Norway: To the top of the world

This was published by Traveloscopy in June 2018

June 11, 2018

Norway: To the top of the world

Len Rutledge heads about as far North as you can go.

Norway is a big country. Oslo, the capital is in the south. Alta, where we are heading is over 1700 kilometres to the north. Fortunately, there is a direct flight. At the airport, we rent a car and head out to explore an area that is radically different to anything in Australia.

Alta

People have lived here for more than 10,000 years. The major site of interest is the Alta Museum. There is an excellent indoor exhibition explaining the local rock art and giving a broader introduction to Finnmark’s prehistory. The exhibition also teaches us that in the Sámi (Laplander) religion, nature was regarded as possessing a soul and being alive.

Alta Museum is linked by a boardwalk to a UNESCO World Heritage Rock Carving site where there is a series of carvings from up to 7,000 years ago. These are extensive and took an hour to enjoy. Approximately 3,000 figures have been found here making it one of the largest collections in Europe.

The modern Northern Lights Cathedral is both a church and a northern lights attraction. The nearby central square is traffic-free and good for a short wander. There are tours to the 300-metre-deep Sautso-Alta Canyon, and to mountain bike paths near the Alta River.

Experience the Sámi culture

The bleak country south and east of Alta is the home of the indigenous Nordic people, Sámireindeer-herders. Frankly, it is only the Sámi culture that is of great interest here and this can be depressingly difficult to see in the middle of summer when many Sámi have moved to the coastal pastures. The best time to visit is during the Easter festival when there are concerts, church services, and traditional sports.

Kautokeino is a permanent town and the principal winter camp of the Sámi people but it is a somewhat desolate place strung out along the highway. A couple of kilometres south of town is Juhis Silver Gallery, an amazing attraction with a workshop and a wonderful display area. In the centre of a major city, this would be a sensation, here in the wilderness it is mind-blowing. The items being produced here are mainly sold in the exclusive boutiques of Europe and North America.

Karasjok is the capital of the Sámi and is more organized than Kautokeino. It is only 18 km from the Finnish border and here we find the Sámi parliament and several museums and attractions. The Sami Artists Centre is an art gallery devoted to Sami painters. Don’t miss it.

Hammerfest

We travel further north through the treeless and barren landscape to Hammerfest on the shore of rugged Kvaloya Island. This is the world’s northern-most substantial town and amazingly, it was the first place in Europe with electric street lighting.

The town was totally leveled during World War II and the interesting Reconstruction Museum details the dramatic events including the forced evacuation of the population, the town burning to the ground, and the subsequent reconstruction.

You don’t have to go far to see roaming reindeer herds. We encountered one at the entrance to a substantial tunnel on the main road not far from town. If boating is your thing, there are trips to several little fishing villages along the rugged coast.

North Cape

North Cape/Nordkapp is touted as the most northern point of continental Europe. Near North Cape, there are several alternatives. Skarsvag, the nearest fishing village, has boat trips, fishing, bird-watching, and whale safaris. Cycle and kayak rental are also available. In the same area, the Church Gate rock formation offers excellent views of North Cape, the Horn, and the midnight sun.

North Cape has been a visitor attraction for several hundred years. You can only enter this area after paying a fairly hefty fee but we found it worthwhile. Outside you can see the King Oscar Monument which was built in 1873 to mark the outermost limit of the Norway-Sweden union. The Globe monument erected in 1977 has become the symbol of the North Cape and is a popular photographic spot.

North Cape Hall is a large tourist center with a host of facilities including a film on a wrap-around screen about the four seasons. The Tunnel has exhibitions about the North Cape’s long history as a tourist destination and this leads to St Johannes Chapel which is the world’s northernmost ecumenical chapel.

Nearby is a Thailand Museum because this spot was visited by King Chulalongkorn more than 100 years ago. Finally, we reach the Cave of Light which is a new attraction providing a journey through the seasons by way of sound and light.

