Breathtaking Waterfalls, Idyllic Plunge Pools, Iconic Magnetic Termite Mounds, and the Australian bush, Litchfield National Park Will Not Disappoint. Litchfield National Park is one of the Northern Territory’s best-kept…
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 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.
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”.
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.
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…
Budapest’s holocaust memorial, Shoes on the Danube Promenade
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.
A carnation is placed in one of the memorial shoes as a sign of remembrance
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.
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.
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.
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.
Travel magazines and tour companies have named Sri Lanka as one of the destinations for 2019 – a must see, bucket list destination. I travelled to Sri Lanka with my sister…
Travel magazines and tour companies have named Sri Lanka as one of the destinations for 2019 – a must see, bucket list destination.
I travelled to Sri Lanka with my sister and brother-in-law for a 23-day trip around this teardrop shaped island. This was a private tour with our own driver. However, it is also possible to travel around Sri Lanka by taxi, bus or train.
I still hold mixed feelings about my trip to Sri Lanka. After all, we can’t always expect to like everything about every country we visit. That said, Sri Lanka held some highlights for me that are well worth mentioning, such as walking the railway line between Ella and Demodara and our visit to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden. I also highly recommend visiting Galle Fort. In fact, it is worth staying at least a couple of nights.
Galle Fort is a historical fortified city, with the New Town of Galle located outside the walls. Galle is situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka – a distance of 126 kilometres (78 miles) down the west coast from Colombo (Sri Lanka’s capital).
Why visit Galle Fort
Galle Fort is rich in history; with 400 years of history spaning Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialism. Built by the Portuguese in 1589, the Dutch seized the Fort in 1640 and extended its fortifications, which survive to this day. The British modified the Fort after Galle was handed over to them in 1796. Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains the best example in south and southeast Asia of a fortified city built by Europeans.
Galle Fort is protected by a wall (ramparts), with 14 bastions, that has seen little change since completion by the Dutch in 1729. The fortifications run for 3 kilometres and are over 1 metre thick. Inside the Fort is a mixture of architecture, with Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, and grand mansions. Here you will find cafés, restaurants, boutiques, museums, and hotels. It is also a thriving commercial centre.
With an area of only 0.52 kilometres square within the fortifications and being relatively flat, Galle Fort is easy to walk around and to see everything. It is also a good base for day trips to the southern beaches, gardens, tea factories, rain forests, and nature walks.
From Colombo to Galle Fort
At the suggestion of our driver we took the coast road to Galle rather than the expressway. While taking the expressway would have been quicker (approximately 1.5 hours as opposed to approximately 3 hours), the coast road, according to our driver, is more interesting; more scenic. And it was. Hugging the coastline, we passed through many small villages which provided a glimpse into local daily life; where farmers and fishermen continue to live and work as they have done for generations.
This was our first real experience of driving in Sri Lanka. I have been in many a country where I thought the population as a whole are terrible drivers, but Sri Lankan drivers take the prize. Their idea or practice of passing is downright scary. Picture this … You have a two-lane road just wide enough for two cars, with one lane for each direction. Suddenly, your lane has three vehicles abreast (including your own, with your driver on his mobile phone) as two vehicles want to pass one, and there is a bus coming in the opposite direction. No one gives way as all four vehicles come abreast and all you can do is close your eyes and hold your breath. And yet, I never saw an accident.
I learned a valuable lesson on this drive – don’t ever think of doing a self-drive holiday in Sri Lanka as you may never survive the experience. Their driving and use of the roads are, for these foreigners, positively frightening. My brother-in-law was never able to relax when we were driving. For some reason, he always managed to get the seat with a clear view out the front windscreen. Causing him to remain transfixed on the traffic and in a perpetual state of anxiety.
We arrived in Galle Fort mid-afternoon. Our hotel for the duration of our stay in Galle Fort was the Fort Bazaar, inside the Fort itself.
The Fort Bazaar (at 26 Church Street, Galle Fort) was formerly a 17th century merchant’s townhouse. Opening in 2016 in its current status as a small, boutique spa hotel, its 18 rooms are very spacious, cool and furnished with comfortable four-poster beds. Unfortunately, at the time of stay (April 2017), the pool and spa were not yet completed, and they were still waiting on a liquor licence. However, it is in a very central location within the Fort and complimentary tea and cakes were served daily between 3.00 and 4.00pm. My kind of hotel. I could not fault the staff, who were friendly, attentive and helpful. Sri Lankan hospitality at its best.
