Famous flyer: Singer Casey Donovan’s travel tips

Casey Donovan always travels with a backpack containing spare clothes in case her bag fails to arrive. Casey Donovan always travels with a backpack containing spare clothes in case her bag fails to arrive.
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Casey Donovan always travels with a backpack containing spare clothes in case her bag fails to arrive.

Casey Donovan always travels with a backpack containing spare clothes in case her bag fails to arrive.

WHICH WAS YOUR BEST HOLIDAY? 

I don’t get to take many holidays unfortunately, but my favourite was last year when I was over in New Zealand for work and then added a few weeks onto my trip for some time off. I ended up hiring a car and driving by myself from Auckland down to Wellington, stopping off at the stunningly beautiful Rotorua. I was so grateful to have some family friends living in Rotorua and I ended up staying there for a few days before hitting the road again and set off to Wellington to see family. It was so liberating and beautiful – driving down the winding roads and taking in the amazing scenery, all the while singing along to a Beyonce album I bought from the servo.

AND THE BEST HOTEL YOU’VE STAYED IN? 

I’ve stayed in many a hotel in the last 11 years, so it’s hard to pick a fave. But Blair Castle in Scotland was a stand-out. Everything about it was breathtaking, from the bedrooms to the dinners (trying haggis for the first time) to the beautiful lawns and surroundings.

WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE WITH YOU? 

Too many undies. Haha. The worst thing when you’re on a holiday is thinking about washing, so I am always prepared in the underwear department.

WHAT DO YOU NEED FOR A PERFECT HOLIDAY? 

No stress. I’m a fan of holidays that aren’t planned. I like rolling out of bed, relaxing by the pool and then going for a casual walk to see some sights or to find some food.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST PIECE OF TRAVEL ADVICE? 

Always travel with a backpack or with some emergency clothes, just in case you get stuck somewhere or if your luggage doesn’t turn up on the carousel.

AND YOUR WORST EXPERIENCE ON HOLIDAY? 

Worst? Oh dear. It would have had to have been during my 21st birthday. I went on a cruise for a week. The cruise itself wasn’t that bad, but when we got off we found out that two people on the cruise had swine flu and I was put in quarantine and had to miss out on two weeks of work.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST PACKING MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE? 

Packing way too many shoes. I have learned over the years that you don’t actually wear most of them and they take up a lot of valuable space, space which could be used for duty-free and other fun stuff.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO NEXT? 

Anywhere. I’m not a massive fan of flying – to be honest, it really scares me. I’d love to head over to the States and do some sightseeing, as I’ve never been. And I’d love to sing at an open mic night in New York where nobody knows me and belt out some songs. That’s definitely something on my wish list.

Casey will be starring as Joanne in RENT at the Hayes Theatre Co in Sydney from October 8 to November 1.

Auckland Airport: Air New Zealand’s new lounge

Air New Zealand’s Auckland lounge upgrade is a strategic move to capture more n traffic. Air New Zealand’s Auckland lounge upgrade is a strategic move to capture more n traffic.
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Air New Zealand’s Auckland lounge upgrade is a strategic move to capture more n traffic.

Air New Zealand’s Auckland lounge upgrade is a strategic move to capture more n traffic.

Significantly larger than its predecessor, the new Auckland lounge can seat more than 375 customers.

Air New Zealand’s new flagship international lounge in Auckland is another milestone in a four-year, $NZ100 million ($91 million) lounge upgrade program. It’s also a strategic move to capture more n traffic. It will serve as a stop-over lounge for ns flying on Air NZ flights to North and South America via Auckland.

The new lounge has more than 2000 square metres of space, significantly larger and more modern than the old one and in a different part of the terminal. It can seat more than 375 customers comfortably.

The lounge was designed by Gensler, the same global architecture firm that partnered with Air NZ on its new lounge at Sydney Airport as well as the Star Alliance lounge it manages at Los Angeles International Airport.

Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon says the lounge was designed with feedback from customers in mind. “With a growing network and customer base, the number of high-value customers using our lounge has grown and one of the most common pieces of feedback we receive on our Auckland International Lounge is around space,” he says.

“Also recognising that our customers travel for different reasons and have different needs, we’ve created a mix of separate zones to offer the utmost comfort and convenience for those looking to relax, refresh or get some work done before they fly.”

There is a business zone with a range of seating and tables with electronic charging, Wi-Fi and printing facilities, a kids’ area modelled on a Kiwi tree house, a dining area where dishes are cooked to order at meal times as well as a buffet and a central bar area offering barista coffee, premium New Zealand wines and cocktails.

The New Zealand-centric design also features large-scale digital screens with looping time-lapse imagery of local scenery and a “digital ceiling” over the bar area reflecting the changing New Zealand sky.

The carrier also plans to upgrade its international lounges at Brisbane Airport and Melbourne Airport.

Silver Expeditions sounds the Silver Cloud south

Silver Explorer is to be refurbished and converted into an ice-class ship. A picnic on the lawn of the Celebrity Solstice.
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The Aqua Mekong cruises the Mekong River between Vietnam and Cambodia.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is to perform during a Bravo! South Pacific cruise in October 2016.

Silversea Cruises has announced it will move Silver Cloud to its expedition division in November 2017. Destined mostly for polar waters, the 296-passenger ship that launched the luxury cruise line will be converted into an ice-class ship during an extensive refurbishment scheduled to start in August 2017.

The timing coincides with the introduction of the Silver Muse to the non-expedition fleet in April 2017, so overall Silversea will be operating nine ships. The company’s chairman, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, has said Silver Muse is the first of three 596-passenger ships to be built for the line; its current flagship, the 540-passenger Silver Spirit, was launched in 2009.

Silver Cloud will join Silver Expeditions’ existing fleet of three ships – the 132-passenger Silver Explorer, 120-passenger Silver Discoverer, and 100-passenger Silver Galapagos. Collectively, they explore more than 500 far-flung destinations, from Africa, ‘s Kimberley Coast and the Russian Far East to the Galapagos Islands, the British Isles and the polar realms.

