July 24, 2017

Scotland’s Outer Hebrides: One beach of an airport.


David Ellis

FOLKS who've taken themselves out to delightful Barra Island in Scotland's beautiful Outer Hebrides and want to do it again, find that when they start checking for the same arrival and departure times as they took last time, these appear to have been simply removed and replaced with others that can be up to hours different from before.

And it's not because of bureaucratic reviewing or rearranging – or worse still, even bungling – but more bizarrely is the work of Mother Nature, and her daily changes in the times of the island's tides.

Because while Barra's airport terminal building and control tower are located on the island's "mainland," its three runways are in fact simply the sands of the fringing ocean beach alongside – making for the only airport in the world where scheduled 7-day-a-week flights use a beach as the runway.

And because they are flooded by the sea every high tide, these runways can only be used by STOL aircraft (Short Take Off and Landing,) and only during daytime low tides, as there are no facilities for night-time operations other than emergencies.

As well, as tide times change daily, it means flight times change pretty regularly too, so beachgoers need be prepared to make a move with the Esky and towel when the  warning signals go off advising that a plane's about to land or take off.


[] A PLANE comes in to land on Scotland's Barra Island airport runway – simply the beach next to the terminal buildings and control tower, the world's only such beach runway for 7-day-a-week scheduled flights. (Wikiwand)


July 23, 2017

Washington DC's Dupont Circle: A view from the top

Every city has its elite neighbourhoods and Washington DC’s historic Dupont Circle stands out as a beacon in that nation’s capital. Roderick Eime walks the hallowed streets.

Cosmos Club (R Eime)

“Washington, D.C., has everything that Rome, Paris and London have in the way of great architecture - great power bases. Washington has obelisks and pyramids and underground tunnels and great art and a whole shadow world that we really don't see.” - Dan Brown

Author of the best-selling novel, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, made that remark in a TV interview when asked why he chose the US capital as the setting for one of his psychological thrillers.

Anyone who has watched even one episode of TVs hit series, ‘House of Cards’ will have enjoyed a short virtual tour of Washington DC, the United States capital. Just as depicted in the rolling credits, the streets of DC are full of patriotic sights and imposing architecture built around the needs of government and an urge to impress both residents and visitors.

Sheridan Circle (R Eime)
For the visitor, DC is a very walkable city, and on a warm summer’s day, it’s easy to pack in many of the key sites. Supplement your strolls with the ubiquitous ‘hop on - hop off’ Big Bus tour and you can get a compact, yet accurate feel for this most important of cities.

But apart from the larger-than-life monuments to heroes and grand civic buildings, there are whole neighbourhoods and precincts waiting to be explored. There’s historic Georgetown, dating from the mid-18th century, now a heritage district in its own right and home to many premium retail stores and flash restaurants. And Arlington across the Potomac River where the Pentagon sits and more than 400,000 veterans, statesmen and generals lie in the National Cemetery. And Hispanic-centric Adams Morgan. And cosmopolitan Columbia Heights. The list goes on.

Often, when visiting somewhere for the first time, it’s a good idea to walk like a local and that’s what I did when I joined DC Design Tours for a pedestrian expedition of Dupont Circle.

The Dupont Circle and adjacent Kalorama districts of Washington DC comprise the celebrity and embassy ‘dress circle’ of the nation’s capital, home to such noted names as the Obamas, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, as well as Amazon billionaire, Jeff Bezos. Numerous current and former politicians from the last century also make (or made) this district their home and even the fictitious power couple, Frank and Claire Underwood from TV’s House of Cards reside there.

Self Portrait of Alice Pike Barney
As our small group tours the fabled streets, we hear the stories of the sumptuous mansions and historic terrace houses and the famous (and not so famous) names behind each door.

The house of Woodrow Wilson, the US president who declared war on Germany in 1917, is preserved as a museum. The secretive and exclusive Cosmos Club, open only to men (and now women) of exceptional character and achievement. The obscure Society of the Cincinnati, founded in 1783, to preserve the ideals and fellowship of officers of the Continental Army who served in the Revolutionary War (whatever that means), plus the former Alice Pike Barney Studio which was once the home to the controversial feminist artist.

“Barney and her daughters,” Kelly, my guide, tells me, “were so ‘bohemian’ for their time, she caused so much gossip and scandal in Washington society, it drove her poor ultra conservative husband Albert to drink and ultimately death.”

