European Autumn tips

Autumn has arrived in Europe and cheaper holiday deals are opening up during the shoulder season. 

Here are a few suggested European destinations that you should be able to consider without battling the crowds and breaking the bank – especially if you avoid the Euro countries.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – a picturesque walled city, with attractions galore and remarkably reasonable prices. The nearest airport is probably Prague and a bus or train trip to Cesky Kromlov takes about three hours.  Attractions that caught our eye included the massive Ceský Krumlov Castle — the biggest in Eastern Europe; the striking church of St. Vitus which can trace its origins back to the 13th century; several museums; and the view from Mount Klet on the city’s fringe. There are plenty of budget hotels.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Sofia, Bulgaria – regularly rated as Europe’s most affordable capital, Sofia can be a base for visits to the Black Sea. Although more and more people discover the city each year, it is  still known for cheap accommodation, food and public transport; exquisite Ottoman churches, buzzing nightlife; pretty city parks and budget flights from the UK.

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Athens, Greece – it’s amazing that one of the world’s great destinations should remain such a  travel bargain. Like most of Greece, the capital city is eager to attract travellers, especially during the off-season. There is so much to see and do at Athens – and most of it is particularly well-priced. We always recommend the Pan Hotel, which provides excellent accommodation in the heart of Athens at an attractive price.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia – also no longer a hidden jewell, this picture-postcard, affordable city sits beneath a backdrop of snow-capped Alps, close to the stunning beauty of Lake Bled. Ljubljana has a compact and beautiful Old Town area, free of traffic and complete with a beautiful castle, stunning medieval architecture, a winding river and a host of restaurants and coffee shops. Scenic trains link the city with the Austrian and Bavarian Alps, neighbouring Italy and the Balkan countries. We found budget accommodation in the Old Town.

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Brasov, Romania – another beauty for the penny-wise, this quaint town is set in the heart of Transylvania and boasts colourful houses, charming cafés and a fascinating mixture of history and local legend. Romania remains one of Europe’s cheapest destinations, so just about everything here is attractively-priced.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Belgrade, Serbia – with relatively well priced accommodation and cheap attractions, public transport, food and beer, Belgrade is also known as a bargain destination. The city is easy to navigate on foot and many attractions are free.

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Tenerife, Spain – although Spain is a Euro country and not generally considered a cheap destination, Tenerife is in the Canary Islands and is generally well priced at this time of year. Delivering a blend of Spanish culture and African sun, Tenerife is one of the darlings of international travel – and is fast becoming an international hotspot. It is the biggest of the seven Canary Islands and its many features include stunning beaches, abundant wildlife and astonishing volcanic rock formations.

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Naples, southern Italy – also a Euro country, but a vibrant city of art, history and awesome food. Naples is one of the least expensive Italian destinations and has a rawness and gritty beauty all its own. We love the city’s narrow, busy streets and find it a warts-and-all snapshot of Italian passion and colour. 

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Edinburgh, Scotland – the UK doesn’t usually make our lists of reasonably-priced cities, but we fell in love with this awesome city at first sight – and its charming cobblestone streets, storybook castle and spectacular views are even more attractive than usual amid the leafy hues of Autumn. If you don’t mind cooling temperatures and are prepared to do a bit of research to keep the price down, this beautiful Scottish city could be an enticing Autumn destination. 

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Aix-en-Provence, France – The South of France may be on our list for a visit we’re planning in 2021. And, during initial research, we’ve been astonished to discover that Provence currently offers good value for an Autumn break. Temperatures are still quite warm in this beautiful region and the area is also keen to attract visitors in the off-season. We’re yet to test it, but this part of France looks both beautiful at the moment and financially attractive.

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram at @memorable_destination; @memorable_travels;  @memorable_ hotels and @ww_australia.

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Scoot upgrades premium service

Singapore-based airline, Scoot, is renaming its premium service.

Previously known as Scootbiz, the premium offering was the subject of a detailed review on this site in late 2017.

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It is being renamed ScootPlus on all Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights to and from Australia and various destination on the airline’s network.

Travellers on ScootPlus will continue to enjoy comfortable wide, leather reclining seats with a footrest and twice the legroom of an economy seat; individual in-seat power outlets; 30KG check-in baggage allowance; 15KG carry-on baggage; priority check-in and boarding.

