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

 

 

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Top 10 sites of Stockholm

Top 10 sites of Stockholm
Stockholm Syndrome . . . 
Never get enough of Scandinavia? Love Scandi Noir? About to visit Sweden for the first time? Want to have your check list ready? All this and more too, and remember to stop, sit at a cafe and watch the world go by in this fabulous city. No hurry here.
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If you are p;anning a trip to this Scandi beauty, here’s how to get to know Stockholm. Tack!
In just one day you can stroll along cobblestoned mediaeval streets, take a boat trip to the archipelago and enjoy world-class shopping. Get to know Sweden’s capital in 10 easy stops.
The top 10 sites:

1. Vasamuseet. Scandinavia’s most visited museum – and it’s easy to see why. This miraculously preserved 17th century ship and the building that houses it combine to make an extraordinary experience. The Vasa, one of the grandest war ships ever built in Sweden sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. (How embarassing.) It was salvaged (below)in 1961 and is the best preserved ship of its kind in the world. Don’t miss this.

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2. Skansen. A beautiful, spacious open air museum that offers a romantic picture of rural Sweden from centuries past.
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3. NK. Shop or browse in the stupendous department store. NK (Nordiska Kompanier) is steeped in the stylish tradition of excellence.
4. ABBA, of course. A museum dedicated to the Swedish super-group is on the northern edge of Sodermalm. Tickets can be purchased from the info. desk on the ground floor at NK.
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5. An evening stroll along Monteliusvagen on the edge of Sodermalm, as the sun sets slowly over Stadhuset and the city centre.
6. A boat trip to Sandhamn, a bustling island off the edge of Stockholm’s stunning archipelago. It has sandy beaches, beautiful views and some excellent places to eat.
7. Moderna Museet. Visit the museum (below) on Skeppsholmen and appreciate the building’s design (by Rafael Moneo), its impressive collection of modern art and its great restaurant.
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8. Walk through the winding alleyways and mediaeval squares of Gamla Stan (below). The Old Town has been designated a cultural landmark. A walking tour will reveal where a famous poet was killed in a tavern brawl, where Dominican monks walked and where the classic haunts of the artists are. Most tours depart from the Obelisk on Slottsbacken outside the Royal Palace.
Historic centre of Stortorget, Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden, Scandinavia
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9. Fika. Swedes love to have a ‘fika’ – spending a long leisurely afternoon with a friend over cups of coffee with a pastry on the side. Embrace this tradition at Chokladfabriken, a cafe that shares its name with the Swedish title of Roald Dahl’s book about Willy Wonka. It serves truffles, marzipans and hard to resist sweet treats.
10. When you’ve had your fill of fika, you have to try the national dish of ‘sill’. Once the simplest of foods, sill is now a delicacy served on almost every national holiday. It’s marinated herring which comes in glass jars with many different flavours. Once you have tried it – you’ll be hooked. Or, that’s the story.

(What’s On? Official tourist & events guide can be picked up from tourist kiosks and hotels around the city. The brochure has an excellent map and comprehensive information about the city and surrounds including best restaurants, museums, tours, entertainment and cruises.)
OK lovely readers I know there are many more experiences to be had here – please add them in the Comments box.
Writer Bev Malzard left Stockholm on a dark and near-wintery night feeling a little frustrated at the amount of money she’d spent in that expensive town. She caught a train to the airport and when the train station guy told her how much her ticket cost, she exclaimed: “What? are the bloody seats made of gold?” He  replied: “No, that’s first class and the tickets are more expensive. But for you my Queen, I’ll put you in platinum class.” And that was the last genuine smile she had for almost 40 hours. The airport wifi was down, the plane was four hours late and she would miss her connection in Bangkok. She was ushered off the plane in Thailand, given a hotel room and a meal for a nine hour stopover and arrived in Sydney in a scary, demented state. She has since recovered – but has a twitchy eye.
(Writer flew Thai International Airways, which was superb through all crazy circumstances.)
SPONSORED POST BELOW
SEE SWEDEN BY BIKE: The best time to visit Sweden is at the height of summer, when there are longer days and short nights. See Sweden by bicycle with its many cycle paths and dedicated cycle routes. Active holiday specialists Outdoor Travel based in Bright, Victoria offer guided or self-guided cycling holidays to Stockholm, Södermanland and the Kattegattleden Bike Path on Sweden’s west coast.


