It’s been a while between language updates. The last one was back in January 2020, which feels a lifetime ago like anything pre-pandemic seems these days.
Throughout the three years since my last update I have continued working on my German, French and Russian language skills, and have recently added a new one: Polish.
In January 2020 I was planning a trip to Germany to visit friends who live there – an ideal opportunity to practice my German as I travelled solo around the country! Unfortunately, as we all experienced, my April travel plans were cancelled when the world shut down to try to stop the spread of Covid.
I’ve continued practising my German. Over the past year I’ve refreshed my grammar knowledge. I’ve improved my vocabulary, and watching German Netflix series and documentaries has helped me pick up words that I wouldn’t have used myself.
I want to continue improving. While I find it fairly easy to speak, listen, read and write in German, there are colloquialisms and abbreviations that native speakers use that I haven’t grasped yet. It would be great to be able to be fluent in German.
In 2020, I was struggling with French. I struggled with conjugating the different tenses, especially the conditional and future. I would actively avoid using pronouns because I didn’t understand where they went in the sentence structure, and which one to use when.
I’m much more confident using these now, helped by daily Duolingo use and watching enough Netflix (The Circle is my guilty pleasure, and I loved watching The Circle: France for the ability to practice my French! Same with Emily in Paris – being able to hear the French characters speak in French and understand what they are saying has shown me just how far I have come in my language learning).
I do need to listen to more native French speakers – in some cases they speak so quickly it’s difficult to distinguish each word that was said. That will be my next challenge in learning French!
A controversial one these days, though I have still continued with it, buoyed by being able to use it as a base to be able to more easily pick up other languages in the Slavic language family.
I’ve been improving. It took the longest time to be able to write and remember the sounds for the Cyrillic alphabet, and my overall progression has been slow, especially since Duolingo has been my only tool for learning Russian, and grasping grammar and syntax has been difficult.
I can form simple sentences, and have basic conversations about my life. I’ve passed Russian speakers in the street and have been able to understand the few words I heard, and sometimes I can translate the Russian used in news segments before the English translation is spoken over the top of it. I’m hoping that the further I work through the Duolingo course, the easier it will come to me.
One day I would like to visit north-western Poland, where my ancestors originated from. To this end, I’ve been dabbling in learning the basics of Polish (made easier by sharing certain similarities with Russian). I’m hoping to learn enough to one day get myself to the small village where my relatives lived before they migrated to Australia in 1836.
Every time I come home from a trip, I have Peter Allen’s ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ playing in my head (although sometimes it’s playing in the plane, as Qantas has used it in many of its advertising campaigns).
For me, it has a real sense of nostalgia to it. It is a song that is embedded in modern Australian culture. My first memory of hearing it was when I was seven years old and my family was at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast, where a cast of animatronic Australian animals sang it as part of their show.
I have often thought about whether I wanted to live overseas. So many Aussies spend their post-uni years on a work visa in the UK, or working during the ski season in Canada, that I wondered whether I wanted to do something similar. But at the moment, I love where I live too much to want to be away from it for too long. As much as I enjoy travelling and visiting new places, I am also a homebody at my core.
I Still Call Australia Home embodies this to me: no matter where in the world I am, my home is waiting for me with open arms.
It’s funny the things you think are possible when you are a child. I lived in a world of my own making where anything was possible. In reality, the country beachside town where we lived, the city in which my grandparents lived, and the highway between the two of them constituted my whole world.
Jobs were something people’s parents had, and I didn’t have a concrete vision of what I wanted to be. I played at being Cinderella when organising my toys, or the Little Mermaid when swimming in our pool. I was good at cross country running, at playing hockey, at tennis. I would write ten pages worth of story at school when only one was required.
It wasn’t until I was twelve years old that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. In class, we had been given a theme to write a story about, and everyone’s stories from that assignment were submitted into a local school writing competition.
I spent all of my free time either writing stories or reading books. There was constantly a stack of borrowed library books teetering in my room. But it wasn’t until my story from that class assignment became a finalist in that writing competition that I put two and two together and realised that writing is something I could do as a career.
While writing isn’t my main source of income, it is still something that I enjoy. I’ve seen some of my stories published, and I am constantly aiming to make my twelve-year-old self proud!
