.

October 31, 2018

No more Sexmoan for Sasmuan



David Ellis

IT’S probably little wonder the folk of the Philippines town of Sasmuan changed its named back in 1991.

Because up until then it was known somewhat bizarrely as Sexmoan, and even more weirdly that was given it not by some raunchy visiting seafarers in days of yore, but by early Spanish friars sent as missionaries to bring Christianity to the country several hundred years ago.

Santo Niño Procession is a feature of the town's religious celebrations 

And who, in attempting a strictly-correct translation of Sasmuan – which actually meant “meeting point” – somehow screwed up, and inflicted upon the locals the new name of Sexmoan.

And although they accepted the name for all those years, finally in 1991 the townspeople decided they’d been saddled with its negative sexual connotation long enough and opted to go back to Sasmuan that it had been known as before the arrival of those well-meaning friars all those years before.

Today some 29,000 or so people live in Sasmuan, that’s 54km north-west of Manila, with their main industry being aquaculture based on the breeding of fish, prawns and crabs in vast natural and man-made ponds, these seafoods sold in markets in Sasmuan itself and numerous surrounding towns.

And it is also somewhat-famous for a confectionery called Polvoron that’s a Spanish-style shortbread filled with nuts – the most popular varieties being those with almonds or cashews, while they can also include peanuts, strawberries or a local purple yam, with some chefs also adding a chocolate coating as well.

October 28, 2018

Magical Myanmar – the new Burma




Len Rutledge discovers that in Myanmar, holy men are more revered than rock stars, right-hand drive cars (like ours) drive on the right side of the road, and friendly betel-chewing oldies show blood red teeth when they smile at you.

English writer and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote about Burma more than 100 years ago. "It is quite unlike any place you know about". He may be surprised to know that it is still accurate today.

For the past thirty years, Myanmar has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The United Nations and many other organisations have condemned the county's rulers for their imprisonment of political prisoners, use of forced labour and violent crackdowns on demonstrations. Many countries, including Australia, have applied economic sanctions.

More recently, the Rohingya Crisis has brought the world's attention back onto the country. At the same time, the government has implemented many changes that are opening up the country to visitors; most of the sanctions have been lifted, and tourism is taking off in a big way.

You experience a time warp when you visit here. Many men and most women still wear an ankle-length skirt, most rural women paint their faces with a white traditional makeup and there is not yet a multitude of McDonald's, 7-Eleven or Starbucks to be seen.


Related: Should I visit Myanmar given the current trouble?
ABC Journalist, Kayleigh Long offers her advice 

What you find is refreshing, humbling and slightly daunting to many visitors. If not on a packaged tour, it's easy to get out of your comfort zone, but this helps to make Myanmar unique. While many other countries are losing their culture, here you find the gentle population is still embracing their traditions and religion like they always have.

A Myanmar experience should start in Yangon (Rangoon), the largest city but no longer the capital. Australians mainly fly in from Bangkok or Singapore. The city is sprawling and low-rise. Many magnificent British colonial-era buildings still decorate downtown but unfortunately, most are unused and are rotting away.

Yangon is home to one of Asia's most awe-inspiring religious monuments. The Shwedagon Pagoda is visible from almost anywhere in the city and is a 'must-see' site for all visitors. So too is Kandawgyi Lake, with its boardwalk, concrete reproduction of a royal barge, and quiet corners.

The vibrant, colourful downtown streets, the open-air markets, and bustling Chinatown can provide plenty of action and excitement. That substitutes for a nightlife that is only now starting to fully develop. There are some nice hotels in the city where the price skyrockets in the tourist season. Credit cards are becoming more accepted for payment but in many places, cash is still king.



Bagan is probably the country's star tourist attraction. This was the capital from the 11th to the late 13th century and the remains of thousands of pagodas and temples, dotted across the plain of the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River, is a wondrous sight. It is the largest collection of religious monuments I have ever seen and most visitors find it stunning.

Bagan is nearly 700km north of Yangon so most people fly there. It is easy to spend three days exploring the temples by bicycle and horse-cart, taking a sunset boat trip and perhaps ballooning over the spectacular site at sunrise.

