January 28, 2011

Korea's Jeju Island is a Geological Wonder

Late last year, nine geological sites on Jeju Island (South Korea) received recognition as UNESCO Global Geoparks from the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network (GGN). The Jeju sites are the first in Korea to earn this recognition and with it, Jeju Island becomes the only place in the world with three UNESCO certifications, following its Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site designations in 2002 and 2007 respectively.

UNESCO's support for Global Geoparks aims to safeguard, educate and sustainably manage landscapes and formations of outstanding geological, archaeological and ecological value and promote tourism around these sites to benefit local economies.

The nine sites begin with Korea's highest mountain and dormant basalt volcano Mount Hallasan (1,950 meters). Standing at the centre of Jeju Island it has around 360 parasitic cones on its flanks creating a remarkable landscape. On top of the mountain is a crater lake which is 3 kilometres in circumference and 500 metres in diameter. The landscape is beautiful throughout the year and a diverse and rare ecosystem can be found at different altitudes.

Seongsan Ilchulbong or Sunrise Peak as it's more commonly known (182metres) rose from the sea in a series of volcanic eruptions beginning over 100,000 years ago. The site resembles an old fortress on a coastal cliff and was originally a volcanic island but was later connected as sand and gravel accumulated between the island and shore. Watching the sunrise from the peak is considered one of the most magic things to do on Jeju Island.

Jeju Island has the longest lava tube in the world in Manjanggul Cave. Over 13 kilmometres long and five metres wide the lava tube was formed about 2.5 million years ago. The lava tube has been well preserved revealing a splendid interior that is out of this world.

The Seogwipo Stratum is the only marine sedimentary formation created in Korea during the Pliocene Period from 5.3million to 2.6 million years ago. Situated in Seohong-dong in Seogwipo-si, the formation contains fossils of thick shell along coastal cliffs. The stratum has a high academic value as it offers valuable information on the environment and marine life of the era it was formed.

A popular honeymoon photo location Cheonjiyeon Falls creates a splendid view of water falling from a steep cliff which is a habitat for rare plants.

Jusangjeolli Cliffs refer to the set of black, rock pillars of rectangular or hexagonal shapes on the east coast of Jungmun Tourist Resort. As if carved by stonemasons the pillars are evidence of nature's awesome power. The sight of waves crashing against the columns is truly spectacular.

Situated on the southwest coast of Jeju Island, Sanbangsan Mountain (395 metres) is a volcanic formation in the shape of a bell. The mountain has two Buddhist Temples. A walk up the stone staircase leads to a sea cave called Sanbanggul. Inside is a temple called Sanbanggulsa containing a Buddhist statue. The rare plants on the cliffs are designated and preserved as natural monuments.

Yongmeori Beach is a ten minute walk from Sangbangsan Mountain. The location's name literally mans Dragon's Head because of the resemblance to a dragon wading out to sea. The coastal area offers great walking areas and splendid landscapes created from persistent waves.

Suwolbong Peak, a small cone (77metres) on the western side of the island is located at the end of an expansive field and this area is best known for its wonderful sunset views.

See the official travel website for Korea for more information on Jeju Island's geological wonders: www.visitkorea.or.kr

For those visitors into nature and walking one of the best ways to see Jeju Island is by its 'Olle' Walking Paths. A special 'Olle' Pathway guide showing the six different routes allows visitors to see Jeju Island's beautiful natural wonders and scenery along the way. Copies of the guide are available from Korea Tourism Organization by email: visitkorea@knto.org.au or phone: 02)9252-4147/8

January 27, 2011

Peru: Navigating Titicaca, The Lake Where the World was Created

According to Inca mythology, the world was created from Lake Titicaca. This Inca sacred place is also the highest navigable lake in the world (3800 m above the sea level) and contains numerous islands whose inhabitants continue to live as their ancestors did. Leaving from Puno, the folklore capital of Peru, a tour through Lake Titicaca and its islands guarantees a fascinating experience, not to be missed for any visitor to Peru.

