Friday, September 25, 2015

Daytrip from Melbourne

If you only had one day to explore the rolling green hills of the Dandenong Ranges, what would you do?

Well, I compiled a list of the sights we were able to see in just one day recently. Luckily, the Dandenongs are located only an hour’s drive from Melbourne so I’m sure we’ll be back to explore some more. This area is the perfect escape from the city’s major hustle and bustle.

At 9 a.m., our first stop was at Piriandas Gardens, a beautiful woodland garden containing a unique collection of non-native plants and trees. Not much was blooming in early September yet, but the terraced gardens were full of green ferns and shrubbery. Apparently, this garden is particularly beautiful in autumn when the trees change colors. We happened to see several Sulphur-crested cockatoos and two Kookaburras here.
The gardens were created by a local couple, Harvey and Gillian Ansell, in 1959 on 28 acres. On their annual overseas holidays, the Ansells bought and imported new and unusual plants that were planted amongst the native rainforest species. In 1977, the Ansells donated the garden to the Victoria government.
2. National Rhododendron Gardens
Another lovely garden spot is the National Rhododendron Gardens, which was established in 1961 by the Australian Rhododendron Society. In spring, these gardens are home to brightly colored blooms of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, cherry trees and daffodils. The rhododendrons usually bloom from June to early December.
Did you know there are 950 species of rhododendrons in the world? Nope, I didn’t either, but this Victorian garden contains approximately 550 of these species.

We spent a little over an hour walking through the garden and admiring the pretty blooms. Note: the free gardens are much bigger than they look and include a 5-km walking trail around the perimeter. Here’s a walking trail map.

We saw this cheeky Kookaburra literally swoop down and steal some chicken from a picnic table!

The Olinda section of Dandenong Ranges National Park covers 790 hectares between Olinda, Kalorama and the Silvan Reservoir. Until 1968, huge Mountain Ash trees were felled for timber and used in the growing city of Melbourne. Now, the remaining trees are home to several Australian bird species.
From the Olinda Falls carpark, it’s a relatively easy (but muddy) walk, perhaps 10-15 minutes to access the upper falls and then 5 more minutes or so to the lower falls. These were my favorite waterfalls we saw in the Dandenongs. At the lower falls, we sat down on the wooden bench and enjoyed a mid-afternoon picnic lunch. I recommend that you do the same to avoid the crowds at the picnic grounds by the carpark.
We saw dozens of cockatoos and lorikeets here, but they were perched too high up in the trees to get any good photos. Here is a walking map of the area.
Does anyone know what these metallic blue bugs are? Such a strange color!
Touted as having the “best view of Melbourne,” the Mt Dandenong Observatory was slightly disappointing for us. First, you must pay 6 aud for the car park, and then you must navigate around dozens of people that don’t know how to park a car and throngs of families going to and from their cars here. Crowds really aren’t our thing, and on this Saturday it was particularly awful. The café was packed and the main restaurant was closed for a special event. At least my glass of white wine was only 7 aud, and we briefly enjoyed the sweeping view of Melbourne and the surrounding Victoria region.
5. William Ricketts Sanctuary
If you want a beautiful, tranquil place to reflect on life, stop at the William Ricketts Sanctuary located just down the road from the hectic observatory. Just as my good Melburnian friend recommended, this sanctuary was a true delight!
This sanctuary was created way back in the 1930s by local sculptor William Rickets when he bought a four-acre bush block and called it Potter's Sanctuary. Over the years, he made frequent trips and befriended the Pitjantjatjara and Arrente Aboriginal people, whose traditions and culture inspired his sculptures. In the 1960s, the Victorian government heard about his work and bought his property and additional adjoining land. Ricketts lived at the sanctuary into his nineties and continued to create his sculptures until his death in 1993.
This sanctuary is truly a magical place! I felt like the sculptures, half hidden among the ferns, were literally coming out of the ground and becoming part of the surrounding forest. It’s really tragic to think how the Aboriginal people were treated when the first “white people” arrived in Australia and then destroyed acres and acres of land and killed thousands of local animals such as koalas, kangaroos and wallabies.

As the afternoon light faded, we made our final stop of the day at Sherbrooke Falls, which includes a 2.4km flat trail roundtrip. (Click here to see a trail map of the area.)  We entered the trail off Terry’s Avenue and founded it to be an old, muddy logging road. Along the way, you’ll see the tons of verdant green ferns (which remind me of Jurrasic Park) and the region's finest mountain ash trees, some of them up to 200 years old. I found the falls slightly disappointing compared to the Olinda Falls, but apparently they are the most inspiring after heavy rains.
Have you visited the Dandenong Ranges? Do you have any other tips for our next trip?

