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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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.

 


Walk into Jordan’s colourful, poetic heart on the Jordan Trail

With its Crusader castles and Roman ruins, the Dead Sea and the rose-colored jewel of Petra, the Jordan Trail leads walkers into its poetic, colorful heart.

Long-distance walking holidays are a worldwide phenomenon, not just in the US with its vast trails, or the routes that criss-cross the United Kingdom, or here in Australia, which has seen a boom in waymarked trails. In the peaceable Middle Eastern country of Jordan, the 400 mile Jordan Trail winds through wadis (valleys) and ridges and into Jordanian life, visiting 75 towns and villages along the way, from Umm Qais in the north to the Red Sea town of Aqaba in the south.

Travelers have always found refuge and wellness here – be they spice traders on the ancient trade route, pilgrims journeying south to Mecca, Roman lovers of luxury or today’s hikers on the Jordan Trail.

Click here to read my latest story and to soak your imagination in the fabulous photography in the current edition of Arrived magazine.


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.


Take a break: short escapes in Victoria, Australia

Take two days on the Mornington Peninsula or the Yarra Valley, or three days in the Grampians? What’s your choice for your short escape this autumn?

In the Grampians, three hours north-west of Melbourne, you should hit the track on the new Grampians Peak Trail (visitgrampians.com.au), which cuts north-south through Gariwerd-Grampians National Park. You don’t have to walk the full 160kms – that’d take 13 days, but bite off a day walk or a short, scenic walks to local beauty points. For the quickest panorama hit that’s accessible by car, watch the sun rise at Boroka Lookout.

Otherwise, cruise the wineries and beaches of the Mornington Peninsula, or head an hour north of Melbourne to the green, green hills of the Yarra Valley.

Click here to read my suggestions in the cover story in the weekend Traveller section, which runs in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

 


Click & connect: on creativity in the COVID era

Recently, I teamed back up with photographer Jude van Daalen to talk about creativity in the  COVID era, our collaborative project, ‘Together Apart: Life in Lockdown’ with Hobsons Bay City Council.

Click here to listen to our podcast!

Home Delivery is a new online program that delivers a hit of creative content every Thursday lunchtime. It features live chats with artists, live musical performances, podcasts, or professional development workshop, hosted by MC Matto Lucas.

We talked about how our creative practices have changed – for Jude, it was moving from the environment of a photographic studio to shooting from a safe social distance, swapping colour photography for black and white, and snatching the shot as it happens, instead of a controlled, styled shoot.

For me – well, the last time I worked in an office was a brief stint in the cradle of the Murdoch empire, in the Adelaide Advertiser, back in the mists of time. So, working from home hasn’t been an enormous leap for me. What has changed is the content. In the 12 months before COVID locked us all down, I had taken a private train through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, I spent Christmas in a log cabin in remote, central Finland and New Year in icy Stockholm, had been puma spotting on horseback through snowy Patagonia and eaten all the potatoes in Peru, before undertaking an epic, multi-stop flight from Lima to Cairo, via Ecuador and Madrid.

So, when lockdown hit, my job became pretty irrelevant, pretty fast. I still write the occasional travel story based on the journeys I can squeeze in between lockdowns, but with Melbourne recently taking the gong as the world’s longest locked-down city, those trips are becoming but beautiful memories.

Instead, we’ve created a book, billboards and several art exhibitions based on our book, Together Apart: Life in Lockdown based on Melburnians’ lives in lockdown. (yep, it was supposed to be a snapshot of a brief moment in time…)

Click here to watch the podcast, as Jude and I talk about retaining that creative energy while in lockdown.


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.


Rise of the phoenix: Melbourne in lockdown

It’s been a tough week for us Melburnians. Banned from every other state, curfews from 8pm, corralled to just 5km from our homes. This week, the city has been divided between sadness and anger. Friends have sobbed – in privacy or in public – mourning the loss of their former lives, while others – me included – are hot balls of rage at the stupidity of a few who have refused to listen to our doctors telling us to stop mingling, or more people will die.