Promperu's coordinator for Asia Pacific, Rosana Guinea, says that many travellers to Peru consider Lake Titicaca a more magical experience than Machu Picchu. "There is a broad offer of tours and mid-range accommodation around Titicaca, with an increasing number of luxury hotels being developed in the last few years", Rosana said.

Located between Bolivia and Peru, the sacred lake of the Incas showcases a magnificent and peaceful landscape, only interrupted by tiny little islands where a limited number of visitors can stay and taste the true ancient Inca culture.

The best way to reach Lake Titicaca is travelling to Puno (388 km from Cusco) by train, bus or air. The city of Puno lies on the shores of the lake and it's worth a stopover. It was the territory of the Tiahuanacos (800- 1200 A.D.), the highest cultural expression of the Aymara people that established themselves in what is today Peru and Bolivia.

The Incas took over these lands in the fifteenth century, and the Spanish left an important Colonial legacy throughout the entire area. Puno is also known as the folklore capital of Peru, with the internationally known Virgen de la Candelaria Festival held during the first week of February. More than 200 bands follow the colourful parade that takes place on the central day of this Festival.

A tour through Lake Titicaca should always include a visit to Uros, Amantini and Taquille Islands. The man-made floating Islands of Uros provide a good impression of how the Ayamra-speaking locals have lived for centuries. The floating islands have been made entirely from totora reeds growing from the lake, and locals still navigate in their traditional totora boats.

Continuing to Amantini Island, travellers will have the opportunity to experience traditional culture staying overnight with the locals, and will be able to see the snow-capped Cordillera Real Mountains in Bolivia overlooking the lake. Finally, tourism in Taquille Island is strictly controlled by the locals, who will provide advice on where to eat or sleep at a really good price (around $ 3 per night).

For more information on Peru, please visit www.peru.info


Deals on Lake Titicaca for the Australian market- Australian wholesalers currently offer a variety of packages and deals on Lake Titicaca, either featuring the destination on a single tour or incorporating it on a tour around Peru:
 Adventure World:  The Inca Route Tour ($1970 for 8 days). It includes Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and La Paz
Adventure World is also offering a $600 discounts on its Tour The Best of Peru (12 Days/ 11 Nights from $3410 per person)http://www.adventureworld.com.au/travel-deals/the-best-of-peru-small-group-tour
 Chimu Adventures: Lake Titicaca- A dedicated 4-day trip to Lake Titicaca including the Uros, Amantani & Taquile Islands, and Sillustani ( $410 /3 Star- or $495 /4 Star)http://www.chimuadventures.com/australia/Lake%20Titicaca%20Dreaming
Highlight of Peru: A comprehensive snapshot of Peru’s highlights (21 days per $3890 /3 Star or $4195/4 Star)
 Gap Adventures: Peru on a Shoestring (Was $1559, Now $1170 per person for 15 days - saving of 25%).  Departs Sat 19th February 2011.Includes Lima, Nazca Lines, Arequipa, Cusco and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Gap also has Classic Peru ($1999 per person for 12 days).  Includes Lima, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Puno and Cusco
 Intrepid Tours: Lake Titicaca- Another dedicated 3 day trip around Lake Titicaca including Uros and Taquile Islands, and the possibility of adding the city of Puno (prices vary from $280 to $435 depending on type of accommodation)
Intrepid is also offering a 20% discount on a variety of trips to Peru until the second week of February. For further info:  www.intrepidtravel.com/ourtrips/specials

January 24, 2011

Dululu: Queensland Pub On Top of the Flood

Sharon Catlin "We're still open for business and visitors are welcome  to stay or stop for refreshments and a meal." (Tony Walsh)
Publican and friendly host at the Dululu Hotel, Des Catlin (Tony Walsh)

by Tony Walsh

Firstly, where in the world is Dululu? Well, it's easy to find with a sat-nav. Simply zero in on the intersection of the Leichhardt and Capricorn highways in Central Queensland, 73 km west of Rockhampton.

