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!

Kalimpong – West Bengal, India

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The nearest airport to Kalimpong is Bagdogra in Siliguri and it’s a quick flight from Calcutta. All major domestic airlines from various Indian cities offer good connectivity between Bagdogra and the rest of India. Direct flights to Bagdogra are available from Delhi, Calcutta and Guwahati.


Enroute to Kalimpong , we drove through the Teesta Barrage Project, where we witnessed one of the largest irrigation operations – not only in West Bengal, but also in the entire eastern region of India.


Travelling along the Teesta River’s banks showed very peaceful, yet captivating scenery – this is where some of us would’ve loved to have stepped out of the vehicle and happily walked for some time to admire the charming waterway’s tranquillity.

Kalimpong is well connected by road with Siliguri, Gangtok, Kolkata and Darjeeling and regular buses operate from these areas to the township. Two beautiful tourist places, Darjeeling and Gangtok are just 50 and 75 km away respectively.


River Teesta originates at Tso Lamo, Sikkim, it flows through West Bengal and then enters the Rangpur division in Bangladesh. It’s the fourth largest among 54 rivers shared by India and Bangladesh.


Upon arrival our Hotel the Silveroaks revealed a charisma reserved for the discerning travelling guest who is either on their way to Darjeeling, or returning as Kalimpong  (which by the way), is a reasonable stretch by road from Bagdogra Airport for our first overnight stay.


Next day, we started off in the thick of a small traffic jam with sacred cows always having the right of way. Lorries, motor bikes and any other mode of transport you can think of goes about its daily livelihood.


Kalimpong was earlier a subdivision of the Darjeeling district, but now it’s a separate district of West Bengal effective 14th Feb 2017 with an area of 1,056 square kilometers and inhabiting 49,403 people (as per 2011 census). All around, the mountain ranges are snow capped and include Deolo Hill with Sikkim and Bhutan being in the near.


How to reach Kalimpong by rail? The bordering rail line is New Jalpaiguri, which is almost 77 km away. This is an important railway station in the northern Bengal and also serves as a gateway to the remote northeastern India. You can easily take trains from different Indian cities to this region.


Jang Dong Palriffo Brang is a beautiful monastery which is located in the majestic hill station of Kalimpong. It’s the  ideal place for meditation and the Buddhist monks everyday offer prayers within for spiritually inclined people.

Model for this day was an unknown little doggie who was happy to sit and have his photo taken. A reminder that pets make the best mates.


Elisa who is our travelling companion from Spain, is testing out the prayer wheels. Luckily for us all, we travelled safely and had a great time in West Bengal.


A fitting memorial for the best-known Sherpa. Tenzing Norgay GM OSN, a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer from this region, He was one of the first two individuals known to reach the summit of Mount Everest in Nepal, which he accomplished with New Zealander Edmund Hillary on 29th May, 1953.

P.S. If you happen to ever be in Aoraki  Mt Cook, New Zealand there’s The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre of which a large part of the exhibition is a tribute to Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.


Outlook from the Monastery shows the mountain ranges stretching across West Bengal for all to enjoy its beauty and serenity outside of the larger cities of India.


Along the way to Darjeeling, we had the opportunity to enjoy a break at a lovely garden estate and flower nursery.


Not too long to go (and not as long as it might take this worker), we’ll arrive at our next stop of Darjeeling.

Might only be approximately a three-hour’s drive from Kalimpong, but it’s an extremely winding road one which will keep you seated.

For group booking enquiries, you can contact me directly through this website.

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Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal – India

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Tourism Minister Mr Gautam Deb for West Bengal and Mr Debjit Dutta (centre) who is the Chairman at the Indian Association of Tour Operators. It was undoubtedly a great honour and privilege to meet with them and understand more about the region and its massive growth as a tourist destination.

It’s been said, “Owing to the diversity in geographical contours from the Himalayas to the beaches of the Bay of Bengal, the state offers everything to a tourist.”

During the British Raj, until 1911 Calcutta was the capital of India. By the latter half of the 19th century, Shimla had become the summer capital and King George V proclaimed the transfer of the capital from Kolkata to Delhi at the climax of the 1911 Imperial Durbar on December 12, 1911. The buildings housing the Viceroy, government and parliament were inaugurated in early 1931.
Vidyasagar Setu, also known as the Second Hooghly Bridge is a toll bridge over the Hooghly River in West Bengal, India linking the cities of Kolkata and Howrah. With a total length of 823 metres, Vidyasagar Setu is the longest cable–stayed bridge in India.

In May 1972 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the Vidyasagar Setu, so named after the 19th-Century Bengali intellectual and reformer Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

Normal hussle and bussle of city life, but Kolkata has a somewhat different energy. Not much opens early in the morning and a delayed awakening occurs for the not so early risers. Suits me. Restaurants won’t really trade until noon and the street life comes alive with the smell of spices, marsala and burning coals readying for the day’s onslaught for all meat eaters to enjoy. Vegetarian dishes are easily found and a tiffin plate served thali style has been one my favourite for many years.

