Photograph of the week: Bran Castle, Romania – A Luxury Travel Blog

For many Bran Castle may be synonymous with “vampires” or “horror stories” but in reality is more of a beautiful medieval castle than a haunted place.

How did its association with Dracula come by then? We might attribute at least part of the reason to its location. Bran Castle is set in Transylvania region, Romania, close to the city of Brasov. It is perched on a dramatic hilltop above a valley and it is surrounded by a deep green forest, which gives it an air of mystery.

According to Bram Stoker’s book, his character, the vampire prince Dracula, lived in “a castle located high above a valley perched on a rock with a flowing river below”. The similarity between the fictional description and the reality is astonishing.

The other part of the reason is the Romanian ruler, Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who
supposedly was used by Bram Stoker as an inspiration for his book. Vlad the Impaler ruled the historical region of Wallachia in the 15 th century and he was known for his cruel methods of punishment, which drove his enemies away in fear. His favorite means of execution was the impalement and there are many stories in the local folklore related to this.

Besides his cruel nature, Vlad Tepes was the son of Vlad Dracul, a name very similar to
Dracula. In reality Dracul meant “the Dragon” in medieval Romanian and was a sobriquet received by his father after he became a member of the Order of the Dragon.

Many believe that the castle was inhabited by Vlad Tepes, but there are no historical records of this ever happening. Despite this, the bloodthirsty count's story is so popular and widespread that almost no one cares about the truth. The legend of Dracula is one, the story of Vlad Tepes is something else, but this "confusion" put the small town and its castle on the map of international tourism and has brought since then thousands of visitors to the area.

A visit inside the castle will reveal to you its true nature. Bran Castle started as a fortification, built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13 th century, after which, more than one hundred years later, at the end of the 14th century the actual castle was built by the Saxon community of Transylvania to protect the ongoing military invasion of the region and the trading route.

In the 20 th century the castle became a royal family residence after it was offered to Queen Mary of Romania as a reward for her help during World War I and the 1918 union of the country. It became one of the Queen’s favorite residences and she arranged it to become worthy of the royal family. It was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ileana and for a period of time belonged to the communists, but nowadays it is back in the possession of the Princess’ inheritors, who operate it as a museum and leave it open for the public.

The museum occupies four floors and hosts several objects of furniture, costumes, weapons, and personal items of the royal family, brought here mainly by the Habsburg family from their personal collection. The bedrooms and living area are tastefully decorated, although in no way opulent. The most interesting rooms to discover are the Music Salon and Queen Mary’s Bedroom.

Those looking for frightening experiences may also see an unusual display of torture tools in a room. It is a fascinating, but macabre part of history, so it is recommended that only people over the age of 18 enter the exhibition area. Of course, a tour would not be complete without a room dedicated to the legendary Dracula character.

The outside fortifications are impressive and they will take you back to medieval times. They include shooting ranges, narrow staircases and even a secret exit, which was once known only to soldiers. If the invaders managed to enter the fortress, the soldiers used this passage to climb to the top of the castle from where they threw stones and hot tar at the attackers to drive them away.

On the southern side of the hill we find a small village museum with traditional houses of the Rucar-Bran area, which highlights the local architecture and the old traditional occupations of the people: agriculture, animal husbandry, wool and wood processing.

Usually Bran Castle can be visited every day, although at this moment, due to the COVID situation it is closed to the public. As an interesting fact, sometimes it is listed on Airbnb for Halloween. Two people can get the opportunity to spend the night in the beautiful castle, sleeping in specially designed coffins.

Whether you are looking to uncover its mysteries or to capture its majestic looks, Bran Castle will make your visit worthwhile!

Thank you to Daniel Rosca from Romania Photo Tours for permission to share the photograph.

If you have a really special photograph you would like to share with A Luxury Travel Blog‘s readers, please contact us.

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Tell us about the best bar you’ve found on holiday

A Caribbean beach shack with standout rum punch, sake and exotic snacks at a tiny izakaya in Tokyo, or a Moscow dive where you drank too much vodka with the locals. Maybe you found the wackiest coffee bar in still-weird Portland …

Ducking into a bar for something cold or caffeinated is a holiday ritual, and this week we’d like to hear about the most memorable drinking hole you’ve found on travels abroad – no cosy British pubs this time, much as we’re looking forward to a well-kept pint…

Please use the form below to tell us about your favourite bar, including location and website if appropriate, keeping your tip to around 100 words.

Send your tip by Tuesday 2 June at 10am BST. We’re afraid that in these difficult times, there is no prize on offer for the week’s best entry – though hopefully that will return soon. But in the spirit of solidarity and optimism, we’d still love you to share your memories with fellow readers. That also means you do not need to be a UK resident to submit a tip.

Have a look at our past winners and other tips

Photographs are welcome if they are high-quality (at least 700 pixels wide, please) and you are happy to share them but it is the text we will consider. If you do send photographs please ensure you are the copyright holder.

The best tips will appear on the Guardian Travel website next week.

