How to capitalise on the capital

How to capitalise on the capital


Australia’s capital city is a little different to those of other countries; it is confined to a territory and is surrounded by the bush, with a mountain range in the backdrop.

It really began as a rather vast paddock with a view of the Brindabella mountain range to the west, the high country snow fields to the south and the Pacific Ocean way over to the east. And that precious piece of Australian territory became the seat of parliament – the Australian Capital Territory, the ACT.

The place was decreed in 1913 and as early as 1908, tenders were put out internationally to design this new city. And Walter Burley Griffin won the toss and the rest is history.

I talked to a local sheep farmer a few years back (beautiful grazing land here) and he said he imagined that Canberra was designed on a template in the sky and plonked down on a bare paddock. Having not thought about this comment for ages, I recalled it recently when I saw a picture taken of the newly built Hotel Kurrajong Canberra from the early 1920s. It sits alone with an odd gum tree observing in bewilderment at the long, two-storey habitat floating in a sea of dirt and space.

And as the elegant building still sits in the same place now with a sophisticated city built up around it and the rooms filled with memories and perhaps the odd ghost – the gum tree has lived its life and has been replaced by thousands more in this ultimately green city.

The hotel was designed by Commonwealth Chief Architect, John Smith Murdoch, also renowned for designing Old Parliament House and built during the Australian Capital Territory’s alcohol prohibition years. There was a strong Temperance Movement in Australia (hard to fathom!) but never full-on prohibition – except for the ACT from 1910-1928 – when new liquor licenses were banned. The writing was on the wall for the pollies!

Hotel Kurrajong accommodated officials transferred from Melbourne to set up Australia’s new capital, Canberra. The hotel hosted officials and press for the opening of Parliament House in 1927 and continued as a home to Members of Parliament, their families and public servants for years to come. 

It was basically one of three ‘hostels’ built in the fledgling capital. It catered to single people or couples (married, natch) with no kids.  For almost half a century it provided residential accommodation for Members of Parliament. Basically an upmarket boarding house in a country town.

Today’s hotel is more than a shadow of its former self. There’s a calm elegance to the hotel that starts to creep up on you as soon as you arrive.

The garden in front of the entrance when I arrived at the beginning of summer was awash with a crowd of English Tea Roses  – pink, fluffy fragrant blooms displayed in the garden.

The lobby, reflecting the Art Deco ambience is cool and collected – a fire flickers in the original fireplace (modern gas) alight even in summer to add to the old school ambience of the lobby with quirky chairs surrounding the fireplace. Chairs are of different designs, to give colour and variety to the welcoming space. Look down – Oscar winning designer Catherine Martin designed the 4m x 5m rug in the lobby.

Rooms (there are 147 of them, with 26 in the heritage wing) are large and have the calming edge with blues, charcoals, a dash of silver, dove grey and a pop of colour in the framed wall prints. The room 205 (the numbering has now changed with the renovation) is remembered as the room in which Ben Chifley (Australian politician who served as Prime Minister from 1945-1949) lived. He suffered a fatal massive heart attack in 1951. There have been various ghost sightings claimed over the years – apparently a grey-suited man manifests pointing towards Old Parliament House.

Big is beautiful as the bed spreads to eternity with the finest linen and some pretty damn fine pillows. Breakfast is in Chifley’s Bar and Grill, plus dinner served here as well – it’s mostly about the great steaks. The outdoor garden beckons on a fine day but best to stay indoors in the middle of winter and summer here.

Visit: https://hotelkurrajong.com.au/

Getting the goods on Canberra 

Jay Hore, Hotel General Manager – Hotel Kurrajong Canberra, knows his way around the city and advises:

Why visit Canberra? “Not only is Canberra the national capital city and the administrative centre of the Australian government, it is the home of the Australian story! Canberra is a place that is a diverse, innovative and modern city that houses the stories of Australia.  Whether it’s the world class national attractions or the bustling events calendar, Canberra has plenty to offer visitors of all ages. Couple this with a thriving food and wine scene and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors (we’re called the bush capital for a reason), you’ll see that Canberra is a city full of surprises!

Don”t miss the Botticelli exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, opening 5 March 2021.

Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London https://nga.gov.au/masterpieces

  • Museum of Australian Democracy – Old Parliament House

Walking distance from Hotel Kurrajong

https://www.moadoph.gov.au/

  • Australian War Memorial

Last post ceremony every day at 5pm

https://www.awm.gov.au/

  • National Portrait Gallery Love Stories

Walking distance from Hotel Kurrajong

https://www.portrait.gov.au/content/australian-love-stories

  • Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre – with more than 200 interactive exhibits to explore. www.questacon.edu.au
  • Australian National Botanic Gardens

Opening hours 8.30am to 5pm Daily

Nice café.

https://www.anbg.gov.au/

Lonsdale Street Braddon Great cafes and restaurants. Check out https://lazy-su.com.au/

Extra special places not to miss:

Canberra Glassworks: a gallery and glass art studio. www.canberraglassworks.com

The Gallery of Small Things (a tiny gallery in a suburban backyard) www.galleryofsmalthings.com

Dirty Janes Canberra (a fab emporium of vintage and bespoke items too fab to not buy, plus a cafe): www.dirtyjanes.com

Rizla – a bar serving only Riesling: htpp://www.drinkrizla.com.au

AKIBA ( in the city for Asian fusion) http://www.akiba.com.au

At Braddon book for the amazing authentic Italian experience at Italian & Sons, also still in Italy is The Italian Place (scrumptious ragout). www.italianandsons.com.au and www.theitalianplace.net.au

Maybe Canberra should be proud of the nickname ‘Bush Capital’, as the hospitality here has a warmth and the service offers friendly authenticity as a country town – that has been gently plonked down in the middle of a big paddock.

6 Outback pubs to visit

6 Outback pubs to visit

There’s nothing like the experience of walking into an Outback pub in Australia. You might be greeted with an effusive “welcome” or a taciturn “g-day”, be surprised by a slick hipster serving coffees at the bar or a bartender who looks like he wrangles steers. A gap-toothed smile is always on the agenda but the dim, cool bar will be your best ,first impression out of a blazing hot day – and the beer is always cold.

Hopefully, once all borders are open you may visit these classics – so giddy up:

1. Daly Waters Hotel, Northern Territory: an historic NT hotel, it has a long, colourful history that has seen murders, cattle stampedes (in the street, not the bar), shoot outs and drunken brawls. A five-hour drive south of Darwin and you’ll be there. Sorry, all’s calm and civilised these days.



  1. Tattersall’s ‘Tatts’, Winton Qld: This is the oldest standing hotel in Winton. The real deal, smack bang in the middle of Queensland, with wide verandah overhang and a fine bar. Grab a meal here – this is where you’ll find the ‘great steak slab’.
  1. Prairie Hotel, Parachilna South Australia:  this is something else, a ‘luxury accommodation’ hotel, a casual grab-a-beer bar and a much awarded restaurant serving exquisite gourmet creations. In the Outback in Australia’s desert zone (and after the main course – a remote dessert zone) which stretches from Parachilna to the south to Birdsville – pull into a true blue surprise.
  1. Palace Hotel, Broken Hill NSW: the building was once a coffee palace in 1889, built by the Temperance Movement. No surprise, the idea was not successful and the place ultimately became a licensed hotel. The splendid old building was one of the stars of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The crazy grandiose murals were painted by an Indigenous artist Gordon Waye. Accommodation ranges from dorms to kitschy suites and the restaurant always gets a good rave.
  1. Family Hotel, Tibooburra NSW: 340km from Broken Hill, way out in Corner Country (NSW, Queensland and South Australia are nudging each other here) the hotel sits to serve visitors and the town’s population of 135. It has held appeal for musicians and artists and inside the hotel are some authentic works of Aussie artist Clifton Pugh. 
  1. Birdsville Hotel, Birdsville Qld: since 1884 the sandstone walls of this famous pub have weathered floods, fires, cyclones and rowdy crowds that drive or fly in for the annual weekend of Outback eccentricity – the Birdsville Races. For those who brave the unpredictable track, the reward of ‘being in Birdsville’ is the simple thrill of being in this far flung location.

How to ‘do’ the top town

How to ‘do’ the top town

Getting close to crossing borders again – head to the top of Oz: Darwin

Once considered the wild west, Darwin was a haven for maintenance avoiding men; dodgy people who needed to disappear, 20th century vagabonds and a town with a drinking culture to set galactic records.

When Cyclone Tracy blew into town on 24 December 1974 and devastated the town and outlying areas, what rose from the flattened town and broken hearts was the origins of a new, modern city that would be a beacon to government, entrepreneurs, tourism activity, young go-getters, especially the migrant and refugee settlers – which has resulted in a busy, buzzy tropical town.

To market . . .

Gone are the days of the slab of steak, three eggs and chips as regular fare, international cuisine is well and truly on the menu in some great restaurants but the place to get your spicy fix is the markets.

While traveling you may be hanging out for a flat white made by a topknot wearing chappie with tats and a goatee, a laksa or a tropical smoothie, Parap Market is where the locals throng to every Saturday morning. Fruit and vegies that you’ve only seen in Asia are on sale and while you tuck into a curry or roti, shut your eyes and taste the spice accompanied by the light aroma of patchouli – yes, this is where the new breed hippie has been reinvented. (You could probably give them a few tips from way back!)

