Friday, May 6, 2016

How can you resist this adorable Australian marsupial with its fluffy ears and a black-button nose?

When you visit Australia, seeing a koala, especially in the wild, should be on your to-do list!
Or you can see koalas up-close like this one at many animal sanctuaries in Australia.
You can pay extra at Moonlight Sanctuary in Victoria to take photos with this koala.
Interestingly, the koala gets its name from an ancient Aboriginal word meaning “no drink” because the animal receives over 90 percent of its water from the Eucalyptus or gum tree leaves it eats.

And when you spot koalas in the wild, you’ll see them doing one of two things – eating or sleeping!

Since we’ve travelled along the Great OceanRoad route on two separate occasions, I thought I’d share the best spots to see a koala in its natural habitat. Fortunately, the Victoria region contains the country’s highest population of koalas. You’ll also find koalas in most coastal regions of eastern and southern Australia as well as in inland woodlands, but none in western Australia or Tasmania.
Where to Find Koalas along the Great Ocean Road:

Apollo Bay to Lorne
After spending the night in a tranquil setting with seaviews of Apollo Bay, we hit the road in the morning. My husband had just turned onto the main road when I squealed. He pulled the rental car over to the side of the road in a furry and asked me what the hell was wrong. I had just seen my first koala up in a tree!

Hubby didn’t find this too funny and said my squeals of delight and imminent danger should be different sounds. Ha ha! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of this koala, but basically be on the lookout when driving from Apollo Bay to Lorne. According to the Victoria Parks website, the coastal bushland between Lorne and Apollo Bay is home to a large population of koalas.
Beautiful view of Apollo Bay, but no koalas here.

Cape Otway
Driving along the 12-km route on Otway Lighthouse Road, I became the master koala spotter and found heaps of these cuddly creatures in the middle of the Great Otway National Park. We drove slowly and pulled over whenever I spotted a potential koala or when another car ahead of us did.

The koalas blend into their surroundings quite well…grey-colored fur next to grey gum tree bark and silver-green eucalyptus leaves. But as you’re gazing up into the trees, you start to recognize the shapes of koalas and the search becomes pretty easy!
Sadly, the koalas recently had overpopulated in this area and basically ate themselves out of house and home on the local manna gum trees. At the end of 2015, about 400 koalas were moved from Cape Otway to northeast of Lorne so they would have a different species of gum trees to munch on in the forest.
It's worth driving all the way to the end of the road and checking out the historic lighthouse at Cape Otway.

Kennett River
Thanks to the helpful tourist information lady in Lorne, we heard about the tiny village of Kennett River, which became the easiest place to spot koalas. Just park near the Koala Cove Café and follow the rest of the tourists gazing up into the gum trees. The koalas are usually more active in the late afternoon when they are eating leaves or seeking new branches to climb.

Did you know that koalas eat half a kilo of leaves per day?
Or you might find a lot of koalas sleeping amongst the branches like we did! Koalas spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping because eating is such difficult work! The eucalyptus leaves are very low in nutrition and high in fibrous matter so they take a large amount of energy to digest.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also see some of the colorful Australian parrots that call Kennett River home. These cheeky birds will land right on you and feed out of your hand!

Have you seen koalas in the wild too?
Pin this to plan your trip to the Great Ocean Road!

This post is linked up with #WeekendWanderlust by travel bloggers A Southern GypsyA Brit and a SouthernerJustin Plus Lauren and One Modern Couple. Hop on over to their blogs to see more travel stories!

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The city’s laneways are like the living, breathing heart of Melbourne.

Here is where you’ll find vibrant, exciting and sometimes not so cool street art and graffiti on the walls, particularly in the Central Business District. During the past 10 months, I’ve wandered down numerous laneways hunting for hidden cafés, bars and street art. What’s good and bad is that the art work is constantly changing as local artists bring new life to the walls. However, sometimes some of my favorite murals are gone by the time I look down that street again.

All you have to do is wander around the laneways and discover your own favorite street art.

The city’s history of street art culture dates to the 1970s and ‘80s when local youth took their inspiration from the graffiti culture of NYC. Since then, the City of Melbourne has acknowledged the local artists by approving permits for street art with the building owners permission. The city requests that artists ‘do art; not tags;’ unfortunately not all youth comply and there’s a lot of tagging as well.

If you like street art, I’d recommend just rambling around and enjoy taking photos like I do. Here are 6 of My Favorite Laneways for Street Art in Melbourne:

Hosier Lane
The epitome of Melbourne’s street art – Hosier Lane – one of the originals that is constantly changing – and not always for the best, in my opinion. This is the laneway where you’ll find dozens of tourists at any time of the day. Lately, I’ve found Hosier Lane to be a bit disappointing, but at least it never stays the same.
Both of these murals have been painted over since I took these photos.
AC/DC Lane & Duckboard Place
Formerly Corporation Lane, it was renamed in 2004 in recognition of AC/DC, the rock group, as their status as Ambassadors for Australia, and its location in the rock bar district of Melbourne. The laneway is home to some great artwork – some of which is protected and will never be re-tagged. This is probably the only spot in Melbourne where you will always see the same piece of art!

