Barcelona is the city that forever has my heart. I have so many stories and so many ideas for future blog posts about that special place but for today’s post we’re going on a virtual trip to this Mediterranean gem of a city to explore some of the architectural details that make it so unbelievably beautiful. Walking through the different parts of Barcelona such as El Born, Eixample and Gracia, you see a myriad of stunning doors, windows, balconies, roofs and facade details. If I had all the time in the world and I could stand and appreciate each apartment block in the city, I’d walk away very happy.
Dream Mansions in Brighton
There is a seaside suburb in Melbourne by the name of Brighton and it’s the place dreams are made of. Those lucky enough to call Brighton home have the beach on their doorstep and have pulled out all stops to make their homes feel welcoming and reflect their personalities. From the wide open tennis courts, to the exquisite gardens, unique architectural additions and just the right balance of colour and materiality, the residents of Brighton are truly living the life of luxury.
Here are my favourite homes snapped up on my walk in this ultra chic and exclusive suburb that has stolen my heart. A girl can only dream, right?
Journey from Holland to Belgium
Here we are at the last post in my series of European cities I visited solo during my student exchange days. I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about my time of great independence and highly adventurous spirit immensely. Today, I’m taking you back to February 2009, when I was travelling into The Hague from Amsterdam and then continuing my trip across the border into Belgium.
When I arrived by train into The Hague, this small Dutch city was just waking up. I asked for directions to find my hostel in the seaside resort of Scheveningen and decided to walk there. The streets were so empty and it was really cold, but there was something so appealing to me about walking in an unknown city I’d never been to before. I didn’t even have a map so I just observed how the tram carried on in the distance and followed its lead. The reason I decided to go the The Hague was because I had been deprived of seeing the beach for a long few months living in landlocked Germany. There were plenty of lakes and rivers around me but for any true blue Australian, nothing beats the beach.
I checked into my hostel and what do you know, an Australian expat was working there! He helped me find my room and offered lots of helpful advice, one of which was how to ride their trams so I wouldn’t have to walk back and forth between Scheveningen and The Hague! Within a few minutes I rushed to the beach down the road and it was such a great feeling to hear the waves crashing in and smell the salty air. I didn’t take my shoes off because it was freezing cold, but the sand was fine and soft as it passed through my fingers. I spent only one night in that cosy hostel by the sea and only half a day exploring the sights of The Hague, but that was more than enough time to get a feel for beautiful, serene Holland.
The next morning I journeyed into Brussels by train. This capital of Belgium immediately captivated me with its charming streets, picturesque squares and quirky shops. Brussels is a bilingual city where both Dutch and French are spoken and street names appear in both languages. Without any trouble I located my hotel and stepped out to explore. My first stop was the main square, known as Grand Place, where I started to feel like I stepped into a fairytale. Each building facade was so beautifully decorated with gold trimmings and embellishments that it made me so happy just to stand in the centre of the square and admire all four sides of the buildings surrounding me. The shopping arcades nearby all had a distinct European flavour, and the chocolate shops dotted all around the city were just heavenly. I took the 2-day Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour around all the major attractions in the city, making it super simple to explore and very convenient for a young tourist who didn’t do her research on public transport options in the city!
One of the other main tourist attractions in Brussels is the “Manneken Pis” otherwise known as the pissing boy! All the tourists and I were armed with our cameras, which were directed at this tiny sculpture in the corner of a road intersection. It’s just so funny to think about it. He was actually being undressed from a Valentine’s Day costume when I was there!
All in all, I spent five days exploring three different European gems (Amsterdam blog post here), each with their own languages, architecture and traditions. Even though it was a short trip in duration, it was a rich and eventful journey I will never forget because it convinced me that a young and inexperienced solo traveller can do anything she sets her mind to, especially when she’s miles from home.
In Love With Amsterdam
After completing the study semester at the FH Mainz back in February 2009, the 19-year-old traveller in me was finally free to explore Europe at my own leisure. Assessments and tests that had weighed me down for the past 5 months were now behind me and I was finally able to sightsee, discover and satisfy my wanderlust with a greater peace of mind. My final journey before returning home to Melbourne took me to three cities in the span of 5 days! I was so eager to mark more countries off my list that I travelled to both The Netherlands and Belgium that winter.