It is still 530 kilometres to Kirkenes near the border with Russia. This was bombed more often than any place in Europe except Malta during World War II. This area is so remote from Oslo that Finland and Russia have had more influence on the area than Norway at various times. You see this in the church architecture and even in some of the language.

www.LenRutledge.com
Len is the author of Experience Norway 2018 available as an ebook or paperback from http://www.amazon.com/dp/B078GL6T29

Words: Len Rutledge  Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

1.     Alta Rock Art
2.     Juhis Siver Gallery at Kautokeiro
3.     North Cape Globe Monument
4.     Sami Turf House at Karasjock
5.     Wandering reindeer by road tunnel Hammerfest

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Brisbane to Townsville – take the long way
The splendour and variety of India’s Golden Triangle
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The splendour and variety of India’s Golden Triangle

This was published by Global Travel Media in May 2018.

Len Rutledge: “I am sitting in front of the Taj Mahal absorbing the magic of the world’s most beautiful building. India’s crowds, chaos and poverty are temporarily relegated to the back of my mind as I let this piece of paradise into my soul”.

India is a country of enormous contrasts where poverty sits beside wealth, beauty intermingles with filth, and structure and chaos compete for supremacy. It will dazzle all your senses and cause you heart-ache at the same time.

It can be challenging and charming, overwhelming and stunningly beautiful. The eager friendliness of the people is endearing, and the food is unforgettable but there is likely to be unexpected glitches no matter how much you plan.

India is a large country and the one with the second largest population in the world. It really is many countries all rolled into one. If you lay a map of India over a map of Europe you will see that it covers the area from Scandinavia to North Africa and from Spain to Russia. It is one of the world’s oldest living civilizations yet the present nation-state is just over 70 years old.

Jaipur Hawa Mahal

Just like Australia, it is difficult to see the whole country in one visit. That is why my wife and I restricted ourselves to a part of north-west India, known better as the Extended Golden Triangle, on our recent visit. There were many highlights.

Delhi, India’s capital, is dotted with mosques, forts, and monuments left over from the Mughal rulers that once occupied the city but there are also some more modern temples and other buildings. The contrast between rambling Old Delhi and well planned New Delhi is immense, and it’s interesting to spend time exploring both.

Udaipur, in Rajasthan, is sometimes called the most romantic city in India because of its famed lakes and palaces. The City Palace complex, the architecturally splendid Bagore Ki Haveli, and Lake Pichola with its beautiful Lake Palace Hotel are just some of the ‘must-see’ sights. We loved it.

New Delhi Qutb Minar

Jodhpur is famous for its blue buildings and for the unusual pants worn by a polo team when visiting England in 1897. The impregnable Mehrangarh Fort, which rises above the city, is one of the largest forts in India.

Also here is the magnificent Umaid Bhawan Palace, one of the last great palaces to be built in India. The royal family of Jodhpur still occupies a section of it but most has been converted into a luxury hotel. Nearby Mandore was the capital of the Marwar region before Jodhpur was founded.

Pushkar is a sleepy little holy town that attracts a lot of backpackers and hippie types and is one of the most visited pilgrimage places in India. Surrounding by hills on three sides, Pushkar abounds in temples and is centred on the lake which has mythological importance.

 Puskar

Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan’s most famous festival, is held here late October or early November depending on the moon and it attracts 200,000 visitors from around the world.

India’s desert capital of Jaipur, known as the Pink City because of the pink walls and buildings of the old city, lures visitors with its stunning ancient palaces and forts. It is an excellent place to shop for gemstones, silver jewellery, bangles, clothes, blue pottery, and textiles.

Nearby Amber Fort is set on a hilltop overlooking Maota Lake and it is accessed on the back of elephants. It was the original home of Rajput royalty until Jaipur city was constructed and it is now a much-enjoyed attraction.

There are quite a few worthwhile places to visit in Agra and around, apart from India’s most famous monument — the Tāj Mahal. The many interesting remnants of the Mughal era will surprise you and the crazy, congested bazaars of the Old City will fascinate you.

Udipur Lake and City

Don’t miss a visit to majestic Agra Fort, Mehtab Bagh known as the Moonlight Garden, and the tomb of Itimād-ud-Daula or ‘Little Tāj’.

Indian food is widely perceived as being predominantly vegetarian but in fact less than half of the Indian population is vegetarian. In the past, the abstinence from meat eating has often been an economic consideration because many people could not afford meat.

