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.

 

Featured attractions Sydney travel

Visit the land and hotel above the clouds

If you’re looking for an extraordinary experience on a trip to Europe, make your way to the shores of the pristine Wolfgangsee lake, in the Austrian Alps.

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Overshadowing the picture-postcard alpine town of Sant Wolfgang am Wolfgangsee is Schafberg Mountain, a towering peak in the Salzkammergut Range.

Schafberg Mountain is rather special because, since 1893, it has been the site of one of the steepest steam-powered cog-railways anywhere in Europe.

Schafbergbahn railway carries visitors to the summit of the mountain 1,783 metres above the surrounding countryside. 

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This is truly one of the world’s great travel experiences: memories of which will live with you forever.

The railway winds out of the quaint village; passes through the treeline; disappears into the clouds; and emerges in the snow zone.  

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Once at the summit, it feels like you are on the top of the world.

Visitors are greeted by incomparable 360 degree views across the majesty of the Alps and their many glacial lakes. 

If you want to soak up more of the views and watch the sun set between rugged mountain peaks, the summit boasts a hotel called Schafbergspitze – commonly known as the ‘hotel in the clouds’ – which has operated through the summer months since 1862.

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Here you can sip wine and watch one of nature’s most stunning shows – the sun setting through the alpine mountain peaks.

Rays of golden light bounce from one snow-capped Alp to another, glinting off the lakes far below and highlighting the birds gliding well down the slopes.

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Hotel  Schafbergspitz boasts a a bar perched high on an adjoining mountaintop and, at the very peak of the area, a wooden cross stands as a reminder of the dangers of venturing too close to the edge.

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Schafberg Mountain with its steam train and hotel is located at Wolfgangsee lake in the Austrian Alps. It is about an hour’s drive from the city of Salzberg.

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There is also ample accommodation in Sant Wolfgang am Wolfgangsee or you can do as we did: stay in another of the small nearby villages, to truly experience Austrian alpine culture and communities.

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Regardless of how you do it, the Schafberg Mountain is an experience of a lifetime that you will never forget or regret.

Featured hotels Schafberg Mountain

You must see Mt Parnassus: a true wonder of the world

Mount Parnassus, a limestone spur in central Greece, north of the Gulf of Corinth, is one of the world’s most significant sites – and a ‘must-see’ for travellers interested in culture and history.

Towering above the ancient sanctuary of Delphi, the mountain plays a big role in Greek mythology.

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In addition to being sacred to the god Apollo, who often visited the nearby Oracle at Delphi, the mountain was thought to be the residence of the Muses and, as a result, the home of poetry and song. 

Even the name Parnassus, effectively means the mountain of the house of the God.

Over the centuries, Mount Parnassus has influenced many poets, writers and singers. For this reason, the name of the mountain (Mont Parnasse) was given to a quarter of Paris, France on the left bank of the Seine, where artists and poets used to gather and recite their poems in public.

Ruins of the ancient city of Delphi, which are visited by huge numbers of people each year, nestle into the south-western slope of the mountain – overlooking the coastal plain. 

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The phenomenal influence of this area in the ancient world – the Greeks called Delphi the centre of the world – resulted in its classification as a World Heritage Site.

Although Delphi is mostly known as the home of the Oracle, the city itself had much to offer. 

Every four years, the Pythian Games were held there and the ancient city also had an amphitheater, gymnasium, and other sanctuaries dedicated to gods and goddesses such as Artemis, Dionysus, and Poseidon.

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Mount Parnassus and Delphi are a comfortable day trip from Athens.

We travelled to the Greek capital courtesy of Scoot, which flies modern Boeing Dreamliners to and from Asia and Australia.

Greece travel

A dream continues deep in the woods

Love is a great foundation for grand plans.

An astonishing example of this can be found deep in the tropics of far north-eastern Australia.

There, sunlight filters down on a dream: a fairytale forest castle created more than 80 years ago by a Spaniard for his beloved. 

And, as we wandered through this unexpected delight, we quickly understood the romantic dream behind such an extroadinary creation.

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Jose Pedro Enrique Paronella was a romantic man – a dreamer in a harsh, no-nonsense land.

He arrived at Innisfail, Queensland, in 1913 and began work in the sugar industry while planning a special life with the fiancee he had left back in Catalonia.

It was while buying and selling cane farms that Jose discovered his dreamland – a beautiful tropical forest alongside the spectacular, cascading Mena Creek waterfall.

