November 28, 2008


david ellis

A 25-cent exercise book and a bit of teenage exuberance put Alice Weiser on the road to becoming America's Leading Lady of character and handwriting analysis, culminating in a life of cruising the world to share with fellow passengers the behind-the-scenes of some of America's most bizarre modern-day crime mysteries.

Scribble a few words on a piece of paper, doodle on a bar coaster or simply scratch your ear while you're talking, and within seconds Alice will be telling you everything you ever did – or more likely, did not – want to know about yourself. And with an accuracy bordering the scary.

Her skills have led her along the corridors of US law-enforcement agencies to assist on unusual cases, into the boardrooms of some of its biggest corporates to give advice on 'people profiling' for top-level appointments, and behind courtroom benches to help judges pondering whether an accused may have some hope of redemption with a second chance.

Just how folk cross their T's or dot their I's has seen Alice involved in analysing the Jon Benet Ramsey ransom note, the O.J. Simpson "suicide" note and the infamous Anthrax Letters… and explaining it all to radio and TV talk show audiences from America to Europe and Australia, including one particularly notorious crime that led to the making of the 1980s movie thriller Fatal Vision (that starred Karl Malden and Eva Marie Saint.)

Alice Weiser was born in Boston and enrolled early in college to study psychology, including handwriting whose analysis fascinated her with its ability to reveal so much in-depth information about an individual.

And at just under sixteen, when her father helped organise a local charity fair, Alice volunteered to man a handwriting analysis booth there.

"I bought a 25c exercise book and invited people to make a donation and write in my book 'This will not facilitate the matter,'" she recalled during a recent guest lecture series aboard cruise ship SeaDream I on its way to the Caribbean. "I told those who could spell 'facilitate' correctly that their intellect would take them to all heights – and those who couldn't, that their 'street-smart' would help them achieve their goals.

"They all went away happy – because I'd told them what they wanted to hear."

Today Alice says the letter 't' is the most important in studying handwriting. "The size it's written, which way it slopes or if its vertical, and how you cross it, tells us so much about you: if you are proud and dignified, independent, loyal, have willpower, can set your goals – or are just a procrastinator," she says.

And she recalled a case in which lawyers for a man facing jail for rape, asked her to analyse the written statement of the alleged victim. "Normal writing follows a rhythm, but as her statement went into the detail of the alleged offence, her words became erratically spaced – indicating she wasn't telling the story as it happened, but was creating it as she went along…"

The man was acquitted, and the girl subsequently admitted she'd lied.

How we act physically when fibbing is another of Alice's studies: "You blink more when you're lying, and often swallow more – and if you rub your nose while you're talking, you're really telling your listener 'What I'm saying actually stinks,'  while tugging at your ear is a dead giveaway for 'Don't believe a word I'm saying.'"

When a famous American surgeon was charged with murdering his pregnant wife and two children thirty years ago, a newspaper became curious about the angle a reporter on a local TV station began taking about the case. The paper got hold of samples of the TV reporter's handwriting and asked Alice to analyse them.

"Her writing indicated she was getting involved emotionally with the indicted surgeon… the whole event led to the movie Fatal Vision." (The reporter was taken off the case, and backed out of her relationship with the surgeon who is still in jail - Ed.)

Today the sprightly 75-year old Alice – once named International Handwriting Analyst of the Year –  cruises the world giving lectures and writing about her life and work. At last count she'd notched-up 127 such cruises.

And her final word?

"If you don't want anyone to know anything about you, never put anything in writing."   


[] ALICE shows how three different signatures can tell all about you. (Top) clear, succinct and confident; (middle) a showman saying make way for me;

(bottom) lots of confidence, I know who I am and I have arrived.

[] HER popular book Judge The Jury is an easy-to-follow guide on how to read and profile people.

Photos: David Ellis

November 17, 2008


david ellis

THE POSTAL authorities in Vanuatu are an inventive lot, and maybe amongst the world's most imaginary.

In an era in which many a little country makes a cosy income from selling colourful and odd-shaped postage stamps to collectors, Vanuatu goes one step further.        

Five years ago its postal chiefs opened the world's first underwater Post Office, 3-metres down on the harbour-bed off Hideaway Island in a picturesque marine park outside the capital Port Vila.

In this tiny egg-shaped fibre-glass igloo the Postmaster, decked out in scuba gear, collects specially waterproofed postcards at his shopfront counter from tourists who duck-dive down to him; cards have to be written in pencil, and instead of an ink date stamp a novel embossed cancellation device is used.

Cards posted here are a must amongst philatelists, and following the raging success of the Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu went on to establish the world's first Volcano Post Box on the actual rim of an active, roaring and rumbling volcano.

