December 27, 2018

24 Hours in Hong Kong

A day in Hong Kong

John Newton has a very busy day on his way back from Europe!

It's a simple 'ding ding' - but when there are more than 160 of them it adds to the cacophony of noise along the tramways of Hong Kong Island.

Affectionately called 'ding ding' by locals, mimicking the sound of a bell, the city's 114-year-old trams shake, rattle and roll their way past some of the island's skyscraper landmarks.

But one old double-deck tram in particular stands out from the rest. It's the one that runs on the 'Tramoramic' tour between Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan's Western Market – or vice versa.

As part of a three-pronged attack on completing three value-for-money attractions in a day – morning, afternoon and evening - I jumped aboard the 1920s-style open top tram for an ear-piercing slow (very) journey from the Causeway Bay Terminus to the Western Market Terminus via a branch circulating Happy Valley racecourse and through bustling streets filled with ultra-modern cityscapes, as well as colourful history and modern culture.

The one-hour tour, with free WiFi and recorded commentary with authentic tales of local life and tram history in eight languages, costs HKD$95 adults and HKD$65 children.

And to make it even more worthwhile, you get a two-day ticket for unlimited access on Hong Kong Tramways' network.

It was time to move on to transport that runs faster (not by much in Hong Kong's traffic jams), so I headed for the hop on/ hop off Big Bus, which operates daily on three routes (red, blue and green).

I opted for the green route from the Central Ferry Pier 7 – mainly because the price included a trip on the 130-year-old iconic Peak Tram without having to queue. And the wait at times can be long. Very long.

Back downtown from the heady heights of the Peak, the Big Bus joins the heavy traffic to Ocean Park, then along a winding coastal road to upmarket Repulse Bay, where there are opulent homes overlooking the sea – and even a Ferrari dealership on the waterfront.

Next stop is Stanley, where I hopped off to grab a bargain or two at the renowned market by the South China Sea.

Stanley has changed dramatically over the past decade with the market losing many of its bargain clothing stalls and the place looking somewhat tacky. But the choice of al fresco dining options along the main street on the promenade more than made up for the disappointing market.

Big Bus ticket costs range from HKD$480 for a one-day ticket that also includes a trip on the Star Ferry. A two-day de-luxe ticket – costing HKD650 – also includes a one-hour tour on Victoria Harbour and Kowloon nightlife tour.

No first-time visit to Hong Kong is complete without a signature seafood feast at the giant Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant in Aberdeen, the last stop of the Big Bus green route.

Located at the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter, there's a free shuttle ferry to Jumbo Kingdom from Aberdeen Promenade Pier and Wong Chuk Hang Shum Wan Pier.

Now in its 42nd year, Jumbo Kingdom is best known for its fresh seafood (customers can select what they want from a huge fish tank), traditional Cantonese cuisine and dim sum. The restaurant's interior and exterior were built following the design of the royal court of Ming Dynasty. It took four years to complete at a cost of HKD$30 million.

Over the years, Jumbo Kingdom has been the film set for many movie blockbusters.

*For more information on the three tours go to:

Hong Kong people call the tramway the 'ding ding' in reference to the double bell used by the trams to warn pedestrians of their approach.

John and Pat were guests of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Hong Kong Tramways, Big Bus Tours and Jumbo Kingdom.

Words: John Newton.

Images: as supplied

Feature supplied by:

Peter Pinney - the original vagabond travel writer

Peter Pinney
Peter Pinney
has always had a love of adventure. In fact, travel in new places, preferably strange places, is his chief interest and his principal method of enjoying life. As a boy in Sydney, he gave early signs of his unconventional ways by hanging by his heels from the Harbour Bridge to win a small bet. His subsequent adventures have fulfilled that early promise. During World War II he was a member of an independent company of the A.I.F. in New Guinea, and since the war he has been principally a traveller, frequently describing himself for visa purposes as a student of folklore. He likes to travel almost penniless, feeling that it is the only way of meeting the ordinary people of the countries through which he is passing.

December 17, 2018

Is this the ultimate business jet? Inside Boeing's 777-8


David Ellis

AIRCRAFT maker Boeing has released details of the latest in its ultimate indulgences for the business person who has everything.

