Postcard of the Week – Pullman Phuket Arcadia Pool

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I’m sweltering in Sydney today. It’s over 40 degrees Celsius outside and my air conditioner is struggling to keep up. While I am lucky enough to have a pool in my backyard, I couldn’t help thinking about the gorgeous main pool at the Pullman Phuket Arcadia today.

Tiled in swirling shades of turquoise, aqua and blue it is the most inviting pool I have ever seen, even when the weather is grey and overcast. The turquoise colour is carried through into the furnishings too. And how inviting are those chairs right in the pool!

Watch out for an upcoming story on the Pullman Phuket Arcadia in News Corp’s Escape travel liftout.  Happy Friday and keep cool.

 

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From timber to tables – ASTW community project in Fiji

The children crowd together in the playground looking skyward with intrigue and astonishment as the small drone rises up from their primary school playing field to hover above their heads. Whether they all comprehend there is a GoPro video camera attached or not is unclear, but they are mesmerised by what looks like a miniature helicopter, squealing with delight as it circles above them.

Children watch a drone at RMKS Primary School in Fiji

Children watch a drone at RMKS Primary School in Fiji

My colleagues and I were at RMKS Primary School in Fiji, on a working bee. Members of the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW), we were in Fiji for our AGM and conference, being held at the Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa.

We like to give back to the country where our convention is held and every year donate $1000 to a charity that relates to literacy. This year, thanks to the initiative of the ASTW  Secretariat, we did more than just hand over money. We built picnic tables for the school to use for outside lessons when the heat gets too much in the classroom.

The children were happy for a distraction form lessons.

The children loved posing for photographs.

RMKS Primary School was chosen as it is close to the Intercontinental Fiji and many of the staff have children there. Through collaboration with the hotel engineer and a good deal negotiated with the local hardware store we were able to purchase enough timber for 11 tables and it was our job to (help) assemble them.

Happy for the distraction.

Happy for the distraction from lessons.

But first we visited the children in their classrooms. Happy for the distraction from lessons they eagerly chatted with us, sang for us and posed for our cameras, laughing hysterically at their own digital images.

Year 7 prefect Neimie politely asked if I needed any information as we walked around the school.

Year 7 prefect Neimie politely asked if I needed any information as we walked around the school.

The team from Travel There Next brought along the drone and GoPro to get some aerial shots, and the students trailed them outside as if they were the Pied Piper. They followed the drone around as it skimmed above their heads and looked sorely disappointed when it was finally packed away.

Assembling tables for outside lessons.

Assembling tables for outside lessons.

As the school carpenter cut the timber, we hammered and bolted the tables together, teasing each other over double-handed hammering and bolts inserted the wrong-way-around. Thankfully there were no major injuries to hands more used to hammering keyboards than nails.

Sanding down the edges of the tables.

I kept out of the way of flying hammers by sanding down the edges of the tables.

At the end of the school day the senior students performed for us under the shade of a tree. Vivacious boys with lava-lavas and Trade Link t-shirts over their school uniforms, eyes sparking with mischievous excitement, stomped out a haka on the grass. The teacher beat out tunes with sticks on a hollow log and before long we were dancing in a conga line with the kids, egging on their laughter with our silly dancing antics.

These boys took their lead roles seriously.

These boys took their lead roles seriously.

While our visit may have been fleeting, the memories of those smiles will last for ages. And I hope when the students sit at the picnic tables they will remember they were made by the crazy writers with the miniature helicopter.

For footage of the school visit, follow this link to Travel There Next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fiji, Travel, Volunteering | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Shoe shopping in Madrid

The Spanish make some fabulous shoes; quality leather, good craftsmanship and contemporary design. I know because I used to be a footwear buyer. But walking the tourist trails in Madrid, I didn’t come across a single trendy footwear store.

There were plenty of shoe shops, but none selling the edgy, fashion-forward styles I was looking for. I knew there must be a location selling such shoes, but my quick peruse online before I arrived, and inquiries from my hotel in Madrid, didn’t come up with any leads.

Cute children's Flamenco-inspired shoes

Cute children’s Flamenco-inspired shoes

It was my first trip to Madrid, and with only one day to explore, I couldn’t afford to waste precious sight-seeing time searching for a shoe district I wasn’t sure existed.

