Thursday, June 23, 2016

Although I usually try to avoid super touristy places, I finally gave into my love of photography to recently take some remarkable photos over Melbourne.

For the best city views, simply pay 20aud ($15USD) and take the fast elevator up 88 floors to the top of the Eureka Skydeck88. For months, I believed the cost wouldn’t be worth it, but I was wrong. You can’t get better views than this unless you live or work in one of the CBD’s skyscrapers or pay a few hundred dollars to take a helicopter ride over the city.

Located in Southbank along the Yarra River, the building dominates the city’s skyline as Melbourne’s tallest building and stands out with its 24 carat-gold-plated glass windows on the top 10 floors. The Eureka building – named after the Eureka Stockade in the 1850s – and its Skydeck offers not only views of the city but also out across Port Phillip Bay and the Bass Strait.
An aerial view of Melbourne’s CBD as seen from the Eureka Skydeck.
I arrived shortly before sunset so I could catch the rosy and fiery orange shades light up the evening sky. If I would go again, I would take advantage of the Skydeck’s Sun and Stars ticket option (5.50aud extra) which allows you to return twice on the same day or within two consecutive days.

To the west, I watched the sun set over the Yarra River, the Docklands and the Crown Casino precinct. I did have to fight my way to a clear window space so I could take photos.
Looking out over the CBD, you can see the historical Flinders Street Train station (bottom left) and St. Paul’s Cathedral across from Federation Square.
The only problem with shooting through thick glass windows is dealing with glares and flashes from other people’s cameras. In fact, I felt like I was able to get better photos with my Samsung phone because I could set the lens right up against the windows. If you want good nighttime photos, it’s best to bring a tripod to set your camera for a longer exposure.

The spire in the bottom left hand corner is on top of Melbourne’s Arts Centre, oddly kind of looking like an Eiffel Tower! Federation Square, what is considered one of the ugliest buildings in the world, is located on the left side of the Yarra.
In the top right hand corner, you’ll see a stadium called the Melbourne Cricket Ground, more commonly known as the MCG, where we've watched three footy games.
Looking out to southeast corner, here’s a view along St. Kilda Road and the Royal Botanic Gardens at night.
Chaos or home?
After taking nearly 200 photos over 2 hours, I left the Eureka Skydeck feeling a bit happier. Living as an expat in Melbourne hasn’t always been easy this past year, but these stunning views reminded me how lucky we’ve been to call this place “home” – at least for a little while.

My Traveling Joys

Monday, June 20, 2016

While friends in the Northern Hemisphere constantly post photos of themselves beachside or barbecuing, I’m rugged up in a coat, scarf and hat. It’s officially autumn, well technically winter here Down Under.

Oddly, Australia likes to celebrate the change of seasons on the first of the month. For example, June 1st meant we officially heralded in the winter season.  Meanwhile, friends in the Northern Hemisphere will be celebrating the Summer Solstice today on June 20th – the longest day of the year. On September 1st, we’ll mark the first day of spring while you “Northerners” celebrate fall.

I first started seeing signs of autumn in Melbourne back in mid-April. The leaves do start changing color even though the city has many native trees that do not drop their leaves or change color. But when the city’s numerous parks and gardens do turn, there’s something magical about the vibrant reds, yellows and browns adorned throughout the city’s streets.
Take a stroll along the Yarra River or through the CBD or Fitzroy Gardens. Unfortunately, I haven’t made it to the Botanic Gardens yet, but I understand the autumn display here is quite wonderful.
Now, even in the middle of June, I’ve found plenty of color around the city to photograph. However, I will admit that are rainy, cold, crappy days have started setting in for good, I’m afraid.
Edinburgh Gardens in North Fitzroy is one of Melbourne's most popular parks with its large footy grounds and bike trails.
In case you haven’t heard, Melbourne has a reputation for having “four seasons in one day.” I quickly learned this is true. Be sure to always carry a cardigan, scarf, umbrella and your sunnies (sunglasses) with you no matter what the forecast says! I’ve been left in the rain on several occasions when I thought surely the blue skies wouldn’t turn on me, but oh yes, they will. Trust me!
Blue skies can be quite deceptive!
This autumn, we've been lucky to sit outside on several weekends and enjoy a pint along the Yarra River.
Just dress in layers (and more layers) and you’ll be prepared for pretty much any situation that Melbourne’s autumn can throw at you.
St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne.
On a nice autumn day, you can rent a boat at the Studley Park Boat House. 
The many shades of autumn in Melbourne. This time in the Malvern/Hawthorne neighborhoods.
An autumn sunset in Melbourne.

My Traveling Joys

Saturday, June 18, 2016

M is for Marseille

If you wake up around sunrise during summer months in Marseille, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy both the city’s lovely basilica and bustling fish market.

