April 24, 2009

Struth! Smugglers Gulch


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says that if you've ever wondered what its like to be a Mexican making a bolt across No Man's Land on the border with the USA, you can now experience it for yourself.

You'll find yourself being chased by (fake) police firing blanks, scrambling under viaducts, crossing rickety makeshift bridges, wading through rivers, sludging through cornfields, and finally scrambling under a barbed wire fence similar to that into the US... all in complete night-time pitch blackness.

Local Hnanhnus Indians who own the Parque Eco Alberto three hours out of Mexico City put on regular "alien running" tours to help tourists understand the trauma of running the border with gun-wielding police in pursuit; it costs US$18 for the four hour experience – and your guides can include women with babies and children who play out the role of illegal immigrant with you.

Over three thousands tourists have taken part in the tours to date.

Look at www.parqueecoalberto.com.mx


david ellis

THE "FOR SALE" sign has gone up in the little English village of Linkenholt in Hampshire, and if you've a lazy $23-million pounds (that's about AU$47-million) it's your chance to go one-up on the neighbours.

Because when you hand over your cheque, what is now your neighbour's will become yours, as your little investment will not just get you the circa-1871 School House, nor just one of the 12th century farming lots, nor just the quaint one-building "shopping centre" where you can lean on the counter and meet the forty or so neighbours who've lived here all their lives.

It'll get you the entire village. That's 22-houses and cottages, a 140-year old Rectory, two smithing businesses with working forges, that one shop, 600-plus hectares of farm- and grass-lands, another 170ha of woodlands in which the landed gentry part with very serious money to shoot pheasant and grouse on the surrounding North Wessex Downs, and even a cricket ground and pavilion.

And a fence around the whole lot.

But what it won't get you is the1000-year old Manor House: you'll have to buy that separately when it comes on the market later this year if you want to play Lord of the Manor.

Nor will it get you the 12th century St Peters village church next to the Rectory,  because according to the estate agent handling the sale of the village, "that belongs to God."

And neither will you get your own village pub: the only one in Linkenholt closed down a few years ago and has been converted into a private residence, but a short walk to one of the neighbouring villages will get you a pint.

But you will get to own everything else in this quintessential piece of rural England that dates back to before Domesday (1086) and whose sale, according to estate agent Tim Sherston in wonderfully British understatement, is "very unusual indeed.

"In fact," he adds, "I can't recall the last time a village came up for sale."

But Linkenholt has, however, been bought and sold numerous times in its 1000-year history.

Earliest records show that the Manor of Linkenholt was granted by successive monarchs to the Abbots of St Peter, Gloucester and that to raise funds for the church, they rented Linkenholt out in its entirety to various business interests.

One of the earliest actual sales of the whole village was to a fellow named Emanuel Badd who bought it in 1629 for 2000-pounds, and sold it fifty-one years later for 12,000-pounds to a Dutch investor, Robert Styles who literally threw good money after Badd.

The Styles' family remained owners of Linkenholt until the early 1800s when it changed hands several times, sold at auction in the 1960s for 540,000-pounds, and was bought soon after by colourful sportsman and philanthropist Herbert Blagrave for an undisclosed amount.

Blagrave played lower-order cricket for Gloucestershire, and in his only first-class appearance for the Club in 1922, was caught out for a duck in the first innings and for twelve in the second, and went back to the lower grades.

He had more luck as a racehorse trainer than a cricketer however, bringing-home 350 winners in a 50-year career, and was also a director of Southampton Football Club.

Blagrave was fascinated by Linkenholt's history, yet while he owned the village and poured millions into the development of its agricultural lands and sporting facilities, he never lived there amid what he called "its remoteness and tranquillity" just 120km south-west of London.

And with no heir, when he died in 1981 aged 82 Herbert Blagrave left his village to a charitable trust with instructions that its income be used to help sick children, the elderly, and injured jockeys; after owning Linkeholt for the past 28-years the Trust has decided to sell and to invest its money elsewhere.

Whoever buys the village will find the well-maintained houses, cottages and commercial buildings, and the surrounding farmlands, will bring-in around 350,000-pounds a year in rent.

And there'll be a further 40,000-pounds annually on top of this from shooters going after pheasant and grouse in what's considered one of Britain's finest high-bird shooting areas.

If being Lord of the Manor appeals, email Jackson-Stops & Staff in Newbury on newbury@jackson-stops.co.uk for full details.







