Wednesday, November 30, 2016

As I woke up to one of the coldest days in London so far (0C/32F), I immediately wished I could either stay in bed under our warm down comforter or transport myself to a beach.

Unfortunately, neither option was a reality since I had to get up for work.

Still, my day trip to Rottnest Island, off the coast of Perth in Western Australia, tops my list as one of the most interesting trips this year. I spent the entire day looking for quoakkas, relaxing on nearly empty beaches and then sweating my butt off while I cycled around this 19km² island.

After I stepped off the ferry with my pre-booked bike rental, I headed to the information center to grab a map and fill up my water bottle. I decided I wanted to get out of the main touristy area as soon as possible so I would have more time to explore the island by myself.

If you plan to cycle around the island, Geordie Bay, about 1.5km west of the port, is the last place to fill up on supplies and fresh water. There is absolutely nothing available on the non-developed western side of the island except for cuddly quoakkas, deadly snakes and gorgeous beaches. I would recommend having at least two water bottles, especially during summer, because it’s a hot ride – about 24km. around the island.

At Geordie Bay, I found a pleasant outdoor café where I ordered breakfast and then decided to take advantage of the tempting nearby beach. Granted I visited on a weekday, but this beautiful beach was nearly empty on a hot summer day. I imagine the weekends are packed. More than 500,000 people visit this small island every year.
I soaked up some sun for an hour or so and then decided I’d better keep trekking if I wanted to explore as much of the island as possible. This daytrip was my first time cycling in a foreign place without my husband. I had to push myself to ride up the hills and even walk the bike a few times when I felt worn out.

But the impressive views were worth it!

If I were to visit Rottnest again or if I had more time, I think I would do a boat snorkeling tour. Being on a boat seemed like the next best way to explore the tranquil Caribbean-blue waters surrounding the island.

On the far western side of the island, a colony of New Zealand fur seals call the Cathedral Rocks home. Here they hunt for small fish or squid. I watched the seals frolic in the calm waters from the safety of the viewing deck while two stupid tourists went down into the water and tried to swim closer to the seals. Barriers are built for a reason, people!
A little blurry but you can still see the New Zealand fur seals 

Down the road, I found another secluded spot where I took a dip in the water to cool off for a bit. It was such a unique experience to be myself and make all these new adventures while also having to remain aware of my surroundings. Definitely don’t want to run into a killer Australian snake while you’re by yourself! A leisurely non-stop ride around the island should take at least 2.5 hours, but basically I took nearly seven hours to stop here and there and enjoy the Aussie sunshine.

The beauty of Rottnest Island is clearly evident in every little swimming nook. I only wish I had more time to explore it more!

My Traveling Joys

Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving from London!

Homemade desserts: top: blueberry pie and tres leches cake
Bottom: my pecan pie and a pumpkin pie.

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

R is for Rüstem Paşa Mosque

Down the backstreets in Istanbul, you’re bound to find some type of interesting architecture dating back a few hundred years.

One of my favorite areas to wander was Eminönü, home to the tantalizing scents of the Spice Bazaar. Past the smiling sellers touting everything from handmade wooden spoons and baskets to local Turkish cheeses and coffee, you could even miss the doors to one of my favorite mosques here. The Rüstem Paşa Mosque, built in 1560, is one of the city’s architectural gems.

Designed and built by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who also designed the nearby Süleymaniye Mosque and other impressive structures in Edirne, planned Rüstem Paşa Mosque with a unique octagonal plan. Although small, the mosque is covered with intriguing Inzik painted tiles, particularly in vibrant red, which was a difficult color to obtain back in the day.
Also, as you look around, be sure to notice also the kündekâri doors of carved and inlaid wood and the intricate gilded trim high on the walls and ceiling in the vestibule. The mosque truly is a work of art!
A bit of interesting here is that the mosque was paid for by Rüstem Paşa, one of the wealthiest men in the Ottoman Empire as well as the son-in-law and a grand vizer of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Of course, his namesake mosque couldn’t rival that of his master’s so he selected a site amid the busy market, just downhill from the Süleyman's grand mosque. Rüstem Paşa also is remembered in history for having plotted with Süleyman's wife, Hürrem, to denounce Prince Mustafa, Süleyman's son and heir to the throne. Süleyman had Mustafa beheaded, which allowed Hürrem’s son, Prince Selim, to inherit the throne after the sultan’s death – and this started the long decline of the Ottoman Empire. What drama!

Anyway, the Rüstem Paşa Mosque is definitely worth seeking out when you visit Istanbul, don’t you think?

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 “R.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

TIFFIN - bite sized food adventures -
My Traveling Joys

Friday, November 18, 2016

After a week’s worth of depressing news from the U.S. that’s made me cry and get angry, I figure it’s about time to take us all to one of my happy places. I wish I was there right now!