Following a customer survey, Scoot has also replaced  its inflight entertainment  with 30MB complimentary WiFi in ScootPlus.

Scoot says it’s ScootPlus service allows travellers to take advantage of value-added fares, and the option to purchase add-on items such as SATS lounge access in Singapore. KrisFlyer[2] members can also continue to earn and burn their KrisFlyer miles on Scoot flights.

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Scoot boasts one of the youngest fleets in the air, with its signature Boeing 787 Dreamliners having an average age of two-years-11 months. 

Overall, the average age of Scoot’s fleet of 20 Dreamliners and 28 Airbus A320 family aircraft is five-years-and-one-month.

Two additional Dreamliners, 31 Airbus A320neo and 16 A321neo aircraft are on order. 

Scoot’s network presently encompasses 68 destinations across 17 countries and territories, with nine more destinations from India, Indonesia and Malaysia scheduled to join the network by the second half of 2020.

Featured Airlines Scoot

The fascinating story of the ‘jungle juice’

Every country has its folklore and its share of what might be called ‘colourful characters’.

Some are famous; some infamous; some have shone brightly in history; and others faded all too briefly.

Mel Jurd certainly made his mark on life – although information about this Australian entrepreneur isn’t easy to find.

In fact, we had to visit the historic eastern-Australian village of Wollombi to track down the details.

Wollombi is an attractive little place on the fringe of Australia’s Hunter Wine Region.  

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We set off from the coastal city of Newcastle and travelled via the villages of Bulga and Broke, driving through vineyards and stunning rural countryside into the Wollombi Valley.

Situated on a crossroad, Wollombi’s boasts a series of grand 19th Century sandstpone buildings that reflect its history along the Great North Road, a convict-built link between Sydney and the Upper Hunter.

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Early 19th Century sandstone building, Wollombi, Australia.

However we had come to visit a more humble structure – the Wollombi Tavern.

And it wasn’t for the beer, as fine a drop as that may be.

We were interested in the story of Mel Jurd, who apparently operated the tavern when it was called the Wollombi Wine Saloon and later the Wollombi Wine Bar.

Mel is somewhat of a legend in the area and locals explained that, in the 1960’s, he came up with the idea of creating a distinctly local brew that could only be purchased at Wollombi.

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Image courtesy of Wollombi Tavern website

Folklore has it that Mel took to collecting the leftover wine from each day at the wine bar and learning all he could about various brewing techniques.

A mate had mentioned a wartime ‘cure-all’ used by soldiers to ward off illnesses – something like a double-nip of port wine, mixed with a nip of brandy. 

When this was added to muscat or sherry dregs from bottles left on the bar and occasionally mixed with blackberry and goodness knows what else, it became the basis for a new brew.

Mel eventually called the finished product ‘Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice’ – and, to this day, the brew can be purchased only at the Wollombi Tavern or ordered on its website.

The product has remained the trademark of the establishment ever since.

How does it taste? Such judgements are personal ideed – so why not order a bottle online or add Wollombi to your bucket list to see for yourself.

Mel Jurd eventually exchanged the title of ‘Dr’ for ‘Friar’ and moved to operate a local restaurant – before heading for a warmer climate in his retirement.

He left behind  both his jungle juice and a great story about a truly colourful character.

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Follow me to Australia’s secret valley

Here’s a valuable tip for people planning to visit Australia’s east coast: you can now experience the world famous Aussie bush, while staying in luxurious surroundings only a couple of hours from Sydney.

It’s called the Secret Valley Escape – a secluded, romantic wilderness retreat in Australia’s famous Blue Mountains.

We spent four nights at the retreat – and here’s our review:

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Introduction

And as the name suggests, the emphasis at Secret Valley Escape is on isolation and a hands-on taste of stunning rural scenery

Secret Valley Escape is snuggled in the Kanimbla Valley, west of Sydney, amid soaring  sandstone escarpments.

It provides high standard, secluded accommodation in handmade mudbrick cottages or a Aussie homestead with a sweeping verandarah – all set in 200 acres of mountain wilderness.

You can wander through the many walking tracks and witness the secret valley as it opens before your eyes beneath the escarpment, criss-crossed by Blackheath Creek.

In many years of undertaking ‘Age-Friendly Reviews’ across the globe, we had never experienced anything like this; isolation and luxury so close to an international airport, while still deep in the quiet splendor of untamed wilderness.

