MATADOR NEW website review by Alexander O. Montgomery
Review of ‘MATADOR’ by Alexander O. Montgomery
What is love? How about self discovery, identity, lust, sex and passion?
This two hour non stop, high energy performance addresses just that through remixed dance pieces, contemporary ballet acts and steamy Latin numbers all intertwined with pole dancing and hair raising aerial and circus acts!!
Set across a fiery Spanish sunset and backdrop on stage at the Melba Spielegtent in Fitzroy, the prelude act burst open with its fourteen young, diverse and attractive cast members all gyrating to a remixed Whitney Houston number.
It’s half naked male cast members together with its scantily clad female ensemble in fancy costumes and sexy lingerie, brought this show to a whole new level in eye candy terms especially with the bull (Ned Zaina) who consistently delivered his routines in his buff body and slick dancing.
Gaining solid momentum in circus acts during the second half of the program, my heart found itself in my mouth as performers straddled on a rope on an elevated bed, in the air! I was also gobsmacked at the amazing flexibility of the performers who are sheer acrobatic geniuses doing splits, back flips walking on their hands and the like!
Attendees would appreciate to know that alcoholic drinks are available for purchase at the bar and there is a food truck situated beside the venue for those feeling peckish.
A top class production with great potential to be showcased in Las Vegas, I give this spectacular production a high score of 9 out of 10!
SILVERS CIRCUS IN FOUNTAIN GATE NEW website review and photos: Amit Singh
There is a big surprise for all from children to adults in the yellow tent: it’s Jurassic Unearthed by Ssilvers Circus which is truly a spectacular show.
It will steal your eyes for whole 90 minutes and will remain you breathless.
It starts with an exhibition of the giant and mysterious jungle of prehistoric forest and massive dinosaurs placed all around it which are truly an eye catching magic.
The exhibition of dinosaur steals the show for sure along with the special dog element which were my favorites.
The all circus artists were terrific in their performances. It’s a must watch treat to say the least: it is very innovative and full of surprises.
It’s not your ordinary circus, it’s a Jurassic unearthed by Silvers circus - something different and something to fall in love with!
A big thanks to Larissa Anderson and Natasha (Bohemian Rhapsody Magazine) for providing us the tickets and allow us to witness this delightful show along with the Dinosaurs exhibition .
It’s a must to watch and one of the best show I have ever seen so far.
Please go and watch it , it’s highly recommend and tickets are available on ticketmaster.com and at the doors too.
Thank you Amit Singh Brand Ambassador for Bohemian Rhapsody Club and Marquis Fashion Magazine tickets
DANCING QWEENS: JAMES WELSBY NEW website review and photos: Anthony Wayne
A unique and highly interactive experience taking us through the history of queer dance! Running for a very short season at Dancehouse as part of the Midsumma Festival, DANCING QWEENS is a brand new show exploring the past 50 years of queer dance. It was a full house on opening night, and on entering the dance space the crowd were invited to browse through the racks of clothing, and try on whatever fabulous item that happened to catch our eye. A loose animal print shirt was my pick, and my plus one for the night was drawn to a pimped out jacket. Others were more adventurous changing into fabulous retro dresses. This was all part of setting the tone and letting the audience become an important part of the show for the next hour. Our divine host for the night Valerie Hex / James Welsby began by telling us to expect audience participation – but to ‘do what feels right for you – you own your own body’. If you prefer to sit and watch – no problem. We are transformed back to the 1960s to a time of underground ball culture – a space for same-sex partners to come and dance together. Someone would keep a lookout at the door and would ring a bell to alert everyone of any unwanted visits from police – where the couples would then swap to match up with an opposite sex partner. We are given the chance to act this out – and invited to take to the dance floor with our partner or plus one. Who was I to say no to Valerie Hex and I was more than happy to join in – mostly for the body contact with my date who by this point had his shirt almost fully unbuttoned and chest glistening with sweat given the heat in the room. Thankfully there were kind volunteers roaming the room handing out bottles of water to the crowd. It was a kaleidoscope of ‘queer bodies in motion’ as the couples danced around the room, swapping partners as the bell rang. From the 1960’s, the show moves through the stages of dance history to the 70s and 80s with the crowd dancing to classic tracks from the likes of Village People and Olivia Newton John. Waacking, voguing, and heels are all styles included in the show. A highlight for me was also the hilarious performance of the dancing baby – referencing the animated phenomenon from the 90s. Valerie Hex successfully fuses the right balance of audience participation with choreographed performances by his entourage of dancers including Joel Bray, Ally Cat, Jonathan Homsey, Rolly Loughlin, Mad Fox Maggie, and Alex Xand. I would rate this truly unique experience a 9 out of 10, a really enjoyable night out. A program of public workshops and dance classes accompany the season of DANCING QWEENS – and are open to all experience levels.
TRAVELLING DIARY: ICELAND DAY 3-7 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Iceland Day 3 (Tuesday, 22nd January, 2019)
After breakfast at the Hotel Husafell, we drove for about 15 minutes to within a few hundred metres of a lava cave, known as The Cave, a family owned and operated business in Western Iceland.
It is managed by a true adventurer and adventure guide in Horour Mio, who is the oldest child in the family.
The Cave only opened in May 2017.
Mio and a tightknit team, including two carpenters, prepared the cave for visitors in a remarkably quick 13 or 14 weeks – I am talking about establishing the wooden platforms, steps and boards, the plumbing and the electricity. Quite a remarkable feat.
I tell you The Cave is quite the experience.
We had the best guide I think I have ever had. His name is Egill Orn Sigurpaisson and he is a geologist with a brilliant sense of humour and an ability to readily reach out to people.
In fact, most of those Mio engages as guides are geologists with a common touch.
In any event, Egill led us into the cave, where the temperature is zero degrees Celsius and where he made several stops and talked to us throughout our hour and a half adventure.
The cave is 1.6 kilometres long, although we covered only 600 metres (the rest is for scientists to continue exploring).
The cave boasts a series of small stalactites and Egill gave us a history of how the cave was formed from a single eruption around the year 900AD, an eruption that would likely have lasted for a year.
Apparently, at least one person lived in the cave subsequent to its formation because they later discovered cattle bones and a pearl necklace at the site.
Egill also told us a series of delightful stories about Iceland, such as the fact that they regulate names in the country to ensure they retain an Icelandic flavour.
There are apparently only about 2,000 male names and the same number of female names and therefore middle names can help distinguish one Icelander from another.
Incidentally, because only 350 thousand people live in Iceland, when men and women are courting they use an App to check that the person they are interested in is not too close a relative.
Egill also regaled us with the fact that Iceland celebrates Christmas in a decidedly different way to most other nations.
Christmas here is a mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore. It starts on 23rd December and ends on 6th January.
Unlike most countries that have a single Father Christmas character, Icelandic children are visited by 13 Yule Lads.
From a relatively young age Icelandic children are told the story of Grýla, the ogress living in the Icelandic mountains.
She is a dreadful character, described as part troll and part animal and the mother of 13 precocious boys (the Yule Lads).
Grýla lives with her third husband, her 13 children and a black cat.
Every Christmas, Grýla and her sons come down from the mountains: Grýla in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron and the boys in search of mischief.
She can only capture children who misbehave but those who repent must be released.
Old Icelandic folklore states that every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas or they will find themselves in mortal danger.
An enormous black cat prowls Iceland on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who doesn’t follow this simple rule. This obnoxious feline is known as the Christmas Cat.
What a remarkable tour this was. It is called the Cave Explorer Tour and costs 6,500 Icelandic Krona per person (that’s about $80 Australian).
To find out more and to book, go to thecave.is.
Having subsequently returned to the Hotel Husafell, just before 3 in the afternoon we walked a couple of hundred metres to the starting point for another remarkable tour.
This time it was travel by a monster truck, which has eight wheels and seats about 40 people, to a glacier 25 kilometres away.
The glacier – which is 900 square kilometres in size – was formed 7,500 years ago, but only opened as a tourist destination in June 2015.
That was after four years of planning and 14 months of work digging out the portion that is accessible to the public via a series of ice tunnels.
Our delightfully amusing guide, Reynir Hjalmarsson – who had a wicked sense of humour – led us through the glacier and where the temperature is zero and told us tales about it as we stopped at various points.
Most notable were the old and new chapel and at the low point of the tunnel water accumulated and they had created a pond.
The glacier is actually a giant water reserve for southwest Iceland and a major source of energy.
Reynir made a point of mentioning that it is ironic that a place where there is no life and virtually no bacteria provides such a life-affirming force.
After an hour inside the glacier, having covered a little more than 500 metres in distance, we emerged outside and were driven back to our starting point.
It was a fascinating and insight tour, priced from 19,500 Icelandic Krona per person (that’s about $230 Australian).
Go to insidetheglacier.is to get further information about this and other tours they operate.
Dinner that night was at the mighty restaurant at the Hotel Husafell.
My wife ate the most tender beef tenderloin and lobster with pearl onion, Jerusalem artichokes pureed, pickled and deep fried, potato and madeira sauce.
I had melt in your mouth lobster with fresh vegetables. Just sensational.
And we then both indulged in the warm chocolate lava cake with caramel, raspberries and raspberry ice cream. Mind you, I had two helpings. It was that great.
I tell you what the food was so, so, so delicious, this place deserves Michelin stars for its cuisine.
You can get more information about the Hotel Husafell at hotelhusafell.com.
A great deal more information about Iceland is on the web site inspiredbyiceland.com.
Iceland Day 4 (Wednesday, 23rd January, 2019)
Today was the day to explore Western Iceland by car and our trusty Europcar Iceland four-wheel drive did the trip beautifully.
There was snow everywhere we looked and drove – a beautiful blue-sky day and just below freezing point. We couldn’t have ordered it better.
We circled the far western tip of Iceland, about 200 kilometres from the capital Reykjavik, and stopped many times to admire the spectacular views, mountainous, flat and ocean – a little of everything.
Among the many highlights was a picturesque small black wooden church set on a lava field in Budir, next to which is a pretty grave site. I say that in spite of the fact that those words may at first thought appear incongruous.
Lóndrangar is a pair of spectacular rock pinnacles, volcanic plugs of basalt created by erosion.
They are 61 metres and 75 metres tall respectively and provide spectacular viewing and photographing against the ocean.
Then we circled around and finished in a magnificent picturesque little town called Stykkishólmur.
There we were able to rest and refresh at the Fransiskus Hotel, which was a former convent and sits next door to a hospital, where the nuns tended to the sick.
The place has quite a history.
The Sisters of the St Francis order arrived in Stykkishólmur from Belgium.
Their mission in town was to build a monastery, a Catholic chapel and a hospital for the region.
In 1935 the buildings were completed and the sisters started their work at the hospital, where they worked their whole lives.
They also ran a pre-school, held sewing classes and ran a printing office, so clearly they were most industrious.
In their spare time, they travelled around the country to sell religious books, so in a few years everyone in Iceland knew about the sisters in Stykkishólmur.
In the 1980s, the sisters gave the hospital to the state of Iceland, but they still continued to work there.
They left the country in 2008 and a year later the monastery received new sisters, this time from an order called St Mary’s.
The chapel inside the Fransiskus Hotel is quite beautiful. I was quite taken by it and felt something rather special about being in a building with such a fine and upstanding history.
The Fransiskus has 21 cosy rooms, one of which was where we spent a most comfortable night.
For bookings and to learn more, go to fransiskus.is.
Iceland Day 5 (Thursday, 24th January, 2019)
With a population of only 1,200, Stykkishólmur is a brilliant little town in western Iceland, some 170 kilometres from the capital Rejkajvik – a drive of two to two and a half hours.
One of its distinguishing features is the surfeit of renovated old wooden houses in the old city centre – beautifully painted in many colours. They look great and are a photographic delight.
With its striking space-age white concrete design, the new church in Stykkishólmur is a beacon.
Designed by Jón Haraldsson, it was consecrated in May 1990 and seats 300 people.
It has a striking altar piece that has a heavenly blue background. It is of Mary carrying the baby Jesus and was created by an Icelandic painter.
There is also a large piped organ, which was dedicated in 2012.
The church has striking views of the surrounding countryside, both across the sea and looking across town.
Stykkishólmur also has a lovely old light grey coloured church on the main street, which is also worth visiting.
Other highlights of Stykkishólmur are three museums – The Volcano museum, The Library of Water and The Norwegian House – which were unfortunately closed the day we were there.
Before we walked through the town though, we took a Viking Sushi Adventure Voyage with SeaTours and what a ripper it was – two and a quarter absolutely fascinating hours on board a 134-seat catamaran named Saerun.
The vessel is 26 metres long and eight metres wide and has comfortable seating below deck as well as ample room to take happy snaps to your heart’s content on deck.
The captain, Unnar Valby Gunnarsson, also doubled as the most informative and involving guide.
We saw several islands from literally metres away (that is how close the captain managed to get us to them).
Some were thriving with bird life, others showcase truly incredible rock formations, including basalt columns … and the raging tides beside another are the last thing I expected to see, but are a real drawcard.
One island was the hiding place for the founder of Iceland, a notorious Viking named Eric the Red.
The good captain Unnar brought everything to life.
One of the other highlights was being able to eat the freshest of seafood – in particular scallops and sea urchins – caught on the spot from the ocean floor.
As we were motoring along, the captain announced that he would drop a net, which he did immediately and several minutes later up came the haul.
One of the crew was at the ready with a sharp knife to prize open the shells and pass over the contents to the passengers. Just brilliant.
Along with scallops and sea urchins, the catch also included starfish and snails.
Incidentally, the freshest of fresh shellfish is the reason the tour is called Viking Sushi Adventure Voyage – that is sushi without the rice (call it Sashimi, if you like).
It was a truly wonderful cruise during which we covered some 30 kilometres in the catamaran.
I would highly recommend the Viking Sushi tour with SeaTours. Their web site is seatours.is.
The company also operates year-round ferry services to the West Fjords.
To learn more and to book, just go to seatours.is.
At 5 that evening, after exploring Stykkishólmur, we got into our Europcar Iceland four-wheel drive and headed straight for Reykjavik.
The roads, which were already icy, got icier still as the drive extended because it started snowing quite heavily.
Concentration was essential – as was slowing down below the maximum speed limit of 90 kilometres per hour during several parts of the journey.
The Europcar Skoda handled the trip just beautifully … and after about two and a half hours we arrived at the door of our Reykjavik lodgings, the absolutely beautiful Reykjavik Residence Hotel.
When I say hotel, it is actually several buildings dotted around downtown Reykjavik – everything from studios to junior suites and one, two and three bedroom apartments.
They are luxurious and comfortable, and look and feel great and modern.
The beds are superb and the water pressure in the showers is strong. Some rooms have baths instead of showers.
Every room has cooking facilities and a microwave, and most have dishwashers.
The two and three bedroom apartments also have washing machines and clothes dryers.
You can choose to have breakfast in your room with a fresh delectable basket of goodies delivered each morning (with Vegan, vegetarian and allergy-free options available upon request).
Otherwise, you can enter the most inviting restaurant called Early in the Morning, which doubles as a wine bar in the evenings. We chose the latter, where the ambiance is outstanding.
How’s this for a breakfast menu at the restaurant? All dishes include a basket of bread, butter and jam, brewed coffee or tea, a glass or orange or apple juice, granola with Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit.
You then have five choices of main meals.
First up, parma ham toast, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil, with the option of adding either a hard boiled or fried egg.
Next, farmer’s sausage, fried eggs, baked beans on the side and fresh chives.
Or avocado toast, tomatoes, rucola, pumpkin seeds and feta cheese, again with the option of adding an egg.
Then there’s smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toast, with horseradish sauce, dill oil and fresh dill.
And finally, American style pancakes, served with either Nutella, maple syrup or jam.
I tell you, Reykjavik Residence Hotel is a haven you just have to experience.
Go to rrhotel.is and you will be full bottle on the place – one not to be missed. That is rrhotel.is.
They have 47 rooms available now and another 16 will be added in April 2019.
For more about what to see and do in Iceland, click onto inspiredbyiceland.com.
Iceland Day 6 (Friday, 25th January, 2019)
After a terrific night’s sleep at the Reykjavik Residence Hotel and a top notch feed at the hotel’s restaurant, called Early in the Morning, my wife and I set out to explore the city.
It is a beautiful looking place, with plenty of architectural delights – houses, hotels, museums, outdoor sculptures and much more.
First up we collected a city card that gives access to so much of what this great city has to offer.
You can buy 24 hour, 48 hour and 72-hour cards.
The cards provide free entry to many of Reykjavik’s museums and galleries, the zoo and family park as well as to Reykjavik’s 18 thermal pools and saunas, along with free use of public transport and a free ferry ride to a beautiful historic island.
You also receive discounts and offers on concerts, restaurants, attractions and tours.
The city card is like a golden pass to the city … just the ticket you need.
A 24-hour card costs 3,900 Icelandic Krona for adults and 1,600 Krona for children.
A 48-hour card is 5,500 Krona for adults and 2,600 for children, while the 72 hour card is even greater value at 6,700 Krona for adults and 3,500 for children.
For more information, go to visitreykjavik.is and click on the tab across the top that reads: Buy the City Card.
I highly recommend it.
We wandered around for several hours just taking in the fresh sights and loving what we were seeing.
We took photos of a modern Viking ship sculpture by the seashore, then wandered past the concert hall, before visiting the space age evangelical Lutheran church Hallgrimskirkja.
I say space age becomes it looks a little like a rocket, with a splayed base.
It was built in the memory of one of Iceland’s most treasured poets, a 17th century clergyman.
Construction began in 1945 and took more than 40 years to finish. The church was consecrated in October 1986.
The concert organ is by far the largest in Iceland. It features 5,275 pipes and was consecrated in December 1992.
While entry to the church is free, you pay 1,000 Icelandic Krona (100 Krona for children aged from 7 to 16) to catch a lift up the tower, which rises 73 metres and provides breathtaking 360 degree views over Reykjavik, the mountains and ocean.
It is well worth doing. My camera wouldn’t stop taking photos. Tickets are sold in the church shop.
For more information, go to en.hallgrimskirkja.is.
Just across the road sits the Einar Jonsson Museum.
Einar was Iceland’s first sculptor and a very fine one at that.
He drew inspiration from Icelandic folklore and also used mythological and religious motifs in his work. Some of the pieces are quite confronting.
The museum contains close to 300 of his art works, including sculptures and paintings, spanning a 60-year career.
Einar Johnsson offered all of his works as a gift to the Icelandic people on the condition that a museum was built to house them.
It was officially opened in 1923, a red-letter day for Icelandic art, because the building was the country’s first art museum.
Incidentally, living quarters upstairs are beautiful and maintained in their original state.
In the gardens around the museum, where Einar lived and worked, and which was built according to his plan, are 26 bronze casts.
To find out more, go to lej.is.
We then walked half an hour to Perlan, Wonders of Iceland interactive museum, housed in a distinctive dome shaped building which sits atop six water tanks.
It provides breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views of Reykjavik and its surrounds.
It has Iceland’s only planetarium and a 100-metre long ice cave made from 350 tonnes of snow from the Blue Mountains of Iceland. There is also an exhibition devoted to glaciers.
Beyond that, another section focuses on the coast and the ocean, while another is devoted to the forces of nature, including volcanos.
Perlan is extremely spacious and well laid out. There is so much to see and do. We we stayed for two and a half hours and could easily have spent longer, but the place was closing for the night.
It is well worth a visit.
It also has a free shuttle bus that operates from the city centre.
For more information, go to perlan.is.
Remember, if you want to see the best of Reykjavik, go to the web site visitreykjavik.is and click on the tab across the top that reads: Buy the City Card.
For more about Iceland, the best web site is inspiredbyiceland.com.
Iceland Day 7 (Saturday, 26th January, 2019)
What would a trip to Iceland be without visiting what is called the Golden Circle? It is an absolute ripper – a must see and do 300 kilometre loop from the capital Reykjavik.
Our Europcar Iceland four-wheel drive Skoda did it effortlessly.
There are three stops you just have to make and we naturally did.
First up, is the Pingvellir National Park, a site of historical, cultural and geological significance.
Pingvellir is associated with the national parliament of Iceland, called the Althing, which was established at the site in 930 AD.
The National Park was founded in 1930, the 1000th anniversary of the Althing and later expanded.
In 2004 it was designated as a World Heritage Site.
There are walks to either side of the car park within the national park.
One way gets you to a stunning waterfall and a view across striking cliffs.
The other opens up the parliament grounds and far beyond. Both are most worthwhile doing.
We covered about four kilometres and took plenty of photos, including panoramic shots … not to forget videos.
Next up was the geyser Stokkur (which is Icelandic for churn), which erupts every five minutes or so.
It usually blows up to 20 metres in the air, but if you are lucky it can double that height.
Just remember to have your video button at the ready because it only erupts for a matter of seconds. Still, when it does, it is spectacular and something not to be missed.
Only a few minutes away is the tour de force of the Golden Circle, namely Gullfoss, which translates to mean Golden Falls.
They are undoubtedly one of Iceland’s most iconic and beloved waterfalls … and it is now hard to see why. Wow!
The water travels from a glacier before cascading 105 metres down Gullfoss’ two stages in a dramatic display of nature’s raw power.
There are two viewing areas, one higher than the other. Both are perfect for taking breathtaking photos and videos.
