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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Continental Hotel, Sorrento

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Vue Grand Hotel, Queenscliff

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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.

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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.

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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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IMAGES OF SORRENTO

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IMAGES OF QUEENSCLIFF

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Queenscliff Maritime Museum

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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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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Our altana as seen from Campo S. Angelo

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Santa Maria dei Frari in the background with canal below

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

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A touch of greenery against the greying of age

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

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Some altanas must share their high vantage point with satellite dishes

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

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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

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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)

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