Accommodation options include cosy guest houses and lovely riverside resorts. Try one of the small but clean Burmese restaurants which are dotted around the area to sample the local food.

Mandalay is a 25-minute flight away or a seven-hour boat ride. This was the last capital before the British takeover of the country but equally intriguing are the other adjacent older capitals of Inwa, Sagaing and Amarapura.

Many people think of Mandalay as traditional Burma and are then disappointed when they find a traffic-choked city full of low-rise concrete buildings on straight, dusty roads. It takes a while to discover that Mandalay is still the cultural heart of the country. 



This is a convenient place to see intimate traditional dance performances and marionette shows. You can visit silk weaving factories, gold leaf manufacturers, stone-carving workshops and foundries where giant Buddha statues are made using centuries-old methods.

Climb Mandalay Hill, take a boat to Mingun to see what would have been the world's biggest stupa had it been finished, wonder at the remains of Inwa as you travel in the back of a horse-cart, and visit one of the many active monasteries that still exist.

Pyin Oo Lwin was once a British-era summer capital and it is being rediscovered for its stunning botanic gardens and some of Myanmar's best cuisine in lovely cool hotels. Further east, historic Hsipaw was once home to Shan princes but today it serves as a base for hikes into fascinating Shan and Palaung villages.



Inle Lake is second only to Bagan in attractiveness. This is a region of Shan, Pa-O and Intha people and their culture and lifestyle fascinate most visitors. Accommodation is in guest houses in Nyaungshwe or in lovely lakeside resorts. From here visitors criss-cross the lake in motorised canoes visiting stilt-house villages, floating gardens, tribal markets and lovely water-bound temples.

Travelling through the mist that hangs over the lake in the morning then seeing the famous one-leg rowers heading out to fish is a magical experience.

www.LenRutledge.com

Len is the author of Experience Myanmar2018, available as an e-book or paperback from https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078GTRF3T

Words: Len Rutledge

Pictures: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

Images

1. Some of the temples of Bagan
2. Barge restaurant in Yangon
3. Monks in Mandalay
4. Inle Lake markets





October 21, 2018

Riding an Indian Roadmaster from Alice Springs to Darwin






On ya bike!

With a little pre-planning, some careful packing, and a reliable bike with all the latest gadgets it's easier than ever to take off on a week-long motorcycle ride, says Brad Foster.

If you pick your destination and time of year you're travelling in and have a good quality bike with plenty of storage, motorcycle riding is one of the greatest, most liberating travel experiences you can have. You see, smell and taste so much more than you do sitting in an air-conditioned car and, if it's hot, you certainly enjoy that break at the end of the day.

I recently returned from a 10-day bike ride with a friend travelling almost 2000km from Alice Springs to Darwin and was able to fit everything I needed into the two side panniers of my Indian Chieftain and the rest in a backpack.

My friend Nigel was on an Indian Roadmaster which also had a couple of lockable panniers as well as a pannier behind the pillion passenger seat.

We were filming a new series for Nigel's Ingenious Oz Project – interviewing small business people and community leaders on the "ingenious" things they were doing. This meant that as well as our clothes and toiletries we also had a fair amount of camera equipment.

On top of Nigel's Indian Roadmaster back pannier was a small chrome roof rack which allowed us to strap on the camera tripod.

In early October it was warm but comfortable. For the most part we stuck to the speed limit – 130kph on the open road – and never travelled before dawn or after dusk which is when the majority of the desert creatures are most active.

Only once did I get a scare when I flew past a cow that was grazing on the side of the road.

We wore open face helmets which provide plenty more air flow than full faced ones, and gloves became a must after three days. Any longer and our hands would've been burnt to a crisp despite applying plenty of sunscreen at regular intervals.

Any motorcyclist will tell you that good quality sunglasses are also imperative, as is taking a break every couple of hours. The scenery can start to play tricks on you after any longer.

Thankfully, there is so much to see and do, and roadhouses and pubs at regular intervals which means you don't have to think about packing any extra fuel.

