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… 

Follow

 

Pyramid selling: Cairo returns to the sun

This year is a bumper year for Egypt and for travel in Cairo – it’s the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb by Egyptology Howard Carter. It’s also the 200th year of the cracking of the code on the Rosetta Stone, which led us to understand Ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphics. It’s the year that Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) was supposed to have opened – though there is a hint that it will open partially this year, just because 2022 is such a big news year, and because we’ve all been waiting for this museum for more than eight years.

The last surprising “Wonder of the AncienPyramid Selling: travel in Cairot World”. The liveliest of lively street cultures. Fabulous and affordable historic, luxury hotels. A familiar golden backstory prominent in school curriculums around the globe. Cairo, Egypt’s chaotic but captivating capital, is the megalopolis that seems to have it all.

This city, like a colossal bowerbird, has spent millennia sequestering new treasures left in the wake of a parade of invaders from Persia to Macedonia, Assyria to Rome, more recently France and Britain, the last colonial power, to be dispatched in 1956.

Yet for reasons I can never understand, Cairo is given short shrift on travellers’ itineraries, with just a day often allocated on either side of a Nile cruise, or worse, a half day on the way to the airport. The markets! The food! The architecture! The crazy, rushing, structured chaos in which this city survives and thrives. It is one of the world’s biggest cities, it’s inexplicable in its workings, yet it continues to work – in a fashion – to be simultaneously a major Middle Eastern hub and one of the most important cities in Africa.

Summing up more than a decade of ramblings around Cairo, and looking ahead to what’s new in the city, I wrote this story for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section, titled Pyramid Selling. Click here to read my story.

I hope you enjoy, and let me know what you love – or don’t enjoy – about Cairo.

 


Lies, spies and disguise: visiting Albania’s museums of secret surveillance

If you ever wanted to indulge your conspiracy theories, Albania is a great place to do it.

The mountainous little country looks out to the heel of Italy’s boot, and for the last century, has played out as a field for war, foreign occupation and annexation, and the enactment of fantasies of next-level paranoid dictators.

Its capital, Tirana, is a mishmash of architecture ranging from Bronze-age fortress to Ottoman-era mosques and Soviet Brutalist monuments. But the contemporary symbol of Albanian architecture is no skyscraper or soaring minaret: it’s its bunkers.

My story about Albania’s Communist-era bunkers and the grisly House of Leaves, a museum of secret surveillance, shows a dark side to this beautiful Balkan country.

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

If you’re keen to read more about travelling in the Balkans, take a look at my earlier story about travelling in the lands of honey and blood.


Australian expats: celebrity stylist in Midtown Manhattan

After nearly two full years, I’m so pleased to let you know that my Expat column is back! Published each week at Traveller, I hunt down Australian expats living around the globe, and ask

Lazarus Douvos

Australian expat Lazarus Douvos lives in Midtown Manhattan, NYC, USA

them to share a little of their lives with our readers.

This week, we’re in Midtown Manhattan, where Melbourne hair stylist to the stars Lazarus Douvos shares a little about his daily life – where he takes his almond-milk cappuccinos, his favourite bookshop, a hidden bar and where he goes to meditate, on the banks of the East River.

“Life was picture perfect in Melbourne: I had the boyfriend, the dog, the country house. But I had the immediate feeling that I belonged here,” he says of his arrival in NYC, almost 13 years ago. A former stylist for the late Joan Rivers and Gucci, Lazarus’s latest perfumed hair care range is The Love Note collection (see lazarusdouvos.com, agencedeparfum.com.au).

Click here to read the interview, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller section.

If you’d like to suggest someone for the column, there are a few rules: they have to be Australian, and have lived in their adopted hometown for at least two years – because six months in Bali does not an expat make. Drop me a line in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!


On high on the new Ain Dubai: the world’s largest ferris wheel

Hello blog! It’s been a quiet few months as I hit the road for two months in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. My first story in this fresh new year has an appropriate high note – it’s my review of Ain Dubai (in English, Dubai Eye), the world’s largest observation wheel.

Ain Dubai’s opening coincides with the world fair, Expo 2020, which is currently running in Dubai, until March 2022. Remember that when Paris hosted the world fair, Exposition Universelle, in 1889, it built the Eiffel Tower as the main attraction. And it worked.

Back in Australia, there’s welcome news that the Sunday Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers has returned after nearly two years’ snoozing, just as Australia welcomes the news that our international borders will finally be thrown open to tourists.

While we Australians were allowed to leave in November (necessitating a rush for the border – I can confirm that the few flights available were absolutely mobbed by those of us desperate to reconnect with our families, who we’d been separated from for at least two years), now, anyone vaccinated can enter the country.

Click here to read my story, which runs on the Traveller website and appeared in print in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers.

