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… 



Cairo: The palace walk

Lined with palaces, mosques, merchant’s mansions and markets, Cairo’s Al-Muizz is a contender for the Middle East’s most beautiful street.

It’s the ancient thoroughfare of medieval Cairo, the lifeblood of a dozen centuries: every time I return to Cairo, I find myself walking the length of Al-Muizz li-Din-Allah. Like most before me, I’m lured by the street’s imposing palaces and caravanserais, its dusty mosques and vivid markets.

I’ve walked this street countless times over a decade, and each time, I make a new discovery. A forgotten tomb. A synagogue. Cool, dark water cisterns that plunge deep underground or a merchants’ mansion, instructive in the ways of generations of traders, aristocrats, craftsmen and families who filled the streets of Islamic Cairo when it was established by the Shi’ite Fatamid regime in 969AD.

In case you haven’t twigged, Egypt is back on the tourism trail after seven years languishing in the doldrums after its revolution in 2011, which overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak, who’d run the country as his personal fiefdom for 30 years. They’ve now got another army brass running the country – plus ça change, plus c’est la même.

Cairo’s Citadel, which overlooks the city. Photo: Belle Jackson

But finally, with stability and growth taking place around the country (think, highways remade, new airports open, Nile cruise boats dusted off), it’s fabulous to see the return of one of Egypt’s major industries.

Cairo often gets but a cursory glance while everyone rushes to the Pyramids then down to Luxor, but spend the turn of the day in El Muizz for what I think is one of the world’s most beautiful streets.
Thanks to Vacations & Travel for again going ahead of the trend and publishing my feature on this beloved street.


Walking in Palestine: make hummus, not war

The turn of each year always calls for contemplation, and looking back at last year’s travel, Palestine definitely wins as the most dramatic of the destinations I visited in 2017, which included Jaipur (India), Bali (Indonesia), Egypt, Greece, a brief fling in Qatar and plenty of lovely Australian destinations.


Upload FilesIt’s been a while since I entered a country with such trepidation and so many questions (Will they stamp my visa on a piece of paper? (Yes) Will I find beauty? (Yes) Will I starve (An emphatic no) Will I cross borders easily? (No bother until I departed Tel Aviv airport at the end) and, most importantly, Will I be safe? (A resounding yes to feeling safe in Palestine, especially compared with the state-sponsored gun-fest that was, for me, Jerusalem).


On my week-long hiking tour through Palestine’s West Bank, I walked with just one other hiker – another woman – and our guide, the fabulously patient, deeply knowledgeable and supremely courteous Anwar. Just the three of us, wandering remote valleys and sunbaked hilltops.

We slept in Bedouin camps, in people’s houses and in small, family-run hotels, drinking an inordinate amount of sweet, thyme-scented tea and eye-poppingly strong coffee, while eating our bodyweight in fresh dates that melt on the tongue like brown sugar.

Highlights include adding our own Banksy-designed graffiti onto the towering concrete walls that separate the West Bank from Israel, wandering ancient markets buying spices and baklava, and visiting remote monasteries hidden in the ravines and valleys that mark the countryside.

DISCLAIMER: In Palestine, I was a guest of Crooked Compass tours, and would recommend them thoroughly for their wildly adventurous destinations and experiences.

Flying the world’s best economy airline to warmer climes

Balinese dancer. Photo:Belinda Jackson

That special moment when you find your laptop isn’t charged and the sound on your airline movie screen is stuffed. Yes, that moment. All hail technology and dodgy electrical plugs.

I knew it was going to be a weird one, long before even boarding, when the airport customs officer kept shouting, “No-one loses their temper in Melbourne Airport!” Obviously, he’d missed the three-year-old’s tantrum in the insanely long queue. 
So back to my spectacular techno-fail: how did I occupy myself on a six-hour flight to Denpasar? Why, I cleaned spilt foundation out of my handbag. I read up on the encouraging indications that Japan may just ban child pornography (anime and manga excluded). I learned that Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudyoyomo was ‘flattered’ that Our Tony called him a ‘senior statesman…a great president…a good friend’. And I contemplated the gentle fondling of my seat’s undercarriage by the socked toes of the tall Croat behind me. 
After asking the staff to reset the electronics of my movie system, I sipped my tepid tea and started thinking about the airline ratings group Skytrax awarding Garuda Indonesia its 2014 World’s Best Economy Class award.
Perhaps it was the cold tea. Perhaps it was that the first whiff of a teabag came three hours into the flight. Perhaps it was, despite being a 9am flight (which everyone knows means you got up at 5am, left at 6 to make 7am check-in) there was nought but some salted legumes to keep us occupied for the first half of the flight. 
Don’t get me wrong, I like Garuda, with all its challenges (this morning’s being 30 minutes to clear customs queues and a 25-minute wait on the tarmac to take off, Melbourne’s parting shot for those of us leaving its gloomy skies). It is what it is. It got me here safely, hopefully (if it doesn’t read this), it will get me back home safely. But world’s best economy seat? 
Come to think of it, if you are reading, Garuda, the reset didn’t fix seat 31A.