We got there just as the sun was setting – the perfect time to be there because of the contrasting colours in the sky juxtaposed with the icy waters.
Still on the Golden Circle route and something we absolutely loved was the Secret Lagoon hot springs, which contain what is believed to be the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, dating back to 1891.
The large, irregular shaped pool uses water from the springs surrounding it and right next to it is a geyser that blows every five minutes and makes for good videos.
The water temperature in the pool is 36 to 40 degrees Celsius year round.
There is something quite ethereal about the steam rising from the pool and its surrounds.
I tell you, I felt brilliant after more than half an hour in the warm soothing water.
Be sure to walk around the path surrounding the pool, which exposes the hot springs and geyser.
To find out more about the Secret Lagoon and to book, go to secretlagoon.is.
It costs 3,000 Icelandic Krona for adults and is free for children aged 14 or below, if they are with their parents.
If you want to rent a swimsuit, then add another 700 Krona and the same amount for a towel.
A seniors’ rate of 2,200 Krona applies for those aged 67 plus and people with disabilities.
Secret Lagoon is open between 11am and 8pm during winter, that is from October 1st until April 31st and between 10am and 10pm in summer, from May 1st until September 30th.
That web site again is secretlagoon.is.
What a fabulous day we had had. I implore you, please go and do the Golden Circle. You couldn’t possibly be disappointed.
11 hours after we started we arrived back at our brilliant lodgings, the Reykjavik Residence Hotel, where we would spent our third and final night.
I couldn’t think of a finer place I would want to stay … and sleep ahead of a 30 plus hour journey back home.
Check it out. They have a series of buildings with breathtaking apartments and are about to open a couple more.
Their web site is rrhotel.is.
Iceland is one of the greatest places my wife and I have ever visited … and we have been fortunate to have seen many.
It is an eye-opening place resplendent with natural wonders and populated by mighty friendly and hospitable people that welcome visitors.
A week is nowhere near enough to see it all, but it have certainly given us a thirst to visit again in the not too distant future.
If you would like to learn more about Iceland, what there is to see and do and where to stay, simply click onto the web site inspiredbyiceland.com.
CHHAKATTA EVENT NEW website review: Amit Singh and Ben , Bhupendra Kumar Sethia photos: Yafei Dong
Chankatta was a spectacular event full of vibrant culture bringing children, elders and the community together to show case talents and share love and positive energy.
The event featured lots of entertainment through mimicry, dances on the Bhangra beats, mouth watering Indian food and a range of stalls to pick up some Indian traditional jewellery, shoes and artifacts.
It was a fun day to witness all of these exciting entertainment and share joy with old an dnew friends.
If you missed it this year - be sure to attend next time.
Jaspreet and Nancy are true example of the souls who always try to do better for the community and set an example for all of us h t unite and bring people together with their beautiful attitude. We are looking forward to attend it again next year.
Till then Sasriyakal
*** Biggest thank you to Bhupendra Kumar Sethia for his assistance!
TRAVELLING DIARY: ICELAND DAY 2 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Iceland Day 2 (Monday, 21st January, 2019)
The day kicked off with a tasty hot and cold buffet breakfast, a sauna and time in the tranquility lounge at Northern Light Inn before we unfortunately had to bid farewell to the you beaut wellness retreat.
Their web site again is nli.is.
Then my wife and I drove our Europcar Iceland rental, a smooth purring Skoda 4 wheel drive, through snow covered terrain – pristine and magnificent – for the next hour and a half before we reached our destination, The Settlement Centre in the village of Borgarnes.
The Centre is operated by a couple who used to be actors and directors.
They have created two exhibitions – one which tells the saga of the settlement of Iceland and the other Iceland’s most famous Viking and its first poet.
Each have audio guides and each take about half an hour to go through.
I found it fascinating to hear about the first men to set foot on the island and what became of them.
Iceland is also home to the world’s first parliament.
Thereafter, we were treated to a great homemade hot lunch at the Centre’s restaurant.
They had everything from a beaut tasting tomato and capsicum soup – I had three helpings – to a series of fish, meat and vegetarian dishes and desert.
The Centre also has a series of craft, design and souvenir items focusing on local artisans.
It is open year-round from 10 in the morning until 9 at night.
After lunch we drove for 45 minutes to reach a spectacular natural phenomenon.
Hraunfossar are a series of waterfalls and rapids that look fantastic and make for brilliant photos and videos. They emanate from subterranean water seeping through lava.
There are a series of observation points in that location and we stayed to watch the sun go down. Absolutely brilliant. Must see. Loved it.
A half hour later we visited Western Iceland’s most recently opened geothermal baths … and a great place it is too.
It is called Krauma and the hot water originates only a hundred metres or so away at Europe’s most powerful hot spring.
When the spring water reaches the surface from deep underground it has a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius, so it is cooled with water that comes from a former glacier, called Ok.
Krauma has five geothermal baths in various shapes and sizes, ranging in temperature from 36 to 43 degrees, as well as a cold tub running at six to eight degrees.
The latter certainly lets you know you are alive and is great for a plunge after relaxing in the hot baths.
You also get access to two steam rooms, which have in them essential oils and a tranquillity rooms with a log fire in the centre and six banana lounges surrounding it.
Krauma plays most relaxing and calming music while you sit there and reflect. Beautiful.
The whole place oozes wellness and wellbeing.
To top it all off there is a 70-seat indoor restaurant – with another 60 seats outdoors, weather permitting – serving terrific Icelandic cuisine from the freshest local farm-produced ingredients, along with a bar.
We spent four hours there and could easily have spent more, but the place closed.
To find out more, go to krauma.is.
Entry costs 3,800 Krona for adults and 1,900 for teenagers from age 13 to 16. You can also hire swim suits, towels and bathrobes.
It is open from 11am to 9pm during winter and last summer, its first, Krauma was open from 11am to 11pm.
At about 9:30 at night we arrived at the Hotel Husafell, which opened in July 2015 and where we would happily spend the next couple of nights.
It has 48 spacious rooms, ranging from standard to suites, along with a restaurant that can seat 100 and boasts seasonal menus using Icelandic ingredients to create local and international cuisine.
It is also where a hot and cold buffet breakfast is served every morning.
The hotel is more of a one-stop destination because there is lots to do within it and in the immediate vicinity.
I should mention that in each of the rooms and throughout the hotel there are examples of the work of a local artist. What particularly impressed me were the stone carvings opposite the restaurant.
The hotel operators have created a series of more than 10 hiking trails around it, including one that leads around a canyon, a distance of five kilometres. During summer Hotel Husafell offers guests use of mountain bikes for free along with a nine hole golf course.
Throughout the year, guests can also bask in two geothermal pools and two hot tubs, even try flotation – involving a soft cap and knee pads – if they so choose.
By the way … if you stay during winter Hotel Husafell has a special northern lights hotline, that is when you check in you can dial a special number to alert staff you want to be woken up if the northern lights appear.
We were told Aurora Borealis typically shows up late in the evening or early in the morning.
Incidentally, the complex also offers separate camping facilities.
In fact, the area in which the hotel sits has been owned by the same family for seven generations.
They have certainly contributed massively to the region, having also built four hydro power plants (the latest only opened last year), which provide electricity to the surrounding area.
I strongly suggest you check out their web site – hotelhusafell.com.
And you can find out more about what to do in Iceland at the web site inspiredbyiceland.com.
TRAVELLING DIARY: ICELAND DAY 1 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Iceland Day 1 (Sunday, 20th January, 2019)
Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe.
It has around 350 thousand people in an area of just over 100,000 square kilometres.
While fishing is the backbone of the country, tourism accounts for the biggest injection into the economy … and importantly power is relatively inexpensive, as it is primarily generated from hydroelectric and geothermal sources.
A litre of petrol costs about 220 Icelandic Krona (that’s about $2.60 Australian).
Reykjavik, the capital and largest city, and the surrounding area in the southwest of the country, is home to more than two thirds of the population.
Once we flew in via Icelandair from Oslo, the capital of Norway – a journey of about three hours – we hired a car from Europcar Iceland, the largest car rental company in the country – for our eight days in the country.
Let’s just say it was a very slick operation. My first impression of Europcar Iceland was extremely favourable.
We were given a most impressive, as new, 4WD automatic Skoda.
The Europcar desk is the largest at the airport and the car was parked literally a matter of metres away.
Although my wife and I were given a GPS guidance system, the very friendly staff member who signed out the car told us about a free App for my phone, which we downloaded. It is called maps.me.
With that we were off for the start of our latest adventure.
We drove some 20 kilometres to a super health and wellness centre called Northern Light Inn, which is located within a kilometre of the geothermal spa called Blue Lagoon.
Both are situated on a lava field.
The Northern Light Inn is operated by Kristjana Einarsdottir and Fridrik Einarsson, who bought it from their aunt and uncle in 1995.
At the time, the place was smaller and called the Hotel Blue Lagoon.
Since then it has been greatly expanded and today it is a U-shaped, low-rise structure with 42 rooms, including 10 deluxe rooms, all with large comfortable beds and big showers.
There is a restaurant that can seat as many as 100 people in two adjacent rooms, lounges, an honesty bar, as well as the drawcard of a wellness space below one of the wings.
In it are three saunas – one dry, another soft (which means it contains a little bit of moisture) and the third a steam sauna – and a tranquility room with banana lounges and sculptures from a local artist.
Also downstairs are two flotation tanks that use Epsom salts to keep patrons afloat and a fitness centre, which contains a couple of treadmills I had not come across before.
They are curved at one end and don’t use electricity but your own body weight to create motion.
Guests at Northern Light Inn can also rent bicycles and electric cars, should they so choose.
We ate breakfast and dinner there both nights we stayed. The restaurant, called Max’s, is named after their beloved golden retriever who adored the guests, enjoyed good food and running across the rocky landscape.
Northern Light Inn cooks with the best foods available from local markets, the fjords and the fields of Iceland.
Breakfast was a hot and cold buffet with a large and moreish selection to choose from, while dinner was absolutely superb.
On the first night my wife dined out on lamb fillets and vegetables, a large baked potato, served with a wild mushroom sauce, while I had a melt in your mouth white fish with a baked potato and steamed vegetables.
Northern Light Inn is a great and understandably popular place to stay and recharge the batteries. It is all about harmony, introspection and rejuvenation.
It has a huge rating on Trip Advisor and I simply add my plaudits.
Check out their web site, nli.is.
After breakfast on our first full day in Iceland, we were picked up by Salome Coste, our guide from 4x4 Adventures Iceland, a family-run company founded in 2007.
They are located five minutes or so from Northern Light Inn. They specialise in quad biking and do it mighty well.
Tours can be short – even an hour – or longer … up to two days.
Salome led us on a two-hour Lava Beach tour, which incorporated spectacular mountain views and the rugged Iceland coastline.
It was our first time on a quad bike and mighty fun too – I drove and my wife was the passenger – and we made three stops along the way, the final one at a beach where lava rocks and black sand predominated. Quite something.
Earlier, we had parked in what was a glacier more than 1,000 years ago and is now a volcanic crater.
I tell you, looking at some of the terrain I was thinking about Neil Armstrong and a moon landing.
Funnily enough, my thought wasn’t far off the mark. In fact, spot on. Once I Googled it, I discovered that before the Apollo missions to the moon, Armstrong and 30 other astronauts underwent field training in Iceland.
In total nine of the 12 astronauts that set foot on the moon trained in Iceland in 1965 and 1967 … so there you have it.
By the time we returned we had covered some 25 kilometres. It was a really beaut adventure and put us in touch with a piece of Iceland a little off the beaten track. Loved it.
A two hour All Terrain Vehicle (read that to mean quad bike) guided tour, including all the gear – that is thermal suits, balaclavas, gloves and helmets – costs 19,900 per person for two people on a bike. That’s around $240 Australian.
To book and learn more about the tours 4x4 Adventures Iceland offers, including buggy tours, go to 4x4adventuresiceland.is.
Upon our return, it was time to check out and relax in one of Iceland’s greatest attractions, the Blue Lagoon, about a kilometre from our hotel, Northern Light Inn.
It was a quirk of fate or an accident that led to Blue Lagoon’s formation. In 1974 a local geothermal power company established a power plant very close by and a reservoir of teaming, milky blue seawater formed in the shadows of the plant.
By 1976, people suffering from psoriasis had begun bathing in the warm water, which comes from two kilometres below the Earth’s surface, and soon the word spread, so not just psoriasis sufferers but others started to enjoy the pleasures of the water.
In 1987 a bathhouse was built at the site, before the lagoon was relocated to its present location in the heart of the nearby lava field.
It has since undergone significant renovation and expansion.
The latest addition is what is called The Retreat at Blue Lagoon, encompassing a 62-suite luxury hotel, a subterranean spa, a terraced lagoon and a restaurant.
The water in the lagoon surrounded by volcanic rocks averages between 37 and 39 degrees Celsius and is rich in minerals such as silica and sulfur, which give it that light blue colour.
And yes, I can attest to the fact that it is genuinely blue and most relaxing.
You can experience the relaxation and the benefits of the water by buying one of three packages available at Blue Lagoon.
The Comfort Package, which starts at 50 Euros and is subject to dynamic pricing, gets you entrance, a towel, a silica mud mask and a free drink.
Next up is the Premium Package, which starts at 70 Euros, and adds a second mud mask, a bathrobe and slippers.
The Retreat Spa, which starts at 280 Euros, gives you four hours exclusive entry to the Retreat Spa, the Retreat Lagoon and private changing rooms.
I tell you, I have never been someone enamoured by hot spa waters back home, but this is something else entirely.
I found it most appealing, very, very enjoyable and – a special experience in a unique setting, something I give a big, big tick to.
One further important point to note, I know everyone wants to be taking happy snaps of themselves at the Blue Lagoon, but carrying a mobile phone near water may not be the best idea, even though you can purchase a water proof bag at the centre.
They have staff on duty at various times who are more than happy to take the shots for you and then email you the result of their labours … at no charge.
That’s what we did and they send us some beaut shots, so we were able to share the experience – photographically at least – with others.
For bookings, the web site is bluelagoon.com.
To check out the many things to see and do in Iceland and where to stay, I recommend you go to the one-stop-shop web site inspiredbyiceland.com.
THE ILLUSIONIST NEW website review by Michelle Schembri-Lipscombe
The Illusionist It was an absolute pleasure attending The Illusionist today. It is the 2nd time I have attended the show over hte last few years and still loved every minuteof it! The magic in the show is clever, quick, accurate and seemless. Matched with some great comedy and a charismatic leader the show kept us entertained through the performance. From the first appearance of the Illusionists - the fun and mystery begins. The show consisted of a great variety of performers including the Trickster, The Mentalist, The Alchemist, The Showman, The Manipulator, The Conjuress and The warrior. Seven of the most talented magicians and artists I have seen. The performance included a vast array of magic including objects (and people) disappearing, mindreading and levitation. Each magician has there own style and way to engage with the audience. Rather than having each magician perform their part of the show in its entirety, the performance was cleverly executed with short snippets of returning magicians - this was great as it allowed the audience to build a rapport and understanding of each performer and have some familiarity each tone they returned. There was lots of audience participation (if you want to volunteer) and very engaging for both the kids and the adults! Great way to spend a night out with a friend or loved one and very suitable for children. What a great activity for the family over the school holidays - definitely a performance that will keep everyone’s attention. All three of us that attended had different ‘favourite’ parts of the show - an absolute compliment to the show and it’s varied, intriguing content. The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway, at Regent Theatre for one week only from 22 to 27 January 2019.
LES MISERABLES NEW review by Alexander O. Montgomery
A stellar production! “Les Miserables” by the Young Australian Broadway Chorus
Review by Alexander O. Montgomery
From Paris, London, America and now to Melbourne, “Les Miserables”, the stellar musical production performed by the Young Australian Broadway Chorus, is on show for a very limited time at the St Kilda National theatre.
As gay like everyday is Christmas as I may be, I’m not exactly a huge fan of musicals. And while I have attended a few, I still prefer watching Sci−fi movies over them. However, when I was invited by the Editor in Chief of the Bohemian Rhapsody weekly magazine to attend this opening night of the world’s longest running musical “Les Miserables” pronounced in French “Lay Me Zeh Rhab”, I was flattered, but of course, as Les Miserables had won over one hundred awards and has been seen by over sixty−five million people worldwide!
As soon as the curtains raised in the seven hundred odd seating auditorium which was fully packed on Saturday night and right in front of my eyes, Australian youths, all of them decked in costumes from the days of the nineteenth century started the night by singing to the score of the prologue:work song in their opening act.
In essence, Les Miserables is an uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit based on the novel by French poet and playwright, Victor Hugo from the 1800’s. And in this production by the YABC, the overall production, right down to it’s theatrical effects vibrating from all four corners of the auditorium was pitch perfect!
What also truly stood out for me was the finesse and high energy emanating off every one on this production set. Everybody on this ensemble of the more than a hundred in total, gave their absolute all! From the lead cast, featured cast and right down to everybody else, they played their role to a “T” and remembered their lines without a single flinch! Even the performance by the orchestra was breathtakingly amazing! What I would have appreciated more however, was a larger stage to be able to accommodate and showcase the entire orchestratic performers instead of restricting them to play the scores away from our view, below the stage.
My favourite character had to be Cosette (played by Jasmine Arthur) whose strong vocal range was more than spectacular. I was also taken away by the superb rendition of “I dreamed a dream” in the musical which many of us would have remembered Susan Boyle singing on “Britain’s got talent” that catapulted her to instant fame.
On show till the 26th of this month, potential attendees to this musical are also to be aware of their lock out policy which states that anyone leaving the theatre for whatever reason would have to wait for an in between act before they can be allowed back in. However, if you should experience one of this, you can always take solace to the fact that there is a bar by the entrance where beverages can be purchased while you wait.
I rate this sensational musical a high 9 out of 10 stars as it was certainly a well spent three hours of my time!
photos: Kit Haselden Photography
TRAVELLING DIARY: TROMSO, NORWAY DAY 7 NEW by Alex First MAPT Tromso Day 7 (Friday, 18th January, 2019)
A busy day … my wife and my last full day in Tromso in northern Norway, where we had very happily spent the past week.
First up, another hot and cold buffet breakfast at the Thon Hotel, something I – and my stomach – eagerly look forward to each morning, after a good night’s sleep.
At 10 in the morning we were picked up at our hotel in a minivan by the charming Petr Masat from Flexitour, for a tour of the fjords and much more.
Over the next five hours, we made numerous stops and got to know a little about Whale Island, which is connected to Tromso Island by bridge and is the fifth largest island in mainland Norway, measuring 737 square kilometres.
We were heading for the small island of Sommaroy, to the west, and along the way took in a few picturesque fjords – namely deep sea inlets between high cliffs. The views are breathtaking, a photographer’s delight.
Petr told us about the large German battleship Tirpitz, which briefly served as the centerpiece of the Baltic Fleet. It was positioned at nearby Hakoya Island and was subject to a series of air raids by the British during WWII, eventually sinking with hundreds of lives lost.
We stopped when Petr spotted a number of reindeers seeking food in their natural habitat.
Earlier in our trip, we had gone reindeer sledding and fed reindeer moss, but had not seen them fending for themselves – a terrific experience and we weren’t the only ones who pulled off the road to take a closer look.
Petr mentioned the significance of the Sami native people, who number 55,000 in Norway and have their own parliament.
On our drive, he pointed out wooden houses in a series of colours – red, yellow and white.
Today, of course, they can be painted in whatever colours the owners so choose, but 100 years ago and more the colours signified status and the colours were attained by the use of natural substances.
Red was for the common folk, yellow for those a little bit more well to do and white for the wealthier.
Another short stop at the side of the road and we saw a huge Viking cruise liner pass by and an eagle soaring in the sky, but the real reason for the stop was to see rock carvings that date back thousands of years before the birth of Jesus.
Our itinerary included an old abandoned farm, which has become an outdoor museum, with its wooden houses positioned on rocks. Lunch was by the beach on Summer Island.
By then the weather had closed in and it was snowing quite heavily, but we sat on warm reindeer skins on a bench with a bird’s eye view of another island.
Petr offered us snow suits and gloves and fed us delicious chocolate drink and gave us wraps.
Thereafter, we headed back to Tromso Island, having had a great time learning about local culture and history, seeing what we had seen and basking in the glory of nature, including those breathtaking fjords.
Flexitour’s fjord tour costs 1,100 Krone and the company also offers a northern lights tour and a Tromso sightseeing tour during winter along with fjord, midnight light and Tromso sightseeing tours during summer.
Their web site is flexitour.no.
Later in the afternoon, I walked across the bridge from Tromso to the nearby striking Arctic Cathedral and took a quick look inside.
The highly visible triangular shaped landmark, which was dedicated in November 1965, is formed from 11 aluminium-coated concrete panels on each side of its roof.
The main entrance is surrounded by a large glass façade with a white cross.
Then, back from whence I came, including a stop at the beautiful small wooden Catholic cathedral in town, which began the same year as the city’s Lutheran cathedral, namely 1861.
Each year at this time, Tromso hosts an international film festival (this year is its 29th), so it was a stop there to see what was showing.
Next up, a sticky beak at another of the architectural highlights of Tromso, the arch shaped public library, which was constructed under the original roof of a former cinema.
Inside the building are several spacious floors around a striking central staircase – a most inviting institution it is too.