Guided or self-guided tours focus on the capital Stockholm and the nearby mostly flat rural landscapes of Södermanland.  An area of expansive forests, pastures, boulders strewn moorlands and over 400 lakes formed by ancient glaciers, there are many charming red-painted wooden houses and elegant manor houses dotted throughout the region.
Cycle to Gnesta then take the train to Katrineholm to see castles and palaces and Viking sites with ancient runestones and rock carvings. In Stockholm city tours include Drottningholm Palace and Gripsholm Castle and a boat trip to see some of the many islands.
On the menu too are a traditional smörgåsbord of hot and cold dishes, including a casserole of potatoes, onions, cream and pickled sprats (small anchovy-like fish), locally caught lobster, prawns, langoustines, mussels, oysters and of course herring, served in almost any way you can imagine – smoked, fried, pickled, marinated, baked, au gratin, with dill, beetroot, mustard, onion, or even blackcurrants or lingonberry jam.
The Kattegattleden Bike Path on Sweden’s west coast forms a part of the 5,900km EuroVélo North Sea Cycling Route. Outdoor Travel offers an 8-day (7-night) self-guided cycling tour along a portion of this epic coastal journey from Helsingborg.  
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Tours depart from May to September & costs start from $1530 per person twin share.
Guided: http://bit.ly/2mabVNB
Self-guided: http://bit.ly/2D6k6St
For more information call Outdoor Travel on 1800 331 582 or see www.outdoortravel.com.au
 

Cruising the Coral Sea

Cruising the Coral Sea

Seeking sun and relaxation, pampering, a perfect getaway or the history of Australia’s connection to this exotic place? PNG is AOK!

Papua New Guinea is not often top of the holiday list but with the advent of cruising out of Australia to this exotic destination that’s pretty much undiscovered is a boon to people who like exploration without the hassle and with a dash of luxury.

Since P&O Cruises introduced its inaugural Papua New Guinea itinerary four years ago, departures for this special cruise now leave from Brisbane, Sydney and Cairns.

 

Leaving from Cairns was smooth sailing with a big wave to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range behind the sun-drenched city. We were headed into the Coral Sea.

Time before dinner to explore the Pacific Eden, with many of the public areas recently refurbished, the ship has a buzzy, modern ambience. It was towards the end of the season in November and the ship was full of excited cruisers, some new to the game and others – seasoned and ship-shape.

Our first stop was Alotau, capital of the Milne Bay Province where echoes of WWII can be heard. The Battle of Milne Bay took place here in 1942 and is one of the nostalgic stops along the way on war history tours.

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Over breakfast we marvel at the beauty of the sheer-walled cliffs that are close to the ship. The bay is so deep we can anchor a stone’s throw (almost) to the shore. We went ashore to be taken to an open field on the bay and were greeted by a sing sing and some traditional dancing. Excursions aren’t organised from the ship, they are just sincere welcomes by the locals.

After a couple of (hot) hours here it was back to the ship to cool off. (Take a wide-brimmed hat and water with you on any land excursion.)

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In the evening there’s a choice of two specialty restaurants that are free, Dragon Lady for fine Pan-Asian food and Angelo’s for frisky Italian fare (book early as they fill up fast). I went for Dragon Lady and it was full of tasty, spicy surprises.

Next stop as we sail through silky smooth waters is Kitava, a wee island off the side of the larger Trobriand Island of Kiriwana.

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We are greeted by shy, smiling islanders and we were directed to the village where there were mats laid out selling local basket ware and trinkets, Interesting, it was the men doing the selling. The school put on a dance and the fierce steps by eight-year olds was amusing as the kids liked the attention and lost the choreography plot several times.

