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February 25, 2019

Keukenhof Park gardens are not just tulips



7-MILLION BULBS MAKE FOR SOME GARDEN

David Ellis

IF you are off to Europe between mid-March and mid-May of this year and you're pretty keen on flower gardens, an absolute must should be a visit to Keukenhof Park at Lisse southwest of Amsterdam.

Because there you will find yourself amid an amazing 7-million flowering bulbs in the 32ha (79 acres) of one of the world's largest park gardens.

And it's differing gardens and garden styles include a spreading English landscape criss-crossed with picturesque winding pathways, a European garden with many older varieties of bulbs, a nature and water garden, a Japanese garden, and others ablaze with the rainbow colours of massed carnations, irises, daffodils, roses, lilies and orchids.

Situated on once 15th century hunting grounds that were also a source of herbs for the country house of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut and later home to Castle Keukenhof that was built in 1641 (Keukenhof meaning 'kitchen garden,') opening the Park gardens every Spring was the idea in 1949 of the-then Mayor of Lisse and a group of Netherlands flower growers, to show-off their flowering bulbs and give a leg-up to exports.

Keukenhof's 7-million bulbs alone take forty gardeners three months to plant fresh each year, and amazingly are dug up and fed to local livestock at the end of their flowering season.

And over 500 flower growers show off countless thousands of fresh-cut blooms and pot plants at more than twenty huge indoor Flower Shows, while there is a 100-piece open-air sculpture garden as well.

This year's Keukenhof will be open from 8am to 7.30pm daily from March 21 to May 19, with something like 1.4m people expected to visit – nearly six-times the 236,000 who attended the first year's in 1950.

And those in the know, say the best time to see it all is mid-April; have a look at keukenhof.nl.

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PHOTO:

IT may be in the centre of the Netherlands' tulip-growing region, but Keukenhof Park is more than just tulips, with 32ha (79 acres) of everything from carnations, irises and daffodils, to roses, lilies, orchids and an indoor flower show as well.  It will be open this year from mid-March to mid-May with over twenty huge indoor Flower Shows as well.


February 24, 2019

Touring Luang Prabang. Laos UNESCO World Heritage wonder


Len Rutledge discovers the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang

Laos has suddenly become a tourism hotspot for adventurous Australians but Luang Prabang, Laos' ancient capital, has been around for a long time. It has richly decorated temples, quaint French-Indochinese architecture, intriguing history, intense spirituality, and inviting cuisine. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed town is a great place to visit.

Most of the town's key sights are set on a small peninsula between the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers. Luang Prabang's charming old quarter is filled with Lao-French buildings, good bakeries, cute cafes, great restaurants, nice shops and interesting markets.

Because it has become quite popular recently, Luang Prabang has become pricey for a traveller on a budget, but there is still some accommodation for around $40 a night while some of the top options are pushing $250.

Luang Prabang is a great place to slow down and chill out but there are a number of 'must-do' things for all visitors. Here are some of them

The temples and monks

Luang Prabang is the spiritual centre of Laos. You could easily while away hours admiring the ornate decoration on the wats. Some not to miss include Wat Visounnarath with its unusually shaped stupa, one of the oldest built back in 1512; gold-gilded Wat Xieng Thong where Lao kings were once coronated; and Wat Mai next to the Palace Museum, which was once the home of the head of Laotian Buddhism.

Every morning at sunrise, locals and some tourists line the streets to put offerings of sticky rice into bowls carried by saffron-robed monks. By giving food it's believed that you "make merit", which is carried over into the next life.

It's quite common to see monks and young "novices" in saffron-coloured robes casually walking the streets at other times of the day. Somehow this adds a special charm and provides a sense of peace and tranquillity for visitors.

The Royal Palace

Built over a century ago in a French-Lao architectural style, the Royal Palace was created for King Sisavang Vong during the French colonial era. After the 1975 revolution, the complex was taken over by the government and later converted into the museum it is today. Inside the grounds you'll see the king's cars and a gold-gilded royal barge, while the main building has a throne room and more. It is not in the same category as some of south-east Asia's other palaces but it is worth taking a quick look.

Mount Phu Si

This is a 150-metre high mountain boasting 360-degree views from the summit right in the middle of Luang Prabang. Like almost everything else in Luang Prabang these days, you need to pay to walk the few hundred steps to the top. It is beautiful at sunrise or sunset but it gets really crowded up there at sunset and some of the visitors who want to take photographs can be loud and pushy.

I prefer a quiet spot along the street closest to the Mekong River for sunset shots.

Markets

It would not be south-east Asia without markets and Luang Prabang has them in abundance. It starts with the morning market which always commenced before I got up and finished by about 11 am.

