Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kauai's sensuous hula


Five million years ago a volcano burst from the ocean in a fiery rumbling of pyrotechnic explosions.  A new island was born.

Kauai as it's known today was the first in a chain of volcanic islands destined to emerge over millenia.  Drawn by all manner of dreams, settlers searching for a better life, missionaries intent upon conversion, tourists and travelers in pursuit of the ultimate destination have made their way to its shores.  One of the latter, I was lured by the island's stunning natural beauty and the culture of a people who had courageously set out from the Marquesas centuries before in a quest for a land unknown.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday 31st October, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sissinghurst Castle, home of Vita Sackville-West


In 1930 Vita Sackville-West, an author, poet and gardener and her husband Harold Nicholson who had retired from England’s diplomatic service, visited  Sissinghurst Castle  and found the dream setting for what was to become one of England’s most famous gardens.  They literally spent the rest of their lives there, creating a gardener’s paradise. Their success confirmed by the number of visitors who tour the garden each year. It is estimated that about 2,000 pairs of feet tread its paths daily. In fact, admission is now restricted to a specified time because the sheer volume of eager feet are threatening to destroy the beauty that drew them in the first place.

On our visit, a high brick wall glowed russet in the hot afternoon sun. Backdrop for the ‘Purple Border’, summer would bring a cascade of vibrant purple-blue clematis spilling from its heights.

Derelict when bought by the Nicholson’s in 1930, this small part of ‘the garden of England’ as Kent is called, came into its own under the knowledgeable and loving hands of these two dedicated gardeners. In fact, it is hard to believe that this densely flowering place was once a lowly cabbage patch.

Designed by two people with vastly different ideas about what constitutes a garden, the result has been a marrying of two entirely disparate styles. Harold Nicholson’s was a formal approach with leanings towards the Italian style. Neatly clipped hedges, statues, large clay pots overflowing with flowers, and an avenue of lime trees bordered by a bulb garden was Harold’s idea of perfection.

Vita’s was exactly the opposite. She found his formal approach severe and said that his Lime Walk “resembled a platform at a railway station”, Surprisingly her romantic style of small garden; high clipped hedges enclosing a tranquil setting where plants are allowed the freedom to creep over the edges of a path, provided the informality that his lacked, and the two blended surprisingly well.

In all, there are ten separate gardens, each an oasis of color, fragrance and beauty, each a broad representation of perennials and annuals.

The orchard was my favourite; a dreamy place of scattered fruit trees completely lacking in the regimental formality of many orchards I have seen. Pears and apples just forming and still to reach their full luscious best, dangled liked Christmas baubles from tree branches. The ground beneath, a meadow where feathery seeded plumes mingled with wild flowers like small colored stars in the grass.

Looking past an abandoned dovecot in the far corner of the orchard, I saw a pristine white gazebo built by the son of Vita and Harold in memory of their father. It was open for visitors and filled with Harold’s books.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 30th October, 2010.

Monday, October 25, 2010

For a glimpse into the 5,000 year old craft of the cooper, Speyside Cooperage offers daily tours.  Visit their web site for details  

Scotland's Scotch Whisky


The crystal clear water used for making Royal Lochnagar's distinctive drink comes from a spring at the foot of Lochnagar Mountain. To ensure a regular supply of spring water, this important component is stored in a peat lined dam for future use.

Making of whisky, we discovered, is on the surface a relatively straightforward process starting with soaking the barley in water to encourage germination. Then, when small thread-like roots appear, the barley is spread over a perforated floor and the peat smoke from fires ten feet beneath, percolate upwards through the seed, drying it and giving it a peaty flavour. Peat is in fact heather that has over thousands of years metamorphosed and compacted in the soil. In millions of years, under pressure and heat, this same peat will eventually turn to coal.

The health benefits of whisky
Before distillation in Lochnagar's 19th century copper stills, the alcohol, I was told, tasted like beer. I dipped my finger into the liquid and it did indeed tastle like a heavy beer. I had heard of its health properties; prevents clogging of the arteries, thins the blood and contributes to longevity. It sounded good, and I tried a further sample.

Copper still
 A tour of the distillery vividly portrays each step of the process until finally, for maturing, the whisky is poured into American White Oak casks where it 'sleeps' for at least three years and sometimes considerably longer.

The cask in which the whisky 'sleeps' while maturing also has a part to play in the final outcome. Because the casks are oak, and oak is porous allowing the maturing whisky to breathe, 2% of the whisky is lost to evaporation over that sleeping period. This 2% is known as the 'angel's share'.

