.

December 31, 2012

Gold Coast Top 10 Hotel Requests In 2012

Sofitel Gold Coast
As the Gold Coast's extensive list of five-star hotels and resorts continues to grow, these exclusive establishments remain determined as ever to deliver on their customer's ongoing holiday needs, to ensure a happy and fun-filled stay in Australia's favourite playground.

In 2012, requests have ranged from romantic overtures, indulgent luxuries to the more extravagant and out of the ordinary.

See below a list of the top 10 special requests made of Gold Coast's exclusive five-star hotels.
  1. Asked to purchase alpacas for a Middle Eastern royal family.
  2. An overseas visitor asked if he could organise a day trip to visit Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs and the Great Barrier Reef all in the same day!
  3. Organised a private jet for the Argentine Polo team to fly from Gold Coast to Malaysia with 6-hours' notice.
  4. Booked rooms on different floors for wife and girlfriend
  5. An elderly couple looking to renew their wedding vows at the hotel asked two staff members to be Bridesmaid and Best Man. As regulars to the hotel the couple knew these staff members very well.
  6. Organised dinner for two at Gold Coast Hinterland hotspot, "Table Mountain". Guests arrived by helicopter where a personal chef, waiter and Spanish guitarist were waiting.
  7. A guest left his luxury sports vehicle to be sold by a hotel staffer as he had to unexpectedly leave the country
  8. A unique wedding proposal - with a gentleman proposing to his girlfriend as staff from the resort all wearing t-shirts that spelt out MARRY ME while a beautiful rendition of somewhere over the rainbow being played on the ukulele from a gentleman who just appeared to be walking by.
  9. Exclusive use of the gym for various celebrities
  10. Exclusive use of the Executive Lounge for a wedding proposal

Other more common requests of Gold Coast hotels include:
  1. Unpack suitcases and hang clothes
  2. Run a warm bubble bath
  3. Arrange flowers for wife/girlfriend (or both)
  4. Arrange Rose Petals and candles on the Bed
  5. Cook dinner in the room
  6. Arrange high protein foods and menus for athletes
  7. Arrange birthday cakes
  8. Stay in a certain room on a certain floor every stay

Struth! Shortest air route also world's most expensive

Heli Air Monaco flies 48 times between Monaco and Nice every day on
what is possibly the world's shortest and most expensive scheduled air route

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis wonders if Monaco's Heli Air can claim to have the world's smallest scheduled air service timetable – it has just one route, and that's a mere 7-minutes between Monte Carlo in the Principality of Monaco, and Nice Airport in France that it flies 30 times a day in each direction.

And while it started in 1976 with just one helipad and in its first year flew just 747 passengers, it now has ten helipads at its base on Monte Carlo harbour and in 36 years has carried around 1.7-million passengers…with no other airport facility within Monaco's tiny 2sq km land mass, and the road journey to Nice Cote D'Azur Airport taking 40-minutes, the quick 7-minute helicopter service is popular with business travellers and upmarket holidaymakers happy to pay E220 (AU$271) each for the round-trip.

Heli Air flies its route from 8.30am to 7.45pm daily, and as well also flies to select destinations on the French Riviera, in Switzerland, Corsica and Italy, the longest flight being 2hrs 35m to Rome and the shortest just 12m to San Remo; but these are non-scheduled flights, and are flown on an as-requested basis.

Traveloscopy editor asks: Is this also the world's most expensive air route? YO 1745 E110 for 7 minutes = E943/hour (US$1244/hr). Concorde took 3hrs 20mins between LHR and JFK (BA172) and a cheap fare was US$3000 one way. (US$909/hr)


December 20, 2012

Top Tips to Enjoy Singapore's Green Side




Unbeknownst to many, Singapore the metropolis is in fact filled with lush green spaces and incredibly rich and diverse fauna and flora, with tree-lined streets, more than 50 parks and four nature reserves.

Sitting at the crossroads of East and West, it has intrigued naturalists since the 19th century with over 8,300 species having been recorded in Singapore over the last 150 years. Today, for every five-star chef, visionary architect and high-end designer, visitors will find an attentive botanist or careful gardener tending to the beguiling landscape. Follow these top tips on the best ways to explore Singapore's green side.

Gardens by the Bay

Spanning 101 hectares, Gardens by the Bay is a showcase of horticulture and garden artistry, capturing the essence of Singapore as the premier tropical "City in a Garden". Catch the OCBC Light and Sound Show nightly from 7:45pm; a stunning display of magical lights and music amid the 16 storey, solar energy harvesting Supertrees. Other features include the Cloud Forest, a mountain environment set in a cool-moist conservatory, the Flower Dome where spring never ends, Dragonfly & Kingfisher Lakes and the Heritage Gardens. www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/home.html

Singapore Botanic Gardens


Founded in 1859 over 32 acres of virgin rainforest and overgrown plantations, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is home to innovations such as rubber cultivation and orchid hybridisation. Features include the Evolution Garden, the rejuvenated Tanglin Gate, the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden and the occasional free weekend concert on Symphony Lake. Best of all - entry is free! www.sbg.org.sg

National Orchid Garden



The National Orchid Garden showcases the results of the Singapore Botanic Gardens' orchid breeding programme which began in 1928. With about 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids over three hectares, and 600 species and hybrids on display, the National Orchid Garden is the largest display of tropical orchids in the world. www.sbg.org.sg/centralcore/nog.asp

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve


One of only two cities in the world to feature a rainforest within its boundaries, Singapore offers lush green and scenic jungle trekking in the heart of the city at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Jungle activities include strolling, hiking, rock climbing, abseiling and mountain biking, and trekking routes included a hike to the highest point in Singapore - the Bukit Timah Hill, which sits at 164m above sea level. www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=naturereserves&id=46&Itemid=75/
www.forestadventure.com.sg

MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Lined with old rubber trees and surrounded by lush vegetation, Singapore's MacRitchie Nature Trail provides an unforgettable botanical experience, and now with boardwalks and walking trails, is a relaxing escape from the city. Visitors can enjoy aerial views from the HSBC TreeTop Walk - a 250 metre aerial free standing suspension bridge or relax with a picnic lunch, a spot of canoeing, a brisk walk or a lazy afternoon in the sun. www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=naturereserves&id=49&Itemid=75

Pulau Ubin


A reminder of old Singapore, this boomerang-shaped island is covered in trees and dotted with beaches and old Malay houses which are full of character. It contains the country's last kampongs where villagers still count on wells for water and generators for electricity. The best way to explore is by bike, which costs SGD$3-$8 to rent, with three cycling trails which lead past old fruit and rubber plantations, mangrove swamps, water-filled quarry pits and old wooden houses. www.nparks.gov.sg

December 17, 2012

Putting style back in romance five hotel picks from around the globe.


Movies, dance classes, dinner for two – are you suffering from date night doldrums? www.designhotels.com/romantic_escapes

Paris is always there to save the day. While it may be the embodiment of romance, these two elegant properties will show you a whole new side to this city. La Maison Champs Elysées offers a world of comfort and French elegance, where reality blends with surreal style. Between the Avenue Montaigne, the Champs-Élysées and the Grand Palais, the hotel is located in the heart of Paris' Golden Triangle. In another part of the city, Hotel Gabriel Paris Marais emits an aura of privacy and calm with its intimate design. The hotel's façade, a gorgeous Art Deco ornamentation, belies the minimalist interiors. On the island of Koh Samui, the strikingly pure structures that make up The Library are set amongst a lush grove. Designed as an outpost of casual elegance, the hotel is situated on the lively Chaweng Beach. The Vine is a luxurious retreat on the island of Madeira, known for its wine, abundance of flowers and breathtaking nature. The hotel is located in Funchal's historical centre, just steps away from the Cathedral. Situated near Majorda Beach, Alila Diwa Goa peers out onto lush, verdant rice paddies leading to the Arabian Sea. This getaway offers the best of beach and green holiday.

Dans la Maison



The entrance to the townhouse at No. 8 rue Jean Goujon is discreet, an address one must know to discover. Behind its doors, the stage is set for Maison Martin Margiela's first hotel interior, La Maison Champs Élysées. The minimal, yet sophisticated and offbeat décor sets the stage for a show of romance. Seventeen rooms and suites belong to the Couture Collection, and are decorated with a whimsical touch that plays with proportion and perception. Every space feels surreal, with each room different than the next. Even in the newly opened Blind Bar and at the restaurant, La Table du 8, the chairs appear to be floating above the concrete floor, while oversized mouldings and pretend doors add to the illusion. Here, romantic candlelight dinners are only enhanced by the exquisite, seasonal fare and fine selection of French wines. La Maison is just steps away from the Seine and numerous landmarks, ideal for a moonlight stroll with that special someone.

