Chasing giants in California

Paddling Big River Estuary in a redwood outrigger canoe - photo by Rob McFarland

Paddling Big River Estuary in a redwood outrigger canoe – photo by Rob McFarland

Sun-Herald, Australia – March 25, 2018

Standing at the foot of a coastal redwood is one of life’s great humbling experiences. It’s not just that it’s the planet’s tallest living thing (the highest known specimen is seven storeys taller than the Statue of Liberty). Or that it can live for 2000 years. It’s the awe-inspiring realisation that the rust-red giant towering above you came from a seed slightly bigger than a pinhead.

Millions of years ago there were redwoods all through North America, Europe and Asia. Now, you can only find them in a narrow 720-kilometre coastal strip from central California to southern Oregon.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

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In Situ restaurant, San Francisco

 

The Forest dish at In Situ, SF Moma - photo by Rob McFarland

The Forest dish at In Situ, SF Moma – photo by Rob McFarland

Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – Feb 24, 2018

Like most great ideas, the concept behind In Situ is so devilishly simple you wonder why someone hasn’t done it before. Invite a selection of the world’s top chefs to contribute a dish then create a restaurant to showcase them.

Headed up by three Michelin-starred chef Corey Lee, In Situ features recipes by more than 80 gastronomic greats – including Rene Redzepi, from Noma, David Chang, from Momofuku, and Peter Gilmore, from Quay.

The inspiration for the restaurant came from its setting inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The museum presents a curated selection of the world’s finest art; In Situ does the same for food.

Read the rest of this story here.

Renaissance of the New York Hotel restaurant

Papads at Indian Accent restaurant in New York - photo by Rob McFarland

Papads at Indian Accent restaurant in New York – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – November 19, 2016

The hotel restaurant used to be something of a last resort. Often housed in a bland, unflatteringly lit space, it was a convenient option when you were too tired to go anywhere else. The menu was normally unadventurous (club sandwich anyone?), the service lacklustre and the experience functional rather than fabulous.

How times have changed. Nowadays, celebrity chefs are falling over themselves to collaborate with high-end hotels. Particularly in cities such as London and New York where real estate is at a premium and competition is cut-throat. The benefits for both parties are obvious – a well-known chef lures guests to the hotel and the restaurant gets a steady supply of customers. In short, everybody wins.

Read the rest of this story here.

Local produce in Vail, Colorado

10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company tasting room - photo by Rob McFarland

10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company tasting room – photo by Rob McFarland

Sydney Morning Herald & The Age, Australia – October 22, 2016

Where do you go to learn how to make moonshine? Moonshine University, of course. Christian Avignon and Ryan Thompson had no experience distilling spirits, so they figured they’d better learn from the best before starting a distillery in the ski resort of Vail, Colorado. Clearly they were given good advice at Kentucky’s Moonshine University, because since launching in 2014, the 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company has already moved to bigger premises and is now sold in more than 700 outlets around the state.

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Guide to New York sporting events

Watching the New York Mets play in Citi Field Stadium - photo by Rob McFarland

Watching the New York Mets play in Citi Field Stadium – photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – May 3, 2015

New Yorkers love to compete. And they love to watch sports. So it’s not surprising New York is the only American city with more than one team in all five of the country’s most prestigious sports leagues.

Whether you’re into American football, baseball, basketball, hockey or soccer, you’ll find something being played somewhere almost every day of the year.

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New adventures in LA

Sunset Ranch Ride over Hollywood hills - photo by Rob McFarland

Sunset Ranch Ride over Hollywood hills – photo by Rob McFarland

TravelThereNext

Has there ever been a better time to visit LA? Cheap flights and a strong dollar lured nearly 400,000 Australians to the City of Angels in 2013. If you’re a repeat offender, you’ve probably already ticked off the big-ticket attractions and are ready to try something new. Here are some ideas.

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9/11 Museum, New York

Segment of radio and television antenna from top of North Tower in 9-11 Museum - photo by Rob McFarland

Segment of radio and television antenna from top of North Tower in 9-11 Museum – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – June 7, 2014

Of the thousands of artefacts in the new 9/11 Museum, it is the small, everyday items that are the most potent: the charred contents of a visiting English businessman’s wallet, a pair of ballet slippers belonging to Boston Investor Services employee Maile Hale. They personalise the tragedy, make it relatable and distil it from something overwhelming and incomprehensible to something that could have happened to someone you knew.

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Flight test: New York to Sydney – Qantas business class

Qantas business class - Boeing 747

Qantas business class – Boeing 747

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – April 26, 2014

THE ROUTE

New York (JFK) to Sydney (via Los Angeles).

