Category Archives: Europe

Korcula, Croatian Island Cruising with Katarina Lines.

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Next stop on the Split to Dubrovnik coastal voyage with Markan MV is the island of Korcula. Unlike its rock-star island brother of Hvar, it’s perhaps not as frequented by visitors alike. However, it’s quietness and low-key status is really appealing, far more intimate and again the locals are incredibly friendly.

Once inside the medieval walls, narrow streets are indicative of the antiquity Korcula has embraced in the past for its strategic location within the Adriatic Sea. Over many centuries, transient wanderers became settlers and of course, war became part of its history as many wanted to secure the island of Korcula for its own purposes. The imposing towers and architecture upon first sight, is a reminder the island wouldn’t be a pushover in the event of an attack.

A plethora of locally-made handicrafts are exquisite and of the highest quality. Umm, a small souvenir shouldn’t be too much to carry back home … surely?

It’s easily seen here upon arrival how the pecking order needs all watercraft to adhere to strict protocol,  particularly while docking in smaller harbours. Sidling up to one another for space saving in the harbour is common place along the Dalmatian Coast.

With the island of Korčula being the sixth-largest Adriatic island, stretching nearly 47 km in length, it’s easy to see why there needs to be a system due to the heavy demand in peak seasons.  Passengers walk between the open spaces of each ship to go onshore and enjoy the activities, food and surroundings.

Marco Polo’s birthplace is considered to be Venice but, according to some Croatian sources the exact date and place of birth are “archivally” unknown. The same sources also claimed the island of Curzola (today Korčula) as his possible birthplace.  Well, wherever he was born he certainly clocked up some kilometres in travelling the world whilst dealing with all kinds of merchandise.

An authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book The Travels of Marco Polo does not and cannot exist, for the early manuscripts differ significantly. The published editions of his book either rely on single manuscripts, blend multiple versions together.

Source: Wikipedia

Quiet coves and small sandy beaches dot the steep southern coast while the northern shore is flatter and more pebbly on the island. Its serenity is coupled with a time to reflect and here a need to keep an eye on the future – not too much happening at anytime which is a good thing. And if anything, I’d say Korcula is in excellent hands as mass tourism is not really evident here … yet.

People call the island ‘Little Dubrovnik’ because of its medieval squares, churches and palaces. There are numerous old stone buildings and fortresses (gradine) left behind by the Illyrians around 1,000 BC.

Shown here is St Peter’s Church (Crkva Svetog Petra) – This small Gothic church, dating from the 14th century, is one of the oldest in the Old Town.  The simple main facade is embellished with St Peter’s relief made by Bonino da Milano.

Bike riding and hiking are activities any visitor to the island might contemplate due to its quieter nature and beauty within the forestation and the island’s pathways.

Interestingly, Korkyra is connected to the legend of the beautiful nymph Kerkyra, daughter of Asop, God of Rivers. Poseidon the God of the Sea fell in love with her, kidnapped her and held her in captivity on the island.

Anyway, if it’s good enough for the Gods and Poseidon, I’ll be back for another visit without doubt!

Sunset at the end of the day is quite spectacular along the Dalmatian Coast and while cocktails are being set up on the Markan MV for our overnight sailing, we’re all savoring the idea of what could possibly top this off?

Next stop Tristenik and Dubrovnik.

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Hvar, Croatian Island Cruising with Katarina Lines.

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Meet our crew of Markan MV. They looked after us over the few days we were sailing around some of the most beautiful islands in the Adriatic. The wonderful thing about small ship cruising is that we had the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the people who matter the most whilst onboard – the crew. For safety, service and of course divine food and beverages. Beware! They know how to party as well…


First stop from Split with Katarina Line’s Markan MV is the sun-drenched island of Hvar, Croatia. It’s the longest island in the Adriatic and one of the sunniest which makes it a favourite for locals and international travellers throughout the year.

Whether you’ve been to Hvar once, twice or several times, it has a plausible view one cannot become tired of, especially if you intend staying on to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere rather than a day trip over from the mainland.

