Traveller letters: Airline food? It’s delicious

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Joseph Ting (Traveller Letters, January 10-11), may have a point regarding the inevitable amount of some food waste from aircraft, which is unavoidable to some extent. However, he and his many other airline passengers must have a severe problem with their tastebuds if they find the meals unpalatable and bland.

I have travelled extensively on Qantas, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Garuda, and  Alitalia and others  out of Australia over the last 38 years and have never had a meal which I didn’t enjoy and finish entirely (in economy class only).

Meals on flights to the US are also very palatable as they are all prepared in Australia, to Australian standards, and designed by world-renowned chefs.  However, meals [on flights] within the US cannot be described in the same way, with one meal from New York to Los Angeles consisting of one half of a warm Big Mac.

If Mr Ting has a poor opinion of airline food he could politely decline accepting it when it is offered, or maybe the airlines should give him the opportunity, when booking, to be able to decline the provision of a meal.


I’m approaching an ATM in Bellagio, Lake Como, but am beaten to it by four women  who have just alighted from a coach. They are standing in front of the cash machine talking loudly and looking frustrated. I settle in to wait my turn, the thought of a cool glass of the excellent local frizzanti secco on my mind.

One of the women is complaining vehemently. “I can’t use this machine,” she says. Thinking of the head start my companions have had at the bar I ask the woman if can I help. She replies: “This machine doesn’t do American!”

Perplexed, I look at the screen, which, as normal, asks the customer to choose a language. There are six languages indicated by a flag symbol. “What is the problem?” I ask. She responds that “there is no American flag! How can I get my money?” I suggest she use the British flag and instructions will appear in English.

The women look at me suspiciously. “Well, I guess maybe that will have to do!” one says, as I assure them it will be OK. Our transactions successfully completed, they thank me for my assistance and compliment me on my good English. I decide to leave well enough alone and take the steps of the narrow laneway to the bar two at a time.

– Norm SimonsMASS APPEAL

Having long ago lived in, and loved, Rome for a decade, I endorse Ute Junker’s choice of not-to-be-missed churches (Traveller, January 17-18). Among many others, one could add: Santa Sabina, crowning the Aventine; San Pietro in Vincoli, housing Michelangelo’s Moses; the Gesu, closely associated with St Ignatius and his Jesuits; Santa Maria in Cosmedin, with the popular Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) in its porch; Sant’Andrea della Valle, reminding opera fans of Tosca; and Santa Maria in Vallicella (the “Chiesa Nuova”), the previous titular church of the Australian Cardinals Knox and Clancy.

– Michael CostiganWELL TRAINED

Thank you so much Andrew at Airtrain Brisbane, for your excellent service. Our son, on his first trip by himself, left his travel documents at the airport Airtrain counter.  The Airtrain staff found our email address on a document, sent us an email for the procedure to follow for him to retrieve his documents.  I texted this on to him and he collected his documents, the most precious being his Lion King ticket.

– Heather MilliganCLASS CONSCIOUS

We are considering flying either premium economy or business class for the first time on a trip to Europe. Any suggestions of the best airlines? Of course we will be happy to report back on our experiences based on your suggestions .


Brickbats to British Airways after our recent return flight home to Australia from Paris. My husband and I booked our flights months ahead, but although our booking was obviously linked, we were not seated together for the longest haul, from London to Singapore. We tried to check in online 24 hours out, but the website wouldn’t let us.

Although we arrived at the airport three hours before the flight we were told “it’s too full, you’ll be seated in different rows”.  In Singapore we spent over an hour in the phone queue to BA to try and ensure that we would be seated together on the flight to Sydney, having encountered the same difficulty when trying to check in online.

When we finally spoke to a BA operative we learned they could not help us, and the advice was turn up early at the airport to check in. While we waited in the phone queue, I sent two urgent emails to what is laughingly referred to as BA Customer Support; a week later I have yet to hear from them.

As it turned out, our BA flight from Singapore to Sydney was delayed by half an  hour, so as we were liable to miss our connecting flight home they put us on a Qantas flight. Hooray!


The writer of the letter judged the best of the week will receive a LUXE travel guides box set, valued at $60, including savvy, pocket-sized guides for destinations including Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, London and New York. See luxecityguides上海龙凤419m for more details. Letters may be edited for space, legal or other reasons. Preference will be given to letters of 50-100 words or less. Email us at [email protected]上海龙凤 and, importantly, include your name, address and phone number.

ICAC: Margaret Cunneen High Court battle puts dozens of ICAC findings in doubt

The ICAC has deferred releasing its reports into two high-profile inquiries until the Margaret Cunneen case is resolved. Photo: Nic Walker
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The High Court battle between the NSW corruption watchdog and Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen has implications for at least three future inquiries and dozens of past corruption findings, the court has been told.

Drawing the battle lines in its dispute with Ms Cunneen SC, the Independent Commission Against Corruption says in written submissions that it is of “public importance” for the court to “resolve authoritatively” the scope of its investigative powers.

The commission says the ruling by a 2-1 majority of the NSW Court of Appeal that it was acting outside its powers in investigating Ms Cunneen has “potential implications for at least three current investigations”, which are shrouded in secrecy.

The ruling affects the ability of the commission to investigate private citizens over their dealings with public officials and the ICAC believes the interpretation of its powers by the majority judges is too narrow.

The commission says corruption findings made against 26 people between June 2010 and the present may need to be reconsidered unless the High Court overturns the decision.

Businessmen who were found to have acted corruptly by concealing the Obeid family’s interest in a coal tenement, including mining mogul Travers Duncan, are expected to rely on the Cunneen decision as part of their Court of Appeal challenge to those findings.

The ICAC has deferred releasing its reports in high-profile inquiries into Obeid-linked company Australian Water Holdings and Liberal Party donations until the Cunneen case is resolved. It says the majority ruling has created “uncertainty” about whether it had the power to investigate all the allegations in those inquiries.

At the centre of the ICAC investigation into Ms Cunneen is the allegation she advised her eldest son Stephen’s girlfriend Sophia Tilley to feign chest pains to avoid a police breach test after a car crash. She denies the allegations.

Ms Cunneen lost a Supreme Court case to shut down the investigation but she appealed the decision and in December a majority of the Court of Appeal ruled in her favour.

The state’s top judge, Chief Justice Tom Bathurst, dissented and would have allowed the inquiry to go ahead.

The Cunneen case hinges on the meaning of “corrupt conduct” in the 1988 Act which is the source of the ICAC’s powers.

The ICAC Act contains more than one definition of corrupt conduct. The Cunneen case is concerned with a definition that applies where the dealings of private citizens – including Ms Cunneen’s son and his girlfriend – are being examined.

The ICAC Act defines corrupt conduct involving private citizens as conduct which “could adversely affect” the exercise of a public official’s functions. It says the conduct could involve criminal offences including perverting the course of justice.

All three Court of Appeal judges said the alleged conduct in the Cunneen case could amount to perverting the course of justice.

But the majority, Justices John Basten and Julie Ward, said it could not “adversely affect” the exercise of a police officer’s functions because there was no suggestion the officer “acted otherwise than honestly and impartially”.

The commission says the majority decision will affect its ability to investigate conduct “which could have negatively affected the exercise of public functions” but did not involve dishonesty or impartiality by officials.

This may be the case where a person is alleged to have misled an official to bring about a corrupt result.

The people who may be affected by the decision include former Australian Water chairman Nick Di Girolamo, the Liberal fundraiser who gave former Premier Barry O’Farrell the now-infamous bottle of Grange.

The commission says the majority erred by putting a putting a “gloss” on the text of the ICAC Act.

“Whether one prefers to cite Shakespeare’s Juliet and roses, or Lewis Carroll and Humpty Dumpty, if Parliament has provided an exhaustive definition of a term, then it is that definition which identifies what the Parliament means,” it says.

This is a reference to the famous quote in Romeo and Juliet that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. In Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”

Ms Cunneen’s silk in the Court of Appeal, Arthur Moses, has said “sweeping statements” by the commission about the implications of the decision are “overkill”.

The High Court will hear the case in Canberra on March 4.

Last chance for semi-final tickets as Socceroos land in Newcastle

Last chance for semi-final tickets as Socceroos land in Newcastle: photos Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday, met by local fans at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Honeysuckle. Charlie Gibson, 8, of Cardiff, has his soccer ball signed by Tim Cahill. Picture Marina Neil.
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Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday, met by local fans at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Honeysuckle. Charlie Gibson, 8, of Cardiff, has his soccer ball signed by Tim Cahill. Picture Marina Neil.

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday, met by local fans at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Honeysuckle. Charlie Gibson, 8, of Cardiff, has his soccer ball signed by Tim Cahill. Picture Marina Neil.

