Early Mornings…

To really see a city means to get up early before chaos renders it opaque. When I worked in Sydney, I’d catch an earlier bus just so I could grab coffee at Starbucks by Wynyard Station and watch the CBD unfurl into busyness. Crossing the Harbour Bridge at that time felt like I was waking up with the Pacific Ocean – I remember how it twinkled under the sun as if blinking it’s way out of a long slumber.

Early-morning walks make for good memories. One day in June, when we lived in New York, my husband and I wanted to dodge the breakfast lines at Clinton Street Baking Co., so we woke with the alarm, drove to the East Village, lucked a parking spot, and scored a table within 20 minutes. The ricotta pancakes soaked in blueberry sauce were divine and coffee never tasted so good (who doesn’t love an early AM jolt?), but what I particularly savoured were those moments walking to the cafe, when we’d had the streets to ourselves and seen beyond the well-trodden footpaths and summer haze that later descended. The village revealed hidden graffiti, artwork painted over unfolded roller doors, and above, fire escapes in an array of colours. The hosed-down pavements reminded us of how beautiful it is to start the day with a clean slate.

In late 2013, I’d made a pact with myself to wake up with the first sunrise of the upcoming new year. We were booked into a Santa Barbara hotel across from the ocean and at dawn on January 1st my husband slept while I, in my bathrobe and sneakers, ventured outside. Through the palm trees, I saw a sky brushed orange and pink. I crossed the street to watch the light ascend and breathed it all in — the salty air, the mist, the light. A few early birds and after-party stragglers still drinking beer were perched along the beach wall. We all shared in the awakening of a brand new year.

I’m flying home to Sydney in a few months’ time and can’t wait to experience its summer mornings; to see the sun-dappled Pacific and to watch the city prepare for the working day as I drink a cup of great Sydney brew. While I doubt I’ll be ordering from the aforementioned Starbucks, I wonder if it is still there. I’ll let you know.

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East Village mornings

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Pancakes at Clinton Street Baking Co.

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Roller-door murals

Up with the early birds in East Village

Up with the early birds in East Village

Santa Barbara sunrise

Santa Barbara sunrise

A new year in Santa Barbara, 2014

A new year in Santa Barbara, 2014

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Sunrise on the beach in Santa Barbara

Historic Hotels of Saint Petersburg, Russia

Saint Petersburg is exhausting.

Especially if you’re a traveler with a limited schedule. In seven days you’ll glimpse the magnificence of this city, but it will take much more longer to get under its skin. Admiring the stupendous beauty of The Hermitage before moving onto the mosaic brilliance of The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is too much to take in over the course of a day, let alone a week. The history fused into the fabric of these buildings, a nuanced interplay of hieroglyphs, iconography, sweeping arches, and magnificent masonry, is awe-inspiring.

Saint Petersburg’s historic centre is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This part of the city is traversed by ribbons of canals, and the streets surrounding them curl and twist, leaving the traveler wandering — never lost. Nevsky Prospekt runs through the core and many of the top hotels are located steps from the always-busy thoroughfare. I had the pleasure of touring these hotels and meeting with many lovely Russians along the way. While my photos don’t do them justice, the professional ones that accompany my words on the history and interiors of the top five hotels can be viewed here, on Qantas Insider:Best Luxury Hotels | St Petersburg | Qantas Travel Insider.

As a prelude, here are some of my happy snaps.

Hotel Astoria, seen from the top of St Isaac's Cathedral.

Hotel Astoria, seen from the top of St Isaac’s Cathedral.

The Imperial Porcelain Company created the design of the cup and saucer especially for Hotel Astoria.

The Imperial Porcelain Company created the Cobalt Square design of the cup and saucer especially for Hotel Astoria in the 1930s. It’s one of the most popular designs in Russia.

Corinthia's magnificent lobby

Corinthia’s magnificent lobby

Bar with Church

Kempinski’s glorious rooftop overlooking The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.

Restaurant in the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe

Restaurant in the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe

Night view from the Four Seasons of St Isaac's Cathedral.