Adjacent to the  crossroads is the classic Queenslander, timber and tin pub, the Dululu Hotel built in 1928 and the centre of the universe for the locals, all 30 of them and a few dogs. The recent floodwaters flowed under the pub which sits on timber stumps. It stayed open during the recent disastrous floods offering a friendly welcome, even in those difficult circumstances.  

The pub is run as a family affair. Arriving late afternoon, the first person I spot is 15 year-old Jayden Catlin, tearing up the footpath with a cantankerous old motor mower. He tells me later that he would rather be helping out at the local Rural Fire Brigade, "Because that's more exciting!"

Then his mum, Sharon, ambles out to check his battle with the long grass. She stands on the front porch which is tucked under the upstairs wooden verandah. "Are you the one staying the night?" she calls to me in a friendly tone.

I nod my agreement and she beckons me over and continues, "Put your port in room four near the top of the stairs then come down and meet some of the locals. It's men's tennis night tonight at the local courts and some will come in before their game and most of them come in after."

As I walk in to the bar, the first sight I see is the L-shaped timber-topped counter; its front made from vertical sheets of galvanised iron. The walls are covered in a cluttered montage of old pub signs and posters, photos of champion Brahman bulls and nasty looking circular saw blades featuring colourful country scenes and the ubiquitous pool table and dart board. A few discarded well-worn, jackeroo hats and the focal point at meal times, a giant blackboard with a chalked menu featuring a range of meals and snacks that would put a city pub to shame.


I smile at two women sitting at the bar enjoying a shandy after the day's work at a regional school and wander into a cavernous back room. There's the kitchen to the left; its entrance barred by a flimsy insect screen door. To the right is a counter with a young lady sorting letters and a few parcels. It's Kirsten Catlin. She and her sister Lekisha assist their parents, Des and Sharon run the pub. Kirsten explains that this pub is more than just drinks, meals and beds. "We run a small grocery service for the locals and surrounding farms.We do the post office duties, ANZ Bank agency, freight depot, and provide a bus stop for interstate coach services and are the co-ordination contact for emergency services."

Wow, this is one busy establishment, I think to myself before trudging up the flight of stairs to the back verandah. I find my room and open the unlocked door.

There's carpet on the floor, a TV with rabbit's ears sitting precariously on a stool in the corner of the room, a lace-curtained window, an antique, stained-timbered wardrobe, a double bed with clean sheets and a few blankets all tucked in under a bright bedspread; not bad value for $45.00 a night.    

It's time for some tucker (dinner) and to find out what's doing in Dululu. Sharon suggests I try the slab of grilled rump with vegies and chips. It's so big; lapping over both ends of the oval plate the locals boast that it should have its own post code!

Later, the tennis players arrive and regret that some of their top shots did not make it over the net. This leads to a discussion about some of the old characters of Dululu that have fronted the bar over past decades. Most remember 'Old Pagey' who in his later years was a regular at opening time each day at 10.00am and would stay until around  two in the afternoon before getting a lift home.

'Old Pagey' had to take his medication around 11.00am, so he would put his beer down and ask for a glass of water because as he would explain to the bar attendant each morning, "I'm not supposed to take the medication with alcohol!".

A former licensee, Nev Ferrier and now local councillor then walked into the bar and when asked how he dealt with  rowdy  drinkers, he thought for a while and said that was not usually a problem, but he did have one experience with a strange guest that bounded through.

"I was just getting ready to close one evening and heard all sorts of commotion out the back and thought one of the locals must have tripped in the dark and knocked a few empty kegs over. Then suddenly, a fairly large grey kangaroo hopped into the bar. It must have been chased by a few dingoes. It hit the wall then bounded into the men's toilet and the door swung closed behind it.

"It was obviously very agitated so I had to be careful. To make matters worse, there was only one other customer in the bar. He'd had a few and started giving me gratuitous instructions that I could have done without.

"Opening the door to the men's, I grabbed the roo by the tail and somehow pulled it out onto the verandah; its front paws thrashing about like some crazed fighter and let it go. It cleared the railing in a single bound and headed west. I have never seen anyone or anything leave a pub so fast in all my life."

