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Airline review: Madrid to Cairo with Egyptair

Egyptair plane

Recently, I completed an epic trek from Cusco, near Macchu Pichu in Peru, to Cairo, Egypt.

Let me tell you, it took some serious, late-night internet hunting! I could have travelled via Sao Paulo, (Brazil) then across to Casablanca (Morocco) and on to Egypt, or from Sao Paulo via a 12-hour layover in Addas Ababa (Ethiopia) and on to Cairo. In the end, the best connections were flying from Lima (Peru) up to Madrid (with three hours cooling my heels in a secondary airport in Ecuador) with LATAM and from Madrid on to Cairo with Egyptair.

This is my review of the Egyptair flight – I’ve flown many times domestically and internationally with the national carrier – on the Madrid-Cairo route, a direct flight of 4 hours 40 minutes.

I’m going to paste my favourite para here, about the food on board:

Chicken or the beef? The beef arrives cubed in a sauce with spiral pasta, and is surprisingly comforting. It’s accompanied by a dried, tired salad, crackers, chocolate cake, a wholemeal dinner role, butter and a triangle of La vache qui rit (The Laughing Cow, incidentally, is the nickname of Egypt’s deposed military dictator, Hosny Mubarak). Because you needed to know that last fact : )

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller section, you can read the full review here.

Travel at high altitudes: tips from Chile’s Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert

Don’t eat the guanaco and go easy on the merlot: two pieces of advice that seem counterproductive to a trip through Chile. However, when you’re staying more than 2.4km above sea level, I advise soaking up all the tricks and tips to avoiding altitude sickness.

Recently, I chatted with Max Vera, the grandly titled Chief of Excursions at luxury lodge Tierra Atacama, about travelling at high altitudes. Based in San Pedro de Atacama, a village in Chile’s Atacama Desert, he helped me acclimatise with short, scenic walks and horse rides through landscapes that have been movie stand-ins for the moon, before I pushed up to the Geysers del Tatio, at 4.3km. To put that all into perspective, Latin America’s most visited site, Machu Picchu, in neighboring Peru, is the same altitude as San Pedro, at 2.4km.

Click here to read the full story, which appeared in the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

See tierrahotels.com

 

 

 

Tips for visiting Cairo’s Pyramids: Egypt

Each year, I return to Egypt for so many reasons – family, kunafa, fresh, chunky mango juice and a hit of history.

This year, I teamed up with Ahmed Aziz, an Egyptologist with tour company Abercrombie & Kent, who I’ve been working with for years in Egypt. Ahmed’s been a guide through Egypt’s sites for 16 years, and together, we delved into the newly opened Bent Pyramid in Dahshour, about an hour from Cairo.

He shared some excellent advice for visitors to the Memphis necropolis, which includes the Pyramids of Giza, Saqqara and the lesser-known, little visited Dahshour, including the best places to stay, when to visit and keeping a stash of small notes to tip the haras (the temple guardians, who are drawn from the neighbouring villages).

Click here to read the full story, which appeared in the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

See abercrombiekent.com.au

Tips for exploring Punta Arenas, Chile

Street art in Punta Arenas

Down the bottom of Chile, looking south toward Antarctica, Punta Arenas is at the confluence of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, and has a subpolar, oceanic climate. Its average daytime temperature is 15 degrees and the surrounding ocean water is typically 2 degrees: no wonder no-one is swimming.

It’s the jumping off point north to the popular Patagonian adventures in Torres del Paine National Park and south to the Antarctic peninsula.

Thanks to our fabulous guide with Quasar Expeditions, we managed briefly to slip under the skin of this frontier town – where puffer jackets dominate the fashion scene, guanaco is on the menu, the waterfront wharves are covered in murals and the houses are painted bright pinks and yellows to counteract the heavy, grey skies.

To read my story, published in the Traveller section of The Age/Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, click here.

Best hotel breakfast buffet 2019: Helsinki, Finland

Breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few in this job. But this morning’s buffet at the Lapland Hotels Bulevardi, in Helsinki, was one of the best.

