January 25, 2010

STRUTH - Bumped by the Queen


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that 90-something holidaymakers booked on the boutique 5-star British cruise ship Hebridean Princess in July have been told to take their holiday somewhere else – because the Queen wants the ship for a getaway with the Royal Family.

Hebridean Princess that boasts "outstanding service, fine cuisine, unusually spacious cabins for just 49-guests, and some of the most elegant public rooms afloat," will take the Queen and her family out of Scrabster on Scotland's far north coast for a week's cruise through the country's northern islands, followed by a week down the Scottish west coast.

They'll visit such delightfully-named places as Muckle Flugga, Unst, the Vat of Kirbister, Cape Wrath, Tanera Mor, Rum and the Isle of Muck – with escorted shore excursions for those who want, although we think they'll most-likely pass-up on one to the Castle of Mey: it was the home of the late Queen Mum.

The Queen is reportedly paying around $600,000 for her little family jaunt, and operators of the Hebridean Princess say those other guests whose holidays were cancelled to make way for the royals, "are being generously compensated and offered other dates."


david ellis

WHEN a spiteful village hag on the Malaysian island of Langkawi maliciously spread the rumour that a beautiful young bride had been unfaithful to her new husband, she knew that if found guilty by the village elders it would mean the death penalty for the young beauty.

And when those elders did ultimately order that the young bride, Mahsuri die by a blade plunged into her back, she beseeched the gods to wreak havoc on her island for seven generations in revenge for her wrongful death.

And wreak havoc they did.

Within day's of Mahsuri's death tidal waves swept away coastal villages and fishing ports, floods drowned crops, torrential rains collapsed mountain sides onto villages and gardens, then drought withered the ground and fishing boats sank unaccountably at their moorings.

And raiding Siamese warriors plundered already depleted villages of their few remaining valuables.

Then miraculously at the end of seven generations the havoc abated, and so that Mahsuri's beauty and her unjust death would be remembered for ever more, the gods transformed Langkawi into Malaysia's most beautiful islands – 99 dots of emerald green hills fringed by golden beaches set in a Hollywood-blue sea, and on which even the roads appear to sparkle.

The Curse of Mahsuri goes back to a time none can put an exact date to, but which historians believe was probably around 1820.

Mahsuri was the most beautiful girl in her village in Langkawi, whose islands lay off the north-west coast of Malaysia, and married a handsome warrior who spent much time away from home on matters of war. It was during one of these absences that a wandering salesman called at Mahsuri's home to sell her some cloth and haberdashery.

The two became friends, Mahsuri delighted by the poetry he would recite on subsequent visits to her village and the traditional songs he would sing.

One night Mahsuri invited him to stay for dinner, with her father as chaperone because of her husband's absence. When Mahsuri announced soon after that she was expecting a child, the jealous hag Mahura spread the rumour that Mahsuri was pregnant to the traveller.

Acting purely on the word of the old woman, the village elders ordered Mahsuri's death – rejecting her father's pleas that he had chaperoned her on the night the traveller had dined with her, and despite her husband proudly proclaiming how their child looked exactly like he.
As she was tied to a tree, Mahsuri beseeched of the gods: "If I am guilty of this thing, let red blood flow from my body; if I am innocent, let white blood mark this spot (and) there shall be no peace and prosperity on this island for a period of seven generations."

Several attempts were made to slay Mahsuri, first with a sword and then by knife. Wounded by these failures and to get it over with, Mahsuri begged that her executioners use a razor-sharp family dagger to end her misery.

But as the weapon was successfully plunged into her young body, the assembled villagers fell back in collective shock: white blood flowed into a great pool at Mahsuri's feet proving her innocence. Desperate attempts by the village medicine men failed to revive her, and she died in the arms of her sobbing husband soon after.

Mahura was driven out of the village, but it was too late and within days the gods responded to Mahsuri's beseechment by wreaking their wrath on Langkawi.

