Wednesday, March 22, 2017

V is for Vienna

Our trip to Vienna in spring 2015 already feels like nearly a lifetime ago. Moving to two different countries since that trip will do it to you.

Anyway, one of the highlights of this weekend trip was seeing the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Belvedere Palace. I had actually visited the palace nearly 10 years ago as part of my first European trip from the US. But being older, and of course wiser now, I feel like I appreciated seeing this beautiful 18th-century palace and ornate gardens so much more now.
The Belvedere consists of two palaces that were built in the early 18th century by the famous Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt – and meant to be used as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736). Inside, the palaces house a fantastic collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day as well as more modern art from international artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Max Beckmann. Of course, you have to see the glittering Kiss painting by Gustav Klimt. So many tourists!

Unfortunately, we only had 48 hours in Vienna and we spent at least two or three of those hours at the Belvedere and then finding lunch nearby at a classic Austrian restaurant. There’s so much more I still want to see! Luckily, since we are living in London, a trip to Europe is just a click away.

I’m linking this post to the monthly travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “V.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

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My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

All it takes is one visit to Bruges to see why it’s described as the “Venice of the North.”

Filled with a labyrinth of canals and interesting Flemish buildings, Bruges is a fairy-tale like city that begs for photographs. During our visit a few months ago, I took more than 300 photos after we stepped off our hour-long train journey from Brussels where we spent Christmas.

Like Venice, Bruges is filled with small canals and was known for its high-quality lace. During the 16th century, this Belgian city prospered becoming a hub for commerce with merchants from 34 different coutnries that regularly traded here. Even if you’re not one for historical details like these, grab your camera and head to beautiful Bruges!
Shortly after we stepped off the train, this gorgeous reflection of a restaurant located along Minnewater "lake of love" greeted us in Bruges.

Begijnhof (Beguinage)
After a short walk from the train station, we first stopped at the Begijnhof or Beguinage – a tranquil convent garden and museum that was founded in 1245. This little piece of world heritage was once the home of the beguines, emancipated women who chose to lead a pious and celibate life. Today the beguinage is inhabited by nuns of the Order of St. Benedict and several Bruges women who have decided to remain unmarried. In the Beguine's house which is now a museum, you get a good idea of what their day-to-day, simple life was like in the 17th century.

Next, we explored The Holy Savior Cathedral (Sint-Salvatorskathedraal), which was originally founded in the 10th century as a common parish church. In 1834, shortly after Belgium’s independence in 1830, a new bishop came to Bruges and the Sint-Salvator church obtained the status of cathedral. The cathedral’s oldest surviving part, dating from the end of the 12th century, forms the base of the mighty tower which you can’t miss from our next stop. Though the church is undergoing some renovations, it’s worth popping in.

Belfort in Bruges
Standing 83-meters tall, the Belfry of Bruges is arguably the most famous part of The Markt square and one of the city’s main attractions that has a queue. We waited more than 45 minutes to climb some 360-plus steps for an unparalleled view over the red rooftops of the city and the market square, which is dotted with many restaurants and cafés.  

Today, the tower holds the 47 bells designed in 1741 by George Duméry and regularly chimes the hours and important events.

Belgian Waffles at Chez Albert
Lunchtime means you must grab a waffle from one of the many stands or shops located near the square.
Stadhuis (Town Hall)
This Gothic structure was built in the late 1300s, making it the oldest Town Hall in Belgium and also an ideal courtyard to enjoy your waffle. The reasonable 2.50-euro admission fee is worth paying so you don’t miss the ornate Gotische Zaal (Gothic Room) – featuring wall murals of Bruges’s history. The spectacular vaulted oak ceiling dates from 1402.

Tip: go early so you can avoid too many people in your photos.

What is the ‘Rozenhoedkaai?’
The Quay of the Rosary is one of the most photographed sites throughout the entire city of Bruges. Just around the corner from the Town Hall, you’ll find a lovely canal with swans and crow-stepped-gabled houses and boats sailing by you. No matter what the season, I’m sure the Rozenhoedkaai is picture perfect!

Of course, when we weren’t admiring the gorgeousness of Bruges, we found a few pubs to enjoy a Belgian beer, an order of frites with mayonnaise and a few Christmas markets. We enjoyed ourselves so much that I have to wonder why my Belgian friend seemed to downplay her city when she spoke of her hometown.

Grab your camera and let’s head to Bruges!

My Traveling Joys

Monday, February 20, 2017

U is for Üsküdar

Having moved six times in the past 10 years, with four of them international moves, it’s often the simpler things in life that I miss about a place – besides the people we’ve met and befriended.

One such fondness from nearly three years of living in Istanbul is quickly crossing from Europe to Asia in 10 minutes via the iconic yellow-trimmed white vapur (ferry boats). Walking from our apartment in the Beşiktaş neighborhood past all the local stores, we picked up the vapur from the iskele located along the Bosphorus. Once we boarded the boat, the Bosphorus breeze started blowing in my blonde hair. Seagulls chased us, being the scavengers that they are, begging for lil nibbles from other passengers. If you have time, you can even buy a glass of Turkish tea on board.

The quickest way to cross from Europe to Asia is to take the vapur from Beşiktaş to Üsküdar. Boats depart nearly every 10 minutes during the day, so it’s easy to do.

Üsküdar is not a typical neighborhood you would visit as a tourist, necessarily. It’s a more traditional neighborhood with older ladies wearing long trench coats and headscarves going about their normal day-to-day activities. Üsküdar is almost like a village the middle of the giant megalopolis. With just a quick boat ride, you can plunge yourself into a very culturally different atmosphere from the touristic side of the city. It’s a quick trip that I definitely recommend!
 Of course, I couldn't resist having my own glass of Turkish tea while admiring the Kız Kulesi and the city's minaret-studded skyline. Gorgeous!
After looking through some old photos, I’d almost forgotten that Üsküdar is one of the best places to see the Kız Kulesi (Maiden's Tower) – the city’s legendary lighthouse in the Bosphorus. Once you exit the boat dock on the Asian side, follow the coastal road in a southerly direction, walking for 10 minutes or so. Eventually, you’ll find an area filled with benches and Turkish waiters serving up copious amounts of tea.  

This is what I miss – simple moments like this one that I took for granted when I lived in Istanbul.

What do you miss from places you’ve lived before?

I’m linking this post to the monthly travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “U.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

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My Traveling Joys

Sunday, January 22, 2017

T is for Troy in NW Turkey

After reading Homer's “Iliad” as teenager, I had high hopes to see the ruins of Troy in person.

So, on our drive to the Turkish wine island of Bozcaada five years ago, we stopped to see the UNESCO historical site of Troy, located along the Aegean Sea on the Çanakkale peninsula.

Sadly, due to earthquakes and archeological lootings over the years, Troy is not as impressive as I had hoped – piles of random stones here and there. If you want to be impressed, head to Pergamon or Aphrodisias instead. Still, Troy is impressive for its age as the oldest ruins date from 3000 BC.
At least you can still see part of the ancient theatre in Troy.
The fact that Troy even exists as a real city also is impressive. Until the 19th century, many people assumed that Homer's Iliad was fiction. In 1863 a British expatriate named Frank Calvert discovered ancient ruins at a place in western Turkey called Hisarlık and was convinced they were Troy. German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann showed up in 1868, provided money for more digging, and took all the credit for discovering Troy. From what I understand, Schliemann took many of the Troy artefacts, including the “Treasure of Priam” back to Germany, which the Russians stole after WWII. Today, the treasure is still hidden somewhere in Moscow. It seems history is often filled with lots of drama.

Anyway, if you love a good Greek tragedy, it’s worth stopping by to visit Troy. But you’ll have to visit museums in Russia or Germany to see many of the valuable artefacts.

I’m linking this post to the monthly travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “T.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

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My Traveling Joys

Saturday, January 21, 2017

On a Parisian street that’s been in use for approximately 2,000 years, you’ll find dozens of boucheries, boulangeries, fromageries, pâtisseriespoissonneries and just about any other kind of -erie shop relating to food.

Arriving from the Right Bank in Paris, you’ll find the narrow cobblestone street of Rue Mouffetard as it snakes its way downhill to a small plaza and an outdoor fruit and veggie market. Much of this small street is closed to traffic, so you’re free to leisurely stroll from the butcher to the baker to the pastry maker (sorry, no candlestick makers here). Lining this foodie street are several cafés and plenty of shops to buy the fixings for a wonderful French picnic or a delicious dinner.

As my fellow foodie friend showed me Rue Mouffetard for the first-time last summer, I wondered, how had I missed this fabulous foodie street? The delightful thing is that Paris is filled with sooo many good places to eat. Every visit, I come armed with a new list of places I want to dine at in the City of Lights.
 I can't resist French cheese!
Even Ernest Hemingway described it as a “wonderful, narrow crowded market street” in “A Moveable Feast.” 
But the Romans opened the road some 2,000 years ago to connect Antic Lutetia (what officially became Paris in 360 AD) to Italy via a southern road. The street ran through the small village of Bourg Saint-Médard that became the home of winegrowers and wealthy Parisians’ country houses as it was located on a sunny hill. In the 14th century, the area became undesirable as the butchers, skinners and tanners workshops appeared on the river banks. They dumped their waste into the river turning it into a stinking sewer. The offending odours produced were commonly called moffettes so the street became known as Rue des Moffettes eventually evolved into Rue Mouffetard.