Note: The Fort Bazaar, according to a recent view of its website, now has a pool, a spa, and a liquor licence.
Due to the lack of a liquor licence (which did not suit at all), we booked dinner in the restaurant at the Galle Fort Hotel (at 28 Church Street), which came recommended by guide books.
The Galle Fort Hotel was a former gem merchant’s mansion. The restaurant’s setting was picture perfect, with the tables set up on the wide veranda overlooking the pool and garden.
However, dinner was less than ordinary, and the service was very slow even though there were only a few diners. In the heat and humidity, all we wanted was a cold drink to start with. But, once seated, we were suddenly invisible. We were starving by the time they remembered to take our meal orders. We do not recommend the restaurant in the Galle Fort Hotel.
A walk around Galle Fort
Over dinner, we decided to make an early start for our walk around Galle Fort, its bastions and ramparts (walls) the next day, so that our walk would be completed before the day got too hot. In hindsight, it makes no difference in April, heat-wise, what time of day you venture out as it is always very hot and wet (humidity, not rain).
On this day that we decided to do our walk, the humidity was 80% and caused some havoc with our DSLR cameras – fogged up lenses and constant error messages. While I have never found out conclusively if these problems were due to the humidity, it is certainly something to be aware of.
The humidity also impacted on my clothing. I wasn’t just dripping perspiration, I was completely wet. I was wearing a dark pink t-shirt that I had washed several times prior to this trip. However, the pink dye was coming out of my t-shirt. It stained my body, and my camera strap and my camera where they were touching the t-shirt. To top it off, the colour was completed bleached out of the t-shirt where my backpack was touching it – to the point where my t-shirt looked as though it had been tie-dyed.
After a leisurely breakfast at the Fort Bazaar of fresh fruit, bacon and eggs, and freshly ground coffee, we set off on our self-guided tour (walk) of Galle Fort.
(Map courtesy of the Fort Bazaar)
All Saints Anglican Church
Walking up Church Street (Galle Fort’s main thoroughfare) towards the main gate and the Clock Tower, we passed All Saints Anglican Church (its stumpy steeple, a distinctive landmark) and the Maritime Archaeological Museum
The tombstones laid in the floor of the Dutch Reform Church
Our first stop was at the Dutch Reform Church. Originally built in 1640, the floor of the Dutch Reform Church is laid with tombstones which were moved there from the Dutch cemeteries. The oldest of which dates from 1662. There are more tombstones in the grounds of the church.
Leaving the Dutch Reform Church, we continued up Church Street, making our way to the Clock Tower; our starting point for our walk along the Fort’s ramparts.
Heading east and past the Main Gate, we walked up onto the ramparts at the Moon Bastion with its Clock Tower that was built by the British in 1882. From here we were able to look down the ramparts (east and west) to the Star Bastion and Sun Bastion.
This is the most heavily fortified section of the ramparts as they protect the most vulnerable side of the Fort – the northern landward side. Galle Fort is surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean.
For those cricket fans…These northern ramparts provide a good view of the Galle International Cricket Stadium outside the Fort. This massive, 30,000-seater stadium has hosted more than 100 one day international matches. Australian bowler, Shane Warne claimed his 500th Test wicket at the Stadium in 2004. In 2010, Sri Lanka’s legendary cricket player, Muttiah Muralitharan played his last match at this venue. However, as at July 2018, the Galle Stadium was a risk of loosing its UNESCO World Heritage status due to the unauthorised construction of the 500-seat pavilion.
Turning south, we came to the Fish Market Bastion, where we left the ramparts to walk through Court Square. Here we stopped at the Old Gate. This was the original entrance to the Fort, with the Fort side of the gate inscribed with the Dutch East India Company’s coat of arms. The port side of the gate is adorned with a British crest (which replaced the original Dutch crest).
Court Square is shaded by magnificent, massive banyan trees with branches that seem to spread forever. The Square houses the law courts (with the lawyers standing around in their black suits) and the Old Dutch Hospital (now home to shops and cafes).
