All posts by Grace

About Grace

Once upon a time I was a backpacker, but these days a little more comfort is required and I'd like to share my journeys with you. I hope this blog will keep you informed and updated with the art of travel. May Grace be with you!

Tirana and Surrounds, Albania – Balkans

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Attending travel-related events overseas is always interesting, but to chat on National News in Tirana, Albania it truly was a rewarding experience to give your perspective on an up and coming region within Europe.

The Balkans has been an area some might not necessarily contemplate to visit, but for me, I’ve found it one of the fastest-growing destinations in Europe in terms of affordability, culture and a layered undercurrent of vitality and undisputed history.

New infrastructure is evident throughout and my speculation is that it’ll be one of the most sought after places tourism will extend its somewhat dormant arms to.

Albania is burgeoning ahead with a renewed energy, even though in many ways it still embraces the old, it’s incorporating some new ideals – such as wanting to become part of the European Union and talks have been established.

Australians do not require a visa to enter Albania. However, you may wish to check the Visalink tab on this website for any further updates before travelling there.


An open space in the city centre, you’ll find The Skanderbeg Square which is the main plaza and is home to the National Museum of History.

The Square is named after the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu and is a total area is about 40,000 square metres giving relief to office workers for a place to lunch, meet friends or simply watch all those tourists passing by each day which seem to be growing exponentially in numbers.


The Resurrection Cathedral is situated in the centre of Tirana and it’s the third largest Orthodox church in Europe, officially opened in June, 2012. The peace of the church was savagely destroyed when the communists took over the government of the country in 1945.

It’s definitely worthy of a visit and you can marvel at the incredible structure with its restoration in recent times.

The Clock Tower of Tirana was built in 1822 and the stairwell has 90 steps which dizzily capture a spiral twist. It’s 35 metres (115 ft) tall and since the restoration in 2016, there’s been  9,833 visitors to the tower.


Much of the architecture around Tirana is a mixed fusion of styles – mostly relating to the past, but adapting to some contemporary ideals as well, it’s desperately shaking off its war-torn image and forging new concepts.


Who said any plumbing-like apparatus couldn’t be used as an artistic tool?


The House of Leaves Museum is a stark reminder that Albania’s freedom was only allowed in very recent times.

It’s the newest museum to open in Albania and probably the most intriguing; considered to be the equivalent of the Stasi headquarters of the former East Germany. The leaves have a double meaning: things hidden in woods, but also the leaves of books and files about its people.

At the time, the Albanian government tried to keep secret the news of the Italian ultimatum. While Radio Tirana persistently broadcast that nothing was happening, people became suspicious and the news of the Italian ultimatum was spread from unofficial sources.


The country experienced widespread social and political transformations in the communist era, as well as isolation from much of the international community. In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1991, the Socialist Republic was dissolved and the fourth Republic of Albania was established.


Just outside the city and a day out to Dajti Mountain National Park, the gondola spans a kilometre, making it the longest in the Balkans and is more than 800 metres up the mountainside.

After hopping off the gondola ride at the top, you might be lucky enough and have the chance to say hello to a little fellow on the walk up towards the restaurant. Gotta love horses!


Once you’re at the top of the mountain and you’re seeking a culinary experience, then The Panorama Hotel has the restaurant for you, it serves traditional specialties and the views are amazing. Sit back, relax and marvel the scenery.

Traditional food presented buffet style will always allow you to make your own choices. If the mesmerising smell of excellent European gastronomy doesn’t take hold of you as you walk in the door, then you’ve probably headed in the wrong direction. Tasty and delicious – not to mention overly fulfilling … Next stop is diet!

And, once you’ve finished having that massive luncheon to discuss what’s happening on the tourist trail in Albania, a little sit down by the local waterway may be required to check out the book stall – which is always a simple way to have a chat, relax and enjoy the sunshine – even in April!

Surprisingly, English is well spoken as is Italian throughout the country.

Well now – an Australian two-dollar note which had been fazed out around the late 1980s. Having asked if I could buy the note, I was promptly told it was not on offer …

Good news though,  Australian currency is easily exchanged at almost all dealers, banks and hotels in Albania.


The most important attraction of the city is the Museum of the National Hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg and is situated within this Illyrian castle which took its present facade during the 5th-6th century. The castle has nine towers, a few surrounding houses and the Teqja e Dollmasë. Inside the castle grounds, you can also visit the Ethnographic Museum, a typical house made of çardak, which belonged to the illustrious Toptani family.

In case you’re an avid fan of castles, there’s just no shortage – err hum, a total of 158 castles and fortifications in the country that have achieved – drum roll please – the status of  Monuments of Cultural Heritage.

The traditional market of Kruja stands near the castle and is one of Albania’s largest handicraft markets and has operated since the 15th century. A must see for some truly intricate items of ‘days gone by’.


On the top of the mountain over the town of Kruja is a religious place called Sari Salltiku (Bektashi sect). ​ There, visitors can find shelter and accommodation if they wish to climb to that spot. Additionally, travellers will find a magnificent view toward the valley and further out towards the Adriatic Sea.

