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The must do cooking class in Hoi An - Green Bamboo Tripadvisor 5 star rated 0 Comments

The must do cooking class in Hoi An - Green Bamboo Tripadvisor 5 star rated
Spring Rolls cooking

By John Lechner

You must do this Vietnamese Cooking Class in Hoi An

Every now and then you see something on Tripadvisor that just sounds too good to be true. And honestly, when I looked at Green Bamboo Cooking School on Tripadvisor, I was thinking that.

On Tripadvisor Green Bamboo has an outright 5 star rating, a rare thing. Thing is, it isn't cheap either. The price is US$45 per head or 1 million Vietnamese Dong.

You may think that isn't bad and you are right but in perspective. This is the home of the world's best Banh Mi for US$1. A wonderful meal in a local restaurant including beer is under US$2/head.

The must do cooking class in Hoi An - Green Bamboo Tripadvisor 5 star rated fried spring rolls
Fried Spring Rolls

But the short answer is, the Green Bamboo Cooking School is worth every cent of the US$45. Let me tell you why. But first some logistics.

This is the most popular cooking class in Hoi An and there are only 12 spots per day, they fill quickly. In fact, we nearly missed out completely, only the fact that Van was so accommodating that we made it in.

Pre-Book, classes fill quickly

So, prebook, well before you leave. It is a whole day and you will need only a light breakfast and probably wont eat dinner afterwards. If you arrive in Hoi An and haven't already booked in then call Van. Her contact details are here.

I meant it when I said, only have a light breakfast, you will know why soon.

Once you have confirmed your spot, Van will ask you to confirm your preferred dish from an extensive menu of over 60 items. The reason why is simple. Each student in the class (max 12) will cook they're own dish. This is the dish you will actually cook.

But the best news is that for each student in your class you will also get to watch and learn as they prepare and cook each meal and then taste every dish. This is why you only want a light breakfast. I am no lightweight when it comes to food and I left the class completely stuffed full.

The day starts between 8 and 9am depending on where your hotel is on the route to pick up all the students. Once everyone is in the bus we head to the Central Market to buy the produce for each dish.

Market shopping for produce

After getting off the bus, each class member is given a conical hat to wear (not to keep) and given a basket for produce. We gradually make our way through the market and Van shows you the tricks and tips of buying in the market.

The must do cooking class in Hoi An - Green Bamboo Tripadvisor 5 star rated market shopping

For instance in an asian market like this one. When buying chicken, touch the skin of the chicken. If it is room temp and dry then the chicken is fresh today. If cold and sticky, it is at least yesterday's perhaps older, don't buy it.

So with our fruit, vegetables, herbs and proteins in tow we head to a local coffee shop for a quick, icy cold Vietnamese coffee, soft drinks are also available. This is a great chance to pick Van's brain about the market without the hustle and bustle of the market.

When done we jump back in the air conditioned bus and head back on the 10-15 minute drive to the cooking school.

Preparation

After a quick briefing and hand washing we get stuck into preparing our protein. Depending on the dish you chose, this may take you two minutes, Kim chose Cao lầu and her prep time was 2 minutes. But other dished took 20-30 minutes. Kim ended up helping others.

The must do cooking class in Hoi An - Green Bamboo Tripadvisor 5 star rated ready to start

After all the protein is sorted then its time for a quick drink. There are an ample supply of cold water, soft drink and beer to enjoy (no extra charge) throughout the day.

Van's two assistants where constantly cleaning the prep spaces and equipment. It flowed like a well oiled machine.

Cooking

For our group, the first dish was fried spring rolls. So the rest of the class got to sit back and watch while the first student was walked through the steps by Van. She happily answered questions as we went along and there was no rushing.

With so many spring rolls to prepare, we all got to try our hand at rolling them up and once completed they were cooked and we got to enjoy our first dish of the day.

The must do cooking class in Hoi An - Green Bamboo Tripadvisor 5 star rated Cao lầu pork cooking
 Cao lầu pork cooking

The thing I love about a Vietnamese fried spring roll is that you wrap the cooked spring roll in lettuce and herbs before dipping it in the sauce. So much fresher and lighter than just a plain spring roll.

Throughout the day we were constantly eating, learning and participating where extra hands were needed.

The portions were just the right size to not be a total glutton but that said I went home full and wasn't interested in dinner that night.

Kim cooked the Cua Lau and while we cant reproduce the famous and unique Hoi An noodles at home we can make the dish with soba or egg noodles to get a close copy. It was surprisingly easy to make and so yummy.

The must do cooking class in Hoi An - Green Bamboo Tripadvisor 5 star rated
Kim with her Cao lầu

Van even taught us the tricks like cutting the meat across the grain rather than with it for more tender and moist meat.

I had the last dish of the day and honestly when we got to it I was stuffed full. But I love Banh Xeo, Vietnamese Pancake. So I wasn't going to miss out. It was delicious and I now feel able to reproduce it here at home for my friends and family.

At the end of the long day of cooking we finished about 3:30pm we got a little goody bag with recipes, cooking chopsticks and a prep tool and we jumped back in the bus to be dropped back to our hotels.

The must do cooking class in Hoi An - Green Bamboo Tripadvisor 5 star rated john cooking

My recommendation is simple. If you are going to Hoi An then book a day at the Green Bamboo Cooking School. I would rate it 6 star. When we go back to Hoi An we will do it again and pick two new dishes. 

Just do it, you wont regret it.

 

John
The Office Art Specialist

   

 


Best Banh Mi street food in Vietnam? Anthony Bourdain says so, but he didn't tell you the secret... 0 Comments

best banh mi street food vietnam anthony bourdain hoi an

By John Lechner

Want to know the secret to getting the best banh mi in Vietnam, without queuing for 30-40 minutes?

I will tell you the secret that Anthony Bourdain didn't tell you about this amazing sandwich.

Lets start with the basics and get them out of the way. THIS IS THE BEST SANDWICH I HAVE EVER EATEN!!!!!

It is unbelieveable, the complexity of flavour is just amazing. All for the mindblowing price of 20,000 VND, that is about US$1 or AU$1.25 or €0.85. It is cheap, but don't let the price fool you. This is a sandwich that will blow your mind.

The Restaurant is world famous, it is called Bánh mì Phượng, it is on the edge of the Ancient Town in Hoi An in Central Vietnam. This is the restaurant that Anthony Bourdain raved about in his now infamous episode of No Reservations.

Bánh mì Phượng have a big menu with lots of options. But if you want a sandwich that is closest to the traditional pork banh mi then order the number 9. This is Banh mi heo voi ham va pate or bread with pork, ham and pate.

Inside a crusty baguette you get, homemade mayonnaise, pate (so much flavour), ham, and 1-2 other pork varieties, coriander, lettuce, cucumber and chilli jam if you like it hot. The flavours are just WOW!!!

best banh mi street food vietnam anthony bourdain hoi an

The short answer is, if you are heading to Hoi An, you need to head to Banh Mi Phuong and try the number 9 or any of the other banh mi on their menu. But I have a secret for you.

When you get there, I have no doubt there will be a queue it may be as big as 40-50 people deep. But there are 3 queues, yes three. The second queue is only for locals so that can't help you out.

But there is a secret queue, one that will have you digging in to your banh mi in under 5 minutes without the hassle of the long queue filled with clueless tourists who don't know the secret.

The secret is simple, Banh Mi Phuong is a restaurant, they have table service inside downstairs and upstairs. So few people know this that there is always a table or three vacant. So instead of queuing up for half an hour, walk straight into the restaurant, take an empty seat and order your No. 9 with an icy cold beer.

Don't worry, table service is exactly the same price as outside but without the hassle of the queue or wait. So now you know the secret, don't tell anyone or next time you want the best sandwich in the world you may have to wait 30 minutes...

 

 

Share this secret only with people you love. Have an awesome day and let me know your thoughts on the best banh mi...

 

John
John Lechner Art | The Office Art Specialists


No Regrets in Malaysia and Thailand with Contiki 0 Comments

No Regrets in Malaysia and Thailand with Contiki Bangkok
  Cameron Highlands - Thailand

Our Correspondant

Ashley Burgess – italktravel Maitland

How long have you been a travel agent?

I started my career in the travel industry in July 2013 where I worked every weekend while I was completing my HSC at school. Once school finished I commenced fulltime employment with italktravel Rutherford in December 2013 where I was based until February 2016 before I got transferred to italktravel Maitland which is where I am currently working. 

Where was your first overseas trip?

I first fell in love with travel on my first overseas trip in 2006 where I travelled to New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji on a South Pacific cruise. Since then I have travelled to many beautiful destinations including England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Majorca, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Mexico, Cuba, Hawaii, mainland USA, Dubai, Thailand, Malaysia, Cook Islands, New Zealand. I may have forgot some but that is the majority!

No Regrets in Malaysia and Thailand with Contiki Bangkok
Bangkok Khao Sok National Park Thailand

What is your bucket list place/trip?

My bucket list is forever growing, this year I am travelling to South America which is my next bucket list tick completing the Inca Trail to see Machu Picchu as well as the Bolivian Salt Flats and the Amazon. Next on my list would be to visit Iceland and Russia. I enjoy everywhere I have travelled to with many favourites along the way. Highlights would include snorkelling in the Caribbean, learning to salsa in Cuba, eating gelato in Italy on the Isle of Capri, bike riding through Berlin, helicopter ride over beautiful New York City and the list continues..

Getting there

Malaysia and Thailand

I used a mixture of transportation to travel to these beautiful destinations. I flew Cathay Pacific from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur via Hong Kong then a bus between Kuala Lumpur and the Cameron Highlands, bus betweenn Cameron Highlands to Penang, ferry from Penang to Langkawi, ferry from Langkawi to Satun in Thailand followed by a mini bus to Khao Sok then an Air Asia flight from Khao Sok to Bangkok (Surat Thani airport is 1hr 30min from Khao Sok) from Bangkok I again boarded Cathay Pacific to Sydney via Hong Kong.

In Malaysia I started in Kuala Lumpur then travelled to the top of Malaysia staying in the Cameron Highlands, Penang and Langkawi. Crossing the border to Thailand I visited Khao Sok National Park and then onto Bangkok to finish the trip. Kuala Lumpur I fell in love with, it is such a clean city with beautiful gardens, palaces and temples.

The shopping in Kuala Lumpur is the best I have ever experienced in Asia. Cameron Highlands is a stunning area situated in the mountains, it is famous for the tea plantations. As well as the tea plantations I also went to a strawberry farm and hand picked strawberries along with a visit to a Butterfly farm and a bee farm.

A cooler relief compared to the warmth of Kuala Lumpur. Seasons changed once again when we arrived in Penang a city which is famous for its street art and street food. Langkawi is a beach paradise filled with water sports, gorgeous beaches, markets, restaurants, cafes. Such a beautiful part of Malaysia.

No Regrets in Malaysia and Thailand with Contiki
Group Photo in KL

Tour - Contiki #NoRegrets

I did a Contiki tour for this trip to Asia. Contiki is a tour company for 18-35 year olds which is a fantastic company to travel with as it has like minded travellers in the same age bracket. It also enables solo travellers to meet new friends along the way as Contiki has many solo travellers along with couples and friend groups. No body knew each other on my tour, we were all travelling solo so it was a great opportunity to meet new people from all different home towns but with the same interests.

What I loved

I loved being on a fully escorted tour as I had to organise nothing when I was away. Being a travel agent we organise all day long so on vacation it is so nice to have this done for you! My fantastic tour guide was in charge of checking into all our hotels for us, telling us about each location along with organising our day tours. I am usually an independent traveller who has to do all of that when I am away so it was very pleasant to have someone doing it for me. All I had to do was turn up of a morning at a certain time and go with the flow! Was fantastic. I also enjoyed making many new friends and all the new adventures I had along the way. Asia is beautiful!

No Regrets in Malaysia and Thailand with Contiki
Street Art in Penang Malaysia

What was just OK

The only thing I don’t enjoy on a coach tour is the amount of time spent on the bus travelling however with Contiki this is made fun by playing games on the bus, listening to playlists and of course mingling!

What was awful

Nothing was awful on my travels, we were delayed leaving Sydney for 2 hours which meant we had to RUN to our connecting flight in Hong Kong to make it to Kuala Lumpur but that is what adds to the adventure of travelling!

Tell us about your favourite meal, what, where, when & why

Being allergic to Peanuts, Hazelnuts & Soy sauce there is not much left for me in Asia to eat as everything is cooked in Peanut oil and they love “Satay” and of course Soy Sauce! Therefore I am unable to try the local street food. I know my group loved the Satay Skewers in Penang though!

Top tip for someone doing this trip

Try the street food! If I didn’t have my allergies I would LOVE to live like a local and immerse myself in the culture by trying the delicious street food! Don’t be afraid, it smells delicious! Maybe just ask for it to be mild as I have heard it can be quite hot! Pack Summer clothes! Asia is incredibly warm. I love the heat so it is heaven for me and of course HAVE FUN and make new friends.

No Regrets in Malaysia and Thailand with Contiki
Staying in a treehouse in the Thailand Jungle

Anything you would do differently next time

Next time I would fly direct for the convenience as opposed to in direct in which I did for this trip. I flew Sydney to Kuala Lumpur via Hong Kong and then coming home I flew Bangkok to Sydney via Hong Kong. In hindsight flying direct in both directions would be fantastic!

Would you go back?

Of course, I loved everywhere I went! I do like to mix it up and go explore new destinations though but one day I am sure I will find myself perched on a beautiful beach in either Thailand or Malaysia!

Have you got another trip planned and where to?

Yes my next trip is to South America! I have always wanted to travel there so I am very excited. I am going to be visiting the Amazon, Trekking the Inca Trail on a 4 day trek which of course the end result is the incredible Machu Picchu! I am also visiting Lake Titicaca, Puno, the beautiful Salt Flats of Bolivia and the stunning San Pedro de Atacama desert finishing my holiday in Chile in Santiago with a trip to Easter Island! After this holiday I have my sights set on Iceland and Russia!

How can I find out more?

Email      ashley@maitland.italk.travel

Call         italktravel Maitland on 02 49342155

Web        italktravel Maitland

 

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A South Pacific Cruise with P&O Cruises - Travel Blog 0 Comments

South Pacific Cruise with P&O Cruises Travel Blog
Farewell Sydney

Our Correspondant

Alana Brown from italktravel Rutherford.

How long have you been a travel agent?

I starting working at italktravel Rutherford on the 02nd of April 2016. I first knew I wanted to be in travel during my time at school after attending a seminar run by a travel agent, since hearing her speech about what she does and everything she has experience I immediately knew this was what I wanted.

Where was your first overseas trip?

New Zealand- I did my first overseas trip to the North Island of New Zealand although I was quite young at the time I look back on the photos and its one of my best memories.

What is your bucket list place/trip?

It is hard to narrow down  where my number 1 place is to visit however my dream would be South Africa. Closely followed by Europe, USA/ Canada, Japan pretty much anywhere I would go….

Getting there

I started my Cruising Holiday with P&O by making my way into Sydney to the White Bay Cruise Terminal. I have never exited via the White Bay Cruise Terminal so I was excited to see how "easy" it would be and I was pleasantly surprised with a 2 hour train ride into Central Station (from Newcastle).

South Pacific Cruise with P&O Cruises Travel Blog
View from the deck of Pacific Jewel at White Bay

We had more then enough time to grab something to eat and take a 15- 20 minute taxi ride (Depending on traffic) which cost about $25.00. The check in process was exceptional, the staff were fully across everything and were very helpful. Within an hour we had made our way through Customs and were ready for our Journey on the Pacific Jewel.

Accommodation - Cruise Ship Pacific Jewel, 8 night Cruise

The Pacific Jewel is an older ship but offers a unique experience for first time cruisers. Whilst making our way through to the South Pacific we had plenty of time to explore and never did I feel bored or had nothing to do.

The ship was packed with activities for the kids and the adults so it was good to have that variety, and if you wanted to just soak up the sun and lay out you most defiantly could.

The adults only section was defiantly a MUST to escape and completely relax and have down time. Over all the ship is what ever you want your holiday to be. Either packed full of activities or more relaxing and laid back, enjoy the casual vibe and Modern Style that the Pacific Jewel is.

South Pacific Cruise with P&O Cruises Travel Blog
Cruising is relaxing with your favourite drink

What I loved

I loved the service. Unfortunately due to weather conditions we were unable to get off at both Mare and Isle of Pines and although this was very disappointing for not only myself and other passengers on board the staff really made light of the situation.

They re planned the day within 30 minutes and had packed the day with various activities, and overall I just thought they handled it really well.

Whilst chatting to a few people abroad who had shore tours booked I couldn't find anyone that had problems with receiving refunds etc. In regards to staff I think P&O have some amazing people on there ships.

From our Room Steward, Dining and Entertainment Staff etc nothing was too much to ask and I never had a bad encounter.

What was just OK

My experience was more then okay! I loved every single part of it. Safe too say I had done everything on board and knew my way around but it was a fantastic holiday.

What was awful

Our journey through the South Pacific included stops at Noumea, Mare and Isle of Pines. As I mentioned above due to extreme weather conditions we could not tender at Mare or Isle of Pines.

That was the only thing that was disappointing not to get that experience but like everything you cant help the weather and I was really grateful to P&O and they way they handled it as it is something that is extremely rare and you defiantly can not help the weather.

South Pacific Cruise with P&O Cruises Travel Blog
Sea Turtles at Noumea Aquarium - A stop of the hop on hop off pass

Tell us about your favourite meal, what, where, when & why

I had a lot fabulous meals on board the Pacific Jewel. The Waterfront Restaurant and the Pantry (Included in your fare) were 2 completely different experiences.

The Waterfront Restaurant Menu changed every night and the food and staff were exceptional, and every night I left very impressed. It was nice to have the option of having the sit down dinner and you could go to The Pantry which was more laid back and had a insane amount of options.

You can defiantly always find something to eat with a variety of foods such as Mexican, Indian, Thai, Seafood they literally had everything. Although the Pantry was more buffet style the standard of service I could not fault.

But for my absolute favourite meal I would have to pick the Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. Even though this restaurant comes at an additional costing of approximately $49 PER PERSON you easily get your value for money and the food was amazing.

Overall my experience at the Salt Grill I would recommend to anyone to at least do once if you want to experience something unforgettable.

