Dubai, city of the future

Keen-eyed regular readers of Green Path may have noticed that my recent posts about my European holiday were time-reversed as compared to the holiday itself. This post completes the sequence in that it begins in Dubai, the first stopover on the trip. However, it isn’t really about Dubai but about climate change and what it may mean to us in daily life. The connection is personal but direct.  Continue reading “Dubai, city of the future”

Athens

dry hills
The view from Athens airport

Flying into Athens for the first time felt a bit weird because the landscape was so much like that of Townsville: the bright sky, the nearly-bare hills and the parched vegetation we could see from the plane created a near-deja-vu experience: “We flew all this way and nothing has changed?” (The airport itself didn’t do much to alleviate that, either, since it was much more like ours than Dubai’s or Singapore’s.)

The coast near Piraeus
The coast near Piraeus

A tourist-bus ride around the city and down to the port of Piraeus showed us that the city is indeed different but that its setting is rather similar. The hills beyond Piraeus could almost be the hills beyond Ross Dam, were it not for the encroaching suburbs.

Looking down from the Acropolis
Looking down from the Acropolis with the Roman theatre in the foreground

Athens even has its own Castle Hill, rising from the centre of the old city and providing wonderful views; it’s not as big as our Castle Hill but is a little better known. The locals call it “The Acropolis”.

The Acropolis Hill rising above Monastiraki
The Acropolis Hill rising above Monastiraki

One of the things we only really learn by visiting a place is how big it is: walking around a building or a city gives us a far better sense of it than looking at photos.

The Acropolis Hill is big enough to dominate the skyline anywhere in the central city but small enough that an energetic tourist can walk right around its base, stopping to look at all sorts of ruins and museums, in a day – and we did just that, simply by rambling at will until it became clear from our map that it was easier to keep going than to back-track.

Part of our walk, up to a lookout on the top of Areopagus Hill, turned out to be a route popular with locals. We continued down and around the Southern side of the Acropolis Hill, past the Roman theatre to the new Acropolis Museum a short distance away from the hill, back towards the hill to see the (classical Greek) Theatre of Dionysus (see Wikipedia), and finally around the Eastern end of the hill and back into Monastiraki for dinner. This map shows the territory and this page in my “Gallery Crawl” section presents more about the Acropolis itself.

Athens
Locals and tourists enjoying the view from the crest of Areopagus Hill
amphitheatre
Theatre of Dionysus, fourth century BC

Greece: Lefkada

village
The village of Karya, nestled in the hills of Lefkada

Lefkada is a large island just off the west coast of Greece. I hadn’t heard of it until friends moved there a couple of years ago, although I had known and loved its nearest neighbour, Corfu, ever since I read Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals as a child. Our friends settled in Karya, a village in the mountains above the island’s main town and we visited them there in late June before going on to Italy (previous posts).

The weather was gorgeous and we enjoyed a couple of long walks, one down the hill to visit their donkey and the other up the hill just because it was a nice thing to do. There were some spectacular views:

Meganisi
Looking south-east over the coastal village of Nydri to Meganisi and the mainland.
olive trees
Olives on the terraced hillside above Karya

Our host pointed out that what we were seeing was essentially a ‘man-made landscape’ after so long a period of human occupation. Olive trees dominate the vegetation, a pine forest on the mountain side was planted within living memory, watercourses have been channelled and diverted over the whole history of habitation, and every cultivated plant which the climate suits has gradually spread over the whole island while every useful or decorative local plant has been cultivated and bred for its fruit or flowers. The distinctions between ‘native’ and ‘exotic’, and between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’, which are so clear in Australian landscapes, are almost invisible in Lefkada.

That’s largely true in the rest of Europe and large parts of Asia, too, of course, but particularly true in the eastern Mediterranean because of its very long period of continuous occupation – the archaeological museum in Lefkada, for instance, displays local finds which date back to the Paleolithic period.

