Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Courtside Drama

We bumped into two cruisemates inside the cathedral. The same couple we first met and toured Acropolis with. We were on the way to see the Caravaggio painting and they were just starting to explore the nave. We agreed to explore the city by foot together. We set the meeting place to be outside the cathedral
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Around the corner at Republic Street, the city's main thoroughfare and where most of the shopping and eating are located, is the entry to the cathedral. You enter one way and exit another so we rounded the corner and ended up at the entrance side of the cathedral. Across it stands the city's courthouse.

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I wouldn't have paid too much attention to the courthouse, impressive as it may be, as I've seen many a building like this on this trip. BUT, blaring sirens from two ambulances made us curious as to what is happening inside the courtroon.

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People started to gather outside and mill around the front of the courthouse and people began looking out their windows. I spotted a local reporter doing his bit a few feet from where I stood. Word of mouth was - a sensational case was getting a verdict that morning. And people were expecting a decision in favor of the prosecutor and the ambulance - one left after seeing that two of them responded to the call - was called just in case the defendant falls ill after hearing the verdict. Nothing transpired while we were standing there. I did not see someone getting loaded in a gurney. Eventually the crowd thinned out and went about their business.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

St. John's Co-Cathedral

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There was one thing I knew about Malta when I saw that it was one of the ports we were going to visit on this cruise - St. John's Co-Cathedral. And only because one of our vendor's insisted I go visit it after her friend returned from Malta and had enjoyed the cathedral immensely. Here is an image of the facade from wikipedia.

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The facade is so simple. Online it has been described as severe. But the interiors would knock the socks off anyone. It's been described as "gem of Baroque art and architecture". No flash photography is allowed - I am begging your patience with these images. My little point and shoot can only handle so much :D

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From my journal: The fee to enter the cathedral was 6 euros, but it was worth it. We were given audio equipment to listen/guide us on our tour. The interiors were the exact opposite of the exterior. While the exterior was simple and uninteresting, the interior was amazingly ornate, Baroque at its finest. I can’t begin to enjoy all the gold carvings and wonderful marble tiles that serve as tombstones. The altar, which was cordoned off, was impressively ornate as well.

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From my journal: The Oratory is where the painting of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist was displayed. No photography is allowed inside that room. Other paintings are also displayed on the side wall. But the beheading was the centerpiece of this room. It was an absolutely impressive painting, it seems to come to life. Also in the cathedral is a museum displaying Flemish tapestries, all gorgeously preserved and intricate in detail, the vestment room is where special vestments are displayed.

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From wikipedia: The painting depicting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608) by Caravaggio (1571-1610) is the most famous work in the church. Considered one of Caravaggio's masterpieces and the only painting signed by the painter, the canvas is displayed in the Oratory for which it was painted. Restored in the late 1990's in Florence, this painting is one of Caravaggio's most impressive uses of the chiaroscuro style for which he is most famous with a circle of light illuminating the scene of St John's beheading at the request of Salome. The oratory also houses Caravaggio's St Jerome III (1607–1608).
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From wikipedia: Another impressive feature of the church is the collection of marble tombstones in the nave in which were buried important knights. The more important knights were placed closer to the front of the church. These tombstones, richly decorated with in-laid marble and with the coats of arms of the knight buried below as well as images relevant to that knight, often telling a story of triumph in battle, form a rich visual planopy in the church. Another important work of art is the Mazzuoli Group sculpture which lies behind the main altar.

I've been pretty busy with "offline" life lately, sorry I haven't been dedicated in my posting and my visits to your blogs.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day In Valletta

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The gates seen from inside the walled city.

Once we were inside the walled city, we wanted to savor a bit of Valletta for a brief moment, breathing in the air. We stopped a few feet from the gates and took in the charming city that was enclosed by the imposing walls. Briefly, I noted impressive old buildings and the mostly pedestrianized city streets from where I was standing. I was most fascinated by the facades and made a mental note to snap at doors and windows - looked like a goldmine for these photo subjects.

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First thing on our check list - the only one - was visit St. John's Co-Cathedral. But before we could even walk a few feet from the gates, my attention was caught by these boards posted on the facade of the building to the left. It looked like giant chalk boards with poeple's writings on chalk - words of wisdom - some were in Arabic (I'm guessing) and others were in other languages. I lingered to read each one. I don't know if the writings were by prominent people or by ordinary tourists/locals. I was very interested to find out about these boards, its origins, its purpose and intention, and if they change the writings on the boards and if they do, how often, and how they select whose words go in the boards. I know I know, silly little thing. But it got to me. Thought it was pretty neat to have tourists, travelers, and visitors read those or even leave their words behind for others to read and mull over. BUT there was nothing online that I could find to answer my questions. If anyone knows about this, can you please leave a comment here? Thanks, much appreciated

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My favorite quote or writing is by one Lara Chetcup (can't make out the last name clearly) who wrote: "Why stick to the same tastes when there are other flavours to savour?" Exactly my point.

