I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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My slices of heaven: travel in Turkey & Egypt

Nisanyan was a stone house in rural Turkey, forgotten or ignored for generations and demoted to a lowly stable before its reincarnation into a small, family hotel.

Now, the hotel is its own village outside Selçuk; a series of hand made, whitewash-and-stone cottages, inns and villas along the tree-lined laneway, which I visited on a women’s-only expedition with @intrepidtravel

I wrote about the hotel recently for a cover story in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, where we were asked to describe our own idea of heaven.

The nights here are cool and silent, save the toll of a goat’s bell and the final call to prayer from a mosque down in the valley. In my cottage, deep red rugs are thrown over stone floors, handstitched coverlets and cushions adorn well-worn armchairs and my daybed, where I languish, the’ bells and the muezzin’s voice carried to me on the jasmine-scented night air.

Why heaven? Turkish breakfasts are the best on earth – here, the tables are laden with locally pressed olive oil, deep red tomatoes, fresh eggs, honey, handmade cheeses.
—-

I also have an affinity with oases – their sense of remoteness and salvation for the traveller.

It may be remote – on the edge of the Great Sand Sea and just 50km from the Egypt-Libya border – but Siwa’s log book of visitors cannot fail to impress; top of the list is Alexander the Great, who came to consult the Oracle of Amun in 332AD as part of his campaign to rule this rich land.

A mudbrick Bedouin town, it sits on the edge of the Great Sand Sea. It is filled with palm gardens, and surrounded by perfectly clear salt lakes, while freshwater springs bubble up from the hot sands. The local Bedouin culture is very different from the rest of Egypt, with the warmth and hospitality that befits an oasis town.

It is my slice of heaven on earth.

On the flip side, my idea of HELL ON EARTH is The Wall in Bethlehem, Palestine. Hot, dusty, fume-filled streets are dominated by the paint-spattered topped by watchtowers, which epitomises everything that is broken in the current conflict.

Also, anywhere you witness injustice to people, animals or the environment. The street dogs of Cairo break my heart. As does the dumping of chemical waste on the Israel-Palestinian border.  And the plein-air butchers’ markets of Kashmir, where the fly-to-customer ratio is inordinately high.


AIRPORT LOUNGE REVIEW: Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi, UAE

THE LOCATION This Etihad business class lounge is located near gate 35 in Abu Dhabi international airport.

A haven for long layovers, it’s obvious this lounge is winding down ahead of the new airport terminal opening in November.

Arabic cookies

Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi, UAE

THE VIBE Very, very low key, with light muzak in the background, but this is forgiven as we arrived in the lounge at an unholy 5am, on a stopover from Melbourne to Cairo. In keeping with the low-key mood, this is a no-notification zone, so it’s up to you to keep an eye out for your flight’s boarding time from the many boards around the lounge, spooling in English and Arabic. The décor is in muted chocolate, cream and aqua.

THE FACILITIES If you’re not a long-haul traveller (and let’s face it, almost every Australian who’s left the country qualifies for this title), you don’t understand the beauty of a mid-journey shower after 13 hours in a pressurised tin can, before you board for the next leg of your adventure. There are six showers in the lounge, with a dedicated concierge who creates the wait list and gives you a buzzer to notify you when it’s your turn. Towels and toiletries are supplied, and the wait at 7am is just 10 minutes. The downside – that buzzer is SUPER loud and cannot be switched off, expect baleful glares from your (once-were) snoozing neighbours if you don’t nip to the showers quick smart.

THE FOOD At 5am, the food is limited to a small buffet of cold cuts, cheese, juices and – for a nice local touch – cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee, dates and traditional pistachio cookies and baklava. However, over the next hour, the full buffet cranks up, with loads of regional foods including masala-spiced eggs, ful (fava beans – the Arabian take on baked beans), a super delicious lamb and potato keema and plenty of mezze and paratha on the side. It’s finished off with the fruit station, and self-serve fridges with soft drinks and the local Al Ain water. I do spot a Western businessman searching in vain for bacon and eggs; happy to report it’s far more exciting than that tired fare. Walk past the self-serve coffee machine and ask the bar staff to crank their gleaming white La Marzocco machine up for a creamy brew. At this hour, there’s only one intrepid traveller sitting at the bar stools, nursing a glass of champagne.