Incidentally, I was not at all surprised to learn that in 2009 a poll voted Tromso Library as the best public library of the year.
Just another of the many things to love about Tromso, I say.
To find out more, including the activities you may care to undertake in and around town, what to see and where to stay in Tromso, go to visittromso.no. That’s visittromso.no.
TRAVELLING DIARY: TROMSO, NORWAY DAY 6 NEW by Alex First MAPT Tromso Day 6 (17th January, 2019)
After a few hours’ sleep following a night and early morning chasing the elusive northern lights, my wife and I fuelled up for a walk of a rather different kind with a hot and cold buffet breakfast at the Thon Hotel, our fourth night in the cosy lodgings.
Then we met our good natured and experienced guide Sascha Roth-Pretzel from Tromso Outdoor outside the nearby Radisson Blu hotel.
He drove us in a mini-van for about 10 minutes to an area popular with cross country skiers.
Given snowshoes and stocks, we began a hike of about an hour and a half into the snow-laden mountains.
We were stepping out in snow which was well over a metre in depth, with a thick powder layer on top, with spruce and pine trees all around us … just beautiful to look at.
Fabulous fun … and not surprising harder worker going upwards when we got to tackle a few small hills.
While Sascha knew exactly what he was doing, I can’t say the same for me, but I quickly got the hang of it, even though I took a couple of tumbles. No harm done … other than to my ego.
Photo stops were mandatory – the resultant pics and videos mighty special. We also stopped briefly for a warm blackcurrant juice drink.
Around 12, Sascha dropped us back in Tromso.
The cost of the guided snowshoeing trip is 795 Krone for adults (just over $130 Australian) and 495 Krone (or a little over $80 Australian) for children between the ages of 8 and 12.
During winter Tromso Outdoor specialises in guided ski, snowshoe and adventure activites, while guided hikes and bike trips are par for the course in summer.
Their web site is tromsooutdoor.com.
Next up was some sightseeing in town starting at the coolest ice bar – in more ways than one – we had ever seen … and we have seen quite a few.
It is a relatively new attraction in Tromso, having only opened in May 2018.
With the temperature minus five Celsius, before entering you are given a warm poncho that has a hood and you are also offered gloves.
Inside is more than just a bar serving drinks in ice cups, but a series of stunningly rendered sculptures made of ice – the work of world-renowned ice carvers.
Included are tributes to Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, a seaplane from the mid 1920s and the first airship to reach the North Pole, among many others.
Magic Ice is open from 11 to 11 Sunday through Thursday, 11 to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Admission, which includes a welcome drink – alcoholic or not – is 195 Krone (around $35 Australian).
Their web site is magicice.no.
We spent a half an hour or more inside. Great experience it was too.
Then it was off to the Perspektivet photographic Museum, which offers free entry.
On the ground floor are beach shots from Martin Parr, while upstairs is a tribute to Tromso’s religious diversity, which includes an open book that contains moving sand. Fascinating.
Also on the first floor is a small section on one of Norway’s foremost authors who wrote under the pseudonym Cora Sandel.
On the second floor is some great street photography from local Knut Stokmo, many dating back to the 1960s.
Perspektivet Museum was established in 1996 and has become known for documenting contemporary life.
It is open from 10 to 4 Tuesday to Friday and between 11 and 5 on weekends.
We spent a most enjoyable half hour there admiring the works.
To find out more, go to perspektivet.no.
TRAVELLING DIARY: TROMSO, NORWAY DAY 5 NEW by Alex First MAPT Tromso Day 5 (16th January, 2019)
After breakfast at the Thon Hotel, today was the day to experience Tromso and its surrounds from above.
To that end my wife and I took a short local bus ride to the foot of a mountain named Storsteinen (which means the large stone), which is 421 metres above sea level.
A few hundred metres from the bus stop is a cable car with two gondolas, known as Seal and Polar Bear. Each can carry 28 passengers at a time.
The gondolas, which run every half hour, take you to a large platform, where the uninterrupted views are spectacular. The scenery – islands, mountains and fjords – is simply breathtaking.
Being winter, the snow-covered terrain served to enrich our experience. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
I remember a few years ago, we climbed up the Eiffel Tower in Paris by day and stayed until night, so that we could take in the views without and with the twinkling lights.
We had the same idea in Tromso and it worked a treat. We arrived in daylight and due to the time of the year, the sun was only up for a short time, so we saw the darkness descend and gradually take over – more and more lights appearing.
It is a wonderful place to take panoramic photos, which I did repeatedly over three hours.
With plenty of snow under foot you could also climb higher up the mountain if you so chose.
We wandered around up there a little bit, but the pictures from the viewing platform alone were more than enough of a draw card.
We absolutely loved it up there. You have to ride the cable car when you get to Tromso because it is one of those must see experiences.
Incidentally, if you get hungry, there is a restaurant and café up Storsteinen as well.
The cable car operates from 10am to 11pm from 1st August until 31st May and from 10am until 1am the following morning from 1st June until 31st July.
A return adult ticket costs 210 Norwegian Krone (about $35 Australian) while children between 3 and 15 can travel for 100 Krone return. Those under 3 are free. A family return ticket – which is for two adults and two children – runs to 450 Krone (about $75 Australian).
To book, go to fjellheisen.no, which translates to the mountain lift.
At 6:45pm we walked to the nearby Clarion Edge hotel for the start of a Northern Lights Chase experience with Destination Tromso and our guide Kevin Lucas.
It was a cloudy night, not ideal for spotting Aurora Borealis, so we headed beyond one of their three private camps to the Finnish border, looking for clear, dark skies and solar activity.
Two and a half hours later and unfortunately it was not to be.
We stayed at the location for more than an hour but still no break, although we were offered hot drinks, sausages, cheese and flat bread by a log fire. The temperature was minus 10 degrees Celsius.
I should quickly add that Kevin offered us thermal suits to put on top of our clothes, if we were interested in so doing.
Subject to weather conditions, the northern lights are visible to the naked eye from mid September until mid April, but tonight simply wasn’t to be.
Kevin said last season was a particularly good one for bright green lights – not just white with a touch of green – which were visible more than 50 per cent of the time when they went out.
I should quickly add that a good camera – such as a DSLR – can capture the vivid greens even when they appear white to the eye.
This season though those vibrant greens have only been apparent to the naked eye on about 20 per cent of excursions.
All tour companies in and around Tromso that chase the lights need to find areas that are not hindered by light pollution and that often necessitates a drive of a few hours.
Kevin did all he could to keep our spirits up in the hope the lights would find an opening.
He regaled us with an explanation of the lights, their history and mythology, and the different shapes the lights can appear.
At the end of the excursion, which was around 2am, he told those who had taken the trip that if they wanted to try again at any time in the future they were entitled to a 50 per cent discount.
That is half price on the usual cost of an Aurora Borealis tour with Destination Tromso.
In short, that was because that night had proven a bridge too far when it came to seeing what everyone was hoping to see.
A very decent fellow Kevin was too. He later sent me some brilliant images of the northern lights that he had taken with his camera.
Destination Tromso’s web site is destinationtromso.com.
The regular price of a Northern Lights Chase excursion is 1,350 Krone per person (about $230 Australian).
It is one of several activities the company undertakes and that also includes snow shoeing, northern lights sailing, arctic sailing and truck driving and a visit to the Tromso Ice Domes.
They also offer husky and reindeer sledding, snowmobiling, helicopter sightseeing and a wildlife fjord cruise.
Their web site again is destinationtromso.com.
THE JUNGLE BOOK NEW website review and photos: by Ivan Lubkov Jungle book – A jungle adventure for the children The story about a boy raised by animals written by Ruyrad Kipling has fascinated readers for longer than 100 years and was an inspiration for countless adaptations. The main character, Mowgli has fascinated adults and children and acted as a symbol of freedom and determination. The story which has been the source of countless films, tv shows and books returns to the Sydney with a play tailored for young children. The show is set in perfectly selected venue - Vaucluse House Gardens which resembles a true jungle in the middle of the city. The main characters of the store are the boy Mowgli, the bear Baloo, the panther Bagheera and Tabaqui the jackal. Throughout the whole show the audience children actively participate in various activities and join the actors in an adventure of a modern jungle school where they can learn the languages and personalities of all the animals. Overall the show would be a children’s favorite as it contains plenty of animal imitating songs themes. A great play to attend during summer days.
photo: Lewis Bedge
photos: Ivan Lubkov
TRAVELLING DIARY: TROMSO, NORWAY DAY 4 NEW by Alex First MAPT Tromso Day 4 (15th January, 2019)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner today at the only hotel in Skjervoy, the cosy 35-room Hotel Maritim Skjervoy, where all rooms have just been renovated.
Today’s highlight and undoubtedly one of the highlights of my wife and my trip to Tromso was whale watching with Green Gold of Norway.
At 9:30ish we walked a few hundred metres from our hotel to get kitted out in thick snow suits, gloves, hats, balaclavas, extra socks and clear goggles before boarding a rubber inflatable boat (RIB) to take to the waters of Kvaenangen.
The RIB can carry 12 passengers but there were only six of us today and a terrific chap, Karsten Johannessen, as our guide.
15 minutes later and we spotted what we came for, in all them glory – what a sight. What magnificent creatures of the deep. Orcas and humpbacks feeding.
A few dozen orcas, just metres from our boat, and lesser numbers of humpbacks, with their large distinctive flippers.
We were transfixed. One of the experiences of our lives. Something mighty special.
And they stayed around us, or we around them, for the best part of half an hour, before they moved on and so did we.
We were out in the icy waters for more than two hours and during our trip saw more orcas and humpbacks, although not in the prominent numbers we had spotted them earlier.
With cameras at the ready, we took still shots and videos that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
But as good as photos and videos are, just seeing the whales in their natural habitat with our own eyes was what made the experience one worth cherishing.
A female humpback – larger than the male – can grow to weigh 40 tons and yet they are so graceful in the water.
Green Gold of Norway operates these whale watching trips daily, weather permitting, from 1st November until the end of January.
The company also runs a heap of other adventure-based activities, well worth checking out – everything from visiting the fjords to a northern lights photo excursion, snowmobiling and midnight sun safari.
Their web site is greengoldofnorway.com.
Upon our return to dry land, we were offered hot drinks and rolls.
I mentioned our guide, Karsten Johannessen. During summer, he operates guided fishing trips on the Geirangerfjord in Norway, which is on the UNESCO world heritage list.
He runs a business called Fish the Fjords.
Apart from the fishing, Karsten talks about the old mountain farms on the cliffs around the fjord, some which have been populated since before the Viking age.
A brief walk back to our hotel, the Maritim Skjervoy, and a beaut lunch beckoned, which for me was a sensational pasta chock full of prawns and mushrooms in a Napolitano sauce, while my wife enjoyed chicken and vegetables.
That night, as the previous evening, we caught a ship operated by Hurtigruten – one of 15 in their fleet – back to Tromso.
This time the vessel was named Richard With, after the company’s founder.
Built in 1993 and refurbished only last year, it can cater for up to 590 passengers and 12 cars.
It has seven decks, two restaurants – one a la carte – a café, bar, fitness room and sauna, and large panorama and observation lounges, along with a retail shop.
11 of Hurtigruten’s vessels ply the Norwegian coast line and a round trip from Bergen takes 11 nights.
In our case though, we merely had a four-hour journey from Skjervoy to Tromso, during which I had heaps of fun taking part in a “name that song and artist” competition – with other passengers – that was orchestrated by Hurtigruten’s expedition leader.
For more information or to book, go to global.hurtigruten.com.
TRAVELLING DIARY: TROMSO, NORWAY DAY 3 NEW by Alex First MAPT Tromso Day 3 (14th January, 2019)
Great to wake up in a small wooden hut in the middle of pristine wilderness at a place called Camp Tamok, about 100 kilometres from Tromso in northern Norway.
After a beaut night’s sleep, a healthy and tasty breakfast followed – fresh as, just like the mountain air.
My wife and I were under the watchful eyes of Lyngsfjord Adventure, with whom I had undertaken a snowmobile safari into the mountains the previous night – which also proved to be my first experience of the northern lights. Yeah!
Today, on a beautiful day with no wind and minus 15 degrees Celcius, it was Alaskan huskies at the ready for dog sledding with our charming guide Charlotte Rehnlund.
Lyngsfjord Adventure runs 125 dogs. We were kitted out in snow suits, extra socks, gloves and warm hats with six very eager huskies champing at the bit to get going.
Charlotte gave us instructions on how to handle the sleds. I steered from a standing position with my wife sitting in front.
The pace for the most part was gentle and the views were spectacular in every direction.
At one point, I managed to all but lose my wife, tipping her out of the sled. One way to end a marriage. Fortunately, the snow was powder soft and she saw the funny side of it. So did I.
We spent one and a half hours in unspoiled wilderness, covering about 10 kilometres in the Finndahl Valley. It was heavenly. Upon our return, we had another half hour interacting with the huskies, who didn’t seem to mind the attention.
By then we had built quite an appetite and lunch of reindeer stew soup or fish soup or a vegetarian option with bread and a hot drink went down a treat.
A coach took us back to Tromso, a drive of 2 hours 20 minute – rather than one hour 20 – because we had to take the long route as the regular road was closed due to a couple of avalanches two days earlier.
Lyngsfjord Adventure’s dog sledding costs 1,895 Krone (or about $320 Australian) for adults and half price for children between 4 and 15. Their website is lyngsfjord.com.
Then it was straight onto a ship called Trollfjord, operated by Hurtigruten, which has 15 ships in its fleet and has operated since 1893.
Built in 2002, Trollfjord can cater for up to 822 passengers at any one time … along with 35 cars.
Trollfjord has nine decks, an a la carte and fine dining restaurant and a coffee shop, along with a two-storey panorama lounge, bars, library, fitness centre, hot tub and sauna, along with a retail shop.
Many passengers are accommodated overnight, but in our case we had a four hour journey ahead of us during which dinner was served … and a brilliant meal it was too.
My wife had baked celery soup, while I had a fresh garden salad. Main meal for my wife was fish with baked beets, green cabbage, potato puree and a blue mussel sauce, while I had shrimp pasta with fresh vegetables in a Napolitano sauce. Dessert was a delicious indulgence – chocolate terrine with blueberry compote and macarons. Yum.
To find out more, go to global.hurtigruten.com.
A few hundred metres from the ship was our hotel for the night, the 35-room Hotel Maritim Skjervoy, where the beds were my nirvana – cloud soft – and the shower had great pressure, just as I love it.
TRAVELLING DIARY: TROMSO, NORWAY DAY 2 NEW by Alex First MAPT Tromso Day 2 (13th January, 2019)
Another great and diverse buffet breakfast at our lodgings, the Thon Hotel in Tromso and we walked to the nearby Raddison Blu hotel to meet our guide, a jovial Sami man named Johnny Mathis Sara from a company called Tromso Lapland.
Their web site is tromsolapland.no.
He drove us 45 kilometres east of Tromso to his family’s reindeer farm, where they have 250 of the animals – the youngest less than a year old and the eldest 13.
The reindeer used for sledding are males that are trained over two winters. Johnny and his family pick the biggest and strongest of them to do the job.
Immediately we were introduced to a number of the reindeer who were tethered and ready to take us on a gentle sled ride into the pristine wilderness, with snow covered mountains all around us – simply beautiful country.
With a blanket over our legs and the benefit of a snow suit, thick boots, warm hats and mittens that they gave us we were most comfortable on the 45 minute ride.
Photos with the reindeer followed, before Johnny led us to an enclosure to feed 50 or so of the reindeer grass pellets from metal buckets.
The moment they spotted the buckets they were drawn to us and more photo opportunities beckoned.
Lunch was in a warm and cosy kota, complete with fire and it consisted of tea, coffe or hot chocolate, followed by reindeer stew or a vegetarian option.
Johnny is a great storyteller and regaled us with tale about reindeer and Sami traditions and culture – the Sami being Norway’s indigenous people.
He showed us and explained the clothing that he and Sami people wear – very warm and sensible and striking it is too – making good use of reindeer fur.
Before our half day adventure was completed Johnny even managed to find time to sing us a traditional Sami folk song that he dedicated to his best mate.
It was a fascinating and enjoyable four hours before we were driven back to the Raddison Blu.
To book a reindeer sledding and Sami culture tour with Tromso Lapland, go to their web site, tromsolapland.no and click on to the relevant program (because they offer several).
An adult ticket costs 1,695 Norwegian Krone (or about $280 Australian).
After returning to Tromso just after 3 in the afternoon, we walked back to the Thon Hotel and prepared a case for a night in the remote wilderness.
Just before 5 we were back opposite the Raddison Blu for the start of a snowmobiling adventure with Lyngsfjord Adventure. Their web site is lyngsfjord.com.
The drive to Camp Tamok usually takes a 1 hour 20 minutes, but two avalanches the previous day meant the usual road was closed and the coach ride took an extra hour.
Once we arrived, we were kitted out in snow suits, given thick woolen socks, gloves, balaclavas and helmets, given operating and safety instructions for the snowmobiles and off we went.
We started at 250 metres above sea level and our guide Tor Vidar Nystad, a laid back and very friendly fellow, led us across a frozen river up towards Lake Finndalen.
We covered a distance of nearly 30 kilometres before we turned around five kilometres from the Swedish border and less than 30 kilometres from Finland, getting to 750 metres above sea level.
Most importantly, for the first time we saw the northern lights in the night sky around 9pm.
They weren’t a bright, bright green, rather white with a slight green hue to the naked eye.
Mind you, an Australian from the Gold Coast who was part of the tour, Nicole Sinclair, took some great shots with her Samsung Galaxy 9 phone.
The camera captured a vibrant green not apparent to the naked eye.
Her shots were most impressive.
My iPhone – the latest model – struggled.
The best cameras to use are DSLRs and it is important to bring a tripod.
However, if you don’t have access to these don’t worry because the guides are mighty helpful and will take photos of you with the northern lights.
Most importantly though, I can finally say I have witnessed the phenomenon of Aurora Borealis.
We arrived back at Camp after 10.30, having been out for a couple of hours. Quite an exhilarating experience and one that I dare say I will remember for the rest of my life.
The stillness, the solitude, the quietness and the beauty were intoxicating.
Then we were given the option of a hearty fish or vegetable soup with bread and a hot drink in a traditional Sami tent before calling it a night.
For us, that meant a room in a small wooden cabin with a single triangular glass window in the ceiling, in case the northern lights decided to reappear.
It was a most cosy setting and I got a great night’s sleep.
Just remember to pee before you get into the room, because the cabins don’t have that facility. Mind you, very close by is a communal toilet and shower block.
The cost of a Snowmobile Safari with Lyngsfjord Adventure costs 1,895 Krone (or about $320 Australian) for adults and half price for children between 7 and 15.
An overnight stay in a wooden cabin requires guests to undertake both an evening and a morning activity immediately before and after the stay.
That web site again is lyngsfjord.com.
If you are interested in finding out more about what you can do in and around Tromso and the places you can stay, go to visittromso.no. That’s visittromso.no.
LEGENDS IN CONCERT NEW website review by Alexander Montgomery
Legends in Concert review by Alexander O. Montgomery
The Legends in Concert is arguably the closest where one would ever get to see and experience their favourite stars of all time, performing all under one roof at “The Palms” currently on show at Crown! And so, it was an absolutely magical moment for me to have been so privileged to be invited by the Editor in Chief of the “Bohemian Club and Rhapsody magazine” to this spectacular production and to enjoy first hand, an evening full of glamorous wonder of some of the world’s most incredible tribute artists who gave their all performing live vocals on stage together with an assembly of talented singers and dancers with signature choreography backed by a live band of top musicians. Suffice to say, everything I experienced last Friday at this concert was nothing short of incredulous wonder! The show opened at seven thirty sharp with Donna Summer screaming her lungs out belting her legendary hits which instantly brought the entire auditorium to life! Apart from Donna’s very strong and broad range vocals, I was also very much mesmerized by her stunning wardrobe which had so much sequins and rhinestones in that would make Rupaul, the Queen of drag Queens extremely jealous! Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Rogers and Rod Steward appeared next in line entertaining us with so much of their fanfare and energetic performance! At half time, the crowd streamed out to visit the bar just outside of the auditorium for their favourite beverage. While some did that, others decided to exercise their lungs by having a smoke at the outdoor area while some others took this time to admire and to purchase souvenirs at the memorabilia station. Stevie Wonder appeared after the concert resumed but it was definitely Michael Jackson who brought the house down! I kid you not. The Michael on stage looked very identical to the original artist that I even found myself yelling out to him when he appeared on stage! And by this time, with most already having had a drink or two and with some still sipping their wine in hand, everybody gyrated to Michael’s performance and was in awe of his signature moon walk. The stunning Tina Turner was next. Although her performance was very much on point, I was rather disappointed that her hit single “We don’t need another hero” was left out. Elvis Presley who I thought was even more gorgeous than the ultimate King of rock and roll Elvis himself, was left to the last. With his stunning blue coloured eyes, Elvis wasted no time in serenading us with his hits, connected and cheekily gave kisses to some of the ladies sitting in the extreme front row. After approximately three and a half hours of an extremely impressive night, Elvis left the building and so did I. I felt nostalgic and wished it never ended. I rate the entire experience of Legends in Concert a 9 out of 10 stars!!
photos: Alexander O Montgomery
review by Mike-Leanne Vallance
Direct from Las Vegas, Legends in Concert is showing at The Palms at Crown in Melbourne until 27 January 2019.