THE PLANE

Boeing 747-400.

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END

Business, seat 1J.

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Sleep No More, New York

Actors in Sleep No More, New York

Actors in Sleep No More, New York

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – March 8, 2014

There are two ways to approach Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s immersive interpretation of Macbeth in New York. You can do what I did and read a dozen reviews, search online for tips and even download a Macbeth study guide to revise on the way there, or you can accept it is going to be one of the most interactive, experiential and downright unsettling theatrical events you have experienced, and the less you know beforehand, the better.

Still here? OK, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Read the rest of this story here.

Rockin’ Running Tour, Memphis

Rockin Running tour in Memphis - photo by Rob McFarland

Rockin Running tour in Memphis – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – February 2, 2014

It’s a common holiday conundrum: how do you find time to exercise while you’re away? No one wants to spend hours cooped up in a gym when you could be sightseeing.

It’s particularly challenging in a city such as Memphis, with its tempting trifecta of blues, booze and barbecue food.

Rockin’ Running Tours reckons it has the answer: guided running tours. Who says you can’t sightsee and stay fit at the same time?

Read the rest of this story here.

Gibson Guitar Factory tour, Memphis, Tennessee

 

New guitars at the Gibson Guitar Factory, Memphis, TN - photo by Rob McFarland

New guitars at the Gibson Guitar Factory, Memphis, TN – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – October 27, 2013

As a guitar-mad teenager, there was only one thing I wanted for my 18th birthday: a Gibson Les Paul. Immortalised by the likes of Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Slash, it was the wannabe rock guitarist’s dream instrument.

There was only one problem: a new Les Paul cost the same as a small car. Unperturbed, I waged a six-week campaign of teenage tantrum-throwing until my parents finally buckled and agreed to go halves on a Les Paul Studio. This considerably cheaper model has the same legendary sound quality but less of the fancy ornamentation.

Given that I’m writing this story and not rehearsing for a concert at Wembley Stadium, it’s fair to say my talent plateaued somewhere around Stairway to Heaven. But the guitar remains a treasured possession and on a good day it takes me only four attempts to play the intro to Sweet Child O’ Mine.

So you can imagine my delight some 30 years later when I visit Memphis and discover it’s possible to take a tour of Gibson’s factory, one block from Beale Street.

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Twenty reasons to visit Boston

 

Boston by night - photo by Rob McFarland

Boston by night – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – August 4, 2013

From a walk along the historic Freedom Trail to a day at the baseball at Fenway Park, there is always a lot to do in Boston.

1. FREEDOM TRAIL
Boston played a pivotal role in the American Revolution, in which 13 North American colonies broke free from the British Empire. You can learn more about the city’s involvement by walking the Freedom Trail, a four-kilometre route that winds past 16 of the city’s most historically significant sites. Although you can tackle the trail on your own, I’d recommend joining one of the free 60-minute tours led by a national parks ranger. They start at the Faneuil Hall Visitor Centre.

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Servant Life Tour at The Elms, Newport

 

The Elms mansion, Newport - photo by Rob McFarland

The Elms mansion, Newport – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – July 28, 2013

Life as the wife of a US coal baron in the early 1900s was a gruelling affair. Every year, Sarah Berwind would leave her New York home to spend the “season” (July and August) at their summer cottage in Newport, Rhode Island. She would partake in a punishing social schedule of tennis, golf and polo, not to mention host innumerable parties, concerts and dinners.

Of course, she had help. From 43 staff, to be precise. And the “summer cottage” was actually a 50-room mansion that took three years to build. Known as The Elms, it was modelled on an 18th-century French chateau.

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Welcome to SkyMall World

Welcome to SkyMall World

Welcome to SkyMall World

The Sun-Herald, Australia – Mar 3, 2013

I used to dread US domestic flights. I would board in a fog of despair knowing that for the next four hours I would be squeezed between two bathroom-tile salesmen from Idaho. The only entertainment would be a Miley Cyrus movie played on a screen 100 metres away and the packaging of the inflight meal would be tastier than its contents.

But now I positively skip down the aerobridge, high-fiving other passengers along the way while whistling Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. Why? Because I’ve discovered SkyMall, the bizarre but endlessly entertaining inflight shopping magazine behind the seats of many US domestic carriers (and online at skymall.com).

To call SkyMall merely a shopping magazine is to do it a grave disservice; it is actually a window into a parallel universe. Through SkyMall you will get a glimpse of a better you, a happier you, a you surrounded by products you never realised you needed but now can’t imagine life without.

