November 19, 2010

Britain: Harry Potter Film Locations

By Linda Cabasin
Fodor's Editor
Fans of Harry Potter can celebrate the November 19 opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, the first screen installment of J. K. Rowling's final Potter novel. Would-be witches and wizards have been heading to film sites around Britain that capture the magical Potter world since 2001, when the first of the six previous movies opened. Each film pieces together many locations, but you can visit some that truly capture the fantastical richness of Harry's world. Here are top spots to explore if you're happily seeking Harry in Britain.

November 15, 2010


THE Mekong Pandaw, 21st century replica of 1800's Irrawaddy Flotilla Company's river boats.

SHIPS of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company burn
on the Mekong in 1942 to prevent
them falling into enemy Japanese hands.
PART of the busy fabric of life on the Mekong.

David Ellis with David Ovens

HAD it not been for Sir Arthur Phayre the beauties and mysteries of some of Asia's greatest waterways may well have remained the secret of those hardy souls who live along their banks.
A PICTURESQUE Mekong riverside village restaurant.

As Governor of British Burma in 1864 Phayre founded the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, a Scottish-owned fleet of paddle steamers and barges that over a near-80 years grew to some 650 vessels – the largest privately-owned shipping fleet in the world.

The company thrived until 1942 when its owners ordered that the entire fleet be burned to the waterline to prevent Japan, as it marched south as part of its Asia-Pacific campaign, from using the ships to move its troops and weapons.

But the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company has morphed into a new format, Pandaw River Cruises that today operates contemporary versions of the old river boats on the great Mekong and Ton Le rivers in Indochina, the Irrawaddy in Burma and from Sarawak to Indonesian Kalimantan along the Rajang river in Borneo.

Pandaw's 300-odd kilometre journey up the Mekong from Saigon to Phnom Penh or further to Siem Reap provides a unique introduction to a way of life pursued by the millions who live along the banks of the mighty Mekong.

From its source 5000 metres up on the Tibetan Plateau the Mekong flows generally south-east 4200 kilometres through China, forming borders between  Burma and Laos and then Laos and Thailand, flowing through Vietnam into a rich delta, and finally emptying into the South China Sea.

It begins humbly as a few trickling streams and develops into a prodigious waterway that's a staff of life for tens of millions of people.

Along its banks thousands of villages thrive on the four billion cubic metres of water and 250-million cubic metres of silt which make their way down to the 20-million people who rely on these riches around the Mekong Delta.

To  slowly traverse this mighty waterway on a 21st century-fitted  traditional-style vessel is to merge into the very way of life of the people who grow rice, fruit and vegetables, raise ducks, bake hand-made bricks and pursue a host of cottage industries. It is a step into a rural world which depends for survival on each other…and the river.

Pandaw's four- and seven-day journeys up the river make stops every day with expert guides taking guests ashore to places like the floating market at Cai Be, and to visit villagers in their homes making pop-rice (Viet popcorn), rice paper and a tasty candy of coconut, toffee and ginger.

A traditional sampan journey along the small canals leading to the Sadec marketplace unveils some local delicacies which are seriously alien to western palates, but there is ready business from the locals for such delights as skinned rat, and candied, baked and fried insects, beetles and even cockroaches.
Thankfully, none of these make the dining salon aboard Mekong Pandaw whose chefs whip-up other more-recognised Asian dishes, with western options available for the less adventurous.

Typical of onboard offerings are the Mekong Fishermen's dinner, the Vietnamese Farmers' dinner and the Khmer regional dinner.

For the Mekong Fishermen's Dinner, local fishermen and their wives provide family recipes and the freshest of seafood for such creations as fried watercress with shrimp and sweet chilli sauce, mixed vegetable and native spices kako soup, and pickled fish with minced pork.

Vietnamese fare includes Szechuan soup with black mushroom and tofu whilst Khmer favorites include hot and sour duck soup and stir-fried seafood in Khmer curry paste.

There's an eclectic wine list on board including vintages from France, Italy, Chile, South Africa and Australia but most passengers lean towards the complimentary local spirits and mixes before dinner and free local beers  which tend to blend better with the spicy cuisine than more delicate wines.

TRAVEL DETAILS: Specialist Asian holiday operator Wendy Wu Tours offers the seven-night Pandaw Mekong cruise from Saigon to Siem Reap from $2300pp, depending on season and cabin choice.  This includes twin-share accommodation, all meals and local drinks on board, transfer to departure point, all excursions and entrance fees, port fees and an English-speaking guide.

There are upstream departures from Saigon and downstream from Siem Reap between September and March.