To be continued..........................

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Let's Do Malta

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We started our exploration of Valletta by taking the public bus that run from the harbour to the city - or outside the walled city. It set us back a euro for the fare. We inquired about taking the tour bus, but we were informed that it was not the hop on hop off variety. What it is was a two-hour 3-city tour that did not include a tour inside the walled city. It was not what we wanted to do so this became a DIY tour.

And you know me, even with less than perfectly clean bus windows I do my drive by shooting. This one's my favorite so far.

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The short drive was scenic with sea views on one side and the imposing wall on the other.

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We saw this familiar stand selling almost anything you needed for a DIY exploration of the city. This stand reminds me of Manila more than anything else.

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Just outside of the walled city is a familiar sign. Looking back, I wished I tasted their selections here.

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And now we reached the gates of the walled city. I'll take you inside next post.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Few More Shots from the Harbour

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Looks like there is another way into Valletta - by going under!

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Sights I don't get to see everyday.

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The beauty of the place inspired me to be creative.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beautiful Beyond Words

Nothing could have prepeared me for the beauty that was Malta (Valletta specifically). Awe struck was I when the boat was entering the harbour. This was the one port where I was completely blown away. When we docked in Civitavecchia, I expected to be wowed by Rome and I was; in Piraeus I was ready to be amazed by the historic Acropolis and I was; in Izmir I was ready for the sublime beauty of its Ephesian ruins and I was; in Alexandria I was prepared to be impressed by the Pyramids of Giza and boy I was and was also pleasantly surprised beyond words of the charm that was Alexandria. BUT nothing, nothing could have prepared me for the striking beauty that was Valletta, Malta (our last port of call before returning back to Barcelona). Here see for yourselves.

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We entered through that narrow opening in the breakwater.
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The fortified city of Valletta, Malta's capital.
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Sights I cannot get enough of. This is one place where photos I thought did not do it justice at all. Can you tell I fell in love with this place?
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Was so impressed by the landscape that when a co-worker asked me about my trip, I told him that I was bowled over by the grandeur of Malta and I thought it was the perfect locale for a honeymoon. I didn't know he was engaged (could he have gotten engaged in the 3 weeks that I was on this cruise/trip?) and was surprised when he told me that he and his fiancee were considering it as their honeymoon spot :D

As a matter of fact, he had asked me to show him my photos of Malta immediately after coming back from this trip. I hope he does pick this for his honeymoon spot.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thank You Alexandria. Hope To See You Again.

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As we were about to enter the port (needs to sign out - sign in), I looked behind me and saw this sight. I found Alexandria very charming, even their streets not facing the waterfront.

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Also I spotted the Port Authority Museum, which we didn't visit.

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This is the way back to the ship - about a 15-minute walk from the gate.

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And what do you know, inside the port there was a outdoor marketplace selling jewelry, souvenir items, and knick knacks. I purchased a little souvenir for me - a pair of earrings.

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I liked the juxtaposition of Alexandria skyline and the end (can't remember my naval term) of the boat.

With this post, I bid Alexandria adieu. A new series next post.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Driving Back To The Port

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On the drive back to the port, we passed by a mosque.

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and an open air marketplace,

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and an unusual building - but what a beautiful blue sky as a backdrop, eh?

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Tried very hard to capture some street scenes from a moving vehicle.

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And another mosque.

When I was doing research on how to go about DIY tours of Rome, Athens, and Cairo/Alexandria, I stumbled on website after website full of warnings to tourists about how not to be taken advantage by taxi driver.

These sites cautioned the tourists to be aware of the scam that taxi drivers use to take advantage of people like us. They noted that only pay what you initially agreed upon at the beginning of the tour. And that if all else pays, yell POLICE.

When we agreed to take these two taxis among the six of us the agreement was 100 Egyptian pounds for 2 taxis. 50 pounds per taxi. Our driver spoke English, but there was another mediator who helped them understand the deal. They said yes. Of course, the deal was only a roundtrip to the Library. But as you see, we were taken to the Citadel and the Mosque.

When we were dropped off at the port, the fare became 100 euros per taxi. Yap! So the males in our group, most notably my husband, argued to stick to the initial agreement. So a bartering ensued. The drivers wanted more but our group steadfastly held on to the deal, which seriously is a steal.

