Tag Archives: Castles

A Lazy Mother’s Day in the Adelaide Hills

Leaves
The autumnal colours of the leaves are beautiful this time of year

The last few weekends have been grey and chilly as we head towards winter. But this weekend the sun was out, and the temperature was hovering around a lovely twenty degrees making it the ideal day for a Sunday drive through the Adelaide Hills.

Red pops of colour as the leaves change
Red pops of colour as the leaves change

And perfect timing, too, since it’s Mother’s Day! To celebrate, I spent the day with Mum and Dad exploring the windy roads of the Adelaide Hills.

My parents are avid photographers, and so much of the time was spent pulling over to the side of the road and jumping out of the car for photo ops as we tried to capture the changing colours of the vineyards, apple orchards, and autumnal trees on the side of the road. We even passed Camelot Castle peeking out from behind the trees that lined the side of the road.

Catching glimpses of Camelot Castle on our Sunday drive
Catching glimpses of Camelot Castle on our Sunday drive

We managed to snag one of the last tables at the Lobethal Bierhaus, and tucked in to a warm loaf of sliced bread, and mains of pulled pork and venison as Mum and I sipped on the local Lenswood LOBO apple cider and watched as Dad worked his way through the tasting platter of eight beers that were each brewed on site (I don’t usually like the taste of beer, but even I liked the spiced Christmas ale!). We would have loved to have stayed for dessert, but we were too full!

Lunch at the Lobethal Bierhaus
Lunch at the Lobethal Bierhaus
The Tasting Platter at the Lobethal Bierhaus
The Tasting Platter at the Lobethal Bierhaus

A visit to the Adelaide Hills is never complete without stopping in at Melba’s Chocolate Factory at Woodside. Everyone else must have had the same idea, as the shop was full of people buying chocolate with their mums. The chocolate shop has rooms where you can wander in and watch the chocolates, lollies and other treats being made – and taste some samples!

Me;ba's Chocolates at Woodside - it's a tradition to go here whenever we're in the Adelaide Hills
Me;ba’s Chocolates at Woodside – it’s a tradition to go here whenever we’re in the Adelaide Hills
Chocolate honeycomb from Me;ba's - yum!
Chocolate honeycomb from Me;ba’s – yum!

It was a lovely lazy day and although we didn’t really do much, it was relaxing taking photos, eating great food, and most importantly, spending time with Mum.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mums out there – hopefully your day was just as relaxing!

Guide to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh

The dancer's pavilion
The dancer’s pavilion

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was constructed on its current site in the mid-eighteenth century after King Norodom relocated the capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh. It contains three separate compounds – one area housing the palace grounds, another containing Wat Preah Keo, and a final area where visitors can view displays of traditional costumes, music, and artefacts. The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh is the official residence of King Sihamoni, and because of this many buildings and spaces are closed to visitors. However, there are some that remain accessible: you can glimpse the opulence of the throne room, pay your respects in ‘The Silver Pagoda’ of Wat Preah Keo, and learn more about Cambodian traditions and culture in the exhibition halls.

Where is the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh?

The Royal Palace is located on Sothearos Boulevard near the riverfront of Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.

How do I get there?

The easiest way of getting to the Royal Palace is by tuk-tuk (although if your accommodation is on the riverfront, then it could be just as easy to walk there!).

The gardens as you enter the Royal Palace
The gardens as you enter the Royal Palace

How to Dress

All visitors must conform to dress standards in order to enter the Royal Palace grounds. You will need to make sure your shoulders and knees are covered – a top with sleeves or a T-shirt, with three-quarter length trousers or a long skirt is enough. It’s also a good idea to wear shoes you can easily remove, as you must take your shoes off in order to go inside the Silver Pagoda.

A naga stands at the foot of the steps to the throne room.
A naga stands at the foot of the steps to the throne room.

What to See

It can be a bit disorienting as you enter the Royal Palace grounds, pass through the entrance gates and come out on to a large open area with manicured gardens. Don’t worry – a map of the grounds is provided with your entry ticket, and shows the expected way of visit, passing by Preah Tineang Tevea Vinichhay, Hor Samritvimean, a model of Angkor Wat, the Stupas, Wat Preah Keo, Kailassa Mountain, the Reamker Mural and the Exhibition Halls. The areas of the palace grounds that are prohibited to visitors are clearly marked with signs. If you lose your map, there is one on the wall between the Royal Palace and Wat Preah Keo compounds.