Galle Fort lighthouse on Point Utrecht Bastion
Heading south down Hospital Street, we found ourselves at Point Utrecht Bastion which is dominated by the lighthouse. Built in 1938 and standing 18 metres high, the lighthouse is still in use.
At the lighthouse, we climb back up onto the wall; walking along the southern rampart towards Flag Rock. Along this southern section of the wall, families were gathered on the shaded grass; picnicking and playing cricket.
Walking past the Meeran Jumma Mosque (which looks very much like a European Baroque church), we came to Flag Rock located on the southern-most end of the Fort. People dive from Flag Rock into the ocean – described as daring free-style divers. I did see one young man run along the top of the rock and dive from it. “Idiot” might be a better description than “daring”. “Clearly potty” is how one guide book describes these jumpers. Perhaps they have insider knowledge of exactly where the submerged rocks are?
We finally headed north as the ramparts hugged the west coast. We ended our ramble along Galle Fort’s ramparts near the army barracks, just before the Clock Tower where we had begun. Here we cut across the village green, past the Army Barracks as I had thrown a hissy fit; being upset that we were still walking in the heat. This was a short cut back to our hotel and a welcomed decision.
The guide books and tourist brochures inform you the walk along the ramparts will take 90 minutes. We took almost twice that length of time due to the heat and constant stopping to take photos. It’s surprising how hard it is to lift your feet when weighed down by heat and humidity!
We made a couple more stops before heading back to our hotel for a well-earned rest in a lovely cool room.
A long cool drink on the wide veranda of the luxury Amangalla Hotel was warranted before visiting the Manor House Museum (at 31-39 Leyn Baan Street – entrance is free). This is a private collection of antiques and miscellaneous objects (described by one guide book as “outright junk”). The collection belongs to Abdul Gaffar, a local gem merchant, and is on display in a restored Dutch house. In my opinion, Gaffar has a serious hoarding problem, with rooms and cabinets stuffed full of old typewriters, cameras, telephones, crockery, spectacles, jewellery and old Chinese memorabilia. To describe this collection as bazaar is being very kind and generous. It was just downright weird! For that reason alone, it is worth the visit. The museum does provide insight into some traditional crafts with presentations of lace embroidery, gem cutting and jewellery making. However, be cautious if you suffer from asthma because the museum is very, very dusty.
Lunch was at the Serendipity Arts Café; recommended by one guide book as a place to eat. The food was good (had a very tasty chicken club sandwich – not very imaginative of me) but I would not recommend it as it was not atmospheric; as was foretold.
We were back at the Fort Bazaar in time for a rest before partaking of the hotel’s scheduled afternoon tea and cakes served on the terrace.
This night we had dinner at The Fort Printers (39 Pedlar Street). This elegant, small private hotel (a restored 18th century mansion) was a printing facility in its former life. The original printing press is on show in the lobby of the hotel. We had discovered this hotel on our morning walk. I found the menu limiting as I am allergic to seafood and this was the speciality of the house. My sister and brother-in-law do not suffer from the same affliction and loved the menu choices. However, the menu did include chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes. The restaurant is in a lovely setting in a courtyard around a small pool. We were tucked into an alcove at the side of the courtyard that afforded a good level of privacy. Which was just as well as our conversation became quite lively and animated. Even so, we were not forgotten. The staff were friendly, attentive, knowledgeable about their menu, and ready to answer any questions we had. The food was so good, we went back a second night.
And so, our first 24 hours comes to an end. But not so our stay in Galle Fort as we spent a further day venturing outside of the Fort and into the countryside beyond; visiting the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum, Kataluwa Temple, the coastal village of Willgama, and a final stop at the Peace Pagoda. But that’s another story.
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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.
Dear Pip, Having travelled as much as I have, I should no longer be surprised by how easily things can get lost in translation. But on this occasion, my physical…
Simien Lodge – sunset in the Simien Mountains
Having travelled as much as I have, I should no longer be surprised by how easily things can get lost in translation. But on this occasion, my physical comfort, or more precisely, my physical discomfort enabled me to create my own meaning to communication.
Yesterday I arrived at the Simien Lodge in the Simien Mountains National Park and had to haul my jacket out from the bottom of my bag. This was the first time I needed my jacket since arriving in Ethiopia. It could have something to do with the Simien Lodge being at an altitude of 3,260 metres above sea level – the highest lodge in Africa.
