Friday, 27 November 2015

How You Can Save Money for Further Travels

Yes we all know how hard it is to change our habits! For me, it's the little trips to town which is an hour trip return. Those little trips turn into a stop for coffee and cake, and inevitably quite a bit of overspending on other goodies unnecessary but what I consider essential at the time! But there are ways to save money to add to your travel budget... read on!

How you can save money for further travels - Fifty Plus Travel

Tip 1:
Do it Yourself! Yes, I have been going DYO and online for all accommodation booking, ferries, attraction tickets and the like for many years now to save money. You do need to put aside everything else to trawl through many accommodation sites and I use comparative sites with many booking sites on them like Expedia,, I also use TripAdvisor and travel blogs to get lots of first hand information.

Tip 2:
Go out for dinner infrequently and limit your takeaway meals - this includes coffee! Going for lunch is also a cheaper alternative on the weekends. A lot of working people bring take away coffee with them from town each morning and it all adds up.

Tip 3:
Use cash, I use cash often as you can see exactly what amounts  you are using.

Tip 4:
Price everything at more than one place, ask for deals for cash and deals for more than one item! It is a lot of extra to-ing and fro-ing for research, but can be done online also.

Tip 5:
Use a senior card if you have one. I always ask where ever I go, it doesn't hurt!

Tip 6:
For women especially: cut down on weekly or the monthly magazine intake. For people like me, they can be addictive! From home décor to sustainable living and travel mags of course, you'd be surprised what they all total. Subscriptions can be the way to go as these are cheaper!

Have you got some tips that you can give for saving money to further your travels? Let's hear them and help other travellers!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Capetown and the Cape of Good Hope: Shipwrecks and Survival.

Capetown is a city of some 3 1/2 million, clearly a modern city but bearing all the hallmarks of a Dutch, British and even French military occupation in the 19th century. Territorial rights changed hands many times, but many buildings like the Castle, which is essentially a Fort complete with moat and Governor's residence, still exist.

We set out to explore this as it is within easy walking distance of the central city area. It has been extensively renovated and has a dedicated team of archaeologists and engineers working constantly on its restoration. We witnessed a kitchen area underground that has just been discovered, complete with fireplace, utensils and a well.

At 10 a.m. each day, there is a small but impressive key ceremony where the Governor gives the key to the fort to the Guard to open the lock on the Main Gate, a bell is rung and the Guard process around the vast courtyard area. The Governor's residence is impressive and furnished with heritage Dutch and British furniture, including portraits, maps and dining area to suit a hundred guests seated! The entry fee is modest, but it has tours available and very friendly and helpful staff.

Key ceremony at the former Governor's residence at the Fort.

Old Government House, a good example of Colonial architecture, next to the Company Gardens.

The beautiful Company Botanic Gardens with a view of Table Mountain.
You can visit the beautiful waterfront area of Capetown which is dominated by the huge Victoria and Albert Wharf complex. Here there is an immense two-story shopping area with elite shops, restaurants indoor and outdoor and a beautiful view of the yachts in the marina and shipping wharves beyond. There are taverns and a Wheel for a view of the city that seem to be in every major City these days! There is the local food to be enjoyed, some with a Portuguese flavour which I loved, but there are all types of food on offer from around the world. Topped off with the local Castle beer or a bottle of wine from the vineyards close by, just the shot for lunch or dinner break in sightseeing!

We also took a trip up the Cable Car to the top of Table Mountain, which left us with impressive views of the city and its environs. The aspect of looking up to the end of the cable way is quite unnerving, but proved to be not as much as I feared! If the wind is blowing, the cable car does not operate so it is a good idea to check daily! The inside of the car which holds 60 people also rotates slowly as you ascend, giving everyone an opportunity for good viewing and photos. The day we went, we were lucky as the fog descended after an hour or so and apparently this happens quite often. You can abseil if you have the nerve from the rocks, but we enjoyed a coffee out of the cold wind in a café with hot coffee and delicious eats!

Looking up to the top of Table Mountain with the cable car ascending to the clouds!

We took a half day tour of the area from Capetown to the Cape of Good Hope National Park. Quite an eye-opener to see this windswept coastline with its turbulent seas that were the end of many a ship's journey from the Portuguese navigators to present day. This is a coastline of hundreds of wrecks,  ships have gone down in its treacherous seas from the early days of the 1400's to 1977, when the Antopolis sank off the Twelve Apostles range South of Capetown.