THE SERVICES There is a bag concierge at the entrance where you can drop your gear, and beside it, a dedicated children’s room with toys and nest seats that little ones can curl up in. In better times, Etihad’s famed nannies ran this room, which meant you could drop your children and run off to the shower/buffet/bar . It was an amazing service that gave me sanity on long-haul travel with a toddler, let’s hope that better times see the London-trained nannies return.

Airport lounge

Etihad business class lounge, Abu Dhabi airport, UAE

The business hub has a line of computers with charging stations, and The Den has a series of single alcoves with a comfy leather armchair facing a tv, for those who need a news update or somewhere quiet to take a call. Regional magazines and The National newspaper are on offer at the entrance.

THE DOWNSIDE I’m going to preface this part by saying that the brand new, $3bn Midfield terminal opens in the next couple of months, with Etihad Airways, amongst others, moving to the new terminal the minute it opens. So it’s painfully obvious they’ve let this lounge run down – this is Etihad’s home ground, and this should be its flagship lounge. But the decor is tired and it misses the gloss and glamour of its regional rivals.
The biggest bugbear is the inability to charge your devices. You’ve got to search to find a chair close to a powerpoint, and the first couple I try simply don’t work, or the usb slots are actually broken. The wireless printer in the business hub isn’t working, though the staff smoothly proffer the front desk email, and have my docs printed in no time.

THE VERDICT For a five-hour layover, having a lounge to hide away in is bliss. If you’re not eligible to enter the Etihad lounge, Terminal 1 has a pay-as-you-go Priority Pass lounge. Every staff member I speak to is charming and helpful (although occasionally clueless, like the waiter who doesn’t know the correct name of the Arabian cookies – they’re ghraybeh), and everyone is dying to move to the new terminal. Me included.

See Etihad.com

Disclaimer: I paid for my own flight, but was hosted by Etihad to visit the lounge. This review aims to give fair and balanced coverage of the facilities.

September 2023


Food of Saudi Arabia: Gourmet Traveller

Hot off the press, my travel feature in this month’s Gourmet Traveller magazine tells of the food of Saudi Arabia, and the landscapes that created it. Focusing on the sublime oasis of AlUla, in northern Saudi Arabia.

It’s mid-morning, and our camels are resting in the shade of a stone pillar. It’s a gharameel, the remnant of an ancient mountain, eroded by time, on this desert plain in north-western Saudi Arabia.

Like the camels, I’m also resting, but on long, embroidered cushions atop richly coloured rugs, drinking sweet mint tea as my mount is saddled.

To one side of the cameleer’s camp, the cook is browning cuts of tender lamb in an enormous stockpot, and I watch as he creates the classic Saudi lamb-and-rice dish, kabsa. Earthy cumin, fragrant orange blossom water and citrusy coriander are all added to the browning meat, and what looks like turmeric, for colour.

Do I detect a flicker of disdain across the cook’s face?

“It’s not turmeric,” he corrects me. “That’s saffron.” Of course it’s saffron – here in the desert, with a kitchen on the back of a truck, a couple of grumbling camels nearby. Using the most expensive spice is a reminder that, while we dine alone in a remote desert, we are still in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. A world away from clichéd Arabian bling, this is desert luxury.

On newsstands now, if you like a delicious read!

 


The World Awaits podcast goes to Spain and Nauru

It’s been a big couple of weeks in GlobalSalsa World – Turkiye, Australia’s Northern Territory and I’ve also also refreshed my podcast, with a fresh new name and a little nipping and tucking at the format. It’s now The World Awaits podcast, and you can listen to the latest edition here .

This week, fellow travel writer Kirstie Bedford and I take you to Spain and Nauru – at opposite ends of the tourism spectrum. I interviewed one of Australia’s best known travel writers, Ben Groundwater, who is a Spain aficionado and total foodie. Ben invited me on his Flights of Fancy podcast, with Nine Media, a few times – sadly now defunct (but still live if you’d like to take a listen), so I asked him to return the favour.

