How to swing a few days in Sydney – good vibes all ’round.

How to swing a few days in Sydney – good vibes all ’round.

Sydney likes nothing better than to celebrate the ‘new’. Always up for a party, the city by the harbour turned its attention to the latest Vibe Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour.

Restrictions on borders are being relaxed (at time of writing) and people want to enjoy the new freedom of being able to move about and get a fresh perspective on their old surroundings. Heading out to the countryside is an option but let’s get back into the city, and save our hotels.

Launched in October 2019, almost a year ago now, Vibe Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour, like other Vibe properties in Sydney, landed a perfect location for corporate clients, weekday getaways and weekend warriors.

Sitting on Sussex Street, the 145-room hotel has a playful approach in the design side of the rooms and indeed the common areas.

The entrance to the foyer is a sign of things to come. The soaring ceiling of timber panels create a cathedral effect softened by layered light fittings. The hotel’s dramatic foyer cuts through to the heritage facades in both Sussex Street and nearby James Lane whilst the scalloped façade of the hotel tower gives an overall lightness of expression.

To the left of the foyer. Separated by a comfy couch area is the Sussex Store. Open for breakfast, and drinks during the day. (Times for meals have been put on hold while in the midst of the pandemic.)

The building was built from scratch, on the bed of sandstone history and industry – therefore melding past and present to honour the past and showcase innovation of the 21st century. The brickwork is what ties the old and the new together. The property embraces Sydney’s Sussex Street landscape in an architecturally-designed hotel that pays homage to the hotel’s vibrant and historic surrounds. 

The hotel’s design has drawn inspiration from the site’s diverse history and brick heritage.

The rooms have a New Yorkish vibe, with the surprise wardrobe elements with a nod to a Brownstone elevator – mesh door panels – nice touch.

The bathrooms are spacious with slim vertical tiles with brass trim and taps – praise be! Brass is back – and the white and charcoal colour scheme sets it aside from the run of the mill.

Head to the rooftop for something special, Above 319, a beautiful space for a bar, relaxing corners and the heated swimming pool – a bonus in Sydney in the city!

History and heritage


This building is located on land once part of a steam-flour mill owned by Thomas Barker, an engineer, manufacturer, grazier and philanthropist who arrived in Sydney in 1813. From 1828, Barker expanded the Mill substantially and constructed a cloth mill on land adjacent to the existing steam flour mill.

In 1890, the row of buildings between Bathurst Street and James Street were purchased by eminent businessman, Samuel Hordern. He was the son Anthony Hordern II co-founder of one of Australia’s largest retailers from the 19th century, Anthony Hordern & Sons.

By 1920 the building had been sold and leased to a variety of tenants including a bedding factory, bakers, plumbers and a health food store.

The building however would be known as The Hordern Building, regardless of the fact it was never occupied by the Anthony Hordern Stores company itself.

And nearby . . .

The hotel is just north of Chinatown, so good food is a few steps away. It’s a 10-minute walk to the CBD and all the retail therapy you can desire. (While visiting Sydney, hop on the new tram and take a ride from Chinatown to Circular Quay, or for the more adventurous – the ride out to Randwick – slow and steady).

Behind Chinatown there’s the exciting new precinct of Darling Park – with neon sign fantasy, food courts, green space and some spectacular architecture.

Top local flavor tips from Vibe Hotel GM, Daniel Sprange:

  • Chinatown Noodle King has the best noodles in Sydney – super close to the hotel in Chinatown.
  • Golden Century – salt and pepper prawn / sashimi lobster with ginger stir fry
  • Market City level 3 – best for yum cha
  • For spicy food, head down Dixon in the direction of Paddy’s Market, cross the road that cuts Dixon St Mall and pick any restaurant on the left..
  • Oolong tea for energy at the tea house in Sussex Plaza.
  • Greek restaurant above the Belvedere across the road from the hotel – great food and décor

So, go to town and enjoy Vibe Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour. While practicing due diligence in cleanliness and observing all COVID-19, the hotel at the moment has pared down some of the elements in the Sussex Store – all tables socially distanced and the bedrooms are unfettered with no fancy throws and designer cushions – but hey, the crisp sheets and fluffy pillows make up for any lack of extra comfort.

And when the day is done, head to the roof for a quenching beverage and a mighty fine sunset.

To book visit: https://vibehotels.com/hotel/sydney-darling-harbour

PARIS: Baguettes – or the legend of the loaf

PARIS: Baguettes – or the legend of the loaf

It was just a couple of weeks ago, I was driving from Charles de Gaulle airport into Paris and spied, shuffling along the street of one of the outlying suburbs a walking cliché, an old. hunched man, wearing a beret and carrying a baguette at 65cm in length.

The ubiquitous baguette – bread of a thousand legends, countless laws and constrained to the perfect, ordained length – this is the stuff and staff of life to the French nation – the symbol of France perhaps.

Fact: an excellent baguette needs to look, sound, smell and feel the part; with a golden-tinged crust and an ivory coloured centre, and the shell of the loaf must ‘crack’ with just a little pressure and a soft, hollow sound must occur when the bottom is tapped. It should have a warm, cereal and caramel aroma with hints of longing – longing for butter.