The Cape of Good Hope. This coastline is  the site of many shipwrecks from the 1400's to the present day.
Diving, whale watching and all water sports including surfing and even cage viewing of sharks, are popular in this area. We visited a protected African penguin rookery at Simon's Town, a Naval Base, on the way south. We walked down on platforms through the foreshore with so many of these small penguins with their chicks right by, so close you can touch them! At the beach, Penguins were practising swimming, and this was a sheer delight to watch!

African penguins coming in from the surf!
Continuing South, we reached the National Park itself a vast Heath area where there are no trees to be seen but many protea bushes. We were lucky enough to see some large animals, like the kudu, ostrich and springbok. There were baboons too, but their reputation precedes them and you are told not to feed them and they are considered dangerous to encounter on walks. At Cape Point, our first stop, you can climb up to the lighthouse or take the funicular for a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean and rugged sheer cliff faces! Another stop took us to the beach at the Cape of Good Hope, where the waves spread a vast mist of spray all over the area for miles. You can hike through the Park and enjoy these wilderness areas with their natural beauty further if you have more time.

Where to from here? Lighthouse signs indicate the vast distances the early navigators had to cover in those small sailing ships!

Magnificent view from the lighthouse at the most southerly point of Africa.
Our return trip was through Chapman's Chance, a drive taken at your own risk, that winds around high cliffs with many rockfalls evident on the sides of the road. We also saw many shanty town areas near very expensive suburbs, and a reminder of the poverty and high unemployment levels in young people here.

The incredible tunnels built into the cliff face at Chapman's Chance with an overhanging rock face above your vehicle!

All in all, a visit to this area of South Africa is not to be missed, it has an amazing history to unfold and areas of great beauty, including wilderness and heritage areas to explore. Its Botanic Gardens and wineries are of world class and the people very hospitable!

The Protea, the national flower in all its glory at the flower markets, Capetown.
My tip: Rethink your impressions of Africa as a dangerous destination. There are dangers, just as in every place in the world, but the beauty outweighs these and with reasonable caution, there is a vast continent and its wilderness to explore!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Luang Prabang: Life at a leisurely pace in Laos!

We arrived in Luang Prabang and instantly became calmed by the change in pace from the busy streets of the capital city, Vientianne. Riding bicycles becomes easy on these typically country village streets and you can walk easily to any significant sites. Luang Prabang sits on the beautiful Mekong River and we only had to walk down a laneway to access the numerous restaurants that overlook the main waterway. It has a French influence and cafes and bakeries are everywhere. Flat bottomed boats and canoes pass up and down and there is a fascination in watching the comings and goings that take place.

French style lampposts blend in with a Laos streetscape.

Bicycling is easy on the quiet streets!

 There are many restaurants, bars and cafes in Luang Prabang. Food is very cheap and beautifully diverse. My favourite place for dinner was on the riverbank. It was run by a wonderful French chef who had given up the streets of Paris to build up a business with his restaurant and across the road, a B and B, which he was renovating with that touch of French class! He showed us through, and we wished we had known about it as it was beautifully restored and cheaper than ours! C'est las Vie!

Enjoying French cuisine and coffee by the river!

The main temple, Wat Xiens Thong, was a short walk from our digs, it has beautiful buildings with the most amazing gilded features. From there it was over the bamboo bridge across the Nam Khan River. This bridge is washed away each year and rebuilt! At dusk, everyone walks through the street markets to go up the hill to catch the view of the sunset over That Chomsi, 300 steps up. It is very crowded but amazing views!

The ornamented tree of Life at Wat Xieng Thong. 

Finely decorated temples.
Crossing the Nam Khan River at sunset.
Sunset over Luang Prabang.
Colourful street markets: spices and dried fish.

We booked several tours locally while there. One was to the waterfalls nearby where tourists can swim in the rock pools and I paid to visit a bear sanctuary on the way to the falls.. These sun bears are rescued from poachers who milk them for their bile: only a small fraction apparently of this despicable trade. I had a beautiful soup and noodle dish, while at my feet was a cat and a rooster! Only in Laos!

Waterfalls at Kuang Si.
Bears sleeping in the Bear Rescue Centre!

Our trip up the Mekong River to the Ban Pak Ou Caves was a lengthy one and a half hours, but the scenery was superb. There are 170 or so steep steps up to the cave entrance, inside there are thousands of small buddhas. To my surprise, we found that Australians had contributed to the complete restoration of this cave. On the way back, we stopped ashore at a whisky village which made local whisky and rice wine. Dead snakes, centipedes and cockroaches add to the flavour - tasting is optional but I tried some without additives! There were beautifully crafted silk scarves and clothing though to compensate for the tasting! Our night cruise of the river with dinner included, proved very entertaining as we stopped at a small bamboo riverside stage where ethnic dances were performed by a small group of local villagers. The costumes as always were beautiful.

