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Just Me Travel

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JOIN A PHOTO SAFARI – a unique way to see amazing Amsterdam

What better way to capture a city than through a photography tour or workshop with a local? That’s just what I did when I signed up for two photography tours…

What better way to capture a city than through a photography tour or workshop with a local? That’s just what I did when I signed up for two photography tours in Amsterdam with Amsterdam Photo Safari – the 6-hour walking night photography tour (5.30pm to 11.30pm) and the 5-hour walking day photography tour (11.00am to 4.00pm).

Ruud was my guide and tutor on both photography tours. Amsterdam is his home. I had Ruud to myself for both tours. This was simply luck of the draw as I had not booked private tours. As we walked around Amsterdam’s districts, he exposed this amazing city’s personality; opening up its beating heart and its multi-facetted soul. Ruud took me to places I would never have got to as a traveller. His knowledgeable stories brought Amsterdam to life for me. According to Ruud, “Every photo has a story and to every story there is a photo”. Not only did I feel I improved my photography skills from the guided tuition of a professional photographer who was an excellent teacher, but I discovered Amsterdam from a born storyteller. I found my time with Rudd increased my consciousness of my surroundings. Particularly in terms of what to photograph; what will make an interesting photo; and what will make a photo pop. Thank you Ruud.

Amsterdam house with reflections in windows

Buildings reflected in every window of a house in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Photo Safari cater for all skill levels. I describe myself as an amateur photographer with (now) intermediate skills. I firmly believe that no one is ever too skilled to learn new things. Ruud gave me the confidence to use manual focus (I have a DSLR camera); showing how it better captures a subject that is, for example, reflected in a window or puddle of water. He provided positive and constructive feedback. At no time was I made to feel inadequate.

Ruud’s focus was on me, my learning, my camera, my photography. I believe this was not simply because I was the only participant. Even had there been other participants, the focus still would have been ‘individual’. This was important for me as I was extremely annoyed (to say the least) on one photography holiday a number of years ago where the photography tutor was more interested in the photographs he could capture for himself than those of his paying guests.

Ruud was very keen on shallow depth of field; recommending I set the camera’s f-stop to f/3.5 (the lowest my camera will go). For those non-photographers, shallow depth of field is the immediate foreground in focus, for example a box of flowers or a bicycle (plenty of those in Amsterdam), and the background out of focus (blurred). My passion is travel photography and I doubted such shallow depth of field would suit my purposes. Ruud’s argument was that even though the background is blurred, it is still recognisable and produces a more creative photo. See the photos below for a visual explanation of what I am referring to. While I went along with Rudd, I thought I would never use such a shallow depth of field with my travel photography. I am also someone who wants everything in the photo in focus. So, to find myself using f/3.5 on my further travels through Europe, I surprised myself and silently thanked Ruud. I now have some pretty good, creative photos to add to my memories of the places I have been.

The sign of a good photography tutor is one who can work their way around any camera brand, no matter how unfamiliar they might be with different brands. Ruud’s camera of choice is a Sony, while mine is a Nikon. Rudd admitted he was not overly familiar with Nikons. However, I would not have picked up on this without him telling me. The only hint came during the night photography tour. I had my tripod (these can be hired from Amsterdam Photo Safari at a minimal cost) but had left my remote shutter release back in my hotel room (clever!). I couldn’t remember how to set the in-camera timer. Ruud wasn’t fazed by this. After a quick, unfruitful play with my camera’s dials, out came his mobile phone and an internet search quickly told us where the timer was. No shooting time or opportunities lost.

Given that I live in Australia, all my communications with Amsterdam Photo Safari was via email. Booking with Amsterdam Photo Safari was made so easy thanks to the prompt and detailed responses to my email queries. Payment was made through PayPal (no account required). I even managed to negotiate a discount with Amsterdam Photo Safari for booking two photography tours with them. Once booked, communication from Amsterdam Photo Safari did not cease as they kept me informed with who would be my photography tutor, the meeting place, time etc. Thanks Barry.

Barry went above and beyond, suggesting (unrelated to Amsterdam Photo Safari) places near Amsterdam worth visiting; one of which I added to my itinerary. I was not disappointed.

Comfortable walking shoes are essential. Even though we stopped for coffee breaks, to have the stamina to keep going was crucial. I have to admit, by 3.30pm on the day photography tour I was ready to sit down and not get up again.

I thoroughly enjoyed the night and day photography tours with Amsterdam Photo Safari. I got to discover Amsterdam from a local and learnt so much. My knowledge and understanding of composition and perspective and how to look for and achieve these, were significantly enhanced. But for me, I learnt the most on the night photography tour. Learning how to set up and use long exposure (an area of photography I was not familiar with – as evidenced by my inability to find the timer on my camera) has opened up a whole new genre of photography for me. The canal boats made an excellent subject for long exposure; with their lights making colourful trails across the photo.

Streaks of lights from a canal boat passing houses on a canal in Amsterdam

A canal boat passing in front of houses on a canal in Amsterdam becomes a transparent, colourful trail of lights through long exposure

 

I highly recommend Amsterdam Photo Safari.

Note:  Flexibility around Amsterdam Photo Safari’s tour hours was not a hassle. I needed to end the night photography tour earlier than designated as I had to ensure I did not miss the last tram back to my hotel. Additional time was simply added to my day photography tour the next day (hence my flagging energy?). Had I not been taking another photography tour the next day, I am convinced Amsterdam Photo Safari would have suggested something appropriate and mutually acceptable in the way of compensation.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

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HOW BEST TO SPEND YOUR FREE TIME IN ROTHENBURG

So, how do you best spend your free time in Rothenburg? The short answer to this question is, WALK. Being relatively flat, Rothenburg’s Old Town is easy to walk around,…

So, how do you best spend your free time in Rothenburg? The short answer to this question is, WALK. Being relatively flat, Rothenburg’s Old Town is easy to walk around, despite the cobblestone streets. If you don’t stop to window shop, it should only take you about 15 minutes to walk from one end of town to the other.

But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Firstly, Rothenburg is the common abbreviation for this German town’s full name; that being, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Translated, Rothenburg ob der Tauber means, “Red Fortress above the Tauber”. Red Fortress above the Tauber is an apt name. The town is situated on a plateau above the Tauber River. While ‘Red Fortress’ – translated from rot (red) and burg (burgh, fortified settlement) – is attributed by some to the red roofs of Rothenburg’s houses inside the fortification.

Red roofed houses enclosed by Rothenburg's fortifications

‘Red Fortress’ – the red roofs of the houses behind Rothenburg’s fortifications

 

Secondly, why visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the first place? With its medieval architecture, narrow cobblestone streets and intact fortification wall, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is considered one of the prettiest towns in Germany. It is a medieval town frozen in time and said to be the most perfectly preserved, medieval walled city in Europe. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of Germany’s last remaining walled medieval towns, reached via the ‘Romantic Road’ in the Franconia region of Bavaria in southern Germany. There are photo opportunities everywhere you look.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is 1000 years of history in the making. It was one of the largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire; survived a siege in 1631 during the Thirty Years’ War between Protestant and Catholic states in the Holy Roman Empire (1618-1648); and stagnated in 1634 due to poverty and plague. It is this latter that preserved Rothenburg in its 17th century state. But this post is not intended to be a history lesson. However, it is worth pointing out that Rothenburg survived WWII substantially intact because its historical significance was recognised and acknowledged by the invading British army. What this post does focus on is a visualisation of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Through my photographs, I hope to arouse your senses enough to step back in time and visit this beautiful town.

