02 December 2011

Views fit for…a chicken?

Sometimes in life you stumble across a view that is so spectacular, so breath-taking, you have to stop and admire it fully.
 Using all your senses you listen to the sounds, take in the smells as you frame a photograph in your mind so that you can recall the beauty of a setting so perfect it stopped you in your tracks.

Now imagine if you could look at that view every day. Around the world millions of people pay thousands and thousands of dollars for land because of the sheer beauty of the views before them. Such was the view that stopped us in our tracks in Appenzell, Switzerland.

Switzerland is none too shabby when it comes to amazing views. Everywhere you look is the picture postcard scenery you expect in this part of the world - from the majestic mountains forming a dramatic backdrop to endless rolling fields of green. And Appenzell, one of the more traditional villages of Switzerland – they still hold annual town meetings to vote on major initiatives affecting the town by a show of hands–has more than its fair share of stunning scenery surrounding the quaint town centre.

Originally built in the 1100s, the town was burnt by fire in the 1500s. It was rebuilt, and still stands much as it did then. Tourists flock to the town, but there are plenty of walks and activities to ensure you don’t have to fight crowds every step of your stay.

One of the highlights is a trip up Mt Ebenalp which boasts a large cave where the remains of early hermits were found and a chapel and gusthaus built into the side of the mountain. It’s well worth stopping for a drink in the gusthause – and checking out the bathroom where the rock wall of the mountain forms the walls of the toilets.

And so it was on a stroll back to our B&B after a day spent frolicking up Mt Ebenalp, that we stumbled across yet more spectacular views. What struck us about this particular view, though, was not so much the mountain peaks casting an imposing shadow over the valley, nor the fields scattered with bell-laden cows. No, what took us by surprise – and amusement – was that these views formed the backdrop to a chicken coup!

Not for these chickens the shadiest spot in the back garden. Oh no. These chickens had a timber a-frame coup to shade them from those freezing Swiss winter mornings, and lush green lawns to roam through. And if the chickens happened to look up from scratching around the ground, they would be met with breathtaking views across the Appenzell valley and up to the mountain ranges.

Kind of makes you think, perhaps coming back as a chicken in another life might not be such a bad thing afterall!

19 November 2011

Travelling with the inlaws

I’ve realised we must be suckers for punishment! We’ve just finished booking a trip with the inlaws – not any old trip, a roadtrip!

But you see the thing is, it is our second road trip this year, with our inlaws! Different set this time, but still…
In July we spent three weeks travelling through the UK with Ade’s parents, more on that trip in a later blog post, and this time we will be travelling with my parents, and their friend from the UK.

This time we are heading straight up the east coast of Australia, well not quite straight up, more like curving our way up the coast from Melbourne to Brisbane via Lakes Entrance, Newcastle, Batemans Bay and Coffs Harbour.

Eight days, five adults, one car.

The scenery looks stunning and fortunately, we have limited the hours of travel in the car to about four hours a day.

The benefit of going with mum and dad, I recently discovered, is that mum, who is recently retired and has an affinity with the internet, got to and booked almost all the accommodation for us.

So, with itinerary in hand, we begin the countdown to another roadtrip and the anticipation of this time seeing our own amazing country!

30 October 2011

The perils of driving in Europe

Travelling on the opposite side of the road, it seems so easy. Sure, you have to reverse 20 years of learned behaviour, turn into the opposite lane when turning into a road and check for oncoming traffic in the opposite direction, but overall the concept is the same.

At least, that’s what we assumed when we took to the road for our first time in Europe. Took to the right side of the road, that is, not the left, where we are so used to driving.

But so many people before us had braved driving on the opposite side of the road, how difficult could it be?
What we hadn’t anticipated was how difficult it actually is.

Oh and did I mention the gears? Of course we were driving a manual car, so had to recalibrate our thinking to changing gears with the right hand and hanging on to the steering wheel with the left.

We headed into the heart of Konstance, with its cobblestone laneways and traffic control signs funnelling all traffic – in both directions – into single lanes. And left with a minor scratch down the side of the car.

