June 26, 2017

Supermodel pays £600 to bathe in goat's milk at London's Savoy Hotel


David Ellis

WHEN one of the world's top supermodels booked into London's swank Savoy Hotel and said she wanted a very special bath, it fell on the hotel's Head Butler, Sean Davoren to ensure the fulfilment of her wish.

And that wish was for some 35 litres of goat's milk that she could mix with water straight from the tap, and to wallow in in her bathtub. And the milk had to be that-day fresh, and it had to be unpasteurised.

Forever unflappable, Mr Davoren located just where he could find the precise goat's milk for the lady's needs, and assured her he'd have a taxi go collect it straight away.

And while the milk would cost 50-pounds (around AU$87,) there would also be the matter of the taxi… and that would be in a somewhat different league. Because the specific milk the lady wanted could only be sourced from a goat dairy in Wales, the taxi to go and collect it would cost 600-pounds (AU$1,040.)

No problem said the lady, and some time after the milk had been collected, delivered safely back to The Savoy, warmed in the kitchen and taken to her bathroom, Mr Davoren received another request: the lady now needed thirty bottles of a top-brand mineral water to be warmed, and delivered to her bathroom so she could now cleanse her body of any goat's milk residue.

Which makes us wonder if Cleopatra, who was also known to bathe in goat's milk, had staff of the calibre of Mr Davoren to ensure her of baths that were as good as The Savoy's to help keep her looking beautiful…



[] HEAD Butler, Sean Davoren – absolutely unflappable, even if the request is for a  goat's milk bath.

[] A BATHROOM at The Savoy: goat's milk and hot water for a VIP's plunge,  followed by a wash down with thirty bottles of warmed mineral water. (All images The Savoy hotel)


True Blue Riband: Aussies fastest across the Atlantic

The Atlantic Crossing between Europe and the United States is the quintessential ocean voyage. Why? Apart from being one of the historically busiest shipping routes in the world, it is chapter one of many of the world’s greatest stories, including the discovery of what is now the United States of America by European navigators.

The great, often treacherous North Atlantic has been fought over and blockaded in wars; such has been its importance to international trade and commerce. From the time of Columbus in 1492, and possibly earlier, seafarers have braved these waters to build civilisations, ship all manner of cargo, smuggle, plunder and wage war. The passage became increasingly important as the great nations expanded their empires and influence, building all-weather vessels specifically for the arduous 3,000 NM ocean voyage.

In the days of sail, a typical eastbound voyage took over three weeks until the introduction of steam in the early 19th century. Steam power allowed vessels to improve their more difficult outward (westbound) time against the Gulf Stream winds and the race to build faster and bigger ships was on.

French liner, Normandie

In 1935, Arthur Hales, a UK merchant, shipowner and politician instigated the now famous trophy that bears his name for the “Blue Riband”, the fastest westbound journey by a passenger vessel in regular service. The first official recipient was the French liner SS Normandie, which completed her maiden voyage on 29 May at just under 30 knots. Since that time, only two other ocean liners have shared that accolade, the RMS Queen Mary and the purpose-built SS United States, who captured the title with an average speed of 34.5 knots on 15 July 1952 and has held it ever since. This superlative vessel also smashed the eastbound record one week earlier with a stunning 35.59 knots.

Since the retirement of SS United States in 1969, the “Blue Riband” is deemed to have ceased as no regular fast passenger service now exists. However, in the age-old spirit of competition, the Hales Trophy is still awarded for the fastest commercial vessel crossing in either direction.

Serial show-off and entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, did manage to break the record in 1986 by just two hours with his Virgin Atlantic Challenger, but was denied the trophy because his 1440kW speedboat was not a commercial vessel. The same fate was levied against the massively ambitious 45,000kW GE jet-powered Destriero of the Aga Khan which crossed in August 1992 at over 53 knots.

Fast cat: Australian-built Fjord Cat
Yet the final word in the Hale Trophy remains with the proud Tasmanian company, Incat, builder of the world’s fastest commercial passenger catamarans. Since 1990, three of the company’s vessels have held the prize, with the current holder, HSC Fjord Cat, the first to cross in less than three days at an average speed of 41.3 knots.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Originally published in Cruise Weekly

Expedition Cruising with Lindblad in the Sea of Cortes

Welcomed by the Queen of California

In a land once ruled over by a fierce mythical matriarch, marine animals cavort and relax in UNESCO-protected bliss.

Words and images by Roderick Eime

I tell you that on the right-hand side of the Indies there was an island called California, which was very close to the region of the Earthly Paradise. This island was inhabited by black women, and there were no males among them at all, for their life style was similar to that of the Amazons. - Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo

Queen Califia

The island in de Montalvo’s description was ruled by Califia, a magnificent negress by all accounts. Her domain, like the Amazons, was a matriarchal dominion where the few men were subjugated and enslaved by these all-conquering women.

When it suited her, Califia would muster her troops and raid the neighbouring lands, seizing men and territory. Her warriors wore armour of gold and rode fierce steeds with barding that shone like the sun.

Some researchers are convinced a fearsome black queen of either African or Polynesian origin once existed on these shores, and de Montalvo, like Shakespeare, had adapted legend and lore for his own purposes.

The Spanish novelist, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus whose lurid prose described these lands in great detail, was sufficiently convincing for the Mexican Governor, Hernán Cortés, to send ships in search of this land of plenty.

