My Experiences of the Yarra Valley

On my travels to Australia and around Melbourne I was lucky enough to meet Dutch-born landscaper John van de Linde.

Despite his Dutch heritage he told me he has always adored French gardens. So amazingly, when he transferred to Holbrook in regional NSW he became overwhelmed by the arid heat (who would have thought?).

Upon visiting his garden I could see the experience shaped him and in his own words he’s “been seeking shade ever since”.

Mr van de Linde and his wife Prue discovered a vacant paddock available to buy in the Yarra Valley approximately 2 decades back and have been producing Alowyn, a botanical wonderland complete with French gardens, ever since.

During the build, they actually built it with shade as a priority in their heads – so much so that in summer, you can walk from one end to another in the shade if you desire to.

Beyond the garden, the region is also well known because of its magnificent yarra valley wines and vineyards, but a culinary escape in the area should surely include a dash by Alowyn.

When locating a foundation, look no farther than the lavish Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa. From the well-appointed suite, you can overlook the valley and tuck into breakfast in Rae’s Restaurant, watching the hot air balloons float through the clouds.

The hotel is just 1 kilometre from the two and gardens; and close to the area’s sweetest appeal – the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery.

There you can catch a hot chocolate, a spoonful of samples and see the staff make their magic throughout the mill window. Open in 2012, this mecca for chocolate fans has recruited six qualified chocolatiers out of Belgium and France to direct the group hand crafting some 250 distinct products, such as fresh, tasty truffles; something you’ll struggle to find in even the best specialty grocery in Melbourne

After satiating your sweet-tooth, it is time to locate wine and there’s a yarra valley winery for every taste and price point.

For a casual dinner and cheeky tasting, you cannot go beyond Innocent Bystander at Healesville. It is shareable plates paired with its unique way of wine tastings – kegs and automatic pourings.

But if you’re more accustomed to the taste of luxury, Levantine Hill will leave you wowed and desiring more.

A winery that won’t compromise on quality, owners Elias And Colleen Jreissati have spared no expense in producing French-inspired wines, an architecturally-designed basement door complete with helipad for aircraft, and a menu which emphasises regional freshness.

When you have not had your fill, then Yarra Yering’s basement door is not far away and ought not to be missed.

James Halliday winemaker of this year (2017), Sarah Crowe is creating stunning drops at what’s often named among the area’s top wineries.

On day two, in case you are in a more lively mood, the Award-winning Four Pillars Gin distillery in Healesville will have your tastebuds and Instagram account popping.

Four Pillars create eight, exceptionally popular gins. So go in, grab a tasting plus a share platter and I dare you to not take a photograph in the fashionable space decorated with contemporary, native floral structures.

And when a traditional country pub is exactly what you’re craving, then Look no farther than the “center of the Yarra Valley” – the Healesville Hotel.

The resort prides itself on providing a seasonal menu; sourcing ingredients from local and Melbourne-based fresh food store suppliers, along with an outstanding wine list, showcasing the very best the area has to offer with welcoming staff also.

IF YOU GO

Travelling there: The Yarra Valley is roughly a one-hour drive from both the Melbourne CBD and Melbourne Airport.

Accommodation: There are several amazing spots that also provide luxury catering and wedding facilities. Prices for most accommodation is roughly $150 per night for a standard queen room.

Activities: For more advice about exactly what the Yarra Valley has to offer visit visityarravalley.com.au

The Top 10 Best Museums in the World

The top 10 Best museums to visit around the world, as ranked by TripAdvisor, were recently released. The annual rankings are based on the “quality and quantity” of reviews the museums inspired on the travel website. Each museum varies in its exhibitions from history to art making them unique in their own right with some of the most impressive acrylic showcases.  

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the world’s most favorite museum according to the latest TripAdvisor ranking, which only recently released its yearly ranking for attractions. First place ranking, Met, has once again taken out the honour which it has done twice before. Making it “the only museum to receive the valued ranking for three years in a row”, as stated in a press release by the museum.   

A Slightly more surprising ranking (to art lovers at least) is the National WWII Museum in New Orleans (formerly the D-Day Museum) which ranks as the second favourite museum. Immersive exhibits such as “The Arsenal of Democracy,” about US war manufacturing, generated more excitement compared to the Impressionist treasures of Musee d’Orsay in Paris, which comes in at number three. 

