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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
‘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.
Travel magazines and tour companies have named Sri Lanka as one of the destinations for 2019 – a must see, bucket list destination. I travelled to Sri Lanka with my sister…
Travel magazines and tour companies have named Sri Lanka as one of the destinations for 2019 – a must see, bucket list destination.
I travelled to Sri Lanka with my sister and brother-in-law for a 23-day trip around this teardrop shaped island. This was a private tour with our own driver. However, it is also possible to travel around Sri Lanka by taxi, bus or train.
I still hold mixed feelings about my trip to Sri Lanka. After all, we can’t always expect to like everything about every country we visit. That said, Sri Lanka held some highlights for me that are well worth mentioning, such as walking the railway line between Ella and Demodara and our visit to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden. I also highly recommend visiting Galle Fort. In fact, it is worth staying at least a couple of nights.
Galle Fort is a historical fortified city, with the New Town of Galle located outside the walls. Galle is situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka – a distance of 126 kilometres (78 miles) down the west coast from Colombo (Sri Lanka’s capital).
Why visit Galle Fort
Galle Fort is rich in history; with 400 years of history spaning Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialism. Built by the Portuguese in 1589, the Dutch seized the Fort in 1640 and extended its fortifications, which survive to this day. The British modified the Fort after Galle was handed over to them in 1796. Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains the best example in south and southeast Asia of a fortified city built by Europeans.
Galle Fort is protected by a wall (ramparts), with 14 bastions, that has seen little change since completion by the Dutch in 1729. The fortifications run for 3 kilometres and are over 1 metre thick. Inside the Fort is a mixture of architecture, with Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, and grand mansions. Here you will find cafés, restaurants, boutiques, museums, and hotels. It is also a thriving commercial centre.
With an area of only 0.52 kilometres square within the fortifications and being relatively flat, Galle Fort is easy to walk around and to see everything. It is also a good base for day trips to the southern beaches, gardens, tea factories, rain forests, and nature walks.
From Colombo to Galle Fort
At the suggestion of our driver we took the coast road to Galle rather than the expressway. While taking the expressway would have been quicker (approximately 1.5 hours as opposed to approximately 3 hours), the coast road, according to our driver, is more interesting; more scenic. And it was. Hugging the coastline, we passed through many small villages which provided a glimpse into local daily life; where farmers and fishermen continue to live and work as they have done for generations.
This was our first real experience of driving in Sri Lanka. I have been in many a country where I thought the population as a whole are terrible drivers, but Sri Lankan drivers take the prize. Their idea or practice of passing is downright scary. Picture this … You have a two-lane road just wide enough for two cars, with one lane for each direction. Suddenly, your lane has three vehicles abreast (including your own, with your driver on his mobile phone) as two vehicles want to pass one, and there is a bus coming in the opposite direction. No one gives way as all four vehicles come abreast and all you can do is close your eyes and hold your breath. And yet, I never saw an accident.
I learned a valuable lesson on this drive – don’t ever think of doing a self-drive holiday in Sri Lanka as you may never survive the experience. Their driving and use of the roads are, for these foreigners, positively frightening. My brother-in-law was never able to relax when we were driving. For some reason, he always managed to get the seat with a clear view out the front windscreen. Causing him to remain transfixed on the traffic and in a perpetual state of anxiety.
We arrived in Galle Fort mid-afternoon. Our hotel for the duration of our stay in Galle Fort was the Fort Bazaar, inside the Fort itself.
The Fort Bazaar (at 26 Church Street, Galle Fort) was formerly a 17th century merchant’s townhouse. Opening in 2016 in its current status as a small, boutique spa hotel, its 18 rooms are very spacious, cool and furnished with comfortable four-poster beds. Unfortunately, at the time of stay (April 2017), the pool and spa were not yet completed, and they were still waiting on a liquor licence. However, it is in a very central location within the Fort and complimentary tea and cakes were served daily between 3.00 and 4.00pm. My kind of hotel. I could not fault the staff, who were friendly, attentive and helpful. Sri Lankan hospitality at its best.
Note: The Fort Bazaar, according to a recent view of its website, now has a pool, a spa, and a liquor licence.
Due to the lack of a liquor licence (which did not suit at all), we booked dinner in the restaurant at the Galle Fort Hotel (at 28 Church Street), which came recommended by guide books.
The Galle Fort Hotel was a former gem merchant’s mansion. The restaurant’s setting was picture perfect, with the tables set up on the wide veranda overlooking the pool and garden.
However, dinner was less than ordinary, and the service was very slow even though there were only a few diners. In the heat and humidity, all we wanted was a cold drink to start with. But, once seated, we were suddenly invisible. We were starving by the time they remembered to take our meal orders. We do not recommend the restaurant in the Galle Fort Hotel.
A walk around Galle Fort
Over dinner, we decided to make an early start for our walk around Galle Fort, its bastions and ramparts (walls) the next day, so that our walk would be completed before the day got too hot. In hindsight, it makes no difference in April, heat-wise, what time of day you venture out as it is always very hot and wet (humidity, not rain).
On this day that we decided to do our walk, the humidity was 80% and caused some havoc with our DSLR cameras – fogged up lenses and constant error messages. While I have never found out conclusively if these problems were due to the humidity, it is certainly something to be aware of.
