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3 OF THE BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN ROCHESTER, VICTORIA [2021 UPDATED]

Visit Rochester Victoria – 3 Excellent Reasons to Plan Your Next Great Escape   Are you looking for a day trip or overnight stay in rural Victoria? On the Campaspe…

Visit Rochester Victoria – 3 Excellent Reasons to Plan Your Next Great Escape

 

Are you looking for a day trip or overnight stay in rural Victoria? On the Campaspe River, Rochester is an idyllic spot to see silo art, take an informative walk through the Australian bush, and eat good food. My one-day guide will take you there.

 

On a 12-day road trip around Victoria, my sister and I stopped over in Bendigo and Ballarat, travelled the silo art trail, photographed our reflections on Lake Tyrrell, explored the Lakes District around Kerang, and walked the Koondrook Barham Redgum Statue Walk.

Rochester was our last stop, arriving late afternoon. The following day, we viewed Rochester’s silo artworks and took the river walk before heading home in the early afternoon. These are two of the best things to see and do in Rochester. The third best thing to do in Rochester was eating – well worth mentioning, given our food experience on this road trip.

Where is Rochester

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

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

Silo artwork

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

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

 

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

The painted silos are in the heart of town. They feature the endangered Squirrel Glider on the concrete silo and the Azure Kingfisher on the metal silo. Both are native to Australia.

The painted silos, completed in 2018, is an open-air gallery that never closes and is free to visit. It is street art at its best.

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

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

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

The endangered Squirrel Glider painted on Rochester’s grain silo

 

River Walk

Walking from the painted silos, we made our way to Rochester’s Red Bridge, a timber rail bridge crossing the Campaspe River at the northern end of Ramsay Street. Built in 1876, the Red Bridge consists of three openings of 14 metres spanning the river and 16 openings of seven metres over the flood plain.

A photo of a rail bridge on brick arches surrounded by Australian native trees

Red Bridge – the rail bridge crossing the Campaspe River at Rochester

 

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

Painting of a blue and yellow bird, a river, and a bridge on a metal silo

Rochester’s Red Bridge features in the background on the silo artwork of the Kingfisher

 

The Red Bridge was our starting point for the 3-kilometre signposted river walk through the urban bushland of the Campaspe River Reserve at Rochester.

The red dotted line indicates the river walk on the map below – taken from the brochure, Experience Rochester, courtesy of Rochester’s Visitor Information Centre.

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

Map of Rochester, Victoria, showing the river walk route

 

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

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

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

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

The Campaspe River is a tributary of the Murray River. It is slow-flowing along the Reserve’s walk – as evidenced in the photos I took of the bush reflected in its waters.

When to go

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

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

Where to eat

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

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

Breakfast at Kits Kafe (51 Moore Street) was a yummy affair. We both had the pancakes – mine with maple syrup and bacon and my sister’s with fruit cumquat and bacon. The service was excellent, the food was delicious, and the coffee was worth going back for after our river walk.

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

Where to stay

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

Next time I overnight in Rochester, I would like to stay at The Tavern (49 Moore Street) – bed and breakfast accommodation offering boutique queen rooms with ensuite.

Our main reasons for stopping overnight at Rochester were to break the journey between Kerang and Albury and see the silo artworks I had heard much about. The river walk was an enjoyable bonus, as was our food experience. In all, we came away feeling delighted with our visit to Rochester.

 

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in July 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

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 Just Me Travel.

 

Comment below to share your thoughts on this blog post. Are amazing silo art, a beautiful river walk, and good food enough to tempt you to visit Rochester? What else would you recommend people see and do in Rochester?

 

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A painting on a metal grain storage silo of a blue and yellow bird with a long narrow beak. The painting includes a river and a bridge behind the bars.