2023 is here and now that the New Year’s celebrations have died down it’s time to start thinking about what this year will bring.
After three years without travel due to Covid restrictions and risk factors, closely followed by becoming a new parent, my travel bug is slowly crawling out of hibernation. While I still may only be able to travel locally for a while, I want to make it more of a priority than it has been.
So how do I plan to do this? By reminding myself of my love of travel by indulging in my travel memories.
There are so many stories from almost ten years of solo trips that haven’t made it on to this blog. My intention for creating this travel blog was to share my travels, and answer the questions that I had about particular places that I could not find the answer to (leading to posts such as ‘How to get to the Robin Hood section of Hadrian’s Wall‘ which continues to be the most searched-for post on my blog).
I’d love to weave in stories of the local travel I intend to do this year around South Australia with the adventures and reminisces from past years throughout the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Europe and Australia.
To kick this year off and to hold myself accountable to reinvigorating Castlephile Travels, I will be participating in #bloganuary, a 31 day blogging challenge organised by WordPress.com where bloggers respond to a different writing prompt each day in January. My posts will appear a day later, as prompts are released at 12PM UTC, which is not until 10:30PM my time.
Today’s prompt is: What is something you want to achieve this year? I intend to use the prompts to delve into my travel memories and share stories that I hope will inspire your travels.
What are you hoping to achieve in 2023? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Here in South Australia, we’ve just passed the Winter Solstice. The days are rainy and cold and there are still two months of winter ahead of us, but at least we’re at the point in the year where the days will become longer again as we slowly creep towards spring.
I’ve spent the first month of winter bundled up indoors, enjoying all sorts of cosy things – catching up on reading, spending evenings at friend’s houses, generally staying indoors as much as possible. But now I feel that pull to go out and explore the beautiful region where I live (while being COVID safe, of course), taking advantage of the crisp days of winter sun to explore outside, and turning rainy days into inside days by venturing out to museums, galleries, and restaurants with real wood-burning fireplaces.
So what should I do? Here’s what I’m currently thinking:
Experience Illuminate Adelaide
Illuminate Adelaide, the newest addition to Adelaide’s festival diary, will run for just over two weeks from 16th July to 1st August. This winter I’m most looking forward to going to see ‘Light Cycles’, which will light up the Adelaide Botanic Gardens at the end of next month. We’ve already got our tickets booked, and I’m hoping it will be something as surreal and magical as ‘Borealis’ was at this year’s Fringe Festival.
Visit Ayers House while I still can
Ayers House, is a stately home on North Terrace, which has been managed by the National Trust of South Australia for the past 40 years. However, the government is looking to end the National Trust’s lease on the property. It’s unclear to me whether the house will be kept open to the public as it is now, so I want to have one last chance to wander through its lovely rooms.
Do a museum crawl
There are so many museums in Adelaide’s CBD that I haven’t stepped foot in for a long time: the Art Galley of South Australia, the SA Museum, the Migration Museum, all of which I’d like to return to to see how they’ve changed.
In addition, there are many others which I haven’t had the opportunity to visit before – the Jam Factory, MOD, Tandanya to name a few – that I’d also like to visit, especially on grey rainy days when the best place to be is inside!
Hike to local waterfalls
The good thing about rainy days? They provide the main ingredient for spectacular waterfalls! We have a few near the city that I’d like to head out to when the weather plays nice: Waterfall Gully, and the First, Second and Third Falls in Morialta Conservation Park.
Take a tour of a chocolate factory
I can’t remember for how many years my friends and I have said that one day we would do a tour of the Haigh’s Chocolate factory, based right here in Adelaide. In addition to doing that, I also plan on taking a drive through the Adelaide Hills and picking up some chocolate honeycomb from Melba’s Chocolates on the way – yum!
Go whale watching on the Fleurieu Pensisula
Winter is the best time to see whales off the South Australian coast as they migrate to the warmer waters. I’ll need to plan a day trip down to Victor Harbor to see if I can spot one or two.