Like so many Spanish follies of the time, they ended in disaster for the explorers and all those they encountered. The island of California, however, persisted on maps for more than 100 years and wasn’t conclusively disproved by land explorers until almost the 19th century.

Today this giant spur-like peninsula, the second largest in the world, is part of Mexico and called Baja California. It is divided into two ‘free and sovereign states’; Baja California and Baja California Sur (south). The 160,000km2 Gulf of California enclosed by the peninsula is also known by its alternative moniker, The Sea of Cortés (or Cortez).

“Those quiet men who always stand on piers asked where we were going and when we said, ‘To the Gulf of California,’ their eyes melted with longing; they wanted to go so badly.” - John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

At the very tip is the resort town of Cabo San Lucas (Cape Saint Luke), which has grown progressively from a grubby mining village and tuna cannery at the turn of the last century to one of Mexico’s premier tourist locations and aquatic playgrounds. Massive ships from Holland America, Carnival, Celebrity and Princess regularly call in to the region more commonly known in cruise circles as the ‘Mexican Riviera’ and which extends as far as Acapulco.

Much of the credit for this popular acceleration is due to the Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author, John Steinbeck, whose account of a marine biology expedition in 1940 with his biologist friend, Ed Ricketts, spawned the 288-page non-fiction book ‘The Log from the Sea of Cortez’, published in 1950.

Steinbeck describes this lost world as “ferocious with life”, often citing his fear of man’s potential for destruction through urban development and careless fishing techniques. Even as the pair travelled, a hotel was being built along with the airport and railway.

And develop it did. Cabo San Lucas quickly became the playground for Hollywood A-Listers and celebrities like John Wayne, Chuck Connors, Desi Arnez, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Jacques Cousteau and Ernest Hemingway who enjoyed the incredible fishing and balmy lifestyle.

Cousteau, who visited some 35 years ago was, predictably enough, more interested in what dwelled below the surface and coined the tagline “the world’s aquarium”, often re-used by the new wave of adventure cruise operators probing much further north than any of the floating behemoths visiting Cabo San Lucas.

Veteran Lindblad naturalist and field guide, Pete Pederson leads me to this superb outlook (R Eime)

The undisputed leader in this field is Lindblad Expeditions who have been exploring the ‘Sea of Cortez’ since Cousteau’s time. In 1977, a young Sven Lindblad was travelling from Argentina to Mexico on his late father’s ship, the MS Lindblad Expolorer. They had a few days to spare and decided to call in to the Gulf of California to explore.

“I was particularly attracted to this large island just up from the southern end in the Gulf of California (Espiritu Santo Island),” recalls Lindblad, “and I remember that discovery to this day. I’ve never seen anywhere so beautiful, so irresistible, and I’ve had a love affair with the Sea of Cortez ever since.”

Lindblad began commercial voyages in 1981 and has continued that tradition unbroken for more than 30 years. During that time UNESCO bestowed World Heritage status on the region, stating the “diversity of terrestrial and marine life is extraordinary and constitutes a unique ecoregion of high priority for biodiversity conservation”. For the last decade the Gulf of California has enjoyed this cherished protection.

National Geographic Sea Lion at anchor while guests explore ashore (R Eime)

Today two of the company’s 62-passenger vessels operate side-by-side on itineraries of either one or two weeks’ duration, plunging guests into an experience that includes observation and encounters with all manner of whales, sea lions, marine birds and land reptiles.

I’m aboard the late season ‘Spring in the Sea of Cortez’, a mid-April itinerary that probes deep into the gulf as far as Isla San Esteban. For a full week, we explore the inside leg of the Gulf of California, going ashore for nature hikes, early morning yoga, town visits, snorkelling in the coves, photography classes as well as kayaking along the craggy shores.

“It’s the best place in the world to see whales – lots of them” – Sven Lindblad

Despite numerous sightings of sperm whales, pilot whales, dolphins and porpoises of various types and more seabirds than I could ever tick off, the signature gray whale encounters are not to be had at this time of the year. These famously gregarious and interactive mammals are en route to Alaska by now from their breeding ground at Bahía Magdalena on the western coast.

Nevertheless, our expedition team of naturalists are unrelenting in their enthusiasm and desire to share and impart their vast knowledge and in this respect, I place the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic crew consistently among the very best in this arena.

Our ship, the National Geographic Sea Lion, is cosy, comfortable and unpretentious. While it’s ideal for the destination, cruise snobs would remark on the compact cabins and lack of lavish accoutrements. Dining is straightforward in single sittings at unreserved tables, ideal for rotating among fellow passengers and getting to know everyone. While I am the only Australian on board and travelling solo, I find the varied company stimulating and welcoming. Exactly as I remember Alaska aboard the twin, NG Sea Bird last year.

Exploring and discovering with Lindblad Expeditions - National Geographic is not a ‘cruise’ in the popular sense, it’s adventure and enrichment at sea and none of my fellow travellers lament the lack of big ship, mass market niceties.

Dedicated to imparting knowledge and in a spirit of conservation, I’m certain even the feared Queen Califia herself would welcome us into her domain.

== - ==

Getting There: Qantas flies to Los Angeles (LAX) and connects to San Jose Del Cabo (SJD) with codeshare partners Alaska Airlines or American Airlines. www.qantas.com

Cruising There: Lindblad Expeditions’ operates in Baja California from January to April annually. See au.expeditions.com or www.wildearth-travel.com. Prices start from A$6660* per person for 8 nights. For bookings phone 1800 107 715

The writer travelled with assistance from Lindblad Expeditions and Wild Earth Travel

* price checked https://au.expeditions.com/destinations/baja/baja-california-sea-of-cortez/dates-rates/

This article originally published in The Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail.

