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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The Fullerton Sydney Hotel: the best high tea in Sydney?

Don your smartest, stretchiest pants and get ready for a truly extravagant afternoon tea.

As one who has devoured afternoon and high teas from London to Luxor, I can confidently report The Fullerton Hotel Sydney’s tiered tower shames most comers.

The two-tiered tower needed to be super sturdy, laden as it was with duck rillettes, white truffle egg mayonnaise sandwiches, layered smoked salmon mille-feuille topped with caviar, and lobster cosied up in a Boston Cornet a l’Oriental. It paraded a profusion of mini bagels and perfectly cut sandwich squares, and a pretty green pandan kaya lamington in a Sydney-Singapore mash-up.

Click here to read more about how to get a Singapore tang into your Sydney-bound life.


The most amazing man-made structures in Asia

Faster, higher, longer and older: there’s no doubt Asia plays the one-upmanship game when it comes to architectural statements.

It’s a tough call, making a list of the top 10 architectural statements in Asia. You could go crazy on weird shopping malls or kooky skyscrapers, or totally old-school with a list of heroic monuments and temples.

I’ve earmarked some of the newest, such as Shanghai Tower and Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, and sought balance with some of the oldest and (in my eyes) most beautiful, such as Indonesia’s Borobodur and the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Uzbekistan.

Would love to hear your thoughts on my list, which was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers’ Traveller section.

top10architecture

Sunrise at Borobudur temple on Java. Photo: iStock


The most amazing man-made structures in Asia

Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Photo: Belle Jackson

Faster, higher, longer and older: there’s no doubt Asia plays the one-upmanship game when it comes to architectural statements.

It’s
a tough call, making a list of the top 10 architectural statements in
Asia. You could go crazy on weird shopping malls or kooky skyscrapers,
or totally old-school with a list of heroic monuments and temples.

I’ve
earmarked some of the newest, such as Shanghai Tower and Singapore’s
Gardens by the Bay, and sought balance with some of the oldest and (in
my eyes) most beautiful, such as Indonesia’s Borobodur and the
Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Uzbekistan.

To read the full list, click here. Would love to hear your thoughts/additions to the list, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers’ Traveller sections.


Lloyd’s Inn review, Singapore

Photo by Lloyd’s Inn, Singapore

It’s woefully easy to drop a bomb on your hotel room in Singapore:
Lloyd’s provides a more budget-friendly alternative that meets the
approval of design-hungry Singaporeans.

If you’re on the lookout for a hotel room in Singapore that doesn’t bust the budget, check out Lloyd’s Inn.

Old hands will know it for a shabby backpackers, but design-hungry Singaporeans know it’s been revamped by so-hot-right-now design studio FARM.

The hard-core white minimalist inn is close to Orchard Road, and breakfast is at the nearby kaya toast institution, Killiney Kopitiam cafe.   

To find out more, check out my review in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald.


Lloyd’s Inn review, Singapore

It’s woefully easy to drop a bomb on your hotel room in Singapore: Lloyd’s provides a more budget-friendly alternative that meets the approval of design-hungry Singaporeans.

If you’re on the lookout for a hotel room in Singapore that doesn’t bust the budget, check out Lloyd’s Inn.

Old hands will know it for a shabby backpackers, but design-hungry Singaporeans know it’s been revamped by so-hot-right-now design studio FARM.

The hard-core white minimalist inn is close to Orchard Road, and breakfast is at the nearby kaya toast institution, Killiney Kopitiam cafe. 

To find out more, check out my review in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald.

 

 

 

 


Mussels and brisket: eating Melbourne this week

It’s been a good week for eating in Melbourne, and I checked out the new Marion wine bar, by chef-restaurateur Andrew McConnell in happening Gertrude St, Fitzroy. How’s that for a minimalist menu? My pick is the mussels, who are enjoying a renaissance in the food world, and nduja, a spicy Italian sausage that’s crumbled onto the dish.

On the opposite side of the city (and the other side of life), it was all about smoke-pit masters at the new San Antone Texan BBQ restaurant in Crown Melbourne. Vegetarians, please look away, the beef brisket wins the day.