Do a self-guided walking tour of Adelaide
I recently discovered there are several self-guided walking tours you can do around the streets of Adelaide. From discovering the history of the magnificent old mansions which line the streets of the East End and North Adelaide, to following art trails through the laneways of Adelaide, I’m looking forward to discovering more about the city I call home.
What’s on your bucket list for the next three months? Share it in the comments!
I love learning languages. Beginning to learn a new language feels so awkward at first, getting used to new ways of pronouncing letters and words, abusing grammar, using the wrong word, but it’s worth it for that moment when I hear someone say something in another language and realise I understood what they said.
In the past I have learned French, German and Russian, but I have been fairly passive about increasing my fluency. This year I want to make more of an effort to improve my confidence in each of these languages. To keep myself accountable, I will post quarterly updates to see how much I’ve progressed from the beginning of 2020 to the end.
Why learn a language?
The more I travel, the more I realise how important it is to know even just a few phrases in the local language. We often take for granted that we’ll be able to find someone who speaks English in the country we’re visiting, and are so lucky that English seems to be the main language of tourism. If someone came to Australia without much English, I think it would be difficult to find someone on the street to interpret for them (though Google Translate and other apps have definitely addressed this gap!).
My Language Background
I used to have the crazy idea of being able to speak six languages fluently by the age of thirty, because I had read somewhere that Queen Elizabeth I had that ability. I tried! I had studied German in school, got in to French after I started travelling, and then tried to take on Italian and Russian at the same time. The Russian faded away as soon as the course ended; a few key phrases of Italian have stuck with me, but not enough to have a conversation. I gave up on the idea of speaking six languages fluently.
Now I only learn the languages that I have some interest in: German for my heritage, French because I love to visit France, and I am now adding Russian back in to the mix because I see being able to read words written in Cyrillic as a challenge.
Where am I with my languages: January 2020
I’ve been learning German since I was ten, and these days keep up with it through the Duolingo app.
I need to keep increasing my vocabulary, though. To do that, I need to consume more information in German. I need to look out for films, travel blogs, YouTube channels and other things that I would watch anyway, and then watch them in German, just to keep it up. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!
I feel like I still have a long way to go before I’m happy with the level of my French. I can read it, and listen to it (as long as the person is speaking slowly), and have a fairly good idea of what is happening. But if I’m asked to say something in return, my brain doesn’t offer up the French words fast enough. And worse, sometimes it feels like I’m translating words from English into German and then finally in to French. Does anyone else have this problem?
That is my goal for this year – to be able to have a ten minute conversation in French. There are various Meetup groups in my town for beginner to intermediate French speakers – I need to get myself organised and signed up for one of them.
My language goal for 2019 was to start learning Russian. I had completed a ‘Russian for travel’ course after visiting Russia in 2012, thinking that one day I would return and explore more. However, after watching my polyglot tour leader strike up conversations with Croatians and Bosnians by speaking in Russian, I realised it was more far-reaching than I thought and was motivated to take it on again.
The most difficult thing about it is remembering the sounds for the Cyrillic alphabet. After a year of practicing (only on Duolingo so far), there are still some letters whose pronounciation I’m not exactly sure of.
This year I want to be able to have a simple conversation in Russian. The basics: how to introduce myself, and talk about my interests.
2020 feels like it’s appeared out of nowhere. Surely it was only a few months ago that we were welcoming in 2019! And has a whole decade really passed since 2010?
Ten years ago I was someone who dreamed about travel, but didn’t believe it was something I would actually do. It was expensive to fly from Australia to Europe, and who would be willing to come with me to explore the fairytale castles of Germany and France?
What a lot of changes the last decade has brought!
At the start of 2010, I could count a total of three stamps in my expired passport for Australia, Germany and Malaysia. Now, I have explored 40 countries and experienced cultures and places that seemed impossible for me to do.
Going to Europe with my best friend in August 2010 changed my mindset about my ability to travel. I discovered that I didn’t need to wait for someone to go with me to travel the world – I was braver than I told myself, and found the confidence to travel solo. I realised there were ways of making travel happen, if I was willing to prioritise it in my life.