It's a version of its 777 passenger jet that normally carries close to 400 passengers in three classes, but as the company's now-newest in top-of-the-range Business Jets, this one will more likely fly anything from a mere handful to fifty or so, in an ambience more akin to a 5-star hotel suite.

And up to half-way around the world, non-stop.

The BBJ 777-8 (Boeing Business Jet 777-8) as it will be known when it goes to its first new owners in 2020 will cost around US$450m (AU$623m), the buyer then turning it over to a specialist aircraft detailer who will outfit it at a cost of tens of millions more.

And such outfitting could include everything from work places and meeting rooms, to lounges, sleeping areas with king- or queen-size beds, dining alcoves serviced from the best of airborne kitchens, possibly games rooms, cinemas and even Turkish steam-baths, plus any possibilities in personal foibles from the weird to the wondrous.

And it will have the longest range of any executive jet flying, something like 21,600km without stopping (Sydney to New York, as a comparison, is around 16,000km, and Sydney to London a touch over 17,000km.)

To keep it in the air over such vast distances, this new Boeing BBJ 777-8 will fill-up with 180,000 litres of fuel, and will have fridge, freezer and pantry space for enough of the best in food and beverages to keep passengers and crew generously slaked from go to whoa no matter where they are flying.

And if you are wondering whether there are many out there likely to buy such an aerial indulgence, since launching in 1996 Boeing Business Jets has delivered 234 various model flying boardrooms-cum-hotels, to better-heeled companies, presidents, prime ministers and palaces world-wide.

[] AIRCRAFT maker Boeing's ultimate in indulgence for the business person who has everything – a Boeing 777 passenger jet that normally carries up to 400 passengers, revamped to fly a mere handful to maybe fifty or so business executives, 5-star-hotel-like half-way or more around the world, and non-stop. (Pic: JetAviationOutfitters)


December 16, 2018

Multi-generational cruising great for families

As a travel writer and photographer I love cruising, but recently I had the chance to undertake a cruise that was completely different, a cruise our family had talked about for years.

It was the adventure of a lifetime for us. We had discussed it over and over around the family dining table for years: "We should go on a family cruise together."

Finally, it happened. We booked a 10-day cruise on Carnival Spirit and I set off with my granddaughter Laylah, 7, and my parents John and Marie Kelly of Shoal Bay, NSW.

The first thing I noticed at breakfast on the first day at sea was a lot of other families had decided to do exactly what we were doing.

There were grandparents and grandkids everywhere: more than I had seen on any other cruise.

Multigenerational cruising, where three or four generations sign up for a voyage together is the new buzzword of the cruising world.

In fact, it has been voted by experts as the number one trend in world travel in 2018-2019.

We booked a balcony cabin which is a bit more roomy for the four of us, but I would recommend you book separate cabins if you have the funds.

On the first day we set off with Laylah to explore the kids' facilities and I was quite frankly astounded at how good they were. I had cruised on Carnival Spirit before, but the kids' facilities are something you really don't notice until you have a child in tow.

Laylah loved the kid's facilities right from the start. She was in the 6 to 8 years group and was designated as a Stingray and received a special backpack with Stingray gear inside.

Camp Ocean is Carnival Spirit's children's facility and it was alive with atmosphere and carefully chaperoned activities in a safe and secure environment.

At Camp Ocean, 2–11 year-olds stay busy, keep active and have fun as they enjoy all-new ocean-themed activities and entertainment made for kids.

The professionally supervised, age-based groups and with their "cool" marine-life themes allow the kids to make friends easily.

The littlest little ones, ages 2 to 5, join the Penguin colony and engage in activities like Musical Icebergs and Ocean Bingo. Then the 6 to 8 group is the Stingrays, who enjoy events like Pirate Game Night, making sea salt art or even designing their own aquarium.

The big fish are the Sharks, aged 9 to 11, who have activities like Marine Life Trivia and creating a giant ocean mural,

Night Owls opened at 5pm and was free until 9pm. From 9pm to midnight it was $8 an hour.

Some nights from 5.30pm the kids could dine independently. Pizza, Burgers, chips and donuts were served for those who decided to dine there.