Colomboscope to get the town talking

Galle Rd & the Indian Ocean, Colombo.

If you’re in Colombo next weekend, pencil in a few events from Colomboscope, an arts festival curated by  Sri Lankan author Ashok Ferrey. 

If I was in town, I’d be making a beeline for the panel of war reporters and a Sri Lankan army representative talking about massaging the numbers of war in ‘Who Counted the Bodies?’ Too grim for your tastes? There’s also a great debate on English-Singlish-Tinglish (blends of Sinhalese and Tamil), piano recitals, poetry and a rock concert 🙂 

FRIDAY 22ND MARCH 6.00 pm – 06.15 pm
Festival Opening  *Free Event*
Incredibly short speeches by Festival Sponsors: Anirvan Dastidar (CEO Standard Chartered Bank), Tony Reilly (Country Director, British Council), Bjoern Keitels (Director Goethe Institut), Ashok Ferrey (Festival Curator).

6.15 pm – 7.30 pm
Announcement of Short List for the Gratien Prize 2012
*Free Event* Compeered by Nafeesa K Amiruddeen. Introduction of judging panel, comments on the judging process by chair of panel, citations on the shortlisted works, brief self introductions by the five authors, and readings of their short-listed works.

8.30 pm – 10.30 pm
*GOURMET DINNER* At Bayleaf, Dutch Hospital, and Park Street Mews
Details and tickets from February 15th at Park Street Mews.

SATURDAY 23RD MARCH09.00 AM – 09.40 AM The Kaduwa
*Free Event*
Does English serve to unite or divide? English-Singlish-Tinglish – how far should be go with the indigenization of the language? Sumathy Sivamohan, Shermal Wijewardene and Malinda Seneviratne air their views. Moderator Shyamalee Tudawe wields the sword.

10.00 AM – 10.40 AM
1- Anjali Joseph in conversation with Tony Reilly
The prize-winning author of Saraswati Park and Another Country on her writing life.

11.00 AM – 11.40 AM 2- My Life in Robes
Two men and a woman in robes – a Christian priest, a Buddhist monk and a Muslim lady – talk about what those robes mean to them: how they serve to define their identity and how they change the way others perceive them. Moderator: Jill Macdonald.

12.45 PM – 1.30 PM
3 – Lunchtime Concert: Some Musical Fun
Concertmaster Lakshman Joseph de Saram and the Chamber Music Society of Colombo. Mozart Divertimento K. 522

02.00 PM – 02.40 PM 4 – Songs from Across the Water
Four poets: Three of Sri Lanka’s finest – Holocaust poet Anne Ranasinghe, Ramya Jirasinghe and Vivimarie VanderPoorten – and T. S. Eliot Prize nominee Sean Borodale, on expressing identity and alienation through their work.

03.00 PM – 03.40 PM 5 – Flying on the Other Wing
Minoli Ratnayake talks to Carolin Emcke, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Koluu and Brandon Ingram about sexual identity and living an alternate lifestyle in modern-day Sri Lanka, and to film-maker Asoka Handagama about the portrayal of it on film.

*Free Events* 04.00 PM
Book Launches and readings

6.00 PM – 08.00 PM
Film show followed by Q&A: Flying with one Wing by Asoka Handagama curated by Anoma Rajakaruna

06.15 PM – 06.30 PM Dance Recitals
*Free Event* Martha Graham – The Resurrection, by Seneka Abeyratne

07.00 PM – 07.45 PM Performance by nATANDA
Choreography by Kapila Palihawadana

08.00 PM – 10.00 PM *GOURMET DINNER*
At Bayleaf, Dutch Hospital, and Park Street Mews.

10.00 PM – 12.00 AM Rock Concert 
*Free Event* Kumar & Out of Time

09.30 AM – 10.10 AM
The Gratien Prize *Free Event*
Former Gratien judge and nominee Neluka Silva talks to last year’s winner Madhubhashini Dissanayaka Ratnayake and this year’s short listed hopefuls about Sri Lanka’s top literary prize for English writing, and what a win would meant to their writing career.