Two years ago during our French road tripwith our grandparents, we spent one night in the Vieux Port (Old Port) of Marseille. While I had imagined a quaint seaside town with relaxing strolls along the waterfront, the reality was quite different. We encountered horrendous traffic from the Marseille airport into the city, and then the hotel and its parking garage was impossible to find along many one-way streets. Let’s just say by the time we arrived at our hotel, everyone was irritated and needed a drink!

Still, one of the highlights of our short stay in Marseille was our early morning 2-km walk uphill to see the picturesque Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica. Perched on a hilltop south of Vieux Port, this Catholic church features a panoramic view of Marseille, the mountains, the Mediterranean Sea and nearby islands in the distance. The views alone are worth the strenuous hike uphill!

Built between 1853 and 1864, this Romanesque-Byzantine style basilica is decorated with colored marble and many murals depicting the safe passage of sailing vessels and superb mosaics. The structural elements inside reminded us of many churches and churches turned mosques that we’ve seen in Turkey.

After exploring the hilltop, we wandered downhill to find a patisserie and refueled with a dose of sugar and caffeine. To my delight, we arrived back in the port just in time to watch the fishermen setting up for Marseille's outdoor Fish Market (Le Marché de la Pêche). The market is held every morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. How I wish we had a kitchen to cook some of this amazingly fresh seafood!
To me, this image really sums up the Marseille fish market!
If hubby and I ever return to Marseille, I doubt we’d be staying in the touristy port area. We like more off-the-beaten path locations, but this sufficed for our grandparents for one night and that’s all that matters.

I’m linking this post to the monthly travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at TiffinBite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “M.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories!
TIFFIN - bite sized food adventures -
My Traveling Joys

Friday, June 10, 2016

At one time in history, I’m going to guess there were dozens and dozens of old castles located in the Dolny Sląsk (Lower Silesia) region of Poland – built to protect borders and secure trading routes.

I’d wager that guess because during my 4-day road trip here I saw 10 castles and the badly deteriorating ruins of an 11th castle (plus palatial palaces and historic churches). Maybe I could have seen a few more, but I was already pushing the number of things I did during that short time. Most tourists would have planned a saner travel schedule, but not me. This was my last BIG trip in Poland, so I wanted to make it count!

Most of these castles have histories dating back to the 12th to 14th centuries when castles were needed as strongholds in the area. During the 15th and 16th centuries, castles and palaces served as official residences of the country’s lords and bishops. However, the importance of defensive castles began to decline as early as the 17th century because of advanced artillery. This issue was brought to the forefront during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) with the Swedes, which damaged many castles and some were never rebuilt after the war.

In the 18th century after Silesia became part of Prussia, some of the castle owners started rebuilding their castles into palaces while others fell into ruin after owners left them behind. This was the case with Zamek Pankowie I came across, hidden amongst the trees.

Although some castles have faded into history, I still found plenty to see in this picturesque part of the Lower Silesian landscape. Here is my list for 10 Must-See Castles in Lower Silesia Poland.

BTW, zamek is the Polish word for castle, so I’ve used that word to describe the castles.

Zamek Sobótka-Górka
Forty minutes after leaving the Wrocław airport with my lil red rental car, I arrived at ZamekSobótka-Górka, which operates as a hotel and restaurant. I walked in and didn’t see anyone for a bit so I simply started wandering. This building functioned as a Romanesque monastery, which was rebuilt several times, between the 12th and 17th centuries. From what I understand, there may still be a chapel on premise, but not one that I saw on my self-guided tour. In the mid-1800s, the Prussian von Kulmitz family bought the former monastery and had it reconstructed into a Neo-Renaissance castle.
Today, two Romanesque lion sculptures, re-discovered during renovations, stand guard near the entrance. This would be the perfect place for a wedding party or other celebration!
GPS: 50.887228, 16.707851

Zamek w Domaniacach
I couldn’t find much information about Zamek w Domaniacach since it is closed to the public and possibly owned by Union of Polish Scenes’ Actors. As I tried to get closer from the road to take some photos, two dogs starting barking at me. This castle, originally built in 13th century, was remodeled extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries and has 125 rooms. This estate, surrounded by stone defense walls with bastions, also consists of a pavilion, granary, horse stables, guardhouse and storage buildings.
Zamek Pankowie
If you blink, you would easily miss this stop. I almost did as I was trying to figure out where my GPS was taking me. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a quick peek at Zamek Pankowie, which dates to the 14th century, near the village of Panków. The castle, surrounded by a moat and ponds, served as a fortified manor house, a hunting lodge and a local residence before finally being destroyed during WWII.
GPS: 50.898855, 16.527435