Nightly, local hill-tribe traders and others set up stalls along Sisavangvong Road. You can buy handicrafts and trinkets, silk scarves, elephant pants, other clothes, coffee beans, jewellery, and many other things. Haggling is required and you need to shop around for a reasonable price.

The Night Food Market is in a narrow lane towards one end of the Night Market. It is lined with buffet-style food stalls piled high with local delicacies such as spicy noodles, tangy salads, barbecued meats and more. It can get very crowded but you can easily get a great meal for $4 then wash it down with a crisp Beer Lao.

Exploring further afield

I suggest renting a bicycle one afternoon for further exploration of the town's outer reaches before going further afield.

There are two very popular day-trips.

30 kilometres from Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls is a multi-level waterfall with turquoise waters, flowing through lush jungle. You can swim and cool off in its shallow pools or enjoy the spectacle sight of the main falls. Near the entrance gate, you see part of the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre that rescues bears from poachers and provides them with a home.

Around 25 kilometres north of Luang Prabang, you will find the Pak Ou Caves. The tour included a 2-hour boat ride each way on the fascinating Mekong River with a couple of stops at villages on the way. The two limestone caverns are a respected religious destination and combined they are crammed with more than 4,000 Buddhist icons. It helps if you bring a torch so you can explore away from the crowds.

Getting There

There are direct flights to either Bangkok or Singapore from Australia and onward flights from there to Luang Prabang.

A visa is required to enter Laos but it can be obtained at the Luang Prabang airport for about $40.

www.LenRutledge.com

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au



Images

1. The Mekong

2. Monks in the morning

3. Wat Xieng Thong

4. Morning markets

5. Kuang Si Falls

February 20, 2019

Samoa’s only island resort, in honour of a legend



Words Roderick Eime

If you look on Google Earth, you may still see the empty little island a few hundred metres from Apia’s deepwater port, just sitting there waiting for something to happen.

Well, wait no more, because that tiny oasis not much bigger than a football field, now plays host to arguably the most modern, contemporary resort in Apia, perhaps even Samoa.

Named after the legendary Polynesian beauty, Sina, the resort grew from the sand much like the famous coconut trees of the timeless folk tale.

Taumeasina (Landing place of Sina) Island Resort opened in 2016 and has continued to grow in reputation and popularity and has already risen to number 3 on TripAdvisor’s list of top traveller-ranked hotels in Apia. The resort has also won the Samoa tourism excellence and best hygiene awards as bestowed by the Samoa Tourism Authority.

Close to the port and some of the waterfront nightspots, it’s still remote enough to be private and away from the downtown hubbub, just a five-minute drive away across the resort’s dedicated causeway.

With 80 hotel rooms and a mix of two and three bedroom self-contained villas on an island, Taumeasina Island Resort is the only resort of its type in Samoa and brings a new level of 4.5-star sophistication to Apia.

Beyond the swish accommodations, there is ample scope for meetings and conferences as well as weddings or private functions for up to 800 guests or delegates. There are smaller breakout rooms for board meetings and committees plus an outdoor wedding venue, delightfully located overlooking the ocean and also ideal for stunning evening events.

When it’s time to relax, swim in the waterfront pool in between cocktails, or indulge in a treatment or session at Fofo Spa & Sauna. The Spa uses both locally made Mailelani Samoa and the world's leader in professional marine cosmetics; Thalgo.

If you’re feeling a bit more energetic, or want to burn some calories, hit it out on the tennis court or the gym. There’s even an outdoor exercise circuit with gym equipment stationed around Taumeasina Island.

Dining can be either casual or formal depending on your mood or occasion. Lapita's Restaurant serves both continental and cooked breakfast, café style lunches and dinner in a casual dining atmosphere. There’s live entertainment every night and a themed buffet depending on demand. You can catch Taumeasina's famous Fia Fia night every week in this venue.

Sina’s Restaurant, on the other hand, is where Executive Chef, Bradley Martin loves to show off. Martin began as a kitchen hand 35 years ago and worked all over Australia, at numerous Hilton, Sheraton and Novotel hotels. Diners can choose either indoor or out from the seasonal menu featuring both traditional Samoan and internationally inspired cuisines.


Phone: +685 61000
Email: Info@taumeasinaislandresortsamoa.com
www.taumeasinaislandresortsamoa.com

February 17, 2019

Beware of cheap airfares


CHEAP AIRFARES HAVE A HIDDEN TRAP

By Peter Chapman

At around June each year my wife and I invariably start chatting about the need for a flop and drop holiday for the Christmas break.

