My Home – Brisbane

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Sometimes we forget what we have in our own backyards.  I am always reminded of what a beautiful place I live in whenever I have visitors as I am “showing off” my home city.

However, on Sunday morning while I was driving to church which is in New Farm, I decided to stop and take a walk along the River Terrace overlooking the river.  It was a perfect winter’s morning.  It was about 8C degrees which then warmed up to about 26C.  Yes perfect, but probably too warm for winter.

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Brisbane, which is the capital of the state of Queensland, has a population of 2.4 million and is in north east Australia.   It is the gateway to the famous Gold Coast which is only an hour drive south and also to the Sunshine coast which is north.  Brisbane has a humid subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and dry moderately warm winters. A typical winter’s day would rarely fall below 20C, however our nights can be very cold.

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Brisbane River

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Brisbane River

Brisbane River

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As I wondered on the walkway along the top of the cliffs in an area known as Kangaroo Point I took these photos.  Kangaroo Point is on the south side of the Brisbane River looking towards the city and central business district.

This is a beautiful location with so many things you can do.  You can walk or ride a bike from Southbank across the river, you can go up and down the steep stairs for exercise, you can have a picnic or BBQ next to the river or on top of the cliffs, using the free gas bbq’s and picnic tables and chairs, you can rock-climb outdoors, kayak, abseil, roller-blade and more. Daytime or nighttime are both beautiful here with the city lights or sun.

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After your walk, if you feel like stopping for a coffee or refreshments, there is a great Café  with these stunning views overlooking the river and Brisbane city.

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Probably the best view of  Brisbane city.  It’s so easy to access, by bus, river cat, ferry or car.

In the Heart of Ferrara – Majestic Castle

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Situated in the centre of the city of Ferrara, you cannot miss this great medieval castle which is surrounded by a large moat. The Castello Estense is a large block with four corner towers.

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During my 2 day stay in Ferrara we visited this fairy tale castle. We thought we might have a short visit, but were soon rapt by the history and magnificence of the place itself and were inside for an entire morning. There is almost too much to take in on one visit: there is so much to see and read. I’d like to give a special mention to the quality of the information boards in English. The writing, the explanations, the translation were all superb – and the information boards were at the perfect height.
Highlights for us included the dungeons, the ‘archaeology room’, the kitchens (and the explanations about the role of the Scalco), the frescoes (made accessible by vast, expertly placed mirrors), the documents, maps and illuminated books.

It is very interesting to get different aspects of how life was like in the medieval days outside Florence (and the Medici’s). The Este family was the ruler of Ferrara and this was their home. The castle is not too big and exhausting so well worth a visit. Besides, it’s a stunning building in itself. It was absolutely worth the visit. The ticket price is 8€ for adults, plus 2 € if you wish to see the Torre dei Leoni as well with great view to the city.

This fabulous building and the exhibits give you a real understanding of the importance of the Este family to Ferrara, as well as insights into life in the Renaissance (and earlier) in Italy.

The Castle Estense is the most imposing of Ferrara’s Renaissance buildings, worthy of being the city’s symbol. Surrounding this huge structure is a moat filled with pea-soup green water, which is aerated – fortunately. The city tourist office is inside, just off the courtyard decorated with cannonballs.


Touring the castle involves clambering up rough brick herringbone ramps. To access the prison, which is one large room, we had to stoop through a doorway less than five feet high.


We got a good view from the deck, which was just beyond a conservatory where potted orange trees were already bearing ripe fruit.


Castello Estense is an absolute ‘must visit’ when you are in Ferrara and is at the very heart of Ferrara’s history throughout the ages. If you want to know about Ferrara, visit here first, it is all there!

Our Trip to Australian Tea Estate – Madura in Murwillumbah NSW.

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We left Brisbane early for our trip down south to Northern NSW. After about 90 minutes we stopped at Chinderah for a morning tea break by the Tweed River.  Then we continued another 30 mins west towards Clothiers Creek/Murwillumbah.

 

 

Nestled in the rainforests in the hinterland north of Byron Bay is the Madura Tea Plantation which is set on 30 acres of rich pasture land that was once a cattle farm. This unique Australian family business is the only tea plantation in the world that grows, harvests, packages and distributes its 100% Australian grown tea.