Q: Was the booking process simple and problem free?

A: Yes. We had heard a lot about Secret Valley Escape and its popularity, often among celebrity visitors to Australia.

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Secret Valley Escape is active on social media, including Instagram – so we were able to see photographs of the facilities before we even made contact. This is a huge plus.

As well, Secret Valley Escape has an easily-read and detailed website.

The initial contact was made over the phone – and the formal booking was completed online.

The process was straight-forward, flexible and easy.

Q: Did Secret Valley Escape communicate after the booking?

A: Yes. We cannot speak highly enough about the communication. Secret Valley Escape was highly professional, thorough, friendly and extremely helpful – the equal of any we have encountered worldwide. 

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From the first conversation until our arrival, Secret Valley Escape kept in contact, provided ongoing information – and anticipating any questions. 

We received detailed directions to the area and a map to show the location of our homestead within the valley itself. 

On the day of our arrival, we also received three telephone calls, primarily to offer help with directions etc.  

Such thoroughness and professionalism was reassuring and appreciated. As a result, we found our way without difficulty.

Q: Does Secret Valley Escape have street appeal? 

A: As you approach the valley, it is everything you would expect from a wildnerness retreat.

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A country road winds a short distance from the Great Western Highway at Cox’s River through dense bushland – passing occasional farms and tiny streams. 

You cross a narrow wooden bridge and turn into the retreat, via a security boomgate. 

This is deep in the Australian bush, 25 minutes from the nearest town and silent except for a never-ending chorus of wild birds. That’s street appeal in anyone’s language. 

Q: How did check-in go?

A: Seamlessly. As outlined in the post-booking communication, our lodge awaited. 

The on-site owners stopped by to check that everything was to our liking – and then we were left to ourselves. 

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You could immediately see why Secret Valley Escape is so popular with celebrities,  honeymooners and corporate workshops.  

As well as the cottages scattered through the bush, the nearest neighbours are the birds, the towering mountains and the bubbling creek.

Q: How was accessibility, particularly for senior travellers?

A: Secret Valley Escape is located amid dense, almost untouched Australian bush. That’s the charm of it:  however a certain level of mobility is desirable to get the best out of a stay.  

Obviously, it would be neither possible nor desirable to put safety fences and wheelchair paths along ancient bushland clifftops, but neither is it necessary to wander the bush trails of this wonderful retreat to enjoy its incredible appeal.

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Even at the homestead and cabins, visitors are deep in the bosom of nature; able to watch the sun bouncing off ghost gums in the early morning and afternoon; hear the sounds of the bush echoing down the valley; and see the dark skies ablaze with stars.

The area around the cottages, homestead, workshop facilities and car parking areas are level, largely clear of obstacles and well lit at night.

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There are a small number of steps to the cottages and the homestead is two-storey with an internal staircase. 

However, once inside, the surrounding sun-decking and the rooms are readily accessible – including the ensuite bathrooms. 

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For example, hand-basins were high enough on the wall for a wheelchair to move close, should it need to. 

Light switches and power-points were sensibly mid-height;  door handles opened with little effort; there were clothes hangers at mid-height in the wardrobes; and outside stairs were illuminated by security lighting.

In both the homestead and cottages, the emphasis was on high-quality fittings and furnishings. 

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Q: Were the bedrooms big enough?

A: The homestead contains five bedrooms – all a decent size. Three of the bedrooms had King-sized beds (one of them a four-poster bed) while the other two were Queen-sized

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All bedrooms had individual lights; bedside drawers; air-conditioning, overhead fans; en-suite bathrooms, suitcase stands, complimentary slippers and built-in wardrobes  

The beds were fluffy and comfy, with high quality coverings. Some of the bedrooms opened onto the wide veranderah that surrounds the homestead, while one of the upstairs rooms had its own private balcony overlooking the sweeping bushland.

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We checked out one of the spa cottages.  It was cosy but spacious and had a four-poster Queen-sized bed.

Q: Did the homestead have adequate charging points?

A: The bedrooms easily catered for our electronic devices – always a key point for us.

There were plenty of charging points, including some on either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks. 

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There were also plenty of powerpoints in other rooms, including the downstairs general bathroom, loungeroom and livingroom.

Q: Were the bathrooms to the expected standard?