My time in Rothenburg ob der Tauber was on an optional day excursion from my river cruise when we were docked at Wurzburg, Germany. I chose this excursion because I couldn’t resist visiting a place where the Viking Cruise Documents used words like, ‘romantic’, ‘walled’, ‘medieval’, ‘preserved’, ‘inviting’, and ‘picturesque’ to describe it. I was not disappointed, and I immediately fell in love with this picture-perfect, medieval walled town. With its half-timbered houses, elaborate shop signages, and window boxes full of geraniums, every turn was a picture postcard moment.

It was a 1½ hour drive from where the ship was docked at Wurzburg to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The drive took us along the ‘Romantic Road’. I can’t tell what was romantic about it because I slept most of the way. I believe it has something to do with being a picturesque countryside. I do know that each time I roused from my sleep it was to a view of a vineyard. Shame I slept so much!

Once in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, our guide gave us an orientation walking tour; taking us past St James Church, through Market Square with its 13th century Gothic/Renaissance Town Hall, past fountains, museums and amazing architecture, explaining the relationship between shops and their signage, and ending at St John’s Church (our meeting point for lunch).

With the orientation completed, we were left to spend our free time as we pleased. I wasn’t interested in the well-known Christmas shop. And I decided to take the guide’s advice and not try the local ‘delicacy’, a Schneeball, which he described as “horrible”. This is deep-fried dough shaped like a snowball and covered in either confectioner’s sugar or chocolate. In our guide’s own words, “you will choke on a Schneeball if you don’t take a drink of water with each and every bite to wash it down”.

I wanted to explore and photograph my own experience; to follow the direction of my feet. And I only had 1½ hours to do this in. After pointing my feet in the direction of what the guide said is the most instagrammed photo in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, I headed for the town’s fortifications.

Rothenburg's Plonlein (Little Square)

The Plonlein is the most instagrammed image in Rothenburg

I cannot fathom why this crooked, half-timbered house on Plonlein (Little Square) is the most instagrammed image in Rothenburg ob der Tauber; why it should be so photographed. I have read that it has featured in a number of movies and been the inspiration for others, but the town is full of much more interesting, charming architecture. If anyone can enlighten me, that would be appreciated. Or, better still, go check it out for yourself.

Taking the Kobolzeller Gate (built 1360) to the right as you face the half-timbered house in the ‘most instagrammed photo’, I climbed the few steps to the town’s medieval wall. Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s medieval wall, built in the 13th century, is 4 kilometres long and completely encircles the town’s historical centre. Walking along the wall, there are 6 gates and 42 towers to explore. With my limited time, I only managed 2 gates (up through one gate and down through the next) and a handful of towers. Despite all the tourists in town, I had the wall to myself – a very pleasant experience.

Coming off the wall, I proceeded to walk in a large circle that took me back to Market Square.

I was back in Market Square in time for when the clock on the 14th century Councillor’s Tavern performs its hourly ritual. Our guide had informed us that on the hour between 10.00am and 10.00pm two doors open on either side of the clock face. Out comes Rothenburg’s former Mayor, Nusch, and the Catholic General, Tilly, who challenged Nusch to drink a gallon tankard of wine in one go without stopping to save the town during the Thirty Years’ War. And save the town he did! It’s not the most interesting mechanical clock I have seen on my travels, but I did like the story behind it – the “Legend of the Master Draught”.

Rothenburg's Councillor's Tavern with mechanical clock in main Square

The “Legend of the Master Draught” mechanical clock on the Councillor’s Tavern

 

I have to go back to Rothenburg ob der Tauber:

  • to visit the gardens that replaced Rothenburg Castle which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1356;
  • to visit the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum;
  • to hike down into the valley;
  • to climb the Town Hall Tower to see the views for myself rather than just read about them;
  • to check out the interior of St James Church and its famous Holy Blood altarpiece;
  • to sit in a cafe in Market Square and people-watch;
  • and much more

I reckon this will take me 2 to 3 days (at least).

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, I will see you again.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

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SHOES ON THE DANUBE – a holocaust memorial

  Dear Pip, It is from a cold, dark place that I write you this postcard. A place that reminds me of a horrific time in history – a time…

Caste iron shoes on the riverbank with Budapest in the background

Budapest’s holocaust memorial, Shoes on the Danube Promenade

 

Dear Pip,

It is from a cold, dark place that I write you this postcard. A place that reminds me of a horrific time in history – a time that should never be forgotten.

I refer to the holocaust memorial, “Shoes on the Danube Promenade” in Budapest, Hungary.

“Shoes on the Danube Promenade” was created in 2005. The memorial comprises of 60 pairs of life size, iron shoes stretching along a section of the Danube’s riverbank. Caste in the style of the 1940s, the shoes are in different sizes; representing the men, women and children this memorial is a tribute to.

“Shoes on the Danube Promenade” holocaust memorial is dedicated to the thousands of Jews (approximately 20,000) who were executed along the Danube riverbank during 1944-1945. They were shot by members of the Hungarian fascist and anti-Semitic organisation, the Arrow Cross Party. The victims were forced to remove their shoes, face their executioner, and were shot so that they tumbled into the river. The river would then carry their bodies away. This saved the Arrow Cross Party having the hard labour of digging graves. The victims were forced to remove their shoes because shoes were a valuable commodity and could be sold by the executioners.

‘60’ was not just a random number of shoes to include in the holocaust memorial. It reflects the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who died during World War 2, and the memorial was created 60 years after the war.

“Shoes on the Danube Promenade” is located on the banks of the Danube River on the Pest side of Budapest between two well-known landmarks, the Chain Bridge and the Parliament Building.

I deliberately set out to walk to this holocaust memorial after our tour guide pointed it out from the bus on the way back to our ship from our walking tour of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter. The memorial is unique; unlike anything I have ever seen. Even with all the tourists, I found the memorial poignant and haunting; a place for reflection and contemplation.

On my way back from the Parliament Building, I passed the “Shoes on the Danube Promenade” holocaust memorial again. Someone had put a white carnation in two of the shoes. I like to think it was the wedding couple who were being photographed nearby. That, on a day that was so memorable for them, they have taken the time to remember and honour those who so tragically had their memories taken from them. Perhaps they were remembering a family member.

I was profoundly moved by this holocaust memorial (more so than any other I have been to on this trip), and thankful for how fortunate I am.

Love,

Joanna

A carnation placed in a shoe

A carnation is placed in one of the memorial shoes as a sign of remembrance

Line of caste iron shoes on the Danube riverbank

Some of the holocaust memorial’s 60 pairs of shoes on the Danube Promenade

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

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HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SAFETY WHEN TRAVELLING

Does your jewellery put your safety at risk when travelling? And what about that expensive equipment you carry around? Are you an easy target for scammers, muggers and thieves? How…

Does your jewellery put your safety at risk when travelling? And what about that expensive equipment you carry around? Are you an easy target for scammers, muggers and thieves? How can you improve your safety when travelling?

Read on if you want to avoid making yourself a target while travelling; if you want to avoid theft, kidnapping and physical harm when travelling in foreign countries.

