Friday 31 October 2014

Street Art of Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

After a media tour in and around Honolulu in February 2014, I spent a few extra days doing my own research in the Hawaiian capital.

One of the places I wanted to see more of was Kaka'ako, an industrial suburb near Waikiki which is gradually being transformed into a residential district.

In the process it's gained a reputation for interesting bars and restaurants, and street art. Much of the latter is produced as part of the annual Pow Wow Hawaii festival, and stays on the walls of Kaka'ako for at least a year.

I loved the street art I'd glimpsed to that point, so I returned to Kaka'ako on Wednesday 19 February and spent half a day walking around the area centred on Auahi and Cooke Streets, taking in the works.

Here's a selection of what I saw that day - the good, the odd, and the downright weird:


Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of Hawaii Tourism and the Oahu Visitors Bureau. I was also hosted by the Outrigger Waikiki and Outrigger Reef resorts.

Thursday 23 October 2014

The Many Moods of the New York Skyline

For the first few nights of our recent New York visit, we were staying at the Z Hotel NYC.

When you think of visiting New York, you think first of Manhattan. But the Z Hotel is in the Long Island City district of Queens, just across the Queensboro Bridge from Manhattan's Midtown.

The advantage of this slight geographical remove? The view.

This part of Long Island City is low-rise, mostly a collection of automotive businesses. While that might not sound so attractive on the ground, it means that the tall Z Hotel building has an uninterrupted view west across the East River to Manhattan's famous skyline.

There's a good view from the hotel's rooms, but the most spectacular vantage point is the rooftop bar.

Open-air and with large glass panes around its edge, it offers an expansive view of the city, with key landmarks such as the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building clearly visible.

I went up there every evening and on the occasional morning before setting out for the day. While the view was always impressive in itself, the different light conditions made it a new experience each time.

Here's what I mean...

Pic 1: Taken 9.09pm, 8 September.

Mood: Mysterious. You can see the Empire State Building on the left and the Chrysler Building a bit to the right of that. The Queensboro Bridge is on the right.

Pic 2: Taken 7.38am, 9 September.

Mood: Cheerful.

Pic 3: Taken 7.43pm, 10 September.

Mood: Expectant.

Pic 4: Taken 7.59pm, 10 September.

Mood: Secretive.

Pic 5: Taken 6.39am, 12 September.

Mood: Freaky!

Can't wait to go back.

Disclosure time: On this trip I received discounted accommodation at the Z Hotel NYC.

Friday 17 October 2014

Into the Vortex: Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff, Wales

As I've mentioned in this blog before, I'm a longtime fan of the BBC TV series Doctor Who.

A lifetime fan, in fact, since my mother tells me I started watching the show when it was first broacast in Australia in 1965 (though my earliest memories of it are from about 1968).

So when I headed to Cardiff on my latest visit to the UK, it was unlikely I'd give the Doctor Who Experience a miss.

This permanent exhibition contains two components: a display of props and costumes, and an interactive segment which involves visitors entering the TARDIS and helping the Doctor in an adventure.

It's great fun, and I'd actually experienced it before, when it was housed in Kensington, London. Now it was in a permanent home in Cardiff, it was time to check it out again.

As it turned out, we were lucky enough to catch the exhibition before it closed down for several weeks, to be re-engineered for the entry of the new Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi.

The purpose-built structure holding the Experience is around the curve of Cardiff Bay from the Millennium Centre (often spotted in Doctor Who and Torchwood). Its shape suggests a spaceship from the series, or even a vast organic entity:

There are plenty of hints you've arrived at the right place as you approach:

Inside the foyer, near the ticket desk, there are a few initial exhibits. Most notable of these is Bessie, the Doctor's car from the 1970s. And it's not a replica - this is the actual Bessie:

After a short wait, we joined a group of 50 fans to enter the interactive section of the Experience.

Recruited by the Doctor (played by actor Matt Smith via video clips) to rescue him, we moved through the TARDIS onto a Dalek ship, then through a forest haunted by Weeping Angels and past a collection of his worst enemies in hologram form.

Unfortunately I couldn't take photos at this point, so here's a pic of the TARDIS interior kindly provided by BBC Worldwide after my previous visit:

Even though I'd been through this before, it was still a lot of fun. And I have to admit, there was still a frisson of excitement upon entering the TARDIS.

I was also amused to see that Narrelle jumped, as I had before, when the Daleks suddenly lurched forward and trapped us within their ship.

Adventure concluded, we moved into a vast two-storey area of props and other exhibits. There was a lot to see here, including elements from different generations of the TARDIS...

... the costumes of classic Doctors and villains...

... and costumes from Matt Smith's final series as the Doctor:

It was all great fun. If you'd told me as an avid six-year-old fan of Patrick Troughton's Doctor that my favourite TV show would be this big decades in the future, I would have been amazed. But I'm glad it is.

Disclosure time: I visited Cardiff and the Doctor Who Experience courtesy of Visit Britain, Visit Wales and the BBC. For updated information about the Doctor Who Experience, click here.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Review: Qantas International First Class Lounge, Melbourne Airport

Before I boarded the aircraft for my recent flight to London, Qantas Airways allowed me to experience its International First Class Lounge at Melbourne Airport. I wasn’t actually flying in First, so it was a rare opportunity to see how the other half flies.

It was interesting to see how much it varied from the International Business Class lounge, which I'd previously reviewed.

Like the Biz lounge, the First lounge had a sleek contemporary design, but with a distinctly geometric layout and decor.

What stood out within this layout was a set of small red-walled libraries, each set within their own low square space. They had armchairs, cool modern lamps and a selection of books.

The reading material included, I was pleased to note, one or two Lonely Planet coffee table books I’d written articles for.

Rather than helping yourself to food as you might in Business, in the First lounge you receive the full à la carte restaurant experience. Narrelle and I sat at a table, ordered our meals and were served each course.

The menu included a number of restaurant-style dishes, but also a selection of classy sandwiches.

For my main course I ordered the club sandwich, an excellent upmarket version of the old standard.

It occurred to me later that sandwiches were a good thing to have on the menu even in First, as they were easy to eat in low armchairs if passengers preferred sitting there.

As they would in the Business lounge, some people were working at laptops, and there were work stations at one end of the lounge.

However, I got the feeling this place was more about luxury and relaxation, than the more bustling and purposeful business class lounge.

At one end of the First lounge there was a door leading to a stand-alone spa area. Here Narrelle enjoyed a facial treatment while I had a back massage.

Each was 20 minutes long, convenient for people who may have limited time to spare before their flights. It was pleasant and relaxing experience, what flying really ought to be like.

We finished our visit by sitting in one of the library areas, with a dessert wine each and a selection of cheeses.

A particularly impressive aspect of the lounge is its altitude – it’s higher up in the terminal building than the Business lounge, giving a more impressive view out onto the airport.

When I stepped to the windows and looked down, I could see our huge Airbus A380 directly below, waiting to take us to London.

If you can afford First Class travel, Qantas' International First Class Lounge at Melbourne lives up to expectations. Spending time in it was a great way to ease into a long journey.

Disclosure time… On this journey Qantas Airways gave me access to the First Class lounge for review purposes. For other posts regarding air travel, click on the air travel link in the Topics section below, then scroll down.