April 21, 2009

STRUTH: Rolex rort a furphy


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wonderous in the world of travel, DAVID ELLIS says that currently doing the rounds in some sections of the media, is a story that holidaymakers are financing their vacations on Spain's Costa del Sol with more claims on insurance companies every day for lost or stolen Rolex Oyster watches than Rolex actually make.

Its a furphy:  Rolex make over 2000 Oyster watches a day... and insurance companies say any suggestion they're being hit with more than 2000 claims for such lost or stolen time-pieces every day on the Costa del Sol - which equates to over 730,000 claims a year from one beachside resort alone - is pure urban myth.

April 20, 2009

Summer Rocks : Music Festivals in Australia

As the thermometer starts to rise Australians turn their thoughts to the beach, BBQs, summer holidays and music festivals. The amount of music festivals that are held in the summer months in Oz seem to increase every year. The increase is fine with me. I like nothing better than spending a day with my friends listening to fantastic music meeting new people and experiencing the best of summer.

The festivals now cover all sorts of music from folk to funk, dance to heavy rock so everyone is catered for. Here are of some of the best.

Summer kicks of with “Homebake” in Sydney. A celebration of Australian music whose tickets are as rare as hens teeth but it’s a brilliant day. Music of all genres and tastes are represented here by Australia’s best.

The Falls festivals are held simultaneously in Lorne in Victoria and Marion Bay in Tasmania. The 3-day festival helps send the old year out with a bang and welcome the new year with a visceral howl. Featuring international and local rock acts that perform at both venues. This is one for the rock fans. Flying into Avalon Airport or Hobart Airport and hiring a car is the easiest way to get to Lorne or Marion Bay. This also guarantees a place for you to stay at both venues (that’s if you get kicked out of your tent for snoring).

In Brisbane as the world wakes up to a brand new year BBQ Breaks shakes the River Stage. No time for rest as some of the finest dance music in Australia is on offer. A lazy afternoon, by the river, reflecting on the year that’s past.

My personal favorite is the Big Day Out. This is a touring festival that takes in all capital cities except for Darwin and Canberra and even crosses the pond to Auckland, New Zealand. With new acts, legends and the hottest bands in the world, covering rock hip-hop, dance, folk and metal this is truly a big day. Friends of mine have even done the Big Road Trip and followed the festival around the country.

Festival survival guide - Some things that will help you have a great day.
  • Water- really this is the top priority above all else. Its easy to dehydrate when your having so much fun.
  • A Meeting Place- Very important as you can get lost very easily. This place also needs to be easily found by everyone.
  • A small tip: Don’t expect your mobile to always work. Technology is a wonderful thing but when 40,000 people are all texting and calling at the same time the networks get backed up. Most text messages arrive hours if not days later so have a back up plan.
  • Transport – Be it a hire car or your own wheels. For festivals that go overnight or a couple of days it provides a safe lock up for your things and also a great meeting place.
  • A rain poncho- Keeps you dry this is obvious.
  • Sunscreen and hat – Keeps you from turning in to lobster and ruining your day. Many venues are without much shade so this can be very important.
  • Anti-bacterial Hand Gel – ‘Porta-Loo’ need I say more
  • Re-sealable plastic bags- Great for storing mobile phones and cameras
  • Cash – Not too many ATMs and they run out of money easily.
I try not to be to regimented in who I want to see play now at festivals as you can uncover some amazing music if you just go with the flow. Years ago I was lucky to watch a new band by the name of Coldplay who played early and to relatively small numbers. They now fill stadiums.

So grab a couple of friends, secure your tickets early and get ready to celebrate summer and great music.

Gold Coast Chill

Every year as the winter chill grips the southern states of Australia a migration takes place to the warmer climes and fun times of the Gold Coast in South East Queensland. The Gold Coast is many things to many people for families it’s a chance to relax take some time together and visit the theme parks, for couples a romantic getaway and for singles a chance to play.

During spring and summer on the coast it becomes a home for events like the Magic Millions, Super GP, Big Day Out and the infamous Schoolies. In winter the area has a more intimate feel with the large, concentrated numbers of summer having dispersed into smaller groups. For me this is the coast at its best. It may not be as warm but the beach is less crowded, the days are beautiful and the area is more relaxed.

Arriving at Coolangatta Airport it's sensible to collect a hire car as most of the attractions and accommodations are spread out over a fairly large distance. The public transport system is good but it is more convenient to have your own set of wheels.

Accommodation can be found all along the coast with some very good accommodation available inland. Another bonus to travelling at this time of the year is that accommodation can be a bit cheaper.

