Thursday, 28 December 2017

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges

Bruges, Brugges, Brugge? I saw the town spelt many ways, as many as the languages spoke here. As always when travelling, never enough time - but here are some suggestions of 10 things to see and do, which will at least hopefully inspire a visit.

10 photos of one day in Bruges
Explore the canals

i) Explore Her Canals

To walk along her canals is to discover the medieval heart of Bruges. The town grew on trade, and her waterways gave her access to trading ports.

Now the canals are lines with gracious houses and picturesque bridges; white swans drifts by, and the sun plays upon the water. Boat tours (with a commentary in multiple languages, naturally) offer an ideal way to see this town from the water.

10 photos of one day in Bruges
A side entrance to the hospital

ii) Visit Sint-Janshospitaal

Dating from the 12th century, Sint-Janshospitaal is Europe’s oldest preserved hospital, and was still being used up until 1978. Now it is a museum of the world of medieval medicine, with even the apothecary and herb garden remaining.

And not to be missed: 6 masterpieces from the most famous of the Flemmish Primitives, Hans Memling (1430-1493) painted specifically for the hospital.

Michelangelo in Bruges

iii) Michelangelo in Bruges.

Not the best photo, for which I apologise. I just wasn't expecting to find a work by Michelangelo in Bruges.
Dating from 1501-4, his Madonna and Child sits in the Church of Our Lady, and is the only statue of Michelangelo's to leave Italy during his lifetime.

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges
The 15th C Kruispoort

iv) Bruges' Town Gates

Fortifications once surrounded this town, and four of Bruges' town gates remain, marking the limit of the old city. This includes the Kruispoort, which was begun in 1401 on the site of an older gate.

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges
So many museums to visit

v) Visit the Museums and Galleries of Bruges

Bruges boasts a plethora of museums, from the Groeninge Museum with its impressive collection of Flemish works (an exhibition of the Flemish Primitives was on display during my visit), the Memling Museum, to modern art galleries. There is even a diamond museum. No matter how short a stay, there is enough time to see at least one.

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges
The Bonne Cherie Windmill

vi) See the windmills

Bruges was once a town of windmills, producing the flour needed to feed a growing population. Now only four  remain, standing beside a canal along the line on the original fortifications. They have all been lovingly restored.

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges
The stepped roofline of Bruges

vii) Simply look around you.

Bruges is truly a town for sight seeing. So much is all around - take time to sit and enjoy, watch the world go by. Wander and foot and see what can be discovered down hidden laneways and cobbled streets. And don't forget to look up and see the classic stepped roof line of the houses, designed as an escape route in the event of a fire.

10 photos of One Day in Bruges
Carvings of Chocolate

viii) A chocolate museum, of course.

Chocolate shops abound in Bruges - I defy you to visit the city and not leave with some. Then there is Choco Story, a chocolate museum dedicated to the history and production of chocolate (the earliest evidence dates to 600 BC) complete with chocolate carvings on display. Plus, the price of admission comes with some free samples!
10 photos of One Day in Bruges
Outside the Basilica

ix) The Basilica of The Holy Blood

Such a great name, I had to visit. It consists of two chapels, with the lower one being Bruges' oldest building, dating from the 12th C. In the Upper Chapel is a crystal phial said to contain a relic of Christ's blood. It was brought back from the Second Crusade by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.

10 photos of One Day in Bruges
Simply wander

x) Explore
Because of the canals, none of the streets in the Old town run in a straight line - making it perfect for simply wandering and getting lost. At every turn lies a moss-covered bridge, a centuries-old restaurant, or a carpet of fallen leaves.
Aiming for the other side of town, I somehow emerged at the Bus Depot. Plunging back into the maze of streets, I found a restaurant in a 17th C wooden building. I began with a kir royale, followed by pheasant with braised witlof and figs. Another day I dined on golden fish soup brimming with shrimp and a variety of cold-water fish, followed by salmon with a shrimp sauce.
So, explore!

The Literary Traveller First published in 1892, Bruges-la-Morte is often described as the archetypicalSymbolistic novel. Written by the Belgian author Georges Rodenbach, it is also the first novel illustrated with photographs. The evocative, almost poetic style evokes a dying city, reflecting the emotions of a man, grieving for his wife, obsessed with death.

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Saturday, 23 December 2017

Umbrellas in Pietrasanta

 I knew I would love Pietrasanta as soon as the train pulled into the station. My train was crowded with holiday makers journeying to the Cinque Terra; my daughter and I were the only ones to alight.
One platform, two tracks. The land of Tuscany spreading around us.


