Saturday, September 16, 2017

Across Europe by Eurail. A railroad retrospective.



Remembering his time as a wide-eyed youngster on the trains of Cold War Europe, Roderick Eime dusts off his backpack for a railroad reprise.

We huddle like half-frozen refugees on the icy, windswept platform. Little snow flurries dance around the luggage trolleys like excited sprites, kissing our cheeks with their chilly caresses.

The train pulls up slowly, the sub-zero temperatures making the steel brakes squeal in torment and when the door finally swings open, we cram in like our lives depend on it, often eight or more of us filling the six berth compartments.

Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. En route to Europe 1977. Writer is standing far left. (RE)

It’s December 1977 and ten of us are on a school-holidays StudentRail adventure all over Europe. We’ve shrugged off groping touts in Morocco, hidden from over-zealous conductors in Sicily, slept in coffee shops and cafes in Vienna, had passports stamped at Check-Point Charlie, shared bunks and floorspace in Switzerland, and drunk too much beer in Bavaria.
A 1970s-era Eurail Pass

It was an eight-week rollercoaster that introduced this bunch of naive, wide-eyed kids to the joys of spontaneous travel in Baader-Meinhof-era Germany and Cold War Europe. There are plenty of memories and, seeing how we lived in them for almost two months, I’ll always remember the trains.

Lifting the lid on the loo on the Spanish and Italian trains revealed the sleepers and rails rattling underneath at speed while one completed one’s ablutions. Or my first computerised ticket in Madrid that put us in a six-seat compartment with eight Moroccans. Such fun.

Now, almost forty years later, I am revisiting the rails of Europe in the post-Soviet age with my Rail Europe Flexipass, smartphone and Rail Planner app.

My free-form journey starts in Athens after I disembark a cruise. I’ve left five days to get to Frankfurt and that’s the plan from start to finish.

Greek train at Thessaloniki. Shades of 1977. (RE)

Boarding the train in Athens takes me back to 1977 in a rush of nostalgia. The dusty, platforms and dishevelled types hanging around the station buildings built, I’m sure, when Aristotle was still a lad, had me daydreaming of crumpled rucksacks and pungent sleeping bags.

Here’s my first tip. The Hellenic Railways Organisation (OSE) are the only Eurail partner whose schedules are not in the overall system, hence you can only make your reservation when standing at the ticket window. But once you’re under way, you can start punching in your plan to the Rail Europe app to join the dots for the rest of your journey.

Trains to who-knows-where in Sofia (RE)

The midnight train from Larissa, on the outskirts of Athens, took me to an early morning arrival in Thessaloniki where our wagons were hitched to the train for Sofia, whose central station seems to be in stalled state somewhere between construction and destruction.

I wandered around the former communist capital for a bit, but settled into the Ramada Hotel lounge for a club sandwich and local lager before opting for the overnighter to Belgrade. Not before bribing the conductor to find me an empty compartment after being bundling into a tight six-berth sleeper with two otherwise charming young chaps from the USA. Of course, the rest of the carriage was empty. Crafty bugger. The ageing carriage I’m sure rattled these routes long before the Iron Curtain came down, or maybe went up.

One of Tito's famous blue trains on display at Belgrade station. (RE)

The war torn, former capital of Yugoslavia welcomed me with a wintry drizzle, helping me decide to catch the next train to Vienna, departing an hour hence. Enough time for an ad hoc taxi tour with Zoran the cab driver and a mandatory fleecing when it came time to pay the bill. Ah, the joys!

The next leg, in the First Class section of the Vienna (via Budapest) express was a thoroughly enjoyable day trip through the gorgeous green countryside of northern Bulgaria and the Great Alföld (flat plain) of Hungary. Made all the more so by the two delightful lads in the dining car who kept me plied with coffee and power for my laptop.

My charming waitstaff en route to Vienna. (RE)

Now here’s where my plan hit a speed hump. It was holidays in Vienna and every train out of town was full. I had my heart set on a swank new couchette in which to enjoy a cocoon-like sleep in modern comfort, and the prospects were grim.

“Wait,” said the very helpful lass tap-tapping furiously on keyboard trying to find me some escape from the Eurovision-induced madness of Marie Antoinette’s hometown.

“There’s one left going to Hannover,” she said with some urgency, “but you’d better hurry ….”

She wasn’t kidding. The train left from the other side of town, so in a cacophony of limping Samsonite wheels on cobblestones, I bolted for the subway and literally fell onto the Hannover express with minutes to spare. Without a reservation, I sat among the bicycles until the bemused conductor rescued me and found the last couchette I’d been promised.