The humidity also impacted on my clothing. I wasn’t just dripping perspiration, I was completely wet. I was wearing a dark pink t-shirt that I had washed several times prior to this trip. However, the pink dye was coming out of my t-shirt. It stained my body, and my camera strap and my camera where they were touching the t-shirt. To top it off, the colour was completed bleached out of the t-shirt where my backpack was touching it – to the point where my t-shirt looked as though it had been tie-dyed.
After a leisurely breakfast at the Fort Bazaar of fresh fruit, bacon and eggs, and freshly ground coffee, we set off on our self-guided tour (walk) of Galle Fort.
(Map courtesy of the Fort Bazaar)
All Saints Anglican Church
Walking up Church Street (Galle Fort’s main thoroughfare) towards the main gate and the Clock Tower, we passed All Saints Anglican Church (its stumpy steeple, a distinctive landmark) and the Maritime Archaeological Museum
The tombstones laid in the floor of the Dutch Reform Church
Our first stop was at the Dutch Reform Church. Originally built in 1640, the floor of the Dutch Reform Church is laid with tombstones which were moved there from the Dutch cemeteries. The oldest of which dates from 1662. There are more tombstones in the grounds of the church.
Leaving the Dutch Reform Church, we continued up Church Street, making our way to the Clock Tower; our starting point for our walk along the Fort’s ramparts.
Heading east and past the Main Gate, we walked up onto the ramparts at the Moon Bastion with its Clock Tower that was built by the British in 1882. From here we were able to look down the ramparts (east and west) to the Star Bastion and Sun Bastion.
This is the most heavily fortified section of the ramparts as they protect the most vulnerable side of the Fort – the northern landward side. Galle Fort is surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean.
For those cricket fans…These northern ramparts provide a good view of the Galle International Cricket Stadium outside the Fort. This massive, 30,000-seater stadium has hosted more than 100 one day international matches. Australian bowler, Shane Warne claimed his 500th Test wicket at the Stadium in 2004. In 2010, Sri Lanka’s legendary cricket player, Muttiah Muralitharan played his last match at this venue. However, as at July 2018, the Galle Stadium was a risk of loosing its UNESCO World Heritage status due to the unauthorised construction of the 500-seat pavilion.
Turning south, we came to the Fish Market Bastion, where we left the ramparts to walk through Court Square. Here we stopped at the Old Gate. This was the original entrance to the Fort, with the Fort side of the gate inscribed with the Dutch East India Company’s coat of arms. The port side of the gate is adorned with a British crest (which replaced the original Dutch crest).
Court Square is shaded by magnificent, massive banyan trees with branches that seem to spread forever. The Square houses the law courts (with the lawyers standing around in their black suits) and the Old Dutch Hospital (now home to shops and cafes).
Galle Fort lighthouse on Point Utrecht Bastion
Heading south down Hospital Street, we found ourselves at Point Utrecht Bastion which is dominated by the lighthouse. Built in 1938 and standing 18 metres high, the lighthouse is still in use.
At the lighthouse, we climb back up onto the wall; walking along the southern rampart towards Flag Rock. Along this southern section of the wall, families were gathered on the shaded grass; picnicking and playing cricket.
Walking past the Meeran Jumma Mosque (which looks very much like a European Baroque church), we came to Flag Rock located on the southern-most end of the Fort. People dive from Flag Rock into the ocean – described as daring free-style divers. I did see one young man run along the top of the rock and dive from it. “Idiot” might be a better description than “daring”. “Clearly potty” is how one guide book describes these jumpers. Perhaps they have insider knowledge of exactly where the submerged rocks are?
We finally headed north as the ramparts hugged the west coast. We ended our ramble along Galle Fort’s ramparts near the army barracks, just before the Clock Tower where we had begun. Here we cut across the village green, past the Army Barracks as I had thrown a hissy fit; being upset that we were still walking in the heat. This was a short cut back to our hotel and a welcomed decision.
The guide books and tourist brochures inform you the walk along the ramparts will take 90 minutes. We took almost twice that length of time due to the heat and constant stopping to take photos. It’s surprising how hard it is to lift your feet when weighed down by heat and humidity!
We made a couple more stops before heading back to our hotel for a well-earned rest in a lovely cool room.
A long cool drink on the wide veranda of the luxury Amangalla Hotel was warranted before visiting the Manor House Museum (at 31-39 Leyn Baan Street – entrance is free). This is a private collection of antiques and miscellaneous objects (described by one guide book as “outright junk”). The collection belongs to Abdul Gaffar, a local gem merchant, and is on display in a restored Dutch house. In my opinion, Gaffar has a serious hoarding problem, with rooms and cabinets stuffed full of old typewriters, cameras, telephones, crockery, spectacles, jewellery and old Chinese memorabilia. To describe this collection as bazaar is being very kind and generous. It was just downright weird! For that reason alone, it is worth the visit. The museum does provide insight into some traditional crafts with presentations of lace embroidery, gem cutting and jewellery making. However, be cautious if you suffer from asthma because the museum is very, very dusty.
Lunch was at the Serendipity Arts Café; recommended by one guide book as a place to eat. The food was good (had a very tasty chicken club sandwich – not very imaginative of me) but I would not recommend it as it was not atmospheric; as was foretold.
