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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.

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.

Putting Egypt’s pyramids into perspective

Bent Pyramid, Egypt

I’m not great with tunnels – I don’t like the idea of the weight above me. So I was pretty surprised that I was so keen to get into the Bent Pyramid, the earliest of Egypt’s smooth-sided pyramids, out in the deserts past Cairo.

The tunnel down into the heart of the pyramid is 79 metres long, double the distance of the tunnel in the Great Pyramid. It was so low that I actually scraped my spine, as I was so doubled over.

The pyramid was a practice run ordered by the pharoah Sneferu, father of Cheops (who went on to build the Great Pyramid in nearby Giza). It earned its sobriquet because the architect in charge of its construction realised that the calculations of a 55-degree angle for the pyramid was wrong, and changed it half-way through construction, for a rather wonky look, as you can see.

Still sporting much of the white stone cladding that would have let it shine in the desert, the Bent Pyramid recently reopened for the first time in 53 years, and with Saqqara and Giza, makes up what is known as the Memphis Necropolis, a royal burial ground for Egypt’s kings, queens and nobility (also, lots of sacred bulls, just FYI).

Click here to read about the three burial sites, and how they all link in, in my story published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers. Enjoy!

Journey through three ‘Stans

Registan Square, Samarkand

I have just spent six days on the Golden Eagle – a private train travelling along the web of Silk Road routes, from Almaty in Kazakhstan though Uzbekistan and to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

I’ve long wanted to visit the ‘Stans, but as the song goes, it was just that the timing was wrong. So the chance to visit aboard a luxury train couldn’t be passed up.

Travelling along the Silk Road, my journey from Almaty to Ashgabat.

Of all the stops on this journey – Almaty, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Ashgabat, the winner of the beauty prize is Samarkand.

Its Registan Square, pictured above, is just so big, and so awe inspiring, it’s almost overwhelming to try to take in all its beauty in one day, let alone in one photo.

However, it was the quieter, more secretive streets of Khiva that possibly caught my attention. Even though its historic Old City isn’t lived in anymore, it just seemed to have more life. Maybe it was the fact it had more scarf and textile shops, each tucked into a picturesque niche lined with Uzbekistan’s trademark turquoise tiles.

This part of the world is no stranger to travellers – these oasis towns have been receiving new ideas, cultures, languages and religions since time began.

But they’ve slipped off the radar in recent decades, only to be coaxed back on by new, more lenient visa requirements and our desire – and ability – to explore further, with international flights now into all the major cities.

A few details:

I flew into Almaty and out of Ashgabat via Dubai with its low-cost carrier, fly Dubai.

The Golden Eagle is a luxury private train that started its great rail journeys on the iconic Trans-Siberian route across Russia, www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains.

 

 

Glasgow, Scotland: an expat’s life

Sydney music administrator Mikaela Atkins-Blake moved to Scotland…and fell in love with a piper. A cliche, she freely admits, but she now calls Glasgow home. This week, she is the Expert Expat in my weekly column in the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers.

Click here for Mikaela’s tips on where to eat and what to do in her adopted hometown.

 

Street art goes to new heights: The Adnate, Perth, Australia

The Adnate hotel

Living in Melbourne, it’s hard not to love street art. We have such great galleries around the city, including Hosier Lane in the city centre, but stretching out to Fitzroy, Collingwood and neighbouring suburbs, where the local councils have encouraged a culture of street art, you can spy fabulous, big-scale murals across entire buildings.

One of the city’s best-known artists, Matt Adnate, has taken it one step further with his mega-murals down laneways and up high-rise buildings. So it’s great to see he’s become the newest face of the Art Series hotels, who dedicate each of its hotels to a singular artist.

The Adnate opened in Perth last week, and it’s a traffic-stopper, with a 25-storey mural on the hotel’s exterior, the largest mural in the southern hemisphere.

You can read more about it here, in my article for the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

Chatting about Chile’s Atacama Desert

atacama desert
If you’re after some travel ear candy, I’ll be chatting about my recent adventures in Chile’s Atacama Desert with Ross & Kate on radio 3AW this morning from 11am.
Tune in to hear about guanacos, geysers and the world’s driest landscape (which also has plenty of flamingos).
Hosted by Ross Stevenson and Kate Stevenson “A Moveable Feast” is an hour-long program broadcast on 3AW every Saturday from 11am, focusing on local and international food and travel stories.

Healthy hiking holidays: from Patagonia to Tasmania and Spain’s classic Camino

Hiking in Patagonia, Chile

Last month, I found myself hiking along a section of Chilean Patagonia’s most famous walking route, the W.

The route curls around the Paine Massif, a majestic family of jagged peaks, whose tops were shrouded in cloud and cloaked in snow. Condors hunted between their teeth, and the air jolted to the sound of avalanches, hundreds of meters above me.

It all taps into the recent story I wrote for Prevention magazine, a women’s health publication, about five great hiking holidays. In it, I included the W, but also Tasmania’s new Three Capes Walk and the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory, as well as the Kumano Kodo in Japan and the Spanish classic ultra-long walk, the Camino de Santiago.

Why do we walk? To get fit? To slow down? To go on pilgrimage?

The benefits include better health and spending time in nature, while some walks, like the Kumano Kodo and the Camino, were very deliberately designed to create time to clear your head and sift and sort through the bigger problems in life,  says Di Westaway, founder of Wild Women On Top.

“Finishing a trek that takes you outside your comfort zone is a confidence-building exercise. It might be really arduous at high altitude, with plenty of “OMG, what was I thinking?” moments, but that exhilaration and achievement afterwards is a huge personal lift,” Diane adds.

You can read the story online, or you can just pull your hiking boots on now…