We were staying down the hill from the Arc de Triumph in a narrow (of course) street and on the corner was a popular boulangerie – a seductive aroma of butter emanated out the doors.

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French bread law

This perfect baton of bread needs protection and the French government did just that in 1993 with the ‘Decret Pain’. This law states that traditional baguettes have to be made on the premises they’re sold and can only be made with four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can’t be frozen at any stage or contain additives or preservatives, which also means they go stale within 24 hours.
So, beware, there is plenty of mediocre bread sold in France and separating the wheat from the chaff requires a good nose …

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

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Finding a good bakery

  • To be called a ‘boulangerie’, a French bakery has to make its bread on the premises. If this word doesn’t feature in the name of the bakery or isn’t plastered on the window it could be a plain old dépôt de pain selling factory-made bread.
  • Boulangeries are supposed to display a small yellow and blue sign letting you know that your baker is authentic, reading: “Votre boulanger. Un artisan authentique”.
  • These appreciated few often have a tell-tale queue snaking outside.

I took up a stalking position one early evening round about 5.30pm and took a few sneaky snaps of folk going into our local boulangerie and I guessed who would be buying an evening baguette (mornings are full on too).

All 20 shoppers I checked out except for two who picked up a pastry, carried their baguette out of the shop. Normally one loaf but a couple of people greedied up and had a handle on two or more.

The baguette is always in a white paper bag that reaches just over half-way up the loaf. I noticed that everyone carrying the fresh baguette would unconsciously snap the end off the loaf and eat it. A quaint tasting habit that I totally get!

  • The word baguette is feminine so make sure you ask for une baguette (une to rhyme with June), or just get two, deux baguettes, a number that helpfully stays the same for masculine and feminine words.
  • It’s usual to ask for a well or under-cooked baguette: bien cuite for well-cooked and crusty and pas trop cuite for under-cooked and soft.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for half a baguette, une demi-baguette, as most bakeries sell them, and for exactly half the price.
  • Baguettes cost between 1 euro and 1.30 euros. Try to pay with close to the exact amount as French bakeries rarely have change for large notes and may not serve you if you don’t have close change.
  • A traditional baguette is called a baguette tradition, baguette à l’ancienne or baguette de campagne.
  • Look out for interesting varieties such as baguette aux céréales, baguette aux graines de sésame or baguette aux olives.

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Serving etiquette

  • Look like a local and eat the end of the baguette on the way home from the bakery, it’s called le quignon, the heel.
  • Don’t use a bread board. just use the cutting in the air technique or tear off pieces by hand.
  • Traditional Catholics use the bread knife to lightly mark a crucifix on the back of a baguette before cutting it.
  • Serve pieces of bread alongside a main course and then again for the cheese course (served before dessert).
  • Pieces of bread are never served on side plates, instead they’re put directly on the placemat or tablecloth to the upper right-hand side of the dinner plate.\

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Eating etiquette

  • Soften your baguette by dipping it in your morning coffee.
  • Although most French people eat baguette without butter, those from Normandy and Brittany insist on a thick layer of unsalted or salted butter.
  • Day-old bread can be salvaged by using it to make pain perdu, translated as lost bread or French toast.

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There are many stories of the origins of the baguette and all of them probably have a grain of truth in them, but I like this one:

A patriotic tale tells of the possible origin of the baguette (not its shape though) by linking it to the French Revolution. Lack of bead was the principal complaint from the people of Paris and it played a big part in the overthrow of the monarchy. Being the staple of the French diet, the poor watched the nobility eat heaps of fine, white loaves while they faced shortage and even starvation – making do with bread that was almost inedible.

So, after the Revolution, making sure everybody had quality bread was high on the priority list. In 1793 the Convention (the post-Revolution government) made a law stating:

“Richness and poverty must both disappear from the government of equality. It will no longer make a bread of wheat for the rich and a bread of bran for the poor. All bakeries will be held, under the penalty of imprisonment, to make only one type of bread: The Bread of Equality”.

Another story claims that Napoleon Bonaparte passed a law decreeing that bread for his soldiers should be made in long slender loaves of exact measurement to fit in a special pocket on their uniforms. Since those measurements were close to the size of the modern baguette, some folk think this might be when the bread first took on its current form. Maybe it’s Napoleon we have to thank.

These are only a couple of stories of the famous bread’s origins and Mr Google throws up many more. Whatever the reason that this weird shaped bread appeared, by the mid-1800s in Paris, they were everywhere. Merci beaucoup.

Writer, Bev Malzard managed to eat half a fresh baguette every morning. Only half because she had to then eat croissants and pain de chocolat  and an oeuf or deux. . .

Much if this info on the history came from a fab website https://bonjourparis.com which features all manner of wonderful information on Paris, food, wine and everything else – tres bon.

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Extra info: Michael Kalanty is an award-winning author, baker, and sensory scientist. He holds the patent for The Aroma & Flavor Chart for Bread©. His first book, How To Bake Bread: The Five Families of Bread®won the Gourmand International Award at the Paris Cookbook Fair (2011) for “Best Bread Book in the World”. Contact him through www.MichaelKalanty.com

Epicurean Exchange offers their Paris Bread & Pastry Tour each May. Visit www.EpicureanExchange.com for more about their portfolio of culinary explorations.