Consequently, it was with mixed feelings I read Kate Wickers’ article in the Weekend Australian Travel & Indulgence section on my return home. In her article The Perfect 10: Madrid number four is entitled Shoe Shuffle, and has exactly the information I was after.

So if you are heading to Madrid and looking for fashion footwear, read the article here. As Kate says, “Whoever came up with the idea of putting all the discounted designer shoe shops on Calle de Augusto Figueroa was a genius.” The irony is, I did make a quick visit to the Chueca area, I just didn’t make it to the relevant street.

Fun, black and white wedges I picked up in Seville

Fun, black and white wedges I picked up in Seville

But I didn’t come home completely empty-handed (perhaps that should be un-shod). I did pick up a couple of pairs of shoes on my travels through Andalusia – just not what I had been looking for.  I now own a pair of cute, black and white rope-covered wedges, bought on sale for a bargain price, and a pair of embroidered, black satin flats, which make perfect light-weight evening shoes for travelling.

Let me know if you have a favourite shoe shopping district you visit on your travels.

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Last weekend for Bondi sculpture walk

Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, finishes this Sunday 9th November. So it’s your last chance to see the exhibits, the work of 109 artists.

sisyphus by George Andric. Photo Briar Jensen

sisyphus by George Andric. Photo Briar Jensen

We visited the exhibition this week, together with some friends from New Zealand. As my girlfriend and I wanted to photograph the sculptures at dawn, we decided to stay overnight in Bondi. We booked a two-bedroom apartment at the Adina. Located in Hall Street, it was only a few mintues’ walk to Bondi Beach, and proved the ideal location, with restaurants and cafes close by.

Two-bedroom apartment at the Adina

Two-bedroom apartment at the Adina

Although the sunrise wasn’t spectacular, the sculptures took on ethereal glow in the soft morning light, offering a different photographic perspective to the harsh sunlight later in the day.

We visited the exhibition on Thursday evening and again on Friday morning and were devastated to see one of the exhibits, the boot pool by Ian Swift, had been damaged overnight, presumably by someone standing on it.

the boot pool by Ian Swift. Photos Briar Jensen

the boot pool (before and after) by Ian Swift. Photos Briar Jensen

If you are heading to the exhibition I suggest you go as early as possible as it can get congested during the middle of the day.

currawong by Lou Lambert. Photo Briar Jensen

currawong by Lou Lambert. Photo Briar Jensen

 

More: http://www.sculpturebythesea.com

We stayed at the Adina Apartment Hotel Bondi with assistance from the management.

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A cooking safari dishes up more than food in Cape Town’s colourful Bo-Kaap district

With a history as varied as South Africa’s, it can be difficult for visitors to grasp its complexities during a short stay. Even more challenging is getting a feel for how events have impacted today’s citizens.

One way to get a more meaningful experience is to spend time with locals in their own homes. Many tours incorporate home visits, affording the opportunity to see how the locals live, and being able to chat with them about their everyday lives, while contributing to their often minimal income.

The colourful Bo-Kaap district in Cape Town

The colourful Bo-Kaap district in Cape Town

I did one such tour in Cape Town’s Bo-Kapp district, a cooking safari, which incorporated the city’s rich history with a home cooking lesson, offering a window into the world of a local Muslim family. It was an experience I cherished and wrote about for Discover, the Travellers Choice (travel agents) magazine.

So I was thrilled last week when the story was announced as a finalist in the Australian Society of Travel Writers annual awards for the Best Food Travel Story. As some of you have asked to see the story, I have posted it below.

Although I didn’t win the award (that went to my friend and colleague Christine Retschlag, aka The Global Goddess, for an intriguing story entitled Rough road from prison gate to plate) I was thrilled to be a finalist in the prestigious awards.

Culinary Cape Malay

A fragrant mix of sautéed onions, garlic, turmeric and chilli wafts through the small house as I squish slippery minced beef between my fingers. The little kitchen fills with happy banter as we, four guest,s try to recreate the classic dishes we’ve just eaten, under the guidance of head-scarfed Mimoena. I’m making bobotie, the famous Cape Malay dish of spicy beef topped with baked egg.

Mimoena supplements her small wage as a seamstress by hosting visitors in her home for a traditional Cape Malay lunch and cooking lesson; it’s part of a walking tour that opens a window into Cape Town’s Cape Malay district, known for its rainbow-coloured houses and spice trading companies.