Zen in the City



Close to one of Paris's most vibrant districts, Hotel Gabriel Paris Marais stands out as a Zen haven of relaxation. Couples will be enchanted by the intimate interiors, celebrating minimalist charm in white and pastel. The juxtaposition of linear furniture with cruise-liner portholes and curves creates a harmonious balance. The signature dancer design motif scattered throughout the property adds a whimsical touch to the dreamy 1930s feel, lending an air of grace to elements as mundane as cupboards and bathroom doors. Hotel Gabriel is the first hotel to employ the NightCove sleep companion, giving guests a soothing rest with diffused light and sound according to melatonin levels. The hotel is situated close to some of the city's best boutiques, art galleries and restaurants – great to discover together on foot, and returning to the hotel's incredibly relaxing ambiance.

A Secret Garden




On the idyllic coast of Koh Samui, 26 discreet, minimalist cabins hide amongst lush vegetation. The Library is an outpost for style, with a bold colour scheme emphasizing red and white elements, echoed by the signature red swimming pool and white library complex on-site. The new Bookmark suite is the hotel's most luxurious accommodation, where soft, flowing fabrics create a tactile contrast to sleek angular furnishings, and the impressive en-suite conservatory with Jacuzzi is why holidays in Thailand are a fantastic idea year round! The hotel can arrange western or traditional Thai-style weddings, with a golden beach, glimmering azure waters and the sound of crashing waves as an enchanting backdrop. Guests can enjoy the old-growth forest on the expansive 6,400 square meter grounds and the lively beach.

In Vino Veritas



In the heart of the charming and picturesque capital city of Funchal, The Vine is the ideal retreat on Madeira, the island of flowers. The hotel's namesake comes from the local vines used to make the world-renowned Madeira wine, and the four floors of the hotel feature design inspired by the seasonal changes of the island's vineyards. Vinotherapy treatments are offered at the hotel's spa, sure to detox and revitalize the body while relaxing and refreshing the mind. The island's stunning natural beauty provides the perfect romantic escape, with spectacular hiking trails through the lush nature. Back at the hotel, Uva, the rooftop restaurant with panoramic views of the harbour, offers "divine dining" using fresh produce from the island. Chef Antoine Westermann, distinguished with 3 Michelin stars, combines French savoir-faire with the best in regional fare.

A Play on Tradition



A mere 500 meters from the Gonsua beach, Alila Diwa Goa looks out to verdant paddy fields leading to the Arabian Sea. A blend of contemporary Goan architecture displays the region's rich cultural traditions within a verdant surrounding landscape, a great choice for a romantic retreat. From wedding ceremonies to honeymoons, Alila Diwa Goa has an array of facilities to make every occasion special. The resort's 153 guestrooms and suites located in three wings – the South, West and exclusive Diwa Club, each feature private balconies with superlative views of emerald green paddy fields. Couples can enjoy joint spa treatments blending ancient Asian healing techniques with traditional beauty recipes, or the views from the hotel's infinity pool while sipping on cocktails. The three on-site restaurants and poolside Edge Bar serve delectable global exotic cuisine.



Design Hotels™ Best Rate Guarantee
For reservations, please refer to the following webpage www.designhotels.com/romantic_escapes
or the appropriate Design Hotels™ toll-free number: 00 800 37 46 83 57

www.designhotels.com

www.madebyoriginals.com


December 10, 2012

Flight Centre Travel Group’s top 10 spots for 2013.


TRAVELLERS with a keen eye for emerging destinations should check out the Flight Centre Travel Group's top 10 spots for next year.

The list was created by the team at Flight Centre, according to three factors – what the company believes to be emerging hotspots, what its customers are enquiring about and what the travel industry is offering next year.

To get the most out of a holiday, speak to a Flight Centre travel consultant about cheap flights, accommodation options, cruise itineraries and private tours available this year.


1.     New Zealand

New Zealand has made it to many people's bucket lists for next year. This may be attributed to the availability and frequency of cheap flights across the Tasman, not to mention the plethora of activities to do.
Thrill-seekers have been getting their dose of adrenalin in Queenstown for decades, but the demand for family holidays and couples escapes has been growing each year.
Couples who enjoy the odd tipple can map out the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, from Hawke's Bay to Marlborough, while families are unearthing the Maori culture, visiting bubbling mud pools and taking part in sheep-shearing.
The travel industry is predicting a rush from die-hard movie fans of The Hobbit trilogy, after this film hits cinemas on Boxing Day.
Plus, cyclists will soon be able to navigate 19 new cycling paths, including gentle loops around Hawke's Bay wineries and unique geothermal landscapes, which form part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

INSIDER TIP: Wine and food lovers should check out Waiheke Island, just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland. This is a fantastic place to go with a group of friends or a few couples. Renting a house is easy, with plenty of properties offering great value for money, self-contained facilities and outstanding views across the ocean. Explore the wineries, olive groves, forest trails, farms and beaches or just enjoy the laid-back coastal vibe.

2.     Hong Kong


Hong Kong's calendar is buzzing with events year-round, from its Chinese New Year celebrations and Halloween bashes to international sports tournaments, such as the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

According to Hong Kong Tourism Board, 58% of Australian arrivals are a repeat visitor, which confirms the destinations popularity, so hopes are set high for 2013 as more people share their travel stories with friends and family.

The buzzing city of Macau is tipped to be hot on the travel radar, following the release of the new movie Skyfall, where James Bond plays his cards right in the Floating Dragon Casino.

From mid-2013, Hong Kong will open another cruise terminal at the former Kai Tak Runway on the East Kowloon waterfront to complement its Ocean Terminal. The new cruise terminal is expected to boost cruise tourism in Asia and encourage cruise passengers to extend their stay pre- or post-cruise in Hong Kong.

INSIDER TIP: If you want to witness the pizzazz of Hong Kong, visit during the annual Hong Kong Summer Spectacular from late June to late August to see the Dragon Boat Carnival and Lan Kwai Fong Beer & Music Festival. Or, if you love food and wine, visit during the Hong Kong Wine and Dine month in November.


3.     Cook Islands

Those looking for an island escape that offers a genuine taste of Polynesia and great value for money, should consider plunging into the Cook Islands.

Each year, the islands are welcoming more Aussies, with around 20,565 Australians visiting in the year ending at June 2012, up 22% on 2011 and 40% on 2010, according to Cook Islands Tourism.

The Cook Islands serve up the perfect blend of tropical highlights and recreational activities, so there is something for everyone, whether you want to snorkel year round among rainbow coloured parrotfish in clear turquoise lagoons, explore the mountains and jungles by foot or 4WD, eat some of the Pacific's best seafood and fresh produce from the lush plantations, or learn to dance as the locals all do.

The 15 islands are positioned halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, flanked by Samoa and Tahiti, and are roughly about six hours flying time from Australia in the Pacific Ocean and.

Getting there is easy, with Air New Zealand offering direct flights between Sydney and Rarotonga every Saturday, and services via Auckland, with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia.

INSIDER TIP: Water lovers looking for the ultimate paradise should venture across to the coral atoll of Aitutaki, home to only 1200 people. The island is famed for its giant triangular lagoon and diverse array of wildlife, including giant clams, turtles, yellow angelfish, blue starfish and white-spotted eagle rays.


4.     Queensland Islands

Bet you never thought to pitch a tent on one of the Great Barrier Reef islands, but this is a unique and affordable way to experience the world's largest coral reef system.

The demand for cheap holidays in our own backyard has risen in the past few years, as more people tighten their belts and opt to stay close-to-home when they travel.

Camping is a great way to save a few pennies and perfect for holidays with large groups.

From as little as $5, you can camp out under the stars on one of the Whitsunday Islands, as well as Lady Musgrave Island, Lizard Island, Dunk Island and Fitzroy Island. This is a portion of the price you would pay if you stayed at a luxury resort, which can set you back anywhere between $400 and $600 a night.

The Whitsundays are superbly equipped for caravanning and road trips too, so there is the option to camp or park at a holiday park at night and explore the drive trails by day.

INSIDER TIP: Booking a camping permit prior to your trip and book a spot on the islands can be done 11 months in advance. Facilities on the islands are good, but it's best to bring your own fresh water.


5.     Burma

Burma, or Myanmar, remains one of the world's most mysterious and untouched destinations.

The country is now on people's travel radars as a holiday destination, following the encouraging actions of President Thein Sein, who has put the country on the path to democracy.

Tour companies in Australia are reporting an overwhelming interest in travel to Burma already, following the release of new tours in the region, so predictions are that 2013 is going to be big.