We were back at the Fort Bazaar in time for a rest before partaking of the hotel’s scheduled afternoon tea and cakes served on the terrace.
This night we had dinner at The Fort Printers (39 Pedlar Street). This elegant, small private hotel (a restored 18th century mansion) was a printing facility in its former life. The original printing press is on show in the lobby of the hotel. We had discovered this hotel on our morning walk. I found the menu limiting as I am allergic to seafood and this was the speciality of the house. My sister and brother-in-law do not suffer from the same affliction and loved the menu choices. However, the menu did include chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes. The restaurant is in a lovely setting in a courtyard around a small pool. We were tucked into an alcove at the side of the courtyard that afforded a good level of privacy. Which was just as well as our conversation became quite lively and animated. Even so, we were not forgotten. The staff were friendly, attentive, knowledgeable about their menu, and ready to answer any questions we had. The food was so good, we went back a second night.
And so, our first 24 hours comes to an end. But not so our stay in Galle Fort as we spent a further day venturing outside of the Fort and into the countryside beyond; visiting the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum, Kataluwa Temple, the coastal village of Willgama, and a final stop at the Peace Pagoda. But that’s another story.
Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and unsponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.
Dear Pip, Having travelled as much as I have, I should no longer be surprised by how easily things can get lost in translation. But on this occasion, my physical…
Simien Lodge – sunset in the Simien Mountains
Having travelled as much as I have, I should no longer be surprised by how easily things can get lost in translation. But on this occasion, my physical comfort, or more precisely, my physical discomfort enabled me to create my own meaning to communication.
Yesterday I arrived at the Simien Lodge in the Simien Mountains National Park and had to haul my jacket out from the bottom of my bag. This was the first time I needed my jacket since arriving in Ethiopia. It could have something to do with the Simien Lodge being at an altitude of 3,260 metres above sea level – the highest lodge in Africa.
The rooms in the Simien Lodge are spacious, with a good-sized bathroom; including a shower that I was actually able to turn around in (an issue in Ethiopian hotels). But the room was cold, and, after a very thorough search, I couldn’t see any means for heating the room.
Due to my arrival at the Simien Lodge after a very long drive (getting anywhere in Ethiopia involves a long drive), I decided to have a rest and worry about the heating when I went down for dinner. Given the altitude and my hut being on top of a hill, I wasn’t going to walk up and down unless I absolutely had to.
Piling the blankets and quilts from the spare bed onto mine, I climbed into bed thinking that at least I would be warm for my rest. How wrong could I be! Even with an extra layer of clothes and my jacket on, I was still cold. Needless to say, I went down for dinner as soon as the restaurant opened.
My first stop was at Reception where I asked if there was any way of heating my room. I was advised that after dinner I would be provided with “a plastic card for the bed”. I assumed this would be like a hotel room key card that you slot in to activate the room lights; that I would slot this card in somewhere in the room that I hadn’t as yet located, and it would activate an electric blanket. An electric blanket would be most suitable. That it would be an electric blanket I hadn’t seen yet did not register. I should have known, don’t ever assume! The ‘plastic card for the bed’ turned out to be a hot water bottle. To say that I was disheartened by this method of heating my room, is an understatement. How was I going to be warm? However, the hot water bottle worked a treat. I was snug in bed all night and had a great night’s sleep. That the room itself was cold mattered not one bit.
Tomorrow we leave for Gondar where, I am assured, it will be warmer.
I love coffee. I have drunk coffee in many, many countries with varying degrees of appreciation. Well now I have found coffee heaven. It’s in Ethiopia and there is a…
I love coffee. I have drunk coffee in many, many countries with varying degrees of appreciation. Well now I have found coffee heaven. It’s in Ethiopia and there is a whole ceremony wrapped around the making and drinking of it.
Ethiopia is the home of coffee. The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia and the beans were first brewed in the 11thcentury. So, they have had a lot of practice doing stuff with coffee. The coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian culture and hospitality. It is an important social occasion.
Ethiopians have a delightful story around the discovery of the benefits of coffee. A goat herder noticed his goats acting excitedly and ‘dancing’ on the hind legs after eating bright red berries. When he tried the berries himself, he felt energised. He grabbed some berries and rushed home to tell his wife who told him he must share these “heaven sent” berries with the monks in the nearby monastery. The monks did not share the goat herder’s elation, believing the berries to be sinful; to be the work of the Devil. They tossed the coffee berries in the fire. However, the smell of the roasting coffee beans had the monks rethinking their view of this sinful drug and removed the coffee beans from the fire. They crushed the coffee beans to put out the glowing embers and covered them with hot water to preserve them. The aroma of the coffee had all the monks wanting to try it. After which, they vowed to drink coffee every day because they found the uplifting effects of the coffee helped to keep them awake during their holy devotions. And so, history was made.
I loved the ceremony as much as the coffee itself. Unlike Italy where coffee is drunk quickly whilst standing, making and drinking coffee in Ethiopia is not to be rushed as no step is to be missed.
Wherever I travelled in Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony was always the same. There was something reassuring in this familiarity and about the smell of fresh grasses that were invariably laid on the ground.
