Monday, 25 July 2011

Queen Victoria Markets - Anzac Day 2012 - Lapland


John Crook 

Vibrant is the word

Bright warm colors, simplistic in design and close to the working end of Melbourne, that is, right next door to the Queen Victoria Markets.

The Jasper Hotel is great four-star accommodation designed for business and leisure travel.  It's big in the conference sense of the word, yet offering residential  day packages.  Well known and respected hotel ceo Tony Barradale, with his creative team, offers a four-star hotel, with quite a difference.    For instance, it has an entirely smoke free environment. There's the renowned Jasper Kitchen for breakfasts, lunches and events.  Two points worth considering when looking for a Melbourne hotel. This one offers complimentary access to a health club, and the big attraction in my book (the Jasper point of difference), is the Jasper art gallery, featuring the works of leading artists. The current display features the works of  Rebecca Pearson.     Out of 10, I'd give the Jasper Hotel '11'.   Reservations to 1800 468 359 or go visit and for general enquiries ring (03) 8327 2777.  

Anzacs 2012

Check out the three-day Anzac Day package which combines the Dawn Service and a selection of  Turkey's touring highlights.  Departure date is  April 24 2012 from Istanbul. There's a whole pack of departures for various tours, so best thing to do is to obtain package information, conditions, departures and prices, - contact  1300 558 987 or go visit    For the 3-day Anzac Day package, take note the price is from  $381 per person twin share. 
Lapland, here I come. Baby, it's cold outside !

There's a unique adventure awaiting, with inclusion of a Lapland ice safari on offer.  It's a four-day adventure expedition on the Sampo icebreaker.  Reindeer sleigh rides, a visit to a husky farm, and a snow castle made of snow and ice, are just some of the inclusions.  Also includes option to swim the Arctic!    The Laplander Ice Safari itinerary also features three nights in a 3.5 star hotel.  Get the full story, a copy of the itinerary and also the conditions and terms by calling 1800 221 712. There are other packages available. 

* Please note conditions may apply to these packages  and prices are subject to change and availability.  This information is provided as a guide only.  Check with your travel agency.   Block out periods may apply.   

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Monday, 11 July 2011

Spicers New Farm - Danube Cruise - Merlo Red Ride for Life - Russian River Cruise


with John Crook

Warm up this winter

Stay in the sunshine with a stopover at Spicers Balfour Hotel in New Farm.  Stay for two nights in this inner Brisbane hotel. Pay $399 per couple per night Friday to Sunday.  This package includes  two tickets to the Surrealism Exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, a two course dinner for two at the Continental  restaurant (winter menu) on one night, canapés each evening in the rooftop bar, a fully cooked breakfast each morning, with complimentary  bubbles on arrival. Sounds good to me,- so how about you and your partner ?  For booking details and conditions go visit

The Danube

There is a 35% discount on an 'early bird'   cruise-tour special travelling from Prague to Budapest in 2012.  It is a 13-day package including three nights in Prague, and visiting port stops including Nuremberg, Regensburg  and Vienna (to mention a few).  The  package is now priced from $5869 per person twin share. Return air fares with Emirates from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Accommodation in Prague is five-star.  There's even a night's accomm  at the Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge Hotel, and two nights stay at Raffles in Dubai. There's more to this story, so to get the facts ring 1300 369 848 or check 

It's a freebie, for just a bit of blood

Give blood and get an invite to a sausage sizzle and a coffee.  Not just any old coffee, but a Merlo coffee. The event is the Merlo Red Ride for Life, on Saturday 16 July, which peddles off from Merlo Coffee Torrefzione, at 10 Thompson Street, Bowen Hills.  To register visit or ring (07) 3620 4239.    Keep an eye out for the bikies who are on a mission. 

Vikings on the way

Check the details of the 13-day Waterways of the Czars between St Petersburg and Moscow, with a saving for earlybirds of up to $2000 per person on the 2021 Viking River Cruise itineraries.   The discount also applies to the 12-day Footsteps of the Cossacks from $2299 per person twin share.  Viking River Cruises operates the world's largest fleet of superior vessels built especially for river travel.  To be sure that we are reading from the same hymn book, check out the deals and conditions by visiting

Just imagine, there you are visiting the highlights of Russia's imperial heartland.  Full payment required by 31 July 2011. It's just as easy to do the checking by ringing 1800 221 712.

* Please note conditions may apply to these packages  and prices are subject to change and availability.  This information is provided as a guide only.  Check with your travel agency.   Block out periods may apply.   

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PNG Surfing - Cruise Venice - Amalfi Coast - Sydney Singapore Cruise - Putignano Carnival -


WITH its tropical climate, un-crowded waves and enticing package deals at remote and picturesque surfing locations, now's the time to book a surfing trip to Papua New Guinea.

Madang, Milne Bay, Kavieng and New Hanover are favourite PNG locations for surfing, boasting great swells and water temperatures of 26 degree Celsius year round. And with surf management laws in place, surfers are guaranteed to never be battling the crowds on PNG's waves.

Surf travel options include heading out with a charter company to catch the breaks around off-shore islands, giving surfers the opportunity to explore the waves in various locations on one trip. Or base yourself at a land surf camp, such as Clem's Place on Tunnung Island, just north of Kavieng, New Ireland, which is currently offering additional free nights if you book before 31st August 2011.

And places like Clem's Place often offer secluded accommodation options for small groups in remote island locations, where the focus is on relaxation and surfing with true PNG hospitality from the land owners.

With six bungalows available and great surf, Clem's Place has two deals for those wanting to experience the 'last frontier' when it comes to surfing: pay for 9 days and stay 10 or, pay for 12 days and stay 14

Trips need to be booked before 31 August 2011 and travel must be during the 2011/2012 surf season (October-April).

Prices start at $270 a night with packages including reef fees, three meals a day and surf transfers.  To book call South Sea Horizons on +61 432744490 or visit


FROM romantic Venice to vibrant Rio de Janeiro, MSC Cruises has a 25-night package which combines an eight-night Mediterranean cruise with a 17-night ocean voyage, with prices starting from $91 per passenger per day.

The Sizzling Venice to Rio holiday aboard MSC Musica on November 23 this year is priced from $2285 per person twin share and starts with a return cruise from Venice to Bari, Rhodes, Izmir, Piraeus (Athens), Katakolon and Dubrovnik, before embarking on an ocean voyage to South America.

The second leg includes another visit to Bari before the cruise ship heads to Valletta, Malaga, Madeira Island and the Brazilian ports of Salvador, Buzios and, ultimately, Rio de Janeiro.
"Passengers will have two chances to explore and experience Venice – before and during the 25-day cruise holiday," said Lynne Clarke, managing director of MSC Cruises Australia and New Zealand.

"It's an exciting holiday of almost four weeks and well within many passengers' budgets when you consider the starting price is around $91 a day," she said. "And for the money passengers enjoy on-board meals, international standard entertainment, invitations to the captain's cocktail party and gala dinners. Port charges are also included."

And children under 18 years are free, providing they share the cabin with two paying adults (need only pay port charges of $665 per child).

Details: MSC Cruises, phone 1300 028502,


TELEVISION shows such as Masterchef have prompted Explore Worldwide to introduce a choice of food-oriented holidays based on the cuisine of places like Vietnam and Italy. 

In Italy an eight-day Amalfi Coast Walking tour it combines planned walks with a farm-stay that welcomes guests into the family home, giving the opportunity to enjoy home-made Italian food. Guests will sit down to South Italian breakfasts, picnics and three and four course evening meals that make use of home-grown fruit, vegetables, nuts, meats and wines.

The tour costs from $1258 per person twin share. 

A Cycle Vietnam tour takes guests off the beaten track to eat with locals and learn about their unique cultures and traditions. Guests will enjoy home-cooked dinners, fresh Vietnamese coffee and be tempted with all manners of noodles, snacks and stir fried delights by food sellers in Hanoi.

They'll also have a chance to sample a traditional Vietnamese meal of grilled ostrich in bamboo, crocodile with chilli and lemon grass, or perhaps snake-head fish. This 14-day package costs from $1786 per person twin share.

All Explore Worldwide packages include accommodation, many meals, transportation and the service of a tour leader, driver and local guides. 

For more details contact Venture Holidays on 1300-414-151 or visit

SAIL off to a grand start to 2012 with a 15-night package from Cruiseco that will have you cruising from Sydney to Singapore in one of the most gracious vessels to visit Australia, having a night in Singapore at the luxurious Fairmont Hotel with plenty of time for duty-free shopping and sightseeing, and one-way airfare back to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or  Brisbane (deduct $64pp ex Perth.)