In whisky production an important step is measuring for the proof. In earlier times, for lack of a better method, gunpowder was added to the alcohol. If it exploded when lit it was judged to be too strong. With today's refined techniques, measuring for proof is not quite such a hazardous process.

Whisky, as any devotee will know, comes in single malts as well as in a wide assortment of blends. Many of the blends are considered to be some of Scotland's finest whiskies. Among the well known single malts are Royal Lochnagar's Selected Reserve mentioned earlier, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. Among the blends are Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker Black Label and Islay Mist, with literally a hundred others in-between.

Cocktails with a dash of Scotch whisky
Whisky is also an important ingredient in many cocktails. Mint Julep is a favourite of racegoers at the Kentucky Derby. Others are Rangoon Swoon, Jungle Juice, Mango Nightmare, Rusty Nail and Whisky Sour, so good that it is guaranteed to make you smile.

Because there are many whisky distilleries within easy driving distance of the Royal Lochnagar, we were able to visit Glenlivet and Glenfiddich Distilleries as well as the Strathisla Distillery, the home of Chivas Regal and Islay Mist. Although production methods are basically the same in all these distilleries, each has its own secret recipe that gives the whisky its unique flavour.

Prince Charles
Scotch whisky and its royal connections
At the conclusion of our tour at Royal Lochnagar we were invited to partake of a dram of whisky in the 'tasting room'. Through a thick glass screen which separated us from the warehouse, we could see row upon row of wooden casks filled with maturing spirits. It is not uncommon for organizations and individuals to buy a cask of whisky and leave it to mature in the warehouse.

As I stood in the cool, dimly lit 'tasting room' sipping whisky, the woody smell of the casks, the aroma of spirits and the photo of a young Prince Charles on the wall beside me, brought to mind snippets of information pertaining to royalty and surrounding this famous tipple. King George 1V is said to have enjoyed illicit Glenlivit, the Duke of Edinburgh's favourite is a dram of Glenfiddich, Prince Charles has been called 'Charles Monarch of the dram' and Queen Victoria was an enthusiastic supporter of the whisky industry.

Glancing through the screen again I noticed a cask with a painting of a ballerina on the lid. This cask had been set aside to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the Scottish Ballet. The whisky will sleep until the Scottish Ballet's Golden Jubilee in 2020 when it will be opened at a celebratory event.

Royal Lochnagar's warehouse
Alongside it was a cask filled for Prince Charles in 1988. When opened at a later date its contents would be bottled and sold for charity.

On that visit to the Royal Lochnagar Distillery we heard of a party that had taken place a couple of nights before. After heavy rains, the burn that usually trickled along beside the distillery had burst its banks. The overflow washed through the Visitors' Centre, and the guests, we were told, danced their Highland reels in two inches of fine Scottish peaty water. Did anyone suffer ill effects? Not at all. Royal Lochnagar was the drink of the night and what better to chase a chill than a couple of drams of Scotland's finest whisky.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 25th October, 2010


John Begg, founder of Royal Lochnagar, made a timely purchase when he bought the distillery in 1845. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had recently acquired Balmoral Castle just over the hill.

Begg, a man well versed in the art of salesmanship, wasted no time in inviting his new neighbours to visit the distillery. The following day the royal family with children and ladies in waiting, dropped by on their return from a picnic.

It took just a few sips of the distillery's finest to convince Queen Victoria that whisky would be a great addition to her tea and claret. The Lochnagar Distillery was duly awarded its first Royal Warrant and from then on was known as the Royal Lochnagar Distillery. A delighted John Begg had become 'Distiller to Her Majesty'.

As distilleries go, Royal Lochnagar is small, but it has the advantage of a hauntingly beautiful setting and more importantly it produces Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve, considered by connoisseurs to be one on the world's premier single malts.

Each year a group of experts choose from special 12 year old casks the whisky that will be the Selected Reserve for that year. This process is done by 'nosing' – sniffing the bouquet of the alcohol.

A small amount of alcohol is poured into a tulip-shaped glass, swirled around for a moment or two, then nosed, swirled, and nosed again. The casks mature differently and some regularly produce Selected Reserve quality whisky year after year.  Today you would pay close to US$190 for a bottle of Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve.
 In the world of whisky collectors it is not uncommon to pay thousands of dollars for a particularly fine whisky. Today a collector interested in a bottle of Dalmore Trinitas Scotch whisky would have to pay about US$157,000.

Because of its reputation many countries have tried to imitate the exceptional qualities of Scotch whisky and failed. Some have even illegaly included 'Scotch whisky' in the name of their own particular brand. The only genuine Scotch whisky is that distilled on Scottish soil.

For more on Scotch whisky see upcoming posts ...

