Friday, 24 July 2015

Echoes of the Sound of Music: Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg

On my recent visit to Salzburg, Austria, I stayed at the Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron.

This was no accident. I had been commissioned to write an article marking the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, the popular musical movie which starred Julie Andrews as a singing wannabe nun and opened in 1965.

The "schloss" in the title is actually the stately home next door to the hotel complex. Luckily my first day in Salzburg was sunny, so here it is in all its glory:

That's the rear of the house, facing the lake, where you find this:

If the seahorse gate looks familiar, it's because it featured in the film; particularly in the sequence wherein Maria brings the children back to the house by boat, and they all end up in the drink.

The house's facade doesn't appear on screen at all, by the way. For technical reasons it was substituted with another stately home, so only the gardens reached the silver screen. And here they are:

That terrace is, I believe, where Uncle Max, the Captain and the Baroness drank their strange pink lemonade. "Not too sweet, not too sour." "Just too... pink."

And though I don't believed it appeared on screen, this is the extraordinary room in the Schloss where guests have breakfast:

The guest rooms are next door, and in contrast have a distinctly contemporary feel...

... and this is the path which takes you from the hotel to the Old Town of Salzburg. I almost expected to see Maria bursting forth into song here. The hills are alive, indeed. So are the flat bits.

Disclosure: On this trip I was hosted by the Austrian National Tourist Office. You can read my article for The Age about the Sound of Music bus tour by clicking here

Friday, 17 July 2015

Germany & the Sausage

Germany is famous for its culture. It is, after all, the country of creative geniuses such as Beethoven, Brecht and Goethe.

However, it's also a nation which has a love affair with sausages. And... it might be my imagination... but is there something suggestive about this humble everyday foodstuff?

Let's see. This poster was spotted on a tram stop in Erfurt...

... and this I saw on top of a stall in the attractive market square of Weimar:

Spotted in the Munich U-Bahn; not sure that's a sausage she's eating, but it fits the vibe:

This model in Munich's excellent Deutsches Museum is not a sausage. But perhaps the early airship was inspired by one:

Finally, here's a real sausage encountered in the wild at Munich's Viktualienmarkt, an atmospheric open-air market in the city centre. It's weisswurst, filled with pork and veal, along with flecks of parsley; and served with a bread pretzel and honey mustard:

Hungry now?

Disclosure: On this trip I travelled courtesy of the German National Tourist Board. You can read my review of a Bavarian food tour in Munich at by clicking here.

Friday, 10 July 2015

To Melbourne Airport the Cheap-Arse Way (2015 Update)

[NOTE: For the latest information, see my 2016 update to this blog post by clicking here]

It's time for another update to this blog's most popular post, revealing how to get from the city centre to Melbourne Airport very cheaply on regular public transport. 

Since the 2014 update some key factors have changed, including the fare to the airport (spoiler: it's cheaper!). So read on...

The cost of getting to and from airports throughout the Western world can be outrageously expensive, and Melbourne is not immune to this problem.

However... there is a way of getting to and from Melbourne Airport cheaply.

So draw your chairs closer, lean in and discover how to save a tidy bit of cash.

For the cheap-arses among us, there is a much cheaper way into the city centre than the 20 minute $18 Skybus journey, though of course it takes longer (about 60 to 70 minutes, depending on connections).

This is how it works...

To Melbourne Airport

From any station in Melbourne's central business district, catch a train along the Craigieburn line and alight at Broadmeadows Station (timetable here).

Step straight out through the station to the bus bay which is just to the right as you clear the building. Here you catch the 901 bus to Melbourne Airport, which leaves every 15 minutes from about 5am to midnight (timetable here).

Note: on Saturdays and Sundays the 901 bus departure intervals are every 30 minutes; and on Sundays the 901 operates from Broadmeadows from about 7am to 9.30pm.

It's important to note that 901 buses going the other direction to Frankston use the same stop, so make sure the bus destination sign says 'Melbourne Airport'.

The bus terminates at a regular suburban bus stop at the airport, dropping off passengers on Departure Drive just past Terminal 1, used by Qantas and Jetstar.

This bus stop is obviously handy for Qantas and Jetstar flights. It's also an easy walk from here to international flights (Terminal 2) and Virgin Australia flights (Terminal 3); and a more substantial 600 metre walk past these terminals to Terminal 4, used by budget airline Tigerair.

Why it isn't possible to have more than one bus stop in operation at the airport, god knows, but that's a puzzle for another day.

From Melbourne Airport

You need a Myki smartcard to travel on Melbourne's public transport, and to get hold of one of these at the airport you have three choices.

1. The easiest option is to buy a card directly from the 901 bus driver, who can also add credit to the card. The card costs $6 to purchase, and on top of that a two-hour fare from the airport to the city centre (and onwards to anywhere in Melbourne within the time limit) is $3.76.

All buses should be equipped for this transaction, but if you strike a bus where it isn't set up or the equipment isn't working, there are two other options.

2. You can instead buy a Myki Visitor Pack from the Skybus ticket booths at the airport. Skybus is the premium departs-every-ten-minutes airport bus which heads to the city centre for $18, so this approach seems a little unintuitive.

However, you can get the pack from Skybus. The $14 purchase price includes the standard $6 purchase price for the card, plus $8 of travel credit on standard public transport (ie not Skybus itself). That's more than enough to get to the city centre on a regular bus, then travel onwards to anywhere in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

The visitor pack also includes discount vouchers to major Melbourne attractions and a decorative Myki card wallet, so that may add to the incentive to pick one up.