I've always equated trains with holidays. I rarely catch trains (or any public transport) when I'm at home, for the service is simply shocking. Much easier to drive. Trains are for finding Assisi, being stranded somewhere unknown in Japan, or speeding away from Paris to find delights such as Bruges or ponder the paradox of time in Mont St. Michel.

Umbrellas, too, seem to be part of my recent travels. I never take one with me, yet I found them in a revolution in Hong Kong, and now hundreds of them hung above the streets of Pietrasanta, giving some welcome shade from the scorching summer sun.

Pietrasanta is a small Tuscan town, hidden from most tourists as the best places usually are. The old town is pedestrian only. Nearby are the marble hills of Carrara. Artists have been here since ancient times sourcing the marble.

Yet despite the weight of history, Pietrasanta is very much alive. Her artistic endeavours did not stop with Michelangelo, but instead still thrive. Not only do artisan shops abound, but locals live here, outnumbering the tourists. All promenading of an evening and fill the restaurants, the tables spilling over into the streets. Even the way shops and house are decorated is an artwork.

And then there were the umbrellas. Hundreds of them, hanging between the buildings. Each summer the town is filled with artistic displays (in an old cathedral I listened to La Boheme as I pondered paintings) but this exuberance of umbrellas was perhaps the most colourful of all. I shall have to return next year to see if they are outdone.

If planning a visit to Tuscany, may I suggest the blog My Travel in Tuscany

Like my photos? - if you feel like contributing to my coffers, please click the link to buy either my photos from the micro-stock site 123RF, or products from my store, EnsoCreations. Cheers! 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

10 Things To See in Hoi An - in Photos

Hoi An, Vietnam - a UNESCO listed city, stunning countryside, gentle people. Fantastic food, a French influence, unique buildings, shopping, rivers, beaches and gentle rice paddies. What is not to love here?
Here are some things I found in a recent visit, beyond those listed in the guidebooks.

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
A river runs through it

The Thu Bon River runs through the centre of Hoi An dividing the Old Town from newer developments. Yet the countryside itself is full of rivers and waterways - they are life blood of this area, which has for centuries used them for trading.

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
Basket boats near China Beach

China Beach was a popular retreat for Allied soldiers during the Vietnam War. These large baskets are traditional fishing boats - the shape meant they were not classified as boats, and so the owners avoid paying tax. (As a side note, I found the beaches a bit boring. But then I'm Australian, and incredibly spoilt in that way.)

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
Cross me if you dare!

Escape to the countryside, away from the crowds of tourists. Rice paddies stretch in all directions, fed by the many rivers. Remarkably, our Vespas made it safely across.

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
Don't forget to look at the buildings

The colours may seem faded, but the buildings in  Hoi An have a charm all their own, with their cross between traditional styles and the influence of many visitors - the Japanese, Dutch and French, to name a few. When walking through Hoi An, don't forget to look around you.

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
Venture out before sunrise

Do the unexpected. Head out before dawn with the fisherman and watch how hard these men and women work. Visit a market, buy something fresh for breakfast, and enjoy it back on the boat (our captain cooked it for us - spring rolls, fresh baby tuna, morning glory, squid. Delicious.

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
How breakfast began

This was how our breakfast began - in the markets. We didn't have the baby crab, but there's always next time.

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
A vegetable plot near Hoi An

The surrounding countryside is filled with communal vegetable plots. Lush and green, incredibly fertile, they are an inspiration to go back home and start gardening.

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
The lanterns of Hoi An

Don't forget to explore Hoi An at night - the town is famous for her lanterns. I dare you to try and leave without buying a few!

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
Busy repairing my husbands pants

The clothes and fabric can be a tad overwhelming - the hawkers are remarkably aggressive - but if you're brave enough to venture inside, look out for this lady who does repairs.

10 things to See and Do in Hoi An
Vietnamese coffee

Finally, don't forget the coffee. The best coffee I had was sitting at a roadside stall, watching the world go by. It is strong but sweet, for it is laced with condensed milk.

Like my photos? - if you feel like contributing to my coffers, please click the link to buy either my photos from the micro-stock site 123RF, or products from my store, EnsoCreations. Cheers! 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Some Things Not To Miss In Prague - In Photos

I've yet to meet anyone who didn't enjoy Prague. Not only is the city stunningly beautiful, it's walkable, has fantastic food, and I found something delightful to find at every turn.