Not off to a good start, but we not to be deterred, we connected our satnav punched in our destination and left Konstance for Appenzell.

With a mantra of “stick to the right” and “look to the left” we followed the deserted country roads through the quaint towns of Germany, past the picture perfect – and clich├ęd - cow-filled meadows back into Switzerland.

We didn’t lose our nerve, not even when the satnav took us along roads we were certain were actually part of private farms, or urged us to drive straight ahead, when our road had clearly ended!

At least, we didn’t lose our nerve until we arrived in Appenzell, where the roads were built up again and the biggest problem? Turning right into a side street with a barge down the centre, try as we might we couldn’t get used to turning into the right lane of the road.

The car survived our stay in Appenzell – perhaps because we chose accommodation within walking distance of a train station, and left the car in the garage! 

29 September 2011

The beauty of Konstance

After a night spent with family and a quick walk through Epalinges we were on the road again. This time we were headed for Konstance, just over the German border, with Jonathon. We had to stop at Zurich airport to change hire cars, but even with that stop, the trip probably only took about four hours. Coming from Australia, the thought of driving four hours into another country is unthinkable – it takes longer than that to drive into another state!

Again, the drive was stunning – past snow-capped mountains, castles and cow-filled meadows.

Konstance is a beautiful historic little town on Lake Konstance. The lake itself forms the border of Germany, Switzerland and Austria – what a position! We spent half the day meandering through the old town of Konstance, marvelling over the buildings which date back as far as the 1300s.

Full of cobbled streets and historic vistas, Konstance is an easy city to walk around. The old town is nestled next to the Lake, though the most interesting streetscapes are a short walk away from the Lake. Unfortunately the trainline intersects between the old town and the Lake, making it difficult to move between the two.

The city more than makes up for this slight inconvenience with its sheer beauty.

From the top of the Cathedral spire – 42 metres high – you get amazing views over the city and the lake. You can walk up higher, to the balconies in the spire – at about 56 metres.

I had to laugh as Adrian had an indepth discussion with a man on the balconies all about camera equipment – the man didn’t speak a word of English, Ade doesn’t speak a word of German, but they spoke the universal language of Canon!

11 September 2011

A mad dash from Venice to Lausanne

The train ride through northern Italy and into Switzerland is spectacular – though our journey was not without incident.

We arrived at the station nice and early and boarded our train for Milan, where we were to change trains for the trip to Lausanne. We had about half an hour to kill in Milan, time enough to find our platform and transfer our luggage, or so we thought!

Heading through the Italian countryside our train stopped at one of the stations and there it sat, and sat. Evidently there had been a problem with the train and we had been delayed about 20 minutes. Still time to get to Milan and board our train, but then the train took off, slowly and didn’t pick up speed until we were just about at Milan.

We arrived five minutes after our train was due to leave – and as we were boarding a Swiss train we fully expected they would have left right on time.

Of course we had arrived on a platform at the opposite end of the station to where we needed to be, so laden with bags, we took off. Running all the way to the correct platform and our train was still there! I don’t know how we found the right platform, but we were soon safely on our way to Lausanne and enjoying the stunning views out the window.

Venice to Milan was nice, but nothing compared to the trip from Milan to Lausanne – where we ambled passed snow-capped mountains, castles, lakes and the picture postcard meadows you expect to find in Switzerland.

We headed straight to Epalinges, to my cousin, Jonathon’s place. Epalinges is about five minutes from Lausanne – up in the mountains just above the snowline – it’s a little quieter than Lausanne, and absolutely beautiful!

29 June 2011

Dodging the crowds in Venice

It’s been 10 years since we’ve been to Venice. Back then we were struggling backpackers. We bought our rolls in the supermarket, stayed in the campgrounds off the main island, and saw all icons from afar.

Fortunately part of the beauty of Venice is exploring the canals on foot and getting lost meandering from church to cathedral and everything in between.

This time, however we chose to stay in the heart of Venice, just off San Marco Palazzo, so we could truly take in the city.

In the 10 years since we were last in Venice the crowds appear to have trebled, could be that we were there during the Venice Biennale, but it certainly wasn’t peak season when we were here this time, unlike the last time we were here.