There is a plethora of blog posts out there about safety when travelling; about the precautions you should be taking to protect yourself and your belongings. For example: 

  • don’t walk around on your own at night;
  • hide your money;
  • put a wedge under your hotel door;
  • never leave your drink unattended;
  • research common scams in your destination;
  • avoid public demonstrations;
  • use a luggage cable to secure your bags on buses and trains;
  • only use ATMs inside banks or buildings and only during the daytime;
  • carry your backpack or purse on your front;
  • research what is appropriate to wear.

And so the list goes on.

Much of this you would think is common sense. Having said that, I would never have thought to not only lock my hotel room door but to put a wedge under the door as well. It is easy to forget that hotel staff have a Master Key.

What I haven’t seen in blog posts on safety tips when travelling (and that doesn’t mean it’s not out there), is specific mention of jewellery and expensive equipment, such as cameras, tablets, mobile phones. How these might put your personal safety at risk and what you might do about this.

Do you wear jewellery when travelling?

Is it that gold chain that you never take off? Is it those diamond earrings you got from a loved one and don’t want to leave behind? Is it that watch you have to wear because you feel naked without it (that’s me)? Have you ever thought about the impact of that jewellery on your safety when travelling?

When travelling to many countries, particularly developing countries, the mere fact that you are in their country makes you a rich person. They don’t see the budget you’re travelling on, and they wouldn’t believe you anyway. You can afford to travel and that is all they know or understand. Your limited budget could well be their income for the year (or more).

The jewellery you wear can make you a target. Your jewellery can put your physical safety at risk when thieves try to take it; to rip that necklace off from around your neck. You can be vulnerable to muggings – to see what other valuables you may be carrying. Your jewellery may also place you in danger of kidnapping because you are seen to be rich and, therefore, a loved one will pay a lot of money for your release. This latter is extreme, I know, but should not be dismissed. It makes no difference whether it be valuable jewellery or costume jewellery. Especially as it is often hard to tell the difference between precious gems and glass in jewellery. I would not be able to tell the difference.

Don’t tempt fate!

I love jewellery and get a lot of enjoyment out of wearing it. I always buy pieces (earrings, necklaces, bracelets, brooches) from wherever I travel. My family and friends would tell you I have heaps. Well, more than heaps.

I would like to say I wear no jewellery when I travel. But I can’t. Remember, I’m the person above who has to wear a watch because I feel naked without it. I also have pierced ears. Because I travel for weeks at a time, I don’t want the holes to close over. So, I do wear earrings. I wear small silver sleepers (not gold as that yells, “expensive”) and don’t take any other earrings with me. The watch and the sleepers are the limit of my jewellery while travelling.

On the flip side … I am not married, so don’t wear a wedding ring. However, to minimise being harassed as a female traveller and to add to my sense of security, I wear a wedding band when I travel in the middle east.

And what about that camera you lug around? 

Your camera not only labels you as a tourist (a risk in itself) but potentially puts you at risk of being mugged to relieve you of that camera.

I do use one of those expensive DSLR cameras because I love my photography. I use my photographs on my travel blog and would, one day, love to sell my photos. However, I take what precautions I can to remove the ‘rich person’ target on my back and its possible consequences, and to prevent it being stolen:

  • I keep the camera out of sight in my backpack when I am not shooting. If your camera is small enough, keep it in your pocket.
  • I do not walk around with my camera slung around my neck or over my shoulder.
  • When I do have my camera out to take photos, I wear the strap around my neck or twisted around my wrist. I don’t carry the camera on my shoulder as it would be too easy for someone to remove.
  • My camera strap is non-descript in that it does not have the camera brand name blazoned all over it.

Do you use a mobile phone or tablet to take photos?

On my last visit to Vietnam, the tour guide advised us to stand well back from the road when taking photos with a mobile phone. We were informed that motor cyclists drive past tourists and grab their mobile phones.

I’m sure Vietnam is not the only country where this occurs. Besides, it’s good advice wherever you travel. In fact, to improve your safety when travelling, it is best not to use your mobile phone while walking around. If you need to make a phone call or check a map on your phone, sit in a café to do so. Thieves are pretty cluey as to the worth of mobile phones and you don’t want to risk your safety.

In parting, I offer some further advice provided by my Vietnamese guide:

  • There are fake taxis whose metres spin faster the the guide could spin his arm in a circle. He described which to catch and which are fake.
  • Don’t stop when crossing the road. A slow and steady pace is required so traffic can avoid you.
  • It’s safe to walk around at night but don’t display valuables.
  • Remove diamond rings.
  • Men should carry their wallet in the side pocket of their pants rather than the back pocket to deter pick pockets.

Taking steps to improve your safety when travelling can only enhance your travel experience. Hopefully, the vulnerabilities and tips I have identified in this post will go a long way towards that happy ending.

Keep safe. Take care. Happy travels.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

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3 OF THE BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN ROCHESTER

My sister and I have been on our road trip around Victoria for 11 days now – stopping over in Bendigo and Ballarat; travelling the silo art trail (not the…

My sister and I have been on our road trip around Victoria for 11 days now – stopping over in Bendigo and Ballarat; travelling the silo art trail (not the silo artworks in North East Victoria that I have previously written a post on); photographing our reflections on Lake Tyrrell; exploring the Lakes District around Kerang; and walking the Koondrook Barham Redgum Statue Walk.

Rochester was our last stop. We stayed just the one night as we were, by now, keen to get home. The next morning, we viewed Rochester’s silo artworks and took the river walk before heading for home early afternoon. These are two of the best things to see and do in Rochester. The third best thing to do in Rochester was eat – well worth mentioning given our food experience on this road trip.

Where is Rochester

Situated on the Campaspe River, Rochester, in Victoria (Australia), is 27 kilometres south of the Murray River Port of Echuca. The Murray River forms the border between Victoria and New South Wales, with the river actually situated in New South Wales.

Taking the fastest route, according to Google maps, Rochester is 187 kilometres north of Melbourne; 27 kilometres south of Echuca; and 240 kilometres south-west of Albury/Wodonga.

Silo artwork

Squirrel Glider and Azure Kingfisher painted on grain silos at Rochester, Victoria

Silo artworks of Squirrel Glider and Azure Kingfisher at Rochester, Victoria.

 

Rochester’s Silo Art project was the initiative of Rochester Business Network, with support from local businesses and the community. The silos themselves were provided by GrainCorp as ‘creative’ canvases for artworks on a massive scale. To give you an idea of perspective, the concrete silo is 22 metres high (approximately 72 feet), while the height of the metal silo is 18 metres (approximately 59 feet).

Located in the heart of town, the silos feature paintings of the endangered Squirrel Glider on the concrete silo and the Azure Kingfisher on the metal silo. Both are native to Australia.

This open-air gallery, completed in 2018, never closes and is free to visit. It is street art at its best.

The artist who designed and painted these magnificent murals, Jimmy DVate, is the very same artist who painted the silos at Goorambat in North East Victoria.

Jimmy is a Melbourne based artist and graphic designer whose talent has been recognised national and internationally. He is passionate about conservation and is particularly keen to highlight the plight of endangered species. Painting threatened Australian native fauna is a ‘signature’ of Jimmy’s artwork.

Of all the silo artworks we had seen on this road trip around Victoria, which took in the Silo Art Trail, the Rochester silos were my sister’s favourite. They rate very highly on my list too. I think I must have an affinity with Jimmy DVate’s artworks as his paintings on the silos at Goorambat also rate at the top of my favourites list.

