Top 6 Picnic Spots in Canberra

Picnics are a great way to see a city, spend time with friends, or have an inexpensive celebration.

After living in Canberra for over a decade, I went on many picnics in many different locations. Some were with groups of friends or family, and some were dates with my partner.

I found that there are plenty of undiscovered or underrated places in Canberra with beautiful scenery where you could enjoy a picnic.

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Review: Balgownie Estate Resort Yarra Valley

There’s plenty of beautiful winery regions in Australia and there’s usually many on travellers wishlist to explore. The Yarra Valley has to be one of those winery destinations that you have to see. Its a short drive from Melbourne so easy for people to get to. The Yarra Valley definitely is the perfect romantic getaway location, with lots of wineries, cafes, spas, retreats and activities to do as a couple.

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What to Do in Hong Kong – Day Time Activities

I had a friend tell me that she is planning on going to Hong Kong with her boyfriend and I had so many things to tell her! This made me realise that I never did a post on my time in Hong Kong… So here it FINALLY is – my tips on what to do in Hong Kong!

My first overseas trip with my man was a week trip to Hong Kong. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing but it was heaps of fun and definitely worth it. We were only there for 6 days/5 nights so we didn’t get to do everything, but I will share what I did and the things I will do during my next trip to Hong Kong.

What to do in hong kong

Day Time Activities

Tsim Sha Shui Promenade: This is the promenade down by the water, and it is definitely a nice place to go for a walk (both during the day and at night) and become familiar with the city. If you book boat trips, this will be the place you need to come to. The promenade also has the Avenue of Stars, which is similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s a great place for photo opportunities or for grabbing a bite to eat. We stopped for a refreshing drink – my partner had a beer and I had a delicious cocktail!

Soho: The swanky part of Hong Kong is called Soho and it has a huge variety of food and wine. There’s lots of fashion boutiques and art galleries that are intertwined with the older styled buildings stacked up on top of one another. The streets are narrow and winding, but have so much character and you could happily get lost amongst them. We found a funky bar that we had a few glasses of wine at while we stared at a traditional red building adorned with gold.

Man Mo Temple: After wandering around in Soho, this temple was a nice place to escape from the hustle and bustle. This temple is a tribute to two Gods (the God of Literature and the God of War) and it combines the three main Chinese traditions (Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism). It isn’t a particularly large temple, but it is still a decent size. There are huge coils of incense hanging from the ceiling, and I found it a very serene place to visit. You are permitted to take photos, provided you don’t use the flash or disturb those praying.

Disneyland: if you have kids, or if you are a big kid like me, you will probably be thinking about Disneyland. I didn’t go as it seemed too far out of the city for a visit, but I would definitely be going here next time I go to Hong Kong.

Ocean Park: Instead of going to Disneyland, my partner and I decided to do something different and go to Ocean Park. It was an amazing day and so much fun! Ocean Park is located a small distance out of Hong Kong city, right over a mountain. It is a family friendly amusement park with a small zoo and large aquarium on one side of the mountain, then rollercoasters and rides are located on the other side of the mountain. You need to take a cable car on the cliff face side of the mountain to get to the other side. Alternatively the train that goes straight through the mountain can also get you from one side to another. Another thing about Ocean Park is that it had one of the best rollercoasters I have ever been on – you are literally riding off the side of the cliff with the ocean down below! The zoo had cute pandas playing with one another, there was a toucan just casually sitting on a vendors cart, and there were about a million jellyfish and various sea life in the giant aquarium. I would definitely recommend anyone who goes to Hong Kong to go to this attraction!

Day trip to Deep Water Bay: If rollercoasters and aquariums arent your thing, you can still head out to Deep Water Bay, the bay that Ocean Park looks out on. It is considered a nice place to swim and it isn’t overcrowded with tour groups like some of the other Hong Kong bays and beaches, It is a really pretty area and you can just gaze at the expensive boats and yachts at the Yatch Club on Middle Island.

Shopping at Harbour City: The majority of goods in Hong Kong are tax free, so it is even more of a reason to go shopping! On our first day we went to Harbour City the largest mall in Hong Kong. The Habour City mall is actually a combination of smaller malls, which what has made it so big now. It has been designed so that there are four sections to Harbour City – Kids, Sports, Fashion, and Cosmetics & Beauty. There’s also lots of cafes and restaurants scattered throughout the mall, as well as a cinema and three hotels. Many stores are open until night time, and with the abundance of food and even places to sleep, you could really shop til you drop!

