November 26, 2018

It's Christmas in Washington

THE Presidential White House National Christmas Tree is lit up every night from late November to early January, drawing thousands of visitors to marvel at its 81,000 colourfully twinkling lights and decorations.


WHEN you’re starting to string the lights around the Christmas tree this year, give a thought to those who do the job on the National Christmas Tree outside the American Presidential White House in Washington DC.

Because that Tree is some 15 metres tall and lit with no fewer than 81,000 blue, green and red static lights interspersed with white twinkling ones, that takes a crew of five a whole ten days to install.

The tradition of the National Christmas Tree goes back to 1923 when then-President Calvin Coolidge had a Balsam Fir brought in from a nearby forest, and erected and illuminated on what is known as the White House Ellipse, a 21-hectare public park adjacent to the Presidential residence.

Some 2,500 electrical bulbs were used on that first National Christmas Tree, with cut-down fir trees subsequently being brought in every Christmas over the ensuing years. And when it was decided to give the White House its very own permanent Christmas tree in 1973, that first one unexpectedly died just five years later and was replaced with the current Colorado Blue Spruce planted in 1978.

The Tree is encircled every Christmas with a vast toy train set whose nine little trains run around on some 300 metres of tracks, with all this in turn surrounded by fifty-six other smaller Christmas trees representing every American state and territory, and decorated with handmade ornaments representative of an aspect of each of those states and territories.

The National Christmas Tree’s 81,000 lights are turned on from 4.30pm to midnight every night from late November until early January.

And visitors drawn nightly in their thousands also get to see the adjacent Presidential White House all decorated-up as well. If you’d like to know more about Washington DC and things to see and do there, visit

November 25, 2018

Southern Croatia with Back-Roads Touring

John Newton joined Back-Roads Touring on an 8-day/7-night mini coach journey. It was an off-the-beaten-track night ride to a remote agritourism farm for a feast to remember that was one of the standout highlights of this tour of southern Croatia., which also included a glimpse of Montenegro.

In the tiny village of Ljubac – high up in the hinterland about an hour's drive north of bustling Dubrovnik - the Medica family is reaping the rewards of its local culinary and cultural expertise.

The family has captured the small group tour market with its traditional home-made meat dinner feasts and a mix of Croatian-Turkish dancing and music show.

The Medicas throw open the doors to their modest home three nights a week - and there's seldom a spare seat at the table.

The meat is cooked in a bell-shaped iron cast pot under hot ash and served in an ancient stone hut, together with wine produced on the farm.

Dubrovnik's cultural history and world-renowned monuments - part of the UNESCO heritage – lure visitor from far and wide to this exquisite and one of the best-known cities in the Mediterranean.

Back-Roads Touring operates an 18-seat ultra-comfortable Mercedes Sprinter mini-coach on its growing number of European tours, with emphasis on its name – that is using as many back roads as possible, instead of main roads, to avoid traffic snarls.

Our trip began in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ancient town of Trogir, close to the Dalmatian coastal port of Split.

An early morning stroll is well worth getting out of bed when the bells toll at 5.30, as you can pound the old town's cobbled streets in comfort before the day trippers move in. And there's plenty to see as Trogir's architecture ranges from Greek to Romanic, Gothic, Austro-Hungarian and modern. Surrounded by walls, Trogir's well-preserved fortress, towers and numerous other buildings and palaces date from the Roman, Gothic and Baroque periods.

During the two-night stay in Trogir, our genial tour leader has done her homework on visits to Roman emperor Diocletian's palace in Split and another tour highlight – Krka National Park and its magnificent waterfalls, most notably Skradinski Buk, one of Croatia's natural wonders.

A stop for a tipple or two and some home-made tapas topped off a full day before we headed back to Trogir, which was founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century.

It was back to Split the following day to hop on a ferry to Korcula, arguably the most captivating Adriatic island of Dalmatia. The sixth largest of Croatia's 1247 islands, of which just 48 are inhabited, Korcula is reputed to be the birthplace of Marco Polo.

With its natural beauty, clear turquoise waters, and 182-kilometre long indented coast with idyllic coves, beaches and promontories, it's little wonder Korcula is a nautical mecca.

