Age-friendly attraction: our oldest musical instrument?

If you visit the charming city of Ljubljana, in Central Europe, make sure you see ‘the flute’.

With a long history, the capital of Slovenia on the Ljubljanica River, is rich in cultural attractions, including the country’s National Museum.

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The National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana

And one of the most interesting exhibits in the museum is thought to be possibly the world’s oldest musical instrument.

The ‘Divje Babe Flute’ is a piece of bone from a cave bear with neatly spaced holes pierced down one side.

Discovered in 1995 at the Divje Babe archeological park in northwestern Slovenia, the bone is thought to be as much as 43,100 years old.

There are apparently three schools of thought about the origin of the ‘flute’.

Some say it was made made by Neanderthals as a musical instrument.

Others argue that it was probably fashioned by Cro-Magnons – and yet others speculate that the aligned holes may have been caused by the teeth of an animal.

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When we visited Ljubljana, the ‘flute’ was advertised as possibly the country’s leading cultural attraction and seemed to be regarded as a source of national pride.

The National Museum of Slovenia (above) is housed in a neo-Renaissance palace built between 1883 and 1885.

As well as the Neanderthal flute, the museum’s exhibitions include the ‘Vače Situla’, a famous early Iron Age ritual vessel found in the village of Vače, along with many archaeological finds from Ancient Roman occupation, when Ljubljana was known as Emona.

The museum received our top marks for being senior-friendly.  It has wheelchair access and a lift to move between the floors, if needed.

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Oozing with charm, Ljubljana is also fast gaining a reputation as a city of romance, spurred by its beautiful views, inspiring stories, old world architecture and abundant greenery.

Slovenia

Review: the famous Bartholoma

You’ve undoubtedly seen its onion domed roof on many websites or magazines – the 11th Century church of St Bartholoma is one of the world’s most photographed buildings.

The church itself is striking enough, with its contrasting red and white colours. But the location is breath-taking!

St Bartholoma sits on the western shore of the Konigssee, a natural, clear-water lake among the Berchtesgaden Alps in far south-eastern Germany.

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The mirrored surface of Konigssee

The east face of the Wartzmann – Germany’s third-highest mountain – rises in its snow-capped glory behind the site.

Officially known as a pilgrimage church, Sankt Bartholoma can only be reached by ship or a long hike across the mountains.

It adjoins a former palace founded by the Prince-Provosts of Berchtesgaden in 1134.

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The current Baroque design of the church – named after the Apostle Saint Bartholomew – is said to date to 1697 and the adjoining palace became a hunting lodge for the kings of Bavaria in about 1810.

Today the former palace and hunting lodge is an inn – and we thoroughly recommend the beer.

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As well as photography, Sankt Bartholoma has long been known world-wide as an inspiration for landscape painters.

Each August, a pilgrimage is held over the mountains to the church from the Austrian municipality of Maria Alm.

The 7.7 kilometre long Konigssee is known for its clean, deep waters – and only electric boats are allowed on the waterway.

This is how we journeyed to Sankt Bartholoma and, on the way, the driver of the boat played a small flugelhorn (trumpet) to display the remarkable echo from the surrounding alps.

Back in the day, they apparently fired a gun instead – and the acoustics were even better.

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Sue prepares to board an electric boat at Konigssee.

We also passed the tiny island of Christlieger, with its distinctive marble statue of Saint John of Nepomuk, who is said to protect from flooding and drowning.

The famous Bartholoma is located on a peninsula along the shore of the Konigssee lake in the Berchtesgaden area of south-eastern Germany.

Konigssee is close to the Austrian border and can easily be reached from Salzberg.

Although we didn’t try it, visitors to Bartholoma are about an hour’s walk from another of the area’s natural attractions – the Eiskapelle, or ‘Ice Chapel’.

This is a permanent snow and icefield created by avalanches down the east face of the Waltzmann in Spring. The snow accumulates an angled area of the mountain.

 

Berchtesgaden

Travel review: Rocky mountain high at Delphi

I had no idea why I was going to Delphi.