June 19, 2017

Ride Queensland's Valley Rattler

Chugging and choofing right on track

If the shriek of a steam whistle and the hiss of a steam engine are music to your ears, Helen Flanagan suggests the Valley Rattler.

Hanging baskets of flowers, a dinky refreshment room and the ticketing office of the Gympie Railway Station are shades of 1913, the year the original 1870's building was replaced and the new rail line, connecting the gold-rich town to Brisbane was opened. Travel by coastal steamer to Maryborough and train to Gympie with an onward stagecoach service to Noosa had finally become a thing of the past.

Today the Mary Valley Rattler Heritage Railway runs steam train tours as a tribute to the region's rail heritage. In charge of the eight driving-wheeled, 80 tonne locomotive, built in the UK by Armstrong Whitworth, at a cost of 5013 pounds and shipped to Brisbane in 1927 is John, a steam train driver since 1959. He is assisted by fireman Archie.

The station master calls "all aboard" and rings the big brass bell as the steam whistle shrieks. Number 802 pulls out of the station past the old Queenslander-style Railway Hotel, masses of brilliantly coloured jacaranda trees, work sheds and outhouses swathed in bougainvillea, through the Gympie burbs and onto what was considered the alternative railway to the coastal line from Brisbane in 1884/85.

The Rattler's carriages date from 1909 and were built at workshops in Ipswich. The Club car with its bar, coffee tables, comfy tub chairs and banquette-style seats was originally built as a Pullman-type sleeper with curtained berths down each side and a central aisle. When delivered to the workshop for major restoration, all that could be salvaged was the underframe and bogies. These were repaired, refurbed and fitted with a completely new superstructure.

From Deep Creek Bridge, which is thirty metres above the creek bed, evidence can be seen of the many gold workings that made up an essential part of Gympie's golden era. Once past Monkland railway station, the Rattler crosses the Mary Valley and negotiates steep gradients and narrow bridges. Thrusting up the windows, ale in hand, there's a much-needed cool breeze. It's now also much easier to check out 802's billowing smoke stack and rear carriages as it rounds each bend. There are spectacular views, much evidence of thriving rural communities, large herds of grazing dairy and beef cattle and a tapestry of pineapple, macadamia and vegetable farms whiz by.

The gentle cha-kung cha-kung rhythm reaches max crescendo, is replaced by sounds of creaking wood and punctuated by much clanking over tracks. Is this what train buffs call the romanticism of rail?

Amamoor is home to the Gympie Muster and after a brief stop at the fully restored station, a squiz at the arts and crafts, plus knits and bits that are reminiscent of yesteryear, passengers gawk as the locomotive and fire truck go into turn-around-mode. Back on board it's full steam ahead to Dagun station. Moffatdale Ridge wines and Kenilworth cheeses are available for tastings and purchase, large local pineapples and organic avocados are an absolute steal and an icy Dagun Delight with mango and macadamia, lived up to its name.

Forty kilometres of huffing-puffing and choo-chooing later, a memorable afternoon was over. Next time we'll pack the esky for the journey and experience a full day on the Rattler. The stop at Imbil for country-style markets and a good old fashioned lunch at the Railway Hotel is a must-do.

Doing It:

Ride the Rattler on Saturday, Sunday and Wedndesdays. Ph: (07) 5482 2750 www.thevalleyrattler.com

The gentle cha-kung cha-kung rhythm reaches max crescendo, is replaced by sounds of creaking wood and punctuated by much clanking over tracks

Words: Helen Flanagan

Images: As supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


At full steam
Almost ready
A quick check
Steam train supremos John and Archie
Leaving Gympie
Gympie Station

June 08, 2017

Mudgee's Blue Wren Winery: A bright feather in your culinary cap

After a complete upgrade to every aspect of the property, one of Mudgee’s signature wineries relaunches as a bold gastronomic and events venue. Roderick Eime tested his taste buds.

There’s a wry smirk on Chef Steve’s face as he digs deep into the punnet of thick coffee-coloured mousse he’s about to put on my plate. The velvet-smooth paste is delicately extracted with an ice cream scoop and placed to the side.

Chef Steve is a demon with the blowtorch

As I ponder this strange concoction, Steve continues to taunt me with cheeky glances as he prepares for the next astonishing procedure. Sugar is generously sprinkled on the mass and - voila - a blowtorch! The crystals are quickly turned to brûlée under the blaze of the gas flame, nearly searing our iPhones as we clamber for a photo.

duck breast etc
Crispy Skin Duck breast, duck liver ice-cream brûlée, pickled radish, cauliflower, crouton, dehydrated raspberry.

A healthy sliver of crispy skin duck breast, pickled radish, cauliflower fragments and sliced crouton the size of Smith’s crisps are meticulously arranged before the entire ensemble is garnished with a dusting of crimson dehydrated raspberry. We look at each other in amazement as this creation reaches its climax. The ice cream? Duck liver, of course.

Here at the Blue Wren Winery in Mudgee, Executive Chef and owner Kip Harris, is launching his new five-course winter degustation menu and we’re among the first to try this cavalcade of indulgence, constructed before our very eyes.