While our tour only passed by these illustrious residences, many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and open to the public. A chance to see these fabulous places up close and learn the in-depth stories behind them.

View from Level 9 of Dupont Circle Hotel (supplied)

Right on the historic central roundabout itself is the 327-room Dupont Circle, a landmark property of the Irish premium hotel group, Doyle Collection. Outwardly austere, the original 8-storey property opened in 1947 and operated most of its life as the Dupont Plaza Hotel. Under the Doyle Collection ownership since 1998, a further US$50m renovation in 2009 saw the exclusive ‘Level Nine’ added, which included 15 ultra luxurious penthouse suites as well as a guest lounge and events area, all enjoying panoramic views over the Circle and city itself.

Ground floor dining and outdoor bars blend harmoniously with the upmarket surroundings with the swank Bar Dupont a particular feature in this ‘be seen’ neighbourhood. The Café Dupont brasserie restaurant adds a touch of Parisian chic and serves locally-sourced and organic French-American cuisine.

An unbeatable location, the Dupont Circle makes an ideal base to explore the historic district with easy access to DC’s Metro, Hop On Hop Off Big Bus and an easy walk to many other sights such as the National Geographic Museum and Phillips Collection gallery.

Did You Know?

The circle is named for Civil War Union naval commander, Rear Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont.

Doing DC:

DC Design Tours offer historical walking tours of Washington DC with a focus on architecture, urban planning, and design. www.dcdesigntours.com

Big Bus Tours offer one or two day tickets for unlimited rides around the US capital on three routes with multilingual commentary aboard open top, double decker buses. www.bigbustours.com


The Dupont Circle www.doylecollection.com/hotels/the-dupont-circle-hotel /

Washington DC Official Visitors site: www.washington.org

July 16, 2017

The Vasa Museum – A Must Visit When in Stockholm

By John Newton

Like the Titanic, the warship Vasa – the pride of the Swedish Navy's fleet – keeled over and sank on her maiden voyage. The year was 1628, the captain was promptly arrested, interrogated and imprisoned - then released and no one was held responsible for the disaster.

The 69-metre-long vessel capsized after being struck by a powerful gust of wind and sank after being afloat for just 1300 metres.

Attempts to raise the ship – the most expensive and richly ornamented naval vessel built in Sweden at the time - failed.

In 1961 - after more than three centuries on the seabed - the Vasa broke the surface of Stockholm harbour after a monumental salvaging operation lasting almost five years.

The ship was so well preserved that, after being salvaged, she was able to float unaided. She has gradually been restored to her original glory and stands proudly in the city's Vasa Museum, Scandinavia's biggest tourist attraction since it opened in 1990 with latest figures showing 1.3 million a year passing through its doors.

And it's held on to its number one tourist draw-card tag, despite ABBA the Museum becoming an instant hit with locals and tourists worldwide when the 'super troupers' music, memories and magic was revisited on permanent display in 2013.

Meanwhile, scientists are battling away to try to eliminate sulphuric acid attacks that are posing a serious threat to the magnificent wooden Vasa which, in full rig, stands 52-metres tall.

 "Conserving does not mean that the destructive process will be stopped – it is only slowed down, according to Fred Hocker, director of Vasa Research.

 "Nothing can be taken for granted in working with the old ship. Still – more than 45 years after raising her – she still surprises. The question is whether we will ever be able to entirely stop the degradation process of the Vasa. If the sulphuric acid attacks are not stopped, the wood will eventually be destroyed. To gain time, contaminated artefacts are put in oxygen-free bags. This halts the degradation process," he said.

Most of the visitor entrance fees are poured back into the ship's upkeep, which costs upwards of US$4 million a year.

"The key to preserving the Vasa is controlling the ship's environment and addressing a series of preservation challenges. We have to deal with all of them as part of an integrated preservation strategy," said Mr Hocker.

Some 14,000 individual pieces of wood were brought up to the surface when the Vasa was salvaged – everything from amazing wooden sculptures to anonymous planks of wood. When the work to preserve the ship's hull was finished in the early 1980s, painstaking work began piecing together all these fragments. The stern and aft were put together; sculptures and ornamentation regained their rightful forms and positions.

