June 26, 2017

Supermodel pays £600 to bathe in goat's milk at London's Savoy Hotel


David Ellis

WHEN one of the world's top supermodels booked into London's swank Savoy Hotel and said she wanted a very special bath, it fell on the hotel's Head Butler, Sean Davoren to ensure the fulfilment of her wish.

And that wish was for some 35 litres of goat's milk that she could mix with water straight from the tap, and to wallow in in her bathtub. And the milk had to be that-day fresh, and it had to be unpasteurised.

Forever unflappable, Mr Davoren located just where he could find the precise goat's milk for the lady's needs, and assured her he'd have a taxi go collect it straight away.

And while the milk would cost 50-pounds (around AU$87,) there would also be the matter of the taxi… and that would be in a somewhat different league. Because the specific milk the lady wanted could only be sourced from a goat dairy in Wales, the taxi to go and collect it would cost 600-pounds (AU$1,040.)

No problem said the lady, and some time after the milk had been collected, delivered safely back to The Savoy, warmed in the kitchen and taken to her bathroom, Mr Davoren received another request: the lady now needed thirty bottles of a top-brand mineral water to be warmed, and delivered to her bathroom so she could now cleanse her body of any goat's milk residue.

Which makes us wonder if Cleopatra, who was also known to bathe in goat's milk, had staff of the calibre of Mr Davoren to ensure her of baths that were as good as The Savoy's to help keep her looking beautiful…



[] HEAD Butler, Sean Davoren – absolutely unflappable, even if the request is for a  goat's milk bath.

[] A BATHROOM at The Savoy: goat's milk and hot water for a VIP's plunge,  followed by a wash down with thirty bottles of warmed mineral water. (All images The Savoy hotel)

True Blue Riband: Aussies fastest across the Atlantic

The Atlantic Crossing between Europe and the United States is the quintessential ocean voyage. Why? Apart from being one of the historically busiest shipping routes in the world, it is chapter one of many of the world’s greatest stories, including the discovery of what is now the United States of America by European navigators.

The great, often treacherous North Atlantic has been fought over and blockaded in wars; such has been its importance to international trade and commerce. From the time of Columbus in 1492, and possibly earlier, seafarers have braved these waters to build civilisations, ship all manner of cargo, smuggle, plunder and wage war. The passage became increasingly important as the great nations expanded their empires and influence, building all-weather vessels specifically for the arduous 3,000 NM ocean voyage.

In the days of sail, a typical eastbound voyage took over three weeks until the introduction of steam in the early 19th century. Steam power allowed vessels to improve their more difficult outward (westbound) time against the Gulf Stream winds and the race to build faster and bigger ships was on.

French liner, Normandie

In 1935, Arthur Hales, a UK merchant, shipowner and politician instigated the now famous trophy that bears his name for the “Blue Riband”, the fastest westbound journey by a passenger vessel in regular service. The first official recipient was the French liner SS Normandie, which completed her maiden voyage on 29 May at just under 30 knots. Since that time, only two other ocean liners have shared that accolade, the RMS Queen Mary and the purpose-built SS United States, who captured the title with an average speed of 34.5 knots on 15 July 1952 and has held it ever since. This superlative vessel also smashed the eastbound record one week earlier with a stunning 35.59 knots.

Since the retirement of SS United States in 1969, the “Blue Riband” is deemed to have ceased as no regular fast passenger service now exists. However, in the age-old spirit of competition, the Hales Trophy is still awarded for the fastest commercial vessel crossing in either direction.

Serial show-off and entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, did manage to break the record in 1986 by just two hours with his Virgin Atlantic Challenger, but was denied the trophy because his 1440kW speedboat was not a commercial vessel. The same fate was levied against the massively ambitious 45,000kW GE jet-powered Destriero of the Aga Khan which crossed in August 1992 at over 53 knots.

Fast cat: Australian-built Fjord Cat
Yet the final word in the Hale Trophy remains with the proud Tasmanian company, Incat, builder of the world’s fastest commercial passenger catamarans. Since 1990, three of the company’s vessels have held the prize, with the current holder, HSC Fjord Cat, the first to cross in less than three days at an average speed of 41.3 knots.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Originally published in Cruise Weekly

Expedition Cruising with Lindblad in the Sea of Cortes

Welcomed by the Queen of California

In a land once ruled over by a fierce mythical matriarch, marine animals cavort and relax in UNESCO-protected bliss.

Words and images by Roderick Eime

I tell you that on the right-hand side of the Indies there was an island called California, which was very close to the region of the Earthly Paradise. This island was inhabited by black women, and there were no males among them at all, for their life style was similar to that of the Amazons. - Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo

Queen Califia

The island in de Montalvo’s description was ruled by Califia, a magnificent negress by all accounts. Her domain, like the Amazons, was a matriarchal dominion where the few men were subjugated and enslaved by these all-conquering women.

