.

June 26, 2013

How to avoid lost luggage

Inline images 1

Making sure your luggage arrives when you do


More than 26 million bags disappeared or were misplaced across the world's airports in 2012, according to recent data released by air transport electronics group SITA. That's about nine lost or misplaced bags for every 1000 that are checked in. Australia's largest premium travel group, Travelscene American Express, has some common sense advice to help you avoid becoming a lost luggage statistic.

Travelscene American Express Luggage Survival Tips

·         Take out travel insurance: A good travel insurance policy can cover you for the value of your belongings, as well as many of the associated costs that arise from losing your luggage.

·         Be prepared: Before you fly, write down the brand, size and colour of your luggage, and if possible, take a photo. This can be a life saver while overseas, especially when trying to communicate with a language barrier.

·         Pack smartly: It's a great idea to make the most of your carry-on luggage. Keep your essential items with you, so that if your checked bag does go missing, you have the necessities to deal with the situation.

·         Remove destination stickers: Some travellers like to leave old destination stickers on their bags, but this will confuse baggage handlers and can result in your luggage ending up just about anywhere!

·         Embrace technology: New apps and online tools may soon be able to provide passengers with real-time information about the location of their bags, no doubt an exciting feature we could look forward to.

·         Consider varying luggage restrictions: Travellers should also be aware of the differing luggage restrictions between countries and airlines. While your flight out of Australia might have a generous baggage allowance, your connection in the USA might charge for each piece. Your travel agent is a fantastic source of information and will be best placed to advise you about this before you fly.

So what do you do if your luggage does disappear?  Travelscene American Express suggests that you file a report straight away. Provide the airline and airport staff with as much detail as possible including your contact details for at least the next 48 hours. If your bags don't turn up, then have the proper forms to lodge a lost-baggage claim. It all boils down to being prepared and working with your travel agent.  Take out insurance, plan ahead, and of course, happy travelling!

Get the most out of your next holiday. Contact your local Travelscene American Express Member agency on 13 13 98 or online at http://www.travelscene.net.au/

June 17, 2013

Sydney: Rail and roads of gloom


OUR EARLY ROADS SOON TOOK THEIR TOLL
David Ellis

NEXT time you get a beep when you drive through a toll gate, take a moment to ponder just how long we hapless road users have been paying tolls in Australia.

Because rather than only since sometime in the 20th century as you would probably think, it is in fact over 200 years – Governor Lachlan Macquarie stuck our first toll booth on the side of what is now Sydney's Railway Square, next to the present-day Central Railway Station, way back in 1811.

And he did so to pay for the maintenance of the "road" from Sydney Town to Parramatta, in reality a rambling 25km dirt track through the bush that was so ill-constructed, in heavy rain it became an impassable quagmire for horse-drawn coaches and goods wagons, and when dry an axle-breaker of potholes and tree-stumps.

And when this track was extended further out to Windsor, so bad was the extension too, that it took coaches 24hrs to get there from Sydney, including an overnight at what is now Kellyville.

Macquarie awarded a contract to James Harper to repair and widen the track into a proper road, surface it with crushed rock and to maintain it for ten years – in return being allowed to collect tolls at Sydney and Parramatta from 1811.

As the little colony grew and branched out from Sydney Town other toll roads, and bridges, flourished until the 1870s when the government took back control – and soon after, speedier steam engines and then automobiles killed off coaches and wagons.

And from 1906 as Sydney's Central Station blossomed, so too did businesses around it: as trains from the country terminated there, hotels and boarding houses soon abounded, as well as shops and stores and even an indoor ice-skating rink (the Glaciarium from 1907 to 1955.).

Amongst the earliest major store-owners was Henry Marcus Clark who had a drapery shop in Newtown, and in 1896 opened a department store on the corner of George and Harris Streets at Railway Square. He named it Bon Marche after the famed Paris store, and so successful was it that he built an even larger one in 1909 at the corner of George and Pitt Streets and named this – one of Sydney's earliest skyscrapers at 9-storeys high – Marcus Clark & Company Ltd (demolishing the now-defunct toll booth and toll collector's house to do so.)

He later built yet another a few doors away for the hordes now streaming daily off the steam trains – or awaiting trams, which at their peak carried 405-million passengers annually through Railway Square into the city or suburbs.