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here

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Qantas passengers angered after airline reintroduces the middle seat

After announcing several changes to the way passengers will fly on board Qantas aircraft, CEO Alan Joyce has defended the airline’s decision to make masks optional and reinstate the middle seat on board.

Mr Joyce came out swinging on Wednesday, claiming there was a nearly negligible risk of getting COVID-19 on a plane meaning passengers shouldn’t be concerned about social distancing while on board.

“Because the cabin’s pressurised, 99.9 per cent of all viruses, all bacteria, are filtered through medical-grade filters, they are usually in operating theatres and the air is extracted every five minutes from the cabin,” he said. “The air circulates from top to bottom.”

Mr Joyce said that because passengers face the same direction with “a barrier of a seat in front of them” there is “a very low risk of transmission of COVID-19”.

RELATED: Follow our coronavirus coverage

Qantas passengers experience changes on board from June 12.Source:Supplied

From June 12, the airline will issue passengers with masks on board, have hand sanitising stations installed at departure gates and enhanced aircraft cleaning between flights as part of their new Fly Well program.

There will also be changes to the way passengers check in for their flights, with the airline encouraging everyone to use contactless check-in (via online/app) and a self-serve bag drop prior to boarding.

Last month, the airline announced they’d be keeping the middle seat free in response to social distancing measures, however the airline said that measure wouldn’t continue because the policy was impractical.

“Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe. The extra measures we’re putting place will reduce the risk even further,” Qantas Group Medical Director, Dr Ian Hosegood, said.

But social media users are torn over the decision, with some saying the comments around social distancing were “disgraceful”.

“Just disgraceful. Does he (Alan Joyce) not understand how bad this virus is?” one person wrote on Twitter.

“Any other business is bound by OHS requiring safe environment for staff & clients alike, somehow this legislated requirement skips air travel,” another added.

“Why does Qantas get to disregard SD for financial reasons when other businesses can’t? They won’t be getting my business.”

The changes will take place during check-in, boarding and in-flight. Picture: Adam HeadSource:News Corp Australia

On Wednesday, Mr Joyce told Today there could be hundreds of thousands of people who have travelled worldwide since the pandemic arose and not gotten the virus, claiming “we don’t know of a single person-to-person transmission on an aircraft”.

“We know, in Qantas’s case, we have a lot of cases of people that have subsequently been found with COVID-19 and it hasn’t been a transmission. We have a comfort that, with the cabin, with the measures we’re introducing – the masks, the sanitisers for people to wipe down, the extra cleaning we’re doing ourselves, hand sanitisers all the way through the terminal – we’re very comfortable you don’t need social distancing on an aircraft.”

He said he hopes domestic flights will begin to ramp up by July, before eventually extending to New Zealand.

Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce has defended the airline’s decision to reinstate the middle seat on board. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images.Source:Getty Images

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian gave her state some welcome news on Wednesday, announcing regional travel for holidays will be allowed from June 1.

Ms Berejiklian confirmed that while regional areas would be able to welcome tourists – holidays would now be very different than they were prior to the pandemic.

“You can go on a holiday with your family and friends, but know the holiday you’re taking from 1 June will be different to a holiday you have taken before,” she said.

“We want people to enjoy themselves, to feel free, but nothing we do is the same during a pandemic.”

Ms Berejiklian advised that tourists travelling around NSW would need to take extra care and plan ahead, book online and keep away from large crowds – reiterating that holidays in 2020 would be very different to what we’ve experienced before.

The borders around Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia, as well as the Northern Territory still remain closed.

The nation’s death toll reached 100 yesterday after a 93-year-old woman became the 19th person to die at Newmarch House aged care home in Sydney’s west, a facility that accounts for almost a fifth of all known coronavirus deaths in Australia.

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The latest COVID-19 coronavirus and travel news from Provence – A Luxury Travel Blog

It’s incredible to think that it’s been nearly two months at the time of writing that the whole of France was placed into a strict lockdown which prevented anyone leaving their homes. In common with the rest of the world, there were of course some exceptions such as being allowed to exercise or shop for food but broadly speaking, the message (and law!) was clear. Stay home!

So, it was with much excitement (and some trepidation) that the strict lockdown rules were eased by the French government on the 11th May. This easing is designed to be the first baby step towards a return to normal life and has been welcomed by many across France. There are also plans in place to begin to allow travel in order that some of the summer may be salvaged for holidays.

What restrictions have been lifted?

There have been some significant changes to the lockdown laws that are allowing people to begin to enjoy some sense of normality.


The easing of the lockdown restrictions allows for children to return to pre-school and primary school. The initial wave of schoolchildren allowed back in the classroom totals around 20% of school age children in France. There are plans to allow junior high schools to open from the 18th May in regions where infections are low. The government will make a decision at the end of May as to whether to allow senior schools to reopen in June.


Most shops (excluding cafes, bars and restaurants) have been allowed to open. This excludes shops in shopping centres/malls. The queues at the checkouts in the first couple of days attested to the fact that people across France had some significant stocking up to do, having been deprived of the ability to shop anywhere other than supermarkets for nearly two months.

