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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Travels in the land of honey and blood

The Balkans are literally the land of honey and blood, named by Turks who netted the peninsula – from Slovenia to Albania – into the Ottoman Empire, where it remained ensnared for five centuries until 1912. In Turkish, “bal” is honey, “kan” is blood. And as they learned, the riches are sweet, but come at a price.

This summer, I spent a couple of weeks on a tour with Intrepid Travel, from the Albanian capital of Tirana through to Kosovo and on to Macedonia, before returning back to Albania.

It was my first time in the western Balkans, though I’ve skirted around the region, in Greece, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria, at different times of my travelling life.

So some things were familiar – using bears as novelty drawcards at restaurants, the Cyrillic alphabet – but there was plenty of new ground – seeing little red-roofed villages, the symbol of Middle Europe, clustered around a mosque, instead of a church, or the sheer beauty of the Accursed Mountains.

Beautiful and blissfully ignored by the mass tourism that pervades such European cities as Barcelona or Paris,  I almost don’t want to share them, to preserve their purity.

My story was published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and you can read it here .

Weekend in Kosovo, off to the Olympics, secrets of the Big Apple: Takeoff travel news

Palenque ruins, Mexico

ADVENTURE

Into
the obscure
Fancy a weekend in Kosovo?  There are few corners of the globe that are
not comprehensively explored, but Intrepid Travel has revealed four new
destinations it says will sate the appetite of the most adventurous explorer.
The tours are the first wave of unusual locations in its new Expedition range,
which could see you uncover your inner Indiana Jones in a southern Mexican
jungle, hike in the Svaneti region of the former Soviet republic of Georgia,
get in the thick of the Rabaul Mask Festival in Papua New Guinea or sail the
ancient Lake Ohrid on a journey through Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. The 15-day journey
through the Balkan states costs from $1795 a person and departs September 5. See intrepidtravel.com/theme/expeditions.

GEAR
Crumpler off to
the Olympics
Melbourne luggage brand Crumpler is packing its bags for Rio and
joining our athletes as the official supplier of luggage to the 2016 Australian
Olympic Team. It will be kitting the team out with the Vis-à-Vis trunk
78 centimetre trunk, a hard-shell case bound by sturdy fabric belts and handle for easy,
secure hauling. Currently, the Vis-à-Vis range comes in a black shell, with red,
lime, black or clear handles. The Olympic colour range is yet to be revealed, and
will tie in with the team’s formal uniforms, designed for the seventh time by Sportscraft.
The competition and training uniforms, footwear and casual clothing will again
be designed by Adidas. Expect the big reveal around mid-2016. Crumpler’s
Vis-à-Vis range comes with a lifetime warranty, and the range also includes a 68-centimetre trunk, a 55-centimetre cabin bag and an
attaché case. The 78-centimetre trunk costs $545. See crumpler.com.au.