The rooms in the Simien Lodge are spacious, with a good-sized bathroom; including a shower that I was actually able to turn around in (an issue in Ethiopian hotels). But the room was cold, and, after a very thorough search, I couldn’t see any means for heating the room.
Due to my arrival at the Simien Lodge after a very long drive (getting anywhere in Ethiopia involves a long drive), I decided to have a rest and worry about the heating when I went down for dinner. Given the altitude and my hut being on top of a hill, I wasn’t going to walk up and down unless I absolutely had to.
Piling the blankets and quilts from the spare bed onto mine, I climbed into bed thinking that at least I would be warm for my rest. How wrong could I be! Even with an extra layer of clothes and my jacket on, I was still cold. Needless to say, I went down for dinner as soon as the restaurant opened.
My first stop was at Reception where I asked if there was any way of heating my room. I was advised that after dinner I would be provided with “a plastic card for the bed”. I assumed this would be like a hotel room key card that you slot in to activate the room lights; that I would slot this card in somewhere in the room that I hadn’t as yet located, and it would activate an electric blanket. An electric blanket would be most suitable. That it would be an electric blanket I hadn’t seen yet did not register. I should have known, don’t ever assume! The ‘plastic card for the bed’ turned out to be a hot water bottle. To say that I was disheartened by this method of heating my room, is an understatement. How was I going to be warm? However, the hot water bottle worked a treat. I was snug in bed all night and had a great night’s sleep. That the room itself was cold mattered not one bit.
Tomorrow we leave for Gondar where, I am assured, it will be warmer.
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.
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?
If you want to see a city reinventing itself, then now is the time to visit Materia – especially the revitalisation of the Sassi di Matera. Matera’s Sassi has a…
If you want to see a city reinventing itself, then now is the time to visit Materia – especially the revitalisation of the Sassi di Matera. Matera’s Sassi has a colourful history that has seen it go from the earliest inhabited city in Italy, to a place of national humiliation, to Italy’s pride. This history, all of which is still visible today, makes the Sassi di Matera a matchless tourist destination. Matera’s Sassi has been reborn and now is the time to witness that rebirth while Matera celebrates its recognition as a city of culture.
A brief history – from shame to gain
Italy’s southern city of Matera (along with Bulgaria’s, Plovdiv) is the 2019 European Capital of Culture. For this honour, Matera receives hundreds of millions of euros to develop infrastructure and present year-long cultural and art activities; activities designed to improve the quality of life in the city and to strengthen a sense of community. It is expected that being a European Capital of Culture will bring fresh life to the city and will enhance Matera’s cultural, social and economic development. It is an opportunity for Matera to showcase itself internationally and to boost tourism. An opportunity Matera needs in order to reclaim its dignity and credibility in the eyes of Italy and the world.
This is a chance for Matera to leave behind its reputation as the “Shame of Italy”. The object of this shame is the Sassi di Matera (literal translation from Italian, “Stones of Matera”). The Sassi are a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and people have lived in these cave dwellings since 7000 BC.
In his book, Christ Stopped at Eboli (published 1945), Carlo Levi put the Sassi di Matera on the world map when he highlighted the poor living conditions. He painted a picture of abject poverty. Malaria, cholera and typhoid were rampant in the Sassi. Families and their animals were living together under the same roof in dwellings with no natural light or ventilation, no electricity, water or sewers and there was a high infant mortality rate.
The Sassi became an embarrassment for the Italian Government. So much so that in 1950 the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency, and plans were put in place to move the Sassi’s inhabitants out. By 1952 the Sassi was empty; abandoned through forced removal.
After sitting dormant for a couple of decades, the Sassi started to go through a transformation; starting in the 1970s with artists and hippies rediscovering Matera’s Sassi. This urban renewal, and a younger generation expressing their desire to have the caves brought back to life, led the Italian Government to pass a law in 1986 to repopulate the Sassi; connecting water and electricity and subsidising restoration work in order to encourage the Sassi’s revival.
And the people did come – restoring caves as homes, hotels, restaurants and bars. But many are still uninhabitable.
The Sassi di Matera’s revival was further cemented in 1993 when listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for being “the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region”.
A new image of the Sassi is forming and the tourists are coming. The Sassi di Matera have been transformed and Matera is the 2019 European Capital of Culture.