Featured image at top of page: Photo by Ablimit Ablet on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

How to souvenir: or buy something for yourself

How to souvenir: or buy something for yourself

When I started travel writing, folks thought I was taking a holiday. I was often asked to bring back duty free perfume, smokes, booze etc. I did in the beginning and then I stopped buying for anyone else – just a simple “no”, said politely and that was that. (I had my own stuff to bring back.)

I can sit on my couch, in my bed, on the kitchen floor or even sit in the bath, and look around and see familiar items purchased over the past 30 years. I try and live ‘small; but I do like to have and use a few memories that have been collected along the way, and they all have stories to tell.

My first offering  is a pair of Chinese Warriors, small in stature but big of heart. I purchased these two fellas in February 1989, just a few months before the Tiananmen Square protest/revolt.

It was my first visit to China, it was minus 10 degrees and such an exciting place to be, Beijing before the world came to it. These two warriors were from an outdoor stall and were inexpensive and probably two of thousands made. They were covered lightly in brown dust that had blown in from the Gobi Desert, the same grime mixed with air pollution that I wore around my neck, scarves, hair and face.

I’ve had the guys on a windowsill protecting me since 1989 and I have never washed or even dusted them. They are as they were, covered in grit from many battles and their armour wears stains with pride. One of their hands broke off after a spill and that had been superglued on so they can continue their watch over me.

https://travelgaltravels.com/2017/08/10/china-first-encounter

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I have two souvenirs here (below) from Morocco. I haven’t mentioned the scarves, shoes, fabric or spices but I’m very fond of these pieces. First there’s the little glass containers set in a silver base with a jaunty tassel atop. I did buy larger one’s for the ‘present drawer’ but this pair sit modestly on a kitchen shelf and reminds me to add the pungent spice, cumin, to everything. A taste senstationa I discovered in Morocco. A pinch on yoghurt and honey is good and a hefty shake into anything hot and savoury will transport your tastebuds.

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This pair of tumblers were a score from the shop at Yves Saint Laurent Musee in Marrakech. They are a neat fit for my hands and hold enough of a beverage to quench a thirst. Other items in the boutique included clothes, leather handbags, art work, ceramics and sublime fashion accessories. I had previously sold my last kidney so it had to be a modest buy, and the handblown glasses fitted the bill. The museum has a revolving exhibition as there are more than 5000 pieces of wearable fashion to show . . .

 

Tea for two

This lovely rustically oriental cannister is an old tea caddy. I brought two of them back to Oz after my first visit to Macau (now Macao) around the mid 90s. It was before the super structures shot up over night, ie the Venetian et al. It was a quieter place and many of the antique shops were afterthoughts on the shopping route. This is where and when I first tasted Lord Stowe’s perfect pasteis de nata (Portuguese tarts) and invested in my first cashmere wrap. Both excellent decisions.

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These pieces were easy to pack into a suitcase but a companion snaffled up a bargain – a huge Chinese hat box which was the size of an eight year old child, and it wasn’t until she reached the airport coming home that she realised her spatial inadequacy. We got it home – but it wasn’t easy.

Next item is totally utilitarian. In the mid 80s I was holidaying in Malaysia and had a two-day stopover in Singapore. It was my first visit and I ended up in a dusty, higgledy piggledy part of town called Little India. Since visited it’s now a pretty schmick and touristy precinct and my first place to go when I arrive in Singers – I need a curry to start the stay.

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But my wandering took me to a shop that sold cooking implements and this chubby pot took my fancy. It has a copper base, it cost the equivalent of $2 then and it has been cooking rice (perfectly) for me for 30 years. It gets taken off a shelf at least once a week and does its work – we are a damn good team.

The beads below have never been worn, but they were hard won and hold a special place in my heart. In the mid-90s I went on a sensational trip to Kenya. It was first visit to Africa. We had stayed at a couple of lodges and we were scheduled to go to a family compound on the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The night before there was an outdoor fire, wine, music, wine, dying embers and wine. On the way back to my hut I slipped on polished concrete and the pain in my ankle was so severe I almost passed out.

Limping badly, the next day we visited the compound and I had to forego the jumping up and down ritual because of my pain.

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I was suffering a hangover and a sprained ankle and was grumpy. On leaving the boundary of the reserve there was a woman selling these beaded necklaces – she was asking an exorbitant price and I gave the ‘are you serious’ look and she had it in for me. After much screeching, not me, my head hurt too much, we almost had a tug of war – I now wanted it badly and she knew it. I capitulated, surrendered and handed over the money – a lot of it. She was about to hand me the beaded piece and changed her mind and whipped this one off her neck and handed it over with a big grin. I have no idea what the gesture meant but I’ll take it as one of good will.

A peony, not a pony

I love this vase. It has such elegance and lovely peonies painted around it. I was travelling in and around Bejing with a corporate group of event planners and we were given gifts along the way. This was one  them and I have been putting flowers in it for the past 20 years. Our host was the indomitable Helen Wong of Helen Wong Tours (the first person to get journos into China for the Australian Society of Travel Writers conference in 2001 to Shanghai).

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What I remember of that time was the gracious and exciting hospitality put on for the planners. We visited the Forbidden City and as we walked to where we could see the expanse of the great courtyard it was lined with about three hundred actors wearing ancient imperial guard costumes. Just one of the wondeful events put on for us.