KIDS

Best seat in the
house
Intrepid families will love this simple bag, which is
designed to pack up your kid’s car seat and protect it when you’re on the move.
The bag is padded on all sides so you can include the car seat as checked-in luggage,
and is made from water-resistant fabric. It can also be worn as backpack for a
hassle-free, hands-free trek through the airport when you’ve run out of arms
pushing trolleys and reining in children. Great for those who prefer to
BYO car seat on driving holidays, the bag measures 45cm W x34cm H x45cm D. The
JL Childress Black Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag costs $69.95. See
thestorknest.com.au.
FOOD/TRAIN
Silver service, gold-rush route
The scenery is fabulous in the Canadian Rockies, but the food can
be great, too. The Rocky Mountaineer train network is adding 840 SilverLeaf
Service seats to its Rainforest to Gold Rush route, which journeys deep into
the Canadian Rockies. This train route deviates from the best-known Rockies
route from Vancouver to Toronto, and instead veers north to visit the ski mecca
of Whistler and Jasper via the gold-panning city of Quesnel. The SilverLeaf
class lets you dine in style, with local beers and wines from the British
Colombia’s Okanagan Valley. A two-day rail journey from Whistler to Jasper (or in reverse)
costs from $1865 a person. See rockymountaineer.com.
HOTEL
Northern newcomer
Brisbane’s CBD is currently enjoying a wave of new hotel
openings and the latest, Capri by Fraser, threw open its doors on April 1. The
Albert St property blends hotel and residence with 239 studios and one-bed apartments,
pool and gym as well as a restaurant bar and cafe by celebrity chef and paleo
poster boy, Pete Evans.  Expect design
touches including vertical garden walls and art installations as well as
ergonomic workspaces in the rooms. E-travellers can check-in by iPad and the
e-Concierge, while the rest of us will appreciate the 24-hour gym, in-room kitchenettes,
room service and laundry with Xbox Kinect. This is Fraser Hospitality’s fourth
Australian property, with Fraser Suites in Sydney and Perth and Fraser Place in
Melbourne. Capri by Fraser’s opening special costs from $179 a night, which
includes wi-fi and parking (Friday – Sunday nights) on stays until June 30.
Located at 80 Albert St, Brisbane. Phone 1800 110 800, see capribyfraser.com.
BOOK
Big Apple secrets
If you, like half the world, have a passionate affair with
Manhattan, tuck this modest book under your arm before you decamp to New York.
Its title is self-explanatory; Seeking
New York: the stories behind the historic architecture of Manhattan – One Building at a Time
. The book is based on the blog Daytonian in Manhattan, written by Tom Miller, a NY police inspector
originally from Daytonia, Ohio. His curious mind digs into the histories of 55 of
the borough’s buildings (there are many, many more on his blog), describing property
speculation in 1820s Canal Street, the impoverished Lower East Side at the turn
of the 20th century, great real estate coups and architectural
intricacies. There are grand triumphs and small stories: it’s also a history of
the people that made the city. “Never stop being a tourist, never stop looking
up,” says Miller. Costs $29.99. See allenandunwin.com.

The Takeoff travel news column by Belinda Jackson is published each Sunday in Sydney’s Sun-Herald Traveller section. 


Gone drovin’ and hanging loose: Takeoff travel news

ADVENTURE

Gone
drovin’

Turn your horse’s head to the west on a new droving experience in the
Riverina. There are just 20 places available on the new Long Paddock Cattle
Drive, which sees you droving a mob of cattle along one of Australia’s iconic
stock routes that’s still in use today. There’ll be plenty of big hats, billy
tea and bulldust, but there’s also a ready-made camp to return to each night
(with stretcher beds!) at Wanganella Creek Camp. Here, local Riverina produce is showcased at
each meal, hot showers and horse wranglers on hand to help each rider, from
beginners to seasoned hackers. The first two rides will take place from May 1-3
and May 8-10. Riders need to be 18 years and over, costs $2500 a person. See thelongpaddock.com.au/cattle-drive.


TECH
Taking care of
YourSelfie

Unfortunately for the anti-selfie-stick brigade, modern travel
is inextricably linked to technology, with split-second social media replacing
more genteel, though less timely postcards. Learn how to digitally unwind with
tech mistress Randi Zuckerberg and Celebrity Cruises. Zuckerberg is
editor-in-chief of Dot Complicated, sister to Facebook inventor Mark, and the
social medium’s former  director of
market development and spokesperson. The year-long “Take Care of
YourSelfie” campaign helps travellers navigate the delicate tech-travel
balance, surely aided by cruise ships’ traditionally steep internet charges and
limited access. But stop envisaging a bunch of rabid geeks on bandwidth withdrawal:
unplug with spa and health treatments onboard Celebrity’s 11 ships at the
Canyon Ranch SpaClub, including the InstaGlow detox ritual, fACEial Time
facial, seaweed peat wrAPP and the Texitcure manicure. Phone 1800 754 500, see celebritycruises.com.au.

GEAR
Wear your Aussie
heart on your sleeve
Take a little piece of home on your travels abroad with
this chunky eco bracelet made from Tasmanian timbers such as huon pine, myrtle
and sassafras. The timber offcuts have been polished into beads and are offset
with Tagua seeds from South American rainforests, which are collected by women
in impoverished rural communities. The jewellery is available several
colourways, and each unique piece is made by Tamika Bannister of Spotted Quoll
studio in Launceston, Tasmania. Melbourne online retailer BitsOfAustralia ships
free within Australia for purchases over $30, and $15 internationally. Spotted
Quoll eco bracelets cost $45, eco necklaces also available, $55. See bitsofaustralia.com.au.