Other stores equally flourished as did the near-dozen hotels around Railway Square – but with the coming of the suburban electric train to Sydney in 1926 many visitors from the country simply changed trains at Central and went to hotels and department stores deeper into the city a few blocks north.

Worse, in the 1950s and '60s vast urban shopping complexes now offered all their glitter right there in the sprawling and distant suburbs – mortally wounding those around Railway Square, including Marcus Clark's which ceased trading in 1966 with massive debts.

Today one of its Marcus Clark & Company "skyscrapers" is home to the Sydney Institute of TAFE.

Gone too are most of the old hotels around Railway Square, but one that's flourished is the huge 517-room Mercure Sydney, that conversely to what we've written about above, was not built until 1998 and thrives because of its location on Railway Square:  its ideally located within walking distance of the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Darling Harbour restaurant precinct, Chinatown, the Sydney Entertainment Centre, the entertainment district around the Capitol Theatre, Powerhouse Museum, and Sydney University.

And being just 50m from Central Station has ready rail access to the rest of the city and Sydney Airport.

All rooms have high-speed Wifi and broadband, a wonderful Pillow Menu, there is an indoor rooftop pool, a sauna and gym, 24hr business centre, car rental desk, the Four Elements Restaurant and Bar features modern Australian cuisine, and Eve's Place Bar and Bistro offers a pub atmosphere, snacks and light meals.

Details: (02) 9217 6666 or www.mercuresydney.com.au

(This feature was written with the assistance of Sydney City Council Archives Dept and the NSW Rail Transport Museum.)

                                                           …………………………

[] OUR first toll gate and toll collectors house where Sydney's George Street became Parramatta Road – sketch circa 1819. (NSW Govt Archives)
[] SYDNEY's Railway Square in 1922 showing two of Marcus Clark's "skyscraper" department stores. The Mercure Sydney occupies what was Cary's Chambers site and an old tram depot.  (Sydney City Council Archives.)
[] A 1956 site map of Railway Square Sydney – note the number of hotels on the Square. (Sydney City Council Archives)
[] THE famous Destination Board at Sydney Central Station, in use from 1906 to 1982. (NSW Rail Transport Museum)
[] MERCURE Sydney thrives on Railway Square today with 517 rooms just 50m from Central Station. (Accor Hotels)
[] INDOOR rooftop pool at the Mercure Sydney. (Accor Hotels)


Struth! Knocking off your hotel


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says an amazing 35% of hotel guests globally, admit they have more in their luggage when they leave their hotel, than when they entered it.

The 2013 Hotel.com Amenities Survey asked 8,600 guests around the world if they had ever taken anything – other than those little shampoos and other toiletries that we all know are deliberately put there for the taking (and in Aussies' cases, Vegemite portions – sachets – from the dining room tables as well.)

Those from Denmark came out tops amongst the 29 nationalities surveyed, with just 12% admitting that Yes, they'd pinched something during a hotel stay. Those from the Netherlands were second-most honest, Norway third and Brazil, Canada and Hong Kong equal fourth.

Aussies came in equal-19th with Germany, with 28 per cent of us saying we'd taken  hotel property away with us after a stay, while a tad more New Zealanders (27%) were more honest guests.

The most light-fingered of all, according to the survey, were guests from Colombia: an amazing 57% admitting to knocking-off stuff from their rooms or hotel public areas during a stay.

Most commonly-lifted items were books and magazines from lounges, lobbies and reading rooms, followed by bed-sheets, pillows and towels from guest rooms… with the Chinese showing they obviously had the most spacious of all suitcases, which they happily filled with not only linens and towels, but hotel bedside lamps, room clocks, radios, and even art off the walls.

And the least stolen? Gideons' Bibles.

June 10, 2013

Struth! Wine pays the perfect insult

 

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that a recent trip to Africa found him facing a bottle of wine he discovered was labelled along the lines of comments less-kind colleagues have often made about his enjoyment of a pleasant drop or three.

 

Travelling through South Africa's famed Winelands region aboard the holiday safari train, Shongololo Express, David who also writes about wine as well as travel, found the bottle at Thierry & Guy Wines in Stellenbosch, and took it back to the train to share that night at dinner with Bulimba (Brisbane) couple Richard and Beverley Payne, who were amongst some 22 other Australians (of a total 28 guests) aboard the Shongololo Express on its 13-day journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

 

The Payne's snapped our scribe with the evidence for our readers to draw their own conclusions.