Amsterdam was my first stop after a train ride in from Germany. I booked myself a very cheap hostel not far from the city centre. After a short tram trip, I dragged my suitcase up a flight of very steep stairs in an old hostel building that was strongly infused with the smell of cannabis. Wherever I have lived thereafter, I could so easily distinguish this smell from the first instance, like an airport sniffer dog! Needless to say, my accommodation wasn’t anything fancy but at least there was a roof over my head. I was only in town for one night and almost immediately after checking-in, I was out of there to explore Amsterdam in all its glory.
Everywhere I looked there were bikes and cyclists! Amsterdam was cold and at one point there was even some snow falling, but I just simply wandered the streets crossing endless bridges over the Amstel River and gazing up at the beautiful architectural style that is synonymous with Dutch living. The local people spoke English so well that I found it so easy to ask for directions and order food. Having had to remind myself that I was in a foreign country, I felt so comfortable as an international tourist in this clean, vibrant city.
As the night fell and it got dark by around 5pm, Amsterdam became a magical place with illuminated bridges and lane-ways. During my short stay in the capital of The Netherlands, I didn’t get to enter the famous Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandt’s famous paintings, nor did I visit the Van Gogh Museum or Anne Frank’s House, but I did tick off trying Dutch pancakes, buying cute clogs to take home as a memento and weaving in and among the millions of cyclists that call Amsterdam home.
“The Sound of Music” in Salzburg
The story of the 19-year-old adventurer in me continues in Salzburg, Austria. Back in 2008, I travelled to this peaceful city for a day-trip from Munich, which is where I was staying for two nights. I had a map marked with all the places I should see and only a few hours in which to see it all. Walking around the whole city was super simple. The only problem was the freezing cold wind (it was only mid-November) and I was under-prepared for such conditions. Luckily, there were plenty of indoor attractions to keep me warm.
One of these was the Mozart Birth House (Mozarts Geburtshaus), a must-visit museum for a unique perspective of the great composer’s life. Indeed, everywhere one goes in Salzburg one is reminded of Mozart and the legacy he leaves behind. Other interior places to experience are some of Salzburg’s beautiful churches and a trip to this Austrian city would be incomplete without walking along the gorgeous shopping street of Getreidegasse. Here antique decorative shop signs adorn the street and make the shopping experience extra special.
When one thinks of the Austrian city of Salzburg, it’s hard not to immediately burst into song! Back in the year 1965, Salzburg’s beautiful streets and vistas became the backdrop of the highly-popular film, The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. This wonderful film is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and it’s so unbelievable. Generation after generation have grown up with this film, which is based on the true story of Maria von Trapp. It’s a family classic at my home and for all lovers of music, it’s a definite must-see. Just thinking of Julie Andrews singing the opening song “The Hills are Alive” against the majestic Alps gives me goosebumps!
Since I’m a massive fan of this film, it was so fun to stroll around Salzburg and see where they filmed some of their most memorable scenes. There are plenty of tours available that can take you to some filming locations outside the city, including the famous Gazebo scenes and the final wedding scene. Here are some places I recognised from the film and are all located within Salzburg itself:
Mozart Bridge (Mozartsteg)
Horse Fountain (Pferdeschwemme)
The Vine Tunnel at Mirabell Gardens
Mirabell Gardens – Famous scene of Do Re Mi
In the darkest of nights, I made my way through a now illuminated Salzburg, back to the main train station and caught the next train across the border to Germany. It was one of the best day trips I’ve ever done and certainly a very memorable one.
Anyone that’s ever visited the capital of the Czech Republic knows that Prague is sure to leave its mark on you in some way or another. The city is filled with beautiful squares, striking building façades, breathtaking views and enchanting vistas.
I first came across Prague when watching the film Chasing Liberty (2004) starring Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode. The plot centres around the US president’s daughter as she decides to run from the Secret Service agents that monitor her every move in order to feel a sense of freedom and explore Europe without their constant protection. Long story short, she bumps into a man on a motorcycle in Prague, they fall in love and go on a journey through Venice, Austria and Berlin, without her knowing that he is actually employed by her father as an agent. It’s a cheesy romantic comedy but with lots of stunning European scenes. After seeing Prague as the backdrop in this film I felt a very strong desire to go there some day and experience the Bohemian capital for myself.