It is a jam packed night of great, non-stop entertainment that brings you eight of the best legends of music backed by a six piece band, two backing singers and eight talented dancers.
The show opens with Donna Summer getting us wound up with a number of her great hits and then she introduces Kenny Rogers Kenny who delivers his hits featuring his true country and western sound. Just when you feel lulled into the rhythm that is country music, Cyndi Lauper hits the stage. Cyndi bounces and twists all over the stage belting out her very unique sound as only Cyndi can. An unexpected surprise was a duet with Kenny Rogers singing Islands in the Stream – most well known as a duet with Dolly Parton. You could hear the audience draw breath as the original footage on the screens each side of the stage verify that they did, indeed, do a duet of this song. It’s worth keeping in mind that throughout all of the different legend performers the backing dancers provide support for the singers and enhance the acts to fill the entire stage with action and entertainment. The final act before interval was the one and only Rod Stewart. We were treated to everything you would expect from this living legend, including Maggie May and Sailing.
The second half of the show began with Stevie Wonder sitting at his keyboard and we were taken on a journey of the beautiful tunes that he is famous for. Then it was diva time and Tina Turner hit the stage. Tina strutted back and forth across the stage and cavorted with the male dancers as she belted out all of her best songs, before being joined by Rockin’ Rod Stewart to perform Hot Legs together.
As the show progressed the legends just got better. The next act was Michael Jackson. We experienced all of his fantastic hits, including a most exciting version of Thriller that involved the backing dancers in great costumes. Michael also performed some special moon-walking routines for us as well as engaging in some very “Michael like” banter with the audience directly in front of him.
Probably not surprising, no legends show would be complete without a visit from the king, Elvis. The king took us on one of his usual stage performances, including where he gives a number of lady fans his sought after, perspiration filled neck scarves! The show culminated with a grand-finale performance where all the legends were on stage together with the band, backing singers and dancers who treated us to a thoroughly exciting ending.
We would strongly recommend this show to anyone who is looking for a high-octane, carefree night that will bring back endless memories; especially for those of us who are a little older. Thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining in a top venue for this type of show. It is a night filled with great songs, great performances by this hard working and dedicated artists and a night where you finish the show fondly looking back at those who are simply “Legends”.
TRAVELLING DIARY: TROMSO, NORWAY DAY 1 NEW by Alex First MAPT Tromso Day 1 (12th January, 2019)
After landing at Tromso Airport the previous evening, my wife and I caught a bus to our hotel, the 152-room Thon, where we would spend six of the next eight nights.
There are two Thon hotels opposite each other in the main street in town, ours and the 132-room Thon Polar.
Tromso, which is 1,150 kilometres north of Norway’s capital, Oslo (as the crow flies), has a population of more than 70 thousand.
Then there are additional 10,000 plus students from the city’s university – the world’s northernmost by location – who stay there during their studies.
After a good night’s sleep in the soft, warm beds, we awoke to a lavish buffet breakfast, where the choices of cereals, bread, cold cuts, vegetables, eggs, cupcakes and hot and cold drinks appeared all but endless.
At 10 in the morning we were met by our experienced and knowledgeable guide Gidsken Halland, who took us on a walking tour of the city.
Our first stop was at the Olhallen Pub, which until recently held the record for the most Norwegian beers on tap – 67.
The bar, which has been operating since 1928, also brews its own beer from a microbrewery that started in 1877.
Next up was the polar museum, named Polaris, the highlight of which was seeing their four seals being fed.
Polaris has two bearded seals – the only museum in Norway to house these marine mammals in captivity – together with a couple of harbor seals.
They are sleek skinned, beautiful looking creatures, which we saw up close and personal. They are also very smart and the trainers go out of their way to stimulate them with a series of activities during the day.
A pregnant bearded seal can grow to a weight of 400 kilograms.
One of the trainers, Cathrin Dalen, explained to us that the males are passive and “sing” to attract females during the mating season. I reckon if that was true of humans, I would have been very unlucky in the love game.
Next we popped in to see the impressive and evocative exhibits at the Nord Norsk Kunst Museum, Tromso’s visual arts museum that opened its doors in 1988 and moved to its current location in 2001.
Among a broader array of pieces, it features the work of modern Sami artists – Sami being the name of the indigenous people who first inhabited Norway.
We passed a Lutheran church, one of two in town, that dates back to 1861 … before taking a local bus to visit Tromso Museum to learn about the northern lights, which eluded us during our visit to neighbouring Finland.
At 6:30 at night we walked a few hundred metres from our hotel to the Raddison Blu, the starting point for Villmarkssenter’s Aurora Husky Visit, which included dinner.
A half hour coach ride and we arrived at Aurora Camp, where we met our guides Cristina Milani and Ruud Westra.
Villmarkssenter has 304 Alaskan huskies in work five days a week between November and April and they are training a further 35 pups.
We got to meet many of them and to interact with them as part of the tour.
The huskies cover as much as 60 kilometres in a day and because of the energy they expend in so doing, they consume up to 9,000 calories.
Typically, they work until the age of 10, although some still keep going at 12 or 13. Life expectancy is 14 or 15, but they had one husky who lived until the age of 17.
The company’s founder also has another 40 racing huskies that compete in long distance events, which can involve as many as 200 kilometres in a single day over a period of a week or more.
After patting and viewing the huskies in and around their kennels for the best part of an hour, we moved to a viewing platform for the northern lights, although, tonight – as previously for us – they were a no show. Not that we were taking it personally. Not much, anyway. In jest, I called my wife a jinx.
Tromso is one of the two best places in the world to see the Aurora Borealis, where it shows up 100 days of the year.
It was Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei who coined the term for the astronomical phenomenon observed mostly at high latitudes.
The lights are typically green, sometimes blue and even red.
The green and blue lights appear between 80 and 500 kilometres above Earth and the red between 500 and 800 clicks from the planet.
130 years ago a Norwegian scientist named Kristian Birkeland – who was nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times, but failed to get the gong – theorised how the northern lights are created and built a machine to prove his belief.
The Norwegians recognised his efforts by placing his effigy on the 200 Krone note, although last year they replaced his face with that of a cod fish. I’m not quite sure what that says.
After being served a hot drink and marshmallows and given some facts about the northern lights, we moved to a wooden kota – or teepee – to enjoy a dinner of a spicy vegetable and cod fish soup (there you go), along with homemade chocolate cake.
Thereafter, a few myths about the northern lights were aired on the Aurora Borealis viewing platform – with still no sighting – before we returned to the city at 11pm.
Villmarkssenter’s Aurora Husky Visit with dinner costs 990 Kroner per person (or around $170 Australian).
To find out more about the numerous activities available in and around Tromso, the best web site is visittromso.no. That’s visittromso.no. It lists what to see and do and the places to stay.
TRAVELLING DIARY: HELSINKI, FINLAND DAY 2 NEW by Alex First MAPT Helsinki Day 2
After a wholesome and tasty hot and cold buffet breakfast at the delightful art deco boutique hotel Lilla Roberts, which included a vitamin C boost courtesy of a sea buckthorn shot, my wife and I were met by a most friendly guide, Heidi Johansson.
She spent the next three hours with us introducing us to the delights of Finnish craft, design and architecture. We found it most inspiring.
First up, we caught up with a fish artist by the name of Liisa Saarni.
When I say fish artist, she is the daughter of a fisherman and 20 years ago became the first person in Finland to make products from fish skin.
Typically, she uses a fish called burbot because its scales are small and she tells me burbot is also good for soup. She also works with salmon, cod and eel.
In any event, she tans the skin and it then looks and feels like leather.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. Before entering Liisa’s shop I too thought the resultant products would smell, but surprise, surprise they do not.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of manual labour involved in crafting everything from belts and wallets to key holders, hats, bags and ties … and more besides.
Liisa also combines her fish leather creations with leather from reindeer and moose.
She has some really nice pieces that are well worth checking out at a shop called Galateia.
As I have already mentioned, one of Heidi’s foci was original Finnish design.
When we visited Rovaniemi, I spoke with awe about the work of Finland’s most famous designer Alvar Aalto.
He was responsible for six different projects in Rovaniemi, along with the design of the town itself.
But his work is spread throughout Finland, including Helsinki. He was keen to liberate the materials he worked with from what he called their geometric prison.
When you see his beautiful and utilitarian designs – many crafted from light timber – you can see how he singled handedly changed the design world and left an ever-lasting legacy.
He worked extensively with wood and glass and even though he has passed away he lives on through a store called Artek, which he founded with his wife and two others in 1935 – and another that stocks his glass creations. The latter is called iittala.
We also entered another shop – this one called Aarikka – that started with the concept of a wooden button and now mother’s legacy has been passed on to her daughter.
Aarikka stocks all sorts of wooden creations. A sheep made of various coloured wooden balls, looking a bit like Smarties, only round, took my fancy.
Heidi pointed out a number of Helsinki’s most noteworthy architecturally designed buildings, many art nouveau in style, but then stopped us in our tracks when she spoke about the large ferris wheel that sits alongside the Allas Sea Pool. That is the one we visited last night.
I have mentioned before how much the Finns like their saunas. No, “like”, is too weak a descriptor – “love” their saunas. Basically, they can’t do without them.
How’s this then for an off the wall idea? They have even built a sauna into one of the compartments of the large ferris wheel I just spoke about. I kid you not. Amazing.
A very special part of Helsinki is Senate Square, which was designed by a Berlin-based architect called Carl Ludwig Engel on the say so of the Russians, who used to rule Finland.
Engel though was not only responsible for many of the beautiful buildings in the square that date back to the 1800s – including the spectacular Lutheran Cathedral, government palace and main university building – but for several others in Helsinki.
The last stop on our fascinating tour of the city was to the newly opened three storey public library called Oodi.
It was built to commemorate Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence in December 2017, although delays saw it inaugurated a year later, namely but weeks ago.
What a stupendous place it is – striking with its wood and glass exterior and even more remarkable inside.
This is not like any other library I have seen … anywhere in the world. It is user friendly in every sense of the word.
Books in a massive open plan wood and cloud ceiling design, complete with trees in tubs and a café on the top floor are but one of its attractions.
Importantly, on the second level you can use a remarkable array of professional equipment such as large scale and 3D printers for free (or the equivalent of $1 for up to four hours when it comes to the latter).
Or you can use a commercial music studio, again for free.
Perhaps you want your own enclosed work space. Granted.
On the ground floor is what appears to be a circular stair case leading to the upper floors, but in fact it is an optical illusion.
Take a closer look at there are actually two stair cases that simply give the appearance of being one.
Written on them are the whimsical notions from the public of who the library can be used by – princes and paupers alike.
Also on ground level is a movie theatre, a multi-purpose auditorium and a café and salad bar.
The facility also has a couple of play areas for children.
I love everything about Oodi Library, which you simply must see when you visit Finland.
Heidi had really energised us and given us a most engaging and colourful introduction to the wonderful city that is Helsinki.
Unfortunately, with that, it was time to pack our bags and catch a tram to the central train station … mere minutes away.
A half hour train trip to Helsinki Airport followed.
Then it was a one and a half hour Finnair flight to Oslo, the capital of Norway, with just enough time to transfer onto an SAS flight to Tromso, which took a couple of hours.
TRAVELLING DIARY: HELSINKI, FINLAND DAY 1 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Helsinki Day 1 (10th January, 2019)
After a quick breakfast at Torassieppi resort, we hit the road in our SUV from Europcar and headed for Kittila Airport … about an hour’s drive.
We dropped off the car and caught a Norwegian flight to Helsinki, which took about an hour and a half.
Then it was a train into the city – another half hour – and a 10 minute tram ride to very close to our hotel, the centrally located, elegant and stylish Lilla Roberts.
The building in which it is housed was built in 1909 and was initially used as a power plant to fire up the city of Helsinki.
The police department took it over in 1974 and retained it until it was vacated in 2012.
Hotel Lilla Roberts has 130 beautifully appointed, spacious rooms across five categories, including suites – all kitted out in black and fawn, with very comfortable beds and great showers.
Dinner and breakfast at the boutique property was in Krog Roba restaurant, which seats 100 people.
Sourcing local food, the dinner menu consists of Nordic classics, as well as vegetarian and zero-waste options.
Our starter that night was a combination of shrimps with dill and toast along with juniper pickled salmon with pickled cucumber and rye malt bread.
Then followed marble sirloin steak with fried Jerusalem artichoke and leaf kale.
I should mention a few breakfast specialties.
First up, when you enter the restaurant for brekkie on a tray are sea buckthorn shots, a bitter tasting orange berry drink which has – believe it or not – more vitamin C in a tiny shot glass than 10 oranges. Let’s just say it is an acquired taste. Apparently the Finns love it.
Gravad Lax is salmon seasoned with salt and sugar, to which they add crushed juniper berries and fennel seeds, which provide a hint of licorice flavour.
Honey Mead is a locally produced non alcoholic beverage made of honey, which tastes a little like champagne.
The breads, including two house breads – one being a sourdough and the other being a sweet dark malted loaf – along with nettle dry bread and small seeded rolls are to die for. I love my bread.
The hotel also has a cocktail bar in the lobby, along with a fitness centre and two meeting rooms and is part of the Kamp Collection Hotel group – that is Kamp spelt K-A-M-P.
I should mention that before dinner we walked 10 minutes or so to one of Finland’s great attractions – a sauna.
I am talking about a communal place of relaxation. Finns think of saunas not as a luxury but as a necessity.
In town is the Allas Sea Pool, featuring men’s only, women’s only and a mixed sauna, as well as three pools – one set at sea temperature, so at the moment we are talking about zero degrees (I think that is where the word “bracing” comes in).
After relaxing in the glowing heat of a sauna, set at 80 degrees Celsius, many locals – in particular – do take the plunge, giving the whole body a tingling feeling.
Allas Sea Pool is open from 6:30am to 9pm Monday through Friday and from 9 to 9 on Saturday and 9 to 8 on Sunday.
To find out more, go to allasseapool.fi. A single adult entry is 14 Euro (that’s a little more than $20 Australian). You can also buy a membership.
TRAVELLING DIARY: TORASSIEPPI, FINLAND DAY 2 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Torassieppi (Finland) Day 2 (9th January, 2019)
Waking up after a cosy night in a log cabin at Torassieppi resort, my wife and I had a lovely buffet breakfast before walking a couple of hundred metres to join a three and a half hour local culture tour operated by Torassieppi’s parent company, Harriniva.
Our guide was a jolly chap with a great sense of humour, Arto Huhtamaeki, who was joined by the equally accommodating Mari Kytola.
Immediately, we were introduced to a team of reindeer – that numbered six – and stepped into a sleigh to ride into the forest.
At first the team was lightly tethered to each other, but pretty soon we were given a light rope and the reindeer did the rest, one following the other.
It was a beaut experience, made all the more so because of the snow-covered trees and sublime environment in which we found ourselves.
Nature is its own wonderland in this part of the world. No amount of adjectives will suffice.
Some 2,000 people live in Muonio, the nearest town, some 20 kilometres away, and there are 6,000 reindeer.
To give you a broader context, Lapland – the northern part of Finland – is home to 200,000 people and as many reindeer.
The local culture tour was centred around one of the oldest reindeer farms in Finland.
Arto gave us the intriguing history of the family that lived on the farm until recently and that started with a wooden hut which was cut in half and moved there after a family dispute.
It was living history because what we saw was a typical Lappish homestead from the early 1900s.
The home has been retained with its original belongings, including the implements the family used and even old photographs hanging on the wall. Fascinating stuff.
Then it was time to feed the reindeer. Moss in hand, it quickly became a feeding frenzy and another beaut opportunity to take photos and video footage.
Talking of photo opps, Arto and Mari’s next stop was the snow hotel, which is part of Torassieppi resort – magnificent carvings out of snow in all 10 rooms, in the ice bar and in the ice restaurant.
By 2 o’clock a warm and hearty lunch of reindeer and vegetable soup was on the agenda in a kota – a Finnish teepee.
The whole thing was a terrific experience.
It was then time for us to move accommodation at Torassieppi, from our log cabin to glam camping or glamping, as it has become known – more specifically an Aurora Dome, so named because of its shape. Wow. What a room. What an experience.
It is beautiful and luxurious inside with mood lighting, your own fireplace, a couple of comfy chairs with thick white fur padding added for extra comfort and the most glorious bed with striking motif bedhead. The piece de resistance was a reindeer horn chandelier.
Importantly, it is literally metres from the lake, which was frozen over, with a clear view of the lake through see through crystal clear thick plastic sheeting. Magnificent.
I can only imagine what the view would be like if the northern lights decided to pay us a visit.
Our second dinner at Torassieppi resort was just as mouth watering as on night one.
This time, I had a sweet potato soup and shrimp and garden salad, followed by smoked reindeer with mashed potato, broccoli and spinach.
I am not usually a meat eater, save for chicken and occasionally turkey, but I found the reindeer extremely tasty and tender.
Dessert was fruit salad with a vanilla custard.
At 9pm, we were met in the restaurant by Esa Pahkala, who would guide us on a Husky Night Adventure safari.
First up, a short video on the dos and don’ts of how to operate a husky sled.
In short, as the driver, you are standing and you start with both feet on the brake.
When you want to get the huskies moving, which I tell you takes very little effort, because they are champing at the bit to get going, you take one foot off the brake and place it on the ski that pulls the sled.
Then you ease your second foot off the brake.
If you have a passenger, in my case, my wife – she sits in front of where you are standing and has hand grips by her sides.
We had a very eager pack of huskies pulling our sled through the forest and across the lake. Because we were in formation with other husky sleds, we couldn’t let the huskies run at the speed they were keen to maintain, so we used the brake quite frequently.
We spent about an hour on the safari and the temperature was hovering around minus 20, so warm layers of clothing were essential. Hand warmers also help.
As on our snowmobiling adventure the previous night and the culture tour that morning, Torassieppi resort supplied the appropriate cold weather gear to put on top of your own clothes. That included a thick one-piece snow suit, gloves, extra socks, boots, balaclava and head lights.
Torassieppi is all about sustainable tourism. Even their heating system is thermal. The area itself is so clean you can readily not only drink the water from the tap, but from the local lakes and rivers.
Would I recommend Torassieppi? Would I what? Incredible place. Everything about it is first class. It is an experience you will remember for the rest of your life, just like we will.
We would certainly have loved to have spent a few more nights here, but unfortunately we were checking out after breakfast the next day.
To find out more, go to harriniva.fi.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND LIVE NEW website review : Oksana Newton
Last night we had a great opportunity to welcome Alice in Wonderland written by Lewis Carrols live on the stage of Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne.
This classic children story took me back when I was a little kid.
This story much is loved not only by kids, but loved by many generations.
It’s was nice to see adults who enjoyed watching the performance together with theirs kids.
I should admit that whole atmosphere and presentation was very warm and welcoming. Alice In Wonderland Live took us to the adventure of nonsense and unexpected surprises: down the rabbit hole we meet the well known Caterpillar, most adorable Rabbit, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, March Hare, Dormouse and of cause her royal highness Queen of Hearts. I shell say she was a stunning beauty. She surely won my heart.
Through the story together with Alice we were taken to different places. First it was the endless Rabbit hole of course. The followed the mysterious things and talking doors. After that adventure we visited beautiful garden full of flowers. In the garden we meet the amazing Caterpillar . I wonder what he was smoking about while smoking, hm? Whatever it was , it was a nice Caterpillar who turned into a Butterfly. After that we went to see Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the two cute guys who made me laugh and smile. The reminded me of two misbehaving kids, naive and in same time good friends. And of course how there can be any good story without a famous tea party? Every girl loves tea parties and our Alice was not an exception. Dormouse was my favourite: very funny, always sleepy and extremely cute. The tea party could not take place without a mouse. She was a star of the tea show. At the and we had the most amazing experience when we met Her Royal Highness, The Queen of Hearts. Her appearance just blew the whole theatre away . The audience was laughing endlessly. That was a great idea and great choice of the actor. I absolutely loved it.
would highly recommend this show to my friends and anybody else. It’s a fantastic time to step back to your magical childhood, naivety, innocence, adventure time and joy.
So please take your children with you and have fun together with Alice and her friends.
Thanks for taking me back to my fun time of me being a kid. Hope to see this theater soon with new shows and ideas. Kind regards Oksana Newton.
photo: Oksana Newton
TRAVELLING DIARY: TORASSIEPPI, FINLAND DAY 1 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Torassieppi Day 1 (9th January, 2019)
Unfortunately, today was the day to leave Rovaniemi – my wife and I had had a great time there – but not before some local shopping for warmer pants than we had brought with us and some heavy duty boots.
Dressing for the arctic conditions is critically important, especially when the temperature has plummeted to close to minus 20 degrees Celsius.
We picked up an impressive looking SUV from Europcar’s Rovaniemi office and hit the road, bound for Torassieppi, 20 kilometres from Muonio, about three hours away through magnificent snow country.
As we were in no hurry to get there, we stopped several times to take in the breathtaking views and with them photos.
A ski resort called Levi with its lit up pristine white downhill run immediately drew our attention. We just had to stop there too and take a few more happy snaps.