After embedding himself in San Sebastian in the Basque country, for a year, Ben is a great one to chat about how overlooked Spain is outside the major hotspots such as Barcelona. You know I”m a lover of this country as well, especially after my train adventure in Andalucia last year, which started in (very touristy) Seville, but pushed on through to Jerez, Cadiz and then I ended up in Spain’s most beautiful pueblo blanco, Vejer de la Frontera. If the chat makes you hungry, you can join Ben on one of his foodie tours to San Sebastian with World Expeditions, next year.

You’ll also hear from Lisa Pagotto, founder of Crooked Compass tours. Lisa goes seriously off track in her travels – she’s talking to Kirstie about travelling in the beautiful island of Nauru, best known for its role as the host site of Australia’s detention centre for refugees (please don’t go there, a particularly ugly part of Australia’s foreign policies). I travelled with Crooked Compass on a week-long hike in Palestine a few years ago. How’s that for off-beat travel?

Anyway, tune in, I hope you enjoy the show, and let us know what you think, or where you’d like us to go next on the podcast.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas!

You can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever else you get good ear candy.


Spend 15 minutes in Sarawak, Borneo

Would you travel for laksa? I would! Come spend 15 minutes in Sarawak, Borneo – as I chat about one of Malaysia’s easternmost states with Phil Clark, of ABC Radio’s Nightlife program.

And I’d definitely travel to Sarawak for its take on the famed Malaysian noodle soup, which the late American chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain thrust onto the world stage, declaring it the ‘breakfast of the gods’.

In the name of research for you all, I ate laksa for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also managed to fit in a huge range of indigenous fruits and foods I’d never seen before (orange eggplants, wild mangoes easily mistaken for cannonballs).

Also, Kuching is the place to see semi-wild orangutans (the Borneo orangutan is endangered due to hunting, unsustainable illegal logging, mining and agriculture) I also met an ethical animal charity, Project Borneo, whose volunteers rescue and rehabilitate animals injured after human intervention, either from loss of habitat or as pet trade rescues – not only orangutans, but also sun bears, hornbills, sleepy binturongs (bear cats) and fresh and saltwater crocodiles.

I’ve included some great places to eat in Kuching, a couple of boutique hotels and a homestay in the jungle on the Malaysian-Indonesian border run by Saloma, a woman from Sarawak’s Bidayuh tribe.

Click here to listen to our interview on ABC Radio, which runs nationwide. And tune every Monday evening for the Monday night travel segment.

You can listen to past travel chats between me and Phil Clark, including Langkawi & Penang  and, closer to home, hiking in Victoria’s Grampians on the new Grampians Trail.

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/nightlife/nightlife-travel-sarawak-borneo/102090380

 

 


Stars of the spa: the best spas in Victoria

Victoria is up to its neck in hot water, and loving it. And our love of balneotherapy – to give mineral-water bathing its scientific name – shows no signs of drying up. Indeed, run your finger along a map of Victoria’s coast, and you’ll find aquifers aplenty, bubbling to the surface, and that’s before you head up to the spa country of Hepburn Springs, in central Victoria.

It’s not all facials and massages: hot springs and mineral water bathing taps into the aquifers below ground, to yield mineral-rich waters that help heal and detoxify our bodies and minds.

The bellwethers are Peninsula Hot Springs and Hepburn Springs, with two newcomers opening in recent months: the sparkling, new Alba on the Mornington Peninsula and Metung Hot Springs in East Gippsland. We’ve got an eye on Phillip Island, where a new hot springs facility is being developed in conjunction with Peninsula Hot Springs, to open later this year.

This wellness journey was a tough assignment, but I visited what I’m dubbing the UnDirty Seven: the best spas in Victoria who specialise in hot springs and mineral water bathing facilities in Victoria, on the Mornington Peninsula, the Bellarine Peninsula, in Gippsland and Hepburn Springs, not forgetting Warrnambool’s sleeper hit, The Deep Blue (see thedeepblue.com.au)

Click here to read my cover story for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

See https://www.traveller.com.au/the-best-spas-in-victoria-seven-top-soaking-experiences-in-australias-spa-state-h29r0u


Hotel review: cycling holidays at Bright Velo, Bright, Victoria Australia

Those who love cycling holidays in Australia will know that Victoria’s High Country is peak cycle territory. We’re talking lycra on the main streets, ebikes galore, kids’ tagalongs … it’s not just the pelotons who dominate the roads.