Preah Tineang Chanchhaya

Preah Tineang Chanchhaya (the throne hall) is one of the first buildings you see upon entering the palace grounds
Preah Tineang Chanchhaya (the throne hall) is one of the first buildings you see upon entering the palace grounds

Preah Tineang Chanchhaya is the royal throne hall. Built in 1917, it is the place where coronation ceremonies and meetings with foreign dignitaries are held. While you can’t step inside, you can view the throne room with its thrones and beautiful chandeliers through the open windows that surround the hall. Photos of the inside of the throne room are not allowed.

The main spire of the throne hall is magnificent in itself. Standing 59 metres tall, it displays four faces of Brahma.

The four-faced spire on the throne hall
The four-faced spire on the throne hall

Hor Samritvimean

Looking out over the grounds of the Royal Palace
Looking out over Hor Samritvimean and the grounds of the Royal Palace

The only other building within the palace compound that we were able to go inside of was listed as ‘Hor Samritvimean’ on the map we were given. It contained a collection of costumes and coronation regalia, including the seven outfits pictured below, whose mannequins were named ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’, ‘Wednesday’, ‘Thursday’, ‘Friday’, ‘Saturday’ and ‘Sunday’.

Mannequins inside the Hor Samritvimean wearing colourful costumes labelled as the days of the week.
Mannequins inside the Hor Samritvimean wearing colourful costumes labelled as the days of the week.

Wat Preah Keo (The Silver Pagoda)

 Wat Preah Keo (The Silver Pagoda) is known for its emerald Buddha and its silver-tiled floor
Wat Preah Keo (The Silver Pagoda) is known for its emerald Buddha and its silver-tiled floor

Wat Preah Keo is a Buddhist temple and contains an emerald Buddha. Wat Preah Keo is also known as ‘The Silver Pagoda’, because of the 5000 silver tiles that cover the floor. Unfortunately, these are hard to see, as the floor is covered up by carpet that protects the tiles from being damaged by foot traffic.

All visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering Wat Preah Keo – there are cubby holes outside where you can store your shoes.

Out of all of the buildings in the Royal Palace/Wat Preah Keo complex, this was the one that I wished had more explanations in English. There were cabinets upon cabinets of statues, icons and precious objects, and I would have loved to have known more about them and their significance.

Model of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat in miniature
Angkor Wat in miniature

Behind Wat Preah Keo is a model of Angkor Wat. If you’ve been to the temple which is part of the UNESCO-listed Angkor region, compare it with your memories of your visit. Or, if like me you’ve yet to go to Angkor Wat, get a bird’s eye view of the miniature version before seeing the real thing.

The Mural of the Reamker

The Mural of the Reamker
Part of the Mural of the Reamker that was poking out from behind the scaffolding

The Reamker mural is a Cambodian re-telling of the story of Ramayana. It was covered up for the most part during my visit as it was undergoing restoration, but I managed to glimpse some of the sections peeking out from behind the scaffolding.

The Stupas

Her Royal Highness Kantha Bopha's stupa
Her Royal Highness Kantha Bopha’s stupa

There are four intricately decorated stupas (memorials to members of the royal family) clustered around Wat Preah Keo.

Kailassa Mountain

A statue of Buddha in the gardens of 'Kailassa Mountain'.
A statue of Buddha in the gardens of ‘Kailassa Mountain’.

This shady garden wrapped around a hill provides visitors with a well-needed escape from the sun. Take a seat on the stone wall and admire the plants and flowers in the peaceful garden, before setting off to explore more of the Royal Palace and Wat Preah Keo.

The Exhibition Halls

After you have visited the compound of the Silver Pagoda, you pass by a series of exhibition halls on your way to the exit.

You’ll find on display various carriages, traditional Khmer folk dance costumes and masks, silverware, live music and weaving demonstrations. If the heat and humidity’s bringing you down, you’ll love the air conditioning in some of these rooms!

Traditional dancer's costumes on display in the exhibition rooms
Traditional dancer’s costumes on display in the exhibition rooms
Musicians playing traditional Cambodian music
Musicians playing traditional Cambodian music
Silver elephants in one of the exhibition rooms
For elephant lovers, this was the room to see! There were gold and silver elephants along with a collection of crockery
The White Elephant in one of the exhibition rooms
The White Elephant. We stayed in this room for a while looking at the carved elephant – the air conditioning was lovely!