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 25th October, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

If a whisky tour is not on your itinerary and you'd like to know more about Scotland's favourite drink, drop in at the "Scotch Whisky Experience" just steps from Edinburgh Castle.


For centuries in the hills and highlands of Scotland, pure spring water, malted barley and yeast, together with the distinctive smoke of peat, have given the Scots an alcoholic experience finer than any other. Called 'Uisge Beathe' ( the 'water of life') in earlier days, Scotland's most favoured drink is now more widely known as whisky.

Introduced to the country folk by Christian monks centuries ago, the art of distilling started out in hidden bothies (roughly made shelters) in the hills. It was a precarious operation. The distillers spent a great deal of their time dismantling the tubes and cans of their trade and fleeing whenever word reached them that the Customs men were close on their heels.

Today those small beginnings have flourished, providing Scotland and the Scots with an industry that has greatly enhanced the country's economy. Worldwide whisky exports now exceed 1 billion bottles a year, an income of more that $4.7 billion.

For more on Scotch whisky see upcoming posts ...

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 24th October, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Oaxaca, nestled in the mountainous region of southern Mexico, is undoubtedly one of the country’s most impressive colonial cities. In a sunlit valley surrounded by the cloud-tipped peaks of the Sierra Madre, small villages specializing in folk art, form a ring of cultural excellence along Oaxaca’s perimeter.

In the city’s Historico Centro, colour dominates. The buildings in shades of French blue, orange, lime green, yellow ochre, sultry mauve and pink with windows covered with ornamental ironwork, create a Spanish style elegance.

Scarlet, magenta, gold, salmon pink, and creamy white bougainvillea spill in dense falls of blossom over high walls. Huge squat palms, tulip trees covered with brilliant flame coloured flowers, and jacaranda trees with clouds of mauve blossoms in spring time, line the roadways.

On the edge of the city, Monte Alban, an ancient and mighty archeological ruin was constructed five centuries before the birth of Christ. Its treasure comprising hundreds of gold and jade bracelets, necklaces, nose and earrings are now housed in the Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo.

Various artifacts in convents and monasteries erected at the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, provide a glimpse into Oaxaca’s pre-Columbian past.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 23rd October, 2010

When renting a car go for the unlimited mileage option. 
Extra mileage has a habit of creeping up on you.

The Royal Mews, opposite the "Rubens"

The Rubens at the Palace, as the name suggests, is right next to the Queen's official London residence. As well as being close to some of the capital's most spectacular parks and Winter Wonderland, it's also very convenient for the shops on Oxford Street and Regent Street, and very little distance from the bright lights of the vibrant Theatreland.

To help you make the most of this wonderful season we've created a special Magical London package. It's available to all those who stay between 26th November 2010 and 9th January 2011 and includes:

Two nights accommodation in a beautifully appointed bedroom, suite or even a luxury fully serviced apartment

A warming glass of mulled wine or a mug of the ultimate hot chocolate on arrival

Full English Breakfast daily

A festive Afternoon Tea

A festive turndown treat at bedtime

Free movies for those who want to snuggle up with a great film

A 3pm checkout on the day of departure

What's more, guests staying on Christmas Eve receive a Christmas stocking full of delightful surprises and there's even a Christmas Tree in the room for all those who book suites!

If you are looking for private dining offers or somewhere to host a party, we can arrange that too.

Magical London - prices start from £171.00 per night (excl. VAT) for two adults sharing a Classic Double room for a minimum of two nights. Additional nights priced at our Best Available Rate and include Full English Breakfast. This package is offered subject to availability and is valid between 26th November 2010 and 9th January 2011.

From the "Rubens at the Palace"

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 22nd October, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010


Having travelled due north along the 800 km. Silver Route from Seville, the thought of a bed for the night in the Hotel San Marcos, one of Spain's finest paradors, was attractive indeed.

It was in 1926 that the idea of paradors became a reality. A flash of inspiration on the part of King Alfonso XIII led to the restoration of many of Spain’s crumbling castles, convents, palaces and monasteries.

Rescued from death by slow disintegration, these architectural treasures now form a chain of spectacular hostelries across the entire length and breadth of Spain and the beauty of the concept is that each parador is within a comfortable day’s drive of its neighbor.

 Hostal San Marcos has served as hotel, convent and prison

The San Marcos through the ages and in recent times has played host to Kings and Presidents. On Spain’s Silver Route and on the medieval Pilgrim Road it is an integral part of the history of Castille y Leon. Its varied past shows service as a convent, later a University and then as a hospital for pilgrims. In darker times it was used as a prison by the Spanish Inquisition.