When it suited her, Califia would muster her troops and raid the neighbouring lands, seizing men and territory. Her warriors wore armour of gold and rode fierce steeds with barding that shone like the sun.

Some researchers are convinced a fearsome black queen of either African or Polynesian origin once existed on these shores, and de Montalvo, like Shakespeare, had adapted legend and lore for his own purposes.

The Spanish novelist, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus whose lurid prose described these lands in great detail, was sufficiently convincing for the Mexican Governor, Hernán Cortés, to send ships in search of this land of plenty.

Like so many Spanish follies of the time, they ended in disaster for the explorers and all those they encountered. The island of California, however, persisted on maps for more than 100 years and wasn’t conclusively disproved by land explorers until almost the 19th century.

Today this giant spur-like peninsula, the second largest in the world, is part of Mexico and called Baja California. It is divided into two ‘free and sovereign states’; Baja California and Baja California Sur (south). The 160,000km2 Gulf of California enclosed by the peninsula is also known by its alternative moniker, The Sea of Cortés (or Cortez).

“Those quiet men who always stand on piers asked where we were going and when we said, ‘To the Gulf of California,’ their eyes melted with longing; they wanted to go so badly.” - John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

At the very tip is the resort town of Cabo San Lucas (Cape Saint Luke), which has grown progressively from a grubby mining village and tuna cannery at the turn of the last century to one of Mexico’s premier tourist locations and aquatic playgrounds. Massive ships from Holland America, Carnival, Celebrity and Princess regularly call in to the region more commonly known in cruise circles as the ‘Mexican Riviera’ and which extends as far as Acapulco.

Much of the credit for this popular acceleration is due to the Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author, John Steinbeck, whose account of a marine biology expedition in 1940 with his biologist friend, Ed Ricketts, spawned the 288-page non-fiction book ‘The Log from the Sea of Cortez’, published in 1950.

Steinbeck describes this lost world as “ferocious with life”, often citing his fear of man’s potential for destruction through urban development and careless fishing techniques. Even as the pair travelled, a hotel was being built along with the airport and railway.

And develop it did. Cabo San Lucas quickly became the playground for Hollywood A-Listers and celebrities like John Wayne, Chuck Connors, Desi Arnez, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Jacques Cousteau and Ernest Hemingway who enjoyed the incredible fishing and balmy lifestyle.

Cousteau, who visited some 35 years ago was, predictably enough, more interested in what dwelled below the surface and coined the tagline “the world’s aquarium”, often re-used by the new wave of adventure cruise operators probing much further north than any of the floating behemoths visiting Cabo San Lucas.

Veteran Lindblad naturalist and field guide, Pete Pederson leads me to this superb outlook (R Eime)

The undisputed leader in this field is Lindblad Expeditions who have been exploring the ‘Sea of Cortez’ since Cousteau’s time. In 1977, a young Sven Lindblad was travelling from Argentina to Mexico on his late father’s ship, the MS Lindblad Expolorer. They had a few days to spare and decided to call in to the Gulf of California to explore.

“I was particularly attracted to this large island just up from the southern end in the Gulf of California (Espiritu Santo Island),” recalls Lindblad, “and I remember that discovery to this day. I’ve never seen anywhere so beautiful, so irresistible, and I’ve had a love affair with the Sea of Cortez ever since.”

Lindblad began commercial voyages in 1981 and has continued that tradition unbroken for more than 30 years. During that time UNESCO bestowed World Heritage status on the region, stating the “diversity of terrestrial and marine life is extraordinary and constitutes a unique ecoregion of high priority for biodiversity conservation”. For the last decade the Gulf of California has enjoyed this cherished protection.

National Geographic Sea Lion at anchor while guests explore ashore (R Eime)

Today two of the company’s 62-passenger vessels operate side-by-side on itineraries of either one or two weeks’ duration, plunging guests into an experience that includes observation and encounters with all manner of whales, sea lions, marine birds and land reptiles.

I’m aboard the late season ‘Spring in the Sea of Cortez’, a mid-April itinerary that probes deep into the gulf as far as Isla San Esteban. For a full week, we explore the inside leg of the Gulf of California, going ashore for nature hikes, early morning yoga, town visits, snorkelling in the coves, photography classes as well as kayaking along the craggy shores.

“It’s the best place in the world to see whales – lots of them” – Sven Lindblad

Despite numerous sightings of sperm whales, pilot whales, dolphins and porpoises of various types and more seabirds than I could ever tick off, the signature gray whale encounters are not to be had at this time of the year. These famously gregarious and interactive mammals are en route to Alaska by now from their breeding ground at Bahía Magdalena on the western coast.