Things I didn’t expect

  • As it was my first time visiting a palace outside of Europe, I didn’t know what to expect. The palace buildings seemed lighter and more spread out than their European counterparts, and each building was essentially one big room.
  • The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda were essentially two different compounds. From outside the walls of the Royal Palace, it looks like the palace compound and the Silver Pagoda are part of the same space. Actually, they are two distinct compounds, separated by an alleyway and gates. The same ticket gets you in to both areas though, and once you’ve paid for your ticket at the entrance to the Royal Palace, there’s no need to show it again.
  • Restoration. You’d think by now I’d expect there always to be some restoration going on when I visit a place – it seems lately it’s been inevitable. But during our visit, a lot of the buildings which would have been open were closed for restoration, including the Pavilion of Napoleon III and the Mural of the Reamker.
  • We were outside for most of the time. Make sure you bring sun protection with you – you’ll be out in the sun a lot!
Reclining Buddha, Dharmasala
Reclining Buddha, Dharmasala

Guided tour or self tour?

There are guides offering tours that you can find standing in between the palace entrance and the ticket booth, however we chose to wander around by ourselves.

It was mostly fine. There were enough signs in English that helped us work out what things were, along with the map we were given when we purchased our tickets, though as you would expect most of the information was in Khmer.

By hanging around a tour group for a little bit we were able to listen to a bit of information about the Throne Room, though it was a lot more detailed than I was looking for!

The exhibition hall exits into a lush garden setting
The exhibition hall exits into a lush garden setting

Can I take photos?

You cannot take photos of the inside of the throne room or inside the Silver Pagoda. These are well marked with signs and monitored. Photos are permitted everywhere else.

Now it’s your turn!

Have you visited the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh? Let us know your thoughts!

The Castle Scavenger Hunt: Berlin Edition

The Castle Scavenger Hunt: Berlin Edition

It started off simply. I had a thirty-six hour window of time in Berlin. I wanted to explore another part of the city, away from the tourist sights and the shops around Tauentzienstraße. What could I do that was different?

I tried to think of things that would take me away from Alexanderplatz and Unter den Linden, without feeling like I was wandering around aimlessly. I ended up compiling a list of palaces, fortresses and stately homes that were scattered across Berlin and challenged myself to a scavenger hunt: to see as many of the places on my list as I could in the one and a half days I had in Berlin.

Here’s how it went:

Found

I set off on my expedition on the afternoon that I arrived in Berlin and headed for the familiar street of Unter den Linden to begin my scavenger hunt at the Brandenburg Gate.

Palais am Pariser Platz

The Palais am Pariser Platz
My first stop on the scavenger hunt: The Palais am Pariser Platz

I quickly found the Palais am Pariser Platz tucked in next to the Brandenburg Gate. Built in the late 1990s, the office building wasn’t quite what I was picturing when I thought of the word ‘Palais’ but it gave me an excuse to see the Brandenburg Gate again (something to redeem my seventeen year old self’s disappointment at visiting while the Brandenburg Gate was being restored ).

Schloss Bellevue

Schloss Bellevue
Schloss Bellevue

Undeterred, I continued on under the Brandenburg Gate and through the Grosser Tiergarten to the next location on my list. Home to the President of Germany, Schloss Bellevue is one palace that is off-limits to casual scavenger hunters. While here, I took side trips to the nearby Siegessäule (Victory Column) and the Reichstag, before turning back and making my way down Unter den Linden towards Museumsinsel.

Palais am Festungsgraben

The Palais am Festungsgraben
The Palais am Festungsgraben

The last building on my list before I began to venture in to unknown territory was the Palais am Festungsgraben (Palace on the Moat). Once the Prussian Finance Ministry, the Palais now houses the Saarländische Galerie and the Theater im Palais.

Knoblauchhaus

Address: Poststrasse 23, Berlin

Knoblauchhaus
Knoblauchhaus in the Nikolaiviertel

After spending some time in the Berlin I’m most used to hanging out in, it was time to explore somewhere new. I crossed on to the other side of the River Spree, and found myself in the Nikolaiviertel, where my DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide: Berlin book told me I’d find Knoblauchhaus and Ephraim-Palais.

While I didn’t go inside Knoblauchhaus, which is now a museum displaying the life of an upper-middle class eighteenth century family, the streets surrounding it were lovely to stroll around complete with cobblestones and homes that looked like they had appeared out of a Brothers Grimm fairytale.