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday, met by local fans at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Honeysuckle. Charlie Gibson, 8, of Cardiff, has his soccer ball signed by Tim Cahill. Picture Marina Neil.

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday, met by local fans at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Honeysuckle. Charlie Gibson, 8, of Cardiff, had his soccer ball signed by Tim Cahill. Picture Marina Neil.

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Tim Cahill. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Tim Cahill. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Tim Cahill. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Mile Jedinak (centre).

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Mile Jedinak (centre). Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Photo by Marina Neil

Hamish Murnain, 7, of Cooks Hill, who plays for the Cooks Hill Panthers will be attending the tuesday night game at Hunter Stadiium where the Socceroos will play their semi final. Photo by Marina Neil

Hamish Murnain, 7, of Cooks Hill, who plays for the Cooks Hill Panthers will be attending the tuesday night game at Hunter Stadiium where the Socceroos will play their semi final. Photo by Marina Neil

Hamish Murnain, 7, of Cooks Hill, who plays for the Cooks Hill Panthers will be attending the tuesday night game at Hunter Stadiium where the Socceroos will play their semi final. Photo by Marina Neil

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Ange Postecoglou. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Mark Bresciano. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Socceroos arrive in Newcastle ahead of their Asian Cup semi-final game at Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday. Mark Bresciano. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

TweetFacebookTHE Socceroos have arrived at Williamtown airport ahead of Tuesday’s Asian Cup semi-final.

The team touched down on Friday about 4.30pm before heading to their accommodation at the harbour-side Crown Plaza Newcastle.

On Friday they will hold their first closed training session at the No.2 Sportsground from 6pm.

A small, final allotment of tickets to the Asian Cup semi-final involving Australia at Hunter Stadium on Tuesday night will be released on Saturday morning at 10am.

All available tickets were snapped up but there remained allocations kept aside for other teams and their sponsors still alive in the tournament as of Friday.

The unused portion of those tickets, potentially as many as 1000, will be released for sale to the public at 10am.

The world’s best cities with the worst reputations

Stunning: The Azadi Tower, or King Memorial Tower, in Tehran, Iran.
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Stunning: The Azadi Tower, or King Memorial Tower, in Tehran, Iran.

Stunning: The Azadi Tower, or King Memorial Tower, in Tehran, Iran.

Marseille harbor with its famous Notre Dame church, France.

Marseille harbor with its famous Notre Dame church, France.

Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, Marseilles.

Grand: The Romanian Athaneum in Bucharest. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

the mosaic arc of Golestan palace in Tehran, Iran. Photo: iStock

Giraffe grazing with the skyline of Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: iStock

Houses in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Statues of Buddha in The Seema Malaka Temple, Gangaramaya in Colombo. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Downtown Colombo at dusk, Sri Lanka. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Beauty: The Latin Bridge in Sarajevo managed to survive the Balkans War. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Bustling: A street market in reborn Naples. Photo: iStock

These walls can talk: A political mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Marseille harbor with its famous Notre Dame church, France.

Marseille harbor with its famous Notre Dame church, France.

They are the meanest streets in the world. Cities that feature in nightly news bulletins rather than double-page spreads. Places where dangers lurk on every corner. Bombs. Assassinations. Crime and poverty. Even for the intrepid traveller, these places are way off the itinerary.

Except … cities are living things. They grow, they change, and often, they improve. Sometimes, the world notices. More often, it doesn’t. Cleaner streets and falling crime rates don’t make headlines in the same way as assassinations and piles of garbage  in the streets do.

The cities on this list have had a bad rap for too long. Some are destinations that you may have tried once and written off. If, for instance, your most vivid memory of Delhi is the snarled, smelly, stagnant traffic, you will be thrilled by the clean, efficient metro which puts many global cities to shame.

Other cities, long considered no-go zones, have been doing some under-the-radar reinvention. Tehran’s streets are now filled with chic cafes and friendly people rather than chanting mobs. Medellin, no longer the murder capital of the world, is receiving recognition for its innovative urban initiatives and cutting-edge architecture.

So give one of these outside-the-square destinations a try: we promise it will be eye-opening. Derry, Northern Ireland

The reputation As the site of the “Bloody Sunday” massacre, many still associate Derry with its troubled past.

The reality With the introduction of the Peace Bridge, a pedestrian-only link between the traditionally unionist Waterside and nationalist Cityside of the Foyle River, Derry has taken a huge step towards lasting peace. This once-troubled city is now one of the friendliest and safest to visit.

Don’t miss Take a walk along Derry’s 17th century city walls (visitderry上海龙凤419m). Have a pint of Guinness and listen to local musicians at Peadar O’Donnell’s. Visit the impressive Tower Museum to learn about Derry’s history (

Do avoid There’s a slim chance of violence around August 12, when the Apprentice Boys of Derry parade through the city streets.

– Ben GroundwaterMexico City, Mexico

The reputation An intimidating megalopolis of drug runners and cartels.

The reality With a few safety precautions, Mexico City still has the power to charm. From its artistic brilliance – check out Diego Rivera’s murals at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, or Frida Kahlo’s works at her former home – to its thriving culinary scene, there’s much to love about “the DF”.

Don’t miss Sip cocktails on the rooftop of the fancy Condesa DF Hotel (condesadf上海龙凤419m). See live “lucha libre” wrestling at Arena Mexico (viator上海龙凤419m). Spend a day soaking up the atmosphere in the “Zocalo” (visitmexico上海龙凤419m). See

Do avoid Walking alone at night, and book your taxi rather than hail one on the street.

– BGMarseille, France

The reputation Mad, bad and dangerous, drug-and-mug capital of Europe.

The reality I’m kidding, right? Marseille?  What  right-minded individual would even think of visiting France’s second largest city and biggest port, one giant unlovely urban horror ringed by an industrial wasteland? Well hold it right there:   Marseille is undergoing a renaissance. In the ramp-up to Marseille’s year in the sun as European Capital of Culture in 2013, the French government chucked  €7bn in regeneration funds at the city, most of it invested along the waterfront in arts centres, apartment blocks, offices and shopping centres.  Signs of  renewal are everywhere, from the 17th-century Fort Saint Jean, formerly a barracks for the Foreign Legion and now remodelled to become part of the city’s Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, to the quayside, where Norman Foster has created Ombriere, a giant sunshade with a mirror-finish underside that offers an upside-down view of the world below.

The paradigm of ugly duckling to swan doesn’t quite work. Cinderella’s glass slipper would never fit Marseille’s horny foot. Yet this is also its saving. The facelift has not erased the wrinkles that make Marseille what it is – a gritty, passionate, ethnically diverse, blue-collar city populated by gregarious people who like to eat, drink and laugh.

The Vieux Port is where Marseille traces its roots, to the trading settlement founded 2600 years ago by Greek settlers. The café-lined quais overlooking see-sawing boats is an essential stop, and don’t miss the daily fish market on Quai des Belges.  It was in this city that  bouillabaisse was born.

Rising from the north side of the port, Le Panier is the city’s oldest neighbourhood, a  maze of streets and now home to  artists, architects and  designers. Take in the ochre-washed facades of place des Moulins then plunge into the labyrinth that leads to the Centre de la Vieille Charité, a 17th-century poorhouse and a cloistered delight, housing two of the city’s leading museums.

Don’t miss Lunch at Café Populaire, a chic rue Paradis bistro.  Take a ferry  to Chateau d’If, the 16th-century prison fortress and inspiration for Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo. See frioul-if-express上海龙凤419m

Do avoid The Vieux Port area at night, frequently the scene of robberies, some violent. Dress down, and carry only whatever small amount of cash you might need. Solo women are sometimes targeted.

– Michael GebickiMedellin, Colombia

The reputation The former hometown of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar is ridden with violence.

The reality Like much of Colombia, Medellin is drastically misunderstood. Yes, this was once the homicide capital of South America, but the city has cleaned itself up, becoming a vibrant, welcoming place for travellers. Medellin’s Metrocable – a gondola system running above the suburbs – provides a great way to see the city.

Don’t miss The Fernando Botero sculptures at the Museo de Antioquia (museodeantioquia上海龙凤419). Ride the city’s two cablecar routes for an aerial view of the “real” Medellin ( Spend a night eating, drinking and dancing with locals in Parque Lleras ( See

Do avoid Some of the poorer neighbourhoods of Medellin are still unsafe for visitors – listen to locals’ advice.

– BGNaples, Italy

The reputation A dirty, unpleasant seat of Mafia power that’s a pickpocket’s paradise.

The reality Naples is fun.  It might be ramshackle and dirty, but therein lies its attraction – this is a friendly place with no pretension. The Campagnian capital also houses one of Italy’s best museums, the National Archeological Museum, and is the birthplace of pizza.

Don’t miss Order the margherita from one of Naples’ finest pizzerias, Da Michele (damichele上海龙凤419). Wander the cobbled streets of the Centro Storico ( Sample sfogliatella, the Neapolitan pastry filled with sweet ricotta.

Do avoid While the historic centre  is safe, some of  outer suburbs are best avoided at night.

– BGTehran, Iran

The reputation Frequently listed among the world’s most unlivable cities, Tehran is cramped and polluted, with terrible traffic problems, and boasts the small issue, for visitors, of being one of the seats of the Axis of Evil.

The reality Tehran is not evil. It’s  cramped, it really is polluted, the traffic is hair-raising and you will see the odd piece of anti-US propaganda slapped across a wall – but evil it is not. In fact it’s very much the opposite.

From the moment I arrived in Tehran unsure what to expect, unable to separate reputation from reality, I felt safe and welcome. The taxi driver from the airport offered me those exact sentiments. The hotel manager offered me tea.

It’s intimidating when you take your first steps on the Tehrani streets, realising you’ll have to take mad dashes through that traffic to cross the road, realising you know nothing of what to expect from this possibly dangerous place.

Tehranis, to begin with, don’t seem as friendly as their neighbours in Esfahan. But don’t let the government propaganda fool you: there’s nothing to fear here.

This is a city that’s surprisingly cosmopolitan, where hip young couples smoke  and sip coffee in arty little cafes like Jeanne d’Arc, and stylish women with headscarves  shop up a storm in upmarket northern suburbs. It’s also an ancient city, with a labyrinthine bazaar, and the beautifully decorated Golestan Palace, as well as an extensive network of museums and art galleries.

English is widely spoken. The locals are open, generous. Given half a chance, most Tehranis will invite you to share tea with them, or even come home to share a meal. One taste of Persian food and you’ll realise that’s not an offer you should turn down.

Yes, the traffic in Tehran is bad – but you can put up with it to experience a vibrant city such as this.

Don’t miss  The breathtaking Mirror Hall in Golestan Palace is almost worth the trip to Tehran alone ( The Treasury of the National Jewels houses some of the most impressive rocks around, including the world’s largest uncut ruby, and the Darya-e-Noor diamond ( Check out the anti-US murals on the walls of the former US Embassy – they’ll seem laughable after the warm welcome you’ll receive from locals (itto上海龙凤419). See

Do avoid The most dangerous situation in which you’re likely to find yourself in Tehran is crossing the road – follow the locals’ lead and cross where they do.

– BGNairobi, Kenya

The reputation The name “Nairobbery” says it all – this is known as a city rife with crime.

The reality Nairobi is dangerous. Crime remains a major issue in the city; however, with a few precautions Nairobi can and should be enjoyed by tourists, not least because of its varied restaurants, world-class museums, and Nairobi National Park –  a very accessibly place to view game.

Don’t miss  Sample ostrich and crocodile meat at the Carnivore Steakhouse (tamarind上海龙凤 See cultural and natural exhibits at the National Museum ( Spot wild lion, cheetah, hippo and rhino in Nairobi National Park (kws上海龙凤419). See

Do avoid Don’t walk around town alone, particularly at night, and don’t use local “matatus”, or share taxis.

– BGDelhi, India

The reputation Beset with beggars and nightmarish traffic, and between them, the city’s scam artists and lurking infections will empty your pockets and possibly your bowels.

The reality It’s mysterious and magical with a tincture of risk. Step off Chandi Chowk into the knotted back lanes of Old Delhi and you’re in a medieval swirl of tiny open-fronted shops, dodging the fiery cauldrons of samosa sellers and jalebi makers and assaulted by intoxicating smells with the towering minarets of Shah Jahan’s  Red Mosque as a backdrop.

Don’t miss Swaminarayan Akshardham (akshardham上海龙凤419m), a Hindu temple set in lush gardens, at its best in the evening for the Water Show. Lodi Gardens, a green oasis surrounding the domed tombs of the Lodhi dynasty close to the diplomatic quarter.

Dinner at Karim’s, legendary Mughal food with atmosphere you could carve, packed into a tiny courtyard in Old Delhi. karimhoteldelhi上海龙凤419m. See;

Do avoid Watch out for pickpockets and scams in popular tourist areas such as Chandi Chowk, Connaught Circus and Janpath. Female travellers, especially those travelling alone, should pay particular care to their safety.

– MGGlasgow, Scotland

The reputation Rough, tough and dour, the world capital of glassing.

The reality This city’s got soul. Energetic and edgy, Glasgow hosts an incendiary music scene, hipster bars and a cityscape that juggles the glorious Arts and Crafts works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh with sharp-edged modernism. It’s the people who make it, friendly to a fault, with a wicked sense of humour.

Don’t miss Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (glasgowlife上海龙凤, a Spanish-baroque stately pile and home to works of Dali and Rembrandt as well as ethnographic curios. The Willow Tearooms (willowtearooms上海龙凤, a Glaswegian institution, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Necropolis (glasgownecropolis上海龙凤419), final resting place of the worthy and well-to-do, brilliantly moody and stuffed with Victorian statuary and mausoleums.  See peoplemakeglasgow上海龙凤419m

Do avoid Fringe areas of the city are a potential danger zone but at its heart Glasgow is mostly safe and sane. Stick to the city centre, avoid quiet streets by night and don’t talk to crazy people.

– MGSarajevo

The reputation Siege city, all but destroyed during a three-year siege in the Balkans War.

The reality So much beauty, so much horror. On a sunny summer day, Sarajevo’s location is utterly gorgeous, the snow-capped mountains ringing the verdant valley providing the town with a spectacular backdrop. For those old enough to remember the 1990s Balkan war, however, the mountains carry more ominous connotations. It was from these peaks that the Serbs relentlessly shelled the city in a siege lasting three years, almost starving its citizens into submission.

The siege of Sarajevo resonated throughout the world not just because it played out on our TV screens, but because this city, swept up in ethnic hatreds, had for centuries been a harmonious crossroads between East and West.  Even today, after the massive population shifts that followed the war, its multicultural legacy endures. The largely-restored skyline is punctuated by church spires as well as minarets, and the local cafes offer both hookah pipes and short blacks.

A walk through Sarajevo reveals beauty at every turn. Along the cobblestoned streets, art nouveau buildings and neoclassical houses alternate with 500-year-old caravanserais built to provide shelter for journeying merchants. Magnificent buildings such as the grandly furnished Svrzo House and the gorgeously Moorish Vijećnica, at various times the city’s town hall and its library, are further reminders of the centuries when this city was proud and prosperous.  The old town’s bazaar still ebbs and flows to ancient rhythms, while artisans working in small studios offer everything from handmade shoes to silver filigree jewellery.

Yet sadness, like bullet holes, is ubiquitous in this city. The icily pretty Alpine river tumbles its way beneath  low bridges, each of which has its own sad tale. The Latin Bridge is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, precipitating World War I; on the Romeo and Juliet bridge, two young lovers, the Serbian Bosko and the Bosniak Admira, were shot by a sniper during the siege. Hikers who head out to explore the scenic foothills pass endless ranks of white marble posts, traditional Muslim burial markers. A visit to the Sarajevo Tunnel, the city’s lifeline during the siege, is a must-do, and a welcome reminder of the resilience of the local people. In a country where the unemployment rate remains at 45 per cent, the need for resilience has not yet passed.

Don’t miss Old Sarajevo with its lively bazaar; a stroll along the riverfront; a visit to the Tunnel Museum. See,

Do avoid Bikers and hikers love exploring the landscapes outside Sarajevo, but be aware that plenty of unexploded landmines lie in the open countryside. Stick to well-marked paths, and avoid abandoned buildings.

– Ute JunkerPalermo, Italy

The reputation Battered, traffic-choked, crime-ridden Mafia stronghold.

The reality Unchecked Mafia crime is long gone in Sicily’s capital. Behind the grime, Palermo boasts grand baroque palazzi, gorgeous churches and fine street markets – plus the world’s best gelato.

Don’t miss Sicily’s 11th-century Arab-Norman fusion created the exquisite Palatine Chapel (federicosecondo上海龙凤419) and treasures of La Zisa palace-museum. Embalmed corpses of 18th-century Palermo notables stand in the macabre Capuchin Monastery. See

Do avoid Bag-snatching from motor scooters is common, so abandon long-strapped bags and keep an eye out. Avoid the Kalsa and Cassaro districts at night.

– Brian JohnstonBelfast, Northern Ireland

The reputation Bomb-ridden Northern Irish capital, divided by sectarian violence and no-go zones.

The reality The end of “The Troubles” brought a startling transformation to the elegant Victorian-era city centre, which features historic pubs, fine-dining restaurants and reinvigorated shopping districts.

Don’t miss Wander the city centre, Donegall Place shops and the historic University Quarter. Titanic Belfast (titanicbelfast上海龙凤419m) charts the story of the famous ship, built in the adjacent dockyards (titanicsdock上海龙凤419m). The murals of the once notorious Falls and Shankill roads are interesting. See visit-belfast上海龙凤419m

Do avoid Tensions escalate on certain anniversaries such as July 4, so stay informed.

– BJKolkata (Calcutta), India

The reputation Bestselling 1985 novel The City of Joy and the fame of Mother Teresa reinforce perceptions of Kolkata as a chaotic, poverty-ridden city mired in slums and on the verge of collapse.

The reality Calcutta became the capital of an emerging British India in 1757 and grew steadily grander. It has magnificent public buildings and elegant squares dotted with vice-regal statues. In the past two decades, things have been steadily improving, with a program of public works and the renovation of its flamboyant historic buildings.

Modern Kolkata is worth seeing too, with its hip shopping malls and fashion boutiques – you’ll find many of the latter under one roof at 85 Landsdowne Road. The city is also one of India’s cultural and intellectual capitals. Visit the museum dedicated to Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore (, the  Oxford Bookstore (oxfordbookstore上海龙凤419m), and art exhibitions at Birla Academy of Art and Culture (birlaart上海龙凤419m) or the Centre for International Modern Art (cimaartindia上海龙凤419m). Watching a Bollywood movie with an excitable local audience is quite the cultural experience.

Overall, Kolkata is for soaking up the atmosphere rather than seeing the sights. One of the world’s biggest cities, Kolkata is designed for one-fifth of its current 14 million inhabitants. True, it teeters on the edge of anarchy: streets run like rivers during the monsoon, buses seem held together by wire and string, slums erupt beneath office blocks, colonial monuments crumble away. Yet somehow the city holds together, and its human energy, constant motion and irrepressible friendliness give it a magnificent sense of street theatre.

Don’t miss The 1767 Park Street Cemetery (christianburialboardkolkata上海龙凤419m) and the memorial plaques in St Paul’s Cathedral, sad testament to the hardships of life for the colonial British in India. The Asiatic Society (asiaticsocietycal上海龙凤419m) has a fine reading room and collection of imperial coins and European paintings. The vast marble Victoria Memorial (victoriamemorial-cal上海龙凤419), commemorating a dumpy Englishwoman who never set foot in India, curiously remains the pride of the city.

The rambling Indian Museum (indianmuseumkolkata上海龙凤419) is jammed with coins, Tibetan art, bronzes, moth-eaten stuffed animals and sculptures. The 1835 Marble Palace, stuffed with Asian and European antiques and paintings, presents the lush life of a wealthy local landowner.

It’s worth travelling into the suburbs at Shibpur to see the bird-haunted Botanical Gardens (bgci上海龙凤419), notable for their banyan trees and orchid and palm houses. Kalighat is the city’s pre-eminent temple, always an eye-popping frenzy of activity (avoid mornings, when goats are slaughtered). Surrounding lanes are bright with flower markets. See,

Do avoid The drug dealers of backpacker haunt Sudder Street, and the red-light district of Sonagachi, where police disapprove of the presence of foreigners. Begging and petty scams are rife but seldom physically threatening. Avoid the monsoon season, when flooding is common.

– BJUrumqi, China

The reputation Riven with ethnic unrest and one of the most dangerous places in China.

The reality Riven with ethnic unrest and possibly one of the most dangerous places in China, Urumqi, home to the Uyghur race, is also the furthest major inland city from an ocean and start of the Silk Road in earnest before it heads from China and into the Stans.

Don’t miss The seething Islamic Grand Bazaar area, an exotic Uyghur marketplace, is a must, even though its feature is a Han Chinese rip-off of the World Heritage-listed Kalyan minaret in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. See

Do avoid Most visitors tend to travel to and/or through Urumqi as part of organised group tours but if you head off alone conceal your valuables or leave them at the hotel and do eschew protests or any large gatherings that could turn volatile.

– Anthony DennisColombo, Sri Lanka

The reputation Tour operators have traditionally bypassed Colombo (save for its international airport) on their itineraries, believing it to be of little interest.

The reality Funds from a multibillion-dollar World Bank loan have been poured into a massive urban revitalisation project designed to transform Colombo into a major south Asia destination, including a new state-of-the-art port area. Several major colonial buildings have been sensitively restored including the 17th-century Dutch Hospital (, which has been turned into a restaurant and retail complex in the lively Fort area.

Don’t miss One of Asia’s great colonial-era hotels, the Galle Face Hotel (gallefacehotel上海龙凤419m), is nearing completion of the way overdue restoration of its North Wing, dating to 1864, while its South Wing remains open to receive house guests. Adjacent to the hotel is Galle Face Green, a five-hectare seaside public park which comes alive at dusk – perfect for a promenading stroll. See

Do avoid Colombo is a significantly safer city since the end of the civil war but it’s wise to keep valuables out of sight  and beware of all belongings.

– ADLeeds, England

The reputation A grimy, decrepit northern England city best avoided in favour of somewhat more attractive destinations such as York, Manchester and Liverpool.

The reality Leeds, which is only 20 minutes by train from the admittedly lovely York, is overlooked by travellers. But its self-styled epithet as the “Knightsbridge of the North” is not hyperbolic. The original home of Marks & Spencer, Leeds’ is blessed with a delightful, compact shopping precinct, the Victoria Quarter, which includes the beautifully preserved Grand Arcade and the Corn Exchange.

Don’t miss Trinity Leeds (trinityleeds上海龙凤419m) is a stylish, exceptionally well-designed new contemporary shopping centre with some of the best shops and restaurants in northern England. Leeds is also home to a Marks & Spencer heritage trail tour which begins at  Kirkgate Market, where the company started well over a century year ago. See visitbritain上海龙凤419m; visitleeds上海龙凤

Do avoid Leeds is as safe as any other major city in England though locals do tend to recommend that visitors avoid areas such as Chapeltown and Halton Moor.

– ADBucharest, Romania

The reputation Dreary communist capital of strongman Nicolae Ceaușescu, with more than its fair share of sad orphanages, plagues of pickpockets and gypsy scammers.

The reality True, Bucharest is dotted with hideous communist monstrosities (most notably its infamous parliament, one of the world’s largest buildings), but its wide boulevards were inspired by Paris, and the elegant avenue Calea Victoriei is a Belle Epoque gem. Bucharest also has lovely churches and monasteries, and 18th- and 19th-century civic buildings that add history and elegance. Many  old buildings are being restored. The Romanian capital also has fine museums, pleasant parks and good cafés.

Romania has a  young population, and it shows in Bucharest. The city buzzes with youthful energy and the optimism of an economic resurgence brought about by the country’s entry into the European Union. It has a rather funky outlook, a busy restaurant and bar scene and a new can-do attitude. It’s also bargain-priced compared with western European cities. What’s more, a Roman-based alphabet and Latin-based language make getting about, and navigating menus, somewhat easier than in the rest of Eastern Europe.

Don’t miss The Parliamentary Palace (, Ceaușescu’s 1000-room monument to communist excess. The interior is a riot of marble, silk and oak, and tour guides provide great insight into their dictator’s paranoia and megalomania.

Today, a democratically elected president inhabits Cotroceni Palace (, former residence of Romanian kings. You can visit the royal audience and bedrooms, with their odd mix of simple Art Nouveau, oriental and ornate German New Renaissance styles.

The Byzantine-style 1724 Biserica Stavropoleos church ( is full of carvings and painted icons and often features singing by nuns and monks. On the river beyond the city centre, Prince Radu Monastery has an early 17th-century church set in tranquil gardens.

Bucharest has good museums, including  the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (, with its huge collection of colourful icons, national dresses, ceramics and rural furnishings. The overlooked Muzeul National George Enescu ( celebrates the Romanian composer and is worth visiting for its location in a superb Secessionist mansion.

A top place for a stroll is the  Open-Air Museum (, featuring historic buildings relocated from rural regions. Visit  the Botanical Garden ( or Cismigiu Gardens ( for lake boating or challenges on giant outdoor chess sets.

Have an evening out at the Romanian Athenaeum (fge上海龙凤 for classical concerts – it has outstanding acoustics – or the opulent Opera Româna ( for opera or ballet.


Do avoid Petty thievery and pickpocketing are common. Be alert, especially on public transport, and be wary in particular of children. Avoid the neighbourhoods of Ferentari, Rahova and Pantelimon.

– BJJohannesburg, South Africa

The reputation A weird, gun-crazy, lawless murder capital of the world

The reality The New York of Africa, Johannesburg’s crime rate is still giddily high but efforts are being made to revitalise and humanise parts of the city such as Newtown (gauteng上海龙凤419), the city’s emerging creative and culture hub.

Don’t miss For a taste of how far – and how little – South Africa has come, a tour of vibrant post-apartheid Soweto (soweto上海龙凤, now safe for tourists of all races to visit and preferably with a guide, is essential. You can even stay  at a range hotels and bed and breakfasts. See southafrica上海龙凤419,

Do avoid Fancy an evening stroll? Forget it. Johburg is no walking city.  Leave your flashy jewellery at home and be aware of yourself and your surroundings at all times.

– ADBelgrade, Serbia

The reputation A bleak wasteland, scarred by decades of communism and NATO bombings.

The reality True, some of the ruins resulting from the 1999 NATO bombings are still standing, as jarring as a row of decaying teeth. However, the picturesque city centre has a cosmopolitan vibe, filled with buzzing bars, clubs and restaurants.

Don’t miss Beautiful architecture  around the pedestrian Knez Mihailova; the boho vibe in the cobblestoned streets of Skadarska; two millennia of history in the Belgrade Underground tour (belgradeundergroundtour上海龙凤419m). See,

Do avoid Traffic is terrible and taxi scams are common, so ask your hotel to order you a taxi.

– UJ

Botched blackmailing doesn’t stop Eoin Morgan

MOVING ON: England captain Eoin Morgan is putting a recent extortion attempt behind him as he trains at Hobart. Picture: Getty ImagesLONDON: Eoin Morgan captained England on Friday less than 24 hours after the England and Wales Cricket Board announced he had been the target of a recent blackmail attempt.
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The ECB said it received an email from an Australian man demanding a ‘‘five-figure sum’’, reportedly £35,000 ($65,000), to prevent him revealing details regarding a relationship Morgan had with a woman five years ago to newspapers in Britain and Australia.

ECB officials in Australia approached the Tasmanian after discussions with the Metropolitan Police.

The man concerned, reportedly a Hobart workplace safety consultant, is in a relationship with the woman Morgan had a relationship with, and when confronted he admitted and apologised for his actions.

He contacted a Melbourne newspaper admitting he was the man involved and said he was in possession of ‘‘sexually based’’ messages exchanged between his partner and the 28-year-old.

He told the Herald Sun: ‘‘I have got a fair bit of interesting content regarding Eoin Morgan … there’s sexual content.’’

He later blamed jealousy for his threats after reportedly demanding that the money be paid before the first ball was played in Friday’s match between Australia and England in Hobart.

‘‘We contacted the Metropolitan Police and a brief investigation tracked down this individual,’’ the ECB’s managing director, Paul Downton, said.

‘‘We will not allow anyone to disrupt our team’s preparation or performance in the Tri-Series and as we build up to the World Cup. I am pleased that this issue has now been brought to a swift conclusion.

‘‘At this point we’d like to thank the Metropolitan Police for their advice, which assisted us in dealing with this in the swiftest possible manner.’’

The ECB said it would not be taking any further action following the incident.

A statement read: ‘‘The ECB will not allow anyone to disrupt our team’s performance on the field of play.

‘‘We are wholly focused on winning cricket matches.

‘‘This matter has now been brought to a conclusion and we will not be seeking further action against the individual at this stage.’’

The English are halfway through a series with Australia and India as they continue to prepare for the World Cup, which starts on February 14.

Morgan scored 121 against Australia last week in his first one-day international since replacing Alastair Cook as captain last month, but was unable to save England from a convincing defeat.

The Three Lions, however, bounced back with an excellent nine-wicket win over India on Tuesday ahead of a second match against Australia at Bellerive Oval on Friday.

Peter Doohan back to revive Newcastle tennis fortunes

ACE: Lambton Park Tennis Club has a new coach, Peter Doohan, in the foreground, with club president, Alton Bowen. Picture by Brock PerksPETER Doohan was once the ‘‘Becker Wrecker’’, but these days he wants to rebuild Newcastle tennis.
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The one-time world No.43 has always cited his formative years at National Park and Adamstown tennis courts as the reason he lived out his dream on the professional circuit, including playing in 39 grand slam tournaments in singles and doubles, and a Davis Cup victory over Sweden in 1986.

Tennis fans most remember Doohan for pulling off one of the greatest upsets in Wimbledon history when he defeated No.1 seed and two-time defending champion Boris Becker 7-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the second round in 1987.

On Wednesday the 53-year-old will begin coaching at Lambton Park Tennis Courts twice a week.

Since returning from the US in 2009 after 20 years of coaching, Doohan has been based at Nelson Bay.

‘‘I’m chomping at the bit to get into Newcastle as I’d like to put something back into the tennis community in Newcastle because that’s where my skills were developed and the foundations for my career were laid,’’ Doohan said.

Since the days when Doohan played on the world circuit and fellow Novocastrian Christine O’Neill won the women’s Australian Open title in 1978, tennis has been in a steep decline locally.

The last Newcastle player to appear in a grand slam event was Eleebana’s Nick Lindahl, who received wildcard entries for the 2008 and 2010 Australian Opens.

Lindahl, 26, retired in 2013 after it was alleged he tanked in a Toowoomba Futures tournament that his friend Matthew Fox placed bets on.

The allegations were heard at Melbourne Magistrates Court last month and the case is continuing.

Doohan admitted it had been a tough period for tennis in Newcastle.

‘‘People are obviously busier these days and tennis is played on synthetic grass, which doesn’t necessarily help juniors for these big hardcourt tournaments in Melbourne,’’ he said.

However, Doohan said Country tennis remained strong and identified Sam Groth’s loss to Brendan Moore in the Newcastle Open final in 2013 as an example.

Groth, the world No.82, made it to the third round of the Australian Open but lost to fellow Australian Bernard Tomic 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 on Friday.

‘‘These guys [like Groth] are out there playing tournaments in Newcastle and country NSW,’’ Doohan said.

‘‘The talent is there. It just needs to be recognised and developed the right way.’’

Winston Churchill tour, London, England: The man behind Britain’s great wartime leader

Born into grandeur: Blenheim Palace was Churchill’s childhood home. The library at Chartwell, the home of Churchill from 1924. Photo: NTPL
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Born into grandeur: Blenheim Palace was Churchill’s childhood home.

Born into grandeur: Blenheim Palace was Churchill’s childhood home.

The library at Chartwell, the home of Churchill from 1924. Photo: NTPL

Born into grandeur: Blenheim Palace was Churchill’s childhood home.

The library at Chartwell, the home of Churchill from 1924. Photo: NTPL

The library at Chartwell, the home of Churchill from 1924. Photo: NTPL

The black-and-white photo of the lithe young boy in a somewhat ridiculous nautical outfit requires context. It’d be nigh-on impossible to guess who it was otherwise. The near-universal mental image of the older Winston Churchill – the hunched, pugnacious bulldog with a cigar in his mouth – is so ingrained that any deviation from it elicits a double take. But Churchill – who died 50 years ago on January 25th, 1965 – wasn’t quite the man of the people he’s frequently portrayed as. The striking childhood photo is collected alongside many of his letters and other possessions from his early life inside Blenheim Palace.

This was where Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born, surrounded by grandeur in the Oxfordshire countryside. His father was Lord Randolph Churchill, an MP who would later become chancellor of the exchequer, and his grandfather was the seventh Duke of Marlborough.

The palace now houses an exhibition on Churchill as an hors d’ouevre for the lavish decorative splendour of the state rooms. But it quickly becomes clear that this was the closest thing the young Winston had to a home.

That the picture of his early life is painted through letters to his parents is telling. He didn’t see all that much of them as they lived a somewhat peripatetic existence. He would spend much of the year at boarding school, then return to Blenheim for the bulk of the holidays.

One letter, from an eight-year-old Winston, describes to his “dearest mama” how much nicer the park at Blenheim is than Hyde Park or Green Park in London. He tells of making pretend camps with an umbrella and riding his pony  around the grounds.

Another to “dearest papa” tells of him seeing a snake and being forbidden from killing it by Nanny Everest – a woman who seemed to play a bigger part in raising him than his parents did.

Churchill was hardly a star pupil at establishment favourite school Harrow – though nor was he as hopeless as he later pretended – and it took him three attempts to pass exams to get into Sandhurst military college. Letters from there show off Churchill’s energetic tirelessness and competitive streak. Always ending with “I remain your ever-loving son”, they tell of working hard to become fencing champion and going out to fell trees.

It would be his writing that got him noticed, though. He used family influence to ensure he was repeatedly sent to where the action was, and then did substantial moonlighting as a war correspondent for the British newspapers. Within five years he ended up in Cuba, Afghanistan, India, Sudan and South Africa. He was captured during the Boer War, and his escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in Pretoria made him a national celebrity.

If Blenheim Palace is the best place to get to know the young Winston, then the Churchill War Rooms in central London give the best insight into Churchill the politician. This stuffy network of rooms and tunnels under the Treasury building in Whitehall was where much of Britain’s World War II was directed from.

The maps, beds and desks are left as they were when the war ended and the biggest surprise is how low-tech and functional the whole set-up was. It’s typified by Room 63, which has a “Keep locked” sign on it. Almost everyone working there assumed it was the only flushing toilet in the complex, reserved for Churchill’s private use. But it actually housed the trans-Atlantic hotline phone that allowed Churchill to talk to United States president Franklin D Roosevelt in secrecy.

Life in the bunker is cleverly portrayed through quotes from those working there. One of Churchill’s personal secretaries, Elizabeth Layton, tells of how she’d often receive sharp reprimands for the tiniest of errors. But she still felt privileged to work for him – even though he’d expect staff to keep up with his own exhausting 8am-to-3am workdays.

General Sir Alan Brooke sums it up best, saying: “It was in every way an excellent battle headquarters, with only one fault, namely its proximity to Winston.”

It’s fair to say he drove his war cabinet and military commanders barmy, with frequent enthusiasms for seemingly unworkable plans and a tendency to selective deafness. Interestingly, though, he never once overruled them.

Churchill stayed overnight in the War Rooms only three times – he preferred to risk it out in the real world and would occasionally stand on a rooftop watching bombs fall. He was an irascible, eccentric personality, and not one easily wrangled.

This comes through in the sections exploring Churchill’s career in politics before and after the war. He was an MP for 40 years before coming prime minister. He crossed the floor twice, moving from the Conservative to the Liberal party, then back again. He was behind the first National Insurance unemployment pension legislation and the introduction of the minimum wage. He was First Lord of the Admiralty during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, and resigned soon afterwards to join the troops in the trenches. He later spent 10 years in the political wilderness, being regarded as a cranky loose cannon with an overzealous penchant for warning about Hitler. That, of course, would see him become the embodiment of the war spirit and only logical choice as wartime PM in 1940.

The  most moving exhibit is the video footage of his state funeral. About 300,000 people filed past his coffin, and 400 million around the world watched it on TV. Typically, he had planned many of the arrangements himself under the codename “Operation Hope Not”.

Great statesman he may have been, but his personality was what endeared Churchill to the world. And that’s best explored at his home, Chartwell in Kent.

Through the landscaped gardens that Churchill rolled his sleeves up to help create, past the ponds of goldfish that regularly entranced him as he sat on a little chair at the edge, is a stout red-brick house, very different from the grandeur of Blenheim Palace. The visitors book is signed by the likes of Harry Truman, Charlie Chapman and Lawrence of Arabia, but they would get homeliness rather than high society. Family photographs were scattered throughout, beloved pets got their own graves, there’s a stuffed toy panda in his study and the furnishing skirts close to chintzy.

The library has bookshelves clambering up every wall.  He may have been born into the aristocracy and have held key positions of state, but Churchill became wealthy only through his pen. He compiled multi-volume works on topics ranging from the world wars to the first Duke of Marlborough, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature on the back of it.

The house is also full of paintings – many of which are Churchill’s own handiwork.

The studio where he painted is across the lawn from the main house, and many of the 500-plus paintings he produced  are there. The favoured topics are revealing. They’re not of high-office trappings, world leaders or globally renowned friends, but the black swans of Chartwell’s lake and his beloved goldfish. The international colossus was never happier than when lost in the trivialities of home. Five more stops on a Churchill itinerary

1 Churchill may not have been the most diligent student but his former school, Harrow, is one of the most prestigious in Britain.  It’s open for public tours a few times a year. See harrowschoolenterprises上海龙凤419m.

2 Tours of Sandhurst  are available for groups of 10 or more. It’s still where most of Britain’s military top brass start out – and the same applies to many Middle Eastern leaders. See sandhursttrust上海龙凤419.

3 Nicknamed “the parish church of the House of Commons”, St Margaret’s Church in Westminster was where Churchill married Clementine Hozier in 1908. It’s not as impressive as neighbouring Westminster Abbey, but the 16th-century stained-glass windows are among the decorative trinkets worth popping in for. See westminster-abbey上海龙凤419/st-margarets-church.

4 To find Churchill’s grave, head a few miles south-east of Blenheim Palace to the parish church of St Martin in Bladon, Oxfordshire. The relatively circumspect  tomb is also the final resting place of his wife, who died 12 years later.

5 The Hyatt Regency in London has a Churchill Bar, with a specially commissioned bronze of the former PM, a humidor selling his favoured cigars and a food menu tailored to cover most of his favourite dishes. See london.churchill.hyatt上海龙凤 TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

visitbritain上海龙凤419m.auGETTING THERE

Major airlines offering one-stop flights to London from Sydney and Melbourne include Cathay Pacific, Etihad and Emirates. See cathaypacific上海龙凤419m; etihad上海龙凤419m; emirates上海龙凤419m. STAYING THERE

As the name suggests, the Hilton London Paddington is handily located outside London’s Paddington Station. Doubles cost from £194 a night. See hilton上海龙凤419m. SEE & DO

The Churchill War Rooms (iwm上海龙凤, £17.50) is in Central London. Chartwell (nationaltrust上海龙凤, £12.50) is to the south in Westerham, Kent. You ideally need a hire car to get there. Alternatively, take the train from Charing Cross to Sevenoaks, which takes 33 minutes and costs £22.60 return. Beeline Taxis (00 44 1732 456 214, sevenoakstaxis上海龙凤419m) will run you to Chartwell and back, with return prices around the £40 mark.

For Blenheim Palace (blenheimpalace上海龙凤419m, £22.50), again a hire car is most useful. Otherwise, take a train to Oxford from Paddington Station (58 minutes, £24.20 day return) and then the half-hourly S3 bus from outside Oxford train station to the palace gates. It takes 42 minutes and costs £5.90 return.

The writer was a guest of Visit Britain.

Airline review: British Airways World Traveller Plus (premium economy)

Proper meals and generous baggage allowance: British Airways. Roomy ride: British Airways’ Premium Economy seats.
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Proper meals and generous baggage allowance: British Airways.

Roomy ride: British Airways’ Premium Economy seats.

Proper meals and generous baggage allowance: British Airways.

Roomy ride: British Airways’ Premium Economy seats.

Proper meals and generous baggage allowance: British Airways.

Roomy ride: British Airways’ Premium Economy seats.


London to New York THE PLANE

Boeing 747-400. British Airways operates 57 of these planes, the greatest number of the type in operation with any airline. THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Executive Club. Passengers can also earn points toward other Oneworld Alliance airlines’ programs. UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?

World Traveller Plus (BA’s name for Premium Economy), seat 28D TIME IN THE AIR

Seven hours between Heathrow and JFK Airports THE SEAT STUFF

38 inches (97cm) pitch, 18.5 inches (47cm) width. There are 30 Premium Economy seats in a mostly 2-4-2 layout. BAGGAGE

Two checked bags, each up to 23kg in weight. As carry-on luggage BA also allows one cabin bag and a smaller personal bag, each (believe it or not) up to 23kg in weight. COMFORT FACTOR

Our Premium Economy seats are in a small area between Business and Economy Class, with an air of exclusivity once the curtains are drawn. Unlike some airlines’ Premium Economy offerings, BA’s version feels like an incremental step up from Economy rather than a budget version of Business. Our exit row seats, with their fixed armrests, seem snug, however, the headrest can’t be raised quite high enough to match my height. There’s plenty of leg room though, and the seat has an extendable footrest and lumbar support adjustment. As we’re in a bassinet row and there are no babies present, we’re able to fold down the table for our own use. THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT

Entertainment comes via a tiny screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which swivels from beneath the armrest. The picture quality of my screen menu is occasionally dodgy, with interference lines, but movies look fine when played. There’s an impressively long and diverse selection of new release films, from Godzilla to The Grand Budapest Hotel via Muppets Most Wanted. A smaller kids’ section contains such British heroes as Postman Pat. The TV section includes such gems such as the aptly trans-Atlantic comedy series Episodes. A pleasant change of pace under Audio is a collection of spoken-word books, ranging from classics such as Moby Dick to Jennifer Saunders’ Bonkers. THE SERVICE

The cabin staff are a friendly and cheerful multinational crew who respond quickly and efficiently to requests. FEEDING TIME

Lunch is served an hour after take-off, and it’s reminiscent of Business Class with its cloth napkins, metal cutlery and wine glasses. I go for the seared fillet of British beef, which is pleasingly tender, accompanied by a decent French merlot cabernet sauvignon. My wife Narrelle opts for the most tongue-twisting dish I’ve ever seen on an airline menu: chicken malagueta with biro biro rice, roast peppers, okra caruru and chimichurri sauce. We joke about the airline making up some of the words, but Narrelle reports that it’s a tasty dish, moist and tender. She still doesn’t like okra (to which I reply “Don’t watch her show then”), but is positive about the orange chocolate mousse for dessert. I like it too. ONE MORE THING…

Sofitel has a comfortable upmarket hotel connected to Heathrow’s Terminal 5, so if you don’t fancy an early morning trek from central London it can be worth staying on-site. THE VERDICT

Though not a substitute for Business Class, BA’s World Traveller Plus is a notch above Economy and would be worth considering if you had the pounds to spare. THE FREQUENCY 

Nine times daily

Tested by Tim Richards, who paid for his flight but was upgraded to World Traveller Plus by British Airways.

Papua New Guinea cycling tour: This is not the Tour de France

Welcoming party: Local children are excited by the arrival of tourists. Photo: Inga Ting Welcoming party: Local children are excited by the arrival of tourists. Photo: Inga Ting
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Welcoming party: Local children are excited by the arrival of tourists. Photo: Inga Ting

Scenic route: Cycling in New Ireland. Photo: Inga Ting

Traditional thatched roof houses in Papua New Guinea. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Scenic route: Cycling in New Ireland. Photo: Inga Ting

Traditional thatched roof houses in Papua New Guinea. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Scenic route: Cycling in New Ireland. Photo: Inga Ting

Traditional thatched roof houses in Papua New Guinea. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Scenic route: Cycling in New Ireland. Photo: Inga Ting

Traditional thatched roof houses in Papua New Guinea. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Welcoming party: Local children are excited by the arrival of tourists. Photo: Inga Ting

It usually begins with one kid. His eyes widen. His face, his posture, his whole body, come alive as he musters every ounce of energy into a single intake of breath.

“Turis! (Tourist!)” he screams. His cry has the kind of urgency that kids where I grew up reserve for truly life-changing events, like sightings of the ice-cream man.

“Turis! Turis! Turis!”

And so begins the madness.

Heads pop out from door frames. Women cast aside half-washed laundry. School children abandon books. People start to run: toddlers chased by mothers, children balancing babies, men and women of all shapes and ages, with the sick and elderly bringing up the rear.

Men and women rush to pick flowers for you. Children queue to exchange high fives with you. Everyone is smiling and calling out, until the entire village is a cheerful chorus of “Moning! (Good morning!)”, “Apinun! (Good afternoon!)” and “Halo! What’s your name?”

It’s like the Tour de France but at a fraction of the speed and much less skill.

It is the second day of our cycling expedition along New Ireland’s Boluminski Highway. I am a smelly, ragged excuse for a tourist. Yet this does nothing to dampen their excitement and even though this circus happens at nearly every village (and there are dozens), I still feel like I should do something, well, amazing. Or at least slightly more interesting than cycling very slowly and sweatily through the crowd. I summon the energy to ring my bell and call back, smiling and waving as though I am moderately fit and not at all bothered by the blazing heat.

Cycling in New Ireland is ideal for those looking for a cheap, eco-friendly way to experience the charms of village life and the natural beauty of Papua New Guinea’s islands. Surfaced for the first 200 kilometres with guesthouses scattered conveniently along the way, the highway is almost perfectly flat and surprisingly traffic-free.

Which makes it perfect for those who like getting outdoors but aren’t hardcore cyclists, and certainly don’t want to wear Lycra on holiday (or ever).

The journey from Kavieng to Dalom, roughly 180 kilometres, is our first attempt at a multiday cycling trip. We’re running late, having spent half our first day hiding from the teeming rain in a bamboo shelter by the side of the road.

Conscious of needing to make up serious distance, I am trying to pick up the pace.

“Stop riding so far in front of me!” This distant protest comes from my partner, who less than  24 hours earlier had declared 90 kilometres was not too far to cycle each day. I am carrying all our luggage, food and water in the (apparently false) hope that the lighter Kris’ load, the faster he’ll ride.

When I am not trying to work out if I could jog faster than Kris is cycling, the ride is supremely peaceful. From the saddle of an 18-speed, I watch scenes of island life slip by: clusters of thatched-roof houses by the beach; men and children fishing from banana boats; sleepy shopkeepers manning roadside stalls offering two-minute noodles, cigarette lighters and greasy pink donuts. (Who says all your island needs can’t be found in one place?) For long stretches, the only sign of civilisation is the odd buai (betel nut) stand: a dozen or so neatly arranged nuts on a plank of wood, no vendor in sight.

By 11 o’clock the vortex of tangled trees and vines around us goes still and gusts of hot air rise from the asphalt like the road itself is breathing. Time for a swim.

Rarely are we more than 200 metres from crystal clear water, gentle swells and white sandy beaches. We stop for lunch at a tiny village and immediately pick up a small entourage of women and children. As we lay out a towel under a coconut tree, we’re approached by a round, shirtless man with curly grey hairs on his generous belly.

Johnson has come to see what all the fuss is about. He shakes our hands; we exchange names. There’s an awkward pause as everyone falls silent. Somewhere, a tumbleweed rolls by.

Ah-ha! I realise what is going on. Johnson is the village bigman (leader) and we are visitors on their turf. We rummage around for a gift but all we come up with is tinpis (canned tuna) and a mangled packet of dry crackers. They make for a rather sad-looking gift.

But our embarrassment finds quick relief: Johnson nods his approval. “Please stay for lunch. The women will look after you.” And with that, he breaks the three crackers in the packet into tiny pieces and distributes them between the dozen or so villagers standing around us.

Johnson is the first bigman we’ve ever met and our brief interaction, as absurd as it might seem, felt remarkably genuine. Generosity, exchange and kinship are the backbone of Melanesian culture and this unexpected roadside encounter is like a first glimpse into its soul.

New Ireland is one of the few places in the world where people still live much like they did 100 years ago, and their warmth and curiosity is impossible to resist. Instead of cycling, we find ourselves chatting to school teachers, bathing in the river with students, learning to weave baskets and staying up late listening, wide-eyed, to tales of witchcraft.

In the end, we do make it to Dalom – on the passenger seat of a truck with our bikes stashed in the tray. Better to slow down, kick up your feet and let the island tempo take you, than tear past it all at 40km/h just so you can say you made it in time.

After all, it’s not the Tour de France. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

newirelandtourism上海龙凤419.pgGETTING THERE

Kavieng is 1.5 hours from Port Moresby by air. Air Niugini operates daily flights. Phone +675 327 3396, see airniugini上海龙凤419m.pgSTAYING THERE

Locals will tell you it is possible to stay in any villager’s house (just ask!) but staying at guesthouses allows you to phone ahead. Since most guesthouses generally host only a few guests each month, advance notice is much appreciated – and probably means you’ll be better fed since your hosts will have time to go fishing/shopping/bush gathering. The only time New Ireland gets crowded is when students from Melbourne do their annual cycling trip (usually in July). At other times, you’re likely to have the entire guesthouse to yourself.

Accommodation is basic. Most guesthouses rely on rainwater, cook on wood stoves and run a generator in the evening. The standard guesthouse price for two people is K240 ($A113)  a night, including dinner and breakfast. Village stays are about K160 ($A75) a night, including dinner and breakfast.

New Ireland Tourist Bureau (+675 984 2441; +675 7271 7426; newirelandtourism上海龙凤 can arrange bookings. Recommended guesthouses include Tabo Meli’s Guesthouse at Lauan (about 48 kilometres from Kavieng; +675 7322 2645; no website) and Dalom Village Guesthouse (about 176 kilometres from Kavieng; +675 7220 4031; no website).  SEE + DO

The Boluminski Highway runs the island’s east coast from the province capital Kavieng to Namatanai, roughly 260 kilometres away. How far you ride is up to you – you’ll need four to five days to cover the entire stretch. Kavieng is the only place on the island where you can withdraw or exchange money, and the only place you’ll find (relatively) large supermarkets, so stock up on water, lunch supplies and snacks for your entire trip before heading off. It’s a good idea to take a few items to offer to either your hosts if you’re at a village stay or to the village bigman for redistribution. Canned fish, rice, salt, sugar and other long-life condiments will win you friends.

You can hire an 18-speed mountain bike with a helmet and cushioned seat cover (for which you will be grateful by the end of your first day) for K60 ($A28) a day from John Knox, Noxie’s Place (+675 7369 3331; facebook上海龙凤419m/NoxiesPlace). If you’re planning to go one way, he’ll pick up your bikes from anywhere along the highway for K40 ($A19) a bike, and drop off any luggage you don’t want to take cycling at no extra charge.

India wildlife adventure: Watching tigers in the jungle

The holy grail: A Bengal tiger. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m
Shanghai night field

The holy grail: A Bengal tiger. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

The holy grail: A Bengal tiger. Photo: 123上海龙凤419m

Welcome to the jungle: Green tea plantationsin Munnar, Kerala, India. Photo: iStock

Trekking at Chinnar National Park. Photo: Julie Miller

Tourist boats at Kerala backwaters in Alleppey. Photo: iStock

I’ve just encountered the most terrifying creature in the Indian forest. It rears before me, ready to attack, riled by the scent of my blood. I back off slowly, hoping if I give it space it will capitulate. But I soon realise that my assailant is not alone – and there is no escape.

Fortunately, help is at hand, in the form of a brown tobacco powder. On contact, the dozen or so leeches crawling over my purple sparkly Converse recoil back into the mud, quelled until a less-prepared victim passes by.

Phew, crisis averted. It’s a jungle out there.

Here, in the dark, misty wilds of Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, southern India, every animal, from the smallest insect to the largest predator, is part of the food chain – including the most invasive presence, man. And while I long to see the jewel in this park’s ecosystem – the Bengal tiger – I’m quietly relieved that so far, we haven’t had to make a dash for our lives.

We are on an early-morning walking safari through the reserve – yes, on foot, not in a jeep: hence my reticence. But I’ve been told we’d be extremely lucky – or perhaps unlucky – to spot a tiger in this large, dense terrain, with the big cats extremely elusive, well camouflaged, and of course, extremely rare.

According to the latest census conducted in 2014, India’s tiger population has risen by nearly 30 per cent in three years from 1706 to 2226 – great news indeed and a triumph for wildlife conservation. The state of Kerala’s tiger population alone has increased from 71 to an incredible 136, based on data sourced from the latest technology, including camera traps, digital imaging of pug marks, tagging and satellite data.

The tiger’s wide territorial range, however, does make it difficult to pinpoint exact numbers, and our guide on this safari – a tribesman named Thankappan who has lived in this forest all his life and now works for the Parks Service – believes there could be as many as 55 tigers roaming Periyar Tiger Reserve, a 925 square kilometre wilderness.

Clearly, however, he’s not concerned about a close encounter; he doesn’t carry a gun, and his only weapon against rampaging wildlife is tobacco powder to deter ferocious leeches. He does, however, have excellent hearing, and reads this jungle like a book, spotting flitting birds, shy deer and canopy-dwelling monkeys without the use of binoculars.

Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of 47 designated areas governed by Project Tiger in an attempt to protect India’s vulnerable population of about 1700 tigers. At the heart of this mountainous terrain in the Cardamom Hills is a lake, created in 1895 when the Periyar River was dammed. The land has been a protected zone since 1899; it became a tiger reserve in 1978. While the preservation of the tiger population is paramount, the reserve also boasts a huge biodiversity of animals, with 66 species of mammals including Asian elephants, sloth bears, guar, sambar and leopard, and more than  300 species of birds.

The most popular way of viewing wildlife is on a boat trip along the lake; but with at least 100 shouting, jostling tourists clambering for photo opportunities and no interpretative information, this proves to be a fairly frustrating exercise.

“Did you see anything?” I overhear one tour guide ask his group on their return. “Nothing,” they collectively sigh. In other words, they didn’t see a tiger, a leopard or elephants. Despite the fact that our cruise had, indeed, glided past herds of grazing sambar, wild pigs playing in the mud and egrets nesting on submerged trees. To these visitors, only the “big” animals – the popular kids in the playground – seem to matter.

Our morning hike, fortunately, proves a stark contrast to the cruise debacle. Apart from a group of Munnan tribespeople – who retain hunting and gathering rights in the forest – we are the only humans venturing through this section of forest; and instead of incessant chatter and yelling, we are treated to the sounds of the jungle as the rising sun pierces the canopy – the buzz of cicadas, the caw of birds and the shiver of leaves as a giant squirrel leaps from branch to branch.

As well as having a sharp eye for watchful barking deer and being able to identify the distant whoop of a mating black monkey, our guide Thankappan delights in the small creatures, pointing out spindle-legged spiders in gossamer webs, iridescent dragonflies and resplendent birds, including rocket-tailed drongos, orange-chested rufus treepie, and lesser hornbills. By the end of our two-and-a-half-hour walk, we have become veritable twitchers, as excited by the feathered inhabitants of this pristine wilderness as the furry variety.

Two days later, we visit another Keralan national park, Eravikulam. The closest wildlife reserve to the hill station of Munnar, it provides sanctuary for a creature almost as rare as the tiger but certainly not as infamous – the nilgiri tahr. A type of mountain goat, there are fewer than 2000 left in the wild, with Eravikulam boasting almost half of them.

It’s raining as we set off from the national park ticket office on a shuttle bus, which winds its way up a perilous road to the small section of park open to the public. En route, we spot a herd of elephants trudging through a tea plantation, camouflaged amongst tall trees between sculpted emerald terraces. It’s certainly a good start to the day, and we’re feeling optimistic as we approach the ethereal, rocky slopes that the tahr is said to inhabit.

As it turns out, the nilgiri Tahr is as brazen as the tiger is shy, with several herds bounding over the slippery rocks without a care in the world. A proud buck eyeballs us fearlessly from his elevated throne, an ungulate Brad Pitt with his coarse grey coat, amber eyes and arched horns; while a couple of youngsters wander down the bitumen pathway, posing for photo opportunities and head-butting us to shift out of their way.

As awesome as it is to be this close to an endangered species, the nilgiri tahr’s bold behaviour has historically been its downfall, hunted and poached to near-extinction. Strict monitoring within the park now ensures the remaining herd’s survival, with the tourist zone closed during kidding season and private vehicles prevented from entering park boundaries.

Just north of Munnar, bordering the state of Tamil Nadu, is a very different wildlife preserve called Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. Falling in the rainshadow of the Western Ghats, its terrain is as scrubby, thorny and stark as Periyar and Eravikulam are lush. This park is home to elephants, gaur, sambar, macaques, endangered grizzled giant squirrels and a small population of tigers; it also has the most reptilian fauna in Kerala, including the mugger crocodile.

Average rainfall in Chinnar is just 500 millimetres a year – all of it seemingly bucketing down on us during our afternoon walking safari. Within minutes, we are soaked to the bone, the monsoonal downpour relentless for more than an hour as we shelter, miserable, beneath the spreading branches of an Indian almond tree. Rather than continue our trek in such inclement conditions, we decide to cut it short, returning to base via a watchtower with views across the river to Tamil Nadu.

As quickly as the storm commenced, however, so it clears; and as we climb to the viewing platform of the metal tower, we are rewarded with expansive views of the scrubland rejuvenated by the life-giving waters. In the distance we spy a herd of sambar, on high alert and seemingly looking our way; while some spotted deer dart from beneath bushes, skittish in the oozing mud.

Still dripping, we allow the warm breeze to dry our soaked clothing as we gaze into the far blue yonder, absorbing every flutter of a leaf, or stirring of grasses. From being cranky, wet and defeated, we are suddenly as invigorated as the landscape around us, our “failed” safari turned on its head into a beautiful, unexpected and positive experience. Five other Indian sanctuaries

1. Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand: The oldest national park in mainland Asia, this dense forest boasts a large population of aboutaround 200 tigers as well as leopards, elephants and langur.

2. Ranthambore, Rajastahan: This is arguably the most reliable place to spot tigers, with good visibility in the dry, scrubby terrain. Other creatures include sloth bear, jackal and leopard.

3. Kaziranga NP, Assam: An important stronghold for endangered Indian one-horned rhinoceros as well as home to manylarge numbers of elephants, water buffalo and tigers.

4. Sunderbans, West Bengal: This UNESCO World Heritage site bordering Bangladesh is a massive wetland where tigers have adapted to life in the saltwater mangroves. Tours of the wetland are by boat only.

5. Gir, Gujrat: This is the last bastion of the endangered Asiatic lion, of which there are only 411 left. It is also a popular bird-watching destination with more thanover 300 species of avifauna. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION


mantrawild上海龙凤419m.auGETTING THERE

Air India flies daily from Sydney via Melbourne to Delhi, with domestic transfers to Kochi.  STAYING THERE

Spice Village offers 4-star cottage accommodation near Periyar Tiger Reserve, see cghearth上海龙凤419m. Mantra Wild Adventures’ 11 day package to Kerala includes accommodation, activities and safaris in Periyar, Eravikulam and Chinnar National Parks from $3199 per person twin share. See mantrawild上海龙凤

The writer travelled as a guest of Mantra Wild Adventures.