Search This Blog

Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 Favourites

2015 Favourites

I've noticed that media in general post retrospectives at the end of the year, so I thought I can do that! Here's my 2015 retrospective, the 12 (10 wasn't enough, 15 too many!) favourite places I saw or experienced this year. They're not ranked I'll just do them in chronological order.

1. Sydney Harbour Ferry

Favourite thing to do in Sydney is to ride the Manly Ferry across to Manly, it's the cheapest way to sail around Sydney Harbour! Beautiful views along the way.

2. Hida Takayama

Just the fact that Hida Takayama exists is interesting in itself as all the buildings were due to be submerged when a new hydro-electric dam was being built. The houses were all dismantled and then rebuilt on the current site. A fascinating look at rural life in Japan from the past.

3. Takayama

A favourite as so little of old Japan exits in the present time. Much was destroyed by bombing in WW2. Takayama survived as it wasn't industrial and also it was on the Japan sea part of Honshu Island. It's possible to walk around authentic historic buildings, narrow streets and see some traditional shops.

4.Bletchley Park

A real highlight of this year's trip to the UK. What made it extra interesting was that I had just seen the movie The Imitation Game, set in and around Bletchley. I was so interested in its history I even bought the book The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay, which gives a really good explanation of the work and the life of the people who were at Bletchley Park during WW2.

5. Brighton Beach, UK

Brighton beach to me was just so stereotypically British! The pebbles on the beach, the striped deck chairs, the seaside hotels right on the seafront, the pier and the arcade.

6. Old Town Dubrovnik

Having read so much about Dubrovnik, I enjoyed finally being able to see it, walk around, walk the walls and particularly stay in the old town. Definitely worth organising to stay within the walls, you won't get a swimming pool but you'll get atmosphere!

7. Lopud Island

Going out to Lopud Island is something I would highly recommend for anyone spending time in Dubrovnik. It was just the most blissful way of spending a day!

8. Roma and Sinti Memorial, Berlin

This was a favourite as I just stumbled upon this memorial. I'd not heard of it or had even planned to visit it. I was just passing by, stopped and was really touched by it.

9. Bari

The reason for going to Bari was to visit the Sacrarium, I knew very little about the city itself. I ended up really liking it, right from when the plane started its descent and you could see olive groves for miles. It's a lovely city and the historic quarter is worth seeing.

10. Menaggio

Lake Como itself is a favourite place to visit and it's well loved by many tourists. Discovering Menaggio was like finding a little gem, pretty town, right on the lake, few people around and just peaceful. (In contrast to loved to death by tourists, Bellagio!)

11. Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The Flower Dome ended up being delightful after a rather underwhelming, for me at least, entrance among the succulents! I loved the whimsey of the nursery rhyme theme.

12. Five Mile Beach, Port Douglas

Just the sheer size of it is wonderful, and then to have the large expanse of sky overhead too. It makes one feel very small and gives an emphasis to how big Australia is.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Beech Hill Country House Hotel, Northern Ireland

Beech Hill Country House Hotel

Northern Ireland

This hotel is more in the expensive range of prices, but well worth it! Splash out on a 'treat' location to stay at like I did and enjoy it!

It's located a short drive out of Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland. I flew into Derry City Airport and was taking a driving holiday of Northern Ireland, I didn't want to stay in the actual city so this location out in the countryside was perfect. You will need a car to get to it. Mine thankfully had a GPS so I followed its instructions and found Beech Hill fairly easily.

I stayed in a Standard room which was huge. There are also Junior and Master suites if you really want to treat yourself!

Checking the website, the soft furnishings have changed since I stayed there and took these pictures.

Staircase up to the room I stayed in. 

The Hotel has a restaurant called the Ardmore restaurant (after the village where the house is located) I had dinner there and the food and service was excellent. The restaurant is located at the side of the house, it's a large conservatory with views of the garden.


