Wednesday, May 25, 2016

It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I took a 4-day solo road trip in southwest Poland – a place we had called home for 27 months but would soon be leaving.

As an expat, we do tend to move a lot – at least more than the average person. Our life depends on where my husband’s job takes us. Since hubby had already left to start his new job in Australia, I found myself with 5 weeks to entertain myself and spend with friends.

In my opinion, late spring is the best time to visit Poland. The winter months are filled with many never-ending gray, dark days. Finally, when spring arrives, you almost want to shout Hallelujah! The Polish countryside, especially in the Dolny Sląsk (Lower Silesia) region, are filled with endless fields of brilliant yellow rzepak (canola/rapeseed), red poppies and other wild flowers. I loved being able to stop whenever I wanted on my road trip and take photos of all the beautiful flowers!
Did you know that Poland is one of the leading producers of rapeseed oil in the European Union? Other top producers included Germany, France and the U.K.
Dolny Sląsk, located in the south-western part of Poland, appealed to me basically for the sheer number of castles it contains. I love exploring and I love road trips! Win win!
Taking selfies in front of Polish castles.
Thank goodness my dad taught me how to drive a manual car!
Just me and the open roads in Lower Silesia, Poland!
This region has seen many changes in rulers leading up to 1945: it was under the authority of Czechs, Poles, Habsburgs and Germans and many of them left behind their castles and palaces. Back in 1742, most of Silesia was conquered by Prussia, later becoming part of the German Empire. After WWI, an eastern strip of Upper Silesia was awarded to Poland and the rest later became part of the Czech Republic. Polish Silesia was among the first regions invaded during Germany's 1939 attack on Poland. Following WWII, the lines were redrawn again between Germany and Poland. Millions of Germans living in Silesia either fled or were expelled, and were replaced by Polish population settled from other regions.

As I drove through the Dolny Sląsk countryside, I found numerous abandoned great palaces that were probably once owned by wealthy Germans. In fact, I later learned on my trip that many Germans lately have been returning to this area to seek out their ancestry. That’s something I can relate to because all I really know is that my ancestry is German, but perhaps relatives once lived in the Prussia region too.
I wonder who once lived here. This fancy house had a 2-meter tall iron fence surrounding it and the large property.
Another reason to visit Dolny Sląsk in the springtime is to see the annual migration of the white storks. Each spring, Poland welcomes home roughly 25 percent of thenearly 325,000 white storks that breed across Europe. After wintering in Africa, the storks return to Poland, mainly in the northeast provinces, to nest and are attracted to tall trees or specially-constructed wooden poles. Fortunately, I saw several of these gigantic white storks on my road trip.
In my upcoming blog posts, I’ll talk about the Polish castles, historic churches and other sites I saw on my road trip in Dolny Sląsk. I didn’t find a lot of tourist information in English for this area, so hopefully I can provide some travel tips. Stay tuned for more travel adventures!
Just another cute Polish village in the countryside.
This is what a rural firehouse looks like in southwest Poland. Love the red!
Where has been your favorite road trip?

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

After wilting from the unrelenting sun in Athens, fortunately, we had booked an all-day city escape to the nearby Greek islands.

Our “One-Day Saronic Cruise” included the ports at Hydra, Poros and Aegina – all Saronic Islands of Greece. When I looked back through our photos recently, I noticed all the cute donkey photos. How could I not share these with you all and why hadn’t I done so earlier?
Hubby and me on our donkeys on Hydra.
Anyway, shortly we docked at Hydra port, about an hour from Athens by boat, we noticed several donkeys waiting near the whitewashed buildings. I love animals (riding camels) and convinced my husband and our friends that we should do the touristy thing and take a donkey ride around the small town.

Donkeys are the island’s main mode of public transport as the entire island of Hydra is blissfully car free (sans a few motorized rubbish trucks). Well, from what I understand, the donkeys and mules are often used to transport larger items, baggage, and heavy shopping to people’s homes in the hills. But the donkeys also are available for tourist rides. I recall paying about 10 euros each for our brief ride around the steep, narrow streets.