First, the raw coffee beans are rubbed together in water in a pan to remove the skins on the beans. Then they are roasted over a charcoal brazier. This releases the aromatic oils out of the beans. The hostess – I never saw this ceremony conducted by a man – brings the pan of smoking, roasted beans around for you to waft the smoke towards you; to draw in the aroma of the roasted beans.
Once roasted, the beans are ground with a mortar and pestle. Traditionally, the mortar and pestle are made of wood.
The jebena I bought in a local market in Bahir Dar
While this is happening, water is being boiled in a “jebena” – a traditional Ethiopian clay coffee pot with a bulbous, round bottom; a long narrow neck topped with a wooden or straw stopper; and a handle.
Once the coffee beans are ground, they are added to the boiling water. The combined water and beans are boiled for a couple of minutes and then rested to allow the coffee powder to sink to the bottom of the pot.
By this stage, if you are a coffee lover like me, the smell of fresh brewed coffee will have your mouth watering in anticipation of what is to come.
Finally, the coffee is poured into small, handleless china cups (very much like Turkish coffee cups). The pouring is done from as high as possible above the cups – from about a foot above the cups. The coffee is usually served with popcorn or peanuts.
Ethiopian coffee is drunk sweet and black. In fact, very sweet – 2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar. Mind you, the teaspoons are minuscule. I learnt to enjoy black coffee. However, by the time I left Ethiopia, I was drinking the coffee with a bit less sugar.
When partaking of coffee in Ethiopia, etiquette requires you to have three cups of coffee. The first cup is to welcome you, the second cup is about friendship and the third cup is to say goodbye. Remember, these are very small cups, so having three is less in quantity than a mug of coffee.
Ethiopian coffee is the best I have ever tasted. The two women I was travelling with told me I said, “Oh, that’s good coffee” every time I have a cup of coffee. This must have driven them mad because we had lots (and I mean lots) of cups of coffee. Finally, one of my travel companions told our diver/guide that Ethiopia needs to change its tourism slogan from ’13 months of sunshine’ to ‘Oh, that’s good coffee’. He just laughed.
If you want to see a city reinventing itself, then now is the time to visit Materia – especially the revitalisation of the Sassi di Matera. Matera’s Sassi has a…
If you want to see a city reinventing itself, then now is the time to visit Materia – especially the revitalisation of the Sassi di Matera. Matera’s Sassi has a colourful history that has seen it go from the earliest inhabited city in Italy, to a place of national humiliation, to Italy’s pride. This history, all of which is still visible today, makes the Sassi di Matera a matchless tourist destination. Matera’s Sassi has been reborn and now is the time to witness that rebirth while Matera celebrates its recognition as a city of culture.
A brief history – from shame to gain
Italy’s southern city of Matera (along with Bulgaria’s, Plovdiv) is the 2019 European Capital of Culture. For this honour, Matera receives hundreds of millions of euros to develop infrastructure and present year-long cultural and art activities; activities designed to improve the quality of life in the city and to strengthen a sense of community. It is expected that being a European Capital of Culture will bring fresh life to the city and will enhance Matera’s cultural, social and economic development. It is an opportunity for Matera to showcase itself internationally and to boost tourism. An opportunity Matera needs in order to reclaim its dignity and credibility in the eyes of Italy and the world.
This is a chance for Matera to leave behind its reputation as the “Shame of Italy”. The object of this shame is the Sassi di Matera (literal translation from Italian, “Stones of Matera”). The Sassi are a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and people have lived in these cave dwellings since 7000 BC.
In his book, Christ Stopped at Eboli (published 1945), Carlo Levi put the Sassi di Matera on the world map when he highlighted the poor living conditions. He painted a picture of abject poverty. Malaria, cholera and typhoid were rampant in the Sassi. Families and their animals were living together under the same roof in dwellings with no natural light or ventilation, no electricity, water or sewers and there was a high infant mortality rate.
The Sassi became an embarrassment for the Italian Government. So much so that in 1950 the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency, and plans were put in place to move the Sassi’s inhabitants out. By 1952 the Sassi was empty; abandoned through forced removal.
After sitting dormant for a couple of decades, the Sassi started to go through a transformation; starting in the 1970s with artists and hippies rediscovering Matera’s Sassi. This urban renewal, and a younger generation expressing their desire to have the caves brought back to life, led the Italian Government to pass a law in 1986 to repopulate the Sassi; connecting water and electricity and subsidising restoration work in order to encourage the Sassi’s revival.
And the people did come – restoring caves as homes, hotels, restaurants and bars. But many are still uninhabitable.
The Sassi di Matera’s revival was further cemented in 1993 when listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for being “the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region”.
A new image of the Sassi is forming and the tourists are coming. The Sassi di Matera have been transformed and Matera is the 2019 European Capital of Culture.
My visit to the Sassi di Matera
The Sassi are carved into the limestone cliffs of a ravine gauged out by the Gravina River. My first sighting of the Sassi di Matera was from across the ravine. What I saw from this vantage point was a mass of caves clinging to the steep slope. On top of these caves is the new city of Matera – a unique juxtaposition.
