I AM sitting in Chicago, the musical not the city, back in my hometown of Brisbane after one of my busiest years of travel yet. Accompanying me on this joyous journey is my best friend from Grade One. For more than 40 years this gorgeous girl and I have been playing dress ups and today is no different. We are revelling in the rare rain which is doing the hot shoe shuffle on the rooftop of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre outside, while inside, we are toe tapping to this marvellous musical. In my seat, I secretly applaud the happiness of having long-term friends and the bliss of being home.
And there’s no better way to celebrate this delicious destination than the razzle dazzle of Chicago, the longest-running American musical in Broadway and West End history, now perched on the banks of the Brisbane River in the Lyric Theatre. The opening act is sleek and sultry and doesn’t disappoint with its trademark All That Jazz. If you know nothing else of this sassy story, you’ll recognise this tune which transports you back to the 1920s and tells the story of some ballsy broads. You’ll adore the humour and one-liners such as “In this town murder is a form of entertainment”; admire the sheer athleticism of the cast; and marvel at the magic they perform on such a tiny sliver of stage.
There’s no fancy costume changes, everyone wears black, allowing space for the brilliant voices to really shine. Another awesome addition to this show is the stadium-style band set up, smack bang centre stage, and with which the cast, and audience, are invited to interact throughout the performance. The cast is delightful, and Australian audiences will recognise a few favourites here such as Tom Burlinson, who plays Billy Flynn the lawyer and at one stage is flanked by fabulous feathers; and Natalie Bassingthwaighte who is charming, cheeky, cute and convincing as Roxie Hart. The lesser-known Alinta Chidzey is equally brilliant as Velma Kelly. But it’s Casey Donovan as Matron “Mama” Morton who steals the show with her voluptuous voice and commanding presence. The audience went ballistic for the bold, brave and beautiful Donovan and so will you.
Delightfully, the band plays the audience out of the theatre to another rendition of All That Jazz where outside we discover a sunny Saturday afternoon. We dissect the show, and life itself, as we amble along South Bank, under the silver metal archways draped in purple bougainvillea, which reminds me of the colour palette of the new suite we are sharing at Rydges South Bank. Late afternoon and we pause at Rydges Soleil Pool Bar for a cheeky cocktail. It’s an Aperol Spritz afternoon and we lounge on couches as comfortable as our friendship.
By early evening we are perched at Rydges Bacchus bar, sipping a sparkly, and admiring the upmarket retro vibe. From our white leather bar stools overlooking several booths, it’s a little bit Get Smart replete with an impressive shelf of liquor and a bar manager who takes the time to chat. But another juicy journey awaits and we repair to the Bacchus dining room where, perched in a commanding chair redolent of Alice in Wonderland I sit while we embark on another adventure – the Spring Degustation. We start with a salacious selection of oysters before eating in earnest – there’s bread and a selection of amuse bouche; a Celeriac with sesame, lemongrass and roast potato broth; and Sashimi boasting apple, cucumber and celery, with Japanese hongarebushi. Each course is paired with wine which we discuss with gusto with the passionate and professional sommelier.
We continue with a Fish Pillow of gnocchi, cannellini, vongole and cuttlefish, before experiencing our most delicious dish of the degustation – Darling Downs Wagyu, with spinalis, smoked eggplant and camel cheese. The meal inches towards the end with a cheeky Cheese with house made chutney and raisin bread with pumpkin and five spice; a brilliant Blueberry unlike any other served with cake and zabaione; Coconut on the Beach with lime and butterscotch; and Petit Fours to finish. This degustation is like our friendship itself, long, surprising, delicious and delightful.
Sated, we repair to our room, this refurbished corner suite part of more than $30 million Rydges South Bank has invested into redesigning all of its rooms. There’s a desk and kitchenette for business travellers, plus a large l-shaped couch in the lounge room replete with huge television. The bedroom boasts a king-sized bed, another large television, and ensuite with shower and elegant egg-shaped bath. Rydges South Bank is the most perfect perch anywhere in Brisbane should you wish to catch a show. Its understated elegance works well for the laidback Queensland capital and for which this heavenly hotel has recently earned its position in the latest Queensland Hotels Association Awards Hall of Fame for Best Superior Accommodation. Rydges South Bank also received the Workplace Health & Safety Award and Guest Experience Supervisor Kait Einam was named Guest Services Employee of the Year. Not surprisingly, Bacchus was awarded Best Prestige Restaurant for the second year in a row.