Many visitors to Langkawi pay a visit to Mahsuri's Mausoleum at Kampung Mawat about 15km out of the main township of Pekan Kuah; it contains Mahsuri's tomb, an aviary of local birds and peacocks representing peace and beauty, and a traditional house with a small museum.

And visitors are smitten with the beauty that the gods bestowed on the island at the end of their seven generations of havoc... including roads that can sparkle as the sun shines on them.

Is it because rubble from Langkawi's marble mines is mixed with the roadbase, or are those gods still reminding us of the beauty of the ill-fated Mahsuri?

Malaysia Airlines has fourteen flights weekly from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, twelve ex-Sydney, nine Perth, five Brisbane and four ex-Adelaide, with thrice-daily onward connections to Langkawi. Details 132 627 or  www.malaysiaairlines.com


[] MAHSURI's Mausoleum outside the town of Pekan Kuah.

[] LANGKAWI's beaches are amongst the most beautiful in Malaysia.

[] ONE of many artist's interpretations of the beautiful Mahsuri.

January 22, 2010

Lima: City of Kings

Founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535, as La Ciudad de los Reyes, or ‘The City of Kings’, Peru’s capital Lima, is an enchanting city which is guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who visits there.

This undeniably cosmopolitan city blends the excitement of a modern bustling metropolis with a strong dash of old world charm.

This blend of ‘old and new’ will be apparent upon walking through the city you will see fourth-century Pre-Columbian ruins which are nestled in the long shadows of office towers, and Spanish Colonial buildings line the historic central square.

La Catedral or the Cathedral is a must see attraction, originally constructed in 1555 this central landmark still stands even after suffering earthquake damages twice in its history.

Lima is the gastronomic capital of the continent, which boasts a range of delectable dining options ranging from suave seaside restaurants to hole-in-the-wall eateries; the city caters to every taste and budget.

The capital’s world renowned cuisine fuses Andean and Spanish culinary traditions, as well as some African, Asian, French, Italian and Muslim cuisine.

The two most famous restaurants in Lima are the Rosa Nautica and the Costa Verde, both located on the sea front and both specialising in fish.

Don't leave the city without trying traditional Lima dishes (criollo), including Ceviche which is raw fish marinated in lemon juice and chilli or the distinctively sweet mazamorra morada (a purple corn pudding).

Lima has an exciting entertainment centre with bars such as San Isidro's havens for the modern elite to Barranco's cheerful and inexpensive stomping grounds.

Weekends from January to March also see the fresh-from-the-beach summer crowds heading down to Kilometer 97 on the Panamericana for the nightlife.

On August 30, the locals celebrate Santa Rosa de Lima, with a giant street procession honouring the patron saint of Lima and the Americas.

El Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles) is heralded on October 18 by a huge religious procession where locals clad in purple clothing take over the streets in celebration.

In late July, the entire country is turned upside down as Peruvians celebrate Fiestas Patrias (National Independence Days), and Lima is no exception, with lively street parties and dancing.

Tourists who are planning to visit Lima are faced with a task that at best could be described as challenging and that is deciding which time of year to visit the capital city.

From April to early December, a melancholy garúa (coastal fog) blankets the sun in a fine, grey mist. Come December, however, the sun shines through and Limeños (Lima locals) head in droves for the beaches. Warm temperatures (accompanied by high humidity) continue through to March.

The best time to visit is in March and April, when the sun is still shining, or in early to mid-December, before it gets too sticky.

January 19, 2010

Top 10 Haunted Places in Britain

Source: www.visitbritain.com.au

Did you know that half of all adults believe that ghosts might exist? It’s no wonder then that so many people come to Britain and visit one of the thousands of sites here that are said to be haunted… are you one of these people?