All you could hear was the clip-clop of the saddled donkeys’ hooves on the stone pavement as we toured the local streets. How peaceful would it be to spend the night on this idyllic island?
After our donkey ride, we wandered over to a few seaside cafés (located to the right of the harbor) so we could take a dip in the refreshing Aegean Sea. I did write about our swimming experience off the coast of Hydra. Not for the faint of heart! 
Donkeys, the clear, blue sea and white-washed buildings were good enough reasons to escape the city for the day. You know, I think we really need to go back and properly explore the Greek islands. What do you think?
Note: We used this travel agency to book our boat tour – Fantasy Greece. The cost per person is 85 euros. 

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When a good friend recently asked me for traveling advice to Athens, I cringed.

Well, I told her, Athens was not my favorite city. I found it dirty, rundown and bloody hot during our August visit nearly five years ago. Compared to Istanbul, Athens disappointed me – BIG TIME!

However, always trying to see the glass-half-full kinda thing, I decided to look back through my hundreds of photos and come up with good reasons to visit Athens.

1. Ancient Ruins
Of course, wandering through the Acropolis and seeing the ancient columns of the Parthenon lit up at night on the hilltop was AMAZING! What’s also cool is the numerous restaurants in the Monastiraki neighborhood that featured rooftop dining. Here you could enjoy a Greek salad, freshly caught fish and the fine views of said historical ruins.
The Parthenon, the largest Doric temple to be completed in Greece, truly captures ancient Greece’s glory. The temple featured eight Doric columns in the façade and 17 columns lined each side.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a stone theater, built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus, who constructed it in memory of his wife, Regilla. During the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, when it’s open to the public, you can see performances of music, dance and drama here.
We were fortunate to see the newly opened Acropolis Museum, which houses Acropolis artifacts and preserved marble carvings, at night. Check to see when nighttime visits are allowed.
The Parthenon lit up at night as seen from the Acropolis Museum.
2. Pork, Pork and More Pork
Since we were living in Turkey, we rarely got to eat pork. Sure, we could find expensive pork at some places and maybe bacon for breakfast, but generally we would stuff our suitcases full of pork on our European travels! However, in Athens, we were in pork heaven and ate it nearly every meal on our 3-day trip!
If you love pork like we do, don’t miss out trying the pork souvlaki skewers or shaved pork for döner kebabs. Add a Greek salad on the side to make your meal a bit healthier.
3. Greek Iced Coffee
August must be the worst month to visit Athens! We found half the city’s shops and restaurants shut down because people were on vacation, and the temperatures were unrelenting at mid 30s C/90s F. The blazing hot, dry weather made us thirsty! My go-to drink was a Greek Frappe, an iced coffee drink made with instant coffee granules and slightly sweetened. A frothy frappe is the perfect pick-me-up in Greece!
(NOTE: we never would have chosen to travel in August, but we were traveling with US friends who were on vacation.)

Why Athens Disappointed Me
While standing atop the Acropolis was a fantastic experience, wading through hordes of pushy tourists was not.
I also was disappointed to see the Parthenon and other ancient structures covered in metal scaffolding and nearby construction cranes. I understand that the Greek ruins are old, but I had gotten so used to seeing historic Greek, Roman and Hittite ruins in Turkey in their more natural states. To this day, my favorite ruins we’ve seen are located in the ancient city of Aphrodisias, with a massive stadium dating back to 1st century AD!

During the summer, Athens becomes a sweltering, dusty, landlocked city. There’s no relief from the constant sunshine until nightfall. In Istanbul, even though temperatures do get just as hot, the city is located along the Bosphorus and the Black Sea so you have the cooling sea breezes to provide relief. In Athens, you have to drive about 30 minutes to reach the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s difficult not to have expectations of a place that you’ve heard and read so much about over the years. Athens was like that for me. I’ve read a few other bloggers, such as Dangerous Business, express similar feelings as me. I just expected Athens to impress me.
So is Athens worth seeing? Yes!