South Pacific Cruise with P&O Cruises Travel Blog
Relaxing and ready to party with Tom

Top tip for someone doing this trip

My top tip would be to be organised in the morning I was travelling with my partner at the time and being a couple we did not want to spend alot of time around children, we got up in the morning had breakfast did all the activities and by around 11:30 got a early lunch and made our way to the adults only section were it was a lot easier to find a seat.

Anything you would do differently next time

No, I chose too have an ocean view room which at first I was a little bit skeptical because I was extremely worried that I would feel claustrophobic but my worries were eased straight away. The cabins were so spacious and I did not have any dramas at all.

Would you go back?

Of course! I would love to go back and see the islands better but 100% I would cruise with P&O again I think they offer an amazing product.

Have you got another trip planned and where to?

I do have another trip in mind for Europe next year travelling with my sister on a Topdeck Tour. Which I am incredibly excited for as Europe is a major destination that is on my bucket list. 

How can I find out more?

Email      alana@rutherford.italk.travel

Call         italktravel Rutherford on (02)4932 9244

Web        italktravel Maitland

Check out Alana's popular blog on cruising on Ovation of the Seas out of Singapore.

   

  


A journey of discovery continues - Leah 0 Comments

A journey of discovery
The Acropolis Athens Greece

By Leah Marmulla

Travel tips I wish I would of known about before I left...

It has been three and a half weeks since I left Australia, and I have traveled through some beautiful areas of Europe, if that is a place.  Namely Crete, Athens, Milan, Lake Como, Merone and Lecco. 

The biggest things learned so far...  When if booking flights;

  • be sure to check in baggage, as they are now weighing hand luggage so be ware.  I wasn't caught out, but I saw others that were. 
  • If you are booking multiple/ongoing flights to reach a destination, be sure to book luggage all the way through, again, I saw other passages get charged 'at airport' rates for luggage. 
  • Check in on line, before getting to the airport.  This one I did get caught on.  50 € later, when all i needed to do was take another 10 minutes using the hostel's free internet :((

Moving around the cities. I don't know how this has happened, at home I read maps well, but here blahhh.  Gone, challenged and frustrated.   Worked out, that Google Maps allows you to download their maps to work off line.  Mark in your points of interest, or at least the place you need to go for your hotel etc on separate maps and download each one. 

A journey of discovery

Just checked it on the lap top, and it didn't come up as the option, so check your smart phone in google maps, it is in the triple lined button, 'offline maps'.

You can then open them while not connected to the net and the blue dot moves with you to guide you through the streets of who knows where.   A sanity and time saver. 

Internet in Europe costs a fortune, but not as much using roaming.  While in Italy, I could of linked up to Vodafone's mobile network for an hour, three hours, or day, or 5 days or a month for various amounts. 

If you going to be in the one place, or even in Italy for a time, then do it!!.  I should of as it seems the offer only comes up once while one is roaming in the cities.  It would of saved my sanity at times.  The down side, I guess, is one would still need to be in a Vodafone region, but it seems they are the national carrier. 

Supermarkets aren't always easy to find, but they can be cheaper, and healthier options to the take away.  The challenge is to find them.  

A journey of discovery
Relaxing on the shore of Lake Como

A few other things I found "interesting"  In Italy: 

  • there are two rail companies, and it is important to work with the correct one, and get to 'their' station.  This was the most bizarre thing.  In a town the size of a village, less than 5 K population there was two train stations.  
  • bus tickets are purchased in 'stores' such as the newsagent next to the train station and not in the train station, even though both trains and buses are public run service.  You pay more to purchase tickets on the bus and not at the outside supplier as the newsagent, or your at your accommodation 
The upside is, travel through the regions has been really easy and overall cost effective.  Public operated is price stable, so easier to budget compared to air lines. Bus tickets are also stable, and don't fluctuate between peak days.  

Flixbus.com has an offer of 5 cities for 99€, worth it if you are travelling around, unfortunately for me, this would mean I would need to plan, and this goes against the idea of this adventure.

A week ahead is more than enough stress for me at the moment, and learning to trust the flow and where I am inspired to go. 

The last big thing I have learnt so far, remember, it is only 3 weeks in.  This is logical but for myself not so practical. 

My wardrobe at home is pretty much cottons, denims and 'breathable' clothes.  Im not a fan or polyester or plastic, however, I must say, while travelling like this, those options are looking really good. 

I have already ditched a few clothes, the one that were older anyway, and not a loss to make way for more practical clothes.  Easy wash, quick dry and not cotton!!  Goes against my grain, but hey, I need to carry the bag by myself and so need to be sure I can. 

Things I have been most grateful for to date: 

  • Freedom, and not sticking to a schedule.  This would have really annoyed me. 
  • Not being on a tour and being surrounded by people all the time.  I am a hermit most of the time, so be expected to hang out with others all the time wouldn't of worked for me. 
  • Access to free internet, but not, not all towns have this, and even if in the tourist district it offers, one may still not be able to connect in. 
    Cafes, hotels are the most reliable, I always felt obliged to purchase something, so could be a bit pricey, depending on where you stop and what you choose to purchase as a thank you for accessing their network. 
  • Making friends at the various places.  
  • Doing things on the whim.  For instance, I have been building up to write this for a few days, and I have the opportunity mid afternoon to sit in the hostel, by myself, listening to Pandora the radio and put these thoughts down. 
  • Supermarkets, or at least the fruit and veg market.  Being reactive to gluten and cow milk, this has been the worst part of the entire trip - eating.
    Thank fully, most towns have a local green grocer and most big cities these seem to be on every block.  
  • Seeing things in a different perspective.  For instance, I knew Leonardo Di Vince was a pretty special guy, but he has a whole section of a museum in Milan to his works. 
    The scope of works and the extent that he applied his thinking, he really was a remarkable being. 
  • Letting go of some pretty limiting beliefs - should, must do, 'can't do that' sort of thinking.  I have watched Netflick series from 1 to 9, movies, and still been on the walk all day. 
    My mind is constantly drifting, though this seems to be getting slower too (on purpose).  I have given myself permission to get up early, or to sleep in, to eat or binge, to drink or not, routine is flexible, the only thing I am still consistent on is getting out in the morning for a decent amount of walking or sightseeing in a different sector, after all, I am in a place I am not ever get back to 
  • The biggest lesson - everyone really are at the end of the day attempting to do the same thing. 
    Put food on the table, find shelter, and connect with others. There have been a significant more beggars here than we have at home.  If I helped each one, I would be poor myself and this has been a challenge for me not to get involved.  
So that is it to date.  An adventure for sure, and I am still enjoying overall, though also looking for some 'work' as well.  

 

 

Leah
Healthy Eats


Cruising Asia on Ovation of the Seas | Travel Blog 1 Comment

Cruising Asia on Ovation of the Seas | Travel Blog
View of Ovation from the North Star aerial observatory 90m above the sea
   

Our Correspondant

Alana Brown from italktravel Rutherford.

How long have you been a travel agent?

I starting working at italktravel Rutherford on the 02nd of April 2016. I first knew I wanted to be in travel during my time at school after attending a seminar run by a travel agent, since hearing her speech about what she does and everything she has experience I immediately knew this was what I wanted.

Where was your first overseas trip?

New Zealand- I did my first overseas trip to the North Island of New Zealand although I was quite young at the time I look back on the photos and its one of my best memories.

What is your bucket list place/trip?

It is hard to narrow down  where my number 1 place is to visit however my dream would be South Africa. Closely followed by Europe, USA/ Canada, Japan pretty much anywhere I would go….

This trip was supported by Royal Caribbean and italktravel Head Office

Getting there

Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand

Alana’s trip was to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, including five night cruise on Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas stopping at Penang, Malaysia and Phuket, Thailand.

She had the pleasure of flying Singapore Airlines which was a fantastic service. She then started the next phase of her trip which was cruising on board the beautiful “Ovation of the seas” Royal Caribbean cruise line.

On board Alana had the luxury of her own balcony cabin which allowed her to have plenty of room to spread out and take advantage of her private balcony to enjoy the views as they cruised through the ocean & ports.

Accommodation


Skydiving at Sea on iFly, Ovation of the Seas

AMAZING! Ovation of the Seas, being such a big ship after the first day you still felt like there was so much more to see and do.

The good thing was their are interactive screens everywhere to help you find your way, Lobby's are marked clearly and she never struggled with finding someone to tell her which way was what. 

Decor throughout was spot on bright and opening, everywhere you went had something different and inviting which made it fabulous for anyone.

Throughout her dining experience Alana was extremely lucky to be able to visit Jamie's Italian, Chops, and Wonderland. Three very different options which just shows the variety on board which is being offered.

What I loved

 
Bionic Bar powered by Makr Shakr, onboard Ovation of the Seas

I loved the fact that there was something for everyone on board. If you want to relax and lay by the pool you can, not one time did I have to wait for seating or anything like that. Of course if you are more active and want to try out something different they have the variety Rollerskating, Bumper cars, Arcade Area, iFly, Flow Rider and the North Star. The bottom line is there is never a dull moment aboard the wonderful Ovation of the Seas.

What was just OK

This experience was more than okay, I was privileged to experience some new cultures which has now broadened my travel knowledge.

What was awful

I didn't find anything "’awful”, everything was a experience that I will take with me for future knowledge.

Tell us about your favourite meal, what, where, when & why

My favourite dining experience a board the ship would have to be Chops Grille. I could not fault the service at all in any way. The food was perfect and the menu had a good variety. Overall I enjoyed eating at Chops, for a special night out Chops is a amazing choice.

Top tip for someone doing this trip

My top tip would be if you have never been somewhere before and don’t know a lot about the destination jump on a tour! I did a Food and Hawker Fair Tour in Penang and it was the best decision I made.

Not knowing a lot about Penang I was so glad I had a amazing tour guide who literally knew everything and showed us the must sees and hidden gems. Penang is most famous for its street food and street art, normally I would be a bit hesitant to try street food however I felt so comfortable in my guide knowledge I tried it and loved it.

Going on a tour gives you the opportunity to really see the destination and experience it all whilst you are there.

Cruising Asia on Ovation of the Seas | Travel Blog
Surf the high seas on the FlowRider

Anything you would do differently next time

Honestly, the only thing that I would say is throughout touring I loved the ports. and I think I need to go back and stay longer at each destination to experience them in depth.

Would you go back?

I would 100% go back and cruise again on the Ovation of the Seas, but even the ports of call I feel like I would defiantly go back and experience more.

Have you got another trip planned and where to?

I do have another cruise planned for June, I am going to the South Pacific Islands visiting Noumea, Mare and the Isle of Pines.

How can I find out more?

Email      alana@rutherford.italk.travel

Call         italktravel Rutherford on (02)4932 9244

Web        italktravel Maitland

Cruising Asia on Ovation of the Seas | Travel Blog
This multipurpose sport centre on board hosts, roller skating, basketball, bumper cars, circus school and more

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Central America tour - Mexico, Guatemala & Belize | Travel Blog 0 Comments

Central America tour - Mexico, Guatemala and Belize | Travel Blog
Caye Caulker Island 

Our Correspondant

Shayla Hunter - italktravel Rutherford 

A little about Shayla - How long have you been a travel agent?

I have been a travel agent for 5 months now and absolutely loving it! I previously worked for AAT Kings, an Australian Tour Company however I was ready to have face to face relationships with my clients and plan their special holidays all over the world.

Where was your first overseas trip?

My first overseas trip was the South Pacific on a P&O cruise ship with my family. Ticking off a cruise and the islands in one trip was fantastic. As a first time cruiser I would definitely recommend P&O.  

What is your favourite place to travel to?

So far my favourite place has been Caye Caulker Island – it is just stunning and the people are wonderful. I look forward to going back!

What is your bucket list place?

My bucket list place is Antarctica. I can not wait to have the opportunity to explore the ice. Before heading to Antarctica I plan on climbing Machu Picchu and exploring South America!

Getting there

Mexico, Belize and Guatemala

Shayla visited too may cities to name individually! Her major stays were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Cancun, Caye Caulker, Antigua and San Cristobal.  

Flew with Virgin Australia International to LAX - great airline, fantastic service and surprisingly good food on board, I would definitely fly with them again! 

Then on Delta Airlines and Aero Mexico to and from the United States, and flew with Delta International home to Sydney. 

Throughout Mexico, Guatemala and Belize Shayla was on many forms of transportation - little domestic airlines, coaches, taxis, mini-vans, speed boat taxis, ferries and cruises.

Accommodation/Tour

Contiki Tour - Mayan Heat | 24 Day Tour - Discovery Contiki. 

I was on the the very first new Contiki ever, so I was pretty much a test dummy with my fellow Contiki travellers

The tour was actually broken up into 7 different tours so by the end of my trip I had became friends with over 80 new and exciting people within a month!

Throughout the whole month in three different countries I experienced so many different levels of accommodation and different areas. 

Central America tour - Mexico, Guatemala and Belize | Travel Blog
Chichen Itza – Me standing in front of one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

In Mexico, I stayed in all-inclusive resorts with amazing pools and great food, high rise hotels with beautiful city views, hotels that are beautifully designed with culture and history as well as lower rated hotels that offered all that was needed for 1 nights stay. 

Spending 3 weeks in Mexico was the best experience, the culture, the food and the people inspire me to be happy and embrace each day with a smile on your face. Travelling throughout fortunate cities and the less fortunate villages really opened my eyes to not only how others live, but how happy they all are with not much at all.

Each day I climbed a different pyramid and visited a different archaeological site learning so so much about the history of the Mayan and Aztec heritage. If I was to name each city I loved, the list would go for pages so narrowing down to my favourite places is very difficult. 

I loved Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Tequila and Yucatan. Yucatan was a highlight of the trip, which in one day I visited Chichen Itza and Cenote Ik Kil as well as arriving in Cancun. Standing on top of the historical site of Monte Alban in Oaxaca where I was able to see the whole district of Oaxaca was just breathtaking.

I was in Belize for 4 days which just was not enough time which of course means I need to plan a trip back. I stayed on the beautiful Caye Caulker Island - a island that is 8km long by 2km wide. 

Central America tour - Mexico, Guatemala and Belize | Travel Blog
Belize, Caye Caulker Island – Me riding a bike around the island

On this island there is no cars, just golf buggy's and bicycles! I hired a bicycle for the day and rode my way around the island exploring what such a secret destination has to offer - beautiful people, amazing waters, great food and very tasty cocktails!

Guatemala was a 6 day stay where I had the experience of a lifetime, staying in a rain forest lodge!  Waking up under the mosquito net and to the sound of rain forest animal life was an night I would never forget. 

I also stayed in a beautiful hotel that was right in front of the two active volcano's in Guatemala. Seeing the pink sunset hide away the volcano's was just picture perfect view! The country is so enriched with history and culture.

What I loved

It is too easy to say I loved the whole month I was away. I loved how happy and positive everyone is, and I always felt so safe! 

I loved learning about the culture, trying the local food and drink and eating guacamole with each meal! 

Pictures can not do any justice for what I actually saw - beaches, pyramids, historical sites, cactus's, churches, town squares and clean cities!

What was just OK

I guess adapting to the different way of living falls under the category just OK, but it was fun and a good laugh as well. 

I loved embracing it all - of course travelling in any country their is a unfamiliar language and slight differences which I did expect. It was great fun speaking, learning and developing my Spanish and having the littlest knowledge of it really did help in speaking with the locals. 

I was surprised how much Spanish I did learn and how often I used it at the shopping centres and when ordering food, even reading menus. 

One very culturally different aspect I did find a bit weird at first was not flushing toilet paper. The pipes in Central America are so old that no paper waste can be flushed down them. 

To be honest, I was so used to not flushing toilet paper that when I landed back in LAX I freaked out for a second!

What was awful

I would not say it was awful at all, I had the time of my life however in Cancun it was very different to the rest of the Mexican experience. 

Cancun is very commercial, unless you travel further into the town centre where the locals live you will not feel a cultural experience of local food and local people.

The accommodation in Cancun was just OK. For myself and my fellow Contiki travelers we found that we stayed too far away from the night life, the shopping centers and the main beaches of Cancun. 

I recommend staying closer to the main strip of Cancun, if I was to go back to Cancun (it does not bother me to) I would ensure I am in an all inclusive resort closer to the bus stops and closer to the port of little cruise ships to venture to the islands. 

Tell us about your favourite meal, what, where, when & why

My favourite meal was in Guanajuato! I had a beautiful steak with a side of cactus, as well as an amazing margarita. 

As much as the food was great, this whole city experience was beautiful - and I got to share it with my new friends.

Top tip for someone doing this trip

My top tip for someone travelling to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala is to be open minded and do not create expectations of where you are going because it will absolutely blow you away. 

Central America tour - Mexico, Guatemala and Belize | Travel Blog
Ik Kil Cenote – Me standing in the Cenote, just after jumping metres into the water.

Each and every city has different aspects which makes each and every day a different experience, a different story to tell. 

Try all cuisine - I have now eaten cactus, crickets and ants as well as many different fruits and so many different local drinks and local made tequila. The three countries are so so safe and I can not stress that enough!

For people travelling for the first time, I would recommend doing a tour whether it is short or long just to get rough boundaries, learn respectful ways of traveling in the countries and attempt and embrace new things - the languages, the food and the culture differences. 

Anything you would do differently next time

Next time I would be comfortable to go travel independently with a few friends, however I would ensure that I have learnt much more Spanish. 

I would spend more time in the places I loved, and now that I have traveled to so many cities and towns throughout the three countries there is a few places I would not need to visit again.

Central America tour - Mexico, Guatemala and Belize | Travel Blog
Guatemala Volcano Sunset – as storm clouds rolled in.

Would you go back?

Yes! In a heart beat. 

I would definitely love to spend more time in Mexico and Belize, however it would not bother me to travel back to Guatemala. 

I look forward to exploring more - I would love to do more Central America in general. 

Have you got another trip planned and where to?

I am in the process of planning my next trip which is on the total opposite side of the world - Europe! 

I want to spend 4 weeks exploring and making my way through most countries and sailing in Croatia. 

After that trip I plan on travelling back to Central America and South America! I just would be happy to do a round the world trip - I can only dream. 

How can I find out more?

Email     shayla@rutherford.italk.travel

Call        italktravel Rutherford on (02) 4932 9244

Web       italktravel Maitland

Central America tour - Mexico, Guatemala and Belize | Travel Blog
Oaxaca – Me standing above the whole district of Oaxaca on top of an historical site.

 


Yummy & Cheap Places to Eat in Melbourne 0 Comments

Yummy Cheap Places to Eat in Melbourne
By John Lechner

Want a yummy but cheap food experience in Melbourne?

