Great drives: Grossglockner, Austria

If you’ve seen The Sound Of Music, there’s a good chance you’ve seen landscapes similar to those of the Grossglockner pass in Austria.
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And if the sound of an engine revving as you power through corner after corner of tremendous alpine road is like music to your ears, then you’re going to love it.

Officially known as the Glossglockner High Alpine Road, this picturesque and stunningly twisty 48 kilometre stretch of tarmac is close to the borders of Germany, Italy and Slovenia.

We approached from Munich, and after an hour or so of fast-moving autobahn driving, we exited near Bad Feilnbach towards Austria onto a pretty, but often slow moving, stretch of road that moseyed through several buzzing towns.

After 45 minutes or so of driving through valley after valley with waterfalls and streams on either side, you will reach Fusch, and soon after, the start of the Glockner High Alpine Road.

The road came in to existence during the Great Depression, after construction began in 1930. It was a precious source of employment in Austria at the time, and 3200 brave workers helped blow the rock away to pave a tourist-friendly route that was completed five years later.

Revheads have long known the brilliance of this corner-rich romp of road, and not long after the path was opened in 1935, it played host to the First International Glockner Race. It was won by Italian driver Mario Tadini, who piloted his Alfa Romeo P3 up the 1600-metre climb in just 14 minutes 42 seconds – an average speed of 79km/h.

Today, the road is only open during certain hours of the day, when the weather permits, and you’ll have to pay a toll of 33 euros for a day pass or 50 euros for a 30-day pass into the Hohe Tauern National Park. If you have the time, go for the longer option because you’ll want to spend some time exploring the sights … and doing the hill-climb half a dozen times, too, of course.

The tolls work well as somewhat of a staggered starting system, and as soon as you’re through the gate you start to climb. Beware, though – the road is popular with day-trippers, cyclists and motorcyclists, and there are many narrow sections that aren’t suited to spirited driving. Our advice would be to arrive early in the morning when the road is quietest.

The valley falls away on the passenger’s side of the car, and nervous co-drivers may find themselves imprinting their nails into the dashboard as there are no guard rails to stop you plummeting down the crevasse if things turn pear-shaped. Instead, there are relatively small blocks of stone spaced out along the edges of the road – they look like they’d stop you if you hit one, but we wouldn’t recommend trying.

The time of year that you visit will determine what the landscape looks like. We went in spring, and as the road wound its way higher up the mountain, the landscape turned from green grass and tall trees to white snow with jagged, rocky outcrops lining either side of the valley.

The road twists on upwards, ascending further through a dozen elbow-like blind hairpins before eventually reaching the summit.

Once you reach the summit, it would be a huge disadvantage if you didn’t stop in at the amazing Restaurant Fuschertorl – a fantastic, working example of how to do kitsch interior decorating, Austrian-style.

If you’re squeamish, take note: you may be shocked by the number of stuffed animals on show in this souvenir-shop-cum-cafe. There are rabbits with crutches and bandages, deer heads, and marmots – furry, beaver-like creatures that look like menacing, giant guinea pigs – particularly when standing on their hind feet. Keep an eye out on the road and there’s a good chance you’ll see one of these furry fellas near a stream or in the woods.

There’s an outdoor dining area with views that seem to stretch forever when the weather is clear, but be warned – it can become cold and cloudy quickly. Well, that’s to be expected at 2430 metres above sea level – about 200 metres higher than Australia’s tallest mountain (Mt Kosciuszko, 2228 metres).

The cafe may seem high, but the mountains within view tower above it – Gross Wiesbachhorn is 3564 metres, and the peak after which the region is named, Grossglockner, stands at 3798m. At the road’s highest point, it reaches 2571 metres above sea level.

Explore the summit and you’ll find an observatory that allows you to check out the taller peaks and get a glimpse at the Pasterze Glacier. There are also many walks and tours to be taken.

Go down the other side of the mountain and you’re greeted with a road just as enticing as your ascent.

