Monday, February 11, 2019

Vietnam: Street-wise in Hanoi

Former Get Up & Go editor, Bev Malzard, has been busy on the streets of Hanoi.



Read the full story on her new blog:

https://travelgaltravels.com/2019/02/11/street-wise-hanoi-vietnam/

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

High in India - A steaming Darjeeling



For more than 130 years, a tiny train has laboured up from the plains of West Bengal to the lofty Himalayan tea plantations. Follow the tracks of the famous ‘toy train’.

words and pictures by Roderick Eime


“One steps into a railway carriage which might easily be mistaken for a toy, and the whimsical idea seizes hold of one that one has accidentally stumbled into Lilliput.” - Lawrence John Lumley Dundas, Earl of Ronaldshay (1876-1961)


A scalding jet of steam erupts like a geyser, sending a violent plume of vapour towards the sky. The hot burst is quickly followed by a shrill, musical whistle as the ageing mechanism is urged into motion.

Here at the historic station of Ghum, a remote hillside town hanging precariously from the sheer cliffs of the Darjeeling Himalayan range at 2200 metres, the tiny steam locomotive begins the final leg of the 88.5-kilometre journey into Darjeeling.

The little train will drop 200m as it travels the final seven kilometres, past the poignant war memorial, skirting steep tea plantations and rolling within arm’s reach of windows and doors along the way before arriving into its terminus.


First published in Get Up & Go Summer 2015

The so-called ‘toy train’ is officially known as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) and was completed in 1881 by Gillanders Arbuthnot & Co. Ltd. after a gruelling two-year construction that was necessary to serve the burgeoning tea industry and reduce the growing cost of road maintenance along the original route down to Siliguri in West Bengal.

For the task, eight darling little steam engines haul the miniature carriages up the line. The carriages consist of first and second class and can only be described as basic. Sorry, there is no refreshment trolley and only a first class toilet on the Kurseong service.

Over ensuing years, the line was continually improved. At its peak in the 1930s and ‘40s, annual passenger numbers exceeded 300,000 but motor transport had begun to erode the railway’s revenue and monopoly.

Yet, despite the fast-approaching obsolescence of the coal burning transport, the train seized the hearts of all those who have travelled on it and in 1999 the DHR was inscribed by UNESCO onto their list of World Heritage citing ‘Outstanding Universal Value’.

In the 1969 Bollywood film, Aradhana, featuring the soon-to-be megastar, Rajesh Khanna, and co-star Sharmila Tagore, the main musical number, "Mere sapno ki rani", was beautifully shot along a section of the railway, perfectly showcasing the magnificent scenery of the Himalayan region.



While the DHR is largely preserved in its original splendour with 13 vintage stations and platforms along the route, the passage of time has dealt the railway some blows. Earthquakes, landslides and political instability have disrupted the line from time to time. A landslide at Pagla Jhora in mid-June of 2010 cut the track, effectively isolating the upper portion of the line.

Modern diesel locomotives were introduced in 1999 and these operate the 24 kilometres between Kurseong and Ghum, while the antique steam locomotives (so-called ‘joy trains’) complete the last seven kilometres to Darjeeling. Repairs are ongoing and it is hoped the line can be fully restored this year.

Visiting the delightful towns that dot the old Hill Cart Road is as much a part of the experience as the tottery train ride itself.

Historic Kurseong, thought to mean ‘place of the white orchids’, is a perfect place to break your journey with an overnight stay at one of the classic residences like Cochrane Place. This preserved heritage ‘resort’ features its own specialty restaurant, Chai Country. Teetotallers rejoice, because tea is in abundance with 30-something blends to complement the superb authentic cuisine and comfort food menu.

Cochrane Place is also the ideal base from which to explore the local tea plantations like Ambootia and Makaibari, both of which welcome visitors. At Makaibari, where organic teas are a specialty, you’ll find the world’s most expensive tea, the Silver Tips Imperial. A steal at $400 per kilo.

Darjeeling, the line’s original objective is a bustling town of some 130,000 people located at an elevation of 2050 metres. Even though the tea trade is still a major part of the region’s economy, tourism now rivals the agricultural harvest, drawing thousands of international visitors annually.

Accommodation in Darjeeling is of a higher standard than neighbouring towns, with the luxurious Mayfair Resort opposite the Governor’s House catering to both international and discerning Indian guests.

