trips, stopping for a lunch and a glass of Campari, some shopping and sightseeing, the day can be celebrated and discussed over a glass of wine atop your own altana with a soft breeze and the approaching evening light transforming Venice into your own kingdom that you survey from above.

An evening glass of wine with the Teatro La Fenice (Opera House) peeking over the tiles top right.

Our altana as seen from Campo S. Angelo

Santa Maria dei Frari in the background with canal below

Imagine reading a book with your feet up, a Campari resting beside you and no traffic noises below.

A touch of greenery against the greying of age

It’s not all terra cotta and grey from the rooftops

Some altanas must share their high vantage point with satellite dishes

Don’t just look down at the canals, look up. There is greenery in Venice.

Wiring on the roof. Another example of Venetian adaptability but not sure about the safety issue.

Watching the sun rise or go down over Venice can be far more enjoyable from you own high vantage point. Take time out to rest and plan the days activities, or just reflect on the day passing. Point to destinations been to or on the agenda for later. Ease you mind from the overwhelming impact of Venice with the novel you started to read on the plane. Or, end the day with a slap-dash candle-lit evening meal of the cheeses, meats, pasta, sweets and other tasty offerings you discovered during your colourful visit to the bustling markets and stalls of Venice.

Venice is never more yours than presiding over its grandeur from above.

Posted by DenOS.08 16:23 Archived in Italy Tagged venice terraces rooftops altana alfresco Comments (1)

The simpler taste of Paris

sunny 24 °C

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Every city has its landmarks; temples, cathedrals, monuments, palaces and other large edifices that bleed beyond the camera frame requiring a lot of back-stepping to get the full splendour into view. They are great, magnificent and historical footprints in time. A breathtaking show of power and wealth and international icons that identify the city you stand in awe of.

But with every big, bold and beautiful, every city has its smaller, less grand images that also ignite memories of time, place and romantic occasions. In Paris, these are the street cafés, restaurants and bars. They too are icons of the city. Historical in many ways by serving up the culinary tastes of Paris in some of the most quaint locations…the backstreets. I intend to take you away from the wide boulevards with their acres of tables and chairs, the overpowering rumbling of traffic and the taste destroying plumes of exhaust. Come with me into the backstreets, parks and alleyways, pick up a copy of le Parisian, sit down, relax and tantalise your taste buds in some of the most curious, unique and sometimes whimsical eateries of Paris.

Please note, this is only a very small taste of the vast number of Paris eateries and is not an endorsement of those listed below, but only suggestions to start you on your own journey of delectable discovery.

Brasserie au Soleil de la Butte

Address: 32 Rue Muller, 75018 Paris
Metro: Chateau Rouge


On the summit of Butte Montmarte overlooking the city of Paris is the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. Facing the city from the Basilica, descend the steps on the left under verdant, shady trees to the bottom. There facing you like an isolated island is the Brasserie au Soleil de la Butte.

Deceiving in appearance, this versatile venue caters for lunchtime tourist, night-time locals and the basement becomes an entertainment hub during the weekend. The food is classic Parisian Brasserie and affordable.

Au Bistrot de la Place

Address: 2 Place du Marché Saint-Catherine, 75004 Paris
Metro: Saint-Paul

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As you can see by the bicycles and Vespa in the photo, this is a popular eatery for the locals which means affordable. Facing the leafy Place Saint-Catherine, the sweet sound of birds in the trees sing their praises to the specialties of the house, french Onion Soup, tender lamb and a light and flavoursome Créme Brulee.

Relais Odeon Brasserie

Address: 132, Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris
Metro: Odéon

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Here you have a choice of backstreet and boulevard to get the most out of pavement dining and people gazing. Mains range from €16 to €26 but a typical French breakfast is a must from 7.00 am. If the weather is unkind the interior is rich, deep and luxurious.

La Palette

Address: 43 Rue de Seine, 75006 Paris
Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés

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As you may tell from the number of photos, this is a favourite. Not just for me, but for Cézanne, Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and lately stars of screen and music. Dark and intimate, works of great artists (some left as payment for their meal) stare down from the walls of the second larger room now listed as an Historic Monument. Still frequented by art students and gallery owners, the atmosphere is sure to inspire creativity.
The menu is in keeping with the creative atmosphere and ranges from tinned sardines and snails to Caviar Alverta “Petrossian”.

Le Moulin de la galette

Address: 83, rue Lepic, 75018 Paris
Metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt

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Another piece of art history with Renoir's Le Moulin de la Galette painted on site and which Vincent van Gogh, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec also immortalised. The windmill on top of the restaurant is one of only two left in Paris and dates back to 1717.

After a colourful history, the restaurant, named after the brown bread made from the milled flour, was placed second by the Regional Ile-de-France Tourist Board Paris.