Hairdressers are among those allowed to open, much to the relief of the population at large! I think it’s fair to say that hairdressers will be kept busy for some considerable time.

Cafés, bars and restaurants

As a nation that is celebrated for its food and café culture, it’s been particularly hard for the population to be deprived of the ability to enjoy a coffee out with friends or a convivial meal at a local restaurant with the family. And of course for those who own these establishments life has been particularly hard. The French government is keen to allow these venues to open as soon as practicably possible and there are plans in place to potentially see restrictions lifted on the 15th June.

Exercise and meeting friends and family

Prior to 11th May, meeting up with friends and family was strictly forbidden. In fact, even leaving the house was a mini exercise in bureaucracy as you were required to fill out and carry a ‘attestation de déplacement dérogatoire’ which stated why you were away from your home. Thankfully, since the 11th of May this is no longer a requirement. You are allowed out as often as you wish and can travel freely within your own county (Province). If you want to travel to another province then you can do so as long as your destination is no more than 100km (as the crow flies) from your home). This restriction looks likely to be waived by the end of May.

Meeting up with friends and family is now also allowed as long as the group is limited to a maximum of ten people. You can’t however congregate at bars, cafes and restaurants (hard to do so since their closed). Neither can you assemble as a group on a beach. None-the-less, this easing is definitely welcome. Beaches it’s worth noting are not off limits as long as you are there to exercise, swim etc. Sunbathing is unfortunately still out.

Travelling to France

Frustratingly, but entirely understandably, travelling to France in the immediate future still won’t be possible from many areas of the world. That said, the French government does recognise the massive importance of the tourism industry to France and is clearly keen to allow travel to resume as soon as sensibly possible.

The good news for international travellers (in a roundabout way) is that there are plans in place to allow those already resident in France to begin to holiday in France with more information on what (or will not) be allowed in early June. Traditionally, many French holiday in July or August and the French government feels that it would be hugely problematic if this wasn’t allowed this year. Clearly the overriding thing is that infection rates continue to fall but it’s encouraging to see that, if possible, holidaying in France (for French residents) will be allowed.

So, what’s the silver lining for international tourists in all of this? Well, quite simply, if hotels and restaurants are allowed to open, then they can get back up to speed. It’s hard to go from being totally shut to fully staffed and open overnight. Hopefully therefore by the time international tourists are allowed back to France, things will be running smoothly allowing them to enjoy the relaxed holiday that they will definitely deserve!

So when might visitors from abroad be allowed back to Provence? Whilst there is nothing definite, signs are promising that, assuming infection rates continue to fall, you may be able to enjoy a holiday here from August. Given that August, September and October are such wonderful months here in Provence, that is exciting news!

It’s been a difficult couple of months for everyone affected by this horrible virus around the world. The partial lifting of lockdown restrictions both here in France and across several other European countries is promising. I hope that wherever you are, you and your family are staying well. With a little bit of luck, it hopefully won’t be long until we can welcome you back to Provence. I for one can’t wait!

Su Stephens is Owner of Olives & Vines. Olives & Vines is a luxury holiday company based in the South of France offering stays at their beautifully designed holiday house and boutique hotel in Le Castellet.

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Read the small print: some health insurance excludes ‘pandemics’

The fever, nausea and loss of appetite Vlastimil Gajdoš felt on his wedding day was not a mere case of cold feet.

Gajdoš, 65, fell ill in Honolulu in March after arriving with his bride-to-be from the Czech Republic. He and Sylva Di Sandro, 58, intended to marry and honeymoon on the island.

While they did tie the knot, they also engaged in serious battle with the novel coronavirus. He was in the hospital for two weeks, some of it in intensive care, on a ventilator. Like many visitors to the US, aware that healthcare prices can be higher than back home, Gajdoš purchased a travel insurance plan that covered up to $300,000 in medical expenses.

But after Gajdoš was diagnosed with Covid-19 and his wife called to check whether his care would be covered, the newlyweds discovered a catch: the insurer said it would not pay up front. And it would consider reimbursing the couple only after Gajdoš was released from the hospital.

“I was really afraid that they [doctors] would not give him any assistance if they were not sure that this would not be covered,” said Di Sandro, who had only a mild case and was not hospitalized.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the travel industry – including insurance companies. Even beyond the current crisis, travelers should pay careful attention to the fine print on coverage policies.

Many plans offer healthcare coverage in case a person needs medical attention during a trip. But policies vary tremendously by company – containing limits on payouts, co-payments and circumstances, such as whether they cover an evacuation.

Most travel insurance plans contain exclusions for known or “foreseen events”, said Kasara Barto, a spokesperson for Squaremouth, an online service that allows travelers to compare insurance options.

A regular insurance policy might not cover a mountaineering accident while climbing Everest, for example.

Covid in the cafeteria: hospitals leave workers in the dark over exposures

Also common is the pandemic exclusion, in which the insurer will not pay for a traveler’s medical expenses if they are related to an outbreak such as the coronavirus.

Language on exclusions can be vague, which could make it difficult for travelers to decipher whether their policy will pay for care related to Covid-19, industry experts said. To make matters worse, some policies don’t specifically name a pandemic as a circumstance that is covered or excluded – nor how they assess the start and end of a pandemic period.

The World Health Organization declared the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic on 11 March. Travelers who purchased plans after that date should make sure they have medical coverage for Covid-19, said Christopher Mosley, a lawyer who specializes in insurance litigation at the law firm Sherman & Howard.

However, that cutoff date might be earlier in some policies. Some insurers considered Covid-19 a risk in certain areas as early as January, Mosley added.

The risk is perhaps highest for foreigners visiting the US, which has the highest healthcare costs in the developed world. Many of the national health systems in European countries will treat foreigners for free or for much lower rates.

Foreign embassies are stepping in to help their citizens in the US decipher insurance policies. In a notice, the Slovenian embassy in Washington DC specifically mentioned the high cost of healthcare when advising citizens traveling in the US to check whether their insurance covers pandemics.

The Czech Republic intervened in Gajdoš’ case and at least one other time recently on behalf of citizens with health insurance problems, said Zdeněk Beránek, the deputy head of mission for the Czech embassy in Washington, DC.

“This is not the cheapest country in the world when it comes to healthcare,” Beránek said, “so you better be careful.”

Given the chaos of the pandemic, some insurers are choosing to stop selling travel insurance policies altogether – including LV, a company based in the United Kingdom.

But others, such as Allianz, are expanding benefits to include care for Covid-19, according to a press release.

Gajdoš and Di Sandro reached out to the embassy and his employer for help after his travel insurer denied him coverage. The employer pledged to help him if his plan did not cover his hospital stay, he said, but the government intervention worked. The insurer ultimately agreed to cover Gajdoš’s expenses.

The couple would not disclose the final tally for Gajdoš’s hospital stay, but a typical 10-day course of treatment in an intensive care unit can run into several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He was discharged from the Queen’s medical center on 8 April, grateful for the care. Gajdoš said his insurer’s actions caught him off guard. He intentionally purchased a more expensive policy with the expectation that they would receive help, not pushback, from the plan.

“You don’t have the energy,” Gajdoš said. “You are oriented on fighting for your life.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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5 humorous short stories from a private travel guide – A Luxury Travel Blog

As a professional guide, one of the things I love most is not just to show you around our beautiful backyard, but it is to meet many different people and ethnicities, so we can learn from each other. There is nothing more rewarding to get a big thanks and hug at and end of a journey, sometimes departing as new found friends.

New Zealand’s friendly and down-to-earth people will be one of the things you treasure most about your visit. And for me, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have met so many kind-hearted and interesting people from so many backgrounds.

I always hope that my visitors fall in love with New Zealand and take a little piece with them when they return to their home country.

A story about how we are much more alike as people then we think

Years ago, I had my first visitors from a Middle Eastern country. I prepared for the visit and learned about the rules; how, for example, I should not shake hands with people of the opposite gender.

This particular group was wealthy Omanis with several younger children and as such, they were accompanied by a Nanny. We traveled the first day for 4 hours to Russell, a small Peninsula in the Bay of Island North of Auckland.  One of the sons was only 3 years old and like many families, he was dictating when we started in the morning and when to stop for a rest.

While I was concentration on the road, I hear a conversation between the son and father. “Dad, can we stop for lunch at McDonald’s?” “No.” Said the Father. A few minutes later. “dad why can’t we eat at McDonald’s?” Father: “because we do not support any businesses from America. Silence and then a scream, “BUT I WANT TO EAT AT MCDONALDS”. Father, red-faced turns to me and asks me to stop at the next possible option at an American fast-food chain. Lunch was followed by a prayer towards the Kaaba (the big black cube in Mecca) in the McDonald’s facilities. I learned many things from this family, and I know they learned from me too. I was rewarded with a big hug from the entire family when we had to depart and say goodbye. I left I departed from family.

How you can educate and influence mindsets by being a leader

I had to accompany a smaller group of family members from India. The leader of the group had traveled extensively due to his business.

For many in his family, it was the first time they visited another country outside of India. So, a speech about their expectations and differences was delivered to me. They advised how operators would depart on time with no exceptions. I was able to share some insights into our culture and mentioned that we greet most people with a friendly smile and hello, whether shop owner or labor worker, we all get treated the same way, with respect.

I explained that New Zealanders don’t like to bargain and that we are a clean and green country trying to keep the environment as pristine as possible. I thought the information was well received and so we started touring. As we are aware of cultural differences, we apply a strategy of starting with earlier departure times, so we know we can make it to the desired destination in time, this compensates for any cultural variations on punctuality.

While stopping at various coffee places for snacks it was not unusual for me to collect from the ground the wrappers of some of my guest’s lunches. Naturally, this started to upset me. One day driving through our pristine rainforest I noticed that one passenger had opened the window and thrown out the packet of chips.

I could not hold it in anymore and stopped the van as soon as I could, opened the sliding door, and ordered the culprit to walk back to find the packet and bring it back to the van. I might have mentioned in my anger that I was not going to start the van again until the rubbish was collected and gave an inspiring speech about the environment around us and what the impact of their actions was.