We decided to book a table at 5.30pm in the grand dining room and have our evening meal together. It was a chance to allow Laylah to learn all about reading a menu, talking to waiters about the dishes and selecting her courses. This was a lifetime experience for her, something she could take with her through life.

Laylah loved the Cat in the Hat breakfast in the dining room with green scrambled eggs and ham. The characters from the movie and the book kept the kids entertained. Lots of laughing and smiles all round!

The ship had an amusement arcade which was fun and you could use your cruise card to pay for the games. There was also a studio, actually beautiful big sunny room, exclusively set aside for arts and crafts.

I found most families tend to meet at breakfast, decide what they're going to do that day and then head off in all different directions. There was a deckchair with my name on it while my father went to the gym (he's 85) and mum went off to buy our bingo tickets for the 11am draw.

The cruise was extra special for my mum and dad because they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on board.

Kids' menus are provided in the main dining rooms and buffets and special meals are laid on to keep the kids entertained.

If you are travelling in a large family group, booking dining tables in advance is highly recommended by, to make sure you can all be seated at adjoining tables throughout the cruise.

We set times each day to meet up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Advance planning is the key to success as well when going ashore at stunning places like Mystery Island, Isle of Pines and Mare.

We set up a base as soon as we went ashore and everyone knew where to meet. Laylah went snorkeling each day while we found a shady spot to settle down. Dad went off exploring on foot.

It pays to book your shore tours before you go because they tend to sell out quickly, especially the morning tours.

The Waterworks is great for kids of all ages and is the number reason kids want to cruise with Carnival.

I'll leave the final word with Laylah on multigenerational cruising: "Nan, when can we go again"?

Find the cruise for your family:

Words and Images by Sharon Micallef

Feature supplied by:

1. Carnival Spirit means fun in the sun
2. Great grandfather John with Laylah
3. The kids' slides
4. Sharon and Layla
5. Laylah dressed up for Island Night
6. Mystery Island was our favourite place

December 12, 2018

Croatia: From A to Zagreb

Zagreb has just about everything!

It may not have an Eiffel Tower, Colosseum or Trafalgar Square, but what the dynamic Croatian capital lacks in monumental icons, it does have a treasure or two of its own - even if they are somewhat quirky, writes John Newton.

Topping the bill is the Museum of Broken Relationships in the city's Upper Town. Dedicated to failed love relationships, the museum's exhibits include personal objects left over from former lovers, along with brief descriptions.

The award-winning museum, founded by two Zagreb-based artists – a film producer and a sculptor - was set up as a travelling collection of donated items, but is now in a permanent city location.

After their four-year love relationship came to an end, the two men joked about setting up a museum to house the left-over personal items. But it was not until three years later when they started asking their friends to donate objects left behind from their break-ups, that the collection came to fruition.

At its core, the museum is described as an ever-growing collection of items, each a memento of a relations past, accompanied by a personal, yet anonymous story of its contributor.

But also in Zagreb, is the unique Mirogoj cemetery, which as well as its historical significance, is considered one of the more noteworthy landmarks to visit, covering 72 hectares (177 acres) just outside the city.

There are more than 350,000 people from all walks of life buried in Mirogoj (meaning peaceful hill) – and is regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful cemeteries.

One minute you'll be looking at a huge statue in memory of a Croatian historical figure and next door is a gravesite of a Jewish family. You will find the graves of Croatia's most noble families, famous writers, poets, composers and architects.

The magnificent cathedral, too, is not without a touch of the unconventional with its casino's chandeliers mixed with so much history, and different artistic styles.

The chandeliers came from the former Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas, which was redecorating while, at the same time, Zagreb Cathedral was struggling with its old lighting system. A Croatian immigrant working at the casino urged his bosses to donate them to the cathedral, which gratefully accepted them.

Murals or street art is widespread in Zagreb, but it's certainly not frowned upon with commissioned work all over the city, including several adjacent walls of paintings of famous Croatian inventors, such as Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, who invented the first fountain pen and patented the 'hot water bottle'; Nikola Tesla, inventor of the world's first hydro-powered plant at Niagara Falls in 1895; David Schwarz, who invented the first Zeppelin airship; and a fingerprint of Ivan Vučetić (aka Juan Vucetich), who invented the system of identifying people by fingerprints.

Zagreb's first public transport is a 66-metre high ride on a funicular called Uspinjaca. From the main street – Ilica – in lower town, the shortest funicular in the world it takes people to the Baroque upper town to admire the city.

Built in 1890, over an old city vineyard (vines are still growing), it takes just 64 seconds to reach the top, where you can climb the 13th century Lotrscak Tower to watch a cannon fired at noon.

From museums and upmarket shops to micro-breweries, ice cream shops and chestnut and corn vendors, it just about has everything. Vincek – the most popular ice cream shop – sells 40 different flavours – the most unusual being pumpkin. Another delicacy found on Ilica is called bajadera – a Croatian delicacy made of praline nougat enriched with almonds, hazelnuts and/or walnuts.

Zagreb's main form of transport – its steely blue electric trams – run up and down Ilica and to all corners of the city, which boasts 4500 restaurants, cafes and coffee houses with one on almost every street corner, according to my well-informed guide.

At the top end of Ilica, you'll find the 'Zagreb 360 degrees' observation deck from where you get a bird's eye view of the city's commercial hub – Ban Jelacic Square – its busy market and the soaring twin spires of the cathedral – Croatia's tallest building.

Not to be missed is the big, colourful farmers' market – called Dolac – located on a roof terrace above Ban Jelacic Square. It's a beehive of activity from early morning to mid-afternoon flaunting top quality food from all around Croatia, as well as souvenirs – the most popular being shirts of Luca Modric, the Croatian footballer who plays for Real Madrid and just recently won the Ballon d'Or '(Golden Ball') awarded to the male player deemed to have performed the best over the previous year.

For a break from the city, Samobor, a half-hour drive away, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in inland Croatia. It's famous for 'kremsnita' (custard cake) and 'cesnjovka' (garlic sausage) – either/or both washed down with bermet – an aperitif made of red wine, spices and fruits – which, according to some documents, was served on the Titanic.

Find out more on Zagreb at:

Words and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by:


1 Ban Jelacic Square (or Zagreb main square)
2 Shortest funicular
3 Fountain pen inventor
4 St Mark Church
5 Chestnut street vendor
6 Modric – best seller
7 Zagreb Cathedral
8 Broken Relationships

December 03, 2018

Are the Greek Islands the answer to a long healthy life?


David Ellis

THE 8,500 people of the little Greek island of Ikaria in the Aegean Sea, say they have more healthy residents amongst them who are 90 years of age or over, percentage-wise, than any other place on earth.

Elderly Greek Islanders enjoying life at a relaxed pace [source:]

And they say they can thank being insulated from mechanised conveniences and gadgets and the fast-food culture of modern society elsewhere, for helping them preserve age-old customs and lifestyle habits to explain their exceptional average long-lifespans.

Plus the fact that a daily 30-minute afternoon nap is a cherished custom of Ikarians in reducing stress and decreasing the chance of heart attack, while they say that few of them wear watches, and that showing-up late is both socially acceptable and a help in reducing stress and wrinkles.

And family and community support and strong social connections are positives to lowering depression and body weight, and ultimately also help increase that lifespan.

THE people of the little Greek island of Ikaria claim to have
more healthy residents living amongst them who are 90 years of
age or over, than percentage-wise any other place on earth.
The Ikarians also boast diets high in vegetables and beans, low in meat and sugar, and with extensive use of Extra Virgin Olive Oil whose antioxidants, they say, lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, while those who live to 90 or above also drank goat's milk almost weekly as it was easier to digest than cow's milk, and was high in tryptophan that reduced stress and again lowered the risk of heart disease.

They also use goat's milk to make cheese, incorporate some 150 varieties of wild- growing green vegetables rich in antioxidants in their general cooking, and drink teas they make from herbs they grow themselves to lower blood pressure, and to in turn further lower the risk of heart attack and decrease dementia.

And they say that living in the mountains means they get plenty of daily exercise without thinking about it – further helping so many of them live to 90 or beyond.