10.30 AM – 11.10 AM 6 – Sean Borodale in conversation with Smriti Daniel
T.S. Eliot Prize nominee, poet Sean Borodale talks to poet and journalist Smriti Daniel

11.30 AM – 12.30 PM 7 – Who Counted the Bodies?
War reporters Carolin Emcke and Julian West in conversation with Rajiva Wijesinha and a representative of the Sri Lankan Army, about the problems of war reportage: Who exactly assigns the numbers in an environment where facts and figures can be massaged equally vigorously by both sides? Moderated by Savithri Rodrigo.

01.00 PM – 01.40 PM 8 – Eshantha Peiris in Concert
One of Sri Lanka’s most gifted pianists, with his own selection.

02.00 PM – 02.40 PM 9 – In the Driving Seat
Three very different women novelists – Yasmine Gooneratne (The Sweet and Simple Kind), Anjali Joseph (Saraswati Park, Another Country) and Shamila Kandatha (Just the Facts, Madam-ji, A Break in the Circle) talk to Mrinali Thalagodapitiya about what exactly drives their work. Is it plot, character or genre? Or is it just plain good writing?

03.00 PM – 04.00 PM 10 – Kaveri Lalchand: One woman show
Side-splitting laughs with a born entertainer.

*Free Events*
04.00 PM – 04.30 PM Book launch – M.T.L. Ebell

05.00 – 05.30 PM  CD launch by Spa Ceylon

06.00 PM – 08.00 PM Film show followed by Q&A: August Sun by Prasanna Vithanage curated by Anoma Rajakaruna

07.00 PM – 07.45 PM Dance Recital: ‘Absence’, created by Ruhanie Perera in collaboration with Sally Dean and Jake Orloff

08.00 PM – 10.00 PM AFTERPARTY – Street bands and food carts

Keep in touch with it all here

White Christmas at either end of the globe: travel deals 9 December 2012

Dreaming of a white Christmas? Try Austria…or Australia (if Tassie turns on the cold tap) in this week’s best international and Australian travel deals. 

Adelaide experiences include coffee at Lucia’s in the Central Markets, where
you can shop for a beach picnic in the cool shade of the jetties on the
spectacular sweeps of Semaphore and Henley beaches. Save 25 per cent when you
stay at the Hilton Adelaide. Book by February 14, 2013 for travel until
December 31, 2013. Costs from $169 a room. 
1300 888 180, zuji.com.au.
With the sun finally out, Melbourne’s laneways are bursting with tables for a perfectly brewed coffee or cheeky wine on the footpath. Stay four nights at the 4.5-star Best Western Premier Hotel 115 Kew and save 25 per cent in a one-bedroom apartment which includes a king bed, spa bath and full kitchen. Book by January 31, stay by February 28, 2013. Normally $299 a night, costs from $896 for four nights. (03) 8862 0200, bestwestern.com.au/hotel115kew.

The Metro Hotel Sydney Central is opposite the Capital
Theatre, which is currently showing the classic ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. Stay
one night in a deluxe room in the Metro Hotel Sydney Central, which can
accommodate up to two adults and two children, and they’ll include a buffet
breakfast for the whole family and chocolates on arrival. Normally from $189 a
night, stay until December 20.  Costs
from $205 for two adults and two children 1800 00 4321,

Just 2½ hours flight from Sydney, Norfolk Island does old-school school holidays – horse riding, fish and chips and bush walks. Kids stay free on Norfolk Island this summer, with packages including flights from Sydney, seven nights’ accommodation at Hibiscus Aloha, seven days’ car hire, a round of mini golf and discount shopping cards until January 31, 2013. Costs from $1129 for adults and $589 for kids up to 17 years. 1800 1400 66, www.travelcentre.nf.

The calendar of events at the Queensland Art
Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, one of Australia’s premier modern art galleries,
is worth the trip alone, including the current 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of
Contemporary Art, with 77 artists from 27 countries. The Brisbane Marriott’s
Discover Brisbane package includes one night in a deluxe city view room for
two, a $30 taxi voucher, free valet parking and breakfast buffet. Usually from
$199 room only, stay until January 31, 2013, costs from $249, quote promo code ‘ES2’.
(07) 3303 8000, brisbanemarriott.com.
Hankering for a white Christmas without the international
airfare? It’s been known to snow in Tassie on Christmas Day, so maybe you’ll
get lucky. Or maybe you’ll get one of those perfect, blue-sky days and the
freshest air on the planet on this 11-day Best of Tasmania guided tour. Includes
a tour of thriving Hobart, MONA gallery and Christmas Eve at Cradle Mountain
Chateau. Travel on the December 22 departure and get an early Chrissy present
of $100 off. Costs from $3890 a person, twin share, excludes flights. 1300 228
546, aatkings.com.au.
You thought Singapore couldn’t fit one more new hotel,
but you’re wrong. Parkroyal on Pickering is set to open near Chinatown this
month. Designed by Australian architect Richard Hassel, it’s already earned the
country’s highest green rating, with solar power, water recycling and sky
gardens. The hotel’s opening special costs from $220++ with breakfast, from
January 1 – March 31, 2013. 1800 192 144, singaporehotels.parkroyalhotels.com/pickering/

Get organised for a winter getaway in southern Thailand
and save. Get four nights free in Phuket at the Phuket Graceland Resort &
Spa, near Patong Beach, when you book eight nights in a superior room. You still
get daily breakfast and airport transfers, as well as a two-hour Thai massage
for two, and the resort includes kids’ club and facilities and a day spa. Book
by January 31, stay April 1 – November 15, 2013. Costs from $351 a person. travelonline.com
Blue Holidays gives you an early Christmas present by
cutting $500 off its seven-night stays at mangoes Resort, in Port Vila. The
package includes return airfares from Sydney with Virgin Australia. Book by
December 31 for travel from now until December 21, and between January 10 –
March 31, 2013. Costs from $1171 a person, twin share. 131 516 or visit
Tick off all the classics – the Blarney Stone, Loch Ness
and Buck Palace – on this 16-day tour through England, Scotland and Ireland. You’ll
also trail The Beatles through Liverpool on a local Magical Mystery Tour and
find what’s hip and happening in London, Dublin, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Tours
depart March to October 2013. Book by December 27, save $228 a person. Costs
from $2061 a person, twin share, land only. 1300 266
845, contiki.com.au.
You want it all: Victoria Falls, the Serengeti and Masai
Mara national parks, to wake up to Mt Kilimanjaro and, of course, Kruger. APT’s
Africa Highlights, which runs year-round, spends 29 days traversing southern
Africa including 15 nights in South Africa and 11 in Kenya and Tanzania. The
package includes all internal flights, game viewing and accommodation in luxury
camps and private game lodges, and is sweetened by a companion-free-flight
deal, where your mate pays taxes of $795, saving up to $2040 for a couple. Book
before December 31, 2012. Costs from $18,995 a person, twin share. 1300 229
804, aptouring.com.au.
Sleigh rides, mulled wine and cosying up in an Italian
castle: it’s the antipodean’s dream of a perfect white Christmas. This 10-day
tour departs from Munich and traverses the winter landscapes of Germany,
Austria and Italy, stopping at Innsbruck and Salzburg’s famous Christmas
markets,  popping in to Milan and Venice
for a spot of last-minute shopping. Too bad you won’t have time to post your
presents back home – oh well, you’ll just have to buy for yourself. The tour
includes four nights in CastelBrando, built in the first century and
continuously renovated to its current incarnation as a 4.5-star hotel. Set in
the foothills of the Dolomites, you’ll spend Christmas Day here, sitting down
to an Italian feast. Book by December 17 for travel December 18. Costs from
$3199 a person, twin share. 1800 044 066, travel-associates.com.au.

The sacred cows of travel: user pays (and pays)

Sacred cows (Photo: Belle Jackson)

*Warning: this post contains mild ranting and mentions children*

It seems our fair country is in the midst of a
tussle between ideologies of socialism and capitalism, once again.

The government sells off more energy sources to foreign
countries, and we pay for exactly what we use (oh, and how we pays). Yet at the
same time, it’s setting up the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which has
its principles in the idea that society looks after all its members – as one
commentator said recently, some members of our society want to have a shower
more than twice a week…

Back in travel, with the increase of Tiger Airways and the
arrival of Scoot, and the growing tightness of Jetstar, we’re becoming accustomed to paying for
everything from seat allocations to food. And while infants once flew free,
we’re now being charged for the luxury of those babies sitting on our laps in
the low-cost carriers. I forecast this will extend to the financially
strapped so-called full-service airlines before too long. Don’t tell me it’s
not on their financial planners’ whiteboards.

So it should come as no surprise to me that hotel rooms are also
charging for cots. Now, Jnr Jackson and I have knocked up a few miles already,
even though she’s still under the magical 24-month milestone, when she gets to
start paying at least 25 percent for her airline seat. We’ve messed up some of
the best hotel rooms in Fiji, Indonesia and Australia. Even so, I’m obviously
still a novice at learning what the hotels and carriers can dream up to charge
I suspect this learning curve will continue, and the direction is skyward.

Muslim-Christian violence rents Upper Egyptian town

The southern Egyptian town of Naga Hammadi will never be the same again. The past week has seen the town, 60km north of Luxor, turn into a battleground of sectarian violence that has shocked the nation when seven young Christian deacons were murdered in a drive-by shooting on the Coptic Christmas eve. Also killed was a Muslim church guard.

Three Muslim men have been arrested over the murders, which it is reported were in retaliation for the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Muslim girl by a Christian man, in November.

Eyewitness reports state that 10 Christian deacons and the Muslim man were gunned down outside Mar Yohana church on the eve of the Coptic Christmas, on 6 January, as they left the ceremony. Six died at the scene, the seventh later in hospital.

Violence has spread to other southern Egyptian cities which have seen houses and businesses being torched by rioting crowds, which police have counteracted with tear gas and rubber bullets fired into the crowds.

Commentators say there is more to this than meets the eye: the man  accused of the rape did not automatically receive the mandatory punishment, which, in Egypt, is death by hanging. Instead, his case was referred to a higher court, which opponents say is the government protecting its minority Christian population. It begs the question: is the government guilty of protection or could there be doubt the man is actually guilty?

Egypt has been home to Christians since the first century and approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s 83-million strong population is Coptic Christian.

NB: this page will be updated in the coming day.

Positions vacant: wanted, one military dictator

The discussion over who will suceed President Hosny Mubarak, now 81,  is reaching fever pitch, even in such far-flung corners as Australia. Take a look at this article appearing in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. For sure, the accompanying photo, a picture of Hosny with the Star of David on his forehead, and a pair of feet stepping on the photo, would never be published here in Egypt (this pic is one the many propaganda snaps across the country, where Hosny does his Blues Brothers impersonation).

Yes, the man who has singlehandedly kept Egypt’s black hair dye companies in business is getting his house in order.

Of course, rumours of Hosny’s ill-health have been running for years: he’s an old man. But with the blatant grooming of his son Gamal, the whole country is obsessed with the question: what will come of the elections, to be held next year?

The criteria for eligible candidates appears to be tightened by the day, as critics say Hosny’s men are erecting yet more and more barriers to exclude undesirable candidates (internationally respected scholars and diplomats, that sort of  nasty type), and posters of Gamal and his dad (aka “La Vache qui rit” or the Laughing Cow) have been popping up all over the countryside. Mind you, Gamal doesn’t endear himself when a soujourn up to his villa on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast means more roadside checks and police blocks than you can shake a passport at.

In the Australian article, a commentator states, ”The Mubarak family is not a dynasty. They are a father, a mother and two children.” In fact, a neighbour pointed out to me recently that he used to live just down the road from me in a decidedly unremarkable suburb (as opposed to the palace next door, which like most of Egypt’s palaces, is a lush affair that the public will never set foot in, even tho it lies unused, just a massive dust collector).

The other key point in the article is the $1.7 billion aid Egypt receives from the US every year, no doubt to placate and keep sedated the existing government. Who knows where the money goes? In my recent jaunt up on the north coast, I spotted numerous watchhouses where bored young conscripts perfect their 1000-yard stare, doing little but collecting water on donkeys and watching goats wander past. The watchhouses are ramshackle affairs covered in wire and tattered flags, not exactly awe or fear-inspiring.

For sure the money is not going to that side of the country, not even at the raw western border town of Sollum, which butts up against Libya. Hey, what about that steel wall being built between Egypt and Palestine, on the eastern front? Worth some questions…


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