 

Sydney Railway Square History


GETTING SQUARE WITH DAYS OF YORE
David Ellis

A RECENT overnight at a hotel on Sydney's Railway Square turned out to be something more than just the chance to put the feet up for a night of the good life, it became an extraordinary walk down memory lane…

Not that the Mercure Sydney was some kind of time-warp – far from it, and a current multi-million dollar renovation program will soon see it as yet another jewel in the Sydney crown of accommodation-provider Accor, that has hotels from budget to 5-star-plus under a dozen different brand-names world-wide.

Rather, our stay there allowed us to venture out onto Railway Square for the first time in decades, and to breathe-in both our memories and the Square's fascinating past – a past that sadly too few Sydney-siders today would know anything about, and more sadly have even less interest in.                     

Yet in days of yore, when scores of puffing steam trains wheezed into Central Station hourly from across NSW, Railway Square – that sprawling space to the west of the station – was the major transport, hotel and retail hub of Sydney.

Back in the 1940s as kids we would be taken there every few months on excursions by tram, bus and suburban electric train to meet our Uncle Eb (Ebenezer,) when his train came in from where he lived "up in the country."

And after hugs and bone-crushing handshakes as we met him at the station, he would shower we kids with handfuls of boiled lollies – and even occasional chocolates that in those WWII years were seldom seen outside of birthdays, Christmases and Easters.

We would then go across to one of the many dull-looking hotels that fringed Railway Square, Uncle Eb booking himself and his knocked-up cardboard suitcase into a room there, and while he and the men would go to the noisy, smoky and foul-smelling Bar, we kids would be hauled off with the ladies to "the shops."

And back then Railway Square was circled with them, places like Sir Marcus Clark's two department stores that to us were akin to Aladdin's Caves, Bon Marche also owned by the knighted retailer, and Cary's Chambers that was a labyrinth of everything from furniture showrooms to Ashton's Motor School and Garage, a marvellous place where people were taught to drive, and lessons included learning the basics of a car's engine parts and how to tinker with them in the unfortunate event of a break-down on the road.

And when the shops closed at 5 o'clock we'd go back to the hotel where the men would be taking part in a bizarre ritual they called "the six o'clock swill," downing as many beers as they could before the hotel closed for the night at 6pm.

Then we would go down George Street to Silver's hamburger shop where we would be treated by now-half-wacked dads and uncles to gargantuan hamburgers and even soft drinks – absolute heaven in those lean war years.

We were never told what Uncle Eb actually did, and even when wives or aunties would ask "what is Eb in town for this time?" they'd be offered such responses as "he has to see a man about a dog," and "loose lips sink ships."

And it's remained a mystery to us to this day, but we can still recall him stumbling back up George Street to his pokey hotel room which he would often share with some complete stranger, and with the toilet in the bathroom down the corridor being flushed all night, before taking the steam train a few days later back "up to the country."

How Uncle Eb would have marvelled at today's Mercure Sydney in comparison to what he endured during his visits. To throw himself on a bed big enough for the whole family to sleep on, to have his very own bathroom actually in his room, and a vast window that would give him a Cinemascopic view of Sydney city.

And in the morning to go downstairs to breakfast from a buffet requiring that you walk around it several times to take it all in, before somehow moving on to actually making some decisions...

(Compiled with the assistance of Sydney City Council Archives Dept and the NSW Rail Transport Museum; next week how our early roads soon took their toll.)
   
                                                               …………….

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] AN 1890 view of what was to become Sydney's Railways Square. (Sydney City Council Archives)
[] IT takes 20 horses to haul this early steam engine to be put on the tracks at Sydney's Central Station in the early 1900s. Note how many hotels are around the square. (NSW Govt Archives)
[] MARCUS CLARK's department store dominates Sydney's Railway Square in 1908. (Sydney City Council Archives)
[] WHEN steam was king at Sydney's Central Railway Station. (NSW Rail Transport Museum)
[] HOW Uncle Eb would marvel at the Mercure Sydney, now the dominant building on the city's Railway Square. (Accor Hotels)
 


June 06, 2013

Struth! NZ's North Island fished out of the ocean

 

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says you may have to learn to do a bit of tongue-twisting when talking about a trip to New Zealand in the future.

 

Because the country's Geographic Board that's responsible for naming everything from mountains and rivers to cities, villages, streets and parks is thinking of Maori names instead of North Island and South Island for the country's two main land masses.