It's on Mt Yasur on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu's south, and here a decision's taken each day on the exact location of the portable box, that decision being dependent on just how violent eruptions are at the time.

And now Vanuatu's postal bosses have come up with yet another way of using postage stamps to further promote the most important factor in keeping their country's economy afloat – tourism.

They've released a set of seven stamps (together with a first day cover,) that they hope will encourage thousands of international holidaymakers to visit their Pacific paradise, dubbing the set 'Resorts in Paradise'.

One is generic showing children frolicking on a pristine beach behind a close-up shot of a beautiful local orchid; the other six feature leading holiday resorts in and around Port Vila – Iririki Island, Le Meridien, Le Lagon, Breakas Beach, the Melanesian and the Sebel.

It's believed to be the first time in the world that private commercial enterprises have appeared on postage stamps, and tourism authorities are hoping the new stamps will have a similar effect in attracting visitors that the so-called 'Xtreme' Underwater and Volcano Post Offices had.

Iririki Island Resort has been part of the fabric of Port Vila for almost a quarter of a century and is situated on a pretty island in the centre of Port Vila Harbour.

A building at the highest point of the island was once the home of the British Resident Commissioner when the nation was known as New Hebrides, a condominium pre-Independence administered jointly by France and the United Kingdom; Queen Elizabeth stayed there during her South Pacific visit in 1974.

Directly opposite Iririki, on Port Vila's main street, is the newest Mecca for corporate visitors and holidaymakers, the Sebel. It is Vanuatu's first (and only) high-rise hotel and this year was venue for Tok Tok (Talk Talk,) Vanuatu's important annual tourism industry trade fair.

Two of the resorts featured on the stamps have gaming facilities.

One, Le Meridien five-minute from Port Vila city centre and set amid twenty-five lagoon-side hectares, has The Palms Casino with poker machines and a selection of gaming tables.

The other, the Melanesian Resort on the fringe of the city CBD, includes Club 21 that attracts players to its banks of poker machines.       

Breakas Beach, aimed at adult guests, is located 10 or 12 minutes from Port Vila's centre on the Pango Peninsula; as well as an eye-catching infinity pool, it also boasts a 2km private beach on the Pacific Ocean.

Conversely Le Lagon, on picturesque Erakor Lagoon, aims itself squarely at families with deals at select times of the year that include all meals and unlimited house wine and local beer, spirits and soft drinks throughout the day.

And the resort's golf course has the world's only 'par one' hole: players have to drive directly down from a 6-metre high knoll into the 8th hole below to make par. Birdies and eagles are obviously impossible.

Golfers who've played it are convinced the designer must have had a good session on Vanuatu's famed relaxant, kava before drawing up the blueprint.

For information about holidaying in Vanuatu see travel agents, or check-out



[] FIRST Day Cover shows all seven colourful new stamps promoting Vanuatu tourism.

[] ONE of the stamps: first time in the world private commercial enterprises have featured on postage stamps.

(PHOTOS: Vanuatu Post)

November 10, 2008


david ellis

WE occasionally make decisions that in their wisdom surprise even ourselves.

One such was deciding earlier this year to stretch a day trip from Paris to Strasbourg to an overnight. A particularly long and enjoyable dinner with several bottles of French whites helped it along.

And had we not, we would never have discovered the "Old City" of Strasbourg, a place that dates back to 496 A.D.

So in the wee dawn hours of a Sunday morning, a normally ungodly hour for us, we cram in a quick walk through this old part of the city before getting the high-speed TGV train back to Paris.

The extraordinarily beautiful medieval architecture – almost eerie at this early hour with the streets wonderfully sans-people – literally takes our breath away.

Strasbourg is in the Alsace region of France, close to the German border and near where the River Ill joins the mighty Rhine. In ancient times it blossomed as a strategic commercial hub before two centuries of religious struggles hammered this role.

It recovered with its absorption into France in 1681, but along with the rest of Alsace was annexed by Germany from 1871 to the end of World War I and again from 1940 to 1944.

Today it is the seat of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament.

The Old City occupies an island with its streets organised in a grid and with 20 bridges connecting it to the "mainland."

For the first 30-minutes of our early Sunday walk we sight not a soul as we wander past medieval houses, ancient shops crammed into narrow laneways and squares branching out from the city's Gothic Cathédrale de Notre-Dame that's built of fabulous pink sandstone.

We have the place to ourselves.

From the north side of the cathedral, we find the eighteenth-century Place Broglie, with the Hôtel de Ville, the bijou Opera House and some 18th century mansions.

