As soon as I set foot in Salzburg, I felt at home. Here was a town I could easily fall in love with, from the imposing Hohensalzburg Fortress overlooking the town, to the idyllic Sound of Music setting of the Mirabell Gardens, to the cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, and I couldn’t wait to explore it.
Five hours later, I found myself in hospital being examined by a doctor who looked like he had come from the set of Grey’s Anatomy and having X-rays taken to determine if I had any head trauma. I was right in the middle of one of my travel nightmares (the other being watching an ATM gobble up my debit card), and I wondered why this had to have happened to me.
So how did I end up in hospital? It sounds ridiculous to say, but I hit my head by walking in to a pole. In my defence, I was distracted by the window of a Swarovski store when I felt my forehead collide with the shop’s awning. I thought nothing of it at the time – I just banged my head, I’ll laugh it off and everything will be fine. But one of my friends pointed out that I was bleeding, and when after several hours and several plasters the scrape was still not healing, my tour guide took me to the hospital.
The doctor examined me, and I was sent to the X-ray room after making a midnight phone call to my parents back home in Australia to discover my tetanus immunisation was out of date (Make sure you know when you were last vaccinated, it makes life much easiest and doesn’t freak out your parents when you tell them you’re in the hospital!). Nine stitches and a tetanus booster later, I was free to go, with plans to get the stitches taken out in Prague eight days later.
Despite walking around with a big white plaster stuck to my forehead, I spent my remaining day in Salzburg continuing to fall more in love with it. I loved the fortress, the casualness of the beer gardens, and walking along the river in the bright summer sunshine.
I hope to go back to Salzburg one day and continue exploring this beautiful town. Although next time, I’ll make sure to watch where I’m going!
Tomorrow is St Nicholas Day (Nikolaustag), where ‘Saint Nicholas’ makes his yearly visit to the houses of children in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and many other countries throughout the world. If you’ve been well-behaved he’ll leave you chocolates and sweets. Been bad? Coal, twigs, or other less pleasant things might be headed your way.
The real Saint Nicholas was known for his generosity, and there are many stories about how he would use secret gift-giving to help those most in need. I first heard of Nikolaustag when I was eleven years old and sitting in my first year of German language classes. We learned about German children waiting anxiously for the arrival of Saint Nicholas and learned to sing German songs, such as “Sei gegruesst, lieber Nikolaus”. It all sounded wonderful – Saint Nicholas seemed to be a Christmas version of the Easter bunny, leaving chocolate in his wake.
Six years later, I experienced it first hand while on a German exchange trip. While Saint Nicholas visited the other students in my school group the morning of December 6, he took until that evening to get around to my host family’s house! There, in one of my boots left out by the stairs, was not only a Kinder Surprise and a bar of Milka chocolate, but also some gloves and a scarf. The extended family came over, songbooks were handed out, and a night of fun and song commenced (no “Sei gegrusst lieber Nikolaus” but plenty of other traditional German Christmas carols).
My brother stayed with the same family when he was on school exchange, and since he returned we’ve made sure to celebrate Nikolaustag every year. It usually falls right near our family’s long-held tradition of putting up our Christmas tree on the first Sunday of December, which is our first sign that the holiday season has started.
Have you ever adopted the traditions of other countries for yourself?
My family has many traditions around Christmas. From singing carols on Christmas Eve, to the extended family lunch, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without them.
Putting up the Christmas tree is my favourite of all of our family traditions. Each year, on the first Sunday of December, we get together, pull out the Christmas Tree box (my parents’ fake Christmas tree has lasted for more than 30 years and is still going (mostly) strong!), and put together the tree branches, string up the lights, and adorn the tree with tinsel, baubles and decorations. Since they’ve had the same tree and most of the same decorations for forever, there’s a lovely sense of nostalgia to the routine of putting up the Christmas tree.
This year is the first time I’ve had my own tree, so after we had gathered at my parents’ house to put together and decorate their tree, we all came around to my house to do the same for mine.
While travelling, I usually buy Christmas decorations to give to my parents as souvenirs, which makes decorating the Christmas tree that much more interesting. We reminisce about each decoration as it is given a place on the tree. Among them, there’s a puffin from Iceland, a Scottish guard from Edinburgh, and a train made out of Waterford crystal that I bought for Mum on my latest trip to Ireland.
