To the Top of Europe from Life begins at.

Mountains are to be climbed but I have never been drawn to ropes, picks, anchors and spikes. I’m more for sitting back and letting a train or cable car do the hard work for me. That is one reason I love going to Jungfraujoch, The Top of Europe.

The Top of Europe is 3454 meters above sea level in the Swiss Alps above Interlaken. With a majestic backdrop of ice, snow and rock, the exhilaration of being there is palpable yet all you have to do is sit back as three separate trains take you progressively higher and higher.

The first train starts at Interlaken East station. We chose to board one stop along the line at the cute village of Wilderswil where accommodation was cheaper, parking was easier and people were friendlier than in the city.

The Bernese Oberland Railway travels from Wilderswil into the Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald valleys. In fact, our train split a few stations later with the front half going to Lauterbrunnen and the back half going to Grindelwald. If you are going to the Top of Europe it doesn’t matter which way you go.

We choose to travel via Grindelwald, a dreamlike mountain resort under the infamous North Face of the Eiger. The surrounding alpine pastures are achingly idyllic and cable-cars make it easy to reach scenic mountain lookouts, the Grindelwald Glacier and lakes. It is no wonder that this landscape has been a filming location for Star Wars and James Bond movies.

From Grindelwald we catch the narrow-gauge rack railway to Kleine Scheidegg. This where the trains from Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen meet and from where the train to Jungfraujoch departs. The scenery is dramatic as we enter the snow zone and everything turns to white.

Cable cars head in all directions from remote stations and even in May some skiers are out chasing the last runs for the year. Kleine Scheidegg is the starting point for scenic hikes in summer and it is a significant winter sports centre.

The train journey to the Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe) through the rock of the Eiger and Mönch is an incredible experience. The majority of this section is in a tunnel but you get to enjoy stunning views from Eismeer (Sea of Ice). The cogwheel railway track to Jungfraujoch on gradients up to 25% was completed in 1912 and has been in continuous use ever since.

Arriving at the top brings new levels of anticipation and it is not long before we have icy air streams across our faces, snow crunching under our feet, and a view which nearly takes our breath away even with the cloud and fog we are coping with today.

When we visited here some 25 years ago there were limited things to do at the top. Not anymore. Over the next few hours we were absorbed by the 360 degree cinematic Jungfrau Panorama, intrigued by the lights and music of the Alpine Sensation and fascinated by the huge Ice Palace where enormous caverns and passageways have been carved into the ice displaying crystal-like sculptures of eagles, bears, penguins and so forth.

The high-point of any visit is the Sphinx Terrace attached to the Observatory and Research Station. We ride Switzerland’s fastest lift to the terrace and are rewarded with spectacular views over the Aletech Glacier which is over 22 kilometres long and nearly a kilometre thick. Sadly, the views into France, Italy and Germany are masked by low-cloud and fog.

Now we brave the cold and venture out on to the Glacier Plateau. It is briefly majestic but then it turns bleak, freezing cold and merciless. In better weather you can skim down the slope on snow tubes, skis or snowboards, but not today. The 250 metre-long zipline is not providing an adrenalin rush to anyone either We quickly retreat inside.

Mountain air makes you hungry and thirsty so fortunately there are several restaurants and cafes. Top of the line is Restaurant Crystal but we opted for the self-service Aletsch. For those who brought their own food the Cafe Bar provided drinks.

There are a few shops here with souvenirs, clothing and other items but the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven seems by far the most popular. This advertises itself as the highest Lindt Chocolate Shop in the World and there are six interactive exhibits and a few products only available here.

The time has come to leave so we retrace our journey back to Kleine Scheidegg then take the next train this time to Lauterbrunnen before making one more change before we reach Wilderswil. It has been a great day despite less than ideal weather and we would do it again in a heartbeat.

www.LenRutledge.com

IF YOU GO: The standard return fare from Interlaken Ost to Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe station is around a staggering A$320 (summer), and A$285 for the rest of the year. I strongly advise taking an early train to avoid the worst of the crowd. Prices quoted may vary, please check for latest:https://www.swissrailways.com/en/products/regionalberneseoberlandpass

Photo credits: Phensri Rutledge

Opera Houses from The South African

Some of the world’s most spectacular opera houses

No matter where we travel there is a good chance that we will see some impressive buildings.

3
SHARES

Look at these few examples taken at random from around the world. When you add the Royal Opera House, London, the Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, and the Teatro Fenice Venice it makes an impressive list. Each is worth a visit.

Palais Garnier in Paris

This is one of the most famous opera houses in the world, partly because it was the setting of the novel The Phantom of the Opera and the subsequent films and popular musical. It was built in the 1860s and it was the primary home of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989 when the modern Opera Bastille opened. The Palais Garnier is now used mainly for ballet.


Phensri Rutledge

The building was the most expensive in Paris during its era and some regard it as a masterpiece although this opinion is not universally shared. It is close to some of Paris’s most famous department stores so it makes a nice contrast to the shopping ‘palaces’.

Teatro alla Scala in Milan

This challenges Paris as the most famous opera house in the world. It was built in the 1780s and most of Italy’s greatest operatic artists, and many of the finest singers from around the world, have appeared here.

Building expenses were covered by the sale of boxes, which were lavishly decorated by their owners, and like most of the theatres at that time, La Scala was also a casino. In 1943, La Scala was severely damaged by bombing. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1946. The theatre underwent a major renovation from 2002 to 2004. The stage was entirely rebuilt, and an enlarged backstage allowed more sets to be stored.


Phensri Rutledge

La Scala has hosted the first productions of many famous operas and had a special relationship with Verdi. He conducted his Requiem there in 1874 and the theatre hosted his penultimate opera, Otello and the premiere of his last opera, Falstaff.

Sydney Opera House

This is a multi-venue performing arts centre in Sydney, Australia. It is one of the 20th century’s most famous and distinctive buildings. Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, the building was formally opened in 1973 after a 14 year construction period and much controversy due to the cost escalating from A$7million to A$102 million.

Many changes were made to Utzon’s design during and after construction including making the major hall, which was originally to be a multipurpose opera/concert hall, solely a concert hall. The minor hall, originally for stage productions only, then had to include opera and ballet functions but this is inadequate to stage large-scale opera and ballet.

In 2007, the Sydney Opera House became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors are welcome to attend performances or do a tour of the building

Oslo Opera House

The spectacular Oslo Opera House is the home of The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. Construction started in 2003 and was completed in 2007, ahead of schedule and under budget. The Opera House won the 2009 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.


Phensri Rutledge

A 50 minute guided tour in English lets you walk out onto the Main Stage, or visit the costume workshop or scene painting room, while you learn about the architecture, stagecraft, opera and ballet from the guides.

Bolshoi Theatre Moscow

This is an historic theatre in Russia, which holds ballet and opera performances. The main building of the theatre, rebuilt and renovated several times during its history since 1821, is depicted on the Russian 100-ruble banknote.

A new stage was built in 2002, and this together with a restored 17th-century building, two rehearsal halls, and artists’ recreation rooms form a single theatre complex. From 2005 to 2011 the theatre was closed for restoration which included an improvement in acoustics, and the restoration of the original Imperial decor.


Phensri Rutledge

The Bolshoi Ballet is probably the most renowned ballet company in the world and it is by far the largest with more than 200 dancers. Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake premiered at the theatre in 1877 while other regulars on the Bolshoi repertoire include Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beautyand The Nutcracker, Adam’s Giselle, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and Khachaturian’s Spartacus.

The Royal Opera House Stockholm

Kungliga Operan has been the Swedish national venue for opera and ballet since 1773. You can visit here as a member of the audience at one of the performances or take a guided tour. The building is located in the centre of Sweden’s capital and is connected to the Royal Palace by a bridge.


Phensri Rutledge

The original opera house was demolished to make way for the present building which opened in 1899. It is a majestic neo-classical building with a magnificent gold foyer and elegant marble grand staircase leading to a three-tiered auditorium which seats 1,200. Interestingly, 45 minutes before most opera and ballet performances, a 15-minute introduction to the evening’s performance is held in the Gold Foyer.

www.LenRutledge.com

Innsbruck story from Getting on Travel

It’s a crisp, blue-sky morning as we ride the cable car across slopes of white high above Innsbruck, Austria. When most people think of Innsbruck, they probably think of skiing. That’s not surprising since the city has hosted the Winter Olympics twice. But this lively, welcoming and cosmopolitan city is appealing just about any time of year.

Author (right) in cable car

Innsbruck lies in a valley surrounded by the mountains of the Austrian Tyrol.

Its calling cards include medieval architecture, an interesting dining scene, and opportunities for adventurous activities. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the city and its environs are becoming known for summer sports like downhill mountain biking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. But you don’t have to be an active participant to enjoy all Innsbruck has to offer!

View from the cable car

Historic Old Town’s must-see sights

A royal palace, a cathedral, cobbled streets, and classical architecture make Innsbruck’s Old Town one of Europe’s most pleasant city centers. My wife and I spent hours wandering the streets intrigued by the beautiful Baroque Helblinghaus with its splendid stucco façade; the 57-meter-high Stadtturm, a watchtower built in the 14th century, and enjoying the charming town square.

Town square at dusk

Surprisingly, Innsbruck’s most famous landmark is a roof.

The Goldenes Dachl is covered with some 2,600 gilded tiles that sparkle in the sun. Emperor Maximilian I built this some 500 years ago as a vantage point to watch jousting, his favorite sport. The emperor made Innsbruck his capital and the Hofburg, his imperial palace. Empress Maria Theresa renovated, remodeled and refurbished it in the 1750s. Now it houses a collection of pink, gold, green and purple rooms accented by murals and frescoes. (Note: The exterior is currently being renovated so it is shrouded in canvas.)

The adjacent Court Church, a 16th-century grandiose tribute to Maximilian I, is well worth visiting. Marble reliefs and 28 bronze statues surround this black marble tomb. Although this is referred to as a mausoleum, the tomb is empty! The Holy Roman Emperor’s remains aren’t here; they are buried in a castle south of Vienna.

Innsbruck offers plenty of dining options. We joined locals at Café Konditorei Munding, Tyrol’s oldest café, and also dined at the 900-year-old Ottoburg, where each small dining room, with stone arches and wood paneling, had its own historical vibe. The traditional menu included schnitzel, venison stew, and apple strudel. 

Tyrolean highlights near Innsbruck

Just a short distance away is the dramatic Bergisel Ski Jump tower, constructed in 2002. Its unusual design offers excellent city views from its 50m-high top. The Bergisel Sky café is a good place to stop for coffee or a light meal and enjoy the panoramic deck.

The Nordkett mountain range towers over Innsbruck. This outdoor playground, perfect for skiing and hiking, is part of the Karwendel Alpine Park, Austria’s largest nature park. Getting up to the mountains is easy; we walked from our hotel to Congress Station, right in town, where the 8-minute funicular ride to Hungerburg station starts. One of the highlights of this extremely modern funicular is the extraordinary design of the stations resembling icy glaciers.

The contemporary funicular station in Innsbruck

Passengers boarding and exiting the funicular

Stops along the way include the Alpine Zoo, where visitors can experience the alpine animal world with more than 2,000 animals and 150 species. This claims to be the only themed zoo in the world housing such a complete collection of European alpine creatures.

Austrian alpine adventures

After reaching the Hungerburg station, we walked across a small square to the lower station of the cable car and took it to the Seegrube station at 1,905 meters. Here, you can enjoy a leisurely coffee at the restaurant or on the terrace, take an easy walk to a stunning viewpoint, or watch mountain bikers or skiers take on Europe’s steepest ski trail. The young-at-heart can brave a zipline.

The Nordkette Climbing Arena, one of the highest climbing areas in the Alps, offers many single-rope routes with options for both beginner and advanced-level climbers.

Alternatively, visitors can enjoy spending their time as observers rather than participants.

One of the spectacular lookout points

Another cable car goes from here to the Hafelekar station at 2,256 meters, a 15-minute walk to the Hafelekarspitze, the actual summit at 2,334 meters where the views and the clear mountain air are invigorating. Both mountain lift stations are good starting points for hikes to numerous mountain huts and several are suitable for all ages.


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

  • The ease of walking around the Old Town with its stunning architecture
  • Traditional food at historic restaurants
  • Being able to travel from the center of town to the top of the mountain by modern comfortable transport
  • Good quality hotels right in the Old Town

Take note

  • Check opening times for mountain transport.
  • Opt for good walking shoes when walking uneven cobblestone streets.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water when at higher elevations. If you have any health conditions, talk with your doctor about appropriate precautions. 

IF YOU GO

  • If you are spending several days in Innsbruck, consider purchasing an Innsbruck Card that offers free entry to the city’s museums and main sights; and complimentary public transport, including buses, trams, the cable cars and the Sightseer bus; and a free guided city walk.

*All photo credits (except for lede photo): Phensri Rutledge

Undara Lava Tubes, Queensland, Australia

 The Outback and fascinating Lava Tubes at Undara (from Public Service News)

Len Rutledge goes ‘down the tube’

Slam, bang, bif, pow! I awake to unfamiliar sounds and cautiously pull up the blind. Oh, it’s just two kangaroos having a ‘friendly’ stand-up fight just outside my window. There’s nothing unusual about that at Undara, four hours or so by road from Cairns or Townsville.

I’m rapidly discovering that very few things are considered unusual at Undara. The wildlife, the vegetation, the lava tubes and the railway carriage accommodation would all be considered very different elsewhere but here they are part of the amazing Undara Experience (www.undara.com.au ).

It takes a while to sort out the Undara Experience. The whole package consists of accommodation, meals and facilities, tours and activities. You can cherry-pick bits and pieces but you will find that more is always better because this experience is very special.

For accommodation, we choose the beautifully restored one hundred year old railway carriages. The rooms contain a very comfortable double bed, old railway seats ceiling fans, and a bathroom.

The carriages are unique, comfortable and romantic. We love them. Other options are the permanent swag tents, some of which have their own kitchen, the caravan park and camp ground, and self-contained air-conditioned Pioneers Huts.

We watch the sunset while enjoying sparkling wine and cheese and then are taken to the entrance of a lava tube at dusk to see pythons and tree snakes capturing a meal of micro bats as they emerge from the darkness in their thousands.

Dinner at night is at the Iron Pot Bistro. The a-la-carte menu has beef, Georgetown sausages, chicken, fish, and vegetarian noodle stir fry dishes. Meals are large, delicious and filling.. After dinner, we relax around the campfire, enjoy the brilliant starry sky then wander back through the Australian bush to our railway carriage ‘home’ for a good night’s sleep.

It’s morning. There are wallabies, wallaroos, parrots, kookaburras, currawongs and magpies all happily going about the business of eating. I guess it is time for our breakfast.

Cereal, fruit, sausages, baked beans, eggs, sautéed vegetables, bacon and a variety of juices make for a great breakfast. We toast bread over the coals of the fire and spread it with honey and jam. Why do I eat so much more when in a setting like this?

It’s 8am and we gather for the Archway Explorer tour. Lava tubes are the result of volcanic lava flowing down depressions. Eventually the surface cooled and formed a crust but underneath the lava continued to flow.

We enter one of these depressions and are surrounded by life. The dry savannah has given way to lush vegetation. Dozens of butterflies flit around our heads. We are in a different world. The huge entrance to a lava tube is straight ahead.

Entering the tube is a wonderful experience. We come face to face with 190,000 years of history. Timber walkways lead deep into the darkness. Our Savannah Guide gives us environmental, geological and historical information on the region.

Words: Len Rutledge  www.LenRutledge.com  Pictures: Phensri and Len Rutledge

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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The splendour and variety of India’s Golden Triangle
The Outback and fascinating Lava Tubes at Undara.

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