This week’s Takeoff column in Sydney’s Sun-Herald also heads offshore to Singapore to check out the new Hotel Vagabond, by designer Jacques Garcia, who won my heart for his spectacular, three-year renovation of Marrakech’s grand dame, La Mamounia.

The Takeoff news column is published every Sunday in the Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.


Cruise with Margaret Atwood, train bar in Melbourne, discover Aboriginal Sydney: Takeoff travel news

CRUISE: The Arctic explorer’s tale

Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, The
Robber Bride and a dozen other novels, as well as short fiction, poetry
and children’s books, can sail through the Northwest Passage with the
celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
The cruise departs Kugluktuk, in
Nunavut, Canada, following explorers’ footsteps to one the northernmost
towns in the world, Qaannaq, Greenland. 

Other (non-human) guests include
polar bears and possibly the “unicorn of the sea”, the narwhal, a
tusked whale that lives in the Arctic waters. Highlights including
visiting Inuit communities, iceberg spotting and crossing the Arctic
Circle. “And it’s always a delight to see
the more foolhardy among us take a plunge into subzero Arctic waters,”
says Atwood, a dedicated conservationist and twitcher. This is her ninth
journey with Adventure Canada. The 17-day cruise departs September 5 and costs from $US8995 ($11,650) a person.
See
adventurecanada.com.
 



FOOD: Top spot for trainspotters

Love trains? Love Melbourne? Then
you’ll adore one of the city’s newest bars, in a Hitachi train carriage
perched atop a city block in the innercity suburb of Collingwood.
Easey’s dishes up burgers and coffee on the ground floor, but climb up
to the fifth floor into the train carriage and it’s bottoms up with
skyline views. The new burger bar is one of the few to have Melbourne
Bitter on tap, fresh from its neighbour, Carlton United Brewery. It also
serves local craft brews including

Holgate, from Woodend, and Mountain
Goat, brewed in nearby Richmond, as well as Victorian spirits such as
Melbourne Gin Company. The carriage ran on the Pakenham-Dandenong line
from 1972 until its retirement in 2012. The bar’s owner and art curator
Jeremy Gaschk says graffiti artists loved these silver Hitachi train
carriages, so it’s only fitting the train’s resting point is in the
midst of Melbourne’s street art heartland, 48 Easey St, Collingwood. See
easeys.com.au
 

TECH: Airport face-off

TripAdvisor contributors will have a
new target in their sights as the rate-and-review site launches its
airport pages this month. 
First off the ranks is Singapore’s
Changi airport, often ranked the world’s best for its shopping
galleries, efficiency and cleanliness. 

It will be followed by New York’s
John F. Kennedy and London Heathrow airports, to launch this Tuesday,
along with 10 Australian airports including regionals

Townsville, Launceston and Cairns.
In total, TripAdvisor aims to
include 200 major airports across the world on its website and app. The
company says more than 3 billion people use airports each year, with an
average time spent in them of 150 minutes. The site aims to help travellers
occupy that time with its “Near Me Now” feature, which uses the
phone’s GPS to hook you up with the airports’ facilities. See tripadvisor.com

GEAR: Real-time life in the frame

The next generation of compact
cameras makes it easy to dazzle your Instagram followers. With built-in
Wi-Fi, the new 16MP Canon PowerShot lets you snap, share to your phone
and upload instantly. It’s 50x optical zoom gets you up close and
personal, and even stretches out to 100x digital zoom, its ‘‘lock’’
function helping minimise camera shake (though a baby tripod never goes
astray). On the cute gimmick side, flip over to fish-eye mode, go
totally automatic, or take full control in the manual setting, and it’s a
one-button operation to start shooting 1080p Full HD video.

  
Hook your camera into your phone,

computer, printer or even your TV
via Wi-Fi or near field communication technology (NFC). Although it
weighs 128g, it’s 12x8cm, so it’s not a pocket camera, but will tuck
into a small handbag, and Canon also gives you 10GB in its new image
storage cloud,
irista.com 
. The PowerShot SX530 HS costs around $426.99. See canon.com.
 


