Just Me Travel

Just Me Travel

Solo Travel Blogger

Author: Joanna Rath

GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR HOLIDAY PHOTOS

What can I do with my holiday photos? 15 creative ideas to revisit your favourite holiday destination anytime. Discover 15 creative ideas for projects you can undertake to get your holiday…

What can I do with my holiday photos? 15 creative ideas to revisit your favourite holiday destination anytime.

Discover 15 creative ideas for projects you can undertake to get your holiday photos out of the dark. Create a photo book, a jigsaw puzzle, a calendar, a slideshow, and so much more. Like the cushions on your couch, the rug on your floor, make your holiday photos a part of your everyday visual content.

Do you have hundreds, thousands of holiday photos that just sit there on your computer, tablet, and/or phone? It’s time to get creative with those holiday photos; to get them out of hiding and do something productive with them so you can enjoy them and share them with others.

But first, you need to organise your holiday photos so you can easily find them. Then jump right in and have a go at one, two, three, or more of the 15 creative ideas in this post.

Use these quick links to jump straight to different creative ideas in the post:

 

Organise your photos

This might seem obvious but it is a critical step if you want to find your photos again.

So often I have had people scroll through the photos on their phone looking for a specific photo to show me. By the time they have found the photo, I have lost interest in seeing it. Sound familiar?

Let me set the scene. You have a photo on your phone that you want to share on Instagram. You have never taken the time to sort your photos into meaningful ‘albums’ in your ‘Photos/Gallery’ app. You have hundreds of photos on your phone. You now spend 50 minutes scrolling through all your photos looking for that ‘one’. Do you still want to post on Instagram?

Heaven help you if the photo you want has been taken with a camera and has been uploaded to your computer or tablet. All you get is a file number, which you need to click on to see the photo. This is even more time consuming that scrolling through photos on your phone. At least on your phone, the photo is immediately presented.

The moral of the story is, if you want to get creative with your holiday photos, then you need to organise your photos. Like a filing cabinet. It will save so much time later on.

This post now assumes 2 things:

  1. You have chosen the photos you want to use; and
  2. You have applied some editing techniques (optional) to your photos.

This is not a ‘how-to’ post. That is, it is not about ‘how to post’ photos on Facebook or Instagram; it’s not about ‘how to make’ a photo book or calendar; it’s not about ‘how to develop’ a website; and so forth.

This post is about planting the seed; about posing ideas for what you can do with your holiday photos.

 

Cloud storage and sharing

As well as storing your photos directly on your own personal device (eg, the hard drive on your computer or laptop, or your phone), you can store them in the “cloud”.  Cloud storage involves storing your files remotely on servers owned by companies and made accessible to you from any device, anywhere that has an internet connection. This is a safe means for backing up your photos.

I am an advocate for backing up photos. Think about how you would feel if you lost all your photos because your computer, laptop, tablet, or phone crashed and that was the only place you had your photos stored.

There are many cloud storage service providers. Perhaps the best known (because they are the only ones I know of) are, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, which gives you access to Google Photos, and Microsoft OneDrive.

All of these cloud storage service providers offer free file storage at varying degrees of limitations. They are available using various Operating System platforms, across different devices, for example, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android. To share your holiday photos with family and friends, simply send them a link via email or text.

 

Post and share on Facebook

Share your holiday photos with family and friends on Facebook – a website that allows users to socially network with other people online. Once you have created a free Facebook profile, you are then able to share your holiday photos with family and friends.

Broaden your sharing horizons and join travel photography groups on Facebook.

Facebook is available on any device with an internet connection. Because Facebook is web-based, as long as you have internet access, you can post your holiday photos while you are travelling; not having to wait until you get home

 

Post and share on Instagram

Instagram is a free app for sharing your holiday photos. Unlike Facebook, which is multi-faceted, Instagram is photo-centric and mobile-centric. The Instagram app is available on Apple iOS, Android, and Windows phones.

Once you create an Instagram account you can upload your holiday photos and then have the option to share them with a select group of friends who also have an Instagram account, or with people who have chosen to follow your account.