Upon our arrival in Torassieppi – a resort that features cabins, glam camping and a snow castle – we were warmly greeted and given appropriate clothing for tonight’s snowmobile excursion.
That included a one-piece snow suit, an extra pair of socks, a balaclava and hat. The helmet would come later.
Then we were shown to our lodgings – a spacious and comfortable log cabin complete with its own sauna, that could sleep six … only in our case it was just the two of us.
Dinner at Torassieppi restaurant was sensational. I had a homemade carrot soup, chicken, pasta and vegetable salad, a main meal of turkey with smoked potatoes and roasted beetroot. Dessert was cloudberries with vanilla custard made from oats, complete with a cloudberry liqueur topping.
In Finland, berries grow readily in forests and swamps (as well as others that are cultivated) and there are plenty to choose from … such as lingonberries, cloudberries, seabuckthorn, cranberries, black current and blueberries, to name but a few.
Torassieppi restaurant specialises in locally-produced organic food, which is extremely moreish.
Then at 9 that night a group of seven of us who were undertaking the night snowmobiling were shown a short video on the dos and don’ts of snowmobile etiquette – how to handle the vehicle and treat it with respect.
Our guide Kristiina Korhonen gave us all helmets and reiterated the key points made in the video.
Then we were off on an exhilarating journey that covered 30 kilometres, including four lakes, swamp areas and the forest, the latter of which, in particular, included plenty of small moguls … adding to the challenge.
Witnessing the northern lights again proved elusive, but undertaking a night snowmobile safari across the varied terrain was still lots of fun.
Torassieppi offers a host of outdoor activities, which also includes reindeer, husky and horse rides, snow shoeing, cross country skiing and ice fishing. Brilliant stuff.
It is on the edge of a national park and get this, regarded as home to the cleanest air in the world. Who wouldn’t want to check that out?
To find out more, go to harriniva.fi – Harriniva being the name of a third generation family run business that operates Torassieppi, along with four other resorts, all in Lapland.
TRAVELLING DIARY: ROVANIEMI, FINLAND DAY 3 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Rovaniemi Day 3 (8th January, 2019)
After checking out of the Arctic City Hotel, we were met in the lobby at 9:15am by our guide for the day and the coordinator of our trip to Rovaniemi, the charming Salla Tauriainen from Visit Rovaniemi.
We took a taxi to a place of awe and wonder, namely Santa Claus Village – yes, that’s right, the place the Jolly Fat Man calls home.
It is where you can meet Father Christmas year-round.
He is beavering away with his elves in a quaint two-storey wooden building, which comes with plenty of surprises.
They include special doors, which you can’t open but which feature tiny peep holes, from which you can sneak a peek at the goings on behind the scenes.
There is also a large time piece to ensure Santa isn’t late in meeting the needs of children around the world.
Santa Claus Village – which is free to enter – is spread out over a kilometre or more and features activities, accommodation and shopping.
In fact, between 40 and 50 businesses operate within the village, which is eight kilometres from Rovaniemi and just a couple of clicks from Rovaniemi Airport.
As you can imagine, it is a very happy place with smiles on faces everywhere you look.
It is also gorgeous architecturally.
Everyone gets the chance to meet Santa – littlies and biggies alike – and take a photo with him. Then it is up to the elves to maintain a helping hand to the guests.
An important point to note is that Santa Claus Village is also the dividing line for the Arctic Circle – a brilliant blue line of lights above your head marks the spot. Photo opp, indeed.
One of the biggest attractions of Santa Claus Village is Santa Claus’ main, government owned, post office, where you can buy and send special postmarked envelopes and cards and where letters from half a million people a year arrive.
In recent years most correspondence from a single nation has come from China, which overtook the UK, which had been number one for a long time.
As you can imagine, Santa Claus’ main post office is a hive of activity.
Also prominent at Santa Claus Village are activities with native animal species. For instance, we went on a reindeer sleigh ride through the snow … with snow covered trees all around us. Absolutely beautiful and lots of fun. I actually found it particular calm and relaxing.
If you would care for something pacier, you can also be pulled by huskies.
If snow castles take your fancy, you have a couple of options.
Snowman World is a brilliant place of visit. It features an ice bar and ice restaurant, with magnificent snow carvings on the walls – one more beautiful than the next – and ice carvings in the restaurant.
Also within the premises is a snow bed … and outside are snow slides.
Entry is 25 Euros.
The second castle features large representations of Finland’s favourite cartoon characters, called Moomins, in various guises and poses, all carved out of snow.
Moomins were originally the central characters in a series of books and a comic strip by Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson.
They are a family of round fairy tale characters with large snouts that make them resemble hippopotami.
I already referenced the shopping. There are plenty of special Finnish retail outlets.
One that took my fancy was Marttiini, a 91-year-old local knife manufacturing business – knives being traditional gifts in Finland, a country in which locals spend a great deal of time outdoors.
Many of the most beautiful knives feature handles carved from birch and curly birch.
The company even manufactured special limited edition knives featuring gold and silver inlays to mark Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence in 2017.
If you want to stay within Santa Claus’ Village you can do so in spectacular glass igloos in a place called Glass Resort – absolutely stunning stand-alone two storey structures with glass sides and ceilings, complete with private showers and toilets.
Otherwise, there are more traditional chalets or apartments.
Within the village, you have the choice of several restaurants and eateries as well as access to heaps of outdoor activities, like snow mobiling, snow shoeing and ice fishing. Otherwise, a northern lights flight might be appealing.
I tell you this place is absolutely breathtaking – well worth a visit. In fact, it is a must on a trip to Lapland. We spent seven hours there and could easily have spent more, but we had further activities planned.
For more information, go to santaclausvillage.info.
We spent the night in one of 20 panorama huts at Arctic Circle Wilderness Lodge, operated by Wild Nordic.
The huts – which feature wide panoramic windows – were designed and built by a Finnish company, Pine Art Production, which specialises in modern wood design.
The whole idea of the huts is to get as close to nature as possible, while enjoying the comfort of the indoors.
After dining at Arctic Circle Wilderness Lodge, we met our tour guide, Mirko Saimovaara from Wild Nordic who took us – in a group of six – on an evening snowshoe hike deep in the surrounding forest.
I should mention that when we were in Santa Claus’ Village, before we were driven to our overnight lodgings, our driver – who works for Wild Nordic – also kitted us out in a heavy one-piece snow suit, boots and gloves.
That was in preparation for the snowshoe hike.
It was Mirko who supplied the snowshoes just before our tour started.
It was our first experience at putting on snowshoes and I must admit I found myself awkward and uncoordinated at first.
Suffice to say, Mirko did the hard work and ensured my snowshoes, and those my wife wore, were fitted correctly and comfortably.
I actually found it much easier to walk in heavier snow than on the lighter stuff … and soon got the hang of it.
The trees around us were laden with snow and the temperature dropped from minus 7 to minus 19 during the best part of a couple of hours in the forest, but honestly I didn’t feel cold because of the layers I was wearing.
It was a winter wonderland in the true sense of those words. The air was crisp and and clean, and the only appreciable noise was that coming from our snow shoes as we took step after step in the soft snow.
We stopped in the middle of a lake that was frozen solid and stared upwards into the night sky … hundreds – if not thousands – of stars twinkling.
Although it was a clear night, there was no sign of the illusive northern lights.
Soon after, we stopped in a clearing, where Mirko lit a warming fire and we enjoyed hot chocolate and a sweet pastry before returning to the Wilderness Lodge.
Wild Nordic’s snowshoe hike was a most positive experience for a pair of novices like us.
It gave us the ability to be able to commune with nature in the very best of environments.
To book, go to wildnordic.fi and you will find plenty of information about all of the company’s activities and arctic adventures, along with accommodation options.
A snowshoe hike costs 79 Euros per person for adults and 59 Euros for children aged between four and 14.
Remember, to find out all about what Rovaniemi and its surrounds offer, go to visitrovaniemi.fi.
TRAVELLING DIARY: ROVANIEMI, FINLAND DAY 2 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Rovaniemi Day 2
My wife and I spent our second night at the Arctic City Hotel in Rovaniemi and then enjoyed a hot and cold buffet breakfast at Monterosa restaurant, one of two eateries within the hotel.
At 9am we were picked up by one of four founders of Aurora eMotion, the world’s first and only electric snowmobile, so whisper quiet, no pollution and no less power than the conventional petrol driven models.
Olli Haavikko is a mechanical engineer and helped develop the electric snow mobile over a period of eight years.
With perfection of the vehicles their goal, the company only began offering snow mobile safaris to the public in March last year … and understandably they are already proving very popular with tour operators.
The safaris take place 25 kilometres from Rovaniemi and utilise a large lake – which is frozen over – along with the nearby forest, so you get to experience the benefits of a snow mobile at speed and cross country.
The vistas are simply breathtaking and I loved the fact that the snowmobiles were not only new, but had no smell. We stopped plenty of times to take many photos.
The company provides all the necessary gear so you need to simply dress warmly for the winter and you get a bib and brace set, a thick jacket, gloves, balaclava, scarf, an extra pair of socks and, most importantly, a helmet.
Aurora eMotion has a series of experienced guides who provide daily safaris from the start of December until mid April.
A two-hour program costs 119 Euros and a three-hour program is 139 or 149 Euros – the latter offering the chance to see the northern lights.
The longer expeditions include a stop at a specially constructed kota (a Finnish teepee) with a fireplace where you can enjoy a traditional Finnish feed, perhaps crepes or sausages with a hot locally sourced blueberry juice.
One interesting fact about the Kota is that it has a series of glass panels in the roof, which enables you to see Aurora Borealis without moving from the spot, if the climatic conditions allow it.
Aurora eMotion has a huge focus on sustainable tourism.
The onus is on experiencing the pristine wilderness without interruption, basking in the silence and the smell of living pine trees, spruce and birch.
But beyond that, they source food locally and even the knives and forks they provide on their three-hour safaris are wooden and recyclable.
To book a safari, go to auroraemotion.com.
Now, it must be revealed that Olli comes from a particularly creative and diligent family.
I have already mentioned that he heads up a unique value proposition when it comes to snowmobiles as he is both inventor and entrepreneur.
His brother, Ville Haavikko, was studying line surveying at a technical college and they offered a course in snow and ice construction.
The teacher showed him photographs of the Ice Hotel in Sweden and told his students that here you have it, the Swedes could make a business out of snow and ice.
Ville went home that night, Googled the Ice Hotel and turned to his girlfriend and said “now I know what we are going to do”.
She thought he was absolutely crazy and asked him whether he was drunk.
Next thing you know – a couple of weeks later – the pair was on a scouting mission to the Ice Hotel.
In fact, it proved to be a fateful move in more ways than one because Ville also decided to propose to his girlfriend at the Ice Hotel, suggesting they get married at their own Ice Chapel.
Heidi naturally asked Ville how he would know how to build a hotel out of ice, let alone an ice chapel.
He gave a pragmatic response, namely “if the Swedes can do it, we can do it better”.
Ville was 24 and Heidi 23 at the time, so he felt they had nothing to lose.
That was in the year 2006 and on Christmas Day two years later The Arctic Snow Hotel had its first paying customers.
Now each November, Ville begins the onerous task of constructing a new snow hotel drawing water from the nearby lake.
He employs a team of sculptors to carve specially themed rooms within the snow hotel, which also features an ice chapel, an ice bar and an ice restaurant. The temperature is permanently minus five degrees.
The 2019 version of the Arctic Snow Hotel can accommodate 75 people, with between two and six people in each individual room.
It features eight carved suites covering madness, creatures of the sea, water lilies, gambling, flowers and more. There are a further 21 ice rooms within the snow hotel that do not feature carvings, simply beds made of ice.
Guests are given sleeping bags with a separate fleece inner lining. Interestingly, you don’t even have to wear thermals to bed – simple underwear or pyjamas are all that is required, even though the temperature inside the rooms is hardly toasty.
Ville’s creativity seems to know no bounds because he decided it would be possible to install snow saunas, something that had never happened before in any commercial enterprise anywhere in the world.
The idea of extreme heat within extreme cold is certainly counter intuitive and yet Finland is the home of saunas.
The country has a population of 5.5 million and two million saunas.
So, Ville trialed the idea and the concept became a reality when he opened the snow hotel and has been a mainstay ever since.
In short, the walls of the snow saunas are two metres of solid ice and once a bucket of water is thrown onto a stove inside that generates heat and with it steam, which dissipates in a matter of seconds.
The temperature inside goes from between minus five and minus 20 to plus 80 degrees Celsius in the space of one minute.
Each use of the sauna is kept to a maximum of 15 minutes and after that they have a break of a half hour to allow the inside to refreeze.
In the meantime, patrons can use regular saunas or enjoy an outdoor jacuzzi set in the snow.
A snow sauna experience, which lasts for up to one and a half hours and includes all I have just mentioned, costs 65 Euros per person.
The Arctic Snow Hotel opens on 20th December each year until 8th March the following year and then the snow is allowed to melt and return to the lake.
The cost of accommodation starts at 260 Euros per night for a couple and tops out at 350 Euros for two people for a suite.
The facilities also extend to adjoining kotas, one where they cook salmon in an open fire in the middle of the room and the other featuring a glass roof where you can comfortably watch the northern lights when they appear.
Incidentally, you don’t have to pay for overnight accommodation to see the snow hotel.
It offers people the opportunity to look at the creations and to have dinner at the ice restaurant. Entry this year is 17 Euros per person. A three-course meal at the ice restaurant costs between 50 and 80 Euros per person.
But Ville and his wife haven’t stopped there.
A number of guests asked them whether they have warm accommodation as well as cold.
That got Ville thinking and the last thing he was going to do was to create a conventional hotel.
He was aware that elsewhere in Finland, they have built glass roofed igloos, but he decided that wasn’t good enough and he wanted to make a luxurious updated version of the same.
So, in 2014 he built the first glass igloos, which offered greater privacy that the original model and the added benefit of an indoor toilet and shower.
Over the ensuring four years he built a total of 39 such igloos that can accommodate between two and five people each.
For those wanting notification about the emergence of Aurora Borealis, those staying in the Arctic Snow Hotel can be personally woken, while a general announcement over the public address system is made at the site of the glass igloos.
The cost of a glass igloo varies from 300 Euros per night for a couple to 900 Euros for a five person room during the peak season of Christmas and New Year.
To book for either the Arctic Snow Hotel or the glass igloos, go to arcticsnowhotel.fi.
At 6 that night we walked to the offices of adventure tourism company Safartica to undertake its Aurora Ice Floating experience.
The three hour activity saw our most accommodating guide Tommy Laukkanen drive us and another couple in a mini van to a lake some 25 kilometres away.
Once we arrived, we gathered in a wood cabin, kept on our clothes, but removed our shoes and jackets and were given a special insulated whole body suit, which covered both our feet and hands and even our heads. Only our face remained visible.
A few moments later and a walk of tens of metres saw us at the shore of the icy waters of the lake.
A few steps down a metal ladder and we lay down in the water and the buoyancy suit saw us floating calmly and effortlessly with only the night sky for company.
Peaceful and relaxing.
Our guide also was happy to take photos and videos and said the minimum floating time was 20 minutes, but because we only had a small group we could stay in the water for longer, if we chose to.
He even managed to find time to make a fire and serve a hot drink and munchies.
Safartica’s Aurora Ice Floating, so called because you have the chance to see the northern lights while horizontal, costs 92 Euros per person.
To book this or any other of more than a dozen Safartica tours, go to safartica.com.
TRAVELLING DIARY: ROVANIEMI, FINLAND DAY 1 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Rovaniemi Day 1 (6th January, 2019)
So sad to be leaving Kemi today … in particular Snow Castle Resort and the Seaside Glass Villas.
To find out more about Snow Castle Resort and the host of outdoor activities they offer, go to www.experience365.fi.
After another hearty and wholesome hot and cold buffet breakfast at the resort, we caught a train from Kemi Railway Station for the hour and a half trip to Rovaniemi, where we were looked after by Visit Rovaniemi.
Their web site is visitrovaniemi.fi, where you will find a lot of information about where to stay and what to see and do.
Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland and boasts a population of 60,000.
A five-minute bus ride from the train station and we alighted just outside our hotel, the Arctic City Hotel.
Built in 1978, it is a second generation privately run establishment with 90 rooms over three floors and a sauna and meeting rooms above that.
The Arctic City Hotel has two restaurants – Monterosa, which serves a la carte Lappish cuisine (reindeer, salmon and fruits of the forest) and Bullbargrill, a sports bar with snacks, burgers and ribs.
Soon after, we made our way to Arktikum, a scientific research facility and a museum which has exhibits pertaining to the arctic, Finnish Lapland and the native Sami people.
We were met by our very personable guide, Frank Nieuwenhuizen, who would spent the next four hours with us.
Arktikum was opened in 1991 and is the most popular museum in town.
My favourite exhibit was the traditional wedding dress and suit worn by a Sami – rich and colourfully decorated … really making a statement.
You also have a number of examples of wild animal species, like the Elk or Moose, the Wolverine and the Brown Bear.
During the Second World War, most of Lapland’s major buildings were destroyed by the Germans and you see what Rovaniemi looked like before the annihilation.
In the science museum, you have an installation that shows how much daylight Lapland receives throughout the year. In fact, during the winter solstice there is one day where you can’t see the sun at all.
Conversely, during midsummer for one day there is sun for 24 hours, which incidentally is the day our guide got married and took a photograph of all guests at the point of midnight.
The building in which Arktikum is housed is special architecturally, both inside and out. It spans 171 metres and features a tunnel glass roof that faces north.
It is a landmark of Rovaniemi and the first thing you see if you arrive in the city by air.
I very much recall from our visit early last year that the Finns distinguish themselves because of their excellence in design.
Next stop with Frank was the municipal library designed by Finland’s famous architect, Alvar Aalto, who is responsible for creating some of the country’s most significant buildings.
I have to say that I love his work – his style, his use of light – both artificial and man-made – and space and the materials he has used.
In Rovaniemi alone Aalto was responsible for six different projects plus the design of the town itself after the devastation of the war. He did so so that it resembled the head of a reindeer.
The interior of the library – which he designed in the ‘50s and which opened in 1965 – is spectacular.
Dare I say, Aalto has allowed the space to breathe, employing a number of light coloured timbers and unique light fixtures to show off the books and the sunken study areas.
It is a great place to take photographs. I took plenty.
Our third and final stop with Frank was Korundi, which is the town’s modern art museum that opened in 1986 and which has a series of ever-changing exhibitions from around the world.
Our good fortune was to see some special glass wear, native Alaskan art, the work of a Polish illustrator and an exhibition about love, to name but a few.
Also within Korundi is a 340-seat concert hall used by the Rovaniemi Chamber Orchestra that opened in 2009 and like the other buildings I have already spoken about is distinguished by its light timbers. In this case a series of coloured panels on the walls give it extra panache.
If you would like to engage Frank as a guide, all you need to do is to go to his website, www.afrankidea.com.
At 7:40pm we walked a few hundred metres to the headquarters of Beyond Arctic Adventures that operates nightly four to five-hour Discover The Northern Lights Photography Tours from 1st December until 15th April.
The minimum number in a minivan is two people and the maximum in a group is eight.
You dress in normal clothing for negative temperatures and they supply a one-piece heavy-duty suit to put on top, along with boots, an extra pair of socks, gloves and headlamps.
Then a professional guide who reads the atmospheric conditions takes you to two of three different locations to give you the best chance of seeing Aurora Borealis.
In searching for the brilliant green sky that comes with the very finest of the northern lights, I felt a little like those tornado chasers in the US.
You know the ones … who drive hither and thither in the hope of getting close enough to a twister that they can all but taste it.
Our driver and guide, Markus Sillanpaa, was – of course – searching for clear, star-lit skies to present ideal atmospheric conditions for his eight charges to get a real good gander at the northern lights.
Let’s just say try as he did, it wasn’t going to happen … although after travelling for more than 100 kilometres we did finally get to see a few white streaks on the horizon that when captured by professional camera equipment with a 15-second delay appeared green.
Truth be told that rich green night sky experience remains a relatively rare event … but it does happen.
Nevetheless, Markus took photos of all of us against the backdrop of a faint set of northern lights. You can purchase the photos later.
Beyond Arctic Adventures also runs a series of other outdoor adventures and expeditions. To find out more, go to beyondarctic.com.
The trip my wife and I took costs 125 Euros (about $200 Australian) per person, inclusive of a hot drink and snacks.
TRAVELLING DIARY: KEMI, FINLAND DAY 2 NEW by Alex First MAPT
Kemi Day 3 (Friday, 4th January, 2019)
On our second day in Kemi, 619 kilometres north of the Finnish capital, Helsinki, and part of Lapland, we started the day with a hearty breakfast at Snow Castle Resort, about 100 metres from our very cosy accommodation at Seaside Glass Villas.
We had a great night’s sleep in the “you beaut” room with glass ceiling and two glass walls … with plenty of snow for company outside.
After breaky, Esko Tryyki, the head guide of Lapland Safaris met us and led us on a snow mobile adventure, which literally took us onto the frozen sea that abuts the Seaside Glass Villas.
Esko provided all the necessary gear to keep us warm and safe, namely a thick one-piece snow suit, boots, gloves, scarf, beanie, balaclava and a helmet.
He led the way on his snow mobile and I followed with my wife sitting directly behind me.