So sit back, relax and let me offer a tantalising taste of just how perfect your life could be.

Read the rest of this story here.

Five classic NYC bunches

Brunch at Bagatelle - photo by Rob McFarland

Brunch at Bagatelle – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – Jan 13, 2013

Ask a New Yorker about their plans for the weekend and you’re almost guaranteed to hear the word brunch. It’s a New York institution. A chance to catch up with friends and indulge in a Mimosa-fuelled afternoon of good food and gossip.

The tricky bit is choosing where. Almost every restaurant in the city has a brunch menu and the scene can range from family friendly to Vegas-style debauchery; from $US12.95 all-inclusive to a $US200 splurge to remember.

Here are five popular brunch spots to get you started.

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A music road trip through America’s Deep South

Old shack on the Blues Highway in Mississippi - photo by Rob McFarland

Old shack on the Blues Highway in Mississippi – photo by Rob McFarland

GQ magazine, Australia – October 2012

Of all the great highway journeys, one has been elevated to pilgrimage status by music fans. It starts in the jazz halls of New Orleans, sweeps through the cotton-rich blues joints of the Mississippi Delta and finishes in the honky-tonks of Nashville.

It’s a 1000km slice of musical history; an opportunity to hear these influential genres in their birthplaces and experience the society that led to their creation.

Read the rest of this story here: Music road trip (PDF)

The blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi

 

Robert “Wolfman” Belfour in Red's Lounge, Clarksdale - photo by Rob McFarland

Robert “Wolfman” Belfour in Red’s Lounge, Clarksdale – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – Sep 22, 2012

The legend of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at a deserted crossroads in Mississippi is perhaps the most famous in blues music folklore. The story goes that after several lacklustre performances, the guitarist disappeared on the Mississippi Delta. One night he found himself at a crossroads where he made a deal with the devil – he would give his soul in return for mastery of the blues. The devil agreed and when Johnson returned he could outplay anyone. Eventually, the devil came to collect and Johnson died in mysterious circumstances on August 16, 1938, at the age of 27.

Like many before me, I’ve been lured by this enduring tale to the small town of Clarksdale, Mississippi, which claims to be the location of this infamous crossroads. Perhaps unlike many before me, I’ve decided to try to find it at 3am.

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Live music in Austin, Texas

Live music at La Zona Rosa in Austin, Texas - photo by Rob McFarland

Live music at La Zona Rosa in Austin, Texas – photo by Rob McFarland

Open Road magazine, Australia – September 2012

“We’re like a blueberry in a sea of tomato soup,” remarks one Austinite with a wry smile.

It’s a statement that explains a lot about this endearing little city. While most of Texas is Republican and conservative, Austin is a democratic enclave – a laidback, liberal speck on the map that over the last few years has blossomed into one of the state’s most appealing destinations.

Read the rest of this story here: Austin (PDF)

Chatwal Hotel, New York

 

Reception at Chatwal Hotel - photo by Rob McFarland

Reception at Chatwal Hotel – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sun-Herald, Australia – Aug 26, 2012

Precisely 134 steps from the consumer carnage of New York’s Times Square is the first of two discreet entrances on West 44th Street. Cloaked in black awnings and manned by immaculately dressed doormen, they lead without fanfare to one of the city’s most elegant five-star hotels.

The Chatwal Hotel has no grand driveways, no gold-trimmed lobbies and no convertible Bentleys parked outside. Instead, it aspires to re-create the refined glamour and elegance of its heritage: the art deco heyday of 1930s New York.

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Searching for jazz in New Orleans

 

Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns at The Spotted Cat, New Orleans - photo by Rob McFarland

Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns at The Spotted Cat, New Orleans – photo by Rob McFarland

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – Aug 18, 2012

It’s a typical Tuesday night on Bourbon Street. Young people clutching dangerously strong daiquiris roam the narrow, neon-lit strip, past a gaudy parade of bars, strip clubs and tattoo parlours.

Competing spruikers try to lure people inside with the promise of cheap drinks, while up on a balcony a group of guys is yelling at girls to lift up their tops. Two men stand morosely outside an empty bar wearing sandwich boards that read: “Huge Ass Beers”.

This is my first time in the French Quarter and I’m struggling to reconcile the scenes with the romanticised vision in my head. New Orleans is, after all, the birthplace of jazz. I want to wander through the Quarter’s historic streets to a soundtrack of soft clarinet melodies wafting from behind wrought-iron balconies. Instead, this feels like Sydney’s Kings Cross on a Saturday night.

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