Put Oman on your bucket-list

‘Oman is one of the cleanest and most beautiful countries in the world’ a local business man tells. He put it down to the thousand street cleaners, in their green uniforms,’who work daily from 6 AM to 11 AM and then again from 3 to 530′. I agree, it needs to be on your bucket-list.

The Sultanate of Oman, the third largest country of the Arabian peninsula is certainly beautiful: with low rise buildings which must be painted white or cream. And, unlike its neighbour Dubai, this country has not traded its heritage for shopping malls, high-rise hotels, and imported workers.

In this delightful country it was easy to meet locals and today’s photos are from the fish market Muscat, the country’s capital.

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Travelling with carry on luggage only (7kg)

AirNZ's black plane in Christchurch, NZThere is an art to travelling with only carry-on luggage . . . which for most international airlines means a seven kilogram allowance. (just over 15 pound).

One way is to travel for just a few days, but most of us want to be away longer than that. My next trip, to Australia, will be for three weeks and to get a cheap deal I opted for a seat and carry on luggage only. Then comes the question, what to pack?

Maud Parrish (1878-1976) in her book, Nine Pounds Of Luggage, said she travelled around the world with approx. 4 kilo of luggage and a banjo – quite a feat – I take more than that and, no banjo!

Friends tell me I travel for a year with less baggage than they take for a weekend! I also know if I’m driving from A to B to take more as I have the space for all those ‘just-in-case’ items – that mostly never get used of course. When I unpack from any travel I always note items I didn’t use or wear: a good reminder for the next journey.

IMG_20150125_151732But back to packing – it’s the extras that weigh so much: necessary extras such as toilet-gear, camera gear, Kobo,tablet, chargers, leads, and of course footwear.

I either only take one or two pairs of shoes – in this case, wearing my Teva’s and carrying a light pair of sandals for evenings. I’m also taking a selfie stick for the first time as, also for the first time, I want to create some Vlogs (Video blogs) or at least some snatches of video to include in my blogs.

Seems my bag will be7 kgs exactly
Seems my bag will be 7 kgs exactly – even with a couple of copies of my book for gifts

Luckily our neighboring country (Australia) is in the same southern hemisphere as New Zealand so only need summer clothing this trip. Despite many people thinking these two countries are very close, my flight will actually take four hours – so not close. (Comparison distances – London to Athens is 3 1/2 hrs; Los Angeles to Miami, Florida is about 4 1/2 hrs)

Remember, most of the people you meet will never cross your path again so, there is no need to impress with different clothes daily.

So what can you jettison? Firstly, get rid of everything you take ‘for just in case’.

Think about where you are going when you pack your clothes and be respectful in your clothing. Even if you don’t approve of, or understand the cultural norms that may, implicitly, ask you to cover up, remember you are going because of its difference. If it was the same as home you may as well stay at home, it would be easier and cheaper!

Jewellery, take the absolute minimum (same for makeup) I wear small earrings and a gold chain, and of course, like most travelling Kiwis, my bone carving or greenstone pendant. Sometimes I buy a couple of cheap fun pieces in the county for a change.

So it the odds and ends to sort first, then decide on the easy bit – clothes.

On this trip I have 5 tops and 4 bottoms – mostly all able to be mixed and matched. Plus of course, underwear, a hat, and a light scarf. As I write this I’m wondering about swimming gear – so need to consider that before l leave in a few days.

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But, most of all throw out all your worries and problems about yesterday and tomorrow, they weigh far too much to be of any use to you today: totally unwanted, and unnecessary, carry-on luggage.

See another blog about packing here

 

Foodie heaven – it seems all Malaysians are foodies

All Malaysians are foodies. Ask a local where to get the best rojak or Sarawak Laksa and they will tell you. Ask  what is the best dish in this resaturant or food stall? Once again they will immediately answer you, or have an animated conversation with others at the table as they try to reach a consensus about ‘the best’.

Sarawak makes if very clear as to the grade each café or restaurant has with large A. B. or C letters on green, orange or red!  A bus driver taking a group of media people ( here for the annual Rainforest World Music Festival )around the city suggested we visitors would be better to eat at places with  A and B’s – however, I ate at all and had no tummy problems in my 8 weeks in the region.

