June 27, 2012

Seattle's Paine Field: Aircraft Heaven

Paine Field’s Aviation Attractions
Boeing Dreamliner to Vintage Aircraft

by Julie Gangler, Snohomish County Tourism Bureau

Only at Paine Field can you see Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner being assembled – and restored World War II “warbirds” take to the sky. You can get a close look at a Waco UPF-7 biplane, P-51B Mustang fighter and B-25D Mitchell bomber, or watch restorers work on a de Havilland Comet, the world’s first passenger jet.

Fly into Paine Field, and you can see all these amazing aircraft and many more among four aviation facilities clustered around this Snohomish County airport (KPAE). Located about 30 miles north of Seattle, WA, Paine Field is best known as home to Boeing’s Everett manufacturing plant and test runway for new 747,767, 777 and 787 aircraft. The airport also serves small recreational aircraft and corporate jets – and has recently become a tourist destination with the addition of the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour, Historic Flight Restoration Center, Flying Heritage Collection and Museum of Flight Restoration Center.

If you want to see all four aviation attractions, plan on spending two days. You can easily do two attractions in one day, possibly three, depending on which ones interest you. Buy a Paine Field Passport at any of the four attractions to get discounts at all of them on admission, gift shops and cafés; it’s good for one year from date of purchase.

For many, the Boeing Tour is a must. Affiliated with the Future of Flight Aviation Center since 2005, it is the only tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America. You watch the world’s largest jets being assembled in the world’s largest building (measured by volume: 472,370,319 cubic feet, covering 98.3 acres – a footprint as big as 75 football fields!). Rain clouds actually used to form in the Boeing plant before a state-of-the-art air circulation system was installed.

The 90-minute tour begins with an orientation film at the Future of Flight Aviation Center; then you board a shuttle bus to the nearby Boeing manufacturing plant. Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll walk more than one-third mile through underground tunnels beneath the plant. You’ll also walk up and down steep steps several times and ride an elevator 35 feet above the factory floor for a birds-eye view of the jets’ assembly stations. There you’ll observe a truly remarkable operation employing 32,000 workers and learn fascinating factoids from your guide while you watch some of the 26 overhead bridge cranes operate on a total of 31 miles of ceiling track transporting wings, tails and other large parts to awaiting aircraft.

Returning by shuttle bus to the Future of Flight Aviation Center, you can then explore its interactive displays and hands-on exhibits highlighting commercial jet aviation. Visit its Aviation Zones including Flight Deck, Flight Systems, Propulsion/Engines, Materials, Passenger Experience and Future Concepts. You can also digitally design our own jet, test and modify its flight worthiness, and then receive a free, personalized print-out of your final design.

The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is located in the northwest corner of Paine Field; in the southwest corner is the newest aviation attraction, the Historic Flight Restoration Center. Opened in spring 2010, Historic Flight houses the private collection of aviation enthusiast and pilot John T. Sessions. It contains the most important aircraft produced between 1927 and 1957, all fully restored – or in the process – to airworthiness. You can walk right up to these vintage aircraft on display in the facility and watch John and other pilots take some of them aloft on weekends, weather permitting.

Historic Flight Restoration Center's Grumman Bearcat (behind) and Grumman F7F-3 Tigercat

The collection includes 15 aircraft with great stories, such as the North American Aviation B-25D Mitchell, an early 1940s bomber nicknamed “Grumpy” that was flown to Historic Flight from Britain in 2009 by John and fellow pilots; they retraced the primary route used in World War II to deliver thousands of bombers to the European Theatre of Operations. The “Impatient Virgin” is a P-51B Mustang fighter that escorted bombers deep into enemy territory during World War II and also saw action in the Korean War. Other aircraft have equally amusing nicknames, including “Wampus Cat,” one of just 10 Grumman F8F Bearcats still flying today, and “Bad Kitty,” a Grumman F7F-3 Tigercat, one of six surviving Tigercats.

You can also see a Waco UPF-7 biplane, Canadair T-33 Silverstar, Beechcraft Staggerwing D-17 and Supermarine Spitfire – an agile fighter plane that flew from 1936 to 1957, served four Air Forces and played a vital role in winning the Battle of Britain in 1940.

On the southeast side of Paine Field, the Flying Heritage Collection showcases the rare private collection of philanthropist Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates. The 51,000-square foot hangar is “Home of Flying Warbirds,” containing 1935-1945 combat aircraft from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia and Japan. All the aircraft are authentically restored, many to flying condition. Come on a weekend when Flying Heritage holds “Fly Days,” weather permitting. Watch its vintage aircraft take to the skies and demonstrate their flying precision, plus take advantage of the opportunity to chat with the pilots and a military aviation historian.

The Flying Heritage Collection features 15 vintage aircraft including the Curtiss P-40C Tomahawk, Focke Wulf 190 D-13 Dora (the only such long-nose model to survive World War II), Grumman F6F Hellcat with foldable wings, Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-3 (the first modern fighter plane), Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa Oscar (Japanese Kamikaze attacker) and Polikarpov U-2/Po-2 (flown by Russian “Night Witches” over Germany).

The collection also contains an intriguing variety of artifacts ranging from a Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer tank destroyer and Flak 37 88mm Gun (the most famous artillery weapon of WWII) to SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded aircraft to exceed Mach 2 and Mach 3 and fly over 100 kilometers/62 miles in altitude.

Paine Field’s fourth aviation attraction is the Museum of Flight Restoration Center, also located on the east side. Here you’ll find about three dozen vintage aircraft in various stages of restoration by staff and volunteers in preparation for their eventual move to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle. The current highlights are the 1933 Boeing 247D, the world’s first modern passenger airliner, and de Havilland Comet, the world’s first passenger jet. Volunteers are glad to explain the work in progress and significance of each aircraft.

Snohomish County Aviation Attractions

Snohomish County Paine Field Airport (KPAE)
Phone: (425) 388-5125

Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour – Paine Field (west side), Mukilteo, WA
Interactive displays and hands-on exhibits explain the marvel of commercial jet aviation and the future of powered, winged flight.
Aviation Zones include Flight Deck, Flight Systems, Propulsion/Engines, Materials, Passenger Experience and Future Concepts, plus a special zone for young children.
Visitors can digitally design a jet, test/modify its flight worthiness, and then receive a free personalized print-out of their final design.
Boeing Tour – the only tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America (the largest building in the world, measured by volume). Visitors watch 777 and new 787 Dreamliner jets being assembled.

Historic Flight Restoration Center – Paine Field (west side), Mukilteo, WA
(206) 348-3200
Collection of John T. Sessions: the most important aircraft produced between 1927 – 1957
Visitors see fully restored aircraft on display, restoration/maintenance in progress and actual flights of the vintage aircraft (weather permitting)
Collection includes these highlights and more:
B-25D Mitchell – early 1940s bomber nicknamed “Grumpy” that was flown to Historic Flight from Britain after 22 years in Europe by owner John T. Sessions and fellow pilots – retracing the primary route used in World War II to deliver thousands of bombers to the European Theatre of Operations.
P-51B Mustang – fast, high-altitude North American fighter that escorted bombers deep into enemy territory during World War II and also saw action in the Korean War. Nicknamed “Impatient Virgin.”
Supermarine Spitfire – agile fighter plane flew from 1936 to 1957, served four Air Forces and played a vital role in winning the Battle of Britain in 1940.
Grumman F8F Bearcat – interceptor fighter nicknamed “Wampus Cat” that defended U.S. Navy fleets from Japanese Zeros and incoming kamikaze attacks. One of 10 Bearcats still flying today.

Flying Heritage Collection – Paine Field (east side), Everett, WA
Historic 1935-1945 combat aircraft from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia and Japan
“Home of Flying Warbirds” – all aircraft authentically restored, many to flying condition
Rare private collection of Paul G. Allen housed in a 51,000-square foot hangar
Free Fly Days (weather permitting) when the vintage aircraft take to the skies and demonstrate their flying precision; opportunity to talk with the pilots and a military aviation historian.

Museum of Flight Restoration Center – Paine Field (east side), Everett, WA
Vintage aircraft are authentically restored by staff/volunteers in a 23,000-square foot hangar.
Approximately three dozen aircraft in various stages of restoration, such as 1933 Boeing 247D, the world’s first modern passenger airliner, and de Havilland Comet, the world’s first passenger jet. Volunteers explain the work in progress and significance of each aircraft.
Please visit each attraction’s website for hours and admission prices.

June 25, 2012

Struth! Give way to planes crossing

In his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says Gibraltar is the only place in the world where the busiest highway within its territorial boundaries goes right across its only airport's runway (or the runway cuts across the highway, depending on your point of view.)

With just 6.8 square kilometres of land to its name, and much of this taken up by its airport, Gibraltar's main highway that connects it with neighbouring Spain has no room to skirt around the runway, so it simply dissects its.

And to ensure those aboard everything from motor-scooters to cars, trucks, semi-trailers and tourist coaches can't stray onto the runway during take-offs or landings, traffic lights on the highway on either side of the runway are accompanied by loudspeakers emitting jet-engine noises to warn of approaching aircraft.

But with only around thirty flights a week (all to and from the UK,) traffic interruptions fortuitously are reasonably minimal.

FOOTNOTE: With Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, being so small, a bonus for tourists and business travellers is that from the airport into the centre of the city is all of 500 metres.

(Photo: Andrew Griffith/Wikimedia))

June 19, 2012

STRUTH! Tasty cheaters of God a hit with naughty monks

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that a popular dish in the Swabian region of south-western Germany has the unusual nickname of Herrgottsbescheiberle, which means "little cheaters of God."

These ravioli-like pastry pockets contain meat, spinach or other vegetables, herbs and spices and originated around four centuries ago, with some suggesting they were a way for the poor to use left-overs.

But more popular is that it was in fact naughty monks at the Maulbronn Monastery in the 17th century who created these now-popular dishes – doing so to hide meat in with the vegetables in pasta dough they ate during Lent, believing they were keeping the filling away from God's eyes during their supposed period of meat abstinence.

They called it Maulbronn Nudeltaschen ("Maulbronn Pasta Bags") which was shortened over time to Maultaschen ("mouth pockets,") and quickly earned the "little cheaters of God" nickname.

It's now popular year-round in Swabia and many other parts of Germany, and while somewhat akin to Italian ravioli is usually larger at up 12cm in diameter. It's often cut into slices and fried in a pan with onions and scrambled eggs, simmered in vegetable broth, or covered with a sauce of warm butter and onions.

(Image: Maultaschen with Salad courtesy Schwob's Original German Delicacies)

June 11, 2012

STRUTH! Japanese horse play for thanksgiving

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that while people in many parts of the world set aside a day each year as Thanksgiving for good harvests and the results of man's toil, last weekend Australian writer Hilary Roots found a much more unusual form of Thanksgiving.

It was in Japan, and rather than in tribute to man or crops, it was in honour of the humble work-horse and its once-role in the rice fields pre-mechanisation.

Hilary, who now resides on New Caledonia's Isle of Pines, was visiting Northern Japan when she says she came upon the Chagu Chagu Umakko Festival, that for centuries has been held on the second Sunday in June each year in Morioka in Iwate-ken Prefecture. Tens of thousands of locals lined the streets as a hundred immaculately groomed work-horses draped in brightly-coloured cloths and sporting myriad trinkets and ornaments were paraded through the city by men, women and children in their own equally spectacular garb that's unique to the region.

The four-hour procession was followed by public and private partying throughout the day and into the evening… while the horses that are still bred today for sentimental and ceremonial purposes, were allowed out to rest after their big day of the year.

Writer Hilary tells us that Morioka is a city of 300,000 that combines the best of the modern while respecting the traditions of its past. Its lively restaurant scene features unique local noodle dishes and Sake, while local craftsmen still produce centuries-old products made nowhere else in Japan, including hand-woven indigo-dyed small textiles, and unusual cast-iron kettles and tea-pots.

The Tohuku Shinkansen Bullet Train races 535km up-country from Tokyo to Morioka in just 2.5 hours.

(Photo: Hilary Roots)


David Ellis
Malcolm Andrews

FEW celebrities have had more urban myths attributed to them than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Scottish family doctor who created fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his legendary residence at 221B Baker Street in north London.

Because if you believe the rumours, Conan Doyle was notorious for being involved in any number of bizarre and extraordinary incidents that made British headlines in the early 20th century.

For starters it's been claimed he was responsible for the infamous Piltdown Man hoax of 1912 – when alleged fossils of a previously-unknown primitive human were discovered in a quarry. The "fossils" were later exposed as a mixture of bone fragments from the jaw of an orang-utan and the skull of a modern human.

Detractors also claimed that Conan Doyle was a cocaine addict and had been complicit in the death of renowned escapologist, Harry Houdini.

And that he was having an affair with the wife of a colleague who was actually the "real" author of the Hound of the Baskervilles, the most-acclaimed Sherlock Holmes mystery, and that he murdered the husband.

Now yet another of those urban myths involving Conan Doyle has resurfaced, fittingly in the final weeks leading up to the London Olympics.

This one first did the rounds in 1948 during that year's London Olympics, and concerns the disqualification of Italian runner Dorando Pietri, who was first across the line in the marathon in the earlier 1908 London Olympics.

Writing for the sporting pages of the Daily Mail newspaper on Saturday July 25, 1908, Conan Doyle reported: "Out of the dark archway (of the stadium entrance) there staggered a little man, with red running-drawers, a tiny boy-like creature. He reeled as he entered and faced the roar of the applause… There were wild gesticulations… Good heavens, he has fainted… I do not think in all of that great assembly any man would have wished victory to be torn at the last instant from this plucky little Italian. He has won it. He should have it."

History records that British Olympic officials helped the Italian to his feet several times before he finally breasted the tape. But in doing so they ensured he would be disqualified – for receiving assistance.

Conan Doyle also wrote a front-page story urging an appeal be held for money for the hapless runner. It raised 350 pounds, enough for Pietri to buy a bakery in his home town, while Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII, awarded him a special silver cup.

But a photograph taken at the time shows Pietri being helped across the line by an official wearing a cloth cap. Many so-called experts have claimed the man in the cloth cap was in fact Conan Doyle, claims that were even repeated in the Media Kit for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

However the man in question has been positively identified as Dr Michael Bulger, Chief Medical Officer of the 1908 Games.

The Baker Street Dispatch, a newsletter for Sherlock Holmes buffs, even published a reader's letter after the event asking if Dr Watson, the fictional detective's equally fictional offsider, or Conan Doyle himself had ever been involved in the 1908 Olympics? And surprisingly the newsletter's editor noted that "Dr Watson had bet heavily on Pietri, and although it was never proven, many people at the race believed that Sir Arthur (Conan Doyle) was at the scene helping the Italian runner."

Whatever, it's all grist for the rumour mills, and doubtless British tourist authorities will hope it will re-ignite interest in Conan Doyle, the characters he created, and such places as Baker Street where they can find an impressive statue of Sherlock Holmes.

Or maybe they'll venture to the barren heaths of Dartmoor to ponder over the Hounds of the Baskervilles, view Conan Doyle's gravestone at Minstead in New Forest, Hampshire, or gawk at "Undershaw" that was one of his last homes at Hindhead, 65km south of London.

For 80 years after his death "Undershaw" was a restaurant that cashed in on his fame, but it's now the centre of a fight between developers – one faction wanting it to become upmarket apartments, another for it to be preserved as a Conan Doyle museum.

We believe only Sherlock Holmes himself could solve the problem… quite elementary, actually.




[] WINNING and losing: Dorando Pietri wins the 1908 London Olympics Marathon, and is then disqualified for receiving assistance. (Photo: Wikimedia)

[] SIR Arthur Conan Doyle, created Sherlock Holmes – and other mysteries?  (Photo: Baker Street Despatch)

[] UNDERSHAW, one of the last residences of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: what will be it? (Photo: British Tourist Authority)

[] STATUE of Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street, north London. (Photo: Malcolm Andrews)

[] SIR Arthur Conan Doyle's grave in New Forest, Hampshire. (Photo: British Tourist Authority)


June 04, 2012

Struth! Hotel Awash with Gin a World Record

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says their enthusiasm for a good G&T has seen The Feathers Hotel at Woodstock in England's Oxfordshire go into The Guinness Book of Records for having the world's largest collection of different-label gins.

On the 1st of this month an adjudicator from Guinness took 45 minutes to count the 161 differently labelled bottles, and to then present General Manager, Jeremy Duplessis with an official Guinness World Record Certificate.

The hotel has taken three years to put its gin collection together, sourcing brands from countries as scattered as the UK itself, the USA, Japan, Poland, the Netherlands and Spain. They include a circa 1950 Italian Vincenzi that sells for GBP225 (AU$356) a bottle, and a Sir Robert Burnett's 1960 White Satin London Distilled Dry Gin that despite its very-British sounding name actually comes from Kentucky in the USA and is GBP19.50 (AU$31) a glass.

For Jeremy Duplessis taking the record was "a great moment," particularly he said, as the previous record was a mere one-third of that of The Feathers.

And after the official presentation he shouted guests to the hotel's "Ultimate Gin & Tonic" – Blackwood's 60% Vintage Gin topped up with Q (reputedly the world's most exotic tonic water,) and chilled with ice cubes made from the waters of a local spring.

To learn more about The Feathers go to www.thefeathers.co.uk.  And check out their GBP75 (AU$119) Gin Experience Tasting Menu – seven courses with a different gin for every course – at  the same time, maybe also checking how much a room costs rather than attempting to drive home.

(Photos captions:

[] Mr Duplessis receives The Guinness World Record Certificate from Guinness adjudicator, Jack Brockbank – photo The Feathers.

[] The Feathers Hotel, Woodstock – photo Catherine Hudson.)

June 02, 2012


David Ellis

IT'S a safe bet that when three British Army officers who'd served together in India bought a farm block in the Swan Valley outside the fledgling township of Perth, they wouldn't have realised that wine-lovers across Australia would be raising a toast to their venture in November of this year – 175 years after they'd made their little investment.

Thomas Yule had retired from the Army to settle in Perth and in 1836 convinced mates Ninian Lowis and Richmond Houghton to join him in an investment in the Swan Valley; in deference to Houghton's seniority as a Lieutenant Colonel they named their property Houghton – but interestingly Houghton himself never visited Australia, and although Lowis called into Fremantle on his way to the eastern colonies, he too never bothered visiting his Swan Valley investment.

Yule established fruit orchards and planted grapes for making into raisins, and being a raconteur and home-entertainer also made his own wine for regular dinner parties. But he fell on personal hard times in the mid-1850s and sold his interest in Houghton to his partners, who in turn sold out in 1859 to the Colonial Surgeon, Dr John Ferguson.

The highly-regarded Ferguson, a Scot who reputedly was the first person in Australia to use anaesthetic in 1849, had a scientific interest in winemaking, and in his first year at Houghton used Yule's grapes and winemaking equipment to produce the property's first commercial wine.

It was just 115 litres but its sales success in Perth prompted him to expand his vineyard – and to buy an adjoining property which he appointed his son Charles to manage. While wheat and fruit had been successful on both, the Fergusons decided to concentrate on grapes for making into wine and raisins, and by 1866 had 6ha under vines.

Charles Ferguson took over the full company reins in 1875 and five years later won the prestigious 'Order of Merit' at the 1880 Great Melbourne Exhibition… the first of countless accolades that would see his little winery flourish and prosper into the ultimately most-awarded in Western Australia.

And interestingly he developed a small business relationship with a winemaker in South Australia named Thomas Hardy who had founded Thomas Hardy & Sons, and who acquired some of Charles' raisins, writing to him afterwards "(they) are the best I have seen… finer than any from Mildura and much larger than any we have ever had here…"

Little would Charles have foreseen that 83 years later, Thomas Hardy & Sons would become the owners of his Houghton property.

By the early 1900s Houghton wines were so successful that in 1920 Charles turned the property over to his own sons John and Donald, with George Mann as chief winemaker.

And George Mann in turn trained his own son Jack as a winemaker, the son inheriting the Chief Winemaker mantle from his father in 1930. Seven years later, Jack Mann experimented with a wine using entirely Chenin grapes, the wine winning 'Best Dry White Table Wine' trophy at the 1937 Royal Melbourne Wine Show – with one judge likening it to "the great white Burgundies of France…"

With such praise the company labelled it Houghton White Burgundy and over the following 74 vintages to today (amazingly fifty-one of them under Jack Mann's stewardship,) its become the biggest selling white wine in Western Australia and amongst the biggest sellers nationally… although international regulations forced Houghton's to drop the reference to "White Burgundy "in 2006, and it's now labelled Houghton White Classic.

Houghton was bought by the Emu Wine Company in 1950, saw its first 1-millionth bottle of White Burgundy produced in 1972, and in 1976 the Emu Wine Company was in turn acquired by Thomas Hardy & Sons.

Remarkably in its 175 year history, Houghton Wines has had just thirteen Chief Winemakers; the current 'custodian' of the title, Ross Pamment starting with the company as a Cellar Hand, moving elsewhere, and returning in 1999 and being appointed Chief Winemaker ten years later.

Today Houghton's Swan Valley property includes the original Scottish 'crofters' homestead built by Dr John Ferguson in the 1860s, and on November 13 Houghton's 175th birthday will be celebrated with tours of the historic winery and homestead, wine tastings, historic displays, live music, dining and children's activities.

Details www.houghton-wines.com.au


Photo captions:

[] IN the beginning: early work on Houghton's Swan Valley property in days before cars and trucks.

[] PIONEER winemaker Thomas Yule made his own wine for entertaining at home dinner parties.

[] LEGENDARY Jack Mann who created Houghton White Burgundy in 1937.

[] HOUGHTON homestead built in the style of a Scottish crofters homestead by Dr John Ferguson in the 1860s is still part of the company headquarters today.

[] ORIGINAL Houghton White Burgundy bottles from the 1950s and 1960s.

[] TODAY's Houghton White Classic – the name change from White Burgundy  was forced by international regulations in 2006.


(Photos: Houghton Wines)



David Ellis

IF its walls could talk, what tales could they tell of the romantic encounters consummated within the centuries-old bosoms of Venice's Hotel Danieli – a grand hostelry created by bringing together no less than three one-time, side-by-palaces.

Few of us do not know of one of the most famous of these love stories, that of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and opera's Maria Callas, brought together at a party organised at the Danieli by American gossip columnist and party-guru, Elsa Maxwell in 1957.

And while Onassis was nearly two decades her senior, and both of them were married, Onassis immediately began showering Maria with attention. But it was two years before he made an audacious move: he invited the singer to join him on his luxury yacht for a three week's cruise of Greece and Turkey… taking along his own wife, and inviting Maria to bring along her husband.

To the horror of their spouses and other guests also on board, Onassis purposely did little to hide his feelings towards Maria, and somewhere into the second week she admitted to "falling head over heels in love," confessing that she and Ari had consummated their love aboard the yacht…

And bizarrely, Onassis asked Callas' husband if he would agree to a divorce, so that he and Maria could marry…

When that marriage did come-about it was a tempestuous one, swinging between love and emotion, and physical fighting and name-calling.

Ari also could be unfaithful, the couple's lives creating gossip-page headlines for the next decade and a half. Even after famously marrying Jackie Kennedy in 1968 after divorcing Maria, Onassis turned up on Maria's doorstep in Paris late one night, hammering on the door and begging to be let in…

What had begun as a romantic encounter between millionaire and opera star in the Hotel Danieli had degenerated into soap opera…

But it wasn't the only grand emotional entanglement woven into the history of the Hotel Danieli, that had originally been built as those three palaces in the 1400s by  the flamboyant Dandolo family – themselves no slouches when it came to partying. In fact hotel records include an entry: "today, the 28th August 1498, has arrived the Prince of Salerno... a most brilliant reception was given, great festas held in his honour, and his suite of forty-four persons lodged in the Palazzo Dandolo..."

In 1805 hotelier Giuseppe Dal Niel rented the palaces and converted them into a hotel, giving it his nickname Danieli, and later acquiring the buildings outright. Many of the original sweeping staircases, saloons and some apartments originally created by Dal Niel and others before him have been preserved to this day, as well as stuccoes and frescoes from the 16th and 17th centuries and portraits and heraldic shields of the Dandolo families.

And it was in one of those apartments, now the Hotel Danieli's Room 10, that another famous – or infamous depending on your point of view – couple once frolicked. The French writer George Sand whose real name was Amantine Lucile Dupin, married into high society by way of the Baron Casimir Dudevant, but quickly scandalised that society by regularly dressing as a man – and, horror of horrors, smoking tobacco in public.

After quarrelling over behaviour that her husband saw as not befitting that of an upper-class lady, George Sand walked out and moved to Paris where she soon ignited more scandal by becoming the lover of aristocrat, novelist and poet, Alfred De Musset. The two decided to leave Paris, and being unable to decide between Rome and Venice, tossed a coin. Venice it was.

They moved into the Hotel Danieli's Room 10 overlooking the canal, each continuing their writings until after a month Alfred became extremely ill. A doctor was called, Alfred slowly recovered – but by then, to Alfred's horror, George Sand and the handsome young doctor had become lovers.

De Musset moved back to Paris – and not long after Sand and the doctor parted ways too. During her 71 years Sand had no fewer than six known relationships, including one with musician Frederic Chopin, while also once writing to French actress Marie Dorval of "wanting you either in your dressing room or your bed…"

Which makes us ponder what other tales the walls of the Hotel Danieli could tell…


Photo captions:


[] THE grand Hotel Danieli, Venice – once three 15th century palaces (Image: Hotel Danieli)

[] THE hotel's spectacular lobby including the original staircase (Image: Hotel Danieli)

[] NOW that's a view: the Hotel Danieli's Ristorante Terrazzo (Image: Hotel Danieli)

[] MARIA Callas and Aristotle Onassis: their relationship began in the Hotel Danieli (Image: Wikipedia)

[] GEORGE Sand: Scandalised high society with her behaviour and many relationships (Image: Wikipedia)

[] ALFRED De Musset's grave (Image: Olivier Bruchez)



David Ellis

TARANTULAS, crickets and a swig of snake whisky are now on the menu for the more culinary-adventurous during eight-day Mekong River cruises between Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City and Cambodia's Siem Reap.