 

 

Upon arrival at the plantation we were warmly greeted by a lady named Rose who was in fact our guide and was born for the job she does. Our first stop was to visit the actual estate where the tea is grown. Rose explained to us that these tea bushes/shrubs are part of the camellia family which is so apparent when you see the shape of the leaves. The bushes are harvested every 9 – 14 days just taking off the tips of each plant. This well kept tea estate is planted over rolling hills with superb outlook and is surrounded by Australian native trees and wildlife.

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Rose had all the facts and figures. She was more than happy to take photos for people and answer everybody’s questions. She explained the process of growing tea, processing it and the differences between black, green and white tea which was fascinating. We also learned how to make each tea, the temperature of the water and how long to infuse the leaves to deliver the best flavour.

 

 

 

 


For the modest $7 entrance fee this was so well worth it. Although I am a tea drinker I had no idea how tea grew or what was involved between planting it and buying it in the supermarket but I now have a new appreciation of the work it takes and the process. We also received a lovely hessian bag with tea samples and were able to purchase items in the shop, including some special flavours not available in supermarkets.

 


It was a very well run tour and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Very good value for money as well as educational and a great morning out in heavenly Australian countryside.

Real Ruins of South East Asia – Mỹ Sơn

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Hidden in the Hills not far from Hoi An is this small but impressive collection of brick Hindu Temples, Mỹ Sơn, which was constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa.  Like many historic sites around the world, Mỹ Sơn was destroyed by time and wars and after lying neglected for a long time it was rediscovered and renovated by the French in 1898. Sadly the most recent war did great damage to the complex as the Americans bombed this area knowing that the Viet Cong used it as a hiding place, mistakenly thinking that the enemy would not touch a holy site.

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We were picked up by coach with our guide  from our hotel around 8 am reaching Mỹ Sơn about 9.15. Upon arrival, we took the shuttle bus from the entrance gate to the start of the path leading to the ruins.  We then walked along this path about another 2 km in a very pleasant valley up to the temples.  The walk to and from the site itself is lovely,  through a tropical forest by a bubbling, sacred stream.


Overwhelmingly quiet, the site has a distinct feeling of history.  Also a visual memory of how close during the war they could have lost this wonderful site.

As an attraction this is definitely something different and well worth taking the time to see. We were there for about 2 hours in the morning and it was hot. You will do a reasonable amount of walking and this is not a place I would recommend visiting during the heat of the day. The best time to visit is early in the morning before it gets too hot and when it is not too busy with loads of  buses and tourists.  It is a small site which is much more pleasant with few folks around. Sun hat, water, sun block, and sunglasses were necessary for us .

 

Mỹ Sơn is a fascinating, short and easy  attraction. We were extremely impressed and highly recommend it. 

Morning Market Delight in Pistoia

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It was Wednesday and it was market day in Pistoia. We drove down from Bagni di Lucca and parked the car at Lucca train station and took the morning train to Pistoia.

It is just a 40 minute train ride from Lucca to Pistoia through lovely Tuscan country side and passing by dozens of local nurseries. The area of Pistoia is very well known for the cultivation of plants and flowers exported all over the world, with a long tradition of local nurseries being passed down generation after generation.

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The city of Pistoia, a distinctive medieval city, is located in northern Tuscany, halfway between Florence(Firenze)  and Lucca and about 40 km away from each. What a gorgeous town. It is so easy to fall in love with Pistoia.

 

Miky from https://passion4food4fashion.com/ was waiting for us as our train arrived at the Pistoia train station. I first was introduced to Pistoia through Miky’s blog which I started following a few years ago. Miky is absolutely passionate about her home town and must be their greatest ambassador.

Miky walked with us through the town pointing out every building, statue and landmark with descriptions and information about them all. We stopped at Miky’s favourite bar/cafe for coffee and the best Italian dolce (pastry) I can remember ever enjoying.

 

We chatted and she filled us in on her involvements in Pistoia including telling us about her family restaurant Pollo d’Oro. Miky I will definitely come to the restaurant next time I am in Pistoia.