The house was a country house built in 1739 and lived in by a family. The gardens are lovely and there are walking trails that you can follow to stroll around and enjoy. I was lucky enough to be there in mid June on warm, sunny days so that made the gardens extra nice!

The driveway from the main road.

The brook, the house was originally built next to. I assume as it provided a water supply.

Walking paths, through what I think are the beech trees the house gets its name from.

In mid June the rhododendrons were flowering, a real treat for someone like me who lives in a hot, dry area where no rhododendrons survive!

The Gate House at the entrance of the property with the main road.

To add some local colour to the day I arrived, it was apparently "Cemetery Sunday". The traffic was horrific once I got close to where the house was, police were directing and initially I was ushered past the entrance as I was trying to make a right hand turn into the driveway. "But I'm staying here!" my plaintive cry went out and I was allowed to turn into the driveway just as the enormous charter bus (coach if you're British) was trying to manoeuvre its way out! More chaos ensued! The bus was full of people leaving from a Tea Dance that was held in the house that afternoon. 

The rest of the traffic was due to people coming to the cemetery which was right next to the gate to commemorate loved ones who had passed away. (Interesting to me that this happened in June, my catholic European experience of this cemetery commemoration, is that it occurs on November 2nd, All Souls Day) The cemetery was full, the local priest held a liturgy, this being Ireland the singing and music was beautiful. I went out to experience it after I checked in.

Didn't want to be too intrusive, so picture taken from across the road, people carried in flowers and placed them on the graves.

Final bit of interesting information about my stay. I saw there was a room in the house dedicated to the US Marines. It turned out that Beech Hill was where they were based in WW2. In February 1942 the US Navy set up a base on the River Clyde and the Marines were posted to protect the base. The officers lived in the house and the enlisted men in huts in the grounds of the estate.

I loved staying at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel and if I return to Northern Ireland again I'd love to spend longer there. Highly recommend it!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Arena, Pula, Croatia

The Arena in Pula, Croatia is a Roman amphitheatre (think like the Colosseum), it's one of six largest surviving amphitheatres in the world. It was built between 27 BC and 68AD when the city of Pula became a regional centre for Roman rule. (Yes research again, I don't retain all of this information in my head!)

I wanted to visit it again as it was something of a nostalgia visit for me. I had been taken to see it as a child and later in my teens, my mother had gone to boarding school in Pula and later lived and worked there. For her the town was a second home and the Arena loomed over the town and was ever present. As a child I just thought it was an amazing structure, it was huge! (Still is!!) I was so impressed with the Arena that when I later was taken to see the Colosseum in Rome my childhood impression was 'meh!' The Colosseum looked broken, there was no floor in the middle, the Arena was more complete and impressive to me at least!

I was staying in Trieste and thought I would make the day trip out to Pula. (I use the Croatian name for the city but it's also known by its Italian name of Pola) I took the bus and for the most part the trip was pleasant enough, the Istrian countryside is lovely and familiar as I'd done the trip many, many times. But as the bus stops in quite a few towns on its way down to Pula, the whole trip took 4 hours! I began to regret the idea of doing it as a day trip, note to self next time stay in Pula for a few days! 

The bus takes the old road down the coast and so it goes down into the Lim Canal which is between Vsar and Rovinj. (The newer highway is further inland and there's a large bridge/overpass that crosses the valley) The Canal is an estuary that goes inland for 10km, its name comes from the Roman 'limes' which means limit(border) as it was the natural border between Dalmatia and Italia.

Photos from the bus window, snapping away constantly hoping to get some clear views without the trees on the side of the road obscuring the canal! Oysters and mussels grow in the canal, I think that might be what those white buoys are marking.

The canal is called the Limski Kanal in Croatian and it's possible to cruise the canal in tourist boats.

The road crosses the canal where it narrows and become a ford.

