top 5 unexpected travel gems

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With the New Year almost a week in, we are back to regular blogging again. We had a festive/silly season break and it feels good to be back.

Towards the end of last year, we wrote a piece about our most disappointing travel sites and to introduce this year, we are sharing our top 5 unexpected travel highlights – places which we fell in love but hadn’t expected to.

In a world where information is so readily at our fingertips and the internet can reveal so much about a place – we avoid “researching” too much into a place we want to visit. We look for inspiration, we read about safety and basic introductory information, but we don’t read or look at everything we can about the place because we find that creates expectation and takes away some of the “unknown”. We tend to like the element of surprise.  And these are our top 5 unexpected travel gems.

(5) Pingyao

Enter through the gates of Pingyao and we were transported back to centuries ago. There are no cars inside, it is all pedestrian and bicycles.  Chinese history is oozing out of the walls and rooftops of this city and we LOVED it. It was our most favourite city during our time in China. As we walk along the alleyways and admire the well-preserved architecture, the only giveaway that we are in the 21st Century are the tourist shops.


(4) Lyon

Before arriving in Lyon, we did little research as we were using it more as a stopover before we headed into Switzerland, not expecting to be so blown away by it. The history and its Roman past had us fascinated for hours. We have written only about a couple of the places we visited in Lyon; the Museum of Miniatures and Cinema and the street murals. There is so much there to see and still more we are yet to share about our time in Lyon. Do yourself a favour and add it to your list for next time you are in France.


(3) Pergamum

When it comes to anything history, we love it! Visiting ancient ruins is one of our favourite things to do when travelling. Whilst travelling through Turkey, there are a LOT of ancient ruins to the point of possibly being fatigued by them. But there is no fatigue when it comes to riding a cable car and then exploring the ruins of Pergamum. The views from the top are just unbelievable across the countryside. What we found to be the biggest treat was walking amongst the columns and stones and remnants of life from thousands of years ago.


(2) Tasmania

Often left off maps and forgotten as belonging to Australia, it is one of the places in the world where we want to come back to as soon as we have left. There is just something about it that makes us just want more. There is delicious, fresh local food! There is jaw-dropping stunning scenery. There is an abundance of wildlife and there is a touch of history. Whoever comes to Australia and doesn’t put Tassie on their list is crazy!!


(1) Weliczka Salt Mines

Hands up if you thought “salt mines? – how special can they be?” We knew they were UNESCO Heritage, we knew they were important and a must-see. We knew about the history behind it but we were NOT by any means expecting to see what we saw. Climbing into a 3-storey shaft lift was only the beginning of one of THE MOST incredible places we have visited. An underground city, quite literally, that was carved out of salt.


We love having these surprises so we try not to look at too many photos of a place just before we visit!

Now it’s your turn! We would love to hear about places that you didn’t expect to be so AWESOME 🙂



introducing sheffield: town of murals

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We stayed in Sheffield while in Tasmania and used it as our base to visit Cradle Mountain National Park.

It can definitely be described as an open-air art gallery. There are murals painted everywhere and the artwork is simply spectacular.

No words are needed to describe this quaint and pretty town! We will let the photos of the murals canvasing the  streets do the talking. Hope you enjoy our photo essay.

(Photos taken by wisemonkeysabroad.com)

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mrs wisemonkey reviews: museum of old and new art

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Okay – I’m just going to come right out and say it. I did not like MONA, so bite me! I imagine that there are many people out there who would be mortified by me saying this. In fact, MONA came very highly recommended by most people when they found out we were visiting Hobart, so I might be upsetting some by writing this.

Entering into MONA
MONA: Museum of old and new art

MONA stands for Museum of Old and New Art. To be honest, I didn’t see any old art, or maybe I just chose to whizz through the entire place because I felt a little overwhelmed by it all. It appeared to be new art which my mind is simply not geared to understand or appreciate. I had no idea what to expect before visiting and let’s just say, I left still not knowing what to feel. Should I feel like I have no culture because I just don’t get it?! Or do I just wish I was born several eras earlier?

More artwork
Modern art?

I won’t deny that some of the exhibits were intriguing and others quite unusual, but in a good way. I would have to say my favourite was the taxidermy piece of art. The intricate level of suspending every little dragonfly, fly and bee simply amazed me!

