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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I shopped the world’s largest IKEA and survived: Stockholm icons

This is not IKEA, this is Nybrokajen, one of Stockholm’s beautiful
waterfront streets. Far more picturesque. Photo: Belinda Jackson.

It’s been pretty wet here in Stockholm. I’ve traded Cairo’s sun for snow, Giza ponies for Dalarna horses. The people in both Egypt and Sweden both wear a lot of black, but instead of busting my chops to exercise in Ahly Sports Club in Cairo, today I did my daily walk in the world’s largest IKEA, in Kungens Kurva, in southern Stockholm.

The trip was an essential one for my brother, in the midst of renovations, but yes, I was keen for a perve.

Let me report back: the store layout is just as confusing as any other IKEA store, they really do eat meatballs and it was packed with families on a wet Sunday afternoon. One of the ninth hells? Quite possibly. However, some may be appeased by the revelation that they serve booze in the cafeteria with those meatballs. 

I was going fine until I split from the Swedish speaker and on the hunt for bathroom hooks, when I realised there are no English signs, a marked absence of staff and my shabby Swedish doesn’t include the word for ‘bathroom’.

Yes, it was big, mighty big. But I survived, and recuperated with the classic cinnamon bun, kanelbullar (dreadful version from a supermarket, here’s a recipe for a real one) and the delicious-sounding, but absolutely revolting saffron buns, lussekatter as well as västerbottensostpaj (a super-rich, super-fabulous cheese pie that rivals anything I ate in Cairo for cholesterol).

Next stop on a quest for all things Swedish: the new ABBA museum. Oh yeah, I’m ticking the boxes…


Sign of the times at the pointy end of Egyptian tourism

Photo: Belinda Jackson
The first time I visited the Pyramids, I went through the front door with several hundred other foreigners, all lining up for a photo of ‘kissing’ the Sphinx or ‘holding’
a pyramid by the fingertips.
The other day,  I went round the back, where a
handful of guards nearly fell over to see someone, and the touts couldn’t believe their luck at not one, but two carloads of visitors, even if they were all Egyptian (including one suspiciously blonde one in the middle).
Sitting on the boot of our cars, they literally corralled us into a private car park to negotiate the hire of two caretas (carriages) and two horses.
Those who have been held hostage high on a camel until they paid up big will be pleased
to know not even the locals can resist the Giza Pyramid mafia.
A camel driver. Photo: Belinda Jackson
Let me tell you this: Egyptians visit the Pyramids in a whole different way to us foreigners. Toss the guidebook, forget about learning kings’ names and studying informative plaques earnestly.
It’s all about the photos, the freedom of the desert surrounds and the physicality of being beside something so magnificent, that you forget about the traffic jams, the pollution, the protests and the curfews that see you trapped indoors after 7pm on a Friday night thanks to the current army
curfew.
The newspapers are reporting an 80 percent drop in tourism to Egypt, which, based on what I saw at the Pyramids on a sunny autumn afternoon, should read more like 95 percent.
There were three young Americans, skinny, bearded and wearing
the obligatory Arafat scarf, there was a Euro-couple celebrating the
end of a Cape Town to Cairo adventure, and a small tour group of Russians
snavelling basement-bargain travel. That’s all.
Forlorn camel owners perked up when they saw us coming, and Giza’s notoriously
overworked and underfed horses were fleet of foot and ready to run. My little
grey mare, Sousou, is surely the fastest pony in Giza.
It’s been a very long time since I rode around the Pyramids in the daylight. Usually, I’d
ride on a full moon, flat out down the plateau at full gallop, breathing in the
cool desert night air. In broad daylight, it’s a whole different ballgame. You
see the stones the size of basketballs that your horse is dodging. You see the
concrete wall that the horses aim for at full tilt, before swerving left to
pass through the exit gate. You see the snarling curs that lick around the
ponies’ hooves, snapping at ankles as you pass.
It’s consoling to know that the Pyramids remain unchanged while Egypt twists and
wrenches itself into a new form. But the lesson from Afghanistan and China is
that you can never take even heroic art and architecture for granted.

Abu Simbel’s time to shine: Egyptian antiquities

At the feet of the gods, Abu Simbel, Egypt. Photo: Belinda Jackson.
There’s a lot of change going on in Cairo at the moment, but some things, thankfully, remain the same. 
Later this morning, the sun will touch the face of King Ramses II in the magnificent Abu Simbel temple, south of Aswan, by the Sudanese border. 
The temple, built in 1257BC, was constructed so that twice a year, the sun’s rays would shine into the inner sanctuary and light all but the statue of Ptah, the god of the Underworld, reports the Ministry of Tourism today. The two days of the year are October 22 and February 22.
The temple is dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-
Horakhty and Ptah and also to Ramses, who rather fancied himself as a deity.
You can see a live streaming of the event on www.youtube.com/egypt or on local television, if you’re in Egypt. The phenomenon will occur at 5.53am local time, and last for 20 minutes.

Of dusty plains and no-fly zones: welcome to Cairo!

