The prettiest town in the world

Click on here to read about the prettiest town in the world . . .Hallstatt in Austria.

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How to Hobbit – it’s a shire thing!

How to Hobbit – it’s a shire thing!

Time to run this again as the BIG news is that New Zealand’s heavenly landscape will be featured again in the upcoming tv series of the Lord of the Rings. Read through and explore and discover Matamata and Hobbiton. And check out the news of the tv series at the end.

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.

It cost NZ$79 for the tour of Hobbiton (worth every dollar).

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 are required begin production on the show within two years – so that means that the show will be on the way by November 2019 at least.

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.

This info from: https://www.nme.com/blogs/tv-blogs/lord-of-the-rings-tv-series-release-date-plot-cast-2170413#Lim5jmz24ww

 

 

How to Luxury Cruise

Cruising in luxury is attainable. But be warned, once experienced . . . you can never go back .

DSC03176To experience a small ship, elegant surroundings, gourmet bespoke restaurants, places to visit that only small ships can snuggle into and . . . to have a butler on hand is something to save and strive for.

OK, this takes money but so do other cruises that aren’t so exclusive . . . so pick your luxury cruise and work towards it. This will be an incredible experience, and quite likely ruin you for any mega ship trips.

Silversea Cruises was, and is my company of choice for the ultimate ‘spoil yourself rotten’ experience. Our ship from the fleet is Silver Muse.

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Sliversea Cruises has itineraries that will take you to ply the waters of many countries and continents across the world.

My cruise was from Singapore to Bali. We overnighted at the elegant Shangri-La in Singapore and took off the next morning for a luxurious, soft cruisy adventure.

We were welcomed onboard warmly by white-gloved staff and promptly escorted to our suite. A large suite opened up with fresh flowers on the table, a bottle of bubbly on ice, a large balcony and two tricky TV’s that were really mirrors that were also TV’s. (I suddenly became technically challenged re the mirrored tv – one in front of the bed and one in the ‘living’ room.) Our butler smoothly fixed it all – with no judgement.

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Around the world and around the clock, every suite comes with a dedicated butler to pamper you with personalised attention and take care of every detail of the voyage

As the ship departed Singapore my sense of well-being was at an all-time high and my sense of adventure on alert!

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We explored the ship to scope out where all the restaurants were located and planned to try all of them before the cruise ended. The main restaurant, The Restaurant is where our first meal was tasted and we ate outside with new friends. From that night on whether at breakfast, lunch or dinner – the staff remembered how I like my coffee and which brand of tea I preferred. From the first meal, gastronomic excellence was on the menu – and we tried and tested every meal – and could not find fault. As if.

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Exploring

After a gentle sleep out first day was at sea. A day to be pampered at the Zagara Spa – nothing like a good massage to get the endorphins into shape.

We checked out the boutique, small with selective items, the theatre, the intimate nooks to read and relax and enjoyed lunch on the pool deck – a casual plate of curry with a cold beer set the tone for the afternoon.

Jakarta hadn’t made my ‘must visit’ travel list so the excursion on the second day was a dive into the sprawling, traffic-crazed place that was a frenetic introduction to a city swelling with 18 million inhabitants.

The city displays the richness of the new buildings, malls, business centres and fancy hotels alongside rows of shanty homes and evidence of entrenched poverty.

No apologies for anything in Jakarta and best way to enjoy is to take in the museums, central Jakarta’s towering National Monument or somewhere more my speed, Jalan Surabaya’s gaggle of shops and kiosks where there is eclectic items for sale. Retro rules here and you can pick up old Elvis records, vintage handbags or curious art pieces.

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My favourite stop in Jakarta was in the Old Town, where all of life is seen in Fatahilla Square. This is where the famous Wayang Museum (founded in 1975) houses exquisite puppets from all regions of Indonesia and neighbouring countries. The museum is built on a site that dates back to 1640.