River walk

Walking from the painted silos, we made our way to Rochester’s Red Bridge; a railway bridge crossing the Campaspe River. Built in 1876, the Red Bridge was our starting point for the 3-kilometre signposted river walk through the urban bushland that makes up the Campaspe River Reserve at Rochester.

The Red Bridge features in the background on the silo artwork of the Kingfisher.

The river walk is indicated by the red dotted line on the map below; from the brochure, Experience Rochester, courtesy of Rochester’s Visitor Information Centre.

The river walk route shown on the map of Rochester, Victoria

Map of Rochester, Victoria, showing the river walk route

 

The river walk meanders beside the Campaspe River through iconic Australian bush. For me, the Australian bush always gives me that sense of being home; no matter where in Australia I am experiencing it. And this walk did not disappoint. It was so peaceful. Just us two and birdsong.

This was an easy 3 kilometre walk along the riverbank. Being flat, it was not in the least bit challenging. Benches along the way provide a place to sit for a while and immerse yourself in the stillness and tranquillity.

The trees provide habitat for local wildlife. My sister enjoyed seeking and identifying the different species of native birds.

Rochester’s river walk through the Campaspe River Reserve is not just a bush walk but a history lesson along the way. Plaques dot the walk at specific points of local historical interest; providing insight into how the local Aboriginal people used the area. For example, pointing out ‘scarred’ trees caused when the bark was stripped by the Aboriginal people to make canoes, shields, containers and shelters. And the grooved rocks from grinding their axes.

The Campaspe River, a tributary of the Murray River (Australia’s principal river), is slow flowing along the walk through the Reserve – as is evidenced in the photos I took of the bush reflected in its waters.

When to go

We visited Rochester in the first week of May; towards the end of Australia’s autumn. The average daytime temperature for Rochester in May is 17 degrees Celsius; with an average of 5 rain days for the month. The temperature was just right for a bush walk along the river.

If you are looking at visiting Rochester at another time of year and wondering what the weather will be, you can find the information you need at, FarmOnline Weather.

Where to eat

On our 12-day road trip around Victoria, we struggled to find decent food. Food that gives you that feeling of satisfaction. Food that lets you know you have eaten well. We could count on one hand the number of good meals we had on this road trip. But Rochester scored 2 out of 2 – dinner at the Shamrock Hotel and breakfast at Kits Kafe.

Our decision to try the centrally located, historic Shamrock Hotel for dinner was good one. I had crumbed lamb chops on a bed of mashed potatoes, with seasonal steamed vegetables. My sister had the Thai Beef Stir Fry. We both agreed the food was excellent. These were some of the best pub meals we had ever eaten and were thoroughly enjoyed. Had we been staying another night, we would have gone back for seconds as there was much more on the menu we wanted to try.

Breakfast at Kits Kafe was a yummy affair. We both had the pancakes – mine with maple syrup and bacon and my sister’s with fruit cumquat and bacon. The service was excellent, the food delicious, and the coffee was worth going back for after our river walk.

We could see the silo artworks across the road from the Kits Kafe.

Where to stay

We stayed at the Rochester Motel, but there are other accommodation options available.

Our main reasons for stopping overnight at Rochester was to break the journey between Kerang and Albury, and to see the silo artworks, of which I had heard much about. The river walk was a very pleasant added bonus. As was our food experience. In all, we came away feeling very satisfied with our visit to Rochester.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

 

For more on Australia, read:

Unique Silo Art Celebrates Local Communities and Fauna

Food is Free laneway Engages Authentic Community Spirit

High Tea on the Yarra River, Melbourne

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FOOD IS FREE LANEWAY ENGAGES AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY SPIRIT

  Dear Meg, Down a laneway in Ballarat is a hidden gem that inspires a true sense of community at its best. Pip had recently seen a feature story on…

 

Fresh fruit, veggies and herbs in Ballarat laneway

Food is Free Laneway Ballarat

Dear Meg,

Down a laneway in Ballarat is a hidden gem that inspires a true sense of community at its best.

Pip had recently seen a feature story on the ABC’s Gardening Australia about Ballarat’s Food is Free project. So, when arriving in Ballarat on our Victorian road trip, our mission was to find the laneway where Food is Free is happening.

It was not the best day for a walk as it was bitterly cold, with the wind-chill factor making it difficult to walk because we were freezing. But we persevered and eventually found the Food is Free Laneway.

From the Gardening Australia story, we already knew the Ballarat Food is Free Laneway was founded by Ballarat resident, Lou Ridsdale in October 2014 and that it is located in the laneway beside her home – at 305 Ripon Street South; near the corner of Ripon Street South and Warrior Place.

We also had foreknowledge about the purpose of the Food is Free Laneway; that it is, as the name implies, about sharing food for free. People drop off their excess produce which is then accessible to all at no cost (except perhaps a chat with a neighbour). This sharing has gone a long way to building community interconnections and engagement.

The Laneway is lined with boxes and tables of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs that are donated by the public for people to take as they want. There are also drawers of seeds, and excess pots and jars for the taking.

We didn’t meet Lou but chatted to the volunteer who was manning the laneway and keeping things in order. She told us that a team of volunteers help out at the site. This is important as people will want to drop off, for example eggs, but only fresh veggies, fruit and herbs can be accepted.

The Food is Free Laneway is a unique project for sustainably managing excess food, assisting those less advantaged, and building community through collaboration. It is a credit to Lou and the volunteers, who donate their time to this community initiative. It is also a credit to the Ballarat community who have embraced Food is Free.

As we were leaving, a lady arrived to drop off some vegetables. We were off to find hot soup.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

 

For more on Australia, read:

Unique Silo Art Celebrates Local Communities and Fauna

3 of the Best Things to See and Do in Rochester

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SPOTLIGHT ON NEW ORLEANS – How to get the most out of 6 days

There is something about New Orleans that gets under your skin. There are not many places I hanker to go back to a second time, but New Orleans (affectionately referred…

There is something about New Orleans that gets under your skin. There are not many places I hanker to go back to a second time, but New Orleans (affectionately referred to as NOLA – New Orleans Louisiana) is the exception. Built on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, it is history, culture, colour, vibrancy and life in a neat package.

I was in New Orleans with my sister and brother-in-law. We were booked on a 7-night, paddle steamer cruise on the Mississippi River. As we were embarking the cruise in New Orleans, we had decided to spend 6 days exploring New Orleans before taking the cruise.

The following itinerary was ours of the making, but easy enough for anyone to follow or manipulate to their individual liking. We allowed ourselves lots of free time while still doing all that we wanted. The plantations tour and that of the bayous were organised from Australia before we left on this trip. 6 days was an ideal length of time to see New Orleans and surrounds for the first time. Enjoy this visit through my eyes.

Sleeping in New Orleans

We stayed at New Orleans Jazz Quarters. This is a delightful Creole-style bed and breakfast dating from the 1800s. It is in a fabulous location opposite Louis Armstrong Park on the perimeter of the old French Quarter; with easy walking access to much of the city.

Jazz Quarters comprises of 11 unique cottages and suites; all accommodated in a gated complex with a high level of guest security. Free parking and WiFi are available.

We had the Marsalis Luxury Cottage, with its high ceilings and decorated with classic period furniture from the 1800s. At the time of visit, the cottage comprised of two bedrooms, a large living room, a big bathroom with a very deep bath, and kitchenette. We were very comfortable in this cottage and found the living room a great place to relax.