As India improves economically, the consumption of meat is increasing and the variety of cuisines available to the visitor has sky-rocketed. We were delighted with much of the local food and with the people who cooked and served it.

The Golden Triangle region has accommodation costing from $18,000 (no this is not a misprint) to $2 per night. Naturally, the quality and experience varies widely. We generally used economical 3-star accommodation and were happy wherever we went.

India has some of the best and most expensive hotel rooms in the world and the facilities and service are virtually unmatched anywhere. On a couple of nights we lived like royalty at reasonable cost in restored palaces that are now hotels. That experience will long be remembered.

Words: Len Rutledge    Pictures: Phensri Rutledge

www.LenRutledge

Len is the author of Experience India’s Golden Triangle 2018 available as an ebook or paperback from http://www.amazon.com/dp/B078H9VPJB

Why is it a great time to visit Luxor?

Getting On Travel

It’s a perfect time to visit Luxor, Egypt because you’ll be able to soak in 3500 years of history—without being surrounded by hordes of tourists.

If you want to see some of the world’s greatest temples, and what could be the world’s richest archaeological site, go to Luxor!

An hour’s flight up the Nile from Cairo, Luxor grew out of the ruins of Thebes, Egypt’s capital from about 1500 to 1000 B.C.

Now is a great time to visit Luxor!

Although Luxor has been one of the major attractions in the Middle East, the city is suffering badly at the moment because tourism has almost collapsed. Direct flights from many European cities have ceased and once-thriving river services to and from Aswan are virtually non-existent. Most of the 300 or so riverboats that took tourists along the Nile in relative luxury are now tied to its banks, many rotting away.

This means it is a very good time to visit Luxor: Hotels have cut prices, tour guides are readily available, crowds are nowhere to be seen, and everyone is going out of their way to be friendly, helpful, and courteous. Safety is on everyone’s minds and I must say my wife and I (two middle-aged Western tourists) felt completely at ease everywhere we went.

Inside the Sonesta St George Luxor Hotel

After dreaming about it for decades, we had gone to Luxor to see two massive temples – the Temple of Amun at Karnak and the Temple of Luxor – as well as the alluringly-named Valley of the Kings. Each of these attractions met our expectations, and we then discovered there was much more to see and do for those with time.

The Temple of Amun (Karnak Temple)

This complex of three temples built over a 2000-year period is probably the biggest temple on earth.

Our expectations were high and as we wandered the site, we became more and more impressed.

The stillness of the whole place with its stone columnssoaring against the brilliant blue sky was breathtaking.

The surfaces of the grand courtyards are all covered with fine carvings. The scale and detail is staggering. I thought of the vision, the work, and the investment that went into this huge structure and then was told that all this could not even be seen at the time by the public; it was only for priests, royals, and the gods.

A millennia later, the public entered. We saw marks on the columns where Roman soldiers sharpened their swords, and early Christian images of Mary and Jesus carved on the ancient pillars like graffiti.

The Luxor Temple

Entrance to the Luxor Temple

The Luxor Temple is all about the great warrior pharaoh, Ramses II, even though it was started 100 years or more before his reign (around 1380BC). Two 25-meter pink granite obelisks built by Ramses once stood before the entrance gateway but today only one remains; the other is at the center of the Place De La Concorde in Paris.

The Luxor Temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship.

During the Christian era, the temple’s hypostyle hall was used as a Christian church. Then for many centuries the temple was buried and a mosque was eventually built over it. This mosque was carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered and forms an integral part of the site today.

Originally, an avenue lined with sphinxes ran the entire three kilometers between the Luxor and Karnak Temples. This avenue is currently under excavation and reconstruction, and you see a short completed section near Luxor Temple.

The Valley of the Kings

Entrance to the Valley of the Kings

In about 1600 B.C. there was a big change in the style of royal tombs. Until then, kings were buried in pyramids, but these were consistently being robbed, which meant kings were waking up in the afterlife without their precious earthly possessions. So, rather than mark their tombs with big pyramids, the kings started hiding their tombs underground in the valleys on the west side of the Nile.