 

Create a photo book / Coffee table book

A soft toy green frog reading a book of photographs

Pixabay free stock images

 

A photo book is a great way to share your special holiday memories in a printed format. A photo book is a compilation of your chosen photos that create a visual story. While the photos are the primary message, you can add text to complement the story.

An internet search for photo book services/makers is overwhelming for choices. My search of the 5 best photo book services/makers in the USA, UK, and Australia showed ‘Snapfish’ to be the only one appearing on all 3 lists. I have used Snapfish, but only for making a birthday card and printing a photo on a mug.

With so many photo book services around, how do you choose the right one for you and your photo book project? How do you know what you should take into consideration? ‘Choice’ is a highly credible, unbiased, and well-respected product and service review organisation in Australia. They have published an article that you may find useful …

How to find the best photo book service: Our expert guide to price, comparing services, design and tips to build the best book.

If you have Adobe Lightroom, you can make a photo book in the Book Module and have it printed by Blurb.

Suzi Pratt, in her blog post for the Digital Photography School, “8 Ideas of What To Do With Your Vacation Photos“, writes:

Some photos simply pop and look better when they’re physically printed in book form. Consider putting together your top vacation photos and getting them printed via a service.

I recently used Zno and was impressed with their high-quality printing and the fact that the images lay flat without the book gutter running through them. Another service called ChatBooks is a little more automated and can sync your Instagram or Facebook photos into a book design for printing.

Having created the photo book of your favourite photos from your holiday, don’t hide it away in a cupboard or tucked into your bookcase. Keep it on your coffee table so you, your family and friends can enjoy those photos at will. You might be surprised as to just how many people will pick up and browse through your photo book.

 

Create a calendar

A calendar makes a beautiful photo gift for yourself, family, and friends. And practical too! I had so much fun creating these two calendars as examples to show you.

You only need the free version of Canva to create a calendar.

There are several products you can create in Canva where you can then place a print order, and have it delivered straight to you. Calendars, unfortunately, is not one of those. Save your calendar and find a printer to bring your creation to life.

The bonus with using Snapfish to create your calendar is the ability to create, order, and pay all online within their website. It will then be shipped straight to you.

There are many online options available for creating a calendar from your holiday photos.

 

Create a photo ‘flip’ book

I saw this idea using postcards, but don’t see why it wouldn’t work just as well with photos. To make the photos more durable to much handling, you could laminate them.

To create a photo flip book, print your favourite holiday photos (with a flip book for each separate holiday); punch a hole or two in each photo; and then ‘bind’ them together with a split ring or, better still, with a hinged ring.

Like your photo book, don’t then hide your flip book in a cupboard, but leave it lying around on your coffee table.

 

Make a photo wall

Framed photos hanging on a wall

A section of my photo wall

 

Create a photo gallery on a wall in your home – a photo wall. This is a fun way to showcase your favourite holiday photos and creates a talking point when visitors come to your home.

I see a photo wall comprising of that one photo from each holiday that ‘speaks’ to you; that sums up your holiday; the one that captures the ‘heart and soul’ of your holiday. The one photo that tells the whole story of your holiday experience.

How you display your photos on your photo wall is entirely up to you – framed; printed on tiles, glass or canvas; or just stuck on the wall. Let your decorative style take hold.

 

Transform your favourite holiday photo into a jigsaw puzzle

For Christmas 2018, my adult children had one of my photos from my trip to Morocco transformed by Jigsaw Puzzles Australia into a 1000 pieces jigsaw puzzle.

I was thrilled with this present. However, there has been many a time that I have cursed them because they probably chose the hardest photo for a jigsaw. As you can see from my progress photo above, I still have not finished it 18 months later. Even so, I advocate this creative idea as a gift for yourself, family, or friends.

Once you have completed your jigsaw, you can have it mounted and framed and hang it on your wall.

An internet search of, for example, “personalised jigsaw puzzles”, “turn photos into jigsaw puzzles”, will reveal numerous services for you to choose from. Refine your search by adding your country, for example, “personalised jigsaw puzzles australia/uk/usa/nz” etc, to localise your search and make it more relevant.

Snapfish, that seemingly worldwide photo products maker, also makes custom jigsaw puzzles from your photos. Dead easy to create yourself and have shipped to you.