Modern German ICE train speeds at 250kmh (supplied)

Now comfortably ensconced in a Deutsche Bahn (DB) Intercity (IC) solo sleeper (reservation fee E100), this 21st century train rocketed along at 200kmh all night to Hannover. A packaged breakfast was even included.

German trains, it has to be said, are light-years ahead of what I recall in 1977 and I spend the next couple of days in business-class comfort aboard the super-fast ICE trains exploring as far afield as Berlin and Amsterdam at speeds up to 250kmh as easily as if I was catching a cab, except perhaps in Belgrade.

Fact File

Comprehensive European train passes are available from specialist ticket distributor, Rail Europe, in a variety of classes and combinations. Consult your travel advisor to purchase the correct pass for your needs.

www.raileurope.com.au

Selfie at the Berlin Wall :) Last time I was here, East German
guards were poised to shoot anyone who tried to cross.

2015 Route

The writer was provided a Flexipass by Rail Europe for the duration of the journey.

All other costs, including airfares, meals, reservations fees, hotels etc were born by the writer.


....

Originally published in Get Up & Go Magazine Summer 2016




Friday, June 30, 2017

Apollo motorhome takes to the Australian outback



If you like driving holidays, the great outdoors and a bit of upmarket camping, then a motorhome holiday may well be your ideal vacation. Roderick Eime accepts the Apollo challenge.


Ever since I can remember, the family driving holiday has been a fixture on the calendar. Of course, it has evolved over the years from me bouncing up and down on the back seat as a youngster – completely unrestrained – as we drove around the country in one of dad’s V8 Fords, to me with my own family in tow, staying at everything from swish resorts and hotels to farmstays and caravan parks.

Now, with the kids doing their own thing, madam and I are free to explore at own pace and the concept of a motorhome adventure began to look more appealing. But let’s not make it too easy. Instead of a comfy Winnebago-style mobile home with clothes dryer and four-burner stove, we opted for a more utilitarian 4WD Apollo Adventure Camper and a route out through some tough, but beautiful Aussie outback countryside around the Menindee Lakes.

I picked up the vehicle from Apollo’s depot near the airport and after a short demonstration of all the open and shut stuff, headed off on our adventure. The Adventure Camper module is built on a super-reliable Toyota HiLux diesel 4WD chassis; tough as nails and frugal on fuel. The only downside was the manual transmission, which meant driving duties were all mine.

In the back was a double bed, conjured up after popping the roof and a bit of rearranging the furniture, a sink, bar fridge, little a/c unit, a 240V socket and heaps of storage. There’s gas for the stove and plenty of water.

Out on the highway we find the best cruising speed is around 100kmh tops, which is a trifle inconvenient as most of the semi-trailers like to cruise at 102kmh, but the whole business is stable and easy to manage.

Apollo Adventure Camper in site at Nelia Gaari

It’s all plain sailing until we hit Wentworth and then it’s time to hit the dirt as we head north to the remote Darling River port of Menindee. This is proper outback Australia complete with saltbush, tumbleweeds, stark mallee thickets and wild animals with no road sense.

Why Menindee? Well, this historic town features in the narratives of Thomas Mitchell, Charles Sturt and the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, all from the mid-19th Century.

The vast Menindee Lakes system must have been like a sign from above for these weary explorers and in 1959, dams were built to adapt the seven lakes as a semi-permanent water supply for Broken Hill and the surrounding towns. Birdwatchers from all over the world descend on Menindee to see the near quarter million birds from almost 200 species that rely on the waters. That’s way more than Kakadu.

In town there’s a half decent pub, a comfy motel, a store, fuel and numerous accommodation options if we get jack of climbing into the back of the Apollo. There’s also a surprising variety of sites worth visiting including the preserved, 1875 woolshed and shearers’ quarters at Kinchega National Park, a ‘short’ 20km drive out of town.

We meet NPWS Ranger Jade for a tour of the antique wool works and marvel at the tenacity of the pioneers who toiled from dawn until dusk in stifling heat, hauling more than 100,000 ewes out of their red river gum pens and onto the shearing board without the benefit of modern mechanical aids like mechanical clippers. The empty shed, dusty and forlorn, looks like the aftermath of a Tom Roberts painting with machinery, clippers and tools strewn about like the blokes have ducked off for smoko.

The adjacent quarters have been restored and serve as both a ranger station and overnight bunkhouse for overnight guests. There’s a big kitchen and living area set aside for the purpose too. All you need to do is book ahead and find $20 each.

