Three of the best: Coburg

Ten years ago you could still have snapped up a bargain unrenovated California bungalow in Coburg.

These days it’s getting harder – most of the period houses have been rejuvenated, extended and occupied by a whole new wave of families.

Many of those families moved out to the suburb as young couples from the more cramped inner suburbs, attracted by the fact they could buy a house with character, plus get a backyard and a side drive, and still be within 10 kilometres of the city.

A decade or so down the track the children of this new demographic have grown into teenagers and, with their weight in numbers, their families have been able to lobby successfully for the reopening of Coburg High School.

The school had its first intake of Year 7s this year since it was closed in 2004.

Today the houses may no longer be bargain price – unless you’re prepared to venture up to the northern end of the suburb. But you can still get a lot of house for your money in Coburg, says local agent Shelley Quinn of Brad Teal Real Estate.

The streets are wide and block sizes are often generous, and there are endless streetscapes of those lovely Edwardians and California bungalows, interspersed by the occasional Victorian and a smattering of more modern rebuilds.

“There is something of a romance with period homes in the suburb,” Ms Quinn says.

Proximity to transport is another big drawcard. Apart from being a whisker from CityLink, the suburb has three tramlines and three railway stations on the Upfield line.

A bike track running down the side of the railway line and straight into town is packed with cyclist commuters every morning.  Locals love

Up this end of Sydney Road you get authentic old school multicultural Coburg, but hipster-ish neighbourhood cafes are springing up across the suburb – with some favourites including True North in Munro Street and vegetarian eatery Little Deer Tracks in O’Hea Street. O’Hea Street also has the eponymous bakery and delicatessen which is crowded with locals sitting down for lunch or grabbing something to cook up on their way home. Best addresses

In the eastern part of the suburb, streets like The Grove, The Avenue and Rennie Street have some very grand homes that wouldn’t look out of place in the more salubrious eastern suburbs. The Glencairn Estate, behind John Fawkner Hospital on Moreland Road, has beautiful tree-lined streetscapes of Edwardian homes protected by a heritage overlay.

32 Queen Street $950,000 – $1,045,000 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 car spaces

There is something particularly lovely about a well-renovated Californian bungalow – all those gables, the grand porch at the front and usually a bay window or two. Inside they are usually well-proportioned with the only problem that the living areas were usually sited in the front of the home.

This renovation has taken advantage of that by turning what would probably have once been the formal lounge with its lovely bay window into the main bedroom, and creating an en suite and walk-in robe within its generous proportions, and turning the other room – perhaps originally the dining – into a formal lounge.

There are two more bedrooms either side of the hallway beyond this, plus a beautiful modern bathroom with sleek bath and shower, a separate powder room and a generous laundry.

The house then opens out to a spacious open-plan living meals and kitchen area with north-facing windows that flood it with light despite the easterly orientation of the rear.

Bi-fold doors open to the backyard with its covered deck area and a rectangle of grass. At the south end of Coburg, and walking distance to the Melville Street tram, this will be an ideal home for a family.

Room for improvement A bigger family could enclose the front formal lounge to become a fourth bedroom at a pinch. 

3 Chambers Street $670,000 – $730,000 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1 car space

Once a compact Victorian cottage, this home has been nicely extended and renovated to make for a very comfortable and rather chic home suitable for a couple or small family.

It’s a pretty house, with the fretwork on the verandah behind the deep landscaped front garden picked out in striking magenta to contrast with the two-tone grey.

The current owners have taken advantage of the wider than normal block to create a new side extension at the front that houses a lavish bathroom and laundry.

At the back the living areas are oriented sidewards towards the north, where windows and sliding doors open on to a generous deck and al fresco area providing for a number of relaxation and entertainment options.

The back area is dominated by a heated swim spa which has its own deck and access to an outdoor shower on the way back to the bathroom.

In the backyard is also an almost self-contained studio, with a kitchenette and toilet and plenty of room for a desk and daybed, but not quite enough for a full-sized bed. Beyond that is a shed and a carport that has access to the right of way from the rear laneway.

Room for improvement The backyard here is made up of pockets that would work well for adults but are not very user-friendly for smaller children. Creating a bigger backyard would require some serious demolition, perhaps of the swim-spa and the studio. 

9 Webb Street $770,000 – $840,000 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1 car space

A good family home benefits from a range of spots where the family can get away from each other to do their own thing. This one has them in spades, especially once the weather improves enough for outdoor living.

It starts with the very pleasant sitting area on the porch looking out over the nicely parterred​ front yard, sheltered by the characteristic overhang of this style of early 20th-century weatherboard.

There are two separate living areas, another sheltered al fresco entertaining area in the backyard, and the bonus surprise of a loft studio accessible from the main bedroom.

Built into the roofline, this studio has plenty of light and would be perfect as a study, music practice area or perhaps a yoga retreat.

Beyond the three good-sized bedrooms – the main is particularly generous – and the formal lounge, the family area – lit on three sides – will comfortably hold a troop of teenagers, serviced by a smart well-appointed kitchen.

There’s an extra toilet off the laundry to supplement the big central bathroom, and a shed out the back. Coburg North Primary and and O’Heas Bakery and Deli are just round the corner.

Room for improvement At present the covered al fresco area takes up much of the backyard making the home more suitable for teenagers, but this could be removed to return some backyard space for those with smaller children wanting a trampoline or room to run around.   Domain

Help Tegan Martin help Molly-Jane: Support Tegan on Celebrity Apprentice

Molly-Jane Boyson and Tegan MartinSHE is the Newcastle-born model who made her mark on the world stage.

But now Miss Universe 2014 contestant Tegan Martin needs her home town’s help.

Currently shooting 14-hour days for the next instalment of Celebrity Apprentice, Martin, 22, wants to use the show to raise as much money as she can for a charity close to her heart.

Touched by the story of Molly-Jane Boyson, a New-Lambton girl born with a rare genetic disease known as CACT, Martin wanted to help the five-year-old realise her dream.

‘‘I recently attended a benefit night for Molly-Jane,’’ Martin said. ‘‘She is a beautiful little girl, full of energy and her condition breaks my heart. ‘‘It was her dream to go to Disneyland and I am proud to say I was a small part in helping it come true. ‘‘I called on my close friend Miss USA Nia Sanchez and after countless emails and phone calls and with her help I was able to supply the family with tickets to Disneyland.

‘‘It was an amazing feeling to have helped even if only a little.

‘‘But this wasn’t enough. ‘‘This little girl’s story touched me and I wanted to do more.

‘‘Then came Celebrity Apprentice and I have decided to raise money for The Metabolic Clinic at theChildren’s Hospital at Westmead. ‘‘They have kept Molly-Jane alive but are underfunded and in danger of closure.

‘‘I’ll do anything I can for that little fighter.’’

The ultimate goal in Celebrity Apprentice is to raise much-needed funds for deserving charities, with each contestant nominating a cause of their own.

The better they go in the challenges and the more money they raise the more likely they are to remain on the show.

‘‘I’m going to need all the help I can get so I don’t get fired,’’ Martin said.

‘‘I would love some donations and some support from all those Novocastrians and Newcastle businesses out there.’’

Martin said the long days filming for the series, which is expected to air in September, have been demanding, but she is enjoying herself.

‘‘I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard,’’ Martin said.

‘‘It feels like an endurance test, but I am getting there.

‘‘I’m really enjoying the company. ‘‘There are a wide, diverse range of characters. ‘‘I’m the youngest, so I’m trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can. ‘‘I think a lot of people may have underestimated me, but I’m hopefully showing them what I can do.’’

Martin hopes her role on the show will provide a platform to break into more TV work.

If you want to help Tegan raise money for her chosen charity and keep her on the show then you can contact her on Instagram @tegan.martin and send her a direct message. Teganwill contact you with details on how to donate.