And Number 4 Place Broglie where, in 1792, Rouget de l'Isle first sang what later became known as the Marseillaise after the mayor of Strasbourg challenged him to compose a rousing song for the troops of the Rhine army.

We're not Francophiles, but friends in Melbourne later tell us they had been brought up with the Marseillaise as the adopted tune of the AFL's defunct Fitzroy Lions (and now adapted by the Brisbane Lions.)  "We are the boys from Old Fitzroy" the Fitzroy faithful, we are told, still sing along Brunswick Street today.

But let's get back to Old Strasbourg. The previous afternoon, to the east of the cathedral, we had discovered trendy student cafés a-buzz with conversation and laughter, but this morning all is quiet, locked-up and it is beautifully peaceful.

We wander off west and discover the La Petite France sector, where the city's medieval millers, tanners and fishermen once lived.  Cute 16th and 17th century houses are decorated with elaborate carved woodwork and flowering window boxes; and further on, we discover ancient canals and bridges with watchtowers, built as part of fourteenth-century city fortifications.

It's easy walking because the Old City is flat – if you want an elevated view of Strasbourg and, in the distance the Vosges to the west and the Black Forest to the east, climb some 300 steps to a viewing platform within the cathedral.

Finally with the sun now coming up over the architectural horizon we amble back to our conveniently-located 3-star Hotel Beaucour – just across a bridge which bears rare and fascinating instillation art  –  as people start entering the cathedral to worship or to marvel at the 1842 Astrological Clock.

(If you can handle crowds, it's worth witnessing the clock's crowning performance at noon each day.)

It is 7.30am and the serenity is evaporating as the Old City starts another day.

We collect our bags and take the tram the few minutes to the city's rail station.

Then we're on the 0816 TGV train which, on its high-speed track, will have us  back into central Paris just after 10.30. We settle in and have breakfast on board.

It's a fitting end to a First Class morning; for information about Strasbourg check and for rail services see



[] POSTCARD perfect canal in Old Strasbourg

[] ANCIENT laneways reveal fascinating insights into Strasbourg's history

(Photos: French Tourist Bureau)


November 05, 2008

Island time on laid-back Straddie

In a State blessed with beautiful islands, Sue Fuller discovers a quiet achiever lying right on Brisbane’s doorstep.

With empty beaches as far as you can see, frolicking dolphins and whales, spectacular coastal gorges and rich indigenous history, it’s perhaps not surprising North Stradbroke Island, affectionally known as Straddie, has long been a favourite escape for locals in the know.

Just 45 minutes by barge (or 25 minutes by water taxi) from Cleveland, Straddie is all about pristine nature and low-key pleasures like beach combing, barbecuing fresh seafood and playing beach cricket.

It’s home to just three villages – Dunwich where the barges arrive, the sleepy fishing village of Amity, and Point Lookout with its multi-million-dollar views. A single bitumen road links the three villages while 4WDs are only necessary to explore the island’s interior or if you want to drive on sections of the beach.

If you don’t own a 4WD, Lynn Jones of Straddie Guides will help you get off track on his half or full day eco-accredited tours to explore not only the more obvious highlights of the island but also some secret spots that take true local knowledge to uncover – or even find!

But first to answer a question he’s been asked hundreds of times: how did he get his first name?

“My father took a letter from the names of the four men he was in a trench with during the Second World War and he came up with Lynn,” he said. After dad told me the story that none of them came home except for him, and then Johny Cash bought out the song `A Boy Like Sue’ I felt I wasn’t the only one with a funny name.”

During our half day tour Lynn shows us the island’s freshwater keyhole lakes – a 4km continuously connected lake that looks like a series of keyholes and a magical spot filled with hundreds of grass trees only a kilometre from the popular Brown Lake.

We enjoy a swim in the tannin-stained waters of Brown Lake and take in the spectacular views on the North Gorge Walk which starts on the other side of the island at Lookout.

Lynn drops us back at our accommodation which must be one of the best located pubs in the country. The Straddie Pub, or Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel/Spa Resort as it’s known after a recent multi-million-dollar makeover, has just 12 hotel rooms plus spacious two and three bedroom apartments.

Our hotel room is stylish and comes complete with a bath offering glimpses of the sea but I resolve to gather some friends or family and splash out on a three-bedroom apartment next time. The apartments are truly spectacular, generously-sized with pandanus-framed views of the sea.

Dining at the “pub” also means guaranteed ocean views – from the casual restaurant and public bar. There’s also a day spa which offers a range of treatments, some loosely based around indigenous techniques. Highly recommended is the spa’s signature treatment - ocean dreaming – (three hours for $295) combining a facial, hand and foot treatment, body exfoliation, mud wrap, hair and scalp treatment and massage.

