July 25, 2011

Struth! New Twist on Security

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says there's been yet another complaint about a woman having her breasts "squeezed and twisted" during a security check at an American airport…

But this time the complainant wasn't a passenger – it was one of the airport's own security staff.

And in an even more bizarre twist – to excuse the pun – the lady against whom the charge was made is 61-years of age, and has become something of an overnight hero across America, with more than 2000 sympathisers responding in 24-hours to a Facebook page set up in her support.

Businesswoman Yukari Mihamae was accused of "squeezing and twisting" the security agent's breasts with both hands after refusing to comply with a passenger screening procedure at Phoenix airport.

After it was made public that Ms Mihamae had been arrested and charged with sexual abuse, her story spread like wildfire with national coverage across America in print and on radio and TV, as Americans become increasingly hostile to what they say are over-zealous and obtrusive x-ray imagings and pat-downs at airports.

And in a surprisingly quick response to the public outrage over her case, just 48-hours after she was arrested, authorities suddenly dropped the charges and freed Ms Mihamae.



david ellis

FOR a highly successful businessman, the American railway magnate Louis Hill could be remarkably indecisive.

But he had a quick eye for a dollar, and it was this that generally saved him from his own indecisiveness.

Thus in the early 1900s his quest for the greenback saw Mr Hill turn his attention to the Canadian Rockies, where he reasoned that there were some quick profits to be had from those enjoying the newly-founded Waterton Lakes National Park in the Province of Alberta.

And to indulge their passion for hunting and fishing in this grand new wilderness, he decided to build them a grand hotel that would cater to their every whim, coupled with a luxury rail service to get them there.

He would call his hotel The Prince of Wales in an unsuccessful bid to have the visiting Prince (later King Edward VIIII) officially open it; it would have 200 rooms with breathtaking views and the sort of service that, whilst not out in the field, would encourage leisurely hours wining and dining in an almost fairy-tale setting.

But although he first mooted his hotel in 1913, between his own indecisiveness and the Canadian bureaucracy, it was not until 1926 that he actually started building it.

And when he was nearly finished the long, low, 3-storied affair with spectacular views overlooking Waterton Lake and Village, Mr Hill suddenly decided he didn't like the look of it.

So he had half of it pulled down, and a fresh start made. Upwards.

Then after a business trip to Europe he decided he didn't like the look of the top of his hotel. So he had that pulled down too, and re-built to look more like a Swiss Alpine chalet. He also increased the size of rooms, in the process reducing their number from 200 to just eighty seven.

And throughout all this, Mr Hill was also struggling with getting his Great Northern Railroad line through the tortuous Rockies.

The mountains, he found, were aptly named, their granite in places almost impossible to dig through. And in the end, with motor-cars and roads fast snaking across the Rockies, he gave up on his rail line nearly fifty kilometres short of its target.

Instead he used mule teams to haul hundred of tonnes of construction materials those final 50kms, including a massive steel-framed window that had been prefabricated in England, and was 3-storeys-high and the full width of the hotel's lobby.

That window is still a highlight of the hotel today, offering diners and those relaxing in the hotel's lounge one of the Rockies' most spectacular vistas.

Violent winds that howled off the lake twice blew the hotel askew, so Mr Hill had steel cables buried in massive underground concrete blocks on one side, run up through the walls, across the loft, and down the other side into equally enormous concrete anchors. The hotel still sways slightly in high winds today, but is certified safe against the fiercest gales.

The ingenious Mr Hill also built a timber mill and carpentry shop at Waterton Village and bought local cedar that he made into furniture on the spot, rather than hauling ready-made stuff hundreds of kilometres by rail, road and mule train; much of this furniture is still in use today, nearly 85-years after the hotel opened.

The Prince of Wales is open from May to early September each year – from October to April the local population dwindles to around just-over 100 hardy locals who see through winter.

Dining at the hotel is still as grand today as Mr Hill envisaged it, with traditional British and Canadian fare, and English Afternoon Tea from 2pm to 5pm daily that is much sought-out by visitors to Waterton Lakes, whether they stay at the hotel or not.

The hotel even has its very own tea blend for this daily ritual.

The Prince of Wales Hotel is a good base for fishing, hiking, horseback-riding, golf and scheduled lake cruising – or just taking-in the views – and is easily accessible by road in summer months. Just accept that it was built in 1927.

Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays have packages to the Prince of Wales Hotel, including air to Vancouver and self-drive to the hotel; phone 1300 79 49 59.


MAJESTIC: The Prince of Wales Hotel commands grand views from its hilltop site overlooking Waterton        Lake and Village amid Canada's Rockies.

HISTORIC Ford 'Jammer' Buses are a novel way of sightseeing National Parks in the Rockies. 

WILD – the area abounds with wildlife, including Bald Eagles that can be seen from walking trails or from boats on the Lake.