After a slap up meal at the pub and a bit of a chin-wag with the locals we set up camp beside the river at Nelia Gaari Station, half way down the track toward Wilcannia. Greg and Lily are your typical salts-of-the-earth fair dinkum country folk ready to welcome guests to their property where Greg has built latrines, hot showers and fish cleaning tables (of course!) for those camping along the river.

For a bloke who spent many childhood weekends, pre-Internet playing along the banks of the Murray River downstream in South Australia, those memories came flooding back, if you don’t mind the pun. Massive river gums as old as time line the banks creating an eerie and mystical scene straight out of ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’. Sunsets along the river are something else again; a vivid lilac, lavender and crimson inferno reflected in the mirror-still waters. Then the stars come out. Oh, my!


Travel Facts

For the full range of Apollo Motorhomes, see www.apollocamper.com/

Nelia Gaari Station www.neliagaari.com.au

For comprehensive details on travel to Outback NSW, see www.visitoutbacknsw.com

Roderick Eime travelled with assistance from Inland NSW Tourism and Apollo Motorhome Holidays. Follow him on Twitter at @rodeime

Originally published in Get Up & Go Magazine as "On the Road Again' - Autumn 2015


Monday, May 29, 2017

Bev Malzard still travelling on Instagram

Introducing the new Instagram account from former Get Up & Go Magazine editor, Bev Malzard. Drop in for tea and cake, the kettle's always on.

Monday, February 6, 2017

NSW holiday getaway - it's got the lot


Spotlight on Wallarah Peninsula


Caves Beach
Tailor made for family getaways and home to laidback coastal villages, rainforests, and historic icon Catherine Hill Bay, the Wallarah Peninsula in New South Wales - just 90 minutes north of Sydney is one of the undiscovered gems of stunning Lake Macquarie.

Highlights include:

Charismatic Catherine Hill Bay (and surrounds)

On the eastern perimeter of the lake, south of the Pacific Ocean entrance at Swansea, historic Catherine Hill Bay is Lake Macquarie’s oldest town. A historic mining village, home to charming miner’s cottages and a traditional pub, the town’s original timber coal-loading jetty is still standing on the beautiful beach.
Catherine Hill Bay

Ideal for picnics and romantic sunset walks, the beach at Catherine Hill Bay is beloved by families, couples and surfers alike. First Lookout, a beautiful bluff overlooking the beach from Northwood Rd, is a favourite spot for seaside snaps, while nearby Second Lookout offers a more elevated perspective.

Catho Pub, originally the Wallarah Hotel, is the most historic pub in the Lake Macquarie region, dating back to 1875, and a hotspot with holidaymakers from near and far with its friendly family fare, such as barra burgers, steak sandwiches, salt and pepper squid and chicken parmigiana.

Wallarah Peninsula Track


Setting out from the foreshore at Murrays Beach, the Wallarah Peninsula Track is a moderate-level two-hour walk (each way) over eight kilometres taking in lookouts and including picnic areas, bbqs, cafes and bathroom facilities along the way.
Wallarah National Park

Perfect for fishing, cycling, hiking, surfing and picnicking, the Wallarah National Park is packed with family fun despite being less than an hour’s drive from Newcastle and Gosford. Within the national park, the Coastal Walk is famed for incorporating the best of the park in one five-kilometre round-trip trail. Enjoying glorious coastal and ocean views, spring wildflowers, active birdlife and seasonal whale-spotting (during the winter months), the Coastal Walk winds up at Pinny Beach – acclaimed for its super surfing and fantastic fishing.
Lake Macquarie

Mountain biking

Scenic Trail is a 2.8 kilometre challenging, steep mountain bike ride through coastal forest and heathland taking in views of the rugged coastline, and offering access to the surfer’s and fishing fan’s favourite – Pinny Beach.

For further information, please visit: www.visitlakemac.com.au

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Famous Five Go on Holidays (apologies to Enid Blyton)


Summer is at its peak and it’s time to get up and go! Whether it’s for a few weeks or just a weekend away, there are plenty of hidden gems to explore within Australia. To make things easier, Discovery Parks has unveiled five of their favourite holiday destinations for this summer. From family-friendly waterparks to richly historical wonderlands – Discovery Parks has locations for every traveller to enjoy!

Hervey Bay, QLD

Experience the majesty of the ocean and settle for a night in Hervey Bay. This Queensland coastal city is famous for a unique visitor: the humpback whale. Start your day with a view of the whales, spend your afternoon snorkelling in the blue waters, and end your evening with a stroll along the Esplanade.