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Jose had never forgotten the grand castles of his boyhood land and the gem of an idea was taking root when he returned to his fiancee after 11 years. Finding that she had married another, he proposed to her younger sister, Margarita, and returned to Australia to buy his piece of forest paradise.

Their incredible dream was to build a castle. And they did – on 13 tropical acres a fantasyland gradually rose amid the tall trees, tangled vines, creepers and ferns.

Neither Jose nor Margarita were afraid of hard work. Their fingerprints in the concrete foundations remain as testament to their astonishing labour of love. 

No task, no matter how difficult, seemed to faze Jose.  Described as an ”engineer, architect, builder and everything else in one”, he threw himself into every challenge.

“People smile and say ‘Paronella, he is mad. To work so hard and to spend so much money this way! Why does he not sit down and rest’.  That is not my way”

Excerpt from ‘Spaniard’s Dream Realised’ – Brisbane Sunday Mail

The first section of the dream was a grand 47-step concrete staircase to shift building materials between the upper and lower levels of the site. 

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Gradually, the castle and its stunning surrounds took shape, including a grand ballroom and movie theatre designed to provide entertainment for the public.  

There were also tennis courts, tunnels, bridges, fountains, a museum; pavilion with turret-topped balconies, refreshment rooms and changing cubicles for swimmers.

All this was wrapped in an amazing area of gardens and more than 7,000 trees, including an avenue of Kauri pines that now tower like Cathedral spires.

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The backdrop of Mena Creek Falls  was used for North Queensland’s first hydro electric plant, providing power to the entire site – and a tunnel was burrowed through a hill to give access to minature waterfalls.

Despite setbacks, the dream of Paronella Park  continued – even after Jose’s death in 1948. 

In 1967,  Margarita passed away, leaving their son and daughter-in-law as custodians of the remarkable dream.

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Flood, fire and the area’s tropical cyclones also wreaked havoc on the castle and the vision was almost lost when new owners stepped in during the 1990’s and started a number of restoration projects, while carefully staying true to the park’s history.

Today, the site is officially listed as an important part of Australian heritage.

However, we defy first-time visitors not to catch their breath when they see the truly extroardinary sight of a Spanish castle partly hidden in a tropical forest in one of the most beautiful parts of our planet.

In this helter skelter world, the dream and the romance live on – and there’s something particularly reassuring about that.

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Paronella Park can be found at Mena Creek, Queensland, Australia, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Cairns.

As explained on its website, visitors can take a 45-minute guided walk through the highlights of the park; try a self-guided botanical walk; or see the delights of the site by night, when the waterfalls are lit.

There is also a Paronella caravan and camping park; a suspension bridge above the Mena Falls; a museum in Jose’s cottage; an arts and crafts shop and a tea house that features scones and home-made tropical jam.

The park is also a stunning backdrop for weddings and other special occasions.

Far-North Queensland Romance travel

See the flying farmers and their Apes

We met our first Ape at Ravello, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast – one of the most glorious parts of our planet

While exploring a hillside pathway – barely wide enough for two people – we were startled by a car horn.

The honking came from an Ape (roughly prounced ‘A – Pee’) a tiny vehicle used to haul lemons, chestnuts and vegetables from some terraced farms along the steep valleys above the Amalfi coastline.

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This three-wheeled vehicle complements mules and the farmers themselves – known as ‘contadini volanti’, or the ‘flying farmers’, who climb the steep heights to visit the groves.  

However, locals sadly pointed out that the efficiency of the Apes, mules and farmers is gradually proving no match for competition from cheaper, less aromatic lemons from abroad.  

For some years, this competition has been driving prices down and applying pressure to Amalfi’s vertical farmers to abandon terraces previously cultivated for generations.

Naturally, it’s feared that this could lead to the collapse of dry stone walls and an increase is erosion along a stunning coastline famous for its pastel-coloured villages sitting in narrow, V-shaped valleys.

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The dry stone walls were built stone-by-stone by the ancestors of today’s farmers who went on to plant and tend for many thousands of lemon trees.

However, some local residents now fear that, if maintenance is reduced, the walls may not last.

Add the inevitable summer bushfires in the Lattari Mountains, some clear-felling of land and the ageing of the remaining lemon farmers – and you have further problems for the terrace walls that have been a bulwark against erosion for centuries. 

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In September 2010, a fatal mudslide hit the enchanting Amalfi Coast village of Atrani.