Further afield, Lake Ohrid straddles the mountainous border between south western Macedonia and eastern Albania. It’s one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes preserving a unique aquatic ecosystem of worldwide importance; with more than 200 endemic species it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.


At the end of each day, I’m happy to see my hotel of choice, Mak Albania which is quiet, spacious and an easy walk to the city centre. The staff are incredibly efficient and very helpful.

For more information about Albania and group bookings, please see the home page and email me directly.

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Domodossola, Italy and Locarno, Switzerland – Swiss Rail Pass

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Italy was my next day out and as you can see there’s a myriad of choices to use your Swiss Rail Pass from Brig. But, this time I’m heading south towards Locarno, Switzerland and a stop close to the Italian and Swiss border town of Domodossola.


Smaller train but just as popular as the others for a day trip.

Although it is an Italian train, the Centovalli fare (but not the supplement) is included in the scope of the various Swiss Rail flat rate and discount passes, as are journeys from Domodossola. The Swiss portion of the line is managed by Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi. On the Swiss side, directional signs and employees prominently display the company’s acronym – FART.

Since at least October 2012, there is new rolling stock called the ‘panoramic train’. When taking this train, regardless of the type of ticket held, a supplement of €1,50 or CHF2,00 per passenger is collected in cash, on board by the conductor. The departure board mentions “supplemento” for runs on the panoramic train. The supplement isn’t collected on other trains on the route.


Opened on 25 November 1923, the 52 kilometre (32 mile) long railway has 22 stations and takes approximately two hours to traverse the whole length. The Italian-Swiss border is crossed between the towns of Ribellasca and Camedo.


It’s starting to feel a bit like Italy!


Vineyards which have been in winter mode are starting to awaken to warmer air. The surrounds wreak of grapes soon to be lovingly embraced by workers who deliver that delicious juice that we all enjoy so much!


Up and down and around we go on our little train enroute to Italy and then a quick trip, crossing into Locarno, Switzerland being on the coast. Domodossola is situated at the confluence of the Bogna and Toce Rivers and is home to 18,300 people.

The railway currently plays an important economic and tourist function in this area. It’s the shortest and most scenic link between the major trans-Alpine railways that pass through the Simplon and Gotthard tunnels. Combined with the Simplon railway, it provides a fast connection between the Swiss Cantons of Valais and Ticino.


The Centovalli railway (Italian: Centovallina) is a metre-gauge railway negotiating the dramatic mountainous terrain between Domodossola, Italy and Locarno, Switzerland where it ends, and along the way passes through the villages of Intragna and Santa Maria Maggiore and carried over one million passengers in 2010.


Stunning scenery passes us by as myself and long-time Swiss friend Anne from Bern are having a day out in search of a decent pasta and mouth-watering gelato.


Close to the station, we didn’t have to go too far before finding a number of quaint cafes and restaurants – warm, cosy and inviting.


Domodossola was a perfect choice to have a break with Anne and find a gelato with coffee before walking around the lovely township.


Yummy!


This lovely Italian whistle stop is located at the foot of the Italian Alps and acts as a minor passenger-rail hub. Its strategic location accommodates Swiss rail passengers and the Domodossola railway station is a regular international stopping-point between Milan and Brig.


Flags from both Italy and Switzerland fly freely and a great way to enjoy the best of two cultures in one stop.

The railroad connects with the Swiss national railway terminals at both ends. Additionally at Locarno, trains run frequently to scenic Lugano further along the coastline.

The name “Centovalli” (100 valleys) derives from the existence of the many valleys along the line upon which are perched small towns to picturesque Locarno. The mountainous geography means that there are numerous bridges and viaducts to admire on a journey. The trip is exceptionally scenic and negotiates many gorges and definitely worthy of a day’s outing.

For Australians wishing to purchase a Swiss Travel Pass and seek further information see the link below for RailPlus.

http://www.railplus.com.au

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Golden Pass Panoramic, Swiss Rail Pass

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The Golden Pass was my third day of using the  Swiss 4 x Day Consecutive Pass and although this train starts in Montreux, I’ve embarked in Brig and transferred in Spiez without any difficulty simply by showing my Pass.


Lovely scenery along the way with the Alps in the background; though a bit overcast on the day, this journey still attracts a huge following regardless of the season in Switzerland.


From Montreux to Lucerne and vice verse, there are three separate trains, all connecting with each other and each run by a different private operator:  Montreux to Zweisimmen by the Montreux-Oberland Bernois Railway (metre gauge), Zweisimmen to Interlaken on the Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon (BLS) Railway (standard gauge) and Interlaken to Lucerne on the Brunig Railway operated by the Zentralbahn (metre gauge).


As with other tourist trains, reservations are necessary if you want to travel in the panoramic tourists cars on the key departures, but regular trains run frequently over the same route and these need no prior reservation.


A little swap over of lines. This is a mainly narrow-gauge route from Montreux to Lucerne via the well-known ski resort of Gstaad.  It’s slower than using mainline trains between Montreux, but very scenic and marketed to tourists as the Golden Pass route.

Front row seats need to be booked in advance and worthy of the cost.