Boasting the only Chef’s Table experience in the burgeoning NSW Central West wine region, The Restaurant @ Blue Wren exhibits an outrageous cornucopia of flavours and challenges the taste buds of the most discerning and adventurous diner.

“This dish is certainly a non-traditional mix of flavours but I love experimenting with methods when putting together the ingredients for a dish and pushing boundaries in playing with the diners’ perception of flavours” Harris tells us, our jaws still dropping.

The Restaurant is quickly becoming a ‘must visit’ destination for those wanting to experience fine dining in regional New South Wales and now provides ease for diners with private car transfers for those staying locally.

“Since launching our first five-course tasting menu last season we have received a great reaction from our guests. People have trust in our bold flavours and gastronomy forms the foundation for a memorable experience”, he adds.

Chefs Table (adjusted)
Kip Harris with guests at his chef's table

Harris, 37, took over at Blue Wren two years ago from his father and has recently spent more than $500,000 upgrading the property. Enhancements include substantial reworking of the function space to accommodate 200 seated and 450 standing guests as well as a ‘clean slate’ rebuild of the kitchen.

Visitors can pop in and enjoy a wine flight, featuring five of the winery’s top single vineyard drops. The reserve shiraz (no.913) is the standout with, as Kip loves to describe, ‘aromas of sweaty saddle and creosote-soaked railway sleepers in the blazing summer sun’.

But you could be easily satisfied with the ‘regular’ shiraz (No.914) or one of the delightful whites like the low alcohol and zesty Verscato (No.216) or simmering rose (No.516).

Comfortable digs: Blue Wren Farmhouse sleeps ten
Situated a leisurely four hours’ drive from Sydney, Blue Wren is only a short distance from Mudgee township - where guests can explore the delightful country town that offers plenty of old world charm and ambiance mixed with plenty of rustic funk and edgy cuisine like Kip’s.


Why not stay at the winery itself in the brand new five bedroom Farmhouse? Take the family or a group of fun friends for a weekend of frolic in the vineyards. You can even fly in economically with regional airline, Fly Pelican [http://www.flypelican.com.au], who service Mudgee six times a week from T2 at Sydney.


Open for dinner from Wednesday through to Saturday, and lunch Friday through Sunday; the menu features a five-course tasting menu $98 per person with matching wines from the Blue Wren range at $35 per person. Bookings essential.

For more information and bookings:
www.bluewrenwines.com.au or Ph: +61 2 6372 6205

433 Ulan Road
Mudgee NSW 2850

The writer stayed as a guest of Blue Wren Winery

May 22, 2017

South Australia: Eyre Freshener

by Roderick Eime

As a child on family holidays in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I remember the Eyre Peninsula as a dry, dusty and windswept land covered in saltbush and red sand. More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to completely revise my childhood recollections.

Named for Edward John Eyre who nearly died several times on his crossing to Albany in 1841, he and his Aboriginal companion, Wylie, were the last of a party of five to make it alive. John Charles Darke was not so lucky, he’s buried near the foot of his namesake peak just SW of Kimba after being killed in a native attack in 1844.

From these harsh and foreboding beginnings, the Eyre Peninsula has quietly flourished. Port Lincoln has grown exponentially since the Japanese caught on to the excellent tuna caught and farmed there. Whyalla has always been an iron ore, steel and shipbuilding city and is the third most populous in the state behind Adelaide and Mount Gambier, while Ceduna and Port Augusta form the “bookends” east and west.

For an ultra close-up of the Port Lincoln tuna, jump aboard with Matt Waller of Adventure Bay Charters and you can dive into his net full of baby (20kg) Southern Blue Fin tuna and even hand feed them if you’re game. Matt can also offer relaxing day cruises on Boston Bay to visit the local sea lions.

You’ll be as surprised as I was at the culinary delights of Coffin Bay. Sit back and enjoy a feed of their famous oysters at The Oysterbeds Seafood Restaurant, grown in the ideal waters just across the road. Pour one of the excellent local wines to match. Ask for a Lincoln Estates Sauvignon Blanc or a Boston Bay Shiraz.

If adrenalin experiences are your go, then you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more exciting than a quick dip with the wild Great White Sharks. Calypso Star Charters are in high demand for their shark cruises to Neptune Island, off Port Lincoln. When you’re done with the man-eaters, take a dip with the local sea lions that delight in a game of underwater tag.

MV True North at anchor off Pearson Island

Cruise lovers can take their pick from True North Adventure Cruises’ annual Southern Safari, a luxury food, wine and fun cruise from Adelaide to Ceduna via Kangaroo Island or Classic International Cruises 3- or 4-night “sojourns at sea” aboard the Athena. True North Adventure Cruises visit the remote and uninhabited Investigator Group off the west coast, where you can wander (carefully) among the stunning rock formations and see the rare endemic rock wallaby.

Surprise yourself, rediscover the pleasures treasures of the Eyre Peninsula. I did.

Did You Know?

The coastline of the Peninsula was first mapped by rival explorers Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin in 1801-02.

Coffin Bay was not named for a sea burial but after Flinders’ naval buddy, Sir Isaac Coffin.

Further research: www.southaustralia.com

May 21, 2017

Brilliant Brittany

A Week in Brittany

"Leaning out the window of our accommodations on the rural outskirts of Bordeaux we're assailed by two things: a cat which wants to come in and share our comfort, and the scent of the garden. First to hit me is the strong perfume of lavender; it is everywhere. There was a mist or a bit of rain last night and the dewy drops have settled on the willowy plants and their purple flowers growing in the garden outside and are squeezing the aroma from the leaves.