One day we all went to a section of the Great Wall. And I gave the wall walk a miss – well, I had walked it before . . . and the low, black clouds looked ominous. So Ms Wong and I sat in a tiny tea shop and sipped and chatted. As the storm broke, the view to the wall was a spectacle to behold – hundreds of people were running along the wall draped in blue plastic raincoats – my imagination took over and what I saw was hundreds of condoms tearing along the wall path. I mentioned this to Ms Wong and she gulped and spat her tea out – first and last time I ever saw her lose her cool.

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Last BUT certainly not the least of all of my treasures is this plump little ceramic elephant vase. At an agm for the Australian Society of Travel Writers, held in Thailand in 1999, I was on a trip after the city meeting and we stayed south in Hua Hin at the Railway Hotel (it may have changed names now). In the gardens were/ maybe still are, gigantic topiary elephants that were startling. As elephants were the theme du jour I purchased this cutie at the hotel shop. Every time I pop a flower in it I recall three exquisite days spent in that, then underdeveloped town and wandering the uncrowded streets at night and eating monster barbecued prawns outdoors.

So how do I categorise these precious if rather ordinary pieces? Souvenirs? Or jewellery snapped up enroute or that rather heavy doona cover I carried back from the Paris summer sales . . .

Who cares . .  I only know that every picture here, tells a story.

 

 

 

 

Travel: New Zealand and how to Hobbit – it’s a shire thing!

Travel: New Zealand and how to Hobbit – it’s a shire thing!

Well, after being quarantied for five weeks now I’m hearing rumours that we may be able to travel again, albeit in Austraia and hopefully New Zealand within the next few months. But who knows, this could change, like much in life now at any time.

Listening to callers on the radio today I heard many folk say they had never been to New Zealand . . . how can that be. So close and so beautiful. This was my first o/s journey in the 70s, and what an adventure. One of the callers today said she wanted to meet a Hobbit, of course she does. So, following is a journey to almost Middle Earth where the little folk reside. Make this one of of the precious stops along the way when you visit Kiwi.

Many decades after I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit I was walking among the Hobbit homes (holes). And proving to myself that they were more than fictional little hairy-toed creatures.

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After immersing myself in the grand trilogy of New Zealander Peter Jackson’s stupendous movies effort of the Lord Of The Rings – yes – all three mighty movies (seen several times over), I had been intrigued by the art direction and the glorious locations throughout New Zealand (with a healthy LOTR geeky obsession). I had visited a few (outside Christchurch and near Wellington) and while strolling around the area acting quite ladylike – I was happily squealing on the inside.

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When I heard that Hobbiton was ‘real’ real estate, I was ecstatic.

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When location scouts found the Alexanders’ spectacular 1250-acre sheep and beef farm in 1998, just outside of the town of Matamata (90 minutes drive south of Auckland), it was clear this would be the perfect setting for Sir (he is now) Peter Jackson’s adaptation of these classic works by Tolkien.

This bucolic setting for The Shire, home of the Hobbits, including Bag End, was right there, and just waiting for the magical director’s touch – and the work of hundreds in building, creating, painting, designing and bringing to life the wondrous place.

Earth moving equipment provided by the New Zealand army came in to do the heavy lifting in 1999. The army built a 1.km road into the site and undertook initial set development.

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There were 39 Hobbit Holes created with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene. The oak tree that overlooks Bag End was cut down and transported in from near Matamata.

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Artificial leaves were brought in from Taiwan and individually wired onto the tree. Thatch for the roofs of the Green Dragon Inn and The Mill were cut from rushes around Alexander farm.

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When they were rebuilt for The Hobbit Trilogy in 2009, these structures were built out of permanent materials including an artificial tree made out of steel and silicon. This entire reconstruction process took two years. Today the set is maintained to keep the magic of The Shire alive.

If you believe all that, you’ll believe anything. Hobbiton is a real place where real Hobbits live, bake bread, eat cakes and drink wine and mead and tell fantastical tales of a time gone by about elves, orcs, wizards and brave knights . . . and jewellery . . .  especially some ring.

Writer Bev Malzard met several Hobbits in New Zealand but has kept them out of this post to respect their privacy.

Visit: http://www.hobbitontours.com

NEWS . . . NEWS . . .NEWS

When Peter Jackson first started planning The Lord Of The Rings films back in 1995, he couldn’t have imagined how it would dominate his life. And now, six movies, 21 Oscars and 23 years later, we’re heading back to Middle Earth for a brand new Lord of the Rings TV series.

Amazon Studios are the lucky lot who’ve been tasked with recreating J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary magic for the small screen, with the company signing a reported $250m rights contract in November 2017 with the author’s estate, publisher HarperCollins and New Line Cinema to produce a multi-season show for television.

While there’s been no official word yet on an expected release date, Amazon is required to begin production on the show within two years – so that means that the show will be on the way soon – but currently due to the showbiz/arts shutdown due to the Corona Virus, dates are shakey..

Yes! It’s now been officially confirmed by showrunners  J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, who said that New Zealand was the perfect place to reflect the “primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle Earth”.

