December 21, 2014
St Mark's Basilica

St Mark’s Basilica

The Northern Italian city of Venice, with its famous canals and incredible architecture, is one of the world’s most unique cities and one of the most popular with visitors to Europe. So popular is Venice that it’s almost impossible to find a quiet time of the year to explore the wonders of this historic city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor centuries Venice has been an important trading port, thanks to its location on the Adriatic Sea; more recently, it has become a hub for cruise ships. Every morning, especially during the northern summer months, there is a procession of cruise ships into the terminal where they disembark passengers and sail out again in the evening.

There is just so much to see and do in Venice that a one day visit as part of a Mediterranean cruise, does not do this city justice.

Visiting Venice on board a river ship, as I did recently, provides a better alternative. The stylish “River Countess” spends several nights docked in Venice, during Uniworld’s “Venice & The Gems of Northern Italy” river cruise, sailing on the Venice Lagoon and the Po River, also visiting Padua, Bologna, Ferrara, Verona and Ravenna as well as some quaint fishing villages along the way.

Doge's Palace

Doge’s Palace

We boarded River Countess in Venice and after settling into our very spacious and luxurious cabin, akin to a five star hotel room, we decided to explore the area. As we were docked right in the heart of Venice it was so amazing to just walk along the quayside, watching the water taxis and other water craft on the lagoon. Lining the quayside were a myriad of historic buildings, old warehouses that had been converted into shops, restaurants, hotels and apartments. It was not long before we came to a canal, which we crossed via a hump shaped bridge and caught our first glimpse of a gondolier, followed by a virtual procession of gondoliers. Nothing like seeing a gondolier to make you believe that you really are in Venice.

Our cabin on Uniworld's "River Countess"

Our cabin on Uniworld’s “River Countess”

Returning to “River Countess” for a cocktail while we listened to the evening briefing and learnt of the exciting plans for the following day, it was then time to enjoy our first dinner on board and meet our fellow passengers. The food was exceptional during the entire cruise. Using only the freshest local produce, the meals were just as much a highlight of the cruise as the cities we visited. Complimentary matching wines were served with lunch and dinner and throughout the cruise, complimentary alcoholic beverages and soft drinks were also served.

The next morning our guided walking tour took us to explore the wonders of the Doge’s Palace and the famous Bridge of Sighs. Afterwards we were free to explore the city on our own. That evening our guide brought us to Piazza San Marco where we were fortunate to have an exclusive visit to the spectacular St Mark’s Basilica, where we sat in awe as our guide related its history while pointing out the treasures contained inside this ancient building with its incredible domes, before taking us down into the crypt. This was a most memorable experience.

Sandra Tiltman    Photos: John Pond


December 13, 2014

WS HARB Dec 14

Sydney is one of the best places to be during the summer, with exciting outdoor events happening almost every day and many of these are free of charge.

Sydney Harbour is the star on Boxing Day, 26 December, when the yachts line up for the start of the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Once the starting pistol has been fired, an exciting experience is to be on a pleasure craft following the yachts as they race under full sail, to see who is to be first trough the Heads.

The eyes of the world then turn once again to Sydney for the famous New Year’s Eve fireworks. Every inch of space around the harbour foreshores, especially those vantage points with a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is claimed hours before the first fireworks are lit at 9 pm. Excitement and anticipation mounts for the countdown to the huge fireworks display at midnight, which welcomes 2015.

Pop to popism at Art Gallery of NSW

Pop to popism at Art Gallery of NSW

The Sydney Festival runs from 8 to 26 January 2015 with an array of cultural happenings and a variety of indoor and outdoor events, often featuring theatrical and circus performances. Two of the most popular annual outdoor events are Symphony in the Domain on 18 January, where the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Johannes Fritzsch will perform classical music under the stars and Opera in The Domain, presented by Opera Australia on 24 January, where famous arias are sung, backed by a full orchestra, also under the stars.

Movie buffs will be kept busy with several Outdoor Cinemas operating over the summer, such as the St George Open Air Cinema alongside Sydney Harbour in Farm Cove and the Moonlight Cinema playing in Centennial Park.