There was a woman cooking outside in a makeshift kitchen and boiling up fat, succulent crabs – the queue was long!

While some of us gorged on crab others enjoyed a wild ride on a bamboo raft to a tiny island just offshore. The ride cost $AU2.50 and the participants said it was worth every Kina (5 kina).

Next stop was in the Conflict Islands. We paid for a walking tour of the island to see the dense and lush gardens. But after landing, and being crushed by the heat we spied brilliant white sand and crystal clear water in the distance so we skedaddled through the gardens to the beach on the north side of the island – and everyone else had discovered this exquisite place too.

There was a little bar set up for cold drinks and hot snacks. Cold beer, hot, salty chips and a gently breeze coming off the sea – not too shabby at all!

People wax lyrical about ‘paradise’ and ‘perfect island beaches’ and I now understand – this place is heaven to visit and having the luxury to stay here in this unspoilt treasure for most of the day was like winning the lottery. And it wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t come here on a cruise ship.

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As we reluctantly walked along the pier to pick up a tender, children were paddling little, very simple bamboo canoes in the cove and singing as we departed.

Such a simple and unaffected farewell but warm and sincere.

Back on board for our last dinner and concert in the bar we met with fellow passengers and related our day’s enjoyment, and they did the same.

Papua New Guinea is a special destination and offers wonderful opportunities to meet with and understand our neighbours.

Travel Tips

  • Take extra Kina (local currency) with you. Visitors pay for goods in Aussie dollars and give $$ to the kids but it’s hard for the locals to exchange the money and they often get ripped off. So, if someone sidles up to you and whispers ‘you have Kina’ – it’s OK to swap money.
  • Take some pens and notebooks with you for the kids, the schools are poor. And everyone has T-shirts at home they don’t wear – take kids sizes and men’s – as I have said, the villages are not flush!

Contact your travel agent for sailing dates and times for cruising to Papua New Guinea.

Bev Malzard was a guest of P&O cruises. Visit: www.pocruises.com.au

Writer Bev Malzard had visited PNG before and experienced the lock-in at her hotel in Port Moresby of a night due to the streets not being safe after dark. Visiting remote areas by ship was safe, sound and damn good fun. She thoroughly recommends a swim in the Coral Sea.

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Images by Bev Malzard and Fran O’Keefe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three great Swiss dishes

Although it’s summer in Australia there are images coming through from Europe and England, and America of glorious snow blanketing the countryside and even dusting the cities. I love snow and have a little envy at this time of the year for the traditions and food that come with a snowy winter. Gluhwein, hot toddies, roasting chestnuts.

Who am I kidding, fresh prawns and oysters and glam-salads are what I really hanker for. But being a food lover (I love all food) I collect food memories on my travels and as I made a tuna salad yesterday, my mind went back to a fine, light lunch I had in Switzerland, as well as all the comfort food and the sweets . . .

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For a tiny, alpine country, Switzerland makes the most of every corner’s cuisine. The Swiss love their tucker and on my last visit I joined the food fan throng.

Switzerland’s neighbours are the influence for the table here – France, Germany and Italy press the flesh and have infiltrated Swiss kitchens for centuries. Historically, Switzerland was a farming country – and still is in many parts and the most popular crops were potatoes and dairy products from happy cows. Chocolate has been top of the food chain too.
Much of what is popular and served up in homes and indeed restaurants are regional dishes. In modern Switzerland, Italian food is common including the staples of pasta and pizza. Swiss cheese dishes include Emmental cheese, Vacherin and Appenzeller. And the aromatic cheeses from the various regions in the mountain areas have their special flavours from the mountain herbs growing in the lush pastures that the cows love.

