Airline review: FlyDubai to the Silk Road city of Almaty, Kazakhstan

It might seem weird posting a flight review in the midst of a global lockdown, but irrepressible travellers are already looking and booking deals around the world for travel late in 2020 and throughout 2021.

If it’s not on your radar, FlyDubai operates a fleet of Boeing 737-800s out of Dubai Airport’s Terminal 2. It’s currently still on the ground, but when in the skies, its destination list includes some intriguing cities including Prague, Naples and Dubrovnik in Europe, Tbilisi in Georgia and its new route from Dubai to Finland’s fun little capital, Helsinki. It also services the ancient cities along the Silk Road including the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat and Almaty in Kazakhstan, which is where I was headed on this journey.

The UAE is already opening back up, with sister airline Emirates flying from its Dubai base to Sydney and Melbourne, sprinkling hygiene kits around its cabins, which includes masks, gloves, wipes and hand santiser. Like Emirates, FlyDubai is owned by the Dubai government, and the two often codeshare.

Click here to read my review, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers. The print edition is currently in slumber, dreaming of its next destination.

How to go camping (and love it): tips & tricks

Easter in Australia is traditionally spent camping – I know Victoria looks forward to what’s usually our last gasp of good weather. I had every intention of going camping this long weekend: the trip to Vietnam had been cancelled for months, to be replaced with a bit of camping on our roadtrip up northern NSW.

Before the virus hit the fan, I interviewed a camping pro from outdoor gear supplier Anaconda: you might think, why are we talking about camping when we can’t go anywhere? For those of us lucky enough to have a back yard, there’s your campsite right there! And some of camping pro Damian Kennedy’s tips are still perfectly relevant, such as buying the right tent with the right accessories. I’m a big fan of balconies that hang from the apex of the tent, so you can reach up and grab your torch when you (inevitably) hear something go bump in the night.

So treat this time to dust off the tent, get your pegging practise in and start planning when life eventually returns to normality.

Click here to read Damian’s top tips on how to go camping and love it, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers. The print section is currently in slumber, dreaming of its next destination.

 

Vintage train returns to the rails, from Melbourne to Sydney

Spirit of Progress train

Slow travel, nostalgia travel, train travel – Australia’s oldest working train  ticks all the boxes when it comes to travel trends.

The old train will bring a slow-travel mentality to what has become a commuter run, when the newly commissioned Spirit of Progress makes her first journey in 33 years between Melbourne and Sydney in March.

Powered by restored diesel locomotives built in 1957 and 1971, the 83-year-old train has enjoyed a six-figure restoration by the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre and Lachlan Valley Railway, in partnership with rail-cruise specialist Cruise Express.

Click here to read the story, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and online at traveller.com.au

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

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…

How to… give alms respectfully in Laos

Laos alms ceremony

Each morning in Laos, Buddhist monks receive alms from laypeople, traditionally rice. It’s a simple religious ceremony called the Tak Bat, says Brian Lingham, of Luang Prabang’s Buddhist Heritage Project, see buddhist-heritage.org

By giving alms, you are giving something of yourself, he says. However, many Tak Bat ceremonies in the major tourist areas are being bombarded by poor behaviour – using flashes in front of monks’ faces, crowding their route, talking loudly throughout, with little respect for the solemnity of the occasion.

Brian offers a brief guide to attending the ceremony respectfully, from maintaining silence to only making an offering if it does, actually mean something to you (and not just as a photo op).

You can read my full article, which appeared in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age. Click here, and enjoy!

Rise of the regions: new hotels in rural Australia

Rural retreat hunters are spoilt with a swag of stylish new properties away from the bright lights.

We take a look at Kimo Estate in rural NSW and Mt Mulligan Lodge in far north Queensland, where back roads are back, and slow travel establishes as one of today’s key travel trends in a world that never hits the off button.

With plenty of sparse spaces across the country, Australia’s regions have responded to the demand for dalliance – click here to read on for the Rise of the Regions, first published in Essentials Magazine.