February 28, 2011


David Ellis

"WE'LL have a wee skirmish to begin," says Robert Whittaker with just the hint of a twinkle in his eye.

"Some shots will be fired and then there'll be our famous 92nd Gordon Highlander bayonet charge – we have to teach a lesson to our favourite enemy, those perfidious French!"

Is this some new battle-front that's somehow escaped our attention? Something disastrous far away, or possibly closer to home?

The answer is both No and Yes.

Because Robert is talking about his "wee skirmish" taking place in the sleepy little NSW Southern Highlands village of Bundanoon – and not in some eon past, but in April of this year.

And dastardly as it may sound, it won't be enough to have the locals dialling 000 or calling out the troops – although it's already created enough interest to suggest that little Bundanoon's population of a couple of thousand will swell to 12,000 or more on April the 2nd to witness this "wee skirmish."

Robert Whittaker is a member of a unique group called the 92nd Gordon Highlanders (1815) Australia, a diverse collection of business executives, pensioners, teachers, truck drivers, students, housewives and sportsmen and women who dress in the uniform of the time, and play-out a "skirmish" as it would have been in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo – with the 92nd Gordon Highlanders very much to the fore.

And they'll be doing it as part of this year's Bundanoon is Brigadoon, one of the world's largest gatherings of all things Scottish, that'll see that re-enactment of a skirmish at the Battle of Waterloo, as well as such peculiarly Scottish events as the caber toss, kilted dash race, a raw egg tossing challenge, the lifting of the Bundanoon Stones of Manhood, a water-toss with water-filled balloons, massed pipe bands and Scottish dancing, lone pipers and a solo fiddler, country dancing, the Wollongong Conservatorium Flute Ensemble and a sword play and theatrical fencing display.

And a heart-stirring street parade of pipe bands, marching Clan societies and decorated floats.

Newcastle's famous Highlander Celtic Rock Band with their unusual combination of bagpipes, fiddles, electric and acoustic guitars, percussions and vocals will also perform the national song Flower of Scotland during an opening concert on the main stage from 8.45am…. and what else to bring a tear to the eye than their rendering of Auld Lang Syne at the end of the day?

But for many it will be the 92nd Gordon Highlanders who'll be the centre of much attention, not only with their re-enactment of the "wee skirmish" but with a re-created "company street" complete with a mess tent/kitchen, headquarters, surgeon's tent, sutlers hut (a military supply hut,) sleeping tents – and men, women and children "camp followers" (those who followed armies and sold goods and services not provided by the army) in period Georgian dress.

They'll also have a display of historic fire-arms, swords and bayonets, give demonstrations of muzzle-loading techniques, provide a military geneology service with service and medal lists, and answer questions about military life during the time of the Battle of Waterloo.

And if all this leaves you feeling thirsty or peckish, there'll be plenty of opportunity to slake the thirst and sate the appetite at this 34th Bundanoon is Brigadoon, with over a hundred stalls selling everything from soft drinks and ice-creams to Scottish shortbreads, Scots pies, drop scones and gingerbreads, butterscotch, home-baked Abernethy Biscuits, confectionery – and blood pudding and haggis.

And finally as the sun sets in the western sky, the mists descend once again and the crowd leaves in the gloaming – or readies for the traditional evening knees-up of the Ceilidh for dancing in the local hall – just as in the Lerner and Loewe musical, mythical Brigadoon will fall once again under a magical spell to sleep again for another year…

And next morning Bundanoon will wake once more to its peaceful and picturesque self of just 2000 lucky souls in this idyllic NSW Southern Highlands setting – with residents no-doubt comfortable in the knowledge that their railway station name-board will have just as magically been transformed back to BUNDANOON, after having been mysteriously re-lettered BRIGADOON for a day just 24 hours before…

ENTRY: $18 adults, $5 children, $40 family (two children/two adults,) $15 concession (Pension Card must be shown.) Details: www.highlandsnsw.com.au/brigadoon



[] IT'S everything Scottish at Bundanoon is Brigadoon….

[] HERNIA-making stuff – tossing the caber.

[] 92nd Gordon Highlanders (1815) President Chris Whittaker in uniform with Tower Musket and bayonet.

[] A member of the re-enactment group in the dress of a Battle of Waterloo "camp follower" civilian trader.

[] EVEN CityRail gets in on the act: Bundanoon railway station becomes Brigadoon for the day.


February 14, 2011

Struth! Crossing the line at Greenwich


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that from next month visitors to London's Royal Observatory will have to pay to put their feet on a line that doesn't exist.

The Greenwich Meridian Line is an imaginary line running from the North Pole to the South Pole, and from which all points of longitude are measured and world time determined.

For years a narrow metal strip in the courtyard of the Royal Observatory has indicated where the Meridian Line runs, and some 1.6 million people annually stand astride this to have their photographs taken, try walking along it to keep balance between two time zones and check to see if their city is one of those whose longitudes are shown on either side of the Line.

Now the Observatory is going to charge ten pounds (about A$16) for these opportunities, saying the money will be used to pay for "wear and tear" of the Line… and seemingly taking a page from the books of local government, "to undertake upgrades to comply with occupational health and safety laws." Tickets will be valid for a year, with children free.

And already one crafty Greenwich publican has let it be known that he'll be buying a bunch of tickets and "lending them free" to tourists who buy a pint and a meal at his pub before visiting the Observatory.

Doubtless, officials will find a way to put a quick stop to that. Purely for occupational health and safety reasons only, of course.

Weird and wonderful welcomes from around the globe

Hotels.com lists the world's most unique welcome greetings and traditions

 From rubbing noses to sniffing cheeks, travellers will encounter all sorts of wonderful and unique welcoming customs when exploring the world. To avoid any awkward or embarrassing moments it's wise to familiarise yourself with the traditional customs of your destination and especially, how to greet someone.

To celebrate the recent launch of Hotels.com's Welcome Rewards customer loyalty program, Hotels.com has roamed the world to find the most unique, and in some cases peculiar, welcoming customs.

With Hotels.com's Welcome Rewards program, when travellers stay 10 nights at any one of the 65,000 eligible hotels around the world, Hotels.com welcomes them to a free night*.

Hotels.com lists the 10 most unique welcome customs around the world:

New Zealand

Travellers visiting our Pacific neighbours in New Zealand are sure to come across the traditional Maori welcoming custom know as the hongi. The hongi is a centuries-old tradition which involves the rubbing or touching of noses when two people meet. The rubbing of noses is a symbolic act referred to as the ha or the 'the breath of life', which is considered to come directly from the gods. Once you have taken part in this exchange, you are no longer considered a manuhiri or 'visitor', and can now consider yourself a tangata whenua, or one of the people of the land.

Hotels.com tip:  Keep your eyes open to avoid misjudging the distance or you could be in for a rather awkward moment, not to mention a very sore nose.


It might be bad manners anywhere else in the world, but in Tibet poking out one's tongue is the customary way to welcome people. The tradition dates back to the 9th century during the time of a vicious Tibetan king known as Lang Darma, who had a black tongue. The Tibetan people feared that King Darma would be reincarnated so they began greeting each other by sticking out their tongue to prove that they weren't evil. The tradition continues today and is often accompanied by the person placing their palms down in front of their chest.

Hotels.com tip: Refrain from greeting Tibetans in the traditional way if you've been chewing liquorice.


Travellers heading to Tuvulu, an island nation in Polynesia, should be prepared to get up close and personal when being welcomed by locals. The traditional Tuvaluan welcome involves pressing one's face to the other person's cheek and then taking a deep sniff. 

Hotels.com  tip: Follow a local's lead and avoid eating onions before arriving on the island.


Travellers exploring the countryside of Mongolia will have the opportunity to witness the ancient greetings still practised in rural areas. When welcoming an unfamiliar guest into their home, a Mongol will present the guest with a hada, a strip of silk or cotton, which is generally white in colour but can also be light blue or light yellow. If you are lucky enough to be presented with a hada, you should grasp it gently in both hands while bowing slightly. The giving or receiving of hada, as well as the act of bowing to each other, is an outward sign of mutual respect, something that is very important in Mongolian culture.

Hotels.com tip: Depending on what region of Mongolia you visit, the trading of pipes for smoking and the exchange of snuffboxes is also quite common.