It was heaps of fun – the unspoiled beauty of the surrounds simply magnificent.
We were cruising at around 30 to 40 kilometres per hour and even managed to reach 60 kilometres per hour on a straight stretch. Of course, we stopped plenty of times to admire the view and take happy snaps. You just have to do that.
Lapland Safaris has been operating since 1982 and is the biggest safari company in Finland with 12 locations and more than 600 snow mobiles.
The same private company owns Lapland Hotels – of which there are 18 – and Lapland Ski Resorts (five of those).
A one-hour snow mobile introductory tour with Lapland Safaris costs 80 Euros (about $130 Australian).
It would prove to be a day of highlights and high points because we then stepped aboard the Sampo Icebreaker.
Built in 1960, it operated for 25 years as an ice-breaker.
When the seas are covered in ice, of course the ships can’t move around without the efforts of the ice-breakers.
As the ships got bigger and bigger the ice-breakers also needed to get bigger and poor old Sampo was pensioned off for a new life as a tourist attraction.
The idea was initiated in 1987 by the Mayor at the time and the repurposed and refurbished vessel began operating its second life the following year.
It undertakes three and four hour cruises with a maximum capacity of 180 patrons at any one time.
In our case, we were two of 178 passengers and we had the very best time climbing the decks and seeing the world open up in front of us.
With its round-shaped hull, thickened steel “ice belt” on the waterline and diesel electric engine, Sampo cut through the ice as if it was paper, making the job seem all but effortless.
The photographic opportunities from the vessel were among the best you could possibly encounter. Awesome.
But wait, there was more in store. When Sampo stopped mid journey, we were kitted out in buoyancy suits made of thick neoprene which covered our feet, entire body and head and lowered into the icy waters around us. It was heaven on a stick.
The suits ensure we floated. It was a most relaxing experience in the midst of pristine wilderness.
The Sampo Icebreaker should undoubtedly be on your bucket list.
The price of a three-hour cruise is about 250 Euros, while a four-hour cruise, including a 45 minute guided tour of the vessel and a meal, works out at approximately 350 Euros per person.
Within the Snow Castle Resort is a wooden kota, which draws its history from the indigenous people of northern Finland, the Sami.
It is shaped like a tee-pee with a fireplace smack bang in the middle.
Guests can request a meal there. Soup and reindeer stew or sausages and black coffee may be to your liking.
In 1996, locals built the first snow castle in Kemi and they have been doing so ever since.
This year’s sculpted version is taking shape both outdoors – and indoors for the first time – at Snow Castle Resort.
The snow castle uses snow and ice drawn from the sea.
It varies in look each year and every year it has a different theme. This year’s is a haunted castle and it will be open from January 19 until April 13, 2019.
It will have 14 rooms that will accommodate 48 people, along with a snow café, an ice bar, small chapel made of snow and a snow slide.
Each of the walls will be filled with snow and ice sculptures and decorations.
The resort operators are currently erecting a building that will feature a year-round indoor ice castle, ice bar, ice slide and 74-seat ice restaurant, all maintained at minus five degrees.
The warm part of the building will house a separate 300-seat restaurant, ice-cream bar, day spa, sauna and terrace overlooking the sea.
Dinner was at the oldest hotel in Kemi, the Hotel Merihovi, which opened in April 1949, and was renovated 50 years later retaining its original charm.
As we made our way back to our Seaside Glass Villa, a few hundred metres in the distance we spotted three snow mobiles with their lights on gliding across the frozen sea. Ah … the great memories from earlier in the day.
JURASSIC CREATURES IN WARRNAMBOOL NEW website review and photos: Natasha Marchev
It was an emergency with this particular event. Our reviewer mixed up the times and arrived to the opening day at 1000am and could not wait til 0600pm when the exhibition really took place. We missed the opening....
Our winner booked in the 2 of January but suddenly realised that she was double booked so it was the last minute change and said to Alex the night before the 2 Jan:we should go ourselves.... He was shocked as we would need to wake up at 0400am in the morning to get to Warrnambool on time - it was supposedly the 4 hours drive but in reality was a 3 hours or less as we stopped three times on our way and still made it early to see a very pleasant picture: very well and cozy grounds in a small and cute town on Great Ocean Road - we never reach i when we traveled before in the region nor I was there before... so was our surprise to the most pleasant extend!
We checked in: 2 puppies and 2 humans. Alex was suspicious they would allow dogs but I said: we should risk it as they are not more scary than those jusrassic creatures inside. We walked in and faced the familiar straight away: [jptos taken in front of the broken jeep in Jurassic safari. My camera did not have a rest: I was snapping and filming no stop: the dinos varied, their frightening look took all possible forms of advanced genetic engineering that did not work long times ago when people were living next to Gods ad next to those dinos.
We walked the alleys next to well spooked kids an funny behaving teenagers (they were probably visiting the exhibition for the second or third time) and exited adults telling t their small ones: look look, there is the "one" you love! or "look look, that one looks exactly like uncle Leo!
We managed to make it in one hour. The reason for that was that we were not that hungry yet:no pop corn, no soft drinks were on our menu in the morning and we really did not want to know what the dinosaurs would eat at that time of the day, I mean for breakfast.
I can see the frozen question in your eyes: how did the dogs react on the sculptures that moved and roared in all directions... They were both very excited and curious, of course the checked the rears of many but after realising they were all plastic they lost their interest and were more interested in the girls and boys eating fairy floss.
There was the part were we could jump the air castle but we did not take a chance: Alex though it would be way too childish for him and Dasha though... who knows what she thought!!!
There was a place to collect your free wooden construction of the skeleton of the dinosaur. The pieces were the bones of the din skeleton. It was a really cool idea.
While we moved to the very exciting part of the exhibition: the real fossils and the taxidermied bugs and butterflies the question was raised and asked to the fossil exhibition part of Jurassic Creatures: " can our dogs also get the bones? "The exhibition attendant laughed and answered with a joke too pointing to the large dino skeleton in the corner:" please help yourself!" I really enjoyed that part of the exhibition as I though that the insects were alive one day there ,may be even close to the area where we walked... It was an exciting thought.... WE drove out o the parking and suddenly noticed that we hot lost... We lost our way to the ocean - we made probably four or five circles - the town was surrounding us with its magic... I said to Alex: " I think I know what happened darling... We are like those heroes from Ray Bradbury book, who traveled back in time and suddenly stepped our from the main path and killed the butterfly... When they returned back to their age everything was the same and different - they even had different names... We were so afraid like those small kids in front of the huge animal at the exposition in Warrnambool...
There came the most exciting part of our trip when we finally found our way "back to this reality". We found the way t the ocean and the beach free off leash area for the dogs walking. Hopkinds river is an absolute delight to enjoy this time of the year . Dasha and Tosha were so happy t play next to the water and with the other dogs and kids.
The trip ended with a heat warming meal fish and chipsing at the Colac best cafe: Apollo Seafood. If you are ever in this area and you head off back to Melbourne pass by this small town for only one reason: this shop has the most beautiful owners and the gorgeousest food to enjoy! My photos are all in the sets below... such was the trip!
MELBOURNE, MORNINGTON SILVERS CIRCUS IN MORNINGTON WITH DINOSAURS EXHIBITION NEW website review: Oksana Newton photos: Glen Wilson
Loved it!!!! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️STARS show. Entry way was set up life like jangle full of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs that moved, roared and breath. My 7 year old son thought they were real. That’s was amazing to be part of something big, strong and powerful in same time. Kids were happy and excited, but adults even more. If you planning to go to the show don’t forget camera. It’s lots of extremely great things to memorise on yours camera. After that we entered to circus ground. Silvers circus was amazing before , but this time we were very surprised and shocked in same time with new and crazy performance called The Globe Of Death. You can see it only in Mornington as it’s absolutely new idea. Four motorcycles spinning inside the globe with man standing on the middle. It’s was scary and breath taking moments. My son was very excited to see it. Also in this show you can see lots of performances with lots of laughter. Dogs were very talented and presented an fantastic performance. Dinosaurs performance, foot giggling brothers, bike tricks, magical tricks and much much more to be empress with. Don’t miss out. It’s only for 5 weeks. Now it’s going to be family tradition. Silvers circus you took our hearts. ️️️️️. Thanks a lot.
TRAVELLING DIARY: KEMI, FINLAND DAY 1 by Alex First MAPT
Kemi Day 1 (Thursday, 3rd January, 2019)
On our fifth day in St Petersburg, we awoke at 4:20am as we were catching an early morning train to Helsinki (the capital of Finland), but first that necessitated an Uber ride to St Petersburg’s central railway station.
The first-class rail journey on the bullet train was extremely comfortable and fast – it took a little over three and a half hour.
In fact, we got off the train before Helsinki because an announcement on board indicated that another station close to our proposed destination provided a free rail link to Helsinki Airport, which was where we were heading.
It was an ultra-modern station and a few minutes later a super impressive ultra-modern train arrived to take us the short distance (about 10 minutes) to the airport.
A few hours later we boarded a prop jet Finnair flight to Kemi, which took less than two hours.
In Kemi we were met by Noora Barria, Experience Director for Kemi Tourism Limited, which markets itself as Experience365.
Kemi, which is 619 kilometres north of the Finnish capital (by plane), near the Swedish border, is part of Lapland (one of five regions in Finland, a term reserved for the northern-most part of the country).
It is the only part of Lapland which borders the sea. Of note is the fact that the sea freezes solid for half the year.
Historically Kemi is an industrial town, which was built on the back of the timber industry. A small sawmill was built on a nearby island.
It was founded in 1869 by the decree of Russian Emperor Alexander II because of its proximity to a deep water harbour.
Today, Kemi has 21,000 residents and the timber industry remains a mainstay.
The cost of a litre of petrol here is about 1 Euro 60 cents, which is getting close enough to three dollars a litre Australian, so Aussies stop whining.
An average three-bedroom house costs between 100,000 and 200,000 Euros.
When we arrived on January 3, already the days were getting longer.
On the shortest day of the year, December 22nd, they only have daylight between 11am and 1pm. Now, we were afforded the luxury of five hours of daylight.
The sun rises by 9.30 to 9.45 in the morning and sets by 2.30 or 2.45.
We stayed for two nights at Seaside Glass Villas in Snow Castle Resort.
The 38 villas – which are heated in winter and air conditioned in summer – have only been operational since December 2016 and each of them can accommodate between two and four people.
They are glass roofed Finnish built wooden log rectangular shaped rooms two sides of which are also floor to ceiling glass.
Obviously, the idea is to see the night sky and with it the northern lights when atmospheric conditions enable that to occur.
They have very comfortable beds, a bathroom, and even their own kitchenette with stovetop, fridge and microwave. Nice one.
Noora Barria from Experience365 took us to dinner at the delightfully quaint Santa’s Seaside Office.
While Rovaniemi, where we are heading to next and which is further north, is known as Santa’s home town, Kemi is Santa’s home port, hence the onus on the jolly fat man.
Santa’s Seaside Office is an a la carte and buffet restaurant serving fresh fish and meat, including locally sourced lamb.
We were served by happy waiters dressed as elves.
I even sat in Santa’s mighty soft and comfortable plush armchair. I should say I sunk comfortably into it.
The décor in the exposed timber restaurant is … well eclectic – behind Santa’s chair is a wooden boat filled with many, many neatly wrapped presents.
Around Santa’s chair can be seen an old manual typewriter, a lantern, telescope and a wooden rocking chair carved to resemble a motorbike.
Dining in the presence of or at the very least surrounded by the aura of the big man is an experience well worth having.
My wife and my fourth and final day in and around St Petersburg was devoted to exploring the spectacular Rococo palace located in the town of Pushkin, 30 kilometres south of St Petersburg.
We hailed an Uber to drive us to Catherine Palace, which cost us less than 700 roubles (or about $15 Australian).
It is named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia for two years after her husband's death.
Originally a modest two-storey building, commissioned by Peter for Catherine in 1717, Catherine Palace owes its grandeur to their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who chose Pushkin as her chief summer residence.
Starting in 1743, the building was reconstructed by four different architects, before Bartholomeo Rastrelli, Chief Architect of the Imperial Court, was instructed to completely redesign the building on a scale to rival Versailles in France.
The resultant palace, completed in 1756, is 325 metres long and nearly 1km in circumference, with elaborately decorated blue-and-white facades.
During Elizabeth's reign, more than 100kg of gold was used to decorate the palace exteriors, an excess that was deplored by Catherine the Great when she discovered the state and private funds that had been lavished on the building.
The interiors of the Catherine Palace are no less spectacular.
The Great Hall, also known as the Hall of Light, is first stop on a palace tour.
It alone measures nearly 1,000 square metres and occupies the full width of the palace, with rich gold plaster decorating each and every wall.
All I can say is that it takes your breath away – it is so grand and ornate.
Among the many highlights of the visit to Catherine Palace is the Amber Room, which was completed by Rastrelli in 1770 and featured 450 kilograms of resin.
Due to the fragility of the materials used, a caretaker was employed to maintain and repair the decorations. Major restoration work was undertaken three times in the 19th century.
In 1941, when German troops took the city of Pushkin, the Amber Room was dismantled in 36 hours, and shipped to Konigsberg in Germany.
As the Nazi regime crumbled, the panels were crated and moved out of danger, but their eventual fate remains unknown.
In 1982, it was decided to recreate the Amber Room, a process that took more than 20 years and cost in excess of $12 million. . I should also mention that in front of the palace a large 1,400 acre formal garden was laid out, centred around a beautiful blue-and-white pavilion near a lake.
Entry to the palace costs 700 roubles. That gets you in to see the truly splendid interior, ornate and gilded, which words alone do not do justice to. Let’s just say it takes time to adjust to the wanton display of privilege.
At the other end of the building you can pay an extra 150 roubles (or little more than $3 Australian) to see another wonderful exhibition in Catherine Palace, this one devoted to Emperor Alexander II and dedicated to the 200th anniversary of his birth.
The exhibition showcases about 200 items that belonged to the Emperor and his family.
With it comes a free audio guide, which gives you some fascinating facts and figures about the life and times of the Emperor.
An Uber ride back to our hotel – the Courtyard by Marriott Saint-Petersburg Pushkin Hotel, where we had a very pleasant five-night stay – and I am afraid to say our short but brilliant sojourn in St Petersburg was all but over.
I have now seen the city – or at least parts of it – twice inside a year and would love to return a third time in the not too distant future because there is still so much more to see and explore.
With everything closed on New Year’s Day, the front office staff member I spoke with at the Courtyard by Marriott Saint-Petersburg Pushkin Hotel, where we were staying for five nights, proved to be a godsend.
First up, he was extremely friendly and knowledgeable and secondly he mapped out a special walking tour for us that would see us take in sights that regular tourists may not be privy too. Loved it!
The 273-room Marriott Saint-Petersburg Pushkin Hotel is situated in the historic part of St Petersburg.
As such we walked from our hotel to beautiful Yusopov Palace, first built around 1776 and reconstructed in the 1830s, when the Yusopovs acquired it.
They were a Russian noble family renowned for their immense wealth, philanthropy and arts collections in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Next stop was the awe-inspiring golden-domed neoclassical St Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city.
During World War II the dome was painted over in grey to avoid attracting attention from enemy aircraft.
St Isaac’s, built between 1818 and 1858 on the orders of Tsar Alexander I, was actually the fourth church on the site where it is located.
In close proximity to St Isaac’s is a statue of a Bronze Horseman, being Peter the Great.
A most impressive work, which sits atop an enormous stone, it was commissioned by Catherine the Great and created by a French sculptor.
We wandered past the Admiralty building, the former headquarters of the Admiralty Board and the Imperial Russian Navy and now HQ for the Russian Navy. It features a gilded spire topped by a golden weather-vane in the shape of a small sail warship and is one of the city's most conspicuous landmarks.
The stunning blue and white Smolny Cathedral was originally intended to be the central church of a monastery.
It was built to house the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth, after she wasn’t allowed to take the throne and opted instead to become a nun.
However, as soon as her Imperial predecessor was overthrown during a coup – carried out by the royal guards – Elizabeth decided to forget the whole idea of a stern monastic life and happily accepted the offer of the Russian throne.
It is undoubtedly one of the architectural masterpieces of the Italian architect Rastrelli.
He also created the Winter Palace – a spectacular green and white three storey marvel of Baroque architecture – that from the 1760s was the main residence of Russian Tsars … and many other major St. Petersburg landmarks.
In fact, architecturally St Petersburg is one of the most spectacular places on Earth.
We walked more than 20 kilometres on our stroll through the city and we couldn’t have done it on a better day.
The streets were all but clear as I dare say many were taking it easy after joyful celebrations to mark the new year the night before, stretching well into the wee small hours.
I can attest to the fact that fireworks were still going off after two in the morning. The Russians sure love their crackers.
Being in St Petersburg on New Year’s Eve (day two in this beautiful, historic and cultural city) and New Year’s Day meant that all public buildings were closed, so I wandered around letting providence play its part in where I ended up.
First up was the Grand Choral Synagogue of St Petersburg, the third largest synagogue in Europe.
Built in Moorish style between 1880 and 1888 and consecrated in December 1893, it is a registered landmark and an architectural monument of federal importance.
By 1870, there were about 10 Jewish houses of worship in St. Petersburg, however, there was no synagogue to serve the entire Jewish community in the capital of the Russian Empire.
The construction of the Grand Synagogue was made possible after permission was granted by Tsar Alexander II, in response to the request from a wealthy Russian Jewish philanthropist.
The land for the synagogue was bought in 1879 for 65,000 roubles (or about $1,400 Australian back in the day).
Major reconstruction work was carried out between 2000 and 2003 and the main hall can now accommodate 1,200 people.
Then I found my way to New Holland, a historic triangular artificial island, dating back to the 18th century.
It took its name from canals and shipbuilding facilities reminiscent of Amsterdam.
During the following centuries, it belonged to the Russian admiralty.
New Holland took on its present appearance in 1828/29 when a three-storey ring shaped building was constructed on the site as a naval prison.
On the ground floor was the guards’ quarters, as well as the kitchen, bakery and store rooms, while the two storeys above it were holding cells with a capacity of 250 on each floor.
The prison’s architect dubbed the building “prisoners’ tower”, but in common usage it became known as “the bottle” due to its distinctive shape, which reflects the neck of a bottle.
After the Russian Revolution, the buildings on the site fell into neglect, but recently a commercial enterprise has turned back the clock and the area has been resurrected as an entertainment and relaxation complex.
The brickwork on the interior and exterior facades of The Bottle has been restored and each floor of the building has been assigned a specific function.
There are restaurants and cafes on the ground level, funky retail on the first floor and health and beauty on the second.
New Holland houses a large park and an ice-skating rink during winter, along with a wooden children’s playground modelled after the hull of a frigate.
It is a beaut, dynamic and happening space – with lots of joyful faces – and I spent a couple of hours there.
TRAVELLING DIARY: ST PETERSBURG DAY 1 by Alex First MAPT
St Petersburg Day 1 (30th December, 2018)
After waking up after our first night in St Petersburg my wife and I had a brilliant hot and cold buffet breakfast at Poema, one of three restaurants at the Courtyard by Marriott Saint-Petersburg Pushkin Hotel, where we were staying.
The other two restaurants are Bierstube – open between midday and 1am – that serves German cuisine with its own brewed beer and Onegin, which features traditional Russian cuisine and is open from 11am to 11pm.
I was mighty impressed by the size, spaciousness and comfort of the rooms. The Courtyard by Marriott Saint-Petersburg Pushkin Hotel opened in 2008.
On our first morning in this magnificent city, we wandered along the ice and snow laden streets of historic St Petersburg to the Mariinsky Theatre, named after Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Tsar Alexander II.
With its ornate interior, it opened in 1860 and became the preeminent music theatre of late 19th century Russia.
It has seating for 1,625 patrons in a U-shaped Italian-style auditorium.
Today, the Mariinsky Theatre is home to the Mariinsky Ballet, Mariinsky Opera and Mariinsky Orchestra.
Then it was on to the Russian Museum, initiated by Emperor Alexander III and opened in 1898.
It houses the world’s largest collection of Russian art, containing more than 400 thousand exhibits covering all major periods and trends in the history of Russian art from the 10th to the 21st centuries.
That includes painting, drawings, sculpture and objets d’art.
Entry is 450 roubles (or about $10 Australian) and we spent more than three and a half hours there admiring some of the most astounding handiwork you can imagine.
And it is not just the art work hung on walls and appearing on pedestals, but the intricate and gilded ceilings in many of the rooms that were simply breathtaking.
After stopping at a local eatery for dinner, we took a stroll through St Petersburg’s main thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospekt, named after 13th century Russian prince Alexander Nevsky.
It features a series of what I would term historic architectural masterpieces in design and construction, along with shops, restaurants and buskers.
Being night time, the place was buzzing with a sea of humanity doing just as we were, appreciating the sights and sounds of one of the world’s most beautiful places.
As we only had a matter of hours left in Moscow, we just had to see it from above, so we took an Uber to the tallest free-standing structure in Europe and one of the tallest in the world.
Just a quick note about Moscow traffic – let’s just say you have to be patient because it takes time to get to places because of congestion and, on occasions, time to hail a cab in the first instance, even if you are using their official Apps.
By the way, the three most popular seem to be Uber, Yandex and Gett.