 

 

After coffee we continued our walk to the Piazza Della Sala where we found the colourful weekly markets. The Piazza Della Sala is a piazza with charm and character, a very traditional market  that sells top quality Italian fruit and vegetables

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The piazza was crowded, and the eating places around the square were pretty busy. I always love the atmosphere and vibe of Italian markets and this one was no exception. Extending out towards the street was another market, selling all kinds of household items, clothing, shoes, jewellery, Bric-à-brac plus so much more.

 

After the markets are finished each week, and everything is packed away, the piazza transforms into a busy hive of activities with its pizzerias, restaurants and bars.  This continues on in to the evenings. We did not stay long enough for the evening activities however it is a definite must for me next time I am in Italy.

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From here I took the train on to Ferrara and Debra caught the train back to Lucca.

Thank you Miky for sharing your beautiful town with us.

Simply Captivating – Angkor Wat

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I had no idea how big Angkor Wat was until we went there.   Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia and is the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring 162.6 hectares.  Many will know this place to be where Tomb Raider/ Lara Croft was filmed at the Ta Prohm temple

We were picked up by coach reasonably early at our hotel in Siem Reap to drive the short distance of about 20 k’s to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat.  It is very popular to arrive at Angkor Wat early enough to watch the sunrise however we were there just after breakfast.

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Prior to visiting the temple, you must first purchase a temple pass at the ticket office which is a few kilometres from the actual temples.  The day passes now cost $37US which is a huge increase from the $20 price prior to February this year. We joined the crowds of people already at the ticket office to have our photo taken and our day pass processed. As we were in an organised tour we were taken through much quicker than most tourists. Every place we visited we were very pleased that we had our own tour guide as they always managed to get us through quicker and easier than if we were doing it on our own.  Of course speaking the local language is very advantageous.

 

What a magnificent, amazing place. We entered from the much less crowded east gate, which gave us an opportunity to see the temple without a huge crowd around us. Our tour guide did a great job of explaining everything we saw and leading us through the temple complex.

Every time you turned a corner or stepped through a doorway there was something else amazing to see.  I was astounded by the huge size of this temple and its beautiful symmetry.

As the temples of Angkor represent a sacred religious site, visitors are asked to dress modestly. It is not possible to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat without upper arms covered and shorts to the knees.

Although we visited Angkor Wat in spring it was still very hot. It is not necessarily distant walking but it involves lots of walking. I recommend being well prepared with good walking shoes, hats, sunscreen and plenty of water. Some of the fittest folks in our group struggled with the heat and stairs.

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We decided not to climb up the narrow steep staircase to the top level, mainly because of the long line of tourists already waiting to go up and also the heat.

We were fortunate to have a local guide whose depth of knowledge and passion for Cambodia and Angkor Wat were phenomenal – our guide’s knowledge and helpfulness took this superb trip to the next level! I cannot say enough about the Angkor Wat UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another Must Visit if you are in Cambodia.

After touring the temple we exited from the west gate. That side was much more crowded, but we were able to get the obligatory photo from in front of the lagoon with the temple in the background.

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This was an exceptional day visiting an exceptional temple.

Memories!!!    Bagni di Lucca.

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It is 12 months since I was in Bagni di Lucca. I have the most wonderful memories and photos of this beautiful area which will last a life time.

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My first introduction to Bagni di Lucca was through a blog called www.bagnidilucca.wordpress.com The first time I read this blog I fell in love with Bagni di Lucca and I knew that I must visit and stay there. So, 3 years ago, I rented an apartment in the little village of Ponte e Serraglio. The apartment overlooked the river and the village. It was wonderful.  I was definitely living the dream.  Thanks to Debra Kolka the author of www.bagnidilucca.wordpress.com I experienced more of the areas around the little village where we were staying that I learned about from Deb .

Then last year while I was planning my trip to Italy to stay in Lucca for a week, Debra invited me to stay in her gorgeous apartment in Bagni di Lucca which is about a 30 minute drive from Lucca. The apartment is on the river looking directly at the little village. To me it was the best location in Ponte e Serraglio.  The view took my breath away every time I stepped on to her balcony.

 

After my stay in Lucca, Debra picked me up,  we went down to the markets in Forte dei Marme before returning to her apartment in Bagni di Lucca.

