Flying (or not) with Jet (No)star

About this time, people, I should be telling you what the weather is like in Noosa, in sunny Queensland. Apparently, it’s sunny and 29. But all I can give you an eyewitness account for is Melbourne, where after yesterday’s 40-degree scorcher, the mercury is climbing steadily…

When calling the airline to book to another flight, I was told the reason was ‘operational difficulties’. And then I noticed on the website a little notice that says, “Flight times do not form part of your contract of carriage with us. The airline does not guarantee it will be able to carry you and your Baggage in accordance with the date and time of the flights specified.”

Hello? This is an airline. A transport company. Their sole purpose is to get you from A to B. And yet they don’t guarantee it.

Nice one, JetNostar.

So that’s why the internet has been turned off in Cairo?

…so that’s why the internet has been turned off in Cairo?

‘Remarkable scenes’ at Cairo protests

Anti-government protests have broken out in Egypt after an internet campaign inspired by the uprising in Tunisia.
Thousands of protesters are marching through Cairo chanting anti-government slogans, after activists called for a “day of revolt” in a web message.
Riot police have tackled protesters in the capital, using tear gas to try to disperse them.

Further BBC reports say three have been killed in Cairo and Suez in the riots, which were organised via a Facebook page, which today had just under 20,000 supporters, a mere drop when you consider Cairo alone has a population of 20 million. But then, so many of those 20 million are unemployed, illiterate or not even registered with the state as being in existence. Mobile phones are, however, commonplace.

For those out of the ME loop, the demonstrations were inspired by similar riots last week in Tunisia, where the President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has held power for 23 years, was finally ousted, sparked by scenes of citizens setting themselves on fire in protest over corruption that makes their lives unbearable.

In comparison, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, has lead an army-supported rule since 1981, three decades that have seen him unshaken by elections that continue to return him with support in the high 90s percentile, belaying widespread opposition. Egypt was taking notes and has copied Tunisa’s tactics, with people setting themselves alight daily: their actions of course blamed on mental health issues, rather than sheer desperation at their limited, and seemingly unchangeable lives.

Hosny, who is 83 this year and held together possibly only by sheer resolve, army support and a lot of black hair dye, presides over a country riddled with corruption, high unemployment (reflected in no way by the official figures) and sharply rising food prices.

I hate to be pessimistic, but general malcontent, however, seems doomed in the face of solid police and army support for the regime which has afforded these two institutions seemingly limitless powers over the decades since Hosni came to power. On his succession, he immediately put the country on a State of Emergency, following the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, 30 years ago, and the ban has not been lifted since.

This is a big year for Egypt, as Hosny, dogged by ill health, hints he may step down, to be replaced by his son and career bureaucrat, Gamal, a move that must be undertaken while not endangering Egypt’s considerable foreign aid support from the West. We can only hope for a peaceful resolution.

Fashion not the passion at the Aus Open

Gilles Simon’s flapping lime-green shorts.

January has to be the best month to visit Melbourne. Quite often, the sun is shining, birds are singing. There’s cricket at the MCG, photography exhibitions along the river’s edge, and, more importantly, The Tennis is on.

The Australian Open is the kick-off for a year of international tennis, and the streets are full of fans in various stages of sunburn, clad in sports paraphernalia and body paint, especially if you spot a herd of Croat guys, shirts off and bodies covered in elaborate red, white and blue heraldic flags.

The fashion is on the field, as well. Long black socks, pulled up to the knees (in 40-degree heat), are a definite statement at this year’s tennis, the Williams sisters’ outfits always are under heavy scrutiny, and it was a bit of a shock when French player Gilles Simon strutted his seemingly fragile little legs, clad in apple-green floppy shorts and shoes whose reflectors glittered and flashed as he dashed across the court, losing by the slimmest margin to Roger Federer the other night.

  Riveting sports TV: Czech republic’s Barbora Zahlavova
Strycova has a drink…

The fashion doesn’t always inspire passion: my heart went out to the ballkids (who fetch towels and balls for the gods of world tennis). WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CLOTHES? The poor kids. They run, jump, slide and watch attentively, and their reward? To be clad in the nastiest bile yellow, teamed with shorts in a soft 80s grey, which does nothing for anybody. Add to this the bright blue centre court and the TV lighting, which turns white skin tones to a muted canary yellow, and it’s a visual dog’s bowl out there.

Bright ballboys.

Thank god the tennis was so good (though seeing the perpetually sullen Australian child-woman Jelena Dokic defeated once again by a unseeded, thigh-strapped and strapping Czech, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, made no-one happy).