But daring as they may appear, such "delicacies" are not actually part of the cuisine aboard the river ships AmaLotus and La Marguerite of Australia's APT Touring – they're there for the more-strong of heart and stomach during shore excursions led by Vietnamese and Cambodian guides. 

Crickets, guests soon learn, are in fact a pretty staple local food item in the region because of their high protein content. Attracted by battery-powered fluorescent lights at night amongst the rice fields, the unwary little fellas fly into plastic sheets and then drop into troughs of water where they're collected for frying in tasty sauces at local markets, the sauces over-riding any "natural" flavour that may exist inside the now-crispy carcasses.

And those brave enough to try, also find that stir-fried tarantulas taste and crunch much the same as those crickets… with the truly brave also being offered a live one in the hand or on their shirt – with the assurance that these fearsome-looking crawly critters have had their venom-carrying fangs removed.

And to prove just how safe and tasty they are, the guides are the first to eat a cooked one. Whole.  And while some passengers may gingerly try the legs, with a few prepared to bite into the body, most opt instead for a photograph of those few game enough to bite into or to wear a tarantula.

Afterwards, to wash all this down, there's then a swig of that Snake Whisky, which is produced by infusing whole snakes, usually cobras, in rice whisky. It's good for virility, the guides assure APT's passengers, as well as rheumatism and arthritis.

The whisky comes from a small family-run village rice processing mill near a floating wholesalers' market where trading's not on shore, but from boat to boat. As well as the whisky, the busy little plant also produces rice paper sheets (during the cruise, passengers actually get an on-board lesson in making rice paper rolls), popped rice that's like pop-corn, and a coconut-based candy.

Back aboard ship, Head Chef Tam on the 46-cabin La Marguerite presents more widely-accepted Vietnamese or Cambodian-influenced dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as western dishes for travellers less-inclined to Asian food. (He's even got a jar of Vegemite hidden away for Australian and New Zealand passengers.) 

APT says that experiencing local foods is an integral element of the travel experience, and with Vietnam so-renowned for its fresh and healthy offerings, dining is an important part of these river ship holidays – and contribute to La Marguerite and  AmaLotus claiming "floating 4-5 star hotel status."

Breakfasts can range from traditional local rice porridge and pho (a beef or chicken noodle soup with basil, lime and bean sprouts,) to western cereals, eggs-anyway, bacon, sausages, fish, French toast, cured meats, cheeses, fruits, breads and pastries (that reflect Vietnam's French heritage,) juices, tea and coffee.

At lunch there's a choice again of Asian or Western with maybe various soups (clear pork, winter melon, potato cream, bouillabaisse, French onion or green papaya with pork,) possibly curries, sweet and sour fish, stuffed squid with minced pork, Canton fried rice, grilled pork with sweet chilli sauce, or salads and fruits.

And at night it might be those soups again, BBQ'd river tiger prawns served with mixed salad, sticky rice and peanut sauce, or stewed pork with plum sugar, Western-style meats or Asian and Western vegetables…

Tea, coffee, soft drinks, juices, local beers and local spirits are available any time from the open bars, while local wines are served with meals as part of the all-inclusive cruise price; imported wines cost from US$22 a bottle.

The 12-day Ho Chi Minh, Mekong and Angkor package is priced from $4195 per person twin share, which includes seven nights cruising and two hotel nights in Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, 29 meals, airport transfers, small group guided excursions to key sites, port charges, cruise tipping and Freedom of Choice Touring and Dining in Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap.

For details phone 1300 229 804, visit www.aptouring.com.au or see travel agents.





[] CRUISING into soft adventure – La Marguerite

[] CRUISING into soft adventure – La Marguerite (vertical)

[] FANGS for the memory: Tasmanian Tim Johnson (of Kempton) tries a deep fried Tarantula

[] TASTY offerings being prepared by La Marguerite's Head Chef Tam


(Images: APT Touring)


David Ellis & Malcolm Andrews

NORWEGIAN entrepreneur and cruise industry heavyweight, Atle Brynestad was certain he was on a winner when he bought two small luxury cruise ships that Carnival Corporation no longer needed, and announced that he was going to refurbish and launch them as super-luxury in a "Yachting, Not Cruising" concept.

The critics had a field day. This was the 21st century and shipping lines were looking to mega-liners that counted their passengers by the thousands, not trifling little things that carried a mere 110 with an expensive almost one crew member for every guest.

And which was why, they pointed out, the little Sea Goddess 1 and Sea Goddess 2 had been sold by Carnival – a company which had forgotten more about the cruise passenger business than most other companies combined had ever learned.

And when Mr Brynestad launched his company, it was brought almost to its knees after just one week sailing the Mediterranean. Not because he'd gone smaller rather than larger, but because he'd chosen as his launch date September 1 2001 – just ten days before the catastrophies of September 11.

The travel industry world-wide came crashing to a halt overnight. Holidaymakers cancelled flights and cruises by their hundreds of thousands; hotels and resorts took on the look of ghost towns.