Luxury hotels have started to pop up and remote areas are now accessible to travellers, however even the most populated Myanmar still feels authentic.

According to Burma's tourism authority, there were 816,000 international arrivals in the last year, which is up 30% on figures from 2011.

The county offers a mixed and colourful culture, with up to 135 different ethnicities, and its location between India, China and Thailand makes it the perfect an add-on for those wanting to explore all of Indochina.

INSIDER TIP: It's best to explore Burma with a reputable tour operator. These companies organise guided treks into surrounding hill tribe areas, so travellers have the opportunity to share stories with the village people, explore the floating markets and learn the history of monasteries, pagodas and Buddhist temples.


6.     Hawaiian Islands

Aussies are flocking back to Hawaii. Anyone visiting the nation in the past year would have heard Aussie accents everywhere, especially on the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island.

According to Hawaii Tourism Australia, visitor numbers from Australia have grown dramatically, with records at October 31, 2012 showing around 33% increase on the previous year.

Hawaiian Airlines began its Brisbane to Honolulu route in November 2012 and just announced added services on the Sydney to Honolulu route to begin in April and May 2013.

Jetstar will launch Melbourne to Honolulu flights in mid December and continue to fly five times per week from Sydney to Honolulu. Qantas has three flights per week from Sydney to Honolulu.

Experts say the trend has been for Aussies to book a holiday to Hawaii that includes at least two Islands.

Getting to Hawaii's four main islands is very easy, with short 30 to 50-minute inter-island flights departing from Honolulu regularly.

INSIDER TIP: Hawaii Island, the 'Island of Adventure', is the place to explore Hawaii's only active volcano. Kauai, known as the 'The Garden Isle', is a place to rejuvenate body and spirit, inviting you to renew your connection with nature, while Maui, the 'Magic Isle' has been voted the best island in the world by travellers and magazines and has a small population, making it a great place to escape the crowds.


7.     Morocco

New luxury campsites, boutique souks and lavish hotels have sprung up across Morocco in the past year, which has all signs pointing to another big year in travel.

Travellers who want a taste of Africa are spicing up their holiday with a side trip across to the region to explore the Atlas Mountains, take part is cooking lessons and camp out in the desert.

The new 73-suite Delano Marrakech, decorated in velvet drapes, marble floors and intricate carvings, features a rooftop bar with panoramic views across the medina to the Atlas Mountains and beyond.

The Selman Marrakech is another new glamourous country estate that opened this year, run by a Moroccan family and home to 16 Arabian horses.

Safari seekers should check out the Sahara Safari Camp in the Draa Valley, near Zagora and Tagounite. This luxury tented wilderness camp has excellent eco-credentials, featuring bio-toilets, solar lighting and local produce, as well as partnerships with the tribal community to help minimise impact on the land.

INSIDER TIP: Visit Essaouira, a laid-back little port on Morocco's Atlantic coast. It's a magnet for musicians, mainly because it hosts an array of music festivals all year round, from a classical music festival in April to an exuberant jazz and world music festival in late June to a gypsy and flamenco-based festival in October.


8.     Abu Dhabi

Aussies are curious about The Middle East, for its cosmopolitan lifestyle and forward-thinking infrastructure, so the destination has been a generating a lot of interest.

Whether you are into camel trekking or culture, Abu Dhabi  is welcoming more Australians who want to see its attractions, including Emirates Palace, the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

According to the Emirates tourism authority, the number of guests staying in Abu Dhabi hotels reached a new record in the first nine months of the year ending June 2012.

Each year, sporting events like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, HSBC Golf Championships and Abu Dhabi International Triathlon are encourage tourists from around the world to visit the nation.

INSIDER TIP: Take the plunge at the new Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi. The waterpark on Yas Island is set to open in January 2013 and rumoured to be the world's biggest water parks, featuring 43 rides, slides and attractions.



9.     Côte d'Azur

Rather than just flying to the main cities in Europe, many travellers are looking to get more out of their holidays. A popular option is to hire a car and drive along the Cote D'Azur, better known as the French Riviera.

Chic and elegant, the destination is famous for its rich and beautiful lifestyle, from its lavish resorts to balmy beaches and perfumed streets.

The popular towns of Nice, Cannes, St Tropez and Monte Carlo draw a well-heeled crowd, but history buffs can get lost in the stunning old town of Antibes or pay their respects to Grace Kelly in Monaco.

INSIDER TIP: Independent travel is a great way to explore southern France, so consider staying in Nice and planning day trips to the nearby towns. Watch out for peak summer periods, as the Parisians head south for their holidays.


10.  Family themed cruises

Cruise holidays have created big waves in the travel market in the past year or two, but 2013 is expected to be big for families.

Parents have caught on to benefits of an all-inclusive cruise package, as well the idea that you can sail to more than one destination without have to catch several planes and trains to get there.

Disney Cruise Lines' itineraries in the USA and Europe are a popular choice with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck fans. On board, kids will have the chance to meet their favourites Disney characters at breakfast appearances, themed shows, photo sessions and outdoor movie sessions.

From Australia, Royal Caribbean International's ships feature DreamWorks characters from Shrek, Madagascar and more. Interactive classes and enriching activities designed by Fisher-Price are featured at kids clubs on board, such as the Royal Babies for bubs aged from 6 to 18 months or the Royal Tots for babies from 18 to 36 months.

In addition, Carnival Cruises' ships have some of the fastest and steepest waterslides on any cruise ship, as well as a 9-hole putt putt golf course and pool parties for kids.

INSIDER TIP: Cruising with the kids is very affordable, so plan out your preferred travel dates and destination, and then speak to a cruise expert about which ships and itineraries are available to you. Most family discounts tend to be promotions for early bookings, rather than last-minute specials, so sign up to newsletters to keep informed.



PHONE FLIGHT CENTRE ON 1300 939 414 OR SPEAK TO A CONSULTANT AT YOUR NEAREST STORE.

VISIT OUR TRAVEL BLOG AT www.flightcentre.com.au/travel-news/destinations/top-destinations-for-2013/.

Case of the Island That Never Was


David Ellis

A 19TH century whaling ship, Sydney University, today's Australian Hydrographic Service, a New Zealand museum researcher, and for good measure Google, would appear pretty-much unlikely bedfellows.

Now chuck in suggestions of the CIA and it becomes an even less-likely mix.

But just such a mix came to light recently when scientists from the University of Sydney sailed aboard the Hydrographic Service's vessel to research a relatively small blob shown on most charts, maps and even Google Earth as Sandy Island. And it was interesting because most unusually for such a small surface area it rose straight out of South Pacific waters a whopping 1,400m deep.

But when they got to where they expected to find their island or reef, they found they had something of a quandary on their hands: there was neither island, nor reef.

Nothing. Just deep blue ocean – despite "Sandy Island" having been shown on most ocean charts as far back as the late 1800s, and brought into the 20th and 21st centuries by the wonders of Google Earth mapping.

And we say "most ocean charts," because equally strangely those many charts put it in French territorial waters between Australia and French-governed New Caledonia… yet the French do not acknowledge it on any of their maritime charts.

Puzzled, the Australian scientists returned to Sydney to try to find what had happened to their once-was-now-isn't blob. And rather than returning with exciting new scientific information about Sandy Island, they had to report that what was a new island in the 19th century, had in the 21st century become The Island That Never Was.

How this ghost blob came to be on official charts in the first place appears to go back to 1877 when the captain of the whaling ship Velocity returned to his home port of Hobart, and reported sighting "heavy breakers" and "sandy islets" at a point between Australia and New Caledonia. He had even detailed the spot on his ship's charts – and passed the information on to others he knew sailed the South Seas to help them with their navigation.

Then 31 years later in 1908, the object that Captain J.W. Robinson had detailed after a near-year-long voyage in the South Pacific in 1876 and 1877 suddenly appeared on an official British Admiralty chart issued in London.

And it remained there until now, being copied and transferred to most other maps and charts that had any semblance of British inheritance.

Enter Shaun Higgins, a pictorial librarian at the Auckland Museum who read about the Sydney researchers' Island That Never Was in one of many articles in newspapers across the South Pacific, in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and even on the BBC's World Service.

Intrigued he started looking up old documents, and found the British Admiralty chart dated 1908 that depicted "Sandy Island" as a dotted circle… an indication that, at that time, it was possibly a reef and thus a hazard to shipping.

And Mr Higgins also discovered an even earlier Admiralty Hydrographic Department South Pacific directory dated 1879 that referred to "Sandy Island," which it noted the Master of the Velocity had reported while sailing east of Chesterfield and Bampton Reefs – that were already known and surveyed.