Melbourne is a favourite escape location for both Kim and I. In fact it was one of the first places we travelled to together and was Kim's ever airplane flight.

I guess nearly 25 years ago I purchased a mystery weekend - flights and 2 nights accommodation.

Back in those days was just Qantas and Ansett and they both offered them. A fixed price and you could end up anywhere within 3 hours.

Since then we have returned a few times but recently we were overdue, probably by about 3 years, maybe more. It is so much harder for a quick getaway without the kids and no family close by.

Yummy Cheap Places to Eat in Melbourne
Someone is watching you - Melbourne has some unbelievable street art, explore the lanes and back streets to see some breathtaking work.

Anyhow a few months earlier we had booked a one way cruise, 2 nights from Melbourne to Sydney. So we decided to add an extra 2 nights in Melbourne to get our Melbourne fill.

Our plan was simple, leave our boys with our housesitter/dogsitter Jordan, believe me she is more than capable and the boys at 11 and 13 are pretty self sufficient. We had 4 nights away.

What I was really looking forward to was exploring Melbourne's food. I had done a bit of research but really we were planning to go with the flow.

After arriving in Melbourne in the late afternoon we headed out towards Flinders Street Station. There are so many options around there. But I guess subliminally I was heading to Degraves Street.

If you don't know it, it is basically a small street pedestrian only that is filled with restaurants, bars and cafes.

Yummy Cheap Places to Eat in Melbourne

Degraves Espresso

We sat at Degraves Espresso and started what ended up being a night of degustation visiting 3 different restaurants. With a little street performance thrown in too.

So back to Degraves Espresso, honestly with the menu of Tapas they have we could have easily settled in for the night and had a great night but that wasn't the plan, we wanted to explore.

So instead we decided on the "Trio of Dips" Humous, Guacamole & Baba Ghanoush with fresh toasted pita bread. A beer and a wine respectively to top it off.

The Humous and Baba Ghanoush were out of this world and a great start. The pita was just wonderful so all in all a great start and honestly we need to go back and sample more of their tapas menu.

After this relaxing and yummy start we headed down towards Centre Place, at the time we didn't know it but were just heading in our original direction.

Shandong Mama Mini

As we headed in to Central Place on the Saturday early evening, not a lot was open. There was a cafe that looked interesting that was closing up and this hole in the wall asian place.

On closer inspection it was Shandong Mama Mini, I had heard the name Shandong Mama before and had it on my short list because an article I had read said they had the best dumplings, I LOVE DUMPLINGS.

Yummy Cheap Places to Eat in Melbourne
Mackeral Pan Fried Dumplings from Shandong Mama Mini
   

I remembered the recommendation to try their house special "Mackerel Fish Pan Fried Dumplings". Personally I am not a big fish eater and have never been a mackerel fan.

BUT, these dumplings were out of this world. Best dumplings I have ever had anywhere in the world, hands down.

Another great surprise at Shandong Mama was there incredible craft beer range. When I ordered my beer at Degraves Espresso, the most exotic beer on their menu was Peroni. There was a time when Peroni was exotic in Australia, about 20 odd years ago.

Shandong Mama had Hawkers, loved the IPA, Barrow Boys, Kelly Brothers, Mountain Goat, Feral and more. The beer was icy cold and in good supply. They even have a special, plate of dumplings and a craft beer for $20, bargain.

We went back the next night with friends and tried more. The lamb dumplings were extraordinary. There are two Shandong Mama restaurants, the main one at Mid City Arcade, Shop 7, 200 Bourke St and Mini which we found at 5 Centre Place. Both have the same menu. Just go you will love it.

After our fill of dumplings, just two small plates as we wanted to explore more, we headed off in search of more of Melbourne. We ended up on Swanston Street and sat around enjoying the performance of a group of young guys, it was acrobatics and dance. But sadly, overall there was more patter and less performance.

I get that you need to build anticipation, get a decent crowd but when 60-70% of your performance is you telling us how awesome it will be and then another 10% of tease performance you have lost me.

Tell me how good you are, reinforce that you make your living as a street artist but then show me, stop talking. We tried, we lasted maybe 20-25 mins but in the end we were still no closer to the real performance and walked away, a shame but it was frustrating.

Juicy Bao

We then explored our way up to Chinatown, so much choice, big and small restaurants. in the end we went to another dumpling house, this time to Juicy Bao in Little Bourke Street, we had the house special Signature Steamed Juicy Bao - Pork Xiao Long Bao.

Have you ever wondered how they get the hot broth inside the dumplings? They make a special broth jelly that gets added to the meat mix that melts to soup when steamed.

Yummy Cheap Places to Eat in MelbourneSignature Steamed Juicy Bao - Pork Xiao Long Bao
  

Queen Victoria Markets

The next morning we caught up with our friends Liz & Stuart and headed to Queen Victoria Markets for breakfast. It is actually a place I try and eat breakfast every time I am in Melbourne. Specifically Bratwurst Shop & Co, for a crusty bread roll, BBQd Bratwurst, sauerkraut with german mustard and a cappuccino. The perfect breakfast to take me back to my German roots.

If a sausage for breakfast isn't your style then perhaps a Borek with cheese and spinach for only $3. It is a Turkish phyllo pastry with filling. Cheese and spinach is a classic or perhaps try a spicy potato or spicy lamb.

If French Pastries are more your thing then you will be in heaven. They are divine and so much choice. You can go nuts from just a few dollars at the two Bakery/Pâtisserie vendors.

If it feels like all we did in Melbourne was eat and drink, you're not far off, we did explore, shop and more but mostly we explored the food. For lunch we returned to Shandong Mama Mini with our friends and tried more of the dishes, the lamb dumplings was a favourite, mostly because it was a surprise. Lamb is not a food normally associated with East Asian cooking but they were sublime.

La Spaghettteria

Our visit to Melbourne would not be complete without a visit to Lygon Street. This traditionally Italian and Greek Street has diversified lately and there is a lot of variety. But for us on a cold and wet night only Italian was going to fit the bill.

Yummy Cheap Places to Eat in Melbourne
Gnocchi gorgonzola - off menu but so yummy

You can toss a coin in these places and never know what you will get, we ended up at la Spaghettteria. They were obviously a bit slow so offered us our first round of drinks for free. 

Plenty of menu options under $20 with traditional Italian meals of pizza, pasta and more. I went off menu as I had a craving for gnocchi with cheeses, it wasn't there but they happily served up a great tasting and generous gnocchi gorgonzola. Lots of cheese and plenty of bite from the blue cheese.

I'd love to say we ended the evening with an amazing dessert after a nice stroll. Sadly our dessert and service at Stuzzichino was a let down in every way. A true let down at the end of a wonderful day.

issus cafe bar

The next morning we had time for a lazy breakfast before heading to Station Pier to board our cruise to Sydney. We returned to Centre Place this time to check out issus cafe bar, a cafe with a middle eastern take on many of the dishes. 

Yummy Cheap Places to Eat in Melbourne
Sadly perfectly cooked eggs is rare but these were spot on.

On our first visit to Centre Place I spied one of their "All Day Breakfast" items I just had to have. "Pulled Pork" - housemade spiced pork served on a potato rosti with poached eggs and harrisa holandaise. Delightful. The ladies tried out the eggs benedict and loved those. I had to try a "Golden Latte", espresso with almond milk, tumeric root juice, cinnamon and honey. Interesting, tasted fine but I won't be rushing back.

Overall a great gastronomic trip to Melbourne, all jammed in to about 40 hours. We will be back for more food exploring. My next flavour destination is Singapore, planning to get there in July. Where is yours? Got any secret dishes or restaurants to share? Comment below.

Yours in food and travel

 

John

 


Private Box for a Chicago Bulls Game & Behind the scenes at the Boeing Factory 0 Comments

Private Box Chicago Bulls Game Behind the scenes Boeing Factory

Bucket list trip - Private Box at Bulls & Behind the scenes at Boeing

Our Correspondant

Jordan Farrelly - italktravel Newcastle West

As an 11 year old Jordan caught the travel bug with a trip to the North Island of New Zealand. Since then she has indulged her wanderlust whenever possible. Her favourite destination to date is the USA. 

On her long bucket list Sri Lanka is at the top of the list but close behind is Galapagos Island, South Africa, Canada, Maldives, India, Europe! Anywhere I am yet to go literally…..

Jordan has been a travel consultant for 15 months at time of writing this blog (Mar 17).

This trip was supported by United Airlines and italktravel Head Office.

Getting there

I travelled to the USA with United Airlines, on the new Boeing 787-9. A great aircraft, i definitely noticed the difference being on the Dreamliner. I was also seated in Economy Plus (Which, if you get the chance to I would highly recommend you take advantage of)

This gives you that extra leg room that we are all dreaming of while our knees are pressed up against the chair in front of us, without the responsibility that comes with an exit row! haha… I was also thoroughly impressed with the service provided by the flight crew on all my flights throughout my journey in the US - service was always prompt and staff were lovely.

Accommodation

We spent the first 3 nights of our travels staying at the Warwick Hotel Allerton, I found this property quite well located on the "Magnificent Mile”.

The hotel has a beautiful "historic" exterior, which is also complimented throughout the lobby's and bar. In saying this the architecture of most the buildings in Chicago was really quite beautiful. 

On arrival our room was upgraded to a "Junior Suite" to accommodate the necessary bedding configuration (Twin bedding rather than double bedding).The Junior Suite gave us a separate living area to the bedroom.

Other guests had commented on the size of the rooms, So if room size is something you take into account when looking at accommodation, upgrading your room to the higher category would be well worth it!

Private Box Chicago Bulls Game Behind the scenes Boeing Factory

Some must do's while in Chicago: 

Visit the Sky Deck in the Willis tour and capture a shot on the ledge. 

Visit Milenium Park, where you'll find cloud gate (or also known as the bean).

Attend a sporting event!! Whether is be a Bulls game (which I highly recommend) or Cubs game, get out and immerse yourself in the sporting culture of Chicago.

Make your way to Alder Plantarium (or somewhere close by), I guarantee you'll have the best view looking back on the cities skyline. 

Our time in Chicago was short and sweet, has left me wanting more. 

Seattle:

The next 2 nights were spent in Seattle, at the Fourpoints by Sheraton. The hotel was, well underwhelming on arrival and I purely believe this is because of its surrounds, across the road you will find the local automotive repair shop. 

Private Box Chicago Bulls Game Behind the scenes Boeing Factory

But, give it some time and you will be pleasantly surprised. I found the property to be popular for business travellers. The building is only small, maybe 3-4 floors. 

Our room was your standard hotel room, no living area this time. But we did have an uninterrupted view of the Space Needle from our window. The staff here were great! They were fun, lively and definitely lifted the atmosphere within the hotel.

Once you got your bearings we were a lot closer to attractions than we had initially thought; with the Space Needle, Chihuly garden and glass and Mo Pop all walking distance. 

Here you could also take the monorail to Westlake Center, where you'll find Seattle shopping Precinct (this is roughly a 5 minute ride and just one stop, so impossible to get lost!).

With limited time in Seattle I jam packed my afternoon seeing the tourist sights of Seattle taking advantage of the "city pass" this pass gave us access to: 

  • Space Needle 
  • Seattle Aquarium 
  • Argosy cruise 
  • Mo Pop Museum or Woodland Park Zoo 
  • Chihuly Garden and glass or Pacific Science Centre 

So in the short time I had I managed to visit the Space Needle, the observation deck was clever and quite interactive giving you the opportunity to capture moments tag your location and how far you had travelled from "home" to be here. 

There was no hidden costs either which is always a pleasant surprise! I did only visits the observation deck at night. I also really enjoyed the Chihuly Garden and glass, I wasn't sure what to expect, nor did I know too much background information before going. 

But I do believe this worked to my advantage. You make your way through I think 8 rooms of art which are all completely different and each fascinating for there own reasons. 

You then have the option to go to the Chihuly cafe, the theme is continued throughout the cafe with quirky decor. (Lunch was also delicious!) 

Private Box Chicago Bulls Game Behind the scenes Boeing Factory

After this you continue out into a glass dome, with more glass sculptures which also captures a view of the space needle!

What I loved

Chicago! whats not to love is more what I'm thinking... I knew I was going to enjoy my time from the moment I could see the city skyline as we drove away from the airport. 

This city is inviting, its welcoming, its warm and fuzzy (even though it was 4 degrees Celsius out!) I was fortunate enough to not only attend a Chicago Bulls game but was absolutely spoilt as I watched the game from the United Airlines Suite, which is where we were treated as royalty for the next two and a half hours. 

Private Box Chicago Bulls Game Behind the scenes Boeing Factory

We could not have asked for anything more, all our food and beverages were included from gourmet sandwiches to the famous Garrett's popcorn and hot dogs, nothing was forgotten. 

The United Suite was prime position just off mid court... I wasn't kidding when I said we were spoilt. the indoor/outdoor suite, let you immerse yourself in the atmosphere. 

This is a once in a lifetime experience... If you have the opportunity to attend a Bulls game while your visiting Chicago, it is definitely a must! 

The other pinch yourself (is this really happening) moment, was the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington. 

Again as I was invited on this trip by United Airlines, we were fortunate to not only visit the factory, but were taken on a highly exclusive tour of the factory; quote the staff at Boeing "The only way to get on this tour, is to buy a plane" which United Airlines is currently Boeing's largest client. 

Private Box Chicago Bulls Game Behind the scenes Boeing Factory

The Boeing factory is the largest building in the world by volume. So we made our way around the floor on golf carts, looking in awe at the process of building a Boeing aircraft (insane right?)

For the next 2 hours our guide Dave, who has been with Boeing for 30 years - gave us insight into a day in the life at the Boeing factory. From the different aircraft available, why they are built the way they are, who the target market was for the aircraft, the material used to create each portion of the aircraft and its benefits, I could go on... Everything he shared was relevant, with all of us on eager to find out as much information in the short time we had in the Boeing factory. 

Although you may not be able to tour the factory the way I did, I would recommend you do the tour that is available to the general public which gives you access from two different balconies within the factory looking over the floor.

What was just OK

Two things that didn't make or break my trip were the Seattle Aquarium and the Mo Pop Museum, I find aquariums to be quite similar wherever you go with the stand out here being the River Otters! 

As for the Mo Pop museum, I guess this just wasn't something I would usually make time to visit but with it included in our city pass, I had no reason not too.

If you have an interest in Sci-fi films, video games or music you probably will find something here of interest.

What was awful

Its hard to not impress me when travelling, I love making the most of the situation no matter what. 

Tell us about your favourite meal, what, where, when & why

Personally my favourite meal was on our last night in Seattle, not because of the service, restaurant or anything in particular... My dinner was just genuinely delicious!! As Seattle is renowned for its seafood i treated myself to "Columbia river king salmon”. I did have some "when in Rome" moments, trying Deep pan pizza at Gino's East of Chicago & Chicago style hot dogs at the Bulls game

Top tip for someone doing this trip

Purchase the economy plus seating with Unites Airlines - you won't regret it! Also depending on your transit times between flights, purchasing one time entry into the United Club could be well worth it. 

I visited one in Chicago, where we at breakfast before flying to Seattle. The club had charging stations everywhere, comfy seating and plenty of it, a bar, two separate buffets the food on offer for breakfast was great, there was no need to go and purchase additional food. 

As for the club in LAX it was similar lots of seating, tables charging stations to accommodate to all types of travellers, although we were transiting at dinner time - the food was mainly ' build it yourself' salads and soups, so we did go out into the airport to eat dinner. 

Take the hop on hop off around Chicago, do one entire loop before deciding where you will get off - it will help you get your bearings. Visit Pike place market in Seattle, local people selling handmade souvenirs/ fresh local foods - a nice personal touch to your travels.

Anything you would do differently next time

More time! I would have loved an extra day in Seattle, so that I could venture to Canada for the day! I believe its roughly a four hour train ride to Vancouver, or while I was away I also learnt there is ferry service into Victoria which would cut the journey down to roughly two and a half hours. 

The particular tour company we used for our hop on hop off experience in Chicago, the company was great and the driver provided live commentary as we made our way around the hotspots of Chicago! 

Although what we were not aware of, is that they do not operate the Double Decker bus option in the winter time - which I think is part of the fun of hop on hop of! This was definitely a let down for the group. 

I would have also loved to experience the Jazz/ Blues night life in Chicago, perfect excuse to go back!

Would you go back?

Of course! It would really take something horrible to happen for me to not return to a destination. Although for now, I am trying to not double up as there is just so many places I wish to see.

Have you got another trip planned and where to?

No trips planned, but give me a week or two and ill have something new on the drawing board...

How can I find out more?

Email jordan@newcastlewest.italk.travel

Call italktravel Newcastle West on (02) 4929 2899

Instagram @italktravelnewcastlewest 

Web italktravel Newcastle West 




A family holiday to Paris, Munich and skiing in Club Med Tignes France 0 Comments

A family holiday to Paris, Munich and skiing in Club Med Tignes France

Paris, Munich and skiing in Club Med Tignes France

Our Correspondant

Mark from italktravel Maitland, Rutherford, The Junction and Newcastle West

Mark and his family visited Germany and France including Munich, Paris and Tignes Ski Village France

Getting there

We flew into Munich, flew on to Paris and flew out of Geneva. International flights with with Etihad. Used the GTV Fast train from Paris to Moutiers and a coach transfer from the mountains to Geneva

Accommodation

Stayed in a small apartment in Munich and in Paris. Short walk to town and to the Metro.
Stayed at Club Med Tignes Val Claret Ski Village

What we loved

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. This is the Castle that Walt Disney Copied for his Disney Castle. Amazingly beautiful.

Salt mines tour near Salzburg was fascinating, the famous Moulin Rouge show in Paris, Eiffel Tower, Taittinger Champagne Tour, Food, Coffee and Pastry.

LOVED the French Alps and ski domain. Fresh snow with clear blue skies was fantastic and to see the little boys learn to ski.

A family holiday to Paris, Munich and skiing in Club Med Tignes France

What was just OK

Getting all our luggage (Ski Holiday) on and off the Train. You must be prepared and board early.

What was awful

The Line up to get up the Eiffel Tower. Lucky we paid for jump the Queue Tickets.

A family holiday to Paris, Munich and skiing in Club Med Tignes France

Tell us about your favourite meal, what, where, when & why

Lunch on the river opposite the Eiffel Tower. French Onion Soup starter with Duck for main. YUM. Great view, Romantic and authentic.

