LONDON is in a jolly good mood and so am I. The sun is shining both literally and figuratively upon the English capital, which, judging by the number of cranes in the skyline and the smiling populous, is finally shrugging off the Global Financial Crisis and the last remnants of winter. And the sun is shining on me too, having just checked into Lancaster London, opposite Hyde Park.
There’s even more cherries on the cake today, as I’m catching up with an old Singapore mate, an ex-Londoner and now Geneva-based Murray, who I haven’t seen in two years. We’ve got just 24 hours and Murray arrives in his trademark flurry of excitement into which I am instantly swept. I’ve been upgraded to the luxurious Lancaster Suite – used by the hotel’s Thai owner when he’s in town – and which peers down over Hyde Park. You can see London’s most famous green space from the cavernous lounge room, the spa bath and even the toilet, and the London Eye from my bed. So lovely is this room, it seems almost criminal to leave.
And in a city probably better known for its pollution than being lean and green, this hotel is ardently eco-friendly, boasting a range of impressive environmental initiatives which include:
• A honey farm on the hotel’s roof, home to 500,000 bees which produces on average 80kg of Hyde Park honey every year
• E-brochures available to all guests in place of print collateral
• All bottled water on site is in reusable bottles, saving 12 tonnes of glass each year
• None of the hotel’s waste goes to landfill
• Salmon is smoked on site on an old plate warmer remodelled by the engineering department
• Old uniforms, bedding and soap are donated to The Passage, a local charity for the homeless
(And, on the week I arrive, a celebration of British tomatoes, in recognition that 4 in 5 tomatoes in the UK are imported – making it imperative that I try a Bloody Mary, in the name of research, of course).
Like English aristocrats (well maybe one and a convict mate), Murray and me sip tea while we catch up on the past, plot fantasy-filled futures and plan our day ahead in the city in which I first arrived 20 years ago as a backpacker. But it was not the likes of Lancaster London for me back then, but the Oxford Street Youth Hotel, and I still get a buzz wandering along one of London’s best shopping streets all these years later, catching ghost-like glimpses of my younger self in the reflections of familiar buildings.
Our Monopoly-board adventure continues down to Piccadilly Circus for lunch, Murray’s marathon legs 10 paces in front of me as I plead with him to slow down. It reminds me of our Singapore Sundays, where we’d meet and spend the day exploring the sticky city, jumping on random boats, searching for beaches, and like many expats I suspect, daring to dream of what we’d do next when we left south-east Asia. But it’s not Singapore but through Soho we trek this day, and on to Covent Garden, grabbing a bar and a beer just in time to escape a typical London downpour. Then we step off the board, and across the River Thames to amble along South Bank, check out the theatre listings, snatch another brew, fly through the Tate Modern, before heading back across the river towards St Paul’s Cathedral.
The whole day we’re chatting, scheming, laughing and in my case, limping along, by now my dress boots proving unsuitable for the pace and length of London we are traversing. But on we march towards East London and Brick Lane for its famed Indian restaurants. We could do anything this Saturday night in one of the world’s most exciting capital cities, but after eight hours of walking, blistered feet and some weeks of travel for both of us, we concede defeat and head back to my suite.
Like a comfortable old couple we lay on the couches, drink wine and watch the Chelsea Flower Show on TV before Murray falls asleep on his assigned couch and I retreat to the bedroom. A swift goodbye early the next morning and Murray is off to Geneva, the only evidence of his stay the scent of his cologne in the bathroom which lingers like a bittersweet moment. It’s both the curse and the blessing of the insatiable traveller, who gets to meet so many people around the globe, only to say goodbye to them again, not knowing when or where in the world we might meet in the future. Several hours later I, too, reluctantly leave my sweet suite and head to the airport, this time bound for Stockholm buoyed by old faces, old places and magnificent new memories. Till we meet again.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Lancaster London. Lancaster London is a member of Summit Hotels & Resorts, a brand of Preferred Hotel Group. To write your own London adventure go to http://www.lancasterlondon.com
I HAVE long suspected that I am a gay man trapped in a straight woman’s body. What I have never imagined is that I am a world-class gymnast. And so last night when I found myself at Glasgow’s Hydro Stadium, purpose-built for this year’s Commonwealth Games gymnastic events, it was not a half pike with a double twist which drew me there, but Brookyln crooner Barry Manilow. Yes, Baz was in town and faster than you can say Copacabana, I was there, canastas and all. (For the record if you need any more evidence I am actually a gay man – apart from the gaggle of gay men and utterly fantastic females who seem to be drawn to me and the fact most straight blokes find me utterly repulsive – I actually selected Copacabana for my “wedding waltz” ten years ago. Which probably proves that at least one, and potentially both of us in that now-defunct union, were actually gay men).
