Tall buildings. Tall buildings, Tall buildings. Well. Those were the things foremost on my mind when I visited Dubai for the first time. After I left, I realized, Dubai was a mélange of so much more than just TALL BUlLDINGS!
Posts Tagged With: architecture
On the way from the Spanish Steps to the Galleria Borghese which was our next stop, a long walk that had taken the wrong direction took us to some right places. On the negative side, we ended up walking far more than we bargained for, but, on the positive side we chanced on a few things that we enjoyed too…but now isn’t it true, that you can always see more and more, the more you explore!
The Spanish Steps
We decided to visit one of Rome’s famous landmarks – The Spanish steps. The subject of several movies that made it popular, these steps are one of Rome’s many symbols. While the tourists went to see the steps themselves, for the Romans it is a popular shopping hangout.
Let us start at the top of the Spanish Steps.
At the top -start at Piazza di Trinita dei Monti. The Church of Trinita dei Monti that dominates this square is a French church in the city built in 1503 and modified over time. Earlier, a slope brought people down to the square below before the steps were built.
And now about the Spanish Steps themselves – You may want to ask why are the Spanish Steps in Rome? Well, the Piazza di Spagna or the Spanish square at the bottom has the Spanish Embassy which was based there since 1967 and therefore the name. The steps were built by Francisco de Sanctis as a result of a contest held by Pope Innnocent XIII after arguments of over a 100 years on how to build the steps! The staircase has 135 steps and is the widest staircase in Europe. The twelve flights of stairs built entirely in Travertine by Fransesco De Sanctis between 1723 and 1726, widen and narrow in varied stages but in line with rococo architectural concepts. You may be tempted to eat on the Spanish steps, but please don’t! It is forbidden and you don’t want to pay a hefty fine!
The Piazza di Spagna is the square at the bottom when you descend. This square is more of two triangles like an hourglass and not really a square! If you look up the Church of Trinita dei Monti looms large in the backdrop of the steps as you descend making for a picturesque setting. There are also side ramps or more stairs that run alongside. At the center of Piazza di Spagna is the Fontana della Barcaccia set against the backdrop of the steps. Unfortunately this fountain was all covered when we were there and we couldn’t see it. Below is a picture though.
The Fontana della Baraccia I mention above means ‘Ugly Boat’. It was built by Pietro Bernini (father of the more famous architecht Gian Lorenzo Bernini). This boat is a representation of a sinking boat leaking water at the stern and prow.
Let me let you into a secret now. For all the romanticism around the Spanish steps, I only found hype. It was a crowded place, with all the room on the steps taken with photographing tourists. A few horse carriages and the portrait artists at the top were nice. But what was nicer was to escape the hordes into smaller alleys near the steps with little restaurants and gelaterias. Well, if it hadn’t been for the huge number of steps I have climbed to reach the top of various temples in India, I might have found the Spanish steps a big deal. They make for many a postcard of Italy and should be best enjoyed at wee morning hours or late night before the hordes of tourists descend on them making them pretty invisible in the throng.
We went to the next famous place nearby- the Trevi fountain, with more anticipation after the initial disappointment at the Spanish steps. The fountain was no doubt the grandest I have ever seen in a fountain, but..Alas! It was being repaired and was reduced to a shadow of its real self and amidst all that scaffolding, I could barely gauge the magnificence that it was. It is supposed to remain closed till October 2015. But here are a few pictures I have sourced for you to see it in all its true glory –
Next: How we took the wrong turn but got good surprises.
I’ve got to admit first that I have been really wanting to use the title I did! And now for a series on the Roman Holiday…
It was a fine September day when we landed at Italy from our flight from Mumbai to Rome via Cairo on a Egypt Air flight. Although we craned our necks looking out over Cairo to spot the pyramids, Alas! we saw nothing but the desert and dust! Thankfully SSS wasn’t too uncomfortable during the flight and barely troubled us!
There is a 3.5 hour lag in Italian and Indian time. By the time we reached the apartment we had booked, it was night in India and SSS was asleep. Our kind host at the apartment where we were staying had arranged for food and milk for her and even a baby cot for her. Tired out, as we were, we were fast asleep before we knew it as we looked forward to the next day.
So much to do!
I have never been a fan of ‘places to see’. What I do live by though is ‘places to experience’. However, looking back, I realize Rome is one of those places where you want to see everything and experience it all as well! And it can get mighty difficult to balance it out unless you stay there for over a month! Be it long walks in a quiet neighborhood each different from the other, explore authentic Italian food places in Rome, do a wine tour, travel in the trains and buses and live like locals, enjoy the melodies from the quaint churches, watch the pigeons flutter at the fountain…All the ‘experience’ is challenged by the need to run from one Roman pillar to another Roman post..from the Vatican city to the Colosseum to one museum after another..and yet, there is still so much to do and see that it gets overwhelming. So in this blog, I am going to tell you how best you can experience the city and see some of it as well!
It was a chilly morning as we started out after a home-made breakfast. We were off to see the Spanish steps, the Gallery Borghese and the Trevi fountain in our itinerary.
Walking around and first impressions
We decided to walk to our destination. As it turned out, it was quite a long walk, but one that we really enjoyed. The vibe of a place can be best felt through a leisurely walk through it. We ambled along smelling the coffee and fresh bread smells that wafted through cafes, passed joggers who had finished their morning jog, and ofcourse hordes of tourists referring to maps like us and looking around in wonder. We noted some of the crumbling architecture of Rome, how the new and the old buildings co-mingled- none , the better than the other. Outside seating of restaurants were being set up and looked inviting. We passed a couple of churches on the way, passing those little fountains on the way. It was hard not to stop and look at every insignificant place that looked interesting and to cut a long walk short, we walked for over 2 hours for what should have been a 45 minute walk!
Tip – Airport transfer: For the airport transfer we just took a taxi although there are cheaper options of using a bus or the train. It cost us €48 which was about €20 more than we would have paid for other modes of transport. But well worth it considering we were tired out and weren’t in a mood to lug the luggage looking for the apartment! The Leonardo Express train leaves every 30 minutes to the central Termini station and costs €14. The Terravision bus is another comfortable option and costs only €4 but leaves less frequently after every 60 minutes.
The Nizam’s city of Hyderabad is famous for many things. Biryani, Chandrababu Naidu, Satyam, the Charminar and the Golconda fort. I have visited Hyderabad several times for a day’s trip to the corporate Hitech city so aptly named for all the major IT firms that are housed there. However, I never had the opportunity to stay for more than a day at work.
The past week however, I got a chance to go around seeing this buzzing metropolis of Hyderabad and getting a feel of what it was even if it was for just a few hours in the wee morning. Hyderabad is divided into five parts – east, west, north, south and the central zone. The picturesque Hussain Sagar lake with its tall misty fountains and the Buddha statue in the middle is at the center of the city. Most affluent neighborhoods such as the Banjara hills, Jubilee hills etc. lie around the lake in the central zone. The old city of Hyderabad lies at the south of the Musi river and is vastly different from the cleaner Hitech city, Banjara hills, and cantonment part of Secunderabad.For the couple of hours I had, and with the couple of foreign visitors accompanying me, I decided to go to the Charminar, the Birla temple and the Hussain Sagar lake. Charminar is much touted as the symbol of Hyderabad and is displayed magnificently on travel posters at the airport and outside. Quite honestly, as I neared it, I was totally not impressed. Apart from creating a hype about it the Andhra Pradesh government has done nothing to maintain it the way it should be. This ancient structure which was built by Sultan Qutb Shah more than 400 years ago is in the sorriest part of the town. From the outside, its walls look crumbling and dilapidated and a tiny not-very-old temple is built right adjacent to it and sadly is the cause for many riots. The market is not clean, and hawkers, and beggars throng the streets jeering at and harassing tourists. The day after my visit, there apparently were even riots and police firing happened around there. It is a pity that such a highly touted tourist spot is in such a sensitive area to scare away any tourists and is simply not secured or preserved well enough. Even taking photos wasn’t as simple as it should have been with the milling traffic and crowd.
The market nearby, the ‘Laad Bazaar’ was just opening up when I went and I hear there are lots of bangle shops, pearl shops and in season, kite-maker shops.
