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.

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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

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

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

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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!

A travel story from i2mag

Hot Travel Destinations For 2018

Posted on Oct 31 2017 — 9:31am by Len Rutledge

As 2017 is fast disappearing, travel writers, tour companies and the general public are starting to look at 2018. Between now and the end of the year there will be many articles about the recommended travel destinations for next year. Many will include out of the way, fanciful destinations that few are likely to actually visit.

While these unusual destinations make good stories, the real hot destinations will be some of those that have been popular for decades. They keep expanding and improving their tourism offerings and continue to meet the needs of most segments of the market.

Here are four that will continue to shine.

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 grotti, 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.

Thailand

Thailand is a kingdom in south-east Asia filled with spectacular natural, cultural, and historical attractions. It is no surprise that the tourism industry has prospered despite some short-lived problems in recent years.

The North has the country’s highlands where vast mountain ranges dominate the landscape and you find hill-tribe people, isolated villages and the city of Chiang Mai. The Northeast features some highlands but also large plateaus where rice is grown and traditional culture is preserved.

Central Thailand is mainly plains and is a huge area of rice farming and agriculture along The Chao Phraya River. This is the most intensively developed part of the country and includes the huge city of Bangkok. The South contains many beautiful beaches and islands including Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phi Phi.

Eastern Thailand has mountains, golf courses and tourist places like Koh Samed, Koh Chang, Bang Saen Beach, and Pattaya. The West is mountainous with many woodlands, waterfalls, and dams and this is home to Erawan Waterfall, Mon Bridge, Three Pagodas Pass, Underwater City, The Bridge of the River Kwai, and Kanchanaburi.

Thai cuisine is renowned world-wide and there is a great variety of authentic Thai food for you to try. Most Thai dishes are stir fried or grilled and served with rice but noodles are also popular. Thai beer is cheap and fruit smoothies and fruit juice are both very popular. Eating and drinking are two of the real pleasures throughout the country. Combine this with excellent accommodation, good transport and happy smiling people and it’s not hard to see why this country is so popular and will continue to be so.

New Zealand

New Zealand is a land of immense and diverse landscape. You’ll see things and have experiences here that are unique to this country.

There are spectacular glaciers, picturesque fiords, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hills, subtropical forests, a volcanic plateau, and thousands of kilometres of coastline with rocky bluffs and sandy beaches all within hours of each other. Don’t forget the cities. Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and others all have their own special feel.

Most New Zealand visitors find that they are quickly into experiences even though this may not have been their reason for visiting. At Waitomo Caves you can explore with a walking or boat tour, try blackwater rafting where you’ll crawl, swim and float through the caves on a rubber tube, or abseil or zip-line through the darkness.

The 53 kilometre Milford Track leads you across suspension bridges, board walks and a mountain pass. Queenstown has helicopter flights, the world’s first and most famous bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge and jet boat thrills through the rugged beauty and unspoilt grandeur of the white-water rapids of the Shotover River.

Rotorua has bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, as well as fascinating Maori culture. And these places are just a fraction of what is on offer.

Another feature of New Zealand is its high-quality accommodation, some of it in lodges in spectacular locations. Typical of this is Marlborough Lodge (http://www.themarlboroughlodge.co.nz/) a luxury country estate located in the heart of the famous Marlborough wine region. There are elegant, contemporary suites, gourmet local cuisine, beautiful parkland surrounds and attentive staff on hand 24 hours a day. It is a great place to relax and unwind.

Tahiti

For many, the name evokes visions of an island paradise, exotic days, romantic nights and South Sea adventure. And this is exactly what you’ll find here. Officially known as French Polynesia, the area possesses one of the most spectacularly beautiful and diverse environments on earth in a mixture of high volcanic islands and low-lying atolls.

There are 118 islands but none impress me more that Moorea which rises magically out of the ocean like a cathedral. There are waterfalls tumbling down fern-softened cliffs, peaceful meadows and a bright blue lagoon which will bring to life the South Seas idyll of your dreams. Pastel-painted houses with gardens of hibiscus circle the island in a necklace of simple villages.

The quiet waters of the lagoon allow for a variety of activities, from swimming, fishing, scuba diving or snorkelling and outrigger canoeing to paddle boarding, kite boarding, and water skiing. The on-shore area is area is good for hiking, horseback riding, quad biking or exploring on a four-wheeler.

Many painters, carvers, jewellers and tattoo artists live on the island because of its beauty and serenity and you will find your own peace while watching fishermen on their outrigger canoe or listening to the sound of the ukulele while sitting on the sand under a tree.

The Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa (www.moorea.hilton.com) offers bungalows set amongst gardens or suspended above the lagoon. Guests enjoy a swimming pool, a fitness centre, a tennis court, 3 restaurants and 3 bars. Arii Vahine Restaurant, which faces the lagoon, serves French and Polynesian favourites; the beach-side Rotui Grill & Bar offers a relaxed setting for lunch; and the overwater Toatea Crêperie & Bar is a popular hangout for evening cocktails and crêpes under the stars. This resort is great for both active and passive visitors.

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Norway available as an e-book or hard copy book from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W5BKZJ8 and eight other guides in the Experience Guide series.