My visit to the Sassi di Matera
The Sassi are carved into the limestone cliffs of a ravine gauged out by the Gravina River. My first sighting of the Sassi di Matera was from across the ravine. What I saw from this vantage point was a mass of caves clinging to the steep slope. On top of these caves is the new city of Matera – a unique juxtaposition.
My hotel room – a restored cave in Le Grotte della Civita
My second introduction to the Sassi was my hotel, Le Grotte della Civita. Sitting on the edge of the ravine in the most ancient Sassi area, Le Grotte della Civita consists of 18 rooms. All the rooms are individual caves that have been beautifully restored whilst retaining their original features. The furnishings are simple but tasteful, with much of the lighting provided by candles. Breakfast, served in a reclaimed cave that was a church, was typical of Southern Italy – breads, cakes, pastries, James, meats and cheeses. This was truly a memorable place to stay.
Carving on the facade of the Church of Purgatory
Skulls decorate the Church of Purgatory doors
Matera has 180 churches; 40 of which are in the Sassi, including the Cathedral and the rock-cut Church of Santa Maria di Idris. My favourite was the Church of Purgatory. Completed in 1747, its recurring and only theme is that of death. The baroque façade of the church and its doors are covered with carvings of skulls, skeletons and crossbones. While a church focusing on death might seem a bit Grim Reaper-ish, it was actually fashionable at the time of construction, as death was not seen as the end but as the beginning of a new life.
The house-like facades are a deception as they ‘front’ caves
While the Sassi look like a mass of houses, the house-like facades are only that, as the ‘houses’ are dug well into the rock, thereby forming the caves Matera is famous for.
Sassi caves on caves and roads on cave roofs
Houses in the Sassi are often built on top of other houses and many of the streets are built on the roofs of houses.
One would be forgiven for thinking the Sassi are a place of shadow and crampedness. But not so. The squares in the Sassi are sun-drenched open spaces flanked by cafes, shops, churches and restaurants. And great for people watching.
I took a walking tour with a local guide in the morning to get acquainted with the Sassi. This included learning the history of the Sassi di Matera, visiting a cave dwelling for a glimpse into past life and viewing one of the ancient Rupestrian Churches that date back to the Middle Ages. However, what I enjoyed most of all was just walking around on my own – exploring narrow ‘streets’, talking to the locals, checking out their cafes, and having all the time I wanted to take photos. You will need comfortable shoes to walk around the Sassi. And don’t forget, the Sassi are built on the side of a ravine. So, there are lots of steep steps.
2019: Matera is one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2019
2014: Tourism starts to take off. Most likely due to Matera being announced as one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2019. Matera has 4 years to prepare …
1993: The Sassi of Matera is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
1986: Change in Italian law and people are encouraged to return to the Sassi
1952: Abandonment of the Sassi through the Italian Government’s forced removal of its inhabitants
Prehistory: (approximately 9,000 years ago) People first inhabited the Sassi
A bit of trivia for you: Mel Gibson’s controversial movie, “The Passion of the Christ”(2004) was filmed in the Sassi di Matera as too was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St Matthew”. It would seem Matera’s Sassi makes for a great ancient Jerusalem.
Are you going to Galway (Ireland) or Rijeka (Croatia) in 2020? They are the European Capitals of Culture for 2020.
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.
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Cultural insensitivity is, in my opinion, a sign of deep disrespect. I leant this the hard way in Varanasi (India) when I “innocently” took a photo of the cremation pyres…
Cultural insensitivity is, in my opinion, a sign of deep disrespect. I leant this the hard way in Varanasi (India) when I “innocently” took a photo of the cremation pyres on the banks of the Ganges River. It took my guide a lot of talking, much apologising and payment of money to appease the men who supply wood for the pyres. In my defence (but no excuse), I had not been informed not to take photos of the cremations.
I was mortified by my wrongdoing. Even though this occurred a number of years ago, I still beat myself up about it. I was not new to international travel and would have described myself as culturally sensitive. To this day, I cannot explain what made me think it was okay to take such a photo.
So, when our guide in Mongolia advised us on local customs before our 2-night stay with a nomadic family, I felt a deep sense of appreciation. And that of relief; that I was not going to commit any social or cultural faux pas through ignorance. I have a strong belief that knowledge is power, and I was about to meet this family in a “powerful” (culturally knowledgeable) position.