But Atle Brynestad had both faith in his concept, and past experience to back him up. Because it was he who had founded the highly successful Seabourn Cruise Line which in fact had once owned the Sea Goddesses 1 and 2 and which had been merged into the Cunard company (later acquired by Carnival Corp) in the 1990s.

This had left Atle itching for new cruise opportunities. So when he learned Carnival were selling the 55-stateroom, 95-crew Sea Goddesses he snapped them up, re-naming the mega motor-cruisers SeaDream I and SeaDream II.

Millions of dollars were spent on refurbishments, adding an outdoor "Topside Restaurant" under shade cloths for al fresco breakfasts and lunches, a new Top of the Yacht open-air bar, a new spa and fitness area, a 30-course golf simulator, and "Balinese Dream Beds" on which guests could relax by day – or have made up into beds to sleep on under the stars at night.

Stateroom bathrooms were re-built in marble with shower massage units, new artworks installed throughout the yachts, furnishings replaced.

But after just one sailing came the horrors of September 11.

Undaunted, Brynestad continued to sail their advertised itineraries, no matter how few guests were aboard.

Remarkably within a year guests were clamouring for repeat sailings, and travel agents found well-heeled clients wanting to be pampered aboard a SeaDream yacht as a means of escaping the continuing political and economic turmoils at home.

He continued to push his mantra of only-the-best: with 95 crew (for a now maximum 112-guests after a new over-sized Admiral Suite was added,) 5-star dining, wines with meals, no-charge bars to which to sidle up for anything from Champagne to Coke at virtually any hour, nightly cocktail gatherings, a host of power and sail watersports facilities, movies on deck on select nights – it all added up to super-sea-dreaming.

And hand-picked crew pampered without being fawning, remembered every guest's name within a day of sailing – and to this day still offer guest's a spray of mineral water on the back and arms when delivering drinks around the pool, and to clean your sun-glasses at the same time.

The company picked up the highest industry awards hand over fist.

Today Atle Brynestad still runs SeaDream Yacht Club, together with another ex-Cunard man, Bob Lepisto whom he appointed as Senior Vice-President at the company's inception in 2001 and who is now President.

And remarkably one of its great success stories is the Australian market. Since opening representation here in 2003 Australian guest numbers have risen from under one-percent, to almost ten percent of onboard guests in 2011.

For information about sailing SeaDream I and SeaDream II in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Turkey's Turquoise Coast from April to October, and on the Amazon and in the Caribbean during the remainder of the year, see travel agents or visit www.seadream.com

(David Ellis is an advisor to SeaDream Yacht Club in Australia; Malcolm Andrews has sailed as a guest on both yachts.)




[] SEADREAMIN' – both yachts are identical carrying a maximum 112-guests served by 95-crew.

[] GOING small: SeaDream I dwarfed by Oasis of the Seas in the Caribbean.

[] OUTDOOR Top of the Yacht Bar for drinking-in the views

[] ALL staterooms are "outside" with views

[] 5-STAR dining on deck is one SeaDream's appeals


Struth! Not 'a-mused' at NYC whistle stop

Inline images 1    


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that bellmen in New York's ritzy hotels are up in arms over a City Council order to stop those at one of them from blowing their famous whistles to attract cabs for guests.

For as long as anyone can remember it's been tradition for New York hotel bell-hops to give an ear-piercing blast on their postmen's whistles when a guest wants a cab.

But the City has now ordered those at the 4-star Kimpton's Muse Hotel on busy Times Square to pocket their whistles and use hand-signals instead to attract cabbies' attention.

And it's all because residents in nearby apartments have complained about the incessant 24-hour whistle-blowing, with worshippers at the Church of St Mary the Virgin across the street from the Muse also putting in their dollar's worth in complaints.

Now bellmen at other New York hotels, particularly around the busy Times Square tourist precinct, fear that they too will be stopped from using their postmark whistles to attract cabs for hotel guests, diners and drinkers.

"Its New York, for Chrissake," one complained to The New York Times.

"Ya don' move t' New York for peace and quiet."

Struth! Airport pantheon on Madeira

Inline images 1

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis asks is this gigantic concrete structure rising out of the sea (Pic 1) part of a massive coastal highway jumping from headland to headland, the foundations for some future huge over-water resort, or possibly a vast car-park for nearby beaches?

The answer to all three suggestions, is in fact, No.

The clue is the vast number of sturdy concrete pylons, because this is actually an extension to the runway for the airport serving the city of Funchal on the Portuguese holiday island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean – allowing the largest international airliners to bring their hordes of sun-worshippers to Madeira, that attracts almost 1-million visitors a year by air, and another 400,000 annually by cruise ship.

The airport with its passenger terminal and control tower to the left and the runway extension to the right: and if you look closely you'll see why aircraft have to do an immediate nail-biting 90-degree turn out to sea after take-off – because otherwise they'll risk running into the hill that's just off the end of this massive runway extension.

Struth! Take a leaf of Monstera Deliciosa

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a former journalist colleague in Australia and now long-time resident of New Caledonia's Isle of Pines, Hilary Roots has dropped a note after reading us online to point out how the weird and wonderful can be right under our very noses in our very own backyards.

Hilary's Swiss partner and beachwear designer well-known to Aussie visitors to the island, Albert Thoma found inspiration for his latest collection of pareos (sarongs) and T-shirts in the grandiose leaf of a plant growing naturally in the shade of a spreading banyan tree right in front of his kitchen window.