The main place to hit just before sunset is Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. This is Darwin’s most popular tourist spot so arrive early and bags your spot on the beach. They operate from April to the end of October (the dry season). Munch a kangaroo sausage, a meal from the Roadkill Café. listen into the poetry readings, watch a dance troupe or pick up a few Aboriginal arts and Asian crafts. Don’t panic if you miss the magnificent sunset, there’ll be another one tomorrow.

My best place to go

(A fave sunset watching spot is from the less than posh yacht club, the Darwin Trailer Boat Club. The city’s oldest club (1954) started out as a modified caravan on the beach and now serves cold beer and fantastic food from the bistro.)

Or sashay on to a yacht or a restored pearling lugger for a sunset cruise on the harbour, accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine to set the mood.

We reckon you you can still find a decent steak and chips and an authentic burger here but here’s the lowdown on where to find the best eats in town:

Pee Wee’s at the Point; Little Miss Korea (for Barramundi Bibimbap), Alfonsinos, Char Restaurant, Hanuman and Il Lido. But as in any town, sometimes you just have to follow your nose and take a leap of faith.

Best pubs are The Precinct and Lola’s Pergola. There are many other watering holes of various persuasions.

The big hotels have fantastic restaurants and clever clogs chefs. Darwin’s signature dishes include amazing prawns from the Gulf and before you leave you have to seek out Penang Crocodile Curry and the King hit dish – Chili Mud Crab.

Some local pubs will serve you a family meal with surf’n’turf as the special and if you are nostalgic for the 80s there’s always the ‘parmie’ washed down with a cold beer. Bottoms up!

Darwin is home to the weird and wonderful and aside for some seriously lovely attractions you may want to step out of your comfort zone for:

  • The Helicopter Pub Crawl (three different pubs to share a yarn or two with the locals and a few bevies and the designated driver is a helicopter pilot;
  • Deckchair Cinema is an outdoor movie-going experience where you can watch the stars on the screen and overhead in the starry starry night sky. (It operated during the dry season, so take a picnic and enjoy the flix!)
  • Not quite a wild ride but close to it is the Airboat Tour of Darwin Harbour that takes you around the harbour and the mangroves. (An airboat is a flat-bottomed vessel that is propelled by a giant fan instead of a motor.)
  • The Crocodile Cage of Death . . . no explanation needed really. Get in the cage, get dunked and the crazed croc (very Darwin) is beneath you, mouth slavering for fresh meat. Or, croc swims in and eats food thrown by keepers. This is fun, go for it.
  • Two stories that are important are set at the Flying Doctor Service building on Stokes Wharf. As well as the Flying Doctor history and extraordinary work done across the Outback, there’s the Bombing of Darwin Virtual Reality experience. This is well done and tells the dramatic tales from 1942 of the devastation wrought and the individual human stories.
  • Fannie Bay Gaol Museum once housed Darwin’s most desperate criminals between 1883-1979. The cells and gallows are pretty gloomy but are often used as a backdrop for dinner parties! The rare gallows mechanism was modelled on the Newgate Gallows in England – as said previous, pretty gloomy and hairs-on-the- arm-raising.

Galleries and Museums

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory is a corker – there’s so much discover and uncover here from maritime archaeology, sublime indigenous art, artefacts and culture to WWII and the story of Cyclone Tracy.

Two other superb museums in the Darwin Military Museum Precinct at East Point include: the Darwin Military Museum and the interactive installations at the Defence of Darwin Experience next door. When you reflect on the dusty hot town of Darwin as the first line of defence for an invasion of Australia in WWII and it being bombed mercilessly, it is a chilling thought as to what might have been.

Staycation or 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

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.

 

 

 

 

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: 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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road trip: Go West

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Forbes Town Hall.

I wrote this post as the smoke pall was settling over Sydney and we were preparing to head outta town to support people in the rural areas. And then the hammer of Covid-19 slammed us, and we went into quarantine. Locked in and not going anywhere. As restrictions are cautiously being lifted we are dipping our toes outside the front door and longing for some wide open spaces. So here’s the previous post – and I’m making plans.

Following are a few towns, not necessarily bushfire affected but the drought and the idea of bushfires has kept visitors away from many places outside the cities and urban areas. Let me request that you head out with a full heart and an empty Esky. Buy local, eat local and shop local while visiting the towns. Let’s share some love.

Head out of Sydney to explore the central west. There are thriving towns, sleepy hollows and a wealth of innovation with a big, warm welcome when you drive into the towns. Stop by and spend a few $$$ as the towns are stretched because of the fierce drought that is affecting everyone out there. (Covid-19 put the nail in the proverbial as the visitors just couldn’t come.)

