Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ho's city of Saigon

HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) - it's hard not to call it Saigon, and most of the folk who live there do call it by its old name. There are so many interesting buildings with great historic dna that it's difficult to keep up with what's open to the public and what's not. I've included here a couple of images of Saigon's Post Office. The beautiful, maintained building has a portrait of Uncle Ho beaming down and the cavernous space is normally packed with visitors - some there for the touristic element, the others to actually do post office business!
The other image is a group of children outside one of the museums vying for 'air' space near an air conditioner. They were almost being blown away - but it was a hot day and you do what you have to do to keep cool.
When visiting HCMC:
Visit the Reunification Palace - remember that classic end-of-the-war black and white photograph of the tank crashing through the gates here?
Try all the food. Vietnamese food is fresh, crisp and fragrant. From spicy noodles to delicious spring rolls, and for Sweet treats there are pastries to leave home for.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Postcards from the English seaside

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside . . . and England’s North East coast has some wonderful, sweeping beaches that have their own charm. This part of England never runs out of places to invite you to. By Bev Malzard
A visit to England never fails to impress. You can go back to the UK many times and always find something new out of something old the experience. It’s a country of infinite history, adventure and legends. From the glorious green hills and fields to the wind-swept coastlines it is a place of endless expression.
North East England has a ruggedness to it that appeals to many. This is a region far away from London and its noise and bustle. The countryside here is extraordinary and the cities built on the sweat of hard work and determination. From the superhuman evidence of Hadrian’s Wall to the silhouette of Norman castles on the skyline, there’s a richness to the area that is different to anywhere else on the island.
Some of the North East’s postcard snaps follow.

This is the city that reinvented itself. From seriously shabby and grubby a few years ago it is now chic and hip. Everything has been scrubbed up and polished and that includes the food and wine scene.
Walk along Quayside and glimpse the line-up of the famous Tyne bridges and the remains of 17th century Newcastle – crumbling bits of old building, old houses and for something new in Newcastle – the Millennium Bridge and at Gateshead, a stone’s throw across the River Tyne, the Baltic gallery and the Sage entertainment Centre.

Angel of the North
This amazing 200-tonne, rust coloured work of art/sculpture is the most frequently viewed work of art in the world.
It’s a gigantic human frame with its wings outstretched that towers over the A1 motorway about 10 km south of Newcastle. It’s 20m high and has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 767. You can’t miss it!
(The local nickname for it is the Gateshead Flasher.)

Catch the train out to Tynemouth from Newcastle for a walk on the seaside wild side. This is a charming town that holds a market at the Victorian railway station on the weekends. On the cliff overlooking the beach is a curved row of typical Victorian terrace houses, just the place for a summer holiday. Mediaeval monastery ruins are still standing, braced against the sea breeze and the sands of time.

County Durham
Pretty villages and neat market towns dot the North Pennines and the hills of Teesdale. The town of Durham is a market town and still moves to the rhythm of a place of comings and goings.
You cross the River Wear and view the most magnificent Romanesque cathedral in England. This is considered a masterpiece of Norman architecture. The cathedral and Durham Castle sit high a=above the mediaeval town surrounding it in a protective gathering of tight knit buildings.

Rockliffe Hall, County Durham
Rockliffe Hall is a very smart resort at Hurworth-on-Tees on the border of County Durham and North Yorkshire.
This place began life in the 18th century as a private, residential estate. The mansion was rebuilt in 1860 in the fancy, curly Victorian Gothic style.
Rockliffe Hall is English to its polished bootstraps and enjoys an impeccable reputation for hospitality, luxury, comfort and food cooked by a Michelin-stared chef – a local boy too. The Orangery, a conservatory room is where all the good stuff happens: breakfast, lunch and dinner. If the suites weren’t so wonderful it would be hard to extract yourself from the restaurant.\
The spa at Rockliffe Hall is huge and offers as many treatments as the human body and psyche can take.
This is almost like being in an old Ealing comedy movie. The retro chic of Saltburn is lovely. To visit on a sunny day is best. There’s a long, long, Victorian pier and you’ll see a lot of hardy surfers in (wetsuits on) with their surfboards on OK sized waves too.
There’s a water-powered ‘cliff lift’, a peculiar funicular that runs modestly between the upper and lower parts of town.