“We knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forest and mountains, that is also a home to world-class sets, studios and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff,” they wrote. “And we’re happy to officially confirm New Zealand as our home for our series.”
“We are grateful to the people and the government of New Zealand and especially Auckland for supporting us during this pre-production phrase. The abundant measure of Kiwi hospitality with which they have welcomed us has already made us feel right at home, and we are looking forward to deepening our partnership in the years to come.”

However, it’s bad news for Scotland, where it was speculated that filming could take place. According to The Guardian, “uncertainty over Brexit saw [Scotland] fall out of favour with Amazon”.Amazon has committed to producing five seasons of a Lord of the Rings TV series as part of its $250 million rights deal.

 

 

 

Vietnam’s Hanoi and a shining ritual

Vietnam’s Hanoi and a shining ritual

I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. While staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.

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The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.

Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.

The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.

The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.

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There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.

Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.

This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.

Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.

Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.

The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.

The Shining Ritual

And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.

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The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.

Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.

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The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.

Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!

He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.

 

Travel update: roaming at home while in lockdownp

Travel update: roaming at home while in lockdownp

Disclaimer. Images have nothing to do with this post, they are there to add colour and hopefully cheer you up.

What crazy days we live in. By the time this blog gets posted, who knows what news will come down the line. Everything is changing so quickly.

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And many people are now restricted in their movements by voluntarily socially distancing themselves or consciously uncoupling with the rest of the world. A whole new vocabulary is being created . . .

So, if you aren’t debilitated and choose, wisely to distance yourself from the hordes, how are you going about being home alone? People with children will have plenty to do without making a plan, but us solo living beings or with partners either living separately (me) or having to make a space between you, if you have the virus and need to be constructive before cabin fever sets in.

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I live in a small flat, one tiny kitchen, one bathroom, one living room and one bedroom. I have a little verandah/sunroom/westwing/office/ gunnadoroom/sad mess space that could get some attention.

My plan for the next few weeks (and I won’t be locked in the entire time; there will be walks, shops, and weekend outings), will be to free my mind to travel without going anywhere and to reimagine my surroundings (that means tidy a few things).

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First off, begin the days with a quick look at my computer, then turn it off. Shut my phone down for a day to destress myself and only listen to the ABC radio 702 to hear if the world hasn’t totally lost its shit, while I have breakfast. Then the radio goes silent, and so does my head.

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Projected projects:

  • Empty the sock drawer and any errant socks with no mates are put in the bag that will disappear all useless items. Slowly partner up the socks rememberng the walks they have shared with you.
  • Drag out three suitcases of different sizes plus carry-ons from under the bed and sit with them and talk about the trips we’ve done together, the adventures had and the glories they have transported back from far away places. And, give them a serious cleaning of under-bed dust.

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  • Look in the wardrobe to begin the spring cleaning tidy-up in autumn. Shut the door and leave as is.
  • Make a cup of coffee and lie on the bed and read one of the books by the bed that hasn’t been opened for months.
  • Stuff. Head cautiously into the ‘office’ and look through the largest pile of stuff. Some of this stuff is material that can be utilised and wrtten up as travel listicles for a blog. Also dig out the pile of notebooks – as these will yield treasures from past trips. Stuff that hasn’t been written up or used ever can be crafted into stories or special interest itmes – you know – all that stuff that can’t be worked into a commissioned story. In fact the good, bad, ugly, outrageous, weird stuff that we travel writers encounter along the way.
  • Make a cup of tea and lie down again and read through the notebooks. Have a little nanna nap. Maybe re read Love in the Time of Cholera.
  • Another day, hit the computer and start to cull the photo library – this will take all day.

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  • Dig around the freezer and right at the back there will be a packet of some sort of mince covered in icy crystals. Drag it out and go Greek. Make mousakka for dinner. Imagine you are on a Greek Island.
  • Bathroom antics: check out how many toiletry bags you own and ditch most of them. Wash makeup brushes. Reconsider this blog post as it exposes my slatternly habits.

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  • Ponder the consequences of opening the big box from IKEA that contains parts of a wing back chair. Do I fill in time and get to assembling this or wait until my partner comes to the rescue with this job? Unponder and do the wise thing – wait.
  • Dig out all the postcards purchased and unsent and write anonymous mysterious messages to people I haven’t seen for years. That old address book will yield some beauties.
  • Rewatch the final season of Game of Thrones before watching everything on Netflix, ABC iView and SBS on Demand.
  • Actually do some work and finish two commissioned features that need work.

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  • Perfect baking the banana and walnut loaf.
  • Set myself up with cups of tea and nibblies and lie on the bed and ring up every person I have pissed off and make amends . . .ha ha, just joshin’.
  • Make a list of places in  Australia still to be visited  . . . and plan for the future.
  • Explore ‘that’ kitchen drawer and discard any implement you have purchased with good intentions but have never used. Mmmmm the egg separator?
  • Maybe stay in bed and read books and eat chocolate.

This is all a fantasy, maybe will tidy up maybe not, but will get cracking on some ideas for articles to suit the times we are living in, and may live in for a long time to come.

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What I won’t do is check on my superannuation – I do not need that heartache.