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A typical Swiss breakfast (and my favourite meal in European countries) might display good, artisan breads, butter, honey, cheese, cereal, milk, hot or cold chocolate, coffee and tea. (Except in some of the hotels in the Italian region – especially Lugano where I stayed in Hotel Lugano Dante – and had the most splendid brekkie – check out the picture for cake. Any country that serves cake for breakfast gets  my vote as a winner.)
Lunch in Switzerland is usually a meal of pasta, potatoes, meat, fish, seafood and veggies – see my lovely tuna salad, served in a mountain top cafe above Lugano.
Dinner can range from a full meal to a snack.
Fondue is still on the radar, as is Aloplermagronen – a nostalgic dish of macaroni, caramelised onions, potatoes, melted cheese and served with a dish of apple sauce. Basically macaroni cheese but with the added potatoes – pretty heavy.
Another favourite edging towards the German tradition is Zurcher Geschnetzeltes – sliced veal in cream sauce and mushrooms, served with rosti.

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I’m not saying I returned from Switzerland four kilos heavier than when I left – but I’m not denying it either.
I did manage to have a green salad every day! And a Swiss chocolate too.
The writer, Bev Malzard was hosted by Swiss Tourism www.infoswiss.info
Hotel Lugano Dante
Zunfthaus zur Waag (for veal dish)

4513EBC6-2D5F-41E9-A1FD-B25660C4988A (1).JPGYou could do worse that eating a wurst on top of a Swiss Alp!

Six fab things to do in Seville . . . or is there a barber in the house?

Six fab things to do in Seville . . . or is there a barber in the house?

Discovering a city that oozes personality.

Arriving in Seville on a sun-drenched early autumn day will set you up for your senses to be tickled and your spirit to be enriched. This Andalucian metropolis has personality to spare and the sevillanos are out and about in force on a saucy Saturday.

Layers of history here are peeled back and the past is generously etched onto a new canvas with modern Seville.

Seville has historical layers; Roman ruins testify the settlement’s earliest face, memories of the Moorish era flicker like medieval engravings in the Santa Cruz quarter, while the riverside Arenal reeks of Spanish conquest and lost colonial glory.

Join the throng of almost 700,000 locals and don’t miss out on the culture of the city, traditions and artistic heritage:

  • Visit the third largest cathedral in the world, the Church of Seville, built on the remains of an ancient mosque and it still retains the extraordinary Giralda (tower) at almost 100m high. (There are 25 bells here, all with their own names and the oldest dates back to 1400.)

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  • Seville is the birthplace of the sensuous and bold Flamenco, and a night at the Museo del Baile Flamenco (funded by Spain’s flamenco legend Cristina Hoyos). The museum is fascinating and the performance, though touristy, is intimate and more than sensational and sincere.

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  • The Alcazar of Seville is one of the most glorious palaces in Europe. Soft, architecturally exquisite with history and beauty etched into every bit of stone work and love at every planting in the immaculate gardens. (Fans of Game of Thrones may recognise the location of the Water Gardens of Dorn here.)
  • A startling apparition as you stroll the traditional and urbane city streets is the Metropol Parasol, an almighty piece of architecture that curves above the streets in a bold and brassy manner. Some call it the ‘mushroom’ and the sevillanos are quite divided in their opinion of the building. Not fond of it myself, I feel that it has the substance of cardboard and could wilt in a decent storm!

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  • Treat yourself to the elegant hotel Alfonso XIII for lunch where you dine like a king and feel like a movie star.
  • And to finish of an evening, hit the cobblestones and be taken on a tapas tour with a local to visit the classic tapas bars.

Ola! Walking, talking, eating, viewing, and looking for the barber of Seville?

Getting there: Fly to Madrid. Seville is well-connected to Madrid by the high speed train AVE. Peak season here is April to September ushering crowds. Sweet season is late March and October to November.

Writer, Bev Malzard enjoyed the Tapas Tour here, a variety of tiny bars were on show and as authentic as a sizzling garlic prawn. Totally recommend this experience. AND a gelato to finish off the night’s eating extravaganza.