Once at the bus station I had to wing it when it came to finding the Arena, in the past I had just been taken there by either parents or relatives in cars. I was now on foot, I reasoned it's a very big building I'm sure I'll see it! Luckily I spotted a sign and found it easily enough, it's not hard to spot!

The Arena is still used today for concerts, it's very much a living building, not just a dead monument to the past. I think that's probably why I still prefer it to the Colosseum. I have the same view with palaces and stately homes, the ones that are still used or lived in such as Windsor Castle are far more interesting that those such as Hampton Court which is just a monument without life.

To the right of the picture the stone is much whiter I think that's from the early 19th century when restoration of the Arena began when Istria was under French rule. Previously the locals had taken stone to build with, they needed building material so they just removed bits of an unused building!

The original seating. In 1932 (when Istria was under Italian rule) the Arena was adapted for theatre performance, military parades and public meetings (it was the Fascist era) The other bit of research I found about that time was that the Italian fascist administration put forth the idea that they wanted to dismantle the Arena and then ship it and reassemble it back in mainland (the boot) Italy!! The idea was abandoned due to the costs involved!

View from the Arena floor, tourists can walk around quite freely. There's a museum showing artefacts from Roman times. And if you're interested in a tacky souvenir, there's also men who walk around in Gladiator costumes that you can pay to take a photo with! I passed on that one!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition

Miss Fisher's costume exhibition

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a TV series and one of my favourites. I don't watch much TV, but Miss Fisher is a must! The series is based on books written by Kerry Greenwood and set in Melbourne in the 1920s. Miss Fisher is a wealthy, independent woman who manages to get tangled up in solving murder mysteries. The series is beautifully done, there have been 3 so far, it's a long wait between series! They are filmed in Melbourne, using historic homes and buildings as a backdrop. What also makes the series wonderful are the costumes. Earlier this year I was thrilled to see that an exhibition of the costumes was coming to Adelaide. The costume designer is Marion Boyce and she and her team do a terrific job with the costuming as that helps with setting the scene for the series.

So on a hot summer's morning, the ladies and I met at Ayers House (the location of the exhibition) and immersed ourselves in the world of Miss Fisher.

Ayers House is a National Trust property in the Adelaide city centre. It was the home of a former premier of South Australia, Henry Ayers. It's open for people to tour through and it's hosting the Miss Fisher costume exhibition until February 16th. A perfect location for it.

 Most of the exhibits were static but there were a few, like this one that were on a rotating disc, like a microwave! To the left the mannequin is posed like a murder victim, as this dress was worn by a victim.

Photography is allowed as long as you don't use your flash. That posed a problem as I didn't know how to turn mine off! Who reads instruction books?! Obviously not me! After some messing around success, flash off and I could photograph the exhibits.

The Ayers House setting was perfect, some of the exhibits had backdrops but many were just posed in the rooms.

On display weren't just dresses but also the accessories in cabinets.

A wedding dress, one of the exhibition staff told us, that when the costume exhibition was shown in Melbourne the wedding dress wasn't included as it would be a spoiler. This is the first time that it's been exhibited. (It's not Miss Fisher's wedding dress! She's still Miss Fisher)

The outfits covered both day and evening wear. Miss Fisher being an independent woman often wore pants, quite scandalous in the 1920s for a well bred woman to wear trousers.

The costumes are not just Miss Fisher's, the dress is her companion's Miss Dorothy who helps her with solving her mysteries. (Watson to her Holmes) Dorothy is much more conservative and her costumes are more buttoned up and frumpy.

Tennis anyone?
Most of the costumes were specially made, but the costume designer also searched for any vintage items that would work. The lemon (that's what the sign said, plain English me thought pale yellow!) jacket on the mannequin on the left is from the 1920s.

In one episode Miss Fisher goes undercover in a theatre and this is the costume she wears up on stage. On the screen behind the mannequin is this particular scene, with Essie Davies who plays Miss Fisher wearing the costume and dancing on stage.