Debra is well known and well respected in the village and thanks to this I met so many of the locals and regular visitors to the area.  I met up and chatted with many new friends every morning when we went to Il Monaco for our morning coffee and dolce. I also loved chatting with many other new friends each afternoon when we walked across to Bar Italia for our aperativo.

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While staying in Debra’s apartment, from Foligno, which is the next village down from Ponte e Serraglio, I took the train to many of the towns in the Tuscany area for short stays.  It was just so easy for me. Debra would drive me to the train station and was always sitting waiting at the train station when I returned a few days later.

I enjoyed the changing of the flowers on the bridge with Debra which she does twice a year.  This is totally her initiative and her expense but she loves doing it as she is so passionate about her little Italian village.

 

We visited Casa Debbio in Vergemoli up in the mountains several times and I was also fortunate enough to stay in this gorgeous house for a few days. The views overlooking the valleys and the mountains in the distance where stunning.

 

Last year, my stay in Bagni di Lucca was one of the highlights of my travelling life thanks so much to Debra and her husband Jim and their generosity.  It certainly was a wonderful experience for me. Thanks so much Debra.

 

Floating Village on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia.

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After checking in to our hotel, The City River Hotel, in Siem Reap, our local tour guide offered us the opportunity of a boat tour of Tonle Sap Lake.  After a great western style lunch, many of the folks in our tour decided to have a free afternoon, however 6 of us chose to take this tour.

It was a rather short bus trip, 15 k’s from Siem Reap,  to the boat terminal where we transferred to one of the many modest passenger boats that take you on the tour of Tonle  Sap Lake.

 

I read a lot of conflicting reviews on this trip, but unfortunately many had bad experiences and had been ripped off but we were certainly pleased with our costs and transport. It was definitely worth the trip, but such an eye opener.  It is educational but heart breaking.

Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Asia. The soil is clay based which accounts for some of the look of filth but it was disturbing to witness people there washing their dishes in the lake and pulling fish out. It was also sad to see the shacks that the Vietnam people live it. There are over 1000 families (approx 5000 people) living in these make-shift floating homes and over 3 million living on the banks of this lake.

 

It was a great experience to see an entire village on the Lake. We were told by the guide that there were 5 or 6 villages on the lake at different spots.
There were stores for purchasing day-to-day needs like groceries, vegetables, etc and there were at least two floating schools.

Many boats had satellite dishes and television for entertainment, and most of the floating houses had hammocks with many residents lying in them and relaxing.

 

There were children taking a bath in the river and swimming and we saw women in their kitchens doing chores like cutting vegetables or washing dishes etc. Many of the floating homes had there own vegetable gardens which were sometimes a separate floating raft.

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We did not expect a luxury boat or comfort or beautiful water and we were not disappointed.

 

We stopped at one of the larger rafts which was definitely targeting the tourists. There was a shop with tacky souvenirs, tables to sit, a snack shop and a crocodile farm where there are several crocodiles kept in a very small enclosure that is submerged in to the lake.  We could see at least 7 or 8 of the crocodiles from a raised platform. The farm had also displayed full size crocodile skin for sale – as leather.

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From here we returned to our boat and returned to the terminal where our small bus was waiting to take us back to the hotel.

We were all deep in thought after what we had seen and experienced on the Tonle Lap Lake.  We felt sad but pleased that we had chosen to do this very unique tour. Although it is a different way of life to what I have, they mostly seemed quite happy with their lives.

Keep it simple and don’t expect much comfort and luxury. Enjoy and admire how these people manage & survive.

Tuk Tuk around Siem Reap plus its exciting Night Life.

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It was about a 5 hour coach trip from our hotel in Phnom Penh to Siem Reap,  a resort town in northwestern Cambodia, and gateway to the ruins of Angkor, including the main temple of Angkor Wat.

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Siem Reap is a fast-growing city with plenty of new hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. Actually we really enjoyed Siem Reap.