Zamek w Piotrowice Swidnickie
Built between 1568-1591, Zamek w Piotrowice Swidnickie is located 10 km north of the small town of Swidnica. This castle features four round towers at the corners, decorated in the Renaissance style, is privately owned and closed to the public. In fact, the castle has served as a private residence for noble families for the past 400 years! I only had a slight detour off the main road in order to photograph this castle from an empty field.
Zamek Książ
Allocating only 2 hours or so to tour Zamek Książ, simply wasn’t enough time! Standing dramatically on a steep hill, encircled by a gorge, the 13th century castle towers majestically over the area. Being the third largest castle in Poland with 415 rooms, Książ is often called “the pearl of Lower Silesia.” With so many rooms, it’s easy to see why the castle is used as a hotel and for special events.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, Czech and Hungarian kings ruled the castle. In 1509, the aristocratic von Hoberg (later Hochberg) family acquired the castle, which was continuously enlarged and remodelled until well into the 20th century. Today, you can follow a self-guided tour through the castle and see some of these beautifully restored rooms

The castle features excellently manicured English-style gardens outside and is surrounded by a forest within a 315,000-acre nature reserve.
Książ remained in the Hochberg family until 1941 when the Nazis, under Hitler’s direct orders, confiscated the castle and began construction of a mysterious underground complex beneath the building and surrounding areas. The tunnels were dug by Polish, Hungarian and Greek Jews who were prisoners of the Nazis. A visit to the nearby underground city of Gluszyca-Osowka will give you an idea of the giant scale of Hitler’s Project Riese, which included Książ. The castle has a small exhibit with old photos explaining its history during WWII.
Check out the magnificent, restored 18th-century Maximilian Hall, which is the largest room in the castle. Don’t forget to look up and admire the ornate ceiling (designed in 1733), painted with mythological scenes.
Zamek Grodno
As I recently wrote, Zamek Grodno was myfavorite medieval castle in Lower Silesia. It’s certainly not the biggest, but I really enjoyed this intriguing-looking castle nestled in the Owl Mountains. Please read that post to learn more about Zamek Grodno.
Zamek Niesytno
Dating originally to the 13th century, it’s not known who built Zamek Niesytno, located about 10 minutes away from Bolków. The castle, later turned into a palace, played a role in WWII when German airmen (the Luftwaffe) resided here before joining the eastern front in battle. Unfortunately, much of the castle lays in ruins now, but during my spring visit, builders were working on renovation projects here.
GPS: 50.903985, 16.003548

Zamek Bolków
Originally built in the 12th century, Zamek Bolków helped protect the trade route to the Czech border and to Jelenia Góra. In the 16th century, the castle was expanded to a total area of 7,600 square meters, making it one of the largest castles in Silesia.

Although built on a hill overlooking the small town of Bolków, the castle disappeared from my view as I walked from the town square. I was pleasantly surprised walking around the old ramparts and admiring the view. There was no fee on the day I visited.
GPS:  50.921549, 16.097808

Zamek Chojnik
If you want a difficult, 30-minute climb that leaves you scrambling over giant boulders and exposed tree routes, hike up the black route to see Zamek Chojnik! When I stopped at the park’s information office, I inquired about how to see the castle, and the guide told me that the black route was “more interesting.” Now, I love hiking, but apparently part of the trail had been washed out recently, making my solo climb quite tough! On the way down, I took the mostly paved red route.
Once you reach the top, you’ll find Zamek Chojnik perched on the hilltop (627m or 2,057ft) within the Karkonosze National Park, overlooking the Jelenia Góra valley. What started as a wooden hunting lodge in 1292 turned into a huge stone fortress. In 1392, a knight related to the noble Schaffgotsch family, took over the castle and it remained in this family until 1945. In 1675, the castle was struck by lightning and was never rebuilt to its former glory.
Zamek Czocha
Another unique castle to include on your Lower Silesia road trip is the one that’s connected to the Harry Potter series in a way. Zamek Czocha, appearing dark and gloomy from the outside, is being used as the setting of the College of Wizardry, a live action role-playing game (LARP) that takes place in the Harry Potter universe. You can read more about this 18th century castle in this blog post.
Zamek Grodziec
Located at the top of an extinct volcano, Zamek Grodziec overlooks the picturesque scenery of Lower Silesia. The castle’s history dates back to 1155, but its present-day Gothic-Renaissance structure is from the late 15th century when the Prince of Legnica brought in master bricklayers from Wrocław to expand it.
In the 19th century, the von Hochberg family from Książ took over the castle and ordered more preservation and reconstruction work. Later after several owner changes, German Emperor Wilhelm II was a guest during the re-opening after the completion of renovations in 1908. The castle was later transferred to Silesian Society of History and Antiquarianism Lovers for use as a museum, restaurant and a hotel.

If you’re lucky, you can stay the night at Zamek Grodziec, wander around the rooftop ramparts like I did and watch a medieval tournament.

Which castle in Lower Silesia would be your favorite?

My Traveling Joys