At a height of 540 metres, Ostankino Tower is a television and radio tower owned by the Moscow branch of the Russian TV and Radio Broadcasting Network.
It was built between 1963 and ’67, the latter of which marked the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
It was named after the surrounding Ostankino district of Moscow and at the time took over the mantle of the world’s tallest free-standing structure from the Empire State Building, a title it held until 1976.
It is also provides a spectacular, uninterrupted bird’s eye view of Moscow.
We certainly lucked out, insofar as it was a beautiful, clear blue sky day when we visited.
Security is tight (foreigners must have ID, such as a passport, to present).
The moment the Ostankino Tower comes into view, you just know you are in for a special experience because it definitely makes a statement.
A lift takes you up 337 metres to the observation deck in less than a minute.
Once you are up that high you can not only see out of the wall to wall windows that surround the lookout point, but peer straight down through a number of clear glass panels on the floor, one beside the other.
Entry costs 1,100 roubles per person (that’s about $25 Australian) and if you are after an audio guide that gives you insight into nearby landmarks you will need to fork out a further 300 roubles.
A visit to Ostankino Tower capped off a great, great … truly great time in the Russian capital. Moscow is an awesome city and we would return at the drop of a hat. There is just so much to see and do.
An Uber ride back to our hotel and then straight on to the central railway station followed for a bullet train trip to St Petersburg, Russia’s cultural capital, with a population of more than five million people.
The historic centre of St Peterburg and related groups of monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
St Petersburg is also home to the Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world, which is well worth a visit.
We spent a day there nearly a year ago and were so impressed by the city that we just had to come back as quickly as possible to take in some of the sites we didn’t find time to get to last time around.
We were accommodated at the Courtyard by Marriott Saint-Petersburg Pushkin Hotel, located in the historic part of the city.
The rooms are spacious and plentiful – there are 267 of them and six suites over seven floors. The beds are soft and comfortable.
The Marriott Saint-Petersburg Pushkin Hotel also has three restaurants, including Bierstube that offers German cuisine and, believe it or not, its own microbrewery.
There’s also a fitness centre in the hotel.
It also offers a great buffet breakfast and a very regular free shuttle bus service for guests. What a great idea.
NEPAL FESTIVAL MELBOURNE 2018 website review by Jeanette Russell photos: Jeanette Russell
The Nepal festival was held on the 15th of December, 2018. Nepal is home to 123 ethnic groups, who speak more than 125 various languages. With their all important heritage they also don many costumes.
The day was amazing with beautiful colours and bright costumes. The parade began at the state library, and the fascinating array of people in their traditional dress marched down to Federation Square. Once there, at the square, visitors were treated to terrific performances of customary dance.
At the festival celebrated was the idea of " one Country".
Stories were heard, many displays were present of educational resources and materials, arts,crafts, and some delicious foods as well, that looked delightful, and smelt delicious.
Was a lovely day for families and the weather was kind. Thank you for the opportunity to review this wondrous occasion and celebrations that were, the Nepal festival.
Sadly day 8 in Moscow would be our last full day in this awesome city, which we have found much more modern and attractive than my wife and I had anticipated.
The sights, the sounds and the tastes of the city of 13 million people have really impressed us.
Many dress so elegantly, the food is varied, plentiful and inexpensive, the architecture of so many of the buildings is mighty special and the speed and efficiency of the Metro underground is simply superb.
Boy, do those trains thunder along from station to station!
Another reason to be sad for leaving is because we were leaving our very comfortable and opulent digs at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in Moscow.
This superb five-star hotel has it all just a few hundred metres from the nearest Metro station.
Not only was the room beautifully appointed, but their breakfast was a meal fit for a king (or queen).
The staff – to a person – were faultless. The concierge – who we relied upon quite heavily for advice on getting from place to place – was extremely knowledgeable.
First stop on day 8 was via Metro to the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.
The first thing you see when you leave the underground is gob smackingly stunning Monument to the Conquerors of Space.
It was erected on 4th October, 1964 to celebrate the achievements of the Soviet people in space exploration.
The imposing 107-metre high titanium-clad structure features a rocket blasting into the atmosphere with an exhaust plume in its wake. It is truly magnificent and awe inspiring.
Below the monument is the museum, which opened its doors to the public on the 20th anniversary of the first manned space flight, undertaken by Yuri Gagarin on 10th April, 1981.
The museum has since undergone an extensive reconstruction, tripling its original size and adding new sections.
We spent the best part of three hours there, immersing ourselves in the brilliantly conceived and laid out exhibition spaces that traces the evolution of Soviet space science.
That includes the first man-made satellites, space walks, moon and solar system exploration programs and international space research initiatives. The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics presents a combination of original objects and faithful models, with a number of interactive exhibits.
For instance, you can try manoeuvring objects in authentic space gloves, which are particularly cumbersome.
It is an absolutely brilliant museum and entry costs only 250 roubles or just over five Australian dollars, with another 200 roubles payable if you would like an audio guide, although most of the exhibits feature descriptions in English as well as Russian.
A few hundred metres away from the museum is a huge open area with a tall and beautiful ornamental arched gateway called VDNKh, which translates to Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy.
Within it are a series of a few dozen palatial pavilions, each unique – architectural gems many of them – representing all the Soviet republics and various industries, one grander than the next.
Within the confines of a large ice rink at VDNKh, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw a helicopter, Soviet-era aircraft and, wait for it, even a rocket.
VDNHk also boasts an oceanarium.
You just have to visit this place. It is quite something.
A couple of days ago, we took two brilliant walking tours with Moscow Free Tour – their web site is just that, moscowfreetour.com.
At 6pm today we took another, called the Alternative Moscow Tour, which – as its name suggests – takes you to some out of the way places.
From graffiti and criminals, to brothels and trams, you get a colourful picture of the way Moscow used to be through the descriptions and anecdotes from a guide.
Ours was Irina Kostenko and among the tales she wove – when we were outside the convent of St John the Baptist, which was built in the 1530s – was that of a serial killer.
A Russian noblewoman and sadist named Darya Saltykova, she made Jack the Ripper appear like a choir boy and she was eventually imprisoned in that convent.
Saltykova became notorious for torturing and murdering more than 100 of her serfs or servants, mostly women and girls.
Among the other little gems on our two-hour tour was the story of a Russian industrialist named Prokofi Demidov, who was an inveterate prankster.
Just one such example is when he managed to convince a host of men to strip naked, be painted in white and to act like statues only to scare women senseless as they passed by.
One of the monuments we passed that took my fancy was a contemporary tribute to Adam and Eve, with friendly serpent in tow and an apple nearby.
If you are into something a little off the beaten track, then the Alternative Moscow Tour is for you. It costs 2,200 roubles per person (or about $45 Australia) and 1,700 roubles for students.
Day seven in Moscow was the day my wife and I moved to the gorgeous, luxurious five-star Sheraton Palace Hotel, with its beautifully appointed, elegant rooms resplendent in dark timber and tasteful fittings. Most attractive décor, in fact and the king size bed was fantastic.
Centrally located, just three kilometres from the Kremlin, it is a most popular choice in the Marriott chain of 12 inner city Moscow hotels.
The Sheraton Palace has 193 rooms plus 24 suites over eight floors and offers a brilliant buffet hot and cold breakfast.
The real pity was the fact that we were only going to spend a couple of nights here because we would then be moving onto the next stage of our travels.
In any event, our first sightseeing stop on day seven was Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square, which is free to enter, but where you need to line up to get in.
We waited for about half an hour. As you can imagine security is tight.
Vladimir Lenin who was born on 22nd April, 1870 and died at the age of 53 on 21st January, 1924 was a communist revolutionary, politician and political theorist.
He served as head of government from 1917 to 1924.
Under his administration, the Soviet Union became a one-party communist state.
Two days after Lenin died, an architect was charged with building a suitable structure to allow his body, which was embalmed, to be seen by mourners.
You can enter the granite structure where he is lying in state but no photography is allowed and there is no talking.
Because of the long queues of people wanting to see Lenin, a visit lasts only a minute as you file past his body, which lies in an open casket.
After viewing Lenin’s preserved body, we walked for about 20 minutes to see Moscow’s Choral Synagogue, one of the oldest in Russia.
While its cornerstone was laid in 1887 and construction of the beautiful yellow building with column facades was completed in 1891, it wasn’t officially opened for prayers until 1st June, 1906 because of restrictive legislation.
At the time those associated with the synagogue were forced to remove the ornate dome as well as an artist’s depiction of Moses and the Tablets of Law.
Since its official opening though, it has been in continuous use as a place of worship.
In the early 2000s, an extensive restoration program included returning the dome to its rightful place.
We then caught a Metro to Novodevichy Convent, enclosed within high red brick walls.
The convent – a UNESCO world Heritage Site – which began its life as a fortress, was founded by Vasili III, the Grand Prince of Moscow, in 1524.
Several of the buildings within its ground were undergoing extensive renovation, so we were restricted in terms of what we could see, but it is a step back in time.
We could certainly appreciate the grandeur of the original construction and the intricate religious interior of the one building we could enter.
Entry costs 100 roubles or just over two Australian dollars.
Also at the convent is a cemetery, which was coveted by Russian nobility as a place of burial.
Just a few of the noteworthy names buried there are writer Anton Chekhov, composer Dmitri Shostakovich and political leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Boris Yeltsin.
After a super tasty and wholesome breakfast at the very comfortable and conveniently located Courtyard Moscow Paveletskaya hotel, part of the Marriott chain, my wife and I headed to the nearest Metro station, just three minutes away by foot.
It was our sixth day in Moscow and one that took in the largest national museum of Russia.
It is called the State Historical Museum and is located inside a spectacular dark red brick building at Red Square.
The museum covers three floors, the most extensive collection being at ground level.
The collections have developed over more than 100 years and now amount to in excess of 4.5 million items, although I dare say only a small proportion of these are on display at any one time.
The exhibits go back to the development of civilisation through the stone, bronze and iron ages and move through until the 20th century.
The first thing that struck me was a massive hollowed out tree trunk that became the most rudimentary of boats.
Among the finest items is a stunning child’s carriage and magnificently decorated, intricately designed religious artefacts, many in gold.
As 2018 marks 150 years since the birth and 100 years after the execution death of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II, a special collection – on the top floor – is dedicated to him and to his family.
The State Historical Museum is well worth a look.
We only had an hour and a half because we had booked a tour. We readily could have done with another hour to spend a little more time at each of the exhibits that took our fancy.
It cost 500 roubles or just over 10 Australian dollars each to enter.
Then we headed straight for a nearby meeting place for one of the undoubted highlights of our trip to Moscow – a tour of some of the most remarkable Metro underground stations.
That was with a company called Moscow Free Tour, which has been operating since 2011. Their web site is moscowfreetour.com.
As of today, the Metro system constitutes well over 200 stations over more than a dozen lines. Most years the Russians add another four or so stations.
We visited eight stations in about an hour and a half, which included hopping on and off trains, which inevitably arrived within a minute or two. All inner city train networks should operate as efficiently as the Russian underground!
The stations we saw were each stunning works of art in and of themselves – cathedral and palace-like in their elaborate designs – many constructed under the reign of Joseph Stalin.
I’m talking chandeliers, bronze, marble and stained glass. Simply amazing!
At one station alone are carved 76 different bronze statues.
One of these features a rooster and commuters regularly rub it with their fingers when passing because superstition has it that action can bring with it wealth.
Such frequent rubbing has seen the bronze turn a golden colour, so it really stands out.
The first Metro station opened in 1935 at an average depth of 45 metres below ground.
That is why during the Second World War they were used as bomb shelters.
The Soviets even put books down there to help people while away the hours and we were shown a fascinating black and white photo to prove the point.
That was one of a number of intriguing photos that our wonderful, dynamic and well-spoken guide Anna Beliaeva had in her kit bag.
It was an absolutely brilliant walking tour – one of the best I have ever undertaken anywhere around the world … really … and without any question of doubt a must see when you come to Moscow.
The cost is 2,200 roubles or under $50 Australian per person (1,700 roubles for students).
Little more than half an hour later, we took a second tour with Moscow Free Tour, with Anna once again as our guide, this time the two-hour Communist Moscow Tour, which is also available at a similar charge to the Metro tour.
It began across the road from the former, notorious KGB headquarters, where those considered enemies of the state were imprisoned back in the day.
We saw the last Karl Marx monument in Moscow, visited the Bolshoi theatre (what a spectacular building that is) and were even shown the first McDonalds to open in Moscow.
That was in January 1991 and Anna showed us a photo that revealed a very large snake-like cue of people looking to get in through the front door.
Best of all on the Communist Moscow Tour, though, was the sight of a stunning grocery store, ornate and simply beautiful in every which way. I am not joshing.
It is called Eliseevsky and was built at the beginning of the 20th century.
Under Communist rule a lot of buildings were destroyed, but this one has, fortunately, survived and remains the most magnificent grocery store in the world. Incredible.
Incidentally, Moscow Free Tour well and truly lives up to its name because each morning they offer a totally free two-and-a-half hour free walking tour of the city.
The company also runs a Kremlin tour and an alternative Moscow Tour, the latter of which we intend to check out in a couple of days.
If you want to save some bikkies, you can buy a seven day pass for all tours I have mentioned for 6,800 roubles (that is around $150 Australian) and 5,800 roubles for students.
I highly recommend you check them out – that web site again is moscowfreetour.com.
First up for my wife and my fifth full day in Moscow, we moved from the beautiful and inviting Marriott Tverskaya Hotel to another of the 12 Marriott properties dotted around inner city Moscow. The choice is all but limitless.
This time, we chose a Courtyard Marriott, known to be perfect for the business traveller, but also catering for tourists, like us.
It is called the Courtyard Moscow Paveletskaya and has a most appealing round shape with 171 rooms over 13 floors (although you can actually book a room on the 14th floor, like many other hotels for reasons of superstition it doesn’t have a 13th floor).
The room we were in was particularly appealing in terms of its design, with a modern look and eye pleasing light timber predominating.
The Courtyard Moscow Paveletskaya is not just comfortable but perfectly positioned three minutes walk from the nearest Metro station.
Day Five amongst the 13-million people who live in Moscow was one to probe a piece of Cold War Soviet history.
We made our way to the site of Bunker 42, located behind a heavy green steel door in a small Moscow street.
Built between 1950 and ’54, the fortified facility located 18 storeys and 65 metres below ground was constructed after the US invented the nuclear bomb.
That’s when the Soviet Union decided to protect themselves by creating not only this bunker, but their own bomb … on the instructions of Joseph Stalin.
He was intent on protecting the country’s leaders in the event of a nuclear attack.
The site was chosen because it was close to the seat of power, the Kremlin, so Stalin and other members of the government could readily get to the bunker.
Workers employed on the project had to construct the large facility without the knowledge of civilians or foreign intelligence.
Thereafter, for three decades until 1986, Bunker 42 became the command centre for strategic bombers that had the ability to carry on board nuclear weapons.
Only once did the top brass gather to plot what to do in the event of a nuclear attack and that had to do with the Cuban Missile crisis.
For 2,200 roubles each (or about $45 Australian a piece), we were given a 70-minute guided tour of the bunker, along with others who had paid to be there.
It looked and felt like we were stepping back in time, which of course, we were, but it is hard to believe that such now highly outdated electronic equipment – as is on show here – was in use only a few decades back.
In much of the facility we were allowed to take photographs without the use of flash, but the exception was the room where operators had access to the panel that could trigger a nuclear detonation.
While in the room, we were shown a grainy, black and white film that revealed the utter devastation pressing that button could wreak.
It was, indeed – just as it should be – a sobering moment.
Bunker 42 is open from 10am to 9pm daily.
From there we walked about five kilometres to Arbat Street or the Arbat, which is dotted with distinctive street lanterns and several notable statues.
In the early 1980s it became the first pedestrian zone in the Soviet Union.
The Arbat, which is about a kilometre long, has existed since at least the 15th century, which makes it one of the oldest surviving streets in the Russian capital.
Originally the street formed part of an important trade route and was home to a large number of craftsmen.
Today, it is dominated by street artists, souvenir shops, restaurants, cafés and bars.
Even though we were in Russia, if you are into American culture, one that particularly stood out to me was the California Diner.
It showcases fifties chic, with a jukebox and movie memorabilia from the era liberally scattered throughout the two storey eatery.
California Diner has been there for only a year and looks remarkably authentic.
As a mate of mine says, “who would have thunk it?”
Our fourth day in Moscow turned out to be a beauty, starting with a hearty buffet breakfast at the four star Marriott Tverskaya Hotel, where my wife and I were staying.
I must say they are really comfortable and inviting digs, well-appointed with a very attractive lobby, an inspired atrium, great beds and ready access to Moscow’s sensational attractions.
Today was our day to explore Moscow by foot and see just where providence would lead us. 20 kilometres down and 10 hours later – having seen quite a bit – we made it back to our hotel.
Few people in this grand city speak English, so asking for instructions can be a bit tricky, but there is always a hotel to pop into or a retail store where you can luck out.
We are visiting in the midst of winter – when the temperature is typically minus 10 or below – and today happens to be Christmas Eve.
The decorations on the streets are plentiful and ornate.
Sparking gold and white lights are particularly prevalent in canopies and on rows of electronic Christmas trees.
And then are coloured decorations that pervade the surfeit of large Chrissy trees dotted around the sprawling metropolis.
A quick view of an inner city map, which you can pick up for free at hotels, reveals a number of grand boulevards encircle Red Square and the Kremlin.
Walking up one of these while it was snowing – which it did continuously, at times quite heavily, throughout the day provided a few unexpected highlights.
Firstly, a number of friendly young adults were inviting passers by to get into the spirit of the season by playing games and exploring specially constructed displays.
For instance, we used an old fashioned sling shot to try to unseat a few characters – as you would in an arcade game – were given pucks to try our hand at mini ice hockey, entered the ice princess’s domain and could take a photo in a wooden sleigh.
All great fun, all free, and something to put an immediate smile on your face.
Isn’t life grand … Christmas in the snow in the northern hemisphere.
A few hundred metres from the Kremlin sits the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world – a grand white building with golden domes.
With an overall height of 103 metres, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is the second church to stand on the site after the original.
That took more than 40 years to build during the 19th century and was destroyed on the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1931.
It was meant to make way for a colossal palace but the Second World War intervened, so that never happened.
The current church was constructed between 1995 and the year 2000.
You don’t need to pay to enter, but you are not allowed to take photos inside.
Suffice to say, its interior design is as breathtaking, rich and lavish as the exterior is grand.
Walking down the stairs below ground level is a second spectacular spiritual chamber.
From outside the Cathedral, we could see an imposing statue nearby.
A monument to Russian Tsar, Peter the Great or Pyotr Alexeyevich – who ruled between 1682 and 1721 – it turned out to be the largest effigy I have seen, rising to a height of 98 metres (that is taller than the Statue of Liberty).
The statue sits alongside the Moskva River to commemorate 300 years of the Russian Navy, which he established.
Weighing around a thousand tons and containing 600 tons of stainless steel, bronze and copper, it was erected in 1997 and is the eighth tallest statue in the world.
Alexeyevich stands confidently at the bow of a tall ship, for all the world a leader.
The statue has courted controversy, partly because the ruler moved the capital to St Petersburg during his reign. It is considered by some to be downright ugly and intrusive, but not by me. I thought it was awesome and a huge drawcard.
Next stop was Gorky Park – named after Soviet writer and political activist Maxim Gorky, who lived from 1868 to 1936 – and which just celebrated its 90th anniversary.
The park is also the name of, and features in, a 1981 crime novel set in the Soviet Union during the Cold War by American author Martin Cruz Smith and a couple of years later turned into a film starring William Hurt.
A thick blanket of snow covered the ground when we arrived and the pond in the park was frozen over.
The 24 metre high main entrance to the park with its stone columns and intricate metalwork fence alongside is a sight well worth seeing. It makes for a great snap, as of course, does the park itself.
Moscow has been a glorious experience thus far. Those we have encountered – in shops, on the street and at tourist attractions – have, to a person, been friendly and hospitable.
Being Aussies so far away from home has also been endearing, insofar as the Russians appear most impressed we have travelled this distance so readily to visit their fair land.
On our third day in Moscow, my wife and I were sorry to bid farewell to our beautiful room at the five-star Marriott Hotel Novy Arbat, with its spacious rooms and large and inviting lobby area, complete with bar.
Most of all I was going to miss what I call the chef’s special omelet, crammed with all sorts of veggies.
While we had visited the Kremlin the previous day, what we didn’t see was the Armoury Chamber and the expression “we didn’t know what we were missing” certainly fits in this case.
We paid 700 roubles each (around $15 Australian) to enter. You do that through a separate entrance to the rest of the Kremlin and, unlike the Kremlin, the entrance fee includes an audio guide of the exhibits.
There are set entry times each day – four at least, but on the day we visited they added another and they allow two hours for the visit.
We took more than four, but that included a separate visit to The Diamond Fund of Russia exhibition, which is located in the same building. More on that in a moment.
The Armoury Chamber contains thousands of exhibits, some made in the Kremlin workshops and others accepted as ambassadorial gifts.
Superbly presented in nine rooms there is so much to see … so much to take in. Magnificent.
We saw ancient State regalia, ceremonial royal garments and coronation dresses, the largest collection of gold and silverware made by Russian craftsmen, arms and armoury and a brilliant collection of stunning carriages, along with much, much more.