Nev also recounted the occasion one Saturday afternoon when he noticed a police car with a uniformed officer parked across from the pub. "The next day, the same patrol car pulled up and the officer walked into the bar. 'Did you hear what happened to me yesterday? I was waiting to take up an escort for a wide-load vehicle from another 

patrol car further down the highway but it was running late. Then two children who had been sitting on your verandah came over to my car and said their mum and

dad wanted to know how long I was going to be sitting outside the pub, because their  parents wanted to drive home'."

As the local folk drifted off into the night, I found my way upstairs to room four. The next thing I heard to the accompanying rays of first sunlight streaming through the window was the sounds of a mob of pink galahs screeching their heads off in the Coolabah tree in the back yard of the pub.

After a hearty pub breakfast, I drove out onto the Leichhardt Highway and realised in a good sort of way that one thing is certain, life is definitely different in Dululu.

For reservations or local information, phone the Dululu Hotel on  07  4937 1288.

See: http://www.gdaypubs.com.au/QLD/dululu.html

Struth! Lego Boat a Labour of Love

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that a love of cruising has seen Princess Cruises' famous Love Boat reincarnated in LEGO® by a Melbourne man who is obviously endowed with infinite patience.

Measuring 3.2 metres long and 1.5 metres high, it's made from more than a quarter of a million LEGO bricks, took six months to build and is the largest single project ever undertaken by professional LEGO builder, Ryan McNaught.

"I wanted to do something with character so I chose the original Love Boat, Pacific Princess, and studied photos and deck plans to capture all aspects of her features and beauty," Mr McNaught said.

While one side of the model features the exterior of the famous ship, the other is an open cutaway revealing all the action inside – from chefs in the kitchen to passengers working-out in the health club.

Mr McNaught has also brought the cast of the famous Love Boat TV show to life with LEGO models of the legendary Captain Stubing, Gopher and Cruise Director Julie, along with some of the show's most famous guests such as David Hasselhoff.

Flashing LED lights flicker in the disco and tiny motors power the propellers and passenger elevators.

Mr McNaught is one of only 12 certified professional LEGO builders in the world, and having shown his Love Boat model at Australia's LEGO Convention – Brickvention – in Melbourne this month, now plans to ship it to  one of the largest LEGO conventions in the world, Brickworld in Chicago in June.

More images of the LEGO Love Boat can be seen on www.flickr.com/photos/ryanmcnaught

January 22, 2011


David Ellis


"You take the bells, and I'll take the pepper spray and the rifle," says John 'Cowboy' Caton. "There's one-point-five bears to every square kilometre out there  – you're in wilderness country now."


We'd accepted Cowboy John's invitation to what we'd been assured would be a nice leisurely embrace with nature, not dodging grizzlies, in a timeless rainforest on the west coast of Canada's Vancouver Island.


And if we were going into "wilderness country," we'd like to know what it was that we were leaving: Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, our digs for the previous night, would have to be amongst the most remote we'd encountered in decades of searching.


Not that we were complaining – we'd be the first to put our hands up if an invitation came our way again – for the aptly-named Clayoquot (it means 'Calm Water') is for the serious seeker of communing with nature, strolls on k's of empty beaches, walks through cedar and rainforests, and a quiet so almost-cuttable you could target a pine needle hitting the water at a hundred paces.


Yet all this remoteness was coupled with shameless indulgence. For while Clayoquot is accessible only by boat from the nearest town, Tofino 15 minutes away or seaplane, there's no skimping on the necessities of life: good food, good wine and a good bed.


A crackling log fire on cooler nights greets travellers to The Great Room for recounting experiences at day's end, the bar's stocked to the rafters by obvious devotees for devotees, and just twenty cosey deluxe and luxury tents look out over the mirrored waters of Clayoquot Sound.


And from his kitchen, Chef Tim May treats guests to such salivating signature dishes as Grilled Clayoquot Sound Oyster Chowder and Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut Fillets, locally caught salmon or crab, freshest local beef, venison and farm vegetables… and afterwards delights like mountains of wild berries and cream, or summery cheesecakes….