Sunset over the Nile tonight, Cairo. Photo: Belle Jackson

It looks
like the khamaseen has come early to Cairo this year. The fifty days of dust
storms that scour North Africa usually cover the city’s windows and put the grit in your teeth each
February and March, but a strange cloud hangs over the city and it’s still just
October.
Looking out
from the balcony, airplanes slip quietly through the early morning mist. Their
passing doesn’t seem to happen that often: Cairo’s international airport was pretty
low-key when we came through three days ago, with Singapore Airlines the only
international I spotted: the rest were Egyptair planes, codesharing where the
other big names don’t want to go.
The duty
free shop was bereft of customers, I saw a boarded-up Thomas Cook counter and
the tourism touts could barely raise an eyebrow when I walked past: they know
that most passengers are locals returning for Eid al-Adha, the great feast,
this week. Any tourists are well and truly on organised packages and I didn’t
spot a single backpack.
Our three
flights from Melbourne to Cairo (via Singapore and Dubai) were shared with a
woman in her late 50s or early 60s. We were both worried by the brief, 55-minute
transit time in Singapore, as our incoming flight was late.
“No
matter,” I said. “There are worse places to have a forced stopover than
Singapore.”

“Well I
wouldn’t like to be doing it on my own!” said the intrepid lady, with some
concern. Woman, I thought to myself, you’re going to Cairo…

Next best things in cruising: innovations in travel design

Seabourn Sojourn’s spiral atrium.

Design is at the forefront of modern travel, with yet more innovations on the way in cruising. Here’s what’s happening on the high seas. 

Forget communal tables and allocated seating: it’s all about how you
deign to dine when you’re all at sea. Crystal Cruises is one of many
saying “no” to long buffet counters, replacing them with “food islands”
and more tables for two.

Private dining is also on the rise, with
Seabourn’s large verandahs set up to encourage private alfresco dining
while Princess Cruises’ newest ship, the Royal Princess, features a new
Chef’s Table Lumiere, sectioned off by a curtain of light around a glass
table in one of its dining rooms.

On-board spas are larger and
more glamorous, with more facilities and treatments. Expect couples
retreats, cabanas, indoor-outdoor spaces and capitalisation on those
ocean views. The Seabourn small ships’ spas top the range, coming in at
more than 1000 square metres, with thermal suites, herbal baths and walk
pools. Its four new penthouse spa suites are connected to the main spa
by a dramatic spiral staircase and come with a spa concierge, because we
all need a spa concierge.

We’ve also seen the rise of all-suite
ships, with more private verandahs – up to 95 per cent of Silversea’s
new Silver Spirit has verandahs. Adjoining staterooms and two-bedroom
penthouses are another in-demand feature, in response to the increase of
families of up to three generations taking to the seas together.

P&O’s popular Pacific Pearl and Pacific Dawn were refitted with
adjoining rooms last year: expect to see more adults-only pools, most
likely adjoining the spa, and a rise in single cabins. In fact, the
first single balcony cabins are now on the market as more solo cruisers
hit the seas, without paying a costly single supplement.

Source: Belinda Jackson

This extract was published in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age. But wait, there’s more! Click here to read about innovation in trains, luggage, hotels and airlines.


Skip to the sun or travel with a conscience: travel deals, August 4, 2013

Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket

If now is the winter of your discontent, get thee to Thailand: to Phuket, to be precise. Or Burma, which is so hot right now – in the tourist sense as well as talking temperatures. 

Australia’s Gold Coast is always a favourite escape for us southerners, though this time, it’s with a twist for the kids (because kids appreciate posh labels, don’t they?). But if you want to embrace winter, do it with a conscience, in Melbourne’s only carbon-neutral hotel, in this week’s travel deals.

GO NOW: MELBOURNE

Alto on Bourke is Melbourne’s only carbon-neutral hotel.
Stay in its studio rooms from $158 (normally from $238), and get breakfast,
unlimited organic, fair-trade coffee and free bike hire. Book by August 16 for
travel until October 26. 1800 135 123, altohotel.com.au.
Alto on Bourke, Melbourne
GO SOONER: THAILAND
Dusit hotels
worldwide, including the Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket, are giving guests 35 percent of their accommodation
costs to spend on dining and spa treatments. Suite upgrades are available for $54.
Costs from $139 a double, room only, until end September. (02) 9410
3405, dusit.com.
  
GO LATER: BURMA
Meditate with monks on a The Golden Land of Burma tour that includes lunch
with the Intha tribe. Save 15 percent on selected departures until March 11,
2014. Costs from $3630 a person, twin share. 1300 836 764, coxandkings.com.au/au/15off.
Inle lake fishermen, Burma
KIDS: GOLD COAST’S GLAM BABES
Chic children take tea at the Gold Coast’s iconic Palazzo
Versace hotel. Its new Little Fashionistas high teas are served on Versace
china (that’s brave!) overlooking the hotel’s lagoon. The menu, for groups of
eight or more, includes lemonade spiders, toffee apples, cake pops and the
omnipresent macaroons. Costs $12 for children 12 and under, (07) 5509 8000, palazzoversace.com.au.


TOURWATCH: Tall ships returning to Australia

Turn the clock back a century, to the era of the
tall ships. 