Top tip for someone doing this trip

To get the most out of your time, be prepared with pre-booked main attractions as they can be very busy and booked out.

A family holiday to Paris, Munich and skiing in Club Med Tignes France

Anything you would do differently next time

Stay longer in the mountains. We ran out of time as I wanted to ski most of every day. If we had longer in the village we would have done more in the village.

Would you go back?

YES, Absolutely. Great Holiday for the whole family.

Have you got another trip planned and where to?

Yes, Bali for a sun holiday in our winter.

How can I find out more?

Email Mark mark@maitland.italk.travel 

Call italktravel Maitland on (02) 4934 2155

Web italktravel Maitland

 


Luxury Maldives experiences you don't want to miss 0 Comments

 

Luxury Maldives experiences you don't want to miss

By Di Lechner

The Maldives Luxury Experience Bucket List

A paradise unlike any other, the Maldives is known for its gorgeous islands with powder white beaches and luxurious resorts – but if you think that this destination offers nothing more than time spent laying on the beach, you are deeply mistaken.

With an endless list of unique activities available across the Maldivian archipelagos, you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to planning a memorable trip with the perfect combination of luxury, relaxation and play.

Have your every wish fulfilled

Luxury is truly redefined in the Maldives; a place known for treating its visitors to experiences that are tailored to their most extravagant desires.

Think private yachts that allow you to explore the many atolls in the utmost comfort; delectable five course dinners and wine tastings in one of only a few underwater restaurants in the world; private butlers that cater to your every whim at any hour of the day or night.

In this special part of the world, indulgence is around every corner and it allows you to spoil your partner, your family or simply yourself with experiences that are sure to become some of your most unforgettable.

Enjoy your own private island

Luxury Maldives experiences you don't want to miss

The Maldives is made up of more than 1190 different islands, many of which are completely uninhabited, making them the perfect location for an island escape.

Have a gourmet picnic lunch made up for you and your partner before grabbing a good book and your towel and heading off to enjoy a remote slice of paradise that most people only get to see in movies.

With its lush green plant life, soft white sand and water that always seems to be enticing you in, nowhere in the world does tranquil seclusion quite like the Maldives.

Whether it’s for an hour or an entire day, this one-of-a-kind experience combines simplicity and luxury like no other.

Make friends with the marine life

Luxury Maldives experiences you don't want to miss

Exploring the fifty shades of blue and swimming with the incredible marine life found in the Maldives is a must-do activity that the whole family can enjoy.

The beautiful reefs surrounding these special islands are home to a rainbow of coral and reef fish, manta rays, tortoises and whale sharks amongst many others, providing the perfect opportunity to view them in their natural habitat.

For children or adults who aren’t the most confident in the water, snorkelling is a great option as many fish and manta rays can be found in the shallower areas.

But if you’re looking to really immerse yourself in the underwater world, scuba diving is certainly the best way to swim with the giants of the sea.

Even for the most experienced of divers, this humbling experience will completely redefine the way you view our ocean life.

Want to know more about booking your very own luxury Maldives experience? Call me today on +61 413 888 652 or email hello@addictedtomaldives.com.

 

Di
Addicted to Maldives

 


Meet Di Lechner, she's addicted to Maldives 0 Comments

Meet Di Lechner she's addicted to Maldives

By John Lechner

Lets start with the obvious, Di is family. Di and my middle brother Paul have two kids and are bit obsessed with holidaying in the Maldives.  The reason I asked Di to join our travel blog is because of her innovative business Addicted to Maldives.

As with all our team of contributors I took some time to ask Di some getting to know you questions for you.

Di grew up in Toongabbie, not far from our family home and went to the same high school as us. These days they live in the Hills District of Sydney Australia.

Di is passionate about travel and in particular, luxury travel to the Maldives. For her personally, there is nowhere quite like the Maldives. The sand, the water so iridescently blue, the service, the accommodation standards and the experiences offered there are second to none.

She founded Addicted to Maldives because she identified that there was a lack of knowledge on the destination here in Australia. Di is truly passionate about the Maldives as a destination and about offering her clients a high level of service.

It is very rewarding to help loved up couples or groups of families and friends to create their dream holidays. Most of the time the Maldives is a #bucketlist item for a lot of people, so to play a part in making that dream a reality for them, is pretty special.

I asked Di, what do you do and who do you help?

"I am a Destination Specialist for the Maldives. We help individuals, couples  honeymooners and families create their dream holiday to the Maldives.

The Maldives is such a unique destination and it can be quite overwhelming to try and choose which resort to stay in.

We take the time to get to know what it is that our clients are looking for in their holiday to the Maldives and match the right resort to them.

We also assist other Luxury Travel agents with their client bookings to the Maldives by providing the same service."

A dumb question I know but I had to ask, where is your favourite place to travel to?

"The Maldives of course…but in general I love  island holidays…anywhere warm  with sunshine  and blue water and I’m there!"

What is the one place/thing is at the top of your bucket list that you haven’t got to yet?

"Swimming with Whale Sharks!

Whale sharks are commonly sighted in the Maldives in certain atolls and at particular times of the year.

Sometimes though, it’s just a matter of good timing as to wether or not you see them on the day that you set out on an excursion.

My time is still yet to come but I am so intrigued by these huge gentle giants of the ocean.

I say that now, but quite literally, I might pee myself when I’m physically in the water with them..ha ha!"

I asked Di about her favourite eating/drinking experience when travelling?

"There is a relatively new resort in the Maldives called “Finolhu”.

Finolhu has the most incredible sandbank that juts out directly from the beach front and it runs 1.8km long.

You can walk about half way along this sandbank and there is a little restaurant there called the “Fish and Crab Shack”.

We sat there feasting on buckets of fresh prawns, and the best soft shell crab tacos I have ever had!

Then we got our hands dirty and devoured the most delicious Sri Lankan mud crab which was served with a coconut rice…seriously amazing!

Not to mention the refreshing rose’ it was all washed down with! This meal was an experience in every sense…sand under our toes, a DJ spinning a few cool beats in the background and the never ending blue view that surrounded us was pretty special."

If you had $1000 spare and no rules on how to spend it what would you do?

"I love to splurge so I’d probably book a night away at a luxurious hotel for a sneaky getaway from the kids for my hubby and i…and if I had any money left over after that, I’d buy myself a new kaftan or sarong for my next Maldives holiday from Camilla!"

Finally where do people find you?

Web:                 addictedtomaldives.com

Instagram:        @addictedtomaldives

Facebook:        /maldivesaddict


Introduction to the Maldives 0 Comments

Introduction to the Maldives

By Di Lechner

MALDIVES

“MARUHABAA” (welcome) to the sunny-side of life, where tiny islands resembling strings of pearls are scattered across iridescent turquoise lagoons.

I’m not usually one for clichés but when it comes to the Maldives, I find myself throwing them around at every opportunity! Unspoilt beaches, Aquamarine Lagoons, sugar white sands, swaying palm trees, world famous luxury resorts, and a vibrant underwater world, make Maldives the go to place for a pure escapism experience.

Honeymooners and couples seeking romance and privacy will love the Maldives, yet families will be equally thrilled with many resorts offering some of the most amazing facilities and activities for kids available.

Expect unsurpassed luxury, intuitive staff to cater to your every need, world-class facilities and incredible dining options all in the most stunning of settings in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The ultimate island destination, the Maldives will take your breath away from the moment you arrive.

LOCATION

Laying South west of India and Sri Lanka, the Republic of Maldives is home to 1190 coral islands and sand banks.

The islands are often described as resembling strings of pearls scattered across the ocean. All islands are encircled by a stunning turquoise lagoon of the most perfect crystal clear water you’ll ever see.

The Maldives encompass 99% water and only 1% land and the Maldives waters are home to some of the most diverse and spectacular marine life imaginable.

Due to it’s location laying close to the Equator, the Maldives benefits from consistent warm temperatures year round.

GETTING THERE

Traveling to the Maldives is itself a wonderfully beautiful experience. You’ll be whisked away from the capital Malé airport straight to your resort in a luxury speedboat or yacht or a personal favourite of ATM’s, a seaplane ride, where your barefoot pilot and the controls are clearly visible from your seat and only adds to the adventure.

Seaplanes however, only fly during daylight hours so please keep this in mind when selecting your flights and resort.

If you’re flight arrives into Malé in the late afternoon or early evening, you may be required to spend your first night in Malé or at an airport hotel. Resorts that require a domestic flight or speedboat transfer are accessible at night. We can assist you in choosing the best option for you.

Flights to the Capital of the Maldives (Malé) Ibrahim Nasir airport are available from Australia via Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

Direct flights from the UK are also available at certain times of the year. Addicted to Maldives can also assist you in arranging your International flights to the Maldives. 

Introduction to the Maldives

SPEND YOUR DAYS

Doing as much or as little as you like!

Scuba diving, snorkelling with the gentle giants of the ocean Manta Rays, indulging in fine dining in some of the most romantic places imaginable, private picnics on secluded sand banks, movie nights under the stars, spa treatments in underwater spas, luxurious villas on the beach, over water or in the treetops, or just simply lazing the days away in a hammock, are all perfectly acceptable ways to spend your days in the Maldives.

Seeking a little more action? Why not try kite surfing across the Indian Ocean, jet skiing through the waves or take in a birds eye view from a parasail above. Some resorts offer world-class tennis courts and golf courses too. The Maldivian’s are huge fans of soccer so you are bound to find a soccer field in the middle of the island somewhere at most resorts. Why not join the staff for a friendly match?

WHO SHOULD GO?

Who shouldn’t go would be a much a shorter list.

Everyone! Loved up couples, blissed out honeymooners, groups of friends and even families.. yes I said families should absolutely go to the Maldives.

WHEN TO GO

Anytime is a good time to go to the Maldives. With temperatures averaging 27-30 C, it’s the perfect holiday destination year round.

December to April is typically the peak dry season (northeast monsoon) where you can expect constant sunshine and blue skies, perfect for tanning and sipping cocktails.

The wet season (southwest monsoon) runs June to October but often the days still see plenty of sunshine with occasional rain fall or thunderstorms which usually pass quite quickly. It is quite beautiful to watch a storm rolling in over the Indian Ocean.

Traveling at this time of the year does have some benefits as you can often take advantage of reduced rates and special packages.

The wet season also offers the best time for water-sports addicts with perfect conditions for surfing the breaks or a spot of kite or windsurfing.

Dive Addicts will find the best conditions during December to April, when the skies are blue and the lack of wind offers calm waters and clear visibility.

LANGUAGE

The local language of the Maldives is Dhivehi however English is widely spoken in the Maldives and in all of the Luxury resorts available through Addicted to Maldives.

CURRENCY

The official currency of the Maldives is the Rufiyaa but US Dollars are the preferred currency all over the Maldives including the airport and resorts. When staying at the resorts, everything will be charged back to your room, so you may pay for any incidentals by credit card at the end of your stay. If you think you might like to tip, it might be a good idea to have some US dollars notes with you.

LOCAL TIME

GMT + 5, hours however many resorts operate on “Island time” which is one or two hours ahead of Malé depending on the resort you choose. The resorts do this to extend the number of daylight hours in each day, allowing you to soak up even more of the stunning Maldivian sunshine.

POWER / ELECTRICITY

Maldives uses 240 volt electricity supply and power plugs are the same as you’d find in the UK.

Want to know more?

Check out 

Web:             addictedtomaldives.com

Instagram:    @addictedtomaldives


How I became "addicted to Maldives" 0 Comments

How I became addicted to Maldives

By Di Lechner

Addicted to Maldives is your Personal Luxury Travel Concierge, exclusively to the Maldives.

My name is Di and yes I confess... I am Addicted to Maldives!

My first fix was back in 2008 when I traveled to the Maldives for our honeymoon, chasing that elusive perfect romantic island escape.

Flying in on a seaplane over hundreds of tiny atolls that sparkled and danced under the sunlight, is a vision I will never forget.

Within minutes of arriving and checking in to our resort, we just couldn’t wait to jump into the picture perfect lagoon.

In a true “pinch me” moment, we were surrounded by literally hundreds of fish of all colours of the rainbow, darting around our feet, in a lagoon so clear and blue that it felt as though we had literally stepped into a postcard.

It was here that my addiction to the Maldives began.

We have gone from traveling as a loved up couple on our honeymoon to now as a family of 4 with 2 children in tow and the Maldives is still the most incredible exotic island holiday destination.

Yes, it’s perfect for all you love birds, honeymooners or even destination weddings and events, but the Maldives now more than ever is also a holiday haven for families.

So each year, up to twice a year we have returned to the Maldives, to get our fix, exploring and discovering new islands and resorts.

I’m not sure if it’s the natural beauty of the islands. The cliché powdery white sands or the crystal clear lagoons and their one thousand shades of blue.

Or simply just the genuine smiles and warm hospitality of the local Maldivian's that keep drawing us back. But there is something completely magical about the Maldives, that neither words nor pictures can describe.

It’s a destination that needs to be experienced and once you have experienced it for yourself you too will become ADDICTED TO MALDIVES.

Since then we have established our own boutique travel concierge service, catering exclusively to the Maldives, we call it Addicted to Maldives.

How I became addicted to Maldives

WHAT WE DO

All things Maldives!

Beach, Spa, Romance, Family and Adrenaline Addicts we have you all covered!

Whether you are seeking that perfect family escape, planning an exclusive and memorable honeymoon, chasing your dream of snorkelling with manta rays, embarking on your next surfing adventure or just simply desire a true luxury island experience, we will make it happen.

Whatever the occasion, our knowledgeable Concierge team is available to individually tailor your next holiday or event, offering you complete peace of mind knowing that every detail, no matter how small has been taken care of, from your very first enquiry to your arrival home.

WHY US?

Addicted to Maldives specialise in experiences and not just holidays!

Our team of dedicated advisors will take the time to understand exactly what you are looking for on your next journey to the Maldives offering an intuitive and personalised approach.

Our unique Guest Preferences Consultation allows us to really get to know you and your travel preferences, enabling us to truly personalise your holiday.

Addicted to Maldives will inspire and surprise you along the way, treating you to VIP benefits and exclusives resulting in a unique and bespoke Maldives experience.

Get in contact:

Email:            hello@addictedtomaldives.com

Instagram:     @addictedtomaldives


Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography 0 Comments

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
How weird is the view from Hunter Street to the umm.. Lookout now without the footbridge

By John Lechner

One of the things I enjoy most is to do a photo walk on the streets of a city or town. It doesn't matter if it's in your backyard or on the other side of the world. When you slow down, you find amazing things. 

In fact sometimes the smaller the area you cover the more you discover. Last weekend we found ourselves kid free so Kim and I decided we would head to Newcastle do a photo walk and finish with a picnic at sunset.

We packed light, I had just one lens on my camera, a spare battery and cards. Kim was using her little pocket camera. A Panasonic Lumix TZ80. It's a great little camera that packs a lot of punch but basically fits in your pocket.

So we packed a simple picnic in the esky and parked the car up near Newcastle Beach, deciding to head from the beach down Hunter St to Honeysuckle and then back to the beach via the harbour.

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
The Lifesavers watch tower at Newcastle Beach

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
One of Newcastle's iconic buildings on Hunter Street, now the Reserve Wine Bar

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
One of those things you see when you slow down, this one time pharmacy now Motorbike ship, love the windows.

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
I think this is my new favourite building in Newcastle, the recently opened law courts. Stunning lines

 Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
This isn't an illusion or trick of the camera but the end of the new law courts building.

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
So many wonderful examples of street art in Newcastle including this penguin

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
The old railway corridor at Civic

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
The entry to Newcastle Museum

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
A coal ship coming in to the harbour from Scratchley's

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
An industrial sunset from Stockton

Newcastle NSW photo walk street photography
Picnic dinner on the water

I have done photo walks like this here at home and around the world. All you need is a camera, any camera will do, a willing partner/s just make sure everyone has a camera. Walking shoes and time enough to slow down, at least a few hours.

Have an awesome day.

 

John


A family day out in Sydney for under $100 0 Comments

A family day out in Sydney for under $100
Manly Ferry approaching Manly Wharf

Let me start this post by saying this isn't an imagined day out, one dreamed up on paper but a real day out I experienced with my family in the school holidays. There are four of us, Kim, my wife and my two boys who are 11 & 12.  They are at the age that they eat like adults, although for all transport except air travel they are still considered children, fare wise.

So lets start with the numbers and then I will walk through the day.

Transport $45 - Opal card 2 adults and 2 children. Max fare is $15 for adults and $7.50 for kids making a total of $45 for transport.

Lunch $25 - Fish and chips at Manly Ocean Foods on The Corso. We got 2 fish and chip meals which were $12.50 and split them. Honestly it was enough for the four of us. We got takeaway and ate them overlooking the beach.

Walking off the fish and chips on our way to earning the gelato. Free. This walk from Manly Wharf to North Head and back is detailed in full in another blog 6 cheap things to do in Sydney - travel tips.

Ice creams $23.20 (single scoops) or $31.20 (double scoops) - Our family has a serious weakness for Gelato. Our boys will actually say this isn't ice cream dad, it's gelato. Gelato is in all ways superior to ice cream. 

So there you go, 2 adults and 2 kids who love to eat for under $100, $93.20 in fact.

We're not always this thrifty, the day before we managed to blow nearly $550 after hitting Yum Cha in Chinatown, the Egyptian Mummies exhibition at The Powerhouse Museum and finishing with the boys hitting the rides at Luna Park.

What did we get up to?

This day trip was one of three we did during the January School holidays of 2017. My middle brother lives in Sydney and was overseas so we were able to use his family home as a base and save on the accommodation.

A family day out in Sydney for under $100  selfie
The obligatory pre-walk selfie
   

Transport - $45

They live in near Dural in northern suburbs, so we drove to the best bus stop for an express service to the city less than 5 mins drive away. We could have caught a local service as well but the 5 minute drive saved us about 1 hour on the buses and connections each day.

If you haven't cottoned on yet, I am a huge fan of the Opal Card. Especially with the max spend of $15 per day for adults ($7.50 for kids). Our plan was to seriously max out our Opal limit each day. For these examples I will just focus on the adult fares, children are half price.

Dural to Barangaroo on express bus $4.50 each way

Barangaroo (Darling Harbour) to Circular Quay ferry $5.74 each way

Circular Quay to Manly ferry $7.18 each way

So if we paid for each of the fares separately, as it was before Opal and most fares were more before Opal we would have paid $34.84 per adult and $17.42 per child totalling $104.52 for the day. So in travel alone the Opal saves at least $60 a day for a family, incredible value and far more scenic especially when you catch the ferry.