 

If the idea goes ahead North Island will be formally known as Te Ika a Maui, and South Island as Te Waipounamu.

 

The Board says North Island and South Island have never been officially registered – yet the Maori names actually appear on the earliest European maps and charts, including those made by Captain James Cook.

 

"We want to consult with the wider New Zealand public about the use of the Maori names, as this is a matter of great historical and cultural significance," said Board Chairman, Dr Don Grant. "Our idea is that both the English and Maori names be officially adopted, so the public, legal profession and government could by law use either or both."

Te Ika a Maui translates as 'the Fish of Maui', from a Maori legend that the North Island was fished out of the sea by an early explorer named Maui, while Te Waipounamu means 'the Waters of Greenstone', marking the widespread presence of jade in the South Island.

                                                   IMAGE:

(This is officially the world's longest place name according to Guinness Book of Records.)

 


Bangkok by Night - No other city like it

Bangkok comes alive at night (flickr user fotografm)

by Ian Mcintosh - Travel Agent Update

There really is no show on earth like Bangkok at night. The best place to view the action is from a cab. Firstly there is the traffic. Never ending - cars, tuk tuks, families of three and even four perched on tiny scooters, beautiful girls, their long dark hair trailing in the breeze, fly past my window. No need to hang on. No need for a helmet. A million lights appear from nowhere to illuminate streeets jam packed with everything from people to bars to restaurants and massage parlors and it is only 7pm. The driver smiles as we pass the banana club - "for men only. Only open at night." There are hundreds of others ranging from German style beer halls to lavish clubs that take up four floors. Every strip of pavement is now taken up with tables and chairs as Bangkok's workers sit down to eat wonderful dishes whipped up in woks and hotplates from tiny mobile kitchens. Just the aromas are enough to set your stomach groaning. Not just one or two streeets - but every street. Why would you eat at home? Thing is I have never had the courage to sit down and join them, which really irks me.

Adding to this riot of colour, atmosphere and entertainment is everyone from go go dancers to the the most mangy dogs ever that stagger about eternally scratching themselves. I usually end up buying them dinner. Tonight I travelled from the Holiday Inn on Rama 1 road to The Landmark in Sukhumvit followed by the Ambassador to see my tailor and finally to the German Beer Club on Soy 5 followed by The Amari Boulevard for a cocktail in the foyer. On the walk I was invited to strip clubs and worse, restaurants by the dozen, offered porn movies, cheap pizzas...the list goes on. Thing is it is all done with the famous Thai smile. Frankly I love every minute of it. Back in the hotel now - its 9.30pm here - the car ride took nearly an hour and cost B100 - about $4. My 2 handmade shirts plus having a coat altered will cost me $90.

June 04, 2013

Coffee Encounters - Adventures to Origin


COFFEE ENCOUNTERS - Adventures to Origin

Guatamala - Finca La Soledad,
Antigua - Guatamala, D’angelo
As we sip our morning coffees we often don’t take the time to think about where the beans have actually come from. What makes each roaster so different? Who are the people who dedicate their lives to farming our coffee?

In the new book Coffee Encounters: Adventures to Origin, Australia’s leading roasters take readers on a journey through the most exotic coffee farming regions within Latin America and Indonesia, whilst having a stopover in Italy. Meet some of the world’s most charismatic, passionate and innovative people and learn just how much hard work goes into the cup of coffee we enjoy each morning.

Authors Jonette George & Tyson Hunter invite readers on a journey to origin to meet the farmers, pickers, importers, roasters, cafés and the baristas who go to great lengths to make each coffee ritual as perfect as possible. Filled with stunning photographs and heart-warming stories of the people behind the beans, Coffee Encounters: Adventures to Origin is a must read for those curious to learn more about the origin of coffee, its people, and its travels.

Additional information

Smudge Publishing have set up the charity “Picking Up The Pieces”, inspired by two children, Melanie and Mario, they met in Guatemala. Their adopted mother is a picker on one of the farms and walks an hour to and from work each day with the children to earn an income. They live in a small tin shed with dirt for floor, no running water or cooking facilities. The fund has already gathered the support of the coffee industry and raised an initial $50,000 to go into the family’s education, with further funds to assist with infrastructure at the family’s home and community. They hope that making this small change to the community will inspire others to take action themselves. More information at www.smudgepub.com.au

June 03, 2013

Bunkering down in Moscow. Cold War secret revealed.