The Roadmaster and Chieftain have a range of about 250km which is more than enough to allow you to see the sights, stop for a break and refuel. And, with the inbuilt GPS, you can simply key in the next town or tourism site on your trip and be satisfied that you won't be getting stuck anywhere.

Another great feature of the bikes we had was that you can sync your phone to the bike, meaning you can play your music along the way. With the wide open spaces nobody seems to mind how loud you play it either.

Stops for us included Ti Tree, Barrow Creek, Tennant Creek, the self-proclaimed UFO capital of the world Wycliffe Well, Tennant Creek, the quintessential Aussie outback pub of Daly Waters, Katherine, and finally Darwin.

We couldn't resist stopping off at the Devil's Marbles, Katherine Gorge, Litchfield National Park and the Humpty Doo Hotel where Slim Dusty was reportedly inspired to write Humpty Doo Waltz.

It was an incredible trip, with the people we met as interesting as the landscape we passed over.

So what are you waiting for? Time to get on your bike!

And a special thanks for making this trip possible to the NT Department of Trade, Business & Innovation, Virgin Australia, Accor Hotels, and Indian Motorcycles Australia.

http://www.ingeniousoz.com.au/

Words: Brad Foster

Images: Brad Foster and supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

Images

1. Clean and ready to leave Alice Springs

2. Wycliffe Well, Tenant Creek

3. Daly Waters Pub

4. Katherine Gorge

5. Devil's Marbles

6. A very welcome sunset drink in Darwin

October 15, 2018

The world's biggest building

BIGGEST building by volume in the world – Boeing's aircraft factory at Everett in America's Washington State has a floor area that at 40ha is around the same size as fifty-nine football fields... with the factory having around 13-million cubic metres of internal space requiring some 1-million light bulbs and fluorescent tubes to keep it lit. (Boeing Corporation)

David Ellis

WHEN you are building the biggest passenger aeroplanes in the world, you need the biggest building in the world (by volume) to build your aeroplanes in.

Which is how the Boeing Corporation came to build a factory in Everett City in America's Washington State that has an extraordinary 40ha of floor space.  It is six hectares bigger than all of Disneyland, and roughly the same size as 59 football fields.

BOEING 747s take shape on the construction line.
(Boeing Corporation)
And all-up has 13 million cubic metres of space under one roof that's some 30m high.

Since 1968 Boeing has built over 5000 wide-bodied airliners in its Everett factory, 1546 of them its signature 747 Jumbo, 1116 the 767, plus 1560 777s, and 716 of its 787s.

And with orders for a mind-boggling 1,280 more wide-bodied jets already on the books and others coming in daily, it's little wonder that Boeing's factory, warehouses, company and visitor parking, and other outdoor requirements, total-up to an amazing 415 hectares.

As well, with 30,000 staff working seven days a week, it has 20 separate cafeterias that serve 25,000 meals a day, a day-care centre for children of Boeing's staff, a shopping centre with cinema, its own fire department, and even a Boeing museum open to the public.

And a mind-blowing 1 million light bulbs and fluorescent tubes to keep the inside of the factory lit as bright as daylight.

Daily 4.5 hour visitor tours by trolley include the aircraft assembly line, the paint shop where it takes seven days to paint a Boeing 747 using 454 litres of paint, and even a look inside the amazing pilot flight simulator.

Around 150,000 people a year take Boeing Factory Tours, currently costing around AU$130 per person.


A view to what’s new in the Sunshine State




When it comes to the latest hot spots and unmissable things to do in Queensland, Helen Flanagan has some suggestions.

Gracing the east coast on the humpback highway north, are the majestic humpback whales. It's truly a sight to behold watching them slap pecs and tails in perfect harmony, also spy hop, breach or clear two-thirds of their gargantuan 400 tonne bodies out of the water, showing off gleaming white underbellies before crashing with a thunderous splash, leaving behind a calm area of water or footprint. It's all about whales en-masse or whale soup in Hervey Bay Marine Park, the social networking hub of the universe for the gentle giants of the sea and their calves.