Local guides are instrumental in delivering first-hand knowledge of their beloved island. A tour around allows us an insight into the day-to-day livelihood of past and present inhabitants, as well as some historical sights and activities for all ages.

And yes, there’s lots to see and do here and we have our running shoes on to either take in as much of the island in the allowable time frame, or simply enjoy a cuppa and admire what the cafe set come here for – a sedentary break from the ho-hum daily grind.

A quickie prayer? Many diverse cultural groups visit the local religious establishments in Hvar for some reflective time out, which is not only for the die hards, but tourists arrive in droves to marvel the many historical edifices which are dotted around the island.

The most impressive building in Hvar is definitely the Cathedral of St. Stephen (in the distance), standing on the eastern side of the town square, at the far end of the Pjaca, where two parts of the town meet.  Here at the plaza where visitors and locals congregate for their daily intake of a coffee extraction or cuisine with an abundance of fish-inspired dishes, freshly caught on the day for consumption by the ever-hungry visitors.


Hvar is best known for being a party island and don’t be a dummy when it comes to being a fashionista in Hvar. Make sure you are comfortable and wear garments geared up for sun-soaked activities along with a good sun screen. Australians know what it’s like to be burnt to a crisp after being out in the sun – even for a very short time, so slip, slop, slap as we say, with a zinc-like safe guard and drink lots of water, not just grog when out having a fun time.


See that fantastic castle on the hill? A trek up there will satisfy your kilojoule/calorie intake for the day.

It’s actually the Spanish Fortress, or its local name Španjola and was built in the early 16th century. It holds a rich historical collection and is built on a 2,000-year-old remains of an Illyrian fortress. Still, the most memorable part of the walk around its walls is the view expanding over the city of Hvar and Pakleni islands.


The hill overlooking the town of Hvar is a magnificent viewpoint. From this point, you can look down on the town itself, watch the comings and goings in the harbour and pretend it’s your dosage of meditation for the day.

Photo courtesy of Erik Drien, Norway.


Start walking and take your time as it’s a long hike up past the beautiful park and further on up the hill.

Oh Erik, you’re coming back? Have a rest mate – water, coffee or a beer? Oh ok, beer of course! You’re Norwegian right?

Photo courtesy of Erik Drien, Norway.


And when you do catch your breath, have a seat and relax in the quaint surrounds of Hvar, you won’t be disappointed with the local hospitality either. Plants are always friendly too.


Every budding sleuth, crime novelist, detective and TV police drama writer – pay homage.

Ivan Vučetić, born July 20, 1858, is one of the lesser-known native sons of a country that produced the likes of Nikola Tesla. Yet he is the father of modern dactyloscopy — the analysis and classification of fingerprints. Vučetić’s legacy is honored in Croatia primarily with a bust in Hvar’s eponymous city, his birthplace.

So off we go onto the next stop which will be Korcula Island. Think a nana nap is in order.

Love surprises and fresh fish arrived in a parcel which looked very much like a dumpling. But, this delicious and tasty portion of melt-in-your-mouth marvel is to be savoured and washed down with an excellent Croatian wine.

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Cruising the Croatia Coast from Split. Part One

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When you fly into Split in Croatia and you see the coastline from above, you instantly know the bucket-list cruise you’ve been wanting to do is about to become a reality. Resnik Airport being the international airport serves the city of Split 19 km away on the west side of Kaštela Bay.

Travelling by bus from the airport to the city centre costs about 40 Kunas (approximately A$8.50 one way per adult). It’s easy enough as the buses wait outside to the left after exiting the airport doors. Taxis are about 250 Kuna and private transfers are also available for about 35-45 Euro. Ensure you ask for the right bus in the direction you’re wanting to travel. The airport bus, (if that’s your choice) will take you directly to the main bus station in Split – which is next to the train station and right there at the port. Perfect if the first thing you intend to do is catch a ferry or bus to somewhere else.