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Food markets are always interesting
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Kek lapis .. the amazing, and famous, Sarawak layer cake – a blog about these will follow in a week or so!
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Sunday market, Kuching
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Biscuit making .. demo at the Cultural Village (Damai Beach)
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part of the Kuching Sunday Market

 

red, orange or green?
red, orange or green?
laksa
We are introduced to the fabulous Sarawak Laksa .. the great Borneo breakfast! (I forget what the yummy sour green drink was called)

Returning to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak,  after staying at an Iban longhouse  (on the beautiful Batang Ai lake)  on the my driver tells me  ‘Go to stall number 25 at Topspot. That’s the one I always go to and I always have the wonderful  omelette with oysters.”

A local radio station reporter introduces me to ‘the best laksa in China Street.’  We walk under  Harmony Arch on Jalan Carpenter where, directly opposite the Sang Ti Miao temple, is an unpretentious but very busy  Chinese hawker food hall. She is right! The laksa served there was wonderful and for the rest of my 8 weeks in East Malaysia it became the standard I used to compare various dishes of Sarawak Laksa. 

For recipes about the great dish see these web pages – both here and again here.  I will be interested to see what the Facebook group,  Kuching food critics,  and  Malaysian friends,  have to say about the recipes.

I have heard Sarawak Laksa being referred to as the “great Borneo breakfast” as that’s when this noddle dish with it’s spicy and sour shrimp paste and coconut gravy, is served – unlike in Singapore or peninsula Malaysia ( or New Zealand!) where it’s usually  a lunch or evening meal!

On my last days in Kuching its time for the annual, 3-week, Kuching Festival Fair, where many concerts and exhibitions are held, it seems the food fair  -with some 220 food and or drink stalls – is the main attraction. There for the first night,  it was good to watch the fireworks as they exploded nosily, and colourfully above us.

With a city of foodies, the Sunday market, Medan Niaga Satok,  is a must-visit for locals and travelers alike.  Many of the stalls are open every day, so just hop into a taxi and say “Sunday market’  on any day of the week and your driver will take you straight there!

Good to see Christchurch reviving .. more and more open

Pre quake New regent Street
Pre quake New Regent Street

It’s great to see Christchurch, New Zealand,  reviving with more and more of the post-quake city open.

1932 was a big year in Christchurch – Captain Cook’s statue was unveiled; there was a bitter train strike; the McDougal Art Gallery was opened; and New Regent Street opened – a double row of Spanish Mission style shops that were a huge change from the usual Gothic Revival and Queen Anne styles that most of the earlier inner city buildings had been built in.

Now, post quakes,(2010/11) Captain Cook’s statue is still standing in Victoria Square, the McDougal is still open in the Botanic Gardens, there are no strikes , and fabulously, New Regent Street has re-opened.

As New Zealand’s only street built at one time, in one style, it was considered a theatrical oddity among the staid buildings that surrounded it. Now, those buildings are mostly gone but this colourful street is once again open and although not all shops are open, yet, this is once again a tourist, and locals, destination hotspot.

One shop that opens this Saturday (27th April) is also a quake survivor – BEADZ UNLIMITED – formerly at the Arts Centre which is closed for quake strengthening and  repairs and, appropriately, one of their many products are the commemorative series which includes the original, the “broken cathedral,” and now also features the Basilica, the Arts Centre and other Christchurch favourites.

Rowena Watson started Beadz many years ago and it has grown from a market stall to being New Zealand’s first bead shop. A talented designer, she also designs many of her original beads and creates beautiful jewellery. So whether you want to make your own souvenir of Christchurch, New Zealand, or buy a gift, tourists and locals will always find something here.

BEADZ upstairs windows are original 1931
BEADZ upstairs windows are original 1931

See here for other shops open (or opening) in colourful New Regent Street and use this map to find out what’s open  in Christchurch.

