May 21, 2013

Art of the Brick in New York. LEGO exhibition.

"Yellow" by Nathan Sawaya.
(PRNewsFoto/Discovery Times Square)
THE ART OF THE BRICK®, a captivating exhibition of intriguing works of art made exclusively from one of the most recognizable toys in the world, LEGO®, is set to make its debut in New York City at Discovery Times Square (226 West 44th Street) on June 14, 2013, with tickets now on sale.

The critically acclaimed collection of creative and inspiring art constructed using only LEGO® toy bricks by renowned contemporary artist Nathan Sawaya is coming to New York after enjoying record-breaking runs to sold-out crowds in Singapore, Taiwan and Australia.

"I want to have the broadest impact possible to inspire people to change the way they view the world and the way they think about art," said Sawaya. "What better way to do that than in the heart of New York City, at the crossroads of the world - Times Square."

The Discovery Times Square collection will be the world's biggest and most elaborate display of LEGO® art ever. Sawaya will be creating brand-new, never-before-seen works exclusively for this New York City premiere with more than 100 works of art made out of millions and millions of little LEGO® bricks.

"This will be my largest showing of artwork to date and I've got some very exciting surprises in store for New York, of course, being it's my hometown," said Sawaya. "Discovery Times Square is known for bringing epic collections of unique and immersive exhibits to New York so to be able to have my collection of sculptures exhibited here has profound meaning to me."

Guests will have the opportunity to get an up-close and in-person view of the iconic, pop culture fan favorite, Yellow, a life-size sculpture of a man ripping his chest open with thousands of sunshine yellow LEGO® bricks cascading from the cavity. In addition, visitors will be able to walk under a 20-foot-long T-Rex dinosaur skeleton made out of bricks and come face-to-face with a giant LEGO® skull.

"At Discovery Times Square we celebrate man's greatest achievements both throughout history and in contemporary times. What THE ART OF THE BRICK® does by raising this simple children's toy into an art-form is ingenious and is in line with our past exhibitions, providing a truly unique experience," said James Sanna , President of Discovery Times Square. "The scale of this exhibit and the creativity that Nathan Sawaya brings to his work makes for an outstanding show. We are also thrilled that Nathan, a hometown phenomenon, has chosen Discovery Times Square to unveil his newest masterpieces."

THE ART OF THE BRICK® is the first major museum exhibition to use LEGO® bricks as the sole art medium. Sawaya transforms them into tremendous and thought-provoking sculptures, elevating the toy to the realm of art. Sawaya's ability to transform this common toy into something meaningful, his devotion to spatial perfection and the way he conceptualizes action, enables him to elevate what almost every child has played with into the status of contemporary art.

"These works are very personal to me, since they reflect my growth as an artist as I strove to discover my creative identity," said Sawaya. "THE ART OF THE BRICK® exhibition is accessible because it engages the child in all of us while simultaneously illuminating sophisticated and complex concepts. Everyone can relate to the medium since it is a toy that many children have at home. But my goal with this exhibition when it first debuted in 2007 was to elevate this simple plaything to a place it has never been before."

THE ART OF THE BRICK® at Discovery Times Square runs until January 5, 2014.

Discovery Times Square is open seven days a week. Tickets are available for $14.50 (child 4-12), $19.50 (adult) and $16.50 (senior = 65). Special savings for groups of 10 or more are available with advanced reservation. Once open, the last tickets are sold 60 minutes prior to closing. For individual tickets and venue hours, visit art-of-the-brick, call 866.9.TSXNYC (866-987-9692) or visit the Discovery Times Square box office.

Discovery Times Square (DTS) is New York City's first large-scale exhibition center presenting visitors with limited-run, educational and immersive exhibit experiences while exploring the world's defining cultures, art, history and events. More than a museum, DTS has featured exhibitions of unparalleled breadth, including Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, Leonardo Da Vinci 's Workshop, King Tut, Pompeii The Exhibit, Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition and most recently Terracotta Warriors: Defenders of China's First Emperor. DTS is located at 226 West 44th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenues).

Struth! It's a Small World After All, $8000 proves it.

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that a disabled man who had to endure a non-stop half-hour of "It's a Small World After All, It's a Small World After All…" when the Small World ride broke down at California's Disneyland, has been awarded US$8000 compensation.

The man was unable to be freed from the ride because he was in a wheelchair, and while workers managed to get all other riders out of the cave in which the ride failed, they were unable to turn off the repetitive music… a tune you either love or hate, and after 30-minutes of constant playing, most likely the latter.

The man told the California Supreme Court he suffered panic attacks during the time he was trapped, high blood pressure side-effects, and had to contain a desire to urinate for the entire half-hour of the constant and repetitive jingle.  

Something akin, we feel, to what we're subjected to when we go to our local supermarket.

Struth! Uranium tailplane a weighty problem

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The first 747-100s carried depleted uranium in their tails
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says not many of us knew it, but we used to fly around the world in aircraft whose tailplanes carried big quantities of depleted uranium (DU).

Because bizarrely its purpose was to act as a counterweight so pilots could trim aircraft and keep them flying level, as the depleted uranium was nearly 70% heavier than lead and therefore less was needed by mass in the confined spaces of the tailplanes.

It is understood that the early 747s contained up to 1.5 tonnes of  DU and this substance was difficult to recover after an accident (see BBC report).

Most major aircraft manufacturers including Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed used the depleted uranium in their earliest wide-bodied aircraft, replacing it from the early 1980s with tungsten that was even slightly heavier again than uranium.

LEGO Titanic

Lego Titanic

Scott Fowler of Kirkland, Washington spent eight months building this Lego Titanic. The 35 year old father-of -2 built 7'4" inch sections to construct this 22' LEGO creation.