"Wear the bells around your wrist," says the affable Cowboy from under an unlikely Akubra that's his constant companion.  "They let the bears know we're coming; they'll usually amble off and just watch us."


We have a look at a waterfall-fed lake that's great for summer swimming, and the stables from which resort guides take guests off on daytime trail rides or overnight trips to remote forest camps. And as we step out onto a pristine strip of beach, we sight our first bear – less than a cricket pitch length along the sand from us.


"He's around 70kg, I reckon," says Cowboy, a partner in the Resort after a major coronary attack put paid to an over-stressful life as a music talent scout and recording artist manager. "Solid little fellas aren't they?" he remarks of the black bear, that seems to be little more than waist height and as wide as he is high.


He gawks at us for a few minutes before losing interest in yet more boring tourists, and ambles off, leaving us to capture our Close Encounter in a myriad shaky photos of his disappearing back-side. 


We see a handful more bears during the afternoon, and by evening are feeling nonchalant and brave:  Hey, we've survived a day in Bear Country.


Then Cowboy brings us back to earth. "Folks think they can climb a tree to escape a cranky bear," he observes. "But the black ones climb up after you – and the grizzlies just shake the tree 'til you fall out….


"You know, we've only seen five today, so that means with 1.5 to the square kilometre, we need to run into a dozen more in the next fifteen minutes…"


We're off. That bar, Chef Tim's delights and our deluxe 'Outpost' style tent with its Queen Bed suddenly holds greater appeal than confirming Cowboy's mathematics.


Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is open May to September with package stays of 3-, 4- and 7-nights. Prices start from CAD$4750pp (approx AU$4778) twin-share for 3-nights and including return 50-minute seaplane from Vancouver, all meals, snacks, beverages (including alcoholic,) massage treatments, horseback riding, fishing, viewing bear, whale and marine life, ocean and river kayaking, a Wild Side First Nations Interpretive Walk, sailing, hiking, clay shooting, rock climbing, archery, swimming, mountain biking, zip-lining, and painting and cooking lessons.


Details Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays toll-free 1300 79 49 59.





[] DELUXE in the wilderness: queen bedded tents.


[] SPECTACULAR scenery amid an almost-cuttable quietness.


[] CLAYOQUOT's Healing Grounds for pampering body and soul.


[] RUSTIC Great Room for dining indulgence.


[] ONE of Chef Tim May's wondrous creations.


All photos courtesy of Clayoquot Wilderness Resort


January 18, 2011

Quality Customer Service – still not universal despite the risks

Illustration: Paul Slater/The Cutter Gallery

hospitality(hos¦pi|tal¦ity) Pronunciation:/hɒspɪˈtalɪti/ noun
the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. (Oxford Dictionary)

Five years ago, I had a spray at some Australian hoteliers whose staff still held to the long obsolete greeting of “You right there?” – a festering indicator of inadequate front-of-house training and persistent, complacent practices.

Just back from an “undercover” road trip from Canberra to Coober Pedy, it was revealing to sample the great disparity of service levels still evident in our hospitality network. A wide range of country pubs, caravan parks, rural hotels and CBD properties all reminded me that despite our rapidly rising international tourism profile, many establishments were sorely lagging in their basic attention to the guest experience.

In the age of Trip Advisor and Facebook, hotels risk serious backlash for upsetting guests with everything from reservation mix-ups to stained bedding. I am firmly of the opinion that whether you are a 5-star international brand or a humble B&B, your guest experience should be your primary goal and failure to address that is a fatal flaw in the management plan.

Speaking from many instances of personal experience, my hair now stands on end if I am addressed with “Are you right there?”. Okay, this offhand blow-off now seems to be retreating to the more remote establishments better suited to servicing the needs of blue singlet-clad long-haul truckers and dusty opal miners tonguin’ for a schooner, but that’s no excuse. Regardless of your Triple A rating, if a staff member’s automatic response to a patron’s inquiry is to deliver a “what do you want, can’t you see I’m busy?” greeting, this is quite often a clue to a deeper malaise. The incompetency cluster usually extends to other areas like cleanliness, dining and general maintenance and a pointer that someone in the management team needs a dose of “radical career guidance”.