Mr Higgins says that Captain Robinson would most likely have been using a sextant and compass for navigation, and could possibly have got his co-ordinates wrong. "As whalers were often the first explorers in many South Pacific areas, as a responsible master, Captain Robinson would have taken note of islands or reefs he believed were uncharted," Mr Higgins said.

"So that his 'Sandy Island' could in fact have been closer to either the Chesterfield or Bampton Reefs," he said. "And therefore further west than where he'd marked it, and part of one of those reefs."

And as the BBC's Australian correspondent, Duncan Kennedy reported, cartographers are now "rushing to un-discover Sandy Island," and removing it from all maps, charts and Google Earth.

But what of the CIA and our Island That Never Was?

One loony British report suggested that "Sandy Island" could have been "removed" from the face of the earth by the CIA – after being used by the service as a secret electronic base to spy on shipping around Asia...

Well, it is the Silly Season.

………………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] OFFICIAL maritime chart showing "Sandy Island" in the South Pacific… but in fact, it isn't.

[] VELOCITY, the whaling ship that started it all lays in "dry dock" in Hobart.

Photos: Wikimedia


December 07, 2012

Airstream trailers: To move like a stream of air


The Founder of Airstream, Wally Byam, had a dream to create lightweight travel trailers that slipped cleanly through the wind. And with it was born another dream, one of new freedoms, new places, new experiences, and new friendships. It was a dream so powerful and so enduring that it did far more than create a new way to travel; it created a new way of life shared by thousands upon thousands of families.

In 1929, Wally Byam purchased a Model T Ford chassis, built a platform on it, towed it with his car to a campsite, and painstakingly erected a tent on it. The effort was tiresome and unpleasant, especially when it rained. Spurred on by his first wife Marion, Wally built a tear-drop-shaped permanent shelter on the platform that enclosed a small ice chest and kerosene stove. He then published an article that ran under the headline, "How to Build a Trailer for One Hundred Dollars." Readers wrote to Wally for more detailed instruction plans, which he sold at a cost of one dollar each.

The response was extraordinary, earning him more than $15,000. After building several trailers for friends in his backyard, "the neighbours started complaining that I was making too much noise," Wally observed, "so I went out and rented a building." Airstream Trailer Company went into full production in 1932, when fewer than 48 trailer manufacturers were registered for business. Five years later, nearly 400 companies squared off against each other. Today, of those 400, only Airstream remains.

Let's only make improvements

Anecdotes are legion about Wally's passion for product innovation. "Let's not make changes, let's make only improvements," was his familiar refrain. In quest of these, Wally scoured the world looking for efficient hot water heaters, door hinges, butane lamps, chemical toilets, small porcelain sinks and chairs — myriad large and small items that would make an Airstream more functional and liveable. In Europe he discovered a heating system that took up little space but gave off plenty of radiant heat. He borrowed the design, improved it, and renamed it the Byam Burner.

In France he spied a compact gas refrigerator manufactured by Dometic. He arranged for the refrigerators to be installed in Airstreams, making an end to ice-electric refrigerators that required travellers to be constantly on the prowl for ice. More than 50 years later, Dometic still supplies refrigerators to Airstream.

When nothing suitable was available on the world market, Wally urged someone to manufacture it. In 1954 he persuaded Max Bowen, president of Bowen Water Heater Co., to develop the first workable hot water system for a trailer. Other innovations were brought directly to him by customers. Frank Sargent, an engineer, approached Wally in 1960 with a novel toilet valve that used steam pressure for flushing waste into a holding tank. Sargent's Thetford toilets have been used in Airstream models since the 1961 model year. Wally tallied several inventions of his own, including the idea of a flat-sided underbelly to reduce wind resistance, and an 18 x 40 inch escape window in the back of the trailer in case the side door was jammed.

International Signature


Quality, innovation, and design

The list of "firsts" in the trailer industry attributed to Airstream is a long one, including the first holding tank, the first ladder frame, the first pressurized water system, and the first fully self-contained travel trailer — the 1957 Airstream International. "Self-containment" was a term Wally had coined to describe full freedom from external trailer hook-ups, such as outside sources of power. He once said he wanted to build a trailer that "my lovely old grandmother might tow … to the middle of the Gobi Desert, there to live in gracious metropolitan luxury … without reloading, refuelling, recharging or regretting."

Nearly 80 years after its backyard beginnings, Airstream maintains an unwavering commitment to the tenets upon which it was founded: Quality, Innovation, and Design.

A who’s who and what’s what

Overseas celebrity owners of Airstream include Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Matthew McConaughey, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Lenny Kravitz and Sandra Bullock while in Europe Today Celebrity occupants include George Michael, Hugh Grant and Gerri Halliwell.

The most recognised aluminium travel trailer in the world has featured in numerous movies and television shows including NBC’s Grey’s Anatomy and CSI LA. In season three of The Apprentice, Donald Trump challenged contestants to create mobile business ventures using Airstreams. They have appeared in numerous films including Charlie’s Angels, Independence Day and Wall Street II.

For many years a customised Airstream was prominently displayed at MTV’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California and a 1960 Airstream Bambi is part of a permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art for excellence in style and design.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong and members of Apollo 11 were quarantined for three weeks in a specially built Airstream after returning from the first voyage to the moon.

Several specially built Airstreams are commonly used to transport American officials around the world. Strapped down inside military cargo planes Airstreams have transported Vice Presidents, First Ladies, Generals and Admirals in comfort. First Lady Laura Bush travelled cocooned inside her personal Airstream which had been installed inside the transport aircraft when visiting the troops in Afghanistan in 2008.

Australian website: http://AandA.com.au

US website: www.airstream.com

December 05, 2012

Struth! Bottled History Resurfaces


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that a beachcombing couple in New Zealand have miraculously saved a note in a bottle that's been floating goodness-only-knows-where for the past three-quarters of a century…

Geoff Flood and Leanne McAlees found the bottle on Ninety Mile Beach in the country's far north earlier this month, and most amazing was that the note was still dry and readable even though the bottle's cork had been pushed back inside the bottle. "Another high tide and it could have been swamped and the note inside ruined and lost forever," said Mr Flood.

Dated March 17, 1936 – that's 76 years ago – the note was written on paper with a P&O company logo and a picture of its liner, SS Strathnaver that sailed between the UK and Australia. It was signed H.E. Hillbrick, and asked that if found it be forwarded, with details of where found and when, to Mr Hillbrick at an address in Leederville, Western Australia.

And although Mr Hillbrick has long since departed this world, Mr Flood tracked down a distant member of Herbert Ernest Hillbrick who said he was "very excited" about the find, but had no idea where his forebear may have tossed the bottle overboard between Australia and England.

And STRUTH can reveal that Mr Hillbrick was an employee of the Western Australian Railways, that he died in 1941, and that coincidentally the mother of his wife, Ethel Louise Porter migrated to Australia from, where else but, New Zealand… making for another of life's little coincidences.

(Photo shows Geoff Flood's son, Shayde aged 5, with bottle and note, and the late Herbert "Bert" Ernest Hillbrick and family.)


Struth! Gingy Hungry for Travel


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a pint-sized doll in the shape of a gingerbread man – and appropriately named Gingy – looks set to become Australia's most-travelled doll companion.

Travel industry publication Travel Daily broke the story of Gingy this month after its journalist, Matt Lennon ran into the little bloke in Fiji where he was attending a conference of TravelManagers travel agents with Brisbane-based Personal Travel Manager, Gayle Dawson – who'd come up with idea of sharing Gingy around members to help them network on a more personal level.

Gayle says Gingy has been inundated with offers of trips, and that in just a few months has been with TravelManagers members to places as diverse as Phuket, Egypt, Fiji and Nimbin… and is booked up for the next six months for jaunts  to Hawaii, Hong Kong, Disneyland – and on a luxury ocean cruise.

And she says he insists that wherever he goes, a photo is sent back home to show agency members the wonderful time he's having enjoying the good life.

(Photos show Gingy with Gayle in Fiji – and lapping it up poolside in Egypt.)


December 04, 2012

What happens when three crazy guys on three yachts set sail for the South Pacific?

Dancing across the South Pacific

Sailing to paradise with humor as your guide


What do you get when you put three crazy guys on three yachts with dreams of a sailing adventure around the South Pacific? Enough stories to last a lifetime!

Canadian Alan Boreham, Australian Peter Jinks and New Zealander Bob Rossiter set off from different points in the world—one on his first high seas adventure, one racing aboard a classic wooden yacht, and one in the company of a Hollywood star.

"We encountered people so unusual that you couldn't hope to invent them," says Boreham. "We decided we wanted to share these sailing experiences and these characters with people who would never have the opportunity to venture out there themselves."

