Wednesday, April 20, 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

Tuesday, April 12, 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?
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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

Friday, April 8, 2016

At 5 a.m., the pre-dawn sky was still as black as charcoal. This is when we started walking on an unfamiliar hiking trail in the heart of the Grampians National Park.

My husband was using a flashlight app on his mobile phone while I had a tiny LED light on a carabiner clip. Neither one was very adequate for the darkness that surrounded us.

Luckily, the first kilometer or so of the track leading up to Boronia Peak is wide and relatively flat – like part of an old logging trail which we noticed later on the hike back down. I clung closer to my husband whenever I heard strange noises coming from the native pine trees around us. Then, the trail turned more difficult and we found ourselves tripping over large rocks because we couldn’t see that well. This also is about the time that the kookaburras and other local birds started waking up.

Have you ever heard a kookaburra calling in the midnight blue haze before the sun rises? I swear it sounds like wild monkeys and will scare the crap out of you. Now imagine hearing that noise about every few minutes as you hiked up a foreign trail – knowing that everythingis out to kill you in Australia!

I could no longer cling to my husband. I knew I was overreacting. I had to suck it up and think about how amazing the sunrise would be once we reached the top.

Nearly an hour in, between the trees, we started to see flashes of pink fill the morning sky. We saw an opening to take a few photos, but noticed there was a higher peak a little ways yet to go along the trail.
During the last 10 minutes or so to reach the top of Boronia Peak, we found ourselves clambering over medium-sized boulders. My husband went first so he could pull me up some of the larger boulders. When we finally reached the top, we felt that adrenaline rush we always do after achieving a goal. It’s that moment when you feel like you really are king or queen of the world.
The sunrise wasn’t spectacular, but that didn’t matter. I still felt speechless as I gazed out onto the beautiful mountain peaks and valleys in front of us. The world really is an amazing place, and there’s so much more that I want to discover.

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
-André Gide, a French author and Nobel Prize winner in Literature
Boronia Peak details:

  • Located about 1.5km south of Halls Gap. Turn east onto Tandara Road, and park at the end of the road. Follow the hiking trail across the Fyans Creek footbridge.
  • Length: 6.6km return
  • Time: 2 hours 10 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes, roundtrip 
  • Track: Medium-grade to steep
  • Note: Bring a proper flashlight/torch if doing a sunrise hike.
Rocky section climbing down from the peak, but at least we saw a large kangaroo at the bottom of the trail.

This post is linked up with #WeekendWanderlust by travel bloggers A Southern GypsyA Brit and a Southerner, and JustinPlus Lauren. Hop on over to see more travel stories!

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Before we moved to Australia, I believed that kangaroos would be hopping around everywhere.

They don’t. They don’t hang out in the city center. They aren’t lounging in the city parks.

In fact, we didn’t cross paths with kangaroos in the wild for a few months. But when we finally did, the experience was truly captivating. In the small town of Halls Gap, located in the Grampians National Park, about 3 hours northwest of Melbourne, kangaroos DO hop around everywhere! They DO hang out on street corners and in the parks!
Suburbia problems in Australia!
Do you see the joey's head popping out of the pouch?
We watched kangaroos as they slowly munched on the grass in front of businesses and people’s homes. They also littered the grass with lots of natural fertilizer. They eyed us with suspicion as we tried to get closer to get a better photo.

Sometimes, the kangaroos would stop in the middle of eating and suddenly, seemingly effortlessly, bound away down the street. We always saw them in clusters together which is known as a mob – a mob of kangaroos. I have to wander if more kangaroos than people lived in this small town. We saw dozens of kangaroos on Heath Street as we walked into the city center for breakfast or dinner.

Caught in the act of feeding from its mother.
The best place for kangaroo spotting in Halls Gap was right behind our motel, the Kookaburra Motor Lodge. The family-run motel faces a large open field, so all we had to do was open our patio door, pull up a chair, grab a glass of wine and watch the kangaroos in utter fascination. I was amazed to watch these nimble creatures bound through the air with the forested-mountains as the scenic backdrop.

THIS is the Australia that I wanted to see!
There’s something about viewing kangaroos in the wild that is simply stunning, especially if you’ve never seen them before. I assume for Australians that seeing kangaroos gets a bit tiresome like seeing deer in the U.S. But we had a good time, and I took more than 200 photos of kangaroos, which I edited down to 100.

Generally, the best times to view kangaroos are either at dawn or dusk. However, in Halls Gap, we saw kangaroos at all times of the day. Late afternoon or early evening provided the best light to photograph the kangaroos.
Here are a few other Australian critters we saw from our motel’s patio:
Sulphur-crested cockatoo – I couldn’t resist feeding it a rice cracker.
Honeyeater, or possibly a wattlebird, which is in the same family. They use their beaks to drink nectar out of flowering trees.
A blue fairy wren darts around on the patio.
If you love the outdoors and want to see kangaroos up-close, I’d highly recommend a weekend trip to visit the Grampians.

Would you like to see kangaroos up-close too?

My Traveling Joys