Ephraim-Palais

Address: Poststrasse 16, Berlin

Ephraim-Palais
Ephraim-Palais, one of the prettiest buildings in the Nikolaiviertel

The biggest surprise of the Nikolaiviertel was Ephraim-Palais, a curved building on the corner of Poststrasse and Grunerstrasse housing an art gallery. King Friedrich II’s jeweller, Veitel Heine Ephraim, had the palace built in the 1760s and it would have been an impressive residence, judging by the golden balustrades and the detail on the sculpted cherubs.

Zitadelle Spandau

Address: Am Juliusturm 64, Berlin
Closest U-Bahn Station: U7 – Zitadelle

Zitadelle Spandau
The inside of Julius Tower at the Zitadelle Spandau

The next morning, I jumped on the U-bahn and took the U7 line all the way out to Spandau – almost the last stop on the line. The Zitadelle Spandau was quite easy to find, and armed with an audio guide, I spent half the day exploring its towers, museums and halls.

Schloss Charlottenburg

Schloss Charlottenburg
Schloss Charlottenburg – one of my favourite places in Berlin

I left the grounds of Schloss Charlottenburg – my favourite place in Berlin – until last, knowing I could chill out in the peaceful gardens before returning to my hotel and preparing to leave Berlin.

Things For Next Time:

I wasn’t able to race around to every place on my list, but that means there are more places to explore the next time I’m in Berlin.

Here’s the list of the sights I missed, if you’d like to search for them yourself!

  • Pfaueninsel Palace (Nikolskoerweg 14109 Berlin)
  • Schloss Glienicke and Schloss Klein-Glienicke (Königstraße 36 14109 Berlin)
  • Jagdschloss Grunewald (Hüttenweg 100 14193 Berlin)
  • Schloss Koepenick (Alt-Köpenick 1, 12557 Berlin)
  • Friedrichsfelde Palace (Am Tierpark 125 10319 Berlin Lichtenberg)
  • Schloss Britz (Alt-Britz 73 12359 Berlin)
  • Palais Podewil (Klosterstraße 68-70 10179 Berlin)

While I enjoyed discovering new areas of Berlin and re-visiting old favourites, the only place I had time to really explore was the Spandau Zitadelle, which I wouldn’t have ventured out to without the challenge of this scavenger hunt. The next time I’m in Berlin, I’ll make sure to spend a morning wandering around Nikolaiviertel, and perhaps even go on a second scavenger hunt to see the rest of the places on my list!

Have you attempted a scavenger hunt while travelling?

Edinburgh Castle: Royals, Riches and Wars

Edinburgh Castle

You can’t miss Edinburgh Castle. Perched high on a volcanic plug at the top of the Royal Mile, it looks over the city of Edinburgh. The moment after I had checked in to my hotel and dropped my bags on the floor, I made a beeline for it. I knew nothing about the castle, apart from glimpses of it serving as the backdrop for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Little did I know that it has been a royal residence since the 11th century when King Canmore and his queen, Margaret, first moved in, and from the late eighteenth century it has served as Edinburgh’s military base. With the audio guide in hand, I found myself spending most of the day wandering around the castle grounds, discovering more about the history of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle. There is much more to Edinburgh Castle than what I had seen on TV.

Spend a day exploring Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle consists of a collection of buildings whose purposes have evolved over the years.

Edinburgh Castle in the early morning sunshine
Edinburgh Castle in the early morning sunshine from Grassmarket

There are gates and portcullis to walk through and Argyll’s Tower and the ruins of St David’s Tower to discover. You could spend some time in the cosy St Margaret’s Chapel (where you may have to queue to get inside!), which holds the distinction of being the oldest building in Edinburgh.

St Margaret's Chapel
Inside the cosy St Margaret’s Chapel

There are batteries, such as the Argyll Battery and Half-Moon Battery, that look over the city of Edinburgh. From here you can see the Royal Mile, Princes Street, Calton Hill and out to the Firth.

The view over Edinburgh from the Argyll Battery
The view over Edinburgh from the Argyll Battery

Listen out for the one o’clock gun

Every day (except for Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas Day), the one o’clock gun is fired. If you’re visiting the castle around 1PM, head over to the Redcoat Café at the Argyll Battery to see it for yourself. The gun was traditionally fired so that ships floating out in the firth had an audible signal (together with the visual clue of a time-ball being dropped at the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill) and could set their time appropriately.