Inside the restored Buddha cave.
At the base of the caves, only 300 more steps up to go!
Snake, scorpion and cockroaches are added to the wines!
Choose your poison, I mean whisky!

But the main attraction in Luang Prabang was the dawn parade of monks who receive alms and rice from the tourists and villagers. There were about 200 monks, young and old, and they processed in single file down several back streets. Many people were entirely respectful, but some tourists were not and stepped in front of them with flashes going off, something you are told specifically not to do. We saw many of these parades all over Laos and Myanmar and they were so amazing each time.

Young monks gather at the temple site.

Monks young and old follow in single file for alms at dawn.

My Tip:
Take your sense of humour on tours as it can be quite uncomfortable in longboats and prepare for those stops beside the river where you have to get to shore on small bits of wood! Water bottles and snacks are essential for long boat or bus trips and laugh with the locals as they are always obliging!

Have you ever encountered disrespectful  tourists on your travels?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Glimpses of a Beautiful Past in Granada, Spain.

What springs to mind when the word Granada is uttered is the beauty and serenity of the La Alhambra and General Life complex that sits on the top of a mountain overlooking the main city area of Granada below. Located in Andalusia, Spain, this is a palace and fortress complex that was constructed on top of older ruins in the mid 11th century by a Moorish Emir. The palace was built in 1333. They were left to decay and rediscovered in the 19th century and restoration was begun.
Lower entry portal to the Alhambra

Palace of Charles V courtyard.

We arrived on the train from Seville and booked our tickets for the complex, which included the Granada Cathedral and a hop-on/hop-off bus pass, for the next day. Alhambra is high up and has a great view of the Sierra Nevada mountain alps, where the residents of Granada want the Winter Olympics, so they announced on the bus. It takes a full day to see everything on offer as it is absolutely packed with tourists and you have to book for certain sessions to see the various parts. In fact, it is better to book online before arriving in Granada due to its popularity. By getting there early, you can escape some of the huge crowds! There are a few outlets for food items, but we carried our own bread rolls made up for lunch, some fruit and stopped for snacks where necessary! Also it can be very hot: hats and water are a good idea!

From a balcony of the Nasrid Palace.

Firstly, we visited the Palace of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor where the courtyard has high columns rising 2 stories, reminiscent of the Roman ampitheatres. Next it was our group time to visit the main Nasrid Palace which has had many parts restored to their former beauty and is undergoing constant renovation work. It has areas of beautiful tiles, elaborate wood carvings and tranquil pools and fountains, gardens and balconies. The Moorish influence is everywhere, the highlight being the Patio of the Lions with its beautiful fountain! Words cannot do justice to the intricacy of the patterning and tiles in this Palace.

Courtyard in the Palace.
Patio of the Lions, a beautiful fountain!
Ornate ceiling in the Palace.

From there, we visited the military fort Alcazaba, which is nearby. Here there are archaeological digs going on and you can climb the watchtower for great views of the city. From there, you can walk up to the spectacular gardens of the General Life. There are perfectly shaped cypress trees leading into gardens  with beautiful water features, fountains hedges, flowers and trees. It is quite a long walk but well worth it!

View from the Watchtower.
A stroll through Generalife gardens.

Serenity in the gardens.

After a quick look at the baths of the Mosque, we decided to walk back down to the city through the winding path and cool trees. We found a welcome restaurant in the Plaza Neuva for well earned tapas and refreshing beverages!
 My Tips: Plenty of water for rehydration, good walking shoes, plenty of patience for those determined crowds!
Have you ever been in an area of such beauty that it makes you sit down and just meditate on your surroundings?


Saturday, 15 August 2015

Reflections: What I Learnt from Problogger Training Event

I've discovered I'm not a small fish in a big pond! I belong to a 'community' and my homemade blog business cards cut from Albanian maps are totally ok!

Despite my newbie status, people who have immense followings have given those precious few minutes to speak personably with me, sharing their hard earned knowledge or a friendly hullo! This is amazing! 

If you count how many bloggers are at this conference, it adds up to millions of posts. These posts can change the lives of so many more people. I have found blogging can not only provide a living, it can deliver compassion through charities, enable those with invisible differences in this world to become visible and can deliver one person's passionate agenda to any part of the globe. 

Thank you Problogger for encouraging us to share our own small vision in this way! Bloggers of Australia should be proud of our position as global ambassadors and we CAN change lives and make a difference!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

La Sagrada Familia: Gaudi's Gift To the World.

 Ah, Barcelona, the very name evokes that beautiful city with its tree lined Las Ramblos, where you can stroll down that long wide street feasting on local foods, markets, ices and popping into every shop you can imagine, satisfying the senses and enjoying a vino or two! It is also here that Antoni Gaudi has gifted to the world his masterpiece: the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia which rises high above the city, superior even to the skyscrapers that dot the horizon. Gaudi began this church in 1882 and it is ongoing today, expected to be completed in another 50 years, but progress is slow and the architectural demands as immensely demanding as when it was begun! Only donations and entry tickets provide the money to complete this amazing structure.

The amazing "umbrella" of lights overhanging the altar area.

We had booked our tickets online through the services of our concierge at our apartment, just a short walk from Las Ramblos and an easy metro ride to the basilica. I will never forget coming up out of the metro and encountering the majesty of this enormous church with its grotesque towers and seemingly ill-fitting façade! It takes your breath away... and delivers it back with the most amazing vision of saints, geometrical patterns, animals, gargoyles and this is just the outside! As you enter the church, you can have an audio guide, which we took, or a local guided tour.

Looking upwards to the towers is amazing!

As it is visited by 3 million people a year, it is always crowded - but somehow, the sanctity and beauty of the interior overwhelms you and you feel at such peace. This is because of its vastness and an interior that stretches far up into the stained glass heaven created by the sky reaching windows. There is so much light, unusual in such a huge building. The choir stalls are curved and undulate around the second story above the main body of the church. Below there is the crypt area, where Gaudi's remains are kept. He died in 1926 from injuries received after being hit by a tram.

 Massive stained glass windows give a large amount of interior light.

Another overwhelming experience was ascending and descending the towers, we chose one as there are long lines and timed bookings given for both. You are whipped upwards at unnerving speed in a very confined lift. Next, you take the crossing between the tower section at great height and gaze downwards and out to the city views! "Vertigo not allowed," I told myself... only to face the steep downward spiral staircase; where we all cling on for dear life and reflect on the medieval notion of using never ending circular stairwells that are in many European castles.

View from the top over Barcelona.

From the outside, you can again marvel at the cranes and ongoing building that does not seem to detract from the massive high you experience from visiting this modern masterpiece! Lastly, we visited the small museum and wandered across the road to one of the many outdoor eating areas where you can continue to admire Gaudi's legacy.

My Tips: Forget your usual ideas of church architecture and embrace the incredible ideas of Gaudi! Also it's cheap, quick and easy to take the local metro or bus rather than taxis.
Do you have preconceived ideas about places like me? I expected ugliness and found only beauty.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Palace of Versailles: Over the Top Opulence!

No doubt, like me, you have heard of the grandeur of the great European palaces, but nothing could prepare me for the unsurpassed opulence of the Palace at Versailles! We had risen early to catch the train, which  delivers you to the township of Versailles about 16 km from Paris. In fact, we were so early, we were first in line for the ticket office. We happily munched on our standard Parisian breakfast of ham, cheese, and baguette while waiting for the hordes of visitors who arrive each day to view this amazing site!

Early morning........empty Palace forecourt usually packed with busloads of tourists!
The grandeur of one of the many hall areas complete with magnificent organ. 

The first impression of this palace is so overwhelming, you can well imagine the peasantry rebelling against this excessive show of wealth. Any servant who worked  at this palace (and the smaller one belonging to Marie Antoinette) would not have basked in the glow of the Sun King, Louis XIV and his eccentricities, like his courtiers! The original palace was built by Louis XIV in 1631-34 and continued to house 2 more royals, King Louis XV and XVI. By the revolution in 1789, the little hamlet of Versailles had grown to 60,000 people!

Luxurious drawing room fittings including finest silk covered cushioned footstools.

Interior of the palace...... drawing room delight!

We marvelled at the paintings and sculptures, bedrooms and art galleries, but the highlight for me was the Hall of Mirrors. This immensely long hall is made to appear even bigger by the clever positioning of 100's of floor to ceiling mirrors. Tall candelabra line the walls with ornate ceilings reminiscent of the works of the famous European artists. This hall was used for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, by Germany and the Allied countries after WW1.

Myself in the amazing Hall of Mirrors, getting up close to some amazing trappings of courtly life!

This palace was at first a royal hunting lodge with wild animals for the King to hunt. Louis XIV gradually added the north and south wings and formal gardens, adding pressurized fountains which today are still in working order and shoot water high into the air. The mile long canal is quite a distance from the main building and was used for naval demonstrations. The King kept gondolas from Venice on it, complete with gondoliers! While we were there, it was being used for rowing practice and competitive teams glided along its length. 