Here are Britain’s top 10 most haunted sites (visit them if you dare):

Highgate Cemetery

1 - Highgate Cemetery

By night, Highgate Cemetery is like something out of a horror movie. Eerie crooked gravestones, headless angles covered in ivy, dark overgrown passages between the tombs, it’s no wonder this is Britain’s number-one ghost spot. Despite it’s chilling atmosphere, by day Highgate Cemetery showcases some of the Britain’s most spectacular Gothic architecture, offers fascinating guided tours. It’s also the burial place of Karl Marx.

For information see: Highgate Cemetery (www.highgate-cemetery.org/index.asp)

Borley Rectory

2 - Borley Rectory

The stories of Borley Rectory mainly come from the work of famous 18th-century ghost hunter, Harry Price. Price got involved in a case at the Rectory after a newspaper ran a story about a phantom nun in 1929. His investigations led to the rectory being named ‘The Most Haunted House in England’. The building was destroyed by a fire in 1939, but this has done nothing to dispel stories of spooky happenings, or stop ghost hunters visiting the site.

For information see: Borley Rectory (www.borleyrectory.co.uk/)

Pendle Hill

3 - Pendle Hill

The area known as Pendle Witch Country in the Lancashire Pennines is dominated by the dark brooding mass of Pendle Hill. Nearby is the site of Britain’s most famous (and most grim) witch trial – the case of the ‘Witches of Pendle’. In 1612 ten so-called witches were hanged at Lancaster Castle and it’s said they still haunt the local area. The hill itself has even featured on Living TV’s ‘Most Haunted’.

For information see: Newbury, Pendle towns (www.pendlelife.co.uk/roundabout/opencms/Tourism/Tourist_information/Towns/Newchurch/)

The Red Lion

4 - Red Lion, Avebury

Pubs in Britain are frequently said to be haunted. This might be because they are often century-old buildings, or it could just be that ghosts like a pint as much as the rest of us. The 400-year-old Red Lion Inn in Wiltshire is one Britain’s most haunted pubs. The pub is situated inside Avebury stone circle - a World Heritage site and the largest stone circle in Europe - which greatly enhances its already unique atmosphere.

For information see: The Red Lion (www.ukpubfinder.com/pub/1530)

The Ancient Ram Inn

5 - Ancient Ram Inn, Wotten-under-Edge

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, a trip to the Ancient Ram Inn is an unsettling experience. Its creaky floorboards, cold bare walls, musty smells and dimly lit nooks and crannies epitomise everything a haunted house should be. And the stories attached to this creepy building are not for the fainthearted: Murder, satanism and child sacrifice are just a few of the dark deeds said to have occurred here, oh and did we mention apparently it’s built on a pagan burial ground?

For information see: Ancient Ram Inn (www.theancientraminn.com/Wanna%20Visit.htm)
Glamis Castle

6 - Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

The spires, turrets, towers and statues seize your attention immediately. Glamis Castle is one of Scotland’s most impressive castles, but not just for the amazing architecture and 600 years of royal history. Glamis is also one of Scotland’s most haunted castles. Among the many spirits said to inhabit the place is the ghost of the Monster of Glamis – a hideously deformed child who was kept locked up in a hidden room his entire life.

For information see: Glamis Castle (www.glamis-castle.co.uk/index.cfm)

Tower of London

7 - Tower of London

Not only is the Tower of London one of London’s favourite visitor attractions, it’s also home to many inhabitants of the undead variety. And it’s no surprise really when you consider the number of beheadings, hangings and tortures that have gone on there. Some of the most sighted ghouls include the Princes in the Tower, allegedly murdered by their uncle Richard III, Anne Boleyn and the White Lady, who apparently brings a strange perfume smell with her on her hauntings.

For information see: Tower of London

Culloden Moor

8 - Culloden Moor

Near Inverness
On the 16 April 1746 the last ever battle to take place on British soil was fought on Culloden Moor. Here the Jacobite rebellion, vastly outnumber, was massacred there on the moor. This was the grim start to the repression of Highland customs and traditions. And as you might think, any battle as bloody as this is bound to leave a few tormented souls. Legend has it that  every year on the battle's anniversary, war-cries can still be heard as the warrior battle on in the after world.

