Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Iconic Ponte Vechio - Florence, Italy

The rustic Ponte Vechio, Florence, Italy

Florence is the main town of Tuscany region and it is in the center of Italy. The city of Florence is not too big and even without a map it is quiet easy to navigate the city. We walked from the main train station, Santa Maria Novella station to San Lorenzo Leather market and from there we walked to River Arno. 

The city has many high-end Italian designers stores, hotels  and interesting sites to visit. It is also a practical and perfect base to tour the region. If you walk along river Arno, you will see many people pointing their cameras towards an old bridge. At a glance the bridge does not look like a monument that deserves all the attentions but as I read through its history, Ponte Vechio has an interesting history to tell. A story of how it has been through a test of time and a series of destruction but today it is still there for us to appreciate it. 

It was believed that Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) was built during Roman times in Florence. Previously, the shops on the bridge was occupied by the butchers but today, the present tenants are jewelers, art and souvenirs sellers. The bridge was first built in 996 and reconstructed in 1117 after it was destroyed by a flood and again it was swept by flood in 1333. In 1345, the bridge was rebuilt again but during the World War II, the Germans destroyed Ponte Vechio when they retreat on August 4, 1944. 

This Florence's most famous old bridge is one of the most photographed landmark in the city and it is not surprising to see many people leaning on the walls along River Arno to get their best shots of this iconic bridge. The buildings along River Arno too are colorful and interesting to watch but due to heavy crowds around the area, you have to watch your belongings and wallets at all time.

The view along River Arno
People flooding the bridge
Souvenir shops on the bridge
The buildings at the other end of the bridge

A side view
On the bank of River Arno

The middle part of the bridge
Another view of Ponte Vechio
The private accommodation on the bridge 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Top Six Souvenirs from Iran

Bazaar E-Borzoog, Esfahan
While in some countries, most of their souvenirs are imported from China, Iran has a huge selection of local traditional souvenirs. They range from the cheapest key chain to the most expensive Persian carpets. The traditional bazaar is the best place to look for some of the country's best souvenirs. Most of the bazaars are so huge that it is impossible to finish browsing in a day. Among all the bazaar I visited in Sanandaj, Shiraz and Esfahan, I like the bazaar in Imam Square (Bazaar e-Borzoog) in Esfahan It is very huge, not crowded and very organized. Here are the top six souvenirs from Iran which I think are unique and authentic.
This piece of carpet cost about USD $3,000 
Even if you have no plans to buy Iranian carpets or they are just off your budget, visiting the carpet stores and admiring the beauty would suffice. Iranian carpets are beautiful and worth the investment. Although the initial plans is not to buy any bulky souvenirs but the temptation lured by the store owner is way too strong to resist. Depending on the size and material, Persian carpet can be very expansive.
Crafted by the local silversmith, this beautiful silver chain is priced at US $80
I think Iran has skillful jewelry designers. Beautifully crafted silver and gold jewelries  and the fact that they are handmade gives it a unique craft as a memorable souvenir. The jewelries are weighed to determine its actual content of gold or silver before the price is quoted.  There is still room for bargaining though you will not get a major price slash.
The hand made enameled copper plate - a gift from Esfahan University
These plates are not cheap but they make very exquisite souvenirs
These stunning hand made enameled copper vases, tea sets, plates, wall-hanging plates and others can be a gift or even for home decoration. In the bazaar, you may find an artisan working in progress, and you can purchase his/her completed pieces. The items can be priced around USD $50-$300 over a range of sizes of wall hanging plates. Of course the price of tea sets and vases will be much higher.
The glittering tablecloth for US $40 and above
These glittering table cloths can easily catch your eyes. They are really beautiful but you have to give it a real check at the back of the table cloth to make sure that the beads and sequins are not falling off easily. They are hand made and I think depending on the shops, quality may vary significantly. Check for durability when you are buying one of these. Be careful when cleaning these items. You can dip in mild soapy water and hang them to dry or you can send it for dry cleaning.

Hand printed table cloth from US $5 to $100 
These beautiful cotton printed table cloths can be both hand printed or machine printed. Obviously the machine made is much cheaper than the hand made and in fact you can get it as cheap as US $5. The hand printed table cloth with the printer's name sealed at the back is an authentic and memorable souvenir to take home. They come in beautiful natural colors extracted from spices, fruits and plants. For the hand printed one, the more colors are layered on the piece, the more expensive it gets.
These mouse pads - a miniature of Iranian carpet, cost US $2 each 
These Iranian carpet mouse pads are the best bargain souvenirs to take home. It comes in various designs and colors just like the carpet. The little carpets are glued to the light foam material and they are very light to carry. But what bothers me is that after few months, the pad tends to curls at its end and of course I can't complain much for the price I'm paying.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Walking down the memory lane - Bath, UK

The beautiful 18th century Pulteney Bridge over River Avon

Bath is one of the most wonderful city that I had ever lived in my life. Home to great writers such as Jane Austen and Charles Dicken, living in Bath can be very inspiring.  My good old days were spent walking miles and miles along river Avon and sitting by the river banks on a cold autumn day was simply mesmerizing. 
Shops on Pultney Bridge

The shops on Pulteney bridge reminds me of the iconic Ponte Vechio in Florence, Italy but the one in Bath is much smaller. Perhaps the resemblance came from the Roman who conquered Bath in the 9th. century.

The entire city of Bath was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 due to it international cultural significance. Jane Austen, her parents and sister, Cassandra lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 and despite that she disliked the city, Bath has honoured her name with Jane Austen Centre and a city walk. Bath with its beautiful architecture has been the backdrop of many films and television programmes.

The cute tea shop in Bath

Milsom Street

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Gift of Love

A set of perfume as gift
A watch in a 'garden' of fresh flowers

Marriage is a lifetime journey which deserves celebration in any culture. Apart from the solemnization, it is customary in the Malay wedding, the bride and the groom exchanged gifts (hantaran) as a symbol of love and new relationship sealed on the special day. The gifts need not have to be expensive but what is more important is the message delivered in the "hantaran" (from the Malay word "hantar" which mean to send). The gifts can range from the cheap chocolate and cookies to the massive amount of dowry!

From the groom, the gifts include among others the dowry to the bride, a wedding ring and other gifts.  While the bride will be presenting more trays of gifts than the groom, the focal point of families and friends is the presentation of the gifts which can be delightful to the eyes. If the groom send 5 trays of gifts to the bride, she will reciprocate by sending 7 trays in return and the number of trays are usually paired in odd numbers. I'm not sure of the logic! 

Some families take the pain of preparing the trays of gifts themselves, while others would engage professionals to do the job. Just look at the work of art and heart by Maya Puri Creations (http://www.facebook.com/maya.puri.creations), who has appeared in the local magazines for her splendid work. The creative lady Safinaz always uses fresh flowers and she cleverly blends her palette of colors to come up with fascinating presentations. Doing away with complicated creation (gubahan), her work portrays simplicity yet fresh and natural!

A set of pens
Fruits can be one of the gifts on the tray
The Sticky sweets presented on the tray
The fresh flowers were recycled for home decoration
Gift of cuppies