But we almost missed the highlight of the square, Café Batavia. We had been looking for love in all the wrong places! This divine café hails from the 1830s and oozes character. Colonial style furniture in dark wood and tall slatted windows, Dutch-era food blended with the spices of Indonesia, invite you in. We missed what was coming in the evening though – live music on stage every night.

Out of the steamy heat of the spice islands and onboard the Silver Muse for the promise of a grand evening ahead in the prettiest restaurant on the ship – Indochine – for an elegant array of tastings from the Asian region reflected in the name.

Next day after breakfast in bed (ooooh the luxury of this), thank you our fave butler. And today was freewheeling on an island by ourselves. A quick tender trip to Karimunjawa, a tropical hideaway where the Silver Muse staff had set up food and drinks while us spoilt passengers swam and lazed about. A grand day indeed.

After such a big day out – it was pizzas on deck and a movie afterwards.

And the exploration continues. Next day we berth in the intriguing port of Semarang, with its network of narrow canals. The city is a mix of various times in history Chinese, Dutch, Javanese influences are seen in temples, mosques and lattice-fronted cottages. Then a drive to the mother load – Borobudur – one of the most photographed Buddhist shrines on the world.

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A UNESCO World Heritage site, this massive complex is the ultimate guide to enlightenment. Surrounded by lush scenic forests and trimmed gardens the mountainous structure sprawls and invites the hardy to climb, and climb and climb. I didn’t quite reach Nirvana (it was too hot) but got a few spiritual stamps for my effort.

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It was built around 780-850AD and wasn’t exposed to western eyes until 1814 when Thomas Stamford Raffles stumbled up it (he really got around didn’t he?).

After our architectural, spiritual and physical exertions we were lead to a covered annex, where lunch was and were entertained by a local traditional dance troupe.

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Another long day and time to try the Atlantide restaurant which is so popular that we had to book the day before.

What a gloriously luxurious cruise this has been. And not a stuffy note on any given day.

And towards the end of the journey we counted our ship experiences against the excursions – it was a tie! Well, maybe except for the trivia afternoons – it got pretty damn competitive, but fun.

Sad to leave the stunning Silver Muse to re-join the real life but as we left we gave a list of our favourite places to our butler and his mate our room attendant who were going to have a couple of days off in Sydney soon. Sharing the love. It’s all relative isn’t it.

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How not to look like a tourist

How not to look like a tourist

You are a tourist but you need not be so obvious – try the ‘blend in’ tactic.

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It’s funny that we recognise other tourists when we are travelling, there’s a certain gauche appearance to some, a gawky look to others, a ‘look at me’ image and a ‘I don’t care what the culture is, I’m wearing this’ attitude, and we see someone who had no idea what the weather was going to be like and is inappropriately dressed for the current climate. And then we pass a window and see our reflection . . .eek! Let’s address the dress code.

I can always pick the older Aussie male traveller (and the older Americans too). The big white sneakers and socks pulled half-way up the calf and the men are wearing shorts.

Now, shorts are fine in the tropics, beach resorts or cruise days. But. You are a standout tourist in sophisticated cities.

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For ease and comfort while being a tourist, try to blend in.

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Wear it well!

Nothing shouts ‘tourist’ more than bulky sneakers, a backpack with a logo, and sometimes a bad hat – think foldable, terry towelling or canvas. And garments sold as ‘vacation wear’ marketed to travellers are dead giveaways. Locals do not wear zip-off pants in khaki or colours as muddy as that.

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If you’re travelling for a couple of weeks, invest in a good Panama hat (the authentic Panama’s roll up nicely and you can wear them for years) or wear or a subtle baseball cap. OR just buy a cheap hat in Asia and ditch it before you depart the country.

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And don’t wear loud T-shirts or sweat shirts announcing that you’re an Aussie. No political messages or what you deem amusing either. For men and women, plain T-shirts and cotton classic shirts.

If in a cold country, don’t look as if you’ve never known cold before. A good parka and a classy scarf and warm hat helps you blend in. You don’t need to be in a Michelin Man puffer jacket, unless you’re in Siberia in the winter!

And never wear a bumbag (or as the Americans call them ‘fanny packs’), they not only spell tourist, they spell ‘person with terrible taste’, they are a crime against fashion . . . and humanity.

Conclusion: avoid bright colours and logos, electronic gear in plain sight and glittery jewellery.

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Sometimes we can be rather overdressed.

Pack a couple of smart outfits to wear if you are to attend a concert or splurge on a fancy restaurant. You’d be surprised at how many travellers turn up to the opera in Vienna or at the theatre in London wearing what looks like yesterday’s borrowed bushwalking gear!

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Now, this is a good look.

Where you go

The art of blending in is best achieved by quietly fitting in without anyone noticing. Begin without walking around with a giant map in your hands. Use a map on your phone and don’t stop in the middle of the street, road, a crowd to consult your phone map. Find a quiet spot to find your bearings.

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Slow coach

Embrace the art of ‘slow travel’. Don’t rush everywhere to see everything. Enjoy long, slow breakfasts in local cafes or leisurely picnics in parks. And on the perimeter of tourist sites you’ll be less of a target for pickpockets.

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Sometimes it’s hard to blend in.

Treat yourself

In Paris? London? New York? Book a haircut at a fancy hairdressing salon. You’ll look and feel a million bucks.

Need a new coat? Hit the sales in Los Angeles or Las Vegas at the amazing Outlet stores or sale time in Milan. Yet again, you’ll look as cool as a local and you’ll bring a beautiful garment home with you.

And chaps – ditch the baggy-bum Dad jeans – buy yourself some new jeans (preferably dark blue or black) and some fashionable chinos.

IMG_0085And if you have to wait for a bus in a foreign land, just dress to impress.

Hawaiian Airlines review

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ALOHA!

The flagship airline of a country has a lot to live up to; this one goes above and beyond for comfort and service.

Comfort when flying? It’s many things to many people. But, speaking for myself and if I’m not at the pointy end of the plane, which I rarely am, I have to consider what I require to stay sane and flexible for more than four hours on a plane.

First, there’s the fare. I do look around but cheapest is not always the bestest! But early booking and keeping an eye on seasonal newsletters and talking to your travel agent can often yield a damn good fare.

Second – the seat. Now, I’m about 167c tall so I go for extra space and comfort in economy. Various airlines have premium seating which offers space and comfort and often a heftier price tag than the experience warrants.

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A330 Extra Comfort guests

My sweet comfort spot was found last year when I flew to the USA from Sydney via Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines. They had me at ‘comfort seat’.

And I repeated the experience again this year. Recently I tried another option to entering the US and I am a happy traveller.

I flew from Sydney to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines (grabbed a couple of days in Hawaii) and then flew on to the States and instead of landing at LAX, I landed in Long Beach.

I had a three-day stopover on Maui (flew to Maui on Hawaiian Airlines too). From Honolulu the next leg was fab because I was about to land in an airport that wasn’t going to do my head in – as Los Angeles does.

Hawaiian now flies into Long Beach and it’s a breath of fresh air. The flight takes five and a half hours and there’s a flight daily.

At nine at night the airport is calm and welcoming.

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Long Beach Airport.

Touch down is Long Beach Airport. What a dream. We landed after 10pm and the airport was cool, calm and we collected our baggage with very little drama. And because all the passport formalities are taken care of in Hawaii – this being a domestic port – a smooth walk through to find a taxi.

Long Beach Airport is a fantastic place for Australians travelling to California for the usual destinations, (particularly good for families heading to Anaheim for Disneyland as the airport is easier to navigate the family through). To fly there with Hawaiian via Hawaii gives you the opportunity to have a couple of little holidays on the way to the main event. Stopover in Honolulu for fun, the beach and shopping, and experience the charm of Long Beach.

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Female guest and Male flight attendant, Keawe

Always, service with a smile.

