June 30, 2019

Nashville – The country heart of the US of A

Let's get one thing out of the way first when it comes to Nashville: You don't have to be a country music fan. It helps, of course, but there's plenty to do outside of the music that this vibrant and exciting city is known for.
That said, country is often misunderstood and misrepresented, so there's every chance that a dash of contemporary country during a Nashville visit will have you converted by the time you leave.

Nashville is unlikely to be your primary destination on a USA visit but given it's just a two hour flight from New York; it's well worth adding to your itinerary.

Sure, it's a bustling and vibrant city – a real party town – but it's also a great representation of a quieter America, particularly if you stay in the suburbs slightly out of the city (which is not such a bad idea – Uber and Lyft are sensational in America and it's a great way to get around cost effectively).

So, let's get a few 'must do' things out of the way first.

Given this is 'music city'; you cannot take a trip here without checking out a few of the things that helped Nashville earn its famous moniker.


A trip to the Grand Ole Opry is a must – book tickets in advance, and take note the famous venue is slightly out of the main city (it's located at Opryland – which is an incredible resort and mall that is definitely worth seeing in its own right). During the winter months and Christmas holiday period, the Opry – a country music radio program that is performed live in front of an audience – moves to the Ryman, its original home.

A visit to the Bluebird Cafe should also be on your list – it's where some of the biggest names in music, including Taylor Swift, were first noticed. Again, it's a little out of the main city. You can book tickets in advance, but mostly you'll be able to get in by lining up an hour or so before showtime.

The real party in Nashville is on Broadway – it reminds you of Las Vegas on a smaller and much less over-the-top scale. There's almost as many bars as people, from the larger venues that carry the names of some of country's biggest stars including Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, through to small 'honky tonk' bars that are full of live music everywhere you turn. Often, the same venue will have three live bands running at once across different levels, providing something for everyone.

The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

On a quieter day – or perhaps when you're nursing a hangover, which is pretty much guaranteed at least once in Nashville – head to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which provides an amazing historical look at the music that made Nashville famous. There's no need for the guided or audio tours, everything is very well presented and a self-guided visit is recommended.

Food… well, there's plenty of it – just remember you'll probably have to loosen your belt. Give the Pancake Pantry a try, but be prepared to line up for at least half an hour. Martin's BBQ Joint was a personal highlight – it may present like an ordinary dive bar but the food is nothing short of incredible.

One thing you'll discover about Nashville is how nice the people are – particularly if you've visited Los Angeles and New York along the way and experienced the often brash American attitude. Nashville has a much nicer, slower feel about it – while still being a big city.

Nashville is a must-visit if you're in America, even for a few days. If you like country music, you'll be in heaven. If you don't, there's a good chance you'll be converted by the time you leave – cowboy hat and all.

Words: Troy Dodds

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

Images: As supplied

1 – Downtown Nashville

2 – Opryland

3 – Country Music Hall of Fame

June 22, 2019

Croatia: The Small Wonder of Zagreb

John Maddocks finds that Zagreb punches above its weight

Croatia's vibrant capital is a small, sophisticated city often overshadowed by Adriatic superstars such as Dubrovnik and Split. But a new international airport means Zagreb has come into its own as Croatia's main gateway, connected by air to over 50 cities. Tourists are discovering a very laid back metropolis with stunning architecture, fascinating museums and an engaging bar and café lifestyle. It's no surprise that Zagreb was Lonely Planet's 'Best in Europe' as recently as 2017.

After arriving in the early afternoon at my apartment accommodation in the city's centre, I head straight to Zagreb's hub, Ban Jelacic Square. On the way I walk through streets with numerous crowded outdoor cafes. I'm rushing to see as much of this city as possible in the 48 hours before I leave for the coast, but the atmosphere of relaxed, friendly socialising here makes me slow down. I'm liking the place already.

Ban Jelacic Square is the city's meeting point. People are alighting from nearby trams that traverse the city. Friends are meeting here before going to restaurants, bars and theatres. Families and businessmen stroll past the imposing statue of Josip Jelacic, seated on a horse with sword drawn. Jelacic was a nineteenth-century governor who came to symbolise Croatian independence after fighting a losing battle with Hungary. I gaze at the beautiful nineteenth-century buildings bordering the square before crossing on my way to the striking twin spire cathedral nearby. Then I head west and further into the upper town.