As an expedition ship, the all-suite Silver Cloud will accommodate 260 guests and also sail on itineraries to non-polar regions. When sailing Arctic and Antarctic itineraries, the passenger complement will be restricted to 200. Silversea is a member of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators and the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, and follows each organisation’s guidelines to ensure sustainable tourism. These include such measures as limiting the number of passengers going ashore in certain areas of the Arctic and allowing for a broader range of Antarctic landing sites for expedition ships that carry fewer than 200 guests.

According to IAATO, during the 2014-15 Antarctic season (which runs from November to March) 8399 Americans set foot on the frozen continent; 3496 ns made up the next-largest contingent of visitors, followed by more than 2000 Chinese and British travellers.

Silversea says Silver Cloud will be the only luxury ice-class expedition ship offering five dining options: The Dining Room, the Relais & Chateaux restaurant, La Terrazza, The Grill, and in-suite dining. The ship will have the highest space ratio and highest staff-to-guest ratio (nearly one to one) among luxury ice-class expedition ships. The ship will carry 18 rigid inflatable boats and expedition leaders will take a maximum of 12 passengers out at any one time.

The conversion of Silver Cloud follows Seabourn’s conversion of Seabourn Quest to an ice-class vessel two years ago. Despite the high prices and rough seas, the demand for Antarctic voyages is booming.

MEET THE CREW

NAME: Pili Vicente, from the Philippines.

POSITION: Lawn keeper on Celebrity Solstice.

MY JOB: Celebrity Solstice has half an acre [about 2000 square metres] of real grass growing on its top deck, known as the Lawn Club. It’s where passengers can kick off their shoes and have a picnic or play a game of boules. My job is to maintain the lawn for our guests’ enjoyment, and also ensure it meets and New Zealand’s strict biosecurity laws when Solstice visits your shores.

A TYPICAL DAY: I monitor the lawns from dusk till dawn and mow the grass to precisely 35 millimetres, as often as every day in warm climates. During the n summer, I also water the area a few times a day, plus I’m vigilant about pest control.

FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT: A barefoot wedding on the lawn would have to be the most memorable occasion I’ve witnessed on the ship. That, and being asked whether I speak to the grass.

FAVOURITE PORT: Hubbard Glacier in Alaska.

INSIDER TIP: Order a picnic basket to take out on the lawn for a relaxing lunch – you can enjoy terrific views wherever in the world you are.

TIP

Make sure you don’t miss out on your preferred ship-organised shore tour by booking ahead online, whenever possible, or as soon as you get on board.

NEWS

Happy birthday

Aqua Expeditions has introduced exciting new adventures to mark the first anniversary this month of Aqua Mekong’s cruises along the Mekong River between Vietnam and Cambodia. Aqua Mekong is the only vessel on the Mekong to operate private tenders – on its fleet of four aluminium launch boats – and now the company is offering tours by bike, kayak and tuk tuk. All excursions are limited to 10 people a guide and give passengers the chance to explore riverside villages and picturesque waterways, visit traditional craftsmen such as silk weavers and meet local people. See aquaexpeditions上海龙凤论坛m.

Dame Kiri headlines Bravo!

Choose Your Cruise’s Bravo! music cruises go from strength to strength and the 2016 outing includes more than 30 acts and artists from musical theatre, the classics and opera – with opera super star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa topping the bill on the October 17, 2016, cruise on board Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. The world-famous soprano said, “I’ve performed at venues as diverse as Glyndebourne, Tanglewood and the Verona Arena – and in many unusual places – golf courses, vineyards, viaducts, the outback of and even a helicopter hangar – but this will be my first performance during a Bravo! South Pacific cruise and I’m really looking forward to it.” See chooseyourcruise上海龙凤论坛m.au.

Cruise Central Coast

To celebrate the opening of award-winning Cruise Express’ Central Coast cruise agency, you’re invited to morning tea at the new Erina office at 10am on Thursday, October 15. The local team will be offering special cruise deals on the day and Cruise Express is also offering free return transfers from the Central Coast to Sydney to board cruise ships or flights for the first 100 cruise bookings of seven nights or more made through the store. If you’d like to attend the event, visit cruiseexpress上海龙凤论坛m.au/centralcoast.

DEAL OF THE WEEK

Ecruising.travel’s 2016 Alaska cruise packages combine land touring in Canada with seven-night cruises. There’s a range of departures and itineraries between May and August; one example is the 17-night Isolated Wonderland package, which includes a seven-day cruise on Star Princess, seven nights in Princess lodges, a railway trip and airfares – all for $6219. Phone 1300 369 848, see ecruising.travel.

MORE DEALS

Worldwide Cruise Centres’ latest 20-night fly/cruise/stay holiday includes a 14-night round-trip eastern Mediterranean cruise from Rome onboard Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess. Accommodation in Rome and Venice and return flights are part of the package. Departing May 30, 2016, from $6899; offer valid to October 31. See worldwidecruisecentres上海龙凤论坛m.au.

Sanctuary Retreats is offering 30 per cent savings on selected Nile River cruises from October to December 2015. Cruises are three or four nights on luxury river ships Sanctuary Sun Boat III, Sanctuary Sun Boat IV and Sanctuary Nile Adventurer and start from $US408 a night. Phone + (202) 23 947 820, email [email protected]上海龙凤论坛m.

Do Chinans pay too much for domestic airfares?

High volume domestic routes are priced reasonably competitively compared with similar distances overseas. Photo: Jessica Hromas High volume domestic routes are priced reasonably competitively compared with similar distances overseas. Photo: Jessica Hromas
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High volume domestic routes are priced reasonably competitively compared with similar distances overseas. Photo: Jessica Hromas

By most yardsticks, the answer is “no”. For example, a return ticket from Sydney to Cairns at the cheap end of the scale costs around $A350.