Where to stay? – Discovery Parks - Hervey Bay

Whale watching is not the only activity Hervey Bay has to offer. Discovery Parks – Hervey Bay is only minutes away from World Heritage listed Fraser Island, with uninterrupted white beaches, sand cliffs and ancient rainforests to explore. A quick 6 kilometres away from Discovery Parks – Hervey Bay, visitors can find the Hervey Bay Go Kart Track to entertain adults and children alike. There’s fun for everyone at Discovery Parks’ Hervey Bay caravan park!

Barossa Valley, SA

Situated in north east Adelaide, Barossa Valley is a region full of culture and fun. Celebrating all things summer, from beautiful fresh produce to music festivals, it’s no surprise Barossa Valley is one of South Australia’s most visited tourist destination. As a renowned winery region, there are a multitude of tours and tastings on offer – perfect for wine loving visitors.




Where to stay? – Discovery Parks - Barossa Valley

Not just for wine enthusiastic travellers, families can look forward to a brand new waterpark opening this summer! For kids of all ages, the massive new waterpark with a 500sqm footprint will be one of Australia’s biggest caravan park waterparks. To ensure maximum efficiency of resources, the park has been designed with zero depth splash pads, allowing minimal opportunity for water evaporation and water will be cycled back into a balance tank where it will be treated and reused. For those interested in exploring the beautiful plains and hills of South Australia, Discovery Parks – Barossa Valley is located a few minutes from the centre of Tanuda, a great place to begin your tour.

Albury-Wodonga, VIC

For Victorians, Albury-Wodonga is a perfect destination for a weekend away. Just over three hours from Melbourne, visitors will find a diverse range of activities available in the Albury-Wodonga region. Travellers can visit Glenrowan to relive Ned Kelly’s last stand, hire a boat to explore Lake Hume, or enjoy the unique culinary experiences offered at the Rutherglen Wine Region.



Where to stay? – Discovery Parks - Lake Hume

Travellers will love the resort style accommodation offered at Discovery Parks – Lake Hume. Parents can unwind while kids enjoy the many on-site facilities available – which include a pool, tennis court, games room, and movie room. Guests can also explore some of Victoria’s local history by visiting Beechworth, one of northeast Victoria’s preserved gold rush towns. If travelling further out, visitors will reach Corryong – an excellent destination for aspiring county singers and country music lovers. Corryong is home to the inspiration for Banjo Patterson’s famous poem ‘The Man From Snowy River’.

Murray, NSW

Along the winding Murray River, visitors will find themselves in the Echuca Moama region – a popular destination for water activities – including the famous paddle steamer, water skiing or explore the river under your own steam. Australia’s oldest and largest inland port has been beautifully restored with an abundance of locations to discover, from the National Holden Motor Museum to the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre.

Where to stay? – Discovery Parks - Maidens Inn, Moama

Guests can relax in the excellent caravan and cabin accommodation available at Discovery Parks – Maidens Inn, Moama and look forward to the splashtacular new waterpark opening this summer. Adventure seeking visitors can book water ski, wakeboarding or barefooting lessons with the iWaterski team, available at the park. Families can also keep cool at the waterpark or travel 10 minutes into town to explore the secluded areas of the river on paddle steamer cruises.

Woodman Point, WA

Only minutes away from Fremantle, Woodman Point has a range of delightful attractions for guests to experience. Get a nostalgic glimpse of “Freo’s” history by touring the Martitime Museum, Fremantle Prison, and Western Australia’s oldest public building, the Roundhouse.



Where to stay? – Discovery Parks - Woodman Point

There are a range of options to suit everyone’s individual needs at Discovery Parks – Woodman Point, from deluxe cabins to studio rooms, as well as powered and unpowered camping sites. Visitors can stroll along the streets to see beautiful Georgian and Victorian-era architecture, while also making sure to stop by the famous Fremantle markets. For all of the foodies out there, the fish and chips at Fishing Boat Harbour are a must-try!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Scotland for breakfast!


TOP-5 SCOTTISH BREAKFASTS




 Courtesy guest blogger Roberta Muir

Although I’ve had some fine lunches and dinners in Scotland, what always stands out for me is the quality (and often quantity) of Scottish breakfasts. Perhaps because of the cold climate, they are inevitably hearty affairs of smoked fish, porridge and various sausages, as well as excellent (often local) eggs, bacon and preserves. Here are five places worth staying at for their breakfasts alone, next time you travel north of the River Tweed.


Porridge

The Albannach, Lochinver
www.thealbannach.co.uk
I dreamt about the porridge at this luxurious west coast B&B for 14 years, and when I had it again this year it was even better than I recalled! A mixture of coarse and fine oatmeal with cream and brown sugar served on locally-made pottery, it’s simply the best porridge I’ve ever had.