There’s something a little fishy going on here?

In India food cooked at home with care is considered to deliver not only healthy eating, but relatively cheap traditional and very tasty meals. Lunch is usually eaten thali-style, with a tantalising selection of regional delicacies that may include any combination of spicy vegetables, dhal, yoghurt, pickles, bread and pudding served on a large metal plate or a banana leaf.

There is one market that’s bustling with street food offerings in the morning and that’s Terreti Bazar, which is most popular with the locals and tourists as well.


Once, beautifully built rickshaws now serve as a reminder of how times have moved on. Recently, the use of human-powered rickshaws has been discouraged or outlawed in many countries due to concern for the welfare of workers and pulled rickshaws have been replaced mainly by cycle or auto rickshaws.

St. John’s Church, originally a cathedral was among the first public buildings erected by the East India Company after Kolkata (Calcutta) became the effective capital of British India.

Tall columns frame the church building on all sides and the entrance is through a stately portico. The floor is a rare hue of blue-grey marble, brought from Gaur and large windows allow the sunlight to filter through the coloured glass.

Nearby is the Second Rohilla War Memorial and the Black Hole of Calcutta Monument. Survivor from this atrocity was John Holwell who later became the Governor of Bengal and went on to build a memorial at the site.

I’m thinking Alexandre travelling with us, would actually like to hop on the train and wave us goodbye. Some of the world’s best train journeys can be found in India and I can’t wait to show some of them off …


Paddocks close to the city are filled with mostly goats and sheep hard at work doing the mowing.


How could you not love goats? They’re extremely loyal, funny characters and yes, their milk makes the best cheese and yoghurt.


When was the last time you visited a book bazaar like this?

College Street has a unique charm of its own and blanketed with makeshift book stalls constructed of bamboo,  canvas and sheets of tin on both sides of the road;  it’s a paradise for book lovers.


Join in the craze of being in College Street – it’s the epicentre of Kolkata’s literary crowd. A second home to the intellectuals, scholars, academicians, students and book lovers of Kolkata city and international visitors. Also colloquially known as ‘Boi Para’ (book-mart), it houses Kolkata’s most prestigious and renowned academic institutions such as the University Of Calcutta, Calcutta Medical College, Sanskrit College, Hare School and Hindu School.


Kali is the Hindu goddess (or Devi) of death, time and doomsday and is often associated with sexuality and violence, but is also considered a strong mother-figure and is symbolic of motherly-love. Here she’s being mass produced for upcoming festivities of which there is no shortage in West Bengal.


Additionally, there are quite a number of men’s outside toilets installed for them to use in Kolkata – as our mate Kevin was willing to model for me.


When you have the opportunity to inspect a hotel of distinction, without doubt they include some of the best-dressed personnel of any five-star hotel group. And here, I’d felt like royalty just by having my photo taken with one of the distinguished staff members!

And as we all know India and Australia encourage youngsters to be the best they can at cricket. Never know, there could be a rising star anywhere in the making.
Next stop the new district of Kalimpong and then onto Darjeeling.

For Australians wishing to travel to India please check my website for the correct E-visa link. www.travelgracefully.com.au under the Visalink tab for some handy hints.
http://www.travelgracefully.com.au/visalink/indian-e-visa-for-australians/
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Rama Residence Hotels in Bali – Indonesia

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Upon arrival at Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport, it’s always a relief to have a pick up and transfer organised prior. But better still, to see your name right up there is something special by staying at the Rama Residence Padma. This is when I can relax knowing I’m being looked after for my next week’s stay in Bali.

Denpasar is Indonesia’s third-busiest international airport and I’d recommend a pick up especially if travelling with a family.

Rama Residence Padma Hotel offers a new experience and a total of 38 rooms with complete facilities – in particular a handy kitchenette, comfy lounge and a heaven-sent dining area.

When travelling with a family, it’s not every night you’d want to eat out and this property is one whereby if you are seeking some solace from the busier surrounding areas and just simply eat in with the children.

Other facilities for guests include a roof-top swimming pool, laundry and a fitness centre in case you need to keep up that fitness regime.

For prices check out the website:  http://ramaresidencepadma.com/

The Asia Spices Restaurant is a partly open-air restaurant that serves various kinds of Asian Cuisine with the beautiful harmony of water which drops onto the fish pond and a nearby small green garden.

Here a typical Indonesian satay cannot be passed by without thinking how good its aroma captures your senses. It’s a tourist friendly restaurant with the typical Balinese hospitality you’d expect from a four-star property.