My hotel room – a restored cave in Le Grotte della Civita
My second introduction to the Sassi was my hotel, Le Grotte della Civita. Sitting on the edge of the ravine in the most ancient Sassi area, Le Grotte della Civita consists of 18 rooms. All the rooms are individual caves that have been beautifully restored whilst retaining their original features. The furnishings are simple but tasteful, with much of the lighting provided by candles. Breakfast, served in a reclaimed cave that was a church, was typical of Southern Italy – breads, cakes, pastries, James, meats and cheeses. This was truly a memorable place to stay.
Carving on the facade of the Church of Purgatory
Skulls decorate the Church of Purgatory doors
Matera has 180 churches; 40 of which are in the Sassi, including the Cathedral and the rock-cut Church of Santa Maria di Idris. My favourite was the Church of Purgatory. Completed in 1747, its recurring and only theme is that of death. The baroque façade of the church and its doors are covered with carvings of skulls, skeletons and crossbones. While a church focusing on death might seem a bit Grim Reaper-ish, it was actually fashionable at the time of construction, as death was not seen as the end but as the beginning of a new life.
The house-like facades are a deception as they ‘front’ caves
While the Sassi look like a mass of houses, the house-like facades are only that, as the ‘houses’ are dug well into the rock, thereby forming the caves Matera is famous for.
Sassi caves on caves and roads on cave roofs
Houses in the Sassi are often built on top of other houses and many of the streets are built on the roofs of houses.
One would be forgiven for thinking the Sassi are a place of shadow and crampedness. But not so. The squares in the Sassi are sun-drenched open spaces flanked by cafes, shops, churches and restaurants. And great for people watching.
I took a walking tour with a local guide in the morning to get acquainted with the Sassi. This included learning the history of the Sassi di Matera, visiting a cave dwelling for a glimpse into past life and viewing one of the ancient Rupestrian Churches that date back to the Middle Ages. However, what I enjoyed most of all was just walking around on my own – exploring narrow ‘streets’, talking to the locals, checking out their cafes, and having all the time I wanted to take photos. You will need comfortable shoes to walk around the Sassi. And don’t forget, the Sassi are built on the side of a ravine. So, there are lots of steep steps.
2019: Matera is one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2019
2014: Tourism starts to take off. Most likely due to Matera being announced as one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2019. Matera has 4 years to prepare …
1993: The Sassi of Matera is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
1986: Change in Italian law and people are encouraged to return to the Sassi
1952: Abandonment of the Sassi through the Italian Government’s forced removal of its inhabitants
Prehistory: (approximately 9,000 years ago) People first inhabited the Sassi
A bit of trivia for you: Mel Gibson’s controversial movie, “The Passion of the Christ”(2004) was filmed in the Sassi di Matera as too was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St Matthew”. It would seem Matera’s Sassi makes for a great ancient Jerusalem.
Are you going to Galway (Ireland) or Rijeka (Croatia) in 2020? They are the European Capitals of Culture for 2020.
Want to take a self-guided walking tour around Venice?…
Cultural insensitivity is, in my opinion, a sign of deep disrespect. I leant this the hard way in Varanasi (India) when I “innocently” took a photo of the cremation pyres…
Cultural insensitivity is, in my opinion, a sign of deep disrespect. I leant this the hard way in Varanasi (India) when I “innocently” took a photo of the cremation pyres on the banks of the Ganges River. It took my guide a lot of talking, much apologising and a payment of money to appease the men who supply wood for the pyres. In my defence (but no excuse), I had not been informed not to take photos of the cremations.
I was mortified by my wrongdoing. Even though this occurred a number of years ago, I still beat myself up about it. I was not new to international travel and would have described myself as culturally sensitive. To this day, I cannot explain what made me think it was okay to take such a photo.
So, when our guide in Mongolia advised us on local customs before our 2-night stay with a nomadic family, I felt a deep sense of appreciation. And that of relief; that I was not going to commit any social or cultural faux pas through ignorance. I have a strong belief that knowledge is power, and I was about to meet this family in a “powerful” (culturally knowledgeable) position.
So, what lessons did I learn from my Mongolian guide?
First up, our guide requested we not immediately take photos of the family but to get to know them a little first. This, I felt, was a more than reasonable request and one I knew I would have no trouble complying with because I often feel uncomfortable photographing people. However, given this was a photography tour I was on, the family expected photos to be taken of them as they knew this was a part of our learning.
We were then informed that we can ask any questions we want, with the guide translating for us as the family doesn’t speak any English. I suspect this also gave the guide the inadvertent opportunity to ‘censor’ any inappropriate questions – a good filtering system.
When you enter a ger, you must always go to the left. Don’t circle the interior of the ger. If you need to go to the right once inside the ger, go back to the door and then go to the right.
Do not touch a person’s head or shoulder as to do so is taking that person’s luck away.
Touching a person’s feet (with your feet) signifies you want to challenge that person to a fight. If you do touch a person’s feet unintentionally, shake hands with that person or touch their arm. By doing this you are saying, “I didn’t mean that” (to challenge to a fight); it removes the challenge.
Do not throw tissues in the fire. The fire is a holy thing and throwing a tissue in the fire is contaminating the fire. This was important to know as one by one we were coming down with colds.