And with all air, port and other taxes and even onboard gratuities, it will cost from just $2450pp twin-share – plus Cruiseco is including the indulgence of Private Car transfers from port to hotel, and hotel to airport in Singapore.
The 4-star Rhapsody of the Seas will sail 14-nights from Sydney on February 16 2012, visiting Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Cairns, Darwin, Benoa on Bali, and Singapore, and will have a whole eight days cruising at sea to make use of the ship's extraordinary range of sporting, social and recreational facilities.
A slightly-longer 16-night package with one-way airfare to Singapore from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Adelaide (deduct $100 ex Perth), a night pre-cruise at the Fairmont Hotel with all private car transfers, and 15 nights (departs March 29 2012) cruising back to Sydney via the same ports (but with an additional day in Cairns,) air and all taxes and onboard gratuities, will cost from as low as $2430pp twin-share.
For full details and the names of Cruiseco's 200 cruise-specialist travel agencies visit
ADDITIONAL SHIPBOARD INFORMATION: Rhapsody of the Seas offers a choice of formal and casual dining in several restaurants and cafés to suit the mood of the day, eight themed bars and lounges, shopping in an open atrium, a Day Spa & Fitness Centre, and a casino.
For the more active there's a rock-climbing wall, outdoor pool, six whirlpools, a separate indoor/outdoor pool in a Solarium with sliding roof, and a youth activity centre.


ITALY'S Putignano Carnival in the country's south is one of the oldest and longest-running carnivals in the world, with evidence that it dates back to 1394.

And while it starts on the 26th of December and runs through until Shrove Tuesday, it is the Carnival Parade on the first day that draws the most interest, with enormous floats and characters wearing satirical and colourful masks.

Another feature is poets who recite satirical and pungent verses addressed at the local government and prominent local business, government and other figures, while the centre-piece figure is Farinella whose is costume made of multicoloured patches with bells on the tips of her hat, shoes and collar that give her a joker-like appearance.

There is also the "Propaggine" that's one of the most traditional aspects of this Carnival.  According to local legend, the origin of the "Propaggine" goes back to the 26th of December 1394, during the transfer of St. Stefan Protomartye's Holy Relics from Monopoli to Putignano, where the Holy Relics are still preserved today in the church of St. Maria of the Greca.

Legend has it that during the transference of the Relics some farmers who were going to plant a new vineyard joined in the procession with its dancing, singing and reciting rhymes. Over the centuries, this festival on 26th  December, has lost its religious content and is today a critical and satirical show-piece directed towards the most prominent figures in the city.

For more information about Putignano and its Carnival and Parade visit


Sunday, 3 July 2011

Burma Railway - Black Sea - Germany - Queen Mary 2


John Crook 

Follow in the footsteps of the Diggers

The Diggers who served in Thailand will never be forgotten and an 11-day Old Siam and River Kwai tour will further enhance the memories of the prisoners of war who built the notorious death railway between Thailand and Burma.  Departures include a two-day cruise down the Chao Phraya River in a converted rice barge, a stay in a jungle raft house, a night on an overnight train, all in all, nine nights accommodation.  Get the full facts by calling Venture Holidays on 1300 414 151 ort go visit  

Free air

If you book a 28-night cruise from Southampton to the Black Sea tour aboard the 660-passenger Saga Ruby, you could utilise an exclusive fly-free offer.  Conditions apply.  The October 4 2011 sailing includes the offer, if booked up to and including July 29, unless sold-out beforehand.  Take a look at these ports,- Vigo in Spain, Valletta on Malta, cruise the Dardenelles, visit Vama in Bulgaria, Constanta (Romania), along with Talta and Sevastopol, Sochi in Russia, Istanbul and on the list goes.  Priced from $6647 per person twin share get in touch with Cruiseco for the names of cruise specialist travel agencies.  The contact website is  

Germany awaits

Austria as well, in a 15-day Grand German Circular tour, which allows you to explore the wonderful scenery of the Rhine Valley, Black Forest and the Alps. Tour includes Dresen, Potsdam, Berlin, Bavaria and Weimar.  Plenty more as well, so please do yourself a favour and call 1300 558 987.  Get the details of inclusions by visiting  

Queen Mary 2

The world's most famous cruise liner will visit Sydney prior to a departure for a history-making 12-night Royal circumnavigation of New Zealand.\ in March of 2013.   She is but one of three Queens' making history in 2013.  Queen Mary visits Cairns, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle and then onwards to NZ.   Call 13 24 41 for more information. 

* Please note conditions may apply to these packages  and prices are subject to change and availability.  This information is provided as a guide only.  Check with your travel agency.   Block out periods may apply.    

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