More details from Wendy Wu Tours phone 1300-727-998 or visit


STRUTH - New meaning for holiday 'escape'


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says fellow travel writer and publisher of OzBabyBoomers, John Rozentals snapped this somewhat confronting welcome to Hawaii's Big Island Hawaii on a visit there earlier this month.

John was taking part in a "Kohala Waterfalls Adventure" run by Hawaii Forest & Trails, and to his delight, and the relief of others along for the spectacular walk, guide Derek Stuart assured them "we haven't lost anyone yet… to bulls, cattle, wild dogs or hunters."

You'll be able to read John's account of the six-hour walk through the rugged country, that was once the domain of the Big Island's famous Paniolo cowboys, on soon.

And if you're heading to the Big Island and think a good walk would do you good, check-out to enquire about joining one of their tours. Just be prepared in case it involves a sudden bit of running.


November 08, 2010


David Ellis

PUBLISHER of interesting e-zine Oz Baby Boomers*, John Rozentals visited his ancestral homeland in search of memories of a namesake – and discovered the world's finest collection of Art Nouveau architecture. He sent us this fascinating report from Latvia to share with readers.

For most visitors to Latvia, the search for 12 Alberta Iela, on the northern fringe of Riga's CBD, and the struggle up some eight flights of steep, narrow stairs to the Janis Rozentals & Rudolfs Blaumanis Museum, would be low on their list of priorities.

Admittedly, Blaumanis was a celebrated writer and Rozentals was probably Latvia's greatest artist, but the former's fame was largely restricted to his native land, whilst you can see much more significant examples of the latter's work in the Latvian National Museum of Art, in Riga's Esplanade Square.

For me, though, the lure of these few small rooms was compellingly magnetic. As well as sharing ethnicity, Janis Rozentals and I share our names, or at least we did until my parents, probably rightly, decided Australian school life in the 1950s would be easier for a boy named John than for a boy named Janis.

It's extremely unlikely we're related, but I felt strangely comfortable browsing through the apartment where my namesake had lived a century ago, and sitting on a couch he would have spent many hours resting on.

There's a much stronger connection, though, between Janis Rozentals and this part of Riga than just an apartment.

Rozentals was a leader of the Art Nouveau movement, which flourished in Europe around the turn of the 20th century, influencing design in general and architecture in particular.

Nowhere was that architectural influence felt more deeply than in Riga. The precinct centring on Alberta Iela ("iela" is Latvian for "street") and including Elizabetes Iela and Streinieku Iela, is widely recognised as having the largest and finest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.

Yes, the world — better than in Paris, Berlin, Moscow and St Petersburg that are all widely recognised as Art Nouveau centres.

I laughed with sheer joy as we entered Alberta Iela, overwhelmed by the absolutely over-the-top beauty of the buildings and the totality and consistency of the streetscape.

Despite a century of wars, invasions, social unrest and the economic fundamentalism of the Soviet era, the buildings here have survived intact. And the short-lived economic boom times of the early 21st century provided the city's new-found financial aristocracy with the funds for their meticulous restoration of the grand apartments they once were — or transformation into professional offices, corporate headquarters and national embassies.

Themes of ancient Greece and Egypt, nature, and ravishing female beauty seem to dominate. Sometimes, every floor, even every balcony and window, has an individual motif. It is a spectacular visual delight and the makings of an artist's or architect's dream tour.

Alberta Iela is within easy walking distance of many of Riga's downtown hotels, but one of the best nearby is the Reval, on the corner of Brivibas Boulevarde and Elizabetes Iela.

Its upper levels offer stunning views over the medieval gems of Vecriga ("Old Riga"), the nearby gardens, churches and the broad Daugava River, which wends its way to Riga and the Baltic Sea through the flat Latvian countryside.

Make sure that you get a city-view room, though. The outlook from the rear is far less attractive. The rooms are comfortable and well equipped if not grand, the service can be a bit off-hand, but the location is spot-on and the views sublime.

In nearby Vecriga, try the tiny, boutique Hotel Ainavas. It boasts no views, but is charming, central to the attractions of the medieval city, and the service is wonderfully friendly.

Several years ago, hotels such as these were charging 400–500 Euros per night. Following the collapse of the "Baltic Tigers", it's more like 100–150 Euros today, with breakfast thrown in.

And whilst in Riga take time to stroll the cobble-stoned streets of Vecriga (Old Riga), which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and shed a tear while visiting the Occupation Museum of Latvia and wonder how people could be so cruel to each other.

Finally ensure you try some of the local delicacies by devoting a morning to Riga's Central Markets.



Photo Captions:

[] LATVIA's Riga has the world's largest collection of Art Nouveau  architecture.

[] UPCLOSE look at the fine detail.

[] RIGA's fine architecture, churches and parks from the city's Hotel Rival.

(All Images: Sandra Burn White)


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