There is no denying that the San Marcos, whether convent, prison, or parador, is one of Spain’s national treasures. Its meticulously restored 300 foot sandstone façade is carved in the elaborate Plateresque style patterned on the intricate work of the silversmiths of long ago. Its commanding presence gives it the appearance of a royal palace. A massive carved tableau of St. James the Moor Killer adorns the grand portico. To counteract its drama, ranged along the roof edge are gargoyles, like mischievous creatures from the underworld. They come into their own after a heavy rainfall when water channeled from the roof through pipes exiting from their gaping mouths, projects a soaking deluge onto unsuspecting visitors below.

A Spanish parador with religious connections

The parador, with floors of gleaming marble, is furnished with antique Castilian chairs and massive wooden tables, period paintings, tapestries, brass and copper artwork, iron lanterns and candelabra.

On our way to dinner we passed a central cloister in which huge stone statues gaze sightlessly from arches upon an ever-changing parade of humanity. It was dark and quiet in the cloister where sculpted bushes and parterred gardens filled with a dense tangle of ivy added an air of mystery.

Seating myself on a wooden bench I closed my eyes momentarily to fully appreciate the rare ambience of this historic place. Its silence stirred my imagination. I could almost hear the soft murmur of prayer at the passing of imaginary monks. And from the Gothic church, also part of the hotel, my illusion included voices soaring in a holy chant.

Sampling Spanish cuisine

We dined in the Restaurante Rey Don Sancho that evening. The room was long and narrow with high arched windows and a black and white checkered floor. I chose a typical Leon meal – Espeton de Lechazo a la parrilla (Grilled lamb in brochette served with figs and thinly sliced peppers) and between us we drank a bottle of Palacio de los Guzmanes, a dry red wine named after one of Leon’s noble families.

To complete my Leon gastronomic experience I indulged in a serving of San Marcos Cake, the ‘house dessert’. Even now the memory of that two inch feathery cushion of cake laden with cream and a lemon topping sprinkled with cinnamon sets up a longing in my taste buds.

After dinner we strolled on the paved hotel patio that covers an entire city block. Clipped yews in symmetrical rows, like soldiers in formation and on guard, extended from the street to the hotel entrance. Huge flowerbeds, box-edged in the manner of parterre and filled with marigolds, provided brilliant color and an unforgettable fragrance.

Our suite for the night was elegant and simple. I felt like a Spanish Infanta (princess) reclining in the plump luxurious confines of a canopied bed draped with heavy green brocade. A Persian type rug in subtle shades of pink and green ensured that my bare toes would not encounter anything less than deep luxury when I stepped from the bed. Out on the balcony close to midnight, it was cool and quiet. The formal knot garden of trimmed box hedge gleamed pale in the moonlight.

Pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostelo

Before sunrise the next morning I ventured out onto the piazza to photograph passing pilgrims, and I was in luck. Walking the 740 km Pilgrim Road to Santiago de Compostelo, each carried a rustic carved staff. A scallop shell strategically placed on clothing declared them pilgrims. On reaching their destination they would in the time honored way, prostrate themselves in the cathedral and worship at the shrine of St. James.

As the modern day pilgrims moved away, I settled for a moment beside a life size bronze sculpture of an old time pilgrim seated at the foot of a cross on the piazza. With shoes placed neatly beside him head thrown back, eyes closed, I could sense the exhaustion emanating from his weary frame.

Leon's unique attractions

There is much to see in Leon. There are still remnants of the ancient city wall built by the Romans. The Basilica of San Isidoro with its marvelous painted frescos is considered to be one of Europe’s finest monuments. And for those who crave a more lively ambience, the bars and cafes in the Barrio Humedo – the Old Quarter – will not disappoint.

Gaudi, Spain’s most controversial architect is also represented here. Seated in front of the Casa de Botines, one of his more conventional architectural designs, is a bronze sculpture of the man himself. With a pencil raised as he sketches, he is the backdrop for many a tourist photograph.

Ranking in importance with the Basilica of San Isadoro, is the Leon Cathedral whose stained glass windows rival those in Chatres, France.

To savor the beauty, and history of this 2000 year old Roman city and its palatial Hostel San Marcos one should spend at least a couple of days.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 22nd October, 2010


Our destination that day was the 900 year old Tower of London, England’s top tourist attraction drawing more than 2 ½ million visitors annually.

 Passing through entrance gates into the medieval fortress we were confronted by two huge beady-eyed ravens, their feathers gleaming with an irridescent sheen as they crab-walked across the cobbles.

