Category: Travel

28
Nov

My favourite bits of Italy.

Despite the fact that it requires many thousands of dollars/kilometres for Australians to holiday abroad, and our currency is always being picked on by the bigger kids, we Strayans continue to travel overseas in rising numbers, and with craftier luggage tricks. Good on us.

I usually choose Italy. I’ll go there annually if they’ll continue to have me, despite my terrible pronunciation of “grazie”.

Some reasons include:

  • Carbs
  • Fashion
  • Negronis
  • Ricotta cheesecake
  • Swimming off rocks and no sand anywhere
  • No judgment when ordering a bowl of pasta, then pizza
  • Friendly, warm, welcoming Italians
  • Everyone looks great because everyone wears sunglasses always
  • Carbs

Like most people, I’ve done the classic Italian hotspots: Venice, Positano, Sicily and, of course, Athens. Here are some of my favourite things to do/see/eat/visit in the aforementioned hotspots.

Taormina, Sicily

We stayed in Taormina, on the beach, rather than up in town. But with a cable car swinging its way between the town (all the food/shops and most of the hotels) and beach (a handful of hotels and restaurants) all day, both options are good. Have a fancy, view-soaked drink at Grand Hotel Taormina, and outstanding aperitivo at Timoleone. Have your (daily) granita at Bam Bam bar, swim at Isola Bella, and make a day trip to Noto and Syracuse if time permits. Definitely eat lunch (or ideally stay) at Country House Villadorata, just outside of Noto, if you’re roaming. It served up the finest meal of my trip.

 

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Portofino

Portofino could never be accused of being cheap, but that’ll happen when you’re a) tiny, b) breathtaking, and c) overrun with super yachts and tourists. But it’s so lovely! Pop on your best boaty pastels and make the trip already! Head up to Hotel Splendido (often called the best hotel in the world, and after staying there, I’m a believer) for a sunset cocktail, and when the bill arrives suck it up and file it in your “Lifelong Memories” folder. Buy some cheese, wine and crackers in town and have a picnic in the surrounding national park; have a casual lunch at La Taverna del Marinaio, or walk away from the packed main square to L’Isolotto for some of the best pizza of your goddamn life. There’s a small, protected swimming area just below Splendido where locals swim laps (scene of one of the most magical rock swims of my life), or Paraggi beach just outside town.

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Venice?

Rome?

Capri and Positano?

Florence?

Click here.

Definitely not here.

Responses to this drivel: 6 Comments
27
Oct

How to pack for (and dress up on) your holidays.

When Expedia (he’s just one guy wearing a cowboy hat and board shorts, by the way) said to me: “Hey Travel Ambassador Lady, does dressing up on holidays make sense to you?” I said, “Expedia, to me, dressing up on holidays makes PERFECT sense.”

I put it in the same category as ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’ except that it’s more, ‘dress for the place you’re in, not the one you came from.’

I cop a fair bit of stick about it from my mates, of course. It’s so much effort, my mates say. Who cares how you look on holidays, they say. Take off that velvet cape, they say.

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But it’s not an effort for me. I love it. I adopt a new personality overseas, a much more flamboyant, fruity one than the jeans and trainers girl back home.

To me, the holiday experience is about playing along. About immersing into the city or country you’re in. So, if you’re in Sicily, you eat pasta alla norma, cannolli and caponata, you drink Zibbibo and you swim where the locals tell you to. And for me, you dress in bright colours and with as many pom-poms as legal.

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I’m embarrassingly osmotic when I travel. If I see a cool woman wearing a slip dress with a flamboyant head wrap in Portofino, I want in. If I see a minimalist woman wearing bejeweled slippers with a white pantsuit in Rome, I want in. And if I see a babe in a white shirt tucked into a colourful ankle-length skirt with a neckerchief in Florence, I want in. To me travel is Real Life Instagram; I see things that inspire and delight, and in that moment, in that piazza, in that sunshine, I want to play along. Even if it’s just with a new ZARA top and belt, and a bucket of holiday confidence; I’m in.

Anyway. Recently I went to Italy.

I knew I’d shop over there, so I packed light: a tight edit of shoes and a few dresses and tops from last summer, half of which I was ready to farewell if space got tight. This, I’ve learned, is smarter than flying with nothing, assuming you will fill your suitcase with cute new stuff the second you arrive, only to arrive and discover they are already doing autumn-winter fashion, and it’s 30 degrees, and you’re screwed.