Corner after corner, this is a road for the enthusiast. And the best bit is that unlike many of the more famous mountain passes in Europe, such as the Italian-Swiss Stelvio Pass, this one isn’t clogged with campervans and dawdlers.

The official pamphlet for the area suggests you select a low gear and use your car’s engine to brake as you descend, as your brakes may fade under use. We can back that claim as being 100 per cent accurate.

As you leave on the southern side of the range, be sure to take a quick gander through the quaint village of Heiligenblut, which has several gasthauses and cafes.

From here, the options are to continue towards the Italian and Slovenian borders, or simply turn around and do it all again.The details

Where: Glossglockner High Alpine Road

How long: 48 kilometres

Allow: Take a few days to see everything the national park has to offer. Heck, you might even be tempted to get out of your car.

Worth a stop: Restaurant Fuschertorl. The perfect place to recharge with some traditional Austrian fare.

We drove: Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance

Ideal car: Something nimble, that steers well and has some grunt. The place is begging to be tackled in a convertible in warmer weather, too.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Packer’s one shot at Barangaroo

James Packer took a loss of up $38 million into account in the sale of Crown’s stake in Echo. Photo: Louise KennerleyJames Packer is used to getting what he wants, even if it comes at a price.
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The sale of Crown’s 10 per cent stake in rival casino operator, Echo Entertainment, on Thursday evening crystalised a loss as high as $38 million, according to analysts.

But it sent a clear message; Crown is taking one shot at Barangaroo with its direct application for a casino/hotel complex and Echo was not a Plan B.

The media focus has been on the logical juncture for Crown to make a decision about the sale of its Echo stake – namely the NSW government’s decision next month on whether Crown gets a licence for its development at Barangaroo.

If Crown lost, the Plan B was then expected to be a takeover bid for Echo. It would have meant Crown could decide the future of its stake as Echo’s share price rose to reflect a potential takeover premium.

The rationale for Crown selling now was “difficult to understand”, said Mark Bryan, an analyst at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.

Crown’s confidence in its submission was about the best reason most analysts could muster.

‘‘We do not believe one can read too much into the implications for Crown’s proposed casino in Sydney from this decision as submissions are due June 21, however, it does appear as though Crown is optimistic that its proposal will be successful,’’ said Deutsche Bank analyst Mark Wilson.

What has not been mentioned, and will be more difficult to gauge, is the pressure now on the NSW government to make sure Packer’s deal gets approved if it does not want to risk watching him walk away.

Crown sources say the company has always maintained it will decide the future of its Echo stake once the status of its application to the NSW and Queensland casino regulators had been determined.

The Queensland regulator finally followed its NSW counterpart on Monday in raising the cap on Crown’s stake on Echo from 10 to 23 per cent.

The Crown board met Thursday and made its decision to sell its shares that night.

On Friday, Crown issued a statement from Mr Packer saying it had sold its stake in order to “pursue the Crown Sydney Hotel Resort without speculation surrounding its Echo shareholding.”

“Crown Sydney is a once in a life time project for our company” and “we are working as hard as we can to make this goal a reality,” Mr Packer said.

The market seems to be treating the Crown sale as a permanent retreat from Echo. The would-be target watched its shares plunge more than 10 per cent during trading on Friday, falling below the $3 mark for the first time.

Asian casino group, Genting, is still applying to raise its stake in Echo to 25 per cent, but given it is not even half way to the current 10 per cent ownership cap, no one is holding their breath on its potential as a suitor for Echo.

When it comes to the NSW government’s final decision over the unsolicited proposals from Echo and Crown, victory would not come without concerns from the financial markets.

Crown’s interest in Echo was expected to protect Echo investors from the prospect of the company overpaying to effectively extend its casino monopoly in Sydney, according to Commonwealth Bank gaming analyst Ben Brownette.

‘‘With Crown’s sale of its stake, this protection is now eroded,’’ Mr Brownette said.

A win for Crown’s Barangaroo project means Echo’s flagship Sydney casino, The Star, would also face direct competition for its high roller clients in Sydney.