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Sailing odyssey to find oddities

Sailing odyssey to find oddities

 

Sailing the Mediterranean – the sea of love – is an odyssey that explores grand ports and tiny, secluded islands along the way.

I had never had cause to flick a burning ember off my arm on a cruise before, but for a few precious seconds I let it hover there. Free of the smoking red dot I looked through the inky night sky and watched burning hot lava run down the walls of Mount Stromboli on the little island of Stromboli. A hush fell over the yacht as the passengers watched great lumps of molten lava plop into the sea not far from us – but far enough away to be safe.

Off the north coast of Sicily, being up close to one of three active volcanoes in Italy was one of the highlights of a memorable week of sailing on a luxury mega-yacht. And ready for  speedy getaway – we had no need to flee from the towering inferno!

The journey began in Athens. SeaDream 1 was waiting for us in Piraeus. Up on deck, guests were catching the last of summer’s bright rays. (SeaDream yachts chase the sun, and after the Mediterranean, the Caribbean was the ships next playground for November to March.)

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We departed Piraeus on an afternoon, fresh from summer in October through a flint-like clarity of light.

On this voyage were 95 crew and 95 guests – so you can guess the rest – we were indulged all the way. The feeling is small, intimate and happily familiar. Within 24 hours, crew who had seen me once knew my name.

And so to the first of many splendid dinners to come – Alaska crab, fresh salads tonight and the start of my dessert obsession for the duration.

After a sleep lulled by the thought of tomorrow, I was up and ready for the day on the pretty Greek island of Hydra. No rushing in the morning, meandered up on deck for breakfast. Freshly squeezed juices (“do you have some fresh ginger for my juice?” of course!) And it was the beginning of a game played out every morning. I pick up a few things and head to a table and an attentive staff member and I play tug-o-war with my plate). I’m not even allowed to carry my own plate to the table. Just call me Princess.

Each morning on this voyage we would breakfast at a new port where our small ship can sneak into because of its size. Each morning one of the staff members (sniggering and pulling faces) would bring a jar of Vegemite to the table too – OK, laugh if you must, you non-believers.

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The yacht (the ship is call a yacht because it is small and has the ambience of an intimate sailing craft) moored at the edge of Hydra’s harbour and from 9am until 6pm we could jump in and out of a tender to visit the island whenever we chose. I had two trips that day. I spent a lazy day on Hydra to enjoy the harbour front as the tourist season had cast off its high season frantic pace…

A little shopping and a walk up the narrow backstreets past snoozing cats, aromatic bundles of oregano and wild sage and I spy, tucked into a corner, a true mama and papa taverna. Settled in we ordered simple fare: whitebait, a Greek salad, fresh bread and a cold beer. Perfect!

 

Day three and the trip was showing its stripes as we headed into another glorious experience. The vessel smoothly negotiated a straight line through the narrow cutting of the Corinth canal. It is an almost out-of-body experience to think that this great chunk of land between two seas was chopped, chipped away and bled on by slaves and cheap labour to make a journey around the Peloponnese (approx. 185 nautical miles) easier by going through rather than over. Emperor Nero dug the first sod himself in 67AD. Determined to get the job done with the help of 6000 slaves, Nero’s idea didn’t get very far because of the times: politics, war and financial hardship stalled the project for centuries.

Whether it was Poseidon originally putting the kibosh on the project or not, it was revived during the late 1800s and was completed and put to use in 1893.

The day just got better and better. We anchored at Galaxidi, gateway to one of Greece’s most treasured sites – Delphi.

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Galaxidi is ordered and its neat grand villas and 19th century homes gleaming in the midday sun, sit smugly along the bay. And Delphi is an evocative cultural ancestral memory. The ruins are magnificent still, the standing pieces strong and bold, the fallen, melancholy and redolent with voices – calling for the advice and prophesy of the Delphi Oracle. The amphitheatre is in good shape still, as you would expect from the original builders – the Gods.

The Oracle did speak to me, it was mostly in riddles but the gist of it was: “You are a lucky woman to be doing this cruise, be grateful.” OK, I got the message.