It contains more than 250,000 pieces and cost Fowler more than $15,000 to build using specifications and diagrams he found on the Internet.

"I wanted to build a ship of historical importance that no-one had done before," said Fowler who began the project as physical therapy after wrist surgery.

Somerset Maugham Steams into Samoa

David Ellis

IT'S by no means the wettest place in the world, but a visit there in 1920 convinced English author Somerset Maugham it was certainly one of them – so much so that when he penned one of his most famous short stories about the characters he encountered aboard-ship getting from Hawaii, he titled it simply Rain.

Maugham is not the only author to come under the spell of Samoa: Robert Louis Stevenson chose to live and write there in the 1890s, and James A Michener was there with the US Marines during the war in the Pacific, keeping notes of people and events around him, and which ultimately formed part of his classic Tales of the South Pacific that was published at war's end.

Somerset Maugham was travelling with his lover, Gerald Haxton on the steamer Sonoma from Honolulu to Tahiti in 1920 when the vessel was forcibly quarantined in Pago Pago because of an onboard case of measles.

Also aboard were a zealous missionary and his wife, and an American lady of questionable morals. Maugham seized upon these characters as the crux for his highly successful Rain, the missionaries becoming the Scottish fire-and-brimstone Reverend Alfred Davidson and his overtly prudish wife ("the inhabitants of these islands will not be Christianised until every boy more than 10 years is made to wear trousers…" she moans.)

And the American prostitute became Sadie Thompson the colourful, well, prostitute.

Another in the short story, a Dr Macphail bears striking resemblance to Maugham himself: both he and "Dr Macphail" had served in the medical corps in WWI, and both had a hearty dislike of bigoted fundamentalist preachers.

Rain goes on to tell of the battle between the Rev Davidson and Sadie Thompson, whose soul he attempts to save and whom he coerces to repent – only to end up himself in her bed, and... well, you read the story.

And throughout it all it rains, just as it had when Maugham and Haxton had visited in 1920, in the story Maugham recounting how "the rain did not pour, it flowed… and fell in torrents." In fact Pago Pago records a whopping 119-inches (3000+ millimetres) a year, and while the bulk of this falls between October and May, even in the mid-year "dry season" around six inches (153mm) drenches the place every month.

The Sadie Thompson that Somerset Maugham created may or may not have actually existed, but Sadie Thompson is almost revered in American Samoa, with the locals pointing out how "she," Maugham, Haxton, the Davidsons and Macphails had rooms in a boarding house while their ship was quarantined.

And that after the ship steamed off to Tahiti, Sadie stayed behind to ply her trade to grateful expatriates living in steamy Pago Pago – and that her house of ill-repute is still there today.

And she's been immortalised in three movies: the first, a 1928 silent that starred Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore, shocked prudes who were aghast at the portrayal of a married man of the cloth partaking of the favours of a harlot, while a second with Joan Crawford and Walter Huston had America's 1930's straight-laced equally up in arms.

A third re-make in 1953 with Rita Hayworth and Jose Ferrer was more sanitized and considered somewhat tame.

There's some conjecture as to just where Maugham stayed in Pago Pago in 1920 during his delay there, and by extension, Sadie Thompson, the Davidsons and Dr Macphail and his wife, but it was most likely in what is now the town's Chinatown district.

And today's Sadie Thompson Restaurant occupies the building in which, the locals will swear, Sadie later ran her house of ill-repute.

In Maugham's short tale, after repenting her sins Sadie was to be deported to San Francisco and prison by the governor of Samoa, who was under the influence of the Rev Davidson, and even though she wanted to flee to Australia – which would have rid Samoa of her.

But locals will tell you the "real" Sadie was found one night by police in a yet-again drunken stupor with clients, bundled onto a ship bound for Sydney – and the captain told to take her there if he ever wanted to berth in American Samoa again.

True – or just another tale of the South Pacific?


[] PICTURESQUE Pago Pago Harbour – setting for one of the world's greatest short stories. (Samoa National Parks Service)
[] THE building in which Sadie Thompson supposedly ran her bordello – and is now Sadie Thompson's restaurant. (Samoa Office of Archives)
[] SOMERSET Maugham… created Rain after the characters he met sailing to American Samoa from Hawaii. (Wikimedia)
[] GLORIA Swanson: her screen portrayal of Sadie Thompson outraged America's 1928 prudes. (Wikimedia)
[] AN original printing of Rain cost all of 10c. (Amazon Books)
[] SHIP Sonoma on which Somerset Maugham sailed to Samoa in 1920. (NSW Gov Library)

Struth! No such thing as a stupid question. Maybe.

Wales - definitely open in winter (
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says travel agents get used to fielding some pretty oddball questions, and a recent survey amongst agents brought these pearlers to light:
  • Are there any lakes in England's Lakes District?
  • Is Wales closed during Winter?
  • The brochure says "No hairdressers at the resort." We are trainee hairdressers, so will we be okay staying there?
  • What month should we avoid being in New York so we don't get caught up in the May Day demonstrations?
  • What kind of performances can we see in London's Piccadilly Circus?
  • We saw ruined castles and abbeys almost every day of the tour in the UK. Why did they build so many of them?
  • And this couple who complained to their agent on their return home from a Mediterranean cruise, that they were enjoying one particular port so much that they left a note in their cabin asking the Captain if he could stay in port a bit longer for them to enjoy even more of it. Their complaint?  "When we got back from our sightseeing, the ship had gone…"
Some mothers do have 'em.

May 20, 2013

Back to Burma - and forward to Myanmar




David Ellis


Malcolm Andrews


THEY may have changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar and its capital from Rangoon to Yangon, but the ambience of the British Empire lives on in the bar at the grand old Strand Hotel.