The upper town is a precinct of charming ancient streets leading to the Stone Gate, an entrance to the medieval area of the city. The Stone Gate doubles as a pilgrimage site where people come to pay homage to a seventeenth-century painting of the Virgin and Child, supposedly the only section of a wooden gate that survived a fire in 1731. On the way up to St Mark's Church from here I pass a crowd of nuns, a group of Chinese tourists and some of the faithful making offerings. St Mark's is the landmark church famous for its colourful tiled roof displaying a variety of coats of arms. Parliament house and the presidential palace are nearby.

I then walk down past the beautiful Jesuit Church of St Catherine to a point near the thirteenth-century Lotrscak Tower, where there's a wonderful view of the city. The quaint funicular railway takes me on a short trip to the lower town.

Wandering past the monument to Nikola Tesla, one of Croatia's famous sons, I head along the bustling street named after him past cafes and restaurants. Many of the eateries in this lower part of the city are those favoured by locals. There are also some attractive outdoor areas, such as the delightful Zrinjevac Park and the Botanical Garden.

Next morning, after a well-earned sleep, I grab a cheese burek (a filled filo pastry) and takeaway coffee from a nearby bakery and walk to the impressive Croatian National Theatre. Opened in 1895 and built in the Baroque Revival style, the National Theatre is the place to see opera and ballet in Zagreb.

The lower town also has many fine examples of Austro-Hungarian architecture and is worth walking around there for that reason alone. But a standout is Kallina House, a brilliant Art Nouveau structure known as the 'Bat House' because of its distinctive bat motif tiles that decorate the first floor windows.

It's still early in the morning, so I catch a bus to Mirogoj Cemetery. This is a massive necropolis park, with magnificent entrance buildings and tree lined avenues. It's a very peaceful place and compares favourably for atmosphere with Havana's Necropolis Cristobel Colon and Buenos Aires' Recoleta Cemetery.

After contemplating the afterlife, I make my way back to the city and the popular Museum of Broken Relationships. This unconventional storehouse of exhibits is a crowd-sourced collection of artefacts and stories related to 'brokenships' or 'the way we love and lose'. Each personal object symbolises a relationship breakdown and is accompanied by a narrative about how the relationship ended. It's quirky, fascinating and often poignant. You may want to buy a 'bad memories eraser' at the museum's shop.

But I know I'll only have good memories of Zagreb. It's won my heart in two days and I'll definitely want to hook up with this enticing city again.

The writer travelled at his own expense.

Fact File:

Getting there: Emirates and Qatar fly to Zagreb daily from Australia.

When to Go: May to September.

Where to Stay: Five star apartments in Zagreb starting at $75 per night are available online.

  • Time Pastry Shop - Ulica Nikole Tesle 14, Zagreb 10000
  • La Struk restaurant, Skalinska ul. 5, Zagreb 10000.
  • Bistro Fotic, Gajeva Ulica 25, Zagreb 10000
  • Nokturno Restoran Gajeva Ulica 25, Zagreb 10000
  • Words and images: John Maddock

See John's new book Against the Odds: surviving the world's worst tsunami and overcoming trauma at www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07CZCHX8S/

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


01. The thirteenth-century St Mark's Church. The tiled roof was added in 1880 to show the coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia on the left and that of Zagreb on the right.

02. A funicular connecting the upper and lower areas of Zagreb has existed since 1890.

03. The National Theatre is a neo-baroque masterpiece. It is mainly used for opera and ballet.

04. Sudden unexpected vistas appear in Zagreb's old city, like this glimpse of the cathedral at sunset.

05. Zagreb has numerous museums, but one of the quirkiest and most popular is the Museum of Broken Relationships. It contains a huge collection of fascinating objects from all over the world that relate to the ending of relationships. Very moving and often humorous.

06. Some of the exquisite offerings at Zagreb's innovative Time Patisserie. Zagreb has some of the best cafes, bars and patisseries in Europe.