While you’re on the Argyll Battery, also check out Mons Meg, a cannon that was used in battle in the 1400s.

Into military history? There’s stacks of it here!

Not only will you find the large Scottish National War Memorial right in the middle of Edinburgh Castle’s grounds, there are several war museums to visit, including the Regimental Museums of The Royal Scots Museum and The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

Military museum signpost at Edinburgh Castle
Some of the military museums you can visit at Edinburgh Castle

There’s also an exhibition about Prisons of War, about prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars from countries including France and America. They were held at the castle, and the exhibition tells visitors about the wars and the living conditions of the captured prisoners during their time at Edinburgh Castle.

Keep an ear out for the Weaponry talks on the Half-Moon Battery, an amusing story about the weapons used by the clans of the Highlands through to the soldiers in the more recent wars.

The Weaponry exhibition at Edinburgh Castle
The Weaponry exhibition on the Half-Moon Battery at Edinburgh Castle

Finally, tucked away next to the army barracks is the National War Museum, which tells Scotland’s history of war, complete with a display of uniforms, flags, weapons and touching stories of what war was like for the Scots.

See the medieval Great Hall

Medieval Great Hall
The fireplace in the medieval Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle

The medieval Great Hall with its famous hammerbeam roof is lined with striking displays of suits of armour and swords. There’s something surreal about looking at a suit of armour, and imagining wearing it yourself and trying to move around in it.

Visit the Royal apartments

The Royal Apartments
The Royal Apartments, where the Honours of Scotland are housed

On display in the Royal apartments are the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots lived, as well as where she gave birth to James I, who would be the first Scottish king of both Scotland and England.

The rooms themselves are sparsely decorated, with little furniture on display, but that helps you focus on the architectural details. I especially liked the carved white ceiling of the apartments.

And don’t forget to view the Honours of Scotland…

The Honours of Scotland, consisting of the Crown, Sceptre, and Sword of State are on display in the Crown Chamber and are the oldest crown jewels in Britain. This is the only place in the castle where photos are not permitted.

… and wonder about The Stone of Destiny

Scottish tour guides love to tell their audiences stories about The Stone of Destiny, which was taken by King Edward I in 1296 and fitted into the Coronation Chair when English kings and queens were crowned, before eventually being returned to Edinburgh Castle in 1996.

In the 1950s, while the Stone was housed at Westminster Abbey, four Scottish students broke in and took the stone back to Scotland, where it disappeared until it turned up at Arbroath Abbey a few months later and was returned to Westminster Abbey.

And then there’s the greatest joke – that the Stone of Destiny on display in Edinburgh Castle isn’t actually the real Stone at all, but a prank played on the English when they first took the stone from Scotland. Rumour has it that the English were given the stone that was covering up a lavatory, while the real Stone of Destiny was hidden away, meaning that the Kings and Queens of England have been crowned while sitting over a toilet seat!

What you need to know:

  • Photos can be taken in all rooms except for those housing the Honours of Scotland
  • Visit the official Edinburgh Castle website for more information about visiting the castle

My Favourite Castles of 2014

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:

Coudenberg Palace

Brussels, Belgium

Coudenberg Palace
Underground! Inside the Coudenberg palace

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

Ghent, Belgium

Gravensteen Castle
Gravensteen Castle

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

Paris, France

The Palace of Versailles
The courtyard at 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.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle at night
Edinburgh Castle at night

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.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick, England

The entry to Alnwick Castle
The entry to Alnwick Castle

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!

Warwick Castle

Warwick, England

Warwick Castle
Looking over the River Avon at Warwick Castle

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.

Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly, Wales

Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle

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.

Old Sarum

Near Salisbury, England

The ruins of Old Sarum
The ruins of Old Sarum

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

Woodstock, England

The courtyard of Blenheim Palace
The courtyard of Blenheim Palace

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

London, England

The 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' art installation at the Tower of London
The sea of poppies in the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ art installation at 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.

Paris Museum Pass Challenge: Day 1 – Versailles

The Paris Museum Pass gives you free access to over forty museums and monuments in Paris and the surrounding region. We decided to purchase a four day pass, thinking that with our planned visits to the Chateau de Versailles, the Louvre, the Towers of Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe, we would eventually come out ahead after paying the 56 Euros per pass.

Buying the Paris Museum Pass

The first challenge we faced was where to buy the pass. The stall by Notre Dame where I had bought them before was closed, so we wandered over to the Louvre, having read on the Paris Museum Pass website that they could be bought at the attraction’s ticket desks or online. At the Louvre, we were directed to an information office halfway between the inverted pyramid and the information desk at the Louvre. They sold passes as well as memberships to the Louvre, and were very helpful.

To Versailles!

Armed with our Museum Passes, we caught the metro to Gare Montparnasse and then hopped on a suburban train to Versailles-Chantiers. It took about fifteen minutes to get there, and the way from the Versailles-Chantiers train station to the Chateau de Versailles is well signed.

The Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles

The displays at Versailles had been updated since I was last there four years ago. There were audio visual presentations about how the chateau had been extended over the years, which seemed to be new.

Versailles is one extravagant room after another, culminating in the Hall of Mirrors.

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

On this visit, we also went in to the Mesdames Apartments, which with their white walls and ceilings, were a good antidote to the wall-to-ceiling paintings of the state apartments (I especially liked Madame Adelaide’s library nook).

The Gardens of Versailles

It was a beautiful day for strolling around the gardens. Blue skies and bright sunshine made me forget it was only 12 degrees!

As we walked through the gardens from the chateau to the Trianons, we had fun getting lost in the maze of terraced gardens. Unfortunately, because we were there in November, the statues all had protective covers over them in preparation for winter, and construction and restoration works were taking place on many of the fountains, so the walk through the gardens and along the Grand Canal lost some of its idyll.

The Petit Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet


I could happily make the Petit Trianon and its grounds my home. The rooms inside are cosy and not too grand. (The theatre was closed while we were there).

The Petit Trianon
The Petit Trianon – I could see myself living here!

This visit I had more time to wander around the hamlet and look at the buildings. My brother asked me what the purpose of it all was. When I told him it was Marie Antoinette’s place to escape and pretend she was someone else, he thought it was made for her when she was a little girl. I corrected him, and when I asked him if he could imagine me at the same age having a place like this, he admitted that he could!

The Grand Trianon

It was 4:30pm by the time we reached the Grand Trianon. The sun was already beginning to set, but the lights hadn’t been turned on in any of the rooms, making them dark. I think that the reason that I struggled to like the Grand Trianon during my last visit was a combination of the rooms being dark, there being no real information about the rooms or their historical significance, and the fact that as the last place you visit during your time at Versailles, you are genuinely tired.

The Cotelle Gallery and the portico were still my favourite parts of the Grand Trianon (and you could walk through the Gallery – the last time I visited it was roped off).

Overall, we were very lucky with the weather and had a near-perfect day to visit Versailles!

Is the Paris Museum Pass worth it?

Cost of Paris Museum Pass: 56 Euros
Cost of entry into Versailles, the Gardens, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon: 18 Euros

Verdict: 38 Euros out of pocket, three days left

An Afternoon in Ghent

We had a quiet morning this morning. The rain and grey skies of yesterday had disappeared, and we wandered the streets of Bruges while seeking out breakfast.

Sint-Janshospitaal in Bruges
Sint-Janshospitaal in Bruges

We then headed to Sint-Janshospitaal, one of the four early hospitals in Bruges where the poor and the sick would come to receive medical treatment and have the nuns who ran the hospital pray for them. Medical knowledge was limited prior to the sixteenth century, and barbers would often be brought in to help patch up people! Within the hospital museum were old records, books, religious paintings and relics, and medical implements that looked really painful to be on the receiving end of!

Afterwards, we made our way to the train station and caught the train to Ghent, which is only a half hour away from Bruges. I have to admit that our real reason for going to Ghent was because it was where the fictional character Rodmilla de Ghent, the evil stepmother to Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella in the movie Ever After, came from.

From the train station, Ghent looks bigger and a lot more modern than the picture perfect Bruges. It took us half an hour to walk from the train station to Ghent’s old quarter, but we slowly saw the tessellated façades of the older buildings.

We made a beeline for Gravensteen Castle, which was once owned by the Counts of Flanders. It was a large castle with rooms displaying enough suits of armor, weaponry and torture devices to keep Ryan entertained (one of the swords was taller than him!) and enough history and ambience to please me. The views over Ghent from the top of the keep and the castle walls were worth the entry itself (although restoration works were being carried out while we were there, to fix part of the fortress which had become dilapidated).