Relaxing in wicker chairs, moustachioed gentlemen sip their Johnny Walker Black Label as their partners fiddle with glasses of Pimm's No 1… the original quinine digestive alleged to ward off the dastardly malaria.


The hotel's walls are made of teak and, high in the ceilings above the chairs and tables, fans whirl quietly. In days past their place was taken by large, waving carpet-like contraptions operated by punkawallahs to stir the languid, heat and humidity-filled air.


Occasionally an English expatriate with a cane and a pith helmet still wanders into the bar. And, more recently, so too tourists – just as they do to Raffles in Singapore, the Savoy in London or the Kempinski in Berlin – to gawk at a relic of yesteryear.


Like Rip Van Winkle, Myanmar has awoken from a deep sleep. First it was the military junta that scared away the tourists. Then it was Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic pro-democracy advocate and Nobel Laureate who asked foreigners not to come – because the tourist dollars would only help prop-up the military, and not filter down to the poorest in most need.


However a couple of years ago the people asked Aung San Suu Kyi to reconsider her stand. It was counter-productive, they pointed out, and was hampering the very people she wanted to help.  She accepted their pleas and the country will this year embrace some 1.5 million tourists … more than twice the number of a few years ago.


And a good majority will visit the Strand Hotel, that was built by Arshak, Tigran and Aviet Sarkies, Armenian brothers born in Persia (now Iran) who were responsible for a string of luxury hotels across South-East Asia. These included Raffles Singapore, while construction of Rangoon's Strand commenced in 1896 and finished five years later.


And from its opening there was one explicit rule: only white guests were permitted to stay there, although many years later the hotel also became home to Japanese officers during the occupation of Burma in World War II.


But while the Strand is a must-see in Yangon, it literally pales into insignificance against the Shwedagon (or Golden) Pagoda, a 100-m high gilded and jewel-encrusted structure that looks a bit like a giant inverted spinning top and towers over the city skyline. 


Its crown is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies and at the very top is a giant 76 carat (15g) diamond.


Modern day guests to Myanmar and the Strand have included US President Barack Obama, who visited there last November.


And a couple of large cruise ships have stopped off on round-the-world voyages – testing the waters so to speak – while other lines are looking to Myanmar as a regular stopover for ships cruising out of Singapore.


Among these will be the boutique vessel SeaDream II with two 13-day voyages in November and December this year. And as well as overnight stays in Yangon, SeaDream II will also include two of the 800 tiny islands that dot the Andaman Sea west of Thailand.


One is the uninhabited Pila Kyun.  And no doubt SeaDream Yacht Club will be considering it for their signature Champagne and Caviar Splash, where guests visiting such placid waters are served drinks by waiters who stand in these waters knee-deep just off the beach, surfboard-like floating tables serving as their bar .


The other is Thahtay Kyun, a short ocean trip from southern Thailand and home to a five-star casino and golf resort.


Also with an eye to attracting Aussies is the Accor Hotels chain, with three establishments under construction in Myanmar.


The first will open by the end of the year – the 366-room Novotel Yangon Max. It will feature a roof-top French restaurant and will be within walking distance of the Shwedagon Pagoda.


More than a century ago English author Rudyard Kipling noted: "This is Burma and it is quite unlike any land you know about."


Burma? Myanmar? Call it what you will, Kipling's comments still hold true today.


(Malcolm Andrews was a guest of SeaDream Yacht Club in the Mediterranean in 2012.)





[] THE Strand Hotel in British Colonial day's Rangoon – when only white guests could stay in the hotel . (Myanmar Ministry of Tourism)

[] AND the Strand today: welcoming all. (Flickr)

[] THE fabulous Golden Pagoda that towers over Yangon. (Flickr)

[] THAHTAY Kyun island: now home to a 5-star casino and golf resort. (TripAdvisor)

[] SEADREAM II will make two visits to Myanmar in November and December of this year. (SeaDream Yacht Club)

[] ARTISTS impression of the new Novotel Yangon Max that will open there later this year. (Accor Hotels)


Struth! Family irate with Alex Cross

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Movie still from the 'violent' crime thriller "Alex Cross"

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a flight from Denver to Baltimore in the United States was diverted to Chicago earlier this month after just an hour in flight, because a family complained about the inflight movie.


And when it landed in Chicago the family was surprised to be escorted off the plane – and confronted by police, two Border Protection Officers, the United Airlines' airport manager… and an FBI Agent.


But after an interview that took just five minutes and a check of their identity, the parents – who complained because the R13-rated film could be seen by their four and eight year old sons – were told they could continue on to Baltimore, but only on a different United Airlines' aircraft.


The movie that caused it all was "Alex Cross," the story of a homicide detective pushed to the brink by a serial killer who specialises in torture and pain. The film's R13 rating means that officially "parents, carers or teachers cannot give permission for anyone under 13 years" to watch the movie because of "graphic violence and sexual explicity."


The parents complained it was shown to all passengers on drop-down monitors, and when they asked if the monitor in front of them could be turned off for their children's sake, flight attendants said it was not possible. The parents diverted their children's attention from the movie and sent a message to the Captain, but said they received no reaction – only the announcement soon after that the flight was being diverted to Chicago "for security concerns."


United Airlines has said as a result of the incident "it's since conducted a full review of inflight entertainment."

Nelson's HMS Victory maritime museum



David Ellis


MUCH has been said, written, researched and further researched about the dying words of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson as he led the British against France and Spain in the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, the battle that gave England its greatest-ever sea victory to that time – but at the cost of the loss of its greatest-ever naval commander.