Black Haggis

23 Mayfield Gardens, Edinburgh
www.23mayfield.co.uk
I’m no fan of offal, but the combined black pudding and haggis served in this guesthouse’s beautiful Victorian dining room was such a hit with my haggis-loving husband that it rates a mention. I was just as enamoured by the natural yoghurt with whisky-flambéed fruit and toasted oats.




Poached Haddock & Egg

Ben Loyal Hotel, Tongue
www.benloyal.co.uk
The thick, white, flaky flesh of haddock is a Scots staple, though I generally prefer oilier fish for smoking. Smoked haddock from the tiny fishing village of Kinlochbervie, poached with golden-yolked local eggs at this hospitable rural hotel on Scotland’s windswept north coast, changed my mind.




Smoked Salmon

Forss House Hotel, Thurso
www.forsshousehotel.co.uk
You eat a lot of smoked salmon in Scotland, but the Caithness Smokehouse version served in the sunny dining room of this Georgian Manor is special. It’s brined, dried overnight, then cold-smoked over oak and applewood, before being shaved into surprisingly long horizontal slices served on wholemeal toast.




Kippers

The Sherbrooke Castle Hotel, Glasgow
www.sherbrookecastlehotel.com
My favourite of all Scots breakfast dishes is the ubiquitous kipper. I’ve eaten them all over the country for many years … so trust me when I say that the golden, flaky, buttery, smoky fillets served in this beautiful 19th century baronial villa are my new kipper benchmark.



Visiting Scotland soon? Check out my Top 5 Glasgow city guide and Top 5 Scottish Highlands for more inspiration.
If you enjoy my newsletters, please support me by sharing this list using one of the links below and encouraging your friends to subscribe.
See more of what I'm cooking, eating and drinking on Instagram
For a print-friendly version of this list (and to check out more of my Top 5 tips) visit www.food-wine-travel.com/top-5/

















































TOP-5 SCOTTISH BREAKFASTS









Dear Bev

Today is the feast day of St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, which seemed as good an excuse as any to talk about my favourite Scottish meal: breakfast! Although I’ve had some fine lunches and dinners in Scotland, what always stands out for me is the quality (and often quantity) of Scottish breakfasts. Perhaps because of the cold climate, they are inevitably hearty affairs of smoked fish, porridge and various sausages, as well as excellent (often local) eggs, bacon and preserves. Here are five places worth staying at for their breakfasts alone, next time you travel north of the River Tweed.







Porridge


The Albannach, Lochinver
www.thealbannach.co.uk

I dreamt about the porridge at this luxurious west coast B&B for 14 years, and when I had it again this year it was even better than I recalled! A mixture of coarse and fine oatmeal with cream and brown sugar served on locally-made pottery, it’s simply the best porridge I’ve ever had.










Black Haggis


23 Mayfield Gardens, Edinburgh
www.23mayfield.co.uk

I’m no fan of offal, but the combined black pudding and haggis served in this guesthouse’s beautiful Victorian dining room was such a hit with my haggis-loving husband that it rates a mention. I was just as enamoured by the natural yoghurt with whisky-flambéed fruit and toasted oats.










Poached Haddock & Egg


Ben Loyal Hotel, Tongue
www.benloyal.co.uk

The thick, white, flaky flesh of haddock is a Scots staple, though I generally prefer oilier fish for smoking. Smoked haddock from the tiny fishing village of Kinlochbervie, poached with golden-yolked local eggs at this hospitable rural hotel on Scotland’s windswept north coast, changed my mind.










Smoked Salmon


Forss House Hotel, Thurso
www.forsshousehotel.co.uk

You eat a lot of smoked salmon in Scotland, but the Caithness Smokehouse version served in the sunny dining room of this Georgian Manor is special. It’s brined, dried overnight, then cold-smoked over oak and applewood, before being shaved into surprisingly long horizontal slices served on wholemeal toast.










Kippers


The Sherbrooke Castle Hotel, Glasgow
www.sherbrookecastlehotel.com

My favourite of all Scots breakfast dishes is the ubiquitous kipper. I’ve eaten them all over the country for many years … so trust me when I say that the golden, flaky, buttery, smoky fillets served in this beautiful 19th century baronial villa are my new kipper benchmark.








Visiting Scotland soon? Check out my Top 5 Glasgow city guide and Top 5 Scottish Highlands for more inspiration.
If you enjoy my newsletters, please support me by sharing this list using one of the links below and encouraging your friends to subscribe.
See more of what I'm cooking, eating and drinking on Instagram
For a print-friendly version of this list (and to check out more of my Top 5 tips) visit www.food-wine-travel.com/top-5/










Copyright © 2016 Roberta Muir, All rights reserved.

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