Whatever is offered (that is, food or drink) must be accepted and you must taste whatever is offered or, at least pretend to taste it by putting the food or drink to your lips. There is another alternative if offered a glass of vodka. You can put your ring finger in the vodka, remove your finger from the vodka and flick your ring finger into the air. Thereby, flicking drops of vodka in the air.
Don’t step on the threshold of the ger. You must always step over it.
When offered something, before taking it, touch it with your right hand while supporting the elbow with the left hand. This is also followed when giving something. The exception to this is when offered or giving a meal.
When exiting religious buildings, eg temples, step out backwards so that you do not show your back to the interior. To show your back is to show disrespect to the gods.
The children in Mongolia don’t get their hair cut until between 2 and 5 years of age. For girls, this is usually between the ages of 2 and 4 years. Whereas boys will have their first hair cut at 3 to 5 years of age. The reason for leaving the first cutting of children’s hair until this age is because it is believed they are born with their mother’s hair. The cutting (more like shaving) of the hair signifies the child becoming their own person and is celebrated with a hair cutting ceremony.
The khadag is a long piece of silk cloth (like a scarf). It comes in 5 different colours – blue, white, yellow, green and red – with each colour having its own unique significance:
Blue is the most sacred colour in Mongolian culture; representing Mongolia’s eternal blue sky. The blue khadag is the most common and can be given to anyone, regardless of age, to show respect.
White represents milk and is the symbol of purity. It is often given to mothers.
Yellow represents the sun and is the symbol of wisdom. It is given when you greet monks.
Green represents earth; being in tune with nature. It is the colour of inner peace and is only used in religious rituals.
Red represents fire and blood (as in circulation). It is the colour of life; of prosperity. As with the green khadag, it is not used to greet people but is only used in religious ceremonies.
To give or offer a khadag to someone or something is to show respect; the ultimate offering. To give a blue khadag to a person or animal is the highest form of respect. Driving through Mongolia, I would often see sheep and horses with a blue khadag tied around their neck. Our guide explained this is showing respect for the animal and it can’t be killed/eaten.
The cairns (shrines) throughout Mongolia are mounds of rocks and stones for offerings. Photograph by Speak Photography
The cairns (stone shrines known as ovoos) that dot Mongolia are festooned with khadags, primarily blue ones. Most Mongolians are Buddhist, but Shamanism still remains an integral part of Mongolian life. The cairns are erected by locals and travellers as a means of providing offerings to the local spirits; thus, showing their respect and honouring the spirits of the surrounding land. When you come across a cairn, you should always stop and show your respect by making an offering. The ritual entails walking around the cairn three times in a clockwise direction. As you do so, you make an offering while making a prayer or wish. This might be for a safe journey, good health, good fortune or for much needed rain. The offering can be a khadag, food, money, vodka, etc or a small stone. If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to stop at a cairn, the driver will honk the horn three times. At one cairn, our driver offered a blue khadag. We settled for a small stone each time we stopped at a cairn – and there were many.
My conclusion? Don’t forget to know before you go.
Dear Pip, Deep in the middle of nowhere are Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs. At approximately 100 kms northwest of Dalanzadgad in the southern part of the Gobi Desert, they are utterly…
Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs are in the middle of nowhere in the Gobi Desert
Deep in the middle of nowhere are Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs.
At approximately 100 kms northwest of Dalanzadgad in the southern part of the Gobi Desert, they are utterly remote.
I don’t know how our driver found his way through the desert because there are no signs or landmarks that I could discern to guide the way. When I asked (as translated by our guide) how he knows the way, he shrugged his shoulders saying (as translated) he just knows. Beats me!
However, find the way he did.
The Flaming Cliffs, so named because of their ochre and red colour, are famous for the discovery of dinosaur eggs by the American palaeontologist, Roy Chapman Andrews in 1922.
According to our guide, the eggs were discovered when one of Andrews’ crew fell down the cliff into a nest full of dinosaur eggs.
Also known as one of the world’s greatest dinosaur fossil sites, more and more bones are exposed through erosion. This excited Meg who scrambled over the cliffs (in thongs!) fossicking for dinosaur bones.
Nearing the end of our cliff walk and exploration, we came across what could be a large bone – possibly a dinosaur thigh bone. Our guide suggested licking the ‘bone’ to test if it is bone or stone. Apparently, when you lick bone your tongue sticks to it but not to stone when licked. Of course, Meg had to have a lick. Her tongue stuck to it – bone!
A bit of trivia for you…
It is said that Roy Chapman Andrews was a bit of a daredevil; a swashbuckler. It is believed he was the inspiration behind the film character Indiana Jones.
Bone or stone? The lick test!
Wanting to learn more about Mongolia? Click on the links to read about:
With Sri Lanka being named the destination for 2019, tourism will only increase in this teardrop shaped nation. Finding places to visit away from the maddening crowds is a very good…
With Sri Lanka being named the destination for 2019, tourism will only increase in this teardrop shaped nation.
Finding places to visit away from the maddening crowds is a very good reason to visit Geoffrey Bawa’s garden as it is largely undiscovered by tourists, being something different from the ‘usual’ tourist attraction.
Not to be confused with Brief Garden – the former estate of Geoffrey’s older brother, Bevis.
Who was Geoffrey Bawa you say? He was Sri Lanka’s most well-known architect. In fact, he is deemed to be the most influential Asian architect of his time (dying in 2003). For those architect enthusiasts out there, he was one of the founding fathers of the architectural style known as, “tropical modernism”. Bawa is probably best known for designing Sri Lanka’s Houses of Parliament.
Living permanently in Colombo, Lunuganga Estate, situated on the banks of Dedduwa Lake in Bentota (midway between Colombo and Galle), was Geoffrey Bawa’s country retreat. Here, on 23 acres, he spent 50 years turning this abandoned rubber plantation (and prior to that, a cinnamon plantation) into gardens of multiple shades of green.
We explored the gardens with the Head Curator on a 2-hour private tour.
Don’t expect to find manicured gardens of colourful flowers, neat borders and gurgling fountains. But do expect a tamed, tropical wilderness of sudden vistas, intimate groves, sculptures and wide landscapes. I found Bawa’s garden to be a place of peace, tranquillity and restfulness.
Come take a stroll with me on a visual tour of Geoffrey Bawa’s garden.
The Hen House – in the same style as Sri Lanka’s Parliament House
Bawa designed Sri Lanka’s Parliament House and then designed his hen house (chicken coup) on the estate in the same style. Take from that what you will!
Sandela Pavilion where Bawa had his office
Sandela Pavilion is an open, airy space and served as Bawa’s office. From here he had a lovely view of the lake and could see anyone who arrived at the main gate.
The Red Terrace
The Red Terrace
The Red Terrace derives its name from the red laterite ground surface, produced by the decomposition of the underlying rocks.
The Water Garden
Water Garden where Bawa would sit
The water garden pond is shaped like a butterfly and covered with water lilies. The area has a number of sculptures and a bench seat beside the pond in the shade of trees. Here Bawa would sit and ring the garden bell for his gin and tonic to be brought to him.
There are a number of sculptures around the garden.
Sundial sculpture in the water garden
Sculpture of the pagan god, Pan
The sundial sculpture (above left) in the water garden has an air of decline and abandonment. While the sculpture of the pagan god, Pan (above right) was called “Hindu” Pan by Bawa. No reason was given as to why he called it such.
The Plain of Jars
Ming jars dot the landscape in an area know as “The Plain of Jars”
In a setting of sloping grassy plains with the occasional tall tree, the Ming jars that dot this part of the landscape were added here by Bawa.
Jack Fruit – a tropical fruit growing on the Estate
The estate is set in Sri Lanka’s wet tropical zone.
So tropical fruits, like the Jack Fruit, are not unknown and grow to large proportions.
Cinnamon Hill House
Cinnamon Hill House
Cinnamon Hill House was used by Bawa as a studio from where he created his architectural designs. It was the last addition to the Garden.
Geoffrey Bawa’s Home
Geoffrey Bawa’s former home on the Estate
On Cinnamon Hill sits Geoffrey Bawa’s former home on the estate.
Lunch on the wide veranda of Bawa’s former home, with its views over the lake and a set menu of traditional Sri Lankan curries, was a visual and gastronomic pleasure.
The gardens are open to the public and the buildings on the estate are run as a country house hotel. Should you like to have lunch whilst visiting the estate, a reservation is essential. For more information, go to the Geoffrey Bawa Trust website and click on “Lunuganga Country Estate”.
When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say, “The devil made me do it”, whenever he was in trouble. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka with…
When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say, “The devil made me do it”, whenever he was in trouble.
On a recent trip to Sri Lanka with my sister and brother-in-law, my sister decided it would be an adventure to walk the 3 kilometres along the railway line from Ella to the iconic Nine Arch Bridge. From there we would decide whether to walk back to Ella or continue a further 3.5 kilometres along the railway line to Demodara train station, catching the Kandy-Colombo train back to Ella.
With all in agreement, and knowing the expected time the train departs Demodara, we set off at 8.20am after an early breakfast for our possible 6.5-kilometre walk.
Walking the railway line in Sri Lanka from Ella to Demodara
So, you ask, what’s the connection between walking a railway line in the hills of Sri Lanka and a grandmother teaching her grandson how to get out of trouble? Read on and the dots will be connected.
Just after stepping onto the railway line near our hotel, we were confronted with the sign, ‘WALK ON THE RAILWAY LINE IS PROHIBITED’. I immediately decided that when stopped by the railway police, I was going to tell them, “The devil made me do it”. I wonder how well this translates into Sinhala or Tamil? If that didn’t work, I was going to blame my sister, the hotel manager and guide books because they all suggested this escapade – a “must do” in Ella; to do as the locals do
I stopped worrying about ending up in a Sri Lankan prison when, about 5 metres further down the line, it became evident the authorities had given up telling people that walking the line is prohibited because there was now a sign advising that walking the railway line is dangerous. I relaxed. ‘Dangerous’ I can handle, but ‘prohibited’ goes against my ‘good girl’ nature.
However, ‘dangerous’ became a not-so-friendly companion again upon entering a tunnel that was impossible to see any light coming from the other end. Blindly feeling my way through the tunnel with my feet against the railway track, I wondered aloud what action should be taken in the event of a train coming whilst we are in the tunnel. Luckily, my brother-in-law had been thinking ahead and had consulted with the Hotel Manager; finding out what time we might come face-to-face on the Nine Arch Bridge with the train from Kandy.
