The Sun Sets in Tucson, Arizona

“I hold on to my adopted shore, chanting private vows: wherever I am, let me never forget to distinguish want from need. Let me be a good animal today. Let me dance in the waves of my private tide, the habits of survival and love.”
Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never




The Gardens of Southern California

For me, public gardens are pockets of beautiful stillness. While the rest of the city toils and sweats, these green spaces provide a glorious escape. I remember one unbelievably hot day in NY’s East Village. I must have been either hazy under an excess of sun or spellbound by beauty, because when I stumbled into the shady surrounds of the 9th Street Community Garden Park, I was entranced. The dreamscape  conjured up scenes from Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree; I was walking through my very own Wonderland.



In the 9th Street Community Garden. More from this set of photos here --

In the 9th Street Community Garden. More from this dreamy set of photos here —

That said, Southern California’s lush gardens have a similar effect on me. It is always sunny here after all, so perhaps I’m in a permanent state of bliss. I am known to drag whoever is willing to stroll with me through the manicured gardens of The Getty Villa, Malibu. I even ventured two hours away by train to tour Ganna Walska’s Lotusland in Santa Barbara. Interested to understand their beginnings, I researched and wrote about Southern California’s gardens for this month’s issue of Qantas Australian Way magazine. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

“During the golden age of American gardens (1890-1940), Southern California looked to the rest of the world for horticultural inspiration, especially the latitude-sharing Mediterranean. Landowners were lured to the booming region and its magnificent climate, their bold displays of wealth immortalised in magnificent manses and cultivated gardens that were grand expressions of their personalities. Oil magnate John Paul Getty’s passion for classical design is reflected in The Getty Villa; socialite Ganna Walska’s Santa Barbara-based wonderland exudes extravagance; while George Fox Steedman’s painstaking attention to detail is evident in the architecturally pleasing garden at Casa Del Herrero.

Egos aside, a turn-of-the-century interest in plant collecting bestowed upon Southern California an array of natural wonders. Gilded Age railroad and real estate mogul Henry Edwards Huntington transformed hundreds of his green acres into a microcosm of the global botanical landscape and sought not only to preserve native and unusual species, but to maintain the grounds in perpetuity for the enjoyment of generations to come.”

Gardens are treasure chests of history and botany, and Southern California is one of the top sources of inspiration for ” the enthusiastic green thumb, serious botanist and pure philocalist.” If you have time to visit some in California, these are my top 10 recommendations:

Magazine: December 2014 Botanical Tour of California Gardens (Qantas)

Online: (read this from bottom up — the introduction is written after the top 10 list)

Dream onward!

The Getty Villa Malibu

The Getty Villa Malibu

The Land of Sun and Clouds, Los Angeles

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I was pounding the pavement under the warm sun, elbow to elbow with Angelenos out for a post-Thangsgiving breather. Today, the sky is moody and dropping rain in intermittent bursts. Outside, overflowing gutters are spluttering from disbelief and exhaustion. The gardens, however, seem to be rejoicing. Goodbye 70 and sunny; hello wintry December.

Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach, Nov 29



A Venetian Sunset, Los Angeles

The Boardwalk is filled with all sorts: break dancers with boomboxes, a 70-year-old clown, quirky creatives, “green” doctors in scrubs, guys on guitar, and tourists galore. We hadn’t planned on spending Thanksgiving evening at Venice Beach but that’s where we’d ended up. Seated at an ocean-facing cafe, we ordered sides of chewy calamari, deep-fried jalapenos, and guac ‘n chips; we cheered to a spectacular sunset with too-sweet mixed drinks. It was pretty close to perfect.











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.


East Village mornings


Pancakes at Clinton Street Baking Co.


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


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.