You can imagine that the drive for the next hour was very quiet and I thought I might have gone too far and was considering the back-lash of my actions. To my immense relief, nothing was ever mentioned and the trip continued with no further incidence.

To my surprise, a few weeks later I received a very detailed letter of how impressed the group was with the tidiness of New Zealand and how we were an example in taking care of our country.

The importance of first-hand knowledge and lesson learned

Two years ago, we had a repeat client from Mainland China arriving with some business friends. He was raving about his last trip to New Zealand and how I had the best local knowledge regarding the best restaurants in our country. He asked me to arrange a dinner for everyone including me at a good Thai restaurant in Wellington.

Wellington is known for its world-renowned for great food, coffee, and craft beer. Wellington’s food scene is at the heart of New Zealand’s growing confidence as a foodie destination. I decided this time, that I wasn’t going to use some of my known locations and took to the online world of reviews with TripAdvisor.

The place I chose had a 5* rating, but I did not bother to check the restaurant myself. To my utter disbelieve and embarrassment this restaurant did not deliver at all what I had expected. We ended up eating in a small, untidy restaurant, frequently visited by the low budget students.

My Chinese guest kept his head high but I could see in his manner he was truly upset and totally uncomfortable and ashamed and this may lead to loss of face. Losing face in Chinese culture is about more than being embarrassed. In Chinese culture, you spend your entire life trying to build your social prestige and reputation, while also trying to avoid causing anyone else to lose theirs.

After embarrassing our hosts, it was a reality that he would not come back to me for another trip. I never rely on reviews from others now and always make sure I check places before we recommend these to our clients.

The stress of a disaster can bring the best out of people

On Tuesday 22 February 2011 at 12.51 p.m. Christchurch was badly damaged by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake, which killed 185 people and injured several thousand. I was traveling with a group of 4 New Yorkers nearby when it happened.

In shock, but we needed to continue on our journey. We found one of the last petrol stations open and traveled to our next destination in Arthur Pass in the middle of the Southern Alps. A state of national emergency was declared on 23 February, and a Nation was in mourning. Many people were stranded and we were having to plan and change routes and flights out of New Zealand.

Some of the coach companies had managed to leave the Christchurch hotels with their travelers unharmed but without their luggage, which was still in the gravel of the hotels they stayed in. We met many traveling in the same direction, trying to find some normality for our clients during this situation.

Two days later we left one of the large hotels for our next destination in Queenstown a 5-6-hour drive, through some of the most remote areas in the country. Just before arriving in Queenstown one of my travelers realized he had forgotten his and his wife’s passport a good amount of cash and jewelry in one of the hotel’s safes.

There was no way to turn back and under a national emergency, none of the posts or couriers was working. In typical New Zealand style, the manager of the hotel convinced one of the coaches leaving the next day to bring the valued package to Queenstown.

In the meantime, we had to move on to Dunedin, another 4hrs away. But it was in these moments that I realized how amazing and trustworthy we are in New Zealand. The coach dropped the parcel at the Queenstown hotel. From there a local limousine company collected the valuables and held them overnight, he then gave it to a couple they knew who would fly the next day back from the South Island to Auckland.

In Auckland, they took the passport and money to the Hilton hotel wherein a few days’ time my clients would return to depart back to America. None of the people knew us or the travelers, but everybody jumped in and went out of their way to make sure our groups could safely fly out of New Zealand.

How we can help others to break past their comfort zones

In 2017 we had a family from California that bought their 15-year-old son and his friend to experience some local adventures in the South Island. It was a huge success and I was told we nailed the trip for the teenagers.

They gave us a 10 out of 10 ratings. We were rewarded with another visit 3 years later, but this time the teenager was a young man. His mother was a very elegant person, very stylish and proper, not as adventurous as her husband and son.

Regardless this was a family trip and so compromises were made and we booked a fly-fishing lodge for the family. Part of the adventure was to raft in a soft rubber-raft from the lodge through a spectacularly deep canyon to a remote location for a freestyle BBQ on the edge of a rainforest.

The night before during dinner we managed to convince the mother that this was a trip of a lifetime and that she should join her family. To everybody’s utter surprise, she agreed and we equipped her the next day with practical not so stylish clothing. She loved this rural journey away from the crowds and landed safely on the banks of the river.

She announced that she needed to find a restroom; we had to let her know that there was nothing of the sort and that she had to use the bush. The experienced river guide pointed her in the right direction and after the initial shock, she quietly disappeared. A minute later we heard hear coming back with a big grin exclaiming that she had now “peed in the bush”, her face showing a big smile of achievement!

In conclusion

Travel has a way of creating connections between people and providing insights into ourselves. I always urge my guests to step out of their comfort zone, to experience what they may not ever have an opportunity to do again. In this way, we seize the day and make each moment count.

Veronika Vermeulen is Director of Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. has been offering 100% tailored journeys and private guided luxury experiences in New Zealand since 2000.

