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

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Liguria: the Cinque Terre

Liguria is a narrow, rugged sliver of Italy’s north-western coast centred on Genoa, and is famous for the “Italian Riviera“, especially Portofino and the spectacular scenery of the Cinque Terre.

We spent a couple of days in the Cinque Terre (literally “five lands”). In one whole day we walked from Manarola up to Volastra, a small hilltop village, and down again to Corniglia where we had lunch and several drinks (it was a very hot day – 38C), then took the train to Vernazza, had a swim and a granita, took the next train to Monterosso at the North end of the Cinque Terre and  swam again before taking the train back in the other direction to see Riomaggiore at the Southern end.

By then, unsurprisingly, it was evening and we had fish and chips from Tutti Fritti in the main street (yes, that’s a free plug, but the place deserves it for selling the best fried seafood I’ve ever had). If you want to know more about the famous walks in the district, this wikivoyage page will answer most of your questions; all I will do here is post a few photos to whet your enthusiasm.

hillside
Looking up from Manarola to the terraced hillside and the beginning of the hiking path

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Mekong views: life on the banks

More Mekong River views, this time concentrating on the life of local people along its banks rather than its use as a highway as shown in my previous post. All were taken between Luang Prabang and Chiang Kong.

village on high sandy river bank
A typical small thatch-built village perched high above the end-of-wet-season water level to be above flood level.
vegetable garden on river bank
Silty banks exposed as the waters recede are often cultivated, producing quick-grown crops such as peanuts and corn every dry season.

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Mekong views: boats and the river

The onset of our Wet season, bringing us the monsoon skies I posted here a week ago and reminding me of similar skies in Laos at the end of their Wet, brought back memories of my visit (outlined here) to that country six months ago. This post presents photographs of the Mekong, which dominates Lao geography and landscape, and the boats which serve its travellers. My next will do the same for life along its banks.

storm clouds backlit by the sun
A dramatic skyscape over the Mekong at Vientiane
Mists, river, mountains
Early morning mists on the Mekong near Luang Prabang. The boat in the distance is very similar to the one I travelled on.

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Shadow of an eclipse

crescent-shaped shadows on a wall
Dappled shade altered by the eclipse

The solar eclipse which caused so much excitement in North Queensland a few days ago was not quite total here in Townsville – about 96%, if I remember correctly – but many locals still made an effort to observe it.

The prime spot, of course, was the top of Castle Hill but we made do with the top of our front steps, casting images on the wall through binoculars and through a pinhole in a piece of cardboard.

Our poplar gum is between the house and the sunrise and was throwing dappled shade on the wall nearby – but weird dappled shade: instead of the usual loosely-circular spots, we saw crescents.

Why?

The answer was suggested by our pinhole viewer, since the spot of light it cast on the wall at that time was a crescent matching the stage of the eclipse. Each gap between the leaves was similarly acting as a pinhole (further away and not quite round) and casting its own out-of-focus crescent sun image on the wall.

The even more surprising corollary of that realisation is that each spot of sunlight under a shady tree on a normal day is actually an image of the sun’s whole disc rather than a patch of sunshine such as you would see away from the tree.