Sunday, April 28, 2013

Going Troppo in a Berlin rainforest . . .

Wild and whacky?

On his travels, guest blogger David Ellis found this hot spot.

We had never really considered Berlin the place to go for a tropical holiday.

So when a British-based colleague told us in January he was ducking over there to swap the Poms’ winter snow and zero-temperatures for a week of tropical 26deg. temperatures, maybe camp in a rainforest, play golf in shorts and T-shirts, and get a suntan on a sandy beach, we considered he’d gone, well, maybe a little bit troppo.

After all, if it was winter in Britain, it was winter in Germany. And that meant anything but the balmy likes of the tropics, until he sent us photos of all the things he told us he’d do – and done. Plus others be-sporting himself amongst longhouses, temples, a falé and grass huts straight out of Borneo, Thailand, Samoa, Bali and South America, and amid the rainforest he’d boasted had waterfalls, palms, macaws, strutting pheasants and even flamingos.

And he said he’d done it all 35km south of Berlin – with thanks partly to an Australian who now lives in Bali. Now it was us wondering which of us may have gone a little bit troppo.

But it turns out we’re both quite normal: our colleague had taken his holiday at Tropical Islands, an extraordinary 66,000 square metre man-made bolt-hole that’s been created within a gigantic dome built to house massive freight-carrying German airships. But the company that built the dome went belly-up in 2002 without a single airship being completed.

At 360m long, 210m wide and 107m high their hangar was – and still is – the world’s biggest free-standing, pillar-less hall – high enough for the Statue of Liberty to stand in its centre, long enough to house five football fields side-by-side, and big enough for the Eiffel Tower to be laid lengthways inside it.

And its 70,000 square metre roof is strong enough to carry consistently falling snow throughout winter, and any amount of rain year-round – and with UV-transparent film panels on the southern (equator) side, warming sunshine washes over those on the inside and gives a natural tan.

After the failure of the airship venture, the group that came up with the idea of an indoor tropically-themed waterpark recruited Bali-based architect, Made Wijaya – who was born Michael White in Australia – to design the core Bali Lagoon for them.

A specialist in exotic gardens with some 600 to his credit world-wide, Made worked hand-in-glove with other landscape architects and designers from South America, Sri Lanka, England and Germany who were charged with designing the world’s largest indoor rainforest, between them all creating an indoor theme-park as close to reality as possible to the real tropics.

Opened in 2004 and being right on Berlin’s doorstep, Tropical Islands is today an escape-hole for not only Berliners but other Germans and Europeans, by-passing the need to have to fly to the other side of the world for a day, a week or longer in 'the tropics'.

Here in the 30,000 cubic metre Rainforest are 50,000 plants, bushes and groundcovers comprising some 600 species from palms to ferns, mangroves and diverse tropical fruits, a swamp that’s home to Amazon black pacus, Asian archer fish, Japanese koi and Columbian shark catfish to name a few. And flitting through it all parakeets, Chinese blue-breasted quail, silver pheasants, zebra finches – even a pair of macaws.

And guides along the kilometre-long pathway will answer questions about the rainforest’s plants and wildlife, and solve such navel-gazing questions as why are bananas bent?

Tropical Islands’ 1,200 square metre Bali Lagoon is a constant 32-degrees with water slides, whirlpools, a waterfall and grotto, while a Tropical Sea zone sprawls over 3,000 square metres (three times an Olympic swimming pool,) it’s waters a pleasant 28-degrees and has a sandy beach, sun-lounges, children’s paddling pool, Germany’s highest waterslide, 18-hole mini-golf, and under that UV roof you can get a natural suntan.

And a Tropical World has a shopping boulevard, sauna and spa, games for the kids, and an accommodation block and lodges can sleep 520 any night – or you can camp-out in tents back in the Rainforest, or even on the beach. Everything’s 26-degrees, 24-hrs a day, year-round.

There are also thirteen restaurants and bars offering self-service or a la carte tropical-countries’ themed-dining, and spectacular evening stage shows.

If you think we’ve gone troppo, checkout

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Law & Order on the road!

While driving in Europe, beware of these unusual driving laws:
 * France - all drivers are required to carry a breathalyser.
 * Scandinavia - it is illegal to drive without headlights, even in daylight.
 * Spain - if you need to wear glasses, you are required to carry an additional pair when driving. And in some cities, cars must be parked on different sides of the road according to the day of the week.
 * Germany - it is illegal to drive without winter tyres at certain times of the year.
 * Belarus - it is illegal to drive a dirty car.
 * Serbia - compulsory equipment to be held by driver includes a tow bar and 3m rope!
 * Russia - it is forbidden to pick up hitchhikers.
Anyone know any strange driving laws from around the globe?

Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car. -- E. B. White


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Travel intelligence?

In his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, guest blogger for Get Up & Go David Ellis says travel agents get used to fielding some pretty oddball questions, and a recent survey amongst agents brought these pearlers to light:

. Are there any lakes in England’s Lakes District?
. Is Wales closed during Winter?
. The brochure says “No hairdressers at the resort.” We are trainee hairdressers, so will
   we be okay staying there?
. What month should we avoid being in New York so we don’t get caught up in the May
  Day demonstrations?
. What kind of performances can we see in London’s Piccadilly Circus?
. We saw ruined castles and abbeys almost every day of the tour in the UK. Why did
  they build so many of them?
. And this couple who complained to their agent on their return home from a
  Mediterranean cruise, that they were enjoying one particular port so much that they
  left a note in their cabin asking the Captain if he could stay in port a bit longer for them
  to enjoy even more of it. Their complaint?  “When we got back from our sightseeing,
  the ship had gone…”
Some mothers do have ‘em.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Brisbane's best 10 offerings for Autumn

Want to know what’s keeping Brisbane busy this season? Read on . . .
1. Bolshoi Ballet

Bound into QPAC from 30 May and be blown away by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. Almost two decades since the world-renowned company performed in Australia, Bolshoi is back for a 12-show season exclusively in Brisbane. A once in a generation opportunity to see truly first class ballet.