Now that my Christmas tree is up and my living room is decorated with candles and tinsel, it feels like Christmas is finally here. All I need is the weather to make up it’s mind and for the Aussie summer to show up – it’s currently 34 degrees Celsius here but pouring with rain!
Early on a Saturday morning, I met up with a group of friends and we drove just over ninety minutes south of Adelaide to the coastal town of Cape Jervis. Our plan was to walk the first section of the Heysen Trail, a long distance hiking trail named in honour of Hans Heysen, a famous German-born South Australian artist. Leaving one car at the Kangaroo Island ferry terminal, we drove the other into Deep Creek conservation park to the Cobbler Hill campground so that we could walk from the fifteen kilometres from the campground to Cape Jervis, and then drive back to collect the other car.
As we left the Cobbler Hill Campground, signs warned of a steep descent, and it wasn’t long before we told ourselves we had made the right decision to walk to Cape Jervis instead of beginning there and walking towards Cobbler Hill Campground. The ground sloped sharply downwards, and when we came across some stairs, we had enough trouble walking down them – climbing up when going the other way would have been an exhausting way to end the walk!
The landscape soon took its revenge on us, however, as we climbed up and down a series of rolling hills. The scenery was spectacular though – the deep blue waters of the Backstairs Passage with Kangaroo Island hazy in the distance was our constant view as we walked through farmland past grazing sheep and cattle.
Both Blowhole Beach and Fishery Beach were opportunities for us to catch our breath and gaze at the white sands, turquoise water and rugged cliff faces that formed the coastline. We were lucky enough to see a dolphin as well as a pod of seals!
By the end of the walk I was exhausted – we had underestimated how long the walk was going to take! What we had originally envisaged as being a two to three hour walk ended up being a six hour trek. I kept my eye out for the Sealink ferry as it made its way back and forth between Cape Jervis on the mainland and Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island, knowing that the bigger the ferry appeared to be the closer I was getting to the end of the walk. It kept my motivation up for the final three kilometres of the walk as we trudged through sandhills, the harsh rays of the afternoon sun beating down on us.
Since we had done the walk in reverse (it’s intended for people to begin at Cape Jervis and finish at Cobbler Hill), it wasn’t until we saw the Trail sign at the very end that we realised how far we had actually walked.
On the way back to Adelaide we stopped in at Yankalilla Bakery to re-fuelWe managed to recover by stopping in at the Yankalilla Bakery for Cornish pasties and chocolate donuts to re-fuel before making our way back to Adelaide.
Open from April to October the Heysen Trail covers 1200 kilometres in total, making our sixteen kilometres seem insignificant! Though if the rest of the scenery along the trail is as picturesque as the walk from Cobbler Hill to Cape Jervis was, then it might be worth the effort to explore a few more sections of it.
A letter arrived for me last Thursday, welcoming me on becoming a member of the National Trust. For the past two years I had been going over the pros and cons of the membership, wondering whether I’d have a chance to actually use it. Finally, last Sunday, I decided to sign up.
The National Trust is an organisation dedicated to the conservation of historical buildings and objects as well as areas of natural beauty. Becoming a member of the National Trust gives you free or discounted entry to a number of historically and culturally significant sites not only within Australia but throughout the world.
So why did I wait to join the National Trust until after I came back from a trip to the UK? Before I left on my holiday, I knew that an Australian membership would give me discounts to National Trust properties in the UK. I could have saved myself several pounds in entry fees to Gladstone’s Land in Edinburgh, the Glenfinnan Monument in the Scottish Highlands, and Aberconwy House in Wales. But the truth was I wasn’t sure that I would get my money’s worth out of the $211 National Trust membership ($176 for a three year individual membership plus a $35 joining fee). I might have saved some money during my trips overseas, but when I returned to Australia and fell back in to my daily non-travelling routine, would I make an effort to visit the nearby properties managed by the National Trust in order to outweigh the membership cost?
Then I realised – does it really matter whether I get my money’s worth out of the membership? Shouldn’t it be enough to me that I’ve made a contribution towards the conservation and promotion of a part of my country’s history? Shouldn’t it be enough that my membership supports two of my greatest interests: history and period architecture?
Yes, I decided. Rather than worry about getting the most out of my National Trust membership that I can, I should concentrate on the positive effect it will have towards continuing to conserve our history for future generations. It’s part of what makes me want to travel. It’s part of what made me want to start this blog.