 

Turn your holiday photos into a movie

DVD covers

DVDs of the movies I have made of my holiday photos

Would you like to watch a movie of your holiday on your television?

For those of you with an Apple device, you can create a movie of your holiday in iMovie that includes adding background music and narration (voice-over). Once created and saved (exported), you can stream your holiday movie on your television.

There are several ways you can share your holiday movie project: email, YouTube, Prepare for Facebook, and File. On an iPhone and iPad, you will have additional sharing (exporting) options, including AirDrop, YouTube, Messages, and Mail.

I have created 6 movies from my photos in iMovie and have been thrilled with the results. I burn my movies to DVDs. When there is nothing worth watching on TV, I will put one in the DVD player and give in to nostalgia. There’s something special about seeing the places you have been to on the big screen.

I have done some trips with family members. I plan to create movies from those trips in iMovie and upload them to YouTube to share with them.

Don’t have an Apple device? An internet search of “software similar to imovie for pc” presented many options that could be worth trying.

 

Create a slideshow

Like movies, slideshows are a great way to present your favourite holiday photos. You can create a slideshow in Adobe Lightroom’s Slideshow module. However, unlike iMovie, you are not able to narrate your slideshow.

You can use any video editing program for creating a slideshow of your holiday photos. However, viable options include:

  • Google Photos. There is no recording option (narration) for a movie slideshow in Google Photos.
  • Windows 10. You will need the updated version of Windows 10 (above 1809) to access the ‘video editor’ (the free app in Windows 10).
  • Microsoft PowerPoint. Export your slideshow as a video file (.mp4) and you can upload it anywhere, for example, Facebook; YouTube.

With all of these options, you can apply time duration, transitions, effects, and background music.

I had fun creating a slideshow with Pholody. To get the benefit of all the features of this free online slideshow maker, use Google Chrome. Once created, your slideshow is downloadable as an mp4 video file and shareable.

By using your Google account, you can create your own, free YouTube account. Thus, enabling you to stream your holiday slideshow on your TV and (depending on your privacy settings) share it with family and friends.

 

Keep a holiday diary

One of the best ways to revisit your holiday is to keep a holiday diary; making daily entries and uploading photos as you go. By using an online diary, the friends and family you share the link to your diary with, can read it and see where you are and what you are doing as you update it.

There are many online travel diaries available. Initially, I used the app, TravelPod. When it closed in 2017, I did a lot of research looking for another free alternative that would appeal to me and meet my needs. After reading many reviews on several alternative apps, I chose Travel Diaries, and haven’t looked back.

Travel Diaries is easy to use, and editing is a breeze. I can customise my diaries, add as many photos as I want, and include location and route maps. I share my ‘Travel Diaries’ entries with family as I travel.

 

Turn your holiday story and photos into a printed book

Open book on a table

My travel diary book

 

Take your holiday diary and photos one step further and turn it into a printed book.

When I was using TravelPod, I had one of my travel diaries made into a printed book. I often get this book out and get great pleasure out of revisiting my holiday through my words and photos. There is something special about holding a physical book.

With Travel Diaries, you can order your completed diary as a printed book from within the app.

 

Start a photo blog

Suzi Pratt, in her blog post for the Digital Photography School, “8 Ideas of What To Do With Your Vacation Photos”, writes:

One of the best ways to recap your vacation is to make a blog post, combining photos with stories and words to give it more context. Don’t have a blog? No worries! It’s very easy to create a free blog on sites like WordPress. If making a blog sounds like too much, Adobe Spark offers a free, very intuitive format for quickly creating a travel blog of words and photos.

 

Sell your holiday photos

Turn your holiday photos into money.

My internet search found the following services were the most frequently identified top places to sell your photos online: Shutterstock; Alamy; Adobe Stock; and 500px.

Alexandra Bateman (March 18, 2020) at Envira Gallery shares the top 11 best places to make money selling your photos online. This article is not just a list but provides detailed information on each suggested option.

A good place to start if you are looking for free options include:

  • Picfair – Sign up for free. You create your store, upload your images & name your price. Picfair does everything else – produce and send a print to the customer or handle the license for a purchased download. You can upgrade to Picfair Plus (at a cost), which gives many additional features and more customisation options.
  • With Zazzle, you join as a designer – it’s free. Upload and sell your photos on hundreds of their products without the hassle of fulfilling orders or dealing with customer service.