07. It's worth spending some time wandering in the peaceful Mirogoj Cemetery, Zagreb's massive necropolis.

08. Beautiful expansive parks complement Zagreb's distinctive Austro-Hungarian architecture.

June 16, 2019

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge: Visit Planet Batuu on your next holiday

Space travel may be beyond the reach of most of us, but not when you visit Disney’s newest multi-million-dollar attraction, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Ardent Star Wars fan, Roderick Eime, travels to a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars themed attractions have been a part of Disneyland for more than 20 years, but this all-new, 5.5 Hectare, intricately-detailed, precinct within the main Disneyland theme park is a whole new level of ‘out of this world’. Based on the far Outer Rim planet of Batuu, it is named the Black Spire Outpost after the two massive pinnacles that overshadow the complex where the Millenium Falcon is parked.

Conceived in 2014, soon after Disney acquired Lucasfilm outright, work on Galaxy’s Edge began in 2016 and opened to the public amid great fanfare in May 2019.

Of course, the legions of Star Wars fans were out in force for the opening and soon reports began circulating about the many experiences, merchandise, food and characters contained within the 50,000 square metres of custom rockwork and plaster.

As a long time fan of the famous trilogies, the first thing I noticed was that this is not a location recognisable from any of the movies. Insiders tell me that much of what we see here at the Black Spire Outpost will be revealed in the next - and last - instalment of the 40-year saga, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

Be prepared for random ID checks (Richard Harbaugh/Disney Parks)

That said, random photo-opp appearances are made by well-remembered characters. Chewbacca, the giant furry Wookiee from Kashyyyk is mobbed by adoring fans when he lopes into the Souk-like marketplace. Out in the plaza, two patrolling Stormtroopers conduct random ID checks on unsuspecting guests while Rey twirls her fighting staff for amazed onlookers.

To me, an unabashed sci-fi nerd with remnants of my childhood imagination still intact, it was the intricate detail of the entire set that impressed me most. Every nook and cranny is themed including the light fittings, water bubblers, trash cans, washrooms and Disney staff who, quite accurately, are called ‘cast members’ with whom you don't just chat, but interact. Each has their own back story and role in this unfolding drama into which you have landed.

Kylo Ren arrives in his mysterious starfighter (Richard Harbaugh/Disney Parks)

As I wandered the the expansive set, it was astonishing to stand beside full-size replicas of such iconic vehicles as A-Wing and X-Wing Starfighters, Luke’s Tatooine speeder and, of course, the massive Millennium Falcon. But there is one hyperspace starfighter that will have fans doing a double-take. Just what is that strange ship parked across the way? My research revealed it to be a First Order TIE Echelon and it now plays its own part in the Black Spire performance as a set piece for the arrival of Kylo Ren as he searches for a resistance spy that could be you!

Okay, so now you have found yourself in this alternate universe, what is there to do?

  • Embark on an immersive virtual mission aboard the Millennium Falcon where you and five co-pilots must capture valuable cargo to aid the resistance
  • Travel on the interactive virtual reality ride, Rise of the Resistance, which will be open by September 2019.
  • Shop for Star Wars souvenirs and soft toys like Kowakian Monkey-Lizards and Porgs in the marketplace or obtain rare collectors’ objects like legacy lightsabers or rare kyber crystals from Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities. You’ll have to barter with Dok-Ondar too if you want a deal.
  • Enjoy themed food like Mustafarian Lava Rolls, Smoked Kaadu Ribs or Fried Endorian Tip-yip at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. The famous Batuu blue and green frozen milk is available outside at a special dispensery.
  • Over-21s can enjoy special alcoholic beverages at Oga’s Cantina.
  • Build your own custom radio-controlled Astromech Droid Unit in the Droid Depot. There are nearly 280,000 possible combinations for constructing an R-series or BB-series astromech droid using all the available pieces.
Savi's Workshop, where you can build your own custom lightsabre (Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks)

  • Construct your own personalised lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop where there are more than 120,000 possible combinations to ensure yours is a true one-of-kind weapon.
  • Explore the minute details of the Black Spire Outpost and see if you can find such ‘easter eggs’ as a Dianoga nicknamed “Tiny”, the character depicted in the Toydarian Toymaker shop sign, a stuffed wampa or a tiny version of Han Solo's Mobquet M-68 landspeeder. There are many of these hidden all around the outpost and the junk depot is a great place to start.
  • Install the smartphone app which will give you special abilities to interact with objects and installations within the attraction.