Despite the onward rush of technology in our rapidly globalised world, some things remain steeped in the past and exist purely to delight and entertain us with their old-fashioned charm. Long may this little train toot and teeter along the narrow tracks of the glorious Himalayas.


==============

FACT BOX (source: dhrs.org)

At time of writing, upper section trains were running between Kurseong and Darjeeling only due to track repairs.

Later in 2014, a special weekend-only ‘Red Panda’ first class steam service is planned between Kurseong and Darjeeling.

Mountain Railways of India (UNESCO) http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/944

For tours in Darjeeling and West Bengal, including the DHR, contact:

Active Travel 1300 783 188 or see www.activetravel.com.au


- the writer was a guest of Active Travel (www.activetravel.com.au)

Roderick Eime just loves all kinds of strange and fascinating transport. Follow him on Twitter @rodeime

Monday, August 6, 2018

What’s all the fuss about Antarctica?





The great frozen continent divides travellers and even the greatest explorers. Repeat offender, Roderick Eime, buys into the debate.

We all remember the two most famous of Antarctic names: Scott and Amundsen. Scott, whose body still resides there, famously wrote "Great God! This is an awful place." While his nemesis, Roald Amundsen, glibly noted “The land looks like a fairytale.” Either way, both men were changed forever and it has the same effect on modern travellers.

I too had my own trivial childhood fantasy. Stuck inside on a rainy day, I would pore over my father’s massive atlas, seeking out the world’s most remote and improbable places, dreaming of achieving these destinations “when I grew up”. Our collection of cold-war era National Geographic magazines reinforced my idle fascination, wondering how men and women could live and work in such inhospitable environments.

Of course, I never grew up, but I did go some way to crossing off these locations when I made my first trip to the Antarctic Peninsula and sub-Antarctic islands in 1998. And such is my fascination with the world’s driest, windiest and coldest land that I returned to the Peninsula in 2011.

While the land itself had changed very little, if at all, my cruise experience moved from a repurposed Soviet-era ice vessel to champagne and caviar. I’d repeat both experiences in a heartbeat, but the second ‘expedition’ demonstrated to me how much the Antarctic cruise offering had moved on, becoming much more of a mainstream travel product. Now you can argue the pros and cons of that, but the fact remains more people are taking an Antarctic cruise and more ships of varying specification are going there.

Captain Scott's party none too thrilled about the South Pole

Why the Peninsula? That’s an easy question. The world’s most southerly international airport is at the port town of Ushuaia, and the Peninsula can be reached in as little as 24 hours by the faster ships in calm conditions, while the little ones can take up to 48 hours in rough seas – which happens quite often in the Drake Passage. Now there’s even a fly-in option offered where you can cross the Drake by small jet and get aboard a ship at a real Antarctic station.

Once at the Peninsula, the waters are calm and your tummy can relax. The scenery is spectacular. Snow-capped mountains seem to jut straight out of the sea. Well, actually they do, often creating mystical reflections in the mirror-still waters of the Lemaire Channel. These are the images everyone craves, so much so that the place is often called ‘Kodak Channel’.

Going ashore is by inflatable Zodiac runabout, but don’t be concerned. These are tough little rubber boats used by everyone from marine biologists to navy commandos. On a calm day, you might get 10-12 bottoms arranged around the pontoon of the boat, while in rougher conditions it could be just eight. Getting in and out of the Zodiacs is probably the toughest part of journey, but there are always ready hands to help anyone and mishaps are rare. If you want to visit the animals and see the historic sites, you’ll need to do this. Some folks stay on the ship, but I don’t see the sense in this. You’ve come this far.

Whales watching humans in Antarctica (Aurora Expeditions)

Once ashore, you’re either tip-toeing among squawking penguins of half a dozen different varieties or trying not to wake dozing sea lions. I recall one hilarious moment when a precocious little baby seal chased a dozen of us all over the place like a frisky puppy. When he was bored with us, he chased the King Penguins – who were not amused. He was having a ball and so were we just watching.

Birders, or twitchers, are in their element, counting guillemots, spotting petrels and making lists of endangered pelagic albatross. History buffs, of whom I count myself one, are similarly enraptured at Shackleton’s grave (on South Georgia) or at the quaint restored Antarctic base at Port Lockroy, getting their passport stamped or buying a genuine Antarctic snow globe.

Whatever your passion, there’s bound to be something for you way down south. Sometimes you don’t know what is until you’re there, but no matter what, it’s bound to follow you home and stay with you for life!

Originally published in Get Up & Go Spring 2013




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