Welcoming people is considered to be very important in Japan and bowing is the traditional way the Japanese welcome guests. The traditional bow can range from a small nod of the head to a long complete ninety degree bend at the waist. If the welcoming takes place on a tatami floor, a traditional type of Japanese flooring, people are required to get on their knees in order to bow. The longer and deeper the bow, the more respect you are showing. Small head bows are common among younger people in Japan as a more casual and informal welcome.

Hotels.com tip:  Most Japanese don't expect foreigners to know proper bowing rules. So a slight nod of the head is acceptable.


Travellers visiting Kenya will no doubt come across the distinctive Maasai tribe, the most well-known tribe in Kenya. Travellers lucky enough to witness the unique customs and traditions of the tribe will enjoy the vibrant welcoming dance that the Maasai people perform. The Maasai dance is called adamu, the jumping dance, and is performed by the warriors of the tribe. Traditionally the dance begins by telling a story and concludes with dancers forming a circle and competing to jump the highest, demonstrating to visitors the strength and bravery of the tribe.

Hotels.com tip: Be prepared, often a blend of cow's milk and blood can be offered to visitors as an addition to the welcoming dance.


In many parts of the Arctic, including Greenland, the traditional greeting by the Inuit people, or Eskimos, is known as a kunik. The kunik is an affectionate greeting mainly used among family members and loved ones. The traditional kunik involves one person pressing their nose and upper lip against the other person's skin and breathing. Westerns have adopted the tradition of the Eskimo kiss in which two people rub their noses together.

Hotels.com tip: Make sure you don't have a runny nose when doing the kunik in freezing temperatures or you might just find yourself getting stuck to the person you are greeting.


The traditional welcome in China is referred to as the kowtow, a custom which involves folding hands, bowing, and if you're a female making a wanfu, which involves the folding and moving of hands down by the side of the body. The kowtow can be traced back as early as the legendary Emperor Xuan Yuan. Originally, Chinese people performed the kowtow before the emperor or during a ceremony such as a wedding.

Hotels.com tip: Although the kowtow custom is not commonly practised these days, folding of the hands is still widely used and respected.


The Thai greeting referred to as the wai is a graceful tradition and requires one to take a slight bow of the body and head with palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion and say 'Sawaddee'. Travellers visiting Thailand will notice that hand positions can change: the higher the hands in relationship to the face the more respect the giver of the wai is showing. This custom originally was used to indicate the absence of weapons, considered the ultimate show of respect and is still used extensively throughout Thailand today.

Hotels.com tip:  Performing the wai might feel strange at first, but you'll soon start to embrace the tradition and come to enjoy greeting people in the traditional Thai way.


Travellers visiting the Philippines will have the opportunity to witness one of the more unique welcoming customs. When a younger person greets an older person they must bow a little, grab the elderly person's right hand with their right hand, allowing their knuckles to touch the elder person's forehead. As this gesture is being made, the younger person will say 'Mano Po', Mano meaning hand, po meaning respect.

Hotels.com tip: Be gentle when touching the older person's head with your knuckles, you don't want to give them a 'knuckle head'!



David Ellis

BY the time you read this more than one-billion Valentine's Day cards will have been bought, written in, posted, pondered over, clutched to heaving bosoms, and either proudly shown-off – or chucked away without being taken out of the envelope.

World-wide, teens will have sent and received the most number of cards, followed by all the usual suspects of husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and other lovers.

And the biggest number to have received unsigned Valentine's cards will, amazingly, have been schoolteachers.

Something like 73% of men will also have included flowers or chocolates with their cards, an estimated 3% of pet owners world-wide will have given a Valentine's gift to their pet… and somewhat bizarrely in America 22,000,000 women (15% of the female population) who had not expected to receive a Valentine's card or flowers, will have sent flowers to themselves.

And all this because of just three words written by a condemned man in a prison cell 1,744 years ago – even though some still question today whether it was he after whom Valentine's Day is named.

These doubters say the day was named after the martyr, Bishop Valentine of Terni – a city near Rome originally known as Interamna – who was executed around AD 197 during the persecution of the Emperor Aurelian and his supporters.