Interested in becoming a National Trust member? Find out more about the work the National Trust does and the locations they protect:
I woke up this morning and could smell smoke. During the night, the bushfire that had been burning at Sampson Flat in the southern Mount Lofty Ranges had grown to six times its size and had been deemed by emergency services to be out of control. Houses had been lost to the flames, and with winds about to pick up to 110 kilometres an hour, it was about to get a whole lot worse.
People who live in the Adelaide Hills are being told to leave immediately as the fire danger grows higher. There are comparisons being made between today’s fires and the fires of Ash Wednesday, the bushfire that devastated the Adelaide Hills in 1983. It’s horrible to think how quickly these fires have grown and I hope everyone in the affected areas keeps calm, follows the directions given to them and stays safe.
It did get me thinking, though. On Tuesday, I was driving through the very townships where people are now being told to leave their homes. How would travellers keep themselves safe in such a situation? Would they know where to go for help, and what resources they have access to in the event of a bush fire?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Be aware of the risks of travelling to bushfire prone areas. There is always a risk of bushfires starting, especially during the summer months in the states of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. High temperatures, strong winds, and dry grass provide the potential for accidental fires to spin out of control. If you’re planning on travelling to these regions, you need to consider what the risk of fire is at your destination, and what you would do if the worst happened.
Note down emergency service contact numbers so you know who to contact and how to contact them should you find it necessary.
Keep an eye on the media and be flexible in changing your travel plans. Emergency services with their own social media channels, online newspapers, radio and television will all contain information about fires in their local areas. If a fire is burning, do not go near the area. Travel plans can easily be changed, and it’s not worth it to risk your life.
Follow the directions of emergency service workers. If the worst does happen and you find yourself in an area threatened by a bushfire, keep calm and follow the directions of emergency service workers. If you are told to leave, leave. Remember that possessions can be replaced, but your life can’t.
Can you believe that it’s the last day of 2014? It seems only a few months ago that I was celebrating last year’s New Year’s Eve with my friends, discussing our travel plans, and telling myself that maybe this year I would finally start the travel blog that I kept talking about, to record my love of castles, writing and travel.
Here we are, a year later, and I’ve kept my promise to myself!
As we say goodbye to 2014 and welcome 2015, I would like to thank you all for reading this blog. I can’t wait to see what the new year brings!
In 2014 I returned to Europe and the UK, where I explored Belgium, soaked up Parisian life, and road tripped through the UK with my brother. Here are seven moments that left an impression on me this year:
Finally spending time in Belgium
In 2010 I spent around three hours in Belgium – the time it took for the tour bus I was on to drive from Germany, stop at a Belgian roadside cafe for lunch, and then continue on into France. Despite since visiting all of the countries around it, I never thought about going back to Belgium.
That is, until my brother and I were planning a Europe Trip and had no idea when or where we should go. A search for festivals in November turned up the Brussels Light Festival, and we thought why not start our trip in Brussels, and throw in a side trip to Bruges?
We ended up splitting our time between Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. Aside from the area between the palaces and the Grand Place, Brussels didn’t have that quaint feel of being hundreds of years old, but it did have the frites and waffles we were looking forward to, as well as quirky comic strip, figurine and street lamp museums, and the strangely cool Atomium.
Bruges was exactly how everyone who’s been there describes it – beautiful. I visited Michaelangelo’s Madonna statue in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk after learning about it from the movie the Monuments Men, battled with the steps of the Belfry, sought out windmills in the pouring rain, and went on a Belgian chocolate crawl down Katelijnestraat.
We weren’t expecting the old town of Ghent to be as pretty as it was. We explored Gravensteen Castle, took a stroll down by the colourful houses along the canal, and walked circles around Ghent’s many churches.
Getting blown away at Hadrian’s Wall
I didn’t want to visit just any section of Hadrian’s Wall – I wanted to visit the area known as Sycamore Gap, where the wall passes near a sycamore tree. Why? Because it was featured in one of the early scenes in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The only catch was that no matter how many web searches I did, no one would give me clear instructions on how to get there. So we were pretty impressed with ourselves when, despite a whipping wind, we followed the wall along and were eventually rewarded with the sight of Sycamore Gap (some of the other walkers must have thought I was crazy, getting so excited over a tree)!
Seeing Christmas come alive at Chatsworth House
Visiting Chatsworth House has been on my travel bucket list for a long time – ever since watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series and seeing Chatsworth act as the setting for Pemberley. It looked like we weren’t going to get there for a while – after ninety minutes sitting in a queue of cars we were thinking of giving up. Little did we know we had come on the weekend of the Christmas Markets! The house had been decorated for Christmas and while we saw little of the house’s decor, we were instead transported to the magical and crazy world of Alice in Wonderland.