KIDS
Hang loose in
Sydney
The school holidays are over, but Taronga Zoo makes it
easy to escape into the wilderness with its new Wild Ropes adventure. The
treetop rope course crosses suspension bridges, zip lines and rope climbs.
Happily, the ropes don’t hang over lions’ dens: you’ll be dangling over
herbivores, either Australian native animals including kangaroos and koalas or
its wetlands aviary, during the 90-minute experience, with views to our own Sydney
Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Open seven days a week, Wild Ropes costs
$35/adults, $30 children 10-17 years (minimum 1.4m tall) or $69/$45 with
Taronga Zoo entry. See taronga.org.au/wildropes.
AIRLINE
Aussies step aboard
for Hong Kong
Two Australian natural skincare brands get a sky-high
promotion when they are included in Cathay Pacific and Dragonair’s new first
and business class amenity kits. Lucky first-class passengers can now slather
on Aesop hand cream and lip balm, presented in stackable cases also by Aesop,
while business class flyers will receive a perennial Asian favourite, South
Australia’s Jurlique, whose hand, lip and day care creams are packed in a case
by hip Hong Kong bag manufacturer Seventy Eight Percent. In May, the airline
will also reopen its premium airline lounge, The Pier in Hong Kong airport,
following a redesign by British design icon Ilse Crawford’s Studioilse. Word is
that instead of an open space, it will feel more like ‘a luxurious apartment’. Cathay
Pacific launches its Hong Kong-Zurich route on March 29 and Hong Kong-Boston on
May 2, and this month adds additional seats on its Sydney-Hong Kong route when
it deploys its larger Boeing 777-300ERs on the daily service. See
cathaypacific.com.
MUSIC
I’m with the band
The Australian Chamber Choir is hitting the road on its
fifth European tour, and this time, it’s asking its friends along. Yeah, you’re
with the band. Departing on June 25, you’ll enjoy the sights of Berlin,
Copenhagen, Hamburg and Sweden’s Ystad, as well as discovering the sights and sounds
of Europe’s medieval villages. There are
choir performances in 15th-century churches, Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial
Church and at Denmark’s Sorø International Music Festival, as well as traditional
sightseeing highlights such as a visit to Beethoven’s birthplace, in Bonn. The 15-day
tour stays in four-star hotels including a converted monastery in Bavaria, and
includes coach transport, guides, admission to all the concerts and a
(non-compulsory) ‘Friends Choir’, for those who want to sing along. The Friends
Tour of Europe 2015 costs $6950 a person, twin share, excluding flights. See
auschoir.org.

 

Takeoff travel news is edited by Belinda Jackson and published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper each week. 