Each buried king was provided with all the necessary things that would provide a comfortable existence in the afterlife, however, most of this has been looted over the centuries so most tombs were empty when they were rediscovered in modern times. After all these centuries, the condition of the 63 tombs that have been discovered and the details on their walls, however, is incredible. Most are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology.

The majority of the tombs are not open to the public. The entry ticket to the Valley allows you to visit three tombs out of several that are open but some require additional payment. The cost is reasonable, and the visitor arrangements are good, however, be aware that in summer the temperature can be stifling. Photography is not allowed inside the tombs.

The Hatshepsut Temple

Len Rutledge at the Hatshepsut Temple

The Hatshepsut Temple is, perhaps, the most spectacular structure on the West Bank of the Nile.

The mortuary temple was only discovered about 150 years ago and some on-going restoration work is still under way. The temple rises out of the desert in a series of terraces that from a distance merge with the sheer limestone cliffs behind.

The Colossi of Memnon on the West Bank

This temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut, the first known female monarch, who ruled for about two decades. Her reign was one of the most prosperous and peaceful in Egypt’s history. Although unknown for most of history, in the past 100 years her accomplishments have achieved global recognition and her stunning mortuary temple has become one of the most visited structures on the West Bank.


What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • Lack of crowds and helpful locals make traveling easy.
  • Hotels and restaurants in Luxor are good and prices are very reasonable at present.

Take note

  • There are few facilities for visitors on the West Bank. Most stay in Luxor and travel to the West Bank by bus or on a tour. All the major Luxor hotels offer tours.
  • Because Luxor is in the desert, the surroundings are hot and dusty. Visitors of all ages, but particularly older travelers, need water to stay hydrated and perhaps a snack when you are visiting most of the sights. You might want to bring a hat along for protection from the sun.
  • Don’t rush it! A minimum of a two-day visit is necessary to see the major attractions but we would recommend that you stay longer to really appreciate the lifestyle and culture.

IF YOU GO

 


*All photo credits: Phensri Rutledge 

Brisbane to Townsville

This story appeared in eglobal Travel Media in February 2008.

Brisbane to Townsville — Len and Phensri Rutledge take the long way

It seemed crazy driving 750 kilometres west from Brisbane before turning north but small outback towns, some man-made icons and friends on a cattle property all contributed to the choice. Six days later we arrived in coastal Townsville enriched greatly by the experience.

Miles and Charleville

The Warrego Highway rolls through the Lockyer Valley then climbs the range to Toowoomba. The garden city was in full bloom for the Festival of Flowers and despite the drought, the city was a picture. If you have never seen this colour extravaganza you have missed one of Queensland’s premier regional festivals.

Pressing on westward we made our first stop at the Miles Historic Village. This was established by volunteers in 1971 and it now contains over 30 buildings from the early 1900s. They include a hospital, cafe, bank, post office, bakery, hotel, jail, school, church and so on. It is a great opportunity to see how our grandparents lived.

As well as the buildings, there is a railway station and steam locomotive, an aboriginal area, a world-class collection of fossil woods and Australia’s most extensive display of petrified plants from the Jurassic period. If you are out that way, don’t miss it.

Charleville is one of the larger towns in western Queensland. Tourism is a growing industry and the Charleville Cosmos Centre has put the town well and truly on the tourist map. The spectacular clear night skies of Outback Queensland offer some of the world’s best sky watching conditions and the Cosmos Centre takes this to a new level.

The Centre operates both day-time and night-time shows. We did an evening tour which started with a short film then we were taken into a large hall where four telescopes were set up. Magically the roof rolled away and the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. We learned that our galaxy contains up to 400 billion stars. It is one of billions, possibly trillions of galaxies in the universe. It all ended too soon but we will be back.

Barcaldine

Barcaldine is 410 kilometres north of Charleville. It is home to one of Australia’s most famous ghost gum trees. Unfortunately, in an act of vandalism, the 200-year-old tree was poisoned in 2006 and all that remains is the preserved trunk under a man-made shelter.