But most money is on it having been named after St Valentine of Rome, the "Saint of Love" who was a third century priest beheaded on February 14 in AD 267 on the orders of the emperor Claudius II ("Claudius the Cruel") for carrying out marriage ceremonies against the emperor's instructions.

And then again there are those who believe that Valentine of Terni and Valentine of Rome were in fact one and the same…

A qualified doctor as well as a priest, Valentine of Rome angered the Emperor because he performed marriages at a time Claudius, who believed married men made poor soldiers, needed all the young single men he could get for his army.

While Valentine awaited his execution in prison, the blind daughter of one of his jailers regularly visited him, and on the eve of his execution he left her a note which he simply signed "From Your Valentine."

It is claimed that as he was executed, the young girl's sight was miraculously restored, allowing her to read his note.

The girl's jailer father recorded the return of his daughter's sight around the time of Valentine's execution, and as a result, 200 years later in AD 496 Pope Gelasius recognised the miracle of the priest and the blind girl.

Valentine was canonised and his remains removed to the Church of St Praxedes on Rome's Via Santa Prassede.

But it was a Frenchman, Charles – the  Duke of Orleans – who is believed to have sent the world's very first "Valentine's card." He had been imprisoned in the Tower of London following the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and began sending poems home to his wife on pieces of card, signing them as "her Valentine."

When word of this affection spread in Britain and France, others – mainly those who considered themselves as imprisoned secret lovers – started signing "From Your Valentine" at the end of their letters.

The first publicly-available "Valentine's cards" didn't appear in Europe until 400 years later in the early 1800s. They were large, cumbersome handmade affairs and in the 1840s in Massachusetts USA, a teenaged Esther Howland convinced her father, who owned a book and stationery business, to print a sample of a small "Valentine's Card" on lace paper that could be mailed using the new-fangled "postage stamps" that were just being introduced in America.

She also coerced a salesman brother to show her card to customers as he did his rounds selling their father's products, hoping to sell $200 worth of cards. But her brother brought back orders worth $5000, and with the help of friends Esther set up America's first greetings card production line, soon turning over $100,000 a year… a-then fortune.

Esther Howland died in 1904 at a venerable 76 years of age, and despite  having brought love and joy into the world of millions of women as "the mother of the modern Valentine's Day Card," she never married and went to her grave a millionairess spinster.






St VALENTINE Baptises St Lucilla before his execution, a 16th century painting by Jacopo da Ponte.                                         


ORNATE original Esther Howland lace paper Valentine's Day Card.


CONTEMPORARY print from the time showing Charles, Duke of Orleans, imprisoned in the Tower of London: he sent his wife the world's very first

Valentine's cards.


February 07, 2011


David Ellis

WE'VE always considered those spectacular coastal blowhole things to be a somewhat pretty permanent kind of local attraction – almost put there by area tourism authorities to lure the curious to hang around sufficiently long to have need to part with a few dollars.

So we were surprised when fellow travel writer, John Rozentals told us how he drove down from Sydney to Kiama to look at its famous Blowhole on the South Coast, only to find that the day he got there "it wasn't working."

"It was," says John, "somewhat anti-climactic. Yet it proved most fortuitous, because had it been working that day, we'd most likely have taken a few photos, ticked it off our must-see list, and continued on our way... quite possibly never to return to Kiama again.

"Instead, we decided to seek out what else it had to offer ... and found attractions that have drawn us back time and again, both to enjoy ourselves and to show off to overseas visitors."

Just a couple of hours drive south of Sydney, Kiama is historic, charming and  well-preserved.

Explorer George Bass was one of the area's first white visitors when he sailed there in 1797… and was reputedly the first white man to see the "Kiama Blowhole." This bizarre natural oddity is caused by large waves rushing into an underground cavity when tide and current are just right, and compressing the air inside which in turn forces the water within to escape outwards and upwards through a hole in the rock as a magnificent waterspout surrounded by a halo of spray, and accompanied by ominous thundery crashes. 

Following what Bass wrote about his other discoveries, cedar gathers quickly moved there, while farmers established one of our earliest dairy industries at Kiama – and our first dairy cooperative.

Old churches, the magnificent Italianate post office, and many historic commercial and municipal buildings still retain a grand 19th century solidity about them… as does the sandstone-lined harbourside walk that on weekends hosts a bustling market.