The old mosque, the Mecca masjid near the Charminar looked much more ancient and charming than the Charminar itself, but again, we could not go in because of much scaffolding and maintenance work going on there.
Our next stop at the Birla temple was much nicer. The Birla temple in Hyderabad was built of lovely pristine white marble. The temple on a hill offered panaromic views of the city in several directions, and one could see how the city of Hyderabad had grown in size over the years.We took a final round of the city around the peaceful Hussain sagar lake before we returned to the hi-tech city.
This is what I did in the 3 hours I had at Hyderabad. If you have the same time constraints if you visit, I suggest you visit a few alternate places
- The Golconda fort – check the lights and sound show in the evening which is supposed to be quite good (and really as told by other tourists and not just as advertised). The fort will take a minimum of 2 hours to see.
- The Chowmahalla palace in the old city is a great place to see and I had many recommendations to visit this.
- If you are a museum fan, the Salar Jung museum, one of the biggest museums in India is the place to go to.
- For a whole days visit, the Ramoji film studio is a fun theme park to hang out and see different film sets from different eras. Guided tours can be booked right from the airport.
Eating options – Being a modern city, Hyderabad has plenty of places to eat for all palates. Hyderabadi Biryani is particularly very famous. To eat the best biryani, do go to the immensely popular ‘Paradise Biryani’ at Secunderabad where they even pack the biryani in special packages for travelers! Don’t forget to pack baked goodies, particularly dry-fruit biscuits from the 60 year old Karachi bakery to share back home. On the way back, I particularly enjoyed the ‘idlis’ of Idli Factory at the airport with all their accompaniments of different ‘chutneys’.
Overall, I was quite impressed with most areas I went around in. The Hi-tech city, with all its IT software parks, beautiful roads, hardly felt like the dusty, grimy India that is better known! The Banjara hills and the Jubilee hills are a verdant mass of foliage and beautiful houses. I wasn’t exactly wowed by the 2-3 touristy places I went to, but I liked the overall feel of the city to want to visit again.
Buildings and architecture are a part of every visit to a city. The charm of a city is in a way defined by the beautiful buildings it has. If New York is remembered by its towering buildings, Chicago is all the more beautiful in its stately but tall buildings. Victorian architecture is well recognized in many countries where the British ruled. Europe is renowned for its distinctive Greek/Roman and several other forms of architecture which make its towns and cities such a visual treat indeed.
The Middle-eastern countries have their own flavor of Muslim architecture which sets it apart from the rest of the world. Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman showed me examples of some lovely architecture in its fine mosques, homes, forts and office buildings.
I am no expert on this topic, but the simplicity in fine lines, arches and curves defined elegance for me in all its buildings. Fortunately, His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman, apparently was not in favor of the high rises that abound the neighboring prosperous UAE. With a few high-rises only in the city, one never feels cramped as compared to being in modern day glass and cement cities. The shorter buildings here are not just square brick structures, but a medley of arches, and graceful straight lines at the right places. What also helps is the fact that surroundings are sparkling clean adding to the aura of the buildings.
The Grand Mosque in Muscat that was built after a competition for its design is one of the most popular destinations for worshippers and tourists alike. However, my favorite mosque in Muscat, was the one I saw frequently by the main road. A gleaming off-white color, the Zawawi mosque in Al-Khuwair with its gardens around was a treat to see in the day and delightfully illuminated by night. Some pictures are below.
A quick walk in the neighborhood left me spellbound as I saw the homes around me, each more beautiful than the other.
Another notable point was the uniformity in coloring of the buildings. As compared to the peeling reds , greens, blues and yellows found rampantly in the buildings in most Indian cities, most of the colors used were pale –with shades of white or sand being the most common. Perhaps it is the hot climate of the city which is the deciding factor. I wish such uniformity were present in Indian cities too. There was no graffiti in the city and walls were spotless clean. A few rules (that were obeyed) such as not drying clothes where they would be visible to outsiders was a balm to eyes used to seeing garments of all forms in India!
If you get a chance to visit Muscat, and love seeing buildings, do try and visit some of the famous landmarks such as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the old area of Corniche, old forts – the Sohar fort is my favorite and one of Muscat’s neighborhoods (preferably near the sea, that is where I went!). I am sure you will delight in the various forms of buildings you see.