One morning, two icons: touring the Top End, Australia

It’s a strange think to talk of lack of time when time is all we’ve got at the moment as we while away our time in self isolate.

Yet time is always precious: I wrote this short piece about a new air tour of two of the Northern Territory’s most popular national parks – Litchfield and Kakadu, just before this COVID-19 virus took hold of our country.

The little local airline – NT Air – says the best time to visit this part of the Top End is now, just after the Wet, when the territory is deluged by monsoonal rain, and everything is green and glowing.

The Wet will come again, this virus will pass. Those benefiting are not just shareholders in gold, supermarkets, toilet paper manufacturers and face mask factories. Nature, too, is benifiting from our global lockdown: she will heal as we stay away from our most loved destinations, including our national parks.

So put this trip on your inspiration list, to fly via light aircraft between the so-called Lost City rock formation in Litchfield to the billabongs and dramatic escarpments of Kakadu.

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

 

Bringing Finnish Lapland to Helsinki, Finland

Lapland Hotel Bulevardi

During winter, snow-laden winds sweep across lakes and tundras of Finnish Lapland, freezing all in their wake. Reindeer forage for lichen in the chilled earth, and the brief minutes the sun rises above the horizon are bookended by a deep blue twilight that heralds the return of the polar night.

A thousand kilometres south, there’s no snow on the footpaths of the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but it retains its connection with the drama of the deep north through Lapland Hotel Bulevardi, in the chic Design District.

Let me tell you: breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few. But this one – inspired by the food of Lapland – is one of the most intriguing.

To read my story, published by Essentials Magazine, click here

Growing up with the Mornington Peninsula

Beach boxes, Mornington

There’s a photo that’s always in my kitchen, faded by sun and decades. It’s of my dad – long gone now – sitting on the chairlift that climbs to Arthur’s Seat, a beauty spot with views over the Mornington Peninsula.

You can still catch a chairlift up Arthur’s Seat, only now it’s a far safer carrier in a more precarious world. The new Eagle gondolas still skim the top of the eucalypts. You can still spy kangaroos, and hear the birds calling to each other in the state forest below. I always wanted to live in one of the houses hidden among the trees, but I was never homeless on the peninsula. My young mum took me on my first holiday here, at our family’s beach house on Safety Beach.

I still go to Safety Beach, and when I can’t, I miss it. But everyone goes there now. They’re chasing hatted chefs, renowned winemakers, that little artisan bakery… I guess I can’t blame them. The peninsula of my youth has grown up, as have I.

You can read my full story, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend, here.

Notes from a zombie zone: Turkmenistan’s Ashgabat airport

Ashgabat Airport

To get through the departure gates at Ashgabat airport, in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, I had to have my passport scanned.

And my fingerprints.

And my thumbprints.

And my retinas.

They’re taking no chances in this airport. Not that there would be many me look-alikes here. There just aren’t that many people, full stop. And most of the women are swanning about with impossibly high headdresses and long, vivid gowns that sweep the already immaculate white marble floors.

Should you find yourself in Ashgabat any time soon, click here to read my review in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

How to sauna like a Finn

Allas Sea Pool, Helsinki

Over Christmas and New Year, I spent my days leaping in and out of saunas like a lemon into a G&T in Scandinavia. My first dip was in the Allas Sea Pools on Helsinki’s waterfront.

Dashing from the sauna to the outdoor pools is an exercise in fortitude when there’s a stiff wind coming in off the Baltic Sea, and you’re clad in nothing but wet swimmers. I then worked up to dashing out of the sauna and rolling in the snow, further north in Oulanka National Park. And finally, in Stockholm, cooled off by leaping into a lake at Hellesgarten, on the Stockholm archipelago.

Never have I been so clean. I also learned a few tricks and faux pas – for a start, you can ditch the swimmers inside the sauna, though most people slip on swimmers to go into the pools or snow.

I took the chance to chat with Maia Söderlund, of Allas Sea Pool, for the fine print on sauna etiquette.

Click here to read my The Knowledge column on how to sauna like a Finn, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, and online at Traveller.com

 

 

 

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

 

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

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.