In the aftermath, an early warning escape route was  established through the tangle of cobblestone lanes and streets in the ancient village.

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As we wandered through this unbelievably beautiful area on our most recent visit, we noted the ‘Escape route’ signs and the pedestrian-only routes to the sea through huge arches.

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There’s also talk of ground sensors and remote-controlled cameras in the hills.

The Amalfi Coast is one of the ‘must-see’ destinations of the world and, hopefully, the possibility of stone walls ever substantially falling into disrepair may remain just that – only a possibility.

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However, if possible, we can all probably help ward off problems by seeking out bright-yellow Amalfi lemons for our shopping basket.

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

Amalfi Coast Italy

The famous Bartholoma on its remarkable see.

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.

We decided to review the attraction to see how well it catered for visitors of all ages.

Here’s what we found:

Age-Friendly Review

Sankt Bartholoma 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.

However, unless you are extremely fit and versed in steep mountains, the best way to see the famous church in its alpine setting is by catching a boat across the Konigssee.

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

It is an easy and comfortable way to travel – and is accessible to just about everyone.

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.

Once at the church, the ground is flat and level – and it is easy to move about the area.

See the inside of the church; stroll along the level concrete pathway that runs by the water’s edge; try a beer at the tavern; and then join a queue to board a boat for the return journey.

Based on our experience, people of any ages should be able to visit this famous landmark and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Berchtesgaden Featured attractions

An encounter with a brazen lady

Naples: the skin tingles.

Description: chaotic but edgy and sensual.

Question: How could we have avoided her for so long?

Answer: In past visits, we’d stuck to the well-worn tourist trails leading to Italy’s Sorrentine peninsula, Capri and the Amalfi Coast.

Result: I was always curious about Napoli and its reputation for being exactly the opposite of elegant Florence, tendy Milan and stately Rome.

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My curiousity increased with tales of cruise ship tourists refusing to disembark there, apparently rattled by fears of pickpockets, mafia and drug wars.

This city had long intrigued me. It is often described as “beautiful chaos”. But, what exactly did that mean?

Sorrento and the Amalfi, I was told, were like the southern belles of Italy – alluring in their pastel colours and genteel manners. Naples flirted openly – suggestive and gritty.

Yet, intriguing or not, we never found our way to the city under Mount Vesuvius until Gert’s car GPS experienced problems on the way from the ruins of Herculaneum.

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Suddenly, we were tangled in the urban canyons of suburban Naples – and our senses were on overload.

Street drama

The area was the very epicentre of Neopolitan life played out on crowded and dilapidated streets, with just a hint of danger.  Sue gently pushed her handbag out of sight beneath her car seat.

It was in-your-face and overwhelmingly loud – a warren of narrow roads and lanes, confusing street signs, poverty, drying laundry, rubbish and graffiti.

Neopolitan men in sweaty singlets, trucks overladen with fresh fruit, kamikaze motorcyclists on footpaths; women in traffic-stopping tight shorts and heels, road signals that no one seemed to obey – all wrapped in the smells of coffee and pizza.

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The streets were a bewildering maze of traffic, charging heater skelter everywhere, without  the semblance of order or marked lanes.

We’ve survived the craziness of New York City taxis; the insanity of downtown Bankok; the wall-to-wall vehicles of Los Angeles; and the free-for-all that is Paris traffic, but we’d never seen anything like the streets of Naples.  This was a whole new league.

The streets were  a knock-down, winner-takes-all competition, where the first person to blink lost.

How, I wondered, could anyone be indifferent to this raucous streetscape. Surely, it was either appalling or captivating!

Either way, it was a remarkable experience and, unlike those cruise ship tourists, I was excited by the intense, heaving humanity around me – and keen to see more.

Later, we sat in a quiet hillside coffee shop where a shrine to the Madonna looked down on us from a roadside tree and the city spread out below – from the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius and the Lattari Mountains.

Admittedly, the cityscape was somewhat blurred by a soupy smog not uncommon in Naples.

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Young boys kicked a football on the concrete beside us and the rich sound of Italian voices provided a soundtrack that was somehow perfect.

We had been thoroughly enjoying the solitude and intoxicating traditions of the Lattari villages. These are our type of places.

However, the contrast of Naples and its gritty excitement also touched something inside us – possibly a yearning for a long-passed youth.

I made a mental note to return if possible – to ‘See Naples and Live”.

Note: the writer was flown to Europe by Scoot Airlines

 

 

Anti pickpocket products Naples