Ladies markets/floating markets: I never say no to markets, even if it is an over abundance of wallets, sunglasses, handbags and jewellery. The ladies markets (or also known as the floating markets) are still worth checking out, especially if you want to get souvenirs. I bought a cute Asian style dress for around $AU15.

Victoria Peak (The Peak): Hong Kong is surrounded by a large mountain, and this has been capitalised up on the top of a mountain that overlooks the city. It’s a fantastic view and you have to get this retro tram up to the top. The tram is on a 45 degree angle and it’s amazing it’s able to actually get up the hill! You will experience a perceptual illusion while riding this train… That the skyscrapers and tall buildings look like they are are “falling” towards the hill because of the step incline on the train up to the top. Half of the experience is taking this tram up to The Peak, so it’s definitely worth the nail biting 5-10 minute ride. The line to wait to actually get the tram can be a long wait, so I would recommend getting there early in the morning.

Once you are up there, you will see the Peak Tower. It’s a strange architectural piece, looking like a large bowl perched up on a stand. There’s plenty of nines to do inside this “bowl” including shops and restaurants. Apparently there are nature walks around The Peak, but we did not go on any.

You should also visit the viewing platform called The Sky Terrace 428. This 360 degree viewing platform is apparently 428 metres above sea level (hence the name). It is a fantastic view moving around from the stunning Hong Kong city skyline to the landscape greenery on the other side. It’s a great place for photo opportunities too, but it does get busy which makes getting a photo a little difficult!

Big Buddha: The Big Buddha or Tian Tan Buddha is a large bronze statue landmark on a hilltop. There are many steps leading up to this Buddha, as well as a Monestary and museum attached to this tourist attraction. It is a massive drive out of a drive out of the city – it is pretty much next to the Intermational Airport! There are many tours that can take you from your hotel to this attraction, but we chose not to see the Buddha this time round. I would definitely see it next time I go to Hong Kong as it’s one of the things Hong Kong is famous for.

Day trip to Macau: This is a really easy day trip, but there is a lot of information I would need to tell my readers, so I think it is best that this is saved for a separate post – stay tuned for this post!

There’s actually a lot more to do in Hong Kong than I originally thought, and I also have lots more to post about. So click here for the info on what to do in Hong Kong at night time.

Bye for now,

Vintage Barbie xoxo

All opinions in this post are my own. Unless otherwise stated, this post has not been sponsored and I have not been paid for this post

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Honkytonks Night Markets

Going to the markets was something I did quite often as a child. My mum and Grandma used to love going to the local markets on the weekends: there was the one of a kind jewellery, home cooked jams and relishes, unique artworks, cute knitted clothes and some random trash and treasure.

It was always fun going and checking out the markets with the family. However I think the treats like ice cream were probably the reason why I loved it so much!

I still love the markets, but now it’s a different kind of appreciation. I love seeing eutreprenuers establishing their business. Everyone starts somewhere and a lot of people start their business at the markets.

There are a few different markets in Canberra: the Old Bus Depot Markets every Sunday in Kingston, the Belconnen Trash and Treasure Markets also every Sunday, and Fash’n’Treasure Markets once a month out at EPIC.

Something that I have not seen in Canberra before is the Honkytonks Winter Night Markets. They were held on Wednesday 19 August, right in the centre of the city in Garema Place, in the marquee that usually holds the patrons of the bar.

The marquee had been extended for the night, tables and chairs had been removed, and lanterns were hung under the walkway. It was a cute and funky setup.

There were only small stalls and it was a tight squeeze trying to get around, but everyone was polite in manoeuvring around one another.

I had a quick wander around and a bit of a chat with different stall owners. I also found a few things to buy:

1. Resin Doll Collar Chain

Resin Doll was so cute and so very vintage. This stall had so many things I wanted to buy! I first saw the collar chains and decided I simply must buy them. The were also so many cute broaches like ice creams and cats. Then I saw the sunglasses adorned with jewels and diamontes. After speaking to the store owners, I found out that each pair of sunglasses are decorated by hand, and are all unique. I’ll definitely be buying more from this store!