The Tower of London's resident ravens

Legend has it that should the ravens ever leave, both the Tower and the country will fall. Thus for centuries six resident birds have patrolled the grounds. Because they haughtily rebuff any friendly overtures with a sharp nip to the fingers, the birds are treated with respect by wardens and tourists alike. They reside in their own lodgings, are given a weekly ration of horsemeat, have their own cemetery in the Tower moat and are watched over by a personal carer, a Yeoman Warder known as the Ravenmaster.

Yeoman of the Guard
Yeoman Warders on guard

Accompanied by Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters) grandly costumed in elaborately embroidered red and black outfits and wearing black velvet Tudor bonnets, visitors are taken on tours to the White Tower, Bloody Tower, Traitor’s Gate and the chopping block where guides describe in gory detail many a royal execution.

According to our guide, the ghost of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is sometimes seen in the environs of Queen’s House where she was incarcerated before her beheading.

Captive in the Tower of London

For me, the prime draw-card in this fascinating place was, without a doubt, the Jewel House. Once within its impregnable confines rules are strictly enforced. When I stopped to gaze at the Imperial State Crown, its diamonds, rubies and sapphires twinkling like something out of fairyland, a sharp “No stopping please” jerked me back to reality. To lean too heavily on the glass brings about an even more embarrassing incident. Just the slightest pressure activates the slamming of the vault’s massive steel doors holding everyone captive inside until a suitable explanation has been offered.

After gazing upon all that opulent magnificence the object that stirred a feeling of magic in me more than any other, was the delicate beauty of the tiny diamond crown worn by Queen Victoria as a child.

At 10 p.m. each evening when most other tourists have headed wearily back to their lodgings, there is one final experience that is not to be missed.

The Tower's Ceremony of the Keys

Nightly for the last 700 years, the ritual securing of the Tower has taken place in the form of the ‘Ceremony of the Keys’.

At 9.53 p.m. the Chief Yeoman Warder carrying an impressive bunch of keys and accompanied by a military guard of four, sets out to lock all the entrance doors to the Tower. As they pass the Bloody Tower which once housed two young princes who were brutally murdered, all sentries present arms. When they return seven minutes later they are challenged by the sentry with the words:

"Halt, Who comes there?"

"The Keys," replies the Yeoman Warder.

"Whose keys?"

"Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. "

"Pass, Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All’s well."

Given permission to proceed, the Chief Yeoman Warder lifts his bonnet and in a clear strong voice cries out "God preserve Queen Elizabeth".

At that moment the clock strikes 10. A soldier raises his trumpet to his lips and the plaintive notes of The Last Post float across the green echoing eerily in the stone battlements of England’s famous Tower of London and out across the Thames.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday 22nd October, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Jaisalmer Dune Safari – Fun, Adventure …… An Experience Of A Lifetime!!

The safari starts from Jaisalmer at 3:30 - 4:00 PM.

You proceed 20 kms towards the Sam, and stop at the nearest point to the desert dunes to deflate the tyres before you experience the thrill of a lifetime.

–Roller Coaster Ride On The Golden Sand dunes. You halt on the dunes to play on the sand, admire the natural beauty or simply capture the moments on a camera.

-Followed by refreshments, you continue our journey towards the Heritage Village located in the lap of the dunes. Here, upon arrival, you indulge in leisure activities like, camel rides, unlimited hubbly- bubbly (hookah), photographs while adorning Rajasthani attire, foot tapping music, fascinating folklore to the enchanting Rajasthani tunes, quad bike rides (charges extra per ride) concluded with a lavish buffet dinner.

Introductory price:
Adults : INR 4,000 + taxes
Child : INR 3,000 + taxes

*special prices for group bookings.

*Only Safari also available.

Post from L'orient Travels Mumbai on 21st October, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


An unprecedented wealth of spectacular floral displays planted in endless varieties, alternated with beautiful works of art. Keukenhof is unique, world famous and has been one of the most popular destinations in the Netherlands for many years now. And it has been photographed millions of times, more than any other location.

In 2011, Keukenhof will bring its first spring greetings to Germany. The international flower exhibition has chosen ‘Germany: Land of Poets and Philosophers’ as its central theme for next year, a tribute to its most important export market for bulbs and flowers, and to the tens of thousands of visitors from Germany.

The Keukenhof will be open from 24 March to 20 May, 2011.

For more information, opening times and fees, please visit;

Post from Netherlands Tourism on 20th October, 2010


The Abkhazi Garden created by Peggy Pemberton-Carter and Prince Nicolas Abkhazi in Victoria, British Columbia, is to all those who know their story, a Garden of Love.