But a win could pressure Crown to address concerns about how it would justify the economics of its Banrangaroo project.

From day one, Crown has insisted that the VIP gaming rooms are needed to underpin the economics of the luxury hotel and has since added apartments to the project. Analysts are not sure that even this would be enough.

‘‘We do not believe Crown Sydney will make an economic return as the anticipated capex has increased from $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion, notwithstanding that the costs could be defrayed by the sale of 80 apartments,’’ said Deutsche’s Wilson. ‘‘At a capital cost of $550 million, we estimate that Crown will have to generate $23 billion in VIP turnover, which is what Star is currently rolling and would require an increase in the Australian market of 30 per cent.’’

Crown Melbourne currently generates VIP turnover of around $40 billion.

Crown has said it is not seeking to install poker machines at Barangaroo, but unless Crown knows something about the VIP market that no one else does, the general feeling is that it will need them to bolster its business case for the project.

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Jeff Farmer, wizard from the West with more than a streak of cheek

Jeff Farmer Jeff Farmer flies high in 1998
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What better time than the indigenous round to reflect on the career of one of my all-time favourite footballers.

Jeff Farmer was an outstanding player. Having made his debut with Melbourne in 1995, he went on to play 118 games and kick 259 goals for the Demons before being traded to Fremantle at the end of the 2001 season. He played a further 131games and bagged 224 more goals for the Dockers before retiring at the end of 2008.

In the history of the game, only Stephen Milne has kicked more goals than him playing as a genuine small forward for the entirety of his career. It is a remarkable achievement and points to a career that may not attract the kudos it deserves.

Rarely has there been a more appropriate nickname than the one he carried. The origins of nicknames always make for interesting stories, and I’ve been responsible for a few over the journey. ‘‘The Ox’’, which former star, David Schwarz is universally known as today is my proudest work.

But I can’t claim ‘‘the Wizard’’, which Jeffrey became known as to all and sundry in football. I’m pretty sure that was self-titled, and it is in keeping with the personality of the young man from Western Australia who went on to leave such a profound mark on the Melbourne Football Club.

There have been few more popular players at Melbourne in the last couple of decades, with both his teammates and the supporters alike. He arrived as a relatively shy young man at the start of the ’95 season and by the time he left he was almost larger than life.

For the last five years of my career, having the Wizard at the club was like having a naughty puppy to look after. He was cheeky beyond words, had to be growled at occasionally, but provided such joy it was impossible to stay mad at him, regardless of his transgressions.

There are enough stories to be told about him, during his time at the Demons, to fill this newspaper. But I have narrowed it down to my favourite five, and in doing some research for this article, and looking back at highlights of him during his playing days, I was reminded all over again why playing football was such an enjoyable experience. Not only because of the success you may have had, but also because of the people you meet.

1. In his first year, the Wizard had taken a mark in the goal square late in a game at the MCG. We were narrowly ahead and I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he could soak up a bit of time and then drill it through and we would be home for all money. I was walking to the goal line, mentally trying to work out how much time was left in the game when the football hit me in the back of the head.

The Wiz, overcome by nerves or maybe the need to keep in the good books with the captain, thought it would be a good idea to handball me a ‘‘Jo the goose’’, allowing me to dribble through the easiest of goals. The television shot of Neil Balme, our coach at the time, was priceless. Fortunately the umpire had blown time on and Jeff got to kick the goal.

2. Not for the first time, Jeff decided to use my head as a stepladder and took one of the great marks of all time at the MCG against the Tigers, in 1998.

I was playing on Scott Turner at the time, and he thought it was one of the funniest things he had ever seen. So did the Wizard, who ran around for the rest of the afternoon with the biggest smile on his face. Every time I see him he tries to make me feel better by describing it as a ‘‘set play’’. It doesn’t work.

3. Round 14, 2000, v Collingwood at the MCG. Having retired the previous year, I was in the commentary box that day, calling the game for radio. I was also the forward line coach, under Neale Daniher, and I remember getting terribly frustrated with the way Jeff was playing.