Holy Island (Lindisfarne)
This is an eerie, beautiful place that changes moods with the weather. To see the island surrounded by water on a sunny day it is looks benevolent and slightly aloof; on a misty grey day, it looks forbidding and unapproachable. The island is only five square kilometres, is tricky to get to as it is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway that appears at low tide.
Isolated, the island is almost as it was when St Aiden came here in 634 to found a monastery.
Go midweek or out of season to avoid the crowds. And be careful – don’t get caught in the middle of the causeway if you are walking to the island at low tide!
Emirates Airlines fly to Newcastle-upon-Tyne daily.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gastronomic tour of Sicily

Cultural tour specialist Peter Sommer Travels has introduced a new gastronomic adventure in eastern Sicily, celebrating the island’s rich culinary traditions and ancient history. One of 16 archaeological and cultural tours in Peter Sommer Travels’ 2011 program, the eight-day Gastronomic Tour of Eastern Sicily explores the markets, farms, vineyards and restaurants of the Italian isle, escorted by experts in Sicilian food, culture and history. Culture with a good feed thrown in - how good can it get?

Beginning in the World Heritage-listed city of Syracuse, the tour includes two cooking classes and opportunities to visit local producers of cheeses, olives, honey and wines. Its highlights include a day of swimming and fishing from aboard a local fishing boat, two nights at a Sicilian farm-stay (Agriturismo) and a walking tour of Mt Etna guided by an expert volcanologist.

Sommer says the new tour is perfect for anyone with a passion for traditional Italian food and ancient Mediterranean history.

“Eastern Sicily is home to a vibrant culinary tradition that mixes delicious local produce with cooking styles drawn from the foreign rulers of its past, including the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish,” he says. “The rolling hills and fertile plains produce seemingly unlimited quantities of fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables, while the abundant flocks and herds produce delicious cheeses and meats.”

The new tour is led by two expert guides - historian Dr Michael Metcalfe, the former Assistant Professor in Ancient History at Sicily’s Mediterranean Center for Arts and Sciences, and Italian food and culture aficionado Marcello Baglioni, named Sicily’s top travel specialist by Condé Nast Traveller magazine.

Peter Sommer Travels is a UK-based specialist tour operator offering archaeological tours and sailing cruises for small groups, visiting ancient sites in Turkey, Greece and Italy. A Gastronomic Tour of Eastern Sicily operates from 3-10 September 2011, priced from £2375 (approx A$3680) per person twin share, including all meals, accommodation, activities, cooking classes and transport (except flights to/from Sicily).

Contact Peter Sommer Travels by email: or visit

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Mile High Club

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says plans by the Saudi Arabian royal family to build an office, hotel and shopping tower that will soar 1.6km high (one mile) into the sky are being greeted by anything but enthusiasm.
Newspaper columnists, talk-back radio callers and environmentalists world-wide are describing it as anything from “a thrusting phallic symbol,” to “hair-brained,” “a scary disaster waiting to happen,” and “delusions of grandeur.”
The tower will be the centre piece of a new city outside the Red Sea port of Jeddah, will be almost twice as high as the current highest tower, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, will take 12-minutes to reach the top by lift, and will cost in the vicinity of $40-billion.
Critics are saying that with plenty of room to expand cities horizontally – as opposed to places like Hong Kong – Saudi Arabia has no need for such a tower, which they also say will attract “lunatic terrorist elements” who’ll attempt to blow it up, fly a plane into it, set fire to it, or cripple power supplies and trap thousands inside.
Others ask how much it will cost to pump water to the top floors for toilets and restaurants, how would people be expected to walk down 5000 steps in the event of a major power failure, and how would emergency services get to the top 330th floor in under 15-minutes to fight a fire… if at all if there is a major power failure?
Or how do you air-condition the top floors that will heat up like an oven in the middle of the day, and cool down to near-freezing at night?
Others simply consider the idea of standing at a window and looking out from 1.6km in the air “all just too scary,” while there are those thinking more positively about joining the Mile High Club in the hotel that’s planned for the top floor.
And the influential Architects Journal summed up: “The race to build the highest skyscraper is quite futile… these buildings are a symbol of an old-fashioned way of thinking.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Get Up & Go autumn issue . . . out now