What a great way to spend the day, watching the world go by, sip a glass of vino from local Swiss regions and have a bite to eat either on the train (needs to be booked in advance), or stop along the way and visit one of the quaint townships.

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Glacier Express, St Moritz to Zermatt – Switzerland

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The Glacier Express is the next part of my Switzerland rail expedition using my four-day consecutive Swiss Travel Pass. Although this train begins in St. Moritz and goes all the way to Zermatt (or vice versa), I picked up the journey from Chur as it was my choice to base myself there, with the final destination for the day being Brig. This seemed an ideal place to depart from and explore a number of shorter destinations over the next two subsequent days with my rail pass.


Modern, smart and contemporary in its style making this train one of the most sought after by tourists with a penchant for rail journeys.

There is one daily Glacier Expresses in each direction in winter, but up to three daily Glacier Expresses in summer.


Here we can see the layout of the First Class carriage with comfortable seating arrangements to maximum viewing opportunities. Configuration is as follows:
•1st class: 36 seats (6 x 4-person compartments, 6 x 2-person compartments, central aisle) with tables
•2nd class: 48 seats (12 x 4-person compartments, central aisle) with tables

Check out the panoramic ‘vista’ windows that run from your elbow to the ceiling.


From just outside Chur the scenery is already opening up to some spectacular views.


Roofs of homes covered by the winter months are now making an appearance it seems. The Glacier Express is a regular scheduled year-round train service, but again, I urge visitors to book early if considering Switzerland as part of a European holiday.


Being inside a cosy, warm carriage also means having a delicious hot meal to complement the views. A traditional dish of Spaetzli (to me, a very tasty noodle-like pasta), with tender melt-in-your-mouth meat can be included in the ticket price. Whether you opt for the ‘dish of the day’ or a 3-course meal, all food is lovingly and freshly prepared every day using carefully selected regional and seasonal produce. Local wines are sourced from the cantons of Graubünden and Valais to round off your culinary experience.

At the time of booking your journey, seat and meal reservations are a must.


Wonder what the Swiss are having for lunch?


All too soon we were at Andermatt for a stop and to take in the fresh clean air and admire the Swiss Alps and the amazing panorama.


A walk around the platform is permitted for about 15 to 20 minutes with staff keeping a close eye on us – ensuring our boarding time is adhered to.


And yes, everyone’s very happy to be here, visitors wave us off. Bet they wish they were on my world-class train!


The route crosses the Oberalp Pass at 2,033 metres and descends into Valais before a cogwheel climb into the village of Zermatt, which sits at the base of the Matterhorn. You will travel through narrow valleys, tight curves, 91 tunnels and across 291 bridges.

Billed as Europe’s slowest express, its a narrow-gauge train which takes 7½ hours to cover just over 290 km (180 miles), at an average speed of around 24 mph.


The route takes you through the three cantons of Valais, Uri and Graubünden offering breathtaking and varied spectacular views. If going the whole way from St. Moritz to Zermatt, it’s almost eight hours of sheer pleasure for your eyes – and your palate too.


A couple of nights in Brig. I  based myself in an interesting Swiss city, ready for my next day’s train trip. Situated at an important junction, Brig is an ideal starting point for excursions. It’s close to hiking and ski regions on the Lötschberg and Simplon areas.


And yes, I did have enough time to explore warm sunny Brig in the afternoon after completing my day’s rail adventure with the Glacier Express.

The Stockalper Palace  was built between 1658 and 1678 by Kaspar Stockalper, a silk merchant of Brig and was the largest private construction in Switzerland at the time. A lovely surprise to see and wander around at the end of March – and not expecting to see such clear days as this.

My four-day consecutive rail pass allows me to travel each day on a train which takes me on a different route and experience. If I miss one day there is no refund nor ability to recoup it. Seat reservations are necessary in advance, be early as it’s an incredibly popular service of the wonderful alpine landscape still caped in its white cloak; especially for those like me who have a preference for travel in the shoulder seasons.

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Bernina Express, Swiss Rail Pass – Chur to Tirano

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After a short trip from St Anton, Austria to Chur (pronounced Kor) in Switzerland, my next rail sojourn is with the fabulous Bernina Express. The interior is stylish, bright and squeaky clean with full-length windows for optimum viewing of the Swiss Alps.

Shown here is the First Class carriage and Second Class is available. A personalised service onboard for anyone wishing to appreciate the ride and not move too far from their seat – don’t want to miss any photo opportunities with this train!


So where am I headed to with this immensely popular day trip? Happy to say Tirano in Italy, it’s the turnaround point after witnessing 122 kilometres of track, part of which the railway line from Thusis – Valposchiavo to Tirano has UNESCO World Heritage status.

Being a four-hour journey each way makes it one of the most popular in Switzerland and in fact the world; in terms of savouring an adventure by rail. Sit back, relax and simply enjoy.


Along the way, the elevation begins to show off many lovely villages below where families have lived as locals for generations. At the highest point on the Rhätischen Railway (RhB), it’s 2,253 metres above sea level, you’ll find the Ospizio Bernina being one of the highlights along the way.