But I digress. Let me start by saying The Hydro, which was opened last August by Rod Stewart (who is definitely not gay if the parade of blondes he’s had on his arms over the years is any indication), was originally called the Scottish Hydro Arena Glasgow but when Glaswegians shortened that, the acronym spelt SHAG and even the sassy Scots baulked at that. But for the purpose of this tale let’s just say I “shagged” Barry Manilow last night and he was simply superb – suspected botox and all.
Don’t get me wrong, the Scots are sassy and sexy, all soupy accents as thick as a glorious Glaswegian winter itself. And there’s plenty of evidence of their cheeky good humour spattered around this pretty city. At Glasgow’s Cathedral, there’s a stained-glass window depicting Adam and Eve before they committed the dreaded sin of eating the apples, and as such they are without their fig leaves. Tennents Brewery is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to 1556, with one of its most famous customers Mary Queen of Scots.Nearby, St Andrews is no longer a church but a place of worship for Scottish culture…namely drinking and eating locally-sourced produce. In the Botanic Gardens you’ll find Kibble House with its nude statues, again depicting the likes of Eve. For a real taste of Scottish sass, head to the old church Oran Mor at which you can partake in a lovely lunchtime ritual of a Play, a Pie and a Pint.
And then there’s Barry. The giant stage curtains were emblazoned with a giant red love heart and about 10,000 green lights flickered in the audience like glow worms. Then, to the tunes of “It’s A Miracle”, Barry partly bounced (and partly hobbled) on to stage in a blue sequined jacket. Yes, Barry, it’s a miracle… that you’re still alive. (He’s now 70). He then played “Here I Am” describing it as an “oldie, but a goodie, just like me”. And just like your audience, Barry. I don’t want to cast any aspersions but let’s just say, if you want to feel young and sexy, get along to a Barry Manilow concert sometime soon.
At one point during his performance, Barry jumped on to the piano but despite his lean physique it’s pretty clear he won’t be back for the gymnastics in a few months time. (Nor, shall I add, will I, having been given the grand total of 0.5 out of 5 for at least attempting a cartwheel in Grade 8 before I retired from my gymnastics career). During his second clothing change (he’s no Lady Gaga), he flashed open the trench coat he was wearing to reveal a red suit jacket before he threatened to “whip it out”. Thankfully by “it” he meant the musical instrument, whose name eludes me (I will also never be a musician).
To accompany his dad jokes there was also plenty of dad dancing, and he captivated the mostly greying audience with his rendition of Mandy, leaving many of them wondering who the lucky girl was. Some (myself included) even attempted to dance to Copacabana, there were plenty of wolf whistles from some concert goers who may or may not have lost their teeth in the process, and every time I turned around in the crowd a grandmotherly type kept winking at me, making me wonder whether I reminded her of her gay grandson.
At some point during the performance Barry sang a song about the Brooklyn building in which he grew up, The Mayflower. He spoke of how he used to look up at the windows and wonder who was living next door. “You never know, you could have a doctor, a lawyer or a sex God living next to you.” I pondered his words as I drifted to sleep back in Room 415 at Glasgow’s Hotel Indigo last night after the concert. What if he was in the room next door? One thing is for certain: Glasgow, you were an absolute delight. And Barry, I just can’t smile without you.
The Global Goddess travelled to Glasgow as a guest of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. For further information on visiting Glasgow please visit http://www.peoplemakeglasgow.com.au
THE sultry Slovenian peers at me from beneath her glasses. “Where are you from?” she demands in a husky accent. “I’m Australian,” I answer matter-of-factly. “You speak good English,” she replies, before taking me aside and, in a conspiratorial tone, tells me the people on our respective Berlin tours look “old and boring”. Then, with a wink and a wave, she says she’ll see me in a few days in Bremen, where we can “catch up”. I’m not entirely certain, but I think I may now have a Slovenian girlfriend.