He was just in one of those moods where he was allowing himself to get distracted by the opposition, he wasn’t chasing and Neale duly dragged him to the interchange bench.

I suggest Demons supporters YouTube this particular game, as I did, to experience one of the great individual moments in Melbourne’s recent history. The Wizard is given a reprieve and comes back on to the ground, about eight minutes into the third quarter. He then goes on a goalkicking rampage, managing three for the quarter, and then another six in the last.

Nine goals in just over a quarter and a half against the Magpies at the MCG.

4. His entire 2000 season was a highlight reel. He kicked 76 goals, including an eight-goal, best-on-ground performance against North Melbourne in the preliminary final, and helped drive his team into the grand final.

I went back over the coaching notes from that year. Every Monday we would meet. Schwarz, Neitz, Robertson, Green, Bruce and the Wizard were the mainstays of the forward line, and every week the message to him was the same: ‘‘Don’t ever stand still. Back yourself. Don’t get sucked in and work hard when you don’t have the ball.’’

He took feedback well, especially about backing himself. He took 32 contested marks for the year. Tackling was more dependent on his mood.

5. At the end of 1996, the Wiz went home to Western Australia and didn’t return for the start of pre-season. Two of his close, older relatives had passed away and he was finding it hard to leave the family group at such a difficult time. Neil Balme and I jumped on a plane and then hired a car and drove to Mandurah to just let him know how much he meant to us all, that we were there to try to understand his issues and that we were desperate for him to return. Jeff took us on a drive around the town and we stopped at a number of houses, meeting his relatives, young and old, before sitting down for lunch with his family. And that’s all it took. He didn’t need any convincing to return to Melbourne. He just needed to know that the club was mindful of the circumstances and that we were there to help in any way we could.

The Wizard was a star. He would have found something special for this indigenous round of football. It could come in the form of a towering mark, a freakish goal, probably a dust-up or two and most certainly involve a goal celebration with both hands in the air in a defiant salute that enthralled his supporters and enraged the oppositions.

He made playing football with him a truly enjoyable experience.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Bank of Japan’s Kuroda vows to guide economy to recovery

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has expressed confidence the central bank can stem bond market volatility with flexible market operations and engineer a steady recovery in the world’s third-largest economy.
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Kuroda said the central bank’s aggressive monetary stimulus launched in April was a “necessary and sufficient” step to achieve its 2 per cent inflation target, and will stimulate the economy through various channels including by directly influencing borrowing costs.

“What’s most important is that the effect (of our monetary easing) creates a positive cycle of production, income and expenditure in the economy, leading to a gradual rise in prices. That’s our hope and something that’s achievable. We’re in the process of this taking shape,” Kuroda said in a seminar.

Commenting on the recent financial market volatility, Kuroda stressed the BOJ’s resolve to stabilise bond yields through market operations and enhanced communication with market participants.

“We don’t have specific targets for stock prices or currency rates, and I won’t comment on daily moves,” Kuroda said.

“As for the bond market, where the BOJ is directly involved through market operations, stability is extremely desirable,” he said.

Japanese government bonds plunged on Thursday, taking yields to their highest in a year and leading a selloff in bonds globally after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s remarks sparked worries of a reduction in US monetary stimulus.

The Nikkei share average dived 7.3 per cent on the same day, it’s worst one-day loss in two years as Fed worries and weak Chinese manufacturing data rattled investors.

The shakeout in markets raised questions in some quarters about the all-or-nothing prescription of aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus pursued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, although a majority of analysts were of the opinion that the violent asset price moves won’t derail the policies.

The BOJ has offered several huge fund injections in its market operations in recent weeks, including the 2 trillion yen ($20 billion) cash in one-year contract on Thursday, to appease nervous investors. However, these steps have had only limited success in reducing volatility in the bond market.


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Is it really never too cold to exercise?

