Anchorage story in Travel and Talk

by Len Rutledge

While savvy travellers have known for some time that Anchorage is where you find the best of Alaska all in one place, my knowledge of the city before I visited was lamentably poor.

A few days after arriving I realised that the city, sited between mountains and an inlet, surrounded by National Parks and filled with Alaskan wildlife, combines some of the best attractions of Alaska with the hospitality and intrigue of a Last Frontier.

Anchorage is almost equidistant from New York City, Frankfurt Germany, and Tokyo Japan. For this reason, Anchrage’s Ted Stevens International Airport was once a major stop-over point for international passenger flights and it is still the world’s third busiest airport for cargo traffic. You hear aircraft landing and taking off throughout the day and night.

Captain James Cook sailed past the site in 1779 and gold prospectors discovered the bounty of Ship Creek in the late 1800s but it wasn’t until the Alaska Railroad set up a construction camp in 1915 that Anchorage was established and became a booming tent city of 2,000 people. Now the population is around 300,000 and the city is a great place to visit.

Explore the parks

Alaska is an outdoors place and the Alaska Public Lands Information Centre in Anchorage is the perfect place to start an exploration of Alaska parks.

You can see whales, otters and other marine animals in the glacier-filled Kenai Fjords National Park. North America’s tallest peak is the most obvious attraction in Denali National Park where you can see caribou, brown and black bears, wolves, moose and fox.

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Floatplanes take off from Anchorage’s Lake Hood for day tours to the best spots for bear viewing, hiking or fishing in Lake Clark National Park. You can drive to Katmai National Park where during July to September you are likely to see a brown bear catching a jumping salmon in mid-air. Mighty Wrangell-Saint Elias is the largest national park in the USA and it has glaciers and old Kennecott, which is a well-preserved example of a mining boomtown.

But there is more! The Chugach Mountains create a dramatic skyline for Anchorage and Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest are a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Some of the best trailheads and access points are just 20 minutes from downtown.

The most frequently climbed mountain, most popular trailheads and 60 of the state’s most accessible glaciers are all found in the Chugach together with rafting, biking, kayaking and fishing opportunities. The 60-passenger Alyeska Aerial Tram offers expansive views and at the top there are two restaurants, a museum, and guided walks in summer.

Downtown

The downtown area of the city has some attractions. Alaska’s largest museum, the Anchorage Museum tells the story of Alaska and the North. It is a multifaceted story that weaves together social, political, cultural, scientific, historic and artistic threads.

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Information about the native people, can be found at the Alaskan Native Heritage Centre in suburban Anchorage. This shares the heritage of Alaska’s 11 major cultures. Visitors experience Alaska Native cultures first-hand through stories, dance and more but unfortunately it seems most visitors don’t make it here.

The Lake Hood Seaplane Base is the largest seaplane base in the world and most visitors to Anchorage enjoy the spectacle of planes leaving and arriving on the water. As it is only five kilometres from the downtown centre it is easy to reach. Taking a trip on a Flightseeing flight is one of the best ways to explore the mountains, soar over glaciers, and spot wildlife.

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The Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum is on the lake and serves as a tribute to Alaska’s famous bush pilots. It is home to 25 planes along with historic photos and displays.

Alaska Botanical Garden is a colourful showcase for native species, with paths through groomed herb, rock and perennial gardens in a wooded setting. The mile-long Lowenfels Family Nature Trail will teach you about native Alaska plants.

railway first linked broad stretches of Alaska together and trains depart daily in the summer for Seward, Prince William Sound, Denali, Talkeetna and Fairbanks. The Glacier Discovery train to Spencer Whistle stop is an easy and fascinating day trip from Anchorage.

Active from September through April, the famous Northern Lights are amazing to see and night owls can enjoy the shifting colours of the auroras near Anchorage. At this time, the city transforms into a white playground, with 130 kilometres of maintained Nordic ski trails. You can go dog sledding, ice skating, and snowmobiling, and see ice sculptures and more.

Wildlife

There are more than a thousand moose in Anchorage and they are not difficult to find. Spend a little time in the city’s many green spaces, and you’re likely to see one. You may also stumble upon one of the bears that periodically inhabit these areas. For those seeking a truly iconic wildlife shot, a visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre puts moose, musk oxen, foxes, eagles and many other species in camera range.