That’s a distance of 1950 kilometres, roughly the same as from Boston to Miami, and the cheapest round trip flight between those two is just over $US235 ($A335), which is only $A15 less than the Sydney-Cairns flight.

A return Melbourne-Coolangatta flight starts at around $A240. That’s 1680 kilometres, about 200 kilometres less than New York to New Orleans, and round trips between those two start at $US335, about $A230 more that a low-cost Melbourne-Coolangatta flight.

When you apply the distance measure to the European scene, travellers pay more in .

London-Malaga is practically the same distance as Melbourne to Coolangatta and the cheapest return flight with a bottom-tier budget airline costs just €68 ($A110), less than half the Melbourne-Coolangatta flight.

Frankfurt to Athens is not far short of the Sydney-Cairns distance and the cheapest flight is just €107, about $A180 less than the Sydney-Cairns flight, but that involves a one-stop flight aboard a budget airline with a travel time of more than 10 hours on the return journey.

Where n travellers fly between major cities and holiday hotspots they benefit from the cost savings that airlines achieve when they operate large, highly efficient aircraft in a competitive environment. Typically this does not apply to flights to regional centres, which is why a flight from Sydney to Broken Hill costs more than the cheapest flights between Melbourne and Singapore.

Danny Bhoy: Five places that changed me

Danny Bhoy: ‘I should really include at least one place in , right?’ Danny Bhoy: ‘I should really include at least one place in , right?’
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Danny Bhoy: ‘I should really include at least one place in , right?’

Danny Bhoy: ‘I should really include at least one place in , right?’

WASHINGTON DC, U.S

I’ve never been a fan of “government towns”. Whenever I tour a country the administration cities are never the best places to visit (sorry, Canberra). So, when I recently took a trip to DC, I wasn’t expecting to be bowled over. How wrong I was. It’s a seriously good place. I love me a bit of history and American politics, so I am a little biased, but it might be the most beautifully presented city in the world. All the major landmarks are within walking distance, and at night seeing all the monuments lit up is a beguiling experience. I found myself walking around humming The Star-Spangled Banner. It’s that good.

GALWAY, IRELAND

During my early years in comedy, there was one gig I used to absolutely love doing. It was on a Sunday night in Galway. They used to have a direct flight out of Edinburgh on the Saturday and back on the Monday. Galway is quite a small city on the west coast of Ireland, but it is ridiculously friendly. It never felt like a gig which was important for my career, it was just a lot of fun.

KYNETON, VICTORIA

I should really include at least one place in , right? Back in 2007, I did my first proper tour of . It was a long tour, and I remember getting to the point where I really wanted to quit. My tour manager sensed I was feeling the strain, and after a show in the quaint regional Victoria town of Kyneton we drove to a winery just outside it for a night off. I remember, sitting out on a veranda, sipping a lovely red wine while the sun set over the Macedon Ranges. I felt a stillness and calm serenity that was worth a week off in one of those aggressively relaxing “spa resort” places. I haven’t been back, because I don’t want that memory to ever change in my mind.

LONDON, UK

London will seem like quite an obvious choice to many people reading this. It will seem just as surprising to others. That’s why I love London so much, it brings out so many conflicting memories. It was the place where I learned my craft, and also the place where I had some of my toughest gigs. It was the place where I once slept in a bus shelter, and also the place where I have dined with some of the finest comedians in the world. It’s a magical, tragic and frenetic place. I could sit and talk about London for hours, which I can’t really say about anywhere else I’ve been.

SEVILLE, SPAIN

My visit to Seville was a spontaneous one last year. I was having a period of writer’s block which is typically fuelled by a lack of inspiration coupled with a palpable depression. I felt like I had forgotten how to even think about comedy, it was deep and worrying. I spent a long weekend in Seville wandering around cobbled streets and eating incredible tapas food in small bars. The Spanish have such a wonderful simple and optimistic approach to life, that it taught me to slow down, and not to force creativity, but just to let it happen.

Danny Bhoy returns to with his new show Please Untick This Box, Sydney only. Shows are at the Sydney Opera House October 25 and State Theatre, October 26, 27 and 28. See ticketmaster上海龙凤论坛m.au.

Top 10 river cruise suites: Behold the best cabins afloat

Sanctuary Ananda Owners Suite has a vast terrace. Sanctuary Ananda Owners Suite has a vast terrace.
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Sanctuary Ananda Owners Suite has a vast terrace.

Sanctuary Ananda Owners Suite has a vast terrace.

Evergreen Tours Owners Suite.

Avalon Royal Suite Illumination.

Uniworld’s SS Maria Theresa – Royal Suite.

Aqua Mekong Design Suite.

APT ROYAL SUITE

Chilled Champagne awaits when you move into one of APT’s newest Concerto-class Royal Suites. The suites measure 27.9 square metres and have two balconies, the Panoramic (floor-to-ceiling glass doors) and Outside (which fits two chairs and a table). Their marble bathrooms are the only ones with a bathtub as well as a king-size shower. Royal Suite guests have Gold Butler service.

See aptouring上海龙凤论坛m.au. RV GANGES VOYAGER MAHARAJA SUITE

This colonial-style river ship launched earlier this year to ply the Lower Ganges. It has 28 spacious suites, the most lavish being the 37-square-metre Maharaja Suite, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening onto a balcony and all the contemporary comforts. Your butler will pop in to refresh your ice bucket or whisk your laundry away.

See aptouring上海龙凤论坛m.au. AQUA MEKONG DESIGN SUITES

Aqua Mekong takes its passengers on leisurely journeys through Cambodia and Vietnam on the Mekong River. The upmarket, 20-suite ship was designed and built in Saigon using local sustainable materials and its light-filled, 30-square-metre Design Suites feature lots of polished wood and cool natural textiles. Glass doors open to a balcony, which is set with a daybed and table for two.