Beer in the Bilges offers a fascinating glimpse into sailing voyages where three men have to rely on their skills, their wit and, most importantly, on each other.

"These real life sailing adventures, both funny and dramatic, introduce you to curious characters and peculiar situations in remote parts of the idyllic South Pacific," Jinks says.

These stories, a mix of humor and drama, will provide readers with a temporary escape from their world.

"This book takes a comical, honest, edgy and at times irreverent approach," says Rossiter. "While some or all of us are featured in each chapter, we are generally only a vehicle to introduce the interesting people, situations and places we experienced in our travels."

One of the classic yachts featured prominently in the book, the Ron of Argyll, has hosted many interesting guests during its life, one of which was Marilyn Monroe. The other featured yacht is Yankee Tar, owned by Hollywood actor Hal Holbrook, who, with his wife Dixie Carter, donated it to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia in 2006.

Beer in the Bilges
By Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks and Bob Rossiter
370 pages
Hardcover 6x9, retail price: $34.95
Paperback 6x9, retail price: $24.95
E-book, retail price: $3.99
ISBN: 9781475928815

Available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

December 03, 2012

ON TRACK TO 150 YEARS OF WELSH HISTORY


David Ellis

WHEN a group of Welsh businessmen decided in 1863 to use steam engines to haul slate from the mountainous inland of Wales to export wharves on the coast, there was much chortling from cynics across the border in England.

Amongst them was Robert Stephenson, son of railway pioneer George Stephenson and who like his father was a railway engineer and locomotive builder, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer responsible for England's Great Western Railway.

The reason for their mirth was that they were building trains that would run on tracks a generous 4-feet-8½-inches wide (1435mm) giving comfort and speed for long passenger and freight trains pulled by large and powerful locomotives, while the steam railway proposed for Wales would run on puny, unstable things of under a mere 2-feet (597mm.)

"Locomotives for such a narrow line will not have the power to haul wagons loaded with heavy slate," the critics scoffed. "It is all an unsafe folly."

But with booming demand for slate, the Welsh ordered four Lilliputian-size steam engines for their Ffestiniog Railway Company (in Welsh Rheilffyrdd Ffestiniog Ac Eryrl) – until then their "slate trains" were operated by a simple combination of horse-power and gravity.

And as if the ghosts of those rail pioneers are today rubbing the noses of their detractors into the slate their little trains once hauled, Ffestiniog is now the world's oldest surviving railway company, next March celebrates 150 years since the introduction of its first steam engine – and as a member of The Great Little Trains of Wales is one of Britain's major tourist attractions, with its sister company the Welsh Highland Railway carrying 300,000 guests a year between them.

And that tiny first steam engine, that was called Princess and which went into operation in 1863, is still around today, currently enjoying a make-over for those 150th anniversary celebrations after somewhat bizarrely being "conserved" since 1981 in the bar of a Welsh pub.

When the "railway" first opened in 1832 slate mined from around the mountains of North Wales was loaded into rail wagons at Blaenau Ffestiniog, and allowed to free-run by gravity 13½ miles (21.7km) downhill to the wharves of Porthmadog – with two brakemen in a rear wagon controlling their speed.

And a horse was carried in another wagon called a "dandy," to haul the eight empty wagons those 21-odd kilometres back up to the mines.

But such was world demand for Welsh slate, particularly for making roofing tiles, that the rail company realised it needed to get its trains back into the mountains faster than its horses could haul them, and decided in 1863 on its diminutive little steam engines.

They proved an instant success, and it's known that many visitors to Wales would also request a quite illegal ride into the mountains in the empty steam-hauled slate wagons, prompting the railway to build pint-sized passenger carriages that it added to its slate trains to earn extra income from locals and tourists.

But by the 1940s new roofing materials were replacing slate, many overseas markets had been lost during two world wars, tourists in the 1930s had turned to the motor-car and charabancs (long wheel-base, open-air sightseeing vehicles,) and the little trains of the Ffestiniog Railway were considered out-dated and run-down.

Thus the railway closed in 1946 – but dedicated rail enthusiasts refused to see it die, and miraculously between 1954 and 1982 re-opened it by largely volunteer labour section-by-section along nine stations as a tourist line. And as part of the track had been submerged when a new dam was built, they also had to construct a 4km deviation and blast a 280m long tunnel through solid granite.

Three of the original steam engines were also restored together with recovered historic carriages and put back into service, while others including a unique double-ended Fairlie were more slowly restored for increasing tourist runs from Porthmadog through the spectacular Snowdonia National Park to Ffestiniog.

The first, Princess was not deemed capable of running again and was spruced up and "conserved" in the bar of Spooner's Pub in Porthmadog – where it remained until several weeks ago, when it was moved to London for a make-over to look nice for next year's 150th anniversary celebrations of the world's first narrow gauge steam railway.

Details on www.festrail.co.uk.

……………….

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] FFESTINIOG Railway Little Train in spectacular Snowdonia National Park. (Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Company)

[] DWARFED by the mountains, a Little Train appears even smaller. (Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Company)

[] FFESTINIOG Railway restored Little Train readies for a tourist run – note how the driver just fits in. (Photo: David Ellis)

[] HISTORIC photo of Ffestiniog Railway Company's first-ever steam engine, Princess in Porthmadog 1870. (Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Company)

[] PRINCES all tidied up and "conserved" in Spooner's Pub in Porthmadog for 31 years. (Photo: Spooner's Pub, Harbour Station, Porthmadog)

[] UNIQUE early double-ended Fairlie steam engine, restored and back in service. (Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Company)

[] HOW horses travelled down the track from Ffestiniog to Porthmadog to haul empty slate wagons back to the mines. (Photo: National Railway Museum.)

 

November 27, 2012

Fairmont Château Laurier: A Story of Timeless Elegance



Building a grand château in turn-of-the-century Ottawa could only begin with the vision and foresight of a strong and ambitious individual. Charles Melville Hays an American who ventured to Canada as the General Manager of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway of Canada had that vision. Hays wanted to extend the Grand Trunk Railway to the West Coast and build several railway stations and deluxe hotels in all the major cities along the way.

After dismissing the originally commissioned American firm of Bradford Lee Gilbert, Hays hired Ross and Macfarlane of Montreal to take over the design of the Château. That design combined the French Renaissance style with the neo-Gothic vertical lines of the Parliament Buildings. No expense was spared to make the Château a truly luxurious hotel. Builders used granite blocks, white Italian marble, light buff Indiana limestone and copper for the roof. The elegant Château was furnished with antiques, a travertine marble staircase with brass railing, Czechoslovakian crystal and Sèvres vases. Unfortunately, Hays never had the chance to see his dream come true. Days before the hotel was scheduled to open on April 26, 1912, the new president of the railway was returning from England on the ill-fated Titanic. Hays and the male members of his party perished on April 14, 1912.

The grand opening was delayed until June 1, 1912. Hundreds of people flocked to see Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s seventh Prime Minister, officially open the hotel. A renowned French sculptor, Paul Romaine Chevré had been commissioned to create a bust of Laurier for the lobby of the hotel. On opening day, moments before Laurier went for a private viewing of the bust workmen dropped the statue and the nose was grossly chipped. Unaware of the mishap, Laurier was terribly insulted when he saw the bust. Nonetheless, Laurier was the first to sign the hotel’s guest register and the marble statue was repaired.

The regal Château changed the face of downtown Ottawa lending a new elegance and sophistication to the city. The building costs totaled $2 million. The 306 rooms, priced at $2 per night, were among the first hotel rooms to offer indoor plumbing. Ottawa finally had a hotel fit for a capital city.

In 1919, Canadian National Railways assumed control of several railways and Grand Trunk Hotels, including the Château Laurier. In 1929, Montreal architect, John Archibald, and CN's own architect, John Schofield, adapted a design for expansion of the hotel. An East Wing and 240 rooms were added and the shape of the hotel changed from an “L” shape into a “U” shape. The Château also opened a state of the art spa. The art deco swimming pool, now part of the Health Club, was the spectacular centerpiece of the spa built with pale pink Tennessee marble walls and dark green marble pillars. A gallery with hand-wrought brass railing surrounded the pool with a Greek fountain at one end. Visitors relaxed on the chaises longues warmed by sunlight emitted from overhead brass lamps.

Since its opening, Fairmont Château Laurier has hosted a prestigious list of politicians, heads of state, royalty and entertainers. The hotel has often been dubbed "the third chamber of Parliament" because of the politicians who regularly roam the corridors. Within its walls, political deals have been consummated, careers launched or destroyed and governments created and dissolved. The hotel has been home to former Prime Ministers Richard Bedford (R.B.) Bennett and Pierre Trudeau. King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and her consort Prince Philip, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, The King and Queen of Siam and former U.S. President Hoover have all graced the hotel registry.