TOUR: Secret treasures of our backyard

Did you know that Ku-ring-gai Chase
National Park has the world’s most concentrated collection of Indigenous
artefacts? Discover its secrets with local Aboriginal guides on a new
tour by Sydney OutBack, including the most famous, The Emu in the Sky.
The sophisticated level of Aboriginal

astronomy sees an emu carved in
sandstone match a constellation in the sky every autumn, when it’s time
to gather emu eggs. “The Guringai people were wiped out by a smallpox
epidemic in just 10 years,” Sydney OutBack’s Paul Pickering says, “but
they’ve left us a legacy to tell their story.” The full-day “Wilderness &
Aboriginal” explorer tour cruises on a private 15-metre motor cruiser
through the setting of The Secret River, the Kate Grenville novel and
recent ABC drama (film buffs note: it was filmed mostly in East
Gippsland’s untouched Lake Tyers). Cost $199 adults/ $149 concession
including Sydney CBD transfers and a bush tucker-inspired lunch. Phone (02) 9099 4249. See
sydneyoutback.com.au.
 


KIDS: Big fish meet small fry

A week into school holidays and out
of ideas? New zookeeper workshops let kids feed crocodiles and pat
pythons at the Australian Reptile Park at Somersby, on the Central
Coast, (see
reptilepark.com.au) while in the Hunter Valley, kids as young as six weeks have tickled
three-metre tawny nurse sharks at Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters,
all served up with a strong conservation message (from
$29.50/$19.50/$95, see
sharkencounters.com.au). If you’re on the Gold Coast, Whales in Paradise runs three trips a
day to witness the annual migration of 20,000 whales (from $99/$69/$267
family,
whalesinparadise.com.au), and humpbacks, minke and southern right whales are now holidaying
along the South Coast. Jervis Bay Wild runs two whale-watching tours
each day, seven days a week, departing from Huskisson, 2.5 hours from
Sydney ($65/$28/$165,
jervisbaywild.com.au).
 

 


Singapore slings, Mystical India and train travel in Tassie: Takeoff travel news

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Recently, I had to sling a Singapore Sling in the historic bar of Raffles Hotel, and the history was palpable. From the ‘last tiger in Singapore found under the pool table’ stories to the gracious verandahs with their rattan chairs and high teas. It’s 100 years since the Sling was first slung – scroll down to find out more. 

TRAIN
Full steam ahead
Explore Tasmania’s remote, mountainous west coast on the restored
steam trains of the newly reopened West Coast Wilderness Railway. The copper mining
rail line closed down in 1963 before reopening as a tourist train for a decade
until 2013. A recent $12m government investment has since seen 12,000 sleepers
replaced on what is the steepest railway in the southern hemisphere, and the
full 34.5km length of the original track, from Strahan to Queenstown, is open
once again. The historical railway was built with hard labour in the 1890s by
teams of Irish workers, and serves up plenty of juicy historical tales of feuds
and swindling. You don’t have to be a trainspotter to appreciate the beauty of
the three locomotives, which date back to 1896. Choose between full or half-day
journeys through old-growth rainforest and over King River Gorge, from
$95/adult, $40 children or $220 families in the Heritage carriage, or fully
catered with High Tea and Tasmanian sparkling wine in the Wilderness Carriage. Phone
(03) 6471 0100, see wcwr.com.au

India’s mystical Brahmaputra River.
TOURS
Mystical India
Explore busy tea markets, visit silk sari weavers and sleep
on the world’s largest inhabited river island, Majuili, amidst the dramatic
Brahmaputra River on a journey through north-eastern India. The 14-day tour
begins in Guwahati and visits the tribal lands and spots the exotic wildlife of
Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. “It is the least explored, but easily the most
exotic part of India,” says John Zubrzycki, a foreign correspondent and author who
has set several historical biographies in India. Zubrzycki, a self-confessed
Indiaphile, leads the first-time Hidden Lands, Forgotten Frontiers tour from
November 19-December 3, 2015, departing from Kolkata. Costs from $7835 a person
(excluding international airfares), includes a $200 donation to the boat
medical clinics on the Brahmaputra River. travelonq.com.au.
The Singapore Sling
FOOD
Celebrating the
centenary
Singapore is in serious birthday mode: the little country
turns just 50 this year, but its national drink, the Singapore Sling, is twice
its age, celebrating 100 years since it was first slung. The pink drink was
concocted in 1915 in the Long Bar of Raffles hotel by barman Ngiam Tong Boon,
and is now served on the nation’s airlines and in bars across the city. Mix
snacking and shaking in a Singapore Sling Masterclass in the Long Bar, where
you’ll learn how to blend gin Dom Benedictine and Cointreau, snack on satay and
take home a Singapore Sling glass. Costs $83 a person. Otherwise, grab a slice
of the new SlingaPore cake – lime sponge with pineapple mousse, Singapore Sling
marmalade and cherry jelly – in the hotel’s Ah Teng Bakery. See raffles.com/Singapore.

KIDS
Iced escapades
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most practical, like
this Dripstick, which does exactly what it says on the tin – stops that lurid,
bubble-gum flavoured ice-cream from slopping down the back of the car seat. The
Dripstick’s plastic holder lets kids get a better grip on their iced treats and the
internal funnel fits pointed cones, great when the cone’s base inevitably dissolves.
But wait, there’s more: fill the hollow handle with juice and slip in the
accompanying popsicle stick, freeze and you’ve got home-made ices. An added
bonus – it’s made from BPA-free, recyclable plastic. Available in six colours,
$12. See thanksmum.com.au.

  
Papua New Guinea adventure on True North.
TECH
Online cruising
We Australians are avid cruisers, with cruising of all
persuasions the fastest-growing sector of our tourism market. Luxury travel
company Abercrombie & Kent has just launched a new cruise website in demand
for what it describes as consistent double-digit growth over the last few
years. Choose from a Papua New Guinea adventure on True North (pictured), a French barge holiday, an expedition cruise through the
High Arctic or a small-ship exploration of the Amazon. According to A&K’s
Sujata Raman, the polar regions are their guests’ most popular choice, followed
by Myanmar river cruising and the Galapagos Islands, for premier wildlife
viewing. The company’s newest product is the small luxury Sanctuary Ananda on
the Ayeyarwady river in Myanmar. See akcruising.com.au.
 
The historic foyer of The Victoria Hotel, Melbourne
HOTEL
The Vic gets slick
It’s been overrun by American troops, been a booze-free Temperance
League stronghold and been on business tycoon Christopher Skase’s assets list.
Now Australia’s largest 3.5-star hotel, the Victoria Hotel on Melbourne’s
Little Collins St, has had a $20 million facelift. Unusually, the number of
rooms in The Vic has decreased, from 464 down to 370 larger rooms, all with
free wi-fi in a tidy refurbishment across the entire hotel, including the
historic lobby and public bar (which replaced beef tea with bellinis in the
60s). The hotel turns 135 this year and kicked off Melbourne’s laneways coffee
scene as the Victoria Coffee Palace back in 1880. It joined Accor’s budget-conscious
Ibis Styles brand two years ago and is owned by the Schwartz Family Company,
who is also developing the Sofitel on Darling Harbour, to open in 2017. Rooms in
the Victoria Hotel cost from $98 a night when booked 20 days in advance. Quote
‘early booking offer’. Phone 1800 331 147, see victoriahotel.com.au.

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


KNOW IT ALL: Singapore Five essential things to consider before you go…

Haji Lane, Singapore. Photo: Belinda Jackson
KNOW IT ALL: Singapore
1.      
Eat cheap on the street: hawker (street food)
stalls are carefully audited by the government and the people – a whiff of grit
or one bad review  and they’re toast.
2.      
Grab an MRT-bus card and skim the city like a
local. The metro system is super-fast and super-efficient, the only choice in
peak hour.
3.      
Forget devil-may-care Asia, it’s all seatbelts
and waiting at the traffic lights. Singaporeans also love a good, orderly
queue
4.      
The Singapore Sling turns 100 this year,
appropriate given Singapore is currently in the grip of cocktail fever, with
sleek new bars playing with everything from sake to bourbon. Pack a glossy
outfit, charge up the credit card and hit the chic strips of Ann Siang Hill and
Haji Lane (to name a few)…
5.      
…and if you overdo it, the tap water is
perfectly safe to drink. 
This article by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald Traveller section.