See aquaexpeditions上海龙凤论坛m. AVALON WATERWAYS ROYAL SUITES

Royal Suites on board Avalon Waterways’ newest Suite Ships (two on each ship) are a generous 27.9 square metres and each has the line’s enormous panoramic window that opens to transform the entire living space into an open-air balcony – when weather permits. The spacious marble bathroom is separate from the loo (always a bonus) and has a large shower and twin basins.

See avalonwaterways上海龙凤论坛m.au. EVERGREEN/EMERALD OWNER’S SUITES

Emerald Waterways, Scenic’s “less-inclusive” sister cruise line, launched its second pair of ultra-modern Star Ships in March. Each ship has four 29.2-square-metre Owner’s Suites that are almost twice the size of a regular stateroom. But it’s the inclusions that are a standout for this budget-friendly line: the in-suite coffee machine, complimentary mini-bar, pre-dinner canapes and continental breakfast served on your balcony.

See evergreentours上海龙凤论坛m. SANCTUARY ANANDA OWNER’S SUITE

Launched in 2014 to cruise the less-travelled waterways of Myanmar, Sanctuary Ananda is seriously luxe. Its 21 suites feature a stylish combination of traditional Burmese decor with contemporary design and at 67 square metres the Owner’s Suite is by far the biggest in our selection. You could happily spend most of the cruise on the vast Owner’s Terrace but the bedroom, living area and bathroom are also pretty impressive.

See sanctuaryretreats上海龙凤论坛m. SCENIC ROYAL PANORAMA SUITES

Scenic Jasper and Scenic Opal can lay claim to having the biggest suites on Europe’s river ships. The 44-square-metre Royal Panorama Suites at the aft of the ships are incredibly spacious and fitted out in Scenic’s characteristically understated style. You are welcomed to your suite with a bottle of Champagne and the butler is on hand to unpack your bags and deliver breakfast and pre-dinner canapes. The minibar is restocked daily.

See scenictours上海龙凤论坛m.au. TAUCK CATEGORY 7 SUITES

Tauck’s new MS Savor and MS Inspire each have 22 of the prosaically named but extremely well-appointed Category 7 suites; the ships accommodate a maximum of 130 passengers so can afford to have a larger number of bigger suites than most other cruise lines. Measuring 27.9 square metres they have two french balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows, spacious marble bathrooms and a pull-out sofa bed if you’re travelling with an extra guest.

See tauck上海龙凤论坛m.au. UNIWORLD ROYAL SUITE

Every Uniworld ship is an individual but each one boasts the most lavish decor on Europe’s rivers. Antique furniture, magnificent chandeliers and plush furnishings are all standard but the newest Super Ship, SS Maria Theresa, is the most opulent so far. Its 38-square-metre Royal Suite is a melange of gilt, sumptuous fabrics and top-of-the range contemporary comforts; guests are looked after by two professional butlers.

See uniworldcruises上海龙凤论坛m.au. VIKING LONGSHIPS EXPLORER SUITES

Viking says it is the only line to offer “real” suites, as defined by the hotel industry – that is, having a separate bedroom and living room. At 41 square metres, Viking’s Explorer Suites are certainly enormous and stylishly Scandinavian. The living room has a spacious wraparound balcony while the bedroom has its own French balcony. Heated flooring in the bathroom is a boon on chilly mornings.

See vikingcruises上海龙凤论坛m.au.

Things to do Florence, city guide: Three-minute guide to Florence, Italy

The view over Florence from Bardini Gardens. Photo: Brian Johnston
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The view over Florence from Bardini Gardens. Photo: Brian Johnston

The view over Florence from Bardini Gardens. Photo: Brian Johnston

The view over Florence from Bardini Gardens. Photo: Brian Johnston

A guestroom at Hotel Lungarno. Photo: Small Luxury Hotels

WHY

You’d have to be a philistine with a heart of stone to wonder why Florence is worth a visit. The city is a Renaissance masterpiece, and within it are buildings that are masterpieces too, crammed with even more masterpieces in canvas and marble. The city is gorgeous, but beyond the tourist-tramped main sights lie plenty of other treats to make you linger: medieval neighbourhoods, fine shopping, Tuscan cuisine and good wine bars. VISIT

Piazza Santa Croce is the last bastion of Florence’s tourist hordes east of the historic centre; beyond is a more genuine neighbourhood of locals on their passeggiataevening stroll) or hanging out in bars and restaurants. Leather workers have lived here since the Middle Ages, and leather goods are a great buy. Santa Croce Church (santacroceopera.it) is crammed with frescoes, sculptures and monuments to notable Florentines, and houses the tomb of Michelangelo.  EAT

As everywhere in tourist Italy, your chances of reasonably priced, good food in the old town are negligible. Head across the river into neighbourhoods, where you’ll find everything from scrumptious self-serve pizza at Gusta Pizza (46 Via Maggio) to fine-dining contemporary Tuscan nosh at hipster Osteria Personale (io-osteriapersonale.it). If you want to indulge in gelato, head to Gelateria della Passera (gelaterialapassera.wordpress上海龙凤论坛m) for flavours such as cherry-and-port, medlar and pink grapefruit. LOOK

There’s eye candy for the art lover everywhere in Florence, and you could spend weeks just in museums. Top billing goes to Galleria degli Uffizi (uffizi上海龙凤论坛) and Galleria dell’Accademia (accademia上海龙凤论坛), which houses Michelangelo’s David, but you shouldn’t miss Museo Nazionale del Bargello (polomuseale.firenze.it) for its sweeping collection of Donatello masterpieces that demonstrate why he’s considered one of the best ever sculptors. Get a 72-hour Firenze Card (firenzecard.it) if you’re going to museum hop. MUST 