I’m currently in the Finnish capital, about to head even further north to Kuusamo, on the border of Russia and Lapland, which is why I chose to stay in this new hotel in Helsinki – to warm up to the Lappish way of life.

It was a mix of the stylish, handmade ceramics by Anu Pentik, the moody setting with its reindeer pelts and the exciting food – much of it drawn from Lapland, where the group is dominant – that makes it an absolute standout.

Top of the list was the most humble dish, an exceptional organic oatmeal porridge, slow cooked in the oven for three hours: I’m not usually a salty porridge girl, but with cherry jam and a swish of Lappish honey, it sung to me.

I couldn’t eat it all, I had to leave space for the spruce sprout smoothie and the sea buckthorn smoothie, the warm smoked salmon and the ice-cellar pickled salmon. Then the smoked reindeer and oyster mushroom omelette, a little of the reindeer blood sausage with lingonberry jam, cloudberries, blackberries, blueberries from Muonio, lingonberry pie and smoked cheeses from Kuusamo (where we head tomorrow). It took a while.

Small Girl tested the mini cinnamon rolls (korvapuusti) and hot chocolate, and declared them perfect.

The chef on the breakfast shift admitted that Lappish cuisine is protein-heavy. “Hearty,” was his diplomatic word for the array of meats, fish, cheeses and cakes that lined the buffet.

The devastating news is that because we are leaving so early tomorrow, we will miss breakfast, which rolls in until 1pm on Sundays.

No wonder Finns are so happy.

Walking the Camino: a guide to finding your feet (and heart, and solutions to life’s problems)

Author John Brierley spends every spring and autumn following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims making their way to the medieval cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in far western Spain. He has been walking the Camino de Santiago for 25 years.

When he is not walking, he is at home, writing and playing with his grandchildren. John has written dozens of guides for pilgrims from all walks of life, who plan to walk some of the than 80,000 kilometres of authenticated and waymarked routes that lead to , on which every nation on Earth has set foot.

But it’s not about counting your steps, monitoring your heart beat, he says.

“To experience the Camino directly, you have to listen to your heart,” says John. “Listen well; it might only come as a whisper. But beware! If you have truly heard the call, you have become infected by a disease which will become fatal to your limited ego identity.”

I interviewed John for my The Knowledge column in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning and The Age newspapers, and his passion is infectious. I do believe that was his aim: to get me on the route.

“Our troubled world is crying out for solutions to the war and injustices that are raging everywhere we look,” he told me in our interview while he was in Australia recently. “But we have been looking for answers in the wrong direction. We have been looking out, not in.”

“The Camino asks us to step out of our comfort zone and to take some risks.The solutions we seek can only be found in the stillness of our own hearts and minds. ”

“That is the incredible gift of the Camino – it provides time in the silence of nature to empty out our outworn belief systems and allows time new insights to arise in the spaciousness of higher Mind.”

See caminoguides.com

To read the column in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, click here.

How to get along with Parisians: a cheat sheet

Swapping Australia’s Bellarine Peninsula for Paris for a decade or so, writer and actor Jayne Tuttle knows all the tricks about getting along with Parisians.

Speak French first, kiss left to right and back again, don’t go off piste with restaurant menus and forget the flanny (that’s flannelette, or lumberjack shirt, if you’re playing along out of Australia).

“Stand your ground when queuing,” she advises. “Somewhere along the line, ‘Ooh, I didn’t see you!’ became a fun game for Parisians and they play it especially with tourists, cutting in at any chance they get. Earn their respect by being aware.”

Jayne has just published her new book, Paris or Die: A Memoir (Hardie Grant Travel, $32.99) and has moved back to Australia. Because good things come in threes, she is also the new co-owner of The Bookshop at Queenscliff, west of Melbourne.

Click here to read my interview with Jayne for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers.