Eating and drinking

Seafood is big here so local restaurants includes king crab, halibut and salmon on their menus while street stalls sell reindeer sausages. Beer lovers are catered for with more than a dozen breweries in the city.

If you go

Alaska is part of the USA so visitor requirements are the same as the mainland. There are some international and many domestic air connections to Anchorage.

Images: Phensri Rutledge

www.LenRutledge.com

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX5HUmGP1lR2aoscn3O8P2Q

Chiang Mai story in Travelfore

The colours of Chiang Rai – Black, white and blue

Words: Len Rutledge  Images: Phensri Rutledge

Until recently, when you mentioned Northern Thailand most people thought of Chiang Mai. But now another place is also drawing attention. Chiang Rai, Thailand’s most northerly city, is firmly on the tourism route and for very good reasons.

Our recent visit showed that Chiang Rai City has an abundance of tourism attractions, headlined by three amazing architectural marvels. These can be summarised as the black, white and blue. The surrounding province contains some of Thailand’s most dramatic mountain scenery so a week in this area is not really enough.

The Black

The Baandam Museum (Black House) will astound you. Renowned Thai artist Thawan Duchanee spent more than fifty years building this somewhat controversial museum of folk art. It isn’t just one structure but a collection of around 40 buildings of varying shapes and sizes dotted around a peaceful garden. Each one is different and most are worth visiting.

The Colours of Chiang Rai – Black, White and Blue

Thawan was an incredibly talented recluse who lived in one of the houses on the site until his death in 2014. Now the whole complex has been taken over by the government. Black, gold and red were the three signature colours of the master painter. These striking contrasts permeate the collection of houses, sculptures, animal skins, bones and relics.

Located about 12 km north of Chiang Rai City, you will need at least 1 hour to look around. This is a very popular spot, so if you want to beat the crowds its best to go either early morning or an hour before the museum closes. Try the mini-pineapples while you are there and you will agree that they are the sweetest in the world.

The White

Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple was designed by national artist and native of Chiang Rai, Chalermchai Kositpipat. The entire complex is an enthralling fusion of religious sanctuary, museum and art gallery. It has evolved into the top attraction for first-time visitors to Chiang Rai and the complex is packed in the mornings with tourists who commute from Chiang Mai for the day.

It’s not really just a temple, despite the monks; it’s more of a wildly expensive and expansive art exhibition. Visitors are surprised to find curiously irreverent imagery on the exterior — as well as Hello Kitty, Michael Jackson and Spiderman on the inside. Some find this imagery kitschy and its sacrilege to others.

The Colours of Chiang Rai – Black, White and Blue

The emergence of the Predator from the ground is interesting and many hands reaching up as you traverse through the lifecycle of life, death and rebirth is a strange experience. But none of this should distract from what is probably the most artistic of Thailand’s temples.

Work on the temple will probably never really be finished, with present projects scheduled for many years but this on-going work does not distract a visitor. There is an art gallery, shop and café amongst the other structures in the compound.

The best time to visit is near dawn or dusk to miss the tour groups. The temple is 12 km south of Chiang Rai City. Foreigners are charged Baht 100 (about US$4) to enter.

The Blue

Wat Rong Suea Ten, commonly known as the ‘Blue Temple’, opened in 2016. An artist who studied under white temple artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, completed the exterior and interior designs.

The Colours of Chiang Rai – Black, White and Blue

What’s instantly attractive about the Blue Temple is just how vibrant the colours are. The deep blue building decorated with golden detail is simply stunning to look at. Unlike the White Temple, you’re allowed to take photos inside the Blue Temple. You won’t find any pop-culture references inside this one as the interior has a more classic design. At the centre of the room sits a white Buddha lit up with bright blue lights.

The temple has quickly caught the imagination of visitors who flock to its courtyard to take photos and worship. Entrance is free. A popular activity is to buy and eat the blue ice cream available from a vendor on-site.

The tall

Wat Huay Pla Kung which is a new entry on Chiang Rai’s growing list of unusual temples combines gold and white. There is a giant white statue of the Bodhisattva Guan (Goddess of Mercy) within which you ride to the top in an elevator, a white temple decorated with Lanna-Chinese art, and a 9‑storied gold pagoda.