Historical Florence is rather small but certainly packs in the splendid buildings, including its magnificent cathedral or Duomo (ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it), a complex that includes a Baptistery notable for its bronze doors and Bell Tower by Giotto, which provides great views. The fine Renaissance-era Boboli Gardens, part of the splendid art-cluttered Pitti Palace (polomuseale.firenze.it), and a half dozen churches are other top sights; Santa Maria del Carmine (museicivicifiorentini上海龙凤论坛mune.fi.it) is possibly the best for its frescoes. SLEEP

Lungarno Hotel (slh上海龙凤论坛m/hotels/lungarno-hotel/) might have a medieval tower and a location inside a 16th-century building on the Arno River right beside the Ponte Vecchio, but rooms have an airy, light-filled contemporary appeal, with blue carpets, a smart ivory-tinted decor and polished antiques. Original artworks by Picasso and Cocteau line the walls. Even if you don’t stay, dine on Tuscan cuisine at Borgo San Jacopo restaurant, where the few terrace tables have lovely river views. TIP

The purple-clad local soccer team ACF Fiorentina (violachannel.tv), nicknamed Viola, plays at the top of the Italian A-league. Catch them in action at Stadio Comunale Artemio Franchi for a great Italian evening out; you’ll need to buy tickets online well in advance.

The writer was a guest of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (slh上海龙凤论坛m) and DriveAway Holidays (driveaway上海龙凤论坛m.au).

Tips & advice: The Tripologist

London is a great city to take children to. Photo: James McCormick London is a great city to take children to. Photo: James McCormick
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London is a great city to take children to. Photo: James McCormick

London is a great city to take children to. Photo: James McCormick

Don’t miss out on Hong Kong’s food delights.

Hit the beach: Le Meridien, in Oro Bay. Photo: Louisa Kirby

Don’t miss out on Hong Kong’s food delights.

Don’t miss out on Hong Kong’s food delights.

Hit the beach: Le Meridien, in Oro Bay. Photo: Louisa Kirby

Don’t miss out on Hong Kong’s food delights.

Hit the beach: Le Meridien, in Oro Bay. Photo: Louisa Kirby

OUR FAMILY OF TWO ADULTS AND TWO SONS, 8 AND 3-YEARS-OLD, WOULD LIKE TO TRAVEL TO EUROPE IN JULY. GIVEN THE AGE OF OUR SONS, SHOULD WE JOIN A GUIDED TOUR OR DO SELF-GUIDED TOURING?

AS WE HAVE NEVER BEEN TO EUROPE WE WOULD LIKE TO LIMIT OUR TRIP TO TWO OR THREE COUNTRIES IN  TWO TO THREE WEEKS. WHICH COUNTRIES WOULD YOU SUGGEST?

A. DUONG. HURLSTONE PARK

I suggest you don’t take a guided tour. Guided tours can be gruelling for young children, they travel at a reasonable pace and days are often long and tiring.

Also, guided tours are most likely going to be focusing on cultural wonders, history, churches and museums that have zero appeal for a three-year-old and that spells trouble.

What you could do though is focus your trip on cities, which have plenty of scope for all to enjoy, beginning in London.

In July you don’t want anywhere that’s too hot, and a familiar language, food and customs makes it easier to find your feet and get the kids and you off to a good start. First stop might be the Science Museum in South Kensington, which is packed with exhibits to do with dinosaurs, space exploration and much that will amaze the boys and most likely give them an appetite for more. My own short list would also include the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Natural History Museum, the London Eye, a stroll along Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner, the Tower of London, the British Museum and a tour to Windsor Castle.

Visit London  has a website (visitlondon上海龙凤论坛m) specifically for children with suggestions for family-friendly accommodation and you can find plenty more on the  Time Out London kids’ website(timeout上海龙凤论坛m/london/kids) .

From London you could take the Eurostar train (eurostar上海龙凤论坛m)to Paris and spend a few days exploring this lovely city. You can find plenty of helpful suggestions for your time there if you Google “Paris with children”.

After Paris my pick would be Amsterdam, another great city packed with marvels to see and do. Once again, Google has plenty to get you going.

I AM LEARNING FRENCH AND MY HUSBAND AND I WANT TO GO ON A FRENCH-SPEAKING HOLIDAY NEXT JULY. WE SPENT SIX WEEKS IN FRANCE LAST YEAR BUT DON’T WANT TO TRAVEL SO FAR THIS TIME. I AM TOSSING UP BETWEEN NOUMEA AND TAHITI. I HEAR CONFLICTING REPORTS ABOUT NOUMEA BUT A FRIEND SUGGESTED I DO NOUMEA AND A NEARBY RESORT TO GET THE BEST MIX BETWEEN LIVING LIKE A LOCAL AND A BEACH HOLIDAY. WHAT ARE YOUR SUGGESTIONS?

S. ANGELO, ABBOTSFORD

Either Noumea or French Polynesia would satisfy your requirement for a French-speaking destination but there are big differences between the two. Tahiti and its islands are much further, and more expensive.

French Polynesia sells itself as a romantic destination and it has all the right credentials, but for a three-week holiday in French Polynesia you could fly yourselves to France, stay in three-star hotels, eat better food and still come home with change.

Noumea is even closer to Sydney than Cairns, and more reasonably priced than French Polynesia. My suggestion would be to plan only a short stay in Noumea and head for the Isle of Pines, where New Caledonia gets into holiday mode. The glossiest of the island’s accommodation is Le Meridien, which is poised on delectable Oro Bay. Kuto Beach and Kanumera on the island’s south-west coast and the more northerly Baie de Ouameo all have less expensive options in the form of simple relais and gites. You can find several options on the Isle of Pines website (isle-of-pines上海龙凤论坛m). Three weeks is rather long and you could also take in the islands of Lifou and Ouvea.

I HAVE AN  EIGHT-HOUR STOPOVER (2PM-10PM) IN HONG KONG ON MY WAY TO EUROPE. ANY SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO FILL IN THE TIME?