I have not, as yet, progressed to selling my photos online. But this is something I regularly give serious consideration to. I particularly like what I see on the website of TourPhotos because it is a platform specifically for tourists and travel photographers to sell their photos online to travel agencies, tour companies, and the general public.

 

Showcase on the web

Create a web gallery for your holiday photos. Sound scary? Not really! Google Photos (discussed at the beginning of this post) is a web photo gallery program.

Flickr is one of the most widely known photo-sharing social networks. And it has free image hosting. You can set up your privacy options to share with everyone or a selected audience.

Or, you can build your own website. Become a photo blogger. The following article from ‘Envira Gallery’ shows you how to set up a photo gallery website with WordPress:

How to Create a Photography Website in WordPress (Step by Step). A beginner’s guide to creating your photography website in WordPress. Learn how to add your photos and make money with your website.

Creating a specific website is a great option if you want your holiday photos to be visible to everyone who lands on your page.

 

Print on clothing, coasters, etc

Photo of elephants on a coffee mug

One of my photos printed on a coffee mug

 

Creative ideas for using and sharing your photos is only as limited as your imagination. With so many apps and services available, your photos can be printed on a wide range of products

Suzi Pratt, in her blog post for the Digital Photography School, “8 Ideas of What To Do With Your Vacation Photos”, writes:

Thanks to printing companies such as Zazzle, you can print your photos on a wide range of objects. T-shirts, magnets, and mugs might seem like traditional items on which you tend to find custom printed photos. But did you know that your photo can be printed on an iPhone case, blanket, pillow, bathmat, Zippo lighter, playing cards, and even a skateboard?

Snapfish is certainly worth a look at as they have so many products you can choose from to print your holiday photos on – mugs, drink bottles, coasters, stubby holders, phone cases, pencil cases, keyrings, dog tags, playing cards, cushion covers, fridge magnets, blankets mousepads, shopping bags, Christmas decorations and more.

I have a coffee mug with my favourite elephant photo on it (pictured above). I rather fancy printing a couple of my favourite holiday photos on some cushion covers.

If you have any questions or are interested in knowing what tools I use, send me an email <joanna@justme.travel> or leave a comment.

 

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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 the copyright of Joanna Rath.

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EXPLORING BEAUTIFUL MELK ABBEY IS GUARANTEED TO BE SPECIAL

There are not enough adjectives to describe Melk Abbey. My first sighting of Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, took my breath away and it took a while before I could…

There are not enough adjectives to describe Melk Abbey. My first sighting of Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, took my breath away and it took a while before I could pick my jaw up off the ground. This beautiful, beautiful monastery (duplication not a typo) in Lower Austria should be on everyone’s European itinerary.

Melk Abbey is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. It is Austria’s largest Baroque structure. Perched high on a cliff overlooking the old town of Melk and the Danube and Melk rivers, it sits within the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The abbey you see today was built between 1702 and 1736. But Melk Abbey is 900 years of history – all evidently told in the abbey’s museum. Originally a palace, Melk Abbey was gifted to the Benedictine monks in 1089 and has remained an active abbey ever since. Today, Melk Abbey has 30 monks (ranging in age from 21 to 96 years); a co-educational secondary school with 900 pupils; and extremely well presented, minimalist museum; and a church that I can only describe as ostentatious.

From every angle, Melk Abbey is impressive. I lost count of the number of times I said, “Oh my goodness”. Swathed in ochre-coloured paint, Melk Abbey is just the most beautiful building to behold. You might have gathered by now that I fell in love with Melk Abbey. And the guided tour cemented my love.

The guided tour through Melk Abbey commenced with a meet and greet in the large outer courtyard, the Gatekeeper’s Courtyard. In this courtyard, you will find the oak wooden statue of Saint Coloman. The statue is 150 years old and the oak was sourced from the abbey’s forests. Saint Coloman was Austria’s first patron saint until 1663. He is still the patron saint of Melk Abbey and the town of Melk.