I’m in Europe for the German Travel Mart in which Germany is demonstrating to the world why it’s one of the global leaders in the tourism game. And this year is perhaps more important than most, coinciding with 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down and this country’s two halves became whole again. And I’m travelling around Berlin with a gaggle of international journalists and travel agents, each as interesting as the next to which I’m introduced.
Shanky, from Mumbai, is not a small lad, and over a breakfast which consists of six pieces of toast, mushrooms, eggs and strawberries, confesses he’s eating a big meal as he will only eat once and doesn’t want to “get sick” on the German food. The irony of his words lost only on the Indian himself, and throughout the trip I spot Shanky constantly grazing on vast quantities of food. Shanky also asks me how hotel staff know whether you have consumed anything from the mini bar, leading me to wonder how much of a party he’s had in his room.
Which leads me to Suzie, a Filipino Canadian, who only seems to stumble across strife when she is alone in her room, late at night, a little inebriated. On our first night, Suzie found herself taking a late-night dip in the hotel pool, on the second, she awoke at 3am fully clothed and made up, by the third she’d floundered around in a late-night bath and when last we spoke, she was caught smoking in her pajamas in the hotel stairwell, after consuming a midnight schnitzel.
Kathy, from Chicago, loves Australians far more than she loves technology and has forgotten to switch off her global roaming, thus ensuring a $50 bill on her first day. Kathy wanders the streets of Berlin constantly discovering random, unrelated walls emblazoned with graffiti and asking our tour guides whether they are part of the Berlin Wall. “Yes,” I answer dryly on their behalf, “we are in Berlin and this is a wall.”
Then there’s Peter, a softly-spoken Bostonian who once managed to miss a kangaroo but hit a bus while driving through a particularly remote stretch of Australia’s Outback. Peter, who says my accent is alluring, collects dirt when he travels. I endear myself to another American, Ellie, by telling her how much I despise George Bush before I accidentally spill a glass of fine Austrian red all over her beige trousers.
Jenz, our tour guide, runs a tight ship with clichéd German precision and is prone to saying “OK” by which he means “it’s time to go, NOW” at random moments. Add to this a Croatian who looks and sounds like Count Dracula and likes to tell long-winded stories about the minutiae of his life, a jolly gay guy from Wales, the Italians and Spaniards who constantly complain about both the food and the time of dining, a happy Hong Konger who sneaks off to shop, and you’ve pretty much got the picture. The two Lee’s from Beijing are the last to arrive, and for a week I think they are both named Lee, until I realise that’s their last name, but they remain delightful nonetheless.
These days you’ll find a Berlin that is buzzing. Visit some of the historical sights such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the gorgeous Gendarmenmarkt and Checkpoint Charlie before you explore some of the city’s new. Take an eTrike tour along the historical trail of the Berlin Wall on these new eclectic and electric bikes which whizz around the capital’s streets at 25km/hr. You’ll find some interesting spots in which sections of the Wall still stand, and if you use a little imagination, you can picture what life was like in the old east. There’s 155 museums in this city alone, some amazing shopping and designers, and incredible food and wine.
It’s been 26 years since I was first in Berlin, a high school student standing on both sides of the Berlin Wall, with a group of other Aussie teenagers, who were as diverse and delightful as this straggle of strangers with whom I now find myself. We didn’t know it back then, but a year later, the Berlin Wall would be torn down, East and West would be reunited and a whole chapter would be written in German history.
Before I boarded the flight to Europe this time last week, I was a little apprehensive. It’s a long way to go from Australia to spend a week with complete strangers with whom you may have little in common. But I need not have worried. In Berlin, it seems, walls are always coming down. And so I, too, write another chapter, in my history.