Fortunately, the only butchers you’ll find here now are ones selling delicious types of saucissons and fresh meat if you fancy a homecooked meal.
The prime time for visiting is Saturday and Sunday morning. Remember: everything is closed by Sunday afternoon and remains closed until Tuesday morning. My visits were on a Wednesday and on a Saturday in the summer, with the weekend being the busiest.

Besides gazing into all the shops with food envy, my friends and I decided to grab the fixings for a picnic. We went from shop to shop buying different bits of cheese, bread, wine (that came with disposable glasses), macarons, pastries and just about anything edible. It’s difficult not to buy one of everything!
My girlfriend and I settled down on a picnic bench in a small park next to the 15th-century St. Medard church. Or if you are willing to walk a couple minutes farther – the Jardin des Plantes, next to the Natural History Museum, is a gorgeous oasis for a picnic. The French cops didn’t seem to mind that we were drinking wine in the park. How tres French!
A picnic for two in Paris! 
Or for five!
Good friends and picnics in Paris are a match made in heaven! ;)
As you can see from my photos if you want a one-stop foodie shopping experience, then head to Rue Mouffetard when you visit Paris. I know I’ll be heading back here again…and hopefully soon!
My Traveling Joys

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Paris is known for the Eiffel Tower, its fabulous French food and beautiful buildings. However, did you know that the City of Light is also home to some of the most famed street art artists in the world?

After only knowing about Banksy until we moved abroad in 2010, I didn’t know or pay much attention to street art. Since living in Europe and Melbourne now, I’ve developed a huge appreciation and fascination with street art. In fact, before we travel to a new destination, I look up where the best neighborhoods are to find street art or which street artists to look out for as we walk around.

Last year, I fortunately visited Paris twice – once with a girlfriend and the latter time meeting with a group of friends from Germany. Living in London now makes travel to Paris and elsewhere in Europe so much easier than before! On these trips, I simply focused on food, exploring new neighborhoods and looking for street art. The photos below reflect what I found on these new trips. Enjoy!

Space Invader Street Art
One of the cheekier street artists is known as Invader or Space Invader, a French artist originally based in Paris. He attaches weather-resistant tiles in the form of mosaic images inspired from the 1970s-video game “Space Invaders” in cities around the world. Invader started these installations in Paris in 1998, where you find more than 1,200 of his creations, and has continued to “invade” other cities in France, Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia and Australia.

When visiting Paris, spotting an Invader becomes a sort of game. My friends and I had a blast this past summer looking for and taking photos of the Invaders around Paris.
WRDSMTH in Paris
Labeled as “a writer doing time in LA,” WRDSMTH is another cheeky street artist that is known for his poignant messages flowing from a vintage typewriter or written in a typewriter-type font. The anonymous artist uses a unique combination of stencil/spray painting and wheatpasting for his street art. LA is still home to most of WRDSMITH’s creations, but you’ll find his work in New Orleans, New York, London and Paris.

Earlier in 2016, WRDSMTH’s pithy “The only lie” piece found a new home in Paris! I couldn’t resist taking a photo with this 6-foot version located on Rue de la Lune in Porte Saint Martin.

A photo posted by My Traveling Joys (@mytravelingjoys) on

Street Art in the 13th Arrondissement
On both trips, I visited a new-to-me neighborhood on the Left Bank – the city’s 13th arrondissement, which has in recent years become a renowned neighborhood for a number of large-scale artworks by both French and international graffiti-street artists.

Unlike other Parisian districts, the 13th contains many more modern high-rise apartment blocks – which are perfect for large-scale murals. In recent years, the local townhall officials have been working with Galerie Itinerrance and other art groups to commission artists to go ‘big’ on the sides of its buildings. We used the Galerie’s map to try and find as many murals and other street art that we could. Or you could try one of the local street art tours like this one.
Cat by French street artist C215 located at 141 Boulevard Vincent Auriole.
“Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” by Shepard Fairey at 186 rue Nationale (above the Cat on the Boulevard Vincent Auriole.)Right: “Rise Above Rebel” by American graffiti artist Shepard Fairey (also known as Obey), located at 93 Rue Jeanne d'Arc.
Blue mural by church called “Delicate Balance” by Shepard Fairey at 60 Rue Jeanne d'Arc.

Ecole cité Dorée, corner of Vincent Auriol & rue Jenner.

This one is my favorite!“La Madre Seculaire” by Chilean artist INTI, at 85 Boulevard Vincent Auriole. You also can find INTI’s murals in Łódź, Poland.
Other murals we found in the 13th:
Another anonymous street artist is one known for his signed works “Kraken Je t’aime” which feature a legendary but mythical sea monster. We found a few Krakens around the city, but this one is one of my favorites.
When you visit Paris, enjoy the food, but don’t forget to look up and down the side streets for unique street art as well!

My Traveling Joys

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