Three films have been shot at the hotel: Captains of the Clouds, starring James Cagney, Little Gloria: Happy at Last and H2O, staring Paul Gross. The star-studded guest list over the years includes Shirley Temple, Harry Belafonte, Marlene Deitrich, Churchill, Billy Bishop, Karen Kain, Roger Moore, Bryan Adams, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Felipe Calderon, Yo-Yo Ma, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Santana just to name of few.

CBC Radio broadcast from Fairmont Château Laurier’s seventh floor for 80 years, until moving to their new location on Sparks Street. World-class portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh lived at the Château for 18 years. He also operated his studio from the sixth floor; there he photographed international celebrities between 1970 and 1992. Karsh gave seven of his famous portraits to the hotel when he moved in 1998. Years later, his wife Estrellita gifted an addition eight portraits to the hotel. These outstanding images are now part Fairmont Château Laurier’s history and are located in the Reading Lounge and the Karsh Suite.

Fairmont Château Laurier continues to set a benchmark for luxury accommodation and impeccable service in the hospitality industry. As a heritage building, the hotel is a vital part of Canadian history and a stunning landmark in Ottawa. For nearly a century, the Fairmont Château Laurier’s stateliness, regal beauty and charm have captured the hearts of guests from around the world.

Did you know?
• Sir Wilfrid Laurier threatened not to sign the guest registry for the hotel’s opening because he was not happy with his nose on the bust created in his honor. The bust was promptly repaired to his liking to ensure his signature and presence at the opening.
• People always ask about unique requests, this one would qualify…Rudolph Nureyev requested an extra large bed on which to practice his routine before a big performance in Ottawa.
• The story of an underground tunnel is true! The hotel is linked to the Parliament buildings by a steam pipe tunnel. Of course this location is secured and locked, but it does indeed exist.
• When the hotel first opened there were separate sleeping quarters for men and women, as well as a separate entrance for female guests.
• When the hotel first opened, bedrooms were sold at a rate of $2.00 per night.
• Famous photographer Yousuf Karsh, not only lived in the hotel for 18 years, he also operated his studio from the sixth floor of the hotel from 1973 until 1992.
• Charles Melville Hays, general manager of the Grand Truck Railway and visionary behind the hotel, perished on the Titanic while returning from England. The hotel opening was delayed from April 26, 1912 to June 1, 1912 out of respect for his family. Some say his spirit lives on in the hotel.

Charles Melville Hays: More Than Just Trains


Charles Melville Hays was a prime architect of the great Canadian railroad expansion. Hays was born in Rock Island, Illinois, on May 16, 1856. At the age of 17, he joined "the road" in the office of the superintendent of the Missouri Pacific Railway. He was identified early in his career as a rising star because of his great enthusiasm. He married Clara J., daughter of William H Gregg of St-Louis, on October 13, 1881. In 1884, he moved to the Wabash St-Louis and Pacific Railway as secretary to the general manager. Hays was appointed general manager of the entire Wabash Railway system following an 1889 reorganisation.

Grand Trunk was financed by British capital. The board of directors met in London, England and decisions affecting the road were made overseas. This absence proved inefficient. Company directors were never fully aware of the day-to-day problems of running a Canadian railway. In an effort to improve operations, general manager L.J. Seargent moved to England to serve as board advisor. Grand Trunk then invited Hays to fill the vacant position. He accepted the offer without hesitation.

His mandate was to improve the balance sheet for the railway's shareholders. While this rebuilding process may have dismayed lesser men, Hays accepted the challenge with his legendary enthusiasm. No detail escaped his critical eye. He hired many Americans and imposed a faster, more informal style. Always the first into the office, he was a tireless manager, listening to everyone from his colleagues to engine drivers.

Hays recognized the need for a Grand Trunk transcontinental railway due to the tremendous growth in western Canada. He knew competitors such as CP and the Canadian Northern Railway would drive Grand Trunk out of business unless action was taken. In 1903, with support of the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was formed to complete a route to the Pacific Ocean.

Hays saw more to the railways than just trains. He envisioned grand hotels and railway stations situated at key points along the line to complement the trains. CP had shown that hotels such as Quebec City's Château Frontenac and the Banff Springs Hotel in the Canadian Rockies were popular and profitable business ventures.

Fairmont Château Laurier
Hays' initial plans called for construction of seven hotels. The flagship hotel would be built in the nation's capital. Designed in an attractive French Gothic style, the Château Laurier would be built in the center of the city next to Parliament Hill. The train station would be located directly across the street and would be connected by an underground tunnel.

An early supporter was Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who saw this project as a way to add prestige to Canada's capital. Naming the hotel after Sir Wilfrid was an unusual distinction as his Liberal government was still in power. The Château's lobby would be (and still is) adorned with a marble bust of its namesake.

In the spring of 1912, Hays sailed to Britain with his wife Clara, his daughter Orian, 28, and her husband Thornton Davidson. Davidson was a 32 year-old stockbroker and former hockey player of the Montreal Victorias who was being groomed for an executive position with Grand Trunk.

They were invited to make the return trip as the private guests of White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay on the ill-fated Titanic. Hays gladly accepted an invitation to travel on the lavish ship, as it was scheduled to arrive in New York in time for the Château's grand opening.

Fate dealt the opening ceremonies a heavy hand the night of April 14 when the White Star liner R.M.S. Titanic grazed an iceberg. Within three hours, the so-called unsinkable ship sank, taking the life of Grand Trunk president Charles Melville Hays. There was initial hope for Hays after a wireless message was received in Montreal claiming he survived. The truth emerged in the headlines of the Montreal Daily Star when they announced "ABANDON HOPE FOR C.M. HAYS."

The entire Grand Trunk system halted for five minutes at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 25 to pay silent tribute to the late president while a memorial service was being held at the American Presbyterian Church in Montreal. All opening ceremonies of the Château were cancelled once the news of the disaster reached Ottawa. It was not until six weeks later that a modest opening was held and Sir Wilfrid Laurier was the first to sign the register.

November 26, 2012

VANUATU: COCKTAIL PARTY BRINGS TEARS TO THE EYES

David Ellis

WE'VE mates in this travel scribbling game who delight in reminiscing about cocktail parties they've spilled their way through over the years: The Ritz in London, Raffles in Singapore, with Santa Claus on Finland's Arctic Circle, and even with Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs at his hideaway in Rio, to name a few…

But the one that's stored most fondly in our memory is not from some plush 5-star metropolitan hotel, nor from encounters with the popular or infamous. Rather it's from a miniscule dot that lays in the sun in the middle of Vanuatu's Port Vila harbour.

Iririki Island Resort just off Vila's CBD – if you can call the hub of this sleepy little South Pacific paradise a CBD – abounds with lush tropical vegetation, a poolside café and bar, a restaurant named after the famed author James A. Michener (complete with a framed letter from the man himself thanking them for the honour,) and to one side a collection of thatch-roofed tropical bungalows hillside or over-water and outfitted with all mod cons.

A lot of years ago we happened to be there on a Monday evening and were invited to the then-General Manager's welcome cocktails for newly-arrived guests. As we were chatting with he and other guests, one asked if he knew who was a particular lady who had just entered the room.

He said he did not, but could find out, but the guest told him not to worry – she just felt she had seen that lady somewhere before, possibly in the suburb in which she lived in Australia, or maybe in the press or on TV. It was no big deal, she'd said, adding: "It's just that you know how you can sometimes feel someone's familiar, but you can't put your finger on just how or why?"

As the evening progressed and guests began to drift off to dine at the resort or over in town, it left maybe a dozen of us who soon grouped together, including the lady who had made the enquiry of the other and who now had the opportunity to meet her.

But as soon as she did so she quickly admitted – aloud – that she had obviously made a mistake in thinking she had seen her somewhere before: the second lady had a quite  pronounced Canadian accent, and volunteered that she was on her first-ever visit to the South Pacific.

"I came to visit my daughter in Australia, and thought I'd also see something of the islands as well," she said.

And as is usual in such circumstances, someone made small talk by enquiring politely as to where she was from, and was given a run-down of her home town, her family in Canada and Australia, and how much she was loving visit.

Then she added that while she was Canadian, she was actually born in England and adopted by a Canadian couple when a toddler after her parents were killed during a WWII air-raid on their town just outside London. And that while they'd lost their parents, she and her sister had miraculously survived.

Again there were the usual muttered condolences and expressions of how sad it must have been, particularly for she and her sister being sent to Canada and adopted.

"Yes," she said. "With no other relatives the church took us, and as there was a lot of money to be made from adoptions, I was sent to Canada, and I believe my sister to Australia for adoption, but I never saw her again."