Our bus dropped us off near Barangaroo so with a light rain falling we elected to head to the Darling Harbour ferry rather than crossing over the city to the Quay or catching a train from Wynyard.

The ferry to the Quay is a great start to the day and then we changed to the Manly ferry for the trip up the harbour.

Lunch - $25

Once in Manly we head up The Corso to the beach. Just before the end of The Corso is a little hole in the wall fish and chip store Manly Ocean Foods. The standard fish and chips serve is a good portion and we all had our fill after sharing two serves. All for only $25.

We sat on the esplanade overlooking the beach and enjoyed our lunch.

Tip

When heading out on a family outing, it's usually the snacks and drinks that really tip the budget over the edge. We headed to the supermarket first and got a mix of lunchbox snacks and fruit to carry. We also took our own water as drinks.

 

Walking off the fish and chips 

We had actually planned to do the Manly to Spit walk on this day but the weather was a bit questionable still, the light rain was hanging around and we decided to stick closer to Manly.

As it was we walked from Manly to Shelly beach and then on to the North Head Lookouts. I detailed this walk in another blog 6 Cheap things to do in Sydney so I wont repeat it here but if you want the details get them HERE.

Its a scenic walk of moderate difficulty that takes 3-4 hours. I highly recommend it. 

Option

If you wanted to minimise the walking, you can use your Opal card to catch the bus up to the key North Head lookouts (remember it wont cost any more). The 135 Bus will take you up close to the carpark and best lookouts.

Apart from the North Head Lookouts, Collins Beach was a highlight for me, a hideaway beach in the middle of Sydney, a real delight.

We finished our walk back at Manly Pier and caught the ferry back to Circular Quay.

Ice-cream (Gelato really) - $23.20

We love gelato and headed to Gelatissimo - while it may not be the best gelato available, it is bloody good and highly accessible. There are Gelatissimo's everywhere. We fell in love with a summer special recipe Peach and blood orange, OMG! Other favourites include coconut, banoffee WOW!!! and hazelnut.

Get a cup and take your time while enjoying one of the many street performers that make this part of town their stage. Even with the $5 tip to the performer we still stayed under our budget for the day.

  

It is possible to have a great day in Sydney for under $100, enjoy lunch and treats doing so, but the reality is that if you're not careful, $100 can double very very quickly.

We finished the day in Chinatown indulging in another of my favourite things to do on the cheap in Sydney. In Chinatown there are lots of places where you can get a fantastic feed for under $15 each.

We hit the Eating World food court on the corner of Dixon & Goulburn Streets. In fact you can get a very big noodle dish for under $10 so if you can spare an extra $50-$60 you can finish your day in the city with a wonderful dinner.

Warning

This is Chinatown, when you ask for hot they mean Chinese hot, not Aussie hot. Sadly Kim worked this out the hard way and paid for it. Be warned it can be really hot. Personally I loved it but have a much higher tolerance for chilli.

I hope you enjoyed this blog, if you did, please share it with your friends on your favourite social media.

If you want to get more tips for a cheap day out in Sydney head to my blog 6 cheap things to do in Sydney - travel tips.

Have an awesome day

 

John
Inspire | Travel | Live Life


Things to do in Cairns 0 Comments

Things to do in Cairns
Kuku Yalanji Dreaming captured on Wurrmbu Creek in Mossman Gorge

Top things to do in and around Cairns

I am going to start this post with a disclaimer. I have excluded from this list the critical thing you should do when visiting Cairns, that is visiting the Great Barrier Reef. 

If you come to Cairns and it's surrounding region you need to visit the Great Barrier Reef, do it now while the reef still lives. It is spectacular and a natural wonder.

But if you have some spare time or want to spend a day or two on dry land, what should you do?

Daintree Rainforest

things to do in cairns
Looking out of over the aqua Coral Sea from Cape Tribulation

  

The Daintree is divided into two key areas and they are both separate places to visit. 

Cape Tribulation

If you have a couple of days then head up to Cape Trib, hire a car and go north. Catch the ferry over to the Cape and explore. There is a variety of accommodation from camping and backpackers hostels to luxury and eco resort style living.

Things to do in Cairns
Sunrise over Cape Tribulation beach with a lone sail boat

Visit Masons Waterhole which is behind Masons General Store. Do the marked walks to see the rainforest up close, but be warned take notice of the warning signs. Look out for crocs, cassowary's or just the plants that will try and kill you if you're not careful.

things to do in Cairns
Masons Swimming hole, one of few safe places to swim on Cape Trib
  

Do a croc cruise, I did two with the team at Crocodile Express and highly recommend them. They have two locations, one near the ferry and in Daintree village.

Things to do in Cairns
A croc resting on the riverbank from on-board the Crocodile Express.

Mossman Gorge

Just 20 minutes drive from Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge is a spectacular location to visit and explore the very best natural beauty.

Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest is the cultural home of the Kuku Yalanji Nation, the indigenous people of this breathtaking land. Visiting Mossman Gorge is a wonderful experience where you really can get an appreciation for this ancient land.

There are a bunch of different walks and experiences to be had in Mossman Gorge, I urge you to take your time, do a long walk and enjoy this wonderful place. When you slow down it is amazing what you find.

Things to do in Cairns
Fungi growing in the rainforest at Mossman Gorge

  

Most people tend to gravitate to the swimming holes, which are literally filled to the brim with backpackers, and while a swim in the heat is enticing. Exploring is more rewarding, finding hidden treasures like this tiny waterfall make it worth the effort.

Things to do in cairns
Download free Hi-Res wallpaper for your phone here

Port Douglas

Port Douglas is beautiful and very much a resort town, there are dozens of places to stay from backpackers to 5 star resorts on the beach. There's no question it's very much a resort town so if the resort atmosphere is not what you are craving then I still have two recommendations for you to do in Port Douglas.

Sunrise on Four Mile Beach, this beautiful beach is definitely worth a early morning visit. Come early, watch the sunrise. On my visit I even caught a cruise ship coming in to port for the day.

Things to do in Cairns port douglas
Sunrise on Four Mile Beach Port Douglas

After sunrise take a stroll down Four Mile Beach before breakfast in one of the many cafes in Port.

If you happen to be in Port Douglas on a Sunday then head on over to the Harbour and check out the wonderful Port Douglas Sunday Markets that happen every Sunday on the foreshore. 

There is a great array of art, local produce, hand made items and so much more.

Take a wander on the foreshore while there too, it is a lovely spot and looking over the water back to the ranges is stunning.

Things to do in Cairns port douglas
Looking over the water in Port Douglas Harbour back to the ranges

Paronella Park

Things to do in cairns paronella park
The original entry sign to Paronella Park still standing today

I am going to be unequivocal about this. If you get to Cairns you need to take the drive to Paronella Park. Even better spend the night at Paronella so you can explore the park at your leisure.

I have dedicated a whole blog to Paronella Park so read more here

But the short of it is that this trip back in time was built in the 1930's by a eccentric Spaniard José Paronella. It has a Castle, extensive gardens and is in ruins. It is wonderful, in fact breathtaking at times. 

Things to do in cairns Paronella Park
Ruins of the Castle at Paronella Park
  

I honestly believe you will love Paronella Park it is enchanting and built totally out of love. In a beautiful part of the country with Free Camping for visitors and a great pub just a few minutes away a perfect spot for an overnight stay.

I hope you enjoy my top tips for things to do in Cairns, have a wonderful trip.

 

John
Travel | Art | Photography

 

 


Paronella Park, a trip back in time 0 Comments

Paronella Park, a trip back in time

Paronella Park

I have to admit that I have fantasised about visiting Paronella Park since listening to a podcast by ABC Conversations host Richard Fidler with the current owner of Paronella Park Mark Evans.

Paronella Park was the brainchild of crazy Spaniard José Paronella. José arrived in Australia in 1913 from Catalonia Spain and first spied the land that became Paronella Park at Mena Creek in 1914.

In 1929 he purchased the 13 acres of virgin scrub and set about building his dream. First came the Giant Staircase which became the main access point for the remaining construction works.

Paronella Park, a trip back in time
The Giant Staircase

 Most of the works were completed without heavy machinery and the concrete was poured by hand, there are hundreds of tonnes of it. I cannot imagine the tireless energy and determination José put into building his dream.

But in 1935 just six years later José opened Paronella Park to the public, complete with a castle with ballroom, refreshment rooms and more, one of the first ever hydroelectric power plants in North Queensland, the lower refreshment rooms, picnic areas, the tunnel of love and so much more.

The Paronella Park that remains today is but a shell of its former glory but in many ways that makes it even more lovely to visit. Personally I love the green, where the rainforest has tried to take back the land it once dominated for millennia.

Paronella Park, a trip back in timeThis fountain lies in front of the Lower Refreshments Rooms

My visit to Paronella Park

I arrived to Paronella Park in the late afternoon after exploring the local area for creeks and waterfalls. I was a solo traveller, just me in a camper van and without a booking. You don't need a booking to visit the park but it helps if you want to camp at Paronella Park.

Firstly the basics, entry (as at Jan 2017) is $44 per adult, $23 for kids, $38 concession or $124 for a family of 4. Which on face value sounds a bit expensive but there is more than meets the eye.

Let me start by saying that I was enthralled with Paronella and would happy have paid more to visit. Your entry ticket includes several bonuses:

  • Free day and night tours, no cost just book in, I would highly recommend you do both, its worth it for the stories of the park.
  • Unlimited free return entry for 2 whole years
  • One free night in the on-site campground, this is excellent I will explain more below.
  • After hours access into the park after dark

So the ticket price becomes much better value when you look at all the bonuses.

Paronella Park, a trip back in time

On arrival I was greeted by a staff member in the carpark, she was interested in my visit and pointed me in the right direction for my needs including knowledge that there was still a few camping spots left in the campground.

After buying my entry ticket I also arranged to use my free night camping. The campground is adjacent to the park and allows you direct access into the park both at night and day.

The campground includes sites for vans, campers, large RVs and tents of course. There is power and water to most sites as well as a very cleaning and tidy set of facilities with free hot showers.

The owners of Paronella Park Mark & Judy Evans also own the Mena Creek Hotel which is just across the suspension bridge from the park with meals and free camping also available there. 

Mark and Judy are part of the experience and I really enjoyed meeting Mark after our night tour where he happily told us the story, answered questions and chatted with the visitors.

Paronella Park, a trip back in time
Mena Falls under lights during the after dark tour

Campground guests are able to access the park outside of normal visitor hours. In fact apart from an exclusion period in the early evening during the night tour (which you really should be on) you can access the park whenever you wish.

I got up early in the morning and explored the park in the dawn, I essentially had the entire park to myself.

Paronella Park, a trip back in time
Exploring Paronella Park in the morning light. The Bamboo Garden one of the many secluded garden spaces in the park.
  

As I explored the gardens alone in the morning i was delighted to find new spaces, little gardens, alcoves, seats and even wildlife. Down by Mena Creek, which incidentally isn't safe to swim in thanks to a couple of local crocs, I found a proliferation of turtles and fish.

Paronella Park, a trip back in timeMena Creek Turtles

 Visiting Paronella Park is very much a trip back in time, exploring a land where a man with a dream created his own wonderland to share with the love of his life and the public.

Only 120km south west of Cairns I would absolutely rank this as one of the top 5 things to do while in Cairns. Make a overnight stay of it, do the day and evening tours as well as a final explore of the park in the early morning. 

To find out more about Paronella Park or to book your stay head to their website paronellapark.com.au, Mark & Judy also own the nearby Mamu Tropical Skywalk and offer a joint entry ticket if you are looking for something else to visit in the area.

Read about the things in the Daintree that want to kill you here.

Have an awesome day and enjoy your travels.

 

John

 


Air New Zealand, Kiwi as Christmas 0 Comments

Air New Zealand presents Summer Wonderland #AirNZXmas

By John Lechner

A Kiwi as Christmas

Air New Zealand are well known for great videos, their safety videos are legendary. If you haven't seen them before check them out here. These safety videos prove that a serious message can be delivered in a fun way with jokes and still be very serious. Check them out.

Recently they launched a great campaign to get Aussies to fly to North & South America via NZ. It features the voice and a cameo of Bryan Brown. Make sure you watch all the way to the very end for the final gag, it's worth it.

 

But Air New Zealand have just launched their Christmas offering Air New Zealand presents Summer Wonderland #AirNZXmas and its seriously Kiwi as Bro. I love it and had to share. I hope you enjoy it too. If you do please share with your friends and family.

The video features star Ronan Keating alongside young Kiwi star Julian Dennison and it's just gold. So many Kiwi things dragged into a short video.

Have an awesome Christmas.

 

John
Travel | Art | Photography 

PS:  If you love to travel, you may enjoy this blog on the best App I have ever used. It is the perfect travel tool when hitting a major city. Read it here.


6 cheap things to do in Sydney - travel tips 0 Comments

6 cheap things to do in Sydney - travel tips opera house

By John Lechner

Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, but it doesn't have to be expensive when you visit as a tourist. Here are my top 6 tips to make your next trip to Sydney great value.

Transport

Get an Opal Card.

6 cheap things to do in Sydney - travel tips opal card

The card costs nothing to get, you only pay for the credit you apply to it. So get a new card with $50 credit and pay just $50. You can buy an Opal Card at the WH Smith in the Interational Terminal or in the Newslink at the T2 Domestic Terminal. Elsewhere at convenience stores and some supermarkets. Top ups are easy at the train or ferry terminals. 

But the good news, once you have your Opal Card, there is a maximum travel fee of $15 per day ($7.50 for kids and $2.5 for concession card holders). That's it, catch buses, ferries, trains and light rail all day across the city for just $15 total. The only exception is getting to and from the airport. There is an airport station access fee, which is an additional $13.40 per adult. This does not count towards your $15 daily cap.

In addition to the daily cap of $15 per person there is a weekly cap of $60. Do more than four days in 7 in travel and the extras are free. As a family (2 adults and 2 kids) we travelled around the city, caught buses, ferries and trains all day for $45 a day. Most CBD carparks are more expensive than that.

NOTE: You need one Opal card per person, Adult or Child, everyone needs their own Opal.

Best Value Harbour Cruise

Technically this isn't a cruise but it may as well be. Head to Circular Quay and catch the Manly ferry. Not the fast ferry, just the plain old Manly Ferry. The trip takes 30 mins each way and covers some of the most beautiful parts of Sydney Harbour. This return trip will almost max out your Opal daily limit and is far cheaper than any other harbour cruise. 

Want to see more of the Harbour, when you get back catch another ferry to Darling Harbour or elsewhere.

When you get to Manly walk down The Corso to the Beach, check out the beautiful view. I recommend turning right at the beach and taking a leisurely stroll along the coastline on the Cabbage Tree Bay Walk to the tiny but pretty Shelly Beach. While there keep an eye out for the Water Dragons.

If you are up for a bigger walk, check out the North Head walk below under Take a walk.

6 top tips for cheap things to do in Sydney Water dragon

Sunset Picnic

Sydney has some wonderful food that is both cheap and great quality, so you don't have to try too hard to find something yummy to enjoy for a sunset picnic. Once you have your supplies, don't forget to get a drink or two.

Head to Mrs Macquarie's Chair, this is the end of the peninsula round from the Royal Botanic Gardens.

 

From this beautiful spot you can enjoy the harbour as the day closes, the sun will set and hopefully mother nature will put on a show for you. From here you are in prime position to see the bridge and Opera House. I highly recommend waiting for it to get dark a bit and watch the lights come on over the harbour, stunning.

6 top tips for cheap things to do in Sydney Opera House Harbour Bridge Sunset

Cheap dinner - But seriously good

Sydney has some of the best asian food you can buy and from just about every country you can think of. If you want a great lunch head into one of Sydney's many food courts that cater to the city workers. Find the places with the biggest queues and you'll have a great quality and cheap meal, most options should be under $10.

At night, the options are fewer but no less yummy. Head to Chinatown, Dixon or Sussex Streets which isn't far from Darling Harbour. Here there are tonnes of restaurants, but steer clear of the ones that target the tourists.

Personally I find restaurants that don't look very flash, in fact sometime the dingier the better the food. But also steer clear of restaurants where the majority of patrons are caucasian. Sydney's vibrant Asian community knows good food and a good bargain.

If I am on the hunt for a good feed for under $10 I will always head to the Eating World Food Court on the corner of Dixon & Goulburn Streets, it is downstairs and for under $10 you will get a great feed, under $20 a feast. Great taste and quality in these high turnover asian hole in the wall eateries.

Culture

Sydney has a great cultural district with the Art Gallery of NSW, The State Library of NSW, Royal Botanic Gardens and The Australian Museum all within easy walking distance. 

All are free entry except the Australian Museum which is just $15. Start your morning walking from Circular Quay to the Royal Botanic Gardens via the Opera House. Enjoy the gardens while it is early and still cool.

Then head up the hill to the Art Gallery of NSW, some great art from Australia as well as wonderful works by Masters from around the globe. Then stroll across the domain to the State Library of NSW. They always have a couple of free exhibitions on featuring items from the collection. 

Check out the beautiful Mitchell Library Reading Room and if you can a sneak peak at the Shakespeare Room, a hidden gem.

If you are not museum'd out yet, take a walk up Macquarie Street to St Mary's Cathedral, Australia's most beautiful church and cross the road to the Australian Museum.

Otherwise, head up Macquarie Street to Hyde Park, take a rest in the shade of one of the beautiful old trees maybe enjoying an ice-cream.

Take a walk

Sydney has some wonderful long or short walks. The reality is you could walk everywhere and see some wonderful things but here are three great walks to enjoy in Sydney.

Bondi to Coogee Walk

Start your walk at the Bondi Beach Surf Pavilion (the massive building in the middle of the beach). This historic building was opened in 1929. Walking along the walkway above the sand heading towards Bondi Icebergs you get to see some wonderful street art. This world map below is my favourite artwork on the walk. By Em Carey, this just reminds me to travel more.

  

We did this walk as a family. Its an easy walk with only one serious hill, so can be tackled by most people, there are plenty of rest stops along the way and it's only 6km.

It is beautifully picturesque with some of Australia's most iconic beaches included in the walk, 6 in all. Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, Gordon's Bay & Coogee, there are great lookouts and views throughout the walk, take your camera.