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Read the full story here.

Not here.

Responses to this drivel: 8 Comments
03
Aug

Five Total Florence Food Wins.

In a sentence that’s so gross even I’m repulsed: a few years back I lived in Tuscany while writing a novel. When I say ‘lived’, I mean schlepped around from B&B to B&B, from Lucca to San Gimignano, Forte dei Marmi to Florence, for six weeks. But still, it counts for something. Oh no, no, no, you mustn’t call me a local, it’s too much, basta, basta!

Florence swiftly stole my heart, the old dog. That’s its thing! It’s a heart-stealer, an extremely pretty, romantic city boasting an exciting history, art superstars, terrific food, world-class shopping and breathtakingly long queues for nude statues. (Also, in July, far too many tourists, but as one of them, even a local one, I’m not meant to say that.)

ZOEFLORENCE

 

As it happens each time I fall off a plane, I Goog everything from ‘finest Negroni in Florence’ to ‘best gelato in Florence’ to ‘local favourite pizza Florence.’ I need to know what’s best, old and new. If I’m in a city for only a few days, there is no time for a bad meal. They each must be sensational, lest my holiday slip below a 100% perfection rating. (Airports and, yknow, actual travel in general notwithstanding.)

And not a bad meal was had. Click this link to read my favourites, all of which are pretty perfect if you only have a few days/a stomach with a perfectionist complex.

Click this link if you like hearing goats yell like humans.

Responses to this drivel: 1 Comment
10
Jun

Go on. Be obnoxious on your anniversary.

When my friendly overlords at Expedia asked me to write about anniversaries and travel, I was ready. I bloody love an anniversary. And if it involves travel, even better.

But I’m not necessarily the norm. Well not after a few years of marriage, anyway. Of course, when you first start seeing someone Really Great you celebrate being together for a month. Six months gets heavy fanfare. A whole year warrants a weeklong celebration and fifty cute selfies.

But for some reason, maybe it’s familiarity, or the introduction of children, or just the general energy-sucking cycle of daily life, the celebrations go from 100 watts to about 20 watts by the time you are actually married, and have earned a legitimate, legal anniversary.

Case in point: I recently texted a mate to wish her and her husbo a happy anniversary. She text back saying: We both forgot.

I found this so dismaying that I immediately sent over a Celine Dion impersonator to serenade the two.

Marriage isn’t always cupcakes and Jesus juice, but it’s important to show each other your marriage is a priority, and that you still love them. An anniversary is a reminder as to why you love and married this person.

My husband and I will take any excuse to kick up a fuss, especially if it involves a weekend away, or a new restaurant or drinking strong, well-mixed alcohol in elegant glasses.

We don’t give a bee’s burp about the gifts you’re ‘meant’ to give each year, like paper, silver, or leather, or insect wings, but we do think you should give each other a ‘memory’ – commemorate each other, and what you have achieved in another year of marriage by doing something, whether it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, or something you used to do but never do anymore, or just doing nothing.

And yes, the longer you’ve been married, the more extravagant and obnoxious those things are allowed to be. (I plan on buying a diamond-encrusted pergola for our 20th.)

In case you’re struggling, here are some ways to give your anniversary a figurative tequila shot this year….

Read the list here.

But not here.

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Responses to this drivel: 5 Comments
04
Apr

Can you take a toddler to the Maldives?

Yep. And you can do it very cheaply if they fit into your suitcase and are good at being quiet.

I jest! I jest. Luggage restrictions are so tight these days that it would actually cost more to pop your kid into your Samsonite than pay for his or her seat. (Also, where will all of your vacation Crocs go?)

It’s a valid question.

Last year we went to the Maldives – a destination typically thought of as being a Honeymoon destination, a lover’s paradise, a rekindle-the-flame getaway, and the perfect place to renew your vows or propose.

In short: couples, not multiples.

But while the bulk of resorts in the Maldives are perfectly and expertly crafted to exclusively accommodate couples, featuring the kind of luxurious over-water bures that would give any parent a heart attack, extremely sophisticated fine dining, and not a single Pixar offering on the in-house movie menu, what you may not know is that many resorts and islands in the Maldives, (an increasing number, in fact) understand that some families actually like each other enough to want to holiday together, and it can be terrifically bonding and the genesis of life-long memories.

And it’s no longer just the super swanky 5-star resorts, either: from nannies, to kids clubs, kids-only pools, and healthy, fresh menus for children, if you do your research, you’ll discover you can take the family to the Maldives, and if you’re clever, still thieve a respectable amount of couple time, too. (Bandos and Kurumba are among the better-priced resorts with kids clubs.)

Read the full article here.

But not here.

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Responses to this drivel: 2 Comments
02
Feb

Hey, man, we went to Hayman!

I know, what a brilliant blog title. No wonder I won the 2015 Blogger of the Year*.

But look, I know you’ve been wondering if you should check out the One & Only Hayman Island, it’s all you ever talk about with your friends, so I wanted to share with you my review of it, the latest “job” in my role as Expedia’s Cutest and Most Adorable King of Travel. (Self-titled.)

I went there with my husband (ooooooh, Zoe’s got a huzzzz-band) in December because as fun as it is to travel with a toddler, sometimes it’s fun to drink cocktails at noon, and read books and sleep on a holiday.

With these ludicrous fantasies in mind, my husband and I left our small human with his grandyhuman and nicked off.

We flew into Hamilton Island, then onto a brand new luxury launch to Hayman. We (“I”) arrived famished so went straight to the poolside restaurant, Aquazura, trying not to notice the 4000 small children splashing around the pool as we were seated. (Partly cos we already missed our own little guy, but also because: romantic getaway).

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Crisp chardonnay, a kilo of fries (and some fish, I suppose) and some creamy fig and honey gelato revitalized our weary bodies, and woozy and happy, we headed to our room for a nap. A NAP. In the afternoon! With no alarm or small baby to wake us! Goodness! Such living dangerously! Much craziness!

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Said room was completely fantastic with a side of amazing. We were in a stunning all-new villa, complete with an inside-outside atrium in the middle, which boasted a sexy pool and a little bar, and also the trees and the sky. I got a real kick walking from the bathroom (enormous bathroom, dream bathroom) outside past the pool, and back inside to the fully beachfront bedroom and sitting area. This might be because it reminded me we were in warm, tropical far north Queensland, where you can have indoor-outside living, (as opposed to Melbourne, where winter spans between 8 and 15 months a year) and it actually works, but it also might be because I’m six years old.

Read the rest of my review here.

Read how to care for your frogs, here.

 

*Criteria: worst puns and laziest posting schedule.

Responses to this drivel: 1 Comment
12
Nov

How to pack for a beach holiday with a baby.

It’s easier than packing for a beach holiday with a pet tiger, I suppose, but there’re still some challenges. And by challenges, I mean: suitcase space. Once I’d packed all of his stuff, I just squeezed in one sandal and a swimsuit for me.

It’s different depending on the baby’s age, obviously. This time last year we went to Europe for a month and all we really needed to pack was some clothes, a few colourful, rattly toys and my boobs.

This time he was 13 months old, eating normal food and wanes of toys in 20 seconds. And so, here’s how we chilly Melbourne cats packed for our magic trip to the Maldives with our teeny, non-verbal little buddy:

What I packed for baby

Swim pants (I prefer these over swim nappies, although I packed a few swim nappies too) plus a full body UV 50 rashie/swimsuit because sunscreening a baby is about as easy as pushing toothpaste back into the tube. (I like the Babes in the Shade ones as they’re cute and don’t feature angry animated sharks.) Sandals and walking shoes, a wide brim UV 50 hat with chin cord, and a cap. Assorted shorts and t-shirts and onesies… enough for one outfit a day and a few spares. (Special nod to Pure Baby’s little summer onesies.) I packed several Bonds Wondersuits because we adults had the air con at night, so these PJs ensured he’d stay warm.

Read the rest of this piece on Expedia, whom I wrote it for because I’ve tricked them into thinking I know heaps about travel, here.

Read about when to use the word ‘whom’ and when to use ‘who’ here.

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Responses to this drivel: 1 Comment
08
Jul

Your ultimate guide to Queenstown.

[This was originally posted on Expedia, cos I am their blogging Travel King, although weirdly they refuse to call me by my proper title or send me the crown I asked for. ]

Until a few years ago, I’d never been to New Zealand. No real desire to, either. I figured it would be like Australia, but, you know, colder. What a goose.

But in 2010 my husband filmed a feature film on the South Island, and I went along to write a novel without the distractions of friends/shopping/Sydney/reliable internet. It wasn’t long before we escaped the ‘bustling metropolis’ that is Invercargill, ahem, and headed to Queenstown. The attraction was instant and profound; this is a remarkable, astonishingly beautiful slice of the earth. Queenstown is now my favourite place in the world and we now head over there a few times a year.

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My spiel to Aussies who are yet to endure the grueling 2-3 hour flight over there goes something along the lines of: OH BUT YOU REALLY MUST. Queenstown and its surrounds has the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine: aquamarine lakes set against jagged, snowcapped mountains and rolling hills, plus outstanding dining, beautiful hikes, world-class wines, every ridiculous physical extreme activity you can imagine (read: good for kids or daredevils) and five-star snow fields.

My more specific spiel is as follows:

DINE, WINE, BUY

Queenstown sits in the Otago region, which produces arguably the best Pinot Noir in the world. While there are several billion excellent wineries to visit, I recommend Amisfield Winery (book in for lunch and pray for sun so you can sit outside and soak up the surrounds) and definitely buy some wine and have it shipped home before you leave, and also Gibbston Winery, who make award-winning Pinot Noir but also some of the very best chardonnay you can guzzle, and serve a fantastic lunch also.

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GO IN AUTUMN

To be fair, each season is as good as the next in Queenstown. Winter brings snow and sees this resort town heaving with funseekers from all over the world, Spring and Summer are picture perfect and ideal for hikers and bike heads, but Autumn is magic. Never have you seen such vivid colour (and such a spectrum of colour). Your best vantage point is in the beautiful little goldmining settlement of Arrowtown, around 20 minutes out of Queenstown, where you should take one million photos and keep an eye out for international car advertisements being shot on the winding, tree-lined streets.

SPEAKING OF ARROWTOWN…

It’s a secret foody go-to spot of ours. We love the breakfast and lunch at Chop Shop, and some early evening tapas at La Rumbla, and never miss a chance to pig on at the award-winning Saffron for lunch or dinner. (Get the curry or forever regret it.) A flick at Dorothy Brown afterwards with some wine and cheese is the perfect full stop.

JUST REGARDING PIGGING ON

Queenstown offers some exceptional dining options. It must! It spends most of the year catering to a well-heeled international crowd who demand good grub. My top pick for a fancy feast is Rata, which is owned by Michelin-starred chef Josh Emmet, and which is probably the most ‘fine dining’ option available. Next would be Botswana Butchery, which does the most succulent lamb shoulder for two on earth, and offers a warm, relaxed, dining-in-someones-house, feel. It’s perfect for a group dinner since they have private rooms, and it can’t be beat on a sunny day for a lunch outside overlooking Lake Wakatipu. (Start with Peking duck; finish with local cheeses.) Some other favourites are Madam Woo, which has a Sydney/Melbourne vibe, and offers hawker style Chinese/Malaysian food in a chic, modern restaurant (start with an Asian-style cocktail and prawn dumplings then definitely order the chicken roti hawker roll), and finally, there is VKnow, which is five minutes out of town and which does some of the most exceptional homemade Italian pizza and pasta you can imagine coupled with an outstanding wine list. The best breakfast in Queenstown is at Vudu, and it goes without staying (but not writing, apparently) that you must try a burger from the world-famous Fergburger. Queue too long? Grab a pie (and a Boston bun) from the Fergbaker next door instead. Deeeelicious.

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 OH, SNOW ON THEN

There are two main ski areas in Queenstown: Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, which are open mid-June to October-ish. Coronet Peak, (depending on weather conditions/icy roads) is a much gentler and more pleasant way to get your snow fix (and better for kids) than The Remarkables, which a bit more serious, and which can only be accessed by a hair-raising road brimming with hairy cliff drop offs.

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DO ALL THE ‘THINGS’

You know… the Bungy jumping, the skydiving, the helicopter rides, the parasailing, the paragliding, the gondola up to the luge, the mountain bike riding, the Shotover Jet… all the things. This is an adventure town, after all.

WALK!

Queenstown is home to numerous tramps and hikes. This is New Zealand, land of walking/biking/camping, after all! Try a three or four day hike like the Routeburn Track, which traverses the magnificent Southern Alps, or the Milford Track within the movie-set beauty of Milford Sound. For those who want a quick hit, try the fierce incline of Queenstown Hill (the views are worth it, and you will really earn your Fergburger), or the Moonlite Track, which is as long as you want it to be, and kicks off at Arthur’s Point, five minutes out of Queeny, or a stroll around Lake Hayes, which is scenic and gentle.

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RUB IT DOWN

Any ski town must offer decent massage options; all those poor snow battered bodies need desperate TLC. My pick is either Le Spa at Sofitel, (ask for RiRi if possible), who offer excellent deep tissue massages, and also a fantastic pregnancy massage should you happen to need one, or else make a trip to the spa at Millbrook and watch bunnies hop by a stream as you wait for your treatment to begin.

 HAVE A DRINK BY THE FIRE

Have five! You’ve earned it with all that walking and skiing and that, uh, massage. I love standing by the hearth at Bunker or Bardeaux (both in town) with an Old Fashioned or a Martinez to cap off a night.

A BED FOR THE NIGHT

From the superluxe Matakauri Bay (Prince Willy and Katie stayed here), or the cosy, luxurious comfort of Azure, (both ten minutes out of town), to the boutique feel of Eichardt’s Private Hotel or The Spire (perfectly positioned in town) to the English countryside elegance of Millbrook in Arrowtown, to the familiar names like The Sofitel or The Novotel, there are options for every budget, taste, or group size in Queenstown.

From backpackers to grimy teenage snowboarders to families and honeymooners and the superwealthy, private jet folk, Queenstown caters to everyone. It really is the best holiday you’ve never been on. GO.

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 Expedia’s blog has four zillion great travel articles. Read some, why don’t you?
Responses to this drivel: 2 Comments
19
Mar

My New York City list.

In my role as Grand Priestess of Travel Writing for Expedia (they are still to formally agree to this title) I was asked to write my ‘must do’ list for New York City.

Of course, tell anyone you’re going to New York City and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I must give you my list.’ This is BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS A LIST and they are all supposedly “really good and different”.

So here’s my list. It’s really good and different!

I make no apology that 80% of the recommendations are food based. New York IS food.

Get joyful in Harlem

Red Rooster in Harlem is on a lot of people’s lists (their fried chicken is justly famous), but if you can, book Sunday brunch at Ginny’s Supper Club downstairs, and be treated to BRAINBENDINGLY uplifting live gospel music (I may have cried with joy, a hangover from my Sister Act 2 obsession) and a buffet that includes fried chicken on waffles with syrup. Add mimosas and there might not be a better Sunday.

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Pig out at Shackshack.

The ‘shack is said to have the finest cheeseburger and fries on the planet, a claim strenuously backed by me. Ignore the calories. Have a peanut butter shake. Grab a red wine and make a meal of it. Regret nothing!

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Buy tickets for something.

Go to a basketball game or concert at Madison Square Garden. See a Broadway show. See an off-Broadway show and wish you didn’t. Watch some stand up at The Comedy Store. (Get there EARLY.) See an exhibition uptown at the Met. Even if it’s just one thing and you shop the other five days, do it.

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Read the rest of the article here.

But not here.

Responses to this drivel: 13 Comments
05
Dec

Don’t take four serums overseas.

As a beauty editor, frequent flyer and now mother, I wrote a piece for Expedia on the golden rule of travel beauty, which is: take heaps of bubble gum.

No, wait. It’s: keep it simple. Or, pay the price. (Literally. In luggage weight charges.)

Preparation is king.

Travel isn’t the time to be wasting precious minutes on boring stuff like applying mascara, blow-drying hair, fake tanning, manicures and so on. So, do all you can before you leave to make your holidays a, ‘I’m up, let’s go!’ experience, rather than, ‘Just give me half an hour.’ Get eyelash extensions. Have a keratin smoothing treatment put through your hair. Get a spray tan. Get gel polish on your toes and get a nude manicure (no polish or clear) on your fingers so you won’t have chipped, skanky nails a week in. (Natural is the new black anyway.) Waste time on your appearance before you leave, not once you arrive.

Pack everything a week out.

Then, the day before, when you’re adding your daily essentials, (sunscreen, cleanser, foundation etc.) remove 30% of what you packed. You do not need four serums. Nor do you need your hair curler and hair straightener, plus three brushes. Travel provides a wonderful opportunity to do a beauty detox. I’m not asking you to look like a banshee for two weeks, but I am asking you to reconsider how much of your suitcase you are dedicating to stuff you don’t need and won’t use during two weeks in Peru.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE.

DON’T READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE.

Responses to this drivel: 4 Comments