Gum trees along the banks of a river

 

Related posts

For more on Victoria, Australia, read:

UNIQUE SILO ART CELEBRATES LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND FAUNA

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO ROAD TRIPPING VICTORIA’S SILO ART TRAIL

FOOD IS FREE LANEWAY ENGAGES AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY SPIRIT

High Tea on the Yarra River, Melbourne

 

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

 

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THE UNIQUE YINDYAMARRA SCULPTURE WALK IN ALBURY, NEW SOUTH WALES [2021 UPDATED]

Unique Sculptures Beside the Murray River in Albury Celebrate Local Aboriginal Art and Culture   The Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk is a shared walking and cycling path with the mighty Murray…

Unique Sculptures Beside the Murray River in Albury Celebrate Local Aboriginal Art and Culture

 

The Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk is a shared walking and cycling path with the mighty Murray River on one side and West Albury Wetlands on the other. What makes this path unique is the Aboriginal sculptures by local Indigenous artists installed along the way, sculptures that tell stories of Aboriginal culture and lore. Follow the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk through the photographs in this post, learning about each sculpture as you go.

 

A river with trees reflected in its waters

Murray River near Kremur Street Boat Ramp, Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk

 

Photo of a pond with dead trees in it, surrounded by bush

West Albury Wetlands, viewed from the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk

 

The Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk in Albury is a 5.6-kilometre (loop) section of the much longer Wagirra Trail (15 kilometres return, linking Wonga Wetlands with the South Albury Trail). Following the Murray River, the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk stretches from the Kremur Street boat ramp (off Padman Drive in West Albury) to Horseshoe Lagoon (accessed via the Riverina Highway). You can do the walk in the reverse direction.

I first published THE UNIQUE YINDYAMARRA SCULPTURE WALK IN ALBURY, NEW SOUTH WALES on November 22, 2020. At the time, Albury City Council had announced three new sculptures would be installed in July 2021. So, I knew I would be updating this post within the year.

The first stage of the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk was completed in December 2014. In July 2021, three new sculptures were added to the trail, and ten painted panels (‘Leaving Our Mark’) were installed along two fences near Horseshoe Lagoon. The contemporary artwork along the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk has been created by local Indigenous artists telling stories of connection to country and living culture. The sculptures are a celebration of local Aboriginal culture.

Bicycle riders, walkers, and joggers share the predominantly flat, 2-metre-wide sealed path. Dogs on leads are permitted.

Albury, on the New South Wales side of the Murray River (Australia’s longest river), is located in Wiradjuri Country – the traditional lands of the Aboriginal Wiradjuri people.

Yindyamarra is a word from the Wiradjuri language, meaning respect, be gentle, be polite, and do slowly.

I have walked the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk several times. Refer to the end of this post to know the lessons I have learned from walking the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk.

A map of a river, lagoon and wetlands showing a walking track and places of interest

Map of the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk with the locations of the sculptures

 

The Sculptures:

The information provided below about the artists and the story behind the sculptures is taken from the interpretive panels presented at each sculpture site.

Starting the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk from the Kremur Street Boat Ramp, I will take you on a visual tour of unique Aboriginal art by Indigenous artists along the banks of the Murray River in Albury. I aim to pique your interest enough for you to walk or ride this beautiful path for yourself.

Teaming Life of Milawa Billa

A metal panel with birds, fish, yabbies, turtle and handprints carved on it

Artists: Teaming Life of Milawa Billa (Murray River) was created by the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk Steering Committee – Daniel Cledd, Robyn Heckenberg, John Murray, Aunty Edna Stewart, and Aunty Muriel Williams.

The Teaming Life of Milawa Billa sculpture signals the commencement of the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk at the Kremur Street Boat Ramp picnic area. The design draws together significant elements from the natural environment of the Murray River – the birds, the fish, the reeds, and the yabby – telling the story of the health of the river and its cultural significance.

Reconciliation Shield

A metal shield on a pole with black and white figures carved on it

Artist: Tamara Murray. Tamara is a proud member of the Barkandtji tribe on her mother’s side and Yorta Yorta and Dhudaroah tribes on her father’s side.

For Tamara, the Reconciliation Shield represents bringing everyone together – working together, walking together, and living together; to make everything better, especially for the next generation. ‘The figure depicted is holding his hands in a position of submission. Enough is enough – we all need to walk together on this journey of reconciliation.’

Creature Seats

Wooden seats in the shape of animals surrounded by grass and trees

Artists: James Fallon High School. The standing goanna by Liam Campbell (Wiradjuri), the turtle by Sara Jackson Edwards (Wamba Wamba), the snake by Raymond Jackson Edwards (Wamba Wamba), and the climbing goanna by Jaidyon Hampton (Malyangaba).