Picking up the acquiescent cat to slowly wander around the acre or so that makes up the gardens of our abode, there's another scent; the "lawn" or grass meadow is scattered with mint and as we walk it assails our nostrils with the most marvellous scent. Stopping to take it all in there's yet more to tease the senses: the herby aroma of bay laurel mingles with the spice of sage growing wild; a huge fig has dropped over-ripe, purple fruits in profusion onto the ground where they've splattered and the rich heady perfume has joined the cacophony of scent. The air itself seems to celebrate the bounty, and as I type the thyme convinces us that it's time to explore a little more. There is so much more to discover in this verdant countryside".

Australian journalist Jackie Gill and photographer friend Debra Mitchell, along with a group of Aussie friends, found much to love during their recent visit to France.

Part of their five week stay included a portion organised by a Frenchwoman, Pascale Gerson, who lives in Australia and has a passion for introducing her home country to visitors through her popular "Visit My French Village" tourism venture.

The Aussie contingent enjoyed a stay in a property on the outskirts of Bordeaux – which prompted the opening paragraph of this story – and then a week in Brittany. The wonderfully rustic accommodations were once the oxen stables of a large 13th century chateaux which still looms on the landscape behind the chestnut trees.

The accommodations are a short wander to the town of La Chapelle-Caro; and a only a few more steps in other directions to other, equally delightful little towns. Most of the pathways wind through woodlands, or along the side of century-old canals. A half hour walk takes the thirsty visitor to another of the tiny enchanting French villages, with a pub which looks over the canal. It's very easy to settle in and enjoy a vin rouge in the afternoon sunlight.

"Every distant vista has a steeple. From every road there is a horizon cut by green forest and field, and brown paddocks ploughed and ready for planting and, everywhere the evidence of people. Houses – small and large and sometimes enormous – dot the countryside and everywhere there are villages; towns that are home to sometimes a handful of houses and sometimes thousands.

Throughout the country identical houses jam the road sides, dressed in shades of cream and light yellow with high sloping v-shaped roofs of slate. It's hard to go five kilometres without passing through another enclave; many appear to be un-named and unknown as towns to anyone but those who reside there. We have learnt how to tell the difference. True villages are defined by the churches around which all are built. And what churches they are. With Roman, Gothic and Medieval roots they soar above the centre of the town with arched windows and high oak doors. Located in the centre of each village, usually near the town square, and almost always, we have noticed, with a cat, their bell towers pierce the sky, and stone or slate, the steeples make their mark on the horizons of the French countryside."

From the accommodation the visitors ranged across Brittany; exploring ancient megaliths and standing stones; oyster beds at the wide, clean beach; staring awe-struck at Mont St Michel in the afternoon light; wandering through a forest called Broceliande where Merlin the Magician is said to have died.

Pascale's promise is that visitors to her "French Village" will get a taste of the real France. That was certainly the case. With its crepes and apple and its cider and corn fields; its window boxes full of geraniums it was a glorious experience. "Visit My French Village" organised the accommodations, pick-ups and drop-offs and all the little extras that ensure a brilliant, hassle free experience for the visitor.


Journalist Jackie Gill writes a blog called The Blue Hats (www.thebluehats.holiday or FB The BlueHats).

Images: as supplied.

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1 Walking along the canal at Le Roc-St-Andre

2 Small village of Montertelot

3 Montertelot drinking with the locals

4 Josselin medieval town

5 Café in a small village in Brittany

6 Local market in Malestroit

May 15, 2017

STRUTH! Americans have their love of ice cream licked

WE'VE  recently got to wondering: will Australians ever put the third Sunday of July into their diaries – like in America, where the day's been celebrated as National Ice Cream Day for over 30 years.

And it was by presidential decree, in 1984 ice-cream lovin' President Ronald Reagan proclaiming July as National Ice Cream month, and it's third Sunday as National Ice Cream Day.

Yet bizarrely, despite their size and their presidential decree Americans are not the world's biggest consumers per capita of ice cream… would you believe that title goers to tiny New Zealand where the locals lick up 28.4 litres per person of the stuff annually… with the Americans in second place at 20.8 litres per person, and Aussies third at 18 litres per head.

Which should be good enough reason for us all to put the third Sunday of July into our diaries for our own personal Ice Cream Day if industry or government won't do anything about it to make it official.

And incidentally, as far back as 340BC Alexander the Great's chefs mixed him snow, ice, honey and nectar as a summer cooler, Marco Polo in the late 13th century took home to Italy a Chinese recipe similar to what we now know as sherbert and which eventually evolved into Italian ice-cream, while in England "cream ice" was served to Charles I in the 17th century.

America's first ice-cream was recorded in 1744 in a letter written by Maryland Governor, William Bladen, while accounts show George Washington spent a whopping $200 on ice-cream during the steamy summer of 1790, strawberry-infused ice-cream was served in The White House in 1813… and the first commercial ice-creams hit America's streets in the mid-1800s.

ICE CREAM in every imaginable colour and flavour… the Americans have got it licked. (WikiMedia)

May 01, 2017

Sailing the Orient with ms Volendam


Cherry Blossoms brighten the ordinary weather as features editor John Newton sails from China to Korea and Japan.