The tree is connected to an important time in Australia’s political development as it was used as the meeting place for shearers during the Great Shearers Strike of 1891. During that strike, a crucial connection was forged between unions and what was to become the Australian Labor Party.

Just around the corner is the Australian Workers Heritage Centre. This was established to remind us of the history and traditions of working Australians who built Australia and fought for freedoms that all citizens now enjoy.

Longreach

Longreach is the largest town in Queensland’s central west and is 110 km west of Barcaldine. It is home to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum, two major attractions.

The Hall of Fame building is stunning and inside, the five themed galleries display the history behind some of Australia’s greatest and bravest explorers, stock workers, pastoralists, and Aborigines. There is an eclectic mix of objects, images, 12 touch-screen audiovisual films outlining the history of outback life, and open displays. There is also the Hugh Sawrey Art Gallery and the Wool Bale Café for refreshments and snacks.

Some of the highlights of the Qantas Founders Museum are the original 1921 Qantas hangar, an open-cockpit Avro 504K, one of the first two aircraft owned by the airline, a DC3, a Boeing 747 and a Boeing 707. Another aircraft awaiting proper restoration is a Catalina, famous for flying the Qantas blockade buster services across the Indian Ocean during World War II.

It is possible to just visit the museum but I strongly recommend also taking a tour of the two modern aircraft. You get to see parts of the aircraft that passengers never see and there is even an opportunity to do a unique wing walk.

Winton

We travelled for 165 kilometres from Longreach towards Winton then followed a sign to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a working museum which has the most productive fossil preparation facility in the southern hemisphere and the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.

The tour involved visits to two different areas. It started in the Collection Room where through talks and film we learned how the Winton area has evolved over the last 600 million years, where and how the dinosaur bones are found, and what’s involved in digging them up. Then we visited the Laboratory where fossils were being worked on.

Winton is home to the Waltzing Matilda Centre. Tragically this iconic outback museum was destroyed by fire two years ago but the good news is that it will reopen in April with a four-day music festival after a $22 million rebuild.

Hughenden and Charters Towers

The final part of our 2200km drive was through Hughenden where we stopped to visit “Hughie”, the seven metre-tall Muttaburrasaurus, and an impressive fossil collection at the Flinders Discovery Centre. Our last stop was at Charters Towers where there is plenty to occupy you for a full day and it was then only 120 km to Townsville.

Words: Len Rutledge. Pictures: Phensri Rutledge

Petra will be a mind-blowing experience

This story appeared in Pique News Magazine, Canada in January 2018.

Petra will be a mind-blowing experience

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - The Monastry

Imagine walking a one-and-a-half kilometre narrow, winding passage through 200-metre high red sandstone rocky cliffs and then coming upon the vast façade of a huge structure precisely carved into the sandstone towering over the young Bedouin men and camels that congregate at its base.

This is your introduction to Petra, Jordan’s biggest tourist attraction, and it is mind blowing. It has world-heritage status and is also known by many for being the setting for the finale of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The entire ruined city is a huge work of art, with a natural stone backdrop that changes colour every hour.

Petra is a honeycomb of hand-hewn temples and tombs carved from sandstone, most 2,000 years ago, overlaid by more recent Roman structures. Hidden by time and shifting sand, it was built by the Nabateans — a nomadic desert people who acquired great wealth from trade between the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas.

The Nabateans remained unconquered for centuries until the Romans arrived in 63 B.C., and this led to a new era of massive expansion and grandiose construction at Petra. Then it was lost to all but the local Bedouins.

Petra was only rediscovered by the outside world when Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt visited in 1812, and even now, archaeologists have explored less than half of the sprawling site.

Petra’s engineering achievements are legionary, including the sophisticated water system that supported some 30,000 inhabitants. You see evidence of this as you walk through the Siq (entrance passageway). It’s the raw beauty of Petra, however, that draws in visitors today.

Tourist numbers are down at present because of the perception many have of the Middle East. In fact, we found it was perfectly safe to visit and because of lack of visitors, the vast classical Treasury building, carved into the rock in the first century BC, and the rest of the site, felt very peaceful. There were no crowds with selfie-sticks and no umbrella-waving tour guides.

