A Rhine River Cruise with Scenic

Scenic Opal river cruise ship
It is the middle of May, and David and I are joining a Scenic Space-Ship for an ultra-luxury river cruise down the Rhine.  Scenic Opal, our new home for the next seven nights, does not disappoint. From the moment we step on board we are wrapped in a cocoon of comfort and indulgence - without a single care in the world.

Our Rhine Highlights cruise begins in the bustle of Amsterdam, with its maze of canals, historic buildings and thousands of bicycles. It disembarks at Basel in Switzerland (with transfers to Zurich). Each day takes us to new places and new adventures. In the evenings we dine in style in one of the ship's superb restaurants, or order room service in our private suite - where we always get the window table!  When not out exploring we spend tranquil, lazy hours watching the world go by and soaking up the rhythms of life on the Rhine. 

The Dookie Rail Trail: Cycling in North East Victoria

Dookie Rail Trail sign

The Dookie Rail Trail is a hidden gem half an hour's drive east of Shepparton in north east Victoria. At not quite 5 kms (10 kms return) it is much shorter than the usual trails we ride. However what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in scenery and charm. Struck by bad weather on a recent cycling trip to Victoria we found ourselves at the beginning of the Dookie Rail Trail with a promised few hours of clear skies. We parked the car, unloaded the bikes and headed out to discover rural Victoria at its best.

The Great Southern Rail Trail

Running from the New South Wales border to Phillip Island in Victoria, Gippsland is one of those rare regions in Australia where the grass is green, the rivers full and the countryside bucolic. All this verdant beauty comes at a price though, and that price is rain - lots and lots of rain. David and I are fair weather cyclists. We first came to South Gippsland to cycle the Great Southern Rail Trail (GSRT) in November 2019. We got one perfect day, one okay day and two days of wet, windy weather. Instead of the whole trail, we managed little more than a third, but it was a magical third.  We came back in 2021 (and again in 2023) to fill in the blanks.  We both agree The Great Southern Rail Trail is the best rail trail in Australia.  The scenery is lovely, the towns are idyllic and the wildlife, especially the koalas and echidnas we have seen right next to the trail, is magical. 

A Tour of Ned Kelly Country: Following the trail of Australia's most famous bushranger.

Ned Kelly
Edward ('Ned') Kelly was born at Beveridge in Victoria in December 1854¹. He died at the end of a hangman's noose in Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880. In his short life he gained an enduring place in Australia's history as our most famous bushranger (outlaw). David and I got struck by poor weather on a recent cycling trip to Victoria and had to find something else to occupy ourselves for a few days. As it happened I was in the middle of a biography of Ned Kelly and since we were not far from Kelly Country we decided to do a tour of the places whose fame still rests of the legend of Ned.

Like many Australians the main thing I knew about Ned Kelly was what he is most famous for - making a stand against police at Glenrowen. Vastly outnumbered, he donned a suit of armour made from ploughshares before shooting it out with Victoria Police. It made him look like a medieval knight and earned him a place in Australian folklore.

The Silo Art Trail of North-East Victoria

silo art Australia
Silo art has taken off in Australia. In March 2015 the small town of Northam in Western Australia engaged two artists to paint murals on the 'canvas' of the town's grain silos. Brim, a country town in Victoria, followed up with its own painted silo, then Ravensthorpe in Western Australia and then Patchewollock and Sheep-Hills (don't you just love the names) also in Victoria. Not to be outdone, towns without silos embraced the idea and painted water tanks and towers. Before long there were painted silos, towers and tanks popping up all over the country and a movement was born - a peculiarly Australian movement.

Today there is silo art in almost every corner of the country. With more than 100 painted silos, water tanks and towers across more than 7,500 kms, following silo art trails has become the ultimate Australian road trip.

Sculpture by the Sea 2019

Sculpture by the Sea 2019
Sculpture by the Sea is on again in Sydney. Set against the striking backdrop of the coastal walk between Tamarama Beach and Bondi, the annual sculpture exhibition converts the most die-hard critics of modern art into fans. I admit I am not a fan of modern sculpture but Sculpture by the Sea sets out to make world class art accessible and enjoyable to the masses (for masses - read 'me') and it succeeds. It is hard not to be impressed.

Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi is the world's largest free sculpture exhibition, with 500,000 visitors expected during the 18 days in which it is open.  In 2019 there are 111 sculptures exhibited by 140 artists who come from 18 countries.

The Best Rail Trails and Bike Paths in Australia - UPDATED Feb 2020

Sandy Creek Rail Bridge

Have you ever imagined yourself on a cycling holiday, but not sure you can keep up the pace day after day, and absolutely certain you don't want to dodge trucks and other traffic while rediscovering your childhood bicycle skills.  Have I got the solution for you!

Lots of old and disused railways which once ran through the countryside are steadily being re-purposed as 'rail trails'. With tracks removed, bridges repaired, or diverted around, and tunnels made safe they make perfect corridors for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Since trains never handled anything other than gentle gradients they are generally flat and easy to cycle. Their routes are dotted with small towns whose populations are welcoming and, as rail trailers arrive so do small businesses like trail side cafes, boutique accommodation, and bicycle support services giving country Australia a tourism boost.

Cycling the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail - How adventurous are you?

Yimbun Tunnel Brisbane Valley Rail Trail

The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) follows an old rail corridor from Yarraman to Ipswich in south-east Queensland. At 161 km, it is Australia's longest rail trail beating the Great Victorian Rail Trail and the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail by almost 30 and 50 kms respectively. Queenslanders like to do things differently however so if you head up to the BVRT for a bit of spring cycling with the idea that the trail will be just like its easy-riding Victorian counterparts only longer, you are in for a shock.

Swooping Magpies: Surviving the Mad Magpie of Toogoolawah!

Australian Magpie
Talk to an American or a Brit or almost anyone else about Australia and the conversation inevitably comes around to animals. Not the cute ones, like koalas and wombats and baby kangaroos, but the ones out to get you - the deadly ones.  There is no denying this country has its fair share of dangerous creatures. Google 'the most venomous snakes in the world' and there are bound to be a few Australian natives on the list. Then there is the world's most deadly bird, the beautiful but very cranky cassowary; one of the world's most dangerous spiders, the Sydney funnel web; the lovely to look at but deadly to touch blue ringed octopus and the infamous Irukandji jellyfish. The funny thing though is that nobody ever mentions the animal Australia is most afraid of, the creature which sends grown adults into paroxysms of dread with a single flap of its wings, the springtime terror of southern skies - the Australian swooping magpie.

National Trust, English Heritage or Historic Houses - which should you join?

Sherborne Castle
National Trust, English Heritage or Historic Houses - which membership is best? Then there is the National Trust Overseas Visitors Touring Pass, membership of a National Trust Overseas Organisation or the English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass. Confused yet? Each membership gives you access to different attractions, has different pricing structures and different rules, some of which are clear and some of which are hidden in the fine print and downright sneaky.