PHOTO CAPTION: Ain Dubai is the world’s largest observation wheel. Credit: Belinda Jackson


A city sleeps: Melbourne moves into Lockdown #6

Last night, I walked through the heart of Melbourne as we went into our sixth lockdown.

The city’s laneways rang with the sound of shutters going down as the city locked itself up.

It was a pretty crazy time to be editing a guidebook for the city. But there I found myself, sitting in little Shandong Mama Mini, eating its fabulous mackerel dumplings with manager Gin, taking notes and talking optimistically about when New Yorkers are going to roam freely through our little laneways once again…maybe next June.

Walking the darkening streets, I saw a woman at the gates of Gucci, pleading, pleading to make a last purchase before lockdown – only to be turned away by staff. The cash registers are closed, she was told, night is falling and lockdown looms.

The doorman at Society, the hottest new restaurant in town, told me all the late bookings had been shunted into earlier time slots, with diners ushered back onto the streets before the stroke of 8pm.

A cheery Big Issue seller chatted about his business model falling apart: with few office workers and less city dwellers, his magazines remain unsold. But he was fully vaccinated, he told me. Was I?

“These lockdowns are killing us,” said the waiter in Pellegrini where, for the first time in living memory, I could get a seat at the bar and a chat with the black apron clad waiters. Snapping a photo of the luscious cakes of the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the glittering Block Arcade – normally a false hope due to the hordes of drooling instagrammers – was but a cinch, and the Royal Arcade remains empty of its traditional shoppers, down on a day trip from the country.

Street cafes were being packed up, outdoor furniture stacked away, kitchen staff clearing the benches, glass of wine in hand. Music played in empty hotel lobbies, with no-one to listen to it.

The streets emptied so completely they could double as a setting for an apocalyptic zombie movie.

Food delivery drivers tore down empty footpaths on their scooters with impunity.

Traffic lights clicked uselessly as an ambulance careened unimpeded through a red light – lights flashing but the sirens silent in the darkening night.


Ten great car-free towns: from Hoi An to Hydra

Is there nothing better than a car-free town? I’m thinking those little hilltop towns dotted through Italy, the ancient marketplaces of the Middle East, the pedestrian zones of the otherwise honking, fume-laden roads of South America’s great cities.

My top 10 list includes such greats as Jerusalem’s Old City, the Princes Islands off Istanbul and beautiful Hydra, one of the Saronic islands in the Greek archipelago, which holds a special place in my heart for its donkeys and vast, opportunistic orange cat population. There’s also lovely Hoi An, Vietnam’s town of tailors and, of course, the most famous of them all, La Serenissima, aka Venice.

You can click here to read my list, published in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller section.

Just after it ran, I received an email from a reader telling me that Medina Malta should have made the top 10. Overlooking the fact he had an iconic Maltese surname, he’s definitely got a point – the so-called Silent City, which has been inhabited since 8th-century BC, was another beautiful film location for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones and a worthy contender.  Do you have any suggestions?


Egypt; The four unmissable sites of Cairo

With pyramids and gold pharaohs, towering temples and cursed tombs, it’s no wonder Egypt’s been on the tourist trail for the last 4500 years.

One of the stories in the inaugural issue of  Arrived, a new quarterly magazine by the family-owned The Travel Corporation, is about the upcoming, loooong-awaited opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). To complement it, I’ve listed a few more unmissable sights in Egypt including Coptic Cairo, with sites dating from the birth of Christ.

Built over Roman ruins, the Hanging Church (pictured above) is one of the earliest of Cairo’s churches, and definitely its most visited. But don’t bypass the nearby cave where the Holy Family sheltered from the wrath of Herod, which to my mind is far more atmospheric, hidden as it is beneath the Church of St Sergius and Bacchus. Last time I was there, there was talk that the cave was closed to visitors, but we mingled in with a government group to once again breathe the damp, sacred air in this subterranean cave. Walking through the chaotic laneways of Coptic Cairo really is the most extraordinary experience, don’t miss it.


Walking between the palaces of medieval Cairo: new TellMeWhere2Go podcast

If Cairo’s on your travel list – as it absolutely should be – but a nasty ole pandemic is stopping you from leaping on a plane, let me help out.

Come stroll with me down Sharia al-Muizz, the thoroughfare of medieval Cairo. It’s a fascinating walk through palaces, mosques, souqs and caravanserais, some more than a thousand years old.

This is my first podcast with TellMeWhere2Go, which launched today.

Click on the Spotify link below to join me in Cairo, then take a virtual trip to some other great destinations on the podcast, from Australia’s Sunshine Coast to the wilds of Rwanda, at www.tellmewhere2go.com

Thanks for listening!


Bringing Finnish Lapland to Helsinki, Finland

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


Notes from a zombie zone: Turkmenistan’s 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.


Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Youtube
Consent to display content from Youtube
Vimeo
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google