V. HOPKINS, MOSMAN

You could get the Airport Express train to the city and safely spend four hours there, allowing time for clearing immigration and customs on the way in and getting back to the airport in time for your connecting flight.

Leave the train at Central Station, just over 20 minutes from the airport. Walk to the Peak Tram Lower Terminus in Garden Road and take the tram to the city’s highest viewpoint, Victoria Peak. Purchase a Peak Tram Sky Pass which gives you access to the Sky Terrace, with incredible panoramic views over the city, the harbour and outlying islands.

Back at the lower terminus, take a taxi to the Star Ferry Terminal and sit on the upper deck for the crossing to Kowloon. When you disembark you’re in the Tsim Sha Tsui area. Walk around the promenade and the Avenue of Stars for the harbour view, maybe have a bite to eat, either in one of the many Chinese restaurants or even in the swanky Peninsula Hotel, then take another taxi to Kowloon Station for the trip back to the airport.

If you decide to stay in the airport, the Plaza Premium Lounge (plaza-network上海龙凤论坛m) gets mixed reviews. If it happens to be quiet on the day you’re there the lounge is a reasonable choice but if it’s busy the wait for a shower can be hours.

CONVERSATION OVER TO YOU…

The question was “Got a favourite travel book, whether it’s Gulliver’s Travels or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?”

J. Aspinwall writes “It would have to be Slowly Down the Ganges by Eric Newby. Written in 1966, in the days when you could be an intrepid traveller! Wonderful account of his journey on the Ganges before sat nav, mobile phones or credit cards. One of my inspirations to travel to India. Highly recommended.”

From M. Williamson. “84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff showed me hidden and lesser-known corners of London that were fascinating areas to enjoy on my first visit to that great city.”

M. Freeland writes “That would have to be Down Under by Bill Bryson. Bill covers very many sites in with detailed fact and with humour and every once in a while I find I am reading parts of it, whether I am going there or not. It gives a great outsider’s view of all over .”

From K. DeVere, “Golden Earth by Norman Lewis. In 1951, fearing that Burma was about to be swallowed by the rising tide of communism, Lewis set out to travel Burma’s length. By river steamer, plane, jeep, truck, train and ox cart he travels through a country teetering on the brink of chaos, in which the Burmese themselves maintain a stoic resignation to the wheel of fate, absorbed with music, dancing, theatre and Buddhist ritual. Lewis is a writer’s writer, elegant, restrained and precise and Golden Earth remains the one essential volume for the Burma traveller, as relevant today as it was in the 1950s.”

Next question: Has a hire-car operator ever charged you for damage that was not your fault?

SEND US YOUR TRAVEL QUESTIONS

Include your name and your suburb or town and send it to [email protected]上海龙凤论坛m.au All published questions will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

Same sex marriage ban is costing China tourism dollars

My Facebook feed these past months has been full of happy n couples celebrating marriages in the United Kingdom and the US, taking advantage of the northern summer. One of the brides wore a kilt.
Shanghai night field

Most of these weddings were same-sex marriages. Perhaps it’s not so unusual these days with bans on such marriages being lifted in 21 countries, including New Zealand, Ireland and Brazil.

But the plethora of big gay weddings among my Facebook friends is indicative of one thing – n gay couples still have to go overseas to get married.  Straight couples don’t need to go through the logistics of organising a wedding overseas. If they do, it’s by choice. They can always get married at home, with as many family members and friends as they like witnessing.

The deputy mayor of Auburn in Sydney recently disrupted a whole suburb with his lavish wedding, but partners who have been together for a quarter of a century can’t hold a simple legal ceremony in their  backyards.

I’m not alone in thinking this discrimination is a disgrace. A Galaxy poll has shown 81 per cent of young ns support marriage equality, with 64 per cent of the general population supporting it and 75 per cent thinking it inevitable. Inevitable or not, plebiscite or not, it’s not soon enough for LGBT couples who live in and wish to marry. As it stands, they now have to become inventive with solutions and it is overseas destinations and accommodation options that are reaping the benefits.

Brett and Stuart Baillie-Galvin, who live in Sydney, held their recent wedding in a Scottish castle. (Stuart is Scottish; Brett from New Zealand.) There were 100 guests, of whom about 70 came from outside Britain. The photos on Facebook of Stuart in a kilt and Brett in a tux, surrounded by friends and family in the environs of a stately castle were full of joy and love. “We wanted to give our friends an amazing experience,” Brett says, but “we didn’t have the option of our adopted country, sadly.”

When Melbourne-born David Glover married Swede Anders Sjöstedt in an Episcopal church in Manhattan, David’s grandfather, who was 92, had to give his speech via Skype. The reception, full of Aussies and Swedes, was held at David and Anders’ Hamptons house. “I made the point of mentioning in my speech that what we were celebrating would not have been possible in ,” David says.

Chris Bromley, an n living in London, and his British partner, Adam Crick, were married in New York City at City Hall. “What made it special was that there were a number of LGBT couples getting married that day too,” Chris says. “It really felt like we were doing something significant that we couldn’t do at the time in the UK (and would still not be able to do in .)”

David Bristow and Geoff Holland, who have been together 30 years, were travelling to the US on business, married in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Friends came from Toronto to witness the ceremony and the photos were posted on Facebook so that family could view the happy event.

Every time I see one of these weddings on Facebook I wonder how much our laws regarding same sex marriage are costing our tourism industry in the revenue that weddings engender.

For each wedding that’s potentially 100 or more people we’re not catering to, many of whom might be staying in n accommodation, eating in local restaurants, supporting local jobs.

From a tourism point of view, the rainbow dollar is sought-after. After its recent plebiscite, Ireland began an “Ireland says I do” campaign, targeting same-sex couples and promoting those Irish locations that could provide romantic backdrops to ceremonies, such as Kinnitty Castle in County Offaly.