Yet I had trouble relating what I read in the guidebook to what I saw around me. I read and walked in two different worlds. Perhaps because there was so much to see; perhaps because I kept getting distracted by things which books and blogs failed to mention.

Not to miss in Prague
The art-deco staircase in my hotel

An important thing to savour in Prague is the food. The food in the first restaurant I tried was delicious (recommendation of the stewardess on the flight); I can't imagine anyone eating badly here. From duck to boar to fish; steins of beer, local wine, street food, soups, desserts, cakes, coffee; enjoy!

Not to miss in Prague
The tastes of Prague

The area around the castle is a world of on it's own; simply from reading I never quite appreciated how seperate the castle was to the town. I arrived just on opening - this gave me ample time to see the place before it became cluttered with tourists, catch the changing of the guard, enjoy a coffee and strudel, then walk back to town.

Changing of the guard

I returned later in the evening to visit the Sternberg Palace a little before closing. What an amazing find! The most amazing artwork, from Ancient Greek to modern times, encompassing amazing pieces from my most favoured periods, the early Renaissance. For me, one of the best galleries I've visited - and it was virtually empty.

Not to miss in Prague
Beauty in the Sternberg Palace

Walking down from the palace winds past a vineyard, hidden courtyards, the streets of Malá Strana, and so to the Charle's Bridge with its plethora of statues. At dawn (and maybe dusk) you'll share the bridge with only a few, and the light is beautiful; any later in the day and it can be nigh impossible to move. I lost count of the number of brides I saw.

Not to miss in Prague
Grapes near the Prague Castle

Then there is the simple beauty of the streets. Everything seems to be a work of art - a statue here, a gate there. A bridge covered with padlocks, a alley so narrow it needs traffic lights for pedestrians to pass one another safely. The stunning astronomical clock; the gothic beauty of Prague's churches and towers. Even my hotel proved an art deco delight.

Not to miss in Prague
A padlocked bridge

Wander, enjoy, look, and keep discovering. And, like me, start planning your return before you leave!

Like my photos? - if you feel like contributing to my coffers, please click the link to buy either my photos from the micro-stock site 123RF, or products from my store, EnsoCreations. Cheers! 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Six Reasons To Visit Kyoto - A Photo Essay
A nice way to pass the afternoon

I found this pair fishing by a canal in Kyoto. The Philosopher's Walk is a beautiful walk lined with cherry blossoms in the Higashiyama district. It begins at the Silver Pavilion and follows a walk taken most days by one of Japan's most famous philosophers, Nishida Kitaro - and also teddy bears.

Friday, 18 August 2017

10 Photos to Convince You to Visit Paris in Summer

I'd never been to Europe, let alone Paris, in the summer before. Paris is a magical place, and under the summer sun the city sparkled. I felt I was discovering a whole new city.

The Tuileries

In winter these gardens near the Louvre have a mystery all their own, with the fountains playing amongst bare trees, and the occasional chair pulled to catch the watery sunlight. In summer, I found the place awash with green. The statues felt almost alive under the heat of the sun, and the colours of the marble against the green is spectacular.

The Louvre seen from the Tuileries

Take A River Cruise

Some years ago, I took a Seine river cruise one afternoon in the late autumn. Dusk fell as the boat toured the Seine – a magical way to see the city. This time, I took same cruise – only the light didn't start to fail until around 9.30! Under a clear sky the city skyline glowed under the caress of the setting sun, and at 10pm the Eiffel tower erupted in a sparkle of light.

The Île de la Cité 

The Île de la Cité is the heart of Paris. Now it was awash with blooms, from Notre Dame to the side streets. Make sure to visit the flower markets – the smell alone is worth the visit. Then take a short stroll to the Sainte ChapelleOnce home to the Crown of Thorns, this chapel is a medieval wonder of stained glass. Visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds, or else at sunset when the chapel is said to be at its most spectacular.
Inside one of the many arcades

Simply wander

I walked and walked that first day, ever encouraged by side streets calling me to explore. I cam e across a small market (never to be found again), or simply delighted in window shopping.When I finally reached my hotel, I had worn out the sole of my shoes - a good excuse to go shopping in Paris!
Even the metro signs are a work of art

The Simple Pleasures

Paris is for people watching, and in summer simply sit outside in a cafe, and watch the world go by. The whole world does indeed pass by. Oh, and maybe try a cake or two. Plus a glass of local wine.
C'est Paris.

The Penguins of St Kilda

You have to look hard to see him. These fairy penguins return each night to nest in the rocks along the St Kilda boardwalk in Melb...

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