John Rozentals says Blowhole Point provides a magnificent vista regardless of whether or not the sea is running high enough to give the blowhole a workout.

"There's also the Pilot's Cottage Museum that's a fascinating insight into the town's maritime, agricultural, commercial and human history," he says. "And there are pelicans awaiting the scraps from fishermen cleaning their catch, while the fishermen's cooperative store in an excellent place to buy freshest fish, oysters and prawns.

"And a couple of visits we've made to Cargo's Restaurant, on the nearby wharf, have been very rewarding," he says. "It has the freshest seafood, attentive but not overbearing staff, and its position is to die for."

A few blocks away is a run of weatherboard houses built in the 1880s to house quarry workers and their families and called Kiama Terrace. "They're thought to be Australia's oldest weatherboard terraces and were saved from demolition to become a quaint precinct of restaurants and shops.

"And Kiama's got a good range of caravan parks, seaside cabins, B&Bs and motels, with pride of place going to the substantial Sebel Harbourside development on the prize strip between the town centre and waterfront," he says.

"It's sympathetically incorporated one of Kiama's crown historic jewels, an 1889 bluestone 2-storey schoolhouse, into an otherwise modern complex of accommodation, restaurants, bars and shops that really is above expectations.

"The rooms are well equipped and comfortable, with many having wonderful  harbour views, the staff is exceptional and the location the best in town. Part of the old schoolhouse is a community-based art gallery, and other parts conference or meeting rooms."

Other attractions in the area include Minnamurra Rainforest with its  Rainforest Centre, a 1.6-kilometre boardwalk offering sensational views over the Illawarra escarpment, and access to more than 400 hectares of rainforest.

There's also Jamberoo, an historic village established in the 1820s as part of the timber industry, while Gerringong just south of Kiama is renowned for its surfing beaches, fishing... and as the hometown of Mick Cronin, one of Australia's greatest rugby league players whose family has run the local pub since the 19th century.


Sebel Harbourside (02) 4230 7500 www.mirvachotels.com.au; Cargo's Restaurant (02) 4233 2771; Kiama Visitor Information Centre 1300 654 262 www.kiama.com.au; John Rozentals www.ozbabyboomers.com.au 




[] CARGO'S Restaurant: you can't get closer to the water than this.

[] ROOMS with a view and incorporating an historic 1889 bluestone schoolhouse: Sebel Harbourside Kiama.

[] SAVED from demolition, these 1880s quarry workers' terraces are now picturesque restaurants and shops.

PHOTOS: Sandra Burn White


February 02, 2011

Alyeska Resort - Skiing Alaska

Located along the scenic Seward Highway, Alyeska Resort is the premier destination in Alaska for visitors and locals alike. Nestled against the awe-inspiring Chugach Mountains, Alyeska offers year-round adventures and activities. Alyeska is located in the town of Girdwood, part of the Municipality of Anchorage.

Alyeska Resort sits in the heart of Girdwood, a glacier carved valley. To the west and north, the mountains of the Chugach State Park provide a stunning backdrop over Alyeska. At 495,000 acres, it is the third largest state park in the US.

Today, Alyeska Resort is an established ski destination known for its steep terrain and deep snowpack. With expansive mountain and ocean inlet views at your fingertips, Alyeska boasts an average 643" of annual snowfall at the summit. In 2006, the new ownership installed snow making capabilities from top-to-bottom ensuring a timely opening. Other mountain improvements include a new high-speed quad chairlift accessing beginner terrain, two magic carpets, and RFID gates.

The valley floor offers trail systems for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and dog-sledding. For avid skiers and riders, Chugach Powder Guides operates both heli-skiing and cat-skiing operations from the resort.

The summer season brings about a multitude of recreational adventures including hiking and biking right from the hotel and throughout Girdwood Valley. Taking a scenic aerial Tram ride is a favorite among visitors of all ages and abilities. Visitors can also choose to paraglide from the Upper Tram Terminal or take a guided glacier hike. Plus, flightseeing adventures, glacier dog-sledding, and guided ice climbing are all nearby

Alyeska Resort & The Hotel Alyeska


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