Our two days on this island gem was enough time to explore the enchanting old town and meet up with a local identity, whose patisserie is a serious magnet for locals and tourist alike.

Smiljana Matijaca has been making traditional sweet biscuits called Cukarin using aromatic herbs for the past 24 years. But she won't divulge the recipe, saying the secret ingredient is "love". The award-winner makes all her pastries by hand, without any machine help, and is featured in a Croatian cookbook with over 150 recipes from the country's best chefs.

After another ferry ride back to the mainland, it's a long drive to Kotor in Montenegro with a winery stop, a medieval little town called Ston, with the longest stone wall in Europe (5.5kilometres).

This didn't give much time to explore charming and historic Kotor, a medieval UNESCO Heritage-listed town tucked into the massive bay of the same name, where tourism is blossoming.

It's surrounded by mountains plunging into picturesque Kotor Bay, which stretches 30 kilometres from the Adriatic and is Europe's southernmost fjord.

Our next stop was Perast, from where we hopped on a boat to the tiny island of Our Lady of the Rocks to meander through the ancient Byzantine-style church before heading back for two nights to Dubrovnik.

Strong winds in Dubrovnik can halt boat trips to outlying islands and the cable car operation (we did manage to get to the top of Mount Srd when the wind dropped), but our planned boat ride to the Elaphite archipelago was called off.

To make up for the disappointment, our gem of a tour leader organised a farewell lunch by the waterfront.

*For details of Back-Road Touring's Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast tour dates next year, go to:

Back-Roads also two other different tours in Croatia.

See all the tours, around the world:

As well as a tour leader who's with the group from start to finish, Back-Roads Touring provides local guides in Trogir, Split, Korcula, Kotor and Dubrovnik.

Back-Roads Touring has had 25 years' experience in small group and tailor-made tours across Europe, Asia and the UK. It says the tours – with a maximum group size in Europe of 18 – enables travellers to reach places that conventional coach touring groups can only dream of while keeping to small groups allows the company to set a more relaxed pace.

Words and images: John Newton

The writer was a guest of Back-Roads Touring

Feature supplied by:

November 23, 2018

Flanders: Belgian beer and Flemish chocolates

John Newton explores a country much smaller than its European neighbours, but finds Belgium (Flanders) is on a par with its big brothers when it comes to culture, history – and political clout. But as he also discovered, it's the amber liquid and chocolates that lure hordes of beer guzzlers and sweet-toothed tourists. And, of course, classic Flemish cuisine.

Europe's most beautiful city square, arguably, is in Brussels - and you don't have to wander far down a side street or opulent shopping arcades before coming across windows full of mouth-watering chocolates or a hip bar selling more beer varieties than an Aussie cricket team could handle.

There are breweries in all the main cities. Lots of them. Big and small. From farmhouse breweries to legendary Trappist beer.

And Flanders boasts more than 100 Michelin-starred restaurants and is recognised as having one of the world's highest densities of top-class venues.

You can even enjoy a six or seven-course meal aboard a tram fully decked out as a modern gourmet restaurant.

But eating and drinking aside, Flanders and its thriving cities is rich in culture, some seriously quirky, such as Manneken Pis (little pee man, in Flemish). It's a small bronze fountain statue from the 17th century.

Located two blocks behind the Brussels town hall, the 61-centimetre 24-inch) tall statue.

There are occasions when the cheeky Manneken Pis is hooked up in different flavours of Belgian beer, which is poured from the fountain tip and given out to the public. Little wonder the most famous inhabitant of Brussels is a popular figure – yet, despite many legendary stories, no-one has yet identified his true origin.

On most days, Brussels' magnificent Grand Place and town hall square – a mixture of styles and periods - is a heaving mass of both locals and tourists. Begun in the 15th century, it was destroyed in the 17th century and renovated in the 19th and 20th centuries it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site 20 years ago.

A tour of the Royal Palace, along with visits to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula, countless art galleries and museums will keep you busy for at least three days – and that should be the minimum stay in the 'Capital of Europe'.