2. Football Frenzy

Unleash your team colours this June as football fever roars into Brisbane. With the British and Irish Lions here to kick off one of Australia’s biggest months of football, Brisbane will be alive with non-stop action on and off the field. 

Our very own Queensland Reds will commemorate 130 years, Brisbane will host the second, and often deciding, match of the hotly contested State of Origin, the Brisbane Broncos celebrate 25 years of glory before facing off against the NZ Warriors, and local heroes, the Brisbane Lions, dive into a nail-biting season. Our champions are out to win, but they can't do it alone. Show your colours and rally behind your favourite teams as they collide at Suncorp Stadium.

3. The Walrus Club at Regatta

Make your way through the hidden entrance and descend into the atmospheric 1920s-themed world of The Walrus Club. Tucked away underneath the newly-renovated Regatta, you can lose yourself in a leather armchair as your enjoy a top-notch drop.

4. Walk the Gorge

Revive the spirit with breathtaking Pacific Ocean views on the North Gorge Headland Walk on North Stradbroke Island. From June, hire a pair of binoculars at Fishes Café to view the migrating Humpback whales from this excellent land-based vantage point.

5. Brisbane Racing Carnival

Glam up and gallop your way into Brisbane from 11 May and revel in the excitement and style of the Channel Seven Brisbane Racing Carnival, Queensland’s biggest racing carnival culminating in the one of the largest races in the country – the Stradbroke Cup.

6. At Sixes and Sevens

An inspired renovation of a heritage-listed cottage on James Street, At Sixes and Sevens is a gastro pub with style – tuck into some tapas, sip on one of their many craft beers and stretch out in the astro-turf ‘yard’.

7. Anywhere Theatre Festival

Expect the unexpected when Anywhere Theatre Festival takes theatre anywhere but actual theatres for ten exciting days in May – dance in shop windows, drama in karaoke bars, opera in science centres, plays in bowling clubs, abandoned sheds and 120-year-old houses.

8. Explore D’Aguilar National Park

Walk, drive, or take a motorbike, horse or mountain bike to uncover the beautiful D’Aguilar National Park. The World Heritage listed park starts just 10km from the city centre and stretches to the area around Mount Mee, an hour north of Brisbane. Here you’ll see remote gorges, sheltered pockets of subtropical rainforest, expanses of eucalypt woodland and spectacular flora and fauna.

9. Warhorse

Don’t miss Warhorse, one of the world’s most celebrated productions. Already seen by two million, marvel at the brilliant life-size puppets and be inspired by the heart-warming tale of courage and friendship. The blockbuster is showing at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC from 6 July.

10. Bacchus at Rydges

Bacchus brings a bit of LA luxe to South Bank with an opulently decorated restaurant, chic bar and a glowing blue pool for those wanting a late night dip. The venue, named after the Roman God of food, wine and good times, lives up to its namesake. Each element of Bacchus has been created for those wanting to indulge.

For more information, visit

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Taipei's Flower Power

The Jianguo Holiday Flower Market is located under the Jianguo Expressway, along Jianguo South Road, in Taipei, Taiwan's capital city. Every weekend the giant fecund fair springs to life and visitors appear in great hordes as if by magic. This is a great place for expatriate and foreign travellers to check out Taipei-style living and what plants are the desired decoration - or maybe the plants to ring in annual holidays.

And with flowers here - there is poetry in the names - the pronunciation of the first character in 'butterfly orchid', for example, is similar to that for 'good fortune and happiness.'. The peony has long been known as the 'flower of riches and honor.'.
The flower market stretches almost half a kilometer and spans more than 8000 square meters. You'll find more than 200 seller's booths to inspect. People come in droves each weekend, just to enjoy the sweet colours and scents, many to buy, the place becoming one of Taipei's most popular gardens of activity.And after doong over the Flower Market - head across the road to the Jade Market!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Asia Unlimited - read all about it

The latest edition of Get Up & Go magazine features experiences in Asia - that are off the square. Gourmet Thailand is all about where to find the best ingredients; Okinawa, Japan, is all about the islands; Macau is more than the glitz of casino visits; Singapore's island of Pilau Ubin is a step back to the past; Penang for a masterchef experience; Brunei for the markets and a Philippine island reveals a complex heritage.

And heading out of Sydney to the immaculate country town of Mudgee we enjoy food, fun and the best of the local wines. nearby is the tiny town of Rylestone - and the picture below is Na Lan the owner and chef at 29 nine 99, a dumpling restaurant for a yum cha under the gum trees.

And there's Morocco, Canada, Portugal and New Zealand to get stuck into - and the competition is a beauty! WIN a $10,000 voucher towards a Discover Italy holiday with Odyssey Travel.
And for those who remember - the glamorous Meter Maids of Surfers Paradise - our writer has a retro girl's weekend in Surfers - see if you remember any of the hot spots.

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(Cover image and bananas by Maree Azzopardi; Na La by Bev Malzard.)