The Global Goddess travelled to Germany as a guest of the German National Tourist Office. To experience your own German escape, go to http://www.germany.travel
AN item on the menu catches my eye. For around $282 I can partake in a four-course meal featuring some of the most sought-after Chinese delicacies used in traditional medicine for their health benefits, some of which are said to even cure impotency, followed by a collagen-boosting facial and seawater-infusion massage. And I can even enjoy some Birds’ Nest dishes, which, among other things, are said to increase my libido. Lust being the least of my worries, I eschew the exotic eats and treats and head straight to the spa itself where a Balinese life guard stands poolside and encourages me to run against a series of strong currents and be blissfully blasted by a range of other jets for the next two hours.
I’m at RIMBA Jimbaran Bali, the new 8 hectare resort nestled within the award-winning AYANA’s 77 hectare grounds overlooking Jimbaran Bay. And in typical form, I’m looking for love. Guests at both properties can use all facilities, so I figure two resorts are better than one, and divide my time on the hunt for erotic experiences. While RIMBA’s “Beyond Skin Deep” package at the renowned Ah Yat Chinese restaurant is indeed tempting, I consider instead stopping at AYANA’s L’Atelier Parfums and Creations where for $80 and 45 minutes of my time, I can create my own perfume. Or, in my case, a love potion. Unfortunately, the island is all out of eye of newt, so I head on to my next destination, a cocktail at the world-famous oceanfront bar Rocks. I follow this up with a seafood dinner plucked straight from the ocean before me under a beautiful Southern Cross sky at Kisik. This is feet-in-the-sand romance at its finest, a concept not lost on a fellow female yoga friend and me as we gaze at the stars and ponder our lack of love.
Back at RIMBA, ardent admirers of conservation will adore what this resort has created. Opened last November as a sister property to the luxurious AYANA, RIMBA is named after the Indonesian word for “forest”. This resort, which overlooks the Uluwatu Hills on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, has embraced integrity through its design and razor-sharp environmental principles.
The ark-shaped lobby ends in a giant pond which resembles the shape of a ship which is fitting, as the lobby itself is made of recycled wood from three old fishing boats from Sulawesi and driftwood gathered by hand along a stretch of beach. On the walls you’ll find handmade bricks, in the roof-top bar recycled glass bottles, and in the rooms, furniture crafted from old packing crates. Sustainability is king here, with a rainwater harvesting and water recycling plant plus an on-site greenhouse and organic fruit garden.
When it launched, a traditional “rainstopper” was enlisted to seek the blessings of the Gods for a dry event to ensure the perfect sunset. It worked and the proverbial sun has been shining down on this property ever since which is just as well, given there are six pools alone here.
So with so much good, where is the bad as the title of this piece suggests? Well, I actually agonised over how to start this piece. You see, the day I arrive at RIMBA a Queensland man has been detained upon arrival at Denpasar Airport after trying to enter the plane’s cockpit during a Virgin flight. Even worse, he’s from my hometown of Brisbane and the incident makes headlines around Asia/Pacific. I am embarrassed and ashamed of my fellow countryman. Bali has become a divisive destination in the past decade or so following the Bali Bombings, Schapelle Corby’s detention and recent release, and the Bali 9, who still ponder their fate in Kerobokan Prison. And while these headlines are surely show stoppers, they have one common denominator – they have little to do with the average Balinese.
In his book Bali Raw, Australian expat Malcolm Scott spells out in detail some of the unsavoury aspects of Bali. He talks of emerging crime and culture clashes among gangs from some of Indonesia’s other islands. Add to that recent reports of rubbish on some of this island’s beaches and it would be all too easy to avoid Bali altogether. Don’t. Boycotting Bali due to Bintang bogans is like avoiding the entire Gold Coast because of some of the strife in Surfers Paradise. Or New York because of the World Trade Centre bombings.
And then there’s the Bali. My Bali is one of beauty, peace, culture and coconuts. Of colourful characters, crooked smiles, frangipani flowers and food, glorious food. And you’ll find plenty of these elements at places such as RIMBA which is doing its best to remind the world that Bali is indeed the Island of the Gods.
Bali may not be big – it’s only about 100km wide and long – but it’s huge of heart. You’ll rediscover this heart at Rimba and at her sister AYANA through the people, the properties, and the professionalism. Take another look at one of Australia’s nearest neighbours. You might just fall in love all over again.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Rimba Jimbaran Bali. For more information go to http://www.rimbajimbaran.com