Farmers markets, gift shops, cafes all can benefit by a few dollars spent here. (Keep your showers short and your support long.)

Five Highlights of the NSW Central West:

Cowra

Stroll around the stunning, elegant Japanese Garden.

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Cowra Japanese Gardens.

This ultimate, tranquil experience is one to enjoy with a slow stroll, a picnic or view from the Japanese Tea House. Ken Nakajima designed the Cowra Japanese Garden based on the first landscape garden built by the Shogun Tokugawa during the Edo period of Japan, the 16th century.

There is the wartime legacy of Cowra with the solemn reminders of the Cowra Breakout, the POW Camp and the War Cemeteries. An uplifting sight in Cowra is the World Peace Bell set in Cowra’s Civic Square where you can listen to an audio presentation and even ring the bell.

Visit: www.visitcowra.com.auu

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  1. Parkes

Whole hunka love . . .

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Parkes has a host of festivals throughout the year and the big one is a celebration of Elvis Presley’s birthday in the second week of January. Thousands of visitors flock to Parkes to hear impersonators sing the King’s hits, dress up vintage-style and to dance in their blue suede shoes. If you aren’t driving, there’s the Elvis Express train that transports passengers to Parkes from Sydney and return. (There are many great packages to the festival to be had.)

Stay at Hotel Gracelands (where it all began) for great accommodation and a fab restaurant (with much better food than Elvis ever ate).

Visit: www.visitparkes.com.au

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  1. The Dish

Look to the stars – and further

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On the outskirts of Parkes is THE Dish, yes, that one. On the flat drive out to the CSIRO complex you drive on a road shaded by tall eucalypts. Paddocks spread before you, a few sheep are feeding and the scene is quiet and rather sparse. Then the Dish appears – so incongruous and so wonderfully familiar (for me, all because of the movie). Enjoy a cup of java at the Dish Café and watch and wait while it does a little turn. This sophisticated piece of scientific equipment stands in the middle of a sheep paddock just 20km from Parkes off the Newell Highway. There are many hands-on exhibits and a 3D theatre screening programs on space and astronomy (great stuff for kids and adults too).’

Visit: www.csiro.au/parkes

 

  1. Orange

With the drought you could say ‘Orange is the new Brown’.

Orange is a wonderful, classy country town that is not famous for oranges – in fact there are no oranges grown in Orange. There is a fine legacy of agricultural business though and cherries are the orchards of choice and of course classic cool climate wines are produced in the surrounding vineyards. This country town has been gaining a strong foodie following for a few years now and the quality of produce, menu innovation and top shelf restaurants has given Orange a formidable reputation. The town is at an altitude of 862m so it’s a little cooler in summer that the sea level towns and there’s often a snow fall in winter. Mount Canobolas at 1395m is the local mountain, for a drive and a grand view of the city and surrounding countryside. (The information centre here is informative and there’s often an exhibition that’s worth stopping an extra day for.)

Visit: www.visitnsw.com/destinatons/country-nsw/orange-area/orange

 

  1. Bathurst

History, heritage and damn fine scones

It’s about 200km west-northwest of Sydney and is the oldest inland settlement in Australia. The city has the classic wide streets and a plethora of heritage buildings from colonial to Federation to mid century modern. There’s a lot going on here and there’s a youthful feel as it’s a university town.

The food scene is innovative and I can totally recommend the jam and scone scene . . .

The Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG) is a standout among the nation’s regional art galleries. It’s smallish and has some spectacular exhibitions on display regularly.

Visit: https://www.bathurstart.com.au/

 

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This is five highlights only, among many, so next time you want to take a driving holiday in New South Wales, head west: stop off at Blackheath on your way before you cross the Blue Mountains, have a coffee and lemonade scones at Altitude; try the Servicemen’s Club at Cowra for a good club dinner; visit the Dubbo Western Plains Zoo and spend the day there, and walk around the old Dubbo Gaol for some jailhouse blues; sink your teeth into the best egg and bacon roll in Cumnock; check out pretty Molong and its blank silos waiting to be painted; the tiny town of Milthorpe between Orange and Blayney where there’s a one hat restaurant called Tonic that is the talk of the town; seek out the Bakery in Forbes for more light-as-a-feather scones; drive out of Condobolin (Condo) to view the ‘Utes in the Paddock’ outdoor exhibition of painted utes in various states – quite something to see, as is much of the Carbonne villages, roadside stalls, spectacular natural wonders, annual country events and generous and warm hospitality oozing authenticity and rustic charm.

Visit:  www.visitcentralnsw.com.au

0A bit shabby but still standing – the wall too!