I wrote this piece because I’m oddly patriotic about this city, because I need to voice how gutted I am about these restrictions on our lives, and also to reinforce my belief that they’re necessary to preserve our people. I also I know we’ll come out of this stronger, and that we will find unexpected reserves of creativity and beauty, that we will ensnare those dreams and ideas that, in our usual frantic lives, dance on the fringes of our peripheral vision, forgotten in the grind of the commute and clock punching.

—–

Once upon a time, Melbourne was a dag. You may love our laneways, live music, literature and lavish tables, but this town’s definitely been shabby around the edges in its past.

Born in Melbourne to parents who later fled north for the warmth of the tropics, my return visits to Melbourne as a child were nothing short of Alice arriving in a multicultural wonderland. Traipsing behind my gruff great-aunt, in her fur-lined coat perfumed with Alpine menthol cigarettes, she’d let me purchase our tickets from the (quite frankly, terrifying) conductor on the tram into the city, where we’d walk Swanston Street.

We’d slow down past the delights of the Arthur Daley-styled London con man selling kangaroo-shaped opal necklaces on the way to the Coles Cafeteria on Bourke Street. Six floors up in a lift! She’d treat me to braised steak and onions, and dessert I didn’t have to share with a sibling. Walking through the city, I’d smell the rich scent of Greek souvlaki, taste lemony Italian gelato, hear sales pitches called in heavily accented English at the Queen Vic and South Melbourne fruit markets, where freshly skinned rabbits hung beside salamis of obscene lengths.

Later, I would wash my hands in the water wall and stare up into the looming interiors of the NGV, pausing especially for Tom Roberts’ and Frederick McCubbin’s Australian idylls painted in the wilderness of Box Hill nearly a century before I was born there.

What my great-aunt didn’t dwell on were the wee-washed laneways or the abandoned factories whose brick walls we’d hit our tennis balls against for hours, the rough band rooms with beer-washed floors and a mullet-topped clientele, and a railway depot in the city’s centre.

The city weathered the scorn poured on it from its northern rival, the Emerald City, with its greed-is-good suits and aerobics classes in front of the Opera House. Truth be told, Sydney just did a far better PR job on itself in the 80s and 90s, with its waterfront beauty, money worship and bicentennial bluster.

In retaliation, the Melbourne scene crawled out from its underground lair and laid itself bare to the world. Cheap rents, laid-back laws and low expectations fuelled the spawning of tiny specialist cafes, the 10-person bars, the curious design shops, the wee art spaces wedged into street corners.  It’s a truism that if you walk down a darkened lane in Sydney, you expect to be mugged. Walk down a darkened lane in Melbourne and find…the hottest bar that everyone’s talking about: if you can’t find it, it must be sensational.

Those lanes, places and arcades are empty right now, as we push through what fees like a never-ending lockdown.

But we’re a resilient people, an artistic people. We know our talents and if we can flip from a backwater to become internationally renowned for our food, music, art and literature, then we’ll flip again from this virus. We’ll write, we’ll paint, we’ll act and we’ll sing. And we’ll do it all bloody well, because that’s what we’re good at.

I’ve written this piece as much for myself as for my fellow Melburnians in the face of rising coronavirus numbers, locked borders, closed airports and nasty memes. There have been tears, there have been rages, but there’s also been rationality and there is also hope.

I’ll see you under the clocks again soon.


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


Tips for exploring Punta Arenas, Chile

Down the bottom of Chile, looking south toward Antarctica, Punta Arenas is at the confluence of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, and has a subpolar, oceanic climate. Its average daytime temperature is 15 degrees and the surrounding ocean water is typically 2 degrees: no wonder no-one is swimming.

It’s the jumping off point north to the popular Patagonian adventures in Torres del Paine National Park and south to the Antarctic peninsula.

Thanks to our fabulous guide with Quasar Expeditions, we managed briefly to slip under the skin of this frontier town – where puffer jackets dominate the fashion scene, guanaco is on the menu, the waterfront wharves are covered in murals and the houses are painted bright pinks and yellows to counteract the heavy, grey skies.

To read my story, published in the Traveller section of The Age/Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, click here.


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