It’s late at night and I stand on the breezy balcony of my ninth floor suite, from which I can see South Bank from one side, and Mt Coot-tha on the other. The Wheel of Brisbane is lit up like the full moon and the city lights across the river blink back at me, reminding me to savour salacious days such as these. Those rare moments in time when you have time to catch a show, snatch a slow wander, dive into deep chats, feast on a luscious dinner, and indulge in the luxury of retreating to a hotel suite to sleep. And to celebrate a city and friendship, which has stood the test of time…and all that jazz.
Rydges South Bank has launched a CHICAGO package which is available for stays from today, November 5, through to December 1 this year. The package, which starts from $550 includes:
Overnight accommodation in a luxurious guest room
Two A Reserve Tickets (evening performance) on arrival night
Valet car parking for one vehicle
Buffet Breakfast for two in Bacchus Restaurant
An official CHICAGO Show program
A CHICAGO themed gift on arrival
The Global Goddess was a guest of QPAC and Rydges South Bank – www. https://www.rydges.com/accommodation/brisbane-qld/brisbane-south-bank/
Photos courtesy of Rydges South Bank and QPAC.
Keep your eye out for upcoming shows and packages including Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS which opens in Brisbnae on January 10. And if you eat nowhere else in this lifetime, dine at Bacchus. One of my most memorable meals anywhere in the world.
THE green ferry is paddling across Sydney Harbour like a sanguine sea turtle and the sparkling city resembles an Outback night sky. Turns out it’s a celestial weekend in every sense of the word. I’m in Sydney for the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) National Travel Industry Awards in which I am a finalist for the Best Travel Writer and I am staying at The Star Astral Residences. Let me be clear upfront: when I refer to “stars” in this blog, I am not referring to myself. I like to think of myself more as a Halley’s Comet – showing a flash of brilliance once every 75 years or so.
I’ve been upgraded to a one-bedroom suite befitting of a celebrity far more cool than this Brisbane broad who always feels a bit out of place among the lurid lights and screaming sass of the southern capital. From my perky perch on the 15th floor, from which I have a view across Darling Harbour of the city’s skyline, I have a yawning, sunny balcony, a downstairs lounge room, dining, kitchen and powder room. Upstairs, there’s a bedroom, bathroom, two more toilets and my favourite room of all: a media nook in which they have plonked a ruby, red velvet couch which swivels.
Just when I think I’ve stumbled across the most beautiful hotel room in Sydney, I am shown the latest additions to The Star: three “experiential” studios all of which sport different themes. Chic geeks will adore the Cyperpunk Studio replete with four 65-inch TV consoles as well as its own virtual reality chamber. Then there’s the 70s Glam Studio where the couch comes complete with a hole for your champagne ice bucket and a rotating disco ball hangs from the ceiling. No surprises that my favourite suite is the Dark Romance with its art-deco furnishings, four-poster bed and a romance button where the lights are automatically dimmed and a fireplace bursts to life.
Alas, there is no one on this trip to light my fire, so I scurry back to room I privately label the “no romance suite” (which has everything to do with appalling love life and nothing to do with this gorgeous suite) and collapse on my ruby couch to spin and contemplate romance for a while. But not for long. There’s a decadent afternoon in The Darling Spa (one of three hotels in the Star complex apart from the Star Residences and Star Towers), where a pretty Parisian called Pauline pampers me in a relaxing massage. In February, The Darling was named the first and only five-star hotel in Sydney by the influential ForbesTravelGuide.com.
My five-star experience continues that evening at the beautiful Balla, a fine Italian restaurant within The Star complex and from which I spy my turtle ferries crossing the inky night waters of Sydney Harbour. The Sydney Harbour Bridge winks at me as I dine on duck ragu gnocchi followed by wagu steak, washed down with an Italian Montepulciano. The one benefit of being such a booze hag is that I know my wine and this is a fine drop indeed. I finish this feast with a soft blue gorgonzola cheese with cherries in balsamic vinegar, and a cherry liqueur. Another benefit of staying at The Star is that if you don’t finish your bottle of wine (I know…there’s a shock), and while under law you are not able to take it with you, room service will collect it and deliver it to your suite.
It’s a late breakfast at The Star’s Harvest Buffet the next morning where I appear to have entered Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. There’s not one, but three chocolate fountains among a range of international cuisine as well as your standard breakfast fare. By the time I have lunch downstairs at Pizzaperta, and spend the afternoon drinking the rest of my red wine with a mate on my sunny deck, I realise I haven’t left The Star complex since I checked in, 26 hours ago. For a travel writer who is always on the go, this is one of life’s great luxuries. It’s a short cab ride to the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre for the AFTA awards where, although I didn’t win, I come home with a gorgeous glass trophy.