Here, reposted

 https://staythefuckhome.com/

Suggestions from fellow scribes

I’ll be launching a cookbook: “1000 ways with white rice” It’s part of a trilogy. “One potato dishes to last all week” and “And you thought bone broth was boring”. Christine Retschlag

I’m searching out bookie odds on a baby boom from around December/January onwards. Jeremy Bourke

Explore ‘that’ kitchen drawer and discard any implement you have purchased with good intentions but have never used. Mmmmm the egg separator? Leura Lady

I’m sure you have many other clever suggestions to fill time either constructively or not. Doesn’t matter. Tell me . . . 

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Travel USA: Old school and new cool

Travel USA: Old school and new cool

Retro rules OK? The laid back desert towns of Greater Palm Springs offer luxury, retro charm, vintage good manners and a host of local architectural surprises.

Greater Palm Springs, California is an odd concept – you enter Greater Palm Springs and it’s a collection of villages in a line: Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella. And – Palm Springs didn’t have any palm trees when the desert settlement became a town.

There were a few native palms around the actual ‘springs’ but the towns were planted in from the 1920s -1930s when America was going wild for the exotic trees that were emblems of sunny days, clear blue skies and waving fronds. They lined the streets and set the standard for California boulevards.

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The drive from Long Beach takes about two hours and along the way the landscape is dotted with orchards of wind farms and the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains ride shotgun along the route.

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Palm Springs, in the Sonoran Desert became a popular escape for Los Angeles and Hollywood celebs from the 1920s and it was a perfect place for young architects to show their chops in a solitary environment.

The Hollywood starlets and heart throbs, crooners and wheeler dealers could come to Palm Springs and not break their contracts. The line was that they could never be more than two hours away from the studios. Private homes were built and hotels were bursting with talent – and hormones – during the summer weekends.

Being close to ‘the office’, Palm Springs as a getaway for folk earning money quicker than they could spend it became ‘the’ place to be seen and for a few closeted stars, unseen.

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Omni Ranchos Las Palmas.

The fast lane saw the advent of the now classic mid-century architecture to be built for the big names. The 1947-built Frank Sinatra House has a swimming pool shaped like a grand piano – a perfect example of the architecture from this period.

At this time, right after WWII European architects headed to where the money and creative freedom was and they brought Modernism and the International Style which morphed into the elegant and informal style, often called Desert Modernism.

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As you explore Palm Springs look out for the early Spanish revival homes, Spanish eclectic and Tiki (Polynesian themed). Architects Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison combined modernist ideas with Polynesian themes when they designed the Royal Hawaiian estates in south Palm Springs. The Royal Hawaiian Estates is one of four Palm Springs condo communities which hold the historical designation, per the Palm Springs Historical Preservation Board.

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The Oasis Hotel, built in 1924-5 and designed by Lloyd Wright (son of Frank), led the way with its modernist design. More resorts, such as El Mirador, followed. Celebrities decided homes were more important than hotels, though, and along with now-revered architects – including Donald Wexler and Richard Neutra – concocted bold exteriors and sumptuous interiors.

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The established homes and gardens (yes, there’s a lot of luxurious green grass in the desert here) are rather grand but the midcentury-modern architecture with the advent of besser bricks and concrete are the showstoppers. (There’s an excellent half day tour of the homes with the Palm Springs Mod Squad, www.psmodsquad.com)

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This is the Palm Springs Visitors Center, which was originally built as the Tramway Gas Station. Architects: Albert Frey and Robson Chambers.

 

Rat Pack locations

Core shopping is along Palm Canyon Drive with vintage stores, interior design shops and a host of eclectic and inviting restaurants. And for the ultimate Palm Springs retro experience book a table at Melvyn’s. Since the 1970s Melvyn’s has been packing them in. Sinatra held court here and all Hollywood star that entered Palm Springs were guests at Melvyn’s. There’s still a Rat Pack aura to the rooms and the waiters are dressed in dinner suits and a couple of them still totter about as they did over 40 years ago. The menu reflects the era of the past and it’s pretty good too – crepe suzette or prawn cocktail anyone?

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One of the original wait staff at Melvyn’s. His lips are sealed – no gossip from him . . .

  • As early as 1919, Palm Springs was used as a ready-made set for many Hollywood silent movies.
  • Sonny Bono (of Sonny and Cher) was the 16th Mayor of Palm Springs from 1988- 1992.
  • Hire a car and do your driving here – this is America – it’s all about cars. It’s about 60km to drive the entire collection of towns.
  • Stay at Omni Rancho Las Palmas, a resort & spa with a golf course with a backdrop of the mountains.
  • Best time to visit: Between January and April, the temperatures are pleasant. Always blue skies here and sunny days but summer renders scorchers, not great for outdoor activities.
  • If you head out to the desert book for a fab meal at La Copine com and drop in to Pappy & Harriet’s at Pioneertown pappyandharriets.co 

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PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY

I was surprised when I arrived at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, I didn’t realise it was a rotating cabin pulled up a mountainside for an exhilarating 805 metres. It was a welcome 4deg.C cooler than the hot day below as we reach the mountain station of Mt Jacinto State Park.

You can view the dramatic desert setting of the Coachella Valley as you ascend through the rugged Chino Canyon. There is 80km of hiking trails here, so if you want to walk off some of the fine food you’ve tried, here’s the chance, or you can sit with a coffee, enjoy the view and the pristine mountain air.

http://www.pstramway.com

This story was originally published in long form in http://www.LetsTravelMag.com

Palm Springs (3)

 

 

 

 

 

Travel: How to explore Tangier

Travel: How to explore Tangier

Tangier, top of the continent and a name that conjures myth, legends and exotic stories of decadence is a city of intrigue. Go see for yourself.

 

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There’s the labyrinthine medina, an expat dream town, cafes and souks, tempting tagines – there is so much to uncover in Morocco’s top town. It’s a city on the edge, always has been, in every way. It squats at the northernmost tip of Africa just 14km across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, which separates Gibraltar and Peninsula Spain in Europe from Morocco and Ceuta in Africa.

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Looking to the Straits of Gibraltar.

This city is more than a destination, it is a heady escape that has attracted spies, outlaws, outcasts, and writers for centuries.

All imaginable pleasures were to be had here, back in the 1950s characters such as Errol Flynn, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and Ava Gardner did their best to establish Tangier as the last word in louche and hedonism, while writers William Burroughs, Jane and Paul Bowles sought out the dark side of depravity and drug addled derangement. This was Tangier offering a haven to those who pushed the artistic boundaries of creativity.

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In the 20th century writers drawn to Tangier wrote some of the most influential and incendiary works of our time. The Naked Lunch, The Sheltering Sky were two of those novels that influenced the beat generation and future hipsters.

Tangier has been a strategic gateway between Europe and Africa since Phoenician times. There are some startlingly lovely buildings in the city with its whitewashed hillside medina: Moorish mansions, French villas and palaces converted to museums.

This is an enigmatic city that begs to be explored, so take your time and take a glimpse into modern Tangier.

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Matisse’s fenetre.

  1. The American Legation: restored (from shabby obscurity) the American Legation in the medina is a 1982 Moorish former consulate, which documents early diplomatic (very peaceful and businesslike) relations between the U.S. and Morocco (the kingdom of Morocco was the first country to recognise American Independence). The first American public property outside the United States, it commemorates the historic cultural and diplomatic relationsbetween the United States and the Kingdom of Morocco. It is now officially called the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, and is a cultural centre, museum, and a research library, concentrating on Arabic language studies.
  2. Stay in the fabulous Hotel Villa de France, a hotel with its own secrets and list of celebrity guests. Biggest name has to be the French impressionist Henri Matisse, who stayed at the hotel in 1912 and 1913. He painted some of his great works here because of the inspiration of bright, clear African light, vivid colours and the soft sensuality of the landscape and gardens.

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His room is still in the Hotel Villa de France, room 35, and a few notes change hands to obtain a night’s stay here. It’s not glamorous or elaborate, just a sensible double bedroom with ensuite. But – it has the fenetre which is the window to Tangier!

The most famous painting from that hotel room period though is “Landscape Viewed From a Window”. There’s a copy of the painting in room 35.

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  1. Leave the hotel behind and across the road we see the square white steeple of St Andrew’s English church, now nearly hidden by date palms and evergreens. St Andrew’s Church is one of the more curious buildings of Tangier. Completed in 1890 on land granted by Sultan Hassan, the interior of this Anglican church is decorated in high Fassi style, with the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic curving over the altar.

St Andrew’s.

The graveyard yields history wherein the journalist, socialite and traveller Walter Harris is buried here, along with Squadron Leader Thomas Kirby Green, one of the prisoners of war shot during the ‘Great Escape’. There is also a sobering section of war graves of entire downed aircrews, their headstones attached shoulder to shoulder.

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  1. The medina maze Now, into the medina. (A medina is the old walled city.)

Across from the church enter the corner of the medina where the bazaar area of the grand souk (markets) stretch through colourful alleyways.

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From baskets, to ropes, to carved sticks (to hit what?), hand made cheeses, fruit juices (try the pomegranate), stalls groaning with mountains of olives of all persuasions and flavours, hats, sweets, dates, breads (the staple food of Moroccans), butchers with nose to tail pieces on display (and so clean and fly-free), camel meat with the obligatory head (real one) hanging to advertise the fact that this is real camel meat, shoes, buckets and nuts of all sorts, fat and fresh.

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Walking though the crowded curved alleys of food and noise and people jostling, Berber tribal woman wearing wide-brimmed conical hats with pompoms, and children darting through the melee carrying stacks of flat bread is a dizzying sensation – but every step is rewarded with a bold sensation. Just step aside for the donkey carts.

Food is a dream here. Fresh vegetables, subtle spices, fruit and centuries-old cuisine that has been refined by many invaders, protectorates, governing bodies, religions – there’s something for everyone.

  1. Food – Be warned – bring your appetite to Morocco. Food servings are big and hearty. Must eats are the traditional tagines, meat, fowl or vegetable, cous cous Tagines are basically an aromatic stew cooked with a thick sauce with fruits such as prunes and dates; harira is a delicious soup normally made from chick peas; pastille – a dish made from pigeon meat, rice and egg and covered with a sweet filo pastry – sounds weird but – it’s scrumptious.

If you fancy a glass of wine with your dinner you will have to hunt out a shop, but most good hotels and restaurants have a wine list, and wine is produced in Morocco so give it a try.

Due to legal restrictions of Morocco being a Muslim country, remember that drinking in public is prohibited.