Just 26 kilometres by train from Brussels, Leuven is a bustling university city, where there's a heavy focus on beer consumption – after all, it is the home to the world's largest brewing company – AB inbev Brewery - producers of Stella Artois, Leffe and Hoegaarden. It produces more than 40 million litres worldwide and has a bigger turnover than Coca Cola – 56.4 billion US dollars in 2017.

Another top drop is Old Leuven blond, inspired by a classic beer whose 18th century popularity led to it being hailed as 'the king of all drinks'.

Not to be missed in Leuven are the 15th century town hall, interior of St Pieter's Catholic Church – one of the best examples of late Gothic style - and the Old Market Square, known as the 'longest bar' in Europe.

Flanders is renowned for its rich tradition of tapestry. Although the making of tapestries in Flanders stopped in the 18 century, its art still lives on in places like the De Wit Royal Tapestry Manufacturers in Mechelen. It's open every Saturday and gives an insight into what makes Flemish tapestries unique.

Mechelen has been called one of Flanders' most under-rated cities - and also lays claim to having some of Belgium's famous beers, such as Het Anker's Maneblusser, a pale ale that dates back to 1687 when the moon projected its reddish glow on the city's St.Rumbold tower, which was covered in a dense fog.

A drunken man was heard shouting "Fire, fire, the tower is on fire" – but before firefighters could reach the so-called blaze, the moon slowly moved through the fog. Since then, Mechelenanians have been called the Maneblussers or 'Moonextinguishers'.

For more details on Flanders, go to

Where to stay:

I've bedded down in many high-class hotels around the world, but one in Brussels that is not only elegant and offering 'indulgent hospitality' – but the wonderful staff really cared for me when I suddenly became unwell and had to seek medical help, resulting in an extra two days stay.

The Dominican Brussels - centrally located among the city's distinguished guild houses of the splendid Grand Place – is in a class of its own when it comes to style and service – even at the front entrance, where a dapper doorman greets guests wearing checkered pants, with a white button-up shirt, black wool waistcoat, a red tie and a black bowler hat.

The hotel's 150 rooms and suites are highlighted by bespoke carpets, which feature an ecclesiastical pattern inspired by the Dominican Abbey Order that once resided in the location- one which boasts a rich history and was a source of inspiration in the design of the hotel.

It was also once home to famous French painter – Jacques-Louis David - in the 19th century. One of the five suites is named after him, while his paintings are referenced in contemporary design details throughout the hotel.

It also has a fine dining restaurant with a classic range of cuisine.

*See more on The Dominican at:

The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Flanders and The Dominican
Words and images: John Newton
Feature supplied by:


1.      Galeries St Hubert (one of the first shopping arcades in Europe).
2.      Chocolates galore
3.      Brussels Grand Place
4.      Shop selling just beers
5.      Spoiled for choice
6.      Leuven Town Hall
7.      The Dominican Guest Lounge (supplied)
8.      The Dominican Art in the boudoir (supplied)

November 13, 2018

Lilianfels: Tea with Miss Lilian

Words and pictures: Lisa Doust

First a mini-history lesson: Lilianfels Resort and Spa was originally owned by Sir Fredrick Darley, an Irishman who arrived in Australia in 1862 and was knighted in 1887 after serving five times as Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales. In 1888, Sir Darley and his wife Lucy wisely purchased 11 acres of prime real estate adjacent to Echo Point, in the Upper Blue Mountains village of Katoomba. The Darleys then commissioned architect Varney Parkes (son of Henry) to design a summer residence for their family. Built in 1889, the charming bungalow was named for Lilian, one of the couple's seven children, who died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 22. The word 'Fels' is German for 'high land'.

Knowing this sad fact adds poignancy to my experience at Miss Lilian Tea House, which overlooks the original bungalow (home to the renowned Darley's Restaurant) and is a genuine breath of fresh air. Sipping on a cup of soothing blossoming tea (White Tea Camellia Mango, to be precise), I imagine the spirit of Miss Lilian wafting through the property's manicured gardens, inhaling the heady mix of eucalyptus and roses.

I'm brought back into the room by the equally heady mix of aromas delivered to our table. Utilising local produce, the menu is inspired by 'authentic Asian comfort food' – steamed dumplings, spring rolls, pho, laksa and wonton noodles all make a welcome appearance.