As perfect days go, the masses of springtime cherry blossoms in Japan that have become a national obsession – and a major international tourism drawcard – were putting on a blooming jaw-dropping show.

For the 1400 passengers aboard our cruise ship – ms Volendam – it was a splendid and welcome sight, first to see blue skies, and then catch their first glimpse of the delicate, majestic pale pink blooms after days of peering out at sea blanketed by fog.

It seemed fitting that the Nagasaki Peace Park should be such a serene place of beauty and colour after what happened to the city on 9 August 1945 when an atomic bomb exploded, killing 73,884, injuring 74,909 and leaving 120,820 homeless.

Nagasaki was the first Japanese port of call on Volendam's 14-day cruise from Hong Kong to Yokohama, the port city of Tokyo – a distance of 3153 nautical miles.

Located in the park at the epicentre of the bomb blast, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum – opened in 1996 - captures life in the city before that fateful day 72 years ago, together with artefacts of the devastation caused by the bomb called 'Fatman'. These include a wall clock which 'froze' at 11.02am – the moment Nagasaki was destroyed. The clock was found in a house near Shinto in Sakamoto Machi, about 800 metres from the hypocentre.

Nagasaki's Omura Park is also filled with 300 blossoming cherry trees in spring and is recognised as one of 'Japan's top 100 cherry blossom spots'.

Not known for prolific cherry blossom displays, Kagoshima – the second cruise stopover in Japan - is a hot spring haven with the second largest number of hot springs in Japan. The city spreads along Kinko Bay and boasts one of the most unusual vistas in the world, with Sakura-jima - an active volcano – rising from the waters, just a few kilometres away.

Millions of people across Japan hold hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties underneath the trees in local parks during the short blooming season (late March-mid-April) of the cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese.   In Tokyo, Kawaguchiko at the foot of Mt. Fuji and Arakura Sengen Shrine, are reputed to be among the city's best spots to enjoy sakura.

Japan was like a breath of fresh air after days at sea and disappointing visits to Shanghai and Seoul, although the Great Wall in Beijing more than made up for a couple of pricey excursions. These included a high-speed bullet train (Chinese version) ride from Shanghai to Hangzhou and the city's West Cape Cultural Landscape, a World Cultural Heritage site.

After a long, tedious immigration process off the ship, the train from Shanghai's Hongqiao railway station – Asia's biggest, covering 1.3 million square metres –  lived up to expectations and soon hit nearly 300 kilometres an hour, arriving on time in Hangzhou in just over an hour.

It was after the rush of adrenalin on the train that the tour started to turn sour. First, the set lunch at a so-called four-star hotel was enough to put people off Chinese food forever, while the staff were rude with a 'couldn't care less' attitude. Glad to be out of there, we headed to Hangzhou's West Lake, which spreads over nearly 60- square kilometres. It has more than 100 places of interest, but our fleeting visit took in only a short, uninteresting cruise and a ramble along the scenic shoreline. Back in Shanghai, the mind-boggling city is where we should have stayed in the first place to sample at least a couple of the city's 20,000 restaurants.

Seoul, a soulless city, was yet another disappointment, although the pretty young ladies in national costume at the Gyeongbok Palace and Folklore Museum were far more photogenic than the dour palace buildings that we couldn't enter.

While the Korean-style barbecue lunch was far superior to the Hangzhou experience, the downtown stopover at busy Insa-dong Street followed by an open-air market crush proved to be a letdown for the ship's passengers looking for a quality shopping spree. Tacky souvenirs and cheap quality clothes were not on anyone's list.

An eerie, sea fog (a real pea-souper, as they say in the UK) kept almost everyone off the Volendam's decks as the ship – with its foghorn blaring every two minutes - headed to Tianjin, the port of Beijing, where the sun came out as we set off on a long coach journey to the Summer Palace & Garden of Cultivated Harmony and on to the Great Wall. A memorable hour or so was spent climbing steps and breathing heavily along a restored section with incredible views.

The fog was back the next day when we spared a thought for those who'd booked Beijing excursions on the second day. Police closed the highway to the city, forcing the coaches to turn back to the ship.

Japan was eagerly awaited – and it didn't disappoint in all three cities, with our pre-booked Mt Fuji and bullet train trip in Tokyo capping an exciting end to a cruise of more highs than lows, dominated by gloomy, cold spring weather – down in some places to 7C - resulting in more action in the spa salon than in the indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

HAL ms Volendam

The author was a guest of Holland America Lines

For details on HAL's 2017 and 2018 world cruises, go to: http://www.hollandamerica.com/

or  info@hollandamerica.com

Words and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1.     West Lake Gardens

2.     Gyeongbok Palace

3.     The Great Wall

4.     Cherry Blossoms

5.     Nagasaki clock

6.     Mt Fuji

April 26, 2017

Heritage rail journey from Sydney to Melbourne

Doing the Locomotion on Grandma's Express

A ride with Grandma and her aging followers is an authentic trip back in time. Roderick Eime is aboard for the ride.

Melbourne Limited (thank you Bradley Matthews)

Grandma's working life began in 1955 taking regular trips between Sydney and Melbourne in the glory days of Australian rail when the shiny Southern Aurora was the bees' knees in interstate travel.