RUSSIANS' TRUE MEANING OF BUNKERING DOWN
David Ellis

DOOMSAYERS who get a kick out of reckoning the end of the world is nigh, and disappointed nothing happened back in December last year and again in February this year despite all their forebodings, are no doubt already stocking their underground vaults to ensure they get through future events they predict will see the rest of us fry, freeze, drown or in some other way be obliterated for our ignorance.

But no matter how well they prepare, it will be nothing compared with what Russia's leaders did back in the 1950s at the height of the Cold War: they dug a monstrous 7000 square metre bunker 65-metres under Moscow, complete with 600-metres of inter-connecting tunnels to its various chambers, and stocked it with food, medical supplies, an air-recycling system, diesel generators, water from a well even deeper below, and with a vast radio and landline telecommunications system.

It would be sufficient to enable Communist Party Secretary, Nikita Kruschev, Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, their families and a thousand or so chosen military leaders and their staffs to exist there for up to three months directing troops still in the field in the event of a nuclear attack from the West.

It certainly left in the shade the preparations of those on our television sets who kept  telling us that the Mayan calendar had shown the world would end on December 21 2012, and if it didn't that a massive asteroid would knock us off our axis in February of this year.

Their shipping containers of food, bottled water and whatever else they kept showing us were mere trifles compared with the Russians' effort.

And today, with the Cold War gone, that Russian bunker is now a popular tourist attraction, with the company that owns it working with all the zeal of a western entrepreneur to promote a peek at Cold War preparedness. And Moscovites can hire-out anything down there from a restaurant to a banquet hall, a conference centre for 1000 people, get married, hold a corporate promotion, or watch movies in the cinema.

And in a private meeting room originally planned for Nikita Kruschev's predecessor, Josef Stalin whose idea the bunker was, hold that very special dinner party for 40 or 50 mates… sorry, comrades.

Officially the bunker was designated the Tagansky Protected Command Point, and to build it without Western spy-planes spotting from the air what they were doing, the Russians built it not just 18-storeys below street level, but actually below Moscow's underground Taganskaya Metro railway station – that was publicly flouted as being renovated at the time.

So each night hundreds of workers were slipped into Taganskaya on special last trains for the night, to descend to the bunker, excavate or do technical installation work there until dawn, and be slipped out again on trains that simply appeared to be the first for the day…

And thus all the spy-planes would spot each morning was the supposed rubble being carted away from the renovations of the Metro.

The bunker was maintained and serviced from the mid-1950s until in 1995, with the end of the Cold War between East and West, it was decommissioned and closed.

Then in 2006 a Russian company bought it to become a tourist attraction and museum, paying the equivalent of AU$20m for the dusty, cob-webbed collection of tunnels, rooms, old supplies, now-outdated radio and landline telecommunications, and piles of weapons.

Tourists enter via a nondescript entrance next to a one-time school building, and can either take the high-speed lift or 288 steps down into the bunker. There they'll see much of the (now smartened-up) communications centre as it was in its heyday: radios, typewriters, radar screens, banks of telephones, air-raid sirens and rooms crammed with bunk beds.

Now called Bunker 42, guides dress as KGB officers and visitors are invited to don KGB uniforms too – and sling an AK47 or other decommissioned weapons over their shoulder for souvenir photos.

Or watch documentary films of the Cold War era – and note posters that describe Bunker 42 as "a symbol of the greatness of our Motherland…" which are balanced by others that refer to Bunker 42 being "a memory of armament race futility…"

Entry tickets (approx. AU$35) need to be pre-purchased on www.bunker42.com

                                                  ……………………..

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

[] PART of the 600m of secret inter-connecting tunnels 65m under Moscow. (Bunker42)
[] PRIMITIVE-looking now, how Russia's leaders would continue directing the war in the 1950s. (Bunker42)
[] DRESSED-UP: A visitor is fitted out with replica survival gear from the bunker's early days. (RegentHolidaysUK)
[] QUARTERS originally planned for Stalin now a Bunker 42 lounge. (Bunker42)
[] TAGANSKAYA Railway Station, Moscow: the West trickedinto not knowing what was going on below. (MoscowInfoInc)


June 02, 2013

Brisbane's 10 MUST DO Autumn Experiences

Want to know what's keeping Brisbane busy this season? With plenty on offer, we've done all the leg work to narrow down 10 MUST DO Brisbane experiences.