In the subsequent men’s singles match, the crowd called out between points: ‘Allez Simon!’ or ‘G’arn Fedo!’ (Federer has a loyal Australian following), as the crowd munched on $6 bags of Maltesers to keep its strength up during the five hours of tennis.

The ever-dapper Federer changed his shirt twice during the five sets of tennis, whipping it off quickly and discreetly. The ever-watching cameras and crowd were always ready, wolf-whistles ringing out across the stadium whenever they spotted a glimpse of flesh. Well, it’s not every day you get to whistle a man who has earned $61 million in tennis alone (not counting, of course, his lucrative advertising gains). 

Great Melbourne CBD cafes

Following on from the last post about great Melbourne cafes, I couldn’t find an up-to-date definitive list of fab, new CBD cafes, so I made one, with a little help from my friends. Feel free to add your own…
Bon a Manger, 387 Little Bourke St (modelled on London’s Pret a Manger), 
Tuckshop, 500 Bourke St, opened by cafe maestro and St Ali owner Salvatore Malatesta, 
Cup of Truth, Degraves St subway (reportedly run by ex Vue de Monde guys)
Clem’s Island, on an island in the Yarra, via the Flinders St Station-Southbank walkway (no, I have no idea either, but will let you know if I ever find it).
65 Degrees, 309 Exhibition St, opened in Feb last year, the name refers allegedly to the perfect temp for coffee milk.
And further afield, the Age‘s round-up of the best 2010 openings are: Monk Bodhi Dharma (Balaclava), Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird (worth it for the name alone – heavens knows where Gardenvale is…), the Social Roasting Company (Flemington), Three Bags Full (Abbotsford, which I’ve been threatening to stagger down to for two months now), Nabiha (Moonee Ponds), Sonido! (Fitzroy), Dr Jekyll (St Kilda), the Premises (Kensington) and Coin Laundry (Armadale). 
I’m also throwing Sydney icon Campos in there (144 Elgin Street Carlton) and Naked for Satan (285 Brunswick St, Fitzroy) because I like the name and the cheap pinxtos and De Clieu (Gertrude St, Fitzroy) is on the list for its owners’ immaculate coffee pedigree.
And FYI hardened addicts, the winners of the Victorian Barista Championships, held last weekend, were: (winner) Caleb Pohcanski from roaster Five Senses, (second) Matt Perger from roaster and cafe Market Lane, in Prahran Market and (third) Erin Sampson from roasters Veneziano.

Coffee, rain and hair straighteners; Bourke St’s got it all

I was catching up with a recently ex-Sydney coffee fiend in the CBD today, so thought I’d better take him somewhere that flashes Melbourne’s serious coffee expertise. A truly great cafe in the CBD? Some would sneer that doesn’t exist, and that I should head for Carlton, Fitzroy or South Melbourne. Online searches drew a blank up the Spring St side of town, so I gave up and thought I’d see what I found on the way, hoping for inspiration. 
Through the near-blinding rain that has been a feature of Australia’s eastern seaboard these past few weeks, I walked down the top (ie Paris end) of Bourke St and had a mild revelation. 
How could I have forgotten: tiny little Von Haus (good for cosy evenings and slices of lemon tart, 1 Crossley St), Mess Hall (outside tables great in the sunshine, not so great for asthma sufferers, 51 Bourke St) and Pellegrini (allegedly Melbourne’s oldest espresso bar, fine for mama’s slap-up pasta, but I’ve found the espresso bitter in the past, 66 Bourke St). I wandered past boho Lane’s Edge (39 Bourke St) and then clocked Society (23-29 Bourke St), which has dwelt in my subconscious only as a place for great cocktails. 
It being a 10.30am catch-up, it might have been a little early for Flaming Lamborghinis, but it was the best looking interior in the street, and not too crowded, so I pulled ‘George’ (whose name has been changed to preserve his identity) into a black-velvet booth and we ordered coffee. 
Now, I’m not mainlining that much caffeine at the mo, but when I gets it, I want a hit – and am a little bit past being served a soupcon of latte for $4, so I asked the grey ponytailed waiter (think Byron, rather than Byron Bay) for the biggest coffee on board. He said they all come in the regular cup or a larger mug. A mug o your finest flat white, then, please sir. 
Reader, he turned up with a satisfyingly large bucket. George, a raging addict who’d been inhaling coffee since the early morn, had a regular skinny latte. And it was good. Not bitter, not too milky, a touch of chocolate. George even got another one to go, so he could keep his caffeine levels up on the way back to the office. It was the old-school Lygon St roaster, Dimattina. Bonus points for the ladies’ loo, which features a $2 hair straightener to iron your locks turned lank on humid days like today. Too fabulous. 