The students sculpted these creatures under the mentorship of the Aboriginal Men’s Shed and the local community. The students created a space where stories could be told and local animal life could be celebrated.

Guguburra

Three large metal kookaburras with the bush behind them

Artist: Peter Ingram. Peter is a local Wiradjuri man who enjoys making sculptures from metal and many other resources, creating artworks that bring to life country’s ancient stories of creation and lore.

Guguburra is the Wiradjuri word for kookaburra. It is seen as the most beautiful bird (budyaan) in Wiradjuri country, with wonderful attributes and character.

Guruburra is patient and kind. He will often let others before him but will defend his ground if required. He loves to laugh and reminds us to do so each day. He travels in family groups, is loyal, but sometimes ventures out alone to visit a friend and sing them a beautiful song. Guruburra shows us a wonderful way to live our lives – with joy, balance, and patience.

Vertical Message Sticks

Three wooden poles with animals carved on them

Artist: Carmel Taylor. Carmel is a Wiradjuri woman.

The message sticks are a celebration of Carmel’s knowledge of the natural history of the river.

Carmel tells us she chose the theme of animals because she genuinely loves them, and they are native to the Albury area, bringing much joy to children and adults.

Bogong Moth Migration

A metal tree with metal moths attached to the tree

Artist: Ruth Davys. Ruth is a proud Wiradjuri woman.

The Bogong Moth is a creature of cultural significance for Indigenous Australians.

Traditionally, each year the Indigenous people of southern New South Wales and northern Victoria would meet at Mungabareena Reserve (Albury) to perform ceremonies, exchange goods and discuss tribal lore. They would then travel to the high country (Victoria’s Alpine region) to feast on Bogong Moths.

Family Gathering

Flat metal figures sitting in a circle, representing a family

Artist: Michael Quinn. Michael is a locally based Wiradjuri man. Family is very important to Michael. They are his life.

Michael’s sculpture depicts how the family used to gather and represents the importance of the family group – their staying together and connection to the land. The circle represents this unity, and the rocks represent strength and the earth. Thereby, holding the group together.

Celebrate Together

Walk with us on Wiradjuri Country

A decorative metal ball hanging from chains on three poles

Artist: Tamara Murray. Tamara is a proud member of the Barkandtji tribe on her mother’s side, and Yorta Yorta and Dhudaroah tribes on her father’s side. Having lived on Wiradjuri land for 14 years, Tamara tells us her spirit has never been more at peace than it is on this land.

This sculpture sends a strong message to all that we stand, walk and dance on Wiradjuri country. It is a message to Wiradjuri children to hold on to and celebrate their culture as their ancestors have done and are still doing.

The Bigger Picture

A wooden and metal Fram framing a river

Artist: Katrina Weston. Katrina is an Aboriginal person from the Barkindtji/Nyampa tribes.

According to Katrina, the purpose of the oversized picture frame is to see how the landscape changes within the frame over the years to come.

The picture within the frame is a moving, living landscape with many stories to be told and shared. It will bring people together to share traditional stories. The picture frame represents movement and change for Aboriginal people who are evolving to adapt to the ever-changing environment.

Leaving Our Mark

Artists: Various members of Albury City’s Wagirra Team – Curtis Reid, Jarret Trewin, Harry Dennis, Leroy Eggmolesse, Shane Charles, Noel Stewart, Ethan Moffitt, Richard Sievers, Keanu Wighton, and Toby Ardler.

Working on the Wagirra trail, a section of which is the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk, connected the artists to country and culture. The images are their way of telling their story along the trail.

Goanna

A photo of a concrete sculpture of a goanna

Artist: Kianna Edwards. Kianna is a young Wiradjuri woman from Albury.

Kianna comments, “This Goanna represents one of the main totems for the Wiradjuri Nation. It holds a significant place in my spirit. It’s my totem. My story. My culture.”

‘Maya’ Fish Trap

A photo of a wire, circular fish trap

Artists: Uncle Ken (Tunny) Murray, Darren Wighton and Andom Rendell from the Aboriginal Men’s Shed.

This over-proportioned sculpture is of a funnel style fish trap that was commonly used by the Wiradjuri people in the Albury area. These traps were woven from reeds and could even be customised to trap specific fish as well as allowing smaller fish to escape, thus protecting the species for the future.