And yes, there’s still a lot of snow around late in the month of March. An excellent recommendation for anyone who likes to travel within the shoulder seasons of Europe and still enjoys seeing the remnants of winter. You’ll have somewhat more space to move around the carriage as well without the maddening crowds of the peak seasons.


The train just keeps on gaining momentum showing off the beauty and magnificence of its surrounds – as seen here with the Swiss Alps in the background.


Even in the months of March and April, the train is not short on carriages and the demand is still quite high. Bookings can be taken as early as ninety days out from your planned trip.

The Bernina Express route is an impressive piece of railway engineering: when the train reaches an altitude of 2,253 metres, it’s even higher than the Glacier Express journey and without the help of a cogwheel track. It requires lots of spiral loops, 55 tunnels and 196 bridges to accomplish this trip.


And yes, the panorama is truly exceptional and a must see as we zig zag through terrain of which you wonder how the tracks could’ve ever been laid here all those years ago.

Heading closer now to the Bernina Pass, I don’t think the household sewing machine BERNINA made a mistake in branding it as such with the company’s namesake being the Piz Bernina; the highest summit in the eastern Alps.


At Alp Grum and we’re within the Bernina Pass, we have a quick 15 minute stop to take in the magnitude of the area. Here you can order a cuppa or bite to eat at the café, but I think you’ll be more inclined to spend time enjoying the crisp snow and marvelling at the Bernina Express train’s effort in reaching this point.

The station and restaurant building date from 1923 and is surrounded by a unique mountain setting – including Palu Glacier and Lake Palu. The marvellous outlook over Cavaglia and the Italian Alps beyond is breathtaking.


Winding upwards this time along the famous Landwasser Viaduct. The almost 466 foot viaduct and sweeping 328 foot arches, spans between Schmitten and Filisur in the canton of Graubunden, Switzerland.


You’ll pass by the Pilgrimage Church of the Madonna di Tirano and if you miss a photo opportunity there’s plenty of time in Tirano itself as there’s a luncheon period of about 2.5 hours. You can easily walk back to it, bearing in mind though it’s a couple of kilometres. While in the port town of Tirano, you can have an Italian pizza or antipasti at one of the many cafés or restaurants which are close by to the station.


I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, taking photographs of doors with such intricate attention to detail has become a ‘thing’ of mine – such as this one of the Pilgrimage Church.


At Tirano station, the new and old standing side by side reminding passengers how times have changed.


Time to head back to Chur and passengers are waiting eagerly to find their place and again be treated to Bernina Express’s welcoming staff and service.

Additionally, there is a Bernina Express bus service which connects and extends onto Lugano in Italy from here and operates from February to November. You’ll be able to see lovely villages whilst enjoying the ride on the outskirts of Lake Como.


Heading back we stop at the border town of Campocolongo, Italy for Customs Police to walk through. For Australians, no visa is required for either country, however it’s important to carry identification with you.


Back into Chur about 5:30 pm same day, you’ll still have time to explore this lovely small Swiss city. Shown here is the Cathedral in the centre and at 800 years old is worthy of a visit.

The Bernina Express is included on the Swiss Travel Pass which can be bought separately to the Eurail Pass – especially if you are considering extensive travel throughout Switzerland. Savings with the Swiss Travel Pass are enormous if you add up the cost of buying the boutique rail journeys separately. It also includes all public transport and ferries within Switzerland making it exceptional value. Family passes are also available and can be booked within six months of the Pass start date, but won’t be sent out until 45-60 days to that start date.

The Swiss Pass can be bought as a single country and check the Rail Plus website tab of Rail Passes > Europe > One Country Passes.

Additionally, Eurail Passes can be purchased within 11 months of the start date of your rail journey and must be validated at a major rail station before your first day of train travel on the participating network. (Booklets come with the Passes outlining how to use the it, along with handy maps.)

Keep in mind these passes can only be purchased outside of Europe/UK and you must have a valid passport at the time of booking.

For Australians wishing to book or find out more about the Swiss Travel Pass and/or book a Eurail Pass combining Switzerland with neighbouring countries check out the Rail Plus website below.

https://www.railplus.com.au/

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Lech am Arlberg, Austria

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Travelling from Vienna Hauptbanhof to St Anton am Arlberg on a fast train will take approximately six hours. More likely than not, a change of train will be required at one of the major cities enroute with minimal connection times. Most times a few paces across the platform and onto a waiting train is all it takes.

So I’m on my way … Have you ever wanted to visit a destination which is the same as your own surname – as an example? Well, I have now and Lech was on my to-do list for quite some time … And happy to say, Lech am Arlberg being quite prestigious, is best known particularly for its skiing, toboggan runs and mountain hiking trails; making it one of the most visited regions in Austria as it caters well for adults and families alike.

Other activities may include game watching, tandem paragliding and snow shoeing whereby you can discover there’s much more other than skiing.


Obviously there’s snow still hanging on as winter transitions into spring time. Lovely small wooden huts can be seen along the way piercing their way through and trying to make a more respectable appearance.