Pictures of contemporary ships aided the reconstruction process, but the major share of the detective work was carried out by the museum's carpenters.

In the 1990s, the next stage of work began. The goal was to erect the permanent lower part of the rigging. The work took five years to complete. Carpenters restructured the upper deck in 1998-9.

The Vasa is now the world's only preserved 17th century ship. Adorned with more than 700 carved sculptures, she is also a treasury of art.

Stockholm is a walking city, brimful of attractions. Apart from the Vasa, don't miss the magnificent National Museum with its paintings by, Cezanne, Gauguin, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Rubens and van Gogh. In 2000, three paintings, including Rembrandt's 'Self-Portrait' and the 'Young Parisian and Conversation' by Renoir were stolen, but later recovered.

And, of course, you can't go past the Abba Museum without listening to the music and discovering quite a few secrets about Sweden's 'Fab Four'.

After walking the soles off your shoes, around the waterfront, Gamla Stan (Old Town), it's time to take to the water. There are countless boat trips to surrounding attractions - everything from short ferry and sightseeing tours to all-day excursions to the Stockholm Archipelago.

You will need a minimum of three days to take in the best sights in around Stockholm, but better make it five to be on the safe side.

The Vasa's three masts on the roof outside the specially built museum show the height of the ship's original masts. More than 95 per cent if the ship is original, and is decorated with hundreds of carved sculptures.

For more details on the Vasa Museum, go to:    www.vasamuseet.se
More information on Stockholm can be found at: www.visitstockholm.com

Images: As supplied

5. By Yanin Yi Lo

July 10, 2017

Spirit House hits new high

When it comes to stunning restaurants, Noosa on Queensland's Sunshine Coast is a mecca, and as Helen Flanagan knows the Spirit House is one of the best.

Meander through fragrant lush gardens with 20m high black bamboo, exotic statuary, jangling chimes and water dragons to (hopefully) a table lagoon-side. The menu of share plates offers a kaleidoscope of flavours to tempt the palate and engage the mind.

Steamed black mussels steeped in coconut, lime juice and sugar, tossed with coriander leaves, mint, chillies, peanut toffee chilli dressing and crusted rice shards is an explosion of joyfulness.

Plum slices pickled with ginger and lime salt is a finessed interplay with crisp fingers of sticky rice, chicken and spanner crab.

The menu celebrates nature's beauty, crosses borders but is honed to a sharp, primarily Thai edge.

Even if you are familiar with the restaurant you probably weren't aware of the latest jaw-dropping addition. There's a beautiful U-shaped building with cocktail bar, alfresco seating, private dining room, kitchen and dedicated chef. It shrieks Thai-luxe.

Clever landscaping blends in with the existing tropical gardens, plus custom artwork, lighting and an outstanding wall featuring 600 buddhas makes the perfect, most ambient spot for pre and après lunch or dinner drinks, also exclusive celebrations for say 24.

"We have always wanted a dedicated bar for our guests," says Helen Brierty who with husband Peter created the Spirit House in the early 70s and even today, whether cookbooks, cooking school or the bar, are never satisfied with ordinary. "We looked at our two ageing shade-houses and it clicked - knock them down, borrow a heap of money and build something special in their place. Staff went to Thailand in search of inspiration at the funkiest bars and restaurants to bring back ideas for Thai-inspired food and drinks." It worked brilliantly.

There's a compulsion to say di mak to bar manager Yann Audran cocktails such as Singha Mojito, House of Sathorn and Smokin' Kraken. Why? Because it means 'excellent' in Thai. He also makes a mean martini!

Snacks are created by the very talented head chef Tom Swapp. Believe me you'll keep wanting more of peanuts with kaffir lime, coriander salt and chilli; Coffin Bay oysters with red nahm jim; toasted chicken satay brioche sandwich with cucumber pickle; Massaman lamb pies with house-made tomato sauce; Mooloolaba prawn roll with tom yum mayonnaise; and let's not forget lemongrass marshmallow skewers with kaffir lime sugar; and Thai tea ice cream sandwiches with raspberry jam, for the sweet tooths.

Visit www.spirithouse.com.au

The menu celebrates nature's beauty, crosses borders but is honed to a sharp, primarily Thai edge.

Words and food/drink images: Helen Flanagan.

Others as supplied.

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

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