Yes, it’s been a weekend of stars and I suspect this particular Sydney stay will be hard to eclipse.
The Global Goddess was a guest of The Star. A night in the Cyberpunk and 70s Glam Studios starts at $1500. A night in the Dark Romance Studio starts at $500 and the Suite in which I stayed at between $400 and $500. http://www.thestarsydney.com.au
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’VE awoken in a Surfers Paradise hotel room and I have a swollen eye. The Surfers Paradise part I can explain, even to myself who takes a few minutes to remember what I’m doing on Australia’s Gold Coast. But I have no idea how I’ve acquired the swollen eye. I check my hotel bathroom for a baby, a tiger and Bradley Cooper.
The last thing I remember was playing Putt Putt golf with some friends before having a few drinks. Unless things have changed in the past 20 years, Putt Putt, from memory, is a pretty tame affair which doesn’t result in swollen organs.
I decide to take Quasimodo out to breakfast, acutely aware this shall not the morning I will be meeting the man of my dreams. When I head back to the 22nd floor my room key is no longer working. Which would not be such a problem were it not for the strange grumble my stomach has just made. Just when I think my morning can’t get much worse, it does. The cause of my swollen eye suddenly becomes apparent. I’ve overindulged in oysters at the seafood buffet the previous evening, I’m having an allergic reaction, and now my gut is about to explode. In the lift. Full of women attending a beauty conference.
I break into a cold sweat. By now, I’m frantic. It occurs to me that I’m about to resemble an Australian footballer, and crouch on the carpeted hotel hallway with my swollen eye and do the unspeakable. I telephone my friend whose room number I can’t remember. “Open your door,” I scream down the line, “O-p-e-n. Y-o-u-r. D-o-o-r!” A door swings open down the hall by which stage, I am crawling like one of the crabs which is causing all the commotion inside me. I burst into what I hope is her hotel room, and not that of some poor Japanese tourist, and dash to the toilet.
My retro weekend in Surfers Paradise has begun with a blast. My friend, Corina, has decided our next adventure should be cycling along the beachfront to the Southport Spit. It’s going to be so simple, bikes are even delivered to our hotel room. Corina is wearing her trademark high heels, tighty whitey pants, and a koala backpack we’ve nicknamed “fluffy”. I am having visions of my own loveliness, dressed in a long white skirt, hair blowing in the sea breeze, riding along the oceanfront like something out of a feminine hygiene ad. Dame Alison, our other friend, has wisely decided to take a limo transfer to meet us for lunch. I take off and make it to the first corner when my skirt becomes entangled in the bike chain. Corina falls off her bike. We are covered in grease when we limp in to lunch at the old Southport Bathing Pavilion which is now a café. A bloke called Chico offers us a Chicko roll. Things are looking up.
That evening, Corina has planned a special surprise. A trip to the Wax Museum. The operators resemble the Adams family which is more than we can say for the actual wax exhibits. Barack Obama is white. Michael Jackson is black. Whitney Houston looks like Bobby Brown. The whole display is creepy and just little bit scary. We leave abruptly. We need a drink.
We decide our trip to the glitter strip isn’t complete without a Chinese banquet and head to the Focus Chinese Seafood Restaurant with our new-found friends, Cade, Caitlin, Shae, Grant and Maggie. Full of Peking duck, we decide to eschew a trip to the old haunts – Melba’s and Cocktails and Dreams – in favour of an early night. I go to sleep smug in the knowledge we’ve had a pretty tame night. Even my eye has almost returned to normal.
On Sunday morning I awake to find a game of Two-Up in last night’s handbag, a Meter Maid’s business card and bum muscles I didn’t know I had, courtesy of our bike ride. I ponder this as we board the Aquaduck for an amphibious adventure on the Broadwater. There’s no suspension on the vehicle and we bounce along the Esplanade, as do our boobs. Corina tells me to “get ducked”. I tell her to “duck off”. Back at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Dame Alison sits near a farting man exhibit while the museum owner catches me stroking a male fertility statue. “Be careful, you’ll get pregnant,” he warns, before adding, “but of course you have to have sex to do that.” Just my luck to be the second woman in history to conceive by immaculate conception.
By the end of the weekend, I realise something I’d long forgotten. Surfers Paradise is tawdry, tacky and terrific, just like my friends. It will pick you up, twist you around, dance with you and gently put you back down. But dull? Never, ever.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of The Outrigger, Surfers Paradise, whose carpet, she is pleased to report, remains intact and whose bathrooms are to be commended, in whichever room you may find yourself in a panic. To experience your own retro weekend, go to www.outrigger.com.au