Nearing St Anton’s station towards the end of the day’s travelling, it’s comforting to know there are transport options available. Taxis are readily available at a cost of around 58 Euro or you can take a warm public bus which have regular services for around four Euro one way, per adult. The buses are about 200 metres from the train station.


The public bus takes around 30 to 40 minutes and will go directly to the main part of Lech am Arlberg at the Post Office stop. From there taxis again are handy and many hotels are centrally located around the main street.


Umm – think there’s been some serious snow being held up!


My stay on this occasion is with the very friendly family-owned Stulzis Hotel; lovely, warm and close to everything. They can easily provide guests with a ski storage room, ski/lift passes and free self parking. Supermarkets and cafes can be found close by.


Also available is half board which includes a traditional breakfast and dinner (evening meal is a different set menu each night). Here pictured and relishing my starter of thinly sliced duck with a portion of seasoned red cabbage.

Food and drink in Austrian ski resorts apparently is cheap compared to Switzerland, comparable with France, but maybe not as cheap as Italy.


As Lech am Arlberg is a skier’s dream destination in Austria, the best place to head to first up is the Lech Tourism office in the centre of town. There’s a myriad of activities you can partake in and they offer you really helpful information with maps which show you all around the region. Walking tracks are ideal for someone like myself who loves the look of snow, but is not a skier.

For more information please see https://www.lechzuers.com/lech-zuers-tourist-office


However, few resorts have a more exclusive image than Lech. Princess Diana was its most distinguished patron and other past visitors include the Jordanian royal family, the Dutch royal family and Monaco’s Princess Caroline. Oops, better mention too it’s the home of a number of World and Olympic ski champions!

Lech, Zürs and Warth-Schröcken’s combined ski area runs to 180 km of pistes and there’s plenty of entertainment for every standard – although the slopes are best suited to intermediates. Lech is the middle village, with Zürs to the south and Warth, which connects to Schröcken to the north. Their combined ski area divides naturally into three distinct sectors which also include Stuben, St. Christoph and St Anton; collectively making it the biggest ski resort in Austria and the 5th biggest in the world with a massive 305 kms of ski runs.


Despite its international reputation, Lech remains true to its farming village origins, but the original cluster of inns around the church and the river  has expanded over the years to meet consumer demands. But, perhaps not the ones pictured here, their time was up a while ago …


The church of St Nicholas, which is thought to have been built around 1390 is within the centre of the township and definitely worthy of a visit, even to just to marvel at its  interior’s magnificent ceiling and architecture.


Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or an adept skier in need of a family-friendly ski holiday, Lech offers fantastic value for money. World-famous Austrian (along with international ski instructors), work in with the ski resorts on a seasonal basis, with many visitors taking advantage of the expertise being offered here.

In Austria, children attend ski schools at an early age making them some of the best around as they become more experienced and confident with their training.


As much as I’d love to take a horse-drawn cart for a lovely trot along the snow-covered trails for the day, I’m going to hike over to nearby Zug.

Three and a half kilometres of walking to help all that wonderful Austrian cuisine dissipate off the waistline has become a high priority on my to-do list for the day.


Well posted signage to point you in the right direction to Zug. No need to worry as there are quite a number of walkers going both ways if you feel you could have  potentially strayed a little. From Zug to Lech and return there is a free shuttle bus which operates daily and approximately every 20 minutes during the day.

Don’t forget – it’s good to see the garbage is there to be used …


Lots of streams and waterways awakening after a long winter. Nice and fresh with the air so clean while meandering along towards Zug, it feels aesthetic and a big reward after a hectic long flight from Australia where it was heatwave conditions when I departed.


Have a seat? Don’t mind if I do thanks, even if only to simply admire the view for a while.


Undoubtedly, the snow has been falling here well and truly during the winter months. Sandwiched in like icing on a cake, it’s packed down tightly in layers and shows Lech is determined to deliver the goods in its peak and subsequent shoulder seasons. No one’s complaining that’s for sure.


At the end of the day, Lech’s atmospheric conditions? Warm, inviting and cosy – regardless of the chill in the air. I found people had travelled from afar and were destined to have a memorable time at Lech. Why? Because many had done it all before …

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Travelling to Vienna for Radio Days 2018

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Travel Gracefully at Radio Days 2018 with Steve Ahern from Sydney, Australia reporting for http://www.radioinfo.com.au

Vienna was the host city for this prestigious annual event in 2018 and the turnout was amazing with fabulous, informative presentations over the three days.

Thoughts from my short stay; the city’s stylish and elegant persona is evident and being here again is a treat. Cafes, restaurants and cute boutique shops all within exquisite architectural marvels are filled with the sound of laughter, clinking glasses and the smell of a well-cooked schnitzel with all the sumptuous trimmings.

Read more at: https://radioinfo.com.au/news/travelling-vienna-rde18 © Radioinfo.com.au


And, if you love radio as much as I do, it’s a perfect fit to come along and learn somewhat more about the intricacies of where the face of radio is heading towards in the future. As days have gone by, so have some of the memories of what it used to by like … with lots of fond memories like these beauties!


First day up and #RDE18 unfolded faster than a raging bull struck by a cattle prodder filled with radio waves.