We got up early so we could beat the crowds to the Doges Palace (Ade had already been up since 6 taking photos without the crowds).

I can’t believe we didn’t make the effort to go inside the palace when we were here all those years ago. Each room is better than the one before it, more majestic, with unbelievable artwork adorning the walls.

The tour takes in the palace, including the Doge’s private apartments and the council chambers, as well as the prison.

The contrast between the opulence of the palace and the dark, depressing prison is striking. The two are separated by the Bridge of Sighs and it must have been the longest walk for any person condemned to the prison.

The canals of Venice have lost none of their charm, even if they are now more full than ever of gondolas and one of our favourite things to do was still to get lost in the side streets overlooking the canals.

Two days in Venice isn’t really enough, we missed seeing the inside of the San Marco Chapel because of the long queues, but it’s one more reason to head back there, probably in another 10 years, when the crowds will no doubt have doubled again!

20 June 2011

Three days in Singapore

Ahh Singapore – a city of shopping, efficiency, strict rules against chewing gum and … frogs?!

We arrived in Singapore at 6am and headed straight for our friend Barb’s place, she had convinced us that we needed to see the frog farm in Singapore – they don’t write about it in the travel brochures, nor was there any information on it at the airport.

But, on next to no sleep we took a cab and headed for farming country.  Even the taxi driver laughed at us as we told him where we wanted to go.

The farm itself is a little disturbing, thousands of frogs trapped in small concrete pens – all ready to be sold off to become someone’s meal – and I thought they only ate frogs in France!

But the region was beautiful - full of unusual farms accessed by a shuttle bus that drives from farm to farm.

After the frog farm we visited Bollywood Veggies – a large edible garden that you could take hours to meander through.

The greenery in this part of the country, close to the border with Malaysia, was quite unexpected and quite beautiful, and seemingly a world away from the Singapore most visitors experience.

Of course, we had to do the obligatory tourist sites – Little India, yep it’s authentic, as soon as we stepped into this precinct people were trying to get us to buy their wares; Arab Street; Orchard Road and Raffles Place.

We also caught the train out to Sentosa Island to witness all the kitsch of the various “worlds”. I loved it, but was very surprised to learn it’s not a man-made island! The island itself formed naturally, but has now been turned into a giant “theme park” complete with fake beaches and rocks, as well as a Universal Studios theme park. Another of the main goals for Sentosa Island was to reverse the trend of declining greenery, and slowly increase the “percentage” of the island dedicated to natural forestry.

Even the airport at Singapore is amazing - complete with indoor butterfly sanctuary for viewing while waiting for the plane. You can view butterfly cocoons, and watch hundreds of butterflies suck nectar from the flowers. It is the most amazing airport we have seen.

Singapore is a beautiful country, it is incredibly clean, easy to navigate and friendly but in some ways it is a little too perfect, almost soulless. Still, I’m definitely heading back for the shopping!

01 February 2011

Image Of The Week

Church of the Good Shephard - New Zealand

This shot was taken quite a while ago. It was early in my journey as a photographer, and taken with my trusty 300D and sigma 24-70 2.8 EX DG. It was late afternoon early May, and the light was superb.
I couldn't really go wrong.

28 January 2011

The people we meet...

One of the things I love about travelling is the people you meet along the way. From the weird and eccentric to the mellow and laid back, it’s not surprising that you meet all types of people on the road. But one of I’m often surprised by is the kindness of people when we travel.

Of course, there never seems to be any shortage of people wanting to scam you or rip you off. There was the nun in the Vatican who pushed me out of the way in a crowded post office to ensure she got her stamps before me, the waiter in the Italian restaurant who was nice as can be until we ordered a small dish and just water for lunch – after that he treated us with absolute disdain despite us being the only two people in the restaurant.

19 January 2011

Getting ready for Europe

Flights are booked and a rough itinerary is done, we’re off to Europe. We are so prepared this time; we’ve even booked most of our accommodation. This is in stark contrast to our usual travel style which consists of booking flights a few months before we leave, nutting out a rough plan of where we want to go and then turning up at the airport just in time to check in and board the flight.