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Virgin Australia: ‘Market-led solution’ better than Qld bid, Michael McCormack says

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has doubled down on his criticism of the Queensland government and its announcement it will bid for Virgin.

The Queensland-based airline went into administration last month, partly blaming coronavirus for its business woes.

Mr Dutton called the bid “laughable” on Twitter last night and labelled it a “political stunt” today.

Speaking today, he did not hold back in his criticism of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

“This is the latest example of Premier Palaszczuk being completely out of her depth,” he said.

“She’s putting Queensland on a path of economic disaster and every credit card that Annastacia Palaszczuk has as the Queensland premier is maxed out.

“She doesn’t have a dollar left, yet she’s talking about spending billions of dollars she doesn’t have on an airline.

“There is one of two things happening here. Labor is either in the midst of an election stunt and they are putting at risk millions of dollars in some phoney bid that they know is not going to be successful, just because they want to be patriotic,” Mr Dutton told reporters.

He said it was just a stunt, because the Queensland government “can’t run train”.

“They have named it Operation Maroon, just a silly way the spin doctors have come up with a glib line for them to be running in Queensland media. That’s the first alternative.

“The second one is even more dangerous. That is that they’ve decided as a state government to buy an airline in the midst of a pandemic. One of the biggest and most difficult downturns in the economy in a century.

“The Labor Party in Queensland has no money, they have close to $100 billion of debt. Every dollar they spend is borrowed. They are talking about buying an airline that doesn’t have any revenue at the moment and has billions of dollars worth of debt.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has backed Mr Dutton.

Appearing on ABC television this morning, Mr McCormack said he’d prefer a “market-led solution” to keeping the airline afloat, rather than a government bid.

“They should stick to trying to run Queensland and Queensland’s economy,” Mr McCormack said.

“I think this should be left to companies, should be left to potential bidders and investors who aren’t necessarily government.”

Mr McCormack, who said 19 bidders were in the mix to take on Virgin Australia, said more could come forward in the next 24 hours before preliminary bids close.

“I know Paul Scurrah, the CEO and the board of Virgin, want to see their airline up and running again,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack says the Queensland government should stick to running the state, not an airline. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAPSource:AAP

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the Queensland government was ‘corrupt and chaotic’. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAPSource:AAP

“We all want to see two commercially viable airlines coming out of the back of COVID-19.

We want to see Virgin back in the sky.”

On Wednesday, Mr Dutton lashed out at Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, saying the state’s bid for the airline was “laughable”.

“Premier (Annastacia) Palaszczuk has almost bankrupted Queensland, and now in the middle of a crisis they want to buy an airline,” Mr Dutton tweeted, who holds the Brisbane seat of Dixon.

“It is laughable. She ‘leads’ a government which is corrupt and chaotic.”

His comments followed Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick announcement of “Project Maroon”, with the appointment of state-owned funds management group Queensland Investment Corporation to oversee the bid for a stake in the collapsed airline.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick announced ‘Project Maroon’, confirming the state’s intention to make a play for stricken Virgin Australia. Picture: Dan Peled/AAPSource:AAP

Mr Dick said the government’s investment could take the form of a direct equity stake, a loan, guarantee or other financial incentives.

“My number one focus as Treasurer is to retain and create jobs for Queenslanders, particularly as we move beyond the COVID-19 crisis,” Mr Dick said in a statement.

“We have been very clear. Two sustainable, national airlines are critical to Australia’s economy. We have an opportunity to retain not only head office and crew staff in Queensland, but also to grow jobs in the repairs, maintenance and overhaul sector and support both direct and indirect jobs in our tourism sector.”

“The appointment of QIC, led by CEO Damien Frawley, has enabled work to progress quickly on a comprehensive strategy, to ensure Queensland is best positioned for a successful bid,” he said.

Virgin Australia’s administrators Deloitte say there’s 19 bidders in the mix to take over the airline, which carries debts of $7 billion. Picture: Patrick Hamilton/AFPSource:AFP

“QIC will advise government on all aspects of the bid, including the optimal partner group, the quantum and structure of the state’s contribution, as well as probity and governance.”

Virgin Australia was placed into administration last month with debts of $7 billion after the coronavirus restrictions all but wiped out domestic and international travel. The announcement has left almost 15000 jobs in limbo.

Prior to the administration, the Queensland government had already indicated it was willing to chip in $200 million towards a support package for Virgin – one of the state’s largest employers – if the federal government would offer a bailout.

Administrators Deloitte said Tuesday there were 19 potential buyers going over the books as of May 11. Non-binding indicative offers are due on May 15 and Deloitte hopes to finalise a deal by the end of June.

with Frank Chung

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Getaways: Focus on the movie world’s shooting stars

Richmond, London

Sitting on the banks of the Thames, Ham House’s proximity to the major film studios at Pinewood, Ealing and Shepperton together with its history and grandeur it’s no surprise this 17th-century treasure house is both a small and big screen favourite for film shoots.

The imposing Stuart house of fashion and power has taken on various roles; standing in for Kensington Palace in The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt, and for Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’s recent ITV series Belgravia it was the Brussels office of James Trenchard played by Philip Glenister.