Paver repairs nearly completed early April
Paver repairs nearly completed early April
Rendezvous Hotel at the md of New Regent Street open too.
Rendezvous Hotel at the end of New Regent Street opens too.
Captain Cook shares Victoria Square with Queen Vic ... of course:  2 min's walk from New Regent St
Captain Cook shares Victoria Square with Queen Vic … of course. Only  2 min’s walk from New Regent St
Site of Beadz in the Arts Centre
Site of the old Beadz in Christchurch’s  Arts Centre
Meet you for a coffee?
Meet you for a coffee?

Christchurch Bike Tours in quake re-build zone

Now is the time  to visit post-quake Christchurch, New Zealand,  and take a Christchurch Bike Tour in the Rebuild Zone,  This  two-hour, personalised tour of the cordoned-off Rebuild Zone allows you to see the Christchurch CBD rebuild in a safe, personalised and interactive way. It is the first opportunity the public have had to go into the Rebuild Zone on bikes.

You  will enjoy a sensory experience within the cordon as Christchurch Bike Tours guides’ offer information on the new city vision, including the new precincts, community projects and local business stories incorporating the strength and resilience of the people from Christchurch.
Christchurch Bike Tours owner Stephanie Fitts says the tour is designed to give locals and visitors the opportunity to understand the changed nature of the Christchurch CBD and the future of Christchurch as a 21st century city.
Tours are  limited to six people to allow for a personalised and safe experience and you will be required to stay on the bikes throughout the tour and wear closed-in footwear. Of course the route may vary depending on safety conditions.
Tour departures are at 10am and 2pm. Tours are two-hours long, and cost $40 per person, which includes the bike, helmet, hi-visibility safety vest and a local guide.
Bookings are essential by phoning 0800 733 257 or online at www.chchbiketours.co.nz
Christchurch Bike Tours was awarded the contract by CERA to run the tours in the Christchurch Rebuild Zone.

Note: this is New Zealand’s only guided city bike tour.

web bikes mona vale

At the airport – your pre-flight check list

Air NZ – at Christchurch International Airport

Travelling? Here’s your pre-flight check list to make the sharing of such confined spaces means we need to be considerate – and we want our fellow-travellers to be respectful too.

It starts at home – before you left home or hotel you put comfortable clothes on and soft socks to wear during the flight and then, items you will need during the flight have been put in a little bag (for inside your carry –on) for at your seat – notebook, pen,  e-reader/ paperback, moisturiser, lip balm for instance.

Of course before you approach the check-in desk you will have your passport/photo ID, and tickets handy and, of course, you will only have the number of bags you are allowed on the flight and they will be the weight permitted.

Once you have your boarding pass, now is the time for a pre-boarding check and some reminders about how to be a considerate passenger. I’m sure you follow these ideas, so pass this blog on so the people you have to travel with are pleasant to sit beside too!

Head to the lounge in plenty of time – you don’t want to start your flight flustered by racing against the clock.

And, before you get to the security checkstep aside, let others go past and  . . .

  • Take your laptop out of your carry-on bag
  • Coat off
  • Everything out of your pockets
  • No prohibited items (depends on airline/country) but no knives, scissors, inflammable items
  • No ‘funny’ jokes  about  terrorism, bombs, hi-jacking, or explosives

Once in the lounge:

  • Board in the sequence you’re called: they do that for a reason!
  • Have your in-flight needs handy so you don’t hold up others in the aisle as you rummage for your e-reader or MP3 player before you put your bag in the overhead locker and finally take your seat.

Now, sit back and enjoy your flight – and I hope you sit next to someone as considerate as you are!

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How to pack for plane travel: top tips for carry on and checked luggage

Friends tell me I take less for a year of travel than they take for a long weekend. So, what have I learnt that they haven’t?

Well usually I use a backpack and carrying that ensures I look after my back – I want to keep travelling so health is important. I also love a backpack as it leaves my hands free for everything else and there is no way it can be left unguarded as a suitcase can.

Sorting my carry-on bag .. electronics, valuables.

And, whether I take a case or backpack, my carry-on luggage is a small wheelie-backpack as that has all my valuable documents, medication, camera and electronic gear in it and fit airlines weight and size regulations.

However, even I make mistakes; this blog entry could be called ‘packing confessions of the kiwi travel writer’ as on a recent road trip to Northland, New Zealand I took many items I didn’t use!