The Colours of Chiang Rai – Black, White and Blue

The monk here has supposed healing powers and the mainly Thai Chinese who come to the temple to be healed have donated large amounts of money to build the Chinese statue. It is a giant landmark which dominates the local area.

Getting to Chiang Rai

There are many daily flights from Bangkok on several airlines which take about an hour and 15 minutes. If coming from Chiang Mai, the road trip takes about three and a half hours. The city has a wide variety of accommodation suitable for all tastes and budgets.

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Thailand 2020 available as an e‑book or paperback from amazon.com

https://www.LenRutledge.com

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX5HUmGP1lR2aoscn3O8P2Q

The Colours of Chiang Rai – Black, White and Blue
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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

Published in Traveloscopy

August 12, 2020


The chequered history of Ravenswood, Queensland

Thorps Building Ravenswood (Phensri Rutledge)

Booming gold and silver mines, a railway that came and went, a population that rose to 5000 and fell to 100, 50 pubs, and a recent resurgence in mining: Ravenswood has seen it all. Len Rutledge tells the story.

Mining and tourism are now taking this fascinating town to new prosperity despite COVID-19 and the current poor economic conditions. It seems that the future is bright. Ravenswood is certainly worth exploring for its old mining relics, its fascinating buildings, and its outstanding history.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the area around Ravenswood had been home to people from the Gugu-Badhum Aboriginal language group. Then pastoralists arrived in the 1860s and gold was discovered in 1868. Prospectors and fossickers arrived to exploit the new fields.

In 1870 the Government built a battery crushing mill and by 1871 there was a bank, a courthouse and a local newspaper. In 1873 a government school opened and by 1876 the district population was around 2,000.

The continuing operation of the gold mines, plus the discovery of silver, led to the construction of a railway to Ravenswood but by the early 1890s, the mines were nearly idle. The town was saved by Archibald Wilson who managed to interest English investors in the field and by 1910 the town had a population of 5000.

The mines finally ground to a halt in 1917 and since then the town has slowly declined until recently. The saviour has been Resolute Mining who has undertaken major work to develop the Ravenswood area into a successful modern mining operation. In April this year, the EMR GEAR Consortium officially took over the Ravenswood gold operation with expansion plans expected to create a further 200 full-time positions.

While this is great for the town, what does it mean for visitors? Resolute Mining contributed substantially to restoration work in the old town and the new owners are likely to continue this. The work has made Ravenswood a fascinating place showcasing its 19th and 20th-century history.

The first attraction on the road in from Townsville (140 kilometres away) is the Miners Cottage from 1868. This needs some further protective works to save it for the future. There is a good information area just beyond here near the old railway station which provides a good introduction to the town.

Railway Hotel

(Phensri Rutledge)
Across the road, this large brick hotel was constructed in 1901. It has three storeys, only two of which can be seen from street level. Accommodation is on the top floor and the bar, kitchens and dining room are at street level. French doors open from the rooms onto the verandas and the building retains its pressed metal ceilings and some of the original furniture and fittings.The Court House and Police StationBuilt in 1882, these are the central elements of the town’s museum which features displays relating to the town’s history, people and mining history. It is open Monday to Friday from 11.00 am — 1.30 pm, Saturday-Sunday, 11.00 am — 2.00 pm

The buildings were removed from the site in 1965 and subsequently returned during the 1980s and have now been renovated. The courthouse building contains early courtroom furniture and fittings including timber gallery seating, witness stand, dock, and Judge’s bench.

Ravenswood Post Office

Now the town’s General Store, this attractive building was built in 1885 by the Queensland Public Works Department. The Post office is a single-storey timber building with an exposed stud frame, set on low stumps. It is surrounded on three sides with verandas supported on timber posts. Fuel and supplies are available here.

Thorps Building (lead pic above)

This impressive, two-storey building, was constructed about 1903 for Sydney Thorp, a mining agent and sharebroker. It housed businesses which supplied miners with everything from household goods to mining machinery and is the only two-storey shop still standing in Ravenswood. It consists of two shops at ground level with professional offices above. Visitors find an eclectic range of souvenirs, historic items, antiques and much more.

The Imperial Hotel

(Phensri Rutledge)

This is a flamboyant Edwardian building (1901) with multicoloured brickwork, superb balconies and a delightful Edwardian interior. The layout is typical of nineteenth century hotels, with the ground floor containing the bars, dining room, a billiard room, kitchen, store rooms and office. I particularly like the elaborately constructed and decorated bar with cedar and glass fittings, and ceramic taps.