Wiradjuri Woman

Artist: Leonie McIntosh. Leonie is a proud Wiradjuri woman.

Leonie’s Wiradjuri Woman sculpture is based on the Possum Skin Cloak design burnt on her Nan’s cloak, which she wore for the opening ceremony of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.

Leonie has created a sculpture of Wiradjuri Woman emerging out of this 350 – 400-year-old tree stump – ‘as if a spirit is breaking free’.

Googar

A photo of a large, carved wooden goanna, with a river behind the sculpture

Artist: Darren Wighton. Darren is a community leader of Wiradjuri descent.

‘Googar’ is the Wiradjuri word for ‘goanna’. At 4 metres in length, Darren’s Googar sculpture is a larger-than-life version of a small wooden toy goanna that Wiradjuri children would play with and learn from in traditional times.

Useful information

At the Kremur Street boat ramp, you will find free parking, public toilets, and a picnic area.

A photo of wooden picnic tables and benches on the banks of a river

Picnic area on the banks of the Murray River at Kremur Street Boat Ramp, Albury

 

Horseshoe Lagoon has parking off the Riverina Highway but has no toilets or picnic facilities. It is a couple of minutes walk from the parking area to join the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk trail.

Albury is a large inland city in New South Wales on the banks of the Murray River – Australia’s longest river. It is 553 kilometres southwest of Sydney via the Hume Highway and 326 kilometres northeast of Melbourne.

A river with trees and clouds reflected in its waters, with ducks swimming in the river and a canoe on the river's edge

The Murray River at Noreuil Park in Albury – a popular swimming spot

 

Lessons learned from having walked the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk previously:

The first time I walked the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk was with my sister. We commenced our walk at Noreuil Park and walked to Wonga Wetlands. As the car was at Noreuil Park, we had no alternative but to walk back the way we had come. This walk was a 14-kilometre round trip. By the time we were halfway back on our return journey, we could barely lift our feet and couldn’t talk to each other.

My second attempt at the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk was with my daughter. We left the car at Noreuil Park (I must be a slow learner) and headed out on the walk. About a kilometre from Wonga Wetlands (6 kilometres walked), my daughter could see I was flagging. So, as you can imagine, I jumped at her suggestion to sit in the shade of a tree while she jogged back for the car. Oh, to be young and fit!

My third walk along the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk was with two friends. I insisted we have a car at either end of the walk as I had now (finally) learned my walking limitations. On this occasion, we left a car at the Kremur Street Boat Ramp and drove to Wonga Wetlands, where we left the second car and commenced our walk.

A photo of an echidna

An echidna scurries into the bush near Wonga Wetlands

 

When I initially wrote this article (November 2020), I recommended readers to walk between Horseshoe Lagoon and Kremur Street Boat Ramp (or vice versa), with a car at either end. It would seem, in the pursuing months, I have become fitter. On my latest venture along the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk to take photos of the additional sculptures, I found the 5.6-kilometre loop an easy, enjoyable walk.

What my friends had to say about the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk:

For those bird lovers out there, one of my friends recommends taking binoculars as there are several species of birds to spot along the walk.

Both friends thoroughly enjoyed the walk (described as a ‘leisurely stroll’ by one), and they commented on the number of birds, wildlife and plants seen along the way. As one friend said, seating along the walk would have been good – to absorb a sculpture, to sit and watch the river flow past, and to contemplate the landscape.

I have walked the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk several times now and have not tired of seeing the sculptures. My friends felt the sculptures showcased the artistic abilities of the local men and women of the surrounding indigenous tribes while telling their own unique stories.

I, my friends, my daughter, and my sister, recommend the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk. With the sculptures, the river, and the surrounding bush, it is an exceptional, unique walk. Ride your bike, walk the dog, or not, but see the sculptures for yourself.

 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

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 2021.

 

Comment below to share your thoughts on this blog post. Where else have you seen Aboriginal sculptures that you would like to share with readers?

 

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Related posts

Still on an art theme in Australia, check out the posts below I wrote on the unique silo art in Victoria and New South Wales. They are packed with amazing photos, information, and tips.