Mimoena in her kitchen

Mimoena in her kitchen

The roots of the Cape’s Malay population date back to the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company established Cape Town as a halfway provisioning point on the major trading route between Asia and Europe. Slaves skilled in building, tailoring, gardening and cooking were transported from South East Asia, predominantly Indonesia, Java and Malaysia.

With the emancipation of slaves in 1834, many moved into the Bo-Kaap district, a settlement for disadvantaged communities. Perched on the slopes of Signal Hill with Table Mountain as a backdrop, Bo-Kaap has been listed as a National Monument for its concentration of pre-1840 architecture. Less than two kilometres in extent, the multicultural area is home to about 12,000 people.

Our guide, Shireen, meets us outside the Bo-Kaap Museum, housed in the oldest building in the district. Restored to represent a 19th century Cape Malay dwelling, the museum recounts the social history of the community. Evocative sepia images portray the stories of the building of Cape Town, the slave trade, the growth of Islam and the history of apartheid.

Across the road is the Atlas Trading Company, a third generation spice trading wholesaler. The pungent aroma from the cornucopia of spices wafts into the street.

The Atlas Trading Company

The Atlas Trading Company

Huge timber bins are filled with finely ground spices in earthy shades and russet hues. Shelves are stacked with packets of seeds, lentils, beans, leaves, chillies and rice.  I count 10 different masala mixes – including mother-in-law and father-in-law masala, and get my first whiff of frankincense and myrrh.

Back on the street it’s equally colourful with houses painted in vibrant shades of fuchsia, lavender, jade, sunflower and cobalt. Originally the Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian style houses were painted in pastel tones, it’s only in the last 50 years the colours have become more gregarious with about 15 to 30 houses being repainted every year.

About 70 per cent of the population here is Muslim and mosques are dotted between the houses, including the first mosque built in South Africa in 1794.

Fish for sale from the back of a ute

Fish for sale from the back of a ute

Arriving at Mimoena’s home she welcomes us into her small lounge where she has set a table for lunch. She serves crunchy samoosas, daltjies (chilli bites), fish curry, vegetable curry, yellow rice and bobotie. Over the shared meal Mimoena describes life in the Cape Malay community and confides how difficult it is for her children to find work in Cape Town.

Then she invites us into her kitchen. A white lace curtain hangs at the window and the bench is lined with pre-prepared ingredients. While Mimoena browns onions on a portable element I squidge soaked bread and myriad spices into washed mince for bobotie. Once that’s in the oven we attempt to wrap samoosas, giggling at our initial incompetence.

I may not remember all the spices for the perfect bobotie, but I cherish the hands-on opportunity to learn about Cape Malay history, culture and food on this inner-city safari.

The writer was guest of South African Tourism.

Did you know? 

Slaves had one day off a year, when they paraded through the streets. To avoid punishment for singing about oppression they had to disguise themselves. Hence, the flamboyant costumes of today’s Cape Town Carnival.

Cooking safari www.andulela.com

Visit www.bokaap.co.za; www.southafrica.net

 

 

 

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Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi – on now

It’s on again – Sculpture by the Sea Bondi opened Thursday 23 October and runs until Sunday 2 November.

I love Sculpture by the Sea – intriguing, whimsical, inspiring and challenging exhibits set against the stunning backdrop of Sydney Harbour, along the Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk.

Byeong Doo Moon (South Korea) our memory in your place Photo Clyde Yee

Byeong Doo Moon (South Korea) our memory in your place Photo Clyde Yee

I especially admire the way the exhibits fit into, and sometimes interact with, the landscape. The rocky foreshore, a chiseled artwork in its own right, offers a dramatic platform for substantial sculptures and crafty installations – and it means you can usually get a good photograph with the sea in the background without hoards of people in your shot. Sandy beaches and grassy parks are perfect places for playful, interactive pieces too.

Andrew Hankin We're fryin' out here Photo Clyde Yee

Andrew Hankin, We’re fryin’ out here Photo Clyde Yee

The exhibition has certainly come a long way since it was established in 1997 by a group of volunteers with no funding.

This year there are 109 exhibits from 16 countries. What a difficult job it must have been selecting the exhibitors from the 400 submissions received. It’s encouraging to hear there are 40 artists exhibiting for the first time this year.

Also new this year are two cafes and ‘deckchair and beach umbrella chill zones’, along with disabled toilets.