(Photos: National Parks Canada)

Originally issued for FOR WEEK BEGINNING 25 JULY 2011

July 19, 2011


David Ellis


SOME more-cynical Americans had a bit of a chuckle when they heard that business magnate Robert McCulloch was buying the 140-year old London Bridge, and shipping it from England to Arizona to attract tourists to a new development he was planning for the middle of the desert.


But they should have known better than to laugh at a man who had made a  fortune from selling the chainsaws that bore his name, and turning the profits of these sales into other equally prosperous engineering and oil enterprises.


Mr McCulloch had heard that the historic circa-1831 London Bridge was to be pulled down and sold because it was sinking into the River Thames, a bit like in the nursery rhyme "London Bridge is falling down..."


Simply, the bridge was the victim of its own immense weight, and as well was succumbing to the burden of tens of thousands of cars, trucks and buses that crossed it every day.


So much so that in 1968 the City of London Corporation knew it would have to replace the bridge. But what to do with the old one?


Enter bureaucrat Ivan Luckin, who came up with the idea that the corporation sell it as an antique, albeit a very large antique.


The idea crashed like a lead balloon, with not a single expression of interest in buying the bridge when it was advertised world-wide. Then Mr McCulloch arrived on the scene, hinting he was willing to part with a sizeable sum to have the bridge help put his Arizona real estate development on the map. 


And when the shrewd American billionaire pointed out that the "antique" bridge London was trying to sell him was only built in 1831, Ivan Luckin had a ready answer.


"London Bridge is not just a bridge," he pointed out in true Sir Humphrey style. "It is the heir to 2,000 years of history. It goes back to the First Century AD. To the Roman times. To when this place was known as Londinium..."


Mr McCulloch was won over, paying US$2.46 million for the old structure, and a further $7.5 million to have it dismantled and each stone block numbered to ensure it was replaced in the correct position.


On top of that he had to ship it across the Atlantic to Arizona.


Folklore has it that McCulloch decided on what he was willing to bid for the bridge by doubling the cost of pulling it down, and then adding $1000 for every year of what his age would be when its reconstruction was completed.


His answer to this? "Hogwash."


And when he rebuilt London Bridge it was not over a river or a creek but on a dry-land peninsula in Lake Havasu, a man-made waterway around which he had planned his project.


Once the bridge was completed in 1971 a canal was dug through the peninsula and under the bridge, and Lake Havasu City and its famous London Bridge were open for business.


But Mr McCulloch and his teamed had actually cheated a bit. To ensure their new tourist attraction didn't sink into the ground like it had in London, a steel framework was first built and this was then clad with the stone from the London Bridge.


And when he found he had some stone left over, the entrepreneurial Mr McCulloch used this to create miniature London Bridge souvenirs which continue to sell in his Lake Havasu City souvenir shops to this day… making one wonder just how much stone was "left over."


Today Lake Havasu City is a thriving community, with many residents originally tourists who had come to see the London Bridge – and become so enthralled with the location, climate and golf courses that they ended up buying homes and settling there.


And despite those cynics who said Mr McCulloch had been duped into buying the pretty ordinary London Bridge and not the famous Tower Bridge with its roadway that opened to allow ships to pass through, it didn't take long for the bridge to become one of Arizona's top tourist attractions.


And to his dying day in 1977, Robert McCulloch insisted he had never believed he was buying the iconic Tower Bridge that still opens two or three times daily so small ships can pass through.



Photo captions:


[] LONDON Bridge as it is today, rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

[] LAKE HAVASU's spectacularly colourful London Bridge at night.

[] EARLY days as the Bridge is reassembled in Arizona in 1971.

[] MEMORIAL to Robert McCulloch (left) and his City Planner, C.V. Wood in

   Lake Havasu.

[] LONDON's Tower Bridge which many claim Robert McCulloch mistakenly

   thought he was buying, but which he denied to his dying day.


July 15, 2011

Qantas Insider: Five Top Scenic Australian Road Trips

by John Carey | Qantas Travel Insider

From mountain to mulga... enjoy five epic Australian journeys on roads much less travelled, but far more rewarding.

July 11, 2011

Struth! GPS to Guide Delhi's Rickshaws

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that drivers are up in arms, but passengers are delighted, with a decision by authorities in New Delhi to order that satellite navigation devices be fitted to all of the city's 55,000 motorised rickshaws.

It's being done to reduce the number of disputes over whether drivers have taken the shortest route possible to their destinations, with the first twenty-five GPS devices being installed on a trial basis this week, and laws coming into force at the end of July making it mandatory for all rickshaws to be similarly fitted.

Passengers, in particular Indians from out of town and tourists, have complained for years about being taken on unnecessarily circuitous routes, so the new devices will be connected to a government monitoring centre in which officials will be able to record routes taken by the rickshaw drivers in the event of a dispute.

The satellite navigation systems will also come with a panic button for female passengers to instantly alert police if they feel threatened or harassed.

Drivers who say they can't afford to buy one of the GPS devices will be able to rent them from the government for a small monthly fee.

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