Sharing was the obvious way to go for our group of 10, and the standout dishes for me were the ultra-fresh Prawn & Papaya Salad, $26; Vietnamese Pho with locally sourced Angus Beef tenderloin served rare, $17; and Mekong Chicken (turmeric-flavoured free-range chicken with a creamy coconut dressing), $20. Equally flavour-filled was the Circa 1888 cake (Amande Praliné Blanc, 65% Madagascan Smoky Chocolate Mousse and Kacinkoa Cacao Glaze with a mini 24K gold '1888' topper), $15.

The setting is as refreshing as the Ginger Punch mocktail I chose to go with lunch (the beverages menu also includes cocktails, wine, beer and cider). Coloured lanterns line the entrance and brightly painted antique birdcages add whimsy to the interior, which subtly blends oriental and modern features. The overall effect is cool and calming, much like a weekend visit to the Blue Mountains.

A two-minute walk to Echo Point is the perfect end to a lovely lunch. Looking out over the Three Sisters, I think again of Miss Lilian, who is surely resting peacefully in this magnificent corner of the country.

Miss Lilian Tea House
Lilianfels Resort and Spa
5/19 Lilianfels Avenue
Katoomba NSW 2780
02 4780 1200

November 11, 2018

Historic Train Journeys in Yorkshire

John Newton returned to his roots in northern England to jump aboard the Settle to Carlisle train, which runs across a stunning viaduct and takes in the unforgettable views of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and neighbouring Cumbria.  

It's recognised as one of the world's greatest railway trips - like the Glasgow to Mallaig route over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the 'Harry Potter Bridge'- further north.

But the Settle-Carlisle line was doomed to be closed by British Rail in the 1980s until a former government minister - now a UK and international railway guru - stepped in to save the tracks from being torn up.

As Britain's transport minister at the time, Michael Portillo, who fronts the long-running TV series - 'Great British Railway Journeys'- announced a government U-turn for the Settle-Carlisle railway line, after a long campaign by rail groups, local authorities - including the county councils of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire – enthusiasts and residents to keep the line open.

By far the highlight of the spectacular journey is the massive Ribblehead Viaduct, with its 24 arches. Its 402 metres (440 yards) long and 32 metres (105 feet) high. Every sixth arch is double the thickness of the others – so if one of these collapsed only five would follow.

Further down the line, at Dent in Yorkshire, is the highest main line station in England – and the glorious landscapes continue along the Yorkshire Dales National Park into the Cumbrian countryside.

The train – which now operates several daily services with diesel engines, although there are steam charters now and then – clatters past rolling hills, manicured moorland fields, kilometres upon kilometres of Roman walls, babbling streams, pristine rivers and historic towns and villages.

Although only a one hour 40-minute journey, what this short 117-kilometre journey lacks in distance is more than made up for in grandeur. From Settle to the England-Scotland border city of Carlisle, there are 20 stations (11 open, nine closed, 17 major viaducts and 14 tunnels.)

It was the last mainline railway in England built using pure physical strength and was opened to passenger trains in 1876 and has had its fair share of ups and downs since.

The line became famous through concerted efforts to save it from closure in the 1980s. Since its reprieve in 1989, millions of pounds have been invested in the railway, its stations, and the visitor centre at Ribblehead Station and to preserve signal boxes, including the one at Settle.

Situated in the foothills of the Pennines, Settle is a bustling market town and well worth at least a three-day stopover, allowing travellers to take in the sights - including Attermire Scar, with its numerous caves where bones of prehistoric animals have been found. And among the many other nearby attractions worth exploring are stunning waterfalls; the Settle Hydro, Weir and Salmon Ladder; and the dazzling limestone scenery of Ribblesdale, where the landscape is dominated by Yorkshire's Three Peaks – Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside – which tower over the surrounding countryside and moors. They are a top drawcard for climbers, hikers and ramblers. Walkers.

At the end of the line, Carlisle is a 2000-year-old city full of rich heritage and famous for Hadrian's Wall, the city's cathedral and Tullie

House, where there's a granite walkway which links it to Carlisle Castle.