The lovely early summer weather meant that I came back from our walks with a good collection of insect photos, some of which are now in an album on Flickr; clicking on the sample below will take you straight to it.

insect
A colourful katydid on Lefkada

Italy: Venice

Venice, with the bell tower, Piazza san Marco and the Doges' Palace in the foregound
Venice, with the bell tower, Piazza san Marco and the Doges’ Palace in the foregound

Venice was the first stop on our ten days in Italy, and one of the most remarkable. Everyone knows, of course, that ‘Venice is built on an island in a lagoon’ (or words to that effect) but in my mind, at least, the lagoon was relatively small and the island had some open spaces, perhaps even some high ground. I was wrong on all counts. Venice proper is a smallish, very low, island jam-packed with buildings and riddled with alleys (no real streets) and canals wide and narrow.

The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal
Walking alongside one of the smaller canals
Our tour group walking alongside one of the smaller, less glamorous, canals

There are several smaller islands nearby, still in the lagoon, and most of them are similarly built up. The city outgrew the islands long ago and is connected to the (much larger) Mestre on the mainland via a road and rail causeway. We took the water-bus across to one of the nearest islands, San Giorgio, to ascend the bell tower of the eponymous church, my vantage point for the top photo and the one below.

island
Looking over the Giudecca and outer islands from San Giorgio; Venice itself is to the right of the picture

Everything in this picture is in the lagoon, except for the smudge of land on the horizon. Wikipedia tells us that, “The Venetian Lagoon stretches from the River Sile in the north to the Brenta in the south, with a surface area of around 550 square kilometres (210 sq mi). It is around 8% land, including Venice itself and many smaller islands. About 11% is permanently covered by open water, or canal, as the network of dredged channels are called, while around 80% consists of mud flats, tidal shallows and salt marshes. The lagoon is the largest wetland in the Mediterranean Basin.” This map makes the situation clear:

San Giorgio from Venice, (note gondolas - must be Venice)
San Giorgio from Venice (note gondolas – must be Venice)

The Biennale was in progress while we were in Venice, and we managed to see a little of it – see Venice and the Biennale, one of my ‘Gallery Crawl’ pages. The church of San Giorgio was the site of the last artwork on that page.

Liguria: pesto

kitchen
Pesto class in Levanto

The day before we toured the Cinque Terre (previous post), we were treated to a brief foodie excursion: a talk about pesto and the chance to try making it. The venue was the back room of a classy, if touristy, fine-local-foods shop in Levanto and our teacher was its owner. We also sampled the local white wine, a variety which never makes it out of the region because the production is so small and the demand so high, and limoncello, a liqueur new to me but (apparently) not to the rest of the world.

Back to the pesto. Our teacher called it a regional classic and Claudia Roden (see Italian Delights) calls it “the prince of Ligurian dishes” so we were obviously in the right place. The recipe is quite simple: crush and mix pine nuts, salt, parmesan or pecorino, and basil; add olive oil and you’re done. Some versions, including Roden’s, add garlic as well but it is not traditional in all parts of Italy. (In fact, we discovered that garlic was not as prevalent in Italian food as we had expected from our Australian experiences. Then again, we were always in the North and perhaps it is used more commonly in the South.)

Recipes vary; of several I checked on the web, the closest to what we were taught is Jamie Oliver’s, here. His call for ‘handfuls’ of ingredients matches her style, too.

Traditional variations

  • Garlic: none, up to 3 or 4 cloves
  • Black pepper: not usually used
  • Cheese: parmesan, pecorino sardo or (for a stronger flavour) romano
  • Pine nuts: usually very lightly toasted, not browned; sometimes not toasted at all
  • Walnut or almond oil instead of olive oil

Varying the basil, cheese or oil doesn’t seem to make much difference to the end result as this (somewhat too exhaustive) blog post concludes. On the other hand, it did find a noticeable difference between the traditional mortar-and-pestle technique and the quick-and-easy blender method.

Non-traditional variations

  • Replace half of the basil with baby spinach to make a less full-flavoured pesto, or replace all of it with rocket, purple (Thai) basil, tomato or spinach; your favourite search engine will find lots of recipes.
  • Walnuts or cashews instead of pine nuts

One more thought, for the experimentalists in my audience: the basic pesto method is so adaptable that the list of pesto-like brews is potentially inexhaustible. Parsley and chickpeas? Coriander, Thai basil and cashew? Why not throw in a chilli or two while you’re at it? Serve it over rice or as side dish with curry? Have fun, but calling the result ‘pesto’ in front of a Ligurian chef may be dangerous to her/his health, or yours.