Born in poverty in the industrial slums of England, Peggy was one of those fairy tale individuals who did indeed marry a prince. Orphaned, then adopted at the age of four, she spent a charmed early life with her wealthy parents in Shanghai. In 1922, while studying music in Paris, Peggy met the love of her life, a Georgian prince who had fled Russia during the Bolshevik revolution. Married in Victoria, British Columbia 26 years later, the two set about creating a garden that was a source of delight to the end of their days. Peggy, with her fondness for quotations, was often heard to say “If you would be happy for a week, take a concubine; If you would be happy for a month, kill your pig; But if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden.” Today the garden they planted together stands as a monument to their creativity and their love for each other.

Abkhazi Garden, a haven for wildlife
I visited Abkhazi garden (1964 Fairfield Road, Victoria, BC.) in the summer and was captivated by its story and its magic. With views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains this imaginatively designed one-acre haven of peace creates the impression of a much larger garden. In the manner of many famous English gardeners, Peggy's landscaping incorporates garden “rooms” that run into one another creating an endlessly fascinating, harmonious whole.

Rocks dating back millions of years form the garden's skeleton. Deep gouges, pitted surfaces and crevices provide rooting pockets for plants and even small trees. Massive remnants from a previous glacial age, the eternal rocks form ponds that complement a tumbling landscape.

On that still hot afternoon, mallards, their iridescent green feathers gleaming in the afternoon sun, floated languidly by. In this strictly organic environment Downy Woodpeckers, Chestnut-backed chickadees, Bushtits, Dark-eyed Juncos, House finches and American robins visit regularly. ‘Anna's Hummingbirds’ reside in tiny nests dotted about the garden. On the rocks beside one of the pools turtles sunbathe, comfortable in the knowledge of their safety.

Himalayan Blue Poppy
A shade garden beneath Garry Oaks
In a shaded woodland of leafy Garry Oaks, rhododendrons, some as old as 100 years, have developed flowing artistic forms. From January to June their massive shapes are dense with blossoms. Beneath them on the woodland floor are trilliums, bleeding hearts, clumps of rare Himalayan Blue poppies, erythronium, camas and a hardy variety of cyclamen. Nestled among ferns, the warmer summer months bring hostas, primula, and galtonia. In a quiet corner near the garden house the contorted branches of a stand of Weeping blue cedars trail, then tumble in a froth of blue green foliage over a rock face in a unique imitation of a waterfall.

A sinuous flow of lawn edged with a dense growth of heather starting just below the garden house, culminates at the other end of the garden. This lawn, it is said, reminded Peggy of the Yangtze River and she named her lawn ‘The Yangtze’.

Peggy Pemberton-Carter's favourite lunch...and more
In the garden restaurant overlooking this romantic site, visitors can enjoy Peggy’s favourite lunch; smoked wild salmon served on blinis with crème fraiche, capers and red onion with organic greens followed by Seamist, Dragonwell or Canton Orange tea. For those with a sweet tooth the Dessert Plate beckons with its chocolate cake and chocolate peanut butter swirls served with seasonal fruit. Japanese Sour Cherry or Emperor’s Kamun tea completes what can only be called a decadent indulgence.

Today the ashes of Princess Abkhazi and her husband mingle in this their special place. “No tears” were Peggy’s instructions just before she died at 91. She was going to join her beloved Nicolas and that, she said, called for champagne and celebration.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Brasserie Reflet

For the tourist who wants a stylish address with a history to match, and on top of that wants to see the most in the least amount of time, the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky on Amsterdam's Dam Square is at the very centre of this busy city.

The Kras (as it's called by the locals) had its beginnings in 1866 as a coffee house managed by a Polish tailor, Adolf Wilhelm Krasnapolsky.  An entrepreneur, Mr. Krasnapolsky snatched the opportunity to expand his dreamed of 'empire' when houses and buildings came up for sale.  He would never look back.  In 1883 he built the now world famous Winter-Garden especially for the World Exhibition and to this day the Winter-Garden looks much as it did in 1883.

The hotel's luxurious foyer is reminiscent of the days when the wealthy of the world travelled around on Grand Tours.  In a far corner a pianist strokes the ivories of a massive grand piano providing soothing background music.

Winter Garden
Dine in style

Well equipped with restaurants: the Belle Epoque specializing in Mediterranean food, the Brasserie Reflet where visitors can enjoy fine French cuisine in a room that would have done Marie Antoinette proud and the Bedouin Restaurant Shibli serving Middle Eastern fare, provide guests with a tempting array of culinary experiences.  The Winter-Garden' with its stylish decor, although somewhat pricey, is a great place for breakfast.

For those travelling on a budget, a drink at the Golden Palm Bar comes at a discount price - 50% off - during the 'Happy Hour' between 5 and 6pm.  It's a noisy vibrant place with a multi-cultural clientele.