Book a whale watching cruise and be rewarded with numerous blows which occur when an adult baleen (toothless) humpback whale empties and refills its two lungs, the size of a small car, in less than two seconds. Once near the surface, they exhale forcefully through two blowholes on top of their heads at 40kph with the distinctive cloud formed from vapour condensation. Watch them shimmy under the boat, some just an arm's length away, continually showing off by seemingly 'lying' on the water and slapping one or both fins, submerging themselves nearly vertically slapping tail flukes and rising out of the water so their eyes are just clear of the surface, before slipping back into their aquatic playground. Often the more inquisitive leap out of the calm waters and lift their great heads to watch whale watchers watching them.

Thirty minutes from Brisbane on the shores of Margate Beach near Redcliffe is The Sebel Brisbane Margate Beach, a sparkling new 4.5-star hotel with 58 very chic rooms, breath-taking water views overlooking Moreton Bay plus stunning natural surroundings.

Stroll the 2km timber boardwalk, cycle along the beachside pathways with free bike hire, swim in the bay (yes, remember it's Queensland), paddleboard or windsurf. First class facilities include a rooftop pool and terrace, the Margate Beach House bar and kitchen offers relaxed waterfront dining every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner with an innovative menu designed by executive chef Steve Bestwick and focussing on local seasonal produce.

Big kids rejoice! Let the little ones have some hair-raising fun at the new DreamWorks Animation Trolls Village precinct at Dreamworld. Based on the 2016 Academy Award-nominated movie, transport into the colourful world of Trolls and join your favourite characters at interactive live shows and a one-of-a-kind beauty salon where kids can get "trolled up" to become one of the Trolls themselves. This world-first Trolls attraction will be at Dreamworld for 12-months only.

Carpe diem! Seize the day, swap snooze for roos and wake up with the local wallabies on the Cape Hillsborough Sunrise with the Wallabies Tours in Mackay. Led by experienced guides, the tour is designed to enhance the natural encounter while preserving Cape Hillsborough National Park through the incorporation of educational commentary as well as tips on optimal positioning for photography. The 90-minute tours commence half an hour before the sun rises.

Get thee to the chopper for the best seat in the house, 1,500ft above on the Sunshine Coast with Oceanview Helicopters. Departing from Caloundra, the chartered tours explore the region's hottest spots from the 55kms of glistening coastline to the Glass House Mountains with the added option of a local food and wine package . Oceanview Helicopter's Sunshine Coast tours start from $69pp and operate seven days a week.

It's a lagoon swoon on Yeppoon's foreshore with its dramatic transformation into a $53m leisure space with the opening of the Yeppoon Lagoon precinct. Located right on the beachfront, the resort style lagoon pool includes a shallow children's play area and a swim-up infinity edge with panoramic views over the Keppel Islands. The surrounding parklands are equipped with barbecues and shaded areas making it the perfect place to soak up the sun. Entry to the Lagoon is free and is patrolled Monday to Sunday including public holidays.

Saving the best till last, how about the Whitsundays for the most amazing holiday deals ever offered. Save up to 50% on tours to stunning Whitehaven Beach and the Great Barrier Reef also accommodation on Hamilton Island, Long Island and Camp Island (just off the coast of Bowen). Travel is anytime up until June 2019.

You can sail the turquoise waters, get up close and personal with colourful marine life as you snorkel or dive the Reef, walk the long stretch of white silica sand of Whitehaven Beach and admire the swirling sand formation of Hill Inlet, fly over famous Heart Reef, spot a humpback whale and so much more. To take advantage of the Escape Winter in the Whitsundays' deals, visitwww.thewhitsundays.com.au

Get up close and personal with colourful marine life as you snorkel or dive the Reef

Words: Helen Flanagan

Images: As supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

1 Majestic humpback whales
2 Sebel Brisbane Margate
3 Cape Hillsborough Sunrise with Wallabies Tours
4 The resort-like Yeppoon Lagoon Precinct

October 08, 2018

Bowral's Tulip Time proves blooming appealing


VISITORS came from not only across NSW, the ACT,
Victoria and Queensland, but even internationally,
including from India, China and Korea.
David Ellis

ARE we all getting older and so have collectively more time to go off and smell the flowers?