In that unrestrained rant five years ago, I also noted how our friends across the Tasman seemed to have an instinctive understanding of “hospitality”. A recent anonymous trip again reconfirmed my belief that Australians appear to need to work against their natural tendency for nonchalance and indifference. Convict DNA perhaps?

Want to know what I really think? See my TripAdvisor page

January 17, 2011


david ellis

LIKE the other kids in the street, Tomasz Kozlowski loved riding his bicycle, kicking a football and dreaming about what they all might be when they "grew up."

But while his mates talked about being motor mechanics and the like, rather than the thought of grease on his hands, Tomasz was happier playing around with the wondrous things that went into the mixing bowls and the saucepans and the baking dishes in his mum's kitchen.

And he dreamed of one day creating his own dishes from these wonders himself.

So much so that while his mates were still fantasizing about "when they grew up," young Tomasz convinced his Mum and Dad to enrol him for five years in culinary school – from which he graduated at just 17 years of age.

After doing his compulsory Polish military service, he went straight to work as a chef in a restaurant in Germany, then others in France and Spain – not just as jobs, but to learn as much as he could.

And in 2001, he heard about the fledgling SeaDream Yacht Club that had just two mega motor-cruiser yachts, SeaDream I and SeaDream II.

The ambitious Tomasz signed-up to join the team in the galley of SeaDream I. Today, still just 34 years of age, he is its Executive Chef, winning stunning acclaim from guests as she wends her way around the Mediterranean from May to October, and the Caribbean from November to April.

It's a long way from his mum's kitchen in the little town in Poland.

"Being small – we've just 56 staterooms for 112 guests – allows us a huge amount of freedom to provide guests with a dining experience like no other at sea," Tomasz says. "Including being able to change menus and dining venues from indoors to outdoors to suit the day, to set up lunch on remote Mediterranean beaches or uninhabited Caribbean islands, and to surprise guests with little favourites for birthdays, anniversaries and the like."

As one Australian travel writer wrote after sailing SeaDream in the Mediterranean, "dining is like you're in the world's finest restaurant – with a ship underneath it."

Tomasz has just nine cooks, a pastry chef and a baker in his galley, and relishes enthusing to guests about his team.

"Everyone is hugely dedicated," he says. "We treat each sailing as a separate and exclusive event... not as a weekly repeat of what was done the week before: we tailor meals to the regions through which we are sailing, so guests experience the flavours and subtleties of local ingredients, as well of course as international favourites."

In some places, such as Sorrento in Italy, he invites guests to join him on a shopping expedition to buy the ingredients for pre-dinner cocktails and canapes around the pool. "They come with me to select cold meats and local cheeses, olives and unique drinks like Limoncello, fresh regional fruits and vegetables – and that night they enjoy it all from our cocktail tables."

More basic ingredients come from around the world: lamb from New Zealand, beef from Kansas, lobster from Maine, crab legs and claws from Alaska, fruit and vegetables from Australia, South Africa and Asia...

And recently when SeaDream I sailed her annual repositioning voyage from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, he surprised the dozen Australians on board with a poolside "Aussie Party Pies Party."

It was a stunning success.

And while he puts boundless energy into his culinary creations Tomasz likes to keep offerings modestly-sized, tasty and healthy.

"Piling a plate doesn't necessarily make for a good meal," he says. "Rather, we offer up to five courses at lunch and dinner – appetizers, soups, entrees, main courses and desserts or cheeses, so guests enjoy a wider choice than two or three plates piled-high."

So many choices in fact that guests' only complaint is decisions, decisions…

When he's not aboard SeaDream I, Tomas Kozlowski returns home to Szczerin in Poland and his wife and son (8) and daughter (coming on 3.)

And yes, he's happy in the kitchen there too. "We eat light, simple and healthy meals, and I like to dine out as well to pick up tips – I like constantly learning."