For the part of sinister boarding school Hailsham in Never Let Me Go starring Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, the National Trust gardeners were tasked not to mow lawns or cut hedges for three weeks during the summer of 2009 to wild-up the gardens for the shoot.

STAY: At the Petersham Hotel nearby, doubles start at £149 per night.

Near Berkhamsted, Herts

Being near to the major London studios has helped to make this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty the National Trust’s most filmed location. With nearly 5,000 acres of beech and oak woodland, rolling chalk downland and lush meadows – it’s no wonder Ashridge Estate has been a big hit with film-makers since The Dirty Dozen in the 1960s.

Never portraying itself, Ashridge plays the part of the magical forest kingdom in Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie. In Robin Hood, with Russell Crowe in the title role, Thunderdell Wood was picked by Ridley Scott to be the village in which Robin stops on his way to London, and Ivinghoe Beacon is the spot where Harry Potter and friends climb to find a “Portkey” as well as featuring in episode 4, season 1 of Killing Eve.

STAY: Chilterns Bunkhouse on Ashridge Estate sleeps 16 plus two dogs. From £440 for two nights (£13.75pppn).

Near Chippenham, Wiltshire

Founded in the early 1200s, the Abbey was once the home of William Henry Fox Talbot – no doubt the pioneer of photography would have approved of the large amount of filming that this location now plays host to.

With timber-framed cottages lining the main streets, the quintessential English village looks much like it did 300 years ago, providing the setting for Lizzie Bennet’s first encounter with Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy in BBC’s iconic adaptation of Pride And Prejudice.

Church Street has done double duty, transformed into a bustling livestock market for series six of Downton Abbey on TV as well as being the street through which the real Royal Artillery galloped for a visit from the King in Downton Abbey the movie when residents were recruited as flag-waving supporters.

STAY: 2 High Street, Lacock Village sleeps six. From £428 for two nights (£35.50pppn).

Near Melksham, Wiltshire

With its Arts and Crafts garden, ponds and adjacent All Saints parish church, this romantic 15th-century manor house has proved a big hit WITHTUDOR era productions doubling as Austin Friars in the BBC’s drama Wolf Hall and played the Boleyn’s lavish country home in The Other Boleyn Girl.

A wicker arbour brought in for Mary Boleyn’s wedding celebration remained in situ after filming completed, to make an appearance – covered in white roses – when the manor house stood in as Killewarren, home of Ray Penvenen and his niece Caroline in BBC’s hugely popular Poldark series.

STAY: Four-star Beechfield House is a short drive away. B&B in a double from £129 per night.

Isleworth, London

Set on the fringes of west London, this Georgian mansion and its lakes, meadows and vast parkland have been the backdrop to a number of film shoots from Cary Grant’s 1950s’ The Grass Is Greener, to more contemporary movies including Miss Potter,Vanity Fair and The Secret Garden.

The decorative interiors of Osterley House became the new Wayne Manor in the final film of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway.The entrance hall is where Catwoman arrives disguised as a maid, while a classic secret door in Osterley’s Library became the entrance to the “bat cave”.

STAY: Three-star OYO Osterley Park Hotel is an eight-minute drive away. Doubles from £51 per night.


In one of the National Trust’s biggest filming projects, this 18th-century manor house, rescued from demolition in the 1950s, provided the perfect location for guests arriving at the grand Netherfield Ball in Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley.

There was more formal dancing when Basildon Park was transformed into the Crawley’s family London home, Grantham House, in the 2013 Christmas special of Downton Abbey.

STAY: On the Cliveden Estate, a 50-minute drive away, New Cottage sleeps four. From £427 for three nights (£35.50pppn).


Built in the late 16th century for Sir Edward Phelips, Speaker of the House of Commons, Montacute House’s opulent interiors include the Long Gallery – the longest surviving Elizabethan gallery in England at 170ft.Though they can’t be blamed for the demise of Johnny Depp when he played JohnWilmot in The Libertine, or for the nightmares of Damian Lewis as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall.

Fans of Sense And Sensibility can relive the moment when Alan Rickman, as Colonel Brandon, charged down the tree-lined west drive on a great black horse on a quest to help the gravely ill Marianne Dashwood (KateWinslet).

And Aardman re-imagined it as Tottington Hall in theWallace & Gromit film,The Curse OfThe Were-Rabbit.

STAY: Montacute House’s South Lodge sleeps six plus two dogs. From £413 for two nights (£34.50 pppn).


Created in the 13th century as a fishing pond for the Bishop ofWinchester during the reign of Henry III, it’s home to a variety of wetland plants and rare birds. Fees from film shoots including Snow White And The Huntsman, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War, starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, have helped the National Trust to carry out the essential work of protecting and preserving the pond and wildlife.

For one of the movie’s biggest battle scenes, the film crew took two-and-a-half months to build a complete village over a small lake and then over two nights proceeded to burn it down.

STAY: Emley Farmhouse on the South Downs, a 20-minute drive away, sleeps 10 and two dogs. From £656 for three nights (£22 pppn).