The 55-meter Lord Nelson (pictured) is sailing
the world, arriving in Australia in August. Join the barque
as it sails from Fremantle to Perth and across to the east coast before voyaging
on to New Zealand, where you can take the wheel as one of the voyage crew,
supported by a professional sailing team. 

Sailors must be over 16 years but no
sailing experience is required and some cabins are wheelchair friendly. 

Costs
from $1770 a person, eight days from Adelaide to Melbourne, departing August
17, or $4390 for the 20-day journey from Sydney to Auckland, departing October
8, which includes a cross-Tasman Tall Ships race.  

1800 331 582, outdoortravel.com.au.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald 



My fantasy island: Rangali Island, the Maldives

Conrad Maldives Rangli Island’s twin bed overwater villa,
plunge pool, deck & glass floor,

At
the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, there’s no floor in
the lobby: it’s a desk on white sand. The sand continues through the
restaurant, and all the way down to the water’s edge.

 There, a little
12-seater Japanese grill restaurant dug into the beach, beneath the
stars.

The first night, I watched as men arrived for dinner dressed in
white linen and leather slides while the ladies were bedecked in
glittering jewels and gowns that swished over the sand, revealing a
flicker of perfectly manicured toes, not a shoe in sight.

I also forgot
about shoes for four days, reminded only as I hot-footed it along the
jetty to the spa dangling over the Laccadive Sea. The fish were there
again down in Ithaa, the resort’s underwater restaurant. Set 4.9 metres
below sea level, a glass semi-sphere holds the oceans back. Fish is on
the menu and also on the other side of the glass.

Getting there: Singapore
Airlines and Malaysian Airlines fly to the capital of the Maldives,
Male. The resort is reached by a 30-minute seaplane journey.

Staying there: The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island comprises two islands (one is adults-only). 1800 446 667, tinyurl.com/835b2s3.

 
Source: Sun Herald 

We will remember them: Anzac Day tourism

Momentous: 2015 will be the 100th anniversary of the Anzac
landing at Gallipolli. Photo: Reuters
Anzac Day tours remain
strong, but many people are saving for Gallipoli’s 100th anniversary,
writes Belinda Jackson.
Commemorating Australia’s war dead at Gallipoli’s Dawn
Service on Anzac Day is now an established travel experience, and tour
operators say the numbers are growing each year.
However, specialist battlefield tour operators say
bookings for 2013 and 2014 are weaker as travellers save their money for 2015,
the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli.
In anticipation of the high demand expected in 2015, the
Australian and New Zealand governments have capped the number of attendees permitted
at the dawn service at Gallipoli. There will be only 8000 tickets available to Australians,
to be chosen by ballot drawn early next year, the Department of Veterans
Affairs says.
In comparison, it’s expected about 6000 Australians will
attend Dawn Service in Gallipoli next week.
Veterans’ Affairs minister Warren Snowdon is warning tour
operators not to promise seats at the 2015 commemorative services. While the
details are yet to be announced, tour operators will not be able to apply for a
ticket on a traveller’s behalf.
John Waller of Boronia Battlefield Tours (boroniabattlefieldtours.com.au),
which runs tours for the Australian War Memorial, says interest in 2015 is still
very high, despite the uncertainty. “Some people are booking their seats
already on the hope they’re successful in the ballot, but many are holding off,”
he says.
Both specialist and mainstream tour operators agree the
popularity of Anzac Day tours continues to rise, but while Gallipoli is still
the star destination, it’s not all quiet on the Western Front. British-based
Back Roads Touring, which caters for the over-50 market, says the European
battlefields are popular with older travellers wanting to trace the whereabouts
of family members who fell on the battlefields of the Somme, and London-based
Aussies. The main site, the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux,
is 140km north of Paris.
“It’s an easy trip on the Eurostar out of London when
compared with the longer haul to Turkey,” agrees Ben Ittensohn of Top Deck bus
tours, which cater for 18 to 39 year olds. Top Deck added a Western Front tour
two years ago as it was “struggling to cope with the sheer volume” on its
Gallipoli tours, while Trafalgar this year launched a new 12-day tour through
the battlefields of the UK, France and Netherlands (trafalgar.com).
“Attendees are hovering around 4,000 at
Villers-Bretonneaux,” says Peter Norton of Western Front Tours
(westernfronttours.com.au), figures that are expected to rise as the Somme
commemorates its own centenary in 2016.
Battlefield historian Mat McLachlan of Mat McLachlan
Battlefield Tours (battlefields.com.au) agrees. He says those wanting to avoid
the crowds head to the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, where there is a
smaller Anzac Day service. Villers-Bretonneux town and the nearby village of
Bullecourt will also conduct ceremonies later in the day.
“There are also services in other places where
Australians have served, including Vietnam, Korea and El Alamein in Egypt,”
adds Mat.
The Australian government also conducts a ceremony at
Hellfire Pass, Thailand, commemorating the prisoners of war who worked on the
Thailand-Burma Railway in the Second World War. Services have been held in the
past at Sandakan, Malaysia, although
political unrest in the region means there will be no government service in
2013.