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OPEN PASSPORT: Tom Keneally   

He's world renowned for writing 'Schindler's Ark', which went on to become Spielberg's film 'Schindler's List'. The multi-award winning author is also currently shortlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award with his latest book 'The People's Train'. However, it was writing a little-known book titled 'Outback' that took Tom Keneally out amongst the Spinifex and terracotta dirt of Australia's desert during the early 1980s. He's about to head out that way again to host a 'Writing Under The Stars' event from 9 - 11 July at Voyages Longitude 131 luxury camp in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park at Ayers Rock. Here he will chat about how his own experiences have inspired his writing and help guests to get started on writing about their own. Other journeys across the weekend include learning about Aboriginal art and its connection to the land from an artist-in-residence, a sunrise walk around Uluru, dinner under the stars and a helicopter ride over Kata Tjuta, all done in a level of luxe the adventuresome Keneally has become accustomed to.

 

"This will be a refinement on the swag (an Australian canvas bedroll)," deadpans Tom. "Usually if you're out in the Spinifex it's a bit of a walk to the nearest spa bath and that all feeds well into my willingness and indeed desire to go to Longitude 131," he adds. "It's just enough adventure for an old bugger by day and certainly more than preposterous pleasure in the evening." As epic a traveller as Tom is a writer, The Luxury Travel Bible couldn't resist digging deeper into a life spent spinning around the globe.
 
Define luxury:
It starts with a really good seat. If I can persuade someone or myself to acquire a really good seat that makes a big difference to the journey. And of course, if someone is willing to pay first class, god bless them, it makes a big difference to journeys now as I get older.
 
Most luxurious suite:
One of the most luxurious rooms I've stayed in recently was at the Melbourne Literary festival on top of the Sofitel Melbourne [in Australia]. It was a suite that was so technically sophisticated that I couldn't work out how to switch on the lights. It was prodigiously comfortable - a Medieval prince couldn't have lived in greater luxury or majesty than that room provided.
 
Favourite cruise:
I like adventure travel and have done a great deal of it in my life. Now, I like a combination of comfort and wilderness. I like to have a little geriatric adventure in the daytime and come back somewhere nice at night. So one of my ideas of luxury happened a couple of years ago when I went on a trip with Abercrombie & Kemp into the Baring Sea. A lovely ship, not very crowded, maybe only about 60, it might have been more, all of them interested in the Arctic and the birds and the whales and so on. And just showing what low caste I am: I love not having to dress for dinner and having excellent meals.

So, wandering around little Arctic islands off the Siberian or Alaskan coast by day in Zodiacs, then coming back to luxury. The combination of biting wind in your face and also the bulkiness of heavy gear with having to wear the equivalent of ski gear and long johns, then to come back into a really pleasant room and to go to public rooms and bars and meet people and talk over the events. And the shower - one of my ideas of luxury is the ensuite. When I was young you stayed in a pub in a country town and the shower was along the hallway and along a front veranda, so an ensuite is terrific. I like that combination.

The ships I'd be interested in going on are the ones going to remote places like the Abercrombie and Kent ships and ones that go to the fjords - definitely doing stuff and being involved. Because I've got a restless temperament even giving lectures on board I enjoy.
 
longitude 131
longitude 131
longitude 131 accomadation
voyages longitude 131
antartica
cappadocia cave resort
gardens at huntington
 
Greatest travel adventure:
When I was young I went to Antarctica in the days when there was no tourism and no women in the whole of Antarctica - you've probably read about the prejudice against women. And then in 2002, [my wife] Judy and I went with Quark Expeditions in a ship that went down to the Ross Ice Shelf, well south of the Antarctic, and that was the greatest trip we've ever had. The food chain and wildlife is phenomenal. It's sad that the ice cap is in a bit of trouble. I think if you go to the Arctic or Antarctica, you know something is on - I can't believe there are such idiots around.

There's a place called Cape Adare which had always lived in my imagination. I'd only seen it from the air. We were going to land in the first hut in Antarctica - we had to pick up three New Zealanders and a Pom - but we couldn't get in because of ice. The beserk Russian captain - the Russians are extraordinary people - he said, never mind, out there is a 200km long iceberg and we'll go and find it and have a party on top. We found it in the perpetual daylight and it dwarfed the ship. It was 50 metres high. And the captain lifted us up there by helicopter and we had a cocktail party on top of an iceberg.