And to read more about Jayne, go to jaynetuttle.com

What to do in Prizren, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

It’s the prettiest town in Kosovo, and the centre of Prizren is its Shatërvan square. Its cobbled streets are lined with cafes, snow-tipped mountains send snowmelt rushing down the river through the town’s centre, a Byzantine-era fortress keeps a watchful eye over all: what’s not to love?

If you’re venturing into the Balkans, my advice is to skip staying in little Kosovo’s rather drab, earnest capital, Pristina, and instead make Prizren your base from which to do day trips – to the vineyards, to the mountains, to the capital city.

For more tips and advice, click here to check out my story in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers

DISCLAIMER: I travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel.

The etiquette of swimming with whales

Whale tail

A couple of years ago, I found myself on the Vava’u archipelago, in Tonga, ready to jump into the water with a whale.

With that gigantic dark shape moving around in the water below, I confess I was pretty nervous! No, we did not cavort, the humpback mum and her humpback calf decided they weren’t in a playful move, and, in the blink of an eye, one of the world’s largest animals simply sank down to the watery depths and disappeared.

Recently, I chatted with Carmen Ellis of Majestic Whale Encounters, for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers. She says that if they don’t want to play, whales just don’t hang around. Drawing on her experience running whale swimming tours in Tonga, French Polynesia and Norway Carmen says, “If they don’t want to be there, they just turn their pectoral fin and, within seconds, they can be gone.”

However, every experience is amazing, she has had bumbling calves simply bump into her (the calves totally ignoring each country’s exclusion rule that applies about swimming with wild animals), and says that even sub-adults and dolphins are such curious creatures, they will interact with swimmers.

She has swum with orcas in Norway and pilot and humpback whales in Tahiti, where she’s also seen the unusual Reeso dolphins, while in Tonga, she has spotted the false killer whales (which are the same dark grey as an orca, but without the white patches), and  lots of stingrays, sharks and turtles all round.

Her company’s next tour destination is Sri Lanka, swimming with blue whales. “We’re not the first, years ago, there was an industry shut down because it wasn’t being respectful to whales, but a new industry is developing in the country’s north, in Trincomalee.”

To read my story in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on swimming with orcas, humpbacks, pilot and other whales, click here

See majesticwhaleencounters.com.au

 

Pumas of Patagonia: wildlife experiences in Chile

Puma of Patagonia

A perfect day in Torres del Paine, Patagonia from sunrise to sunset, starts with dawn with the dirtiest Jeep, and continues with chasing guanacos through the highlands, nose running while clinging to a bolting horse tearing across icy plains, and all day watching snow clouds gather through the towers and teeth of the Paine massif on a winter adventure.

But the real reason we’re here is for the pumas of Patagonia. Nicknamed ‘ghost cats’ because they’re so elusive, they’re the reason we’re braving sub-zero temperatures, snowy afternoons and chill winds that tear down the Patagonian ice fields to claw at our faces.

I’m lucky enough to be able to say that it’s my second time in Torres del Paine national park, and my third time visiting Patagonia, twice on the Chilean side, and once on the Argentinean side.

This time, I travelled with Quasar Expeditions,

My story on the pumas of Patagonia is this Saturday’s cover story in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, and online at traveller.com.au

If you’re after a chilly, nose-running read on spotting these beautiful pumas, click here and (hopefully) enjoy!

 

Quasar Expeditions runs five-day Secret Season itineraries from $4300 a person. Puma-tracking itineraries cost from $5540, including a tracking fee and four- or five-star accommodation. See quasarex.com

Travelling with a clear, green conscience

Brett Tollman, Treadright Foundation

There’s been a lot of talk in the tourism sphere about how to travel with a clean environmental conscious – from flight shaming to exploitation. Should we all just stay home?

Recently, I chatted with Brett Tollman, head of the Treadright Foundation, about how to limit your environmental footprint.

We all have a footprint when we travel,” he says. “The important thing is how to make it the lightest, most beneficial footprint you can.”

Read our interview, with his five great tips on staying green while travelling, for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.