On view until early March are two, not to be missed, major art exhibitions, “Pop to popism” at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and “Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration” at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Two free concerts have been announced to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January, which will be performed on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House. “The Wiggles Australia Day Concert” in the morning features Australia’s biggest children’s entertainment group, The Wiggles. Families can sing along to their favourite Wiggle, as well as Dorothy the Dinosaur and Wags the Dog.

Darling Harbour Area

Darling Harbour Area

John Foreman, one of Australia’s leading creative and musical talents, has taken on the role of Australia Day 2015 Creative Director, bringing together a collection of Australia’s best performers, including Jessica Mauboy, Justice Crew, Sheppard and Russell Morris for “The Australia Day Concert at the Sydney Opera House” in the evening. Tickets free via ballot by 7 January

Opera Australia’s Sydney Summer Season at the Opera House has a programme to delight opera lovers with La Bohème, The Magic Flute, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Faust.

Rounding off the summer is one of Sydney’s most spectacular annual events, now in its fourth year. “Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Aida” runs from 27 March to 26 April 2015. Featuring the full Opera Australia Chorus on stage together with international singers and a live orchestra beneath, audiences will enjoy the entire opera themed experience of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, with its comfortable harbourside seating, wide range of on site dining and drinking options, magnificent harbour views and lavish, fully staged opera featuring nightly fireworks.

Sandra Tiltman   Photos: John Pond


December 6, 2014
Where MSC Orchestra’s Grand Voyage Begins

Where MSC Orchestra’s Grand Voyage Begins

While cruising the Mediterranean, from Athens to Venice, at the height of this year’s European Summer, it seemed like every port we visited there was always one of MSC’s large white elegant ships already docked. Not surprising really, as MSC is synonymous with the Mediterranean.

Their modern luxury cruise ship fleet exudes Italian style and comfort, so no matter which one of their twelve ships you choose to sail on, the experience will be one to remember.

From Italy, Spain, the Greek Islands, Turkey, Croatia, France, Greece and Northern Africa they have the Mediterranean covered and with their flexible embarkation ports, joining a cruise could not be easier.

MSC funnelMSC also sail further afield with their programme of Grand Voyages, allowing passengers to enjoy such regions as the Caribbean, South America and Africa. Now it’s Australia’s turn to welcome MSC to our shores.

MSC Orchestra will embark on her maiden voyage to Australia when she sets sail from Dubai on 21 February 2015. The 33 night Grand Voyage will visit many exciting ports such as Mumbai and Cochin in India, followed by Colombo, Phuket and Langkawi before arriving in Singapore, where there will be an overnight stay, giving passengers plenty of time to explore this ever changing city. Benoa, on the Indonesian island of Bali, will be the final Asian port before cruising on to Australia.

Cairns is the first Australian port of the Grand Voyage, with MSC Orchestra due to arrive on 13 March 2015. From Cairns she will begin a partial circumnavigation of the Australian Coast. After visiting Brisbane, it’s Sydney’s turn to greet her and where she will make another overnight stay prior to visiting Melbourne, Adelaide and finally Fremantle on 26 March 2015.

Sophia Loren, MSC Orchestra's Godmother

Sophia Loren, MSC Orchestra’s Godmother

Lynne Clarke, Managing Director of MSC Cruises Australia and New Zealand said “We are thrilled to be bringing MSC Orchestra to Australian waters. We will be equally excited for our loyal passengers to have the chance to see the cruise ship in their home waters.”

MSC Orchestra was launched on 14 May 2007, the second of the ‘Musica-class’ line of cruise ships that offer a blend of design, comfort and safety, along with MSC Cruises’ signature Italian style. In tune with the musical theme, her decks are named after the instruments in an orchestra such as Mandolino, Clarinetto, Saxofono and Violino.