Back then, she'd haul 200 travellers the 500-odd miles at a cracking 65mph a couple of times a week along the century-old rail route between Australia's largest capital cities. Some would be tucked up in First Class Sleepers, while others would ride the comfy recliners. Others might make a jaunty time of it with a claret or lager in the plush lounge car.

At the hi-tech controls in Grandma's cockpit
Today Grandma is taking me on a nostalgic trip back down the line via Junee and Albury to Seymour where she'll hand over to her elegant contemporary, the 'Spirit of Progress'.

To tell you a bit more about the old girl, she's a 42 Class diesel-electric locomotive powered by a 100 litre, V16 two-stroke engine dishing up some 1600 old fashioned horsepower. She's hooked up to a bit of a motley collection of rolling stock dusted off from the Transport Heritage Trust of NSW's inventory of retired carriages, most of which normally reside at either the 'old rollers' museum at Thirlmere on Sydney's southern outskirts or Eveleigh.

Many of the vintage carriages were constructed at the Clyde workshops in Sydney's west back as far as the 1930s with most finally being put to pasture in the '80s and '90s. We have two from the original Southern Aurora and others from the mid-20th century Newcastle and Riverina Express routes. 150 mostly graying, train-mad travellers are cheerfully bouncing along, swapping tales of the rail journeys of their youth, some even recalling the steam era. In fact, I'm writing this from the lurid orange vinyl bench seats of the '70s era dining car that formed part of the Indian Pacific until 1994.

Alex Crass - a lifetime on the railways
Alex Crass is one of the several volunteers staffing the train. He's already given more than half a century of service to the railways, yet still squeezes into his conductor's uniform and flashes a broad trademark smile that speaks volumes.

“I started out as a fireman on the steam trains, “Alex tells me, “After serving with the RAN during the Korean War era, I started on the railways in 1961 and spent the next 50 years doing just about every other job to do with trains. I tried retirement, but it bores me.”

Like ships and airplanes, once rail gets in your blood it's near impossible to purge. And so it is with the eight score passengers on our Sydney Limited reprise. The brainchild of Richard Boyce from Sydney travel agency, Cruise Express, Richard is an unabashed train nerd who talks in acronyms like PFZs, NAMs and RUBs – all model types of rolling stock in Grandma's wobbly entourage. Passengers complete one way by heritage train of one sort or another, then return in lavish luxury aboard a Princess Cruises' ship. Or vice versa. Brisbane is also on the menu.

“It's been quite a bit of work to secure these trains,” says Richard with obvious understatement. I know that quite apart from negotiating the inevitable bureaucracy that comes with the intricacies of combined volunteer, not-for-profit and government agencies, he spent many hours with such necessary tasks as washing and ironing the dusty carriage curtains.

“But, in spite of the many challenges, the end result has exceeded our wildest dreams. The very first voyage took a couple weeks to sell, but once the word was out, it was a 'runaway train'. The second sold in a matter of hours.”

Melbourne Limited at the historic Junee station

Such has been the success of these 'Rail & Sail' packages that rail buffs from all over the country have gravitated to this lure of the loco and Richard has a waiting list that will see him through the next couple departures at least.

While Grandma takes a well-earned rest after back-to-back long haul runs, smaller, lighter 'rail motors' will be used more often. These diesel-powered trains, like the so-called 'Tin Hare' were more common on shorter regional routes but have also proven surprisingly popular with 'Rail & Sail' clients. Either way, nostalgic rail lovers and cruise fans will get a double dose of their favourite means of propulsion when the next round of these peculiar voyages are announced.

For information about heritage 'Rail & Sail' packages, contact Richard at Cruise Express on 02 9810 5377 or visit www.cruiseexpress.com.au

April 16, 2017

Welcome Back to NSW's Central Coast

With short break holidays becoming more popular amongst Australians, the NSW Central Coast is an ideal place to visit.

Just an hour north of Sydney, this beautiful region is often overlooked by tourists charging along the M1 heading north to the sun. Sadly, the Coast has had a massive downtown in tourism in recent years.

The main reasons include the improvement to the M1 which makes northern tourist spots much more accessible and the decline in camping and tourist type accommodation.

Now, we all know the "jewels of the coast", namely Terrigal and The Entrance, but they are just two of the many gems in this region.

Copacabana, Avoca, Hardy's Bay, Empire Bay, Toowoon Bay and Soldiers Beach are all beautiful, tranquil little spots off the normal tourist routes.

And, it is not just the beaches and waterways that should attract visitors. There are lots of interesting things to do on the Coast.

First up is the Australian Reptile Park which is much more than just snakes and lizards. Australian wildlife including crocodiles, dingoes, kangaroos, emus, Tasmanian devils, echidnas and wallabies are all featured at the park.

There is an impressive playground and the spider display has to be seen to be believed.

The Gosford Classic Car museum is based in the massive former Bunning's warehouse in West Gosford and features a stunning display of 450 vehicles and motorbikes.  All the great names of motoring are represented: Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Triumph, Austin Healey, the list goes on and on.

Another classic collection can be seen at the Ken Duncan Gallery in Erina Heights. The famous landscape photographer purpose built his new gallery on the Central Coast Highway and made it free of charge to guests. You can have a coffee or a full lunch at the adjacent Sanctuary Café.

Of course, two major shopping centres on the Coast are tourist attractions in their own right. Erina Fair and Westfield Tuggerah always seemed to be brimming with people, which is probably a tribute to the Coast's position as a major retirement area.