New Orleans is home to a number of architectural styles. The Marsalis Cottage reflects the Shotgun House style. These are narrow rectangular homes raised on brick piers, with a covered narrow porch supported by columns. The term “shotgun” comes from the suggestion that when standing at the front of the house, you can shoot a bullet clear through every room.

For and excellent resource on New Orleans’ architectural styles, refer to: City of New Orleans, Historic District Landmarks Commission, “Building Types and Architectural Styles”.

Initially we felt housekeeping was very poor as our rooms weren’t serviced and cleaned daily. When we questioned the lack of servicing, we happily accepted the explanation that the cottages are only serviced once guests have checked out. However, they did sweep the floor for us when requested as we had brought leaves into the cottage.

The staff were very friendly, and breakfasts were a two-course, home cooked affair.

Note: At the time of writing (upon checking Jazz Quarters’ website), it appears the Marsalis Cottage no longer has a living room; having been replaced with an additional bedroom. And breakfast is no longer included.

Day 1: Exploring the French Quarter

Note: We arrived in New Orleans the night before.

This morning we took a self-guided walking tour of the French Quarter – thoroughly exploring the Lower French Quarter. Being set in a grid pattern, the French Quarter, the historic heart of New Orleans, is easy to walk around and find your way. My sister was our guide and Eyewitness Travel was her resource.

Heading from Jazz Quarters to the Mississippi River, we walked down Esplanade Avenue – a broad, tree-lined, 2-kilometre-long residential street bordered by beautiful old Creole homes. Our first stop was the flea market within the French Market where I couldn’t resist buying a t-shirt emblazoned with a transfer of a voodoo doll with a pin stuck in it.

Eyewitness Travel's map of New Orleans' Lower French Quarter

Map of Lower French Quarter – courtesy of Eyewitness Travel “Top 10 New Orleans”

 

Places of interest we visited included:

Walking the length of the French Market, which also incorporates a farmer’s market, and runs parallel to North Peters Street, we turned right into Ursulines Street. Our destination was the Old Ursuline Convent on the corner of Ursulines and Chartres Streets. Built in 1752, the Old Ursuline Convent is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley. We took a walk through the Convent. Of most interest were the rooms telling the history of the Battle of New Orleans between Great Britain and the United States. We never did find the stained-glass window depicting the Battle of New Orleans which Eyewitness Travel wrote can be admired in the Convent’s chapel.

Opposite the Ursuline Convent is Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden. Built in 1862, many famous New Orleanians have lived in the house; the most notable being the Confederate General, Pierre Beauregard. General Beauregard only lived in the house for 18 months but because he was such a famous Civil War hero, the house still bears his name.

The ‘Keyes’ part of the house’s name is attributed to the author, Frances Parkinson Keyes. I have to admit I have never heard of this author but have heard of General Beauregard.

The Beauregard-Keyes House is built in the ‘raised center-hall cottages’ architectural style – a style reflecting urban versions of French-Colonial plantations. Raised Center-Hall Cottages are typically raised on piers to five feet or more above ground level. They have deep, covered front porches supported by symmetrically placed columns and accessed by a central stair.

We were not able to go into the house or gardens this day as there was a film crew onsite.

We then made our way to Jackson Square. This is a great place to sit and people watch as there is so much going on. Around the Square are artists selling their paintings, tarot card readers, and jazz bands competing with each other for tourist attention. While my sister and brother-in-law went into St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, I spent a lovely half hour watching a band entertain the crowd who were obviously enjoying their music.

Jackson Square, New Orleans

A band plays to the crowds in Jackson Square, New Orleans

 

St Louis Cathedral, formally called the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, is said to be the oldest cathedral in the United States. Originally built in 1724, due to destruction from a hurricane and from fire, the cathedral has been rebuilt twice. Visitors are reminded this is a working church, with mass held daily.

We were now well and truly ready for coffee and headed to Café du Monde on Decatur Street; famous for its beignets. Beignets are square pieces of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar. Café du Monde has been serving them since 1862. They were yummy and worth fighting the crowds for a table. But, then again, I do have a sweet tooth. I got the feeling my sister and brother-in-law did not share in my ecstasy.

Heading back to Jazz Quarters, my final stop was at The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. Voodoo was brought to Louisiana by enslaved Africans from West Africa and is now counted as one of New Orleans’ many tourist attractions. According to the guide books, the museum provides insight into the mysteries of Voodoo in its hallway and two small rooms packed with voodoo artifacts and examples of voodoo practices. I have to admit that I left the museum as bewildered and ignorant as I entered. And, if I am going to be honest, I found the museum a bit bizarre. Voodoo remains a mystery for me. Even so, I recommend visiting the museum as it is really quite unique where museums are concerned. I doubt you will experience anything else like it.

Voodoo doll instructions

Information on voodoo dolls, New Orleans Voodoo Museum

The Voodoo Museum, at 724 Dumaine Street, is open 10.00am to 6.00pm, 7 days a week. General admissions is $7.00 USD. However, entrance to the gift shop is free. There is no formal tour of the museum.

Before leaving Australia, I had done some research on voodoo dolls and was keen to buy one as my memento of New Orleans. The Voodoo Museum’s gift shop sold voodoo dolls, but they were made of moss – Spanish Moss to be exact. I was informed by museum staff that the dolls made with moss are the more traditional voodoo dolls; and I really wanted a traditional voodoo doll. However, I was worried that if I bought one, I wouldn’t get it back into Australia even with declaring it. Australia has very strict biosecurity requirements regarding plant material. I would need to think about this one.

Walking around the streets of the French Quarter, it was the cast-iron balconies that caught my eye. I never tired of admiring them and taking photos.

Day 2: Voodoo and Wealth (and not in the same sentence)

This afternoon we went out to the Garden District. But this morning I was on a mission to buy a voodoo doll.

Voodoo doll

My ‘no moss’ voodoo doll

My research in Australia had come up with 8 voodoo shops I could buy voodoo dolls from. As I walked from shop to shop, two were closed, leaving three to find a doll I liked and would not be confiscated by Australian quarantine. I ended up buying one of the voodoo dolls made with moss that I had seen in the Voodoo Museum yesterday. I decided I would risk how quarantine in Australia were going to deal with it. Just to be sure I ended up with something to put in my home, I bought a voodoo doll from Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street that is made of calico and stuffed with cotton. No Spanish Moss anywhere! According to the label on the doll, it is a “voodoo doll for spiritual strength”. Marie Laveau (1794-1881) was the most powerful and eminent voodoo queen in New Orleans.

Catching a bus this afternoon to Canal Street, we took the St. Charles Streetcar out to the Garden District. Streetcars are icons of New Orleans and similar to Melbourne’s trams. The St. Charles Streetcar is the most famous as it is said to be the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world.

The Garden District provides great insight into how wealthy New Orleanians live – in grand mansions on large blocks of land, with beautiful, lush gardens and well-kept lawns. These were the homes built by wealthy city merchants, bankers and planters.

On a self-guided walking tour of the Garden District, our first stop was Lafayette Cemetery. However, we failed to realise there are two Lafayette Cemeteries. Turning right into Washington Avenue after getting off the St. Charles Streetcar instead of left, we ended up at Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. Our intent had been to visit the famous, walled Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 with its lavish, ornately decorated tombs; where tombs tell the story of a yellow fever epidemic.

This was our first introduction to above-ground tombs and vaults, for which New Orleans is famous. Burying people in the ground is not manageable in New Orleans due to the city being below sea level.

Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery #2 New Orleans

Above-ground tombs in Lafayette Cemetery No. 2, New Orleans

 

What the walk to Lafayette Cemetery No. 2 did reveal was a very clear delineation between the haves and have-nots in the Garden District, as noted in the houses on either side of St. Charles Avenue.

Walking back up Washington Avenue and crossing St. Charles Avenue, we explored the area around Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 – the area of the Garden District we had set out to sightsee.

Our focus was on the homes of the Garden District, with their typical “raised center-hall cottage” architectural style. The Garden District provides great insight into how wealthy New Orleanians live – in grand mansions on large blocks of land, with beautiful, lush gardens and well-kept lawns. These were the homes built by wealthy city merchants, bankers and planters.

Our walk took us to:

The Gothic Revival styled Briggs-Staub House, at 2605 Prytania Street. This style of architecture is rare in New Orleans because Protestant Americans say it reminds them of Roman Catholic France.

Briggs-Staub House, New Orleans

The Gothic Revival styled Briggs-Staub House, Garden District, New Orleans

 

Colonel Short’s Villa, at 1448 Fourth Street. Built in 1859, this historic residence is one of the most stunning in the Garden District. The house is famed for its cornstalk, ironwork fence.

Robinson House, at 1415 Third Street, was built for a Virginia tobacco merchant. It is one of the grandest and largest residences in the Garden District.

Robinson House, New Orleans

Robinson House, Garden District, New Orleans

 

Finally, we stopped outside Carroll-Crawford House, at 1315 First Street, with its ornate cast-iron balconies.

Carroll-Crawford House, New Orleans

Carroll-Crawford House, Garden District, New Orleans

 

Day 3: Bury Them High

After a morning of leisure, we took an afternoon tour of St Louis Cemetery No. 1. The entrance on Basin Street, just outside the French Quarter, was a 5 minute walk from Jazz Quarters.

It is not possible to enter St Louis Cemetery No. 1 without a licenced tour guide. This is because the cemetery has been subjected to much vandalism over the years. We chose a tour with, Save Our Cemeteries. At $25.00 USD per adult, the tour of St Louis Cemetery No. 1 conducted by Save Our Cemeteries is more expensive that that provided by others (with a going rate of $20.00 USD). However, Save Our Cemeteries is a not-for-profit organisation “dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and protection of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries through restoration, education, and advocacy”. This appealed to us as we felt we were contributing in a small way to the conservation of New Orleans’ history and culture.

Tours with Save Our Cemeteries operate 7 days a week at 9.00am, 11.00am and 1.00pm. Allow 1.5 hours for your tour.

Opening in 1789, St Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, and the most famous. There are many renown New Orleanians buried here, none of whom I have heard of. The exception is that of Marie Laveau, the most famous of all (or infamous, depending on where your views lie), and only known to me because I visited the Voodoo Museum yesterday.  According to our guide, many believe she continues to work her magic from beyond the grave. That’s why people leave ‘offerings’ at her grave.

Eyewitness Travel tells you the above-ground tombs are due to New Orleans being below sea level; that, prior to above-ground tombs, when the Mississippi River flooded, the bodies would float to the surface. However, our guide told us that having above-ground tombs was to copy the French style of burial. Who do you believe? There is, no doubt, truth in both versions. Whatever the reason, the above-ground tombs are fascinating to see. Some are very ornate; some have fallen into decay; whilst the largest contains 70 vaults. Generations of families are interred in the one tomb, in vaults on top of each other.

In the know:

  • The going price for a plot at St Louis Cemetery No. 1 is $40,000 USD (approximately $58,518 AUD).
  • The actor, Nicholas Cage has purchased his future, pyramid-shaped tomb in St Louis Cemetery No. 1

A word of warning:

The tour of St Louis Cemetery No. 1 takes 1.5 hours. There is very little shade in the cemetery and New Orleans can get hot. I recommend you take plenty of water, dress lightly, wear a wide-brim hat and use sunblock.

The jazz scene:

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. The two are synonymous. As such, we felt we could not come to New Orleans without experiencing a jazz club. With this in mind, we had dinner this night at Three Muses on Frenchmen Street – a jazz club offering tapas-style share plates, cocktails and live music all under the same roof. Bookings are essential.

The food was very good. I recommend the mac and cheese if it is still on the menu. However, jazz is not a genre of music I like. So, I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Day 4: A Step Back in Time

Once again, a lazy morning before taking an afternoon plantations tour with Tours by Isabelle. This tour (“Small-Group Louisiana Plantations Tour from New Orleans”) took in two sugar cane plantations – St Joseph Plantation and Houmas House Plantation and Gardens – with pickup from Jazz Quarters.

We deliberately chose a tour that took us to different plantations from that offered as a shore excursion on the river cruise – the famous Oak Alley with its much-photographed tree-lined walkway to the front door. We wanted to get a varied view of Louisiana’s famous plantations.

Built in 1830, the 1000 acre St Joseph Plantation is a historic plantation located on the banks of the Mississippi River. It is one of the few fully intact, still working sugar cane plantations in Louisiana. I enjoyed the tour of St Joseph Plantation house. Our guide was a distant family member and you got a real feel for how the families lived and their relationships. She brought the rooms we explored alive with her stories.

The grounds include buildings (cabins, kitchen, schoolroom), which can be explored, that were a part of the historical slave quarters. And there is a gift shop if you are so inclined.

Houmas House, built in 1840, is set in beautiful gardens with huge, old oak trees leading up from the river (from the levy bank to be precise) to the front of the house. Called (according to its brochure) the “Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road”, the 16-room house and gardens reflect the opulent lifestyle and grandeur of the successful sugar barons who once lived in Houmas House. The house itself has been better restored than the house on the St Joseph Plantation. Although well organised, I found the tour of Houmas House, conducted by guides in period dress, to be very boring as it primarily focused on descriptions of the furnishings. I left the tour about halfway through (had seen enough and had enough) to explore the extensive, formal gardens on my own. The gardens alone are worth the visit to Houmas House.

This half-day tour was booked through Viator before leaving Australia. A check of Victor’s and Tours by Isabelle’s websites show this exact tour is no longer on offer but there are still a variety of plantation tours available.

Day 5: Rivers, Swamps and Bayous

Our organised tour today wasn’t until early afternoon. So, we spent the morning resting, reading, and laundering (not me).

This afternoon we were picked up from Jazz Quarters by Pearl River Eco-Tours for their 3-hour, “Six Passenger Swamp Tour”. After an hour’s drive from New Orleans we arrived at the Pearl River and Honey Island Swamp. We chose this particular tour because we thought the smaller boat (skiff) would give us a more personal tour than the larger, 20/25 passenger boat. And it did. Being a much smaller boat, it was able to go into swamps and bayous that the bigger boats are not able to navigate.

The Mississippi River Delta is famous for its bayous; particularly the bayous of Louisiana and Texas. They are wetlands and eco-systems like I had never seen before. We saw alligators, bald eagles and other bird life, snakes (venomous and non-venomous), diverse plant life, and hardwood (Cypress) swamps. Many trees were shrouded in Spanish Moss. [There’s that moss again!] This is true Cajun country. Our guide was very informative, and I came away knowing much more than when I started. We all thoroughly enjoyed this tour and definitely recommend it to others.

The Six Passenger Swamp Tour was organised from Australia without a hitch.