For information about SeaDream's itineraries and prices see travel agents or visit www.seadream.com

Photo Captions:

[] EVER-effervescent Chef Tomasz enthuses over fresh market produce on a guests' shopping tour in Sorrento.

[] IN the galley – his hands do the talking.

[] DREAM cuisine – decisions, decisions: when a guest couldn't decide between Dover Sole and Atlantic Salmon, Chef Tomasz gave him both!

[] SEADREAM I in the Mediterranean.


Struth - On the level, the leaning tower cleans its act


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that Swiss-born building restorer, Anton Sutter is going to have to level-up with his next employer after eight years of a somewhat warped approach to his last job.

Mr Suttor and his team of ten Italians finally finished that last job just a week before Christmas – having meticulously used hand-brushes, scrubbers, chisels and even syringes to remove centuries of sea-salt, pigeon droppings, graffiti and decaying cement from the 24,424 blocks of stone and marble that make up the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Plus the ingrained sweaty hand prints of tourists trying to keep their balance as they struggled up and down the 296 sloping steps of the Tower.

Throughout it all the restorers, too, had to contend with all those uneven steps, and learn to work on a constant angle while being buffeted with salt-laden winds and freezing gales in winter (even though the Tower is 12km away from the sea) – and in summer searing near-40 degree days and steamy nights.

And making it all the more difficult they had to contend with a million or more visitors a year traipsing around and gawking at them, as the custodians of the Tower decided to keep it open throughout the eight years and $10m of restoration work.

And could it all be a waste of time and the Tower one day fall over anyway? "Not likely," says Mr Suttor. "It was stabilised in 2001 and there's no risk of it falling in the next 200 years."

Now the only thing that remains is to remove the scaffolding used in the restoration job – and who better than a group of young mountaineers not afraid to hang out over the giddying 56-metre drop from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

January 03, 2011

Happy New Time! from John Cleese

Dear Fnerners and Bnerers,

Once again, for a reason which dates back to 1582, we celebrate the annual re-boot of the Georgian calendar, with much jollity and good cheer, with singing, carousing, dancing and inebriation, leading to the consequent impact on personal health, as population after population succumbs to the morning after the night before.
Tomorrow (or is it already today?) is equally worthy of celebration, it being a date that even the Americans can get right - 1.1.11. So, perhaps some will turn the hair of the dog into the leg of the dog, perhaps even the dog of the dog. Just try to avoid making it the pack of the dog if you possibly can.

Moving along, we won't have long to wait for the next new year. On 3rd February 2011 we move into the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, which is another great excuse to throw a party. Shortly after that, on either 20th or 21st March 2011, we have Nowruz 2570 (1390) the Persian new year, which being the Spring equinox, coincides with several other reasons to go for it (and why not?) :

* Purim - Jewish
* Ostara -Wicca/Pagan northern hemisphere
* Mabon -Wicca/Pagan southern hemisphere
* Holi - Hindu
* Hola Mohalla - Sikh

On and on and on it goes, each occasion supposedly unique and special - and so they are, just not for the reasons we give. Any excuse will do, really, religious or secular, national, international, or familial, new year, new baby, bar mitzvah, first communion, graduation, retirement, sporting victory, sporting defeat, you name it.

What these occasions all have in common is that they bring us humans together so that we can try, in our sometimes generous, often flawed and occasionally dangerous ways, to break down the inter-personal barriers which exist between us on every other day of the year. It's no wonder we sometimes break things in this great effort to reverse the social norms which constrict most of us most of the time, in pursuit of the much deeper need for renewal.

So, on this New Year 2011, let us all say a very large, long and heartfelt thank you to the Healers of the world - to the doctors, nurses and paramedics, as they cope with the flood of injuries which accompanies this annual mass loss of balance.

Thank you, wond'rous children of Hippocrates, for you are indeed special; you frequently stand between us mortals and the worst consequences of our desire to feel more connected with one another and less alone; and without you, life after the party would so often be much, much worse than a simple hangover.
Aside from that - thank you for all your kind messages and support this year. Remember to be extra nice to people who resemble small animals.

Until next time,

Jack the Cheese

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