Because in his final minutes, his shoulder shattered by a bullet that had then lodged in his spine, Horatio Nelson, laying amongst fellow officers and ordinary seamen also suffering horrific injuries below deck on the Victory, had whispered to his friend and Captain of his ship, Captain Thomas Hardy: "Kiss me, Hardy."


To many in the prim society of the time, it was an absolute outrage to suggest that a Naval Commander would request that a subordinate kiss him – worse still in public – with many complaining that the very notion bordered almost on homosexuality, and scandalised highest British society and all other officers of the Navy… many of whom, of course, came from that very core of British high society.


Thus countless attempts were made to suggest that in fact Admiral Nelson had used the word "kismet," which came from the Arabic (and Nelson was familiar with that part of the world) which meant "fate." Thus by muttering "Kismet, Hardy," Nelson in his dying minutes had simply acknowledged his fate to his friend.


Captain Hardy acceded to Nelson's request and kissed him gently on the cheek and then the forehead, just minutes before Nelson died at 4.30pm on October 21, 1805 – just three hours after the Battle of Trafalgar had begun.


But try telling the folk of historic Portsmouth in England's south, where the fully-restored HMS Victory is now a maritime museum, that Lord Nelson had said anything other than "Kiss me, Hardy," and you'll be facing your own scaled-down Battle of Trafalgar.


For here, Horatio Nelson is a local hero of extraordinary note, and whomever you speak with will very quickly tell you his words were simply in keeping with the sensitive and emotional character of this great man.


After all, they'll point out, just hours before his death as his ships sailed into battle, Horatio Nelson had written a new Will aboard the Victory in which he had left his entire worldly possessions to his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton and their illegitimate daughter, Horatia Nelson Thompson.


Plus, that as he lay dying, he had also confided in Captain Hardy of the Will, saying to him: "Take care of my dear Lady Hamilton, Hardy; take care of my poor Lady Hamilton…"


And after he had requested Captain Hardy to "Kiss me, Hardy," he had commented: "Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty…"


Plus Portsmouth's folk will proudly tell you, the most credible of witnesses later attested to Nelson's famous last words, including his Chaplain aboard HMS Victory, Alexander Scott and the ship's surgeon, William Beatty who was attending Nelson in that confined space below deck.


After his death, Nelson's body was preserved in a cask of brandy that was lashed to the Victory's mast to be taken back to England at battle's end, and the news of his death rushed ahead by the (appropriately named?) small schooner, Pickle.


Nelson's fleet of 27 fighting ships, Portsmouth's citizens will boast, routed the larger enemy fleet of 33 ships: England lost no ships, France and Spain lost 18 of their 33; England lost 1,700 killed or wounded, France and Spain 6,000 and many hundreds more taken prisoner.


A visit to HMS Victory in Portsmouth is a must on any England holiday trip. Take the opportunity there to also see the oldest dry-dock in the world – it was built in 1496 and is still in use today – while Portsmouth is also now home to Royal Navy and Royal Marine Commandos.


Plus the circa-1861 HMS Warrior there is the world's first armour-plated, iron-hulled warship and was fully-restored in the 1960s, while the remains of the warship Mary Rose that was built in 1511 can also be seen in Portsmouth.


And of course it was from Portsmouth that the 11 ships of the First Fleet set sail for Australia on May 13, 1787 under the command of Captain (and Governor-designate) Arthur Phillip…





[] ADMIRAL Lord Nelson's restored HMS Victory in Portsmouth Harbour. (

[] BATTLE of Trafalgar as captured by William Clarkson Stanford. (Portsmouth City)

[] NELSON's last moments aboard HMS Victory. (Wikimedia.)

[] PORTSMOUTH'S extraordinary Spinnaker Tower & Lookout overlooking the harbour. (Portsmouth City)


May 06, 2013

Struth! Thirteen police forces keep Jersey in control

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IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says the British Crown Dependency of Jersey in the English Channel has a population of 95,000 – and thirteen police forces.


If it seems like it's bureaucracy gone mad, it is because of a 13th century custom when the local people – a mix of British and French as the island is actually closer to France than England –  appointed a voluntary Vingtenier (from the French vingt for twenty) to look after the safety of every twenty local households.


As the population grew and people were grouped into an eventual twelve parishes, each parish continued to appoint a growing number of Vingteniers, with a chief known as a Centenier.


Today each of the twelve parishes elects its own required number of these still-voluntary police for a period of three years to work on foot and mobile patrols, carry out speed checks, help with crowd control at major events, assist with missing persons enquiries, and to check licenced premises and enforce curfew times.


They also conduct the Island's own community court system for minor offences such as riding a bicycle on a footpath, spitting or urinating in public, with these so-called "Parish Hall Enquiries" most-usually handing down community service punishments – "rather than turning minor offenders into potential major criminals," as the locals explain it.


Officers are required to be on-call 24-hours a day for voluntary work one week a month, and even the thirteenth police force, the official States of Jersey Police consisting of 240 officers, cannot put a person before a regular court magistrate without a parish Centenier being in court to jointly present the charges.


Greece: Corinth Canal no shortcut

david ellis

IT may have been a wonderfully rich agricultural area adored by farmers, but for early traders the Peloponnese Peninsula making up the southern-most part of mainland Greece, was anything but adored as it divided the Ionian and Adriatic Seas from the Aegean Sea, and therefore Athens, the Greek Islands and Turkey.

Worse still the 16,000 square kilometre peninsula was linked to the remainder of Greece by the narrowest neck of land called the Corinth Isthmus, which although just 6km wide meant travel times along lucrative trade routes were over 700kms longer than the traders felt necessary – and often meant days of sailing through treacherous seas.

Periander, the Tyrant of Corinth, as early as 602BC thought about cutting a canal across the little isthmus for ships to sail through, but deciding that that was all too hard, built instead an ingenious stone roadway across the narrow neck of land.