Other attractions

Over the road from the Imperial Hotel is the timber Ravenswood School of Arts which was built in 1884. It has been the principal theatre, cinema, and social venue of Ravenswood since it was built.

Ravenswood Community Church (Phensri Rutledge)
Located on a hill is the Ravenswood Community Church, originally St Patrick’s Catholic Church, which was built in 1871. Also worth visiting, is the Sarsfield Pit Lookout which looks across a substantial lake created by open cut mining.
White Blow (Phensri Rutledge)
The White Blow Environmental Park, 4 km from Ravenswood, is where you can see a milky quartz outcrop, which was originally several kilometres below ground level.There is little doubt that Ravenswood has had a fascinating history which can be enjoyed today. It is a place to keep most visitors busy for hours. The mullock heaps, the old shafts, the chimneys, and the old buildings make it an informative journey into the past.

Wroclaw story in Travel and Talk

Wroclaw: Poland’s big surprise

by Len Rutledge

They are the cutest inhabitants of Wrocław, Poland. More than 400 dwarves live on the streets and squares of the city. They are very friendly and like being photographed. This was just one element that made a Wroclaw visit a complete surprise and quite memorable.

It is the largest city in western Poland but it was almost unknown to us when we arrived by car from Germany. We quickly discover that Wroclaw is Poland’s fourth-largest city and a lively cultural centre, with several theatres, major festivals, rampant nightlife and a large student community.

We had chosen a hotel with a car park close to the centre of town and planned to walk around from there. This worked perfectly and is a strong recommendation to all visitors.

Cathedral Island

While the central square was a big drawcard, we decide to start sightseeing where Wroclaw was born. To reach there, we walk through Slowacki Park and see the Museum of Architecture, the National Museum and the Panorama building before reaching Bastion Ceglarski with its old fortifications overlooking the Odra River.

It is a lovely walk along the bank of the river and across the Piaskowy Bridge to Sand Island and then across the delightful Tumski Bridge to Cathedral Island. This is the oldest part of Wrocław and there are a number of impressive monuments here. When Cathedral Island was first developed in the 10th century the river created a natural defence.

The most interest today is provided by the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist from the 12th century with its 21 chapels, the loveliest of which is the Italian Baroque Chapel of St Elizabeth. A lift will take you to the top of one of the towers for the best vistas of the city.

You should also see the Church of the Holy Cross which is a unique two-storey brick basilica, and the Botanic Garden with its 11,500 plants in 7.5 hectares, from a diversity of climate zones and environments such as tropical, subtropical, underwater, alpine, and wetland.

 

wroclaw photo, wroclaw photograph, poland photo, travel writing len rutledge, cathedral island wroclaw photoLooking across to Cathedral Island

Old City North

It is difficult to leave this delightful area but there is so much more to see. We retrace our route across the two bridges then pay a brief visit to the Produce Market, an historic, traditional indoor market, before walking through the northern section of the Old Town.

We find the Baroque-style main Wrocław University building here. It houses the Wrocław University Museum and the wonderful Oratorium Marianum music hall, which has served as a celebrated concert space for more than two hundred years.

The university, which has produced nine Nobel Prize winners, was founded by the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold in 1702. One of the must-sees is the extravagantly decorated Baroque hall, Aula Leopoldina, with a ceiling fresco, gilded stucco, and sculpted cherubs. Close by is the garrison church which is one of the most important city churches and one of the symbols of Wrocław.

Market Square

wroclaw photo, wroclaw photograph, poland photo, travel writing len rutledge, market square wroclaw photoMarket Square

 

Now it is time to head to the constantly hustling and bustling Market Square, which is the very heart of Wrocław. The centre of the square features the Cloth Hall and the Gothic and Renaissance Old Town Hall, which is now the Museum of the Bourgeois Art. The Old Town Hall is actually a group of Gothic buildings bundled together in one complex. On the Late Gothic east facade, look for the astronomical clock dating to 1580.

In front of its eastern façade stands the faithful copy of the medieval Pillory which was a place of punishment for petty criminals, and in front of the western façade is the Aleksander Fredro Monument to a comic playwright.