Getting Healthy with Lynn Pinkerton. * This photo was taken during the 12WBT final party in Sydney at the end out round three, 2012.Over the next 12 weeks I will take part in the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation. Each week I will blog about my experience, losing weight and getting healthy. Check back here each week to find out how I am going.
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As I write my blog this week I am sitting in the office, with a hot tea on my desk, under a very warm heating unit watching as others walk into the office shivering from being outside.

The main thought in my head right now as I write this and listen to the car tyres on the wet road outside is ‘there is no way in hell I want to go home and exercise this afternoon’.

Another part of me knows that after weighing in this week there is no way I am going to let myself out of it today.

I’ll just have to go home and get it done.

Organisation is key and between 4.30pm and 5.30pm today I have an hour set aside for exercise.

There is just one little thing to overcome that could possibly hold me, and I am sure many of you reading this, back.

It’s getting cold out there! Cold like in the minuses when I arrived at work cold, cold like I expect it to be snowing when I look outside cold (don’t judge me – I’m from the coast!).

One of the major excuses people use not to exercise seems to be the weather. It’s too wet, It’s too cold, It’s too hot.

What are your tips for exercising in too cold or too hot weather? Share them in our comments section below.

We live in Australia – several of us in places where we can experience all four seasons in one day.

If you only exercise during ideal weather conditions, you may as well give up now because you won’t be getting healthy anytime soon.

Last round of the 12 Week Body TransformationI joined a gym. It had a perfect environment to exercise in all year.

This time, trying hard to save money, I am more open to the elements. But weatherisn’tgoing to be an excuse I use.

Yes, my plan today was to go home and take the dog for a walk. Now it’s raining I’ll be going home and jumping on the exercise bike.

If I could do a little more than those two exercises (Saturday – hurry up! *check out my last blog here) I would do some sort of circuit work, sit ups, planks, jumping jacks or put in an exercise DVD and hop in front of the television.

Just because it’s cold outsidedoesn’tmean you can’t exercise. Itdoesn’tmean youshouldn’texercise.

Because, guess what? I’ll let you in on a little secret … when you exercise, you get warm! So get out there, push yourself and you’ll end up feeling like you are exercising in the tropics!

I will be.

Week 1: Aiming for the goal

Rumours fly of fifth pillar to emerge in bank sector

AUSTRALIA could soon have a powerful new player in the world of retail banking, with Macquarie Group believed to be in talks with Mark Bouris’ listed Yellow Brick Road Group over a distribution deal that could be unveiled as early as this week.
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The deal would give Yellow Brick Road access to the billions of dollars sitting on Macquarie’s balance sheet to provide home loans via Mr Bouris’ network of more than 140 branches across the country.

News of the proposed tie-up circulated the Birdcage at Flemington on Tuesday, where racing tips and interest rate chatter usually dominate. The key rumour was that Australia’s big four banks could soon have a fifth rival knocking on their door.

Well-placed sources revealed that Macquarie would return to the residential home loan business, and in a big way.

As an opening salvo, BusinessDay believes Yellow Brick Road and Macquarie plan to undercut the big four banks by more than a full

percentage point on all new home loans.

”This could provide the fifth pillar that our banking sector has always needed,” said a source close to the deal.

The deal marks a major strategic shift for Macquarie, which has seen many parts of its traditional investment banking model suffer in recent years. Last month Macquarie announced a $361 million profit for the six months to December. Of that Macquarie Capital, which houses the bank’s once mighty mergers and acquisitions team, contributed just $10 million.

The bank’s equities trading division, Macquarie Securities, notched a $64 million loss. Daily equity volumes for Macquarie were down 23.5 per cent on the previous year.

Announcing the results, Macquarie chief executive Nicholas Moore noted that ”structural change” was affecting the group’s performance.

”There’s plainly a degree of structural change taking place in the industry, also structural change in terms of the amount of capacity in the industry,” Mr Moore said.

The distribution deal with Yellow Brick Road is not Macquarie’s first move into the world of retail banking.