Exiting the tunnel at Nine Arch Bridge
Feeling relatively safe in the knowledge I was not about to be squished by a train, the walk through the tunnel became a devil-may-care adventure filled with excess adrenaline running rampant through my body. I imagined I was breaking new ground, being the first person to walk through a railway tunnel.
I may not have felt quite so safe, and would definitely have run out of adrenaline, had I known the tunnel exits right on the Bridge.
Walking the railway line on Nine Arch Bridge
The Nine Arch Bridge, a popular tourist attraction, spans a deep gorge and is surrounded by a vision of green; of tropical forest interspersed with tea plantations. And so-called because it has nine arches or spans. Very imaginative! At 91.44m (300ft) long, 7.62m (25ft) wide and 24.38m (80ft) high, this railway bridge is deemed to be an engineering marvel as it is made entirely of rocks, bricks and cement without a single piece of steel. Not knowing anything about engineering, I have to concur with the experts. What I do know is that its height and all those arches, plus the environment in which it is erected, make it one pretty and impressive bridge.
Here comes the train down the line from Demodara
We had timed our arrival at the Nine Arch Bridge to watch the 9.15am train from Kandy cross the bridge. All the information you read about Sri Lankan trains tell you they rarely run on time. However, this one – my thanks to the driver – was on time and came down the line just after we crossed the bridge. Stepping off the tracks, I expressed my thanks with an enthusiastic wave to the driver and all the passengers. I was reliving a childhood experience. Mind you, one that I have never had. I have walked a gas pipeline before but never a railway line and have never been close enough to a train driver in a moving train to wave to him.
The Nine Arch Bridge is the midway point between Ella and Demodara stations. Having got this far, the decision was made to continue our walk along the railway line to Demodara to catch the 10.40am train back to Ella. I was on a mission now to reach Demodara in time to catch that train as I was not walking the 6.5 kms back to Ella.
Waiting on Demodara Station for the train back to Ella
We made it to Demodara by 10.20am but weren’t allowed to purchase our train tickets immediately; being told to wait until 10 minutes before the train is due. No explanation was forthcoming as to why this is so. However, Demodara is such a pretty station, with its many potted flowering plants lining the station, we were happy to wait to be ‘allowed’ to buy our train tickets. When I did front up to the ticketing window, I thought I had misheard when asked to pay 30 Sri Lankan rupees (the equivalent of 30 Australian cents) for 3, one-way tickets from Demodara to Ella (10c each). I was so impressed with how cheap it was, I shouted my sister and brother-in-law their tickets.
Train ride from Demodara to Ella, with locals hanging out the doors
The train was practically empty. Not what I had expected. This made choosing a seat difficult due to having too much choice. Which seat was going to give me the best view of the scenery as it passes by outside the window? In the end, I chose to stand in the doorway like a local.
The train ride, although short-lived, was fun and the highlight of my day. Anyone would think I have never ridden a train before!
This walk along the railway line is touted by guide books as a ‘must do’ activity when in Ella. However, we came across no other tourists except at the bridge itself. Is it too far off the beaten track for most tourists? We were the only non-locals walking the line. I had to smile whenever we passed a makeshift stall by the side of the rail tracks – they cater for people’s needs wherever they can!
Our train from Demodara to Ella crossing the Nine Arch Bridge
The walk had actually been very easy. It was flat all the way and you get into a routine as you lope from sleeper to sleeper. The constant views of tea estates, valleys and mountains made for a very pleasant walk. And the company was good too – not one disagreement!
Note: You can get to the Bridge by taking a tuk-tuk from Ella or by walking through the jungle. Or, do as a local does and walk along the railway line.
Dear Pip, We spent the day sharing in the excitement of a local horse festival in the Orkhon Valley, not far from Tsaidam Ger Camp (our accommodation for the night)….
We spent the day sharing in the excitement of a local horse festival in the Orkhon Valley, not far from Tsaidam Ger Camp (our accommodation for the night).
Learning to ride almost from the day they can walk, Mongolia’s history, culture and peoples are intimately linked with horses. Perhaps inevitable in a country where there are 13 x more horses than people. Throughout the day, I came to appreciate the strong bond the nomads have with their horses.
After Meg shared snuff with the old men and our guide explained what the horse festival entailed, we found a pozzie amongst the locals to watch and photograph the men, dressed in traditional garb, compete in a number of events; events that showed off the nomads’ unique horsemanship skills and the strength of their horses.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about stampeding wild horses being lassoed but did laugh with the crowd when a competitor would manage to lasso a horse, only to end up on his bum, being dragged some distance by the frantic horse. I needed to remind myself, this is their way of life; their culture.
Men riding bucking wild horses elicited shouts of encouragement from the crowd and laughter as they fell off. One man who managed to stay on his horse delighted the crowd as he and his horse disappeared into the way blue wonder.
I particularly enjoyed watching the men grabbing an uurga (long pole with a lasso on the end) off the ground from a galloping horse. I’m in awe as to how they stayed on their horse as they would be well down the side of the horse, around its fast-moving legs. Some of the younger men even had a go at grabbing a cigarette lighter off the ground from their running horse – some more successful than others.