Across our pond, New Zealand has gone all out to capture the gay wedding market, with a flurry of new businesses created to cater for these weddings. In a clever piece of publicity, an n gay couple married on the runway during New Zealand Fashion Week in Auckland.

In June, a Fairfax Media story estimated that same sex weddings would give a $1.2 billion boost to our economy, complementing the government’s small business agenda.  Heterosexual marriages were worth over $7 billion last year. No wonder New Zealand is keen to take advantage of ‘s slowness to enter the 21st century.

If legalising same-sex marriage is indeed inevitable here, then let’s get a move on, shall we? Make it easier and less expensive for couples to marry with their families and loved ones around them.

Not only will we have more rainbows, but tourism will get a huge boost as well.

China’s best food and restaurants: The 13 best places to eat out in China in 2015

Pancakes with poached rhubarb, puffed grains, toasted hazelnuts and creme fraiche from St Ali in Yarra Place, South Melbourne. Photo: Bonnie Savage
Shanghai night field

The Lobster brioche toast at Cumulus Inc. Photo: Anu Kumar

Bennelong restaurant at the Opera House.

Parsnip dessert at Brae Restaurant. Photo: Julian Kingma

Penfolds Magill Estate Cellar Door.

Bill Lark owner of the Lark Distillery in Hobart Tasmania. Photo: Peter Mathew

Bennelong at the Opera House: Roasted Hombre duck hispi cabbage, black miso, seaweed. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Pancakes with poached rhubarb, puffed grains, toasted hazelnuts and creme fraiche from St Ali in Yarra Place, South Melbourne. Photo: Bonnie Savage

Dan Hunter, owner chef of The Brae restaurant in Birregurra.

Bennelong at the Opera House: Roasted Hombre duck hispi cabbage, black miso, seaweed. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Bennelong at the Opera House: Roasted Hombre duck hispi cabbage, black miso, seaweed. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Pancakes with poached rhubarb, puffed grains, toasted hazelnuts and creme fraiche from St Ali in Yarra Place, South Melbourne. Photo: Bonnie Savage

Bennelong at the Opera House: Roasted Hombre duck hispi cabbage, black miso, seaweed. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Bennelong restaurant at the Opera House.

Bennelong restaurant at the Opera House.

Bennelong restaurant at the Opera House.

Chef Martin Benn sitting in his Restaurant Sepia in Sydney. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Orana restaurant in Adelaide: Scallops with beach succulents.

BENNELONG AT THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE 

In any great city, the clever tourist will seek out the cultural heart, the most scenic location, the most striking architecture and the most articulate and expressive cuisine. Well, folks, as the sign says: “You Are Here”. After a $3 million makeover, the team behind the award-winning Quay restaurant on the other side of Circular Quay have given the Sydney Opera House the restaurant it deserves, with chef Peter Gilmore artfully showcasing ‘s finest produce. See bennelong上海龙凤论坛m.au 

Terry DurackWHISKEY AND GIN DISTILLERIES, TASMANIA AND NSW

After a 150-year ban on distillation in Tasmania, Bill Lark was issued the first licence to distil whiskey in 1992. Now, there are over a dozen whiskey makers on the island and a passion for craft spirits has taken the mainland by storm. In Perth this year, West Winds gin took out the inaugural n Distilled Spirits Award for best gin. In Sydney, brewery Young Henry’s has produced its Noble Cut gin distilled with indigenous ingredients like pepperberry and bush tomato to accolades. While back in Tassie, Bill Lark was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the World Whiskies Awards in London earlier this year. Craft beer, you are sooo last round. See larkdistillery上海龙凤论坛m; younghenrys上海龙凤论坛m

Paul ChaiWINE TOURISM

Wine tasting in – whether in the Hunter Valley, Barossa, Margaret River or one of the lesser-known wine regions – is simply a lot more fun than it is elsewhere. The earnest snobbishness of European cellar doors is absent, as is the charge per tasting in American vineyards. There are generally plenty of tour companies to choose from too – whether cheap and cheerful minibuses that go round a highlights reel of bigger wineries or private chauffeurs who pick destinations according to passenger taste. See australia上海龙凤论坛m; winetoursdownunder上海龙凤论坛m.au

David WhitleyBRAE, BIRREGURRA

If, a few years ago, you wanted to sample the imaginative, finely tuned, seasonally driven cooking of Melbourne-born chef Dan Hunter, you would have had to travel all the way to the world-renowned Mugaritz restaurant in the Basque region of Spain, where he worked as head chef for celebrated chef/owner Andoni Luis Aduriz.

Now, you can leave your passport at home, and head, instead, for Victoria’s wild-and-woolly Otway ranges, home to Hunter’s postcard-picturesque Brae restaurant, set on a 30 acre property in Birregurra, 130 kilometres west of Melbourne. In the high-end diners of the city, where the nearest patch of arable soil is a day’s drive away, an intuitive diner can sometimes sense a disconnect in the much-touted “paddock-to-plate” philosophy.

Here, it’s a step from the door, in 30 hectares of landscaped kitchen garden, creating an almost visceral connection with the land that is reflected in the daily changing 13-course menu. So, on the first day of the new asparagus season one of the highlights in the flow of dishes will be a single, proudly green, just-picked asparagus spear, with naught but a baby turnip topped with brook trout roe for company.

Another day, there will be a savoury oyster ice-cream finished with dried oyster and sea lettuce; nasturtium-wrapped parcels of finger lime and sweet prawn meat; or meltingly tender 45 day-aged Tajima wagyu with barbecued carrot and fermented roots.

Small wonder that Brae was this year named number four in The n Financial Review’s inaugural list of ‘s Top 100 Restaurants, lauded for its ‘culinary sophistication in a country cottage”.