Holiday at home in Sydney: travel news

HOTEL
Holiday at home
Staycations – holidays in your home town – are the thing to do right now. Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks is rolling out its new
premium hotel rooms and club lounge following an $8 million makeover. The
largest of the 90 Horizon Club rooms and suites is the two-bedroom,
242-square-meter royal suite, which includes butler and grand piano, from $4895
a night. Those staying in the Horizon rooms should make tracks to the Horizon Club Lounge,
opening December 8. The four-storey atrium looks out to our best-loved icons; the
harbour, the Bridge and the Opera House. Horizon club rooms start from $400 a night, which includes private
check-in, breakfast, afternoon tea, canapés and cocktails. If you’re not
checking in, head up to the Blu Bar on level 36 for the best water views in town.
Se shangri-la.com.
TECH
Get-around sound
Pack the party in your pocket with the MiniJamBox from US
wearable technology company Jawbone. Using Bluetooth, pair the petite speaker and
speakerphone with any phone, laptop iPod or tablet in a 10-meter radius,
without cumbersome cables. 
No Bluetooth? Hook up with a simple headphone jack.
A full charge takes 2.5 hours, but then gives you up to 10 hours’ sound, be it
your favourite playlist, movies or phone calls. Weighing in at a lightweight 255g
and 25x15cm, the MiniJamBox travels lightly and comes in nine colours, with
five different designs pressed into the aluminum shell and is compatible with both
Android and iOS platforms. The Mini Jambox costs $179.95. See jawbone.com.
GEAR
Well knotted in
Istanbul style
Canny travellers know that scarves are the easiest way to
transform your travel wardrobe from drab to fab, and the new scarf from the St
Regis hotel group is fabulous, indeed. Designed by Michelle Obama’s go-to
man, the Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu, this limited edition collection
is inspired by Istanbul, now the hottest city on the planet. The 100 per
cent silk scarf comes in three colourways, blue, beige and Wu’s signature grey.
The scarf has been released just ahead of the opening of the new St Regis
Istanbul in February 2015, an 118-room hotel is set in Nişantaşi, with views
over the Bosphorus. The Grand Tourista Scarf costs US$195. See stregis.com/boutique
or jasonwustudio.com.
The Royal Opera House at night ©Stephen McLaren
COMPETITION
Live London large
Do London in style with afternoon tea at Lord’s Cricket
Ground with butler Carson from Downton Abbey (but you can call him Jim
Carter), a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House with ballerina Darcey
Bussell, a wander through the Science Museum with Professor
Stephen Hawking or Michelin-starred meal by chef Jason Atherton at happening
Pollen Street Social. London is searching the world for a Guest of Honour to
share these experiences with celebrity guides. Hurry, you’ve
got until December 9 to enter the search for London’s Official Guest of Honour.
See visitlondon.com/guest.
CRUISE
Easy festive time
If this
Christmas is already a write-off, start planning a serene escape for 2015 with
a Christmas river cruise through Europe’s most festive towns. APT’s new
brochure offers winter sailings in Canada and Europe, including a 10-day Christmas Time Cruise
from Prague to Budapest. The itinerary includes the world’s
largest Christmas market in Nuremberg, the Old Kornmarkt Christmas market in
medieval Regensburg and Vienna, which is not shy of a bauble or two. There are
five departures in November, when the Christmas markets are already up and
running, and eight in December. Book cruises departing December 17 or December
21 if planning to spend Christmas Day on the ship. The fleet will include the
new AmaSonata, launched this year, and its sister ship the AmaPrima, launched
in 2013. The 10-day cruise costs from $4545 a person, twin share, includes two
nights in Prague and eight days on board. 
Call 1300
196 420, see aptouring.com.au.  

 

KIDS
Little Luggage
Your
kids will be the smartest travellers in the land with these hard-shell
luggage sets. The lightweight wheeled suitcase has elastic straps inside
to hold gear and a zip pouch for games and books and measures 41cm x
29cm. The hard-shell backpack has adjustable straps and a divider, and
stacks onto the suitcase to be wheeled together. And if your travelling
tot tires, the suitcase handle extends to adult height – lucky you!
Designed in Australia, there are 12 themes including the dinosaur and
newest release, the ballerina. The two-piece set costs $129.95. Call
1300 746 722, see bobbleart.com.au

 

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.

And the popular pick is? Poland. Takeoff: Travel news

Warsaw’s Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town market square)

And the popular pick is? Poland.

Europe’s latest hot spot offers a stunning mix of history, architecture and natural attractions. Warsaw is emerging as a rising star on 2015 and 2016 travel
itineraries as Poland records a record high in tourist numbers. Key
sights in the former Eastern Bloc capital include the Old Town’s  market
square, Rynek Starego Miasta, rebuilt to its medieval design after its
destruction in World War II. The country is also famous for its
pilgrimage icon the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Krakow’s historic town
square and Wawel Castle and birdwatching in its vast central marshes.
Eastern European specialist Beyond Travel has released its largest ever
selection of tours to Poland, including a new Polish Capitals tour from
Krakow to Warsaw. A four-night tour including accommodation, guides and
transport starts from $630 a person (excluding flights). Phone 1300 363 554, see  beyondtravel.com.au

GEAR: The good oilcloth

Your destination may not be exotic but your luggage certainly can be,
with this cheery Emerald Palms overnight bag. Made from oilcloth with a
white shoulder strap and handles, it measures 60 centimetres long by 28
centimetres high –  just big enough for a sneaky overnight escape from
the daily grind. The range also includes oilcloth bath bags, a lavender
eye pillow and Serengeti-inspired vanilla and peach soap, to complete
the picture. The MOZI overnight bag costs $79.95, phone (03) 9885 9789, see mozi.com.au.

WEBSITE: Give back

It’s said that when you travel, you should take nothing but
photographs and leave nothing but footprints. However, travelgiver.com
lets you also leave a donation to a non-government, community project in
one of 50 countries across the world. Log on to the website and choose
from more than 300 projects, ranging from schooling for Liberian refugee
children to hygiene lessons in Rwanda or spina bifida support in
Melbourne, then proceed with the booking through the travel provider.
Participants include Intrepid Travel, Etihad, Expedia, Lonely Planet and
Accor, who will automatically donate up to eight per cent of the
booking to your nominated community project. Travelgiver.com gives a
comprehensive outline of each project, as well as visiting details if
you’re travelling in that region. See TravelGiver.com.

BOOKS: Fowl play

The startling Mr Chicken visits his favourite city, London, in the
new book by author and illustrator Leigh Hobbs, also the creator of
Horrible Harriet. A regular visitor to London, the gigantic, yellow bird
always stays at the Savoy Hotel and rings the Queen before popping over
for morning tea (so she has time to do some extra baking). The inside
covers include a hand-drawn map of Mr Chicken’s route through London and
his checklist of things to see and do, which includes a full English
breakfast, a walk over Tower Bridge and a ride on a red double-decker
bus. A great planner for kids who are travelling to London, have been or
just want tea with the Queen. Mr Chicken Lands in London, hardcover, $24.99. Visit allenandunwin.com.

GOLF:Tee tour

Tee off on Hawaii’s top six golf courses on a new nine-day golfing
tour of Hawaii, curated by dedicated golf tour company Teed Up. You’ll
play the Royal Hawaiian, Ted Robinson’s Ko Olina and also Kapalua
Plantation course, consistently named Hawaii’s best course with ocean
views at each hole. The tour includes four games of golf on Maui, two on
Oahu, shared motorised carts and inter-island flights as well as eight
nights’ accommodation and competition prizes at the end of the tour. Led
by PGA professional Michael Mosher, the 2015 Hawaii Golf tour departs
August 25, 2015 and costs US$5848 a person, twin share. Call (02) 8458 9000, visit teedupgolftours.com.

KIDS: Hold the crackling

Want to hear four incredibly effective words? “Peppa Pig wears
sunscreen.” The ubiquitous pig could sell ice to eskimos, and now Peppa
has collaborated with the Cancer Council to encourage pre-school and
primary school-aged kids to slap on sunscreen specifically for sensitive
skin. Yes, it’s coercion, but it’s a whole lot nicer than telling your
sunscreen-hating toddler they’ll have to cut off bits of their nose when
they hit 40. The range, which has no fragrance and no colour, includes
Kids SPF 50+ 50ml ezi clip, $9.95, Kids SPF 50+ 75ml roll on, $10.95 and
Kids SPF 50+ 200ml finger spray, $14.95 from Coles supermarkets. Visit
skinhealth.com.au.

AIRLINE: Points to share

Singapore Air and Virgin Australia have linked their frequent flyer
programs, in a first for airline loyalty programs. From November,
KrisFlyer and Velocity Frequent Flyer members can convert their miles
and points between either airline to book flights, upgrade seats and buy
non-flight merchandise. The arrangement also allows Velocity members to
book on Singapore Air’s regional carrier, Silkair, visit
singaporeair.com and virginaustralia.com. Singapore Air will also begin
codesharing with Air New Zealand from January 6, 2015, with new direct
flights between Singapore and New Zealand to create a 30 percent
increase in traffic between the two countries. Codeshare flights are now
open for bookings, visit airnewzealand.com.

Edited by Belinda Jackson, Takeoff is published in the Sun-Herald‘s Traveller section every Sunday.

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