There are 468 rooms and 6 Junior Suites in the hotel.  A beauty salon, and a fitness centre to pare those extra pounds after days of apple pie and cream and countless glasses of Dutch coffee, are comfortably close.  For those arriving by canal boat, the hotel has its own landing dock.  Travelling to and from the airport - no problem - there is an airport shuttle service.

Royal Wedding bells
When Prince Willem married Maxima back in 2002, Queen Beatrix rented the entire hotel to house the couple's wedding guests.  The Hotel Krasnapolsky was ideally placed for the hundreds of invitees who could walk across Dam Square from the hotel to the Nieuwe Kerk, the historic church beside the Royal Palace where traditionally Dutch royalty marry.

Dam Square never sleeps
On my visit  I experienced a vastly different Dam Square.  Strolling out after dinner, I was confronted by all the razzmatazz of a funfair in full swing.  The night sky was filled with flashing neon and the blaring thump of carnival music.  Youths shrieked with fright as they were catapulted into the sky aboard the'Bullet'.  The roar of a giant monster gorilla with outstretched claws, children mouthing candy floss while balloons bobbed jauntily at the end of thread attached to their clothing, couples salsa dancing on the sidewalk, all were an incongruous but joyous sight against a backdrop featuring the Royal Palace.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 12th October, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010


In Zimbabwe throwing the bones is for predicting the weather, rooting out a trouble maker in the tribe, or in this case finding out whether our hunting expedition the following day would be successful.

Of all the pictures I have of the past, the accompanying one is my favourite.

It depicts a Mashangaan man named Ngrishi throwing the bones.  The location was the southeasten region of what is now called Zimbawe, in a vast arid wilderness  by name
Ghona-re-Zhou. Loosely translated I would say this means "Observe the Elephant", though I have heard it called more elaborately "The Chalice of the Elephants".

On that steamy day in Africa more than 50 years ago, I sat in the scanty shade of a great Baobab tree. This arboreal giant was about 18 feet in diameter with a massive buttressed trunk.
 Ngrishi and I had come together for the purpose of engaging in Mashangaan devination.  For a long period Ngrishi had not had any luck with hunting.  Not only did Ngrishi and his family need meat, but my company of 12 men back at the camp were adamant that work was difficult without that important protein. I agreed. 

Ngrishi and I settled together on the hard earth.  Ngrishi reached into his pocket and pulled out a small square of cloth and revealed his charms.   He called them Hakata.  There were eight charms in all, two grizzled bones, one from the ankle of a male baboon and another from a female baboon, Sawati n Nenga and Nunawama Wukuli.  Next in importance were small rectangular scales, one each from the underside of a male and female tortoise shell.  The remaining four charms, were the seeds of the  Cordyla africana tree - two with double cavities and two with single cavaties  - all somewhat smaller than a chicken's egg.

"Ngrishi", I asked in the lingua franca, "You have said we should go out together tomorrow and hunt for something so  that everybody can eat well. Ask your Hakata whether we will be fortunate to get what we need."

Ngrishi rattled the charms about in his gnarled black hands and then cast  them deftly together onto the small cloth.  He studied them intently for a minute, then pronounced a finding quite incomprehensible to me.  Six more times he performed the same ritual, muttering all the while.
That done he seemed to ponder for two minutes, drawing together all the parameters concerning what each fall of the charms had revealed.

"Uthini sema Hakata", Ngrishi?" (what do the charms say).
"They say it will be good if we go out together tomorrow."

  And he was right.  The next day his little mongrel bitch Shaka chased up a small buck. I  dropped it with a  single shot.  

Although uneducated in the ways of the white man, this African of the bush,  possessed other attributes that fitted him well for his life in the wilderness. Ngrishi was a man wirh a profound natural knowledge of bush and animals. He was an excellent tracker. And he was  courageous, honest and kind.  He was also a skilled maker of bows and arrows.  Shaka his faithful companion, was  well trained and disciplined.  She was not beautiful by any means but, a delightful little creature and Ngrishi loved her. That was unusual.

My wilderness years in Africa are forever a cherished memory, rich in experiences and excitement so I have much to write about in the book I trust will one day be on the bookshelves..

50 years later

Post by guest blogger, James Gordon, on
Saturday, 9th October, 2010.


Known for its colourful floating homes, delicious fish and chips, and perhaps even for its resident seal, Victoria's Fisherman’s Wharf is a must-see.

Now there is one more reason to venture down to this neighbourhood, The Wonderful, Wild, Whimsical Floating Dessert Shoppe. Open Monday to Sunday from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, this new shop offers its guests traditional, organic, and vegan desserts, made from local ingredients.

