Road trip: Go West

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Forbes Town Hall.

I’m posting this as an update, after the devastation throughout Australia of the bushfires, wrought on country towns and villages that will be doing it tough for a long time to come. 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. 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

Cowra

 

  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!

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.

 

Postcards from the Seaside

Postcards from the Seaside

I know my beaches. I grew up in Sydney and had the advantage of swimming at the great urban beaches in this part of Australia’s east coast. Golden sand, the smell of coconut oil and hot chips, squealing children and days so long that they went on forever.

And as I grew older and began to travel I became a bit of a beach snob. New Zealand Bay of Islands got the big tick; Fijian Islands got a tick; northern Bali with the black sand and tepid surf, no: Greece’s pebbly shores no but the water yes; the warm China Sea off the coast on Saba, Malaysia, no. And swimming in the Red Sea was fun but it sure wasn’t Bondi!

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Checking out the surf.

When I lived in England in the 80s some friends and I (two Kiwis) took a trip from London to Brighton in January. Sweet Geezus it was cold. The ice-chill breeze slowly making its way off the water would freeze eyeballs and I couldn’t believe my half-frozen eyes at what was happening on the pebble-strewn beach. With the tide out there was an enormous stretch of beach and all along it, what looked like people were sitting in deck chairs, rugged up against the wind, enjoying the fresh air and the diluted sunshine – it almost appeared as a work of cruel sculpture art – but no, they were real – the great English Stoics at play.

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The long, long, long Victorian pier.

From then on I gained an appreciation for the beaches along the coast of England, wild waves coming in from The Atlantic, pounding water from the North Sea, gentle warm (not really) currents on the Cornwell coast and the lovely sweeping beaches of North East England. Each have their own charm and although I couldn’t cope with a swim, they are a delight to walk along and even paddle (briefly).

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Saltburn-by-the-Sea in County Durham, North Yorkshire seen on a sunny day is a delight and edges towards being star of an old Ealing comedy movie.

 

The retro chic of Saltburn is enticing. The long, long Victorian pier juts into the sea and it’s here you’ll see many a surfer (wearing wetsuits) out on OK-size waves.

There’s a water-powered ‘cliff lift’, a peculiar funicular (above) that runs modestly between the upper and lower parts of town. Along the promenade of the beach there’s an ice-cream shop and sweet little ‘beach huts’ where the owners spend time out of the wind among their jauntily decorated tiny house.

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So if you get the urge to explore more than the cities and green fields of England and have a desire to be beside the seaside, check out the east coast of England – you won’t be disappointed.

Author Bev Malzard did not have one swim here.

More info: http://www.visitbritain.com

Copyright: All rights reserved.

USA: how to indulge in Waikiki

USA: how to indulge in Waikiki

At a recent visit to Hawaii, staying a the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort, I had time to seek out a couple more experiences at Waikiki. I decided to sleep, swim, read and eat – three necessary holiday activities that I have not practiced for many years. I was a bit rusty, but I made an effort. I’ve added a couple more experiences and updated this blog. Check out buzzy Waikiki for the ‘Hawai’i five oh’ and more fab experiences.

More than a stopover on your way to the mainland USA, this holiday haven has a wonderful welcoming ambience; a little bit of retro surf culture, luxury accommodation with views, nature to surprise and excite, history to dig into and a way of life that Australian travellers embrace. And did I mention shopping . . .

  • Eat at Duke’s Waikiki Beachfront Restaurant. This is where the legend Duke Kahanamoku grew up swimming, surfing, canoeing and bodysurfing. In 1929, Duke rode a monster wave for 1 1/8 miles at Waikiki, likely the longest ride in modern times. You know that image in your mind of Waikiki Beach, the one with Diamond Head in the distance and outrigger canoes in a turquoise bay of warm water? It’s real and it’s here every day. The dishes I can recomment are: the burger and the coconut prawns.
  • Stay at Moana Surfrider Hotel. This glorious pile (pictured below) was the first luxury hotel built in Hawaii. Honoured with the title ‘First Lady of Waikiki’ this place has been hosting happy customers since 1901. Try for a room that looks along the coast with Waikiki Beach to look down on and lift your eyes to the magnificent sight of Diamond Head, towering over the sweeping coastline below.
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Tips: Eat dinner in the Beachhouse here for local seafood and gourmet island dishes. Indulge in the great tradition of High Tea on the Verandah here. Sit and sip and eat for a couple of hours. Highly recommended.