Chasing Robin Hood from Nottingham to Sherwood Forest
Robin Hood stories have always captured my imagination, and I managed to convince my brother that we should spend some time in Nottingham as a stopover on our UK road trip. While Nottingham and Sherwood Forest did not meet my expectations (I’m not sure what I was wanting – a theatrical set up of an outlaw camp next to Major Oak?), my brother and I took full advantage of the shops and a trip down in to the caves underneath Nottingham was one of the more unique experiences I had.
Hugging Stones at Avebury
We were cramming a lot of Heritage Sites in to one day: Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Old Sarum, Silbury Hill, a Chalk Horse and Avebury were all on our hit list. Out of all of these important places, it was Avebury that is my favourite memory of that day. Maybe it was the light as dusk began to fall. Maybe it was the last sight at the end of a long day. Maybe it was the freedom to walk around the stones and up and down the mounds. Whatever the reason, walking around the muddy fields at Avebury is one of my favourite memories from my UK road trip.
Seeing the sea of poppies at the Tower of London
When I first heard about the project to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and to remember the 888,246 fallen British soldiers and saw images on the news of people adding their ceramic poppies to the moat surrounding the Tower of London, I knew it would be an awesome sight when completed. Unfortunately, I was at home in Australia at the time. By Remembrance Day on the 11th November, my travels had taken me to Edinburgh, and I was sure that by the time I arrived in London on the 23rd the poppies would have been all packed up. They mostly were, save for the corner section between the Tower entrance and the Thames. It was a sight I will never forget.
Travelling through Belgium, France and the UK, there were no shortage of castles for me to choose from. Here are some of my favourites that I visited in 2014:
My brother found this one for me while looking for things to do in Brussels. The remains of the twelfth century Coudenberg Palace lie underneath the city, and you are free to explore them on a self-guided tour. The cavernous rooms lined with stones made for an interesting welcome to the Belgian capital.
Gravensteen Castle was cool. The twelfth century castle had a weaponry room (the detail on the hilts of the swords was amazing!), a replica guillotine, a room filled with torture devices, and some of the best views of Ghent.
The Palace of Versailles
Ah, Versailles! The main palace demonstrates the wealth and luxury of the Bourbon family, but it is the Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet that I really loved. Getting lost in the gardens on the way to the Grand and Petit Trianons was all part of the fun.
There’s really something for everyone at Edinburgh Castle, from war and military museums, to Scottish history and the complex story of the Honours of Scotland. We visited on Remembrance Day, and standing in the National War Memorial reading all of the names of the Scottish soldiers who gave their lives during the wars was very moving.
This castle looks like it is straight out of a fairy tale. In fact, it was used as a film location for the Harry Potter series as well as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I loved the dining room in the State Apartments, and the many museums and exhibitions housed along the castle walls. There was even a wedding reception being held in the beautiful castle grounds!
The thing I enjoyed most about Warwick Castle was The Castle Dungeon tour. Not knowing what was going to jump out at us next was both scary and all part of the fun (though it was a relief when the tour finished and I no longer had to wonder what was on the other side of the next door!). The castle itself, although small, has had a long history. There are even peacocks strolling around the grounds! While we saw the falconry exhibition we were unfortunately there too late in the year to be able to see the jousting or the trebuchet in action.
While we didn’t have time to go inside Caerphilly Castle, we were able to drive all the way around it. Surrounded by water the old castle is very picturesque and is now among my favourite Welsh castles.
Near Salisbury, England
I knew nothing about Old Sarum before I arrived. Since I had always heard its name in association with Stonehenge and Avebury, I assumed it was another stone circle. I was very surprised when we arrived to discover that Old Sarum was originally an Iron Age fort and was later the site of a castle for King Henry I.
Blenheim Palace may be best known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill, but the palace itself is pretty in its own right, both inside and out. I especially loved the hidden Secret Garden, tucked away to the side of the palace.
The Tower of London
So much history is tied up in this fortress. The last time I visited I raced through with an audio guide stuck to my ear. This time, we went on a guided tour with a Yeoman Guard. If you ever get the opportunity, make sure you tag along with them – they bring the Tower’s stories of happiness, horror and woe to life.