Exhibitors made the most of the three days showcasing the most innovative and the latest technologies on offer. Here the first sessions of Radio Days Europe in Vienna had begun and the world was listening.


One of my favourite presentations was Breakfast at My Place with Claudia Stöckl, who has been broadcasting for more than 20 years and previous to this was a successful model. She presents an in-depth interview style show whereby she really likes to find out about her invited guests before going on air.

Why does it work for her? “If it’s exciting for you, then it’s exciting for the listeners,” she said.

Her advice is that broadcasters should want to know about each guest, to exhibit a curiosity which shows as being genuine.

“A good interview is not having a PR question to allow them to promote their own agenda… I like to surprise them with anything other than, how are you today”.


Niall Power who is the Head of Station Sound at the multi-award winning Irish regional radio station Beat 102-103, showcased his selection from the last 12 months of the most innovative radio promotions across the world.

Of course, our own thought-provoking Australian duo being Jackie O and Kyle from KISS FM, were placed second and they were in their element at the time. With a radio promotion and an abundance of Hyundai i30 vehicles, they were able to give them away to anyone who could make it through the pipeline – a car for each caller on the day. It was a first for the radio industry.

And in a real tease for one unsuspecting caller, Kyle and Jacquie O had him in such a state as they kept asking him – are you there? Pretending they couldn’t hear him, it sent the caller into a spin. Luckily they stopped their barrage and gave him a car much to his relief – and the listeners! This had everyone on the edge of their seats and social media went ballistic for many days thereafter. Over 12 million calls were recorded on the day the cars were given away on KISS FM.


Even if Midge Ure of Ultravox fame in the early 1980s was a little before your time, you’ll certainly know the sound of ‘Vienna’ which was a ground-breaking and edgy arrangement within its era. Anyway, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, classical instruments built into say, even pop-style music is without doubt splendid listening – worthy of inclusion and more often than not, incredibly successful. And yes, that’s the sound of Vienna.

Midge (pictured) finished off the day with a performance of Vienna having been the band’s most commercially successful release and it’s often played live in his solo performances. He wasn’t without fans here at RadioDays 2018 as attendees flocked to hear him once again and the applause was ongoing.


At the Haus of Musik in Vienna, take time out to visit and simply hear a range of hi-tech interactive and multimedia presentations which introduce the world of music; from the earliest human use of instruments to the music of the present day.

Those involved in developing the museum included four Austrian universities, two foreign university institutes, a team of musicians and music theorists. Artists from multimedia, sound technicians and students also contributed to its accomplishments.

The Haus der Musik is located in the Palace of Archduke Charles and very near to Karlsplatz station.


What did you say Sonny boy? Haus der Musik with its interactive sound systems gives this gentleman something to think about.


At the end of the day, a treat with some Austrian hospitality is always welcome, with local cuisine being served to the masses of radio dignitaries, broadcasters and any one who relishes the sound of radio and its makings here at the City Hall.


After parties are always a great networking activity … And the social gatherings are kindred to those who partake in these conferences for years to come.


Some jazz to liven up the atmosphere is always easy on the ear. The mix of the saxophone, trumpet and cello are so aesthetically pleasing together, it makes the style so unique to itself. So many artists came from nothing to jazz and it speaks in volumes to so many people on various levels.


On the travelling side of attending Radio Day’s big event, don’t forget connections to the airport are made easy with a dedicated rail service from the main station to the airport (and vice verse). Less than 13 Euro each way and less than 30 minutes travelling time on the fast City Express Train or better known as CAT.


Travelling by train? Don’t forget the main rail services can divide at a given city and make sure you’re waiting at the correct sector on the platform to ensure you’re alighting the carriage going in the right direction.

Although my final destination is St Anton, I need to be heading for Innsbruck to change, however half the train will actually separate after arrival at Salzburg.

For me it’s via Innsbruck to Lech am Arlberg in Austria. Have you been to a place which bears your surname? Toot toot, next destination Lech!

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San Francisco, California USA

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In 1964, San Francisco’s cable cars were named the first moving National Historic Landmark, and today still offer real working transportation up the steep hills. The cable cars begin their runs at 6:00 am and continue until midnight. Go early as masses of tourists rush like berserk magnets to the romantic steel on wheels.

And, if you’re going to ‘San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair’, was the  gentle melody which catapulted singer Scott Mckenzie to international stardom in 1967.  He captured the spirit of the ’60s flower-power movement, becoming a generational touchstone and made San Francisco a bohemian love child for all to enjoy.


If you were like me – and I know I’m showing my age now, but, if you’d watched The Streets of San Francisco as a youngster, these scenes will not be foreign to you. Of course, all the while having been enthralled at watching the maddening chase of good guys versus the baddies; over, around and on top of very hilly serpentine-like streets whereby they caused mayhem within the city and made it compulsive TV.

Of the 23 lines established between 1873 and 1890, only three remain (one of which combines parts of two earlier lines): two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf and a third route along California Street. Commuters can and do use the system, however tourists flock for the best views, trundling along,  riding cable cars which are pulled by a cable running below the street, held by a grip that extends from the car through a slit in the street surface between the rails. Once on top of city’s elevated peaks, you know this is a must see for all others to know about. You won’t tire of looking back at your photos …


The Golden Gate bridge is 8,981 feet long (1.7 miles) and contains about 88,000 tons of steel. It’s 90 feet wide with six driving lanes and two sidewalks. The total weight of the bridge is 887,000 tons.

The Golden Gate Bridge’s signature colour was not intended to be permanent. The steel that arrived to build the bridge was coated in a burnt red and orange shade of primer to protect it from corrosive elements. Consulting architect Irving Morrow found that he preferred the vivid hue of the primer to more conventional paint choices such as carbon black and steel gray. The ‘international orange’ colour was not only visible in the fog, but it complemented the natural topography of the surrounding hills and contrasted well with the cool blues of the bay and the sky.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area protects 82,027 acres (33,195 ha) of ecologically and historically significant landscapes surrounding the  San Francisco Bay Area.

Hint: If planning to walk across the bridge, ensure you visit the washrooms beforehand.


Here at The Presidio, it’s  a 1,500-acre park on a former military post which is a major outdoor recreation hub. It has forested areas, kilometres of trails, a golf course and an abundance of scenic aspects. Other highlights include grassy Crissy Field, Civil War–era Fort Point and sandy Baker Beach. Historic buildings house the Walt Disney Family Museum, eateries and businesses like Lucasfilm with its Yoda Fountain.

To the far left in the distance is Alcatraz which had been a civil war fort, a military prison and one of the most notorious federal penitentiaries in US history. A tour, either day or night is worthy of a visit and a fascination for movie buffs of Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood’s starring role.


Overlooking the bay – make sure when you go out, relax at a bar or simply meet up with colleagues, make sure there’s the chance to have a heightened view of the Port of San Francisco. As the sun sets, it makes for a golden hue over the sun-drenched buildings which lasts and just lasts …


S.F. Adventure Tours offers something a little different to the normal hop-on, hop-off bus route with a more intimate association with your new-found international travelling buddies – that is, in the back of a ute-like vehicle. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the ease of ‘getting around’ in a somewhat smaller transportation option; seeing a mix of lesser known places along with the regular tourist spots.


Fisherman’s Wharf – a must see and you’ll need more time here if you’re a shopper and lover of great food choices. Clam chowder has to be one of the favourites for locals and visitors alike.


Stay in the city around Union Square if you can. Why? Because it’s the happening place to be … Cable Cars, shopping and lively entertainment with an artistic blend of multinationals makes it an interesting area – especially if you love to ‘people watch’.

At the Handlery Hotel, I can see the Macy’s sign through the shades and it’s calling my name.


One part of a Travel Agent’s job description is to make sure they attend hotel inspections wherever possible. I’ve know the Handlery Hotel is centrally located for a very long time. How? The President, Mr Jon Handlery has been coming to Australia for the USA Roadshows for over 30 years now and we have been well briefed by him of its location and facilities. A multimillion dollar renovation to this hotel will be done at the end of March of 2018.

But, one really important thing about having a stay here is that, on the back of your room key, it gives you a 10% discount on Macy’s purchases. And, when Macy’s vouchers (given to international travellers) do not work on say, Black Friday sales days, this one still does! Yay!


Recycling at the Handlery Hotel is one of the big plusses of an independent hotel – it’s no longer just about the comfy bed, or importantly, the big bright lights so you can actually see yourself putting on make up! Being a family-owned hotel, they understand the customer these days and what they want in terms of satisfying ongoing environmental concerns; especially as the tourism industry plays a huge role in trying to educate the traveller about such matters. Hope to see more of these processes from other hotel chains in the future.


If you happen to be in town for the Christmas festivities, you won’t be disappointed with the decorations and atmosphere, especially here in Union Square.


Black Friday Sales, yes I survived … Out with the old and into my case with the new!


The foundation of America’s counter-culture, the Haight was Ground Zero during the summer of 1967, The Summer of Love’s baby is now well over 50 years old.

Hippies and Flower Power evolved here, but at some point the Jefferson Airplane moved out.  At famous Hippie Hill,  you’ll either love or loathe it, depending on your feelings about drum circles and wheat-free pot brownies. Look for Haight Ashbury for a truly beatnik experience whilst enjoying a café latte …


Architecture to entice the more affluent yuppies moved in, buying up all the colourful Victorian homes throughout Haight-Ashbury bohemia movement. They’ve been replaced with shops advocating high-end boutiques, chic restaurants and hip cafés.


Going to the airport, the BART train  system trains arrive at the SFO International Terminal every 15 minutes and it’s just 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco. A one-way ticket from SFO Airport to downtown or vice versa is USD$9.65 and inside each station is a machine to make a purchase with cash or card.

The BART station within the International Terminal, you’ll find there’s a connecting free train which runs continuously between the domestic and international terminals. Both terminals have undergone massive reconstruction with a ten-year long-term plan in place. The transformation of this airport from my last visit ten years ago, is incredible to say the least! 

Hint: Be aware the ticket machine does not give change, so try to use as close to the amount as needed if only using it once. However, the residual value is kept on the card as a credit. See the quick guide to help you find your closest station going to/from the airport.

https://www.bart.gov/


The Airport Museum at SFO International is a plane spotter’s dream and I highly recommend you visit it. And, you will have time, because the check in and state-of-the-art facilities now will make your experience so much faster than what I remember all those years ago as a visitor.

No guesses where I’m heading to from this worldly exhibition and with about 15 hours flying time to go, it’s time to try and relax. If you are worried about being on such a long flight you can always find an airline which has island stops along the way within the South Pacific.

https://www.flysfo.com/museum/exhibitions

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Vancouver, Canada

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As with most great rail journeys such as The Canadian, all good things must come to an end as they say. We’re all just soaking up the final moments of the elegant but imposing landscape before heading fast into beautiful Vancouver for a short stay.


Upon arrival at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, BC the railway station is at the western terminus of Via Rail’s cross-country The Canadian to Toronto with signage clearly showing the way.


From the main station, connections are easy to the Waterfront which is undoubtedly the most popular area for visitors to experience – being right at the harbour with a plethora of attractions, cafes and stores.

At the Waterfront Station, the Canada Line delivers you directly to SeaBus and West Coast Express Commuter Rail services. A trip from YVR Airport to Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver takes only 25 minutes!


View over Coal Harbour – used to designate the relatively new official neighbourhood of the City of Vancouver bounded by roughly Burrard Street and Pender of the Financial District to West Georgia Street near the West End in the south to Stanley Park in the north. From here you can catch public transport to most other places as it’s quite central.


FlyOver Canada uses state-of-the-art technology to give you the feeling of flight. You will hang suspended, feet dangling before a 20-metre spherical screen while the film whisks you away on an exhilarating 8-minute journey across Canada – from east to west. Special effects, including wind, mist and scents combine with the ride’s motion to create the real thing.

Many attractions are in close proximity and it’s worthwhile visiting the Vancouver Tourism site to gain the some excellent ideas of what to see and do if you’re short on time.

See  http://www.tourismvancouver.com


Like me, the Gastown Steam Clock is perhaps one of the first places you’ll visit if you enjoy checking out the city’s history and a seemingly lively atmosphere. Gastown found new life as the centre of the city’s wholesale produce distribution until the Great Depression in the 1930s. It was also the centre of the city’s drinking life: there were 300 licensed establishments the twelve-block area of the former glory days of Granville.

Jump in quick as it’s probably one of the most photographed clocks in the world.


Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown location and is named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area’s first saloon. The town soon prospered as the site of Hastings Mill and seaport which quickly became a general centre of trade and commerce on Burrard Inlet as well as a rough-and-rowdy resort for off-work loggers and fishermen.


The Spaghetti Factory is nearby and a quick lunch at $11.00 (including tax) is a treat with all those calories adding to another excuse for further walking in the afternoon.

And yes, there are taxes to be added onto most goods and services in Canada.


Stanley Park alive and well with plenty of locals making themselves at home whilst foraging with a water-front view over the city’s buzzing metropolis.

Designated a national  historic site of Canada, the park is a magnificent green oasis in the midst of the heavily built urban landscape. You can explore the 400-hectare natural West Coast rainforest and enjoy scenic views of water, mountains and majestic trees along Stanley Park’s famous Seawall. There’s kilometres of trails, local wildlife and great eateries while enjoying natural and historical landmarks.


Granville Island Public Market is an indoor market featuring a fascinating assortment of colourful food and produce stores. You’ll have to struggle with the desire to take some home and promise yourself more walking the next day!


A vast array of produce including fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers and some other unique findings. From plants, flowers to micro-breweries, wineries and cideries, you’ll be met with a range of products when you come to check out what the vendors have to offer each day.

Take a reusable carry bag as it won’t go home empty …


Easy to ‘get around’ and very straight forward in planning your way around.


Sky Trains are fast, clean and the most efficient way to the city. Vancouver (YVR) is the second busiest airport in Canada and located on Sea Island in Richmond, about 12 km (7.5 miles) from Downtown Vancouver. Look for The Canada Line which is $9.10 from the airport to downtown, and $4.10 from downtown to the airport. It links the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) directly with downtown Vancouver and Richmond. Whether you’re connecting to a downtown hotel, BC Ferries or an awaiting Cruise Ship, it’s easy to travel between YVR Airport and major city stations using the public transit system.

Certain Canada Line stations offer airport check-in kiosks. Skip the lines at the airport and check-in for your flight at any of the following stations: YVR–Airport, Templeton, Bridgeport, Marine Drive, Broadway–City Hall, Olympic Village, Vancouver City Centre and Richmond–Brighouse. See below for a trip planner.

https://tripplanning.translink.ca/


A fitting statue to commemorate the memory of those who built the Canadian Pacific Railway and made it possible to traverse the sometimes impossible-looking terrain. However, as before, it’s been a magnificent journey and as usual too short on time in a great city of which Australians (and many others) are thoroughly fond of for its friendliness and characteristic mateship.

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