December 02, 2018

Bratislava Old Town: Fairytale of decay

The Old Town Hall

Len Rutledge explores the Old Town of medieval Bratislava

Atmospheric churches, cool new cafes, quirky museums and statues, and all the cobbled-fairytale beauty of your typical medieval European city are hallmarks of central Bratislava, Slovakia. This is an intimate, easy-to-navigate city of around half a million inhabitants and one of the youngest capitals in Europe, but it is actually a city with a long history.

As with most European cities, it is the Old Town that has the main appeal so my wife and I spend most of our time exploring the cobbled pedestrian streets and hotchpotch buildings that make up this area. There are a variety of lovely little shops, cafes and eateries, and every so often we come across a beautiful church or spacious square.

St. Martin's Cathedral

This New Gothic-style building was built in its current form in 1452 and features stunning Gothic stained glass windows. Eleven Hungarian kings and eight queens were crowned in this remarkable Cathedral between 1563 and 1830.

City Museum

In the gracefully refurbished Bratislava City Museum I learned about some of the city's history. There is a chapel dedicated to a Hungarian king and a map of Vienna from 1430 showed Bratislava as almost a suburb of the Austrian capital. With the Turkish occupation of much of Hungary after 1526, Bratislava then served as the Hungarian capital for some three centuries.

Old Town Hall
Michaels' Gate

Bratislava's Old Town Hall complex dates back to the 14th century, making it one of the oldest stone buildings still standing in the Old Town. Climbing to the top of the clock tower (which dates back to 1370) provides a panoramic view over the main square and Old Town.

The Apponyi Palace next to the Old Town Hall has a Museum of Viniculture. Pay a fee and a sommelier will make recommendations about which wines to try. There is also a Period Rooms Museum upstairs.

Primatial Palace

This pretty pink palace was built in 1778 for Archbishop József Batthyány. Today, you can experience the historical grandeur of the palace by visiting the second floor with its stunning Hall Of Mirrors. If you don't want to go in take a seat in the small square in front of the palace and view the building topped with allegorical statues.

Michael's Gate

Originally built in the 14th century, many modifications have been made to the gate over time. The tower now houses Bratislava's Museum of Arms. We climbed the 110 steps leading up to the top of the tower which was part of the original city fortifications and the only bit remaining.


Bratislava's has a few funny statues with Cumil by far the most famous. He's a bronze representation of a man who is working in the sewers and has just popped his head up to get some fresh air.

Bratislava Castle

We walked to the imposing Victory Gates of white Bratislava Castle. It is decorated with military sculptures and provides incredible views of the city stretching below you. The oldest part still standing is the Crown Tower that dates back to the 13th Century. You can also stroll through the Baroque gardens and enjoy a beer or coffee at a picturesque cafe overlooking the Old Town.

The Blue Church

The Blue Church
This nice church is very blue. Even the roof tiles are blue. With a fabulous Art Nouveau facade featuring flowers and whimsical white details, the church is just outside the Old Town but is worth seeking out.

UFO Observation Deck and Restaurant

This is so called because it's set in a spaceship shaped building on the pylons of the SNP Bridge 95m above the Danube. The views are spectacular, particularly at sunset.

In summer you can join the locals nearby at Magio Beach, a public area, with imported sand and a fun atmosphere on sunny days. You can't swim in the Danube, but you can swim at the pool located near the bar. You can also play a game of beach volleyball in the sand.

National Theatre

For something special, catch an evening opera performance at the Old Building of the Slovak National Theatre in the centre of the Old Town. The Neo-Renaissance building exudes old-fashioned charm and dates to 1886.

Devon Castle

To reach Devin Castle it's under half an hour by car, or in the summer months, there are boat trips you can take along the Danube. The ruined cliff-top castle itself is impressive, then visit the Maiden Tower, separated from the main castle and balanced on a lone rock.

Visitors should consider the Bratislava CARD which gives free admission to 14 museums and galleries, a free 1-hour walking city tour in English held daily at 2.00 pm, and unlimited travel on the public transport network in all zones in Bratislava and the Bratislava Region. A one-day card costs 15 euros.

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by:

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