One of the main reasons this area – three hours’ drive from Melbourne, just before you hit the border with New South Wales – is such a cyclist’s paradise is that it caters for all comers, and its development of rail trails – the old train tracks that have been converted into scenic cycling roots that keep riders off the main highways.

So it makes sense that the newest hotel in the region is a cycling themed hotel. Originally built as the Empire Hotel during Bright’s crazy gold-rush days, Bright Velo is a smart renovation of this lovely building on Bright’s main street. It’s not going to bomb you out with cheezy bike paraphernalia everywhere – it’s a little more subtle than that. Stylish vintage cycling posters dotted here and there, the public bathrooms painted in the colours of the winning jerseys of the three great European tours.

There are three levels of accom – the five unique Heritage rooms, a three-bedroom apartment and the dorm accom which caters for groups. There’s also excellent eating, a whiskey bar and the amaretto sours should have cult status in this town.

Click here to read my review of the hotel for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section.

See https://www.traveller.com.au/bright-velo-the-victorian-alps-welcomes-cosy-new-cycling-themed-lodge-h29qzl


Better than Bali? Why Malaysia should be on your travel radar in 2023

Some destinations are once-in-a-lifetime destinations – think Antarctica or Svalbard. Others, like Bali, receive an annual visit from many Aussies. Malaysia is one of those that falls in between – before the rise of the Middle Eastern hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur (KL to its friends), Bangkok and Hong Kong were the trio of stopovers on our European sojourns.

This year, it’s back on my list, as I transited KL on a one-night stopover, went deeper into Langkawi and Penang and, now, find myself in the wilds of Malaysian Borneo, exploring the sta

te of Sarawak and all its exotic glories, from sun bears to head hunter tribes, orang utangs to jungle food.

While we can’t get enough of Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, Malaysia is still largely undervalued, if not ignored, by us, despite affordable direct flights from Australia, fabulous food, unique wildlife and unrivalled value for money.

Click here to read my story in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, and you can see plenty of of my snaps on instagram from Sarawak, including its capital, Kuching, on the Santubong peninsula and down on the Malaysia-Indonesian border, here in Borneo, click here.

 


Women in Saudi Arabia

Until late 2019, I could not visit Saudi Arabia as a solo, female traveller. Only business visa holders and religious pilgrims could visit Saudi Arabia, and even then, as a woman, I would have needed to be accompanied by a male guardian. Living in Egypt in the late noughties, my father had passed away, I was unmarried and neither of my brothers wanted to visit Saudi Arabia. It remained one of a few countries I had not visited in the Middle East, yet with an all-pervasive influence in the region’s economy, politics and societal expectations, there was a Saudi-sized gap in my understanding of the region.

Then, just before COVID closed the world down, Saudi Arabia threw out its own rule book, and brought in e-visas for independent travellers, issued online and almost on the spot.

I am so proud of this story, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers, about my adventures in the Saudi city of Jeddah and the AlUla oasis, up toward the Jordanian border. To read more about travelling as a woman, and meeting the women of Saudi Arabia, click on the link below.

https://www.traveller.com.au/visiting-saudia-arabia-as-a-woman-i-went-to-the-notoriously-sexist-country-as-a-solo-female-tourist-h24v9q

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 


Hiking in the Grampians National Park: Victoria, Australia

The new Grampians Peak Trail is a hiking route that spans 160 kilometers of terrain through the Gariwerd/Grampians National Park in western Victoria, Australia.

It’s an amalgamation of existing trails and 100km of new paths through the national park. Some parts can easily be walked by families with kids – I even spotted little ones in gumboots, doing a walk to a local waterfall – while other sections lend themselves to the more adventurous, with camping and hut stays on offer.

I chatted to Philip Clark of ABC Radio’s Nightlife program, about hiking through this beautiful part of Australia. You can click here to listen to the interview.

It’s also the cover story for this week’s Senior Traveller – have a look here!

And finally, a couple of links to get you planning your adventure along the Grampians Peaks Trail:

The official site for Parks Victoria, which looks after all the state’s national parks.

Grampians Peaks Walking Company supports hikers with drop-offs and pick-ups, food and water drops, maps and even gear hire.

Visit Victoria is the state’s tourism body, and has a good overview of the trail, as well.


Global Salsa

Well, you’ve scrolled this far. What do you think? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

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