And enjoy a selfguided historical tour of the Moana Surfrider, steeped in charm and elegance with vintage memorabilia on show.

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  • Take a tour to get the lay of the land. There are a few tour operators touting for business close to the beach. I opted for the Oahu Nature Tours. They offer several tours: Diamond Head Crater Adventure; Ultimate Circle Island Adventure & Waimea Waterfall; Natural Highlights of Oahu Adventure and North Shore and Circle Island Tour (which was my choice.) Highlight was the amazing Byodo Temple in the Valley of the temples (below).

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Tips: Take your own water bottle and fill before you leave to save buying water along the way and maybe save a little space on the planet from anther bit of plastic. Lunch is included so bring your appetite for a plate of fried shrimp.

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Beware the Jurassic creatures of Oahu.

  • Eat your way around town. OK, there are burgers and there are burgers – it is America! But because of the city’s cultural cuisine history, there’s so much more. From classy joints to hole-in-the-wall places and food trucks to fast food chains – go for it.

My pick: Just before departing I had the urge to eat steak. we went to Wolfgang’s (nothing to do with Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants) Steakhouse. As usual we forgot to book. You have to queue and wait in most restaurants here – so best bet is to make a reservation.

There’s so much more – but a little cutie for me is diagonally across the road from the Moana Surfrider, King’s Village, rather underwhelming as it sits quietly below the highrise all around. On the corner of the village is Rock Island Cafe, full of rock’n’roll memorabilia. Fab burger and fries plus a decent coffee. Kinda daggy but kinda comfy too.

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Tips: eat, buy and also bring some back – the famous Honolulu Cookie. Darling little premium shortbreads are baked in the shape of a pineapple of all flavours from chocolate to guava, passionfruit to pineapple, macadamia to coconut and coffee. They are seriously yummy and taste of aloha!

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  • Shop yourself stupid. Ask any Aussie woman as to why she travels with her family for a Honolulu holiday (or just with girlfriends) and she’ll rattle off the itinerary. Good accommodation; good value food options; great weather and beaches; fun activities for the kids; happy hour happenings for cocktails (sunset mai tais) with the grown-ups and . . . shopping. Shopping here is a dedicated holiday experience. And the prices are sensational at the big malls such as Ala Moana Centre (even has its own trolley that runs from one end of the city the centre); Waikiki Premium Outlets; Ross Dress for Less; Waikiki Outlet Shop; Barrio Vintage in Chinatown for vintage Hawaiian shirts (don’t leave town without one).

There are high end international and American designer labels on show as well as the dollar desirable shops where every member of the family from baby to nanna will find something at a good price to bring home.

Tips: If you fly to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines they know the lure of shopping and offer passengers the thrill of being able to carry 64kg per person. So two bags at 32kg is supremely manageable? Oh, yes.

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Good souvenirs include the cookies, pineapple condiments, Hawaiian shirts and surf gear, vintage surf posters and ukuleles.

  • It’s hard trying to cover off on five highlights of Honolulu, so number five is a cheat sheet. Don’t miss out on: The Polynesian Cultural Centre; Waimea Valley for archaeological sites, gardens and waterfall; the trail to Diamond Head State Monument and the Dole Plantation. And further to the food suggestions – around town and on the outskirts fond a Food Truck – they are institutions here – in the Land of Aloha.

Writer Bev Malzard, flew to Honolulu courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines (and took an extra suitcase for shopping). She stayed at the elegant Moana Surfrider Hotel and managed to devour an entire box of the famous pineapple shortbread cookies. She swears there’s an addictive illegal additive in the mixture – cos nobody would willingly eat a box of biscuits . . . .would they?IMG_1369

 

 

 

How to tea-tease and please

How to tea-tease and please

I reckon I’ve had more than a 1000 afternoon teas. Call them Cream Teas, Afternoon Tea, Devonshire Tea, Afternoonsies, or a mid-arvo cuppa and cake – I’ve had them.

This wasn’t a genteel affectation I grew up with. As a kid it was a biscuit and a glass of cordial and as a teenager, “there’s a biscuit in the tin and I’ll have a cuppa too love”.

My emerging addiction to the afternoon ritual began in the 1970s when I ended up in a little kiosk in the Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains after a rigorous three-day bush walk.