Gravensteen Castle in Ghent
Gravensteen Castle in Ghent

Once Ryan had pulled me away from the castle, we had a cheap and cheerful lunch at Hema, before spending the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets of Ghent, taking in the gorgeous sights of the houses along the canal, and visiting the Belfry and Cloth Guild, and Saint Nicholas’s Church, Saint Jacob’s Church and Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, where the altarpiece of the Mystic Lamb is kept.

The weather was far nicer to us today, with mostly clear skies but chilly with a maximum of 12 degrees Celsius! At times during the day, I regretted leaving my gloves back at the hotel!

Ghent was easy to do as a day trip from Bruges. The Old Town was really pretty and it is off of the tourist path, away from the tour groups who frequent Brussels and Bruges.

We caught the train back to Bruges just as it was getting dark – at 5pm, and settled down for our last night in Belgium.

What you need to know:

  • Gravensteen Castle: Entrance to Gravensteen Castle costs 10 Euros per person for a self-guided tour that lasts between 1.5 and 2 hours
  • The train from Bruges to Gent-Sint-Pieter train station takes about thirty minutes. A round trip ticket can be purchased for around 16 Euros. If you’re not keen on walking to the old part of Ghent, there are frequent trams which run from the train station to the Grote Markt and Gravensteen Castle.

Stumbling across Lambeth Palace

One of the things I love about travelling to Europe is that it doesn’t take you too long before you stumble across another castle or palace, which is what happened when a wrong turn took me to the south bank of the Thames and instead of finding myself standing in front of The Globe Theatre, I came across Lambeth Palace.

Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Lambeth Palace is home to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was unfortunately closed to the public when I happened across it. It made me wonder – how many other palaces are tucked away among the streets of London?

Looking across the Thames towards Lambeth Palace
Looking across the Thames towards Lambeth Palace

Have you ever stumbled upon something or lost your sense of direction? Share it in the comments!

What you need to know:

A Peek at Caenarfon Castle

The sun had already disappeared below the horizon as we drove in to Caenarfon for an overnight stay. While arriving late and leaving early meant I had little time for exploring, I walked alongside the town walls and sought out Caenarfon Castle.

Caenarfon Castle
Caenarfon Castle
The walls of Caenarfon Castle
The walls of Caenarfon Castle
The Eagle Tower at Caenarfon Castle
The Eagle Tower at Caenarfon Castle

Caenarfon Castle was built in the reign of the English king Edward I for his eldest son Edward of Caernarfon, the first Prince of Wales, to gain a strategic English foothold in Wales. It has since been used for the investiture of Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales.

The town walls of Caenarfon
The town walls of Caenarfon

Caenarfon Castle and the fortified town of Caenarfon have been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd (along with the castles of Beaumaris, Conwy and its fortified town and Harlech) since 1986 for their display of 13th and 14th century military architecture.

Looking out across the River Seiont from Caenarfon Castle
Looking out across the River Seiont from Caenarfon Castle

The walk back to the accommodation was peaceful, with a beautiful view over the River Seiont. While disappointed that we hadn’t timed our visit so we could go inside one of the most impressive castles in Wales, I consoled myself with the thought: you can always come back.

What you need to know:

Eilean Donan Castle: The Most Photographed Castle In Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle
It feels surreal to be standing in front of Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognisable of Scotland’s many hauntingly beautiful castles. Standing on its own island where Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh converge, the lone castle shrouded in mist, set against the stunning backdrop of the tree-covered mountains makes for the ideal photograph!

Eilean Donan Castle
The isolated Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland

Over the years, Picts, Vikings, Highland clans and Jacobites have all fought over the island, and the castle itself has been constructed and destroyed several times. What you see today is a restoration that took Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae Gilstrap and his Clerk of Works Farquhar MacRae twenty years to turn Eilean Donan from a ruin into a livable castle.

It feels surreal to stand in front of a building that is so iconic. While we didn’t have time to explore the castle, I definitely plan on returning to Eilean Donan Castle one day.

What you need to know:

  • In Gaelic, Eilean Donan translates to ‘the island of Donan’. Donan was a bishop who was thought to live on the island in the seventh century.
  • Many films, including Highlander, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The World is Not Enough, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Made of Honour have used Eilean Donan castle as a setting, helping it to become one of the most recognisable castles in Scotland.
  • Can’t wait to visit? See the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle in real time by viewing Eilean Donan Castle’s webcam or visiting Eilean Donan Castle’s official website