Or are we just becoming more interested in the flowers in not just our own gardens, but those in public places often hundreds – even thousands – of kilometres away with their increasingly exquisite and imaginative creations on annual display?

Whatever, the folk of the Southern Highlands of NSW, based on picturesque Bowral, Mittagong and Moss Vale, and a dozen or so enchanting surrounding villages and hamlets just 1.5hrs south of Sydney, certainly knew how to play the game with their 58th Annual Tulip Time Festival over the recent Labour Day Long Weekend.

For not only did they entice some 14,500 visitors to their Long Weekend Tulip Time based on Bowral's famed Corbett Gardens with its kaleidoscopic 75,000 tulips and 15,000 annuals, but an all-time record 48,000 garden buffs came to enjoy these blooms over the fortnight embracing Tulip Time, and to see more than 40,000 other tulips planted across the Highlands.

And to enjoy the Southern Highlands Annual Food and Wine Festival held at the same time.

According to Steve Rosa, Manager of local tourism body Destination Southern Highlands, those 48,000 visitors were not only the most ever for Tulip Time, they were a whopping 14,000 more than for Tulip Time 2017.

And they came from not only across NSW and by coach from as far afield as Melbourne, Brisbane and Queensland's Sunshine Coast… but, Mr Rosa said, some even came from as far off as India, China and Korea as part of visits to Australia.

And he says the Southern Highlands are hoping for bigger numbers next year, with Tulip Time from September 24 to October 7 2019.

For more information about the Southern Highlands including Tulip Time 2019 and the Food and Wine Festival 2019, go to www.southern-highlands.com.au



PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] BOWRAL'S Corbett Gardens were the focal point for the Southern Highlands' famed Tulip Time Festival that was held over the recent Labour Day Long Weekend, and will entice thousands of visitors once more when it's on again in September 2019.



October 07, 2018

Zipline Tours in Thailand






ZIPLINING IN THAILAND

Bob Anthony chases his boyhood dream

AS a youngster, I use to marvel at Tarzan's ability to swing through the trees on conveniently placed vines and envied him thinking how much fun that would be.

Now a few years older, I found you can experience the same exhilaration in the jungle forests of Thailand.

Zip lining adventure parks are the 'next big thing' in eco-based tourist experiences and they cater for all ages and physical abilities.

The adventure parks are a great way of appreciating the countryside while providing the thrill of flying through the tree canopy suspended from a large wire cable.

For someone like myself who has a fear of natural heights, it was also a way to overcome that, being focused on the instructions provided by the guides.

On the island of Phuket, there are several different zip line parks, located around the island and each offering various levels of physical intensity.

Holidays tend to be a time when you push yourself or try something different and having been on numerous boat tours, ATV rides, go karts and other day trips, a day hanging from wires and flying through the trees sounded appealing.

There are numerous parks offering different packages involving courses offering a number of 'platforms' – from 18 up to 32 with some park offering as many as 40.

Prior to embarking on the course, you are weighed (very important); the guides fit you up with a suitable size and strength harness and a helmet.

It's off the course in the back of a troop carrier jeep and once at the starting platform, our guide gave a through but very entertaining run down of dos and don'ts while on the course.

Safety is the key to these parks and while our guide 'Tony' joked about losing people "yesterday", he and his assistant keep a constant eye upon our group of eight.

We three Aussies, my wife Paula and our friend Alan were the oldest in the group but also the most eager.

The starting platform isn't that high off the ground and the spiral staircase around the tree wasn't too physically challenging.

The first zip is only short to get us ready for what is to come but it also had us hungry for more.

You must place your trust in the guides who do all the unhitching from the safety cables leading to each platform and connecting to the zip line and once across reversing the process , hooking you back to a safety cable while waiting for the other member of the group to cross.