Airline review: Scoot business class, Sydney to Singapore

Scoot's Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

THE PLANE Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – the airline received its first Dreamliner
this year, for the Singapore-Perth and Singapore-Hong Kong routes. By
the end of 2015, all Australian routes will be serviced by Dreamliners.
THE ROUTE Sydney to Singapore.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME Scoot joined Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer frequent flyer program in April.
CLASS
Business class, seat 1H (aisle) but before takeoff, I shimmy down to
3J (window) to score two empty seats. The flight is less than half-full
today, and quite a few people seem to have been upgraded.
DURATION 7 hours.
FREQUENCY  Scoot currently flies Sydney to Singapore non-stop five times a week,
going daily from May 1. Conveniently, the flight leaves at lunchtime to
arrive in Singapore just in time for dinner (The return flight’s 1am
departure is less convenient.)

Scoot’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Supplied

THE SEAT A 38-inch (96-centimetre) pitch, 22-inch (56cm) width. There are 35 seats in ScootBiz, in a 2-3-2 formation.
BAGGAGE Checked luggage up to 20 kilograms and 15kg (two pieces) of carry-on.
COMFORT A Dreamliner is still a Dreamliner, no matter if it’s sporting
full-service or low-cost livery. That means low engine noise, cleaner
air and lower fuel consumption (and hopefully, lower ticket costs). The
seats are broad and comfortable, with an extendable foot rest to help
stretch out. Be prepared to pay extra for a snooze kit, which has a
fleece blanket, eye mask and neck pillow, or bring your own. Costs $17 
pre-booked or $21.80  on board.
ENTERTAINMENT As I’m sitting up at the bulkhead and gossiping, it takes a while to
realise there are no screens. To watch a movie, you have to download an
app beforehand and they’ll send the movie to the app. It’s far easier to
load your own movies onto your tablet or laptop. AC power is available
in every seat, no adaptors required. (Economy passengers have to pay
$7.60  for power). There are no USB sockets, crazy given they’re pushing
inflight Wi-Fi. You can go online once you hit 10,000ft and costs
$11.30/one hour, $16/three hours, or $20.80/24 hours and you can use any
remaining time on the return flight. There are no download limits.
SERVICE The pleasant, dignified staff hide any indignation at being referred
to as “Scootees” and one even shares his hot tip for the best Hainanese
chicken rice on the ground in Singapore. (I may have also been warned
off ordering the western breakfast on the return leg.) The pilots are
called Scooters and announce on takeoff: “We’re getting outta here!”
FOOD Lunch arrives shortly after takeoff. We have pre-ordered the soya
sauce chicken rice – braised chicken, Chinese mushrooms and quail eggs:
no marks for presentation and “saltiness” does not equate to
“flavoursome”. The meal includes a small Toblerone chocolate and is
presented on a tray that is broader than the narrow pull-out tables, and
slides dangerously. Quick, save that Wolf Blass chardonnay! The
ScootBiz fare includes one meal and one alcoholic drink. Additional
drinks can be bought with cash or credit card. Beers cost $8, $9 for
wine or pre-mix Singapore Sling. The peckish can order cup noodles (add
an instant egg for only $2), packet soup, biscuits or ice-cream. I
learn, too late, that the classic Singapore dish, Hainanese chicken
rice, is available only as a pre-order on the Sydney-Singapore leg.
ONE MORE THING Scoot is slated to start a Melbourne-Singapore direct service in November. 
THE VERDICT Apart from the spacious Dreamliner surrounds, this is not business
class as you know it. Think of it as premium economy. I’m good with BYO
amenities and entertainment, but the big let-down is the quality of the
food and wine, especially as Singapore prides itself on its cuisine. But
any qualms are far outweighed by the price: no-frills economy fares
cost as little as $219 and ScootBiz is priced from $499, with plenty of
sales available.

Tested by Belinda Jackson, who flew courtesy of Scoot. See www.flyscoot.com.


This Flight Test by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald Traveller section. 


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