Like the rest of the Old Town, the Market Square has almost the same layout as it did when it was planned in the middle of the 13th century.

The square is surrounded by beautiful town houses ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau. Amazingly, most of the buildings here are replicas of how they used to be as the square was completely rebuilt from the pile of ruins that was Wroclaw after the Second World War.

During summer, the Main Square is a great place to soak up the sun with a local beer at one of the many bars and restaurants, and during winter a large ice rink materialises providing the chance to show off some skating skills. There are often concerts, folk dances, photo exhibitions and much more here as well.

Adjacent to the Market Square is Plac Solny. It has buildings with elaborate reliefs and figurines bursting from the facades and is now a 24-hour flower market.

wroclaw photo, wroclaw photograph, poland photo, travel writing len rutledge, market square wroclaw photoMarket Square at Night

Old City South

The Four Denominations District is situated a little south-west of here. Three churches of different denominations and a synagogue are within 300 metres of each other. The numerous restaurants, cafés, pubs and music clubs situated here make it a popular meeting place for locals and visitors.

The nearby Royal Palace, together with its Baroque-style garden, now houses the Historical Museum of Wrocław. The Museum showcases the history of the city and the royal apartments are also open.

Hydropolis, centre of knowledge about water, was opened in 2015. There are many rooms, each with multimedia tablets with interesting details about discoveries of the underwater world, the nature of water and its use in life. It is in an underground water reservoir built in 1893.

A little outside the Old Town, Szczytnicki Park is the largest park in the city. Set up in 1913, the Japanese Garden remains its key attraction. The park with its arboretum, rose gardens, and Japanese Garden, is heritage listed.

Centennial Hall, with its 69-metre-high dome, opened in 1913 for the 100th anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig. It can accommodate 10,000 and was recognised as a significant 20th ‑century building when it was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006.

But back to the dwarfs. There is an anti-communist protest behind the dwarfs which first appeared in 2001. The first dwarf was displayed in Swidnicka Street, where the anti-communist movement used to gather. Since then many different dwarfs have appeared in the streets and in the front of shops. Visit the tourist office for interesting brochures about them and where to find them all.

Of all the cities we visited on our recent pre-covid19 trip through Europe, Wroclaw was the biggest surprise and we are looking forward to returning and spending more time to get to know the city better.

Images: Phensri Rutledge

www.LenRutledge.com

i2Mag story on Southern Austria

Up And Down In Southern Austria

Posted on Jun 24 2020 
843 views
 The little nostalgic steam engine huffs and puffs its way up the steep track as we leave the lakeside village of St. Wolfgang in Austria. We are bound for the Schafberg Mountain and our carriage is full of expectant and excited people. The joy of travelling in toy mountain trains is unexplainable in words but we all feel it. This is a real adventure.

Austria has long been a popular destination for visitors from around the world and when international travel returns to some semblance of normality (perhaps not until 2021) Austria is certain to be popular again. The Schafbergbahn began operating again, after a coronavirus shutdown, in early June so if you can get there the experience is available just as it was to us before the shutdown. If you are in this area, you would be mad to miss it.

The Schafbergbahn

The steepest, steam cog-railway in Austria has been ascending this mountain since 1893. It takes 35 minutes to reach the summit, climbing 1,190 metres over 5.85 kilometres. Along the way, we pass through forest, rocky terrain and rolling grassland. The views are magical but many of the passengers are concentrating on the little locomotive as it struggles up the track with the help of its cog drive.

The two original cog railway’s steam engines count amongst the oldest working engines in the world as they were built in 1893 and 1892. In 1992, four modern locomotives were built that operate their steam engines with diesel. Older diesel engine locomotives from the 1960s are kept and maintained for emergencies and there are two modern diesel locomotives.

The Schafbergbahn featured in the Sound of Music movie and it is a highly popular day-trip destination among both locals and tourists. The view from the summit (1,783 m) is the most spectacular in this world-famous region. On a clear day, there is a 360-degree panoramic view over the glittering lakes and across the mountains into Germany. All around, the mountains soar majestically, and you have this feeling of being on top of the world.

The rail terminal at the top of the mountain is close to a hotel and several restaurants and it is surrounded by rocky walking paths that test your fitness. Train tickets to the top are purchased for a specific up-hill train, and we learned there is heavy demand for mid-morning departures. For the best views, sit on the left-hand side of the train on the way up and the right-hand side on the way down. You need to book your return journey time once you reach the top.