Ships were unloaded at one end, hauled on wheeled carts along the road and followed by their cargoes on other carts, and then put back in the sea at the other end to be re-loaded to continue on their way.

While quite admirable it was hugely labor-intensive, and in subsequent years many others pondered the need for a canal, including Julius Caesar who was murdered before he could get started. And his successor Caligula in 40AD was howled-down by advisors who believed that because the Ionian and Adriatic Seas were more northerly than the Aegean, they must therefore be higher than the Aegean, and when any canal was opened water would rush through and flood the Aegean.

When Emperor Nero came along he pooh-poohed such theories, and in 67AD drew-up plans for a cutting and canal 70m deep from its hilltop to its water's deepest point, recruited no less than 6,000 slaves, brought in an orchestra, and while the music played, and to much applause, turned the first sod himself with a golden pick.

But with ebbing public support because of his strange behaviour, Nero committed suicide soon after, and work on the canal came to an abrupt halt. 

It was not until centuries later that the Greek government got serious again about a canal across the Corinth isthmus, and digging began in earnest in 1881. The Corinth Canal finally opened on October 28 1893.

It is 6.3km long, 21m wide and its waters 8m deep. From the water's surface to its highest point the sheer rock walls of the canal rise 63m high, and the canal is spanned by two road bridges and a rail bridge… and remarkably at each end, roads on pontoons that link the Greek mainland to the Peloponnese 'sink' into trenches dug a further several metres into the bed of the canal to allow ships to pass over them.

While it's narrow and shallow, the Corinth Canal is still a useful waterway today for some 12,000 small cargo vessels, boutique-size cruise ships, and pleasure boats travelling each year between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and the Aegean – saving them over 700km in travel and the need to round the often-dangerous Cape Maleas in the very south of the Peninsula.

The Peloponnese is a taste of true Greece and a highly popular holiday destination with its patchwork olive groves, vineyards and citrus orchards sprinkled with ancient towns, monasteries, palaces, ruined castles, forts, spas at old Sparta, and reminders of some of the bloodiest battles of old-time Greece…

And it is home to Ancient Olympia where Emperor Nero once competed and –strangely – won every medal. He also regularly sang and played his lyre in a theatre there, ordering the doors locked so no-one could leave during his 3-hour performances.

The Peloponnese's pleasant beaches are washed by aqua-blue waters under sunny Mediterranean skies; accommodation ranges from budget to 4- and 5-star, and dining on local delicacies is excellent in sunny outdoor cafés.

Travel agents can help you with travel arrangements and accommodation.



[] TIGHT fit: only smaller cruise ships like this 350-passenger vessel can squeeze through the  narrow Corinth Canal. (Photo: CruiseCritic UK)

[] FROM from the air: this narrow neck of land can add 700kms to journeys for ships that can't get into the Corinth Canal. (Photo: Wikimedia)

[] CONSTRUCTION workers who largely dug the canal by hand in the late 19th century.  (Photo: Greek National Tourism Office.)
[] ONE of three bridges that span the top of the Corinth Canal. (Photo: Greek National Tourism Office.)

[] NOW you see it, now you don't: A pontoon road bridge sinks from water level into the floor of the canal to allow vessels to pass. (Photo: David Ellis)

Interlude Tours on the road to success

David Ellis

WHEN he was on a plane coming home from a business trip to Alaska a near 20-years ago, Sydney travel industry public relations man John Savage got chatting with the passenger next him, who it turned out was also in the travel game.

And he mentioned to John how one of the banes of his business was finding good tour escorts for the small groups he took away to different parts of the world, particularly Europe where his company, Interlude Tours, had been a pioneer in getting away from ever-larger motor coaches in preference for mini-buses for just a handful of guests.

His name was Wal Glading and he told John: "I just want a mature, well-travelled lady, someone with common sense, preferably a nursing background, and one who is prepared to spend time away from home."

"That sounds like my wife," John said – and on arrival home told his wife Jeanette about the conversation. She too thought it sounded like her, and next thing she was with Wal and a small group on a culinary tour through Thailand.

"It was wonderful. Europe was next; I began as a navigator and quickly understood why Wal appeared at first to be so pedantic, crossing all the 'T's' and dotting all the 'I's', having not only back-up plan B but back-up plan C, and triple-checking every detail before departure. It really was crucial to a successful, worry-free tour."

After serving her "probation" under Wal's watchful eye, Jeanette moved on from navigator to driver, and to tour director taking her own groups away. And she came home from one tour some years later to have Wal tell her he was putting away his maps for semi-retirement in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Was she interested in taking-over the company?

"Was I ever!" says Jeanette.

And all these years later Wal, too, still fondly recalls his first-ever tour. "It was 1974 and we took 41 members of the Australian Fiat Club to Europe for the princely sum of $1195 each – including air and 51 days travel. But our big Leyland Leopard coach soon made me realise such coaches really weren't suitable for the minor, narrow roads of Europe that offered some of the best and most spectacular scenery – so I started planning the concept of Interlude Tours small-coach travel," he says.

"Soon we were operating 9-seater Peugeot Boxer buses that we'd take in convoy – usually three at a time – with Australian drivers. It meant we weren't restricted to boring motorways, but could travel anywhere a car could go, usually staying three nights at a time in small hotels and inns amid the most impressive scenery in Europe," Wal says.

And despite all his mentoring, Jeanette soon discovered the unexpected could be lurking in wait anywhere. "On one tour from Casablanca we'd only got 120km in a brand-new mini-bus when it broke down," she recalls. "The Moroccan driver/guide hitched a ride into town, came back with a flat-top truck that he loaded our mini-bus onto – with all of us inside – and to get us off and into another bus when we got into town, used an array of chairs from van to truck-top to road!