The leaf is that of a plant common to tropical and sub-tropical climates, Monstera Deliciosa, that's more popularly known as Philodendron and the fruit-salad plant because its cylindrically-shaped fruit tastes like a blend of fruits.

Albert has had a wood-cut made of the leaf of his Monstera Deliciosa, applies paint to this and then lays his pareo and T-shirt material delicately on top, rubbing it Hilary says, the way we did coin rubbings when we were children. Once the paint is transferred, the material is sun-dried and the pattern fixed with a hot press.

As our pictures show, Albert's Monstera Deliciosa leaves are anything in size but the potted, cultivated ones many of us grow, or try to grow, indoors here in Australia… and how effective are his wood-cut patterns on those T-shirts and pareos?

If you're visiting the Isle of Pines you'll find Albert and Hilary at Créations Ile des Pins next to the Gendarmerie. Say hello to Hilary (who is known as Cleo on the island and originally hails from New Zealand,) and consider one of Albert's T-shirts or pareos as a memento of your visit.

(Photos: Hilary Roots)


David Ellis

ONCE was a time when the prospects of a stay at an airport hotel sent shivers down the spines of even the most-seasoned travellers: pokey rooms, planes roaring overhead like they were about to come through the walls, rattling windows at every take-off and landing, non-existent lounges or bars in which to escape, and restaurants whose offerings were best forgotten …

No more. Today airport hotels are up there with the best, including with social and recreational facilities, business centres, dining and bar offerings – and sound-proofing.

And the more so in value when you search out the bargains: the Ibis  Sydney Airport Hotel, for example, currently has Autumn and Winter rates that begin from just $129 per room per night – stay 2-nights and you get a 15% saving and pay from only $120 per room per night (prices based on pre-paid bookings.)

As well the hotel has a Day Rate for those perhaps arriving in Sydney in the morning and not flying out again until the evening: $99 gets you a room up to 5pm.

Day Rates are a particular boon for long-distance travellers, with many overseas  airports now having hotels right within their passenger terminals, so you can fly and then flop for a few hours without leaving the terminal.

Japan also has those somewhat bizarre "capsule hotels," up to 700 what look like luggage lockers that are just 2m by 1m by about 1.5m high and stacked two rows high… check your bags into a baggage room, climb into your tiny locker and pull either a fibreglass panel or curtain down behind you for privacy, watch TV, listen to the radio or sleep. Bathroom facilities are separate, and they cost from just AU$30 a night.

In America, the UK and Europe there are also airport in-terminal "Yotels," a fast-growing brand of hotels with rooms as small as 6m by 4m, but complete with bed, ensuite, TV, desk, Wifi and costing from around $50 for a minimum four hours.

And as well as Fresh Up Rates that start from Thai Baht 2000 (about AU$62) per four hours, the huge 612-room Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel Bangkok has an interesting "24 Hours Flexi Meal" offer that others could follow: breakfast is included with your booking… but if its more suited to the time you're there for a Fresh Up stay, you can swap brekkie for a Lunch or Dinner Buffet at no extra cost.

Sydney's Ibis Airport Hotel has Wifi and broadband access in all 200 rooms, carparking and a regular shuttle service to the domestic and international terminals (small fees apply for these services.)

And its iBistro – open from 5.30am to 10.30pm – brings some particularly pleasant surprises.

The dinner menu, for instance, runs from various breads and dips for starters, through to soup of the day, a half dozen entrees, twelve mains, five desserts, and a children's menu for 12 years and under.

And Ibis Area General Manager NSW & ACT, Larry Raffel has a great idea here for wine-lovers: all twenty-plus sparklings, reds and whites are available by the glass, rather than the usual just couple of reds or whites that may not be your regular varietals of choice.

If you do overnight here, don't look past the Antipasto Plate for Two in the entrees list, it comes with grilled Mediterranean vegetables, chorizo, olives, haloumi, dolmades and tapenade served with Turkish bread ($22 for two.)

Mains include Beef Tortellini with tomato-basil sauce ($20,) Creamy Penne Pasta with chicken, bacon and roasted garlic cream sauce ($21,) fish of the day ($28,) thyme rubbed lamb shoulder with cannellini bean puree, grilled fennel and sun-dried tomato pesto ($29,) and for steak lovers  a 300g beef rib-eye cutlet ($32) or 300g beef striploin ($30), both of which come with chat potatoes and café de Paris Butter.

And for children cheeseburgers, fish and chips, pastas, chicken nuggets and chips, and hot dogs (prices range from $7 to $8.50.)

Plus end your meal with a choice of $10 desserts including a decadent dark chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and crushed hazelnuts, or an Aussie cheese platter with dried fruits, lavosh and water crackers ($17.)

For bookings or more about the Ibis Sydney Airport hop onto www.ibishotels.com.au or phone toll-free 1300 65 65 65.





[] IBIS Sydney Airport: convenience and excellent dining (Photo Accor Hotels)

[] ROOMS have come a long way from the window rattlers at every take-off and Landing (Photo Accor Hotels)

[] JAPAN'S bizarre "capsule hotels" look more like luggage lockers than a hotel (Photo Wikipedia))

[] NOVOTEL Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel Bangkok allow you to swap brekkie for a lunch or dinner buffet if you are taking a Fresh Up room for a few hours kip

  (Photo Accor Hotels)



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