Sevenoaks, Kent

Henry VIII took such a shine to Thomas Cramer’s stately house that the Archbishop of Canterbury was obliged to hand it over to the monarch. So it’s no surprise the makers of The Other Boleyn Girl, with Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana as the Tudor king, were also inspired to use it as a stand-in for Whitehall Palace.

And the maze of roofs and chimneys created the illusion of a small town for Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Wild deer roam in the 1,000 acres of parkland surrounding Knole which has provided the setting for Rush, and Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows.

STAY: Octavia Hill bunkhouse in Westerham, a 20-minute drive away, sleeps 10. From £750 for three nights (£23pppn).

Near Newport

There has been a house on this site since medieval times and for 500 years it was the ancestral home of the Morgans, one of the greatest Welsh families, later Lords Tredegar.

A window through time, the far from Tardis-like Tredegar House was the ideal time-travelling location for a total of 11 episodes of Doctor Who when filming the epic series was based in Cardiff, 12 miles away.

And in Journey’s End, starring Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham and Tom Sturridge, the sweeping parkland played the part of a First WorldWar British army base.

STAY: Premier Inn Cardiff East Hotel is 10-minute drive away. Doubles from £36 per night.

National Trust On Screen by Harvey Edgington and Lauren Taylor, £9.99 at shop.

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Anton Chekhov’s travels … the ‘greatest work of journalism of the 19th century’

Passport details
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, playwright, one of the greatest short-story writers in history and once-in-a-lifetime adventurer to Russia’s remote far east.

Place and date of birth
Taganrog, southern Russia, January 29, 1860.

Claim to fame
Despite being best-known in the west as the author of plays in which members of the Russian gentry sit around waiting for the samovar to boil, Chekhov clearly had an intrepid streak. In 1890, despite having been diagnosed with tuberculosis, he undertook an extraordinary overland journey by train, carriage and riverboat to Russia’s far east. It took him two-and-a-half months to reach his destination: the North Pacific island of Sakhalin, north of Japan, and the penal colony there, which he described as hell.

Supporting documentation
Chekhov spent three months on Sakhalin, carrying out a census and writing reports about the place that were published in a work of non-fiction that the New Yorker, no less, called the greatest work of journalism of the 19th century. He interviewed thousands of prisoners and settlers on the island in order to raise awareness of their predicament. The painstaking, courageous social activist that emerges from his writings about the trip is a corrective to the way we tend to see Chekhov outside Russia: as a writer preoccupied with all the flavours of middle-class misery. Journey to Sakhalin deserves to be better known and more widely read, but let’s face it, tales of a Russian prison colony at the other end of the world are always going to be a tough sell.

Other adventures
Chekhov’s expedition to Sakhalin was a bolt from the blue – a quixotic, uncharacteristic explosion of adventurousness similar to the impulse that propelled Bruce Chatwin from a comfortable job in Sotheby’s to Patagonia. Unlike Chatwin, Chekhov never repeated it. He did, however, enjoy the voyage home from Sakhalin, via Hong Kong, Singapore and Sri Lanka, where he unwisely acquired three mongooses that he ended up giving to a zoo.

Distinguishing marks
Dapper, dandyish, a qualified doctor and proud of his work ethic, Chekhov comes across as charismatic and deeply likable. Of all Russia’s great writers, he’s the one you’d be best stuck on a long train journey with. Although, when you think about the alternatives (domineering Tolstoy, gambling addict Dostoevsky and Gogol, with his messianic theories about Russia), that’s faint praise.

Last sighted
Chekhov’s health declined in the years after his return from Sakhalin. He finally succumbed to tuberculosis at a spa in Germany, where he’d gone in hope of a cure. Gorky records that his body was brought back to Moscow in a refrigerated carriage marked “for oysters”.

Intrepidness rating
Always with the numbers! Chekhov’s trip was tough, but not unprecedented. He undertook it because of his concern for the prisoners and what he felt the failures of the penal system said about his country. It was a noble aim, but perhaps not superlative in terms of pure exploration. I’m giving him a 6/10.

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Tell us about your travel hero: readers’ travel tips

Dervla Murphy’s intrepid bike rides, Bruce Chatwin’s original storytelling or Freya Stark’s Arabian adventures … this week we’d like to hear about your travel hero. They may not be a writer or celebrity – we often get top travel inspo from a tour guide or chance acquaintance whose attitude and adventures strike a chord.

Use the form below to tell us about the wanderer who, especially in lockdown, quickens your pulse and raises your spirits – keeping your tip to about 100 words.

Send your tip by Tuesday 12 May at 10am BST. We’re afraid that in these difficult times, there is no prize on offer for the week’s best entry – though hopefully that will return soon. But in the spirit of solidarity and optimism, we’d still love you share your memories with fellow readers. That also means you do not need to be a UK resident to submit a tip.

Have a look at our past winners and other tips

Photographs are very welcome if they are high-quality (at least 700 pixels wide please) and you are happy to share them but it is the text we will consider. If you do send photographs please ensure you are the copyright holder.

The best tips will appear on the Guardian Travel website next week.

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here.

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