Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Best Destination For Music

In aworld that is becoming increasingly smaller through travel and the electronic media, music is the universal language that crosses boundaries today with rhythmic regularity. It is as easy to find an excellent old-time Dixieland jazz-club in Shanghai as it is to find a Cantonese pop-music concert in London, and there always seems to be an African dance presentation going on somewhere in Berlin just as classical Western music performances seem to be available in Singapore at any time of the year. Exquisite Spanish-guitar virtuso performances can be heard throughout the Philippines, and authentic Indian dance-performances proliferate off the African coast, on the island of Mauritius. Various cities across the globe have their own distinctive music festivals and the avid music-tourist is often overwhelmed with choices.
Experienced globe-trotters and savvy travel-professionals, however, point to just one country if asked to identify a tourism destination that is defined by music more than anything else. It is a country with superb classical architecture, stunning scenery, fascinating cuisine, some very good wines, great sports facilities - and oh yes, sublime local coffee! It has an air-hub par excellence, and both road and rail infrastructure to equal any place in the world - yet all these winning tourism features are overshadowed by the sound of music. This is Austria, the country that gave birth to that legendary film, The Sound Of Music, and which continues to enchant visitors today with auditory delights like no where else on earth.

Tourists from all over the world flock to Austria to tramp the paths and film-locations where the screen Von-Trapp Singers immortalised The Sound Of Music, and soak up the melodies of Rodgers & Hammerstein. They visit the birthplaces, homes and old haunts of great Western composers such as Brahms, Mozart, Hayden, Schubert, Schumann, and Wagner. They relive the glories of these great musicians, and luxuriate in the timeless melodies.They witness performances of Strauss and Strauss, and thrill to the wonder of the fairy-tale Viennese Waltz. They watch the cherubic faces of the Vienna Boys Choir and revel in the purity of those incandescent voices. On these great musical attractions alone, any nation could have a dynamic and world-class tourism industry. But Austria has much, much more to offer!

There are the often overlooked genres of traditional Austrian music such as Old Farmhouse, Schrammel and Alpine, each with their quintessential Austrian distinctiveness and allure. There are the evocative melodies of neighbouring countries such as Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic as well as other nations in and around the Danube-Danau region. There are festivals dedicated to a single instrument, and these can include anything and everything from the Gypsy Accordion to the Australian Didgeridoo. Austria also hosts events celebrating jazz, opera, tango, new folk, and even Brass Band - the latter attracting participants from at least 15 nations around the globe.

During a single visit to Austria in early 2009, I picked up an events-magazine and read publicity for performances of Contemporary music such as Cabaret, Café’ Concerts, Electronic, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Opera, Operetta, Pop, Rock, World Music and Funk Mundial, the cosmopolitan electronic Brazilian-styled dance rhythms. There were also performances for International music from places as diverse as the Balkans, Ukraine, Egypt, Spain, Texas(!), New York’s Harlem, Serbia, and various parts of Asia. Salzburg’s Summer Scene had Indian Classical music among its offerings, and Vienna’s Volksoper was staging Chinese Opera. And we haven't even started to talk about the glorious Christian Sacred Music that I personally find inspiring and rejuvenating...
Yes, music permeates the very fabric of Austria - it flows down its Alpine brooks and swings through its concert-halls with exhilarating freedom and diversity. Music defines much of Austria's history, and energises much of its present-day life. And for the intrepid tourist, it makes Austria The Best Music Destination In The World.

All images courtesy of Austria National Tourism Organisation
© Österreich Werbung / Trumler
© Österreich Werbung / Fankhauser
© Österreich Werbung / H.Wiesenhofer
© Österreich Werbung / Wiesenhofer

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Best Airport Railway Station

It is named after an intrepid pioneering aviator who is more famous for writing the most whimsical books. It was inaugurated in 1975, in an era of teleprinters, Morse Code and hand-signals – yet today it incorporates the most advanced cutting-edge technology of this millennium. It is connected by a futuristic high-speed train to some of the most modern and sophisticated cities in Europe, but you can also opt to leave this airport on the pillion-seat of a chugging motorbike-taxi. This is the enigmatic, contradictory Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport - formerly known as Lyon Satolas Airport - an important transport-hub for the entire Rhône-Alpes region. While the airport itself is pleasant enough, its railway-station was the feature that caught our attention.

When we visited this iconic airport railway-station in 2008, it was looking a little dilapidated and in need of proper maintenance. Yet its dynamic architecture captured our imagination and lifted our spirits during the bleak winter season. Completed in 1994, the terminal was designed to represent the human eye, but looks exactly like a graceful swan alighting on earth and bowing low, with its wings raised in salute. The building's most striking profile, based on two converging steel arches 120 meters long and 40 meters high, is most obviously expressive of a bird, symbolizing flight with the two main arches coming together at the bird's beak. Architect Santiago Calatrava said that he never thought of a bird, but more of sculpture inspired by the shape of the human eye. However, the avian imagery continues inside the building where two concrete cantilevered balconies look remarkably like birds on the down-wing, rising up in flight.
Today, 1½ decades after its construction, Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport Railway Station is still under-utilised and much of its sunlit cavernous space is largely empty. The superfast futuristic-looking TGV trains come in only a few times a day, and some of the lounges here are only used occasionally for special events. Nevertheless, its inspired architecture, dynamic vision, practical convenience and untapped resources make this our favourite Airport Railway Station in the world. To bring this facility to its full potential will require innovation, imagination and industry – the very same qualities that were put into its design in the first place!

Pix courtesy of Maison De La France (Southeast Asia) . 1: © Lyon Tourism & Conventions 2: © JF Marin / Aéroports de Lyon

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Best Hotel For Hospitality

The Hotel With The Best Hospitable Atmosphere that delighted us is Ballymaloe House in County Cork, Ireland. Most of the properties listed in Hilary Finlay’s Blue Book Of Ireland are enchanting, but this is exceptional. Built around a 15th century Norman castle, this evocative hostelry began taking in paying guests in 1967. The 400-acre property is lovely, the surrounding Shanagarry countryside is delightful, and the cooking here is unbearably delicious. There is an excellent wine-cellar, and spell-binding Irish music to boot. But what captures your heart is the warmth, affection and honest goodness of Mrs Darina Allen, the matriarch of the elegant mansion.
Together with her daughter, the Allens are well-known TV Chefs and authors of successful cook-books. At Ballymaloe House, though, Darina is simply a proud home-owner who will welcome you with quintessential Irish hospitality, laughter and kindness. This same happiness and congenial fellowship permeates every activity and service, making a stay at Ballymaloe House a genuinely heart-warming experience. When we first visited Ballymaloe House several years ago, the weather was cold, bleak and foggy. It was a happy contrast to be enveloped by Darina's warm and genuine hospitality - something we recommend for any traveller in that part of Ireland.