2. Body Food Honey Soap

When something smells so delicious, it’s hard not to buy it. I am obsessed with delicious smelling body care goods, so it was definitely hard not to resist the goods on display! The owner said this was her first markets, and she was already sold out of her grapefruit scrub (which by the way, the tester asmelt devine, so it’s no wonder it sold out so quickly!)

3. Meraki Body

Another stall with delicious body products. The scrubs smelt so yummy, and the charcole face mask looked like it would work wonders on tired, dull skin. I found a strawberry lip scrub hiding away, and I decided that this is definitely something I should purchase. It was only $5, so I thought why not let my lips enjoy a nice tasty exfoliant?!

4. Pawscents Anxiety Calmer for Cats

Anyone who has met my cat knows that she is a tad crazy. I came across this stall just as I was leaving, and at first I just thought they were handmade candles. But after talking to the stall owners, I found out that the candles are for calming anxious cats and dogs. There are different types depending on your pet. Plus all the candles are uniquely designed with a cute cloth covering, just like old school homemade jams! I got a small Pawscent that can be used in an oil burner, and I’m curious to see if it calms down my crazy cat.

Although it was a quick visit to the markets, there were lots of stall with a variety of goods available. There were also records, vintage clothes, handmade jewellery, homewares, artwork, children’s goods and more. There was even a taco stall set up outside the entrance to Honkytonks. And of course, people could still go into Honkytonks to enjoy a drink.

I hope that these night markets run again as it was great to be able to do something fun and different on a weeknight, without it having to blow the budget.

Bye for now,

Vintage Barbie

All opinions in this post are my own. Unless otherwise stated, this post has not been sponsored and I have not been paid for this post

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To the Centre of Greece: Meteora and Kalambaka

This time last year I was travelling around Greece and at the start of my whirlwind European adventure. I honestly can’t believe that it’s been a year since I’ve travelled sound Europe. So much has happened since coming back to Australia: getting a great job in a community legal centre, my partner and I getting our first pet together, my sister moving in with us, plenty of weddings, hens nights and baby announcements, family reunions, going back to univeristy to become admitted as a solicitor, and of course – finally confirming my volunteer program in Cambodia for May next year.

But I still reminisce about the amazing time I had overseas. In particular, I remember deciding that I really wanted to go experience a part of a country that not many people see. I chose to do this through Greece.


After my amazing Busabout tour around the Greek Islands, I decided to head to Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. It is located at the top of Greece near the Macedonian border. But first I was going to stop and explore the mountains of Meteora in the middle of Greece.


Background and HistoryThe mountains of Meteora are quite different to the rest of the scenery in Greece. This area of Greece was originally under water millions of years ago. Long story short, after many many millenniums of geographical changes such as earthquakes and rain, these impressive rocks formed.One mountain in particular was given the name of Meteora. From memory this can be translated into “the in heavens” or “the middle of the sky”.

The religious significance of the mountains is evident with the Monestries that are scattered throughout this area. The oldest known inhabitants were the Hermits or Monks. The “hermit/monks” would isolate themselves high up along the side of the rocks. The hermits would use scaffolding wedges in holes alongside the cliff face so they could climb up. They would pray in solitude to reach “Christian perfection” as they believed high up in the mountains that they were closer to God.

 

The hermits would come out of their solitude to pray with other hermits on Sunday’s. This eventually lead to monestaries being built at the top of many rocks. Around 20 monestaries were built, but only 6 remain today.

Apparently a combination of earthquakes and war destroyed many of these monestaries and only a few remain. Some of these remaining monestaries include: The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoro, Holy Monastery of Varlaam, Holy Monastery of Rousanou, Holy Monastery of Saint Stephen, Holy Monastery of St Nicholas and the Holy Trinity Monastery. These are now protected by UNESCO.

Holy Monastery of Varlaam

The Monastery of Holy Trinity - one of six remain monasteries of Meteora, Greece

The Monastery of Holy Trinity

Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron - one of six remaining monasteries of Meteora, Greece

Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron

Monastery of Saint Stephen - one of six remaining monasteries of Meteora, Greece

Monastery of Saint Stephen

Did you know…

I like learning about the places I see and it’s always interesting to hear a bit of trivia from the places I’ve visited. From what I remember, the Monastery of the Holy Tronity was the backdrop in the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”.

A historical fact: Nazis attacked the Monastery of St Stephen as they believed it was hiding insurgents. It was abandoned for some time until nuns took over and refurbished the Monastery.