> The Complete Guide to Road Tripping Victoria’s Silo Art Trail

> Unique Silo Art Celebrates Local Communities and Fauna

> 3 of the Best Things to See and Do in Rochester

> 5 of the Best Painted Silos in New South Wales

 

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

 

Copyright © Just Me Travel 2021. All rights reserved.

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WALLAWWA – a tranquil luxury boutique hotel in Colombo City [2021 UPDATED]

Wonderful Accommodation in an Oasis of Tranquility in Sri Lanka Wallawwa is luxury accommodation at its best. It is all character and serenity. Read on to see why I recommend…

Wonderful Accommodation in an Oasis of Tranquility in Sri Lanka

Wallawwa is luxury accommodation at its best. It is all character and serenity. Read on to see why I recommend you experience Wallawwa for yourself.

Picture yourself relaxing by the secluded pool and being able to buzz for bar staff to attend to your needs. Imagine playing croquet on the manicured lawns before partaking in complimentary tea and cakes at 3 o’clock on the wide veranda. This was my reality of Wallawwa, a luxurious, boutique hotel whose former life was an 18th-century colonial manor house.

Set in acres of lush gardens scattered with daybeds and couches strategically placed around the main lawn, Wallawwa manages a feeling of intimacy.

Wallawwa’s 18 spacious rooms include two family suites and a two-bedroom suite with a pool. All rooms open onto a secluded veranda and tropical garden. My ‘Wallawwa Bedroom’ was comfortable, cool, and tastefully furnished. There was no missing the magnificent king-sized four-poster bed (twin beds are available). A large, polished concrete-lined bathroom with a rain shower, plush towels, and luxurious toiletries completed the room. The room amenities included tea/coffee making facilities – always a winner for me.

The staff were friendly, efficient, attentive and helpful.

The Verandah is Wallawwa’s open-sided restaurant serving top class Asian cuisine, with much of the produce used in the cooking coming from the hotel’s organic garden. Make sure you leave room for dessert because they are to die for.

For those looking for personal pampering, Wallawwa’s Z Spa offers a collection of relaxing treatments. Unfortunately, my stay at Wallawwa was only one night, and I could not treat myself to one of their signature massages. Next time.

If you must leave this piece of tranquillity, Wallawwa can arrange excursions for you.

Wallawwa, on Minuwangoda Road, Kotugoda, is just a 15-minute drive from Colombo International Airport and 30 minutes to the city.

Rooms start at USD390 per night, including à la carte breakfast.

Wallawwa is one of seven Teardrop Hotels across Sri Lanka. I also stayed at Fort Bazaar (another Teardrop Hotel) in history-rich Galle Fort.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored.

Comment below to share your thoughts on this blog post. Would you stay here?

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

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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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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Sleeping in New Orleans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1: Exploring the French Quarter

Note: We arrived in New Orleans the night before.

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

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

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

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

 

Places of interest we visited included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson Square, New Orleans

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

 

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

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

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

Voodoo doll instructions

Information on voodoo dolls, New Orleans Voodoo Museum

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

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

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

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

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

Voodoo doll

My ‘no moss’ voodoo doll

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

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

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

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

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

Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery #2 New Orleans

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

 

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

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

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

Our walk took us to:

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

Briggs-Staub House, New Orleans

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

 

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

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

Robinson House, New Orleans

Robinson House, Garden District, New Orleans

 

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

Carroll-Crawford House, New Orleans

Carroll-Crawford House, Garden District, New Orleans

 

Day 3: Bury Them High

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

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

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

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

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

In the know:

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

A word of warning:

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

The jazz scene:

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

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

Day 4: A Step Back in Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 5: Rivers, Swamps and Bayous

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

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

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

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

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

Day 6: A Unique Sculpture Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A word on safety:

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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HIGH TEA ON THE YARRA RIVER, MELBOURNE

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

Photographs by Meg Speak at Speak Photography

 

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

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

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

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

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

The experience

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

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

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

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

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

Melbourne skyline from the Yarra River under moody clouds

Melbourne city skyline from the Yarra River under a moody sky

High tea menu

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

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

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

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

A note on cost

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

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

 

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

 

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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

Walking the Line in Sri Lanka from Ella to Demodara

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

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