The possum taxidermy
Notice the bees on the possum…
Look at the insects on the dragonfly
Look at the insects on the dragonfly

There was one particular section where the exhibits were dark and macabre. There were joints and brains floating in a giant head, there was a maze room that was dark and unsettling and when you followed it around, you got to a tiny room with a mirror at the top, there was a large theatre room with a giant screen displaying lines and lines and lines of numbers with screeching loud static noise. I couldn’t spend too much time there, it was beginning to make me feel claustrophobic. Come to think of it, it would be a perfect set for a horror/thriller movie: sound & lighting sorted!

But the piece that stirred up the most conversation was what we termed the “Poo Machine” which is part of the “Evolving Exhibition”. It is exactly that… it’s a machine built to resemble our digestive system. Built with glass cavities and enzymes included all to mimic the cycle of eating and then defecating. It is fed routinely through the day at one opening (i.e. the mouth) and by 2 pm each day, excrement would be voided at the other end. Let’s just say, the room smells awful!

So I can’t complain that the experience wasn’t memorable. I just won’t be raving onwards to everybody else I meet who is visiting Tasmania. Sometimes I wish people wouldn’t talk things up so much so that it sets an expectation.

Anyway, in all fairness, I didn’t use the cool iPod touch guide device thingy that they give you to explain the artwork. I may just have appreciated the art more if I had taken the time to learn about them.

I understand MONA brings in a lot of tourism to Tasmania. So that’s fantastic for them! At least now, I can say that I have been. There is no rule that says I have to like every place in the world I visit.

MONA is located about 15 minute drive outside of Hobart City Centre. There is parking available however limited, so get there early. Actually get there early regardless because when those ferry loads of people arrive, it gets pretty crowded! Adult admissions are $20 and children under 18 are free. 

berry picking in tasmania

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Today, we ate some delicious raspberries that we had bought on the weekend from the local supermarket and it made us think of berry picking in Tasmania.

In Tasmania, there are a few farms that you can stop at to pick your own fruit.

We stopped at two; Sorrell Fruit Farm and Hillwood Berry Farm. Both slightly different in their approach to fruit picking.

(1) Sorrell Fruit Farm

It is only about 20 minutes north east of Hobart. To our surprise, when we arrived, there was an entrance fee. We had visited back in 2008 and we were able to wander through free of charge. And were only charged if you picked any fruit.

Now, the price is $13.50 per adult and $6.00 per child, that includes the punnet of fruit that you pick. It was a shame that the price was set regardless of whether you were picking fruit or just photographing. That made it a little tricky for us as we were hoping to take some more photos for the blog. We thought it was a little expensive to pay $27 for both of us just to walk through so we waited outside.  Imagine paying for all 12 of us to go through, we would’ve ended up with a lot of fruit. But we can understand from a business perspective where they were coming from so absolutely no criticism or complaints in our eyes.

We sent in the kids more for their experience with 2 adults and away they went. The loot was everything from raspberries, cherries, loganberries to tayberries. Other than raspberries and strawberries, we have never tried any of the other types of berries on offer.

Sorrell Fruit Farm = list of all their fruits you can pick, if in season.
Sorrell Fruit Farm = list of all their fruits you can pick, if in season.

(2) Hillwood Berry Farm

Halfway into the trip, we visited Hillwood Berry Farm from Launceston. This was about a 20-minute drive north.

The approach these guys took was slightly different. They charged by the kilogram depending on how much fruit you actually picked. There was also plenty of play equipment for children to keep themselves busy while the adults went fruit picking.

We ended up with 5 punnets between us filled with strawberries and MORE raspberries. Strawberries are quite easy to spot and pick in the fields. However raspberries are so much more delicate and harder to find. Raspberries and squish quite easily between your fingers as you pick them.

The strawberries were priced at approximately $10 per kg while raspberries at approximately $20 per kg.

Strawberry fields - if you look really closely, you will see strawberries.
Strawberry fields – if you look really closely, you will see strawberries.

We have never eaten so many berries in our lives as we did in those 10 days in Tasmania. They were just so scrumptious and juicy and fresh! It certainly gave us a greater appreciation of the cost of fruit: from the work of the farmer through to the picking and packaging of the fruit. It also made us realise how fresh fruit don’t keep well so how do the supermarkets do it?!

Berries, berries and more berries
Berries, berries and more berries