On the day, Pearl River Eco-Tours was well organised and our pick up from Jazz Quarters was on time.

Day 6: A Unique Sculpture Garden

We weren’t required to board the boat for our Mississippi River cruise until mid-afternoon. So, we took the Canal Street streetcar to City Park at the end of the line.

Covering an area of 1,300 acres, City Park is one of the biggest urban parks in the United States. Situated in the park, in the New Orleans Museum of Art, is the Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. This sculpture garden now occupies approximately 11 acres of City Park, with over 90 sculptures from national and international artists. I found some of the sculptures quite bizarre. There are two I will remember for a long time to come:

  • The first being a sculpture of a man covered in small birds pecking him.
  • The second was also of a man but this sculpture is a man hanging from a scaffold by his feet.

I kick myself now for not taking photos of these sculptures.

The Besthoff Sculpture Garden is free and open to the public 7 days a week. Summer opening hours are 10.00am to 6.00pm, while winter hours are 10.00am to 5.00pm.

Before embarking our boat, I couldn’t resist buying a bracelet from Tiffany’s.

Our time in New Orleans was relaxed and set at a leisurely pace. We gave ourselves time to see all what we wanted without being rushed. What a great city.

With hindsight, our time was truly well spent. There was nothing I regretted doing and nothing I wished I had done.

As reflected by my sister and brother-in-law…

Overall, we loved New Orleans’ atmosphere of fun, liveliness and colour. We enjoyed walking around areas of old suburbs, the bayous boat trip and lunch at the famous restaurant, Galatoire’s. Also, it is a very easy place to walk around.

A word on safety:

As a female traveller, I did not go out at night on my own (usual precaution) but was always accompanied by my sister and brother-in-law. And, on most occasions at night, we took taxis. However, during the day I always felt comfortable and safe walking around on my own. And did so a number of times for several hours.

 

Footnote: The moss-made voodoo doll did not make it past quarantine in Australia. I was not even allowed to have it zapped – gamma radiation to make safe for keeping.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

Prices and opening times quoted in this post are correct at the time of writing.

 

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THE SMOKE THAT THUNDERS FROM MY CAMERA’S PERSPECTIVE

Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” is an apt name given to Victoria Falls by the Kalolo-Lozi people. The spray that rises above Victoria Falls truly does look like smoke. And…

Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” is an apt name given to Victoria Falls by the Kalolo-Lozi people.

The spray that rises above Victoria Falls truly does look like smoke. And this ‘smoke’ can be seen from some distance. I had a clear view of the ‘smoke’ rising from the Falls from my hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, one kilometre away.

Mist rising from Victoria Falls, the smoke that thunders

The ‘smoke’ from Victoria Falls rises above the skyline

 

Walking around the escarpment on the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls, the roar the Falls produce from the volume of water crashing over the edge of the gorge makes it difficult to hear conversations.

Victoria Falls is located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. I travelled to the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls in November 2016. It was the end of the dry season; with November being ‘low water’ for the Zambezi River. When the Zambezi River is in full flood (usually February or March), Victoria Falls forms the largest curtain of water in the world. At my time of visit, Victoria Falls was at 40% capacity. And yet, it did not disappoint.

I will be writing a detailed itinerary blog post on my visit to Victoria Falls in the near future. But for now, I just want to showcase the majesty of “the smoke that thunders” from my camera’s perspective – to let my camera do the talking.

My camera’s perspective of the smoke that thunders: a walking tour

My camera’s perspective of the smoke that thunders: a helicopter tour

Due to Victoria Falls’ reduced volume of water cascading over the edge of the gorge, I wasn’t going to take a helicopter flight over the Falls. At the last minute I changed my mind – one of my better decisions. My camera’s perspective gained a unique angle of the smoke that thunders.

Which camera perspective do you prefer?

A note on protecting your camera

Walking along the escarpment, you and your camera are going to get wet from the spray spewed up by the sheer volume of water crashing down the cliff face to the floor below.

Whether or not you keep yourself dry is up to you. But it is important to keep your camera dry if you want it to continue working.

I have a DSLR camera and have tried two different professional ‘raincoats’ for my camera. Each time, I revert back to my tried and tested method of a plastic bag. I attach the lens hood as this provides some protection for the lens glass and filters. Then, using a wide plastic bag that is longer than my camera body and extended lens (300mm), I make a hole in the bottom of the bag. I slip the lens through the hole and secure the plastic bag to the lens with a rubber band. Pulling the plastic bag up over the camera, the camera is kept dry, I have good access to all the camera’s dials, I can clearly see through the viewfinder and see the back of the camera, and I have plenty of room for my hands. And the lens can still be extended and retracted.

My experience of professional camera raincoats is so opposite to that of my plastic bag. I found them restrictive, providing poor visibility through their plastic window, and having limited space for my hands.

I also carry a microfibre cloth so I can wipe the water droplets off the lens glass.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

 

 

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HIGH TEA ON THE YARRA RIVER, MELBOURNE

Photographs by Meg Speak at Speak Photography   I love having high tea and have partaken of a few around the world. It always makes me feel spoilt and so…

Photographs by Meg Speak at Speak Photography

 

I love having high tea and have partaken of a few around the world. It always makes me feel spoilt and so special.

I love river cruises. Having been on 13 cruises, I am happy to admit I am addicted to river cruises.

Bring the two together and, for me, you have an experience made in heaven.

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in Australia. What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than to spend it with my daughter? Her choice of celebration showed just how well she knows me. My Mother’s Day treat was a high tea river cruise.

The high tea cruise on the Yarra River is operated by Magic Charters, Melbourne. The two-hour cruise sails from Victoria Harbour, Docklands to Williamstown, Hobson Bay (return) on Saturdays and Sundays from 2.00pm to 4.00pm.

The experience

Boarding was done incredibly efficiently by the crew. At the gangway, we gave our name, were given a table number and off we went. Our table was upstairs and, while the boat holds up to 130 people, we were not crowded; with plenty of space between tables. I had held concerns that we might be required to share a table with strangers. I did not want to do this as I just wanted to spend the time exclusively with my daughter. But tables were set for two, three and four people; with larger groups also catered for.

The tables were set with white linen tablecloths and napkins, with china crockery and silver cutlery. A red rose was on each table. It all felt very posh and added to my feeling of being pampered.

Our high tea was a relaxed experience with efficient, friendly and attentive crew. We even had the option to help the Captain sail the boat – a spacious catamaran.

The serving of food was well-paced throughout the duration of the cruise. Magic Charters was not scrooge over the amount of food; and all that was provided was yum.

Once away from Docklands, I was surprised by the ugliness of the section of river the cruise took in. This is an industrial harbour with all that goes with that – oil tankers, container ships, cranes, and holding tanks. This is not a picturesque landscape and not what I expected. I hadn’t given it much thought, but I assumed there would be much green space. However, at one point, we did get a fabulous view of Melbourne’s skyline under a very moody sky.

Melbourne skyline from the Yarra River under moody clouds

Melbourne city skyline from the Yarra River under a moody sky

High tea menu

As soon as we were seated, we were offered sparkling white wine, which flowed throughout the cruise. Orange juice was an available alternative.

A tiered plate of hot and cold savouries was the first food to appear on our table; consisting of finger sandwiches, rolls, pies, tarts and arancini balls.