Not all platforms involve zip lines - there are suspension bridges, net bridges, spiral stairs, sky bridges, a flying skateboard for two, a superman prone zip line (if you want to really fly) and abseiling sites.

You also can place your faith in the guides and their photographic abilities by giving them your phones to capture you in action – highly recommended rather than paying for onsite photographers.

Looking back on the video on your phone and hearing the yells from the guides as you fly across gullies and between gaps in the trees provides great memories.

The courses are designed to take advantage of the natural; landscapes with some of longest zip lines in Phuket stretching across 500m valleys.

One thing is certain - at the completion of the course, your blood is pumping, it is very addictive and you feel like going again.

Most parks offer free hotel pick-up and packages can also include lunch with most offering water, tea or coffee.

Don't be fooled into thinking it is an activity for young people - we are all over 50 and in reasonable shape and couldn't wait for the next platform on the course.

You don't have to wait to go to Thailand to experience this form of excitement, there are plenty in Australia but if you do find yourself in Phuket and looking for an adventure, just head for the trees, you never know who you might see zipping about!

For more information, www.phuketatvtour.net or contact your local travel agents.

Words: Bob Anthony. Images: With thanks to Tony 'The Guide'

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

Captions:

Zip line 1 – Flying through the trees with the greatest of ease at a Thai adventure park. (pic is of Bob Anthony)

Zip line 3 – Get a different view of the world from a zip line.

Zip line 2 – Adventure parks have offer challenges like sky bridges to negotiate on the way between the various zip line platforms.

Zip line 4 – Aerial skateboards will test your balance.

Zip line 5 – There's no time to be afraid of heights when on a zip line high above the jungle.

Zip line 6 – Various platforms nestled in the trees are the arrival and departure points for zip lines in the adventure parks and allow you to get a great view of the countryside.

October 02, 2018

Paris pub's pampered pooches


David Ellis

A TRAVEL writing colleague who likes to boast of having seen everything he reckons has been worthwhile seeing in forty years of jotting his way around the world, has 'fessed up that on a recent trip to Paris he found a pub that finally made him stop and catch breath before putting pen to note-pad.

For while he may have said pub, he was in fact referring to a hotel and spa that last year was voted in the Condé Nast Traveler magazine's 30th Annual Readers' Choice Awards, the Number 1 Hotel in the World.

Which is not a bad effort considering some 300,000 of the magazine's readers voted on 7,320 hotels and resorts, ultimately giving their Number 1 ranking to Paris's La Reserve Hotel and Spa. And whilst those who have stayed there would obviously agree, it was for a totally different reason that our colleague stopped to take note.

For he was blown away with how the 4-legged pooches of patrons are pandered to today in the 40 bedrooms/suites of this mansion that was once owned by just one family, that of fashion guru Pierre Cardin in the city's fashionable eighth arrondissement (neighbourhood,) and where 2018's prices start from a mind-blowing E1400 per room or suite a night (AU$2,260.)

Those pooches, our colleague found, are offered Evian water in specially-designed bowls if the tap stuff's not good enough for them, and lounge back on pillows while their owners discuss with the hotel's Pets Butlers, menus for their canine's gourmand stays.

Menus, for instance, that for E36 per dish (AU$58) can include a choice of chef-cooked boneless chicken breast with steamed brown rice, various other prime beef or lamb selections with spinach and rice, ham in pasta, or fish with carrots and spinach.

Which reminds us we must mention these tonight to our own pooch when she gets her bone from the chuckaway bin at our family's butcher.
……………………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS:
[] EXTERIOR of the La Reserve Paris Hotel and Spa… the entire 5-storey building was once the private mansion of just one family, that of fashion guru, Pierre Cardin. (Image: La Reserve Hotel and Spa)
[] PAMPERED pooch: dogs are pampered with their own butler and chef-cooked meals at Paris's La Reserve Hotel and Spa. (Image: La Reserve Hotel and Spa with Helene Avril)

October 01, 2018

Jungfraujoch: To the Top of Europe




Len Rutledge heads to the heights.