Families will love the resort style accommodations that are offered away from Surfers Paradise. Diamond Beach Resort is in Broadbeach and is a great place for families. Just 100m from the beach, close to Pacific Fair and Broadbeach shopping and dining precincts. Diamond Beach will make everyone in the family happy and relaxed.

For the romantic, an escape to one of the 5-star hotels is in order. Staying at the Marriott or Versace Hotel will help create some perfect memories. With day spas and fantastic restaurants you don’t have to go far to feel pampered.

Tarago HireFor a mates holiday take a house on the beach or one of the canals. Make this your base to explore the coast. Plenty of large houses are available all year round. If travelling with a large group don’t forget to “book your Tarago” early to help move the group around.

Once you have your hire car you are free to explore some of the hidden gems the “Goldie” has to offer. Mt Tambourine is a stunning area with breathtaking views of the coast. Markets happen in the village on the weekend and you can find some yummy treats.

Springbrook is also inland and is a place for those who like to hike. Located on the rim of a dormant volcano is “Best of all Lookout”. The short hike to the platform is stunning and takes you through some rainforest that looks like something out of prehistoric times.

Coolangatta / Tweed Heads is a great day out. Fish and chips on Kira Beach are a must. Travel a little further north to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and go wild with the animals. Finish with dinner at Burleigh Heads at one of the many restaurants.

Then there are the theme parks, the world class gold courses, dining and entertainment, casino, boutique shopping and the happy locals. With all the offers, specials and discounts that are around your holiday has the ability to be jam-packed with unique experiences without breaking the bank. The Gold Coast is yours to discover so don’t wait till spring, shake the winter blues save some money and head north.


david ellis
CUSTOMERS can queue for an hour or more outside Brooklyn's famous Grimaldi's Pizzeria

WHEN some mates lamented that they couldn't get a decent pizza in Manhattan, Tony Muia took them across the Brooklyn Bridge to his part of New York City to show them the great family pizzerias that existed there – and tossed in a look at a few of local attractions as well.

It was only natural that his mates were impressed with their Brooklyn pizzeria discoveries and what else Tony had to show them: after all, Bensonhurst where he hails from is The Little Italy of Brooklyn.

But not in his wildest dreams did he image what that trip across the Brooklyn Bridge would lead to, because a week or so later one of those mates asked if Tony would do the trip again for he and some other friends.

Tony agreed, and was surprised to find ten people waiting for him – and soon after a total stranger rang and said they'd heard of Tony's "tour," and would he do it for them too.

Again he agreed, and was staggered to be told there were twenty Manhatteners waiting to come across to Brooklyn to eat pizza and be shown the sights. So he hired a bus.

That was fourteen years ago, and after taking the gamble and chucking-in his job as a healthcare worker, Tony now runs eye-opening 4.5-hour bus tours that combine eating pizza at two of Brooklyn's most famous pizzerias, watching on-board video clips of movies that have been made in Brooklyn as you pass through actual filming sites, and being shown Brooklyn's better- and lesser-known landmarks.

He calls it A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour, and he does it Fridays to Mondays – and is planning 7-days later this year. But it's no longer just for those from across New York's East River: today his 36 guests on each tour come from across the USA, England, Ireland and Scotland, France, Germany, Austria, Canada – and in growing numbers from Australia too.

And yes, from Italy as well – Italians coming to eat what are considered America's best Neapolitan- and Sicilian-style pizzas.
TONY Muia – almost Heaven-sent
from Central Casting

With his Italian-heritage good-looks, fast-patter Brooklyn 'fuhgedaboudit' accent and references to his family and life – "I'm Tony and I got two brudders, Vinny and Joey, you can't make this stuff up" – he's almost Heaven-sent from Central Casting.

His tours swing by Coney Island amusement park and boardwalk, through brownstone neighbourhoods, into Trump Village where Donald's dad, Fred made his real estate fortune, and Keyspan Park that's home to baseball's Cyclones.

Tony's enormously proud of his Bensonhurst roots: as the bus rolls down 86th Street he shows clips of John Travolta strutting his stuff right here in the opening scenes from Saturday Night Fever. "An' see that road – that's where they did the chase in The French Connection," he says. "An' hey, remember this place in Scent of a Woman?" And a little later: "An' what about this in Annie Hall…"

The patter's thick and fast, the timing with what's on the video screen, perfect.

But its also pizza people have come for, and again they're not disappointed.