I learned that it was okay if I preferred the built-in friendship groups of organised tours, and that I didn’t have to be a digital nomad to feel like a traveller. I became grateful for the chances I was given and the experiences I had, and dealt with my feelings of envy towards people who travelled more, and saw more than I was able to. I found out that too many days on the road leaves me run down and sick, and that I’m too much of a homebody to travel for more than one or two months at a time.
Last year I accepted that I didn’t have to go on overseas trips to have that feeling I get from exploring new places – I spent all of 2019 at home in Australia, taking road trips to satisfy my wanderlust.
So what is coming up in the year 2020?
Travel goals have been on my mind lately as I think about the year ahead. At the top of my list is figuring out how to travel solo to the Dordogne region of France (without driving, if I can avoid it!), visiting old friends in Cambodia and Germany, and dropping in to Quebec to wander the streets of Montreal and practise my French. I want to retrace the route taken by my ancestors when they migrated from Prussia to South Australia almost two hundred years ago. And I want to see even more of Australia.
As I make plans for this blog for 2020, I need to face the imposter syndrome I feel when I write posts. I need to remind myself of the reason why I started this blog: to share my experiences of travel with others and to provide information to make their trips that little bit easier.
I hope you have exciting things to look forward to this year! What does 2020 have in store for you?
Australia has thousands of kilometres of coastline: white sand beaches, rugged cliffs worn away by years of erosion, and rocky outcrops to which we love to give blatantly obvious names. While the entire coastline of Australia makes for spectacular scenery while driving, the Great Ocean Road holds a special place as one of Australia’s most loved road trips.
The Great Ocean Road runs along a stretch of the Victorian coastline from Allansford to Torquay. While it can be done as part of a day trip from Melbourne, or as an interstate drive from Adelaide to Melbourne, to be able to fully experience all of the sights along the way, you will need at least two days, if not longer.
We drove the Great Ocean Road from Warnambool to Apollo Bay, before turning inland to continue on to Melbourne. Here are some of my favourite sights along the Great Ocean Road:
The Bay of Islands
Starting our journey along the Great Ocean Road from Warnambool, our first stop was at the Bay of Islands, a pretty introduction to the rocky outcrops, sheer cliffs and surging ocean that is characteristic of much of the coastline along the route.
There are several lookouts along the bay where you can gaze out over the ocean, and marvel at the strength of wind and water to create the landscape in front of you. I recommend starting the Great Ocean Road from this side of it – the further east you go along the Great Ocean Road, the more spectacular the views along the coast become.
Whether you look at it from the lookout above, or journey down the steps to the viewing area at the bottom of the cliffs, there’s always something fun about looking through the Grotto, a natural frame through which you can look through out to the sea and the rocky cliffs beyond.
Loch Ard Gorge and Thunder Cave
Loch Ard Gorge is situated on the section of the Great Ocean Road known as Shipwreck Coast. The clipper with the same name was shipwrecked close to nearby Muttonbird Island in 1878, and all but two of the 54 passengers perished in the rough waters.
To see just how powerful the water can be, you can walk to Thunder Cave, where the seawater rushes in through a gorge, crashes into the back of a cave eked out through thousands of years of erosion, and slaps back into the next wave as it rushes into the cave, causing a thunderous roar to sound. There would be no surviving it if you found yourself in the water with the strong waves pushing you towards Thunder Cave.
Loch Ard Gorge itself is far calmer – the roaring waves of the ocean give way to a gentle sandy beach, where it is usually safe to take the stairs down to the water’s edge. If you’re lucky and manage to time your visit in between the waves of tourist groups who visit here, you can have the entire beach all to yourself!
London Bridge really has fallen down … along the Great Ocean Road at least. The land mass once stretched into the ocean, with two arches in the middle to give it the effect of a bridge. But like any environment with fast blowing wind and moving water, one of the arches eroded and widened until the earth above it collapsed into the sea.
The Twelve Apostles
The most iconic of the sights along The Great Ocean Road, it is a stunning sight to see the eight remaining limestone stacks poking up out of the surf. Ignore the throng of people swarming to take the perfect photo, find yourself a quiet place along the fence line, and take a moment to observe the waves, feel the breeze and ponder at which might be the next Apostle to succumb to the will of nature.