Gosford is booming at the moment with dozens of major developments underway. These include the impressive seven storey Bonython Tower luxury residential and commercial project funded by advertising guru and entrepreneur John Singleton. "Singo" is also building a 50 unit site Bonython Waters adjacent to Brisbane Water.

These two projects have gained a lot of media attention and have led to a rush of development applications. These will inevitably lead to new tourist accommodation and "things to do" in the Gosford area.

For the more energetic amongst us, the innovative Treetops Adventure Park at Yarramalong is the place to go. It features an amazing array of rope walkways in the trees, plus obstacles, zip lines, cargo next and dozens of challenges. You could easily spend a day enjoying the many activities and it is ideal for a family to spend the day together.

It also gets the kids away from the I pads and phones and out into the great outdoors. Treetrops is one of the great coast success stories and is expanding around Australia.

Horse riding at Glenning Valley, fishing along the beaches and waterways and hiking in Lake Munmorah Recreation Area are just some of the many activities available on the Coast.

For more information: www.visitcentralcoast.com.au

Words by Dallas Sherringham

Images as supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1.     Enzo Ferrari

2.     Ken Duncan Gallery

3.     Australian Reptile Park

4.     Australian Reptile Park

5.     Treetops Adventure park

6.     Treetops Adventure Park

April 10, 2017

Cruising on Queen Mary 2: Three sides to Cruising

There's something about Mary

With its huge art deco-styled lipstick red funnel, blue and white
livery and wraparound promenade deck, Helen Flanagan was all at sea on
the leviathan ocean liner Queen Mary 2.

Could the grandeur, elegance and romance of the golden age of sea
travel exist today or is that the dominion of the movies such as
Titanic starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio?

After stepping on board the Queen Mary 2, welcomed by a dashing
officer in dazzling whites, gliding along the decks and carpeted
passageways, entering a small but perfectly and cleverly designed
Brittania stateroom decorated in gold and cream, with a generous sized
balcony, it's time for a glass of Veuve Clicquot whilst we unpack.
There's plentiful of robe space and masses of hangers to swallow up
the evening and the less formal albeit casual wear.

If you can afford to step it up several notches the Princess or Royal
Grill categories have lavish staterooms and suites including two 209
square metre grand duplex apartments, plus special restaurants, bowing
butlers and all the upper-crust accoutrements.

All the hallmarks and expectations of glamerama and good taste yet
hints of nostalgia await. From the sweeping staircase in Britannia
Restaurant; the six-storey grand lobby; a ballroom where suave
gentlemen hosts and terribly refined folk in dinner jackets and
sequined frocks, samba to the orchestra; and performing arts in the
Royal Court Theatre; to wide gallery spaces with displays of "stars on
board" such as Greta Garbo, the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson, plus
more than 300 original artworks valued at more than $US5 million,
there's certainly a sense of space and style.

Let's not forget the many outdoor areas with five swimming pools, golf
simulators, putting green, basketball and paddle tennis courts and
more. Plus a cool14 bars and clubs, 10 restaurants of various culinary
persuasions, 8000-book library, spa and gym with aqua-therapy pool,
sauna, ice fountain for the brave, beauty salon and 24-treatment
rooms, the world's first planetarium at sea and eight swanky boutiques
and souvenir-stocked shops with must-buy prices.

The Commodore tells us "the flagship of the Cunard Line towers 62
metres above the waterline - the equivalent of a 23 storey building,
and is the finest ocean liner ever built. Its four diesel engines and
two gas turbines produce the thrust required to launch a jumbo jet.
It's a giant power station run by electric motors…made to take the
heaviest weather…it's as good as it gets."

Grey Goose Citron martinis beckon in the smart Commodore Club,
overlooking the bow, prior to dinner in the Britannia restaurant.
Choices are many, quality and service is excellent, wine list
extensive. Open sandwiches andtarts in Sir Samuel's or British staples fish and chips with mushy
peas and ploughmans are on the menu in the Golden Lion pub. Both are
excellent lunch options as is the Veuve Clicquot Twinings High Tea in
the Winter Garden with white-gloved service of dainty sandwiches and
rolls, choux pastry swans, scones, tartlets and melodious strains of a

[Editor's Note: QM2 received substantial updates in 2016. For details about these new features, see here.]

After dinner it's show time with headline acts ranging from opera
singers, comedians, cabaret stars; playing black jack, poker or slot
machines in the casino; or ballroom dancing in the Queens Room, the
largest ballroom at sea. At the G32 night club, sing and dance to
brilliant Caribbean band and after umpteenth stanzas of 'Feelin' hot,
hot, hot', it's time for more refreshments. The night is young and
tomorrow's decisions are easy especially when not in port. Or are

A multitude of options in the daily oracle range from pub trivia,
table tennis, deck quoits, card games, movies, bridge and twist, jazz,
ballroom and line dancing classes, martini mixology, whisky and wine
tastings, fruit and vegetable carving, art classes, scarf tying and
napkin folding to curling up on a steamer chair for a zizz or catching
a few stray rays poolside.

No time to be bored. We're here for a good time, not a long time.

*There are after-all three sides to cruising: starboard, portside and
funside! How true.

For more information and bookings visit www.cunardline.com.au or call 13 24 41.

Words: Helen Flanagan

Images: as supplied.

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


  1. Britannia Restaurant
  2. Spa
  3. Succulent lamb
  4. QM2
  5. Stateroom
  6. St Valentine's Day arrival in Sydney