The construction of the Schafbergbahn dates back to the late 19th century. At that time Viennese aristocrats wanted to spend the summer in the mountains. The railway network had been rapidly developed and an early form of tourism to accommodate the visitors became an important source of income for many locals.

A consortium of investors funded the construction of the mountain railway in 1893. Financial difficulties forced the owners to sell in 1932 then in 1938, it became the property of Nazi-Germany′s Reichsbahn and later of the Austrian National Railway ÖBB. Finally, the Schafbergbahn was sold again in 2006. Since then, it has been owned by the Salzburg AG company and it is operated in association with the boats that cruise Lake Wolfgangsee.

The way down is no less exciting as the engine struggles to control the rate of descent on the steep track. At one point we stop to allow another train to pass and see the train guard feverishly operating the points before we proceed. Finally, it is back to level ground and on to our next adventure.

Hallstatt is some 35 kilometres away. Some regard this as the most beautiful village in the world. The Chinese were so impressed that they produced a replica of it in Guangdong but thousands still flock here to see the original. It is difficult not to be impressed by the real UNESCO-listed version.

From the market square which hosts summer concerts and the Christmas Market, you are just a short walk away from one of the most beautiful photo points in Europe. But it is also the romantic alleyways, cosy cafés, delightful churches and the numerous little souvenir shops that make this place so appealing.

The charnel house or ‘Bone House’ in St. Michael’s Chapel with its unusual collection of over 600 artistically painted skulls is one of the more interesting tourist sites. Because of restricted land area, when an existing grave was reused for a new burial, the old skull or bones were transferred from the grave to the charnel house as part of a second funeral.

The World Heritage Museum is another attraction. Multimedia technology takes you back 7,000 years to the beginnings of this ancient salt mining town. With 3D glasses, you can immerse yourself in the history of old Hallstatt and learn trivia from the beginning of human presence to the elevation of the region to its World Heritage status.

People have been mining salt above Hallstatt for thousands of years and a visit to the mine can be a great experience. You reach it by funicular then enjoy a miner’s slide, a subterranean salt lake and an exciting trip on the mining railway. While here, take a small detour to the Hallstatt Sky Walk. This spectacular viewing platform sits high above the village and offers an idyllic panoramic view of Lake Hallstatt and breathtaking alpine landscape.

Electric boat driving is one of the most popular pastimes on Lake Hallstatt. The fresh air and the beautiful nature of the fjord-like lake combine to provide a relaxing experience. You can either captain the boat yourself or take an experienced driver who will take you to the most beautiful parts of the lake.

Available space is in short supply making parking in the village a problem, so the village centre is traffic-free during the daytime and visitors must park in several car parks nearby. These are within walking distance of all attractions but space is limited and we see late-comers having to queue for spaces as others leave. If you plan to visit, arrive before 9 am if possible.

If You Go: Under ‘normal’ circumstances there are flights from around the world to Vienna, the capital of Austria. Hallstatt and the Schafbergbahn are about 300 kilometres west and are reachable by rental car or train.

Images: Phensri Rutledge

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of the Experience Guide series to Thailand, Norway, Ireland, Northern Italy, Myanmar, Singapore, India, Istanbul and Melbourne. Books are available as ebooks or paperbacks from https://amazon.com by typing in Len Rutledge in the search box on that site.

Victorian story from Traveloscopy

June 22, 2020

Victoria: West is best

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Travel restrictions still apply to several states but Victoria is generally open for visitors. Our trip was completed before COVID-19 appeared but it should be possible to visit everywhere we did by the end of June, although booking ahead for the wineries and Sovereign Hill may be required. Start planning now because it is a great experience.

A Victorian holiday is always interesting so my wife and I were keen to make the most of our time. Exploring the airline timetables, we discovered an effective way of gaining an extra day. There are evening flights into Melbourne so you can leave after work and begin the holiday that day.

Our flight arrived at Melbourne airport a little after 9pm and by using the Parkroyal Melbourne Airport hotel we could have been eating at the restaurant, drinking at the bar, swimming in the indoor heated pool or exercising in the gym by 9.30. Instead we went to bed!