6-cheap-things-to-do-in-Sydney-travel-tips-bondi-icebergs
Bondi Icebergs one of the first stops on the walk


Bronte Beach Baths under a fantastic sky

BONUS TIP:

When you finish the walk at Coogee, you can keep going to Maroubra and beyond.
But our kids had called it quits on the walking so after a nice lunch in Coogee, we caught a bus up to Watson's Bay.
We checked out the lookout at The Gap and then caught a ferry back to Circular Quay from Watson's Bay, a very pleasant way to finish our visit to the Eastern Suburbs. Back to the Quay for a promised ice cream.
  

Walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge

6-cheap-things-to-do-in-Sydney-travel-tips-view-from-sydney-harbour-bridge
You get a great perspective of the harbour from the Sydney Harbour Bridge
  

Yes, you can walk along the Sydney Harbour Bridge for FREE. Catch the train to Milsons Point and walk back to Circular Quay across the bridge. Walk across the Cahill Expressway too to see the Quay from up high. You can catch the lift down into the heart of the action when you're done and grab a gelato too.

6-cheap-things-to-do-in-Sydney-travel-tips-detail-sydney-harbour-bridge
A great perspective from on the bridge of the details and structure
   

Manly to North Head walks

6 cheap things to do in Sydney - travel tips manly north head
Looking south from the cliff tops near Shelly Beach

This is actually a combination of a few walks together. They are: Shelly Beach - Cabbage Tree Bay Coastal Walk, Shelly Beach to North Head Sanctuary, North Head Sanctuary & Gunners Walk, the Australian Memorial Walk and the Fairfax walk, plus Collins Beach.

Sounds complicated but really it is simply a lovely walk that a family can cover in 3-4 hours with moderate fitness levels and taking your time.

We started our morning at Circular Quay and caught the ferry to Manly, from the terminal Manly we walked down the Corso to Manly Beach. When you hit the beach turn right towards the surf club and you are on your way to Shelly Beach.

6-cheap-things-to-do-in-Sydney-travel-tips-shelly beach manly north head
I loved these windblown trees gracing the headland on the end of Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is a tiny and beautiful beach very popular for swimming, diving and snorkelling. Just behind the beach there are a set of stairs up to the carpark. Head up these stairs and keep going until you are overlooking the ocean cliffs.

Head right and you will follow some bush paths up the hill, the are options for the more adventurous where you really are overlooking the cliffs.

As you push on you come to a new sandstone path and then a steel boardwalk. All the time following the signs to the North Head Sanctuary.

After a time trekking through the bush you will arrive at the old Army School of Artillery, we walked through the gates and across the parade ground before heading left up the hill aiming for the Hanging Swamp.

6-cheap-things-to-do-in-Sydney-travel-tips-hanging swamp north head manly
The Hanging Swamp on North Head, an eerily beautiful place

All along the walk you pass old fortifications which are interesting to see and walk into. The Australia's Memorial Walk honours those who have served and supported the defence of Australia in peace or in war. 

After passing along the Memorial Walk you enter the Fairfax track. This track links up three lookouts on North head, looking north out to sea, then south to South Head and finally south west to the city. Each of these lookouts affords great views and are worth taking your time to enjoy. If you are really lucky you may even spot a whale or two on migration.

6-cheap-things-to-do-in-Sydney-travel-tips-manly north head city lookout fairfax
Looking back to the city from North Head over the Harbour

As you turn for home you cover some more bush tracks this time on the western side of headland, passing the barracks you can return direct to Manly and even catch a bus to the wharf if you are done. 

We headed down a side street and walked back via Collins & Little Manly Beaches before popping out on the southern end of East Manly Cove Beach.

6-cheap-things-to-do-in-Sydney-travel-tips-detail-sydney-manly-north-head-collins-beach
Looking through to the city from Collins Beach
  

Overall a fantastic family walk with spectacular views throughout. Another great walk from Manly that we didn't get to on this trip is the Manly to Spit Bridge walk. maybe next time.

I hope these tips help you have a great trip to Sydney whether you are a local or travelling from the other side of the globe.

Have an awesome day. If you enjoyed these tips please share on your favourite social media.

 

John
Travel | Art | Photography


They say the Daintree is beautiful, but it wants to kill you... 0 Comments

Smiling salty
A smiling salty on the banks of the Daintree River

I was lucky enough to spend a week in the Daintree region touring and exploring. But when you head north into this tropical oasis you get a lot of warnings, a lot.

There are the obvious ones, like for the crocodiles. The Daintree doesn't just have any old crocs, in fact having experienced some gators in Florida a few years back these crocs are scary. To be clear the Saltwater Crocodile is THE apex predator, the only animal that eats salties is other salties. Even sharks are killed and eaten by salties.

There is a line in one of the warning brochures that sent chills down my spine. It said "If you can see small crocodiles then the large crocodiles are watching you". They are big, strong and deadly, but they are also stealthy, that makes them really scary.

saltwater crocodile in the daintree river
Saltwater Crocodile in the Daintree River

I watched a 4m male croc simply disappear in shallow waters, after unsuccessfully courting a female he simply submerged and disappeared. No ripples, no movement, just gone. Let me tell you I wasn't leaning over the edge of the boat after that.

But the crocs are just the start. If you go for a swim in the Daintree river, the only question really is whether the crocs or the bull sharks will get you first. Actually, I did two croc tour river cruises on the Daintree and both times the boat had 50 odd perfectly serviceable life jackets on. I couldn't think of anything more terrifying than floating in a life jacket on the Daintree River, it is the stuff of nightmares.

Beautiful scene but look closer...
Beautiful scene but look closer...

While on the subject of water, before I wrap up there, if the crocs or sharks don't get you, North Queensland is home to the box jellyfish, this harmless looking jellyfish can kill you with its 3m long tentacles by paralysing your heart and lungs. Lovely I know.

But the birds are also dangerous, yes the birds - try this on for size

The cassowary, looks like a giant prehistoric turkey walking on stilts with a large pointed helmet on its head. It is the second largest bird in the world. It is also the most dangerous bird on the planet. If threatened it will attack with a swift karate-kick with its powerful legs equipped with dagger-like claws.

Source Panique 

It may sound like an over-dramatisation, but it isn't. Sadly I didn't see a cassowary, but that said I am grateful I didn't bump into one on my walks. I did bump into a massive pile of cassowary poo, that was scary enough, I knew one was in the vicinity.

Cassowary poo
Cassowary Poo, for scale this was as long/wide as my size 9 shoe.

So, don't go in the water and be very careful of the turkeys on stilts. If that isn't enough, there are also plants that want to tear you to pieces, literally. The most scary is the wait-a-while, it will entangle you and if not careful it can and will cut through flesh to the bone.

I got caught in some exploring and thankfully was forewarned and didn't get more than a few spikes in me. Although later I slipped and grabbed a palm frond to stop my fall and cut my hand open on the sharp teeth of the frond.

The Daintree is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been but I can tell you that I felt more at ease walking the streets of Brooklyn in the dark carrying $10,000 of camera gear than I did spending two minutes alone in the Daintree. It is a beautiful and ancient land where humans need to respect it or pay the price.

Sacred Kingfisher
A sacred kingfishers on the Daintree River

But it isn't all doom and gloom. The Daintree is breathtaking and has some stunning wildlife that isn't out to get you, in fact it is just gorgeous. Take these kingfishers for example, I managed to see both the sacred kingfisher and the azure kingfisher in within a few minutes. Until that day I had never seen either in the wild.

Azure Kingfisher Daintree River
Azure Kingfisher Daintree River

As I shot these photos of the beautiful Kingfishers, I was thinking of my friend Natalie Parker and her breathtaking paintings of Australian wildlife. Nat would have loved the morning on the Daintree River capturing the beautiful native fauna.

I have to finish with a big thank you. I spend several hours on the Daintree River with the wonderful team from Crocodile Express. I was lucky enough to go out on the river twice with the Croc Express including with one of the business owners Anja. These crocodile and kingfisher images were captured from the deck of Crocodile Express boats. I thoroughly recommend them if you are visiting the Daintree.

I will leave you with a beautiful scene from Masons swimming hole, one of the few croc free places to swim in the Daintree.

Masons swimming hole Daintree
Masons swimming hole Daintree 

Just released from the beautiful Mossman Gorge, Kuku Yalanji Dreaming. Available as a limited edition of just 20 artworks in fine art print or glass prints. Order yours TODAY!

Landscape Photo Fine Art Glass Print - Kuku Yalanji dreaming, Mossman Gorge Daintree Rainforest Queensland Australia

Have an awesome day.

 

John

PS

If you enjoyed this blog, I would really appreciate it if you shared it on your favourite social media. Thanks in advance.

 


Why you need to join Qantas or Virgin Velocity frequent flyer program to earn bonuses and perks 0 Comments

Why you need to join Qantas or Virgin Velocity frequent flyer program to earn bonuses and perks

Qantas or Virgin Velocity frequent flyer?

What if I told you that you can buy a Business class ticket from Sydney to Los Angeles worth nearly $3,600 for less than $1,100 cash? You can and its not a scam nor is it unachievable.

Yesterday I was stunned to find out that some friends that are heading to Europe next week are not members of a frequent flyer program. There are a bunch of reasons to sign up to your favourite program. These are the reasons why I believe you should do it.

I am a big fan of Virgin Australia's Velocity rewards and I will explain why I believe it has the edge over Qantas' Frequent Flyer program.

If you are a one-eyed Qantas fan and could never think of flying another airline. That's cool, join Qantas Frequent Flyers and get the benefits. Just remember that depending on where you fly you will probably also fly on Emirates too. Emirates are awesome don't get me wrong but Qantas is no longer Qantas, more like a Qantas/Emirates hybrid.

Anyhow, for the rest of us. I will run through a few reasons why I think that Virgin has the edge.

    • Family Pooling of not just miles but Status Credits. Virgin is one of the few airlines (Qantas don't) that allow a family 2 adults and up to 4 children to pool their miles and status credits. This means that one family holiday (2A 2C) to Europe will get you to Gold status or East Coast USA will leave you just 20 status credits short of Gold (Syd - Mel return will cover that).

While air miles are great and they can allow you awesome upgrades, free flights, free hotel stays, free car hire and so much more. Status Credits are king! Status Credits are the things that get you closers to the coveted Silver, Gold and the holy grail Platinum Status.

Status has some awesome perks. For instance double or even triple your free baggage allowance, seat selection at no extra charge or even bonus miles from 25% - 100% extra.

Honestly, they're all good perks but there are more. How about skipping the checkin queue at the airport, even the humble Silver status allows you to check-in via the Premium/Business queue, it's always shorter believe me.

After you check in and get to keep that spare seat beside you, yes having status helps this too. You get handed an "Express Pathway" path (International Gold & Platinum only). Now this is a perk they don't tell you about and it happens both exiting and entering the country. 

The "Express Pathway" is a way to skip the long queue at the customs and security process. This is awesome. Best thing is if the normal queue is small, stick your express pass in your pocket and save it for next time.

Once through the official processes, you can forget about finding a crappy and expensive meal in the airport halls in uncomfortable seats. Just head to the Business Class Lounge, find a comfy spot, get a fresh and yummy meal with real cutlery and relax with your favourite drink, including a glass of French bubbles.

There are a couple of extra perks in the business lounge you will enjoy, almost all have hot showers, with a range of free toiletries. Flying Sydney to Europe and having a hot shower, putting on fresh undies and socks makes you feel almost human. You will feel a whole lot better than most people.

What about boarding first? I used to be one of those people that liked to board last, purely to spend less time on the plane. But now I travel with a large carryon filled with expensive camera gear, boarding first has the advantage of making sure my bag is safely stowed right above my seat.

  • Choice of Airlines. My preferred airline for years has been Singapore Airlines. If you have ever snagged an upstairs economy window seat on a Singapore A380 you will understand this.

Virgin's own network is actually quite small, they fly within Australia, the Pacific, NZ, Bali, Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi essentially. But they have three key partners (a bunch of others too). Heading towards Europe you have the choice of Singapore and Etihad, both out of Sydney and through their hubs. To the USA its Delta. 

On each of these airlines you will earn points and can even fly under a Virgin flight number as if flying on Virgin. You also get to use their lounges in Sydney and around the world when flying. 

  • Guaranteed Upgrades. Virgin have this very simple and easy to use upgrade system. With Qantas you can apply but there are no guarantees. You may not even find out until you get to the gate.

Upgrades are awesome, especially on long haul flights. Take Sydney to Los Angeles for example. It is a 14 hour flight. If you buy a Flexi fare, which is say 20-30% more than a saver fare, you earn double status points (this is good), plus more miles. But as soon as you have paid for the flight. You can call the Velocity call centre and pay for an upgrade with points (Gold & Platinum only).

Want to fly Premium economy, it is only 18,000 points each way, Business is 45,000 each way. Get this, you earn a minimum 13,112 points by doing this leg in Flexi economy so the Premium upgrade costs you less than 5000 points and a couple of hundred bucks extra for Flexi fare over the Saver fare.

Why you need to join Qantas or Virgin Velocity frequent flyer program to earn bonuses and perks
To make it easy I picked a random date next month.
  
Sydney to Los Angles one way with Virgin Australia. I assume you hold Virgin Velocity Gold status.
  
Paying an extra $249 for the Flexi economy fare over the saver you get the following additional benefits and options.
  • Double Status credits 80 instead of 40.
  • An additional 6558 frequent flyer points (miles)
  • The ability to upgrade to Premium Economy (if available) for a net cost of 4,884 points (earn 13,116 and pay 18,000 to upgrade), you save $1176
  • The ability to upgrade to Business (if available) for a net cost of 31,884 (earn 13,116 and pay 45,000 to upgrade), you save $2,521!
  • To put this in perspective, if booking accommodation or car hire products using Velocity points then you pay 10,000 per AU$100 of expense. So the cash value of the points needed for these upgrades are $48.84 for Premium economy & $318.84 for Business. That is an AWESOME deal.
I hope you now see the value in joining and using a frequent flyer program, particularly Velocity Rewards before your next trip. Make sure you each family member joins up if you are a family and then pool your points and status to the most active flyer in your group. There are awesome benefits. 
    My final tip and is that with careful booking of Flexi economy tickets you can get some really awesome upgrades for practically nothing. Enjoy! I would love to hear any tips you have, leave them in the comments below.
      
    Have a great day
      
      
      
    John
    Traveller | Artist | Photographer

    Travel, what should you learn of the local language? 2 Comments

    Travel, what should you learn of the local language?
    The promise of wonderful meals on a menu board for an Ubud restaurant in Bali

      

    When is it OK to travel and not learn ANY of the local language?

    Honestly never, but before you get upset at me, I am totally guilty of this. I was almost home from my most recent trip to Bali and realised that I had not learnt nor used a single work of Bahasa Indonesian. This is my second trip to Bali and Indonesia.

    Even as few as 15-20 years ago we may have had an excuse for not doing it. Books are a hard way to learn language, tapes or CDs from your local library or classes were the key ways to learn a language.

    But today a simple Google search or a search of the App store on your phone will not only give you an easy way to learn a language but completely accessible and FREE.

    Like I said there is NO excuse any more. So why don't we even try? Personally I think there are two things.

    At most tourist destinations these days there is a level of English speaking that makes even the most rudimentary communications easy.

    But I also think the second reason is a bit more controversial... I wouldn't dream of going to Germany, France or Italy without having a few basics of German, French or Italian up my sleeve. 

    But I have now been to Indonesia twice and not learnt a single word. Why? I think it may be a bit of the if not racism but a feeling of superiority, first world vs second or third world.

    Notice that even on this warning sign in Bali, that English is first before Bahasa,
    is this the right thing?

    But lets get this straight, Indonesia is both our nearest neighbour (in Australia), alongside PNG and is the fourth most populous nation on the planet behind, China, India and USA. In fact of the top 10 most populous nations, only 2 have English as there official language, USA and Nigeria, between them just 6.88% of the world's population.

    If you go a little wider to the top 25 most populous countries in the world, between them making up nearly 75% of the worlds population. Only four have English as an official language, that includes South Africa which actually has 11 official languages. 

    Of those four countries that have English as an official language in the top 25 they make up just 8.5% of the world's population. So in fact, we, as English speakers are by far in the minority.

    But money has power, by definition if you have the spare cash to travel outside your own country then you are richer than about 95% of the world's population. When you bring your money to a new place you want it to be easier, you pay for the convenience and to a degree expect the locals to welcome you with open arms.

    But go to Paris without even a rudimentary "Bonjour" or "Merci" and expect an unpleasant if not hostile experience. Just a few words go a long way in France. The French do not tolerate a lack of respect, nor should they. In fact, other cultures should try and emulate it a bit better, to encourage visitors to at least try.

    I go back to Bali in a few weeks, this time on a family holiday with some friends. I have already downloaded a Bahasa app onto my phone and plan to be equipped with some language before I step off the plane in Bali. Hopefully I can elicit more than a scowl from the Indonesian customs officials and a real smile from the Balinese.

    Until next time, selamat tinggal (good bye)

     

    John 

    PS    Want to stay in touch by email? Click HERE!

    On the beach in Bali 0 Comments

    On the beach in Bali
    A stunning sunset on Bali's Double Six Beach.

    Bali Beaches

    Bali is the perfect place to visit when you want to do very little, to rest by the pool side on or the beach. Maybe catch a few rays or read a good book. 
      
    It’s not a great place to come when you want to work, like I am this trip. This isn’t a sob story about coming to paradise for work. But that everything is geared towards relaxing. Especially in the heat of the day. 
      
    Some days the heat kicks in by 9am, and its not that oh it’s gonna be a bit warm type of heat but the OMG it’s hot and sticky kind of heat which encourages you to seek shade, a cool drink or four and just chill out kind of heat.
      
    If you are lucky there is relief by 5 or 6pm. If you are not them by midnight you are still cursing the humidity.
      
    Thankfully I am at peace with the fact that for me, landscape photos happen best at both ends of the day, sunrise and sunset. So the challenge is to keep cool and sober, as much as I would love to sit by the pool and drink Bintang all day, that doesn’t work if I want to shoot sunset.
      
    Beautiful sunset reflection from Double Six Beach Bali
    Beautiful sunset reflection from Double Six Beach Bali
     
    Yesterday I got lucky, my sunset shoot location was just in front of a local Warung (restaurant) that had food and icy cold Bintang. They’re staff we quite happy to bring me beers while I shot sunset. That was nice, and rare because I didn’t have to drive myself home from the shoot.
      
    I have never quite worked out how people can sit on the beach in the sun all day, especially when it is baking hot. Personally I am a big fan of the cool and dark, and AC. But the beaches here are geared towards hundreds of people lying in the sun, perhaps under an umbrella and having your favourite drink on call.
      
