July 12, 2013

Viet Bikes

It’s always a good time to visit China and Vietnam.  Both countries have been popular destinations with Australian travellers for many years and visitor numbers continue to grow.  Whatever the season, there is always something happening in China and Vietnam.  Festivals are celebrated throughout the year, so no matter which month you choose to travel, you will find a festival or three.

One of Vietnam’s main Festivals occurs between late January and February.  Depending on the Lunar Calendar, this four day national holiday falls on a different date each year.  Tet, the Lunar New Year, is Vietnam’s biggest holiday.  The festivities begin on New Year’s Eve and the first three days of the Lunar New Year, but most people celebrate for a week or more.  It’s a time to be with family members.

February 3 each year sees the Anniversary of the Founding of the Communist Party.  Celebrated nationwide, visitors can expect to see cultural displays and the waving of massive red flags in open air shows.

In China, the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year, is held nationwide on the day of the first new moon after January 21 and no later than February 20.  January 31, 2014 will see celebrations begin for Year of the Horse.  Lion dances, fireworks, the giving of red envelopes, visiting friends and relatives and enjoying family meals are just some of the many ways Chinese people enjoy this time of year.

The Lantern Festival, which falls fifteen days after the Spring Festival, concludes celebrations for the Chinese New Year.  A main feature is the carrying of brightly lit lanterns and lighting lanterns on towers or floating sky lanterns.

Popular with tourists is the Water Splashing Festival, held in mid April.  Dai New Year is ushered in with a large market on the first day, dragon boat races on the second and copious amounts of water splashing on the third day.  Apparently, the wetter you are, the more luck you will have.

Celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese, the Mid-Autumn Festival is held during a full moon in September or early October.  The festival was a time to enjoy the successful reaping of rice and wheat with food offerings made in honor of the moon.  Today, it is an occasion for outdoor reunions with friends and relatives, eating mooncakes and watching the moon, a symbol of harmony and unity.

Beijing 25An Asian specialist for 26 years, Helen Wong’s Tours, is now making it even more appealing to visit Vietnam by shaving up to $500 a couple off the price of some of their selected group tours and up to $600 a couple on selected group tours to China.

These money saving deals apply to packages involving Cathay Pacific air fares, making the starting price of a 12 day China Discovery itinerary $3,690 per person, twin share from Australia.

The 12 day Glimpse of Vietnam tour visiting Saigon, Mekong Delta, Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay is now priced from $3,200 per person, twin share from Australia.

Both deals apply to bookings and full payments by August 30, 2013 for travel between February 1 and April 30, 2014 in China and from February 1 until March 30, 2014 in Vietnam.

Founder and Managing Director, Helen Wong, said “If you want to travel at other times of the year, we are offering savings of up to $400 a couple on China group tours from Australia and from $300 a couple on Vietnam tours from Australia, providing you fly with Cathay Pacific”.

Sandra Tiltman    Photos: John Pond & Helen Wong


July 12, 2013


Opera lovers on Thursday night showed their appreciation and enthusiasm for the new production of Puccini’s famous Tosca by stamping their feet, cheering and even whistling.

Directed by John Bell, Artistic Director of Bell Shakespeare and one of Australia’s most distinguished actors, Tosca is the first mainstage production that he has directed for Opera Australia.

John Bell says, “Tosca is not a melodrama.  It is a story of oppression, resistance and a woman blackmailed to save the life of a loved one.  It is a heart‐wrenching story that has been enacted countless times throughout history.  The era I have chosen, the German Occupation of Rome during World War II, is a time close enough for its history and images to stir our memory and our emotions.  Tosca is a dark story, but one alleviated by Puccini’s glorious music, which celebrates the heroism of those who choose death over loss of liberty.”

The staging was beautiful, a real pleasure for the eyes.  Magnificent singing, wonderful music, spectacular sets and costumes, an evening to take your breath away.

Set designer Michael Scott‐Mitchell and costume designer Teresa Negroponte have created a monumental staging, set in Mussolini’s 1940s Italy, complete with a replica of the ornate ceiling of Sant’Andrea della Valle.

This opera is one of the best I have seen from Opera Australia and should be recommended to those who are not regular opera attendees.

A night to be remembered for a long time.   Sandra Tiltman


July 12, 2013

screenshot_74“Dine at Mine” is a major new fundraiser for the children’s cancer charity Camp Quality.  Throughout August 2013, they are urging home cooks to arrange a dining experience in support of children living with cancer and their families.  Hosts invite family and friends to a breakfast, lunch or dinner and what they would have spent eating out can be donated to Camp Quality.

Event Manager Jodie Wainwright said: “August is going to become known as “Dine at Mine” month with this new fundraiser.  Its simplicity means you can be as imaginative as you like, from backyard BBQs and breakfasts to banquets, it’s a truly flexible way to get involved and raise much needed funds to create a better life for kids living with cancer and their families.  The host has complete control over how laid back or as fancy pants their dining event will be.  We expect some people will get really creative and host themed events such as a fondue fiesta!  The most important thing is that people get together with their family and friends, have fun and raise money to help us support kids with cancer around Australia.”

Ambassadors Manu Feildel and Lyndey Milan have got behind the cause providing recipes and tips for hosts on dineatmine.org.au.