When I travelled to Mainz in September 2008 for my university exchange program, I knew that I had to put Prague on the top of my list of must-see European cities. Within two weeks of settling down in picturesque Mainz, I entered a travel agency in the city-centre to enquire about travelling abroad. Perhaps the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done is booking a ticket for an 8-hour overnight bus to Prague from Frankfurt departing the next day! Luckily for me we had acquaintances living in the Czech Republic that I could stay with. Nothing was going to stop me from squeezing in this trip before study would commence in October, as I knew that my course would take up a lot of my time.
So on a cold, dark autumn night I boarded the train from Mainz to Frankfurt and awaited the bus to Prague to depart at 10:45 pm. My memory of the trip is a bit hazy, as I was in and out of sleep, but I do remember the driver letting us out of the bus for a quick bathroom break at a petrol station somewhere in Germany. It was freezing cold and we were all happy to be back on that warm bus once again!
As dawn broke over the Bohemian capital, the bus arrived at Florenc Station and I had butterflies in my stomach, having never felt so uncertain in my whole life. I’d like to point out that this was the very first time (apart from my solo journey into Mainz from London on board 3 different trains!) I had ever gone on a holiday all by myself in a foreign country. Excluding Mainz, which would later become my home away from home, Prague was a really BIG deal for me as I was out of my comfort zone on so many levels. Even til this day I think it’s the bravest trip I’ve ever completed.
The city was only just starting to wake up. I took the metro a couple stops and disembarked near the main square. Dragging my suitcase along the old cobblestone path and making a heck of a lot of noise, I ended up in Prague’s empty Old Town Square. I was beaming with happiness and even though I still had the difficult task of finding my accommodation in a town miles away, nothing could stop me from smiling. I made it to the iconic Charles Bridge, usually filled with artists, musicians and entertainers with crowds and pick-pockets also a common occurrence. Upon seeing the view of Prague Castle (the largest ancient castle in the world) before my very eyes, I remember very vividly laughing out loud and whispering to myself “I’m here, I’m in Prague!!”. The bridge was deserted at that time of morning, making the moment just that extra bit special for me.
The research I did on the internet prior to travelling informed me that to reach the home of our family friends, I would have to catch a train from Praha Masarykovo nádraží Station. This proved a difficult task for a tired and hungry 19-year-old adventurer who was by then running solely on adrenaline. I ventured into a fancy hotel where the kindest lady printed out a map for me and pointed me in the right direction. Next thing I knew, I was on board the right train heading towards my home for the next 5 nights. I disembarked at Úvaly in central Bohemia.
With a hand-drawn map of the small town and the address I needed to find, I had absolutely no idea where to start. This was at a time prior to GPS tracking on iPhones I might add! After about 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering around the town, I located a name on a gate that sounded like what my dad told me to look out for, so I buzzed it. A second later, a lady appeared in the second-storey window of the building and started yelling something in my direction. I was so scared that maybe I’m in the wrong place but decided to tell her my name and the name of the woman I’m looking for. She nodded and granted me access to their property!
I wasn’t going to waste a single second and after a quick lunch and a short round of getting-to-know-each-other-better questions, I headed back for Prague. By this time I was already much more confident in my abilities to navigate myself to and from the capital and could now explore in a more relaxed way.
Prague is such a timeless city filled with many beautiful vistas of the Vltava River and countless bridges that cross it. Fragments of history are on every single building façade, monument, fountain and sculpture wherever you look. I must admit, I didn’t read a great deal about Prague before my spontaneous trip. I wanted to learn about it as I went and to be surprised by what I discovered. This had both its advantages and disadvantages. If I could do the trip all over again, I would patiently queue up for a visit to St. Vitus Cathedral, explore the Jewish Quarter more thoroughly, enter a few more notable buildings and try some authentic Czech food. As a young and inexperienced traveller, I only took inspiration from the exteriors of buildings, ate home-made sandwiches or store bought snacks and walked from morning to evening, never setting foot on any iconic Bohemian trams.
Enchanting Prague dazzled me from beginning to end. I walked up and across Charles Bridge to Lesser Town and up the winding roads for breathtaking views of the city from near the Castle. I marvelled at marionnettes and handmade glass in souvenir shops, felt the grandeur of some of the most striking national buildings and enjoyed river views second to none. Wandering the intricate lanes of the Old Town was my favourite activity and admiring the beautifully decorated façades of buildings that looked like they came straight out of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), made my days so much more enjoyable. I found the Czech people to be friendly, helpful and kind and their city mesmerising, magical and full of unforgettable memories. It was the jewel of Eastern Europe to me.