From the Gatekeeper’s Courtyard, it was through the Benedict Hall and into the Prelate’s Courtyard. In this latter courtyard were four vivid, contemporary frescos; replacing the Baroque frescos that were unable to be restored. These frescos represent the four cardinal virtues – Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude. The modernist style of the frescos caused some controversy as people tried to adjust to the move away from the original, and expected, Baroque style.

The fountain in the Prelate’s Courtyard is a copy of the Coloman fountain. The original, removed from Melk Abbey in 1722, now stands in Melk’s Town Hall Square.

Leaving the Prelate’s Courtyard through a narrow passageway, the Imperial Staircase leads up to the Imperial Wing.

The Imperial Wing was originally designed for the imperial court. Here, we find the Imperial Corridor and the imperial rooms (now housing Melk Abbey’s museum). A lot of ‘imperials’ happening here!

The Imperial Corridor, at 200 metres long, is impressive. The Corridor is hung with portraits of Austria’s rulers – from the first Babenberg Emperor, Leopold l, to the last Habsburg Emperor, Karl l. There are more portraits of Habsburgs because they ruled for longer.

The Melk Abbey museum, in the imperial rooms to the left of the Imperial Staircase, is extremely well set up and informative. It is minimalist in a positive way. That is, you get a good overview of the history (past and present) of the abbey, of its cultural, political and economic functions, but you are not left feeling overwhelmed; feeling as though there was too much to take in and, therefore, coming away none the wiser. No information overload here.

The museum comprises of 11 small rooms. The overriding theme of the museum is, “The Path from Yesterday to Today: Melk Abbey in its Past and Present”, with each room having its own individual theme. What follows are snippets of, in my opinion, interesting information taken from the guide’s explanations throughout the museum tour and my impressions.

Room 3 (“The Ups and Downs of History”) has a wavy floor, representing the ups and downs of life. The flooring is not the original Baroque because Napoleon was an unfortunate guest who burned documents on the floor.

Rooms 5 and 6 are a tribute to Melk Abbey’s contribution to the Baroque period. The Baroque period was a time in history of excess and all that glitters (gold, and more gold). “Heaven on Earth” seems to me an appropriate theme for this period. However, Room 7, with its, “In the Name of Reason” theme, represents new times and a sensible, frugal monarch. Joseph ll said the Baroque style was too expensive. But perhaps he was a little too frugal. Taking the Baroque style to the opposite extreme, he only allowed one coffin per church. The coffin designed to meet this requirement had a bottom that would open, allowing the corpse to drop through. Thus, the coffin could be used again.

Room 10 (“To Glorify God in Everything”) contains a 17th century iron chest used for secure storage and transporting the abbey’s most important documents and treasures. The chest has a convoluted locking mechanism, comprising of 14 locks that are still working.

The detailed model of Melk Abbey housed in Room 11 (“Motion is a sign of Life”) turns so you can see all sides unobstructed. There is a mirror on the ceiling to enable a view into the courtyards of the model.

The Marble Hall was a place to receive guests and dining hall for the imperial family. The name ‘Marble’ Hall is somewhat misleading as only the door frames are true marble. The ‘marble’ on the walls is faux marble. However, this is easily forgiven by the magnificent ceiling fresco that is complemented and framed by stunning architectural painting.

Magnificent views of the town of Melk, and the Danube and Melk rivers are to be had from the Terrace that connects the Marble Hall with the library. The Terrace also provides a great view of Melk Abbey church.

The library is the second most important room in any Benedictine monastery; second only to the church.

My favourite library to date has been Coimbra University library in Portugal. However, the competition between that library and Melk Abbey’s library would be a close contest. Both are stunningly beautiful. There is something uniquely special about the mix of dark wood and old books.

Melk Abbey library houses approximately 10,000 volumes, with manuscripts dating back to the 9th century. The uniformity of the books in the inlaid bookshelves is due to them all being bound to match. With internal balconies, wooden sculptures, a huge free-standing world globe, figurines and frescoed ceilings, the library is an entrancing vision. It also exudes peace and tranquillity; a place where I could easily spend hours just sitting and soaking in the atmosphere. I know I am waxing lyrical here, but I can’t help it. Melk Abbey library does that to me. No wonder Umberto Eco conducted his research on his book, The Name of the Rose in Melk Abbey’s library. But more on that later.