Mountains are to be climbed but I have never been drawn to ropes, picks, anchors and spikes. I'm more for sitting back and letting a train or cable car do the hard work for me. That is one reason I love going to Jungfraujoch, The Top of Europe.

The Top of Europe is 3454 meters above sea level in the Swiss Alps above Interlaken. With a majestic backdrop of ice, snow and rock, the exhilaration of being there is palpable yet all you have to do is sit back as three separate trains take you progressively higher and higher.

The first train starts at Interlaken East station. We chose to board one stop along the line at the cute village of Wilderswil where accommodation was cheaper, parking was easier and people were friendlier than in the city.



The Bernese Oberland Railway travels from Wilderswil into the Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald valleys. In fact, our train split a few stations later with the front half going to Lauterbrunnen and the back half going to Grindelwald. If you are going to the Top of Europe it doesn't matter which way you go.

We choose to travel via Grindelwald, a dreamlike mountain resort under the infamous North Face of the Eiger. The surrounding alpine pastures are achingly idyllic and cable-cars make it easy to reach scenic mountain lookouts, the Grindelwald Glacier and lakes. It is no wonder that this landscape has been a filming location for Star Wars and James Bond movies.

From Grindelwald we catch the narrow-gauge rack railway to Kleine Scheidegg. This where the trains from Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen meet and from where the train to Jungfraujoch departs. The scenery is dramatic as we enter the snow zone and everything turns to white.

Cable cars head in all directions from remote stations and even in May some skiers are out chasing the last runs for the year. Kleine Scheidegg is the starting point for scenic hikes in summer and it is a significant winter sports centre.

The train journey to the Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe) through the rock of the Eiger and Mönch is an incredible experience. The majority of this section is in a tunnel but you get to enjoy stunning views from Eismeer (Sea of Ice). The cogwheel railway track to Jungfraujoch on gradients up to 25% was completed in 1912 and has been in continuous use ever since.

Arriving at the top brings new levels of anticipation and it is not long before we have icy air streams across our faces, snow crunching under our feet, and a view which nearly takes our breath away even with the cloud and fog we are coping with today.

When we visited here some 25 years ago there were limited things to do at the top. Not anymore. Over the next few hours we were absorbed by the 360 degree cinematic Jungfrau Panorama, intrigued by the lights and music of the Alpine Sensation and fascinated by the huge Ice Palace where enormous caverns and passageways have been carved into the ice displaying crystal-like sculptures of eagles, bears, penguins and so forth.

The high-point of any visit is the Sphinx Terrace attached to the Observatory and Research Station. We ride Switzerland's fastest lift to the terrace and are rewarded with spectacular views over the Aletech Glacier which is over 22 kilometres long and nearly a kilometre thick. Sadly, the views into France, Italy and Germany are masked by low-cloud and fog.

Now we brave the cold and venture out on to the Glacier Plateau. It is briefly majestic but then it turns bleak, freezing cold and merciless. In better weather you can skim down the slope on snow tubes, skis or snowboards, but not today. The 250 metre-long zipline is not providing an adrenalin rush to anyone either We quickly retreat inside.

Mountain air makes you hungry and thirsty so fortunately there are several restaurants and cafes. Top of the line is Restaurant Crystal but we opted for the self-service Aletsch. For those who brought their own food, the Cafe Bar provided drinks.

There are a few shops here with souvenirs, clothing and other items but the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven seems by far the most popular. This advertises itself as the highest Lindt Chocolate Shop in the World and there are six interactive exhibits and a few products only available here.

The time has come to leave so we retrace our journey back to Kleine Scheidegg then take the next train this time to Lauterbrunnen before making one more change before we reach Wilderswil. It has been a great day despite less than ideal weather and we would do it again in a heartbeat.

www.LenRutledge.com

IF YOU GO: The standard return fare from Interlaken Ost to Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe station is around a staggering A$320 (summer), and A$285 for the rest of the year. I strongly advise taking an early train to avoid the worst of the crowd. Prices quoted may vary, please check for latest: https://www.swissrailways.com/en/products/regionalberneseoberlandpass

Words: Len Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au