In the heady days of 2000, when Macquarie had built a reputation as the ”millionaires factory”, the bank established a retail arm.

Peter Maher was poached from Westpac, where he was group marketing manager, to run the operation. In total $80 million was invested in computer equipment, and more than $5 million was spent on an advertising campaign to attract retail customers.

One memorable ad featured a picture of a woman in front of the words: ”I used to want to marry a millionaire. Now I want to become one.”

Mr Maher remains head of banking and financial services at Macquarie.

Mark Bouris was unavailable for comment.

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RBA holds rates but with a loose grip

THE Reserve Bank of Australia is fully prepared to cut interest rates at its next meeting on December 4, but the statement released after its Tuesday board meeting reveals that it’ll be no pushover.
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By keeping the official cash rate on hold at 3.25 per cent, the central bank went out of its way to describe interest rates for borrowers as “clearly” below their medium-term averages. The bank subscribes to a notion made popular by its previous governor Ian Macfarlane that the further rates move from neutral the stronger the case that needs to be made to move them further away still.

The decision to delay further interest rate relief surprised the majority of economists, who expected a cut, and will disappoint borrowers, who were hoping for a rate reduction.

Business leaders particularly retailers are calling for further cuts sooner rather than later.

”We would have preferred to see a reduction in interest rates from the Reserve Bank,” Myer chief executive Bernie Brookes said yesterday.

”There’s no doubt that would have helped consumer confidence.”

This week Westpac chief Gail Kelly said a rate cut was needed to help boost consumer and business confidence.

The Australian dollar jumped to its highest point in six weeks after the RBA left rates steady, climbing more than half a cent to US104.27¢, in a move that can’t have made the bank happy.

The RBA would like to crimp the dollar, which it thinks is “higher than might have been expected”.

The central bank sees signs that the five cuts it has delivered since Melbourne Cup day 2011 are “starting” to have the desired effects. Business demand for funding is up, housing is stronger and share prices have climbed in line with markets overseas. It is looking for “further effects” over time. If it gets them and if they are strong enough, it might feel the economy doesn’t need another interest rate boost.

The RBA would like to see a clear case for a cut before cutting again – clearer than it needed in order to begin to cut. It is somewhat concerned about inflation (which has been “slightly higher” than expected) but not concerned enough to rule out another rate cut and,

importantly, not concerned enough to make it delay any rate cut after the release of the next consumer price index figures in late January.

The RBA board believes that by its next meeting in December it will get a good enough steer on inflation from the wage price index, due for release next Wednesday.

It will also have the latest figures on investment intentions, something to which it is now paying very close attention as it worries about the transition from mining investment to other forms of investment after the boom peaks some time next year.

Late Tuesday the market was assigning a 58 per cent probability to a rate cut in December, which is probably about right.

The RBA is worried about unemployment edging higher (although it recognises this will help control inflation) and it believes some of the jump in consumer spending in the first half of the year was only temporary, created by early carbon tax compensation payments.

It is now ”leaning against the wind” by selling Australian dollars where foreign customers want to buy them, but it doesn’t want to cut rates in order to restrain the dollar because it fears it mightn’t work. It’ll cut rates only if the case stacks up on its own terms, which isn’t yet.

The RBA said a rise in inflation during the September quarter, in part due to the introduction of the carbon tax, was one of the factors in yesterday’s decision.

”The introduction of the carbon price affected consumer prices in the September quarter, and there could be some further small effects over the next couple of quarters,” said RBA governor Glenn Stevens in the accompanying statement.

”With prices data slightly higher than expected and recent information on the world economy slightly more positive, the board judged that the stance of monetary policy was appropriate for the time being.”

HSBC Australia chief economist Paul Bloxham said Tuesday’s statement suggested the RBA may not be keen to cut much further.

”We could be nearing the end of this easing cycle,” he said.

The RBA has cut the cash rate 1.5 per cent since November 2011, with its most recent reduction of a quarter of a percentage point in October 2012.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.