Friday, 15 September 2017

Review: Jumeirah Carlton Towers, London

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Jumeirah Carlton Towers.

Narrelle and I started this trip with two nights at the Langham Hotel, then yesterday Ubered around to Belgravia for two nights at the Carlton.

The Carlton Towers was not a hotel I knew anything about, and its postwar exterior doesn't do much to catch the eye. But the location, near Knightsbridge Tube station, Harrods and Hyde Park, is appealing; and the rooms are lovely.

This is the interior of our Junior Suite, basically a joined bedroom and sitting room, with a balcony overlooking the leafy Cadogan Place Gardens (a private space, but one that hotel guests have access to)...

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The room is very pleasant, the decor a nicely-judged mix of classical elements and modern lines. Very tasteful and soothing, as is the garden view from the balcony.

As for the hotel's public spaces, there's an ambient cafe/lounge off the lobby called the Chinoiserie (whose central tree is re-dressed as each season changes)...

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... and a restaurant which is about to undergo a major refurbishment. It's a pleasant spot in which to have breakfast, and there are hints of the hotel's Middle Eastern ownership in the spread: including hommus, labneh, etc.

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Other guest facilities include a pool with a view...

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... and on the 9th floor, alongside the wellness centre and gym, is The Peak. This is an unexpectedly light-filled space with great views across London to the south. Appealed to me as a great place to sit and write.

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The hotel is, as you will have guessed, not cheap. But it's in a great location, and manages to be surprisingly serene in the centre of such a busy city.

The Jumeirah Carlton Towers is located at 1 Cadogan Place, Belgravia, London. Find more info and make bookings at the Jumeirah website.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Art in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland

On this trip I was hosted by Visit Sunshine Coast.

On my recent visit to Queensland's Sunshine Coast, I joined a couple of media tours.

The first one, held before the Australian Society of Travel Writers' annual convention, spurned the region's famous beaches and headed inland.

There's quite a rise in altitude as you head west, and a dramatic change in landscape. Instead of sleepy holiday towns along a strip of beach, you find villages scattered through mountainous green countryside.

The focus of this media tour was art, and I think our small group was fairly dubious about its abilities. We could all write, of course, but our skills at painting and pottery were largely untested.

Our first artistic stop was at the Mary Cairncross Reserve. There's a great view from here of the Glass House Mountains (named by Captain Cook; but I urge you to look up the Aboriginal story of the mountains' formation on Wikipedia, it's fascinating).

Set up on a grassy area next to the visitor centre, and instructed by veteran artist James McKay, we had a go at painting the scene in watercolours...





I think we didn't do too bad for beginners.

The next day, the challenge was clay rather than paint. We dropped into Fried Mudd, a pottery studio near Maleny, to fashion a chicken in only two hours.

Again we were assisted by an expert (thank god), in this case potter Cathy Lawley. Cathy guided us through the process, as we fashioned two 'bowls' from strips of clay, which would then be joined to form the body of the chicken.

Tricky business, especially when we progressed to the finer details of markings, and fashioning the beak and comb. Here's how it went...




And here's what they looked a day later, after they'd been fired and delivered to us at the convention:

I don't think we did a bad job here either, though I was happier with my painting.

But we learnt the basics of the two crafts, had some fun while creating, and saw some beautful scenery on the way.

If you're wondering how we got our two very heavy chickens home to Melbourne, by the way, we didn't.

We gifted them to my colleague Kerry Heaney, who lives in Brisbane, so she could add them to her chicken and have a trio of ceramic chooks in her garden.

And the names of our creations? Dahlia and Agatha. PG Wodehouse fans will know where we got those from.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Seattle's Living Computer Museum

I stayed in Seattle as a guest of Railbookers, Visit Seattle and the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, though I paid my own airfare to the USA.

When I visited Seattle in 2015, I was struck by how many museums it had which referenced either technology or the future (or both).

One exception that referenced both technology and the past was the Living Computer Museum, in the industrial district of SoDo; named in the American style after its location South of Downtown.


Established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the museum is dedicated to presenting the history of computing via working models of computers over the decades, which visitors are welcome to use.

To its credit, it has Apple computers on display as well as PCs.

This is the Apple Lisa, a 1983 computer which was one of the first to feature a graphical interface rather than a simple command line. It was inspired by a then decade-old groundbreaking graphical design by Xerox, which never fully capitalised on this brilliant leap in usability.


A large room at one end held a assortment of huge mainframe computers that looked as though they'd been salvaged from the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey...


... though I most enjoyed sitting down and interacting with the individual computers. This early AT&T machine had a vertical page-shaped monitor. I wonder why that didn't become more of a thing? For writing, it would have made a lot of sense.


I enjoyed a game of Hangman on this DEC VT131 terminal...


... and wrote a note in Notepad on an early IBM PC running Windows 1.0:


And of course, I had to play a game of Pac-Man on one of the early games-based computers, the Atari 400:


There was a lot more to the museum, including guided tours. It may look a bit dry in images, but all the explanatory captioning was very good and it was involving, even for a layman who's merely used computers a lot in his work.

Since I visited, the museum has renamed itself Living Computers Museum + Labs, adding a section dedicated to emerging technologies such as virtual reality and self-driving cars.

But I'll always have a soft spot for these older devices, which helped us in the transition from the hard copy working world, to that dominated by the IT of today.

Living Computers Museum + Labs is located at 2245 First Ave South, Seattle, USA. Entry fee US$12. For opening hours and other details, visit its website.