So, what lessons did I learn from my Mongolian guide?
First up, our guide requested we not immediately take photos of the family but to get to know them a little first. This, I felt, was a more than reasonable request and one I knew I would have no trouble complying with because I often feel uncomfortable photographing people. However, given this was a photography tour I was on, the family expected photos to be taken of them as they knew this was a part of our learning.
We were then informed that we can ask any questions we want, with the guide translating for us as the family doesn’t speak any English. I suspect this also gave the guide the inadvertent opportunity to ‘censor’ any inappropriate questions – a good filtering system.
When you enter a ger, you must always go to the left. Don’t circle the interior of the ger. If you need to go to the right once inside the ger, go back to the door and then go to the right.
Do not touch a person’s head or shoulder, as to do so, is taking that person’s luck away.
Touching a person’s feet (with your feet) signifies you want to challenge that person to a fight. If you do touch a person’s feet unintentionally, shake hands with that person or touch their arm. By doing this you are saying, “I didn’t mean that” (to challenge to a fight); it removes the challenge.
Do not throw tissues in the fire. The fire is a holy thing and throwing a tissue in the fire is contaminating the fire. This was important to know as one by one we were coming down with colds.
Whatever is offered (that is, food or drink) must be accepted and you must taste whatever is offered or, at least pretend to taste it by putting the food or drink to your lips. There is another alternative if offered a glass of vodka. You can put your ring finger in the vodka, remove your finger from the vodka and flick your ring finger into the air. Thereby, flicking drops of vodka in the air.
Don’t step on the threshold of the ger. You must always step over it.
When offered something, before taking it, touch it with your right hand while supporting the elbow with the left hand. This is also followed when giving something. The exception to this is when offered or giving a meal.
When exiting religious buildings, eg temples, step out backwards so that you do not show your back to the interior. To show your back is to show disrespect to the gods.
The children in Mongolia don’t get their hair cut until between 2 and 5 years of age. For girls, this is usually between the ages of 2 and 4 years. Whereas boys will have their first hair cut at 3 to 5 years of age. The reason for leaving the first cutting of children’s hair until this age is because it is believed they are born with their mother’s hair. The cutting (more like shaving) of the hair signifies the child becoming their own person and is celebrated with a hair cutting ceremony.
The khadag is a long piece of silk cloth (like a scarf). It comes in 5 different colours – blue, white, yellow, green and red – with each colour having its own unique significance:
Blue is the most sacred colour in Mongolian culture; representing Mongolia’s eternal blue sky. The blue khadag is the most common and can be given to anyone, regardless of age, to show respect.
White represents milk and is the symbol of purity. It is often given to mothers.
Yellow represents the sun and is the symbol of wisdom. It is given when you greet monks.
Green represents earth; being in tune with nature. It is the colour of inner peace and is only used in religious rituals.
Red represents fire and blood (as in circulation). It is the colour of life; of prosperity. As with the green khadag, it is not used to greet people but is only used in religious ceremonies.
To give or offer a khadag to someone or something is to show respect; the ultimate offering. To give a blue khadag to a person or animal is the highest form of respect. Driving through Mongolia, I would often see sheep and horses with a blue khadag tied around their neck. Our guide explained this is showing respect for the animal and it can’t be killed/eaten.
The cairns (shrines) throughout Mongolia are mounds of rocks and stones for offerings. Photograph by Speak Photography
The cairns (stone shrines known as ovoos) that dot Mongolia are festooned with khadags, primarily blue ones. Most Mongolians are Buddhist, but Shamanism still remains an integral part of Mongolian life. The cairns are erected by locals and travellers as a means of providing offerings to the local spirits; thus, showing their respect and honouring the spirits of the surrounding land. When you come across a cairn, you should always stop and show your respect by making an offering. The ritual entails walking around the cairn three times in a clockwise direction. As you do so, you make an offering while making a prayer or wish. This might be for a safe journey, good health, good fortune or for much needed rain. The offering can be a khadag, food, money, vodka, etc or a small stone. If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to stop at a cairn, the driver will honk the horn three times. At one cairn, our driver offered a blue khadag. We settled for a small stone each time we stopped at a cairn – and there were many.
My conclusion? Don’t forget to know before you go.
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Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless otherwise stated, all photos are my own and remain the copyright of Joanna Rath.