Passengers will be spoilt for choice with so many dining options. The two main restaurants, L’Ibiscus and Villa Borghese, serve a selection of fresh produce, ranging from traditional and tasty Mediterranean fare to the most refined international dishes. La Piazzetta buffet restaurant also offers a large variety of Italian and international cuisine. The speciality Shanghai Chinese Restaurant serves Szechuan style food from the spicy northern region as well as Cantonese, the sweeter fare of the south. Mid-morning Dim Sum specialties from every region of China are also available.

Kids are not forgotten with their very own Jungle Adventure playroom and teens can meet in the Teen’s Club.

Sandra Tiltman    Photos: John Pond


December 2, 2014


Sydney will be the art capital of Australia over the summer months with two blockbuster exhibitions, Pop to popism at The Art Gallery of New South Wales, opposite the Domain and Chuck Close, one of America’s foremost portraitists, at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay. Both are exclusively on display in Sydney as part of the 2014-15 Sydney International Art Series.

DSC04371Pop to popism, the most comprehensive collection of pop art ever to be seen in Australia, is currently showing at The Art Gallery of New South Wales, until 1 March 2015. Featuring 200 works by more than 70 of pop’s greatest artists, Pop to popism traces pop from its origins through to its heyday and its enduring legacy, both in Australia and internationally. Spanning three decades, from the mid 1950s to the 1980s, many of the art works have never been exhibited in Australia before.

The exhibition, which has taken over an entire floor, is one of the most ambitious undertaken by the Gallery. For the very first time, Australian pop artists are presented alongside their international peers from America, Britain and Europe.

DSC04452Featured artists include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Jeff Koons, Brett Whiteley, Richard Hamilton, Martin Sharp, Gilbert and George, Cindy Sherman, Martha Rosler, Ed Ruscha, Peter Blake, Richard Larter, Niki de Saint Phalle and Maria Kozic.

Works of art are on loan from 49 institutions and private collections worldwide, including the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the National Gallery of Art, Washington; the Museum of Modern Art and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; the Menil Collection, Houston; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and the JW Power Collection, Sydney.

Art Gallery of NSW head curator of Australian art, Wayne Tunnicliffe, developed this exhibition over the last two years. “Pop art changed culture forever and yet no pop survey exhibition has included Australian artists, Pop to popism grew from a desire to see our artists exhibited in an international context”, said Wayne.

Lou Reed Tapestry by Chuck Close

Lou Reed Tapestry by Chuck Close

An array of public programs is scheduled throughout the summer to further enhance the pop experience, including short talks on Australian pop artists, the largest film series ever screened by the Gallery and lectures by international art experts. One exciting feature, especially for children, is POP PLAY, a creative family space with interactive artmaking activities.

Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration, on display at the MCA until 15 March 2015, is the most expansive showing of his works ever seen in the Southern Hemisphere and reveals the artist’s range across a breadth of techniques.

One of America’s best-loved visual artists, Chuck Close is famous for his lifelike portraits of recognisable faces, mainly in the art world, such as Roy Lichtenstein, plus his large scale, photo based portrait paintings, he is also an accomplished printmaker and photographer.

Amongst the range of portraits on display are the almost six foot high heads of Bob Israel and a Jacquard tapestry of Lou Reed.

Sandra Tiltman  Photos: John Pond

Chuck Close Exhibition at MCA

Chuck Close Exhibition at MCA


December 2, 2014

DSC04129Located in Sydney at the corner of Elizabeth & Goulburn Streets, Fino Par’s industrial chic, minimalist décor with polished concrete floor and open frontage offers an inviting funky vibe.

The name is so appropriate for this new Spanish inspired restaurant & bar, where traditional concepts meet contemporary ideas. Fino Par, meaning fine pair in Spanish, is an apt description for the team of Executive Chef, Nelson Burgos and Food & Beverage Manager, Brett Harris.

DSC04123Finding inspiration from his cultural heritage and with a passion for supporting Australian producers, Chilean born Executive Chef, Nelson Burgos has been working in the Sydney and Melbourne food scene for over ten years. His philosophy is to harness the finest Australian ingredients to create simple, yet stunning dishes.