Note: Unlike the other sights along the Great Ocean Road, and the carpark for the Twelve Apostles is on the other side of the highway, where you can also find a visitor’s centre. A pedestrian tunnel has been constructed underneath the highway to allow you to get safely from the carpark to the viewing point.
Have you driven the Great Ocean Road? Which sights were your favourites?
I spent most of 2018 in Australia, apart from a two month adventure through Eastern Europe from mid-August to early October. I visited Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Slovenia, six of those countries new to me, bringing the number of countries I have visited to 36.
I was lucky to experience so many new places, cultures and stories this year. Here are some of my favourite memories from 2018:
Finally visiting Český Krumlov
In 2010 I was sitting in a travel agent’s office, trying to work out where in Europe I wanted to travel to. At that time, Germany was the only country I had spent any time in outside of Australia. I was looking for a trip that would let me visit Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, as well as Chambord and Chenonceau in the Loire Valley.
My travel agent suggested that if I liked castles and historical towns, then I might like the Czech town of Český Krumlov, a fairytale town that felt like you had stepped back in to medieval times.
While I couldn’t fit it into that trip, I kept it on my ‘Places I’d Love To Travel To’ list, until finally I managed to add it on to my trip through Eastern Europe. After eight years of travelling, I finally made it to Český Krumlov in August of 2018, and it did not disappoint. Our accommodation was in a six hundred year old building, with steep stairs, heavy hand-carved wooden doors, and my little attic room that looked down into cobblestone street below.
Český Krumlov is the sort of place where you have to remind yourself to stop taking photos and just be. Around every corner there is something quaint to take a photo of, and if you stay in the town itself, you can wander through it in the early morning without encountering anyone else.
The castle, with its tower, and the seven-hundred year old church dominate the landscape, with red roofs of buildings, restaurants and hotels sandwiched in between. If you want a break from strolling through the streets and laneways, you can watch kayakers and rafters navigate the locks as they make their way down the river, or spend a hilarious couple of hours trying to maneuver the raft to go straight rather than round and round in circles, like I did!
Swimming in the Bay of Kotor
Nothing prepared me for how spectacular the Bay of Kotor was. I knew little to nothing about Montenegro before we drove around the Bay of Kotor and I saw my first glimpse of the tiny islands in the bay.
Kotor itself is a walled city that I loved getting lost in, but my favourite memory of Montenegro is floating off of the side of a boat in the bay. After boarding a catamaran from the dock outside of my accommodation, my guided tour first travelled down the bay near where to the cruise ships docked, and then back to where the islands were. We stopped off at the Our Lady of the Rocks church and its small multi-level museum, and then docked at the bayside town of Perast for coffee.
From there, our tour guide (who was also the captain of our catamaran), took us in to the middle of the bay, stopped the boat, and said we could swim if we wanted. He didn’t have to ask us twice! The water was warm, and it felt so luxurious to float alongside the boat. Then, once you opened your eyes, you looked out at the cliffs that surrounded the bay, and at the beautiful water that lapped against the iconic islands. I could have stayed in the water for the whole day!
Getting lost in the Czech Republic
The short version of the story is there are two towns called Brumov in the Czech Republic. We were aiming for the one by the Polish border, but due to a miscommunication with the ticket office at the train station who sold us the ticket, we ended up at the one by the Slovakian border. Although it wasn’t great at the time, and we missed out on seeing a mysterious underground city thought to be built under German rule during the second World War, by the end of the day we ended up where we needed to be. Now we look back and laugh at the situation we found ourselves in, and the 1st of September will forever be Brumov Day, a hilarious inside joke for my fellow travellers in that tour group.
The Opulence of the Wieliczka Salt Mines
The Wieliczka Salt Mines, just outside of Krakow, have to be the classiest mines I have ever visited, and the mine tour blew all of the other mine tours I’ve ever been on away. Sure, there’s one or two stops on the tour where they show you how the miners extracted salt, but then there’s a chapel, and a spectacular ballroom, where everything from the floor to the frescoes on the wall to the decorations on the chandeliers are made completely out of salt. If you’re visiting Krakow, definitely visit these mines – the attention to detail and amount of work that must have gone into carving out all of the features in the rooms, let alone the rooms themselves, is mind-blowing.