The Parkroyal proved to be an excellent hotel. Staff were friendly, our room was luxurious, facilities were well maintained and the breakfast buffet was a feast. After checking out we took the elevator downstairs and rented a car for a week from a selection of six operators.

The drive to Ballarat was easy but unexciting. This grand old city was built on gold more than 150 years ago and many dignified buildings still exist from those times. After walking the main street and visiting the outstanding Art Gallery, we drove to Sovereign Hill.

This is probably Australia’s best historical park and it has grown even more impressive since our last visit. We watched the redcoats march and fire their muskets. We photographed the coach ride, the candle making and the metal spinning.

The Red Hill Mine Tour proved to be better than expected and the gold pour showed us what a $150,000 ingot looks like. A short visit to the theatre and a chance to bowl in a 140-year-old manually operated alley saw us looking for somewhere to relax. The Hope Bakery proved to be the perfect place.

Gold panning at Sovereign Hill

No visit to Sovereign Hill would be complete without trying our luck gold panning. After 30 minutes my wife had collected gold worth about $5 from the creek.

Next day we reluctantly left Ballarat after spending the morning in the Botanical Gardens by Lake Wendouree. The gardens were established in 1858 and contain a remarkable collection of mature trees and statuaries.

Other highlights are the Prime Ministers Avenue, the Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage, the ex-POW memorial and the remarkable begonia conservatory. We should have allocated more time here.

Literally dozens of historic and boutique wineries are scattered across undulating western Victoria. Our desire was to visit some of them so we started in Avoca. Here the Blue Pyrenees Winery provided a chance to sample some spicy cabernet sauvignon and other classics before indulging in an excellent lunch.

Then it was on to the historic wine village of Great Western, known as the birthplace of Australian sparkling wine. The iconic Seppelt and Best’s wineries are here using grapes from vineyards that date back to the mid-1800s. Both offer tastings and we didn’t hold back. After selecting a few bottles to take with us, it was off to Stawell.

This historic gold mining town is world famous for its Easter Stawell Gift which was first run in 1878. We viewed the Hall of Fame and did a quick jog on the track which has created so many champions.

For thousands of years the dramatic Grampians mountain ranges have inspired wonder. Now largely covered by the Grampians National Park, the rugged peaks with their rich cultural heritage and breathtaking views are one of Victoria’s most popular destinations.

The area is suitable for everyone. There are hundreds of kilometres of bush walking tracks, excellent paved roads to waterfalls and spectacular lookouts, adventure tours offering kayaking, rock climbing and horse riding, farm gate providores and farmers’ markets, and comfortable accommodation.

We stayed in Halls Gap in a rental house. The cute tourist village is surrounded by remarkable mountain escarpments, forest and wildlife. Kangaroos graze on the football ground and birds are everywhere. There are numerous small cafes and restaurants and a general store and hotel.

We learned about the regions’ Aboriginal culture and history at Brambuk – the National Park and Cultural Centre just outside town. The extraordinary building has a bush food cafe and retail outlet as well as an information centre. A quick trip by car took us to one of five rock art sites that are open to the public.

www.LenRutledge.com

Photographs: Phensri Rutledge

Further Info:

Parkroyal Melbourne Hotel — http://www.parkroyalhotels.com/en/hotels/australia/melbourne/parkroyal/

Sovereign Hill – www.sovereignhill.com.au

Halls Gap Visitor Centre – www.grampianstravel.com

Brambuk – www.brambuk.com.au

Story from Luxe Beat Magazine

SINGAPORE IS A CULTURAL MELTING POT

Singapore is a cultural melting pot

The recent Black Lives Matter rallies have dramatically shown the underlying divisions that exist in many countries. Racism has affected many minorities and at times this has been accepted and papered-over. But not all countries suffer these problems. On a recent visit to Singapore I saw that different ethnic communities and religions can harmoniously live side by side. The world should take note.

Multiculturalism comes alive in dynamic Singapore and this is one of the great attractions of this city-state. It is seen on the streets, heard in the restaurants and smelt in the pungent aromas at the hawker centres.

The largest percentage of the population is Chinese but the large populations of Malays and Indians have considerable influence on the country’s lifestyle while British, other Europeans and Eurasians add further to the mix.