Brett also brings close to ten years experience in the industry to Fino Par and is excited to share his passion for Spanish sherry. Reviving old beverage favourites of sherry and sangria, Brett says he looks forward to showcasing his innovative sherry cocktail menu to Sydney. “We’re putting sexy back into sherry, we want to change the misconception that it’s only a drink to pour for your grandmother. As well as showcasing his Spanish sherry collection, Brett also has some great cocktails on the menu, like the Margarita, which I enjoyed when I went for dinner recently.

From noon until late, the menu is “all day all night” tapas, fusing only the best seasonal local produce with Spanish flavours. Nelson’s menu strikes a balance between modern and contemporary Spanish, with dishes designed to be enjoyed as share plates. As a special treat only available at lunch each Friday, Nelson cooks an enormous pan of paella, but be warned, when the pan is empty that’s it, no more till next week.

DSC04736The evening we visited Fino Par, we decided to put ourselves in Nelson’s hands. Starting with a sharing board of cold meats, consisting of cured Spanish ham, spicy Spanish salami, cured mild salami and air-dried salted wagyu beef, we followed with a velvet smooth liver parfait with capers & grilled bread.

The robust flavour of salted cod tweaked our taste buds before trying the delicate octopus carpaccio, which to my mind was the highlight and went very well with the plate of potatoes with paprika & aioli and chopped asparagus tartar with egg.

Split chargrilled king prawns with lemon, herbs & garlic followed by roasted hanger steak with piquillo pepper chimichurri sauce rounded off the superb meal, but we still managed to find a little bit of room to try the manjar stuffed churro for dessert.

Sandra Tiltman    Photos: John Pond


December 2, 2014


Outdoor movies under the stars have become an annual event during our long hot summers. This year will be no different, with Moonlight Cinema again taking up residence in Sydney from 11 December to 29 March, on the grass in Centennial Park at the Belvedere Amphitheatre.

Melbourne screenings run from 4 December to 29 March at the Central Lawn in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

IMG_0128To launch the preview of the summer programme, a pop-up picnic was held in the middle of Sydney’s Martin Place. Green grass, complete with deck chairs and umbrellas was an unusual sight in the heart of the city’s financial district and seemed to grab the attention of intrigued passers by. A shining silver food truck served up a selection of items from the new LA Style street food menu that will be available for movie goers.

What could be better than watching all the hottest new release films outside in the fresh night air, as well as seeing them before they hit cinemas. Moonlight’s December and January programme has over 20 different advance screenings.

Fans of Bill Murray will be able to catch him in “St Vincent” more than a week before the cinemas. Other titles showing at Moonlight before the rest of Australia include Disney’s latest “Big Hero 6” about a boy and his plus-size, inflatable robot, “Birdman”, the superhero film with an art-house edge starring Michael Keaton and Emma Stone plus the latest Liam Neeson action movie “Taken 3” as well as “Unbroken”, the WWII drama filmed in Sydney and directed by Angelina Jolie.

IMG_0130Aussie cinema will be celebrated on Australia Day Eve, with the screening of “The Water Diviner”, telling the moving story of an Australian man, played by Russell Crowe, who travels to Turkey after the battle at Gallipoli to try and locate his three missing sons. “The Water Diviner” will also be shown as an advance screening on 19 December.

Some cult favourites playing this season include “Dirty Dancing”, “Top Gun”, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.

Special sing-a-long nights have been programmed for those who want to belt out all the classic tunes, along with the stars up on the screen, including the 50s high school classic “Grease”.

The popular Doggie Nights, for canine loving cinephiles who can’t bear to be parted from their furry friends, have increased and will take place every Thursday night in January and every second Thursday during February and March.

As always, Moonlight Cinema’s Gold Grass offers the ultimate outdoor cinema experience, with waiter service and reserved bean beds in a premium viewing location.

Movie fans can bring their own picnic or try some of the street fare on sale from the new LA style food truck onsite.

There’s something for every film fanatic at this season’s Moonlight Cinema. Gates open an hour and a half before the film starts.

Sandra Tiltman    Photos: John Pond