Each of the exhibits has alongside it a brief description in English as well as Russian.
So much of it is ornate and all so very well preserved.
Among my greatest fancies was the Saint Basil’s Cathedral Faberge egg – made under the supervision of Russian jeweller Peter Carl Faberge in 1906 for Tsar Nicholas II, who presented it as an Easter gift to his wife, Alexandra Fyodorovna.
It is one of several Faberge eggs in the collection at the Armoury.
There are also many breathtakingly beautiful and complex Altar gospel book covers that I kept returning to – my admiration for the handicraft knew no bounds.
The fur-lined diamond crowns made for the Tsars Ivan and Pyotr Alexeevich in the 1680s made quite an impression as did their double throne – something I had never seen before – constructed in the same period.
I was gob-smacked by the beauty and grandeur of the royal carriages, including a multi-seater winter sled coach made in Moscow in 1732.
While I abhor the use of violence, it is difficult not to admire the detailed work in the muskets in the Armoury collection – made in Holland in the first quarter of the 17th century – along with the hunting rifles from Turkey from the 18th century.
I was taken by so much, including an oval crystal bowl featuring a silver archer with a cocked bow in hand pointing at a wild animal on the far side of the item.
We spent two and a half hours wandering from room to room, trying to take in the splendour that was this incredible showpiece of an exhibition.
I earlier referenced the Diamond Fund exhibition in the same building.
The exhibition opened in 1967 and showcases the state regalia of Russia, jewellery and insignia from the 18th and 19th centuries … and magnificent they are too.
In the first room you enter there is a collection of gold and platinum nuggets of various shapes and sizes, just as they were when they were dug up.
That includes an absolute whopper – a triangular beast, as I call it, which weighs more than 36 thousand grams – that hits you between the eyes when you see it.
A number are named after their shape, like Little Boot, Camel, Horse Head, Rabbit’s Ears and Dolphin.
The exhibition starts with the introduction of coloured minerals – precious and semi-precious stones – topaz, emerald and aquamarine as well as quartz and more.
As you step along, you get to see massive amounts of diamonds of all shapes and sizes, starting with rough diamonds from Russian deposits and those named after famous people and events.
The largest is a 342-carat golden yellow diamond – I dare say worth just a tad more than I could afford.
All are beautifully presented. My favourite showpiece was the Grand Imperial Crown used during all coronations from Empress Catherine II in 1762 to Emperor Nicholas II in 1896.
It is decorated with nearly 5,000 diamonds and a unique opaque 398 carat ruby spinel – a gemstone – on the top. Just stunning.
And what would a collection of state regalia be without an orb and scepter, the latter decorated with the gleaming 189 carat Orlov diamond?
Among the many highlights in the second room is the 88 carat Shah diamond, which is engraved with the names of the rulers that owned the stone.
Entry to the Diamond Fund of Russia exhibition is 500 rubles (or just over $10 Australian), which also gives you a free audio guide.
In this case, that guide greatly enhances the experience. You learn a lot and I would highly recommend a visit to it and to the Armoury.
One thing to note when you enter the Kremlin and the Armoury, you are not allowed to take photos of the exhibits.
Exteriors are fine, but don’t try to sneak a shot inside. Not once did I see anyone even attempting it. Respect for the rules is important.
Then it was off for a feed at a place we had frequented three times and gave us plenty of choice. It is called Obed Bufet and it is situated in New Arbat street, a few hundred metres from the Marriott Hotel Novy Arbat.
You can dine in or take away and have a sumptuous and hearty meal for about $10 Australian dollars per person.
Their web site claims they make more than 350 dishes every day, including grills, pasta, pizza and pastries.
Let’s just say it hit the mark very nicely.
Then we caught a taxi using our Gett app (Gett being the equivalent of Uber, which also operates in Moscow) to the Moscow Marriott Tverskaya Hotel, one of a dozen in the Marriott chain located in the city.
But notably, the Tverskaya was the first. Opened in 1995, it has charm and beauty and a gorgeous atrium and glass roof, with 162 rooms over eight floors.
We’re sure to enjoy our couple of night’s here, complete with a wholesome and delicious buffet breakfast.
On my second day in the sprawling city of Moscow, my wife and I headed to the Kremlin.
The word “Kremlin” – which means “fortress inside a city” – was first recorded in 1331.
Moscow’s Kremlin, which overlooks Red Square, includes five palaces, four cathedrals, the Kremlin Wall and towers.
It also houses the Grand Kremlin Palace, formerly the Tsar’s Moscow residence.
The fortified complex now serves as the official residence of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and as a museum.
Understandably it is … a very popular place to take a gander. More than 2.7 million people made their way there in 2017.
A ticket to go inside costs 500 roubles (or just over 10 Australian dollars).
You pay another 300 roubles if you would like to hire an audio guide, which you can hang around your neck on a string and which describes each of the attractions as you reach them.
On top of that, if you do want the guide, you need to leave a deposit or an ID, such as a driver’s licence, which you get back when you return the guide.
Honestly, while we hired audio guides – which provide you with a lot of detail – my wife and I found the information detailed but dry, so we quickly ditched them.
I reckon there is enough info inside the various museums, in English as well as Russian, for most people to do without, but that is just my take on the matter.
I should add that inside four of the churches we picked up colour brochures – for free – that gave us a great rundown of the major murals and portraits and paintings.
A visit to the Kremlin typically takes about two hours. Ours lasted three.
As you can imagine, some of the edifices are spectacular and imposing and inside is a treasure trove of history.
Our meanderings included the Assumption Cathedral, built between 1475 and 1479, that was the major church of the state in which all Russian Tsars were crowned.
The Annunciation Cathedral was constructed between 1484 and 1489 and was the church of Moscow’s great princes and later of Russian Tsars.
The Archangel’s Cathedral first saw the light of day between 1505 and 1508 and was used as a burial vault for the great princes and Tsars.
Then there is the Patriarch’s Palace and Twelve Apostles Church, built between 1652 and 1656 as the official residence of patriachs of Moscow and all Russia.
The Church of Laying Our Lady’s Holy Robe – the church of Russian bishops and patriarchs – was erected between 1484 and 1485.
Don’t overlook the Ivan the Great Bell-Tower, the Kremlin’s highest point, which took shape during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Weighing nearly 40 tons, the Tsar Cannon – cast in 1586 – is the largest known medieval gun. It is well worth a look.
Tipping the scales at a whopping 200 tons, the Tsar Bell – cast between 1733 and 1735 – is the world’s largest. Both its height and diameter exceed six metres. Impressive.
After leaving the Kremlin, we wandered through the adjacent Alexander Garden, which stretches the length of the western wall – some 865 metres – and stopped at the Grotto Ruins, which consist of a grotto and four marble columns.
It was built in 1820, eight years after fire ravaged Moscow, destroying much of the city as Napoleon and his army entered.
A little further along, we also visited The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was opened in 1967.
Flanked by two guards, it is a memorial dedicated to Soviet soldiers killed during the Second World War.
Then Red Square beckoned and we were off to see the truly spectacular Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, commonly known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, with its strikingly beautiful, colourful and rounded “onion” domes of different heights.
Now an official museum, it was built between 1555 and 1561 on orders from Ivan the Terrible – the Grand Prince of Moscow – and is one of the most brilliant places to photograph from the outside.
Once you see it, you will know why. The wow factor is off the Richter Scale.
It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with the entire Kremlin.
We paid our 700 roubles (or 15 Aussie dollars) each and spent an hour inside looking at the various exhibits – absolutely fascinating and a great way to see out the day.
Now here is an interesting little sidebar – a number of the traffic lights in Moscow we have come across have a very long crossing wait time, something that is particularly noticeable when you are on foot, like we are.
I am talking about over 60 seconds … and there is a countdown, so you can see how long you have before the light changes colour from green to red.
Russia is the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area.
It is also the ninth most heavy populated, with about 145 million people (as of 2018).
The official currency is, of course, the rouble. One Australian dollar gets you more than 45 roubles.
To get there, you must have a Russian Visa and to that end my wife and I were helped in our cause by a company called Discovery Russia, that knows Russia back to front.
They are a Russian specialist travel agency and their web site is discoveryrussia.com.au. They run a series of tours where you can discover plenty.
Moscow, the capital – situated on the Moskva River in western Russia – has 13 million people.
It and Russia’s symbolic centre is Red Square, which takes its name from the word “krasnyi”, which once meant “beautiful” and has only come to mean “red” in contemporary Russian.
We flew Emirates from Melbourne to Dubai before changing planes and flying into Moscow. That involved something like 28 hours door to door and 20 hours in the air.
Once we arrived at Moscow International Airport (of which there are three), it took about an hour to make our way to our hotel, the Marriott Hotel Novy Arbat, an 11-storey five-star property about three kilometres from the centre of Moscow.
Upon arrival, I downloaded an App on my phone for a taxi operator called Gett (an alternative to Uber) and for 1,456 rubles, or about $30 Australian dollars, was driven to the hotel. Great value and half the price of some of the other operators.
According to the marriott.com website, the Novy Arbat is one of 12 Marriott properties near the centre of the city.
It has 234 spacious rooms – ours had a bird’s eye view of the adjacent courtyard – fitness facilities and a great restaurant.
Their buffet breakfast is extensive. The omelette I had on our first morning there, made by a chef in front of me – to satisfy my specific taste, that is with heaps of different vegetables – was the best I have had in years. I kid you not.
The staff at the Marriott Novy Arbat were only too helpful, including the concierge, who gave us a real insight into the must see places for our stay in Moscow.
So, armed with that information, naturally our first port of call was Red Square and boy, does it create a favourable impression when you first set eyes upon it.
A public marketplace and meeting place for centuries, Red Square houses the ornate 16th-century St. Basil's Cathedral, the State Historical Museum and a mausoleum for the revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.
It is also home to the enormous GUM Department Store, known as the State Department Store, and traditionally a centre of trade in Moscow.
Its glass-roofed design made the building unique at the time of construction. That was between 1890 and 1893.
Now it is a shopping centre featuring many well-known and prestigious designer brands.
It is simply beautiful inside and out, with the lights on the exterior creating a magical picture (we were there around Christmas time).
Although it was nudging minus 15 degrees Celsius, one thing was apparent – inside there was a huge call for ice-cream, with vendors scattered throughout the complex.
While walking there we chanced upon a confectionary shop that has barrel after barrel of sweet treats that, for all the world, look like tiny, delicious multi-coloured, works of art … as I just said each concoction carried in a separate wooden barrel.
Being the festive season, it wasn’t just the GUM Department Store that was ablaze with lights and glitter. Its surrounds too were lit up with marvelous creations – pavilions, electronic trees and columns in sparkling gold and white.
What an introduction, what a welcome to Moscow!
SPICE OF LIFE website review and photos: Natasha Lukin
ENCHANTING EVENING AT THE RECITAL CENTRE: music for a soul
All was great and beautiful at that day of December 14th: soft relaxing weather, easy traffic, and expectations of a musical delight. The people, who filled the small theatre, were there with similar feelings as it manifested through their smiles, greetings - as it seemed many knew each other, and anticipation of the coming enjoyment. However, even against that elevated hopes, the concert much exceeded our expectations. That was a rare feeling of unity, mutual understanding and genuine deep appreciation of the music. The energy was truly amazing, easy flowing between the artists and the audience. That came from us, how we feel it – the audience, the public. But I was wondering how the performers saw and felt it from their side, and, on a bigger scale – what was in it for them, if you know what I mean.
I want to share with you my interview with the star of the show: RADA TOCHALNA: Natasha Lukin: Usual question to you, Rada – how that all started? Rada: As much as I remember myself, I was singing from the time of our family gathering at grannie’s house, when mum played the piano and the whole family have sung lots of Russian and Ukrainian tunes. I still remember smell of the grapes over the house yard and beautiful nights with my mum’s strong voice, carried over the peaceful street in Crimea. Happy neighbours had to enjoy it too. Natasha Lukin: But how that family if I may say, entertainment, become your profession? Rada: Music became my main interest and passion since those times. I did my studies of voice and music initially in Lviv, in Ukraine. Later I had a chance to continue it in Switzerland and Australia. Natasha Lukin: What you remember most from those times of becoming a professional singer? Rada: Most memorable was my master’s degree in Switzerland. I had an amazing singing teacher Cornelia Kallisch. She is incredible human being and world-class mezzo-soprano. I was very grateful to learn from her and from very European music stage and university in Zurich. Natasha Lukin: How you feel about your today performance? Rada: I personally loved the ambience of the intimate salon settings. The audience was truly amazing. I am very lucky to perform along with my talented colleagues Tamara and Brett. Sharing stage with them fills me up with energy and even more love to music- making. Natasha Lukin: Thank you, Rada. Of course, we all appreciate and admire your talented colleagues. I have known Tamara Vasilevitsky for many years and always admire her piano performances. As to Brett Kaye, I saw him for the first time. His presence and energy was so powerful, cementing three of you in one. And he also is a great singer! Whole-hearted thanks to you all and I hope to enjoy your performances again.
CROWNING CEREMONY OF MRS AUSTRALIA UNIVERSAL ELEGANCE 2019 TOLE FOR ANGELA CLARK website photography: Stan Traianedes article: ANa Saisy Crowning Ceremony Mrs. Australia Universal Elegance 2019 Angela Clark Venue: Waterfront Restaurant at Port Melbourne
Guests start to arrive at around 0700pm for the official ceremony to commence at 0730pm.
Ana Staisy from Ana Staisy Events and Entertainment and Alex Marchinovskiy from Capricorn Promotions were the MC for the official part and opened the event by drawing the attention of the guests to the purpose of the event and acknowledging all the generous sponsors: Capricorn Promotions, Ana Staisy Events & Entertainment, Ella Moda, Elvigo Bridal and Starfire Diamonds, More 4 Your Beauty & Hair, Iconartphotography as a-part of the Bohemian Rhapsody Club and Magazine media coverage, IM Travel, AA Design Solutions, Dream Hosiery, Russian TV Channel in Melbourne Sputnik TV, Jake Freeman TV.
The VIP guests present: incuded Sue Turner Mrs International Global World 2018-19, Mrs Earth Air Australia 2018 and Gael Cameron Miss Indonesia 2018, Woman of the World 2018.
Sue Turner was very proud to crown Angela as the culmination of the event while Gael Cameron was holingd the pillow with the most gorgeous crown
After the Crowning Ceremony Angela was interviewed by Russian Channel Sputnik TV and Jake Freeman TV.
Then the guests all had a group photo by Stan from Bohemian Rhapsody Magazine.
To follow the event Alex Marchinovskiy and Ana Staisy presented a bouquet of beautiful flowers to Sue and Gael and thanked them for coming all the way from Sydney and for honoring the ceremony with their presence..
After the ceremony of crowning was completed the invited guests went to ground floor pf the Waterfront restaurant to have dinner with the winner.
My name is Angela Clark, I am Russian born living in Australia for more than 15 years. I moved here to find the better place to live for my two boys, but I found much more than that.
My journey hasn’t been easy so far, but I am thankful to where I am now: loving wife, daughter, mother, grandmother and yours Mrs Australia Universal Elegance 2019. I am just a woman who works hard to follow her dream! I have lived an ordinary life, but I have always been looking to express myself with my passion to the fashion and modeling.
I was 16 years old, when I got married. I was young cheerful, ambitious, and had a dream to become a model. My husband wasn’t enthusiastic about it and all he wanted for me was to stay at home and be a housewife. At the age of 17th I had my first child and just before I turned 19th I had my second son. I gave up many of my passions and dreams to be a good mother for my children and good wife for my husband.
I have sacrificed many years of my life for my family, leaving the fashion world behind. I felt frustrated as I didn’t go further in my career. My children are older now, I have some free time for myself and I plan to have what is needed in order to start this new career. Maybe it wasn’t my time then, but I’m sure it is now! I’m more mature, and I’m ready!
I have started my modeling career by a chance, less than a year ago (December 2017). A friend of mine, a stylist, asked me one day to model for one of her projects. I was confused, worried and refused her offer straight away but she was very convincing and after a while I agreed. I never liked being photographed; I never liked myself in the photos. I was very insecure about my look; I wasn’t confident about my appearance. I never felt comfortable being in front of a camera and all of this was because of the psychological trauma I had during my first marriage where I was constantly told: “you can't wear short dresses because your legs are ugly, you can't wear trousers because your bum is fat”. Being a young girl and hearing those negative comments about me made me grow into a very insecure woman.
After my first photo shoot I looked at my photos and for the first time ever I actually liked them, I liked the way I looked, which gave me the confidence to try it again. I had my second and then my 3rd, my 4th shoot and with every session I felt more confident, more relaxed, and really enjoyed the process. I realized that having the photo shoots really helps me to grow my personality, my confidence, and get my dreams back. Those photo shoots became for me, some kind of a psychological therapy. The more I did the more I wanted, I had a “hunger” for having photo shoots and then I decided to take it further… and started doing runaways. I was nervous but at the same time I felt amazing, empowered, I felt belonging there. Just about 2 years ago I thought that I was too old to be a model, and after all my shoots I had and being persistent with my dream, my work got published into Elegant Magazine, and I was selected to represent Australia in to Mrs. Australia Universal Elegance 2019 in Mexico. I’m so humble and thrilled and I said to myself: "I can, and I will do it” Women dreaming of walking the runway and gracing the cover of fashion magazines don’t have to give up their dreams just because they’ve left their twenties behind. If you feel worried and unconfident because you weren’t discovered as a model, never fear to try! The modeling world is still open to women of all ages, even those over the age of fifty and a little persistence may pay off.
My inspiration to go to Pageant came from the journey of my life. Over the years, I have strived to constantly push myself and explore my full potential. And now by entering the Pageant, I would like to show the world that there are endless possibilities to do, to be, or to have something and for that to happen you must start believing in yourself. I believe that this first pageant competition has come as a gateway to begin my new journey. I’m now inspired to try new things in my life!
I hear people questioning my decision to participate in beauty pageants? The answer couldn’t be simpler. I do it not only for myself now, but also for all the married women from around the world who need an inspiration to push beyond their mental blocks. I want to show those amazing mothers and wives that anything is possible if they put their mind to it. You can be a devoted wife, a loving mother, a giving woman in the community, a fearless career woman and at the same time a beautiful, glamorous, and empowered queen on stage. It’s never too late to start, to believe in yourself and conquer the world.
I feel so humbled and privileged to represent the country which gave me the opportunity to chase my dreams and grow my ability to help others. I would like to thank all my family, friends and supporters! Without you I would not be where I am now!
PETER PAN GOES WRONG website review by Mike and Leanne Vallance
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is touring Australia from December 2018 until March 2019. It is playing at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne from 20th December 2018 until 20th January 2019. The show is the latest offering by the Mischief Theatre Company of London to find its way to Australia. And, we should all be most grateful. The co-creative writers of the show are Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Henry Lewis who are all core members of Mischief Theatre. Readers might be aware of this writing team’s first piece which is called The Play That Goes Wrong. That particular show started out as a fringe festival offering in London and Edinburgh in 2012 before becoming somewhat more successful. To this day it is still showing in the West End and Broadway; as well as 20 other countries. It toured Australia in 2017. Your reviewers must own up to having seen this production in London; as well as in Melbourne. We absolutely loved both productions. So besotted are we with the magnificent comedy shows from the Mischief Theatre we have also seen their Comedy About A Bank Robbery which opened on the West End in March 2016. We were not at all surprised to discover that Peter Pan Goes Wrong has all the same magnificent qualities of an immensely enjoyable comedy as the earlier offerings from Mischief Theatre. It’s actually a bit difficult to accurately describe the show. There’s no doubt it’s a slap-stick comedy; it’s like an old-time pantomime. Everything the characters do is a conglomeration of farcical mistakes and errors. Performers seem to slip into and out of their character roles with absolute abandon to the point that it is difficult to know whether it was a planned part of the show or a real stuff-up. But either way, it’s really hilarious. As the show progresses stage sets continue to malfunction; rigging doesn’t work and performers get hammered all over the place; but they just keep popping back up, at least most of the time. One of the things that we found most delightful about this show is that it was so completely entertaining and so incredibly funny throughout its entire two hours, yet; there was no swearing or foul language to emphasise a point; there were no sexual innuendos or nudity to shock the audience; it was just good, clean, heart-warming theatre. In keeping with the traditions of old-time pantomimes there were also regular instances where the cast would interact with the audience through good-hearted banter. It seems funny to say there was only a cast of ten on stage; there seemed to be many more as performers slipped in and out of multiple roles throughout the night. It’s equally difficult to highlight any particular performer as this show truly demands a team performance; and that was what we were given. The cast and their principal roles were Darcy Brown (Peter Pan), Francine Cain (Wendy Darling), Connor Crawford (Captain Hook), Jay Laga’aia (Narrator), George Kemp (John Darling), Jordan Prosser (Michael Darling), Tammy Weller(Tootles), Luke Joslin (Peter’s Shadow) and Adam Dunn (absolutely everything). The skill of these actors to deliver a show that is a circus of amusement leaves us with lasting memories of an age old children’s story that just will never be quite the same again. It is our honest opinion that readers of this review should really do themselves a favour and take themselves off to the Playhouse to see Peter Pan Goes Wrong. The only risk is that you may find yourselves absolutely exhausted after laughing out loud for two hours.