A:  Both the main bathroom and the walk-in en-suites in the homestread were modern and fitted with luxury toiletries. 

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There were adequate fluffy towels, hairdryers, robes and slippers. 

The ensuite bathroom in the biggest bedroom also contained a luxurious full size standalone bath.

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Although there were 10 people in our party, there was never any shortage of hot water.

Q: Were the general facilities in keeping with the star rating?

A: Secret Valley Escape has everthing you expect from a four-star facility. We’d heard a lot of good things about this retreat from fellow travellers and tourism authorities – and it certainly lived up to the reputation.

The location is a good start – amid stunning Australian bushland far from the madding crowd, yet within easy reach of Sydney and its international airport.

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Our experience with farm-stay type facilities in Australia was that most seemed to have an emphasis on catering for young families – or required a lengthy trip to reach them.

Secret Valley Escape proved an exception.

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The combination of seclusion and luxury, Aussie bush and a relatively short distance to Sydney is a  winner for international tourists, celebrities looking for privacy, or couples after a romantic stay. 

The retreat is also a photographer’s dream – and is a perfect base for exploring the world famous Blue Mountains in general.

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The homestead, Illowra House, is spacious and fully self contained  with quality furnishings and a high level of finish. 

As well as the luxurious bedrooms, bathrooms, living areas and modern kitchen and laundry, there is a large log fire, air-conditioning and individually-controlled fans.

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The homestead and each cottage also featured individual, private outdoor jacuzzis on the north facing timber deck.

Q: Were kitchen and laundry facilities adequate?

A: The homestead kitchen was fully self-contained, with modern appliances, including a large cooker with a double oven, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave.

There was a jumbo-sized dining table; a general living area off the kitchen and a separate lounge room – all finished in quality furnishings.

An electric bar-b-que is situated on the homestead’s decking – and is ideal for cooking a convenient meal for small groups.

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In the kitchen, there were complimentary fruit, detergent and a range of teas and coffee, crockery, cutlery and more-than-adequate bench and cupboard space.

The laundry included a washing machine, clothes dryer and a large amount of pantry and storage room.

During our four-day stay, the homestead was serviced and we were offered replacement toileteries, tea and coffee and detergent.

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Q: Were there any problems with Secret Valley Escape?

A: Just the opposite. Secret Valley Escape was exactly as we expected – luxury, secluded accommodation within easy reach of other Blue Mountains attractions and the transport hubs of Sydney.

While the bushland setting means that a level of mobility is needed to experience all corners of the 200-acres, the operators have made concerted efforts to ensure Secret Valley Escape is as ‘Age-friendly’ as it can be (see below)

Our only suggestions involve the need for a DVD player and screen in the living areas, complimentary wifi (if possible) and perhaps a bigger bar-b-que to cater for large groups.

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However, on the whole, we found Secret Valley Escape to be luxurious, modern, spotlessly clean, extremely comfortable, secure and a wonderful retreat from the pressures of today’s life.

And, the approachable, helpful and highly professional attitude of the managers made our stay all the more comfortable and memorable

We have no hesitation in recommending Secret Valley Escape. It is a true gem!

Age-friendly rating

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9/10:

Based on this four-night experience, it is our opinion that the operators of Secret Valley Escape have made the retreat as accessible as is possible for a genuine wilderness getaway.

They have tackled it in a whole range of practical ways – from providing visitors with a map that shows the various bush walks and the topography around them; to the care taken to guide people into the valley; and the inclusive and intelligent accommodation layout.

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On-going communication with customers; the Instagram photographs; and the easily-navigated website all indicate to us an obvious management policy of providing accurate information and informed assistance.

We hope to return to Secret Valley Escape to write a more detailed review of this outstanding retreat.

Location: Secret Valley Escape is situated in the Kanimbla Valley, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. 

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How Instagram is changing the way we travel

An important development in travel for Australians happened quietly over recent weeks.

‘Worldwide Community’, a leading international Instagram group, opened its first ‘hub’ in the country @ww_australia – providing a whole new field of destination inspiration for travellers.

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The extroadinary growth of Instagram – the fastest of any social platform – has changed the face of travel and has inherently altered the way travellers experience new things

Research shows almost 70% of travel enthusiasts worldwide now rely on Instagram to find inspiration for new journeys.

The impact of ‘Insta-tourism’ has forced the tourism sector to re-think strategies; directing marketing away from advertising toward the use of ‘instagram influencers’.