Following AC/DC Lane around the bend, you will find Duckboard Place, which is another good place to find street art. While you’re down here, you might want to pop into Pastuso for some delicious ceviche and Peruvian tapas. 
This mural was just added in 2016.
Flinders Court
There’s a small laneway between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane called Flinders Court. The street art here isn’t the greatest, and I’d recommend holding your nose if you want to explore here.
Blender Lane
Since I shop weekly at the Queen Victoria Market, I’ve become quite familiar with nearby Blender Lane. Blender is filled with all kinds of street art, so you can easily take dozens of photos here! The laneway also is home to Blender Studios which comprises 15 artist studios and hosts regular street-art tours run by local artists. The 2.5-hour tour, available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, finishes at the studios where you will get to see artists and street artists at work.
Don’t forget to visit another street art laneway just around the corner off Queen Street!

Sadly, this awesome piece was tagged over about 6 months ago.
Union Lane
The street art on Union Lane was initially completed in 2008 by a collective of young artists and their professional mentors as a part of the city's Graffiti Mentoring Project. In 2010, the city commissioned more than 70 artists to redecorate the lane with their work. Unfortunately, one of my favorite murals is no longer here.
Union Lane is located off of Bourke Street, also known as Bourke Street Mall, the main shopping strip in Melbourne’s CBD.

Tattersall’s Lane & Stevenson Lane
Tattersall’s Lane is one of Melbourne’s hidden laneway gems. Located between Lonsdale and Little Bourke, this laneway is a collection of bars and street art which define the city’s lively and alternative vibe. Also just tucked off here is a smaller laneway called Stevenson Lane.

On both laneways, you’ll find an abundance of art work on the walls including heaps of Melbourne’s favorite bushranging son Ned Kelly.
Look for street art created by WRDSMTH, a “writer doing time in L.A.” as his website states. I love his cute and sometimes inspirational quotes!

For more street art locations, check out the City of Melbourne’s website and this MelbourneStreet Art blogger, which has a detailed map at the bottom of the page.

Happy hunting for street art in Melbourne!

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, April 21, 2016

K is for Kadıköy

To me, a ferry ride is a brief escape from the world. A chance to feel the cool, salty breeze on my face. A moment to watch the seagulls chase the ferry and admire the fading shoreline.

When we lived in Istanbul, taking the ferry from our neighborhood of Beşiktaş to Kadıköy was one of my favorite things to do. During these brief 20 minutes, I felt transported to a different world – a beautiful, exotic world so different from my own upbringing in the Midwest of the U.S.

Every day, barring bad weather and government closures, the iconic white and yellow Şehir Hatları ferry boats crisscross the Bosphorus Straight and will even take you all the way to the Princes Islands. The ferries cross between Beşiktaş and Kadıköy and back again twice an hour. Day time trips between the two neighborhoods is perfect, but unfortunately, the ferries stop service long before your going out hours are up and you’re stuck taking a dolmuş (a shared minivan taxi) to either side.
Once you arrive in Kadıköy, you can enjoy a pleasant walk along the Bosphorus shoreline or head straight to the pedestrian-friendly market area. Guess where I usually ended up?

In the market area, you’ll find dozens of stall holders and shop owners touting fresh fish, seasonal fruits and veggies, dried fruits, honey, nuts, cheese, baklava and more. You’ll even find the odd sheeps’ head, offal and foreign pork products for sale (a must for any displaced expat)

If you’re in the mood for lunch or dinner, head over to Çiya, a fantastic local spot which has three cafés/restaurants on Güneşli Bahçe Sokak. I visited this popular eatery many times while I lived in Istanbul and during my visits. The Turkish food features typical homemade goodies such as lentil soup, meat casseroles, mezzes and kebabs.

Just thinking about Çiya has my mouth watering! Hopefully, we’ll be visiting and eating here again later this year!

When you visit Istanbul, don’t miss out taking the ferry ride to Kadıköy and exploring this bustling neighborhood.

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 “K.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories!

TIFFIN - bite sized food adventures -
My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Just a 3-hour drive from Melbourne, you’ll find heaps of outdoor activities like bush walking and hiking as well as beautiful waterfalls, panoramic lookouts and cute wildlife nestled in the heart of the Grampians.

I’ve already mentioned that you can chase kangaroosin the small town of Halls Gap and getscared to death on a sunrise hike to Boronia Peak in the Grampians National Park. But since we did a lot of activities in less than 48 hours here, I thought I’d share another post with some helpful travel tips and recommendations on things to see. Be sure to grab a walking map from the tourist office or your motel!