The upper floor of the library, reached by a spiral staircase, is not open to the public.

The guided tour ended in the library. I lingered to absorb the library’s ambiance before heading to the church on the recommendation of the guide.

My visit to Melk Abbey’s church, not part of the guided tour, was very brief as I am over what I can only describe as ostentatious, Baroque churches. Of note, however, is the Altar of St. Coloman. Here you will find a sarcophagus with, we are told, the remains of St. Coloman, the patron saint of Melk Abbey.

Photography was not permitted inside Melk Abbey’s museum, the Marble Hall, the library, or the church.

You don’t have to take the one-hour guided tour of Melk Abbey (except in the winter months). However, it is my opinion this would be false economy as the explanations provided by the guide throughout the tour were invaluable. The guide’s story telling brought Melk Abbey alive; revealing all its traits.

 

Melk Abbey’s literary connection is not just confined to the books in its historical library.

The Name of the Rose, written by Umberto Eco (1980), is a historical murder mystery (a medieval whodunit) set in an Italian Cistercian monastery in 1327.

But what does a story about murders in a Cistercian monastery in Italy have to do with a Benedictine monastery in Austria? The connection is Melk Abbey’s magnificent library. You see, the focal point in The Name of the Rose is the library where all the murders take place. Melk Abbey’s library is said to be Eco’s inspiration for the library in The Name of the Rose.

But the connection goes further than that. One of Eco’s main characters in The Name of the Rose is Adso of Melk, a Benedictine novice from Melk Abbey. The Name of the Rose is Adso of Melk’s story as he is the narrator. As way of introduction, Adso of Melk informs us he is writing his narrative, now an old man, at Melk Abbey. On the last page of The Name of the Rose, Adso of Melk tells the reader he is leaving his manuscript in the library of Melk Abbey.

 

In summary, make the effort to visit Melk Abbey. You won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it is something special.

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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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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.

 

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A yellow boat and blue boat on a canal in front of narrow, tall buildings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

 

For more on waterfalls worldwide, read the post below and check out the photos.

A photo of a wide waterfall dropping over two rock ledges onto rthe rocks below.

 

9 BEAUTIFUL BLUE MOUNTAINS WATERFALLS

 

 

 

Photo of a waterfall with a rainbow reflected on the rock cliff face.

 

SEE 3 OF THE BEST WATERFALLS IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS, NEW SOUTH WALES

 

 

 

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022. All rights reserved.

 

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FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

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.

Galle Fort 

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.

Galle Fort map

(Map courtesy of the Fort Bazaar)

 

All Saints Church in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

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

Galle Fort dutch church tombstones

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

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.

 

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Palm trees on a beach with a rock wall in front and the sea behind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 the copyright of Joanna Rath.

 

Check out these related posts:

A Photographic Tour of Geoffrey Bawa’s Garden

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What is the Missing Truth About Climbing Sri Lanka’s Little Adam’s Peak

WALLAWWA – a tranquil luxury boutique hotel in Colombo City

ULTIMATE SRI LANKA ITINERARY – The Best of Sri Lanka in 20 Days

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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LOST IN TRANSLATION IN ETHIOPIA – Is that the heater?

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 at sunset

Simien Lodge – sunset in the Simien Mountains

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 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.

Love,

Joanna

Simien Mountains

Simien Mountains National Park

For more on Ethiopia, read: Ethiopia’s Unique Coffee Ceremony

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ETHIOPIA’S UNIQUE COFFEE CEREMONY

Ethiopia’s Coffee Ceremony is Deeply Rooted in Tradition and is Socially Significant   I love coffee. I have drunk coffee in many, many countries with varying degrees of appreciation. Well,…

Ethiopia’s Coffee Ceremony is Deeply Rooted in Tradition and is Socially Significant

 

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.

Jebena (coffee pot)

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 freshly 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.

 

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

 

Comment below to share your thoughts on this blog post. Where have you had the best cup of coffee? What made it so great?

 

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For more posts on Ethiopia, read: Lost in Translation – Is that the heating?

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.

3 Comments on ETHIOPIA’S UNIQUE COFFEE CEREMONY

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