1. Bolshoi Ballet
Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet
Bound into QPAC from 30 May and be blown away by Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. Almost two decades since the world-renowned company performed in Australia, Bolshoi is back for a 12-show season exclusively in Brisbane. A once in a generation opportunity to see truly first class ballet.

2. Football Frenzy

Unleash your team colours this June as football fever roars into Brisbane. With the British and Irish Lions here to kick off one of Australia's biggest months of football, Brisbane will be alive with non-stop action on and off the field.

Our very own Queensland Reds will commemorate 130 years, Brisbane will host the second, and often deciding, match of the hotly contested State of Origin, the Brisbane Broncos celebrate 25 years of glory before facing off against the NZ Warriors, and local heroes, the Brisbane Lions, dive into a nail-biting season. Our champions are out to win, but they can't do it alone. Show your colours and rally behind your favourite teams as they collide at Suncorp Stadium.

3. The Walrus Club at Regatta

Make your way through the hidden entrance and descend into the atmospheric 1920s-themed world of The Walrus Club. Tucked away underneath the newly-renovated Regatta, you can lose yourself in a leather armchair as your enjoy a top-notch drop.

4. Walk the Gorge
North Gorge Headland Walk
Revive the spirit with breathtaking Pacific Ocean views on the North Gorge Headland Walk on North Stradbroke Island. From June, hire a pair of binoculars at Fishes Café to view the migrating Humpback whales from this excellent land-based vantage point.

5. Brisbane Racing Carnival

Glam up and gallop your way into Brisbane from 11 May and revel in the excitement and style of the Channel Seven Brisbane Racing Carnival, Queensland's biggest racing carnival culminating in the one of the largest races in the country – the Stradbroke Cup.

6. At Sixes and Sevens
Sixes and Sevens
An inspired renovation of a heritage-listed cottage on James Street, At Sixes and Sevens is a gastro pub with style – tuck into some tapas, sip on one of their many craft beers and stretch out in the astro-turf 'yard'.

7. Anywhere Theatre Festival

Expect the unexpected when Anywhere Theatre Festival takes theatre anywhere but actual theatres for ten exciting days in May – dance in shop windows, drama in karaoke bars, opera in science centres, plays in bowling clubs, abandoned sheds and 120-year-old houses.

8. Explore D'Aguilar National Park

Walk, drive, or take a motorbike, horse or mountain bike to uncover the beautiful D'Aguilar National Park. The World Heritage listed park starts just 10km from the city centre and stretches to the area around Mount Mee, an hour north of Brisbane. Here you'll see remote gorges, sheltered pockets of subtropical rainforest, expanses of eucalypt woodland and spectacular flora and fauna.

9. Warhorse

Don't miss Warhorse, one of the world's most celebrated productions. Already seen by two million, marvel at the brilliant life-size puppets and be inspired by the heart-warming tale of courage and friendship. The blockbuster is showing at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC from 6 July.

10. Bacchus at Rydges

Bacchus brings a bit of LA luxe to South Bank with an opulently decorated restaurant, chic bar and a glowing blue pool for those wanting a late night dip. The venue, named after the Roman God of food, wine and good times, lives up to its namesake. Each element of Bacchus has been created for those wanting to indulge.

For more information, visit www.visitbrisbane.com.au
17 Apr 2013

Struth! Weird questions to Australian travel agents

 

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis wonders what mind-pictures some people in the UK must have of us.

 

Travel agents there have compiled a list of some of the weirder questions they've been asked by people thinking of visiting Australia, amongst them such gems as:

 

. Can you wear high heels in Australia?

. Are there supermarkets in Sydney?

. Will fresh milk be available year round in Sydney for my baby?

. I want to walk from Perth to Sydney – is there a railway line I can follow?

. Which direction is north in Australia?

. I am visiting Australia and I have large breasts; as it is on the underneath side of the world, will I need a special bra?

. Do you have a map of where I can find ATMs in Sydney?

. Do they have ATMs in Sydney's suburbs as well as in the city?

. Are the instructions on ATMs in Australia in English?

. Does the sun come up in the morning in Australia, or is it later because it is on the other side of the world?

. Can I do a day coach trip (from Sydney) to Ayer's Rock?

. And of course someone had to ask their agent this: Do they have fish and chips shops in Australia?