One dessert, of slow-roasted parsnip with parsnip cream is already legendary. The dining room, cared for by manager Simon Freeman, has just the right air of understated luxury. And by early 2016, there will be six luxury, eco-friendly rooms in which travellers from, say, the Basque region in Spain, can stay overnight. See braerestaurant上海龙凤论坛m  PENFOLDS MAGILL ESTATE, ADELAIDE

For devotees of Penfolds Grange historic Magill Estate on the outskirts of Adelaide is akin to a sacred site. It was here Max Schubert created ‘s most famous, and collectable, wine: Grange Hermitage. But how to preserve this viticultural heritage, while bringing the estate into the 21st Century? The new-look cellar door is a triumph – sleek, sparse and darkly ​smouldering. Next door is a chic and equally theatrical dining space called Kitchen. Magill Estate never looked sexier. See magillestate上海龙凤论坛m

Mark ChipperfieldWAGYU BEEF

Serious steak-lovers once had to travel to Japan to experience the earthly joys of rich, rare, full-blooded, heavily marbled wagyu beef. Now, wagyu is ‘s own high benchmark for the ultimate steak hit, as pioneering producers such as David Blackmore in Victoria guarantee authenticity of genetics and an ethical supply chain. The fine veins of intramuscular fat (graded and scored from 0 to 9 and a heart-fluttering 9+) melt like butter on the grill, virtually ensuring tender rich flavour that, in turn, cries out for a world-class n red wine. Try it at Rockpool Bar & Grill (Melbourne and Sydney) and Brae in Victoria. See blackmorewagyu上海龙凤论坛m

Jill DupleixSEPIA, SYDNEY 

There’s a very good reason that Sepia was chosen as “The One To Watch” at the 2015 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in London. It’s the same reason New York three-star chef, Eric Ripert​, rates it one of the five best restaurants in the world. Because owner/chef Martin Benn’s cooking is original, inspired, and unique in how it combines peerless n produce with a breath-taking Japanese aesthetic in some sort of new-age kaiseki​. Another very good reason? The poached spanner crab with citrus dashi and smoked bone marrow. See sepiarestaurant上海龙凤论坛m.au

Terry DurackORANA, ADELAIDE 

Scottish-born Jock Zonfrillo​ works with the unique flavours of the n desert, bush and coastal regions. Applying his own minimalist, natural style of cooking, he has created a cuisine that could not exist anywhere but in . Native ingredients such as marron, kangaroo, bush honey, mountain pepper, finger lime, green ants and salty sea succulents are memorably matched in a tasting menu like no other. See restaurantorana上海龙凤论坛m

Terry DurackWESTERN AUSTRALIAN MARRON

Other countries have prawns, lobster, oysters and crabs, but only has the magnificent marron, native to the south-western corner of Western . Cherax cainii​ is virtually the lobster of the land; a freshwater crustacean related to the yabby whose sweet, firm meat and delicate texture makes the highly prized European ecrevisse​ on French Michelin star menus look like a loser. Try it at Restaurant Amuse (Perth) and Bennelong at the Opera House (Sydney). See bennelong上海龙凤论坛m.au; restaurantamuse上海龙凤论坛m.au

Jill DupleixTRUFFLES

The black Perigord truffle (Tuber melanosporum) is the holy grail of gastronomy; rare, precious, mysterious… and heinously expensive. Few people realise that is the fourth largest truffle-producing country after France, Italy and Spain, and that at its best, the local product is just as earthy, musky and feral – and at around $150 for 50 grams, almost as expensive. The black treasure from Peter and Kate Marshall’s best-practice truffiere, Terra Preta of Braidwood, NSW, is now exported to top restaurants in France, Italy and the US. Try it in season (July/August), over scrambled eggs or in a cheese toasty. See terrapretatruffles上海龙凤论坛m  (NSW); perigord上海龙凤论坛m.au (TAS); manjimuptruffles上海龙凤论坛m.au  (WA); or visit Canberra’s annual truffle festival trufflefestival上海龙凤论坛m.au or Western ‘s trufflekerfuffle上海龙凤论坛m.au.

Jill DupleixCUMULUS INC, MELBOURNE

This is no fine-dining restaurant with hand-foraged food, exquisite decor and a wine list only an arms-dealer could love. It’s better than that. It’s a great middle-class, middle-range, middle-priced meeting place from Melbourne’s most influential chef, ‘recipe-whisperer’ Andrew McConnell, that is democratically open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.  McConnell has an instinctive ability to integrate far-flung ingredients and styles – foie gras and duck waffles, pork scratchings with spicy kim chi – that synthesise well-travelled, texture-led, Asian and European technique into the best of right-here, right-now n cooking. See cumulusinc上海龙凤论坛m.au.

Jill DupleixMELBOURNE’S CAFE SCENE

There are around 2000 cafes in Melbourne – give or take a few – ranging from stand-up affairs to warehouse-sized establishments. Espresso, cold drip, pour over: even  the humblest corner cafe is pulling coffee that’s top quality on a global level. Trend spotters say the key theme is restaurant-quality food at cafe prices, and brunch is so hot right now. Expect food that’s seasonal, traceable and devoured amidst totally Instagram-worthy surrounds, though the days of super-pricey fit-outs are waning: think clever rather than cashed-up. Namedrop these Melbourne roasters to lock in your global coffee cred: St Ali, Proud Mary, Dukes, Seven Seeds, Code Black, Toby’s Estate or Market Lane.

Belinda JacksonPALATE RESTAURANT, SAFFIRE FREYCINET, TASMANIA

At Saffire Freycinet, Tasmania’s most spectacular lodge, executive chef Hugh Whitehouse, a former Good Food Guide NSW regional dining hatted luminary, is passionate about Tasmanian produce, from its seafood to its 20 kinds of potato,  which he showcases in his exquisite degustation menus. He is equally passionate about Tasmanian wine, pulling out the perfect match for every dish at his house-guests only restaurant overlooking the spectacular Hazards mountain range. It is hard to say which is more convincing – his enthusiasm or his talent, but one thing is clear: when it comes to regional food and wine, Saffire shines. See saffire-freycinet上海龙凤论坛m.au

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