Friday, September 2, 2016

Another domestic adventure 2: the train

We are big fans of train travel, it's an excellent way to see places without having to drive in unfamiliar territory. But we have never done a train trip in Australia, until now!

The Indian Pacific is named for the two oceans it connects. A four day, 4,352km journey that takes you from one side of Australia to the other. You travel the longest, straightest stretch of railway track in the world as you cross the Nullabor Plain, which is in stark contrast to the beauty of the Blue Mountains.

Nullabor 02

Departing from Perth, our first stop was in Kalgoorlie, which is home to the staggering 3.6km wide Super Pit - an open-cut gold mine that has yielded riches 24 hours a day since 1989.

Those mining trucks are unbelievably big:

Kalgoorlie

Kalgoorlie 05

(Sorry, no photos of the pit itself, it was too dark!)

The next stop is a town called Cook, and calling it a town is a bit of a stretch of the imagination. It's actually an abandoned town and serves only as a fueling stop for the trains that pass through on their long journeys across the continent.

Here's our train:

IndianPacific02

The next stop was Adelaide, it was freezing cold and pouring with rain so there are no photos of that lovely town. The final stop before heading into Sydney was Broken Hill.

This is not actually what Broken Hill looks like, but what it is surrounded by:

BrokenHill

We went to the regional art gallery in Broken Hill and were highly impressed by the collection there.

After leaving Broken Hill we travelled through the night and next morning into Sydney. The trip through the Blue Mountains is very picturesque.

ThreeSisters

All in all it was a great holiday. The train travel was really fun, although sleeping on a fast moving train, even in a bed, is always challenging. It's a great way to see the countryside, and you get to eat excellent food and drink wonderful drinks along the journey!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Another domestic adventure

So back at the end of June we went to Perth (Western Australia) for a few days, before boarding the Indian Pacific train (train trip details in the next post).

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency and it was quite nice. Centrally located and easy to get to everything.

The main activity on my list for Perth was visiting Rottnest Island, home to the world's cutest little animals, the quokka. Rottnest Island is lovely and well worth the visit if you ever get the chance. You can walk around or there is a small train that pootles along.

RottnestIsland

To get there you can get a ferry from Perth, or do what we did and go by helicopter, which is much faster and way cooler. We travelled with Rotorvation Helicopters and if you ever need a helicopter flight somewhere in the Perth area, I highly recommend them.

Quokka02

I mean, can you even?

Quokka01

Even sleeping on their heads they are adorable!

Quokka06

So with that awesome task done, we decided to have a couple of days of artiness. We visited the Perth Mint, which was very interesting. The Mint provides premium gold, silver and platinum products and services to markets throughout the world. You can see gold bar pouring demonstrations, and an interactive experience allows you to realise just how heavy gold actually is. Definitely recommend a visit.

We also visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia, which has the finest collection of Australian Art that I've seen in one place. Also well worth a visit.

The other notable experience we had was dinner at a restaurant called Wildflower. Holy cow the food was amazing, the setting was lovely, and the service was impeccable. You should absolutely go there if you are ever in Perth.

After a few days in Perth it was time to head to the train station for the second part of our holiday, travelling on the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A review of hotels in Switzerland

I mean, not all of them, obviously, but the ones we stayed in on our recent trip.

The Hotel, Lucerne

Overall: A very nice hotel, located in a quiet street across from a park but very close to everything.
The room: Small for a suite but not tiny.  Interesting ceiling with a still from a Fellini movie on it.
The service: Excellent.  Staff were lovely and always helpful.
The airconditioning: Not that good.  Struggled with the great European Heatwave of 2015.
The best thing: The breakfast was exceptional.  Restaurant and bar staff were a delight.
Would I stay there again:  Yes.

Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel, Interlaken

Overall: Amazing hotel in an amazing location.
The room:  Lovely.  Decent size and a very big bathroom.
The service: Could not be faulted.  Everyone was excellent.
The airconditioning: Not fantastic as it turned off overnight.  Not that helpful during the great European Heatwave of 2015.
The best thing: Hard to pick one thing.  If you are looking for old world glamour without the stuffiness, the Victoria Jungfrau is pretty hard to beat.
Would I stay there again: In a heartbeat.

Royal Plaza, Montreux

Overall: May have once been a five star hotel but isn't any more.  The food in the restaurant was very good.
The room:  Spacious but decor not updated for a long time.
The service: Let's just say it's on the French side of Switzerland and leave it at that, shall we?
The airconditioning: Exceptional.  And thank goodness as it was about 34C every day.
The best thing: Location right on the lake was quite good.  Automated shade sails that extended over the balcony every day at just the right time were clever and useful.
Would I stay there again: Unlikely.