Would I visit again? Maybe. I still haven’t done the Greek islands properly, so that’s always a possibility.

Maybe it’s better NOT to have expectations. What do you think?

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 or link up yourself!

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

L is for Lycia

Although Turkey is filled with ancient ruins and temples, one of the best areas to see these historical sites is the former region of Lycia.

Lycia existed as an independent state from 1250–546 BC in the area of present day Turkey between the bays of Antalya and Fethiye, a compact, mountainous territory along the Mediterranean Sea. Lycia has a complex history with various rulers over the years, but was granted autonomy as a protectorate (controlled and protected by) of Rome in 168 BC and remained so until becoming a Roman province in 43 AD under Emperor Claudius. In Homer’s writings, he frequently referred to Lycia as an ally of nearby Troy, located in Troad along the Aegean peninsula. (See Lycia map here.)

When we lived in Istanbul, we road tripped to see some of the ancient Lycian cities including Tlos, which I wrote about before. Tlos, perched high up on a hill overlooking the beautiful Xanthos Valley, is one of the oldest and largest settlements of Lycia. This ancient city later was inhabited by the Romans, Byzantines and eventually the Ottoman Turks, making it one of few Lycian cities to be continually inhabited until the 19th century.

At Tlos, you’ll find dozens of Lycian-era rock cut tombs and sarcophagi – some as old as the 3rd century BC. What’s interesting about the Lycian tombs is that they often were carved directly into the rocky hillside complete with slanting roofs and intricate columns. Researchers have counted about 1,085 rock-cut tombs in the entire Lycian region.
Top left, you can see the Lycian tombs carved into the hillside and the sarcophagi below.
(It was difficult to choose only one photo for this travel post.)
Researchers also think that the Lycians believed that the souls of their dead would be transported from these tombs to the afterworld by a sort of winged siren-like creature. That’s why the tombs often were placed along the coast or at the top of cliffs. At Tlos, in a steep cliff inaccessible by humans, is one tomb, said to be that of the Greek Mythology hero, Bellerophon and his immortal winged flying horse Pegasus.

These elaborate tombs are visually striking and should not be missed when you visit the Southwest coast of Turkey!

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 “L.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories!
TIFFIN - bite sized food adventures -
My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

If you are at all afraid of heights, you do NOT want to climb up here!

Located just 19 km off the Great Ocean Road, the Otway Fly Treetop Walk boasts itself as the highest and longest steel canopy walk in the world – and it’s found right here in Australia. I’m all for adventure, but I freaked out a bit when I first stepped out onto the metal walkway – 30 meters (about 8 stories) above ground level! If you're an thrill seeker, you can even do a zipline through the forest.
Looking down, all you see is lush palm trees, greenery and a jungle of trees – mainly Myrtle Beech and Blackwood trees. It almost looks like a scene from a Jurassic Park movie – as if you’re waiting for a pterodactyl to come swooping down out of the sky!
In fact what you’re looking down at is the Otway Cool Temperate Rainforest – a landscape that dates back 140 million years to Gondwana when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I’d never heard of a cool temperate rainforest until this trip, but the Otway Rainforest exists because of a lot of rain, in fact the highest rainfall in Victoria. The Otways are the most westernly located cool temperate rainforest in Australia.
Starting from the visitor’s center, the walk is a 1.9km round walk and takes about 45 minutes or so, depending on how many photos you want to take. There are several interactive panels along the way with information about the surrounding to one hour to complete.
In the middle of the walk, you also can climb up a 45-meter high tower via a spiral staircase. You’ll be rewarded with even more amazing views over the rainforest and the fellow walkers below.
Walking through the Otways here you’re reminded just how diverse and gorgeous Australia’s scenery is! Don’t miss the Otway Fly Treetop Walk when you visit the Great Ocean Road!
An Eastern Yellow Robin
I swear, the tree was this big!

My Traveling Joys