 



SEADREAMING THROUGH ST TROPEZ – WINE NOT

 

David Ellis

with

Frank Linn

 

HE'S like some modern-day Pied Piper, except that it's not children he's leading through the town square, but adults – 60-something of us mesmerised by the promises of what he says lays ahead…

 

It's a Sunday morning and we're in St Tropez on the French Riviera, playground of jetsetters, millionaires, movie and catwalk hopefuls.  Where Brigitte Bardot was a pioneer of topless sunbathing on the local beach… and where she later shot to stardom in the 1956 movie And God Created Woman, leading a million men into premature-gibbering, and in more-severe cases, blindness.

 

But we're not heading to the beach. Our Pied Piper – in reality Tomasz Kozlowski, executive chef aboard the boutique mega motor-cruiser SeaDream II that's sailing 7-nights from Nice to Barcelona – is leading us to a little town square where he's organised a tasting of local Rosé wines, cheeses, nuts and olives, breads and biscuits, and what turns out to be a ripper traditional St Tropez onion tart.

 

A few days earlier we'd done a market tour with Chef Tomasz at another port, some 25 of SeaDream's  81 guests enjoying the spectacle of him gesticulating with traders over produce he's buying for that night's evening cocktail gathering, and giving us tastings of their local fruits and other market produce.

 

So popular was it, that today in St Tropez it's not 25 guests have decided to come along, but well over 60. And we're well-rewarded: after passing through what we think is just an alleyway of a few small food stores, we emerge into a picturesque village-like square.

 

And Tomasz leads our conga line to an open-fronted wine shop at which the owner has set up trestle tables to which others in the square have brought samples of their produce for us to try alongside his wines.

 

It's only just after 10 o'clock and there are fewer than a dozen local Tropeziens already out for Sunday shopping: they appear both bemused and delighted at the presence of our group from 14 nations who've crowded into their square, some enquiring as to where we are from, others asking our impressions of their town…

 

And the various traders who've brought their produce over for us to try, speak enthusiastically about their offerings. But it's Chef Tomasz who is the star: arms constantly flaying – "I talk with my hands!" he says – he describes in minute detail the food items we are tasting, and the Rosé wines that are made from not only grapes, but from peaches as well…

 

We're offered one, and wonder if at this early hour it's a good idea – but seeing our fellow guests getting stuck into theirs, and smacking their lips in satisfaction, we decide that it may be ten a.m. in St Tropez, but it's got to be already "wine o'clock" somewhere else in the world.

 

And our hosts don't skimp: glasses are filled and re-filled with the different Rosés, empty plates whisked away to be replenished with fresh offerings,… and while Chef Tomasz has said that our tasting will "be about an hour," we are there for nearly double that, relishing every moment, every mouthful.

 

And when we are told that all good things must reluctantly come to an end, we say fond thanks and sad farewells to our wonderful Tropezien hosts – while Tomasz and several of his staff whom he's brought from SeaDream II load up bags and boxes with all manner of the produce we've sampled… and which he'll feature in that night's regular pre-dinner Cocktails aboard SeaDream II.

 

On the way back to our mega-motor cruiser Chef Tomasz tells us how he's always loved food and cooking, learning much from his mother whom he idolised for her culinary skills, and which led him to go into cooking school as a teenager. After stints in shore-side restaurants after graduation, he worked on several large ships catering to 2000 to 3000 guests each, but quickly decided that that wasn't for him.

 

So he joined SeaDream Yacht Club in 2002 – and with a maximum of just 112-guests, is just as enthusiastic today as he was when he joined eleven years ago.

 

For information about sailing aboard the boutique SeaDream II and twin-sister SeaDream I, see travel agents or visit www.seadream.com

 

(Frank Linn was a guest of SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream II)

                                                                           ……………………

 

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

 

[] CHEF Tomasz enthusiastically describes a local St Tropez rosé wine. (David Ellis)

[] OUT come the cheeses as well for SeaDream II's guests to taste. (David Ellis)

[] "I TALK with my hands!" Tomasz jokes. (David Ellis)

[] BRIGITTE Bardot in the 1956 film that shot her to stardom, And God Created Woman. (DrMacro.com)

[] THE French star was discovered on St Tropez beach when she was a pioneer of topless sunbathing. (DrMacro.com)

[] STILL doing her stuff, if more modestly in 1965. (Wikimedia)

[] SEADREAM II in Nice on her way to St Tropez. (John Treacy)