Nevertheless, our expedition team of naturalists are unrelenting in their enthusiasm and desire to share and impart their vast knowledge and in this respect, I place the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic crew consistently among the very best in this arena.

Our ship, the National Geographic Sea Lion, is cosy, comfortable and unpretentious. While it’s ideal for the destination, cruise snobs would remark on the compact cabins and lack of lavish accoutrements. Dining is straightforward in single sittings at unreserved tables, ideal for rotating among fellow passengers and getting to know everyone. While I am the only Australian on board and travelling solo, I find the varied company stimulating and welcoming. Exactly as I remember Alaska aboard the twin, NG Sea Bird last year.

Exploring and discovering with Lindblad Expeditions - National Geographic is not a ‘cruise’ in the popular sense, it’s adventure and enrichment at sea and none of my fellow travellers lament the lack of big ship, mass market niceties.

Dedicated to imparting knowledge and in a spirit of conservation, I’m certain even the feared Queen Califia herself would welcome us into her domain.

== - ==

Getting There: Qantas flies to Los Angeles (LAX) and connects to San Jose Del Cabo (SJD) with codeshare partners Alaska Airlines or American Airlines. www.qantas.com

Cruising There: Lindblad Expeditions’ operates in Baja California from January to April annually. See au.expeditions.com or www.wildearth-travel.com. Prices start from A$6660* per person for 8 nights. For bookings phone 1800 107 715

The writer travelled with assistance from Lindblad Expeditions and Wild Earth Travel

* price checked https://au.expeditions.com/destinations/baja/baja-california-sea-of-cortez/dates-rates/

This article originally published in The Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail.

June 19, 2017

Ride Queensland's Valley Rattler: Chugging and choofing right on track

If the shriek of a steam whistle and the hiss of a steam engine are music to your ears, Helen Flanagan suggests the Valley Rattler.

Hanging baskets of flowers, a dinky refreshment room and the ticketing office of the Gympie Railway Station are shades of 1913, the year the original 1870's building was replaced and the new rail line, connecting the gold-rich town to Brisbane was opened. Travel by coastal steamer to Maryborough and train to Gympie with an onward stagecoach service to Noosa had finally become a thing of the past.

Today the Mary Valley Rattler Heritage Railway runs steam train tours as a tribute to the region's rail heritage. In charge of the eight driving-wheeled, 80 tonne locomotive, built in the UK by Armstrong Whitworth, at a cost of 5013 pounds and shipped to Brisbane in 1927 is John, a steam train driver since 1959. He is assisted by fireman Archie.

The station master calls "all aboard" and rings the big brass bell as the steam whistle shrieks. Number 802 pulls out of the station past the old Queenslander-style Railway Hotel, masses of brilliantly coloured jacaranda trees, work sheds and outhouses swathed in bougainvillea, through the Gympie burbs and onto what was considered the alternative railway to the coastal line from Brisbane in 1884/85.

The Rattler's carriages date from 1909 and were built at workshops in Ipswich. The Club car with its bar, coffee tables, comfy tub chairs and banquette-style seats was originally built as a Pullman-type sleeper with curtained berths down each side and a central aisle. When delivered to the workshop for major restoration, all that could be salvaged was the underframe and bogies. These were repaired, refurbed and fitted with a completely new superstructure.

From Deep Creek Bridge, which is thirty metres above the creek bed, evidence can be seen of the many gold workings that made up an essential part of Gympie's golden era. Once past Monkland railway station, the Rattler crosses the Mary Valley and negotiates steep gradients and narrow bridges. Thrusting up the windows, ale in hand, there's a much-needed cool breeze. It's now also much easier to check out 802's billowing smoke stack and rear carriages as it rounds each bend. There are spectacular views, much evidence of thriving rural communities, large herds of grazing dairy and beef cattle and a tapestry of pineapple, macadamia and vegetable farms whiz by.

The gentle cha-kung cha-kung rhythm reaches max crescendo, is replaced by sounds of creaking wood and punctuated by much clanking over tracks. Is this what train buffs call the romanticism of rail?

Amamoor is home to the Gympie Muster and after a brief stop at the fully restored station, a squiz at the arts and crafts, plus knits and bits that are reminiscent of yesteryear, passengers gawk as the locomotive and fire truck go into turn-around-mode. Back on board, it's full steam ahead to Dagun station. Moffatdale Ridge wines and Kenilworth cheeses are available for tastings and purchase, large local pineapples and organic avocados are an absolute steal and an icy Dagun Delight with mango and macadamia, lived up to its name.