To be honest, it just seemed to me like something everyone did when they visited Greece.

But, now that Scoot Airlines had opened a new, cost-effective service between Australia and Athens, a trip to all the wonders of ancient Greece – including Delphi – suddenly became a reality.

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In retrospect, I’m pleased we made the effort to take a bus 180 kilometres from Athens to the foot of Mount Parnassos.

And I understand why Delphi sanctuary and stadium are the second most popular attractions in Greece – behind the Acropolis.

For a start, the location is awesome – a modern town, the ancient ruins and a museum overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and the Phocis valley of olive groves.

The ruins hug the mountainside so tightly that they appear to have been carved into the earth.

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In ancient times, Delphi was considered the centre of the known world; the place where heaven and earth met.

According to mythology, Zeus sent out two eagles from the ends of the universe. The eagles met at Delphi, which therefore became the navel of the world.

As we walked through the sanctuary, the monuments included columns of the ruined Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle of Delphi resided.

This priestess was the most famous fortune-teller of ancient Greece, even though many now say that she was high as a kite on fumes rising from a crack in the earth.

Our path through the ruins wound on past a large theatre, the Athenian Treasury, Sibyl Rock and the Stoa of the Athenians – to name a few of the highlights.

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At the peak of the ruins, there is an ancient stadium, where the Pythian Games were held every four years. These Games were one of four precursors of the modern Olympics.

Male athletes at ancient Greek Games competed naked with their bodies oiled – and I suspect that Sue wanted to check that none had been left behind.

But the rocky path to the stadium had been worn smooth by footsteps over the Centuries – and, after several near-slips, we decided to call it quits and head for the museum.

After lunch and a beer at the nearby tavern, we headed about half a kilometre away to see probably the most photographed of the ruins of Delphi, the Tholos. This is a circular building that was constructed between 360 and 380 BC.

Then it was back to Athens, with a greater understanding of the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi, and its significance.

Note: The writer was flown to Athens courtesy of Scoot Airlines.

Greece

Travel review: Piran’s unusual history

In Slovenia, there’s a local joke that nothing is more than one hour away.

In a compact country that borders Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy and has only 43 kilometres of coastline, it’s fairly easy to move from centre to centre and one geographical feature to another.

In one direction, you’ll encounter stunning snow-capped alps and beautiful Lake Bled; in another is the striking capital city of Ljubljana; Italy is one hour away in yet another direction; or some of the world’s biggest limestone caves.

And, in the country’s south-west is the charming medieval walled town of Piran, on the Adriatic Coast.

Long regarded as a hidden jewell by travellers in the know and the source of acclaimed world class salt, Fleur de Sel, Piran is a remarkably attractive and photogenic old port town with a complex history.  These days, visitors flock to the town to enjoy community events, the culinary offerings and natural attractions

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We travelled to Piran because we’d heard so much about its astonishing mixture of architecture that reflects an unusual history – to say the least!

For example:

  • by the 7th Century, Piran was under Byzantine rule
  • in about 952 AD, it became part of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • from 1283 to 1797, Piran was in the Republic of Venice
  • in 1797, it was annexed to the Austrian Empire
  • between 1806 and 1814, it was ceded to the Napoleonic Empire
  • at the end of the 19th Century and the start of the 20th Century, Piran was Austro-Hungarian
  • after the First World War, the town was ceded to Italy.
  • in 1954, Piran was annexed to Yugoslavia – and much of its population chose to move to Italy or abroard.
  • since 1991, the town has been part of Slovenia.

If that isn’t confusing enough, the town is bilingual, with both Slovene and Italian listed as official languages.

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And, its municipality borders Croatia to the south and faces Italy across the Gulf of Trieste and the Adriatic Sea.

This melting pot of history gives Piran a distinctive and attractive appearance.

The Venetian influence is strong, with an imposing town square and sweep of red rooftops.

The remains of the town wall have a Roman look, although in reality they have been altered several times through the years.

There are three walls, dating to the 7th Century and a total of seven gates or entrances to the town.