3. The third option is to buy a Myki card from one of the three Myki ticket machines located at the airport. These are located in the arrivals area of Terminals 2, 3 and 4 (the Terminal 2 machine at international arrivals is pictured above).

Again, the card itself costs $6 and you top it up with credit; you'll need at least $4 credit to reach the city centre and stay in the black.

The regular bus stop is opposite Terminal 1. It's not right next to the terminal's kerb, but in one of the traffic islands further out - look for the orange-and-white sign. Here you board the 901 bus to Frankston, which leaves every 15 minutes from about 5am to midnight (timetable here).

Note: on Saturdays and Sundays the 901 bus departure intervals are every 30 minutes; and on Sundays the 901 operates from the airport from about 6.30am to 9pm.

"Touch on" the card (as the jargon goes) against a Myki reader on board, and take a seat.

When the bus reaches Broadmeadows Station, touch off the card, get out and walk into the station, touching on the card again. Take the underpass to Platform 1. From here a train will take you straight to the city centre (timetable here).


The Myki fare between the airport and city centre in either direction has recently dropped from $6.06 down to a bargain basement $3.76, as Zone 1+2 fares have now been capped at the Zone 1 amount. This sum is automatically subtracted from the card balance when you touch off along the route.

This fare covers both of Melbourne's fare zones, so includes all public transport for the duration of the two hours. Hence you could transfer to another train, a bus or a tram when you reach the city centre, to travel onward within the same fare.

Give me credit

The catch is that you must buy a Myki card for that non-refundable $6 purchase price; though of course you'll be able to keep using it during your stay in Melbourne, and retain it for use on any future visits.

To top up the card's credit, the easiest method is to step into any of the million or so 7-Eleven outlets in the city centre and ask the person behind the counter to do it (it can also be topped up at train stations and at Myki machines at larger tram stops).

To work out how much credit you need, budget $7.52 per weekday (the capped daily fare) and $6 per weekend day or public holiday. If you like, the 7-Eleven staffer can alternatively add a pass to the card covering all travel over seven days for $37.60.

Going a-Broady

Another good thing about the 901+train option, is that it gets you straight into the "being in Melbourne" vibe – you can eavesdrop on some entertaining conversations on the train to/from Broady, which has a reputation for being one of Melbourne's tougher suburbs.

Don't let that put you off catching the train to/from Broadmeadows though, as it's a staffed station. Do exercise reasonable vigilance however, especially if travelling after dark.

Another catch is that the train+bus option isn't really suitable for people with large amounts of luggage; but if travelling with reasonably small and portable gear, go for it.

So happy flying - and enjoy the cheap ride to/from Melbourne Airport.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Online in the Air: Wifi on United to LA

When I flew United Airlines' new Dreamliner aircraft from Melbourne to Los Angeles last year, it was the first time I'd used in-flight wifi on a long-haul flight.

In fact I'd only used in-flight wifi once before, on a short flight between LA and Las Vegas in 2013.

Because it could only be used at that stage when the seatbelt sign was off between takeoff and landing, I think I only had use of it for 30 minutes or so.

Still, it was amazingly novel to be able to text and tweet while in the air.

In the middle of an exchange with my travel writer colleague Nikki Bayley, I realised that we were both in flight at the same time as we were chatting. "This is the future!" I thought.

Well, sort of. It's been much easier to provide in-flight wifi over land than sea, using base stations. Hence the prevalence of wifi on flights across the continental USA, and its lower incidence on international flights relying on satellite signals.

So the United wifi, all the way across the Pacific from Australia to the USA, was a genuine novelty to me. Though I didn't have a lot of confidence in its speed or reliability.

As it turned out, I was wrong about that. I logged in once we were aloft, and the signal remained reliable and reasonably fast for the entire 14-hour journey.

There was an initial frisson of excitement as my iPhone connected and some delayed text messages popped up. Interestingly, one of them was from a woman in Queensland, to whom I'd recently sold my old iPhone 4S via eBay.

She had a problem: though I'd wiped the data off the old phone, I'd neglected to remove it from my "Find iPhone" group, which allows the user to track and disable lost or stolen phones.

Not realising that I was communicating with her from mid-air, she explained the problem and texted a screenshot of instructions from Apple, explaining how to remedy the situation.

A few minutes later, having performed some tech magic via the Internet, I'd released her phone and she texted to let me know it was now working fine.

It was then I texted back, mentioning I was chatting to her from a Dreamliner high above the Pacific Ocean. I didn't hear back; maybe she thought I was joking.

For the rest of the trip I dabbled with the online access on and off, between watching a movie and trying to get some sleep. The Dreamliner is a great plane by the way - the marketing blurb about its moister air and larger windows letting in more natural light (thus helping ward off jetlag) turned out to be true.

It seemed strange to have access to the online outside world while on such a long flight. In one way it was a little disappointing, as if the strange other-worldly magic of such lengthy airborne journeys had been diminished.

On the other hand, it was great to be able to talk to people and tweet the odd comment about the onboard experience. I tweet mainly about travel after all; what more fundamental travel experience to tweet about than an epic long-haul flight?

Wifi aboard a United long-haul flight costs US$16 for a 24-hour period; read more about it here.

Disclosure: On this trip I travelled courtesy of United Airlines and the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.