Our next tiered plate was filled with warm scones, jam and cream (plenty of cream) on the lower tier and various deserts on the top tier. Deserts included tubs of panna cotta with raspberry, macaroons, chocolate brownies and cupcakes.

According to Magic Charter’s website … “We can cater for some special dietary requirements such as vegan, gluten free, dairy free and some other. Please advise us about your special dietary requirements when you place your booking with us.” 

A note on cost

The two-hour high tea cruise normally costs $118.00 per adult through Magic Charters. However, occurring one Sunday per month, Magic Charters sells their high tea cruise at the ‘special promotional price’ of $69.00 per adult, and can only be booked through their website. Vouchers can also be purchased through RedBalloon and Groupon at $79.00 per adult.

At $79.00 per adult, this high tea river cruise is value for money. If you have an afternoon free in Melbourne on a weekend, I highly recommend you add the high tea river cruise with Magic Charters to your itinerary.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are Meg Speak’s and remain the copyright of Speak Photography.

 

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UNIQUE SILO ART CELEBRATES LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND FAUNA

In mid-April 2019, I travelled with a group of friends to view North East Victoria’s silo artwork. Empty grain silos are scattered around rural Australia. Silo art projects (with the…

In mid-April 2019, I travelled with a group of friends to view North East Victoria’s silo artwork.

Empty grain silos are scattered around rural Australia. Silo art projects (with the first being undertaken in 2015) have become a national phenomenon; appearing in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australian, South Australia, and Queensland. The silos provide a canvas for creations that are reinvigorating some of Australia’s smallest and remote regional towns. They have become a lifesaver for rural communities; bringing tourism to towns that have been seriously struggling due to economic decline. These towns now have a future.

Perhaps the best known are the painted silos in western Victoria; in the Wimmera-Mallee region. These 6 painted silos stretch for a distance of 200 kilometres from Rupanyup in the south to Patchewollock in the north.

I will be taking a road trip with my sister to these painted silos at the end of April. But that is for another post.

Silo art North East Victoria map

Google map of North East Victoria silo art trail

North East Victoria’s painted silos are located in four small towns between Yarrawonga and Benalla – Tungamah, St James, Devenish and Goorambat.  They are fairly recent attractions to these town, with the first being painted in 2018 and are within close proximity to each other – a distance of 33 kilometres from first to last.

Why you should see the silo artworks

  • This is street art at its best.
  • The murals are painted on an unusual ‘canvas’.
  • The artworks are in a public space; in open-air galleries that are open 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. And they are free to visit.
  • It is artwork on a massive scale. How many paintings do you know that require an extended cherry picker to complete?
  • The murals painted on the silos depict local history and fauna; giving an insight into the area.
  • The silos themselves have been ‘painted’ on Australia’s rural landscape since the 1920s.

Getting there

Silo art map Tungamah north east Victoria

Google map of Wodonga to Tungamah silo art

 

Coming from Wodonga, North East Victoria’s silo artworks are an easy one-day road trip. From this direction, the first painted silos are at Tungamah; about 1 and a half hours from Wodonga.

Leaving Wodonga on the M31 (Sydney to Melbourne freeway), turn off at the Rutherglen/Yarrawonga exit (B400; Murray Valley Highway). At Rutherglen, take the C372 to Tungamah; skirting the towns of Bundalong South, Yarrawonga South and Boomahnoomoonah (no, I have not made up this name).

Coming from Melbourne is not, in my opinion, a day road trip. The first painted silos from this direction are at Goorambat – a distance of 228 kilometres; taking about 2 and a half hours. Staying overnight in Benalla might be a good option.

From Melbourne, take the M31 (Melbourne to Sydney freeway) to Benalla. At Benalla, take the A300 to Goorambat.

Silo art north east Victoria map

Google map of Melbourne to Goorambat silo art

 

Tungamah silo art

The Tungamah concrete silo highlights Australia’s dancing Brolga. Famed for their elaborate courtship dance, Brolgas are Australia’s most iconic birds. There is even an Australian Christmas carol about dancing Brolgas.

A number of traditional Aboriginal legends and dances are associated with the Brolga, with movements mimicking their graceful performance.

The Kookaburra painted on the metal silo is a well-known symbol of Australia’s birdlife. The Kookaburra is also the inspirational subject of a children’s song.

Silo art at Tungamah north east Victoria

Silo art of dancing brolgas and kookaburra at Tungamah

 

Western Australian street artist, Sobrane painted the birdlife on the Tungamah silos using spray cans and roller. Internationally known for her signature bird inspired art, Sobrane is the first Australian female artist to take on a silo art project.

St James silo art

The wheat silos at St James are painted with a sepia-toned portrait of Sir George Coles, the founder of Coles supermarkets and a local of St James. His first store opened in 1910 in St James township; with the shopfront captured on the silo under his portrait.

The horse and cart being painted at the time of my visit on the third silo depicts how the wheat was originally delivered to the silos.

Silo art at St James in north east Victoria

Silo art of C.J. Coles at St James in north east Victoria

Local artist, Timothy Bowtell painted the murals on the St James silos. Timothy is due to complete the horse and cart mural by the end of April 2019.

Devenish silo art

Focusing on the role of nurses in service and how that role has evolved over time, this artwork is a visual tribute to the 50 young men and women from the Devenish community who enlisted in military service in the First World War. The artwork represents the historical image of a First World War nurse juxtaposed with that of a female combat medic.

Melbourne street artist, Cam Scale, has captured the past and present and acknowledges the important role our medical personnel play in caring for military and civilians during wars and national disasters, including peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

At the time of visit, Cam was putting the finishes touches to the Lighthorseman he has painted on Devenish’s final silo.

ANZAC silo art Devenish north east Victoria

ANZAC silo art at Devenish with artist at work

 

Cam Scale is a well-renown fine artist and mural painter in Australia; exhibiting work in galleries across Australia and internationally.

Cam works primarily with aerosol, oil and acrylic, specialising in large-scale figures and portraits.

Goorambat silo art

The Barking Owl painted on the concrete silo is a tribute to this endangered species. With fewer than 50 breeding pairs in the wild, the Barking Owl is the most threatened owl in Victoria. North East Victoria remains a stronghold for wild populations.

Ironbark is the Barking Owl’s habitat. This tree is depicted in the forefront of the typical, Australiana farming scene on the second silo.

The third silo features three Clydesdale horses that resided in Goorambat. Clydesdales are an intricate part of the Goorambat area. They are literally the work-horses of the country and rural areas like Goorambat might not exist without them.

Jimmy Dvate is a Melbourne based artist and graphic designer. He is passionate about conservation and is particularly keen to highlight the plight of endangered species.

While in Goorambat, don’t miss the beautiful mural of “Sophia” painted by the artist, Adnate inside Goorambat’s Uniting Church. Painted in 2017, Sophia was created to depict the female aspect of the Holy Spirit. This tradition draws on the spirit of God as it manifested in the Old Testament times and the post Pentecostal period. Sophia is by nature wise, nurturing, comforting, inspirational and ever present.

Goorambat Uniting Church mural

‘Sophia’ mural painting in the Uniting Church at Goorambat

 

You can visit “Sophia” daily from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

Where to eat

We had morning tea, cake and coffee, at the Tungamah Hotel. I recommend the lemon slice.

We lunched at Goorambat’s Railway Hotel. With an extensive, reasonably priced menu, we were spoilt for choice. My hamburger was delicious.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.

 

For more on Australia, read:

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