The Australian lady then mentioned how she, too, had lost her parents in an air-raid outside of London, how she too had been adopted and taken to Australia, and yes even how she, likewise, had never seen her sister again.

And as she unfolded the details of her life, the Canadian lady burst out: "But those are the details of MY life – that was my town, that was the day my parents died, I thought my sister had gone to Australia… oh my God, you are my missing sister!"

A few more queries, a few more answers and all was confirmed – as fresh celebratory  Champagne flowed from the GM, and as did the tears of joy from the rest of us for the re-united sisters.

………………….

Photo captions:

[] IRIRIKI Island Resort, a miniscule dot in Port Vila Harbour – but what a story to tell.

[] DELIGHTFUL over-water bungalows with all mod cons.

[] MICHENER'S Restaurant at Iririki, complete with a framed letter from the man himself thanking them for the honour.

[] ROOM with a view: dining at Michener's.

(All images: Iririki Island Resort)





November 20, 2012

Flying Mile High Club


A recent campaign by Asia Pacific's and MENA's leading travel search site Wego, has revealed that airline passengers are still quite partial to becoming members of the mile high club.

This fascination of experiencing one of life's ultimate pleasures at 35,000 feet sees no sign of waning as around 15 per cent of respondents from a total of 3,000 in the Asia Pacific region told Wego they'd witnessed some form of sexual conduct on an aircraft.

Many reported the inevitable sight of two people entering a bathroom together followed by a lot of banging and squealing, although in-seat 'activities' underneath a blanket were also very common. Some occurrences were even more blatant such as a woman straddling a friend in business class on a Sydney to London flight, another was asked to join the mile high club by a stranger while waiting in line at the toilet.


More creative encounters included a suggestive lipstick message on a toilet mirror unexpectedly viewed by an elderly lady when the young man ahead of her (for who it was intended), allowed her to use the bathroom first, a couple who hadn't locked the door properly only to fall out on the floor half naked to the amusement and applause of the entire aircraft, an ex-cabin crew member who discovered two men in a wheelchair closet, and even a couple flat out under the blankets stretched across three seats.

Wego also captured some interesting relatable sexual experiences included lacy underwear left on a seat, in-flight lap dances on a buck's party trip, an older man carrying a life size female inflatable doll that he purchased a seat for, and frightened passengers reporting a strange noise in the overhead locker, discovered to be an operating vibrator in a woman's handbag.

One man reported that the male passengers on his flight were left very distracted after two girls emerged quite ruffled from a toilet, and another said his girlfriend was so upset by the turbulence on a flight to New Zealand that she demanded he accompany her to the bathroom and 'distract' her.

Much debate still surrounds the legality of the practice although research indicates there's a dependence on individual country laws and also just how visible the act is to other passengers which can fall under 'public sex' laws. At least two of Wego's respondents witnessed couples being escorted by police from flights into Australia as a result of in-flight sex, yet the thrill of being caught is supposedly part of the attraction.

Overall respondents to Wego's campaign were not offended by the act, if anything all were rather amused but confessed to being somewhat surprised. Interestingly only a handful of respondents admitted to the act itself, while others bore witness and happily shared their stories.

November 17, 2012

Bangkok Nonstop




Bangkok is full of surprises. With the recent political confrontations prompting vigorous debate about Thailand’s reputation as the ‘Land of Smiles,’ that sounds like an understatement. But one of its greatest attractions is a non-stop capacity to amaze. The pulsating urban energy comes from Thai culture’s ability to absorb dramatic change and outside influence while keeping its vital essence.

Throughout a roller-coaster history, Bangkok has survived many harrowing turns — not least the Asian economic crash of 1997 — and rebounded not just fast, but with flair. This time, as soon as the Red Shirt rally ended in late May, the city sprang back up on its feet, dusted itself down and applied its irrepressibly positive, practical spirit. Within days, Bangkok began to recoup the zesty character that has made it one of the most visited, awarded and fondly regarded world cities.

To the millions who have visited or lived here, Bangkok appeared unfamiliar as the protests escalated. That’s true of any city during a spasm of political unrest. Yet most of Bangkok stayed untouched throughout. In the aftermath, most of the Ratchaprasong and Siam Square shopping districts remain intact and operating as before. Returning visitors will recognise the city they remember.

Shopping mall operators and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration have provided space for displaced shop-owners to maintain their businesses. Residents have already splurged on the discounted wares. Now tourists can expect a lot more sales, promotions and festive markets, reinforcing Bangkok’s reputation for value.

STREET LIFE

Much of Bangkok’s appeal derives from the vibrant street life. Entrepreneurs turn any occasion into a market infused with sanuk — the easy-going Thai sense of fun. Roving vendors bring food, goods and local colour to daily life. Now this culture of flexible improvisation ensures continuity through the city’s recovery.

Bangkok’s most authentic retail experience remains the market, whether for shopping, looking for souvenirs or simply browsing. Dozens of bazaars span the capital, from herb-scented wet markets and the textiles hub of Pratunam to the specialist lanes of Chinatown and the old wooden markets revived at the city’s edge. None integrates more with metropolitan life than the vast Chatuchak Weekend Market. Every segment of society heads there to seek serendipity, inspiration, regional foods and a laid-back social scene.

MORE MALLS THAN BEFORE

Thais also take their market culture indoors. Bangkok boasts several of Asia’s biggest malls, brimming with international brands and emergent Thai labels. On the mile-long ‘Ratchaprasong Shopping Street’ between Central Chidlom and Siam Square, all the malls bar two now trade as normal. CentralWorld will reopen in stages and the BMA has pledged to upgrade the area’s public spaces.

As Bangkok develops, its affluent suburbs gain destination attractions. During Ratchaprasong’s temporary closure, the spotlight moved to chic new malls beyond downtown. At the end of March, the semi-outdoors K Village lifestyle mall opened where Sukhumvit Soi 26 meets Rama IV Road. Near Suvarnabhumi Airport, the former Seri Centre on Srinakharin Road emerged in April from total transformation into the luxury mall Paradise Park. The recently launched Crystal Design Centre on the Ekamai-Ramindra Road also came into its own as Asia’s biggest integrated design complex. In a measure of Thai retail verve, Bangkok ironically emerged from the protest period with even more shopping options.

CREATIVITY DRAWS ON TRADITION

The local products now marketed in Bangkok boutiques and abroad reveal a key progression in Thai society, from rural produce to urban wares, from crafts to creativity, from artefacts to art. Aspects of high culture and folk wisdom persist in authentic settings, notably food, herbalism, textiles and artisanship. Now a new generation parlays those strengths into gourmet cuisine, spas, catwalk fashions, contemporary art and stylish products infused with indigenous materials and a sense of Thainess. Innovative institutes like Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC) and Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC) nurture and showcase this resourceful artistry.

YOUTH CULTURE

Much of Bangkok’s momentum derives from its expressive youth and indy subculture. The informal economy enables entrepreneurs to experiment with their ideas in thousands of tiny shoplets and stalls, before founding their own brands. Siam Square, buzzing with students, designers and indie creatives, drives the pulse of Thai pop culture and fuels new industries. A score of galleries hold publicly accessible exhibition openings for the region’s liveliest art scene, which has generated many internationally collected artists. Just as the rally ended, one of Thailand’s new wave film directors, Apichatphong Weerasetthakul, became the first Southeast Asian to win cinema’s highest honour, the Palme d’Or at Cannes. That same week, the country’s foremost dancer, Pichet Klunchun, premiered a touring production at Singapore Art Festival, translating Thai tradition to a global audience. Bangkok designers, too, continue to win plaudits abroad for their fashion and furniture. These young achievers are all the fruit of Bangkok’s fertile creative seedbed.

PARTY PLACE

For decades, Bangkok has revelled as a hub of nightlife tourism, which covers the merry spectrum from quirky to saucy to chic. Recent trends have seen contrasting booms in nightlife, such as clubs with dramatic design, raves with international DJs, Bohemian retro bars, and exuberant theme nights by outfits like Dudesweet and Trasher. Plentiful live music draws fans and aficionados, whether indy rock, boisterous pop, rap, jazz or blues. Asia’s biggest and most diverse gay scene plays magnet to affluent regulars flying in from regional capitals to party, dine and shop. New venues opened even during the protests, with the art-bar WTF Bar & Gallery immediately becoming a “refuge pub,” typifying the city’s resilient morale.