Forty kilometres of huffing-puffing and choo-chooing later, a memorable afternoon was over. Next time we'll pack the Esky for the journey and experience a full day on the Rattler. The stop at Imbil for country-style markets and a good old fashioned lunch at the Railway Hotel is a must-do.

Doing It:

Ride the Rattler on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesdays. Ph: (07) 5482 2750 www.thevalleyrattler.com

The gentle cha-kung cha-kung rhythm reaches max crescendo, is replaced by sounds of creaking wood and punctuated by much clanking over tracks

Words: Helen Flanagan

Images: As supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


At full steam
Almost ready
A quick check
Steam train supremos John and Archie
Leaving Gympie
Gympie Station

June 08, 2017

Mudgee's Blue Wren Winery: A bright feather in your culinary cap

After a complete upgrade to every aspect of the property, one of Mudgee’s signature wineries relaunches as a bold gastronomic and events venue. Roderick Eime tested his taste buds.

There’s a wry smirk on Chef Steve’s face as he digs deep into the punnet of thick coffee-coloured mousse he’s about to put on my plate. The velvet-smooth paste is delicately extracted with an ice cream scoop and placed to the side.

Chef Steve is a demon with the blowtorch

As I ponder this strange concoction, Steve continues to taunt me with cheeky glances as he prepares for the next astonishing procedure. Sugar is generously sprinkled on the mass and - voila - a blowtorch! The crystals are quickly turned to brûlée under the blaze of the gas flame, nearly searing our iPhones as we clamber for a photo.

duck breast etc
Crispy Skin Duck breast, duck liver ice-cream brûlée, pickled radish, cauliflower, crouton, dehydrated raspberry.

A healthy sliver of crispy skin duck breast, pickled radish, cauliflower fragments and sliced crouton the size of Smith’s crisps are meticulously arranged before the entire ensemble is garnished with a dusting of crimson dehydrated raspberry. We look at each other in amazement as this creation reaches its climax. The ice cream? Duck liver, of course.

Here at the Blue Wren Winery in Mudgee, Executive Chef and owner Kip Harris, is launching his new five-course winter degustation menu and we’re among the first to try this cavalcade of indulgence, constructed before our very eyes.

Boasting the only Chef’s Table experience in the burgeoning NSW Central West wine region, The Restaurant @ Blue Wren exhibits an outrageous cornucopia of flavours and challenges the taste buds of the most discerning and adventurous diner.

“This dish is certainly a non-traditional mix of flavours but I love experimenting with methods when putting together the ingredients for a dish and pushing boundaries in playing with the diners’ perception of flavours” Harris tells us, our jaws still dropping.

The Restaurant is quickly becoming a ‘must visit’ destination for those wanting to experience fine dining in regional New South Wales and now provides ease for diners with private car transfers for those staying locally.

“Since launching our first five-course tasting menu last season we have received a great reaction from our guests. People have trust in our bold flavours and gastronomy forms the foundation for a memorable experience”, he adds.

Chefs Table (adjusted)
Kip Harris with guests at his chef's table

Harris, 37, took over at Blue Wren two years ago from his father and has recently spent more than $500,000 upgrading the property. Enhancements include substantial reworking of the function space to accommodate 200 seated and 450 standing guests as well as a ‘clean slate’ rebuild of the kitchen.

Visitors can pop in and enjoy a wine flight, featuring five of the winery’s top single vineyard drops. The reserve shiraz (no.913) is the standout with, as Kip loves to describe, ‘aromas of sweaty saddle and creosote-soaked railway sleepers in the blazing summer sun’.

But you could be easily satisfied with the ‘regular’ shiraz (No.914) or one of the delightful whites like the low alcohol and zesty Verscato (No.216) or simmering rose (No.516).

Comfortable digs: Blue Wren Farmhouse sleeps ten
Situated a leisurely four hours’ drive from Sydney, Blue Wren is only a short distance from Mudgee township - where guests can explore the delightful country town that offers plenty of old world charm and ambiance mixed with plenty of rustic funk and edgy cuisine like Kip’s.


Why not stay at the winery itself in the brand new five bedroom Farmhouse? Take the family or a group of fun friends for a weekend of frolic in the vineyards. You can even fly in economically with regional airline, Fly Pelican [http://www.flypelican.com.au], who service Mudgee six times a week from T2 at Sydney.


Open for dinner from Wednesday through to Saturday, and lunch Friday through Sunday; the menu features a five-course tasting menu $98 per person with matching wines from the Blue Wren range at $35 per person. Bookings essential.

For more information and bookings:
www.bluewrenwines.com.au or Ph: +61 2 6372 6205

433 Ulan Road
Mudgee NSW 2850

The writer stayed as a guest of Blue Wren Winery

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