The journey back to Frankfurt was quite uneventful. I remember shopping in a large shopping centre during the evening, before taking the metro to Florenc Bus Station and awaiting my Eurolines Bus. I strongly remember how customs personnel boarded our bus, took everyone’s passports, left all of us sleepy passengers for about 15 minutes and then returned all our documents. I was so worried that something were to happen to my passport or that I would be given someone else’s back but thankfully not! I got back to Mainz by about 7am and spent the rest of the time convincing myself that it wasn’t all a complete dream. Prague is the land of fairy tales after all.
My Love for Barcelona
Followers of this blog will know that I have a deep and meaningful connection with the capital city of Catalonia. There was something so special about being in Barcelona that both times I visited the vibrant and lively city, I felt at home so naturally. My fascination for Barcelona has already been covered briefly in previous posts but this time I wanted to delve further under the skin of the city that has given me so much happiness.
I don’t have a single bad thing to say about the locals of Barcelona. Most of the time people were friendly, helpful and polite. An old man spoke to us as we rode up to ground level with all our suitcases from a Metro stop at La Rambla. He was so curious to find out about where we came from, what our story was and where we were heading. Although he started off by speaking Catalan to us initially, he quickly switched to English the moment we said we don’t understand him. We were pleasantly surprised! At the end he said “bye bye” and went on with his day. This moment in the lift always makes me smile because just when we least expected to chat to someone, there was a man of 75 – 85 years talking to us extremely well in English.
Catalans appreciated when we put in the effort to at least speak in Spanish but most of the time when our Spanish reached its limit, people could easily speak in English.
As an interior design professional I’m also deeply connected to architecture and the beauty of buildings, both old and new. Barcelona is without a doubt heaven-on-earth where architecture is concerned. On every street corner something suddenly surprised me with its simplicity, intensity and overall effectiveness. I was always left wanting more.
Yes, Barcelona is my all-time-favourite city in Europe and this post is an ode to some of the hidden street corners, tourist attractions and locals that inhabit it.
Residences of London
One year ago today I landed back home in Melbourne. I was thrilled to be back but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss London. The UK was my home away from home for 23 months and I strongly believe that any city you call home for longer than a month is likely to be hard to forget and easily heart-warming to reminisce about. London and I became very good friends. I enjoyed my short train rides into the city from my apartment and loved many different aspects of my life there. In this blog post I wanted to showcase London’s residential architectural styles in various areas like Belgravia, Chelsea, Kensington and more. Each area was so unique and different from one another and I loved that about London. I was proud to call London home and hope to return some day soon and live in one of these beautiful buildings right in the centre of the city.
One of my favourite places in Melbourne is the beautiful area known as the Docklands. To be completed in 2020, this waterfront paradise is filled with many exciting shops (known as Harbour Town), interesting sculptural public art, fine dining restaurants, extremely modern architecture and beautiful views of the city.
A trip to the Docklands would be incomplete without seeing the recently constructed Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. This giant engineering masterpiece definitely has some resemblance to the London Eye, but it is smaller in size and with less carriages. Everything one desires can be found in the nearby Costco and if you prefer somewhere a little bit more peaceful you can take a walk down to the water and see statues of Kylie Minogue and Dame Edna among others, and see our take on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame featuring Australian entertainers. The mosaic of Aussie personalities is really amazing.
Tourists and visitors to Melbourne’s Docklands will not be disappointed. The best part is that you can catch the free City Circle Tram right into the heart of the Docklands and explore the area on foot from there!
One word can be used to summarise this past weekend…markets. On Saturday I visited The Big Design Market in the Melbourne CBD and on Sunday we exhibited at a market of a similar name, The Fine Design Market in Doncaster (see blog post here). Overall the quality of both markets was outstanding and I can honestly say that the Australian design scene is right up there alongside British artisans and designers. The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton was a beautiful backdrop for the event and although it felt like a million people were inside the space and all coming at you with tremendous enthusiasm and a willingess to hunt down that perfect designer Christmas gift, I still had a wonderful time.
Afterwards there wasn’t too much time to wander the streets of my beloved city as I had to prepare for Sunday’s market but I did manage to snap a few introductory photographs on my way to the train station.
Melbourne is certainly a great place to be over the festive season. I’ll be sure to blog about it in more detail in the future so stay tuned for that 🙂
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