FOOD CAPITAL

Whatever kind of sanuk, Thais never socialise without a constant stream of food — very good food. Bangkok dining has entered an exciting phase. Some of this buzz comes from spectacular settings, whether chic eateries like Long Table or al fresco restaurants atop skyscrapers. Expatriate chefs contribute to one of the world’s broadest ranges of ethnic dining options, joined by visiting famous names during the many epicurean festivals. Thai food, long a global favourite, is also receiving haute cuisine attention, while retaining its integrity. Bo.lan restaurant and the upcoming Nahm, a branch of the only Thai restaurant with a Michelin star, typify a nascent Thai slow food movement. Both draw inspiration from Bangkok’s non-stop pavement buffet of street food, and from the old family restaurants in the historic parts of town.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY

For all its globalized advances, Bangkok remains rare among modern metropolises by maintaining communities in its old centre as an authentic living heritage. Markets abut museums, shophouses flank palaces, temples hold folkish festivals, and ancient neighbourhoods retain their signatures, from apothecaries and amulets to arcane crafts. Increasingly, developers restore not replace old buildings. These express architectural history despite new uses as hotels or bars, restaurants or spas. In Chinatown or riverside quarters, nostalgics can still find traces of old Asia and a precious sense of place.

HYBRID HERITAGE

An international trading gateway for centuries, Bangkok acquired its patchwork appearance by constantly adding to its architecture rather than bulldozing all the past. The same fusion is as true of traditional dance, costume, music and decorative arts as it is of prevailing pop fads. This hybrid culture reveals traits from across Asia and the West, somehow blended in a way that’s distinctively Thai. The city has always harboured communities of diverse ethnicity. Confident in its cultural core, Bangkok embraces foreign influence and modernity, which accounts for its openness to visitors and whatever is in vogue.

EXPANDING TRANSPORT

Access to Bangkok’s attractions has improved vastly over the past decade. Right now the mass transport network is expanding in several directions. The MRT Subway and BTS SkyTrain — recently extended across the river to Thonburi — were joined just after the protest by the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). It links the BTS with Yannawa and Khlong San using comfy high-speed buses. Set to be fully launched in August, the Airport Link brings Suvarnabhumi and several train stations within a quick, cheap glide from a downtown terminal and links to the BTS and MRT. The canal expressboat service along Klong Saen Saeb will also this year extend to Minburi in Bangkok’s semi-rural northeast, where the old wooden market is being revived.

CALM SANCTUARIES

The klong (canals) in this formerly waterborne city also provide a contrasting amenity: tranquillity. Bangkok epitomises the busy, relentless metropolis, but its pockets of quiet replenish the soul. The remaining klong feed the Chao Phraya River, which churns with activity and every kind of boat imaginable, yet soothes as it slides relentlessly by. Parks and plantations provide recreational green space, while temples, spas and massage offer sanctuaries for mind and body. Bangkok has its share of friction, but also hands that heal.

EMBRACING CHANGE

The energy of the city buzzes around a heart of calm. Buddhism brings to Bangkok a detachment that allows dramas to unfold, contradictions to flourish, diverse cultures to coexist, and every day to bring a surprise. After all, they are mere moments amid constant change. Regardless of what happens, Thais have a remarkable capacity to greet the next moment, irrepressible, graceful, cheery. They treat life as a series of cycles. So as the wheel of karma turns, Bangkok comes back up.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Philip Cornwel-Smith is the author of Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture, and writer-editor of the Time Out Bangkok guidebook. Born in England and based in Bangkok since 1994, he was founding editor of Bangkok Metro Magazine, contributes to international publications and is currently writing Very Bangkok, a book about the city’s neighbourhoods, networks and social scenes.



November 16, 2012

Struth! 2.5 tonne cup of tea

With  Princess Diana at his side, Prince Charles (R) bends over to get a  better view of the Rolls Royce automobile that sits perched atop British  Wedgwood teacups during a visit to J.C. Penney's Department Store in  the Springfield Mall on November 11, 1985. Standing alongside the  Princess is William Howell, chairman of J.C. Penney's, and standing next  to the car is Bob Biagi, a Rolls Royce dealer. (UPI Photo/Larry  Rubenstein/Files)
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that back in 1970 England's Wedgwood porcelain company left newspaper readers agape when it published a picture of a 2.5 tonne Rolls-Royce balancing on four of the company's finest bone china cups.
The stunt was to prove the strength of its bone china, but when they tried to repeat it in Canada some years later for the opening of a new shopping outlets in Vancouver, it met with somewhat embarrassing results – they broke eight of their best bone china cups in front of TV and newspaper cameras before abandoning the effort.

Wedgwood have since refined the process of raising a Roller and letting it settle slowly onto just four cups when celebrating the opening of new stores in Britain, Europe, the USA and Canada.

(For the technically interested, bone china gets its strength from the addition of 50% incinerated animal bone ash to traditional China stone and industrial clay.)

Needless End For Trail-blazing Pacific Aviator


David Ellis

WHEN America's Pan American Airways decided in 1937 that the time was right to look to opening-up a commercial flying route from San Francisco across the South Pacific to Sydney in far-off Australia. it's founder Juan Trippe knew he had just the man to pioneer the route for them.

That was his Chief Pilot, Captain Edwin Musick who had already done such a job to Hong Kong two years earlier, embracing a circuitous route via Honolulu, Midway and Wake Islands, and Guam.

But the South Pacific decision was to prove a fatal one for the popular Captain Musick, who was somewhat of a living contradiction. On the one hand his extraordinary feats had made him arguably the world's best-known commercial pilot at the time, while on the other he was inordinately shy, cringing at publicity and facing crowds of admirers.

In those days with no airstrips on which to land on islands in the Pacific for refuelling and rest-breaks, Juan Trippe planned to use S-42 Sikorsky flying boats, that he dubbed "Clippers" after the clipper-ships that once sailed the routes he would follow, "landing" them at remote outposts.

But even in 1937 Britain eyed the South Pacific's sunny islands for its own Imperial Airways – and so banned Pan American from using Fiji (then a British colony) as a vital re-fuelling point.

Undeterred, Juan Trippe decided to test-out a route that would involve stops in Honolulu, a remote atoll called Kingman Reef 1700km south of Hawaii, Pago Pago in American Samoa, and ultimately Auckland rather than Sydney.

He outlined his plans to his Chief Pilot, who despite his quiet personae had actually begun his aviation career as an aerial barnstormer at American county fairs, billing himself Monsieur Musick, The French Daredevil.

Edwin Musick set to planning the South Pacific route in meticulous detail, just as he had the Hong Kong route in 1935 – and which had won him the prestigious Harmon Trophy for the aviation feat of the year, and put him on the cover of Time magazine.

On their first survey flight Captain Musick and his crew had no problem with Honolulu, while at Kingman reef – a mere pin-point on the map but large enough for drums of fuel to be stored there – a special radio ship had been anchored off-shore to relay directions to the Pan Am flying boat.

The mountains surrounding Pago Pago harbour, however, proved more challenging, rising between 490m and 650m, and causing Musick to comment later that landing there "had been like landing in a darned teacup" – harsh words indeed for the normally reticent Chief Pilot.

Hundreds upon hundred of canoes surrounded the flying boat when it came to a halt… and large as that crowd was, it was nothing to what greeted the flying boat on its arrival in Auckland in December 1937: 40,000 people lined the harbour to watch the historic event.

Captain Musick made another survey flight, and it was decided that just one more should be undertaken in January 1938 before beginning commercial operations.

It was a catastrophic decision: American authorities had just discovered that should S-42 flying boats need to dump fuel in emergencies, some of that fuel could be swept back into cavities in the wings, making them akin to flying bombs.

So a ban was put on the dumping of fuel by passenger-carrying S-42s until a solution to the problem was found… but because Captain Musick's survey flights carried no passengers, no one thought to tell him of the ban.

On January 11 1938 just after taking off from Pago Pago, Captain Musick's S-42 (named Samoan Clipper) developed an oil leak, so he decided to return to Pago Pago – dumping fuel along the way.

He had radioed his decision to authorities in Pago Pago, and when he neither arrived nor responded to radio messages, a sea search was organised: a US Navy ship later that day found the charred remains of the Pan American Clipper floating in a vast slick of oil.

Several items of clothing and personal possessions were also found, but no trace ever of Captain Musick and his six crew.

It would be 10 years before Pan American would finally fly commercially to Auckland, and ten more again to Sydney; the airline collapsed in bankruptcy in 1991.


PHOTO CAPTIONS:

 

[] PIONEERING Pan Am S-42 flying boat in Honolulu's Pearl Harbour.

[] AVIATOR extraordinaire, Captain Edwin Musick.

[] PAGO PAGO Harbour: Captain Musick described it as "like landing in a darn teacup."

[] MUSICK Point, Auckland was named after the pioneering aviator.

 

(Photos: US Aviation Museum Archives and Tourism Auckland)