lady elliot island, queensland, australia, diving, birds, wildlife, underwater
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Swimming with turtles

Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia It’s one thing to see turtles hatching and laying their eggs, as I did at the Mon Repos Turtle Rookery on the Queensland coast near Bundaberg. It’s a completely different experience to actually swim with them. Imagine snorkelling along and then suddenly finding yourself surrounded by at least a dozen of the animals, just floating and chilling and enjoying the water like you. That’s pretty much what happened.Let’s go back a step, though, and set the scene. I am basically in the middle of nowhere – on a small crop of land called Lady Elliot Island. It is the southernmost point of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is only 40 hectares large – about the size of the land the country’s Parliament House is on in Canberra. And it’s not even an island in the traditional sense. It’s actually a collection of bird poo and other...

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13 February
Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia, hiking, world heritage site
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A home among the gumtrees

I've been around the world A couple of times or maybe more I've seen the sights, I've had delights On every foreign shore But when my mates all ask me The place that I adore I tell them right away Give me a home among the gumtrees With lots of plum trees A sheep or two, a k-kangaroo A clothesline out the back Verandah out the front And an old rocking chair …Give Me a Home Among the Gumtrees, 1974The Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia Can you believe it’s almost three years since I started this travel blog and, in that whole time, I have never written about any travel within my own country of Australia? Perhaps it’s always the way… you know, you think you can do it when you’re older and that now is the time to see the world while you’re active and adventurous.It’s a silly attitude for two reasons. Firstly, you may remember my story about the world’s oldest backpacker. John...

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04 February
riechenau island, germany, lake constance, world heritage site
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Why is Reichenau Island so important?

Reichenau Island, Germany At Lake Constance, four countries meet. The vast stretch of water borders Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, while Liechtenstein is just 30 kilometres away by road. France and Italy are also just short drives away. This is the confluence of Central Europe.In this lake, with its ferries and yachts and watersports, is a small island called Reichenau. More than a thousand years ago, it used its location and its talent to influence art and architecture across the continent. Although it’s located in present day Germany, it emerged at a time when borders seemed fluid.A monastery built on Reichenau Island in 724 – and churches built between the 9th and 11th centuries – were some of the first examples of medieval religious architecture in this part of the world. The wall paintings inside these structures also gave inspiration to artisans in the surrounding countries.What is on Reichenau Island? When I pop...

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21 November
hadrian's villa, tivoli, villa adriana, italy, world heritage site
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The old villa ruins of Tivoli

Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, ItalyEarlier this week I wrote about Villa d’Este in the Italian city of Tivoli. Well, today I want to tell you about another villa in the city. A very different one.Like Villa d’Este, this one is a masterpiece, a World Heritage Site, and an easy day trip from Rome. But they don’t look the same at all. This one is in ruins.I’m talking about Hadrian’s Villa, on the outskirts of Tivoli. It was here that the great Roman Emperor Hadrian built his retreat from the bustle of Roman life in the second century. He built it so well that he decided he liked it more than his official residence and ruled the empire from here in his later years.The compound is huge, stretching out for at least one square kilometre. Pools, libraries, temples, palaces… it has it all. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people could comfortably have...

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15 November
villa d'este, tivoli, italy, world heritage site
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Tivoli’s masterpiece

Villa d'Este, Tivoli It’s not too hard to imagine what kind of man Ippolito II d’Este would have been. Born into a wealthy and influential Italian family in 1509, he was a lover of the finest things. Although he was made Archbishop of Milan when he was nine years old (the title was hereditary then), he saw the church as an instrument to be used to gain even more power. Vows of celibacy weren’t his thing. He would bring in musicians, prostitutes, feasts and wine to impress the people who needed impressing.When he was made the governor of Tivoli, he arrived in the town about 20 kilometres from Rome and did not like the look of the home that had been assigned to him. And so, in the style appropriate for someone who kept peacocks as pets, he decided to build a new and much grander residence.Nobody argued at the time...

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11 November
amsterdam defence line, pampus island, netherlands
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Defending Amsterdam with water

The Defence Line of Amsterdam To protect themselves from attack over the years, humans have shown an impressive level of inventiveness. We’ve used mountains, moats, walls, spikes, rocks… and more. But only the Dutch learned to control the movement of water and use that for their fortifications.In the lead-up to the First World War, nobody knew they were in the lead-up to the First World War. That’s kind of the way these things go. But, nonetheless, the Dutch were working hard to protect their capital Amsterdam from any possible threat within Europe. Without the benefits of mountains to build castles on or grand rivers to provide a natural barrier, they looked to what they had – which turned out to essentially be a lot of swampland.For centuries the Dutch had used a clever system of dykes, canals and hydraulics to clear the swampland and create space that could be used for...

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15 October