Vins & Terroirs

Address: 66 Rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006 Paris
Metro: Odéon or Saint-Michel

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A small, compact restaurant next to the Hotel St André des Arts continues the connection between food, wine and artists. You can't miss the menus adorning the frontage with a broad variety of tempting and delicious choices, while inside the walls are lined with cartoons from a past era. Escargot and beef bourguignon add to the homely atmosphere.

Le Marché

Address: 2 Place du Marché Saint-Catherine 75004 Paris
Métro: Saint-Paul (Le Marais)

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The green awning blends in with the shade from the leafy trees in Place Saint-Catherine opposite. Le Marché offers a sizeable menu in contrast to the compact and intimate atmosphere. Mains are priced between €15-20 with duck breast with honey, spicy fried potatoes and oyster mushrooms a specialty. The service is friendly and English spoken.

To end, allow me to deviate a little from eateries but remain related. Housed among the stacked shelves of literature – old and new – are culinary tomes in the original cluttered and claustrophobic Shakespeare and Company book store. Set aside some time to linger among the shelves while breathing in the smell of print, paper and leather binding. Find something of interest then head off into the backstreets for a place to sit, read and savour the simpler tatses of Paris.

Address: 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris
Metro: Saint-Michel Notre-Dame

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Posted by DenOS.08 16:34 Archived in France Tagged art trees food restaurant paris park dining music bicycle wine eating cafe vespa shade lamppost waiter alfresco Comments (1)

The weird and wonderful Prague

A city in some detail

-17 °C
View Clogs, beanie and boardshorts on DenOS.08's travel map.

Travel is a wonderful thing. It opens one's eyes to other lives, other cultures, other histories, other sights, sounds and smells. But one thing I find going to a new location is that it can be quite awesome, awe-inspiring and if you’re there only for a short time, overpowering. You’re caught up in the race to see as much of the established and noted ‘sights’ as you can, stare in wonderment, record what you see then move on to the next on the list. If you’re on a group tour, this can be educational if you have a good guide, but even then you’re processed to a formula, a timetable that allows very little, if any, freedom to see beyond.

My recent trip to Prague had me gallivanting around just as described above, but I was also there for another reason, to seek out the quirky Czech personality, their sense of humour, their telltale remnants of the past and their artistic foibles.

So, in the hope that I may broaden your curiosity, open your eyes a little wider to see beyond and to learn to look down and not just up, I share with you some of my quirky finds and maybe expose a little of the latent humour that lies just a fraction below the surface of a long-tormented country.

One sight I came across I feel reveals all this and more, clever, witty and quite a political approach to the recovery of a city that over decades was left to decay.


As if left imbedded into the pavement in front of the Museum as soviet tanks rolled over to forcefully continue their occupation, this cross points to the Memorial to Victims of Communism.


A shop window gathering more than dust, vodka and bullets are left as a reminder perhaps? As does the soviet designed buildings that stand embarrassingly and obtrusively out of place beside grand buildings such as the Museum.

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Though, some may say that other, more recent designs are also out of place such as the Dancing Building, but then again, curves have been in for some time.

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And while we’re on buildings, this may seem out of place in this story, but hidden inside this building that houses a casino, and is next door to a McDonald’s, is the Museum of Communism!


Whether the location for the Museum of Communism is a coincidence or was a conscious tongue-in-cheek choice, the work of sculpture, David Černý is definitely deliberately provocative.

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Other artists abound in this city once called the cultural centre of Europe, some not so well know, or indeed not known at all.

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Then there is the monument to an artist, Lennon’s Wall, and the invitation to leave your own creative tribute.

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Even add your “I woz here” to the Elf Hostel beer garden as he himself looks on.

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But of course wall art (sgraffito) has been around for centuries in a rather more classical style.

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Even earlier remnants of old archways are preserved as wall art and patting the dog not only keeps it well polished, but may also bestow some luck.

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And not to be outdone, Mother Nature contributes her own unique creativity to this remarkable canvas.


Yes, art is everywhere in Prague, in the hundreds of galleries and the fairytale narrow laneways that appear from above to be sucking their towering buildings into a meandering void.

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But not all pieces of art are easily interpreted, such as the Astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall, but then there is always the one around the corner to help you keep your dinner date.

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So night falls and the underworld beckons you to follow the stare down the stairs to life in the dungeons.

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Here, beer is consumed, rich and filling pork and dumplings are left unfinished and the sound of jazz resonates in the perfect acoustic environment, and if too much beer is consumed, relief is not far away.

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And finally, night has its own palette as you stroll through the quiet cobblestone alleys to your abode, refreshed by the detail observed, enriched with unique images that will remind you forever of the personality of the city.

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Posted by DenOS.08 22:18 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (2)

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