And so we decided to give a little bit more since we were shown a few more sights than what was agreed upon. But the non-English speaking taxi driver was adamant that he be paid in euros, and 100 euros at that.

So we had to use the tactic that the internet and other previous travelers on travel forums suggested, we yelled POLICE and a mediator immediately appeared on our side. He inquired what the matter was and when both sides presented their sides, the mediator told us to pay whatever was initially agreed upon. Please do not be afraid to stand your ground.

In Barcelona, when a prospective pickpocket (a female no less) tried to snatch an Eastern European woman's backpack, she yelled POLICIA at the top of her lungs and the pickpocket and her accomplice disappeared in an alley so fast. We stopped to talk to the girl as she inspects if something was taken from her backpack - the zipper was open. And I asked if she read the forums advising people to yell POLICE, she smiled and said yes.

Monday, August 09, 2010

El-Mursi Abul Abbas Mosque

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As we were heading back to the port, we passed by this imposing looking mosque. I can't remember if we asked our driver to stop or our friends from the other taxi stopped first to look, but we were given a few minutes to snap some photos.

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Shoot first - then check wikipedia later, isn't this the rule when traveling and seeing something foreign on your own without the help of a tour guide? So here's what wikipedia says about this mosque:

"El-Mursi Abul-Abbas Mosque (Arabic: جامع المرسي أبو العباس‎) is a famous mosque in Alexandria, Egypt, which is dedicated to the Alexandrine Sufi saint el-Mursi Abul Abbas.

It is located in the Anfoushi neighborhood of Alexandria, near the Citadel of Qaitbay.

The most important historic mosque inAlexandria, Egypt, as well as a very beautiful one, is considered to be that of Abu El Abbas El Mursi. Constructed in 1775 by Algerians, it was built over the tomb of the thirteenth century Murcia Andalusan saint, Ahmed Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi (Abu'l 'Abbas) who joined and then lead, as a devout Sufi, the Shadhali brotherhood. Abu El Abbas El Mursi is in himself a very interesting story."

Read more here.

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The gate was open, we came inside a bit but didn't go farther than a foot or so of the opened gate. We felt we were intruding. I didn't think there was service at that time.

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This is the street scene just outside of the serene looking mosque inside its compound.

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And this is what faces the mosque, a beautiful view of the sea. I have seen plenty of people on this trip walking around the streets selling postcards like this one in this photo. I saw some in Athens too.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Citadel of Qaitbay 2

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Our taxi drivers were amenable to our wishes, we pushed our luck and asked them to show us the Citadel. They both agreed. However, we knew that we didn't have time to explore the interiors because that was not part of the initial agreement.

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We found a makeshift bazaar outside of the Citadel plying all kinds of stuff that I would love to take home.

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Browsing at the merchandise, bartering, not getting good price, moving on to the next stall which sells the same exact selection. Eventually we found one to take home.

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The bazaar was set in a picturesque setting. I would love to return to Alexandria someday.

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With regards to my Flickr problem, you would notice here that it is solved. I think the site was having problems that first day they launched the new page, because I read from their forum that other people were having the same problems I had - the html link to my photo were not visible, hence I wasn't able to post more than one photo in this blog - because the "blog this" function only allows for one photo per blog post. Needless to say, I am a happy camper once again.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Citadel of Qaitbay


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The Citadel of Qaitbay [Fort of Qaitbay] is a15th century defensive fortress located on the Mediterrranean sea coast and built upon/from the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria - which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

When we were on the boat before disembarking for the day, my husband and I spotted a lighthouse (no kidding). From the deck we could see a lighthouse in the direction of the citadel.

So imagine my confusion when I walked up to the Information desk inside the library to ask how I could go to visit the lighthouse. The man behind the desk politely informed me that "the lighthouse" no longer existed and there is no other lighthouse in Alexandria. He added that the Citadel is worth a visit though. And volunteered the information that the government is working on rebuilding the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria. Were we seeing things? I swear my hubs and I saw a lighthouse and thought I'd snapped one - for Ginnie.

Anyone have Flickr and are posting from Flickr? I store my photos here. Today they unfurled their new page layout and along with this I found that I could'nt blog as many photos as I can - just like the way I did in the past, during the old page days. If anyone who uses flickr for blogging has found a way to post multiple images on their blog, I'd really need to speak to you.

So while I sort this out, it looks like one photo a day this will revert to.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Shots By The Corniche

The Corniche offers great views from the taxi ride from the Library on the way to the Citadel, which is the western end of the Corniche. These sights leave no question as to why Alexandria is a popular summer resort spot for many people coming from other parts of Egypt and the Middle East. And since this is not America, our driver pulled over the side of the street and allowed us to quickly leap out and take our shot.