While donkeys, camels, and horse buggies are available for travel between highlights, in my opinion, most of Petra’s sites are best reached on foot. Be prepared for a long, hot day though. My wife and I ended up walking about 15 kilometres one day and we didn’t see everything by any means.

We were overwhelmed by the number of beautiful tombs and facades and decided that photographs we had seen before we visited did little justice to the splendour of the site, the monumental architecture and the colour changes of the rock as the day progresses.

It is relatively easy to reach the city’s parched core, the Colonnaded Street and the temple of Qasr al-Bint and there are places to eat along the way in simple shelters. But then you need to be ready to hike some steep terrain if you want to see more.

Apart from the Treasury, the Roman Theatre and the spectacular Royal Tombs, most of the other highlights involve quite a bit of climbing. Some visitors decide not to do this and are content to watch the camels wandering past or listen to a grizzled Bedouin playing a melancholy tune on a one-stringed rababa.

Petra’s biggest monument, the Monastery, sits at the top of an 800-step rock-cut path. It is easy to imagine the months of carving that went into its creation. It was built in the 3rd century BC as a tomb and was probably later used as a temple. From here you have sweeping views across to Israel and Palestine.

The Monastery is similar in design to the Treasury, but it is much larger and much less decorated. The interior consists of a single room with double staircases leading up to a niche. The flat plaza in front was carved out of the rock, perhaps to accommodate crowds at religious ceremonies. The best time to climb to the monastery is in the afternoon when the path is mostly in shade and the sun is shining on the Monastery’s facade.

Even if you decide not to go to the Monastery, it’s worth going up the 670 steps, past tombs and Bedouin houses, to the High Place of Sacrifice — the exposed mountain plateau where the Nabateans performed religious rituals. There are great views and below you will see groups of camels sitting on the ground, and visitors scurrying past.

When we visited, “Petra by Night” was only available two nights a week. This gives you the opportunity to walk the Siq in the dark and then to see the Treasury lit by hundreds of candles and later by coloured spotlights. The effect is stunning but, unfortunately, the arrangements are haphazard and disappointing to some visitors. I still suggest you go to this unique event but keep your expectations low and take a torch with you.

There are many accommodation options in Wadi Musa, just a few hundred metres from the entrance to the Petra site. Some have rooftop bars and cafes. Restaurants are available where you can enjoy hummus, fried lamb meatballs, char-grilled eggplants, stuffed vine leaves and other local favourites.

Petra is a three-hour drive from Jordan’s capital, Amman, and two hours from the Red Sea port of Aqaba. Buses run the route daily, along with organized tours and private taxis. Taking a visit of the site with a local guide is highly recommended.

Jordan has many other attractions worth seeing such as the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum and Jerash. I’ll do stories about these another time but I suggest you give serious consideration to a visit right now.

www.LenRutledge.com

North Ireland Coast

This story appeared in Travelfore in January 2018.

North Ireland coast

Words: Len Rutledge  Images: Phensri Rutledge

Stunning coastline, windswept cliffs, spectacular scenery and fabulous unspoiled beaches are the promise on one of the world’s great road journeys. Unfortunately, all we can see at the moment is fog.

My wife and I are on the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland with high expectations but so far the results have been disappointing. We have crawled out of Belfast and are now peering through the gloom at Carrickfergus’s well-preserved 12th century Norman Castle.

The road heads north and the weather improves. It’s now inland to the charming village of Glenarm then on through flower-filled Broughshane where Saint Patrick is said to have tended livestock in the 5th century.

Bright sunshine appears on approaching Ballycastle. Our spirits have soared and so too has the scenery. We stop at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which traverses a 30-metre deep canyon. I am immediately intimidated, however, despite my fears I make it across, as have salmon fishermen for 350 years.North Ireland coast

We are surprised to discover that the bridge is more than a kilometre from the car park but the walk along the cliff-top path is exhilarating with stunning views across to Rathlin Island. Spring has brought wildflowers and a profusion of bird life.

Rangers control access to the bridge and we are told that sometimes there are considerable delays for the thousands of visitors who want the challenge of the crossing.