The Winding Streets of Split
Split is my kind of place. The Old Town of Split, including our accommodation, was within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace, who was once the Emperor of Rome. While the Peristyle, the main square of the palace, can get crowded and touristy, there were so many alleyways to wander down that you could easily get lost in the winding streets.
Like Kotor, it had the same feeling of having centuries of history within its walls, and I could have easily spent days exploring.
Speaking German to a waiter on Pag Island
Travelling to Pag Island on a day trip from Zadar, we stopped in the town of Pag. We explored the lace and salt museums, as well as the cathedral, before sitting down at a cafe and ordering ice coffees. My Croatian consisted of the words dobar dan (good day) and sladoled (ice cream), while the waiter didn’t speak any English. It turned out that he was fluent in German, and so I got to practice speaking German by ordering coffee on an island off the Croatian coast.
Adding Ljubljana to my Places I Could Live list
Ljubljana was a surprise. I almost didn’t go there, being scared off by trying to work out how to get there from Bled (turns out there’s a regular public bus that will take you between Bled and Ljubljana). The town itself felt very comfortable and familiar, as if I could live there. The old town was compact but beautiful, the people I met were friendly and welcoming, and the one and a half days I spent there wasn’t enough time to cover everything that I wanted to see. I will definitely find my way back to Ljubljana.
Visiting the places we learned about in History class
You would be hard pressed to
find a better History teacher than the one I had in Years 11 and 12
at high school. He was a fantastic raconteur, and through his vivid
storytelling would make what we were learning about come alive in my
It still seems surreal to me that I am now visiting the places I learned about as a seventeen year old. This year, I stood in the spot in Sarajevo, where Gavrilo Princip fired the shots that assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria that sparked World War One, and thought back to the black and white photo of him that was in our History textbook. Being able to visit these places and see where events happened somehow helps the significance of these historical events seep in to my understanding better, and I count myself lucky that I am able to visit so many of the places I learned about all of those years ago.
It’s Christmas Eve. Summer holidays have started here in Australia and after a week of damaging thunderstorms, the weather has finally caught up with us, giving us a balmy 34 degree day, causing my feet to burn as I race barefoot to the letterbox to see if my last-minute Christmas orders have arrived. I’m looking forward to Christmas Day, and have been singing along to carols all day as I’ve cleaned and cooked in preparation for our Christmas celebrations.
For me, most of the fun of Christmas is in the lead-up to the day – the anticipation and planning that goes in to it. Christmastime in South Australia generally begins with the Christmas Pageant in early November, and slowly builds as light displays pop up around the neighbourhood, each council holds its own outdoor Christmas carol sing-along, and our social calendars start getting crowded with end-of-year parties. When December hits, and the end of the year is in sight, planning goes into turbo mode. Shops stay open longer for frazzled present-hunters and last-minute grocery runs, all culminating with the ultimate pay-off: an enjoyable and (mostly) relaxing Christmas Day with friends and family.
Just like Christmas, anticipating and planning for trips is all part of the fun of travelling.
With travel, you decide where you want to go, book your tickets, and find yourself daydreaming about strolling down streets lined with beautiful eighteenth-century buildings and stopping along the way for a drink at a local cafe.
You research, asking friends, family and the Internet for suggestions on what to see and do, adding more detail to your vision with each new piece of information, until you can smell that cafe au lait and can picture standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles in its hourly light show. You feel the swirl of butterflies in your chest as you look forward to the day when you are actually standing there.
There are websites that will forecast the temperature of your destination on the dates you are going, even though it’s four months away. Beach weather sounds glorious when the sky is overcast and raining outside your window. A white Christmas is a fascinating alternative to a scorching 40 degree Celsius Christmas Day. You make a list of books and movies to download to keep you busy on long-haul flights. You go and buy them. You start to plan what you will pack, and what you need to buy. Buying off-season clothes feels like a scavenger hunt, especially when you’ve left it to the last minute, but you’re determined to win.
By the time the day comes to leave on
your trip, you’ve already imagined yourself on it a thousand times
(hopefully they all turned out well, and weren’t worst-case
scenarios), but the best part is yet to come – you still have your
whole trip ahead of you.