  1. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The world famous art gallery clearly doesn’t disappoint, with endless traffic leaving visitors more than satisfied.
  2. National WWII Museum, New Orleans: Its collection of war relics and displays touch on all aspects America’s involvement in WWII. Bringing history to life is a tall order, yet this type of collection helps outline its significance.
  3. Musee d’Orsay, Paris: One might not think of the Musee d’Orsay as the most famous art museum in France, or even in Paris alone, but it looks like plenty of visitors are keen to still keen to give this already-famous gallery a visit.
  4. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago: About 1.5 million visitors a year come through to walk through art history. It’s the second largest art museum in the USA (after New York’s Metropolitan Museum) and is notorious for concentrating on the history and production of art as much as the art itself.
  5. State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace, St. Petersburg: The huge center of Russia’s art collection houses millions of pieces, from historical antiquities to artworks of the Romantic period. And the structure itself, the old Winter Palace, is at least as much of an exhibit in its own right as the contents it houses.
  6. National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, New York: The well-known museum and memorial to those deceased in ground zero of the World Trade Centre. Understandably, it would not get a whole lot of poor reviews.
  7. Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City: The anthropological museum would be the most visited in Mexico, and home to one of the world’s most expansive collections of Meso-America history, including the original 24 tonne stone-carved Aztec Sunstone.
  8. Acropolis Museum, Athens: The museum was originally built to house the relics uncovered during excavations on the Acropolis itself, however, the scale of findings immediately exceeded its capacity. Today it shows some of the best ancient Greek relics ever discovered and has even been constructed around attractions that could not be moved.
  9. Prado National Museum, Madrid: Spain’s national art museum, reckoned by specialists to get the best collection of European art from the world. A whole lot of work from Spain’s most famous painters, such as Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch, are the highlight of the collection.
  10. Victoria and Albert Museum, London: Housing some of the world’s largest display showcase collection of art, antiques, relics, oddities, clothing and whatever else which may be called a culturally or historically significant knick-knack, with a group spanning almost the entirety of human history that is known.

Top Three Places to Watch NBA

While placing great players on the court is a significant aspect of seeing live basketball, there is a whole lot more to this experience than just the game itself. Particular NBA buildings stand out and are more enjoyable as a result of the atmosphere they help to make around the sport

Here are in my experience and travels the top three arenas in the NBA Now:

No.1 — Madison Square Garden, New York Knicks

Immeasurably amazing; and not only from a basketball standpoint. Constructed in 1968, it is now the oldest active major sporting center in New York, and it has played host to five NBA Finals (two of that the Knicks won), an NBA All-Star match, three WNBA All-Star matches, two NHL All-Star Games, along with three Stanley Cup Finals. Outside of the big sports, in addition, it hosted the first ever Wrestlemania, the very first Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali battle, and unforgettable concerts from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Elvis Presley among countless others.

MSG is controversially constructed over a railway station in the late ’60s, it is among the earliest and most iconic landscapes in the NBA. The suspended ceiling is most likely the most memorable architectural quality of the building, however it is a massive part of what makes it so memorable visually.

Ironically, MSG is a little obsolete concerning its seating and concourse areas. The lower bowl has been recently redone to match more people, however, the top decks particularly are not that pretty. Additionally, it’s nowhere near as technologically complex as a number of the other arenas, but that’s a part of the Garden’s ambiance.

Knicks fans are callous, which is why this is one of those toughest places to play in the whole league. When things are going nicely, Knicks fans will cheer off their heads, but they like to boo just as much. More frequently than not, that booing is led in the competitions, but the occasional Knickerbocker has sensed that anger also. No wonder, this group of fanatics understand how to enter the game.

No.2 — Staples Center, L.A. Lakers/Clippers

Regardless of the fact that the stadium just opened in 1999, it’s already hosted seven NBA Finals and 2 NBA All-Star games. Five Lakers teams have won championships in the Staples Center already, which has meant a great deal of background in a really brief time period. (The Clippers are still focusing on chipping in just a little bit more there).

The construction looks like something which dropped in from outer space (but in a fantastic way), which futuristic appearance together with the spotlights that scale in the L.A. skies at night provides the Staples Center an undeniably Hollywood vibe. Outside, the Star Plaza and all of its bronze figurines is definitely something people love, too.

The scoreboard is exceptional, as it comprises screens that individuals sitting courtside could see. Additionally, the Staples Center is right in the thick of things in L.A., which means easy access to resorts and fantastic restaurants. The light-rail takes enthusiasts directly to the stadium’s front entrance, which is just another plus.

Let us put it this way—that for the real basketball lovers; it’s better the higher up the Stadium you become. The lower degree, especially in Lakers games, is for individuals hoping to be seen at a Lakers game. The higher degrees are more for serious lovers–and L.A. has more games than every other group in the NBA so wear a reversible singlet to make sure you’ve got Lakers and Clippers covered

Also, nobody can boast much better basketball compared to Staples Center, which can be full of professional basketball teams and fans twice as frequently as any other place in the league. Kobe Bryant is among the NBA’s most well-known celebrities (even when the Lakers are poor today), and the Clippers are one of most exciting collections to see in basketball. Whichever team you decide to see here, the item will at least be respectable.

No.3 — United Center, Chicago Bulls

The United Center is not a pretty construction; assembled in The mid-’90s, it had been assembled in a period when teams needed to create larger arenas, but were not yet certain the way to do this in a means that still felt romantic and attached to the fans. It is a vibrant place, however cavernous and not especially appealing.

Food offerings here are not good, and the construction itself is Located on the West side of the town, quite a long way away from downtown Chicago, also without an automatic train stop near enough to the building to be considered suitable.

However, it’s the home that Michael Jordan constructed, and even visiting players may get caught up in that reality when seeing the UC. It is not an incredibly old construction, yet the construction still feels fairly hallowed. The Bulls won three championships in this construction, and fans still crowd around during the entry hours prior to the match to shoot pictures in their basketball singlets with the bronze Jordan statue.

The Bulls have led the league in attendance for six seasons in a row, and have not dropped from the top two because the 2003-04 year (they had been No. 3 which year). The newest Madhouse on Madison packs in more lovers than any other stadium in the league, so maybe not surprisingly that monster of a construction can become really loud, even if the games do not matter. If they really do matter, it is deafening inside there.

Furthermore, regardless of Who’s on the court, the Bulls play tough, and Chicago fans love that. With Derrick Rose back to full health and Jimmy Butler now formally an All-Star, the Bulls are lots fun to see and certainly capable of going deep into the post-season.

Seeing Chicago’s starting lineup laser-light series is just one of the highlights of this live experience in the United Center. If you are not there in time to listen to this famous Alan Parsons Project song ring outside, you are missing half of the pleasure of seeing the Bulls play in person.

The World’s Best Cities For Shoe Shopping

Travel guides have many different indexes categorising the highlights of various travel destinations, such as beaches, restaurants and nightlife. But for reasons we cannot understand, they always fail to highlight what — to us at least — is of primary concern: the shoe-shopping situation. 

So, for those of you have been longing for the answer as much as we have, here is our definitive roundup of the best cities for fruitful footwear pursuits, in no particular order.   

  1. Milan

With the cluster of both local and international luxury brands that line the Golden Triangle area of Via Monte Napoleone, Via della Spiga and adjacent streets (Via San’t Andrea, Via Gesù, Via Borgospesso), Italy’s fashion capital is still the world’s best place to go shopping for women’s shoes. It helps that the service is particularly fond at stores such as Gucci, Gianvito Rossi, Casadei, Rene Caovilla and Santoni. 

  1. London

Although Harrods made quite the splash in 2015, opening its Shoe Heaven —which is widely considered the biggest shoe floor of any department store — it is the smaller boutiques that make shopping in the British capital such a delight. Matches has a number of locations known for their unique edit, while Browns London is known to peg the next big name before anyone else. Also check out English labels and personal favourites of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, such as Penelope Chilvers (who makes her country riding boots) and L.K. Bennett (her favourite pumps). For the gents, it’s a dapper shoe-fest with labels such as John Lobb, Grenson and Olivier Sweeney, Gieves & Hawkes, all producing smart and timeless brogues, wingtips and ankle boots. 

  1. Barcelona

No visit to Spain is complete without stocking up on espadrilles, and this is where they were conceived. Many local purveyors fill the city’s marketplaces, but the giant above the rest is Castañer. While they manufacture the jute-soled summer shoes for the likes of Paul Andrew, Hermes, Valentino and others, they also have their own line of incredible styles. The store is located on Rambla Cataluña and Paseo de Gracia. 

  1. Lisbon

The city and state are major footwear centres populated by masses of smaller, local brands. Eureka is definitely worth checking out for its in-house label of Portuguese-made shoes that are both street savvy and very wallet friendly. Think suede flatform women’s sneakers for less than $60 – win. If vintage is more your thing there is Sapataria do Carmo, a delightful handmade shoe shop that makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time. 

  1. Sao Paulo

While Havaianas is still the country’s biggest shoe brand, which you no doubt already have multiple pairs of, footwear enthusiasts flock to Shopping Iguatemi, a luxury mall selling Arezzo’s classic women’s pumps, Rio surfer bran Osklen’s raffia slingback and lots more. And make sure you don’t leave town without a pair of Alexandre Birman’s signature Clarita stilettos. 

  1. Dubai

Yes, to many it is considered the shopping capital of the world, but more importantly, it’s home to Level Shoes, basically a footwear fantasyland – reason enough to pay the city a visit. The department-store concept is entirely devoted to shoes at every price, from thongs, custom loafers and everything in between. The brand assortment is what gives it the wonderland effect — from staple brands such as Chanel and Celine to a daring mix of new designers and limited-edition pieces. 

  1. Tokyo

The retail experience here is like a theme park for your credit card. For the most excitement, visit the topsy-turvy Comme des Garcon-run Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony and Japanese department store Isetan. The display and merchandising alone will blow your mind. 

  1. Hong Kong

Lane Crawford and its sister store Joyce have built a sterling reputation as the hot spot for delightfully exquisite luxury shoes in the city. Added bonus: Unlike many other department stores, there is a useful emphasis on both Asian and international brands, so you’re able to get a true sense of cultural tastes.  

  1. Dallas/Fort Worth

It’s hard to not be smitten by all the western regalia in Texas and to leave town without your own boot-scooting cowboy boots would be a crime. For the most immersive experience, swing by Cavender’s, which has a number of family-run stores in the region. In Fort Worth, Finchers is another worth visiting with both snip-toes and saddle-ready styles. 

  1. New York City

If Carrie Bradshaw has taught us anything over the years it’s that New York has the only the very best on offer when it comes to luxury for your feet. The city of labels and love has you covered from high-end designer pieces, high-street fashion and of course meticulously curated vintage. For a shoe brand, making it in New York is major. Madison Avenue is a top designer mecca and just close by is Louis Leeman, Jimmy Choo and Roger Vivier. And of course, the three B’s (Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Bloomingdale’s) continue to dole out an endless supply of dream shoes. Want to see the stilettos fly? Go right now, seriously don’t wait. 

More Than a Rock: The Best Experience Around Uluru

More than a rock: the best experience around UluruJourneying to Australia’s most iconic rock is an essential travel experience. While there are a variety of way to experience Uluru, there are also plenty of other attractions in the Northern Territory desert worth visiting to make sure you get the most out of your travels.

There are other rocks to explore

Uluru (Ayers Rock) may be the main attraction in Australia’s Red Centre, but it’s not the only rock worth visiting. Roughly 30km from the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where Ayers Rock is located, are 36 striking red domes of Kata Tjuta (The Oglas) that are definitely worth the journey. Like Uluru, Kata Kjuta looks particularly stunning at sunset, and the dune viewing platform is a fantastic place to enjoy sunrise. The domes can be visited on many of the tours available, or independently with a $25 park entry ticket.

There is also ‘Fools-uru’ which is known as Uluru’s forgotten rock. The stunning mound sits on Curtin Springs cattle station which is located 80km north of Uluru. Tourists were once able to drive freely through the area, but following a significant number of rescues, station owners now use SEIT Outback Australia to run the tours from Uluru.

On a half-day 4WD tour of the area, you’ll visit the remarkable salt flats of Lake Swanson, featuring free-roaming cattle and camels – it is thought that almost half a million camels run wild through the Australian outback.

Hiking Kings Canyon

Located 300km from Uluru, it is possible to make a day trip to hike the magnificent Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park. There you can do the famous 6km Rim Walk which can take between three and four hours. On days where the temperature is set to reach 36°C it is recommended that you aim to arrive before 9am, as rangers will close the gates in extreme heat for safety reasons.