    Sunset at Echo Beach, BaliSunset at Echo Beach, Bali
      
    You don’t even have to leave your beach lounge to shop. Countless and continuous vendors will bring everything to you to buy, from “Rolex” watches to sunglasses, sarongs, art and so much more. Just lay back enjoy the Bintang and enjoy.
      
    Hopefully you will get to experience an awesome beach sunset. Something we don’t see on the east coast of Australia and something I have only experienced once before this trip (in LA on Santa Monica beach).
      
    I do enjoy Bali and look forward to returning soon with my family for an actual holiday. I can’t wait to sit by the pool and enjoy the Bintang.
      
    Until next time.
      
      
    John
    PS  Let's stay in touch by email?    Click HERE!

    First impressions Ubud Bali 0 Comments

    First impressions Ubud Bali
    Love this view, Southern Sydney as we climb out over the suburbs.

    One of the reasons that Bali has a bad rap in some circles is that it is filled with loud and drunken tourists, mostly Aussies. While this can be the case in Kuta and there is an element of that, the reality is not quite the same.

    Bali is a holiday mecca for Australians simply because it is the closest and cheapest, exotic travel location for all Aussies. It's only 6 hours from Sydney, under 4 hours from Perth and less than 2 from Darwin.

    There are other places we can go overseas, New Zealand but that's a bit more like visiting your cousin's place, not very exotic at least on the surface of it. Fiji or other parts of the Pacific islands are also on the list and honestly a bit under-rated. I have a trip to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the Cook Islands firmly in my sights, maybe even three trips.

    Bali is easy, very close and for many Aussie's their first experience of South East Asia. For me personally, I have been to Phuket (Thailand), Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Nusa Dua (Bali, Indonesia) before. So while I have been into the region before in small pockets I haven't spent a huge amount of time.

    I am spending my first 4 nights here in Ubud. Ubud is about an hour from the hustle and bustle of Kuta but it is a world away. I never got to visit Ubud in its heyday when it was less touristy and more about chilling out but honestly it is still pretty chilled out.

    I didn't get in until after 6pm so I had a quick shower and change after my 15 hour transit and set out to find dinner and get my bearings. The first thing I noticed was the lack of touts and people hassling me to buy.

    Oh that feeling when you have a whole row...Oh that feeling when you have the whole row...

    I covered about 2 km of shops, most open and with their owners out front in the street. Not a single one hassled me at all and most just said hello. This is a big difference to even walking the streets of Nusa Dua. It was a welcome surprise.

    The other thing, as a solo man walking the streets of Phuket, Siem Reap, Nusa Due and even Amsterdam you get offered some very "interesting" things, especially "massage". Not here is Ubud. So much more chilled and no hassling, it's great

    I found my dinner, actually had to hunt a little. I came to Indonesia to immerse myself in the country's natural beauty, it's culture and it's food. So I really wasn't up for Mexican, Pizza, Pizza, Chinese or Pizza. I wanted simple and genuine Indonesian food. 

    I got it, I think, it was a bit fancy and was a sit down restaurant but I did have some lovely fried dumplings, fried chicken with rice and pickled veggies. With a couple of Coke's and a tip for $15. Not cheap by Bali standards but very cheap by Aussie standards.

    Yummy fried dumplingsYummy Fried Dumplings

    I also got a very strong balinese massage for $10 for a whole hour to help work out the wrinkles of sitting on the train for 3 1/2 hours and a plane for 6 hours. This morning I feel refreshed and ready to explore Ubud before heading off this afternoon with a driver to explore and do some shooting.

    Catch you soon.

     

    John

    PS    Let's stay in touch by email?    Click HERE!


    How to pack for a photo trip 1 Comment

    How to pack for a photo trip
    My main camera bag packed and ready to go.

    By John Lechner

    How to pack for a photo trip

    As I finalise preparations to head to Bali for a week long shooting trip I took some time to take you through what is in my bags and why.

    It's important to understand I will be carrying three bags but each has a separate purpose and role.

    Those three bags are:

    1. Checked suitcase. This carries, my clothing, tripod, an empty daypack and my no fragile camera gear such as wet weather hoods, mini tripods, attachments and chargers.
    2. Carry-on camera bag. This time I am taking a backpack as I expect to do a bit of hiking to locations. But if I am travelling to a urban location I would take a roller bag. This carries all my fragile camera gear, bodies, lenses, laptop, hard drives, memory cards, filters and more.
    3. A small messenger bag. This is my bag that I use for stuff I actually want to use on the plane. So it includes my paperback, iPad, pillow, eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush & paste, basic medicine, snacks and water.

    The reason I differentiate between my camera bag and my messenger bag is that the camera bag is large and bulky. Once it goes into the overhead locker it stays there. The little bag is small enough to stuff under my seat and access throughout the flight.

    There's an obvious issue with the way I travel. That is my hand luggage exceeds the normal allowance for airlines. Most allow only 7kg of hand luggage. My two hand luggage bags for this trip are about 15kg, about the same if not more than my checked luggage.

    There is only one way for me to get under the 7kg limit and that is to check camera gear. I'm not inclined to do that EVER but if I did I would need to invest a few hundred dollars in a Pelican case like the one below.

      
    Even with a Pelican case I wouldn't be worry free. A few months back this video was doing the rounds on social media. It is a little worrying to say the least if you were to subject your gear to this sort of punishment before an important trip.
     
      
    Needless to say, I carryon anything fragile, cameras, lenses, computers and hard drives. I have only ever been asked to weigh my bags twice. The first time I argued that I had over $20,000 of camera gear in the bag (I exaggerated).
     
    The second time, coming home from NYC last year, I just said no. I didn't allow them to weigh my bag, I was already on the gangway, I was tired and not in the mood. They let me on with the bag.
     
    So while I am not advocating that sort of behaviour, if you are sensible and only carry the fragile gear, speak nice to the ground and air crew you will be OK in 99% of cases.
     
    In the video below I walk you through what is in my bags and why. I have also added a link below to my photography gear pack list. While this list is comprehensive and includes almost any possible gear I could take on a shoot it gives you a starting point to go from for your next trip.
     
      
    If you would like my pack list (in Excel format), download it here.
      
    I wish you well for your future travel photography and look forward to hearing about your travels. Have you joined our Better Travel Pics support group on Facebook yet? Join TODAY.
      
    Have a great day and travel safe.
      
      
    John
       
    PS  
    You can download your copy of the Better Travel Pics eBook today at bettertravelpics.com it contains my top 9 tips and tricks to improve your travel photos.

    Is Bali just for Bogans or a genuine holiday location? 2 Comments

    Is Bali just for Bogans or a genuine holiday location?

    Bali Bogans or Paradise for all?

    I have to start this blog with a confession. Until last year I was a complete Bali snob. My snobbery was almost entirely based on it's reputation as a prime Bogan (for my international visitors think Redneck) holiday destination.

    While Bali is definitely a favoured holiday destination for countless Aussies keen to get drunk, party hard and live cheap on a holiday. What I learned on my first ever visit last year is that these hard living party goers don't like to stray too far out of Kuta.

    So essentially you can avoid 99% of the trouble makers by just completely avoiding Kuta.

    As an international traveller I have been around the world and been to many places near and far. I can honestly say that Bali is one of the most beautiful places I have been. That is if you get out and about.

    Ubud for instance and the highlands in general are just breathtaking, there is so much to do both for the highly active and those that want to just want to relax.

    So let me take it back a few steps and start the story properly. In late 2014 I sent my wife Kim off to Bali for a week of chill. It had been a crazy year and she needed a bit of time to re-charge. Kim spent the week in complete indulgence relaxing at a place called Bliss Sanctuary for Women. They describe themselves like this...

    Come and stay with us in beautiful Bali where you will be nurtured to your heart’s content. No kids, no couples and only a handful of women at any one time.

    This is pure holiday Bliss. We are a sanctuary for women who want the ultimate relaxation, hassle free Bali retreat experience.

    Kim came back raving about both Bliss and Bali so I was open to the idea of a Bali Holiday for the first time. Then my good friends at italktravel sent me an offer we couldn't refuse. A really cheap (40% off) Club Med deal, we ended up booking that with my brother and his family and choose Nusa Dua in Bali because it is the closest Club Med and thus the least travel for the kids.

    Short answer is, Club Med is a perfect holiday for the family, meals and drinks are all included, there is tonnes to do in the resort as well as close by.

    Exploring Bali left me mesmerised. It is just beautiful. The rainforests, temples and the colours just wonderful. I didn't get a lot of shooting in during our trip but I did get some. I also read a few books, relaxed by the pool and just had a great family holiday.

    Anyhow when we got back we were keen to return and actually ended up booking a private villa for a holiday with our neighbours in July of this year. Thing is I still had a lot of shooting I wanted to do.

    I tend to keep an eye out for stupidly priced deals, thankfully one came along. Return to Bali on Virgin fully inclusive, not one of those fares where you pay extra for meals, luggage and toilet paper (kidding) but all the bells and whistles for $360.

    Perfect, we had a week when it worked out for the family for me to disappear, so I booked it. That was months ago now and I depart next week. I actually wasn't sure if I was going to go. 

    The beginning of this year has been very slow for sales of my art and I didn't think the cost of the trip was possible. But the reality is I need to go. It will be good for me, the business and my mojo. To immerse myself in a week of shooting will be perfect.

    I am planning to hack this trip as much as possible. If I can find a way to reduce or avoid spending money I will. So far I have booked my accommodation, paying with frequent flyer points. As much as I dislike the slow train ride from Maitland to the airport it is about $150 cheaper than driving and parking. But that is the start. I think I can do the rest of the trip for under $400, probably even $300.

    The real challenge will be ground transport. Sunrise shoots at 4am mean paying for a driver and a car. So I will need to be strategic as to when I use cars. I am actually looking forward to the challenge and will keep you up to date with how I go.

    In the coming days I will go through my preparation and will share it as it happens.

    More to come soon. Have a great day. Want to stay in touch? Click HERE!

     

    John

    PS  

    If you are planning a trip and need some help to take better photos on your trip, then  recommend you download my FREE eBook - Better Travel Pics.

     

    Is Bali just for Bogans or a genuine holiday location?
    Sunrise on the beach at Nusa Dua, captured on my iPhone 6


    Visit the Blue Mountains, it's good for the soul 0 Comments

    Visit the Blue Mountains, it's good for the soul
    Grose Valley Sunrise, Walls Lookout Australia

    By John Lechner

    Visit the Blue Mountains

    I have just returned from a week in the Blue Mountains, just an hour or so west of Sydney. I had a great time and managed to surprise myself with some of the places I found.

    Backing up a step, I had actually planned to go down south to Kiama and spend the week shooting the beautiful coastline. I had got my little pop up camper out, packed it and was trying to put it back down when it got stuck up! Yes up, not very helpful and less than 24 hours before I was planning to leave.

    I ran around on Sunday morning trying to find a replacement part with no luck and decided I just needed to change my plans. I rang my in-laws who live in the Mountains and asked if I could crash for the week, went home pulled all the gear out of the caravan and into the car and then headed for the hills.

    Because of the last minute change I actually hadn't researched any potential shoot locations at all. Thing is, I have been coming to the Blue Mountains for much of my life, particularly in the last 20 years but I really haven't explored the mountains.

    Visit the Blue Mountains, it's good for the soul
    Sisters Sunset, Echo Point Australia

    So after the drive south and chatting to my in-laws Jim and Barb (Kim's parents) I started picking their brains and doing some Googling.

    Over the course of the week I actually only shot two locations that I had been to before, found many more and now have a list ready for a return trip.

    It's funny when I travel, I often get asked how was your holiday. I love my job immensely and feel privileged that I can chase my passion. But it is no holiday. No lazy afternoons by the pool drinking cocktails or sleep ins in the morning.

    As a general rule a shooting day starts between 3:30 - 4:30am depending on how far I need to travel. Often a hike in the dark from the carpark to the vantage point I have chosen carrying 10-20kg of gear.

    But then I get to enjoy watching the sky light up with the beautiful colours of the day, magic happens at dawn and I get to enjoy it all to myself. During my trip to the mountains I did a bunch of short hikes, stood on the edge of 100m sheer cliffs, explored rainforest and discovered breathtaking waterfalls.

    Without doubt my favourite was at the Gordon Falls reserve. Apparently there is a lookout to see the waterfall plunge over 200m off a cliff. I didn't see that but grabbed my camera, no tripod or other gear at all and took a trail down to the Pool of Siloam.

    The walk was interesting, not very long but quite steep. When I got to the pool I fell in love. So beautiful, green and OMG WOW!

    So no tripod, literally my DLSR and my iPhone. How could I shoot it in a way that captured the entrancing waterfall and did it justice. Note: to get the beautiful smooth water of a waterfall you really need to have the camera on a tripod or at least not be holding it in your hands.

    I tried balancing it on some rocks, it wasn't quite right so I changed my perspective. The trunk of a dead tree gave me the perfect position and platform to shoot from and I captured this.

    Visit the Blue Mountains, it's good for the soul
    Green Veil, Leura Blue Mountains

    There is so much more to share from this trip and over the coming weeks they will all be added to the website. If you see one you like and would love to have it in your home or office please let me know.

    Remember these days I am a full time artist, I only earn income when people buy my art. If you love what I do it would be my privilege to help you put a beautiful piece of nature on your walls.

    If you love my work but aren't ready to invest yet, please share my work with your friends and family online or in person. Referrals are how we grow our business, your support is truly appreciated.

    Thanking you 

     

    John


    AirNZ Safety Videos 0 Comments

    AirNZ Safety Videos

    By John Lechner

    AirNZ Safety Videos

    As a traveller I really appreciate how utterly boring an inflight safety video can be. But in recent years several airlines have cottoned on to the fact that if the video is fun and funny people will actually watch it. Better yet will share it on social media because it is that good.

    The master of this has to be Air New Zealand and while I have never actually flown Air NZ I have seen most of their recent inflight safety videos because they are so good.

    The latest one features a couple of All Black as Men in Black. Fun and catchy.

    Or the seriously EPIC Hobbit air safety video

    Old school with Betty White

    Ot the insane Bear Grylls, I have never ever seen that use for an oxygen mask before...

    There are plenty more, just search #AirNZSafetyVideo to see them. Check out the latest offering from AirNZ, Air New Zealand presents Summer Wonderland #AirNZXmas here. It is very good.

     

    John
    Traveller | Artist | Photographer

     


    How to make sure you don't get lost in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo & more 0 Comments

    How to make sure you don't get lost in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo & more
    Citymapper on the web, but it is primarily for iOS and Android.

    By John Lechner

    How to make sure you don't get lost in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo & more

    The solution is simple, get the Citymapper app for your iOS or Android phone.

    Let me start by saying Citymapper is the best app I have ever used. Huge claim I know, but it is.

    If you are going to Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, SF Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver, Mexico DF, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Chicago, Санкт-Петербург (St Petersburg), Toronto, Stockholm, DC-Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Montreal, Copenhagen, Berlin, Boston, Hamburg, Rome, Milan, Köln, Düsseldorf, Ruhrgebiet, Randstad, Brussels, Lyon, Paris, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisboa don't bother reading the rest of my blog, just download the app.

    But let me go back a few steps first. Last year when I was planning my trip to New York City I went on a hunt to find an app that may help me navigate the huge maze that is the NYC subway network. After a requisite Google search, one app kept coming up as the number 1 - Citymapper. So I added it to my phone and kept planning my trip.

    While on the subject of my phone. Every time I travel I purchase a local SIM card, in most countries around the world this is a breeze. In Europe I find Vodafone the best value and easiest, elsewhere I tend to do a little research first.
    In the USA, buying a prepaid sim with data is a complete nightmare, just a few years ago it was almost impossible. These days it is only slightly easier. 
    To get a prepaid SIM in the USA without data is a snap and you can buy a phone with credit for under $20. But if you want to BYO phone and have data, it is painful. I find the best is to buy a SIM card on eBay for RedPocket Mobile, you can get them delivered to Australia for under $10.
    Then when I hit the ground in the USA I find free wifi, add credit and activate the phone. Its still painful because you need download network settings but you can be up and running much quicker than trying to find a SIM on the street.
     

     Back to Citymapper, what does it do?

    How to make sure you don't get lost in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo & more 

    Simply all you need to do is tell it where you want to go, you can even tell it when you need to arrive by. I was staying in Brooklyn and had a bunch of early meetings in Manhattan. Each night I would use Citymapper to work out what time to set my alarm so I wouldn't be late.

    It uses GPS tracking to know where you are, so setting a start point is simple even if you are completely lost. You can also enter an address if you know where you are starting from. Your destination is able to be searched by address or name. For example, I was going to a restaurant in the West Village and honestly I had no idea where that was. Luckily I didn't need to, as all I did was type in the name of the restaurant and it came up.

    Adjust the arrival time for the dinner date time of 9pm and it tells me when I need to leave Brooklyn, and gives me several options; walking 98 mins, bicycle 40 mins, taxi 11 mins (Uber from $21 or Yellow cab $17-23), subway 34 mins or bus 72 mins.

    You choose your preferred mode and route and it then gives you every step. I was on a budget and had a 7 day metro pass so the subway was my preferred option. J & F train 34 mins total including walking.

    How to make sure you don't get lost in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo & more

    Citymapper lives tracks your location and plots the walking route to get you safely to and from the subway or bus. It then tells you which train to catch and which direction, how many stops until your transfer and so much more.

    New York City can be very easy to get lost in HOWEVER if you have a data connection on your phone and know your destination this is not the case. 

    Citymapper works in a bunch of major cities around the world (I wish I had of known about it when in Paris last year). It just works, there is no fuss and no getting lost. All you need is a smartphone and a data connection.

    I don't work for nor do I have any affiliation with Citymapper. I wrote this blog as I had recommended the app to a bunch of friends who are travelling and wanted to share more widely. Seriously, this is the BEST APP I HAVE EVER USED.

    If you love New York City like I do check out my prints from New York

      

    John
    Travel | Art | Photography


    More Temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia 0 Comments

    More Temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia
    Heading to school, this is a sight you see every day in Siem Reap, two three or even four kids on a bike.

    By John Lechner

    Other Temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia

    As I have mentioned in my previous posts on the temples there is much to see but you need to pace yourself, for one to combat the heat and humidity but also so that you don't get temple fatigue. Seriously, they are wondrous, gobsmacking even when you think about the tools and technology they had to use but you can also get bored. So take care not to OD on the temples. 

    For my second day at the temples I headed out to Ta Prohm, this is the temple featured in Tomb Raider with Angeline Jole. When I walked through the main entrance at first I was crestfallen. There was scaffolding everywhere, workman everywhere and I thought this is not what I had expected. Thankfully this was confined to one space at Ta Prohm and the was far more to explore. The complex is huge and definitely one of my favourites. Personally Ta Prohm and Preah Khan are the best, I love how both have succumbed to the jungle. Though the jungle is not being fought hard by the park management in the name of saving the temples it shows us that man is but a force on earth and that nature is equally powerful.

    Works at Ta Prohm Siem Reap Angkor Cambodia
    The scaffolding you are confronted with when entering Ta Prohm, thankfully only in one part.

    The trees sprouting from the ruins of the temple are huge. Some are massive 50-60 metres tall. The magic I had expected at Angkor Wat I experienced at Ta Prohm it is a magnificent complex and really is a sight to behold. Take you time exploring the complex and find the small  courtyards and spaces where you are there only one present.

    After exploring Ta Prohm I moved on to Ta Keo, the contrast couldn't have been more stark, from a sprawling complex to a single large pyramid. The stairs at Ta Keo will make you dizzy, they are so steep it almost feels like you are climbing a ladder and some steps are less than 150mm (6 inches wide) barely enough for your toes. After climbing in the morning heat and humidity you feel like you have had a workout. I am not a religious person but after making one of these monumental climbs I felt moved to make an offering to Buddha. The view from the shrine is breathtaking and worth every single drop of sweat.

    Inside Ta Prohm Siem Reap Angkor Cambodia
    A small courtyard inside Ta Prohm where I got to enjoy some serenity.

    After Ta Keo we visited a few smaller temples and for me they blended together. But one the way back to the hotel we passed by Bayon and saw the elephants on the trail so I stopped to take a few pics. The elephant handlers don't like you doing this, my guess is because they can't squeeze a few dollars from you. This is one of the things that started to affect me on my visit. At every turn almost everyone you meet is aiming to find a way to squeeze you for a dollar or two. I am and was happy to help where I could and certainly tipped everyone who served me in some way but it does wear you down.

    Stairs at Ta Keo Siem Reap Angkor Cambodia
    Just some of the stairs as you climb to the top of Ta Keo, there are more.

    After this it was time for some breakfast and some downtime catching up on my diary, editing and a few mins spare for a foot massage.

    In the afternoon I headed out to Pre Rup, with a some focus, to catch the sunset. The Pre Rup sunset is on the must do list for good reason. This tall temple has multiple levels up high were you overlook both ruins and the jungle to see the sun set. Pre Rup had a decent crowd for the sunset with many staking their claim early. Funnily when I arrived none had gone to where I considered the best spot for the golden hour. Most were perched on the edge of the upper level. I went down one level. This not only gave me more space to work with my tripod but more importantly gave me a clear view of the horizon with a proud sentinel lion in the foreground.

    Elephants near Bayon Siem Reap Angkor Cambodia
    I find elephants captivating.

    The sunset was beautiful if missing a bit of colour. Sadly the park staff started hustling us away the moment the sun dipped below the horizon, well before the light was at its best.

    Overall a good day in the temples.


    John

    Sunset over Pre Rup, Siem Reap Angkor Cambodia

    Sunset over Pre Rup


    Eating, drinking, prices and the other stuff in Siem Reap Cambodia 0 Comments

    Eating, drinking, prices and the other stuff in Siem Reap Cambodia
    Khmer soup, a bit like a steamboat.

    While the first reason to visit Siem Reap in Cambodia is to visit the temples, this is by no means the only reason to visit Siem Reap. There are other key attractions that make four or five days in this region worthwhile. As I mentioned in the last post you need to take the time to get a foot massage especially when you only pay $3 for 30 mins, a Khmer massage is also a must.

    The Cambodian cuisine is quite nice, while it contains lots of spices is it by no means as spicy as its neighbour Thailand. For those like me, who like their food spicier, then on almost every restaurant table you will find a bottle of chilli sauce.

    Food and drink in Cambodia is ridiculously cheap.

    You will almost always pay 'tourist' prices which means your price is rounded up to the nearest US dollar. Ask the price of something you will be told $1, $3 or similar. Even if the local's price is 25 cents. That said you will feel like you are paying too little.

    My favourite during my trip was the Cambodian Sandwich, made fresh on a pull cart wherever you happen to be. They start with a small fresh baguette, add spring onion, carrot, cucumber, meat (usually pork), coriander, mayo, sauce and a little chilli if you want. It is very similar to a Vietnamese Pork Roll. In reality it is a fresh sandwich, filling snack, breakfast, lunch or dinner for $1. I lost count of how many I had.

    Eating, drinking, prices and the other stuff in Siem Reap Cambodia
    Cambodian Sandwich Cart
    The markets are also worth a visit, not the old markets in the middle of town but the real markets. These markets are only a few minutes by tuk tuk from the middle of town, the Psar Leu markets are where the locals shop and every morning they are alive with thousands of people shopping.
     
    Take your time and wander through, you can buy so much here. I will say that while they don't stink you will have a threshold as to how long you can stay in the 'protein' section of the markets. You must see it but do the protein part in smaller chunks.
     

    PROTIP:

    Around the markets and in town you will see money changers with huge bundles of notes. Basically they exchange Cambodian Riel to US Dollars. Find a money changer and exchange $10 or $20 US for some Riel. Then when you ask a price for something at a stall in the markets or even in town, flash the Riel not US $. The price you pay will be smaller. For instance I bought a few things that cost me 3000 Riel, which is $0.75, if I had of paid in US$ no doubt I would have paid $1.
      
    Eating, drinking, prices and the other stuff in Siem Reap Cambodia
    The are some interesting sights in the protein section of the market.

     

    Tipping in Cambodia

    As a rule I am not a good tipper, it isn't in our culture here in Australia. If you have a job in Australia, you generally earn a living wage, not like other parts of the world. That said I was quite generous in Cambodia by comparison. Where I have bought something for $3.50 I would round up to $5. While $1.50 meant little to me, that is often a day's or hour's wages in Cambodia. Some people work for ridiculously small income so every dollar makes a huge difference.

    Tipping your masseuse $2 makes little difference to your day but makes a huge difference to the wages of a Cambodian. When eating in restaurants, I found that the more I spent the higher the chance the food was average. Generally the more expensive restaurants cater to the hoards of tourists, many with very bland and boring tastes. Try the cheap restaurants filled with tuk tuk or taxi drivers where $2-$3 goes a long way, You will get great service, a hearty meal and will enjoy much more genuine cuisine with lots of flavour.

    Eating, drinking, prices and the other stuff in Siem Reap Cambodia
    The freshest chicken I have eaten, less than an hour before it was on the plate it was roaming the garden.
     

    Best meals with locals

    The best meals I enjoyed when in Cambodia I shared with locals. One night, Lean (my driver) and I shared a Khmer soup which is a bit like a steamboat meal. For under $5 including a few beers the pair of us were well fed. I pay $5 for a cappuccino in Newcastle.

    Let alone a few beers and dinner for two. On another night we hit a beer garden for dinner, we had a big beer which was about 2 litres for $4, fried rice, BBQ pork, BBQ frog (yes frog and it was just yummy), some beef and other dishes. We ended up with four of us around the table and spent less than $20 including a tip.

    Beer in Cambodia

    Beer is a different experience in Cambodia, not because the beer tastes any different but there are two key differences. The first is that you WILL drink your beer with ice in it. Yes, I know, WHAT THE?, I held out for a couple then succumbed because I decided that cold but slightly watered down beer is far better than warm beer.

    As a general rule refrigeration is limited in Cambodia especially when you step away from the hotels and the tourist only restaurants. Ice is the main and sometimes only form of refrigeration. Ice is delivered daily to restaurants on the back of flat top trucks and portioned up with a saw or a machete.

    Eating, drinking, prices and the other stuff in Siem Reap Cambodia
    BBQ meat from one of the many vendors at 60 Road.
     

    So drinking beer with ice in it is normal and something that I ended up enjoying, I drank a fair amount of Angkor beer and enjoyed it. The other thing about beer is it is CHEAP! Scary cheap! In restaurants expect to pay 50 cents to a dollar for a can. You can buy a case of 24 for $12 or less. So when I am used to paying $40, $50 or even $60 for a case of beer $12 is just insane. Enjoy it with ice and enjoy it with friends.

    Next time I will return to the temples but it is always important to stop for food and drink.

    As a traveller and photographic artist I make my living by selling art prints of my photography from my travels within Australia and around the world like Siem Reap. If you enjoyed this blog then I would love you to check out my photographic art from the trip. 

    Want a beautiful art print from the temples and other beautiful landscapes in Angkor? Our art prints start at just AU$49.50 including shipping within Australia or $59.50 worldwide to your door. Check them out here.

      

    John
    Inspire, travel, live life

       

    PS   

    Check out my other blogs from Cambodia

    Travel makes you richer

    More Temples in Cambodia

    How this all began.....


    The Angkor Temples Cambodia - Part 2 0 Comments

    The Angkor Temples Cambodia

    As I walked along the bridge to Angkor Wat I saw the flickering light of these flames.

    By John Lechner

    The Temples of Angkor near Siem Reap

    The majority of tourists hit Siem Reap in Cambodia for 2-3 days to see the temples. The majority of tourists are Korean, by far, my guess would be 60-70%. When travelling to the temples the Koreans are easy to pick. They are either in large buses speeding past your tuk tuk, this is especially fun in the dark, or they are in private vehicles usually a large Lexus, again speeding past your tuk tuk. When you arrive at the temples these tour groups move as an organic mass. Avoid them where possible and try to keep ahead or around any pack.

    The vast majority of the remaining tourists use tuk tuks or bicycles. There are plenty of tourists you will see every day on a push bike riding out to the temples. Bikes are cheap, $2 a day, the price is crazy. But IMHO you have to be crazy to ride a bicycle out to the temples, for two reasons. Firstly the aforementioned fast big buses and SUVs. Secondly, it is bloody hot. After spending time exploring a temple and being soaked with sweat, I relished chilling in the back of my tuk tuk, drinking a bottle of water and having a few minutes as my driver Lean, took me on to the next temple. For this luxury I shelled out $20-$25 a day. To me this is still a crazy cheap price but not crazy.

    Angkor Wat Sunrise, no further explanation needed.

    Angkor Wat Sunrise, no further explanation needed.

    Is 2-3 days in Siem Reap enough? Honestly no. You need 4-5 days to really get an appreciation for the temples, to set your own pace and to avoid the large groups of tourists. Hire your own tuk tuk and take your time. As I mentioned in my last post I was out early most mornings before 6am, I had a break from around 11am until about 3:30pm then headed out again til 6-7pm. I rested in the hottest part of the day and used this as a chance to write in my travel diary, edit photos, maybe a nap and to have a cold shower. No reason why you can't do similar or even better a long lunch, cocktails by the pool or just a big nap.

    Hitting the temples for a few days also requires a little planning. Which temples do you want to see at the ends of the day, sunrise or sunset? Which ones are better early when the crowds are lower and which ones can you visit in between? The temples are spread out over a massive area, even those that are part of the Angkor Park are spread out. Plus at certain times some temples become a traffic jam. For instance stay away from "The Hill" Phnom Bakheng near sunset and just after sunset, there are hundreds if not thousands that make the climb up the hill to witness sunset. Traffic at the bottom after sunset is worse than Sydney traffic during peak hour.

    Bas-relief from the walls of Angkor Wat

    Bas-relief from the walls of Angkor Wat
     

     

    So for what it is worth here is the start of my suggestions for a 4-5 day visit to Siem Reap to see the temples. First point of order is getting your pass for the temples. If you arrive in Siem Reap in the afternoon it is worth spending a couple of dollars to catch a tuk tuk to the ticket booth and getting that out of the way before you go near the temples. Tickets are $20 for one day, three days $40 and seven days is $60. I suggest for a 4-5 day trip just getting the $60 ticket, it is good value and once done you can forget about it. 
    PROTIP: The three and seven day passes require a photo and take longer, the 7 day ticket is only available from one window because it is also laminated. Don't queue up in another queue like I did only to be told that I needed to be in another line and had to start again.

    If you are planning to do the Angkor Wat sunrise as your first stop then definitely get your tickets the day before. The ticket booth doesn't open until 5am and if you want a decent spot at Angkor Wat you don't want to waste 1/2 hour at the ticket booth in the morning. Also, don't worry there is plenty of food and drink available early so you won't starve. In fact, at Angkor Wat, the restaurants will bring the food and drink to you (at inflated but still cheap prices), while you wait for the sun to rise.

    One of the many shrines, this one in Bayon.

    One of the many shrines, this one in Bayon.

    So my suggested day one itinerary is:

    • Angkor Wat sunrise, yes worth the effort
    • Bayon (grab a "Cambodian Sandwich after you leave Angkor Wat in the carpark, they are usually $1 and fantastic. Similar to a Vietnamese Pork Roll)
    • Elephant Terrace 
    • Bapuon 
    • Phimeanakas & The Royal Palace (definitely worth the effort to climb to the top)

    Take your time and explore these temples, walk around them, through them and when you can, climb to the top. Some of these staircases are mind boggling and certainly wouldn't be considered safe in most of the developed world but you only live once, just take your time and be careful.

    After a morning exploring these temples you will be hot, sweaty and ready for a break. There is free wifi in almost any restaurant or massage place in Siem Reap. I recommend an icy cold 'Cambodian Coffee'. It is a fantastic tonic, strong espresso, on sweetened condensed milk in a glassful of crushed ice. Sugar, caffeine and icy cold, what more can you ask for? Make sure you have a massage too. A half hour foot massage for $3 hits the spot after a lot of walking or even better I can thoroughly recommend a four hand Cambodian oil massage. The place I went to was close to my hotel but they are almost all good and legit. I paid $13 for a four hand massage for 1 hour!! Even with a $2 tip each for the masseuses that was still a fantastic treat for under $20.

    For my afternoon shoot I actually just headed to the south gate of Angkor Thom to catch the sun setting over the moat and the jungle but I can also recommend heading to Bayon again to enjoy it in the late afternoon light.

    Sunset from the South Gate of Angkor Thom.

    Sunset from the South Gate of Angkor Thom.
    More on the temples next time.
     

     

    John

     


    The Temples of Angkor Cambodia - Part 1 0 Comments

    The Temples of Angkor Cambodia angkor wat

    Angkor Wat at sunrise

    By John Lechner

    The Angkor Temples near Siem Reap including Angkor Wat

    The stark contrast between the country that Cambodia is today compared to what it was a thousand years ago is evident with even the most cursory glance at the Temples of Angkor. There is little doubt when studying the temples how powerful, cultured, wealthy and civilised Ancient Angkor was.

    My first glimpse of the temples was as the sun rose in the sky above Angkor Wat. I was expecting the sunrise over Angkor Wat to be almost biblical, it is talked up as one of those 'bucket list' things you must do before you die. Was it beautiful? Yes you can see that above but was it heartbreakingly beautiful? Um no, especially when you share your sunrise in the intimate company of over 500 other people. Without moving my feet or hands i could have touched at least 10 people from my spot and I had a tripod in front of me.

    Think I am kidding? This is two pics from my iPhone one each side of me. Angkor Wat is a must visit, sunrise yes do it once but honestly in my opinion there are far more enjoyable experiences and more stunning temples to visit.

    The Temples of Angkor Cambodia angkor wat

    Sharing the Angkor Wat with hundreds of my most intimate friends

    That said having a tripod gave me an infinitely larger personal space than most, without it I would have been brushing against people on all sides. Don't get me wrong Angkor Wat is mind-blowing, the complex is enormous, it has countless buildings and the reliefs are just stunning even today but I guess I found the crowds a setback to enjoying the temple as much as I could. 

    By contrast when I went to the Preah Khan one morning after my second crack at the Angkor Wat sunrise. Preah Khan was deserted I had the whole huge complex to myself. That was magical. Preah Khan is similar to Ta Prohm (think Tomb Raider) in that there are many trees growing on and in buildings. Preah Khan was one of my favourite temples and I recommend you get there early in the morning and enjoy it without the crowds, which is a luxury you don't get much of in Siem Reap.

    The Temples of Angkor Cambodia

    The entrance of Preah Khan

    The magic of the temples is much easier to appreciate when you have the time and the peace alone to enjoy it. To explore such a large complex alone without seeing another soul is wonderful and one of the pleasures that are rare unless you use a couple of tricks.

    My first advice is find a Tuk Tuk Driver when you first arrive in Siem Reap and stick with them for the duration of the trip. My driver Lean, was excellent, he was happy, knowledgable, patient and spoke excellent English (I can connect you with Lean if you are heading there). Having your own reliable driver makes it easy to plan to be out the door at 4 or 5am to catch some of the magic. While spending sunrise at Angkor Wat isn't terribly intimate, heading up to "The Hill" - Phnom Bakheng for sunrise is a hot tip. It is beautiful and intimate. If there was 30 people there on the day I was for sunrise that would be the max. Whereas at sunset which is what all the guides will tell you there are thousands at The Hill, do the sunrise.

    The Temples of Angkor Cambodia angkor wat

    Detail in some fallen stonework at Preah Khan

    Thinking laterally is also a tip. If a place is great for sunrise or sunset then go the time of day opposite to what they are telling you. Also, an early start by 6 or 7am if you are not chasing a sunrise is also advisable for two reasons. Firstly it is cooler you can go until 11ish then head back to your hotel, the pool or bar for some rest out of the hot sun. But also especially if you head a little further afield from Angkor Wat, there are far less crowds early in the other temples and you may get lucky enough to miss most of the crowds.

    Most days I headed out before sunrise and was back at my hotel by around 11, then headed out after 3:30 again. In between is was a chance to process some photos in the AC, have a nap and a cold shower to cool off.

    Much more to tell about the temples but for now this is it, back soon.

     

     

    John

    The Temples of Angkor Cambodia angkor wat

    Inside Preah Khan


    Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer 0 Comments

    

    I have a quote on the wall in my office, it simply says "travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer".

    I truly believe it, by travelling you get the opportunity to learn about new cultures, languages (I am terrible at languages), people and places. But there is another huge benefit to travelling, you really get to appreciate how good we actually have it. Here in Australia, we have little to whine about, even with our terrible politics. But we do not appreciate it.