This delish Restaurant is the buzz place to be when in Padma especially if you’re after a fired up experience of spicy food like me. Having opened within the last couple of years, it’s fresh, still feels new and with its popularity is undoubtedly one to visit regardless of where else you might be staying.

Next stop is Rama Residences at Petitenget; this is a great value property without the nearby upmarket Seminyak price tag.

Although this part of the main-stream Balinese tourist precinct is lesser known than its counterparts of Legian/Padma and Kuta, it’s well priced and a quieter property. You’ll realise this once you’ve checked in and been escorted to your room. My tick of approval is the ability to turn off the air conditioner. These are cooler rooms without the need for it I found, especially if you prefer to go “a la natural” and, if like me you’ll flick it off and enjoy the reasons you’ve come over to Bali in Australia’s winter … to feel warm.

You’ll be met by Lord Ganesha on the way through and that feeling of Zen begins …

Pathway to the rooms show a more private and boutique property whereby there’s space at the front of each individual compartment to lounge around outside on spacious mattresses and deep-seated chairs – allowing you to relax after a hectic day.

The rooms here are spacious and comfortable with enough room for a whole family to fit into one bed! And, the bed is oh so soft … considering this is part of Asia whereby they’re known more so for firmer bedding; you’ve won me over here with your cushiness!

Again, this room type (being a one-bedroom suite) has kitchenette facilities which really is one of my favourite conveniences when travelling. The benefits of maybe paying a bit extra allows you to feel at home and yet be away from home; which in turn also help families with little ones feel they have an almost normal routine.

There’s plenty of storage space and the bathroom has a walk-in shower with an area bigger than my lounge room at home. Lovely bath products too …

Oh yeah, I told you before I love taking photos of doors? No shortage here.

Check out the prices here:  http://www.ramaresidencepetitenget.com/

Next up is Candidasa which is north-east of Denpasar’s airport and about a 1.5 to 2 hour journey depending of the traffic. Cost by taxi can be around A$20.00 one way.

Whether you want shopping, sightseeing, nature activities; such as rice-paddy trekking, cycling, diving, snorkelling and yoga, or just relaxing and daydreaming, they have it all here.

Is it worth the drive up? Sure is – the views are stunningly beautiful along the way. It’s much quieter within this region of Bali and the Rama Candidasa Resort and Spa offer a property which has a few variations of accommodation styles which would suit most budgets for the discerning traveller.

Afternoon tea is served by the poolside Monday to Friday for in-house guests and is a welcome treat after splashing around for a while.

On the foreshore is the freestanding Deluxe Cottage Ocean View style accommodation and trust me, you will not be any closer to the sea than this!

Comfy chairs and an outside table to relax by in the evening with your mates having a few bevvies is the way to go. Simply watch the sunset while vessels slowly cruise on by and that’s how you should be feeling too with a stay here.


GARPU is a lavish yet modest restaurant attached to the Resort and the staff here make you feel like you’re a rock star. And their smiles are a hearty indication of the service you’ll be receiving whilst dining there – either buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner facilities are available.

View from the restaurant in the evening, it’s definitely one place for having a peaceful and relaxing experience in Bali as well as being able to explore the magnificent underwater paradises such as Tulamben, Amed, Padang Bai and Blue Lagoon which are accessible.

Not a swimmer? Neither am I. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy kicking back my heels and simply enjoying the sound of waves and watching the day pass by … ho hum …

Check out the prices: http://www.ramacandidasahotel.com/


Well I suppose it’s time to take a walk and find a money changer … The township is not far away and most nights a market can be located along the way in the evenings.

The natural serenity here being set amongst mountains, rice fields and the ocean offers ultimate peace and tranquillity which can be realised once away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy areas of Bali.


Well one of the best ways to make your way around Bali is with your bestie and childhood neighbour Kerrie and her special man Ian by hiring scooters. Candidasa is far more civilised than Kuta and surrounds and you’ll find some interesting places along the way when hooning around here – much quieter too.

*However, check your insurance policy before taking one and ensure you’re covered for the type/size of bike you’re taking out.


You might even find a street seller offering a hot Balinese coffee along the scenic escapement for a quick stop whilst en route to Ahmed.


Maginificent views whilst enjoying our cuppa and figured out that we we’ve not seen each other for over ten years. But then again, some people choose to live in Western Australia! I guess a trip to Bali on occasion is the way to catch up huh?


Another one of our stops included that of an orphanage whereby we were greeted by some of the loveliest youngsters we had the pleasure of meeting. We were impressed by their manners and engagement with us as foreigners.

If you have the opportunity to bring some educational items or clothes then I highly recommend you visit a similar organisation or school and help out if you can.

Well like most good things they must come to an end and it’ll be another year before we head back to Bali and enjoy the hospitality and smiley faces of the Balinese people.

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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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