Found in a yellow houseboat alongside the docks, the shoppe houses local artwork, sells a variety of hot and cold beverages, delectable pies, vegan cakes, sumptuous tarts, wheat, dairy and egg-free cookies, along with their signature treats, the wonderful and wild, traditional and whimsical cupcakes available in regular and mini-size. For more information visit

From Victoria Tourism, posted on Saturday, 9 October, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010


The mysterious island jewel of Tetiaroa, meaning "who stands apart” in Tahitian, is a 4.5-mile wide atoll and is located just 36.5 miles north of Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia on the island of Tahiti. It is probably most famously known for its now deceased, legendary owner, the charismatic Hollywood actor, Marlon Brando.

In 1965, the famous actor, Marlon Brando, fell in love with the pristine atoll while shooting the film “Mutiny on the Bounty.” He decided to purchase the atoll for a 99-year lease, build a small runway and a hotel with 13 bungalows exclusively for guests. Being an advocate of protecting the environment, Brando conserved the original appeal of this magnificent and peaceful atoll.

The atoll, which consists of 12 motu (small islets) with poetic names like “shimmering sand,” "still hand” and “traveler’s friend,” is in itself a world apart.

It is surrounded by a protective coral reef with no opening to the sea, keeping the water of the lagoon warmer than anywhere else and thus creating one of the richest marine life habitats in the world.

Today, Tetiaroa is a pristine and untouched atoll, having resisted tourism and development due to its private and exclusive ownership status over the years.

This enchanted atoll is also known for being home to one of Tahiti's only protected bird sanctuaries as well as an intact and healthy environment.

A Forgotten History

The atoll once known as “Te-Tua-Roa” – meaning "high tide" - was considered somewhat a royal playground for the wealthy and upper class as it used to be a summer residence or private getaway for various ruling families, ari’i (chiefs), and kings of Tahiti over the years. Legends from ancient times tell of royal treasures that were hidden on the atoll.

In 1789, three deserters from the Bounty became the first Europeans to visit the island during the ship's 23-week stay in Tahiti. It was after their departure that the famous “Mutiny on the Bounty” took place.

In 1904, the royal Pomare family of Tahiti gave the island to Johnston Walter Williams, a dentist and British Consul who had moved to Papeete in 1902. As a private island, Tetiaroa changed hands a few times before being acquired by Marlon Brandon in 1965, after filming “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

Over the years, Marlon Brando came to the island a number of times and used it as a getaway from his hectic life in Hollywood. It is said that he always cherished these moments on Tetiaroa, even though he didn't actually spend as much time there as he would have liked.

Tetiaroa- A Legendary Atoll

Being a fervent protector of the environment, Brando worked hard to conserve the original charm of the atoll by resisting large-scale commercial developments, which were always being presented to him.

The only hotel that ever operated on the island was owned by Marlon Brando and was shut down shortly after his death. The hotel, known as Hotel Tetiaroa Village, was an exclusive place offering rather basic amenities at upscale prices. Its 13 thatched-roof bungalows "fares" were most sought after by wealthy honeymooners and newlyweds. Teihotu, Brando’s son, used to run the hotel and is currently Tetiaroa’s only official inhabitant.

Today, an eco-friendly hotel project in homage to Marlon Brando is in the works - "The Brando.” This was Brando’s vision to create a project, which will resonate with visitors and also foster opportunities for guests to get to know both the place, the environment and the people of French Polynesia.

The project is being overseen by Tahiti Beachcomber SA, whose CEO, Richard Bailey, owner of several luxury resorts in French Polynesia, was a good friend of Brando’s and had been working with him for many years to fulfill their joint vision to develop an environmentally sustainable resort.

From Tahiti-Tourisme, posted Friday 8 October, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010


Discover some of the “Hidden Paradise” islands of Tahiti, including Huahine, Rangiroa, and Manihi. Relatively unchanged by the modern world and long considered some of Tahiti’s “best kept secrets,” these islands and atolls lure travelers looking for an authentic Polynesian experience enhanced by world-class resorts, with international cuisine and pure uncrowded beaches.

Eleven Night Moorea and Huahine Explorer - from $3,235* USD per person:

Stay five nights in an overwater bungalow at the Moorea Pearl Beach Resort & Spa and receive five free nights at the Te Tiare Beach Resort & Spa

This vacation special includes:
Roundtrip air from Los Angeles
One night Manava Suite Resort Tahiti
Five nights Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa, overwater bungalow
Five nights Te Tiare Beach Resort
Includes five free nights in Huahine
Roundtrip inter-island air on Air Tahiti
Roundtrip airport transfers

Ask for special offer Huahine5=5

From Tahiti Tourisme

Posted on 1st October, 2010