Revenge of the weather lords

It hit 30 degrees on the weekend here in Melbourne. Right. Well, that’s summer out of the way then.

And with the end of summer comes the end of holidays. On the first week’s struggle back at work for many  people, I am delighted by the response from one PR (that’s public relations person, to those on the know – as a rule, overpaid punters who turn blind at this journalist’s requests) who I emailed for a price for a hotel to run in a travel story. I asked last week. Silly me. I forgot that even non-Christian countries delight in the holidays that Christmas affords. “I just got back from a long break. I will get back to you shortly,” he told me for his week-long silence, obviously still stunned at his misfortune to find himself in the walls of an office once again. At least he’s honest.

But really, I shouldn’t moan about the weather. I could be up to my armpits in sludgy brown flood water, with swimming cows and snapping crocodiles floating down the main street – to wit poor, soggy  Queensland at the moment. 

Yet Melbourne, I have to say I’m disappointed you, turning on today’s sporadic rain, grey skies and general morbidity in mid-January. But then sometimes, you get your priorities right. A quick trip into the city while the definitive grudge sport, the Australia v England cricket series, the Ashes, was on, and the streets were full of smug, boozy, benevolent English people. On the tram, an older Englishman gave me his seat, saying, “I don’t normally do so, but I’m feeling quite happy today.” Reader, I took the seat.

While I’m not a cricket tragic, our drubbing was made worse by the fact it was done in mostly miserable weather, which would of course made our northern-hemisphere visitors more comfortable and therefore happier. Then, on the last day of the Melbourne series, the Aussie sun came out and did the job. The English fans were still understandably smug, but now they were at least sunburnt and smug 😉 You takes your revenge where you can gets it…

Hot to Shop: Singapore

The joke goes that Singapore is the only shopping mall that’s been admitted into the UN.  

Tiny Singapore’s shopping is defined by Orchard Road: 2.2km of malls that are linked by sub-subterranean passages, skybridges and subway tunnels so that you can actually visit the city and breathe only air-conditioned oxygen.

But would you really want to?

 Get in touch with your inner sweater and hit the streets of Kampong Glam (I loved it before I visited, purely for the name alone), the back streets of Chinatown and pumping Little India.

To read more, click here! You know you want to…

Shark el-Sheikh: a fishy tale

This is so weird, even by Egyptian standards, that I have to share…

The beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, on Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, is famed for its diving and snorkelling, wide beaches and high temps. But there has been a snake in paradise, or more specifically, a large shark, which has been terrorising tourists. The score stands at: oceanic whitetip shark 5 (4  injured, 1 killed), humans 0.

The Lovely Andrew sent through a link to an Austrian site quoting the governor of Sinai, Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha, who says locals reckon the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad “put the murderous shark in the water to damage Egyptian tourism. [It is an idea that] cannot be ruled out.”

The Accidental Tourist loves a good conspiracy theory, but notes that the Sinai peninsula is flooded with Israeli tourists taking advantage of Egypt’s limping pound, and flock there for cheap sun holidays.

But wait, there’s more, as MCN dropped this little link in my lap from Macedonia Online which states that the shark has since been assassinated by a Serbian tourist, dubbed Shark El Sheikh and now the new hero of Egypt.

While the hero himself, Dragan Stevic, was at the time too drunk to remember what actually happened, his friend Milovan reports that “Dragan climbed on the jumping board, told me to hold his beer and simply ran to jump. There was no time for me to react or to try to stop him, he just went for it.” He jumped, he hit the water, and complained it was too shallow, but in fact had actually landed on the shark’s head, killing it instantly. Who says drinking is bad for you?

Surprisingly, the Egyptian press didn’t run the story, which has since turned out to be a gory hoax, complete with fake pic: apparently this plankton-eating basking shark was snapped in the US, not Egypt.  

PS: sorry for the silence over December – this was lurking in drafts for toooo long. Happy New Year all!

Jacarandas and moody blues

“BALFOUR Street, New Farm?” asks the airport bus driver. “Are you sure? There used to be a real rough, scuzzy backpackers’ down there.”

“No, really. There’s a new hotel and it’s supposed to be quite swish,” I assure him. The rest of the minibus has its ears open, so it’s with a flourish the garrulous driver pulls up in front of the wide verandahs of an urbane-looking Queenslander and declares: “Well, that’s a turn-up for the books. Not bad looking at all.”

click here to read more about Spicers Balfour, in Brisbane. Yes, Brisbane.

Best wishes for 2011, wherever you find yourself in this wonderful world!