Tired and footsore we ordered tea and scones. The heavenly warm scone-clouds wafted towards us and we had a bowl of strawberry jam and thick, just-whipped fresh cream. I was hooked – and happy.

I didn’t seek out the afternoon tea in my day-to-day working life. I saved the event for special guests at home (cake and homemade biscuits only as I am a terrible scone baker) and as part of my holiday plans.

I’ve indulged in the grand teas of the establishment hotels and traditional tea houses, casual café catch-ups around the world and surprise teas served in the bush and even in the jungle.

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Sacher torte – a sweet treat from Austria.

Years ago I was in Darwin visiting my dad. Now, Bill was a pretty cool dad and a rough diamond who did like a beer or several. My partner and I persuaded him to head down the track to Katherine in the ute for a road trip. It was a wonderful couple of days and on the way back home to Darwin I insisted we stop at Daley Waters for afternoon tea. My father was in a lather of panic. Cups of tea in pretty china and slices of packet rainbow cake was served on a rickety table on the lawn of a truck stop joint. As we sipped tea overlooking the highway my father said: “what if someone sees me”. Nah, it will be fine, who would think you were here.

And while he drew the cup to his lips and jokingly stuck his little finger out a truck drove past and tooted its horn and the voices called out “Onya Bill”.

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Aside from out-of-the-way afternoon locations I’ve managed to enjoy exquisite pastries served with fragrant teas in many places all over the world.

Austria is up there for beautiful cakes and I’ve been known to linger over a Vienna schnitzel lunch so that I can call strudel and cream afternoon tea instead of dessert.

Years ago in England around the Devon region I convinced a none-dairy eater to try clotted cream lathered on fat, hot scones with a scrape of raspberry jam. I promised them heaven – and I delivered. A committed clotted cream convert now.

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My homemade lemon yoghurt cake – yum.

I’ve enjoyed aromatic Chinese teas in China served with delicate egg tarts with buttery, crumbly pastry. It’s not exactly called afternoon tea there – just another small meal among many during the day.

I was at the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne once having afternoon tea and sipping on a Lady Grey when I overheard a conversation behind me and it was one of the Twining’s’ family. And he was drinking coffee – quel traitor!

Strudel in a welcoming window in Innsbruck, Austria.

I do love a hotel afternoon tea – there is so much design put into the presentation. Little finger sandwiches around the bottom level, baby quiche and crab tarts second level, scones next one and on the top petit pastries and creamy cakes – and hopefully refillable pots of tea.

I was recently in Beverly Hills, California and slipped into the new Laduree café on Beverly Drive. It’s so fresh and new and green and white! It hasn’t quite settled into itself yet but the coffee was ok and I had two macarons – research!

I’ve also devised a way of eating while on holidays that keeps the weight down. True! Stick to two and a half meals a day.

Late breakfast, mid afternoon tea (with cake and pastry) and a late-ish dinner – do not order dessert.

But of all the afternoon tea experiences – it’s when I manage to bake a decent cake, have friends around, bring out the best cups and saucers, use a pretty tablecloth and go old-school all the way – that this institution of culinary happiness is enjoyed the most.

Following, the recipe for Ginger Earthquake Cookies, adding a little spice to your afternoon tea:

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Ingredients

100g butter (chopped)

1/3 cup (80ml) golden syrup

1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour

3/4 cup (155g) brown sugar

1 egg, lightly whisked

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground mixed spice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/4 (45g) pure icing sugar

Method

  1. Combine the butter and golden syrup in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes or until butter melts and mixture is well combined. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Add the flour, brown sugar, egg, ginger, mixed spice, cloves and bicarbonate of soda and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 45 minutes or until cool and firm.
  3. Preheat oven to 180deg.C. Line 2 oven trays with baking powder. Sift the icing sugar onto a small plate. Roll tablespoon of mixture into balls and roll in icing sugar. Place on the lined trays, 6cm apart, allowing room for spreaading.
  4. Bake in preheated oven, swapping trays halfway through cooking, for 15 mins or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and set aside on trays to cool completely.

Writer Bev Malzard recommends these cookies for an afternoon break with a cup of Chinese White tea. She intends to continue searching for the definitive afternoon tea – and welcomes all suggestions.

Visit: http://www.thehotelwindsor.com.au

https://www.austria.info