Perfect setting for this costume, a kimono worn when going to have a bath. In one of the old bathrooms.

At the end of the exhibition there was a display of what the costume department's workshop contained.

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, what made it extra fun as well was there is a 'dress up' section. You and your friends (and we did!) could put on 1920s coats with enormous fake fur colours and sparkly 1920s dresses and take photos of each other. (Admittedly on a hot day the coats were a touch warm so we suffered for our fun!) 

For those who haven't seen Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries do, they're fun to watch, lots of witty dialogue. Non-Australians, it is available on Netflix, and Australians if the exhibition comes to a place near you, it's well worth going to see!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

I haven't just made a quick side trip to Beijing, I'm going to be revisiting some previous trips and post some pictures and information about other places I've travelled to in the past.

China as a country has been an interest of mine since primary school days. I'm pretty sure I did at least one project on it! Fortunately for me a couple of years back a friend of mine moved to Beijing, so following the motto of 'have friend in exotic location, will visit' I've made 2 trips to Beijing. On the second trip I went to the Temple of Heaven which to me at least was a lesser known attraction. (Trip 1 covered The Great Wall, Forbidden City etc) 

I visited in the first week of October, here's a useful piece of information for anyone planning on being a tourist in China the first week in October, don't!!! October 1st is their national day and the Chinese are then given a week's public holiday, factories all shut down and the Chinese are tourists in their own country and abroad. So millions of Chinese tourists all visiting the same sites as you, I had never seen such enormous crowds and I had travelled on commuter trains in Japan in rush hour!

Despite the crowds the Temple of Heaven was well worth visiting and I enjoyed my time there. It's in the southern part of Beijing, it's possible to get there independently by travelling by subway. (And extremely cheap, subway fares in Beijing are minimal) However I went the expat route and hired my friend's driver to drop me off and pick me up at a prearranged time!

Research time!

The Temple of Heaven was built from 1409 to 1420, it was visited twice a year by the Emperor, so the Emperor could pray to Heaven for a good harvest. The ceremony had to be perfectly completed, as it was believed that the smallest of mistakes would be a bad omen for the whole nation in the coming year. So no pressure then!!

The circular roofed building in the centre is the Imperial Vault of Heaven, the one behind it is the main temple.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Just beautiful, it had some restoration work done to it before the Beijing Olympics so it's magnificent to see. The original was burnt down in a fire in 1889 and then rebuilt so this isn't as old as other parts of the complex. It's constructed of wood all dovetailing as there are no nails used in it.

Inside the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests. 
More research!
It has four inner, twelve middle and twelve outer pillars (one is in the centre of this picture) representing the four seasons, twelve months and twelve traditional Chinese hours respectively. Combined together, the twelve middle and twelve outer pillars represent the traditional solar term. All the buildings within the Temple have special dark blue roof tiles, representing Heaven.

Hall of Heavenly Emperor

The Temple complex is made up of various buildings some of which are linked by covered walkways. The day I visited they were full of families picnicking. The ceilings of the walkways are lovely as they are also decorated. 

Not a walkway ceiling but one inside the Emperor's Hall. Something I really liked about the Temple of Heaven Complex was all the artwork, how heavily and intricately decorated the buildings were, inside and out. I had seen quite a few temples through my travels in Asia, they don't tend to be brightly painted with fine details. These were and reminded me of the frescos you would see in Italian religious buildings, all fine details and beautiful colours.

The Temple Complex is situated in a park which is open to the public. It's a large green space in a large city, the park area totals 267 hectares (660 acres).

Aside from The Great Wall (which was a 'bucket list' desire to visit) The Temple of Heaven complex is probably my favourite site to visit in Beijing. I don't think it's as well known, my friend recommended it to me, it's one that I would highly recommend for anyone to see on a trip to Beijing. I've since read a few reviews that cautioned that there are lots of stairs, looking back that's not a thing that remained with me, just the beauty of all the art work.