In all its bright colours and finery, the autumn edition of Get Up & Go is about to hit the stands. This is the first issue from BT Publishing, the new owners.
This issue features my trip to India and Vientiane in Laos and our stable of great writers have contributed features: Cruising in Alaska, what to know about China, Norway in a nutshell,the magic of Macau, north east England (can't help myself, I love that part of England)unusual accommodation in Spain,Queenstown in winter if you don't ski, and 10 things to do in Qatar - where? Qatar - read all about it.
There's also a fabulous prize to be won by new subscribers - a holiday in Macau.
To subscribe - go top
Happy travels . . .

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Queensland's sailing off to a flying start

Queensland’s Season of Sailing is making it easy to come onboard to stay and sail in the state’s world-class sailing destinations.
Now in its second year, the Season of Sailing aims to attract visitors to sailing events in Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Central Queensland, the Whitsundays and Townsville being held from 22 April to 6 September.
Visitors can enjoy and be part of a world famous race week, learn to sail and embark on a bareboat adventure or if DIY sailing doesn’t appeal, a range of crewed charters are available. Choose from a wide range of boating experiences – from catamarans to racing yachts – and explore Queensland’s many spectacular waterways. Stay in a resort with views of the Coral Sea or visit The Great Barrier Reef.
The Season of Sailing website, makes it easy to experience a Queensland sailing experience and book a range of stay and sail holiday packages with your friends and family from now until September, with travel extending until 15 December 2011.
The Sunsail Australia package allows you to take to the water on a bareboat charter from $99 per person or Descarada Luxury Charters offer an all-inclusive luxury two night cruise through the Whitsunday Islands – a great way to relax and unwind after the Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island Race Weeks.
There is also a package available for people to explore the Townsville region with a seven night Peppers Island Escape, including accommodation at the Peppers Blue on Blue Magnetic Island and daily breakfast.
From just $85 per night, you can stay at the Island Gateway Holiday Park at beautiful Airlie Beach (kids stay free) or enjoy one of Queensland’s newest resorts, the Boathouse Apartments by Outrigger, also at Airlie Beach, which is offering two bedroom apartments from $260 per night quad-share.
Young Australian of the Year and proud Queenslander, Jessica Watson has come onboard once again as the Queensland’s Season of Sailing ambassador when she launched the 2011 Season at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron in Manly, Brisbane last Saturday, April 2.
Jessica says she is happy to encourage more people to take up the sport of sailing. “”The Season of Sailing offers everyone, from all age groups, an opportunity to get out there and give it a go.”
There are so many ways to get out on Queensland’s clear blue waters; opportunities for every level of skill and experience, at any time of the year.
Individual race events for 2011 Queensland’s Season of Sailing include:
Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race – April 22–24
Etchells Australasian Winter Championships (Sunshine Coast) – June 9–12
Brisbane to Keppel Tropical Yacht Race - August 5-8
Airlie Beach Race Week - August 12-18
Hamilton Island Race Week - August 19-27
Magnetic Island Race Week - September 1-6.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My, my Myanmar . . .

I just returned from a trip to Myanmar - via first stop Ho Chi Minh City, then Yangon in Myanmar then out the door through to Sydney via Hanoi. All done neat and tidily by Vietnam Airlines. Indochina is so accessible when flying with this airline.
There will be little samples of images over the next couple of weeks and a story or two later on in the year.
The countryside is lovely outside Yangon, green as green paddy fields and everyone at work.
here's a teaser . . .