That conversation provides the drive for us to keep an eye out for some cheap airfares so we can at least get the first part of the holiday locked in.

A Malaysian Airline offer of $800 return flights to Kuala Lumpur proved to be on the money for our future trip. We moved quickly to get the price and sent off the payment.

We reasoned that Kuala Lumpur would give us an easy stepping point through to Phuket where we had decided to spend our holiday.

All was good, that is until we started looking around at what accommodation was available in a peak holiday time.

Best rooms were taken, top hotels had waiting lists and what was available was listed at sky high prices.

Like many travellers these days we started pouring over TripAdvisor reviews checking out a hotel when they posted a good package.

It eventually led us to the Andakira Hotel for the first part of our holiday.

The hotel sits right in the heart of Patong and this was one of our pre-requisites.

The timing put us in Patong for the New Year's celebrations something by reputation we wanted to experience.

The Andakira didn't excel as a place to stay, but it didn't disappoint either.

We knew we had booked a middle class hotel and as far as value for money it lived up to that.

Our room which cost us around $100AU a night featured a private pool access.

That meant we had a long lap pool sitting off our small outside area.

 If you do decide to stay at this hotel go for one of these suites.

The room was clean and the morning breakfast package was substantial and served by courteous staff.

My big concern was that the bed was rock hard and in hindsight I should have asked for a mattress topper, mind you I don't know if they would have had any to put on my plank.

The location of the hotel was a big plus. It was just a five minute stroll from the major JungCeylon shopping centre and another five minutes had you on Patong Beach.

We have been to Phuket before so there were no hidden dramas for us when it came to shopping.

One tip I quickly remembered was that always know what you want to pay for an item before you ask the shop keeper "how much?".

That avoids what can soon become an intimidating conversation.

Prices in Patong these days are not so cheap you have to buy and for the most part you can do better at your local shopping centre when they are on sale.

The best part about a visit to Thailand is the food. On just our second scouting trip looking for a good restaurant we noticed a small venue, Tom Nua No1, that was always full.

As popularity is the best recommendation you can get to choose a Patong restaurant we ended up going there four times for dinner.

The food was fresh, service was good and the place was clean.

An example of their prices was their Spicy Soup with Seafood cost $4, while a pineapple rice was under $3.

Our stay in Patong was for seven days and in hindsight it should have been no longer than five.

A must do is a day trip across to Old Phuket Town. The taxi fare there will cost you around $20AU.

Old Phuket Town is a much quieter location, the quaint old shops offer more than just T-shirts and fake handbags and the shop owners don't act like sharks circling an injured seal.

There are a few day trips you should also enjoy such as the speedboat journey out to Phi Phi Island.

One word of concern, even if you rode motorbikes at the speedway don't be tempted to hire a scooter and ride the streets.

Everyone is crazy slicing in and out of the heavy traffic, in just a few days we saw numerous accidents.

Finally can I say, when you do see a cracking flight deal think hard about the reputation of the airline.

I have flown on Malaysian Airlines before and was happy with the service.

This time I wasn't and it will take a lot of persuading to get me on one of their flights again.

The food was below average, the plane was tired and I had a broken entertainment monitor that kept collapsing.

But I will say at least they were on schedule and the flight was cheap.

MY RATINGS:

Malaysian Airlines:     4/10

Andakira Hotel           6/10

Patong:                      8/10

Tom Nua No1            9/10

Words and images: Peter Chapman,

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au 


February 10, 2019

Germany: Romantic Road: Würzburg is a winner



By Len Rutledge

Three Irish missionary monks visited Würzburg in A.D. 686 to Christianize the local 'barbarians'. The inhospitable locals beheaded them. Fortunately, we find the citizens are much friendlier today, and we also discover there are many things to do, great places to see, and excellent wine and food to enjoy.

Würzburg, at the northern end of Germany's Romantic Road, has much history, culture, rich cuisine, religious landmarks, and idyllic scenery. It is a great place to visit and the bonus is you can walk between most sites.

Residenz

We start our sightseeing at the majestic UNESCO World Heritage listed 400-room Residenz, one of the most important Baroque palaces in Europe. Unlike many other huge buildings, it was built in a short period of time and was completed in 1780. The building includes a much acclaimed staircase and awe inspiring frescos.

We are told that Napoleon Bonaparte slept here for one night in 1812 en route to his unsuccessful invasion of Russia. It is a place we must see. We visit by a self-guided walking tour but there is also a guided tour which allows access to some of the rooms you can't visit by yourself.

Don't miss the on-site church. After the walls were completed, a group of court artists created what is one of the most decorative churches you will ever see.

The palace grounds are considered some of the most impressive Rococo gardens in Germany. There is an artificial lake including fountains and some beautifully carved sculptures. There's a wonderful symmetry that can be appreciated from the higher ground.

Old Town

It is not far from here to the Old Town. Our first stop is at the scenic Market Square, where a daily bustling food and flower market is in full swing. Overlooking the square stands St Mary's Chapel (Marienkapelle) with its spire 70 metres into the sky. The striking red-and-white facade of the Gothic church is considered the most important building from that era in the city.

Most of Würzburg's old city is a pedestrian zone so it's a great place to walk. When you have done enough of that, pull up a chair at a sidewalk café for some people and tram watching.

The construction of Würzburg Cathedral with its twin towers began in 1040 and went on for nearly 200 years. Today, it is the fourth largest Romanesque church in Germany. It is one of the city's most important landmarks and can be seen from almost everywhere. The interior is fresh after a renovation and is well worth a visit.

The old Würzburg Town Hall sits on Domstrasse between the old bridge and the cathedral. It is a complex of buildings of different periods. The tower dates from the early 1200s and another part of the building is the only surviving secular building in Würzburg that was built in the Romanesque style.

Marienberg Fortress

The old Main Bridge from 1120 spans the river of the same name and is considered the oldest stone bridge in Germany. It connects the old town with the nearby Marienberg Fortress. In 1730, the bridge was further decorated with twelve statues of saints and emperors.

The Fortress, towering over the city and surrounded by vineyards, was began in 704 AD. It was originally a church then the building was expanded in the Renaissance and Baroque periods with the addition of fortifications. For nearly five centuries it served as a home to the local prince-bishops.

Today, the Marienberg Fortress houses the Franconian Museum. You can visit the museum and see the rooms with their period furniture, tapestries and paintings but most people come for the views. Würzburg is surrounded by vineyards cascading down the slopes on both sides of the river and it's easy to see why this is a good wine producing area. Perched on top of a nearby hill sits the Kappele Church with its onion-domed towers.

Sleeping, eating, and drinking

Don't miss the opportunity of having a hearty Franconian meal and tasting some of the local wines. A good place to indulge in German regional specialities is The Bürgerspital wine estate restaurant. You can also take a tour through the estate's famous wine cellar. The best city restaurant is probably the one-Michelin-starred KUNO 1408. It has created its own particular variation on the Franconian theme.

Germany appears to have no restrictions against drinking in public, so apart from drinking in bars you can buy your own bottle of wine or beer and sit on the old bridge enjoying the view.

Würzburg is a great stop either before or after your Romantic Road tour because it has many hotels, inns and B&Bs , including a number of excellent hotels in the Old Town.

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

Images

1. The Residenz
2. St Mary's Chapel
3. Marienberg Fortress
4. Domstrasse towards Wurzburg Cathedral

February 04, 2019

Immaculate Tasmanian Tiger pelt found in New Zealand



MUSEUM'S 'BEST EVER' TASMANIAN TIGER
David Ellis

THE National Museum of Australia in Canberra says it's acquired one of the best-ever pelts of a Tasmanian Tiger – officially known as a thylacine – following its discovery just recently after nearly one-hundred years with a family of keen fauna collectors in New Zealand.

And as a result of an extensive evaluation process, the Museum paid $250,000 for the pelt, half of that being a grant from the National Cultural Heritage Account. The Museum's Head Curator, Dr Martha Sear said the "extraordinary" specimen was considered one of the best-preserved thylacine pelts in existence, having been acquired by avid New Zealand collector, Archibald Robertson in 1923.

It had been passed down to Mr Robertson's only daughter, Janet Withers upon his death in 1970, and came to the attention of experts in 2017 while on rare display in a New Zealand taxidermist and canoe hire business.

Early European settlers in Tasmania hunted thylacines that attacked their livestock, and in 1888 the State Government paid a bounty of one-pound for every one of the stripe-backed Tasmanian Tigers that was caught.

The introduction of hunting dogs by wild animal hunters and traders, coupled with the foreign diseases these dogs brought with them, resulted in large thylacine losses, with the last known Tasmanian Tiger dying in Hobart's Beaumaris Zoo on December 7 1936.

The species was declared officially extinct by the Tasmanian government fifty years later, in 1986.

The "extraordinarily good" Tasmanian Tiger pelt just acquired from New Zealand by the National Museum, will go on display at the Museum in Canberra in coming months, with a date yet to be announced.


PHOTO CAPTION:

THIS "best ever" Tasmanian Tiger pelt has just been acquired by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, after being discovered in New Zealand where it had been owned from 1923 by a family of avid fauna collectors.