"Another time one of our guests came storming back down to reception at the best hotel on Lake Como to complain about his small, dark room, and was still spluttering when his wife also turned up to say she'd just opened the curtains – and what a marvellous view of the Lake they had from their private balcony. Her husband slunk off red-faced!"

And at little Intragna in Switzerland an Interlude Tours group arrived at their hotel to find a wedding in full swing – with all Jeanette's Australians invited to join in the celebrations. "We danced and sang with them well into the night," Jeanette recalls. "The bride and groom wrote later, thanking us for making their wedding so joyous."

Conversely another of Jeanette's travellers when she asked what he thought of Rome, replied dully: "Just like Melbourne, really."

And now like Wal, Jeanette too is putting the maps away, with her last Interlude tour  being 36 days to France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland in September/October this year.

Check the itinerary on – who knows, you may even come home wanting to buy the company.



[] TIGHT fit: an Interlude Tours van off the beaten track in Cuenca in Spain.
[] NOT quite to plan: when their brand-new van broke down in Casablanca, the driver put them aboard a truck – and got them off by this novel staircase.
[] IT ain't  half cold, Mum – snowed-in in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland: Jeanette and John Savage.
[] WE'VE been everywhere – but there's no place like home; Wal and Jeanette on Bundanoon railway station.

(Images: Interlude Tours)

May 04, 2013

The Mystery of JFK and PT109

David Ellis
IT'S generally only the more adventurous make it to remote Gizo in the Solomon Islands, a magical place of some of the world's best fishing and wreck and reef diving, and from where you can venture a further 10kms to a miniscule dot shown on most charts as Kasolo Atoll.

For this sandy speck Kasolo is better known to the world as Kennedy Island – the place where a-then 26 years old John F. Kennedy, commander of the US Navy's motor torpedo boat PT109 and future President of the United States, together with ten of his crew, waded ashore in pitch-blackness after their boat was rammed and sunk by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri on an August night in 1943.

Sixty-two years later the Australian expedition cruise ship Orion became one of a growing number of boutique and smaller cruise ships vessels to visit Kasolo as part of Pacific Island cruises, giving its just-100 passengers the opportunity to walk on that very beach on which Kennedy and his men came ashore.

For decades South Pacific adventurers have laid claim to finding and even salvaging the remains of PT109. But their assertions are in fact their imaginings: what's left of PT109 lays a virtually impossible-to-reach 374 metres below the surface 4km off Kasolo.

PT109 had been one of fifteen PTs sent from the US Navy's base on Rendova Island to harass a Japanese convoy that had dropped thousands of troops on nearby Kolombangara Island, as Japan planned to attack Guadalcanal, and ultimately Australia during the Pacific War.

But in the inkiness of the night, the Amagiri rammed the little 25-metre PT109, splitting her lengthwise, her fuel tanks erupting in a massive fireball.

Two men went down with PT109 and after clinging for a time to the upturned boat, Commander Kennedy and ten others swam and drifted to Kasolo – which locally means Gods of Paradise, and which most certainly must have seemed Paradise to the shipwrecked sailors.

And extraordinarily, Kennedy had towed one of the more-badly injured the entire 4km by the strap of the seaman's life-vest clenched in his mouth.

Realising the minute atoll offered little safety, the group next day swam two kilometres to Olasana Island, from where Kennedy and crewman George Ross swam another kilometre to larger Nauru Island in the hope of finding American troops. But they were surprised to be confronted by two villagers, who said they were working secretly behind the 12,000-strong Japanese enemy lines with the extraordinarily brave Australian Coastwatcher, George Evans.

Kennedy needed to get a message to his base on Rendova, now 60kms away, and one of the villagers, Biuku Gasa came up with an ingenious idea: he gathered a green coconut and showed Kennedy how to scratch a message into its surface with a piece of sharpened sea-shell.


Gasa and his mate Aaron (Eroni) Kumana then paddled their canoe 60km to Rendova with the bizarre coconut message, and under cover of the next night's darkness another PT rescued Kennedy and his crew.

American dive-holiday operator, Danny Kennedy (no relation to JFK) has lived at Gizo for a-near 30 years and was part of the team led by Dr Robert Ballard (who'd earlier found the remains of the Titanic,) that finally found the few remains of PT109 in 2002.

Danny told me when I visited him in Gizo aboard Orion that despite all the claims by others, all that was sighted by Ballard's ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) was a brass torpedo tube in 374-metres of water, and possibly a torpedo. Being of timber construction all else had succumbed to the sea, or disappeared under sand and coral debris; the ROV nudged the torpedo tube but was unable to move it, suggesting it was still attached in some way to PT109.

Ballard and Kennedy will not reveal the exact location of PT109 saying they respect it as a war grave – and in any case, it's way too deep to dive.

Orion will re-visit Kennedy Island in March 2014 as part of a 21-night cruise to PNG, Vanuatu and the Solomons; details travel agents. For information about Gizo diving, fishing, WWII wreckage tours see


[] COMMANDER – later President – John F Kennedy (extreme right) and crew of PT109. (US Navy Archives)
[] AMERICAN Robert Ballard (straw hat) with his Institute for Exploration team, and Gizo Dive owner Danny Kennedy (standing right,) after finding what little was left of PT109. (Gizo Dive)
[] CANOE similar to the one Biuka Gasa and Aaron Kumana paddled  60km to get help for the stranded crew of PT109. (Gizo Dive)
[] MINISCULE Kennedy Island on which JFK and crew were washed up after their boat sank. (
[] AUSTRALIAN expedition cruise ship Orion – one of a small number of boutique vessels able to visit Kennedy Island. (Orion Expedition Cruises.)