Garsdale: Just north of Dent, there's a statue of Ruswarp the dog. A very special dog. Perched on the southbound platform, the statue commemorates the 20th anniversary of the government's reprieve of the Settle to Carlisle line. Ruswarp's paw print was accepted as a valid signature objection to the closure of the line, as he was a fare-paying passenger. But, sadly, just months after the re-opening of the line they helped to save, Ruswarp's owner died while walking with his dog in the Welsh mountains. It was not until almost three months later that his body was found near to a mountain stream. Close by was Ruswarp who had stayed with his dead master for many cold winter weeks. The dog was so weak he had to be carried from the mountain and survived just long enough to be at his master's funeral.

Where to stay:

Oozing character, The Angel at Hetton, formerly Angel Inn - just over 10 kilometres from Settle - is one of North Yorkshire's most historic pubs featuring a multi award-winning restaurant

This nine-room rural gem has recently changed hands and a start has been made on an extensive facelift by the two couples who have bought the property. However, it will stay open over the festive season and New Year before the major refurbishment resumes and the property closes again for a short time. The creation of a second dining facility featuring 'pub grub' gives patrons another option to the finer dining experience. One of the new owners, Michael Wignall, has achieved a Michelin star at every restaurant he has worked at since 1993.

*More details on the Settle-Carlisle train and the Yorkshire Dales region, contact

Words: John Newton
Images: John Newton and supplied
Feature supplied by:

A.        Settle Station
B.        Ribblehead Viaduct
C.        Yorkshire Dales
D.        Country Manor
E.         The Angel
F.         Grand Bar and lounge The Angel
G.        Mars and Saturn over Ribblehead

November 05, 2018

Australian Battlefield Tours

Michael Osborne goes ON Tour in Australia with Battlefield Tours, an Australian company that takes their guests to sites all over the world.

Day 1. Leaving the meeting point in Sydney, we headed south towards Canberra. Stops were made for coffee and breakfast for some, as it had been an early start.

The Australian War Memorial is recognised as one of the finest in the world and is worth the trip to Canberra on its own.

The exhibits are astounding and are being continually upgraded and maintained. I have visited here many times and always find I haven't enough time to see all of this extremely important part of our history.

Members of our tour had the option of being escorted or to do our own thing.

Our group stayed until the closing time, when we attended the sunset service. A very moving experience as the ode was presented and a lone bugler haunted us with the Last Post, while relatives laid wreaths in memory of those who fell and those who served.

The first evening we enjoyed a private dinner and a chance to get to know our fellow travellers a bit more.

Day 2. After an early breakfast we are on the road, heading off via Harden and its memorial to the Light Horse and a plaque 'Bill The Bastard'! Bill was actually a horse from the Light Horse, who defied all attempts to ride him except for a Major Michael Shananan.

Temora and one of the greatest air shows in the Southern Hemisphere, Warbirds Downunder.

During the war Temora was home to No 10 Elementary Flying Training School, where more than 2400 RAAF pilots learnt the basics of flight before serving in combat in Europe and the Pacific. Today Temora is home to the Temora Aviation Museum, a collection of significant Australian aircraft used during wartime, nearly all in flying condition.

We are given our admission tickets (a part of the tour package) and let loose to enjoy the flying displays from dozens of aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Kittyhawks and my father's 32 Sqd Hudson bomber.

The planes are something special, the aeronautics are mind boggling and try and imagine the sound of 6 x 12 cylinder aircraft flying in formation.

One sound you couldn't imagine is the F/A18 Hornet taking off less than 100 metres away. The earth shook as did everything else.

There were plenty of static displays and aircraft to walk around and some even to explore. The facilities were more than adequate with many food and drink set-ups and souvenir stalls.

Day 3. As Temora was totally booked out, we took the short drive to Cowra where we were booked for two nights.

An early evening arrival and checked into our motel. The good news was that we were opposite a bar/bistro and a hotel was only 50 metres up the road, so we were able to quench our thirst and relive the sensational day.

Once in bed, my mind was still flashing back to the aerobatics and the shock waves of the F/A18 – the almost impossible turns as it rocketed across us and the sight of it flying in formation with a Gloster Meteor, one of the earliest of jet fighters.