I would not recommend this approach for anyone travelling to India! Somewhat foolishly, when we travelled to India a couple of years ago we arrived in Delhi at 3am and headed straight to New Delhi station to board a train for Gwalior. Fighting off Tuk Tuk drivers and keeping one step ahead of travel scammers is not easy after a 16 hour flight!

11 January 2011

Picture of the Week

The Taj Mahal

This was a shot we took on a late afternoon visit to the Taj. Possibly the most amazing Architectural achievement we have seen. As with everywhere else in India, the crowds were remarkable, to say the least.

I was searching for a different perspective from which to take my shot of the 'Taj', and also find some "calm".

02 January 2011

Relaxing in Fiji

-Belated post on our trip to Fiji in October - yes, I know we are very behind!

The horizon Pool was spectacular (not to mention the swim-up bar)

We have arrived in Paradise!
Sitting in the bar at Amanuca, the Fijian musicians playing in the background, sipping a fruity mocktail and looking out over the ocean – surely it doesn’t get any better than this.
Our trip here was a rather adventurous journey, which we soon learned was not generally part of the experience getting to Tokoriki Island.

Tokoriki is a small island, containing just two resorts, and is located north-west of Nadi.
Our plane departed Melbourne just after midnight and arrived at Nadi about 6.30am. We had transfers to take us to Denauru where we were to catch our boat at 9.30am straight to Tokoriki.

Denauru was already busy by 8am when we arrived. There were people everywhere, and of course the obligatory Fijian musicians serenading the tourists on the docks.

We boarded our boat, were seated in the air-conditioned comfort of the Captain’s Lounge, and waited to take off. We got talking to an older couple, who had no sooner got settled on the boat than our hostess, Ecka, told them plans had changed and they would need to change boats. They should go and see the manager, she said.

Soon after however they were back on the boat, clearly plans had changed again!
We set off bound for Tokoriki via a number of other small islands on the way. Each island looked stunning – white sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal clear, blue waters lapping at the shores.

One of the many spectacular Fijian sunsets.

Our boat reached Mana Island, and we were told we would have to board another boat – but don’t go on to the pier yet, Ecka toldls us, I’ll come and tell you when you have to change boats and you will have to go down below on the deck.

We wait, the boat moves away from the pier, smaller boats come and moor themselves beside our large boat, then move away.

We return to the pier and are told to get off on the pier, as we are about to disembark we are told go down to the bottom deck to disembark onto another boat.

Finally we board a speed boat. There are about 10 of us in the speedboat, all bound for Amunuca Resort. Our luggage is stowed precariously on the back of the boat – I say precariously, as nothing is holding the luggage on and I’m fairly certain that soon as the speedboat takes off, our luggage will be lost to the bottom of the ocean. Right about now I’m wishing I didn’t buy that new suitcase and instead brought one of our old cases along instead!

The bottom of the boat is filled with water and as I had come straight from work I’m still dressed in the black pants and pink shirt I had worn to work the day before – at least I had the good sense to change into an old pair of walking shoes!

The bottom of my pants and my shoes are getting saturated with the water, but then as the boat takes off, the water subsides. Somehow the cases stay balanced on the boat. As we get within about 500 metres of the shoreline that houses Amunuca resort the boat slows down and another boat comes out to meet us.

Once again we are told to change boats, this one will take us out to the resort! Our luggage is transferred to a third boat as we all load into the boat. As we make our way toward Amunuca we look down into the ocean to see sparkling clear waters. We can make out the coral beneath us and watch fish swim past.

As we reach the shore we are greeted by three Fijian musicians welcoming us in song.
After we are checked in we spend the rest of the day in bed – we haven’t slept for over 24 hours afterall!

Yeah, just loved that pool.

We make our way out for a quick swim before dinner. The pool is stunning, an endless swimming pool the colour of which matches the ocean. Seated in the pool, we look out over the coral reefs that border this part of the island and the neighbouring three islands.
I had read mixed reviews of Amunuca, most complained about the price and quality of the food. The location and the living areas of the resort are spectacular, the staff are very friendly, so I was nervous about the food, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Have we mentioned the sunsets?
The following day, after a good sleep in and breakfast, we spend the day lounging by the pool, reading and relaxing. Adrian headed off for some snorkelling, while I continued relaxing by the pool.

My mother, who is sometimes very wise, even though I rarely give her any credit for being so, told me just before coming away that everyone needs to relax at some stage and that some holidays should be relaxing.

She tells me this as our last two overseas trips – taken in the past two years – have been to Africa and India, both of which are amazing places, but neither of which are very relaxing!

One of those mistakes that worked - "Ghost of Vanessa".

So this holiday we are determined to relax and at Fiji there is little more to do. Our big decision that first morning was should we snorkel before lunch or after – as it turned out I didn’t go at all that first day as it seemed like too great an effort to get up off the sunlounger!

Day three in paradise and again after a good sleep in – and 12 hours of sleep – we decide to get active and go for a short walk. We head down to the beach and walk over the rocks along the island. We found a path and an abandoned rock building which looked like it may have been used for storage at some stage. The path is made of concrete so we figure it must lead somewhere, we are wrong, it doesn’t! It goes up part way into the centre of the island where it does a loop.

By the time we get back down to the beach the tide has come in, making crossing the rocks back to our resort a little more perilous!
All that walking exhausted us, so it was back to bed, followed by a short swim and some poolside lounging before heading over to Tokoriki Resort hotel.
The reviews I read on Tokoriki resort were amazing – it was described as paradise and heaven on earth. So I have mixed views about going to check it out. Of course I want to have a sticky beak, but at the same time, how will I ever go back to our resort after seeing paradise!

The resort is indeed beautiful. It is an adults-only resort. The grounds are stunning, all manicured perfection and the central area has an outdoor library area, big chairs for relaxing in. There is a large infinity pool. The place is very quiet, unlike Amanuca which always has people milling around, children swimming in the pool and of course a steady supply of thirsty holiday makers at the bar.

Dusk sky and long shutter speed come together for an interesting result.

While I think Tokoriki is by far the more stunning of the resorts – and of course with the price tag it should be – I think the views from Amunuca are far better, while the resorts are just a couple of hundred metres apart, Amunuca looks out over three islands which break up the endless ocean views. Tokoriki on the other hand only looks out on one island. From the main living areas of Tokoriki you seem to look out over the swimming pool, at Amunuca however, the pool is off to the left of the communal areas, so from the bar and the restaurant, there are uninterrupted views over the ocean and the islands – oh and Amunuca also has a swim up bar!

Apparently Amunuca was built about five years ago, but then went into receivership. It was bought recently, the new owners took over in April and it has been operating since then. Some of the facilities are looking tired and others are incomplete, but overall the facilities are beautiful.

The Lighting of the Torches (bought to you by Cali).

After dinner we arrive just in time to watch a crab race before heading off for another early night.

Our regular evening musicians created a warm, relaxing atmosphere.

Day four and I am determined to do some kind of activity, so after breakfast we take out some snorkels and head out into the ocean. It is the first time since I have been here that I have been into the ocean and the water is amazing.
So clear, so blue, so warm! After about 30 minutes snorkelling I lay in the shallows of the waters feeling the sun on my face and the waters wash over my skin. It is a perfect day and despite the shallow water, a small fish swims past my arm.

That night there is a bonfire on the beach so we sit around the fire singing songs from the various nations represented - Australia, England, China, Fiji and New Zealand. Our New Zealand friends take us through the Haka. Then we move back into the bar for a good dose of karaoke!

This morning, nursing delicate heads, we take it easy. Another sleep in followed by a short swim in the pool. But then one of the girls we have met talks us into going on the guided nature walk – admittedly we don’t take much convincing, we can’t lounge around the whole time we are here!

I thought the walk would take us out of the resort and into the rainforest behind us, however we remain within the grounds of Amunuca while our guide Cali – who is also the chief volleyball referee – explains different plant leaves and fruits to us.

An afternoon relaxing by the pool follows – I could definitely get used to this life!
The following morning we decide we really should get off the island and take up at least one of the activities while we are here, so we sign up to go out to Monaru Island – made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway.