May 01, 2013


David Ellis

WE'VE never really considered Berlin the place to go for a tropical holiday.

So when a British-based colleague told us in January he was ducking over there to swap the Poms' winter snow and zero-temperatures for a week of tropical 26-degree temperatures, maybe camp in a rainforest, play golf in shorts and T-shirts, and get a suntan on a sandy beach, we considered he'd gone, well, maybe a little bit troppo.

After all, if it was winter in Britain, it was winter in Germany. And that meant anything but the balmy likes of the tropics, until he sent us photos of all the things he told us he'd do – and done. Plus others be-sporting himself amongst longhouses, temples, a falé and grass huts straight out of Borneo, Thailand, Samoa, Bali and South America, and amid the rainforest he'd boasted had waterfalls, palms, macaws, strutting pheasants and even flamingos.

And he said he'd done it all 35km south of Berlin – with thanks partly to an Australian who now lives in Bali. Now it was us wondering which of us may have gone a little bit troppo…

But it turns out we're both quite normal: our colleague had taken his holiday at Tropical Islands, an extraordinary 66,000 square metre man-made bolt-hole that's been created within a gigantic dome built to house massive freight-carrying German airships. But the company that built the dome went belly-up in 2002 without a single airship being completed.

At 360m long, 210m wide and 107m high their hanger was – and still is – the world's biggest free-standing, pillar-less hall – high enough for the Statue of Liberty to stand in its centre, long enough to house five football fields side-by-side, and big enough for the Eiffel Tower to be laid lengthways inside it.

And its 70,000 square metre roof is strong enough to carry consistently falling snow throughout winter, and any amount of rain year-round – and with UV-transparent film panels on the southern (equator) side, warming sunshine washes over those on the inside and gives a natural tan.

After the failure of the airship venture, the group that came up with the idea of an indoor tropically-themed waterpark recruited Bali-based architect, Made Wijaya – who was born Michael White in Australia – to design the core Bali Lagoon for them.

A specialist in exotic gardens with some 600 to his credit world-wide, Made worked hand-in-glove with other landscape architects and designers from South America, Sri Lanka, England and Germany who were charged with designing the world's largest indoor rainforest, between them all creating an indoor theme-park as close to reality as possible to the real tropics.

Opened in 2004 and being right on Berlin's doorstep, Tropical Islands is today an escape-hole for not only Berliners but other Germans and Europeans, by-passing the need to have to fly to the other side of the world for a day, a week or longer in "the tropics."

Here in the 30,000 cubic metre Rainforest are 50,000 plants, bushes and groundcovers comprising some 600 species from palms to ferns, mangroves and diverse tropical fruits, a swamp that's home to Amazon black pacus, Asian archer fish, Japanese koi and Columbian shark catfish to name a few. And flitting through it all parakeets, Chinese blue-breasted quail, silver pheasants, zebra finches – even a pair of macaws.

And guides along the kilometre-long pathway will answer questions about the rainforest's plants and wildlife, and solve such navel-gazing questions as why are bananas bent?

Tropical Islands' 1,200 square metre Bali Lagoon is a constant 32-degrees with waterslides, whirlpools, a waterfall and grotto, while a Tropical Sea zone sprawls over 3,000 square metres (three times an Olympic swimming pool,) it's waters a pleasant 28-degrees and has a sandy beach, sun-lounges, children's paddling pool, Germany's highest waterslide, 18-hole mini-golf, and under that UV roof you can get a natural suntan.

And a Tropical World has a shopping boulevard, sauna and spa, games for the kids, and an accommodation block and lodges can sleep 520 any night – or you can camp-out in tents back in the Rainforest, or even on the beach. Everything's 26-degrees, 24-hrs a day, year-round.

There are also thirteen restaurants and bars offering self-service or a la carte tropical-countries' themed-dining, and spectacular evening stage shows.

If you think we've gone troppo, checkout



[] BALMY days by beach and pool – in the middle of a Berlin Winter.

[] A TOUCH of Borneo at Berlin's extraordinary Tropical Islands.

[] GRAND dining like you were on the other side of the world.

[] WORLD class nightly entertainment.

[] WHERE it's all at – defunct airship factory that's taken on a taste of the tropics in Berlin.

(All photos with thanks to Tropical Islands)

Glorious Goodwood

Goodwood is much more than just a motor racing heaven

With a full career covering motoring and motor racing, Damien Reid thought he’d seen it all until he made it to Goodwood for the Revival. Walking through the gates is admission to a world that stopped 50 years ago.

There’s a story going around that a gentleman bought tickets to the Goodwood Revival and when he arrived, he parked up the back of a giant paddock filled with classic cars.

The sight of stunningly beautiful Jaguars, Aston Martins, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, Maseratis and more was overwhelming and over a few hours he was firmly ensconced in the atmosphere that only Goodwood can produce.

Overhead, Spitfires and Lancaster bombers strafed the fields in a dramatic air display, people walked past in period costumes and vendors on the streetside sold food and souvenirs from mobile outlets that looked as though they came straight out of the 1940s.

The racing is 'no holds barred'
At the end of the day with probably close to 1000 finely polished cars floating around that he’d drooled over, some worth millions of dollars, it was time to leave.

As he pulled out of the driveway he noticed a flood of people coming from across the road and it was only then that he realised that he’d never actually made it to the entrance but instead, spent the entire day walking around the public car park.

With just under 50,000 people through the gates on each of the three days it’s entirely believable, especially when you consider that only pre-1966 cars are allowed to use the public car park while the rest use park ‘n ride systems and are bussed in on pre-’66 model buses.