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Daytrip from Melbourne

When I heard about a local festival featuring tulips and Turkish food, I knew we had to attend! It's like this event was created just for us!

Just an hour’s drive from Melbourne through the beautiful Dandenong Ranges, the Tesselaar Tulip Festival, now in its 62nd year, features more than half a million tulips and a million other spring bulbs planted on 25 acres of farmland. The festival runs through October 6th and includes an upcoming food, wine and jazz as well as Irish weekends. There’s something for everybody here!

Since we lived in Istanbul for three years, I took countless photos of the Turkish lale (tulips). I ended up doing the same thing at the Tesselaar Festival, although my husband insisted that I surely had enough tulip photos in my collection. Never enough, I told him!
We arrived right as the doors opened at 10 a.m. so we could beat the crowds and have better tulip photos sans people, of course. I was slightly disappointed more tulips weren’t open yet, but apparently the Victoria region's winter had been longer and colder than usual this year. No worries. The festival workers gave us two free late-bloomer tickets to return again.

Seeing row after row of colorful blooming tulips is certainly a feast for the eyes, don’t you think?
There once was an old woman that lived in a shoe…but I don’t consider myself old!
This wooden shoe is recorded to be the largest in the world and was carved by Aussie-born and internationally renowned chainsaw artist, Robbie Bast.
By now, you may be wondering what does Turkey and tulips have in common.

Well, tulips are native to Turkey and Central Asia and were brought to Holland in the 16th century. Because of the growing popularity of Turkish tulips, Holland experienced a period known as “Tulipmania” during the 17th century with excessive tulip prices and oversupply which resulted in market crashes. Then, during 1718-1730, known as the “Tulip Era” under the Ottoman reign of Sultan Ahmed III, tulips became an important symbol in Turkish arts, folklore and daily life. The lale symbol is still found all over Turkish ceramics and textiles.

After taking plenty of tulip photos, we wandered over to the Turkish side of the festival where a live band was playing. The only Turkish word I could grasp was “şey,” which is the American equivalent of saying “like” all the time.

Next, I found a Turkish woman from Izmir demonstrating how to do ebru, which is the art of creating patterns with colored pigments in a pan of oily water and then transferring this pattern to paper. I paid 10aud and she helped me create my own vibrant masterpiece.
By now, we were hungry so we wandered off to check out the Turkish options for food. The gözleme stand was calling my name. The Turkish family from Ankara making these spinach-cheese filled flatbreads (or pancakes) were thrilled to speak with me in my bir az Türkçe. The only item missing was the pickled veggies that are usually served alongside like at the Turkish pazar.
Since we shared the gözleme, we were still hungry and soon were tempted by the tantalizing smells coming from the nearby Adana kebab grill. We shared the kebab and an ayran to drink while we soaked up the spring sunshine and planned where we wanted to go hiking.
Even though I haven’t lived in Turkey for more than two years now, I still miss it and I think she will forever be a part of my soul. At least, this Turkish weekend and the blooming tulips brought back so many wonderful memories of my former home.
Am I really in Australia? The festival also featured free tractor rides around the farm and a sculpture garden.

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Once you’ve experienced some of the typical touristy things in Sydney, you need to stretch your imagination further and just get out there and explore the city.

On our recent second trip to Sydney, I still had a few more main sites to cross off my list in the CBD area. However, I mainly wanted to focus on exploring some outer areas such as Parramatta and Manly Beach, where we rented this cozy Airbnb apartment just a block from the water. There’s so much to see and do in Sydney that I think you could enjoy something different every time you visit! See for yourself!

Enjoy a Retro Coffee
One day I was walking quickly to Circular Quay to catch my ferry boat when I passed the retro-looking Parlour Lane Roasters. I made a mental note to return the next day. This coffee shop – a Euro-style café by day and apertivo wine bar at night – is located next door to the ornate State Theatre. The Art-Deco theatre, opened in 1929, looks like another interesting place to visit. However, I only had time to sip my flat-white while people watching and soaking up the atmosphere around me.
Admire Victorian-era Architecture
As you walk through the CBD and the Rocks, you can’t help but notice the historic, 19th-century buildings made from local sandstone amidst the modern-day high rises and skyscrapers. Since I love to wander with my Canon camera, I can’t help but stop here and there and photograph these buildings. Many of these date to the 1850s due to the city’s wealth and population increase following the gold rush era and an increase in Italian immigrants in the 1860s, which led to more ornamentation, arcades and square towers. Just look around!
Visit the Queen (Victoria Building)
Another Victorian-era beauty (dedicated to Queen Victoria II) is the QVB, designed by a Scottish architect in 1893. This building’s dominant feature is its central, copper-sheathed dome which has a stained glass window view from the interior. Here you’ll mainly find upmarket boutique and brand-name shops, but the two tea rooms and the Old Vienna Coffee House looked the most fascinating to me.