Manu says “We all lead such busy lives that making quality time for friends and family can be difficult. That’s why I’m encouraging people to host a “Dine at Mine” for Camp Quality. In my work, I’ve seen the wonders people can cook up in their home kitchens.  Whether you cook a French feast or an Aussie BBQ, the most important thing is you’ll be creating a better life for kids living with cancer.  Having visited Camp Quality’s programs for these kids and their families, I can tell you that it’s a cause well worth supporting.”

To register as a Dine at Mine host, simply visit www.dineatmine.org.au or call 1300 730 787 to be sent a host pack which includes all the info you need to host a successful Dine at Mine.

Camp Quality currently only reaches one in three children living with cancer with its programs, which provide children living with cancer and their families with an essential break from hospital, stress and constant worry. The charity is currently expanding its programs which builds optimism, resilience and confidence at hospital, at home, at school and at camp.  The “Dine at Mine” fundraising campaign will enable Camp Quality to deliver these expanded services.

“We hope everyone will register to host a dinner party this August to help Camp Quality achieve their goal of supporting every child with cancer across Australia” says Jodie Wainwright.     Sandra Tiltman 


July 11, 2013

DSC00001During Sydney’s recent rain, my umbrella decided it had had enough when a gust of wind turned it inside out, leaving me stranded in the street with rain pelting down.

Without an umbrella, I ran into the nearest shopping arcade to purchase a new one to get me home dry.  Looking through the umbrellas on display a rather unusual one caught my eye.  It was a Blunt Umbrella, a brand I had not seen before. This umbrella’s ribs each had blunt tips which were covered in material, making them safe to use in crowded streets, unlike the more traditional umbrellas which almost cause injury to the person standing next to you.

This unusual umbrella was very easy to open and felt secure to use in the windy streets.  I came to the realisation that it was just a waste of money to buy another poor quality umberella that would let me down again, so I decided the Blunt umbrella was for me.

Designed by New Zealand engineer, Greig Brebner, this stylish urban umbrella would be at home in the streets of the world’s fashion capitals.  It was hard deciding which colour to select from the red, yellow, blue and black ones available in the shop, but I thought a yellow one would match my coat.

After trying the umbrella out on the way home, I decided to get the collapsible model as well, so I can keep it in my bag.  Now I don’t have to worry whether I will be caught in the rain.  Sandra Tiltman    Photo:  John Pond


July 7, 2013
Gaudi's Unfinished Church

Gaudi’s Unfinished Church

Located on the Mediterranean coast and Spain’s second largest city after Madrid, Barcelona, with its fabulous weather, beaches, great transport connections, huge choice of hotels and accommodation, restaurants and bars, great shopping, vibrant nightlife, architectural heritage, cultural attractions and much more, is a city that keeps attracting visitors from all over the world.

Famous as the location of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, which helped revitalise the city, Barcelona has grown as a cruise hub for the Mediterranean and is now the second largest cruise port in the world after Miami.  With its modern cruise terminal and great transport connections linking the city to all parts of the globe, visitor numbers and tourism continue to grow.

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous community within Spain where Catalonia’s own language, Catalan, is spoken as well as Spanish.

Located in the north-eastern Iberian peninsula, covering an area of 32,000 kms with a coastline of 580 kms, the region offers not only beaches and nautical

activities but skiing, hiking and adventure sports in the Catalan Pyrenees.

Catalonian cuisine, using the fine food and wines produced in the region, along with traditional Mediterranean cuisine has made Barcelona famous amongst food lovers.  Catalan red, white, rose, Cava sparkling and dessert wines are a great accompaniment to the region’s meats, sausages, fish and cheeses.

Gothic Quarter

Gothic Quarter

Barcelona has a Mediterranean climate with mild, humid winters and warm, dry summers.  The average annual temperature is 20C during the day and 11C at night.  Perfect to enjoy any of Barcelona’s seven beaches or for strolling around Las Ramblas, a great place for walking both night and day, where you can also visit the many bars, cafes, restaurants, try some tapas and do some shopping.

The city has a rich cultural heritage and is famous for architectural works by Gaudi and Montaner.  The Catalan modernista architecture, a style related to Art Nouveau, developed between 1885 and 1950, left an important legacy in Barcelona, with several of these buildings listed as World Heritage Sites.  The city was also home to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, designed in 1929 for the International Exposition.  Although the original building was removed in 1930, a modern re-creation by Spanish architects now stands in Barcelona.

Gaudi’s unfinished church, La Sagrada Familia, under construction since 1882, is perhaps Barcelona’s most famous attraction.

Barcelona Street SceneIn the Barri Gotic, (Catalan for Gothic Quarter), the centre of the old city, many of the buildings date from medieval times, some even from as far back as the Roman settlement of Barcelona.

Some of the 20th Century’s most famous painters lived and worked in Barcelona.  Picasso, Tapies and Miro have museums dedicated to their works.  The second most visited museum in Spain after the Prado, The Dali Museum, is located in Figueres, perfect for a day tour.

Barcelona’s international airport is the largest on the Mediterranean coast and the second largest in Spain.  About 17 km from the centre of town, it handles over 35 million passengers per year.

High speed trains connect Barcelona with Madrid and it’s also a rail hub for trains from other European cities.  The extensive motorway network also provides easy access for visitors.

Australians now have another option when flying to Barcelona, Qatar Airways offers a daily flight from Melbourne via Doha.

Sandra Tiltman   Photos:  John Pond