Classic fountain, looking back at the main palace. 

After a lengthy walk, we arrived at the estate area where Marie Antoinette kept her smaller Petit Trianon or palace, for her own amusement. She also had a working farm which provided the palace with fresh produce. There was a small theatre and Temple of Love nearby. This farm area was fascinating, it seemed to have a fantasy aspect with wooden staircases disappearing up into the upper floors of houses, a working water mill and  ducks on lakes, all of which were quite rustic. It was a peaceful spot to ponder the enormity of this vast estate!

By this stage, I was exhausted and only had enough energy to head back to the main palace and its cobbled courtyards and stagger down to the town area and the train home to Paris! Home sweet home to our local bar and provider of all things French. We sat and contemplated the glory of the French royal palaces in between drinks... and dinner... and more drinks! A fitting end to a fine day!
MY TIP: Good walking shoes and take the golf carts rent a bicycle or  catch the mini train! Paying a fee is the best alternative as otherwise, walking the entire estate of 2000 acres is a marathon event!

Splendid geometrically accurate gardens have been recreated outside the palace.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Top Tips For International Travel

I have been travelling overseas for more than 11 years now and my motto is "expect the unexpected"! Here are my top 10 tips for making international travel easier.

1. Firstly and most important: Be super organised!  Arrange your travel insurance - there are always surprises when you are travelling!  Write and distribute copies of your itinerary to your family or friends: it sometimes takes me a year to organise a full itinerary of places to stay and travel between. Also take copies of your travel documents: passport, itinerary and banking details for the inevitable phone home situation when you encounter difficulties with theft, breakages or mislaying items! We were robbed in Greece and broke a mobile phone in a backpack when it fell from a roofrack in a Portuguese bus!

2. Pack lightly, roll tightly. I go by the old ‘pile them on the bed’ method: sort your things, divide them in half, divide them in half again and that’s what you really need! Alright, I sometimes sneak a couple of things back in! I pack smallish items into shoes and wrap any souvenirs in clothing to prevent breakages. I carry a quantity of plastic sealing lunch bags useful for carry on items that have be in clear view for customs checks.

3. Always take a pashmina or scarf and long skirt or pants for those visits where modest dress is necessary. Some of the places I have needed these are the monasteries of Meteroa, the mosques in Arabian countries and temple visits in South East Asia.

4. Keep fit, you will need it for those days exploring through enticing and ancient cities with narrow byways, cobbled pavements and endless stairs to high viewpoints! I try and walk every day but housework or a busy schedule easily qualify!

5. Pack warm weather clothing and an umbrella. I always take a beanie, gloves and warm jacket for those unexpected cold weather changes and situations like we had on board an overnight ferry to Crete where we froze due to being unable to turn the air con down! I always take my hooded jacket on the flight to wear; it can fold up into a small bundle for using as a pillow in desperate situations!

6. Pack reading material for those terribly long waiting times, waiting for a connecting train or bus (5 hours in Greece once!) or waiting at airports with huge inter connecting times for flights. When travelling, I find there are usually second hand bookshops somewhere where I can buy books and donate them at the next hotel or hostel.

7. Organise your carry-on luggage! I take a backpack with my passport, toiletries, a change of clothes, notebook computer or iPad, my charging devices and power converters for the country I'm going to, mobile phone, pen, small pack of tissues, moisturiser and lip balm, a book or Kindle, pocket sized camera, water bottle, (though these sometimes have to be emptied out or abandoned altogether depending on regulations), puzzle book,  cloth bottle holder which fits across the body (I bought this in Myanmar and it’s so useful in hot countries for carrying while walking) and barley sugar (or the like) to chew when ascending and descending in the plane.

8. Make sure your baggage is easily identifiable by putting something colourful on it - I put a bright orange macramé cord on mine: this is guaranteed not to be on anyone else’s! There is always a mad dash for the baggage carousel, so make sure you have a trolley handy first thing.

9. Use wheeled luggage. When we started travelling they were not available! I now have a wheeled weekender sports type bag with an extendable handle. This will save you in big airports where you have to walk miles to the gates. Mine is also backpack convertible, although I haven’t needed to use it.

10. Arrive at your airport early – Virgin Australia is always happy to help you check in! I try to be first in line by arriving well before the regulation time and then you can roam the cafeterias, shopping and duty free area and have a relaxing beverage or two before the flight! Sometimes, you may even bag an exit aisle seat by being early- it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Now celebrate in style, you have earned it and after all, the enjoyment begins the minute you board that flight for destinations and experiences only imagined!

This post is an entry for the Virgin Australia Problogger Event travel tips competition.