Strand Arcade
Built around the same time as the QVB, the Strand Arcade is another beautiful, historic shopping center located in Sydney’s CBD. When the Strand opened in 1892, it was described as the “finest public thoroughfare in the Australian colonies.” Definitely pop in here simply to admire the architecture or shop at one of the more normal-priced stores here.
Hyde Park
Just east of the CBD is Australia’s oldest public park, Hyde Park, which was named after the same park in London in 1810. This 40-acre park is known for its magnificent fig-tree lined paths and open space. Include a stroll through the park on your Sydney to-do list.
Anzac War Memorial
At the southern end of the Hyde Park is the Anzac War Memorial, built in 1934 to honor the Australian soldiers who fought in World War I. The marble-lined interior features a domed ceiling adorned with 120,000 gold stars, one for each of the WWI military volunteers. Take a few minutes to stop in here and reflect on all those who have fought and died for our freedom.
Free Walking Tour
I’ve often enjoyed doing free walking tours when we’ve travelled. I usually find they are a great way to explore a new city as well as learn about its local color. Unfortunately, I simply ran out of time on this trip. If interested, there’s three I’m Free Walking Tours offered daily.

Surf lessons at Manly Beach
My husband works an awful lot so his weekend treat was to take a surfing lesson. We hired a private one-on-one instructor from the well-known Manly Surf School. At 100aud ($70usd) for an hour, the private class seemed reasonable. After several failed attempts, hubby successfully stood up on his board twice during the class. He says, surfing is much tougher than it looks!
Find the Wormhole at Queenscliff
After seeing a photo on Instagram, I was determined to find this mysterious “wormhole,” with directions given as “follow the rocky path behind the Queenscliff natural pool.” Well, technically these directions are correct, but you definitely need to clamber over some rocks to find this tunnel. And the path isn’t really a path at all. The “Wormhole” is a man-made tunnel created by locals in 1908 to link Manly and Freshwater beaches. What you’ll find is a dark archway carved into the rock face and a tunnel that has been weathered smooth in places by wind, rain and sea water.
We explored the wormhole and nearby cliffs for a bit, but didn’t venture out to Freshwater beach. The old pathway still remains, but some has been covered up by rock falls.

Enjoy Skyline Views at North Head Sanctuary
From Manly Beach, we walked past Shelly Beach and then up through bushland paths and then eventually past the old North Fort and to Fairfax Lookout, which is the tip of the North Head Sanctuary. From Fairfax Lookout, you can enjoy panoramic views of the bustling Sydney Harbour and the city’s skyline.
All in all, we probably walked a good 10km on the trails that day, but were slightly disappointed to see a car park near the lookout. I guess we were hoping for a more rewarding experience since we had walked so far. (Here’s a walking map of North Head.)
Secret Beaches near Manly
Since it was such a warm day, we spotted a nearby beach on the map and decided to head that way. Collins Beach, a small patch of sand just 10 minutes from Manly Pier, seemed to be quite popular with the 20-something crowd the day we visited. Lots of beer cans were scattered here and there, so we didn’t feel so bad sipping wine from the plastic cups in our backpack. We felt like we had definitely stumbled upon a local’s secret.
River Cruise to Parramatta
Parramatta Park is home to the UNESCO listed Old Government House, established in 1799, making it Australia’s oldest public building. The “mansion” served as the country residence of the 10 early governors of New South Wales, and its interiors are preserved in the 1820s fashion. I skipped the 16aud admission ticket simply because I wasn’t that interested in British Colonial history. Instead, I wandered around the park and sat down by the riverbank to eat my take-away lunch.
The suburb town of Parramatta itself is filled with historic buildings and many cafés near the Town Hall.  A farmer’s market is held in the square every Friday, which is where I bought my delicious lunch.
Main square in Parramatta.
River views along the Parramatta.
From Circular Quay, the river cruise to Parramatta takes 90 minutes. I’d only recommend visiting if you have a lot of time and/or are interested in Colonial history. To save time, I took a 40-minute train ride back to Town Hall station in the CBD.

Since my husband often works in Sydney now, I imagine this won’t be my last trip here. Do you have any sightseeing or restaurant recommendations for my next trip?

My Traveling Joys