The Pinnacle
One of the park’s most popular treks is to the top of The Pinnacle, which starts at the Wonderland carpark. This lookout offers breathtaking views of Halls Gap and the Grampians' many mountain peaks. You have to follow the yellowish arrows painted on the steep rock slabs, which are easy to miss at times so we got “lost” more than once.
As you get closer to the top, you hike through a gorge known as the Grand Canyon with cliffs rising 20 metets tall on either side of the track. Another tricky stretch is called Silent Street, a narrow path between the rocks which is barely wide enough for one person to squeeze through. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with commanding views over the valley and Halls Gap below. Plan on about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Living on the edge in the Grampians!
Boroka Lookout
From the Wonderland carpark, we drove along Mt Difficult Road to another stunning lookout in the Grampians – Boroka Lookout. After a short walk from the carpark to the lookout platform, you’ll be greeted with lovely 180-degree views of Western Victoria looking out over the Grampians and Lake Bellfield.

MacKenzie Falls
Next, we stopped at MacKenzie Falls, noted as one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls in the Victoria region. To see the falls, you can take the easy, 1-km path to the viewing platform at the Bluff (which is wheelchair accessible) or the steep trail which involves like 200 steps to the base of the waterfall. Guess which route we took.
Sitting near the falls so we could feel the fine mist of water to cool down, we enjoyed a picnic lunch. NOTE: Swimming is not allowed in the falls.

Broken Falls
After visiting MacKenzie Falls, take a slight detour before the carpark to see Broken Falls. This small lookout sits on the edge of a gorge and provides a sweeping view of the MacKenzie River as it flows over the Broken Falls.
Reed Lookout
After the falls, we continued driving on Mt Victory Road to reach the Reed Lookout carpark. It’s a short stroll from here to the lookout point for views of Victoria Valley. You’ll also find a lot of bizarre rock balancing formations around here. Does anyone know the symbolism of this act?
The Balconies
About walking about 2km past Reed Lookout through some forested areas, you’ll find a fantastic place to watch the sun set in the Grampians. Although the path leading out to the Balconies was closed off during our visit, hubby climbed over the fence to reach the outcrop of stacked rocks. We had just watched another hiker do the same thing so we figured why not. I stood back and took photos.
Sundial Peak
Our last hike of the day was at Sundial Peak, which offers sweeping views over Lake Bellfield and Halls Gap. According to local history, early Europeans in the area used the peak to tell the time so you’ll find a stone sundial on top. This hike is a moderately easy 4.2km return, and you should allow 1-1.5 hours. I enjoyed sitting on the edge here and having a granola bar for an afternoon snack. Hiking is tough work!
You’ll also find many spring wildflowers blooming here from October to November.

Lake Bellfield
About 4km south of Halls Gap, Lake Bellfield is a popular local lake for fly-fishing. We stopped by the lake to check it out, but the section we saw looked more like the perfect place to hide a dead body instead of fishing. Plus, the area was eerily quiet!

Look for Awesome Australian animals
According to the Victoria Parks website, the Grampians is home to some awesome Australian animals such as more than 85 birds, 23 reptiles, 22 mammals and nine frog species. And that’s just in the wild! You also can check out the Halls Gap Zoo to see more wildlife. During our weekend visit, we saw two dingoes, a handful of deer, heaps of kangaroos, cockatoos, fairy wrens, kookaburras, some lizards and one echidna in the wild.

Visit Historic Wineries
About 30 minutes east of Halls Gap, the tiny village of Great Western is home to two of Australia’s oldest wineries – SeppeltGreat Western Winery and Best’s GreatWestern Winery. Both wineries were established by the Best brothers, Henry and Joseph, in the 1860s. Henry’s vineyard, originally called Concongella, is still known as Best’s, but has been owned by the local Thomson family since the 1920s. Joseph Best’s winery was known simply as Great Western and became part of the Seppelt Company (originally started in the Barossa Valley) in 1918.
If you do the cellar door tour at Seppelt’s, don’t miss the 3km-long tunnels which were dug by the local miners in the late 1800s and completed in 1932. The tunnels are home to the storage of hundreds of old, dusty wine bottles. I would have loved to sample one of these historic bottles!

Both wineries are known for their amazing shiraz and dry, sparkling shiraz wines. Drinking a sparkling red is an Aussie Christmas tradition and one that we were happy to enjoy in December!
So whether you enjoy the great outdoors like we do or simply like strolling through small towns, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in the Grampians region!

Have you been to the Grampians? What do you enjoy most about hiking?
Pin it for later!
This post is linked up with #WeekendWanderlust by travel bloggers A Southern GypsyA Brit and a Southerner, Justin Plus Lauren and One Modern Couple. Hop on over to see more travel stories!

My Traveling Joys

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