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  1. Take in the sunset views of the harbour after walking through the medina that tumbles down to the sea. The old homes are hidden and only a fancy or perhaps a modest door and decorated doorway indicates that there’s life behind the door. It can be a vast riad (a type of traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard). Homes and shops are all spick and span and the houseproud Moroccans keep their entrances well-swept and houses and windows painted fresh and in pretty colours.

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7. And shopping. Leather slippers called babouche (French for slippers), argan oil, lanterns, wonderful leather goods, beautifully decorated pottery and carpets and mats are in abundance and on display art every corner. Shopping here is a sport and the prizes are great indeed.

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8. Take a Tangier side trip: Cap Spartel marks Africa’s The promontory projects into the water, marking the boundary of the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. For atmosphere, the best time to come here is at sunset, when you can see dusk settle over the Atlantic.

This is Tangier, short on conventional attractions but it’s the artfully aged fabric of the city itself – the magnificent ruination of the Cervantes theatre, the lush graveyard gardens of St Andrew’s church, or the casbah walls’ tiled starbursts – which supplies the spectacle. The sights come thick and fast in a city where its compactness is a big slice of its charm.

The writer travelled with www.bypriorarrangment.com

This article has been published in www.letstravelmag.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Saigon? Sure do.

Miss Saigon? Sure do.

A day or so in Saigon is like a week anywhere else, staying in District 1 at the delightful Caravelle Hotel (yes, still the best breakfast in Asia).

I’m a sucker for a good hotel breakfast, and as one who has the simplest morning meal at home I go crazy when I’m at a brekkie buffet. The Caravelle Hotel, for me. is my go-to in Indochina. Every nationality is catered for, which suits me as I can cover ten countries in one sitting.

 

The hotel is situated opposite the charming Opera House (built in 1900), near every high end shop in town and 15 minutes walk away from the real shopping in big and vibrant Ben Thanh Markets – oh joy, oh joy!

 


The streets are buzzing with millions of motorbikes and we were pedalled around in a rickshaw yesterday – always a bit embarrassing as the drivers are usually the size of my left leg!
Visited the Reunification Palace and for the first time I visited the War Remnants Museum (much more realistic than the word ‘War Memorial’); sombre and heartbreaking, the museum pulls no punches and the photographs on the walls tell the horrific story of Vietnam’s suffering.
A funny thing happened at the Palace, there was a group of war vets, men and women who were ecstatic about having their photographs taken with us . . .see, you don’t have to mention the war!

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Writer Bev Malzard has visited Vietnam many times and blames the introduction to pho for her obsessive search for the best bowl of pho in Sydney. (On the lowdown, Eat Fuh (their spelling) has the most fragrant and divine broth for pho in Marrickville.)

Travel: New Caledonia

Travel: New Caledonia

France in the Pacific? Feel like a change of pace, a change of heart and a change of culture? How about Parisian panache and savoir fare – and it’s in our neighbourhood. Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia is calling.

Noumea, who knew, so Frenchy so chic! So close to Australia with a French sensibility and a Pacific casualness, the capital city is vibrant and ticks all the boxes for a fine holiday.

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I confess to a visit 20 years ago and the planets were not aligning; nothing impressed me and the Pacific destination was ticked off and forgotten about. BUT how things have changed, there’s a young vibrancy here and an independent confidence that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. So for a holiday with a difference, viva la difference . . .

Say ‘au revoir ‘to Sydney and you are in New Caledonia within three hours to say ‘bonjour’.

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  • A stay at Marriott’s Le Meridien Noumea Resort & Spa is top of the pops here. A beachfront suite overlooks the gardens and the ocean. Restaurants run the gourmet gamut and you can walk from French to Japanese cuisine within a few steps.
  • Head downtown to discover a wealth of hip bars and classy restaurants. Check out (newcaledonia.travel) for a list of rooftop bars, by-the-sea bars and cheese and wine tasting cellars (yes! French wine and French cheese, ooh la la).

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  • At Port Moselle there’s a small but colourful market with lots of local goods (authenticated signs) and it’s a brilliant place to buy fab fruit and stop for a coffee and a buttery croissant.
  • In a water taxi, you can be on an island in Le Lagoon in five minutes. Duck Island has a bar and restaurant and you can swim and snorkel here and if you’re lucky there’ll be a party on after sunset – wild times ahead.

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  • Visit the beautiful Tjibaou Cultural Centre, a splendid building by architect Renzo Piano. This is centre to discover the local Kanak culture.

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  • Take a sailing trip around Le Lagoon, so big you think it’s the ocean and stop off at Amedee Island, 40 mins from Noumea. Here a stunning lighthouse awaits you for a climb. The locals call the islet Amadee Lighthouse Island.

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  • Indulge in lobster thermidor (old school and delicious), baguettes, patisseries offerings of many delights, fresh coconuts – a Gallic blend of influences. Tres bon.

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AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME:  SYD-NEWCAL 3 hrs; MEL-NEWCAL 3hrs50mins

CURRENCY: The CFC (Change Franc Pacifique).

LANGUAGE: French and English.

 BEST TIME TO VISIT:

From September to December, when the days are warm and sunny with little or no rain. But overall – with sunny year-round subtropical weather – New Caledonia is good to visit at anytime of the year.