with Peter Walbrook
Flights of fancy
Out of print for some time but finally reprinted in paperback this year, Alexander Frater's compelling Beyond the Blue Horizon (1986) tells the story of the Imperial Airways Eastbound Empire Service, which connected England and Australia, via Asia and the Middle East, during the 1930s.
It was the world's longest air route, taking in more than 30 exotic stopovers on the several-week-long voyage, including Cairo, Baghdad, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Singapore and Surabaya, before finishing in Brisbane. Frater recounts the history of Imperial Airways, its personnel and unusual aircraft while following the original route on modern airlines.
He meets a former pilot of the Handley Page 42 (pictured) - the last biplane airliner, which carried passengers as far as Karachi - who describes the aircraft cabin with words foreign to modern commercial aviation: 'The accommodation was the most elegant I have ever seen. Passengers sat in truly luxurious armchairs, four to a table, while our two stewards, in starched white jackets, served them a piping-hot four-course meal.'
Those same stewards were also expected to go grocery shopping on the morning of each flight before preparing salads, boiling eggs and filling Thermos flasks with tea and coffee 'at a small stove and sink in the accounts section'. The Empire Service was a huge undertaking for Imperial Airways (an ancestor of British Airways and a distant relative of Qantas) that in some locations required the building of forts and the hiring of private armies at stopover points to guard against marauding tribesmen.
For anyone with an interest in the history of commercial airlines, or travel in general, Beyond the Blue Horizon is a fascinating and amusing read. It's available at www.paddyfield.com, priced $116.
Staying in style
Opened last week, the Private Reserve on Soneva Gili (below) looks to be the Maldives', if not Asia's, most exclusive accommodation. Comprising six buildings in a standalone, on-the-water setting, it features two master suites, 'extensive leisure areas', a private spa, massage pavilions, a wine cellar and an air-conditioned gym. Covering an area of 1,400 square metres, it's a boat ride away from the Soneva Gili resort and two live-in servants are on hand 24 hours a day. Prices are available on request, although if you need to ask, you probably can't afford it. See www.sixsenses.com for further details.
If you're planning a trip to Paris this year, take a look at what's being offered in the way of savings by the Paris City Passport. For Euro5 ($48), this coupon package provides discounts totalling Euro300, although you would have to do some pretty intense touring to get through the whole thing. Major attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are not covered, but smaller museums are, as well as nightclubs, restaurants and shops - about 100 locations in total. Paris City Passports can't be mailed overseas, but they can be sent to your hotel in advance. According to the organisation behind the passport, 'The approach is to present you with an offering of places to discover after having spent a few hours in better-known destinations.' You can get yours online and see a discounts list at en.parisinfo.com.
Something for the weekend
Following the success of two Mr & Mrs Smith guide books to discreet hotel getaways in Britain and Europe, everything you ever wanted to know about 'romantic' short breaks in the region can now be found online. In the past, people who bought either of the books also received the Smith Card, which entitles its holder to a variety of bonus offers such as discount rates, room upgrades, picnic hampers and bottles of champagne, but now the card is also available separately at www.mrandmrssmith.com. Offering the 'coolest, sexiest and most intimate places to stay in Europe', the site provides all the listings found in the books, but you'll have to pay GBP10 ($142) to join and get the card. Properties featured range from the Lugger Hotel in Cornwall - 'a smuggler's inn turned boutique hideaway' - to the Jardin des Sens in Montpellier, which is a 'contemporary gastro cocoon'.
Following the introduction of stringent rules about transporting cigarette lighters on aircraft, the Zippo Manufacturing Company has come up with the Zippo Cargo Case, an airtight container designed to carry a single lighter in checked luggage. (Collectors of Zippo lighters travel all over the United States to swap meets, often by air). For reasons best known to themselves, however, the Department of Transport has decided that only two such cases may be packed in a passenger's luggage. The US Transport Security Administration regulations about what can and cannot be taken on board an aircraft seem inconsistent in this area. No filled lighter (other than the Zippo in its Cargo Case) may be checked onto any flight and even empty lighters must be packed in checked luggage. If you want to take matches on board, however, you can carry up to four boxes. The Cargo Case, which Zippo claims to be selling at cost for the benefit of its customers, can be found at www.zippo.com.
Deal of the week
Two nights on the island of Lombok, with accommodation at the Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort (www.starwoodhotels.com) are on sale at Charlotte Travel for $3,580. Round-trip, economy-class flights are with Singapore Airlines and SilkAir, via Singapore, and a stopover there is also possible. Breakfast, airport transfers and travel insurance are included. This price will be available until the end of the year, but not during Christmas. For further details about this offer and reservations call Charlotte Travel on 2110 6070, or e-mail email@example.com.