A twin theme park is also under construction at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. It will be open from September 2019.

Getting There:

Virgin Australia Holidays has released Star Wars packages for Australians planning their trip to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Resort California. For more information, visit: www.virginaustralia.com/starwars

June 11, 2019

Egypt: 3500 years of history in Luxor

Len Rutledge explores some of the world's greatest temples, and what could be the world's richest archaeological site, and suggests go to Luxor in Egypt. Luxor is an hour's flight up the Nile from Cairo. 

Luxor grew out of the ruins of Thebes the capital of Egypt from about 1500 to 1000 B.C.

Luxor is suffering badly at the moment because tourism has dramatically collapsed. This means it is a great time to visit. Hotels have cut prices, tour guides are readily available, crowds are nowhere to be seen and everyone is going out of their way to be friendly, helpful and courteous. Safety is on everyone's minds and I must say my wife and I felt completely at ease everywhere we went.

We had gone to Luxor to see two massive temples – the Temple of Amun at Karnak and the Temple of Luxor - as well as the attractively-named Valley of the Kings. Each met our expectations and we then discovered there was much more to see and do.

The Temple of Amun (Karnak Temple)

This complex of three temples built over a 2000 year period is probably the biggest temple on earth. Our expectations were high and as we wandered the site we became more and more impressed. The stillness of the whole place with its stone columns soaring against the brilliant blue sky was breathtaking.

The surfaces of the grand courtyards are all covered by fine carvings. The scale and detail is staggering. I thought of the vision, the work and the investment that went into this huge structure and then was told that all this could not even be seen at the time by the public. It was only for priests, royals, and the gods.

A Millennia later the public entered. We saw marks on the columns where Roman soldiers sharpened their swords, and early Christian images of Mary and Jesus are carved on the ancient pillars like graffiti. Many of the statues have had their noses cut off by the Romans to destroy the Pharaohs rebirth system,

The Luxor Temple

The Luxor Temple is all about the great warrior pharaoh, Ramses II even though it was started 100 years or more (around 1380BC) before his reign. Two 25m pink granite obelisk built by Ramses once stood before the entrance gateway but today only one remains; the other stands in the Place De La Concorde in Paris.

The temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship. During the Christian era, the temple's hypostyle hall was used as a Christian church. Then for many centuries the temple was buried and a mosque was eventually built over it. This mosque was carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered and forms an integral part of the site today.

Originally an avenue lined with sphinxes ran the entire 3 kilometres between the Luxor and Karnak Temples. This avenue is currently under excavation and reconstruction and you see a short completed section near Luxor Temple.

The Valley of the Kings

In about 1600 B.C. there was a big change in the style of royal tombs. Until then, kings were buried in pyramids, but these were consistently being robbed, which meant kings were waking up in the afterlife without their precious earthly possessions. So, rather than mark their tombs with big pyramids, the kings started hiding their tombs underground in the valleys on the west side of the Nile.

Each buried king was provided with all the necessary things that would provide a comfortable existence in the afterlife. The condition of the 63 tombs that have been discovered and the details on their walls is incredible after all these centuries. Most are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology.

The entry ticket to the valley allows you to visit three tombs out of several that are open but some require additional payment. Photography is not allowed in the tombs.

The Hatshepsut Temple

This is perhaps the most spectacular structure on the west bank. The mortuary temple was only discovered about 150 years ago and there is still some on-going restoration work under way. The temple rises out of the desert in a series of terraces that from a distance merge with the sheer limestone cliffs behind.

This temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut, the first known female monarch, who ruled for about two decades. Her reign was one of the most prosperous and peaceful in Egypt's history. When Thutmose III followed her as pharaoh, he had all evidence of her reign destroyed by erasing her name and having her image cut from all public monuments, even within this temple.

Although unknown for most of history, in the past 100 years her accomplishments have achieved global recognition and her stunning mortuary temple has become one of the most visited structures on the West Bank.

Need to Know

There are few facilities for visitors on the West Bank. Most stay in Luxor and travel to the West Bank by bus or on a tour. All the major Luxor hotels offer tours.

Luxor is in the desert and the surroundings are hot and dusty. You need water and perhaps a snack when you are visiting most of the sights.


Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

https://www.facebook.com/ExperienceGuides /


Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1. Karnak Temple

2. Entrance to Luxor Temple

3. Hatshepsut Temple

4. The author at Hatshepsut Temple

June 02, 2019

Opera Houses Around the World

Len Rutledge finds that world famous opera houses are great attractions for travellers.
No matter where we travel there is a good chance that we will see some impressive buildings. In Europe it may be palaces and castles, in Asia there are spectacular temples while in North America there are towering skyscrapers. I have travelled to see impressive bridges and railway stations and have recently added opera houses to my list. Some of these latter buildings are some of the most glorious buildings in the world.
Look at these few examples taken at random from around the world. When you add the Royal Opera House, London, the Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, the Teatro Fenice Venice, and our own Sydney Opera House, it makes an impressive list. Each is worth a visit.
Palais Garnier in Paris
This is one of the most famous opera houses in the world, partly because it was the setting of the novel The Phantom of the Opera and the subsequent films and popular musical. It was built in the 1860s and it was the primary home of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when the modern Opera Bastille opened. The Palais Garnier is now used mainly for ballet.
The building was the most expensive in Paris during its era and some regard it as a masterpiece although this opinion is not universally shared. It is close to some of Paris's most famous department stores so it makes a nice contrast to the shopping 'palaces'.
Teatro alla Scala in Milan
This challenges Paris as the most famous opera house in the world. It was built in the 1780s and most of Italy's greatest operatic artists, and many of the finest singers from around the world, have appeared here.
Building expenses were covered by the sale of boxes, which were lavishly decorated by their owners, and like most of the theatres at that time, La Scala was also a casino. In 1943, La Scala was severely damaged by bombing. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1946. The theatre underwent a major renovation from 2002 to 2004. The stage was entirely rebuilt, and an enlarged backstage allowed more sets to be stored.
La Scala has hosted the first productions of many famous operas, and had a special relationship with Verdi. He conducted his Requiem there in 1874 and the theatre hosted his penultimate opera, Otello and the premiere of his last opera, Falstaff.
Oslo Opera House
The spectacular Oslo Opera House is the home of The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. Construction started in 2003 and was completed in 2007, ahead of schedule and under budget. The Opera House won the 2009 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.
A 50 minute guided tour in English lets you walk out onto the Main Stage, or visit the costume workshop or scene painting room, while you learn about the architecture, stagecraft, opera and ballet from the guides.
Bolshoi Theatre Moscow
This is an historic theatre in Russia, which holds ballet and opera performances. The main building of the theatre, rebuilt and renovated several times during its history since 1821, is depicted on the Russian 100-ruble banknote.
A new stage was built in 2002, and this together with a restored 17th-century building, two rehearsal halls, and artists' recreation rooms forms a single theatre complex. From 2005 to 2011 the theatre was closed for restoration which included an improvement in acoustics, and the restoration of the original Imperial decor.
The Bolshoi Ballet is probably the most renowned ballet company in the world and it is by far the largest with more than 200 dancers. Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake premiered at the theatre in 1877 while other regulars on the Bolshoi repertoire include Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, Adam's Giselle, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and Khachaturian's Spartacus.
The Royal Opera House Stockholm
Kungliga Operan has been the Swedish national venue for opera and ballet since 1773. You can visit here as a member of the audience at one of the performances or take a guided tour. The building is located in the centre of Sweden's capital and is connected to the Royal Palace by a bridge.
The original opera house was demolished to make way for the present building which opened in 1899. It is a majestic neo-classical building with a magnificent gold foyer and elegant marble grand staircase leading to a three-tiered auditorium which seats 1,200. Interestingly, 45 minutes before most opera and ballet performances, a 15-minute introduction to the evening's performance is held in the Gold Foyer.
Words: Len Rutledge   Images: Phensri Rutledge
1.    Paris
2.    Milan
3.    Oslo
4.    Moscow
5.    Stockholm 

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