It is now on to Northern Ireland’s top natural attraction, the Giant’s Causeway. Apart from the amazing layered basalt columns plunging into the ocean, there are famous legends and colourful folklore associated with the causeway.

The six-sided basalt columns have been formed when molten lava filled a river valley 60 million years ago, then cooled and cracked. The site is now owned by the National Trust there is an excellent Visitor’s Centre.

North Ireland coast

The area around the causeway is attractive. Grasslands, heath, cliffs, marshes, the rocky shore and the sea provide homes for a wide variety of plants and animals. We see purple orchid flowers, vivid yellow gorse, colourful stonechats, petrels and peregrine falcons.

The tourism development manager tells us how the causeway is made up of three promontories with one curving gently out to sea towards Scotland. She also points out strange rock formations known as the camel, the organ and the harp.

The historic 1830s Causeway Hotel is serving food but we cannot resist a visit to the Old Bushmills Distillery, Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery which was granted a licence in 1608. Luckily there are guided tours, a gift shop and a cafe.

A few kilometres, further along, is Dunluce Castle, said to be the most romantic and picturesque in Ireland. The ruined castle has clung onto its dramatic hilltop location since the 14th century. We pay the admission charge then wander around by ourselves fantasising about events long past.

North Ireland coast

Nearby Portrush has been a fun destination for generations of people and its beaches, hotels, amusements and stimulating nightlife are still here. We stop at the Royal Portrush Golf Club which is home to 2010 U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell and 2011 British Open Champion Darren Clarke.

The club founded in 1888 is one of Ireland’s premier tournament venues and has dramatic physical features that provide a formidable challenge to all players.

Mountsandel Wood is a venue of a different kind. This is the earliest known settlement of man in Ireland dating back nearly 10,000 years. There are an earthen fort and a forest walk.

Next is Downhill Demesne, a stunning landscaped park with sheltered gardens and cliff walks. Close to the edge of a sheer drop stands Mussendon Temple, an 18th century folly based on the Roman temple at Tivoli, Italy.

We drive on to Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second city but our thoughts are still on the special place we have just visited. As they say here, “When God made time, he made plenty of it!” we have seen it in a day but we could equally have taken a week.

IF YOU GO.

The Irish Tourist Board can provide good information on Ireland and Northern Ireland. https://www.discoverireland.ie/

Detailed information on the region is available fromwww.causewaycoastandglens.com

For details on the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede attractions contactwww.nationaltrust.org.uk

For Dunluce Castle information contact https://www.glenarmcastle.com/dunluce-castle

 

www.LenRutledge.com

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Ireland 2018 available athttps://amazon.com/dp/B078GJW7JK

North Ireland coast
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Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books.

He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.

Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.

He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com

Think outside the Box

A travel story which appeared in The South African

Think outside the box for your next travel experience

With some places in the world becoming tourist unfriendly because of the sheer number of visitors, and others feeling overcrowded when you get there, now may be a good time to think of travelling to somewhere new.

Image Credits: The Fortress, Sri Lanka; The Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland; Shinta Mani Angkor, Cambodia

5
SHARES

Excellent hotels, fabulous tours and exciting experiences are available in most destinations today. It just depends on you to make the most of the opportunities.

The following three destinations may not immediately come to mind when making travel plans but each will reward you with untold memories. I’ve also included some accommodation suggestions.

Sri Lanka

Those looking for new experiences in South Asia need to consider Sri Lanka. This has emerged recently as an interesting travel destination because of its beaches, wildlife safaris and adventure tours.

Along with its native land mammals – elephants, leopards and wild buffalos – the island is also a great destination for whale and dolphin watching. Sri Lanka also offers top-notch surfing and diving experiences, jungle treks, hikes and rock-climbing adventures.

Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital and largest city. Stylish eateries, galleries and shops line shady boulevards and there are ancient temples, mosques, and colonial landmarks to see. Accommodation is diverse with everything from five-star to budget available. One place particularly worth a mention is Maniumpathy, a 19th–century jewel offering an oasis of serenity and luxury in busy Colombo but with direct access to art, shopping, entertainment, and dining.