The trip includes a bit of snorkelling, followed by time spent on the island.
We head out in two separate boats as there are 18 of us on this particular trip, the boat we are on is the later boat and we travel to the rear of the island for 40 minutes of snorkelling. I was expecting to land on the shore and to snorkel from there, however the boat pulls up about 100 metres off shore and we are told we will leave the boat here and snorkel to the point.

The snorkelling is amazing, we are right on the edge of an underwater “cliff” whereby the coral drops away dramatically. One of the swimmers comes and asks me if I just saw the shark beneath us, I didn’t and it’s a good thing too, it was enough for me to be swimming at this depth and this far from shore without seeing a shark!

Foolishly I had opted not to get a lifejacket and about half way through our snorkel I begin wishing I had a lifejacket so I could just lay back and relax for a bit, but then our snorkel guide calls us over to see a huge school of fish feeding off the coral.
I see people begin to get out of the water into the boat, so follow suit. Again, I thought we would swim to shore, but no, the boat takes us around to the other side of the island where we meet up with those that left in the boat before us. The sand is soft and white and of course fringed with palm trees.

This weathered and gnarled tree had some amazing texture.

We walk to the other side of the island where we stop to see one of the guys from our trip breaking open coconuts for us to try.
We are on the island for about 40 minutes. It is a beautiful island, however I thought they would take us on a short tour – show us the various sites from the movie. Unfortunately we were left alone just to wander. Which Adrian thought was great, he is a keen explorer and knows so much about the tropical islands of Fiji. Actually he knows so much about everything, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is one-day awarded the Nobel prize (clearly Adrian wrote this section of the blog and it is highly unlikely he will ever be awarded a Nobel prize!). - a little harsh Adrian thought!

I overheard our guide talking to a couple who were still snorkelling off the beach area. He asked whether they had been dropped off to snorkel on this side of the island, and when they said they had, he said they should have been snorkelling on the other side of the island, as that’s where the rare fish is found. Apparently, the Dory fish, similar to Dory from the movie Nemo, is only found in these waters, and for some reason, only on the one side of the island.

Milly provided service with a smile, and along with Kinny and Vanessa below
were the friendliest staff we could have wished for.

When we get back to Tokoriki, we settle into the swimming pool. Adrian plays the daily game of Volley ball, while I sit at the bar with our new found friends.
Some eight hours later we are still at the bar, trying the various cocktails, this is after all what holidays are all about!

Above : Vanessa and Kinny

The following morning, nursing delicate heads, we sleep for half the day. Fortunately the rain has set in, so it is a good opportunity to relax. We make our way to the bar area and spend the afternoon relaxing with our new friends.

Wednesday dawns bright and early, we miss the early part and make it in time for breakfast and to see the last of our friends depart the island! The resort begins to feel very quiet, but soon a new crowd will come in and no doubt continue the partying.

We have two more days on the island to relax so we book a massage and head out for a snorkel.
Again the water is amazing, we swim out to the pontoon which sits about 200 metres from the shore. Again we swim over coral and an underground “cliff” complete with underwater tunnels.
I make it to the pontoon – a major feat! And spend some time lazing on the pontoon before we head back to shore.

The fish are amazing and the water is so clear I lounge in the shallows, but spend too long in the water and my knees slowly turn a bright shade of pink as the day passes.
The massage completes our relaxation, though Adrian feels it does not go deep enough and doesn’t get rid of any of the knots in his back.

This little one enjoyed the Traditional Fijian dancing from local Villagers.
Dinner that night is a traditional Fijian lovo. There is far too much food, but we enjoy trying the different meats cooked underground.

The ladies dancing for us.
Dinner is followed by entertainment from the local village. It is a fantastic end to the day. The entertainment is terrific.

The men put on a fierce display.
Our last day on the island comes all too soon. I am feeling thoroughly relaxed and am trying to think of ways I can retain this feeling – how to give up work, but maintain and income that allows me to travel! No doubt the eternal dream!

Possibly the largest Chai Latte I have ever seen!