Early in the tour there's a stop at world-famous Grimaldi's where customers queue outside for an hour or more in rain, hail or shine for a table. Not Tony's guests though, they're ushered straight through to their's for slices of Neapolitan-style pizzas, including the legendary Margherita created at Pizzeria Brandi in Naples when Italy's Queen Margherita of Savoy visited in 1889.

Comprising a thin base topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella and fresh basil, the Margherita's creator Raffaele Esposito chose the ingredients as they evoked the colours of the Italian flag.

And to finish the tour is a call at L&B Spumoni Gardens for slices of Sicilian-style pizzas, thicker bases with Parmesan-over-sauce-over- Mozzarella; this mouth-watering pizzeria evolved from a tiny Brooklyn luncheonette owned by Ludovico Barbati who started making pizzas with his son after the Second War the way his Sicilian grandfather had shown him as a boy.

Tony Muia has certainly come a long way from when his mates lamented over the lack of a good pizzeria in Manhattan.

His tours cost AU$110pp and due to their popularity should be booked through Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59 before leaving Australia.

April 17, 2009


david ellis

THERE was a time when you could go into a pub and buy a beer for a dollar.

In the little Arizona town of Bisbee in 1970, artist Stephen Hutchinson went one better than that: with his wife Marcia he walked into the historic local pub, put down his dollar and came away with what he wanted.

Not a beer, but the pub itself.  

Bisbee, 130kms south-east of Tucson and 15km north of the Mexico border,  was once one of America's toughest Wild West mining towns, sporting a couple of hundred saloons and brothels for the near-30,000 population of mostly gold and copper miners interested mainly in drinkin', feudin', fightin' and, yes, well…

Yet its equally tough and strong-willed civic leaders somehow tamed Bisbee. They built churches, a museum, an enviable library, schools, a YMCA Centre, encouraged families into the area and somewhat miraculously turned Bisbee – then the largest city on the rail line between Saint Louis and San Francisco – into one of America's most-cultured cities for its time as well.

From the 1880s to 1970s Bisbee's mines in the ore-rich Mule Mountains were amongst the wealthiest in the world, producing nearly 3-million ounces of gold, over 3.6-million kilograms of copper, and millions more of silver, lead and zinc.

But when they closed in the 1970s the population dwindled from 30,000 to a fifth that, and today Bisbee provides a rare opportunity to visit a community that still cherishes and proudly wears its links with the Wild West on its arm – but without the kitsch of other one-time Wild West communities.

And it is home to a thriving artists' community, provides a bolt-hole for hippies and other colourful characters and drop-outs, is a haven for activity-minded retirees, and is one of America's most-accepting communities for gays and lesbians.

Victorian-era and European-style homes nestle in its foothills alongside Wild West-era cottages, one-time saloons are now art galleries, coffee shops, boutiques and antique stores, and the Copper Queen Hotel that took four years to build from 1898, is a welcoming hostelry once more, with restored Wild West-style bars and restaurants.

The hotel was carved into a hillside by one of the mining companies, Phelps Dodge Mining that also owned grocery, hardware, clothing and other businesses – and cleverly paid its employees in cash, so that what went out from one hand on pay-day, was collected back through the other by week's end.

The Copper Queen's stone and brick walls are two-thirds of a metre thick to insulate it from the heat of summer and retain warmth in winter, and for some reason never explained, it was designed along Italian lines with Italian mosaic tile floors, and with a cathedral ceiling over the lobby fitted with priceless Tiffany glass – that equally mysteriously was dismantled one weekend and has never been seen again.  

And the hotel's Saloon still features a near-life-size portrait of British stage actress Lily Langtree, the love interest of Edward Prince of Wales, and said also to be the secret love-wish of Texas Judge, Roy Bean – although he never met her.

Stephen and Marcia Hutchinson bought the shuttered-up old hotel after the Phelps Dodge Mining couldn't sell it – and offered it for $1 to any local  interested in buying and restoring it.

Bisbee has a very active Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Office and has almost weekly community events, celebrations and festivities running the whole gamut of social, recreational and cultural interests.

They include a desert bird observatory, daily tours of the abandoned Copper Queen Mine (after which the hotel was named,) weekly Ghost Tours of reputedly-haunted sections of the hotel, a ghost tour every January of the historic and world-famous Bird Cage Theatre, weekly Saturday Farmers Markets, a Gay and Lesbian Pride Weekend and Leather & Lace Ball in June,  Annual Brewery Gulch Daze in September and National Cowboy Day the same month, even a Wine Festival in October and an Historic Homes Tour in November.