Feeling scrubbed and soothed, the rest of the day is spent on leisurely exploring Point Lookout on my hire bike fuelled by a sensational gelati from the Oceanic Gelati & Coffee Bar.

Point Lookout offers a range of accommodation from architect-designed beach houses, self-contained apartments and million-dollar homes for rent. It’s almost too good a secret to share.

For more information visit

How to get there

North Stradbroke Island is located 45 minutes by car ferry from the Brisbane bayside suburb of Cleveland or a 25 minute water taxi ride. Taxis and a local bus service connects with the barge.

Some useful sites

November 03, 2008

Sydney Tower Skywalk: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

NOT for feint-hearts – Skywalks' overhang platform for those above the rest.
david ellis

HOW's that old song go? On a Clear Day You Can See Forever…

And on a clear day from one of Sydney's most-visited attractions, you can see forever.

Well, almost.

And even if it's not a totally clear day, reach out and touch the clouds…

EXHILARATING view of Sydney from Bridge to beyond.
We've talking about Skywalk, an exhilarating 45-minute open-air stroll around the very rooftop of that golden dome atop Sydney Tower, and the highest public viewing point in Sydney.

While visitors have ooo'd and ahhh'd at the amazing unobstructed view from the glassed-in Observation Level at Sydney Tower for years, those fearless of heights can also go outside onto the roof of the tower to get an even better fresh-air view of Sydney and its sprawling surrounds.

Not that you just climb a ladder and stroll about: you're in fact tucked into a bright blue and gold Skysuit that fits over your street clothes (slacks for the ladies, please, and flat-heeled shoes for everyone) and then have a safety harness snapped over the Skysuit.

This harness is in turn clipped onto a track on a handrail that goes around two levels of the roof and follows an industrial-style metal walkway with a  further metre-high glass safety barrier.

So there's absolutely no chance of you falling off – and at one point if you wish, you can choose to stand on a section of reinforced glass flooring and look down between your feet to the cobweb of cables that hold the tower together, and the streets below them… something perhaps not for the feint-hearted.

The view from up here is 360-degrees, looking out to sea to watch cruise ships and maritime work-horses slipping into and out of the harbour, ferries and pleasure craft scurrying about the harbour itself, the Eastern Suburbs, down the coast to the Royal National Park, inland to cities like Hurstville, Chatswood, Parramatta, Bankstown, Ryde, and Hornsby, west to the Blue Mountains, and north past Pittwater to Norah Head in the far distance…

And the inner-city 260 metres (850 feet) directly below.

Guides accompanying each group of Skywalkers point out places of interest… historic areas with little word-pictures of their colourful pasts, interesting streets or buildings of historic or architectural importance, the Domain, Botanic Gardens, the Cricket Ground, Football Stadium, Mascot Airport with planes coming and going out in all directions like busy-bees…

And the rail network that snakes like some giant toy train set  through the city and suburbs… silver suburban trains fast-travelling here, long grey coal trains like-caterpillars there, mixed goods trains rumbling west, the Indian Pacific or other inter-State passenger trains heading off or completing long journeys to or from Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra…

And equally fascinating is the roof-scape of the inner city: while most buildings are cluttered with drab air-conditioning plants and lift housings, amid it all are surprising patches of green artificial turf sporting barbecue set-ups and the odd sun-bather, tennis courts, even a few pools…

Skywalk cost $6m and remarkably the special walkways, railings and all other equipment were all made off-site by six different companies.

After they'd each done their own particular bit, everything was brought together and assembled at one site to ensure it would all fit… then taken apart again and broken down into pieces small enough to fit into the passenger lifts of Sydney Tower to get them to the top – where they were once more all re-assembled again.

And if you are a trivia buff, here are a few facts: It took forty-five workers two painstaking months to put the whole lot together on the roof of the Tower… in all 2086 pieces being either welded or bolted with 4,300 nuts and bolts like a massive Meccano set.

And when it comes to comparisons, Sydney Tower's Skywalk is the same height as the Eiffel Tower, six times as high as Niagara Falls, twice as high as Egypt's Great Pyramid, four times as high as the Opera House, and twice as high as the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It is open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9.30am to 8pm. Tickets cost $65 for adults and $45 for children ten to fifteen… and you get a Certificate of Achievement to prove you've done it.

To book phone (02) 9333 9200 or check

(Photos: Sydney Tower)

Mediterranean islands emerge as the top places to party

Source: Travelmole

The top 10 islands in the Mediterranean for August were Cyprus, Corfu, Crete, Sanrorini, Mykonos, Ibiza, Sicily, Majorca, Capri and Malta according to traveller popularity and TripAdvisor.