To gain entrance to the pits and paddock, you obviously need the right pass, but you can also only enter if you’re dressed in the appropriate pre-1966 attire. That’s the great thing about Lord March’s dream, that nothing is left to chance.

In order to submerge yourself in the full ambiance of Goodwood, everything must fit in with the period but the effort is worth it a thousand times over because nothing compares to the sights, sounds, smells and the buzz of attending a post WW2 day at the motor races.

So, dressed in moleskin trousers, braces, flannelette shirt with cravat, tweed vest and jacket and a broad brim fedora, I and 140,000 others over the course of the weekend, stepped through the gates and into the Goodwood time machine.

On the other side, security police waved the well-behaved guests through from their vantage points behind Ford Zephyr and Jaguar Mk2 police cars. Out of sight from the police, mock gangs of Mods and Rockers faced off against each other comparing the Harley Davidsons of the Rockers to the multi-mirrored inner-city moto scooters favoured by the Mods.

In the distance, the sound of a Glenn Miller-style jazz band could be heard entertaining recently returned WW2 troops and all this was before we’d reached the main area of the venue. So authentic, it was near impossible to spot any resemblance to the modern day.

The Goodwood Revival came about in 1998 after the phenomenal success of the Festival of Speed hillclimb which Lord March began six years earlier on his property and it attracted 30,000 people at its first event.

He then wanted to resurrect the famous race track on his property which had been home to the British Grand Prix in the immediate post war era and saw the likes of Fangio, Moss, Brabham, Gurney and Salvadori take part over the years.

The track officially opened in 1948 and hosted Britain’s first post-war motor race but was eventually retired in 1966 as faster cars outgrew it during a time when fatalities were on the rise and safety was being championed for the first time, most notably by Jackie Stewart.

These days Sir Jackie revels in the experience and was one of the big name drivers piloting a Silver Arrows Mercedes while his contemporary, Stirling Moss, lapped the circuit in an immaculate BMW 328 Mille Miglia.

The amazing thing about Goodwood is that it has remained faithful to an era that many thought was impossible to recreate given the demands of modern day corporate hospitality, sponsorship and safety.

The 3.8km circuit is devoid of large gravel traps, high catch wire fencing and Armco fences that are a must for new circuits.

With the exception of one chicane that was part of the original track just before the start/finish line, it has also resisted the temptation to be dotted with the slowing down devices and unlike Silverstone which was also built around an airfield using the perimeter roads, the Goodwood layout you see cars racing on today is exactly the same as it was in 1948.

Dangerous, fast and exciting; it has its own safety mechanisms in place to keep drivers under control, that being their own fear and acres of grass across the infield to spin off.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a Mark 2 Jag entering a sweeping, fast, flat out corner in a four-wheeled drift chased by a tiny BMW 1600 which is defying the laws of physics as it three wheels it through the same corner with its inside front never touching the ground until it’s pointing straight again.

Unlike today’s modern pits, pitlane at Goodwood is a simple ribbon of tarmac with a large open-plan area covered by a common roof for all to use while VIP spectators get to stand on the roof. There’s no individual garages with roller doors to keep spectators away or glass-fronted, multi-storey corporate boxes on top, it’s all about the basics.

Away from the racing, a retro Auto Alley runs with car manufacturers displaying their “latest” models in period showrooms. Take a walk into the 1960s inspired Rolls-Royce dealership located in March Motor Works and you’re confronted by a “new” 1962 Silver Cloud Mk2 Drophead Coupé in a lustrous black that takes pride of place on the carpet.

Attention to detail in the showroom included original vintage signage, a showroom manager in appropriate business attire and even an imposing safe in the corner.

With a theatrical twist, only possible at the Revival, the showroom hosted glamorous movie star couples throughout the weekend with impromptu photo calls and the ever-present paparazzi. This resulted in the period police making regular visits in their Triumph Heralds and MGA 1600s to hold back the fans.

Across the road, the Mini showroom displaying Sir Alec Issigonis’ original 850cc classic used a trio of go-go dancer girls dancing in the window to tempt potential customers through the door.

With Goodwood being the modern day home to Rolls-Royce located just around the corner, the famous British marque was also allowed to display one of its heritage cars on track with a stunning $500,000 Mark 1 Silver Cloud Drophead Coupé forming part of the Course Director’s entourage.

This lapped the circuit after every race, probably doubling its mileage over the space of three days, and followed in the wheel tracks of two original Ford GT40s.

Each year Goodwood celebrates several anniversaries and this time it was a four-fold celebration to honour the 50th anniversary of the AC Cobra with a one-make race for the late Carroll Shelby’s most dramatic cars, the largest gathering of pre-war Silver Arrows racers ever assembled, a 50th birthday tribute to the Ferrari 250 GTO and a special tribute to one of America’s few F1 and LeMans heroes, Dan Gurney.

This year was the first time the famous Silver Arrows Auto Unions (we know them today as Audi) and Mercedes Grand Prix cars have been re-united on a race track since World War 2, while the average value of a Ferrari 250GTO hovers around the $US20million mark which made the grid of 20 cars worth in excess of $US300million.

That’s not a bad turnout when you consider they only made 37 and almost all were used in competition with the most valuable on track being the ex-Stirling Moss green car which sold last June at auction for $US35million.

The Goodwood Revival is so typically British that it’s an event which cannot be replicated in any other country and given the constraints of modern day racing which have to take in safety and corporate entertainment issues, it cannot even be replicated at other British tracks like Silverstone.

Lord March’s dedication to preserving the best of a bygone era and the fastidious attention to detail at every corner is something to be admired. After nearly 25 years covering all forms of motor racing and motoring festivals, I’m trying very hard to think of a better motorsporting event in the world and so far I’m still drawing blanks. See you next year Goodwood.

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