Day 4. We visit the Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre and it just happens to have a great café serving breakfast.

The Centre was established to recognize and develop the relationship between the people of Cowra Shire and the people of Japan, a relationship that has its origins in the Camp that housed the Japanese P.O.W's during World War II.

The gardens are a delight and should be added to your 'not to be missed' list when visiting Cowra. The breakfast was pretty special as well.

Prisoner of War Camp Site.

At 1.50 am on the clear moonlit night of August 5, 1944, the largest Prisoner of War breakout in modern military history occurred at Cowra. More than 1000 Japanese prisoners launched a mass 'suicide attack' on their guards, Australian soldiers of the 22nd Garrison. To the Japanese, the disgrace of capture could finally be overcome by dying in armed battle.

Protected only by baseball mitts, blankets and coats and using their comrades as a human bridge to cross the tangled barbed wire, more than 350 Japanese clawed their way to freedom.

All escapees were captured during the following week. A total of 107 POWs were wounded, 231 prisoners died along with four Australian soldiers.

There are audio visual displays to show where the camp was laid out.

A group dinner at the Cowra Services Club tops off another very interesting and informative day.

Day 5. We leave Cowra and head towards Bathurst and Lithgow, making a stop in Blayney and to have our group photo taken at their War Memorial Gates.

A visit to the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum.

Situated on the existing Factory site, this unique museum is widely recognised for its comprehensive collection of modern firearms from around the world, but more than that, it is a showcase of Australian manufacturing. Displays show the production processes and social history of this renowned facility.

This was our last stop for the tour and back on the coach, we head back to Sydney to the arranged drop-off point. Taking home our wonderful memories of an excellent tour,

For complete details of all tours: and 1300 880 340 for any phone enquiries in Australia.

Anzac Day 2019: An Australia itinerary which is covers similar territory and includes Anzac Day celebrations in Canberra.

Words and images: Michael Osborne

Feature supplied by:


1. 62,000 Poppies in remembrance Australia War Memorial

2. Wreath laying Australia War Memorial

3. Bob The Bastard Harden

4. Hudson Bomber ex 32Sqd

5. 72 sweet cylinders'

6. How close do you want to get

7. Layout of POW Camp Cowra

8. Ex-servicemen form our tour laying a wreath at Cowra War Cemetery

9. Japanese Gardens Cowra

Organic trash collection in French theme park


David Ellis

A THEME PARK in France has come up with a novel way of cleaning up cigarette butts and other trash dropped by untidy guests.

It's trained a half-dozen crows to pick up the butts and other discarded small items, and to drop them into special litter bins that dispense a small nugget of bird food as a reward for every time a crow drops something into them.

The Puy du Fou theme park in western France attracts around two-million visitors yearly, and with the country considered "the smoking-est in the world," it's not surprising that the park – which is a fascinating re-creation of a French village of old, with some twenty-six different live-action scenarios in which actors play-out aspects of the country's historic past – has something of a cigarette-butt problem.

And which its head of falconry, Christophe Gaborit who trains birds for those various shows, came up with an answer to by training a half-dozen crows to spot cigarette butts and other small items of litter, pick them up and put them into those special bins… with food treats as a reward for doing so.

The crows are a breed known as rooks, and according to Mr Gaborit they're a particularly intelligent species that have proven ideal in training for their current roles.

And it's probably no surprise that the good-housekeeping birds have been quickly dubbed The Feathered Dusters.


[] A "Feathered Duster" on the job at the Puy du Fou theme park in France picking up small bits of trash and cigarette butts, to put into special bins that reward the birds with little food treats. (Pic: Puy du Fou)

[] THE Puy Du Fou theme park is a fascinating recreation of a French village of old depicting the country's history through twenty-six, life-size and live-action play-scenes. (Pic: Puy du Fou)

Support Traveloscopy - Support Responsible Travel.

Traveloscopy is a freelance journalism enterprise supporting the tourism and travel industries. We aim to encourage people to travel thoughtfully and responsibly and also support sustainable initiatives within the travel sector. You can help us cover our operating costs, even if in just a small way.

Last 30 Days' Most Popular Posts