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Sipping ‘sundowners’ on Top of the Yacht Bar, guests were mellowed out and a little sleepy after a day in the sun and an encounter with ancient Greece’s top consultant.

The following morning onboard I discovered the tai chi class, and each morning from then on I was taught to stretch and bend, which made my day a lot more physically livelier.

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A visit to Fiskado, Kefalonia was all about the excursion on the island. This is where the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was filmed. A friend and I chose to mooch around the port, take a desultory look at a local folk museum and spend a couple of hours sitting. Just sitting here is better than meditation. The day was beautiful, warm and clear. Little fishing boats bobbed softly and their bright colours reflected in the calm water of the bay. A few cups of Greek coffee, a chat to to the locals, an extended sit and the world balanced perfectly on its axis.

Back on board to cold drinks and chilled wet, towels. Life onboard is casual and unpretentious and a return after a day excursion is warm and fuzzy – and sincere. As we passed through various maritime regions, the movies shown on the yacht’s TV network reflected where we were. There was Mama Mia in the main lounge one night and we ate popcorn as we watched Meryl Streep sing and dance her heart out.

As we entered Italian waters, in Sicily we watched The Godfather (there was a brilliant day visit to Taormina on Etna) and we glimpsed many of the locations used in the film.

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Amalfi was a delight, we took a bus around and up the narrow coastal road on the way to Pompeii. As it was late in the season the crowds were scattered and small – a relief when we saw the territory to be covered. What an extraordinary experience to see such exquisitely preserved artworks, buildings, frescoes – all at the expense of a vast city being buried under molten lava along with its inhabitants.

A wedding in Il Duomo (Cathedral) Amalfi, Italy

Back in Amalfi, we sat around the corner from St George cathedral which features in the film A Good Woman. It was hard to tear ourselves away as we stuffed ourselves with the region’s specialty cakes – cannoli and ricotta pies. Mmmm, the sweet life.

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The last day of this glorious Mediterranean adventure took us to the ultimate romantic destination: Capri. Unfortunately the tide was too high for us to enter the renowned Blue Grotto but we did get a glimpse of the coloured marine phenomenon when a local took us in his boat into a (about three metres deep) cave where we saw the shimmering aqua marine water splash against the walls of the cavern. A brilliant display that only Neptune has the secret to…

Capri is so cosmopolitan, with charming fashion boutiques and restaurants, pastry shops and gelato bars. Romance abounds as we feel a bit Grace Kelly, a bit Sophia Loren as the classic white convertible swoops us up and around the curves of Capri, the island of love, to the town of Ana Capri. Among the mixed Euro flash travellers we checked out the boutiques and then hopped on the gondola to be taken up to the top of the island. We gazed upon the tiny vineyards, terraced up the side of the hills, and the villas that have housed Italians for centuries and seen many of us tourists over the years – and still know exactly how to look after us… a smile, a wave and a gracious invite to sit down in the sun to eat.

The farewell meal on SeaDream and the chefs and wait staff pull out all the stops. A degustation of impeccable creation and construction – worthy of the Gods.

Arriving at the port of Civitavecchia (Rome) it was tough to walk away from the yacht – perhaps I should have asked the wisdom of the Oracle: “Stay a few more days to see a few more ports..?” I just had to take my chances with the choice to stay on in Rome for a couple of days. Not a bad choice either…

Cruise trivia

The volcano on Stromboli has erupted many times and is constantly active with minor eruptions, often visible from many points on the island and from the surrounding sea, giving rise to the island’s nickname ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’. The most recent major eruption was on 13 April 2009.

(SeaDream I. Visit: [@] http://www.seadream.com for itineraries and bookings or see your travel agent.)

Writer Bev Malzard asked for guidance from the Oracle of Delphi and still has not heard back whether it’s still cool to wear hoop earrings.

(Special thanks to travelling companion Jane Hodges for many of the pictures here.)

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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.)