Singapore has some of the best hotels and restaurants in the world so it is easy to find the level of luxury that you need. Once you have settled in, I strongly recommend a visit to different areas of the city if you want to fully understand what makes this city so attractive to visitors.

CHINATOWN

Unfortunately, much of the area was demolished and redeveloped in the 1970s and hence it has lost some of its genuine appeal but some areas have been spared and these today offer a nice mixture of historical structures and restaurants, nightclubs, high-tech businesses and shops. It is safe and accessible, and is a great place for walking.

Strange Chinese medicines, questionable antiques, and cheap souvenirs may tempt you to come here to buy but this is also just an area for wandering. There are many shrines, museums and other cultural buildings, for history or religious buffs. The Chinatown Visitors Centre is a good place to find out all there is to do.

Chinatown is a great place to visit anytime but it takes on a special ambience during Chinese New Year (late January or early February). Most people will dress in red and give children AngPow, a monetary gift in a red packet to bring luck and prosperity. Every household is busy with spring cleaning to get rid of the old and welcome the new.

Houses are decorated in red and people celebrate with fire crackers. It is believed that these chase off evil spirits and awakens the deities and guardian spirits who are the custodians of good health, good fortune and prosperity.

LITTLE INDIA

Little India began as a camp for Indian convict workers who were brought in by the British to work on the city’s development. It still has important religious centres and is a hub for traditional businesses which many visitors find fascinating.

Serangoon Road is a wonderful place to wander. There are small restaurants, endless shops and great street scenes to observe. You should try some of the very traditional and economical Indian food and also some of the teas.

You will find a great range of Indian sari cloths which make good wall hangings if you don’t want to wear them, and the metal tiffin sets can be useful and good gifts. This area gets very crowded on a Sunday when immigrant Indian and Bangladeshi labourers descend here en mass.

A highlight here is the Mustafa Centre. This is the place to go if you need a new TV, gold jewellery, new cooking pot or some underwear at 4 a.m. because this place never closes. It has a cult following, is usually crowded and is the best place to go if you’re after a bargain. It is not fancy but it has a great range of items, and good prices to match. It really is a shopping experience unlike any other particularly after midnight.

KAMPONG GELAM

This is an historic district whose name originates from the Gelam Tree, which once grew abundantly here and was used in ship building. Rows of brightly painted shophouses line several streets, and many of them are occupied by trendy design firms, restaurants, art galleries, and craft and curios shops.

Haji Lane and Arab Street are where Singapore’s early Arab traders settled. This was the centre of the original Muslim section of town, famed for its speciality shops, Muslim restaurants and more. There are many backpacker hostels in this area today.

The area has vibrant colour and is a great place to explore slowly. There are textile stores and outlets selling Persian carpets and you’ll also see leather, perfumes, spices, jewellery, crystal and baskets for sale. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours visiting many of the stores and chatting with the sellers. Quality seems good and prices, once you bargain, are OK too.

Look for the Muslim restaurants, the money-changers and the travel agents who specialise in the travel needs of Muslim pilgrims heading for Mecca. Stop off at a coffee house or browse for traditional games such as Congkak which involves marbles and a wooden board.

COLONIAL SINGAPORE

This is where Singapore started and it’s a great place for visitors to start their exploration of this fascinating city. There are some stunning British colonial buildings and many of them have been converted to museums and art galleries.

Raffles Hotel is a Singapore institution not to be missed. Enter from Beach Road into the marbled lobby with its plush Persian carpets, note the wonderful Sikh doorman, and find your way to the Long Bar for a Singapore Sling. This famous drink was invented here in 1915 and you can still enjoy the great ambiance despite the ridiculous cost of the drink.

Colonial - Raffles Hotel

The Chijmes complex is a jewel of quiet courtyards, cobbled paths and fountains. This was once the Catholic Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus from 1840. It is now an elegant dining, shopping and entertainment complex that should not be missed. It is particularly attractive at night.

Down by the river is the Asian Civilisations Museum in a neoclassical building built in 1867 as a Court House. After a major renovation, it opened in its present form in 2003 and is probably the museum I most enjoy in Singapore.

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Singapore 2020 available as an e‑book or paperback from Amazon.

Images: Phensri Rutledge

Why is it a great time to visit Luxor?

This story appeared in Getting On Travel in February 2018

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.

 

*All photo credits: Phensri Rutledge