For information see: Culloden Moor (www.nts.org.uk/Culloden/Home/)

Lancaiach Fawr Manor

9 - Llancaiach Fawr Manor

Near Caerphilly
The peaceful, rural setting of Llancaiach Fawr Manor gives no clue to the turmoil of its history and the bloody civil war that was fought there. And these great battles have left no shortage of spectres wondering around the manor. In fact, strange things have been experienced in almost every room, along corridors and on stairs. Things seen, heard or felt, or sometimes odours in the air of violets or lavender - and on some occasions, roast beef!
For information see: Llancaiach Fawr Manor (www.caerphilly.gov.uk/llancaiachfawr/llan_english/home.html)

Berry Pomeroy Castle

10 - Berry Pomeroy Castle, near Totness

This 14th-century castle has 2 famous female ghosts; the White Lady and the Blue Lady. According to legend the White Lady is the spirit of Margaret Pomeroy, who starved to death while imprisoned in the dungeons by her jealous sister. Apparently she haunts the dark dungeons, and rises from St Margaret's Tower to the castle walls. The Blue Lady is not confined to specific areas and is supposed to lure people into parts of the ruin. Apparently it’s a very bad idea to follow her!

For information see: Berry Pomeroy Castle

January 18, 2010

STRUTH - Wedding's in the can


IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a couple in Spokane in America's Washington State are paying for their wedding and a 3-day honeymoon with 400,000 discarded aluminium beer and soft drink cans.

Calling themselves just Pete and Andrea, they've collected over 35,000 cans themselves in their first month – and had relatives, friends, workmates, and as a result of local Media coverage, complete strangers give them a further 75,000 that they've sold to a scrap dealer.

"It leaves us 290,000 cans and seven months to reach our goal of 400,000 cans to pay for our July 31 wedding," Andrea said.

To further cut costs they've got family and friends making floral decorations, taking the wedding pictures… even helping with the wedding breakfast and the bridal cake.

And in keeping with the atmosphere of it all, the outdoor wedding, the reception, the morning-after breakfast and a 3-day "honeymoon" will all be held in a somewhat off-beat replica Bavarian castle in neighbouring Idaho State that's called The Idaho Castle.

"It's a vacation home and we're getting it for four days for what you'd normally pay most reception halls for just four hours, so that's another saving," said Andrea, who says they hope to keep the cost of the wedding, reception, honeymoon and everything else associated with it to under US$4000.

"With 400,000 cans worth roughly US$3800 at current rates, we should just come in budget," she says,

"And we've even got friends gonna make the home-brew beer for the reception," she says enthusiastically, which we think could well make for another story for another day…

(Our pictures show Pete and Andrea with the results of a night's work on the streets of Spokane collecting discarded cans, and The Idaho Castle vacation home that will be the venue of their outdoor wedding, the reception, morning-after breakfast and a 3-night honeymoon.)


david ellis

ITS only January and we're already planning on exiting 2010 in style.

Mates remind us, however, that we're mere scribblers, and suggest we're dreaming.

They're right.  

But our dreams are sea-dreams because we're taking ourselves aboard the world's most highly-rated boutique motor-cruiser – SeaDream I – that come October will journey 6,100 leisurely kilometres (3,300 nautical miles) from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

Yet bizarrely the tab for those handful of fellow holidaymakers joining us, will start from just US$2803pp – including government and port taxes – and is a steal at our current high rate against the US$.

And we'll be indulged in 5-star luxury by more crew than passengers (95 crew for probably no more than around 85 or 90 guests,) we'll dine on the finest gourmet fare, take drinks from the bars any time we want and not have to sign chits or worry about a bar bill when we get off, enjoy bottomless glasses of wines at lunch and dinner (and again not have to sign or worry about how much they'll cost,) join our fellow passengers for nightly pre-dinner cocktail gatherings with Champagne and caviar, and not have to concern ourselves with putting aside for those annoying tips.