And the medieval feel is also pronounced, with a lot of narrow streets and compact houses.

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And through its complex history, Piran flourished largely because of its salt pans, which were established in 804 AD.

We walked to the remains of the third town wall and nearby St George’s Church which dominates the main hill above the town .

Then we strolled along the breakwall to the tip of Piran peninsula, watching young swimmers braving the cold waters of the Adriatic.

After a coffee in one of the many cafes and seafood restaurants along the waterfront, we returned to Tartini Square, named after one of the towns most famous residents – the 17th Century violinist, Giuseppe Tartini

It may be only an hour away from everywhere in Slovenia, but medieval Piran is a stunning Adriatic coastal resort that is a ‘must see’ when visiting Slovenia.

Senior-friendly mark: 7 out of 10.  Although the town centre and foreshore are flat, there are a lot of steep and narrow streets that cannot be avoided in such an old city

Note: The writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines

Slovenia

Visit the lost city at the Acropolis Museum

If you’re planning to visit Athens, Greece, don’t miss the ancient city beneath the ancient city.

Remains of streets, houses, bathhouses and workshops from about the 7th to the 9th centuries AD can be seen below the Acropolis museum in the Makriyianni area of the Greek capital.

The ruins of the ancient settlement were uncovered during initial construction of the museum, which opened in mid-2007 within walking distance of the iconic Acropolis.

In what was initially considered a controversial move, the museum was constructed above the ruins in a way that allows visitors to look at the ancient Roman and early Byzantine foundations.

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So, how accessible is the Acropolis Museum to all ages?

For a start, it’s easy to find.

We’d already been to the Acropolis, the symbol of ancient Greek civilisation and one of the most visited places in the world – and we then walked down the southeast side of the hill.

We turned off Dionysiou Areopagitou Street onto the glass walkway that leads to the museum entrance.

Looking down through the glass, we could see the start of excavations of an ancient urban settlement.

Then we came to a large viewing hole cut in the walkway to better display well-preserved remains from the 7th century AD.

These included a large circulat foundation of a Byzantiine tower, into which people were throwing coins like a wishing well.

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The Acropolis Museum, Athens

The glass floor continues into the museum proper to allow visitors to view even more of the excavations.

We checked with staff and were told that, by sitting the museum on pillars, the contemporary building deliberately floated above the Makriyianni foundations.

When excavations are finished, it’s hoped that museum visitors will be able to learn about the history and religious significance of the Acropolis at the same time as understanding the daily lives of people who lived in the shadow of the temples.

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The Acropolis

The museum itself displays more than four-thousand objects from the Acropolis, covering periods from the Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece.

It is a well-designed modern museum, with an easy ‘flow’ of exhibits, plenty of seating and a video area on the top floor. The interior escalators make the building particularly assessible and the large windows offer an excellent views of the Acropolis.

Because the museum is so centrally-located, it is close to most of the main attractions in Athens and is easy to find.

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That area of Athens is named after Ioannis Makrygiannis, a general in the Greek War of Independence, who once owned a house and land nearby.

‘Age-Friendly Rating’

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9/10: From our experience, considerable effort has been made to ensure the Acropolis Museum is accessible to people of all ages.

As well as being easy to reach on foot, by road and via the Athens underground rail system, the museum is simple to enter, with ramps and wheelchair/baby stroller access provided.

As you pass through the building, all three floors can be reached by elevator and lift, making the exhibition areas, cafe, facilities and outdoor viewing deck extremely accessible.

We could not fault the accessibility measures

Note: The writer flew to Greece from Australia courtesy of Scoot Airlines, on its Sydney-Singapore-Athens service.

Age-Friendly event ratings Greece

Slovenia’s magical underground

We were standing in a massive underground canyon, our words lost amid the near-deafening roar of crashing water.

Despite lighting on the walls, the roof was too high to see and in the darkness below us, the River Reka – swollen by recent rain – thundered under our tiny bridge.

It was an awe-inspiring scene in Europe’s biggest known underground canyon – part of the Skocjan Caves in north-eastern Slovenia.