Night view from the Four Seasons of St Isaac’s Cathedral.

My Red October Factory, Moscow — Open Skies magazine, Emirates

I’m a little late to the party but I wanted to share my feature on Moscow’s Red October Factory with you. If you’d boarded an Emirates flight in October, you may have reached into the seat pocket and seen it while perusing the inflight magazine, Open Skies. If not, the pdf is linked below.

Moscow’s former chocolate factory is now a labyrinth of creativity, filled with entrepreneurs who are cooking, writing, silversmithing, photographing, partying, and eating. The photos for the magazine piece were taken by Olya Ivanova who has contributed to Monocle and PORT magazines.

Below, a few of my ipad snaps too. Enjoy!

The Street, Moscow — Open Skies October Issue, 2014

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Labyrinth

View from Reka

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electic Bikes

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Bookshop of Brothers Lumiere

Gallery Lumiere

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flower shopMenu at BontempiWriting at BontempimemorialMizandari Cafered october

Day Of The Dead, El Paso, Texas

When my husband and I drove from NY to LA, we stopped in the Texan town of El Paso, located so close to the Mexican border that you can see people crossing the Santa Fe Bridge over Rio Bravo. It’s a gorgeous “little” big town and we had a great time exploring. We awoke in the 1917-built Camino Real Hotel with its spectacular Tiffany glass dome, breakfasted on custard-filled croissants and deli coffee from Blue Seal Bakery, and later, feasted on meat-filled tacos at L&J Cafe. Those tacos were really really good.

In between, we’d also managed to squeeze in a visit to the El Paso Museum of Art where we saw works by local artists and American Impressionists. Never one to miss a museum store, my eyes devoured its selection of Mexican handicrafts, coffee table books, and handmade jewelry. Which is when I happened upon a mariachi band whose miniature musicians were dressed in Halloween costumes. Upon closer inspection, I realised they were celebrating The Day of the Dead. I loved it; I bought it.

That was two years ago. I am transported every time I look over at my little mariachi band on the bookshelf: that sunny El Pasoan day, the music filling the streets, the mountains in the distance, and a slower pace of life.

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Spooky Halloween, Los Angeles

My neighbourhood is covered in white. Thankfully, not with snow. Happy Halloween!

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“GHOSTS: Chained to earth by tragedies in their lives, ghosts are the disgruntled souls of the departed. Ghosts that die tragically often return: In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the deceased king haunts his son, begging the prince to avenge his murder.”*

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*From Martha Stewart Living, October 2014

Pink Beach, Indonesia

Have you ever seen a pink beach? There are only a handful of them in the world — oneĀ  is located in Indonesia on Padar Island by Flores.

See a picture of it here, in a piece I wrote for Qantas about the world’s largest archipelago:

http://travelinsider.qantas.com.au/indonesia/jakarta/photo-gallery/10-pristine-indonesian-beaches/8-pink-beach-padar-island-flores

Note to surfers: check out the photos of Sumba and the Mentawai Islands in Sumatra. These spots have some of the best waves in the world.

This is not the pink beach but it is Kanawa island shrouded in a rosy sunset.

This is not the pink beach but it is Kanawa Island veiled by a rosy sunset.

Abbot Kinney, Venice, CA

Named for the developer who famously weaved canals into Venice’s urban grid, Abbot Kinney Boulevard remains one of the coolest streets in Los Angeles, even after GQ magazine named it the “hottest block” in America, 2012. Yes, new boutiques may have popped up since then, as have dining spots, but strolling the streets on a Tuesday still feels like a Sunday. Its laid-back attitude is alluring, not to mention that its vibe, to me, is quintessential LA: a little bit glam tinged with edginess; (20th century) historic and palm-fringed; creative, inspiring, and dreamy.

Abbot Kinney's skyline

Abbot Kinney’s skyline

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Street art on a shop corner

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The famous Gjelina restaurant -- check out the cool street art on the  walls.

The famous Gjelina restaurant — check out the cool street art on the walls.

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The Cruiser Collection

The Cruiser Collection

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Oh, to live by this block!

Oh, to live by this block!