  • Six pieces of clothing
  • 1 pair of shoes
  • 1 pair of aqua shoes
  • 1 x tripod

I have another 3-week trip very soon (a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Viking Cruises) and flying with Air New Zealand / Singapore Air so as today was wet, I had a practise-run with my checked-in bag(allowance 20kg/45lb) and carry on (Allowance 7kg/15lb)

What are my usual ‘rules’? First is “take less” – way less than you think you will need.

“I’m coming too” says Mista, “I don’t care that you have a cat-sitter arranged”

First in the bags are the non-negotiables – underwear, sleep-wear, toiletries, a pair of shoes to wear, and one to take.

I then lay all the possible clothes out – I cover my bed with a white sheet for this sorting process – and make sure there is a colour theme that will mix and match –and remove anything that doesn’t fit the theme.

Stop sorting – I know you are going to leave me – again!

Work on a good balance between dresses/ skirts/ pants and tops that are interchangeable for most of them.

Eliminate anything in your pile that’s there for ‘just in case’ – I find most of my just-in-case additions are rarely used.

Of course as a writer, I also need pen and paper – a journal for writing, and a tiny notebook for notes, plus a thick book to read (and my Kobo e-reader). Just have a few pieces of jewelery and cosmetics to decide on closer to the date, iron some of the clothes and I’m ready.

Depending on your destination, and the length of it, you may want to add a net bag for your laundry and a small cake of laundry soap and . .

  • Couple of zip-lock bags – one for receipts
  • Guidebook if necessary
  • Camera, laptop, phone, plus leads for electronic gear, batteries, and chargers
  • Passport and tickets are a given!
mesh bag for my long-haul in-flight needs

Don’t forget airline carry-on limits are for safety reasons (& when flying internationally, or using different airlines, check their webpages and take the one that allows the least so you don’t get caught with an overweight bag by one carrier.

As a travel writer, I get angry at other passengers AND the airlines who take/ allow overweight and extra bags on-board. I really hope that eventually someone will sue an airline (and the passenger) for taking an over-weight bag on board – the overhead lockers can spring open in turbulence, bags shift, and can hurt fellow passengers when they fall out.

Once that court-case happens travel will be better for all of us – no more heavy, or extra, bags being bought on board – and even better, we will all be able to put our bags in the locker directly above us – as often the area is full of bags that belong to someone a few seats away or across the aisle.

So, please be considerate when flying: I hope you sit beside someone as considerate as you!

Q. What travel packing tips would you add to this?

And when you get home check out these tips to cope with post-travel distress 🙂

YAY – they all fit, about 12kgs

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The story of a grocer and an earthquake, Christchurch, New Zealand

Before the September 2010 quake, just around the corner from my place stood Johnson’s Grocery where locals loved to step back in time: and where I loved to buy freshly cut ham from Colin Johnson in his traditional white apron and delightful manners.

Opened in 1911 as Leigh and Co. it was bought by Colin’s father in 1949 and he has worked there since 1957: this is shopping as it used to be with lollies (sweets) in jars on the counter and cheese sliced from the block with a wire. What I love is how Colin always seems to know exactly where everything is and he climbs up and down a ladder to retrieve whatever it is I’ve asked for.

What do you want? Swiss chocolate; truffles from France; English biscuits or cheese; haggis from Scotland, this shop has them all. Colin doesn’t need to search for stock, people from around the world ask him to carry their special goods.

Colin also enjoys welcoming tourists into the shop telling me “They don’t have to buy anything. They are always welcome to take photographs.” It’s certainly photogenic – the old delivery bicycle on the footpath must feature in many photo albums, blogs and travel articles world-wide.

Then Christchurch was hit by a 7.1 quake at 4:35am. I clung to the bed in my 3rd floor apartment. I heard a few things fall but stayed in bed – thinking if the building collapsed I’d land on something soft, but also worried about being found in the state of my dress – or rather undress! Vanity rules.

Soon up and with warm clothes on, I’d checked out the window and apart from a little concrete block fence that had fallen over, all seemed well in my inner city street despite the aftershocks. I texted this to the National Radio station which was broadcasting reports of this major event in the city of my birth and coffee in hand was also tweeting and posting on Facebook.

By 7am, as the day lightened, I went out exploring my neighbourhood. (See some pics from that walk here)

I take a photo of Johnsons shop window – it doesn’t look too bad

Thirty minutes later I’m going past again – the door is open and a man I hadn’t seen before was standing there.

“Do you have permission to be in there’ I challenge him. It seems Colin is inside and he’s his son-in-law.

"Who are you? Are allowed to be here' I ask
Lots on the floor, but many items still perfectly stacked!
The buildings, including Johnsons, are demolished: ChCh Town Hall. Kilmore St, is in background

And now, Johnsons Grocery has reopened, (November 2011) and is busier than ever. The temporary shop is now in the new container shopping precinct, all bright colours with Colin still in his apron and pencil behind his ear. I visit the day before he re-opens in Cashel Mall re-start  project the shelves are half-full – and put my foot in the wet concrete as I enter! Workmen quickly repair the damage. (See photos from that day here)

Whoops!

Shelves wait to be stocked .. the bike no longer delivers!

I visited a month later and the shop is buzzing, Colin and his wife are busy and happy, and although the shelves are no longer bowed, they are still stocked with goodies from many parts of the world, so, next time you are in Christchurch make sure this grocery shop is on your must-visit list.

This is the first of my Christchurch earthquake heroes’ award blogs: a shout-out to all business who have re-opened (or stayed open) in my city – sometimes under extremely difficult conditions.

See more heroes here


top travel tips for visitors to New Zealand

My top travellers tips for visitors to New Zealand are very simple: all the usual safety travel tips apply here as elsewhere in the world. my tips are more prosaic, more ordinary, and New Zealand centred.

  • Firstly we’re a long skinny country at the bottom of the world,  surrounded by a huge ocean – that means the weather can AND WILL change often. Carry rain gear, and warm clothes, with you except mid summer. You have been warned!
  • Many of our traffic lights for pedestrians NO NOT activate unless you push the button .. a hint.. if the red man is glowing you don’t need to push it .. it has been activated by someone else or is automatic.
  • If someone stops to offer help if you look lost, or confused, we are not selling something, we really do want to offer help or information – FREE – no hidden agendas!
  • It will take longer than you think to get from A to B on our roads … we have very few motorways.  Remember we only have a population of 4 and half million in a land similar in size to the UK or Japan

More tips will follow – but in the meantime here are three of our national treasures.

youth hostel has great travel tips for us all

starssTOP 5 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY


Responsible travel is a commonly used term nowadays, but sometimes all the talk of negative impacts of tourism can seem a bit overwhelming when all you want to do is enjoy your hard-earned travels! The good news is that responsible travel is not complicated and you can still have a great time, with a clear conscience, by following a few simple tips to ensure that future travelers will find a place as welcoming and magical as you did.

1. Keep an open mind. Embracing other cultures will transform your trip and help you earn the respect and welcome of the local people. Be tolerant and respectful, making sure to observe social and cultural traditions and practices. This will help to ensure that the door is kept open for other future travelers.

2. Help preserve natural environments. Leave things the way you found them – or better still, get involved in a project that will leave a place in better shape than you found it.  Protect wildlife and habitats and do not purchase products made from endangered plants or animals.

3. Respect cultural resources. Activities should be conducted in a way that respects the artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage of a place.

4. Support the local economy. Purchase local handicrafts and products, rather than mass produced souvenirs (and you’ll have something unique and authentic as a lasting momento of your trip). Bargaining for goods should be based on achieving a fair price, rather than a determination to get the lowest price possible. You don’t want to get ripped off, but it’s worth remembering that the merchant probably needs the difference more than you do.

5. Learn as much as possible about your destination and take time to understand the customs, norms and traditions in an effort to avoid accidentally offending anyone. Not only will this make your trip much more enjoyable, but it will also make a huge difference to how future travelers are viewed by the local population.

See more about Hosteling International New Zew Zealand ( I am  life time member – that  tells you what I think of  the organisation!)