Statistics can’t adequately prepare you

We’d been told the statistics: the cavern is 308 metres long, 89 metres wide on average and 106 metres high, with the tallest point of the ceiling some 146 metres above the Reka River.

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Caves entrance

But, this didn’t really prepare for the almost frightening spectacle that confronted us deep beneath the gorges of Slovenia.

The enormous size of the underground canyon is what places Škocjan Caves among the most famous underground features in the world.

Although they have been mentioned since the 2nd Century BC, some of the caves have yet to be fully explored.

Spectacular gorge

The Reka River flows through a scenic four-kilometre gorge before it disappears underground to surge through the limestone caves.

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River Reka gorge

During a visit to Slovenia, we caught a bus from the capital Ljubljana to visit the Skocjan Caves Regional Park. And we were certainly impressed.

Our party wound its way through the massive chambers of the Skocjan network using stairs and concrete paths that cling to the walls. The bridge over the Reka River was certainly a highlight.

Later, we negotiated a winding stairway out of the caves area and caught a furnicular railway to the top of the gorge, before lunching in the nearby village of Matavun.

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Global significance

The Skocjan network is of such importance globally that it has been on the UNESCO list of natural and cultural world heritage sites since 1986.

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Although steep, the area is popular with hikers and numerous footpaths, mountain trails and even cycling paths criss-cross the area.

Skocjan Caves are in north-eastern Slovenia, about 47 kilometres from Ljubljana.

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Senior-friendly mark: 5/10. It’s difficult to make ancient limestone caves wheelchair accessible.  However, we are reasonably fit – and were able to negotiate the caves without problem.

Note: The writer was flown to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines.

Credit: Main photograph with thanks to the Skocjan Caves Regional Park authority.

Slovenia

Where eagles dare

The first thing you notice about the Kehlsteinhaus, or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ is the approach road that climbs 800 metres up the side of a mountain, without the need for hairpin bends.

An engineering marvel, the road contains five tunnels in its 6.5 kilometres. It was built in 1937, as part of the Eagle’s Nest – a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler.

The Kehlsteinhaus is situated on a ridge atop a 1,834 metre mountain above the town of Berchtesgaden, in south-eastern Germany.

It is one of the busiest tourist attractions in Bavaria and, each year, it is visited by huge numbers of people from around the globe.

The location of the Eagle’s Nest – high in the Alps – is regarded as one of the most striking and picturesque in Germany.

Hall of the mountain king


The intention was that the Eagle’s Nest would be a diplomatic reception house and quiet mountain retreat for Hitler, but he paid only a handful of visits to the summit.

The Nazi leader apparently had both a fear of heights and was concerned that the elevator to the summit might be hit by lightning.

We arrived the day after a snowstorm, amid a lot of low cloud.

Entrance to the mountain tunnel

To reach the Kehisteinhaus, you first need to catch a bus from Obersalzberg on the mountain’s lower reaches, then walk through a 126 metre tunnel into the mountain.

The Eagle’s Nest Tunnel

Finally, you catch a remarkable elevator that rises about 124 metres to the peak.

The interior of the elevator is made of polished brass and circular Venetian mirrors to look bigger than it is, as Hitler, apparently, had claustrophobia.


Photographs are banned in the elevator, but can be taken as it arrives and the doors open.

These days, the Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant and beer house, but one particular item of interest is a grand fireplace made of expensive reddish Carrara marble.


A sign says the fireplace was a birthday gift to Hitler from Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini.

It is damaged at one end, allegedly by Allied soldiers who are blamed for chipping off pieces of the marble for mementos.

Although the beer was good and the Kehisteinhaus has great historical significance, we were particularly impressed with the Document Centre, which is located further down the mountain near where Hitler had his alpine mansion.


Information at the centre showed that, although bombing the Eagle’s Nest itself was not a high priority for the Allies, the presence of Hitler and many of his senior officials made the Berchestgaden a key target – and the residents suffered severely.

In the last weeks of the war, in particular, there was a massive bombing attack on the Berghof and Obersalzberg.

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines

Germany