Another fun fact: Apparently the Holy Monastery of St Nicholas was the inspiration for Tomb Raider (the computer game).

And lastly: When the hermits/monks lived in the caves and the sides of cliffs, they still needed to transport goods such as food. They created “pully” systems made of ropes and buckets to get these items up and down the mountain cliffs.


Getting to Meteora

So now that you know a bit about this destination, if you’re wantihg to visit this place you’re probably wondering how to get there…

There are two ways for tourists to get from Athens to Thessaloniki: train or plane. There is a bus system, but this can be tricky – websites say avoid this if possible. You can also drive but it has been described as difficult in navigating Athens traffic. Apparently once you have survived Athens, then it is a breeze driving to Kalambaka and the surrounding sights.

I noticed you can catch a train frlm Athens to Kalambaka, then Kalambaka to Thessaloniki. There are trains that go straight to Thessaloniki, departing Athens, but as I had a few days I thought I could take it slow and stop at Kalambaka for a few days. 

Train to Meteora

I booked a train from Athens to Kalambaka and did this online. It is advisable to pre-book these trains during busy periods like holidays or on the weekends.

Now here is something that you need to know about booking but is not easy information to find: you can only book the train ticket a maximum of 10 days in advance. But you should definitely prebook if you need to be somewhere by a specific date.

It’s relatively cheap. I booked a first class seat for around 20 Euros.

When I got on the train I was reminded that Greece is a relatively poor country nowadays, and the “first class” cabin is not necessarily the first class seat that people may come to expect. It is not like the first class seats on TVG or other European rail companies. There were 6 seats in the one cabin. In my 6 person first class cabin there was an American couple, an older Greek man, a middle aged Greek lady and her 5 year old daughter. It was cosy but there was still enough space for everyone and all our luggage.

There were no “meals” included in this ticket but there was a food station in the train. There were mainly sandwiches, pastries and some drinks. No gluten free food, but I didn’t expect there to be.

I made sure I booked a seat by the window and was rewarded with some beautiful scenery. Kalambaka was the end of the line so it was fairly easy to figure out when to get off.

 

Taxis/cabs at Kalambaka

I ended up staying a little further away from the train station at the neighbouring town of Kastraki. Silly me and I did not know how to get a taxi or even how to ask for one in Greek! At first I started freaking out… I’ve heard so many stories about what happens to young females travelling by themselves… But eventually I asked someone in English if they knew where I could get a cab and much to my surprise everyone was very helpful.

Accommodation


I found a hotel on booking.com and I wasn’t too concerned with having too many luxuries – I just wanted somewhere quiet and relaxing after my Busabout tour. I booked 2 nights so I could leisurely take the train from Athens to Thessaloniki, stopping at Kalambaka. It also meant that I had a full day to explore the mountains and Monestries that Kalambaka is famous for.

I booked Hotel Tsikeli thinking it was in the centre of Kalambaka and hence close to Meteora. Turns out that whilst I wasn’t staying in the heart of Kalambaka, I was definitely close to the mountains of Meteora. I was actually amazed at how close the mountains were to the hotel!

It is a fairly old hotel, with the standard small European bathroom. There was a queen bed, dresser, mirror and TV. There were plenty of power sockets for charging all my devices.

Breakfast was included and this was a typical European hotel breakfast: toast, boiled eggs, ham, crossoints, filtered coffee and orange juice.

The breakfast room runs into the lush green courtyard that looks straight up to some of the mountains. It was beautiful sitting in the warm summer sun, skyping back home, writing some blog posts… It was very relaxing!

I believe the hotel is a family run business and they were all so welcoming. It felt like I was staying at a relatives house. I would definitely recommend this play purely based on the warm welcome I experienced throughout my stay.

Local Town

Kastraki is the local town I stayed in and it has a small town feel to it. It is cute and lined with small local businesses. The owners of the businesses appear to live on the storey above and display plenty of colourful flowers which really brighten up the streets.

There is a small mini-mart grocery store with fruits, milk, some deli meets and pantry items. I went here to purchase some “supplies” like snack foods and water.

There was also a little bakehouse down the road which also had deli meets and plenty of delicious smelling bread. I don’t think they had any gluten free bread, but there were plenty of delicious looking treats here!