More amazingly it's not for just a week, but a whole 12-nights as we swan our way from Malaga in Spain to Madeira in Portugal, and across the Atlantic to San Juan in the Caribbean.

If you, too, think we've lost the plot, let us explain. When summer comes to an end in the glitzy Mediterranean, the twin mega-motor-cruisers SeaDream I and SeaDream II chase the yellow ball across the Atlantic for six months in the balmy Caribbean.

And because these "Crossings" don't have the associated costs of daily ports of call, they're priced as much as a half below the norm.

We've done a couple before, and which is why we've put our hand up again for this year*.

SeaDream I and II each have just 56 staterooms, but last year our "Crossing"  was "full" with only 82-guests – including ten Aussies – because some staterooms were occupied by single holidaymakers.

Days started with breakfasts on deck under shade covers, and we quickly found we couldn't get more than a couple of steps from the lavish buffet of fruits, cheeses, yoghurts, juices and cereals, without a waiter whipping our plate from us and delivering it to our table. Saved us all that effort.

And then we'd be presented with menus for "the mains" that could include scrambled eggs topped with truffle oil, corn beef hash, lamb cutlets, hash browns, Traditional English Breakfast of bacon, eggs, chops, tomatoes…

Following this we'd venture to the golf simulator to take-on St Andrews one morning, Pebble Beach another, Princeville a third. And by noon be adjourning for boastful drinks at the outdoor Top of the Yacht bar….

Then on-deck lunches of maybe Alaskan crab claws, soups, salads, seafoods or steaks, pastas, vegetarian selections, decadent desserts and pastries…

After which we'd retreat to an afternoon lecture, a kip in our stateroom, or take a good book poolside, raising a languid hand on arrival to have a waiter appear almost instantly by our deckchair with our favourite drink. And to mist us with a moisturiser spray – before asking if they could also polish our sunglasses while at it.

Then a shower and change before nightly cocktails… and dinner in the Main Salon (and occasionally on deck too) with such delights as Grand Marnier Soufflé, whole roast prime rib-eye, roast duck with orange, honey and oyster sauce, rack of lamb, vanilla crème brulee with pistachios, Baileys cheese cake…

And there was no call for ties and jackets at dinner: slacks and collared shirts sufficed.

And finally nightcaps at the Piano Bar, before collapsing to our queen bed in preparation to do it all again next day.

If this sounds your kind of holiday – particularly at the price that's for 12-nights and includes 5-star dining and service, wines with lunch and dinner, drinks from the open bars, and gratuities – come and join me.

See your travel agent, or visit www.seadream.com 

(* Veteran travel writer David Ellis was invited by SeaDream Yacht Club to escort a group of fellow writers on SeaDream I's October 2008 and 2009 Atlantic Crossings.)


[] SEADREAM I steams into the Caribbean at the end of a 6100km journey across the Atlantic

[] CHEF Surprised this group of Aussies on last year's Atlantic Crossing with Aussie Party Pies and Aussie Wine under an Aussie flag

[] ON deck dining for two on SeaDream I's Atlantic Crossing

[] THE Big and the Small: SeaDream at just 4300 tonnes is dwarfed by the 91,000 tonne Jewel of the Seas

January 04, 2010

Struth - Swiss no bar to business

Struth - would you believe!
With David Ellis

In his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says the Swiss are not generally renowned as being amongst the world’s greatest toss-pots.

So it came as something of a surprise on a recent overseas trip to find that the longest, fully-staffed airline lounge bar world-wide is in a lounge of Swiss airlines in Zurich… it’s 40-metres long, has 30 stools at the bar, eighteen lounge chairs, and general seating for another hundred or so.

And it’s directly above another Swiss Business Class lounge with almost as many seats for those happy to serve themselves to complimentary food and drinks.

Maybe we’ll have to reconsider our understanding of Swiss drinking habits.

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