The Omnia, Zermatt

Overall: You would have to search very hard for a better hotel anywhere in Switzerland.  From the secret tunnel entrance, to the terrace bar looking up at the Matterhorn, this place is wonderful.
The room: Gorgeous.  Blonde woods and white walls, two bathrooms, very spacious.  Just about my favourite from the whole trip.
The service:  Faultless.  Every single staff member was wonderful.  The restaurant manager was practically our best friend by the time we left.
The airconditioning:  Non existent.  Thankfully Zermatt sits at an elevation of 1600m and it was therefore a lot cooler than the rest of the country during the great European Heatwave of 2015.
The best thing: The setting is spectacular.  But then again, everything about this hotel is wonderful.
Would I stay there again: I would move in if I could!

Kempinski Grand Hotel des bains, St Moritz

Overall: Lovely hotel.  St Moritz is not the most exciting town during summer but I'm betting in winter it is an amazing place to visit.
The room: Very nice indeed.  Spacious and well appointed.
The service: Don't think you could find nicer restaurant staff anywhere.
The airconditioning: Not bad but again, at altitude it's not so essential.
The best thing: The food in the restaurant and at breakfast was delicious.
Would I stay there again: Yes, especially to experience St Moritz in winter.

Hotel Belvedere, Bellagio (Italy)

Overall: If you complain about Lake Como there is something wrong with you.
The room: Very small but the bed was extremely comfortable.
The service: Very good.  Restaurant staff in particular were a delight.
The airconditioning:  Brilliant.  And just as well, as the temperature in Bellagio was 39C each day during our stay.
The best thing: Location at the top of the hill gave us some wonderful views.
Would I stay there again: Probably but I'd splash out on a bigger room.

Schweizerhof Hotel, Lucerne

Overall: An excellent location overlooking Lake Lucerne.  Service was a bit hit and miss.
The room:  Very nice.  And a universal power point provided!
The service: Average.  Disappointing really, for what could have been an exceptional hotel experience.
The airconditioning:  Very good.
The best thing: Handy location.  View across the lake was delightful.
Would I stay there again: No, I'd go back to The Hotel instead.

The Alden, Zurich

Overall: A wonderful hotel.  Absolutely loved it.
The room:  Spacious and wonderfully decorated, a homey feel to the luxury.
The service:  Could not complain.  Everyone was wonderful.
The airconditioning:  Brilliant, especially during the great European Heatwave of 2015.
The best thing: All the elements of the hotel combined to make it a tremendous experience overall.
Would I stay there again: Absolutely.

Armani Hotel Dubai

Overall: I am not sure it gets more glamorous than this hotel.
The room:  Excellent and spacious, with very comfortable furniture.
The service: Good but slightly impersonal.  Don't think I was allowed to open a single door for myself the whole time.
The airconditioning:  Brilliant.  They know how to do airconditioning in Dubai.
The best thing: The location in the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world).  And if you're interested in that sort of thing, a secret entrance to the Dubai Mall which means you don't have to go outside in the scorching heat to go shopping.
Would I stay there again: Probably although there are so many hotels in Dubai it would take a long time to try them all for comparison.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Switzerland Part 3

From Lake Como we went back into Switzerland to Lucerne.  We travelled on the Wilhelm Tell ferry, which was a lovely way to see even more of the gorgeous countryside.

LakeLucerne

After one night in Lucerne we went to Zurich.  For reasons unknown I didn't take many photos in Zurich but it was just as pretty as the rest of the country.

Zurich0001

After two days in Zurich it was time to start the long trip home.  We decided, given we were flying Emirates, that we would stop in Dubai for a few nights on our way home.  We went on a desert four-wheel-drive tour, and had a BBQ at a bedouin camp in the middle of nowhere.  To be fair, everywhere is the middle of nowhere in the UAE :)

Dubai0004
(literally the middle of nowhere)


Monday, October 26, 2015

Switzerland Part 2

Our next stop was Zermatt, at the base of the magnificent Matterhorn.  Zermatt is a car-free town, there are only electric buggies and horse-drawn carts.  It is beautiful.

Zermatt0001

The Matterhorn is wonderful.  The cog railway that goes up there passes through some wonderful scenery, and then you get this.

Matterhorn0007

Right???

Matterhorn0002

Our next stop was St Moritz.  We were only there for one night, on our way to Lake Como.  I'm willing to bet that St Moritz is quite amazing in the winter, and I think I'll go back sometime to confirm that.  Again, the scenery from the train was well worth the trip.

WhiteLake0001

Gotthard0001

Our next stop was Lake Como in Italy.  The second the train crossed into Italy you could feel the difference, it was just more... chaotic.  And beautiful.  I will go back any time.

Alp Grum0001

Bellagio0004

Bellagio0005

Sweet baby cheese was it hot in Lake Como.  About 39C every day.  Luckily there are plenty of gelato shops to help with that.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Switzerland Part 1

We spend three weeks in Switzerland during June/July, and had what we consider one of the best holidays we've ever been on.  We travelled by train right around the country, and it was magnificent. In a couple of posts you'll find a review of all the hotels we stayed in, so I won't bother telling you about that stuff now; just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Our first stop was Lucerne.  I absolutely loved Lucerne; if someone told me I had to live in Switzerland this is the place I'd choose.  It is just beautiful.