Just a 30-minute ferry boat ride off the west coast of Western Australia (from Perth’s Fremantle neighborhood to be exact) lies a beautiful island where an adorable, playful marsupial lives called a quokka. More than likely you’ve never even heard of a quokka because this vulnerable creature only lives in a few places in Australia.
Fortunately, I spent one blistering hot, summer day leisurely cycling around Rottnest Island to frolic on its gorgeous, nearly deserted beaches and be on the look out for quokkas. Sometimes I found them hiding under bushes. Sometimes they would approach the side of the road as I stopped for a water break. One tried to nearly scramble up my leg as I ate my much-deserved ice cream cone! Quokkas appeared to be everywhere!
In fact, the quokka population on Rottnest Island is between 8,000-12,000 (data from 2008). Dangerous snakes are largely the quokka's only predator on the island unlike the mainland where foxes, dogs, dingoes and deforestation pose a problem. On Australia’s mainland, an estimated 4,000 quokkas live here, with nearly all those populations in groups of less than 50, although there is one declining group of more than 700 in the Southern Jarrah-Karri Forest. So basically, if you want to see these cute critters, head to Western Australia.

Per local history, quokkas were one of the first Australian mammals seen by Europeans. In 1658, the Dutch mariner Samuel Volckertzoon wrote of sighting "a wild cat" on Rottnest Island. In 1696, another Dutch explorer mistook them for giant rats and thus named the island "Rotte nest,” which comes from the Dutch word rattennest meaning “rat nest.” The word quokka is actually derived from an Australian aboriginal tribe which was probably gwaga.
Mamma quokka and her lil joey. How cute!
Anyway, the popular thing to do on Rottnest Island is to take a quokka selfie. Squat down on the ground and try to capture yourself and one of the cute critters in the frame at the same time. I tried to do so as you can see from my photos. You can even search on Instagram for the hashtag #quokkaselfie which pulls up 9,460 posts!
Once you spot a quokka, if you get lucky, it will appear to smile, which is how this charming creature earned the moniker “the world’s happiest animal.”
As you can see, quokkas certainly are cute, and hopefully they brightened up your day as well.
 I guess you can see why the Dutch thought quokkas looked like a rat.
No quokkas allowed in the local store!
Hey quokka, don't steal my ice cream! ;)
My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

At 7 a.m., I woke up in London to the sound of raindrops on my window and a coughing fit. I rolled over to check my phone for messages and then wished I hadn’t.

I realized I would be spending my first day off from a new job in tears or anger or both and with stuffed up sinuses! I made a cup of coffee and decided, what the hell, might as well pour a double shot of Baileys into it. Call it an adult-flavored coffee creamer.
Today, I’m sad to be an American. Actually, I’m devastated. I can’t believe that my fellow U.S. citizens actually elected Donald Trump to be our next president. This is really a WTF moment! Has the world gone completely mad? We didn’t think Brexit would happen, but then it did. I didn't even want to move to London at first after the Brexit vote, but then we did.

I’m shocked, but then when I think about it, in some ways, I’m not surprised. During my September U.S. visit to see friends and family members after an 18-month absence, I was shattered to hear the hatred spew from the mouths of people I’m related to (some by marriage) and others that are considered friends. I heard racial slurs. One person told me Michelle Obama was racist. I heard people say nasty things against all immigrants and Muslims to my face. I couldn’t take it anymore. Don’t you people realize we lived in Turkey for nearly 3 years and have a lot of Muslim friends? Do you know how much I loved our life in Istanbul? Did you forget all this? Didn’t you come from a family of Italian immigrants that came to the U.S. for a better life? Even my German ancestors fled to the US in the 1860s to escape religious persecution because they were Lutherans.

My responses fell on deaf ears. These people had already made up their minds. And I was told, times were different then. I don’t believe that.

Can you really call yourself a Christian if you hate other people/other races? I don’t think so. How can you call yourself a Christian if you voted for Trump who was supported by the KKK? I’ve stopped believing in religion anymore because I think people only believe the parts they want to believe of their religion. It’s been proven time and time again, especially lately.

In many ways, I feel like the current international political climate is reverting to a world as it was nearly 100 years ago. Are people really so quick to forget about what one egocentric man did when he came into power in Germany and started World War II? I bet none of my Jewish or Polish friends have forgotten. 

Take a look at the United Kingdom and its Brexit vote, the Philippines and its crazy leader, Poland and its changes to freedom of speech and recent protests against a potential abortion ban, Turkey – where do I even start with its RTE regime and current problems; and Russia is always lurking in the corners, trying to take back Eastern Europe and conquer the world. We are doomed if Trump and Putin become best friends. They can be bigly together.

Will gay marriage, Roe vs. Wade and womens’ rights be overturned in Trump’s world?

Honestly, I’m scared what might happen in this NEW world. I should have just stayed in bed today.

Tomorrow, I’ll have to wake up at 5:30 a.m. and go into work and try to explain this crappy election to my British and Italian co-workers. All I can hope for is that our UK work visas get renewed in 2018 so we can continue to live abroad as long as possible.

Unfortunately, this American doesn’t plan on visiting the U.S. for a long time. If anyone wants to visit us here, we have a spare room!
At least we did our part and voted from abroad.
My Traveling Joys