 Linton Meagher (NSW) glamarama, Photo Clyde Yee

Linton Meagher (NSW) glamarama, Photo Clyde Yee

Unfortunately, I can’t visit until the last week (as I’m off to Fiji for the Australian Society of Travel Writers‘ annual convention) but I can’t wait.

I have a friend who’s a keen photographer coming from New Zealand who wants to shoot the sculptures at sunrise. We have booked a two bedroom apartment at the Adina Apartment Hotel in Bondi so we are close to the action. I’ll post again with our photographic results.

In the meantime, check out the stunning shots on the Sculpture by the Sea website and on their social media pages Facebook Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Stolen identity? Not this time.

I’m overcome with guilt. How could I have ever thought ill of the three lovely young girls?

The problem is, when travelling you can become paranoid about thieves and scams. And so it is at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market.

Chatuchak weekend market. Photo Briar Jensen.

Chatuchak weekend market in Bnagkok

Billed as one of the world’s largest weekend markets, with more than 15,000 stalls, it attracts over 200,000 people a day. Selling everything from clothes to collectibles, footwear to furniture, it’s aimed mainly at locals but is a shopping haven for tourists.

The place is thronging with people. Gaggles of girls peruse the fashions, young couples stock up on homewares, and families choose pets from an array of caged animals.

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Birds for sale at Chatuchak Market, Bangkok

As I walk between stalls I’m approached by three young girls with clipboards. They courteously ask if I would help them with their first-year university English studies by answering a few questions their teacher has prepared.

Why not? I have the time, it’s for a good cause and they asked so politely.

In halting English they ask me my name, trying to write it down as I spell it, but give up and ask me to write it. Then they request my address, phone number and email. Thinking this is getting a bit personal I decline, hoping they will move on to more interesting questions. But the only other question is how long I’ve been in Thailand, before asking to take my photo.

They thank me profusely, indicating the interview is finished.

As I walk away I wonder why they didn’t ask more interesting questions. And why did they want my address and contact details?

A stall-holder at Chatuchak Market, Bangkok

A stall-holder at Chatuchak Market, Bangkok

My thoughts fly back to last night when, at a street bazaar frequented by backpackers, my friends and I had seen a stall selling fake ID cards, from Proof of Age cards to NSW driver’s licences. We’d joked about getting our own Media cards.

Suddenly a wave of nausea washes over me (and it’s not from dodgy food). Have I just had my identity stolen? What if these girls are working for unscrupulous thieves rather than being innocent university students.

I retrace my steps and catch up with the girls exactly where I’d left them, right beside the market security station. I ask them if they would write down their names for me. They oblige. And the name of their university? They write that too. I ask them if I could take their photo and they happily pose for me (but are probably thinking what a weirdo I am).

Somehow having this information makes me feel better, though I have no idea if the names they have given me are correct.

Three young students practise their English skills by interviewing foreigners. Photo Briar Jensen.

Three young students practise their English skills by interviewing foreigners.

Now, over dinner with a local acquaintance I raise my concerns. With a giggle she says the university does exist and confirms that English students regularly interview foreigners at the markets, train stations and shopping centres. She has even done it herself.

Now I feel dreadful for thinking ill of the girls when they were just doing their assignment. I’m sure they would have preferred to be shopping than talking to paranoid foreigners like me.

I’m sorry girls. Please accept my humble apology. And good luck with the English studies!

Hint for university English tutors: Perhaps in these circumstances ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘Where do you live?’ is more appropriate than ‘What is your address?’.

Disclaimer: I travelled to Bangkok as a guest of Tourism Authority of Thailand.

More: Chatuchak Market is open Sat & Sun 6am to 6pm. Closest stations are Kamphaengpecth Station or about a 5 minute walk from Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) Station (MRT). The closest Skytrain station (BTS) is Mochit. Just follow the crowd. Pick up a map from the information stall below the clock tower, which helps identify specific areas for food, clothing, furniture etc. (However, there are often a few clothes stalls randomly mixed among the food stalls.)  It’s best to get there early in the day as in the afternoon wholesalers set up in the limited walkway space making it even more difficult to get around. Take a decent carry bag or backpack for your shopping, as multiple plastic bag handles can be painful to carry on your arm after a while.

Tourism Authority of Thailand

Posted in Bangkok, Thailand, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments