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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Travelling in Oman: chat with 2GB Sydney radio

I’m recently back from travelling in Oman, the quietest little country in the Middle East. So quiet, you may never have thought of it, or thought to visit.

You’re missing out.

Today, I chatted with radio 2GB Sydney host Michael McLaren about Oman. About walking through the narrow streets of a mudbrick town, where you’ll pass men in the classic Omani dishdasha, a long, white robe topped with a kumar, an embroidered cap worn nowhere else but Oman. It is unmistakably different. It is unmistakably Omani.

Travelling in Oman is easy, safe and the people are welcoming – and this is the most fragrant country, the land of frankincense, myrrh, of cardamon-scented coffee and pure rosewater, which I watched distilled in the hill towns of Al Jabal Al Akhdar.

To listen to my chat with Michael McLaren, click here.

Otherwise, you can tune into my podcast, The World Awaits, where I caught up with co-host Kirstie Bedford on my return, to talk about travelling from Muscat to Nizwa to the mountains and the fjords of the Musandam peninsula as well as the deserts – the lovely, lonely, great sand deserts of Arabia.

2GB interview https://omny.fm/shows/2gb-afternoons/travel-oman

The World Awaits podcast https://open.spotify.com/episode/4yGJB2Gu4axrPJJhWgDlhw


Dubai floods & my eyewitness reports

Dubai floods – do those two words even belong together? It’s been a big couple of days, travelling from Melbourne to Muscat via Dubai.

I had 36 hours in Dubai – most of that spent at the airport – as the emirate was smashed by tumultuous rain and ensuing floods, which I saw first hand when I left the airport on a long layover.

I thought I would be the only one checking into my hotel barefoot, but most of the city is running around with their shoes off, as the water is so deep on the streets.

Dubai residents were told to stay at home, and we were not permitted to leave the airport, as the roads have been destroyed, so there was no way to get anywhere, should we choose to leave.

After 18 hours waiting for flights that were constantly cancelled, I slapped on the red lip for a live TV cross with  Joe O’Brien of ACB TV News channel  @abcnews_au while sitting on the floor of the business class lounge at @flydubai in Terminal 2.

And sending huge thanks to Hind and the rest of the team at the lounge for letting me in for a quiet place to talk to Joe, and for maintaining their calm even when passengers turned abusive.

Here’s another report for the Sydney Morning Herald, with all my footage of the wild ride from my hotel, Al Seef, back to the airport.


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.
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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.


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!

 


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.

 


The rise of women-only tours in Islamic countries

Coming to you – most appropriately – from Cairo today, I’m sharing my latest story about the rise of women-only tours in the Middle East and surrounds.

When talking about travel in Islamic countries, top of the list of reasons why people refuse to visit is the treatment of women: the lack of access to education and financial independence, enforced dress mandates or the “guardianship” laws and customs that in extreme cases reduce women to the legal standing of a child. There’s also the fear of being ignored, duped or even groped.

Yet to avoid the region would be – in my opinion – to miss out on some of the world’s most lavish ancient civilisations and rich modern cultures.

Click here to read my cover story in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, in Australia.


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.


Podcast: travelling in the Middle East

Recently, I went to Saudi Arabia for a holiday. Is that a weird thing to say?

Travelling in the Middle East is a guaranteed dinner party starter: travellers either love it or swear they’ll never set foot in any of its countries – from Egypt to the United Arab Emirate, Saudi Arabia to Qatar.

I love the architecture, the languages, the desert landscapes and the blue waters that fringe the Arabian peninsula. I guess that’s why I keep returning.

I chatted to host Ben Groundwater, with Lisa Pagotto, founder of the awesomely adventurous travel company Crooked Compass on the Flights of Fancy podcast to tease out travel in this most misunderstood of regions.

Click here to listen to the full podcast. Go on, you know you want to!

 


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


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?


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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