Now back to the flight. Hawaiian Airlines premium product, Extra Comfort is just that. The Extra Comfort seats on the Airbus A330 and A321neo aircraft offer extra leg room, priority services and additional amenities to make the travel experience more comfortable. Se, back to comfort again.

For guest sitting in Extra Comfort there’s your personal electrical power outlet for convenient charging devices; a comfort kit provides ear phones, ear plugs, an eyeshade, toothbrush and paste, hydrating mist, lotion, lip balm, tissue, a bamboo comb and a Hawaiian Airlines pen, all contained in a cute canvas bag.

Extra Comfort personal amenities kit

And you get Priority Security, the line is a separate line from the general security line. They still go through the TSA security screening process but is usually a shorter and faster line than the general security line. Available in Boston, Honolulu, Long Beach, New York, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Extra Comfort is priced per flight sector. The current pricing for Extra Comfort SYD-HNL is AUD$179 if bought online (that is – prior to arrival at airport) and the HNL-LGB sector is priced at AUD$105. FYI – Extra Comfort pricing varies per sector. And the best news on this flight is the luggage allowance. YAY! It’s 64kg (2 x 32kg).

Travellers love shopping in Honolulu. There is a wonderful variety of goods to gather and the amazing Ala Moana Shopping Center and outlet malls have quality goods, clothes, accessories, sports shoes, kids clothes and so much more.

So, to take only a few things with you and fill up those lonely luggage spaces on holidays without the worry of paying excess at the airport is inspiring for the expert shopper.

Hawaiian Airlines is a total destination carrier that exudes the culture of the islands and a fine way to get to mainland USA.

All announcements on the flight ended with the word ‘mahalo’ which is an expression of thanks or respect and an acknowledgment that we were flying Hawaiian airlines. (Hawaiians are conservative and polite so they’d never dream of not saying Mahalo when it is appropriate. If you want to be formal and show that are feeling grateful you would say: “Mahalo Nui Loa.”)

So I’ll say “Mahalo Nui Loa”.

And there’s more . . . sorry, no steak knives but . . .

Hawaiian Airlines now has a five-day-a-week service between Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) and Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) its second East Coast gateway for Australian travellers visiting the United States Mainland.

So, what’s that I hear? Boston is on the agenda for the next US holiday?

Hawaiian Airlines ticks the boxes for value for money and Extra Comfort.

The writer flew courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines, and the review is independent.

 

 

Kenya: first time traveller

Kenya: first time traveller

I was enjoying a story by the fabulous writer, Christine Retschlag, on her experience in Kenya for https://www.dumbofeather.com/articles/out-of-africa/

While I was reading it I was remembering back over 22 years ago when I first visited Kenya and indeed the African continent. It was early days for international travel writing for me and this trip showed me how curious and weird some trips can get. In fact, it was good travel training ground for me.

When we arrived in Nairobi we waited for more than an hour to retrieve our luggage. Nah. It hadn’t made it from the plane in Jo’burg to our Nairobi destination. This was before social media, mobile phone, the internet to assist,so panic set in and many phone calls were made. Nah. Not happening.

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Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash

We were to go to Amboseli the following morning with or without luggage.

There was only one other female travel writer on this trip so we headed into town to shop for basics. We figured we could get away with two pair of panties, one pair of Khaki knee-length shorts, two big khaki t-shirts worn several fetching ways. We purchased shorts and t-shirts but we found cheap sneakers and panties at a hardware shop. Delicate little pink and blue knickers were folded alongside various types of hammers and pliers. Ok, that was a first.

The following morning we were driving out of town and I thought we should try the airport one more time. Hail, hail Olympic Airlines – it had transfered our luggage and it was in a holding cage waiting for us.

On we drove through towns that consisted of four or five buildings, little shop fronts and they were all either barbers or butcher shops. At one stop I looked across the road at an expanse of vacant land and two giraffes were taking the morning air. Odd.

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Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

You can see Mt Kilimanjaro on a clear day from Serena Amboseli.

We arrived at the Amboseli safari/resort/hotel place and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me as fine shadows were zipping across the painted and polished  concrete floor of the foyer. As I walked the path to my habitat I say little fluffy bottoms poking out of holes in the stone walls. Then I saw the creature above my door – and immediately became a fan of the quirky hyraxes.

The hyrax, a small furry mammal is also called a rock rabbit or dassie. It looks like a robust, oversized guinea pig, or a rabbit with rounded ears and no tail and it mostly has a grumpy little face. Hyraxes have stumpy toes with hoof-like nails; and four toes on each front foot and three on each back foot. And they are distantly related to the elephant – true – do your research.

They are endearing. The following morning I looked out my window to the pool below and could see a great mound of (maybe 20) hyrax piled tenuously on a sunbed taking some early morning rays.

That night around a campfire we drank and smoked (those were the days) and eventually toddled off to our rooms. On the way I slipped on the polished concrete and the ankle twist was so fierce that I went into shock, I couldn’t speak, threw up and almost passed out. One of my travelling companions lazily propped me up against a wall and said to one of the concerned staff “my wife is drunk, watch her while I go to the toilet”. The staff member helped me hobble to my room. I was mortified and speechless and planned my revenge.

The following day we were to meet the people of the Maasai tribe close by.  The welcome dance was energetic, much leaping into the air. With my buggered ankle this was not possible for me to join the airlifts. But the young tribal leader – Bruce – yes, that was his name, took me into his house for a visit. The tiny hut house, closed up on a hot day with the animals in the pen inside and the aroma of sour milk did me in and I almost passed out on Bruce’s bed. As he guided me out of the door I was swooning with nausea and threw up at his doorstep. I still feel shame.

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Photo by Pawan Sharma on Unsplash

There were many little adventures on that particular journey and lessons learned:

  • Always get out of bed before dawn to go animal spotting. I was tired, in pain and grumpy and every night promised myself that I would sleep in. Bugger the dawn patrol. Every morning I did get up and had some wondrous sightings of animals including lions and cheetahs.
  • Always have items of clothing that you are willing to part with. We were in the backblocks of nowhere and we stopped for a rest from the bouncing, jiggling, pounding driving experience of speeding along roads that were really just a series of deep potholes joined together with spit and a prayer. I waved to a man plowing the ground with a farm implement that was ancient and strapped around his neck. He wandered over for a chat and a smoke (smoking was so social back in the day) and noticed he was wearing a pair of black pants with braces and an old dinner jacket. I thought he would look much more fetching if he had a white shirt to complete his ensemble. I whipped off my shirt (singlet underneath) and gave it to him. He was thrilled and dressed himself and went back to work. There was a scrub farmer looking damn dapper in a Carla Zampatti shirt – couple of seasons old but hey!
  • Take jelly snakes with you. This is how international relations with kids is forged. And with adults too.

Towards the end of the trip we took the ‘Lunatic LIne’ (the Nairobi to Mombasa train route). It was an hilarious journey with large bowls of soup being sloshed around the dining car, warnings to keep our windows shut from the top bunk in case of ‘nibbling animals’. But the best part of the train trip was my opportunity for revenge on my fellow traveller. I had waited for eight days.

He was languishing in his cabin with a terrible gasto/vomiting affliction, we visited him regularly with commiserations and acts of kindness. I opened the door and asked how he was and he just moaned, I then asked him if he “would like a fish milkshake with a hair in it”, which sent him into a violent paroxysm – as they say in Kenya – “Shame”.

Lunatic line

The writer’s photos of that trip have been lost in time but not memory.

In 1996 at the Australian Society of Travel Writers annual awards night I was named Travel Writer of the Year. Then there were only two writing categories – consumer and trade. Consumer stories had to include three published features. Mine were Nashville; Egypt and the trip called Postcards from Kenya. 

I was the second female to take the prize – the first being Susan Kurosawa. 

Top featured image: Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash