Raffles Hotel in Singapore has a long-standing reputation of being one of the world’s most iconic and storied hotels. And its ranking amongst the world’s best has only been enhanced by recent multi-million-dollar restorations. Previously we’d only visited Raffles for a Singapore Sling in the historic Long Bar or to browse the boutique shopping gallery, … Read more Amazing Raffles
Monteverde is a small, windy town high in the Costa Rican “cloud forest”. It is essentially a tourist town, hub for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding and extreme sports. Parts of the town are typically Costa Rican, with makeshift store fronts and dogs roaming the streets. But the centre has developed a decidedly hipster vibe, … Read more Monteverde Costa Rica Blog
Ah San Jose, what can I say about you? You’re not the prettiest capital city I’ve ever seen…. but you just might be the ugliest.In fairness, arriving on New Year’s Day when everything is closed and the clean up from the night before is still to begin, probably won’t make the best first impression for … Read more San Jose Blog
Four hours from the unremarkable capital San Jose you’ll find a beautiful natural paradise in Manuel Antonio National Park. We are staying in Quepos, a small town just 7km from the park entrance and an array of wonderful dark sand beaches. Public buses run every 20 minutes to a public beach outside the park. There’s … Read more Pura Vida in Costa Rica
In 2016 I went to Peru with my daughter Lucy to challenge ourselves trekking in the Andes and exploring the Inca Trail.
I travelled in a group of 10 Australians led by Claudio Maqque Vaeldez who now runs Inkati Peru Travel.
Peru is one of the most exciting countries in South America, and Claudio is one of the best guides I’ve ever travelled with.
We spent time in Cusco, Ollantaytambo, trekked in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and of course finished up on the Inca Trail to hike into Machu Picchu.
Claudio was an outstanding guide, very knowledgeable and passionate about the history of Peru and the Incas, and also about the natural environment. And he is also an expert in local travel arrangements, permits, conditions and customs – something that can take a lot of the headaches out of planning a trip in Peru.
He was always calm, patient, and generous with his time. Just as importantly, he treated his crew and all the locals we met along the way with total respect. A total professional.
The next time I go to Peru, and I hope its soon, I will definitely be arranging all my treks with Claudio and Inkati Peru Travel.
It may sound trite to say that the journey is just as important as the destination, but try flying first class with Emirates and you’ll have a new appreciation of Emerson’s oft-quoted platitude.
Early in the year (whilst surfing Qantas’s booking engine – as I often do) I stumbled on a First Class Award flight, Melbourne to Singapore, on Emirates on a date that worked for me. I’d had no plans to visit Singapore, but the lure of my first ever first class flight was more than I could resist. It would prove to the best 90,000 points and $300 (taxes and carrier fees) I have ever spent in the air.
Flight day and we’re at the airport early to make full use of our first class lounge privileges. In Melbourne, Emirates partners with Qantas to give first class passengers access to the Australian airline’s first class lounge – and I can tell you it is a massive step up from business class.
The Qantas lounge is a sanctuary of style and serenity away from the crowds and queues of the International terminal and departure gates (dare I say, away from the common people?) – and its’ all free with a first class ticket.
We staked out a vantage point in the restaurant where we could watch the take offs and landings, sip some pre-flight cocktails, and peruse the Neil Perry menu. The lounge offers genuine 5 star dining, the likes of which I never thought possible in an airport, and the wine list is pretty impressive too.
Here’s a tip: put your name down as soon as you arrive for a massage or facial in the spa. That’s right… there’s a luxury spa in the lounge. I had the men’s detox facial and returned to the lounge feeling even more blissed. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone travels without a pre-flight spa treatment.
Spa bookings are limited, but even if you miss out you could still freshen up with a shower before your flight. The bathroom facilities are replete with ASPAR toiletries.
As tempting as it was to try all the cocktails in the bar and every dish on the menu, we knew that Emirates had plenty of culinary delights in store for us on the plane. And so it was time to head to the gate and make our way onto the Boeing 777-300ER.
The welcome is gracious as we are introduced to our cabin crew and directed to our suites. There are 6 first class suites on this Emirates 777-300 and on this flight we are the only two passengers! The crew tell us we are welcome to use any suite we like, even to eat in one suite and sleep in another.
The greatest luxury when flying is space, and the Emirates first class product gives you plenty of it. But they also deliver many more surprises to keep the wow factor going. My suite is furnished with a personal mini-bar and generous snacks, I have a wardrobe, a privacy screen for sleep time, and a huge entertainment screen and noise cancelling Bowers and Wilkins headphones.
Complimentary amenities include Byredo facial products, a Bulgari pack of toiletries and perfume, a writing set, and a luxurious package of pyjamas and slippers.
I’m still exploring the loot when the pre-take-off Moet is served and the crew explain some of the seat and suite functions. Once in the air and we have levelled off, the Dom Perignon is served. Don’t mind if I do!
This really is next level luxury, and way beyond what you really need for an 8 hour flight to Singapore – but I can’t deny that I’m loving every minute of being treated like royalty.
The food service commences with some tasty amuse bouche, followed by a mezza plate specially tailored to my vegetarian preferences. It includes two types of egg plant dip and a selection of warm breads that any fresh bakery would be proud of.
I select a 98 French red wine, knowing nothing about French red wines but it sounds expensive so I go for it. After nodding my approval at the first sip, the host decants the rest of the bottle into a carafe and leaves it at my table!
I’m encouraged to also have the caviar plate from the apetisers menu, and, paired with a Belvedere Vodka, it is absolutely divine.
The food service is al a carte and on demand. I’m only half way through my French red when I order the pumpkin ravioli for mains – it’s delicious but more than I can finish.
Sitting at adjacent suites we both watch the same movie together. Tea service is provided and we have a chocolate clairefontaine for dessert.
Our host turns down the bed for a few hours of sleep before arrival into Singapore. Really nothing is too much for the crew, and they help to ensure that every aspect of our first class experience is an absolute delight. After we’ve safely landed, part of me doesn’t want to farewell the crew and leave this flying palace behind.
Flying home in Economy is going to be tough!
** Brett and Stef flew MEL-SIN First Class on an Emirates 777-300 on an award flight using Qantas Frequent Flyer points. They flew home on a paid Qantas Economy flight.
Hotel Cafe Royal, without a doubt one of London’s best
Located on Regent Street, spitting distance from Piccadilly Circus, the Hotel Café Royal has a well-deserved reputation as one of London’s best.
Oscar Wilde and Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill and David Bowie, David Chipperfield and Elizabeth Taylor…. and now Brett Jobling and Stefan Pavlovic have added their names to this venerable and truly memorable London hotel.
We transferred to this hotel after 5 nights in a micro hotel, having purchased the Café Royal’s £750 Spa Package – this entitled us to an upgrade to a Grand Superior Guest Room, £100 per person spa credit, and full breakfast.
From the doorman to the check-in we are treated like VIP’s. The foyer is a stunning foretaste of the hotel’s décor.
We are early and our room is not yet ready, so we head to the Akasha Spa to book our hot stone massages – again we are made to feel like very special guests.
The spa facilities are in a cavernous underground space – gym, lap pool, jacuzzi, dry sauna, and hammam (steam sauna). Bathrooms are generously appointed with complimentary toiletries, slippers and robes. Our massages are delivered by a skilful therapist and by the time our room is ready we float out of the spa in a state of sheer bliss.
But more luxury surprises await. On our way to the room our Guest Relations Host explains the complimentary town car service for one-way chauffeur driven trips around central London. “So, if you have somewhere you need to go, just ask the Concierge if the Bentley is available.”
Bentley? Free ride in a Bentley? I’ve definitely got somewhere I need to go!
Our host takes me to our room and gives a run-down of the features and functions. The bathroom is bigger than our previous hotel room! There’s welcome chocolate strawberries in the bar and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot on ice in the living room. A Bang & Olufsen TV, automatic curtains, a giant bed, and robes hanging in the wardrobe. The bathroom has a rain shower, heated panels behind the towel rails, generous toiletries, and an in-mirror TV (of course).
The hotel is simply beautiful throughout – sleek modern décor in the halls and guest rooms contrast with a grand classical ambience in the lobbies, stairways and restaurants, redolent of the Café Royal’s glorious history. In particular, The Grill Room, also known as the Oscar Wilde Lounge, is a study in gilded opulence – you can take High Tea here (bookings essential) but at the very least you must go in for a look at this masterpiece.
We are only here for a night so we really don’t want to leave the property – but the Bentley beckons, glistening and shiny just outside the front doors. We book a ride to Covent Garden (the service is only good for a 2 mile radius) in near peak hour traffic. It would have been quicker to walk, but hey, it’s a ride in a Bentley and the looks from passing pedestrians (they’re going faster than us) makes it worth the while.
Back at the hotel we have a leisurely cocktail in The Green Bar – complimentary bar snacks of course. On return to our room we find that the turn down service has provided complimentary slippers and some heavenly sleep spray. Only the most inveterate of insomniacs could fail to get a good night’s sleep in the Hotel Café Royal.
Next morning we enjoy our generous included-in-the-package breakfast – A la carte menu plus pastries and spreads. I can only assume that the little jars of jam and honey are also complimentary, because they travelled home with me.
As we’ve been given a complimentary late check out, we’re able to do some last-minute shopping around Regent and Oxford Street. Even after check out we are afforded –complimentarily – use of the Akasha spa facilities. So we are relaxed, showered and refreshed when we eventually leave the Café Royal for our late flight out of Heathrow.
This was probably one of the finest hotel experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. Impeccable service from a 5 star property and we were made to feel like genuinely valued guests at all times. I can’t wait to go back.
This superbly located hotel on Frith Street in London’s Soho district is a 5-10 minute walk from each of Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Oxford Street, so whilst it might be small on space, its goes large on convenience.
These ‘micro’ hotels – like the Z Hotels in central London – are trending, and they’re a realistic alternative for the visitor who expects to spend nearly all of their waking time, well, visiting. If you want to lounge around the hotel on your holiday, then Mimi’s is probably not for you.
We booked 5 nights in Mimi’s smallest double room, just a bed and an en suite really, and no windows. We were a little worried about claustrophobia and cabin fever, but we also knew this was just a place to sleep at night.
The price was excellent, so it worked for us.
The hotel is clean and modern with 24 hour reception. Staff were helpful and courteous, and there is a cafe/bar in the foyer if you need some break out space from the room (or your partner). Wifi is free throughout the hotel.
The room consisted of a king bed (wall on 3 sides – kudos to the domestic staff who made up the room perfectly each day), an entry big enough for one person to stand in, and a small but well appointed en suite.
The shower was hot and strong, which is about the most important thing in a hotel bathroom.
There’s a wall mounted TV above the foot of the bed. Storage is under the bed and a coat hook behind the door. Dual occupants need to coordinate their movements fairly carefully to make this work – suggest one person goes out to get coffee while the other gets ready in the morning!
The room was quiet and dark (no windows, remember) and the bed is comfortable, so totally restful at night.
At around $200 AUD per night (we booked through Qantas Hotels) it’s competing in the same price bracket as the Oxford Street Youth Hostel.
Mimi’s is great value for a clean, modern, full service hotel in central London.
Anthony Warlow starred in this short-run production of Stephen Sondheim’s Gothic classic Sweeney Todd – and he was in stellar form. He brought menace and gravitas to the role, as well as his renowned voice. It was a world class performance.
Playing opposite Warlow’s Sweeney Todd, Gina Riley also turned in a top class performance. A comedienne with a more than passable singing voice, she brought humour and heart to her role as the maniacal pie-maker Mrs Lovett.
Together Warlow and Riley evoked all the drama and comedy that Depp and Bonham-Carter couldn’t seem to find in the dreary 2007 movie version.
A fine supporting cast combined to deliver what was easily the best Sweeney Todd production I’ve seen – it gave me a new appreciation of this dark and murderous classic.
Look out for Warlow in Jekyll and Hyde – one show only in each of Melbourne and Sydney later in the year.
British Airways and Qantas Premium Economy Head to Head
I recently flew Melbourne to London return on a combined Qantas and British Airways Premium Economy fare and it was a great opportunity to directly compare the two One World carriers product.
QF: Melbourne to Singapore, 9 hours BA: Singapore to London & London to Singapore, 13 hours
QF: A380 BA: A380
QF: Priority check in and boarding. Smooth and seamless
BA: No priority for Premium Economy. Self serve check in and self serve bag drop at LHR with no one to help when the computer says ‘no’. A disaster and a frustrating start to our London Singapore leg.
Qantas wins hands down
QF: Premium Economy 35 seats. Definitely in need of refurbishment soon, but matches BA for comfort
BA: Premium Economy 55 seats. Fresher interior than Qantas, but more seats means less attentive service and more demand on the 2 bathrooms
A clear win for Qantas
QF: lip balm, eye mask, socks, toothbrush and paste in a Naopleon Perdis pouch
BA: eye mask, socks, toothbrush and paste, pen, in a plastic bag
Narrow points win to Qantas
QF: 2-3-2. We selected window seats as soon as our booking was live on Qantas. Free seat selection. Side storage bins are a bonus on the window.
BA: 2-3-2. We were assigned middle/aisle seats. Seat selection not included with BA PE fare. $85 per person to select window seats.
Qantas wins big here
QF: plenty of leg room and storage space. Good amount of recline makes sleeping easy enough
BA: as above with foot rests
BA wins narrowly, for the foot rests
QF: screen mounted in arm rests. Standard range of movies and TV. Typically laggy touch screens. Noise cancelling headphones
BA: screens on back of seats. Similar selection and lagginess. Noise cancelling headphones
It’s a draw
2 x 23 kg QF & BA
QF: Friendly and attentive, I suspect a better ratio of staff to passengers due to smaller PE section
BA: Unobtrusive but efficient service.
Excellent service from both, but Qantas a bit more friendly and welcoming
QF: 2 full meals on 9 hour flight to Singapore seemed generous. Both of excellent quality
BA: dinner and breakfast en route to Singapore. Not quite up to the Qantas standard
Points to Qantas
QF: standard range of beer and spirits, excellent Australian wines
BA: ditto for beer and spirits, wines not as good as Qantas
Narrow win to Qantas
These Premium Economy services made the long haul from Melbourne to London a very comfortable experience. We arrived early morning in Heathrow feeling quite fresh and rested – enough to spend the whole day on our feet exploring London, before retiring to bed at a respectable hour in the evening and avoiding jet lag.
However, Qantas was a clear winner: complementary seat selection, priority check in and boarding lanes, and a smaller Premium Economy cabin make Qantas’s Premium Economy decidedly more Premium than BA.
All in all, Qantas made us feel a lot more special than BA managed to do.
Bernstein and Sondheim’s Westside Story is now playing at the Arts Centre Melbourne. This was the first time I’ve seen this show on stage and it felt as new and exciting as it must have been when it opened on Broadway in 1957. It has since garnered a reputation as the best musical of all time and it would be hard to argue against that claim.
This production uses Jerome Robbins original Tony winning choreography, and the Australian cast do it proud. The show delivers one killer dance routine after another, and is an integral part of the story telling.
Bernstein’s music combine with Sondheim’s lyrics and Robbins choreography to redefine the genre. It really is that good.
If you’ve never seen West Side Story on stage you should get to the Arts Centre before this show closes.