Judy has the willowy grace of a catwalk model, with high cheekbones, unblemished skin and a practised insouciance. When I ask her why she ran away from home, she slowly folds her slender brown arms and answers through half-closed eyes, “Because my father tried to make me marry a man 10 years older than me.” And what about the father of her nine-month-old daughter? “He says she isn’t his.”
Unsurprisingly, the first thing that hits me when I enter Floris is the smell. It’s as if ribbons of fragrance are being twirled around my head – a delicate aromatic dance of floral and citrus tones, offset by sharper notes of spices and wood. For a few seconds I pause, sniffing the air like a basset hound.
It’s a fitting introduction to the second-oldest perfumer in the world.
I feel like I’m watching the opening scene from a movie. Projected across one of the world’s longest video screens – a 108-metre monster that looms over the track at Meydan Racecourse – is the image of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. He’s strolling nonchalantly towards the winners’ enclosure, surrounded by friends and family, all immaculately dressed in traditional Arabian kanduras.
This is no public relations stunt. The sheikh is a horse-racing fanatic who regularly makes an appearance at Meydan to watch one of his vast stable of thoroughbreds.
It was with some trepidation that I signed up for a cooking class at Freestyle Escape. The last time I ventured into a professional kitchen I rendered a salad inedible by liberally garnishing it with peppercorns (I thought they were lentils).
But the minute I arrive at Martin Duncan’s outdoor kitchen perched high in the lush Sunshine Coast hinterland, my fears are allayed. It would be hard to imagine a more idyllic spot for a class. In fact, the sweeping views prove to be so distracting that twice during the course of the day I almost lop off the end of one of my fingers.
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.
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.
For the past few days I’ve been haunted by two things: fleeting glimpses of Mt Kinabalu’s ominous-looking granite peak and the dawning realisation that I’m the least prepared of anyone in the group.
At 4095m, Mt Kinabalu is South-East Asia’s highest mountain, but it’s also one of the most accessible; there’s no technical climbing involved, just a steady, relentless uphill slog.
As our group of eight has come to know each other better, it has emerged that everyone else has done some serious training. One couple recently hiked 29km; two guys have been tackling 1000-plus steps; another couple have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro.
The furthest I’ve ever hiked is 15km. And that was when I was 17.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“I dunno,” says the guy standing next to me as we gaze over the valley. “The colours just ain’t poppin’ this year.”
I look at him in disbelief. In front of us is a sweeping vista of tree-blanketed hills in a riot of autumnal shades. There are lipstick reds and buttercup yellows, deep mauves and vibrant oranges. The colours shine with such intensity it looks as if each leaf has been painted by a Disney animator. If this ain’t poppin’, I don’t know what is.
Canada is a bit of a show-off when it comes to national parks.
Not only does it have more of them than anywhere else in the world, but its most famous Banff National Park is just a two-hour drive from Calgary and home to the bustling town of Banff and the stunning Lake Louise.
Visit in winter and you have access to a wide range of world-class ski resorts; visit in summer and you’re surrounded by a majestic landscape of mountains, lakes and forests just begging to be explored.
Here are two signature walks one easily accessible from Banff, the other from Lake Louise that showcase the area’s enviable natural beauty.
Back in 1961, The New York Times described the atmosphere around Wall Street thus: “A deathlike stillness that settles on the district after 5:30 and all day Saturday and Sunday.” It’s true that ever since the area became a financial hub in the mid-1800s, it’s been a predominantly commercial, rather than residential, neighbourhood. Thousands of people stream into the area’s gleaming array of skyscrapers each morning and then, just as quickly, file back into the subways to depart each night.
Call it the Dubai Dilemma. To stop over or not to stop over? So many travellers fly to Europe and Africa via this tiny Arab emirate that it’s become famous as somewhere to break up the journey, rather than a destination in its own right. I decide to put it to the test by spending 48 hours there – will Dubai have enough attractions and activities to keep me entertained?