We found the most effective way to get around Siem Reap is by Tuk Tuk (or Remork, as the locals call them). For short trips flag one down; for tours ask your hotel or guesthouse for advice. We used them day and night. In actual fact there were always Tuk Tuks parked outside our hotel waiting on standby day and night. We ended up having the same Tuk Tuk driver each time, Mr Peach. It was like he was always waiting for us. He was very patient in answering all our questions and we even learned a bit of their history through him. He speaks English quite well so it was easy for us to communicate.  Most importantly he makes you feel comfortable and safe. And the tuk tuk itself is nice and clean and comfortable.

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We hired Mr Peach for a few hours on our last morning in Siem Reap to take us on a private tour around the city. We headed out into the city streets and the back alleys and got a little taste of how the locals live and work.  My friend and I had a great trip in Siem Reap. Mr Peach was a really nice driver, he takes the time to explain things (Cambodia culture, history, his own family, etc), and takes initiative in showing extra spots.  It was a great little tour and left us with a great impression of Siem Reap. This was an experience to remember.

Smile! Cambodians are extremely friendly, and smiles go a long way. They are the nicest, friendliets people I have encountered and I have travelled the world!

In the evenings Mr Peach took us to Pub Street – an evening time Must Visit. I read about Pub Street before visiting Siem Reap but was still pleasantly surprised when I arrived. I wasn’t expecting such a bustling area in Siem Reap. The street is closed for traffic at night, giving it a festival atmosphere.

Pub Street is the main street in Siem Reap for Bars and restaurants. Walk down the street and you can chose from almost any cuisine in the world – Burgers/American – Pizza/Italian – Greek – German – Thai – Australian etc. plus a good selection of local Cambodian (Khmer) restaurants.

It is quiet during the day but comes alive after dark and is the go to tourist destination in the town. Drinks are cheap (G&T, cocktails cost $US 1.50, Draft Beer $US 0.50) during happy hour, which in many places seems to last all night.  You can find every type of food from fried grasshoppers and tarantulas to rib eye steaks in Pub Street.

Close to Pub Street, just across a little bridge is the night market where you can pick up more souvenirs, clothes and much more. Once again a great atmosphere with live music.

Pub Street is an excellent place…. Rather than just a street of pubs, it is actually a district of pubs, clubs & restaurants around the old market.

 

Da Nang and its Protector

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It was only about a 30 minute drive from our hotel in Hoi An to Da Nang, which is a coastal city in central Vietnam.  Da Nang is known for its sandy beaches and history as a French colonial port, also its beautiful scenery and great local food.

It was my first time to Vietnam and of course to Da Nang. What an amazing surprise!!! Da Nang is really lovely with its tranquil expansive beaches which are lined with many new resorts, and surrounded with breath taking mountains and natural beauty. It certainly is a fantastic vacation option for us Aussies as it is only about a 10 hour flight from Australia. The accommodation is luxurious and very affordable.  Yes, we did stay in Hoi An and really enjoyed it.  In fact I plan to return to Vietnam to stay and spend more time in Hoi An.

We toured the city and beach areas of Da Nang including walking along the park areas of the main beach.  Although we did not actually visit the Dragon Bridge we viewed it from the beach.  This unique bridge was designed and built in the shape of a dragon and to breathe fire and water which it does each Saturday and Sunday night at 9. Another reason for me to return to Hoi An to see this amazing display

On the Son Tra Peninsula overlooking  Da Nang harbour stands a 67 meter statue of the Bodhisattva of Mercy, otherwise known as Lady Buddha. The views and the size of Lady Buddha are truly stunning. This bright white statue in the pagoda complex was originally built in the 18th century during the reign of Emperor Ming Mang and has since been restored.

This majestic Lady Buddha which is the tallest Buddha statue in south east Asia is so imposing in Da Nang that you really cannot miss Her no matter how far you are within town along the beachfront. The surrounding temples and pagoda add more prestige to this special tourist hot spot. In addition, the meticulously manicured bonsai and gardens make this place exceptional.

The atmosphere here is so serene and although there were many tourists everyone seemed to be caught up in the peacefulness of the Lady Buddha, the pagoda, the beautiful temple gate and the magnificent views of Da Nang and its harbour.

A visit to Da Nang would most certainly include a trip up to see Lady Buddha. It is such an amazing statue that you couldn’t possibly miss seeing her.