Food

When I went for a wander down the local town I found this gorgeous little family run business. I definitely wanted to try some traditional Greek food, so I decided to stop in an have a nice meal.

There was a local tavern down the road. I often forget that Greeks like many Europeans, have dinner quite late at night, often around 10 to 11pm. It would be very obvious that I was a tourist when I ordered dinner at 6:30/7pm! (I’m sure my bleach blonde hair would have given it away first).

They were still quite welcoming and happy to accommodate me. They spoke little English but we managed. I guess you can always point to a menu an say the basic please or thank you in the local language!

Lunch

I stopped by this random tavern/restaurant when I was walking along the main road leading up to Meteora. I think it might be called Meteora something… Sorry I can’t be more specific! But it was a cute little placed that seated me quickly and provided me with a delicious lunch.

The only thing was that there were stray kittens everywhere. Not cute ones though – skinny cats and some missing bits of fur. It made me feel really sad.

Sunset Tour

I had read a bit about the mountains, monasteries and tours. I had also seen the pictures and how pretty the scenery was. I decided that it would be good to go along for a tour and ge some local history on the area. I booked a tour through the Visit Meteora website. This website has plenty of information and is the best place to start when researching Meteora as a travel destination. 

I decided that this would be a good idea because I could do my own thing during the day. Then, at the best time for photos, someone would be driving me around and giving me a commentary on the impressive natural wonders.

 

The tour is a total of 4 hours, starting at 4.30pm in summer. It was 35 Euros which I thought was reasonable considering the time of the tour and the distance covered. Plus I was willing to part with that money for the experience.

It was definitely worth the money. It was a small group of seven people from memory, plus the driver and the tour leader. The bus was fairly new, comfortable and air conditioned which was very nice considering it was a hot summers day!

We got to stop for plenty of photo opportunities – I just wish I had my DSLR on me for these photos.

The tour leader was knowledgeable, friendly and made a few jokes here and there. I made sure that I gave the tour leader and driver a generous tip as well, as it was a truly a great experience that I would recommend to anyone travelling through Greece.

Back from being MIA

It’s been a crazy fortnight for me.

I quit my full time job at a law firm, had my boyfriends birthday, almost completely unpacked after moving house, and started my massive Europe trip. So I literally have not had a chance to write a blog post. I didn’t want to be one of those bloggers who goes missing in action and doesn’t post for ages…

But when travelling with a jam packed to-do list of activities, and a lack of internet connection, this is bound to happen!

I finished my tour with Busabout yesterday, and I could barely connect to the internet on the Greek Islands, or in my places of accommodation. It was so frustrating because I couldn’t Skype or even message my boyfriend back home. Or my family, or my friends. But I did manage to get a few Instagram pics in though 😉

So now that I have good internet connection, and I have a few days to relax, I will do some updates on the blog.

Stay tuned for some stories and pictures of my epic Europe adventure!

2 weeks until my Europe Adventure begins…

I’m a little bit all over the place with life right now. We just moved from our tiny two bedroom apartment to our new home, which is like a mansion compared to our old place! I’ve been busy all weekend working as usual, but I also had to unpack our belongings into our new home as well.

It’s making me feel a little stressed… I need to unpack as much as I can so I can pack for Europe. It’s making me anxious and worried about forgetting things. I’m very excited about my trip, and so happy about my new home, but with everything happening at once, it’s making me nervous and anxious.

There’s so many things I need to do over the next fortnight:

  1. Go to an Intimo party at my friends house tomorrow
  2. Getting my hair done Wednesday (bye bye barbie blonde…)
  3. Got a work meeting on Thursday night.
  4. Working Friday night.
  5. Hens weekend in the Hunter Valley from Saturday till Monday.
  6. My work farewell next Wednesday.
  7. Tristan’s birthday is Thursday week so I’ve got plans for that.
  8. Working Saturday, then possible a catch up dinner with friends before I leave.

Then it’s off to Sydney on the Sunday before flying out on Monday night.

And in between all of that I need to unpack and organise our house, and pack for Europe. EEEEEEK! I’m starting to stress a bit. So I’m creating checklist and to do lists and the like to get me organised and stop me from stressing out about everything… I’ll post a checklist on here this week so you guys can see how I prepare for a trip. 🙂

In the meantime I’m thinking that I should have a bubble bath in my new bathroom tonight…

Until next time

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