In Bruges, Belgium travel guide: A behind the scenes look

Belfort Markt. Photo: Jan DarthetWould you take holiday tips from a pair of hitmen? If you have caught the 2008 black comedy, In Bruges, you are probably ready to give it a go. The English film, which follows the adventures of a pair of criminals laying low after a botched hit, is set in the lovely Belgian city of Bruges, or Brugge, as the locals call it. With the medieval streetscapes stealing every scene, this film does for Bruges’ tourism industry what Peter Jackson’s movies have done for New Zealand’s.  Our hit list helps you make the most of any stay. TO MARKET, TO MARKET

Way before New Yorkers invented Fifth Avenue, the good folk of Bruges strutted their stuff at the Grote Markt, or big market. The ornately gabled medieval buildings, built by the town’s powerful guilds, are a perfect illustration of the medieval art of bling. WATER WORLD

Shh, don’t tell Venice, but Bruges’ network of charming canals may be the city’s most underrated attraction. With fewer tourists than you will find in the Italian city, you can follow the waterways to explore the city without getting swamped by crowds. Our favourite is the romantic Groenerei​, or green canal, lined with trees, creepers and elegant mansions. The best vantage point is from the Peerdebrug​, or Horse Bridge. BEER NECESSITIES

They’re a thirsty mob in Bruges: this little town once had no fewer than 54 breweries within its walls. The sole survivor, De Halve Maan​, is going strong: to avoid the traffic jams caused by its many delivery trucks, they are currently building build a 3km pipeline under the city streets to pump the beer to their bottling facility outside town. Sign up for one of the regular brewery tours, or just sample some wares in the airy tasting room. The Brugse Zot lager is a popular choice; for something stronger, try the Straffe Hendrik.

halvemaan.beART ATTACK

Like Florence, Bruges was once the epicentre of an artistic revolution. Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, the likes of Jan van Eyck​ and Hans Memling​ used oil paints to create a new type of art, one that moved away from traditional religious imagery to celebrate the riches of the real world. The sumptuous canvases on display in the Groeninge Museum include portraits of Bruges’ elite clad in rich furs and velvets and bedecked with dazzling jewellery, as seductive as any advertisement in Vogue.

bezoekers.brugge.beCIRCLING THE SQUARE

The Grote Markt​ is only one of Bruges’ grand squares. Just a short walk away is the Burg, once the town’s administrative centre and still one of its most imposing spaces. Amid the grand Gothic architecture, keep an eye out for the 14th century city hall, or Stadhuis​, bedecked with statues of the Counts of Flanders and their Countesses. Its interior is equally impressive, particularly the wooden ceiling in the Gothic Hall. A geometric bunker by Toyo Ito, sitting in a pool of water, brings a striking contemporary touch to the square.  TENDER MERCIES

Few people guess the purpose of the mighty medieval building located next to the Church of Our Lady. For hundreds of years, Saint John’s Hospital was a place of shelter for pilgrims, travellers and the sick. Today it is a museum which displays not just medical artefacts, but also furniture, sculpture and silverware. Keep an eye out for the gorgeous caskets, altarpieces and the art on display in the chapel.

bezoekers.brugge.beUPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS

The two-storey Basilica of the Holy Blood has a distinctly split personality. The downstairs chapel is a masterpiece of minimalism, a starkly lovely 12th century Romanesque room. The riotously decorated chapel upstairs, which allegedly houses a vial containing the blood of Christ, is a complete contrast.


Ever notice how often women get left out of history? Take the Crusades. European men streamed towards to Jerusalem, driven by religious fervour and a killing fever. But what about the women they left behind? Some retreated to a nunnery; others chose a more sociable option. Bruges’ Begijnhof​, or Beguinage, was a tranquil retreat that let women stay in touch with the outside world. Its whitewashed houses, shaded by trees and fringed by a daffodil-covered law, are appealing even today.

bezoekers.brugge.beMARBLE MARY

The mighty Church of Our Lady took 700 years to build; locals grumble that the current renovations may take almost as long. Scaffolding means the soaring interiors lose their impact, and the famous royal tombs are also temporarily off-limits. However, you can still check out the church’s most famous exhibit, a serene Madonna and Child by Michelangelo that is the only one of his creations to leave Italy during his lifetime. TOWERING ABOVE

The mighty 83 metre Belfry plays a key role in the film, In Bruges. If you are up for climbing 366 steps, you will get an amazing view of the rooftops and the snaking silver canals. The tower used to have a wooden spire, but after it burnt down for the third time in 1741, the locals gave up and left it as it is now.


Emirates operates 84 flights per week from Australia to Dubai with a daily onwards connection to Brussels, from where there are regular train services to Bruges; phone 1300 303 777; see emirates杭州夜网m/au. STAYING THERE

With its intimate canalside setting and romantic rooms, Die Swaene​ is one of Bruges’ most charming lodgings, rooms from $250, see At Steenhouwersdijk​ 1; see slh杭州夜网m. EATING THERE

Everyone wants a smart little diner like Quatre Mains just around the corner. The lucky folk of Bruges get to drop in for their delicious shrimp bisque whenever they like. At Philipstockstraat​ 8; see facebook杭州夜网m/4mains. DRINKING THERE

An easily-overlooked door leads down to t’Poatersgat​, a gorgeous vaulted cellar bar. A great place to sample Belgian beer, with 120 different varieties on tap. At Vlaamingstraat 82; see facebook杭州夜网m/t-Poatersgat.

The writer travelled courtesy of Visit Flanders and Emirates Airlines.

Philadelphia’s medical Mutter Museum has an intriguing twist

A cabinet of skulls in the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. A cabinet showcasing different sized skeletons.

The museum’s main gallery.

The brain of Albert Einstein on slides.

A cabinet showcasing different sized skeletons.

A cabinet showcasing different sized skeletons.

Philadelphia’s College of Physicians is a nondescript brick building that you would probably walk past were it not for a sign announcing that the building’s contents are “disturbingly informative”. What, you can’t help but wonder, is that supposed to mean?

In short, it means the Mütter Museum, which was founded in 1858 when Dr Thomas Dent Mütter donated a collection of 1300 anatomic and pathological specimens to the college. Originally, this collection  was meant as a teaching aid: it would help doctors better acquaint themselves with the human body and its ailments.

Since then, the collection has grown to 25,000 objects, and opened to the public, though it remains true to its original mandate. “Our mission is the same,” Anna Dhody, director of the museum, tells me when I meet her in a basement office. “Our mission in the 150-year-plus history has always been education.”

Shrunken heads aside, this place is a far cry from Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Dhody takes me on a tour of the museum, which is spread over two floors, and presented salon-style, with many wooden cabinets and glass panels. I should mention that the Mütter Museum sugar-coats nothing; a visitor should come with an open mind and a strong constitution.

“Certain things definitely elicit audible responses,” Dhody says, as we wander past a giant jar filled with flakes of skin, all of them picked off by a person with the mental disorder dermatillomania. As a teaching facility, the museum admits people of all ages; Dhody has seen a seven-year-old ask sensible questions and a 17-year-old pass out from revulsion. To put it mildly, Mütter is a matter of personal taste.

“If you open any of these drawers,” Dhody continues, pointing out safety pins, buttons and nails, “everything you see was removed from somebody’s throat.”

I could offer long, detailed descriptions of the cabinets surrounding us. I could talk about the conjoined twins, the super-colon, the wax model of an arm riddled with smallpox, the plaster bust of a woman with a salivary gland tumour, even the preserved thorax of John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Abraham Lincoln. But I’ll refrain, because what’s most interesting – what makes the Mütter Museum both admirable and worthy for visiting – is how respectfully everything is treated, how soberly and measured.

Labels are kept carefully objective, leaving interpretations to the visitor. It’s not about spectacle or sensationalism; it’s about reality in all its obtuse and unsettling manifestations. “Knowledge is the most important thing,” Dhody says. She wants people to look and marvel at the world around us.

Two exhibits are particularly effective at provoking this. The first is little more than a series of slides, created by a pathologist named Thomas Harvey. “For decades,” a plaque explains, “Harvey kept the brain of one of the world’s greatest minds in a glass jar, sometimes in a cider box under a beer cooler, and eventually the brain ended up on the floor of a closet in Kansas. Harvey also dissected the brain into 240 blocks and created 1000 microscopic slides of the brain tissue.”

That brain belonged to Albert Einstein, and peering down at slices of the great thinker’s brain is to wonder at the power of the brain itself.

The other exhibit, in a room dedicated to “Healing in Civil War Philadelphia,” reminds a visitor of how miraculous are the leaps and bounds of modern medicine.

“What was it like to get shot and lose your arm?” asks a sign beside a small black room. I enter my gender, height and skin tone into a touch-screen computer, then enter the room to stand before an oversize mirror. The simulated amputation that follows is relentless and confronting. It also makes me realise another value of museums like this one  – empathy, fellow-feeling for others and their suffering.  TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

discoverphl杭州夜网m. GETTING THERE

Several airlines offer flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Philadelphia, including Qantas, via Dallas-Fort Worth. See qantas杭州夜网m. Philadelphia is conveniently located between New York and Washington DC, making it a good stop on the Amtrak train service. See amtrak杭州夜网m. STAYING THERE

The recently refurbished Westin Philadelphia is on Rittenhouse Square, walking distance to many attractions, including the Mütter Museum. Rooms range from about   $310 a night. See starwoodhotels杭州夜网m/westin/philadelphia. SEE + DO 

The Mütter Museum, 19 S 22nd Street, is open daily 10am to 5pm. Entry is $22.  See muttermuseum杭州夜网.

The writer was a guest of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Wallabies lock Sam Carter on track to return from knee injury in time for Rugby World Cup

Wallabies and Brumbies lock Sam Carter is aiming to make a late bid for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Jay CronanThe World Cup dream for Wallabies and Brumbies lock Sam Carter is well and truly alive with his quicker than expected recovery from a knee injury.

Carter is on track to return to the field in mid-August for a National Rugby Championship match with NSW Country.

If all goes well in his comeback from a torn medial ligament, Carter will then be available for selection for the Wallabies’ historic Test match against the USA in Chicago on September 5.

That will be the last hit-out for the Wallabies before they start their World Cup campaign against Fiji in Cardiff on September 24.

Carter returned to straight line running last week – eight weeks after his knee injury.

He is aiming to play for NSW Country in their first game of the NRC on August 22, giving him time to launch a late bid for World Cup selection.

“If I’m in the picture, maybe I can perform in one game before they [the Wallabies] go to the US,” Carter said.

“Watching a team you were a part of last year and not being able to be a part of it is tough, but I’m just doing everything I can to get back and make sure I’m right to go.

“Personally, I think that I’ll have confidence in my knee, then it’ll be up to the coaches and staff to what they want to do with me.”

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika sent Carter a message of support soon after he tore the MCL in his knee in the Brumbies’ 22-16 win over the Bulls on May 30.

Carter would be a valuable addition to a Wallabies forward pack, which has shown plenty of positive signs in the team’s opening two wins in The Rugby Championship against South Africa and Argentina.

The 24-year-old made 11 appearances for the Wallabies in his debut international campaign last year.

The Wallabies are blessed with several quality options at lock. Rob Simmons and Will Skelton were in the starting side in the win over the Pumas, while Dean Mumm provided plenty of impact off the bench.

Carter will have another running session on Friday as he continues his rehabilitation.

“Each day I’m progressing that little bit further, it’s pretty positive at the moment,” Carter said.

“The knee has responded really well to all the treatment and all the rehab I’ve been doing. Mid-August is around the 10-11 week mark. It’ll be good to get back out there and hopefully test it out.”

The Wallabies have the opportunity to clinch The Rugby Championship when they host the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium on August 8.

While Cheika’s men haven’t fired on all cylinders so far, they are laying the groundwork ahead of the World Cup.

“Both games weren’t particularly pretty to watch at times, but the most important thing is they got the result and they are starting to come together really well,” Carter said.

“It’s exciting times to watch a team develop and hopefully I can be a part of it.”

Bronwyn Bishop ‘Choppergate’: Where you could go for $5000

Take a river cruise in Europe with APT. Take a river cruise in Europe with APT.

Take a luxury train journey from Sydney to Perth on board the Indian Pacific.

Fly business class to Singapore with Scoot. Photo: Supplied

Take a river cruise in Europe with APT.

Take a river cruise in Europe with APT.

You can have a grand old time in London for $5000. Photo: Shutterstock

You can have a grand old time in London for $5000. Photo: Shutterstock

You can have a grand old time in London for $5000. Photo: Shutterstock

You can have a grand old time in London for $5000. Photo: Shutterstock

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s $5000 helicopter trip between Melbourne and Geelong is a story that just won’t go away, despite a late apology.

And fellow Liberal Malcolm Turnbull didn’t help this week by showing us that if you need to get from Melbourne to Geelong, you can easily do it by train. In fact for $5000, the same amount as Ms Bishop spent, you can get 300 off-peak return train trips on the route.

But forget Geelong – with $5000 you can do a lot more than travel between Victoria’s two largest cities.

Here’s five ways Bishop and Turnbull could spend $5000, either together or singularly, and actually do some real travelling. Singapore fling for two

It’s Singapore’s 50th birthday so why not indulge in a couples retreat package (separate rooms of course) for Malcolm and Bronwyn. For $1200 they can fly ScootBiz from either Sydney or Melbourne (from November 1) on Scoot’s shiny new 787 aircraft. After checking preferences we’ve reserved them seats on the right-hand side of the plane. We’ve checked them into a luxurious Sofitel So Suite each for three nights ($3394 for two rooms) and organised dinner at Xperience restaurant ($240) and a few bottles of Miraval Rose ($220).

Total cost: $5054 for two Just for train geek Malcolm

The good news is we can get them a gold class cabin on the Indian Pacific train from Sydney to Perth within the price range in the off-season. The bad news is they will have to share that cabin. The journey takes four days and three nights. We are sure they’ll have lots to talk about. According to the Great Southern Rail website (greatsouthernrail杭州夜网 they’ll enjoy “private cabin accommodation together with all-inclusive dining, beverages and a range of fascinating off train excursions at key stops”. The gold class offering is all inclusive.

Total cost: $4558 for two which leaves them just enough money to fly home from Perth – if they can find a really cheap deal. Go solo at the top of the class

If business class doesn’t cut it for this hard-working duo, then why not grab a first class flight on Emirates between Sydney and Kuala Lumpur.

Emirates’s first class offers guests a private suite, champagne and an individual cinema experience. We suggest Ms Bishop watch True Lies with Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger (great helicopter scene) and Mr Turnbull might enjoy The Railway Man with our own Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. Perhaps they might like the wild Iranian caviar as an appetiser during the movie before tucking into the glazed duck breast. Yum. (Read Traveller’s review of Emirates’ first class suites)

Total cost: $4992 per person. Still not far enough away?

Award-winning river cruise company APT can get them to the saucy city of Amsterdam. APT offers an eight-day all inclusive royal collection (sorry about the royal part Malcolm) river cruise sailing through the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland. If you book to travel on the April 15, 2016, departure in a category E cabin and you’ll pay $4495 a person twin share.They could set sail aboard one of APT’s luxurious river cruise ships along the Rhine and Moselle rivers. The trip includes two styles of sightseeing: signature invitations, special once-in-a-lifetime moments crafted for APT’s guests, which for this journey include a tour and tasting at the Schlagkamp​ Winery and Wine Museum and the chance to gain an insight into local life as you visit a family for afternoon tea; and freedom of choice where guests can choose their activities in five destinations, for example in Cologne there is a choice of a visit to the Eau de Cologne Fragrance Museum; a tour of Bonn, or the chance to explore the Bonn Botanic Gardens. For further information call APT on 1300 196 420, visit aptouring杭州夜网 or see your local travel agent. (See the 10 most luxurious river cruising suites)

Total cost: $4495 per person. Up, Up and Away

They might need to use their frequent flyer points to get to London, but once they arrive we will have them on cloud nine. For $3200 we can get them a 30-minute helicopter flight over London (The London Helicopter) with close-up views of The Shard, Canary Wharf, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Oval and Hyde Park where no doubt they will linger over the famous Speaker’s Corner. The Crowne Plaza London Battersea is right next door to the helipad and at $500 per night they can share a room for a couple of nights leaving them enough money for a visit to the London Transport Museum ($34 each) and to treat themselves to a five-course lunch on board the luxury Belmond British Pullman​ train which includes a bottle of Laurent-Perrier champagne on ($700). The train leaves Victoria Station at 11.15am. Don’t be late.

Total cost: $4964 plus frequent flyer flights to London.

How would you spend $5000 for a holiday? Post your comments below.

Inspirational travel books: Our writers reveal the books that inspired them to travel

Ithaca in the Greek Islands. Photo: Dorling Kindersley

Procida Iisland in the Mediterranean sea.

Ithaca in the Greek Islands. Photo: Dorling Kindersley

Procida Iisland in the Mediterranean sea.

Ithaca in the Greek Islands. Photo: Dorling Kindersley

Times Square, New York is a busy tourist intersection of neon art and commerce.

Procida Iisland in the Mediterranean sea.

Procida Iisland in the Mediterranean sea.

Ithaca in the Greek Islands. Photo: Dorling Kindersley

It is no coincidence that dedicated travellers are also often great, voracious readers. Because what is reading but an inward journey, or a journey of the mind. Both reading and travelling represent a restlessness of spirit, a desire to  see the world from every possible angle.

Anybody who has every stayed in a modest hotel in Bali, or a cabana in Mexico, or a hostel in Budapest, will recognise the sight of a raffish bookshelf stuffed full of novels and guidebooks and travel memoirs, left behind by people unable to stop moving, even when they were ostensibly at rest.

A good book can take you footstep by footstep across the Sahara Desert, or down the length of Africa overland. It can let you roam across the Mongolian Steppe, or cross the United States on the now-defunct Route 66. It can give you, momentarily, a coffee farm in Kenya, or a chateau in Provence. It can allow you to role-play other lives entirely as an exercise in “What if?” A good book offers meaning, too; it sets the chaos of a foreign place into some sort of order that is not only comprehensible but inspiring.

Every traveller has their favourite reads. But some books are so powerful that they can change the way we think, and act as the catalyst to a physical journey. Here six of our writers reveal the books that influenced their own travels, those works that made them want to pack their bags and hit the road in search of something new and strange. HOMER’S ILIADLuke Slattery

There is one thing I share with Alexander the Great – given the abject failure of my plans for world domination – and that’s a fascination with Troy. Crossing from Greece to what is now Turkey at the head of 160 triremes (warships with three decks of rowers), the young Alexander stopped at the ruins of Troy, stripped off his armour, oiled his body, and ran around naked. My visit, some 2300 years later, was a rather more subdued affair.

I crossed the Dardanelles on a ferribot, to use the quaint Turkish name, in search of Homeric echoes. After a few melancholy days exploring the Gallipoli battlefields I headed south to Troy – fully clothed. The Iliad was the first classic I read. I must have been 10. The granddaddy of all war stories was a nightly tryst with an impassioned world of gods and heroes. Of course it was an abridged children’s version. But it gave me the story, and set me alight.

The word “sobering” best conveys the experience of standing at Troy’s wreckage, a guide droning about King Priam and his son eldest Hector, the legendary beauty Helen, and Achilles the enraged warrior. “Helen’s lover Paris,” he said, “from these very walls lets his arrows fly.”

It is a lovely site – notwithstanding the presence of a kitsch outsized Trojan horse rising gloomily nearby – with views over the rich Anatolian plains and the electric blue Aegean beyond. But the Trojan ruins are the size of a very big house or a very small palace – more like a pirate fort than anything. It is called Troy. But Homer’s Trojan war, a 10-year Greek siege of an Asian kingdom “rich in gold”, was not fought here. Homer was no war correspondent. He sang not of a war that was but of a dream in which he and his listeners could find themselves.

Next stop on my Homeric odyssey was, fittingly, Ithaca. I set out on a warm spring night from the port of Patras on the Kefalonia. The moonlit Ionian Sea is a zinc tabletop and from the upper deck I gaze up at the night sky, dusted with the white pepper of countless constellations, thinking about the joys of slow travel and C.P. Cavafy’s​ famous lines:

Better if it lasts for years,

So you are old by the time you reach the island,

Wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

Not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

There is no particular Homeric site on Ithaca, save for the name itself with its powerful mythic resonance. But after a week on the island, a string of pretty pebbled coves lapped by crystalline waters – neat gin on the rocks – I begin to see why the shaggy hero Odysseus, having survived the tribulations of war, would want to return. I do. THREE MORE FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKS

Mani by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy Leigh Fermor was, to my mind, the great travel writer of the last century, and Mani, first published in 1958, tells of his journeys through the stark, brooding, glittering Peloponnese​: a region saturated in history and myth and memory. The young Leigh Fermor stopped at the Maniot village of Kardamyli, in a region of rust-coloured hills silvered by olive groves erupting now and then into insular hilltop villages, and made a home. I once wrote to him there, and received a postcard in return. I treasure it.

Naples 44 by Norman Lewis

There is an accidental quality to Norman Lewis’ searing witness account of Naples in the months after the German occupation, as the author was a serving intelligence officer not a writer of renown. The renown would come later, with several books about Indochina. But Naples 44, its dry lightly ironic reportorial style a perfect match for the dark comedy of a grand yet fallen city, is his masterpiece.

Following the Equator – A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain

Perhaps Mark Twain’s true metier was travel writing; what is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, after all, if not a journey down the Mississippi. Following the Equator is a vibrant, often hilarious account of the author’s 1895 tour of the British Empire, and it contains a sharp yet affectionate account of colonial Australia. The book’s offbeat style is best captured in this sparkling incidental line from Twain’s experience of Varanasi: “A canvas-box is not much of a sight – when empty; but when there is a lady in it, it is an object of interest.” JOHN STEINBECK’S  THE GRAPES OF WRATHCatherine Marshall

It was so clear in my imagination I could have sworn I’d already made that journey myself: the ribbon of tar “crowded with men ravenous for work, murderous for work”, as John Steinbeck​ described Route 66 in his 1939 Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath. I was 18 and had never been overseas, but Steinbeck brought that road to such vivid life I could practically see it inching its way across the flat expanses of Illinois and Missouri and Kansas, through the dust bowl of Oklahoma, into the eerily empty Texas panhandle, over the crumpled surfaces of New Mexico and Arizona, and into the final, warm embrace of southern California – a state whose abundance of sunlight and fruit orchards would, by the reading’s end, reveal itself to be tragically deceptive.

The despair of the tenant-farming Joad family, their exploitation at the hands of ruthless bankers and money-hungry landowners, caused my innocent young heart to clench. But I was thrilled by the promise of adventure as they set out in their laden truck, by the idea that a whole family could reinvent itself somewhere new, some place more forgiving. Steinbeck’s Route 66 was a migrant highway streaming with families fleeing the drought, defying the Great Depression, escaping the tyranny of debt.

Yet it was also a metaphor for the paths we all take, the many forks that appear in the road as we make our way through life. Despite the tragedies that befell the Joads as they journeyed along America’s main street, I was captivated by its potential for deliverance, by the infinite possibilities that always seem to lie at the end of a wide open road.

Many years later, during the GFC – when American bankers were being bailed out and working-class folk were losing their homes – I finally set off along Route 66, from its official starting point on Chicago’s Jackson Boulevard. My husband and three children were with me. My original copy of The Grapes of Wrath – the one I read as an 18-year-old – was tucked into the cubbyhole. I invoked those Joads every step of the way: in Oklahoma, where the newly-paroled Tom arrived at his parents’ house only to find it abandoned; along stretches of empty, desolate road where the evicted tenants camped; crossing the Mojave Desert where Granma, too heartbroken to go on, died.

It took us almost two weeks to pick our way along the buckled, exhausted original route. Eventually, we pulled up at its official endpoint beside Santa Monica pier. I’d traversed the road Steinbeck conjured for me all those years ago, and felt a sense of accomplishment denied the characters in his singular novel – those people whose souls the grapes of wrath had filled until they were heavy, the writer warned, heavy for the vintage.  THREE MORE FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKS 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The best travel books aren’t travel books at all: they’re stories about people shaped by the places they live in and the countries they’ve come from. In The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan transports the reader from San Francisco to pre-revolutionary China and back again, tracing the impact of cultural identity on a group of first-generation Chinese-American women.

Burmese Days by George Orwell

To really understand a country, one needs to burrow far beneath its skin. This is what George Orwell does in his debut novel, Burmese Days, loosely based on events that occurred during his five-year stay in Burma while serving as a policeman under the British Raj. The book’s beauty lies in its ability to contextualise all these years later the complex, confounding country that is modern-day Myanmar.

Oh, the places you’ll go! by Dr Seuss

There’s no book that better captures the thrill of exploration and the messiness of life than Dr Seuss’ Oh, the places you’ll go! Ostensibly a children’s book, it’s really a blueprint for anyone wishing to live without fear, nurture a sense of adventure, and accept that something is bound to go awry along the way. AGATHA CHRISTIE’S DEATH ON THE NILE Brian Johnston 

When I was a teenager, I was inspired to travel not by travelogues but by novels such as Graham Greene’s Travels with my Aunt and Frederic Prokosch’s​ The Asiatics, which featured geographical movement and exotic locales. Two Agatha Christie murder mysteries in particular fired my imagination. Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express share the same conceits: murder, a closed group of scheming suspects, and a mode of transport that carries the characters and the reader ever onwards towards an improbable yet deeply satisfying denouement.

Although I’ve yet to ride the Orient Express, Istanbul (its final destination) was one of the first cities I ever visited solo. It took me longer to get to Egypt, but it had always been in my sights. Agatha Christie novels have never been highbrow, and are now terminally old-fashioned and strewn with embarrassing 1930s racial and social stereotypes.

Still, Death on the Nile is one of her best and a clever classic of the mystery genre. It has tension – no murder is committed until halfway through the book – and, as the passengers float along the river on a Nile cruise, jealousy, high emotion and gossip unfold. I was equally entranced by the 1978 movie version that starred Peter Ustinov as detective Hercule Poirot, alongside a host of stellar suspects: David Niven, Maggie Smith, Mia Farrow, Angela Landsbury and a brilliantly grotesque Bette Davis.

The book has little to say about its Egyptian location, focusing instead on the ensemble of shipboard characters, but Egypt is always in the background. No surprise, then, that when I finally got to Egypt a Nile journey was a must. I found an old-fashioned cruise ship and, though fortunately murder-free, the polished brass, tinkling teacups, backgammon games and retired Etonian types satisfied my search for that Agatha Christie moment.

I finished my cruise in Aswan, actually the starting point for the book. Early scenes take place at the Cataract Hotel (now the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan), an impressive red pile built for 19th-century British travellers. Agatha Christie, whose husband was an archaeologist, wrote much of the novel in the suite that now bears her name. It was beyond my budget, but I had afternoon tea on the terrace, which overlooks the Nile River.

I’m well over Agatha Christie now, but I have to thank the book for providing one of my top travel moments as I nibbled on cucumber sandwiches and enjoyed the splendid view over the Nile as it slides between giant boulders and the desert, then on past gaping tombs and tumbled temples, until swallowed up by the sunset. THREE MORE FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKS

In Turkey I am Beautiful by Brendan Shanahan

This is a travel book for those who think the genre is only about sunset cocktails and lavender fields. Aussie author Shanahan sees Turkey rather differently, as a country beset by religious, social and political issues and home to a melancholy people, not least his drug-addled friend Tevfik. It’s thoughtful, humorous and very personal.

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

This 1975 story of a journey by train from London through Europe, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia and back on the Trans-Siberian is as vivid as ever. Theroux is wonderfully adept at largely leaving the places he visits undescribed, while creating character, passing conversations and casual episodes from his journeys.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

I used to dismiss Bryson as lightweight, but have recently discovered his brilliance. This look at Britain, written when Bryson was about to return to America after 20 years, avoids all the classic tourist destinations but portrays the British character and life in modern Britain with wit, fondness and considerable insight. JOAN DIDION’S GOODBYE TO ALL THATLance Richardson

“When I first saw New York I was 20, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild  temporary terminal in a new dress,” writes Joan Didion in her classic essay Goodbye to All That, collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. When I first saw New York I, too, was 20, and it was spring, and I got off a 747 at the old American Airlines terminal in a new shirt bought especially for the trip. I carried Didion’s book in my bag like a Bible. I was hardly the first aspiring writer to bring it to “the mirage,” as Didion calls New York, though I know now that I hardly understood a word of what she wrote.

Didion’s essay is a love letter. Or at least it seemed that way when I read it on the plane, infatuated with her choice of details – the peach on a street corner, Christmas trees up Park Avenue – which seemed to presage “that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month”.

New York was a dream place, and here was the most exquisite portrait of it by the writer I wanted to be. It read like an affirmation of what my life would be like when I lived here myself, on the island where “nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach”. Of course, I was ignoring the ending of the essay during that first visit.

At age 20, I skimmed over the bit where Didion becomes disillusioned, explaining how she realised that “it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair”. The first half of the essay was exhilarating truth; the second half beautifully written but impenetrable. How could the “golden rhythm” ever be “broken” in a city like New York? Impossible.

And yet it is amazing how a work of art can, over the course of your life, change its meaning entirely. That 20-year-old me, standing stunned in the glittering excess of Times Square, would have been delighted to peek into the future and see that he would indeed move to “Xanadu” (another Didionism), just eight years later. But maybe he would have been less delighted to see how the fantasy would break in the process; how Didion’s love letter would come to feel even more true for its ultimate resignation.

“It never occurred to me that I was living a real life there,” Didion writes. I first interpreted that line as pure encouragement. Now, having faced the city and endured its challenges firsthand, I see her line has a double meaning. Now Didion’s essay is even more precious: a codebreaker helping me to decipher the confusing place I  now call home, though maybe not for much longer.   THREE MORE FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKS

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen​

Taken at face value, this book appears to diarise a journey in the Himalayas, with Matthiessen on a science trip to study blue sheep. Really, though, it’s about grief and the search for meaning. Matthiessen’s kaleidoscopic book is a masterpiece of self-observation.

Sydney by Delia Falconer

Anybody trying to get a handle on the enigmatic strangeness of Sydney should read this book, a lyrical essay that seeks out the ghosts hiding amid  the surf and sunshine. The best portrait of the city since Jan Morris wrote her version, also entitled Sydney, before the 2000 Olympics.

On the Trail of Genghis Khan by Tim Cope

A young Australian packs up his life and spends three years crossing the Eurasian steppes on foot and horseback: What could be more compelling than that? But it is Cope’s ability as a writer, equal to his gift as a fearless explorer, that make this a modern classic. JAMES A. MICHENER’S THE DRIFTERSAlison Stewart

At 21, straight out of university in the mid-1970s, I set off alone to hitchhike around Spain and Portugal, with only a handful of pesetas, and a powerful need for clear air. Enrichment, delight in new cultures and people – these are all potent reasons to travel. Mine at that time was escape – from my birth country, South Africa and its hideous apartheid regime. At least I could escape.

And what inspired my journey? Among all the exquisite writing about alienation from fellow South Africans that engaged me through my university years, it was a less literary book that captured the zeitgeist, and me – James A. Michener’s The Drifters set in the revolutionary late ’60s.

I identified with Michener’s six disenchanted young runaways who fled the Vietnam War and the old world’s traditional values. They made their separate ways to Spain and specifically, wait for it, Torremolinos! It later became a much parodied package-holiday dive, but was briefly an exotic, weightless place.

Their hedonistic pursuit of drugs, pleasure and disengagement took them from Torremolinos to destinations like Pamplona, Ibiza, the Algarve, Mozambique and Morocco. But the place they sought was illusionary and gradually their utopian world dissolved into tragedy.

I didn’t care. I wanted what Michener offered. I could escape like his characters, shedding the beloved, despised country. So I booked a passage on a ship for Barcelona, taking only a few clothes and a journal. I wanted no baggage, literally. In the dying months of Franco’s Spain, alone or with fellow travellers, I hitchhiked, picking up scraps of work. Travelling for six months in the hottest summer for years, I made it to all Michener’s places and further.

I was robbed in Pamplona, slept rough in Ibiza and the Costa del Sol, camped with strangers at Algeciras​, Seville and the Algarve, fought off an abduction near Vilafranca del Penedes,fell ill in San Sebastian and was sometimes so hungry I frequented restaurant bins. I met many good people and some bad, took a few risks and terrified my family.

Liberating though it was, it became clear that I was also in search of a non-existent utopia. I wanted the different landscapes to change me. If only.

The Drifters’ time has passed, but for a brief moment, it opened a door to a world that promised something that wasn’t quite there. Travel it seemed didn’t make you better, or worse, just a little older and only marginally wiser. THREE MORE FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKS

The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow by A.J. Mackinnon

A wonderfully eccentric travel book by Australian author “Sandy” Mackinnon, who has the batty idea of leaving his teaching job at a Hogwarts-style Shropshire school and sailing away in a dinghy “just to see where I got to – Gloucester, near the mouth of the Severn, I thought”. Totally unprepared, he bumbles along various waterways, eventually crossing the English Channel and carrying on to the Black Sea. Remarkably, he stays alive to tell the tale.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Bryson, like Paul Theroux, can be curmudgeonly, but his engaging, self-referential style and mastery of dialogue is mesmerising. I think this book is Bryson’s best – his funny account of walking the Appalachian Trail hike skilfully explores the challenges of the journey and the grand intransigence of the landscape (and his travelling companions). Thanks to Bryson, I too want to walk in the woods – just without the bears.

Old Serpent Nile by Stanley Stewart

Stewart’s book is travel writing at its best – insightful, witty and elegant. Bernini’s sculpture in Rome, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (fountain of the four rivers), inspired Stewart’s dangerous journey from the Nile Delta to the Mountains of the Moon in Eastern Equatorial Africa. When Bernini made his artwork, the Nile’s source was unknown.  READER’S DIGEST, THE WORLD’S LAST MYSTERIESBy Ute Junker

Growing up, I made many wonderful discoveries in my parents’ bookshelves, from Tolkien to Gunter Grass. The book that had the most lasting influence on me as a travel writer, however, was not a literary classic, but a quarto-sized tome from Reader’s Digest entitled The World’s Last Mysteries.

Over more than 300 pages, it explored the world’s vanished civilisations through the monuments they had left behind. From the standing stones of Stonehenge to the temples of the Khmer, I was drawn in first by the striking images, then by the detective stories that lay behind them.

Like any young child,  I was entranced by the majesty of the moai of Easter Island and grandeur of the Egyptian pyramids. As I grew older, I pored over the detailed text. The Egyptian chapter, for instance, included descriptions of how workers transported heavy loads on sledges, pouring water in front of it to help smooth the ground, and accounts of the many obstacles placed inside the pyramids to block the efforts of tomb robbers.

Although Egypt was my favourite, I devoured the other chapters as well. I learnt about the Nazca​ of Peru, who moved tonnes of stone to create gigantic images of birds and animals; the ancient stone city of Great Zimbabwe; and the ziggurats of the ancient Sumerians. More importantly, I learnt that the world was an enchanting place full of wonders that could be explored by anyone willing to make the journey.

It was this knowledge that turned me into a traveller. Top of the to-visit list was always going to be Egypt, where we went on a family holiday when I was still a teenager. Since then, I have worked my way through many of the destinations I encountered in the book, from the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu to the temples of Siem Reap and the cities of those other great pyramid-builders, the Mayans.

I pulled the book from the shelves again recently, and solved a mystery of my own. Visiting the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, I had been struck by the delicate gold statues created by the Scythians, the ancient warriors better known for their bloodthirsty habits – and by a vague feeling I had seen them before. Flicking through the pages, I found a chapter devoted to the Scythians, with the same exquisite statues I had admired in St Petersburg. They had slipped from my mind, but I had caught up with them anyway.  THREE MORE FAVOURITE TRAVEL BOOKSCity of Djinns by William Dalrymple

The novels of Salman Rushdie and Rohinton Mistry​ made me want to see India, but it was William Dalrymple’s that made me fall in love with a city I’d never visited. His vivid book includes a colourful cast of characters – Sufi mystics, eunuchs, pigeon fanciers – and explorations of Delhi’s past.

Venice by James Morris

This book is definitely dated – Jan Morris was still James when it was written – but that is precisely its charm. Venice in the 1950s was very different to the Venice of today, and James is the perfect tour guide, filled with fascinating stories and able to capture revealing snapshots in beautifully crafted paragraphs.

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

A laugh-out-loud book that will have you alternatively cringing with recognition and crying with laughter. Written in 1869, it proves that despite air travel, email and apps, travel hasn’t changed all that much.

Flores island, Indonesia: Komodo dragons and rays – the Indonesian island idyll

Beautiful beaches with white sand and turquoise water in the national park on Komodo Island. Photo: Rafal Cichawa Komodo National Park. Photo: Joakim Leroy

Komodo National Park. Photo: Joakim Leroy

Komodo National Park. Photo: Joakim Leroy

Komodo National Park. Photo: Joakim Leroy

Komodo dragons on the beach in the Komodo National Park on Rinca Island. Photo: Danita Delimont

A manta ray near Komodo Island. Photo: Oxford Scientific / Photolibrary

Arriving on Flores, I have one of those perfect travel moments: when you know that this is exactly where you need to be right now; that this destination has called you to it.

I’ve just put my bags down at our Airbnb pad in the diving town of Labuan Bajo​ on the west coast of Flores, one of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda​ Islands, when I show our host a photo of a flawless splice of an island that I’d snapped from the plane window on our flight in. He chuckles and shakes his head. “That’s Seraya Kecil. I’ve just started building a boutique hotel on it.” Not only that, he also knows the Greek family who’s opening a hotel next to his in just a few days.

What are the chances? A couple of phone calls later and it’s done. In two nights we’ll be sleeping on that slice of heaven that had  seemed like no more than a mirage from above, in a hotel that no one will have stayed in before.

But first we have some island hopping to do. We’ve booked an overnight boat trip through Indonesian operator Perama Tours, to take us to see Flores’ terrifying komodo dragons, and to explore this enchanted place that doesn’t appear on the average Australian holidaymaker’s mental world-map, despite being just an 80-minute flight from Bali.

After breakfast the next morning we set off, walking down to the port and onto our wooden boat. We’re greeted by our three crew members, only one of whom can speak (broken) English. As we set sail, my husband and I scramble up the ladder to the top deck where we laze about on a couple of single mattresses, mesmerised by the sun-speckled water and great rumpled cushions of land sliding by us.

Our first stop is Rinca Island, one of the three main islands of Komodo National Park, where the dragons have a haven from humans. It’s smaller than Komodo Island but we’d heard the landscape is prettier and it’s less crowded. Indeed, we see only four other travellers the whole time we’re there.

We pay our national park fees (about $50 for two) and meet guide Boni, who has been taking travellers around the island for six years. Barely 10 metres into the walk we spot five dragons lyingin the shade beneath the kitchen. Hearts pounding, we sidle cautiously behind the two-metre giants, the largest species of lizard in the world. Boni tells us the dragons have lived  on the Komodo Islands for millions of years, and that they have more than 50 strains of bacteria in their saliva: within 24 hours of being bitten, their prey usually dies of blood poisoning.

Boni tells us there’s a stable population of about 2000 dragons on this island. I don’t doubt it. For the rest of our 90-minute walk through the jungle paths we see only one more, a stunning female rushing away from us with her bowed legs and thick, muscular tail swishing through the dirt, yet I can feel  the dragons’ presence all around me – a rustle of leaves, the faintest swooshing sound. I imagine them peering out at us from the bushes, sniffing the air with their rounded snouts, judging the best time to attack. Or maybe I’m just being paranoid.

Either way, I can’t say I’m devastated to have to head back to the boat. Especially when there’s grilled fish, fried noodles and half moons of cold watermelon awaiting us on board. When we’re done feasting, we flop back onto the deck and bask in the afternoon sunshine as we roll gently over waves that eventually lull us to sleep.

By the time we wake it’s almost sunset, and thousands of flying foxes are rushing and chattering overhead. We’re off the coast of Kalong Island (or Fruit Bat Island), where, as the sky turns from yellow to orange, from pink to lavender, the bats leave their home in the mangrove forests  in search of fruit.

It’s terribly romantic. At least it is until the other seven boats arrive and two of them start pumping techno music out into the night. Luckily, we’re exhausted by the day’s adventures and escape the alfresco disco by heading to bed in our little bunk cabin at 8.30pm.

We’re up at sunrise the following morning and, after a breakfast of toast, tea and deep-fried bananas, we putter off to Pink Beach, which isn’t, disappointingly, nearly as pink as the pictures we’d seen on Google. Still, we have a terrific time snorkelling over the healthy red coral reef (which is what turns the sand pink) and exploring the beach.

Soon we’re back on the boat, puttering around in the salty breeze. Suddenly, one of the crew crouches, points urgently into the sea and mimics doing breaststroke, so we don our flippers and snorkels and splash in. That’s when we see a huge, ominously dark shape moving towards us. Three of them, actually. Wait, five! I clutch my husband’s swim shorts in terror for the few moments it takes me to realise we must have arrived at Manta Point, an endangered manta ray hot spot, where the huge, playful creatures flap about by the dozen. Once over my panic, I’m able to enjoy their otherworldly beauty as they glide around below us. It’s an awe-inspiring experience, especially given the lack of other tourists around.

After an long snorkel around Kanawa Island, where schools of tiny silver fish waft around us in iridescent clouds, psychedelically coloured Parrotfish nibble at blooms of coral and huge orange starfish sucker onto the ocean floor, it’s time to head to our mirage.

Our arrival on Seraya Island couldn’t get more idyllic. We walk down a jetty suspended above a coral reef then across a stretch of white sand to the seashell-encrusted check-in desk. We’re greeted by Rosi, the beautiful Greek girl whose family has built this resort. Rosi leads us past the pool and over to one of 15 upmarket wooden beach bungalows with palm-thatched roofs. Our whitewashed room smells like frangipanis but we stay in it only long enough to throw on our cozzies and float over to the beachfront saltwater pool, where within minutes a glass of chilled local rosé materialises (there is a more-than-decent Indonesian rosé they serve called Plaga Rosé).

We stay just like that – swimming, sipping, slowing down and soaking up the island’s natural beauty and simplicity – until it’s time to watch the sunset. Seraya Hotel is set between the sea and a giant wall of curving 40-metre cliffs, which we climb to get a 360-degree view of the ocean, the neighbouring islands and that huge orange ball as it drops into the sea. We practically swoon at the romantic vista.

Seraya Hotel offers half- and full-board packages and our Grecian-inspired dinner – a tomato-based spicy seafood soup followed by lemon and herb flash-fried mahi mahi with hand-cut chips and salad and a tasty Greek dessert called lokma, a kind of melt-in-your-mouth doughnut – does not disappoint. We eat in their seaside dining room, which is decorated using the island’s natural resources (think lanterns crafted from driftwood, a bar made from an old wooden boat, chunks of coral and hand-painted palm leaf decorations), accompanied by a soundtrack of tasteful chill-out music to complete the dreamy tropical idyll.

A postprandial skinny dip in the warm-as-a-bath ocean would have been marvellous, or perhaps a midnight stroll along the island, which is just 1.7 kilometres long and 200 metres wide. Alas, we simply cannot resist the call of our king-size bed, swaddled in mosquito net, and the sound of the waves rushing up against the sand just metres from our open doors lulls us to sleep.

The day is our last  in Flores and we spend it enjoying what this Indonesian paradise does best. The flamingo sunrise, the balmy climate, the remarkable snorkelling (Seraya Hotel provides the gear), those perfect crescents of sand. On our 30-minute journey back to the mainland on the hotel’s blue wooden boat, we trail our hands in the indigo waters and wonder why more Australians don’t know about this gorgeous island. Eventually we decide it must really be a mirage – somewhere the rest of the world sees only, if at all, out of the corner of its eye.

The writer flew courtesy of Garuda but paid for her tour and stay.TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

See florestourism杭州夜网m. GETTING THERE

Garuda flies daily to Flores from Denpasar or Jakarta, from $250. STAYING THERE

Seraya Island Hotel and Resort offers rooms from $150 a  person a  day, on a half board basis including boat transfers from Labuan Bajo. Tours to the Komodo Islands, Kanawa Island, Manta Point, Pink Beach and more can be arranged through the hotel, which also has its own dive centre. See serayahotel杭州夜网m. FIVE FLAVOURS OF FLORESHOP IN THE HOT SPRINGS

Encircled by jungle and consisting of just two rows of traditional thatched-roof houses and a pair of shrines representing the local Ngada clan’s ancestors, Bena Village is where it’s at for a taste of life as untouched by the modern world. Hike from here to the magical Malanage Hot Springs. EXPLORE THE CAVES

Just 15 minutes’ drive from Labuan Bajo you’ll find Batu Cermin Cave, filled with stalactites, stalagmites, glittering crystals, tiny bats… and if you’re unlucky, bat-eating spiders and deadly snakes. Visit at the right time of day and light will stream through a gap in the rocks and cause the walls to glisten like mirrors. HIKE TO A CRATER LAKE

Hike up Mount Kelimutu​ at dawn to see the sun rise over its stunning tri-coloured crater lakes, the colours of which vary from green to blue to red depending on the mineral content of the water. WEAVE SOME MAGIC

Flores is famous for its traditional ikat weavings, with each area specialising in its own distinctive motifs, patterns and colours. Aficionados head to Ende on the southern coast of Flores, celebrated for its red and brown Lionese ikat weaving which is sold to collectors all over the world. TAKE A DIVE

Komodo National Park is one of the most diverse marine habitats on earth, with more than 1000 species of fish, 385 species of reef-building corals, 10 species of dolphins and much more attracting scuba fanatics from all over the world. Maumere Bay in East Flores is another fantastic, and much less crowded, diving area.

Majestic Malacca: The Malaysian city that’s on a roll

The Malacca River at night. Photo: Getty The Malacca River at night. Photo: Getty

The entrance to the Majestic Hotel, Malacca, Malaysia. Photo: supplied

A deluxe room at the Majestic Hotel.

Baba-Nyonya style building facade in Malacca. Photo: GARDEL Bertrand /

The distinctive 18th-century Dutch-designed Christ Church in Malacca. Photo: Tomatoskin

The Malacca River at night. Photo: Getty

The Malacca River at night. Photo: Getty

It’s probably not surprising that in a city, and for that matter a country, where eating is more or less the national sport, that one of the signature treatments on the spa menu at the hotel where I’m staying should involve a foodstuff.  And chosen for me is the traditional egg roll therapy. As I  lie face down on the massage table, there is the disconcerting, though unmistakable, sound of boiling in the background. I can’t be sure if I’m getting my eggs hard or runny and I have to trust that they won’t make their way to my breakfast table tomorrow.

Surely not. I’m staying at the Majestic Malacca, the classiest place in town. At the end of the massage I ask to see the eggs. The Malaysian masseuse holds a rather lewd-looking pouch containing two round objects that moments ago were being rolled over my now admittedly relaxed body. Feeling good from the massage, it also feels good to be back in Malacca.

Since I was last here  about three decades ago, this ancient Malaysian trading port has been on something of, dare I say, a roll itself. In 2008, it received a joint UNESCO World Heritage listing with Georgetown, located on the island, Penang, to the north of the country, in recognition of their unique architectural heritage. “The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape,” UNESCO stated in its inscription, “without parallel anywhere in east and  south-east Asia”.

Both Georgetown and Malacca are so well preserved – more by accident than design – that they provide a palpable sense of what a place like Singapore would have resembled before progress led to the demolition of its distinctive shop-houses and other historic buildings. On my first visit to cosmopolitan Malacca, a place that’s still not all that easy to get to, I came on a perilous coach ride from Singapore with the foreign passengers (me included) having to plead with the driver to desist from overtaking on hairpin corners. Malaysians at that time were rated among the world’s worst drivers.

Nowadays it’s freeway all the way from Singapore – notably via a surprisingly formidable and sizeable frontier that denotes  the tetchy relations between the two south-east Asian nations. Today the driving is a lot more tolerable even though the coach captain on my bus from Singapore elects to drop me a few blocks from my hotel, forcing me to find my own way to it in the mad-dog, noon heat. Oh well, take a cab if you want door-to-door service.

Although Malaysia itself has changed irrevocably – the very model, with some serious political reservations, of a modern Islamic state – Malacca itself, thank goodness, has altered little – save, that is, for some worrisome, creeping high-rises near the edge of the World Heritage zone. There is even a superfluous monorail track that the local burghers have been unable to render operational since it was installed a few years ago.

The Majestic Malacca  was, until 2004, an abandoned shell. It’s the  nearest there is to a decent colonial-era-hotel in town and  the best place to stay in Malacca, although its design is a neat sleight of hand. The building housing the reception, lobby, bar and restaurant is a charming old mansion, once the lavish residence of  a rich Chinese businessman who eventually fell  on hard times.

It’s teamed with a relatively discreet and sympathetic, 10-storey high-rise built at the rear, with modern rooms  doing a fine impression of being from the era of the much older building. Across the road from the hotel is an extraordinary sight: a former fishing village,  including houses with tin red roofs, that was transferred  from the seaside by the British.

Both Malacca and Georgetown have had more colonisers then they’ve had hot rendangs. Once one of the most important trading ports of the Far East, as the British still like to call it, Malacca’s wealth and strategic location were prizes too tempting for a succession of imperialist nations. The city dates to the 15th century, having been founded by a Sumatran prince who chose to name the city after a local tree, with Malacca first falling to the Portuguese in the 16th century, then the Dutch in the 17th, the British in the 18th. I guess you also could count the short and brutal 20th-century rule of the Japanese during World War II.

On the outskirts of town  a small Portuguese community has survived with the language, or a dialect of it, still spoken by many descendants. But the city’s most  indelible influence comes from the Baba-Nyonyas, or Straits Chinese, descendants  of the first Chinese merchants who married local Malay women, creating a unique culture, known as Peranakan.

Of course, the centrepiece of Malacca is its coveted World Heritage zone and one of the best ways to explore it is on a guided tour, with The Majestic offering a free historical walk. I take one the next morning with a small and eclectic group of fellow houseguests. We follow a riverside boardwalk – minding the missing timber slats here and there. Then our guide, Rahayu, a well versed Malaysian woman from Kuala Lumpur, pauses on a footbridge – one of the many that pass over the Malacca  River  that runs through the city and near the old Indonesian quarter.

It is here, she says,  that the Japanese occupiers during World War II conducted their summary beheadings.  The severed heads were tossed into the river. No wonder it’s still known among locals as the “Ghost Bridge”. Beyond the bridge, with my shirt starting to stick to my back like paparazzi to a Kardashian, we pass an atmospheric street where on either side ancient, darkly lit specialty shops, selling everything from knives to nails, are slowly dying out, one by one, being replaced by cafes and the like.

The  streets are full of colourful, photogenic Baba Nyonya shophouses, with their mandatory shuttered windows while on Jalan Tukang Emas – also known as “Harmony Street” – an Islamic mosque and Hindu and Buddhist temples are neighbours. But it is the magnificent crimson-coloured 18th-century Dutch church – Malacca’s own “Red Square”, that draws the most tourists. It was the oldest building I’d ever seen when I first visited all those years ago. The Dutch built the church to commemorate the centenary of their colonial rule of Malacca in 1653. Eventually the British, having conquered the Dutch, transformed it into an Anglican church but, in looks alone, it will forever remain Dutch.

By the time the tour ends it’s already lunchtime and with the heat intensifying, I take a trishaw back to the Majestic; the short journey complete with the obligatory attempt to entice me into a store to buy a watch. The driver is nearing 70 and still toiling in a job, it must be said, with some of stain of colonialism still attached to it. He is a reminder, too, that it’s not just the buildings that provide a record of Malacca’s past.

He tells me he has spent nearly 30 years plying the streets of Malacca on three wobbly wheels, laughingly referring to his trishaw, adorned in faded plastic flowers, as his “antique treasure”. His dark, weathered skin affirms  all those years spent outdoors. As I wander back into the Majestic, having tipped the driver handsomely after denying  him a commission at the watch shop, it occurs to me that if anyone deserves a restorative egg roll therapy in this town it has to be this kindly, hard-boiled gentleman. FIVE THINGS TO DO IN MALACCAMALACCA RIVER CRUISE 

It’s no Seine but a cruise on the Malacca River is  popular  for  visitors, especially by night when the city’s historic building are illuminated. See JONKER WALK

Also known by its Malay name, Jalan Hang Jebat, vibrant Jonker Street is Malacca’s main tourist strip full of antique shops, restaurants and cafes. See THE STADTHUYS

Built in 1650 as the colonial Dutch governor’s residence, The Stadthuys is believed to be the oldest surviving Dutch building in south-east Asia. See BABA NYONYA HERITAGE MUSEUM

This private museum on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street) features artefacts unique to the Straits Chinese, or Baba Nyonya community. See www.babanyonyamuseum杭州夜网m PORTUGUESE SQUARE

Also known as a “mini Lisbon”, the square is in the small Portuguese village where inhabitants can trace their ancestry  400 years to Portuguese colonial times. See TRIP NOTES MORE INFORMATION THERE

Scoot flies daily from Sydney to Singapore.  From November  1, the Singapore-based low-fare airline will fly five times a week from Melbourne to Singapore. See flyscoot杭州夜网m.

From Singapore, the best way to get to Malacca is  by coach.  Various operators  run  multiple daily services to Malacca costing between  $16 and  $50 and taking between three and four hours. See easybook杭州夜网m/bus-singapore-melaka. The equivalent trip between Kuala Lumpur and Malacca costs between $3.60 and $21  and takes about 2½ hours.  STAYING THERE

Doubles at the Majestic Malacca Hotel start from $127,  188 Jalan Bunga Raya, Malacca, Malaysia. Phone +60 3-2783 1000, see www.majesticmalacca杭州夜网m

The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Malaysia and Scoot.

Tensions ease: Julie Bishop to meet Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi next week

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is expected to meet with her Indonesian counterpart in Kuala Lumpur next week. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Photo: Achmad Ibrahim

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by firing squad in Indonesia in April.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop will meet her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi next week in a sign that relations between the two countries are warming after the schism wrought by the execution of the Bali nine duo and boat turn-backs.

Indonesian officials told Fairfax Media the meeting will take place on the sidelines of the upcoming ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

It will be the first by any ministers from the two countries since Australia withdrew its ambassador to Jakarta, Paul Grigson, in protest at the death by firing squad of rehabilitated drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran on April 28.

Mr Grigson has since returned to his post.

While the Australian government was deeply disappointed its repeated pleas for clemency were rebuffed, Indonesia expressed outrage in the lead-up to the executions when Prime Minister Tony Abbott linked Australia’s $1 billion in tsunami aid to the bid for mercy.

Since then, there have been ongoing tensions over boat turn-backs, including allegations people smugglers were paid by Australian spies to return a vessel laden with asylum seekers to Indonesia.

An 80 per cent cut in live cattle import permits by Indonesia also upset Australia.

Former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa expressed concern last month that there was a “sense of disconnect” in the bilateral relationship and that communications between the two nations – both publicly and privately – were at a low.

He cited the boat turn-backs policy, since adopted by Labor as its policy, as “inherently incompatible” with good relations.

Ms Bishop retorted that the relationship was at an “all-time” high and she was in regular contact with Ms Marsudi.

Indonesian officials, however, have conceded that relations have been at a nadir but say they are anxious for the squabbling to end.

“Australia is an important regional partner for us,” said one official.

Ms Bishop was unable to comment as she was travelling back to Australia from New York. But it is understood she plans to be in Kuala Lumpur next week.

Minister for Justice Michael Keenan is expected to visit Jakarta in about three weeks, the first by a minister this year.

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