“All of these islands offer pristine beaches and their own unique features,” said Michele Perry, vice president of global communications for TripAdvisor. “Our travellers have identified the hot islands in the Med this summer, especially if you want sun, sea and dancing all night.”

Here's the definitive list of what was hot in August:

1. Cyprus, Republic of Cyprus Visit Aphrodite’s birthplace in the eastern Mediterranean by heading to Cyprus, steeped in history and bustling with energy. No longer the package holiday location, the level of sophistication in hotels and restaurants has increased dramatically in recent years. Beaches are the draw for many visitors to the island, but so is the nocturnal activity with Ayia Napa being the town to party in for people of all ages. According to one TripAdvisor traveller, “We would have to say the Troodos Mountains were our highlight. You will know what we mean if you take the journey. Breathtaking!”

2. Corfu, Ionian Islands, Greece
Corfu features a lush green landscape and serene, white beaches. Visit one of the Venetian fortresses, or relax under an olive tree, before enjoying the vibrant nightlife the island offers. According to one TripAdvisor traveller, “Nightlife in Corfu should just be called morning life.”

3. Crete, Greece As the former centre of the Minoan civilization, it’s no wonder that Crete features a plethora of historical attractions including Knossos and Phaistos. Those in search of adventure on the largest Greek island can hike down Samaria Gorge for spectacular scenery. As one TripAdvisor traveller said, “Crete is an amazing place to explore ancient culture. From the ancient ruins at Knossos to the 'off the beaten track' historical sites at Olous (Elounda) and Kritsa.”

Santorini, Greece
4. Santorini, Cyclades, Greece In the south of the Aegean Sea, Santorini features dramatic cliffs overlooking a stunning caldera. Watch the breathtaking sunset in Fira, then head to the bars and nightclubs for an all-night extravaganza �" emerging in time to view the sunrise. One TripAdvisor traveller called it, “We visited the town of Fira, which is perched on the edge of a 260 meter cliff and offers a fantastic panorama of the volcano as well as the sunsets.”

5. Mykonos, Cyclades, Greece Perhaps best known for its nightlife, Mykonos attracts famous DJs (and partygoers) to its plentiful bars and clubs on the island. Rejuvenate the next morning by strolling through the town of Mykonos and dining at a local taverna. As one TripAdvisor traveller commented, “Apart from the beaches, Mykonos is a place to dance all night long, then as soon I got out of bed, it was time again for nude sunbathing.”

6. Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain Visit the party Mecca of Ibiza and feel honored by joining the thousands of revelers at Privilege, the largest club in the world. Besides the vast nightlife, check out one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as God’s Finger, a large rock at the entrance of Benirras Bay. As one TripAdvisor traveller said, “After last year’s amazing time in Ibiza I returned for another year of amazing music, happy people, amazing weather, beautiful beaches, mental nightlife and all the rest.”

Mt Etna erupts

7. Sicily, Italy The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has the three Cs �" culture, cuisine and calm. Laden with orange and lemon orchards, the countryside of Sicily boasts spectacular natural beauty �" great for relaxing. One TripAdvisor traveller recommended, “If you are in Sicily, go on the sunset tour of Mount Etna. You are brought up in 4x4s and can see the steaming ground and smell the sulfur.”

8. Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain The largest island in Spain and part of the Balearic Islands, Majorca features mountainous terrain and beautiful beaches �" the perfect escape for a holiday. Have a drink at the Abaco Bar housed in an old Majorcan manor house with a baroque-esque interior. As one TripAdvisor traveller put it, “Visit the Abaco bar - it's hidden behind giant wooden church-like doors, but inside it's a theatrical experience not to be missed!”

9. Capri, Campania, Italy Off the coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula, Capri is an island of magical scenery. Take a boat through the not-to-be-missed Blue Grotto, a beautiful sea cave, apparently once used by Roman emperors as a personal bath. According to one TripAdvisor traveller, “The calm sea makes it easy to get into the grotto thru the cliff wall, and the sun shining gives the water the most beautiful blue colour.”


10. Malta, Republic of Malta Steeped in culture and history, Malta also features beautiful beaches and secluded coves, making the island feel like paradise. Stroll along Dingli Cliffs, watching the sunset at the highest area in Malta or visit the impressive Hypogeum temple featuring the sleeping Venus of Malta at the entrance. As one TripAdvisor traveller said about Malta, “It has all the Mediterranean inducements: amazingly clear, blue, warm waters, blue skies, sidewalk cafes, good food and wine and charming villages.”

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