Lucerne0002

Lucerne0009

The crying lion is a statue dedicated to Tuileries war heroes.  It is in a lovely little park.

Lucerne0008

We left Lucerne and went by train to Interlaken.  Switzerland is insanely pretty.

Interlaken0010

Interlaken is probably the most gorgeous town I've ever been to.  It is very clearly a tourist destination, but it's so pretty you just don't care.  You can see the Jungfrau from the main street:

Interlaken0005

And you can catch the train (actually three of them) right to the very top of the mighty Jungfrau.  Which you should absolutely do, as it is spectacular.

Jungfrau0012

Jungfrau0009

After leaving Interlaken our next stop was Montreux, which seems to be a whole other country half the time.  They speak French instead of German, it was STINKING HOT, and the mountains were not as big.  However, the lakes were still amazing.

Montreux0003

Montreux0001

Monday, October 19, 2015

Around Australia

In January (I know, so slack of me to wait until now to write about it) we went on a bit of a driving holiday along the east coast of Australia.  Our first stop was Mallacoota, which is a gorgeous corner of Victoria.

Mallacoota 01

The weather wasn't fantastic, but the beaches there are lovely. As we were leaving, we saw some kangaroos having a bad day:

Mallacoota 02

Our next stop was Batemans Bay in New South Wales. Again, the weather was not on our side for the first couple of days but once it cleared up, it was magnificent. The beach at Batehaven is just gorgeous.

BatemansBay 04

BatemansBay 05

Our next stop was Wollongong which also has a lovely beach:

Wollongong

And then we went to Sydney. We stayed at Bondi Beach, which is probably Australia's most famous beach. It is by no means the nicest, but it's still not bad. It gets extremely crowded on the weekends though:

Bondi

We also visited Taronga Park Zoo, which has the nicest setting for a zoo, possibly in the entire world.

Sydney 02

Whilst at the zoo we stumbled upon the keepers feeding one of the sea lions so we stopped to watch.

Sydney 01

We drove home inland and stopped at the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains, it is quite a spectacular sight:

ThreeSisters

We stopped in Parkes to see the CSIRO's radio telescope. The very exciting thing was we saw it being repositioned. It was VERY HOT in Parkes.

Parkes 01

We did stop in Yarrawonga for a night on the way home but that wasn't very exciting, more to just break up the long drive. There are so many gorgeous places to visit in Australia and we still have more to see!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Big Island

After Kauai, we flew to the Big Island for a few days at the Volcano House Hotel.  The best part about staying at this hotel is you are right on the rim of the Kilauea crater.  Which would have been much more exciting if it didn't pour with rain the whole time we were there.

But you can't control the weather so who cares?

Kilauea Crater 01

One night the rain stopped long enough for us to realise we could see the glow of the lava lake from our room, so we put our shoes on and rushed outside to get a photo (of sorts).

Kilauea Crater 04

We also did a boat trip around the island to see where the lava had been meeting the sea when it was flowing last year.  That was pretty cool and it stopped raining for an hour which made it much more enjoyable.

Lava Flow 01

Lava Flow 03

Here's one last shot of the crater with sulphur dioxide casually pouring out.

Kilauea Crater 03

After 12 days it was time to come home and that was a shock to the system; when we left Hawaii it was 30C and when we got home to Melbourne it was 5C.

All in all it was a good holiday.  Oh, and we flew Hawaiian Airlines.  Nothing to write home about.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Kauai

Recently we visited Hawai'i for a holiday and it was just lovely.  Rather than do the usual touristy thing, we decided to stay on Kauai instead, neither of us having been there before.

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, and while it was a massive hotel, much bigger than we usually stay at, it was really nice and they upgraded us to a deluxe suite which made it even nicer.  This was the view from the lobby when you entered the hotel:

Grand Hyatt Kauai

Which you have to admit is not too bad.  This was the view from our room:

Kauai Beach

Which is a very nice view to wake up to every day.

The weather was really nice and warm (important when you've come from the middle of winter in Australia) and the 27 pools at the hotel just about covered what you needed.

We drove up to see the Kilauea Lighthouse: Kileaua Lighthouse

And went to the Waimea Canyon: Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon 03

Waimea Canyon 04

And we did a helicopter flight over the Na Pali Coast, which is inaccessible by road - you have to go via helicopter or boat. There is a 13 mile hiking trail rated difficult, but that's not my idea of a holiday stroll.

Kallio Point

Na Pali Coast 02

Whilst on our flight we saw the waterfalls used in the movie Jurassic Park, which don't look all that impressive from the air but they are more than 400 feet high.
Jurassic Falls 02