This is where Instagram hubs like @ww_australia come in.  There are thousands of them, containing hundreds-of-thousands of artists, photographers and influencers who feature travel, landscape, nature, wildlife, portraiture, cityscape and street images. 

People considering a holiday can easily see pictures of the most idyllic, traditional, cultural and  exciting attractions – so it’s little surprise that travel behavior is changing as a result.

Because people engage with Instagram 10 times more than with Facebook, for example, travel and accommodation brands have moved onboard in huge numbers, providing more visual content that connects to our innate desire to discover and experience.

Attractions, increasingly, are also providing destinations with strong image potential, with the need for few, if any, words.

Worldwide Community is one of the most prestigious, influential, creative and fast-growing Instagram organisations – and features the work of some of the world’s best photographers and artists.

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Tips: another app that lists airfares

We’ve been getting questions about ‘I Know the Pilot’, another online service for saving money on airline bookings.

This is a notification service which says it is based in Melbourne, Australia –  and can operate either as an app on your mobile device; or as an email alert system; or a website. The service is also on several social media channels.

It draws your attention to airfare sales – and leaves the booking to you.  The service shows flight prices and dates on which the sales apply.

‘I Know the Pilot’ offers a list of partner booking sites. However, if you wish, there’s nothing to stop you going straight to the website of the airline said to be offering the deals.

But are the sales found by ‘I Know the Pilot’ really cheap?  I must stress that we are yet to use the service, but many of the offers do look attractive indeed.

For example, the App recently drew attention to return flights being offered by Air Asia between Sydney and Hong Kong next March – from $463.

The flights left Sydney on March 18 and Hong Kong on March 26.  However, it also clearly stated that 20 kilogram of checked baggage would add an additional $90.31 and seat selection carried a $34.12 fee.  This took the total price to at least $587.

In the same alert, ‘I Know the Pilot’ drew attention to return flights with Qantas on the same days for a total of $501, including baggage.

Even that sounded like a remarkably good price on that particular route. Despite checking 26 other online booking sites, we couldn’t find a deal to match it. 

So it seems the proof of ‘I Know the Pilot’ may be in the booking.

If we try it, we will let you know.

Meanwhile, registering for the email alerts doesn’t cost you a cent.

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Huge revamp of transport in Sydney

Trains have started testing on Australia’s biggest public transport project – a massive modernisation and improvement of Sydney’s metro system.

New-generation trains – based on the international metropolis system used in 25 cities, including  Barcelona, Amsterdam and Singapore – are set to revolutionise Sydney travel from 2019.

They are being tested on the new SydneyMetro North-west rail system, which includes eight  new railway stations and 4,000 commuter car parking spaces in the city’s growing north-western area.

The new rail link, includes elevated  stations;  Australia’s biggest railway tunnels and the ‘Skytrain’ (pictured) between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill.

Skytrain

Skytrain takes Sydney Metro Northwest above ground for four kilometres

The skytrain is at a height of between 10 metres and 13 metres above ground level and is supported with 130 concrete piers, spaced approximately 39 metres apart.

The two new railway stations on the skytrain, Kellyville and Rouse Hill, are elevated and the platforms are above ground.

A landmark 270-metre long cable-stayed railway bridge over Windsor Road at Rouse Hill also forms part of the skytrain. This is similar in design to Sydney’s Anzac Bridge.

Timetable-free

When it opens, the new system promises a train every four minutes in peak hours and will be ‘timetable-free’: users will just turn up and catch a train.

A second stage of the project will include a revamped rail system through Central Sydney and on to the city’s south-west.

Accessibility

Sydney’s new-generation metro trains will make customer journeys easy – with an emphasis on accessibility for people of all ages.

Features include level access with platforms to multi-purpose areas for prams, luggage and bicycles and real time travel information.

Drivers not forgotten

Sydney’s transport facelift is not restricted to the new rail systems.

At the same time, a new tunnel system known as NorthConnex is changing the face of road travel  by sweeping traffic through a nine-kilometre tunnel in Sydney’s north – linking the existing M1 and M2 motorways.

Central Sydney is also getting a 12-kilometre light rail system, with 19 new Stops through the city.

This system, for which testing is also underway will complement the current Inner-West Light  Rail, which already carries 9.7 million people a year.

 

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