If you don’t have access to a vehicle, you can book a return guided tour with AAT Kings. They also offer onward passage to Alice Springs at the end of the day, if you’re wanting to continue travelling north. The tour stops at Kings Creek Station for breakfast (where you can stock up on water for the hike), and then the lush Kings Canyon resort for lunch post-hike.

The Rim Walks starts with a step climb (worryingly nicknamed ‘Heart Attack Hill’), but once you reach the peak it’s a relatively easy stroll through the stunning landscapes including beehive-like domes of the ‘Lost City’, followed by the rich oasis at the heart of the canyon known as the ‘Garden of Eden’. Those who are looking for a less strenuous walk might prefer the 2km Creek Bed Walk, which highlights the impressive views of the canyon’s edge. Keen hikers can head to the Giles Track, a 22km route which is typically done at night. Like Kata Tjuta, part of the gorge is sacred and tourists are discouraged from wondering from the designated tracks.

Why My Trip to Egypt Started Out Disastrously!

disaster trip to EgyptAs a kid, Egypt is somewhere I had always wanted to go. Ancient Egypt was one of my biggest fascinations at school along with the Titanic off course. I always said to myself that when I grow up, I’m going to see the giant pyramids. I was over the moon when I was able to finally go there early last year.  However, all those years of waiting to see those magnificent pyramids, in no way prepared me for the disappointing visit which was hurling towards me at a thousand miles an hour. Never in my wildest childhood fantasies would I ever have imagined that I would be at a point in my visit where I could not wait to get on a damn plane and get the hell out of Egypt.

What happened I hear you thinking? Well, here is the whole sorry saga from start to finish in a Readers Digest version.

I only spent four nights there but the harassment from the moment I stepped off the plane was something I never imagined could happen. The harassment took form for most part of people trying to sell us cheap accommodation and transfer flights. It took forever to get through immigration and just when I did, I saw someone trying to take off with my one bag I brought along from the baggage carousel. I stopped him and he said something to me (I had no idea what it was) started to argue and when I caught a glimpse of a security guy and motioned him over, the guy just took off. Welcome to Egypt Billie!

I’m not sure what it was but I think I had a sticker on my back saying ‘this guy is a chump”. It was very early morning when I arrived, was very tired and after a lot of harassment, I agreed to let a guy drive me to a nearby hotel. I thought he was an Uber driver or something. I got in his car and it seemed we were traveling for an hour. All the way he was trying to sell me on one of his cousins tours of Cairo. We finally got to a hotel but he wouldn’t let me out unless I gave him a huge tip. I then realised that the airport was only about a kilometre away because I could see the planes taking off and landing. It was late, I was bloody tired and son I threatened him and said unless he opened the damn door, I was going to smash his windows and give him a black eye. I’m not a violent person but enough was enough. He popped the locks, I paid him, I got out and he sped off.

Finally I thought, a piece of sanity. A hotel chain that I recognized. I walked in the main door, and it was on! There must be people in the lobby of these hotels waiting for weary travelers to come in and fleece them of their money. A couple of women were trying to sell me again, guided tours of Cairo. After fending them off as politely as I could, another man approached me and apologized for the women and said he worked for the hotel. I went to the front desk, checked in and there it was again. Pressure tactics to make me use their car services and bus tours while I stayed in their hotel. All I wanted to do was to go to my room and sleep for a day. I grabbed my key off the counter, apologized at my rudeness of wanting to get to my room and a porter led the way. The way I was feeling, the quicker I get to my room the better without having to think of where I was going. I got to the room, I opened the door, walked in and the porter put his foot in the door putting his hand out. I sighed heavily, found some cash, put it in his hand and went to close the door. I looked at him and the smile disappeared form his face and he gestured for more. At that point I lost it. I told him to f#&@ off, pushed him away from the door and slammed it so hard I think I woke most of the guests up on that floor.

That was just on day 1. However, I’m a very positive person and don’t like to dwell on this stuff. The reason I wrote this is so that you are aware of the types of hustles that go on in a lot of places and not just Cairo. You need to be aware of the local customs. While some are just part and parcel of the tourist industry no matter where you go, others are just outright cons. But the good news is that once you know one con, it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, they are all generally the same. Con artists on the whole are not that imaginative and take their cues from fellow con artists. So, the bottom line is: be a smart and informed traveller, let your yes mean yes and your no mean a definite NO!