And in October, a bizarre Ice Man Stair Climb in which contestants run up 135 stairs in under 30 seconds while lugging large blocks of ice.  Another of Bisbee's unexplained little mysteries.

For details of events, accommodation and getting to Bisbee, phone Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59.



[] BISBEE – the Wild West lives on here amid the Mule Mountains

[] GOING DOWN: visitors about to descend into the abandoned Copper Queen Mine

[] BRIGHT lights – the historic Copper Queen Hotel in festive mood

April 09, 2009


david ellis

AN Italian migrant who made his first wines in the family laundry tub over a half century ago, would doubtless get a kick if he was still around today in knowing that the company that grew from that laundry tub, has just won one of this year's NSW Family Business of the Year Awards.

And that it exports around the world, and has its wines on some of the highest-rates cruise ships and in houses of parliament.

And even more bizarrely, that his son who now makes the wines and heads up the business, is a teetotaller who won't even drink those that he makes himself.

Francesco and Elizabeth Calabria migrated to Australia in 1925 and took-up a 2ha block in the NSW Riverina town of Griffith on which they grew fruit, vegetables and grapes. And as a good Italian boy, Francesco started making his own wine.

Neighbours soon heard of it, gave it the thumbs up and started dropping around with 18-litre drums they'd fill from Francesco's supply tank… such was the cosiness of life in the NSW 'bush' in times when the police had better things to do than go around arresting people for flogging home-made grog.

But when sales really started to take off, Francesco and Elizabeth decided they'd better do something about it, and in 1945 set up Calabria Wines.

In 1974 youngest son Bill, who'd become fascinated watching his dad making wine and did a course in winemaking, took over the business and renamed it Westend Estate Wines.

Today it includes on its payroll of over fifty, Bill Calabria as Managing Director and Winemaker, his wife Lena as a working Company Director, their second son Michael as General Manager and his wife Jenine in Administration, third son Andrew as Sales Manager, youngest daughter Elizabeth as Marketing Manager, eldest son Frank Bottling Line Attendant, and Frank's wife Sally Whittaker as Winemaker.

And Roy Spagnolo, Bill's nephew, is Company Accountant.

That's keeping it all in the family, and this month Westend Estate was named winner of Category 3 of the NSW Family Business of the Year Awards – third generation children or family relations of the second generation now managing the business.

Since Bill Calabria took over the reins the company has grown to produce most-all major varieties of reds, whites, sparklings and fortifieds under a half-dozen different labels.

It turns out 300,000 cases annually (that's around 3,600,000 bottles) that are sold in 25 countries, and also makes wine under contract for other grape growers.

Westend has seen its wines served on ships from the former mega-liner QE2 to the world's highest-rated boutique motor-cruisers SeaDream I and II, in houses of Parliament, win the title of Best Dry White at the London Times Wine Show, be named World's Best Dry Red and Dry White at the London Vintage Wine Festival and go on the shelves of Las Vegas casinos.

And it pulled off somewhat of a coup with the World's First Wine of the New Millennium: Bill's team bluffed a row of vines in 1999 into pre-season budding by earlier than normal pruning, covered their roots with black plastic to retain heat, and flooded them with heat and light from halogen lamps at night to simulate 24-hours of sunlight that forced early fruiting.

A minute after of midnight on December 31 1999 they picked the grapes, and Bill and his winemakers, Bryan Currie and Sally Whittaker turned these into wine that they had in-tank by sunrise on January 1st 2000; it was later bottled under the Eternity label.

And typical of Bill Calabria – who once brought rock bands to the Riverina to provide free concerts for local young people – he gave 25-per cent to family and friends, 25-per cent to local charities for fund raising, kept 25-per cent in Westend's "museum," and only sold the remainder.

For information about Westend Estate Wines phone (02) 6969 0800 or check-out www.westendestate.com.au  Their Cellar Door is open 7-days in Brayne Road, Griffith and has picnic facilities and a function centre that can accommodate 200 guests.

FOOTNOTE:  Bill Calabria suffers a rare allergy to the fruit acid in grapes, but  he says that when making wines "you don't have to swallow them, to know whether they re good or not."


[] FAMILY picnic: Bill, centre, pours a wine for wife Lena, surrounded by their family.

[] EYE for a red – teetotaller winemaker Bill Calabria, makes it but won't drink  it.

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