It’s a small facility and the growing number of visitors each year has the authorities on notice to consider establishing a larger and more modern airport.

Now, meet my small luxury ship – MV Markan of which I’m going to share my trip over the next couple blog posts of this unforgettable voyage from Split to Dubrovnik – via some of the most scenic areas along the Dalmatian coastline. MV Markan was built in 2018 and is so shiny and new!

Various categories of small vessels including the MV Markan are bookable with Katarina Lines which happen to be the most well-known operator in Croatia. They can also organise land tours to coincide with the cruise options available.

Looking quite swish and comfy with a small number of cabins making the journey so much more intimate with other guests – knowing them much better than say an ocean liner. MV Marken has a maximum of 19 guests onboard whereby the service on offer is second to none.

MV Markan’s maiden voyage was in 2018. Some features include:
48.5 m length
8.8 m width
Sun deck 250 m2
7 to 9 crew members
19 guest cabins
9 VIP cabins with
Private balconies
2 double/twin
8 double/twin

Wifi being available throughout the ship makes it easy to connect with others, allowing them to be envious of your every port call along the way. Depending on the areas once out to sea, it may be a little touch and go on occasion. But that’s fine with me when you are wanting to disconnect for a while and simply enjoy the facilities, food and not to mention the views!

But, before we all head off for a marvellous expedition, it’s time to explore some more of Split with a city tour and a local guide – it’s always a must-do activity. Learning and understanding the history and architecture of this picturesque small city will have you surprised with just how much history is attached to its resume.

The promenade of Split is the main focal point when it comes to visitors wanting a sea view and seeking culinary delights to enhance that experience.

This view from the main thoroughfare and foreshore, the  main facade of the Palace’s intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, was built at the turn of the fourth century AD. Today it forms about half the old town and there’s numerous small boutique shops offering all kinds of goodies.

Anyway, you don’t always have to sit with hundreds of other tourists along the seaside, you can sometimes find a quaint family-owned business such as Kuharica (with their own Cook Book) who make traditional cuisine such as seafood and gnocchi. Here’s Lucy (Manager) and I inside the walls of the ‘palace’ and away from the hustle and bustle of the main-stream areas.

So many of the younger people particularly now in hospitality and tourism in Croatia speak superb fluent English … and  I’m truly grateful to them for their efforts. Lovely experiences such as being able to have a coffee here and a lively chat with Lucy divulging to me, what makes Split tick along as a destination.

Among the European cathedrals this one in Split finds its seat in the oldest building – the Mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Inside the cathedral, at the end of the second millennium, the history reconciles ancient pagan Christian Medieval and modern heritage. Mausoleum of the Emperor – persecutor of Christians becomes a cathedral in the 7th century where altars with relics of St Domnius and St Anastasius, martyrs were executed in the nearby Solin take an honorary place.

The Cathedral today is primarily a place of liturgy, with a millennium long continuity, best reflected in the Sunday mass and the renewed splendor of the procession on the St Domnius’s day – the day of Split’s patron saint.
Source: Split Tourism Board.

Anyway, there’s another ‘religion’ happening in Croatia. Game of Thrones has just opened its new store in Split for all those cult followers to make haste and grab some souvenirs.

Dubrovnik was the main filming location in Croatia for the King’s Landing, a fictional city in Game of Thrones, the famous television series based on the series of fantasy novels “A Song of Ice and Fire” and distributed by HBO.

At one of the entrances to the Palace, don’t miss testing your luck of making your wishes come true by touching the big toe of the grandiose statue of the Gregory of Nin, the work of the great Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.

The big toe of this towering monument to the Croatian national hero has been worn down from years of superstitious rubbing I’m told. Umm I assumed it was good luck.

Anyway, I’m just hanging around in the warmth of the beaut sunlight on the far side of the promenade waiting for our departure on MV Markan later on. I didn’t have anyone rubbing my toes for luck!

Next blog post, cruising from Split to Hvar, part two.

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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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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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