Hill-enclosed Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. It is a World Heritage Site and has a number of tourist attractions. The city is famous for the Kandy Perahara-a huge cultural pageant that takes place in the month of July or August. It is one of the most colourful processions in the world with thousands of drummers and dancers accompanying a parade of ornamented elephants. The Kandy House is a beautiful example of a luxury Kandy boutique hotel. In the gardens, a stunning infinity pool has been landscaped into the hillside with views of the paddy fields. With only nine rooms it provides a private escape.

Sri Lanka’s beaches are attracting world interest and most are focused on the south coast. Endless stretches of pristine, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear seas await you at the historic town of Koggala. Not far away is the UNESCO World Heritage Galle Fort, the best preserved fortified city built by European colonial powers in Asia. The fort is a small walled town which is home to about 400 houses, churches, mosques, temples, and many commercial and government buildings.

Once again, excellent accommodation is available. The Fortress Resort and Spa is fashioned in the style of a strong fortress, its walls enclosing verdant gardens and water features, a spa, a huge swimming pool, wine cellar, restaurants, boutiques and exquisitely appointed accommodation. The resort is a perfect place to enjoy the beach, the village and the history while providing a quiet escape when you need it.

Switzerland

Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as a country with a great tradition of hospitality. It probably started in the 19th century when the world’s elite started sending their children to be educated in Swiss boarding schools. Every visitor today can quickly see that the reputation continues strongly.

One of the secrets to Switzerland’s success is its diversity. You can visit an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, gaze at breathtaking glaciers and stunning mountains, pass palm trees and grottos, explore World Heritage Sites and enjoy unspoilt natural landscapes and easy-to-manage cities.

Many names are legendary – Geneva, Zurich, Zermatt and St Moritz – but the surprise is the interest to be found in places you probably have never heard of. Take Avenches as an example. Two thousand years ago it had 20,000 inhabitants, and stately mansions and temples protected by a five-kilometre-long, nearly seven-metre-tall wall with over 70 towers. Today you can see the eastern gates and a wall tower, the forum’s thermal baths, the amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 16,000 persons, and temple ruins.

Switzerland has some great modern hotels such as the Alpina Gstaad which opened in 2013 but I also love to experience the grandeur of the more classic properties. The 150-year-old Bellevue Palace in Bern, the Hotel Des Bergues in Geneva, founded in 1834, which is now a Four Seasons Hotel, and the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano which is celebrating 130 years, are three of my favourites.

Cambodia

For many people, Cambodia means Angkor, the remarkable Khmer city of stunning temples. I rate this as one of the better sites in the world but the country, of course, has much more than just this.

Phnom Penh is the country’s lively capital city which is blessed with a picturesque riverside promenade and lovely colonial buildings to make a quite beautiful city. From the contemporary restaurants and bars to crowded markets, museums and glittering Royal Palace, there is much to see.

The sparsely populated and wild district of Mondulkiri is rich in a stunning landscape with its valleys, waterfalls, jungles and rolling hills. The wildlife-viewing opportunities, great scenery and cool climate make this part of Cambodia a fascinating place to visit for trekking adventures. Kratie is rich in striking French colonial buildings along the length of the riverfront. This charming area is a perfect place to sit and watch the brilliant sunsets over the Mekong River.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s premier beach town is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh seafood, take in a snorkelling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out. In recent years, the islands off the coast of Cambodia have become a tourist destination in their own right with new accommodation being built on nearly all of them, along with a host of bars, restaurants, dive shops and so on.

Angkor, near Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Highlights include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. All are wonderful examples of Khmer architecture.

Siem Reap has grown dramatically in recent years and now there are an amazing number of hotels from which to choose. If classy interiors, good service and closeness to places of interest are important to you, Shinta Mani Angkor, an upscale boutique property with a pool, soothing spa and dreamy swing-seat dining, may be for you. The hotel enjoys a tranquil and leafy setting within the French Quarter of Siem Reap.

Just a short walk from Shinta Mani you’ll discover Siem Reap’s rising arts’ and culture precinct. Kandal Village is home to a vibrant and eclectic new mix of around 25 cafes, galleries, arty homewares, shops, spas and cool fashion stores. Go explore!