Out of all the places I thought I might go, I would have considered on top of an iceberg an impossibility. But we drank champagne before it froze and had a wander around with cross country skis on top of this iceberg.

Going to the South Pole when I was young, that was an experience too but it was utter desolation. The ice is 8,500 feet (2590 metres) deep and you're standing on top of this ice cone, the only advantage being that you can walk around the world in three or four steps.

Most luxurious journey:
In some senses the most luxurious journey I've done, merely because it cost so much, was aboard a Russian research vessel - Academik Mstislav Keldysh. Conde Nast paid $27,500 for me to do a dive with Russian and American scientists 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) down in a submersible submarine and they wanted someone to write a piece. It was quite a successful piece. It was collected in yearly travel articles. The idea was that we would travel down to a hydrothermal vent off Costa Rica that was spewing clouds of smoke, bacteria, arsenic, copper, platinum and gold at 400 degrees Celsius and under huge pressure there were living creatures. That was the purpose of the journey, to get ready for that dive but with plenty of good times in between - a few lectures, a bit of practice in the machine itself in case you got stuck down there, and to be at sea off Costa Rica. Good meals, good company, much of it being the company of scientists, but other folk too. People who were interested. I like that kind of travel better than other travel. I looked at the huge hotels of Acapulco and decided thank god I'm here rather than there.

The travel company involved is Deep Ocean Expeditions. Briefly, this ship before the collapse of the Soviet was lying in dry dock. The Soviets didn't have the money to run this ship and then [movie director] James Cameron came along and said I want you to do some diving for me. So it's been used on all sorts of movies. You see a glimpse of them on the wreckage of the Titanic at the start of the movie. They thought if we can sell dives to these great depths to the members of the public who are crazy enough to go with us well....so it's thanks to James Cameron, and Conde Nast in my case, and others they're able to keep those scientific vessels shunting along.

Luxury break:
I've stayed in some wonderful places in Ireland. They've made an association out of country houses that were once the Landlord's house from which peasants like myself entered only as servants. They're located of course in beautiful and interesting parts of Ireland and they run from south of Dublin right around the country and they have wonderful dining rooms. You can make a tour of archaeology if interested in tombs, or fishing and golfing. I'm a man of antiquities - tombs, prehistoric settlement and stones. In any case, the country homes of Ireland are a great way to see the country if you've got a few bob.
 
Most inspirational destination:
I love arriving in China and wandering in China. It's the energy and the mass of population, but also the combination of antiquity and almost wilful modernisation of landscape. I know it's on the way to becoming Singapore and I also know that you shouldn't expect people to live in picturesque squalor so you can visit it. Shanghai in particular is a very vivacious city; wonderful food and an extraordinary mass of people that make you know that you're really alive.

My absolute favourite restaurant is M on the Bund. [Its founder], this Australian woman, Michelle [Garnaut] is legendary. I also remember having dinner in 1980 on an Australian mission in Madame Chiang Kai-shek's summer villa with an old jazz band from prior to WWII playing - that is luxury.

In Shanghai, I find along the Bund fascinating with its combination of Europe and Asia. Places like the Yuyuan Garden are just wonderful. The architecture is so distinctive; it's a long way from a Georgian building. So, the wonder of the architecture and the attention to detail in the gardens and the fact that it all came from shifts of history - Manchu dynasty, the Republic, world invasion by Japan, WWII, the Russian revolution, the cultural revolution, the death of Mao, the commercialisation of China, and the fact that at the end of it all you have these wonderful places remaining that seem to have sort of said well, we're just sitting pretty through all this. Going for a ride on the Huang Pu River is also exciting.

Oh India, Calcutta! It is a fascinating city. I used to travel a great deal, but I've calmed down and accepted there are places that I'm never going to see.

Now, I like a combination of comfort and wilderness. I like to have a little geriatric adventure in the daytime and come back somewhere nice at night.
Favourite escape:
Places with mountains. We don't have mountains in Australia so I never got over the excitement of snow and mountains. It's so stimulating to me and the fact that with skis you can actually negotiate this stuff.

We've done a lot of cross country skiing that is luxury. If you can combine really nice quarters with a day's skiing...It's that combination of being cold and a little bit scared but highly stimulated and the validation of coming inside. We've stayed in a lot of primitive places too when we ski - a yurt in winter on the north rim of the Grand Canyon - but we've also gone to Colorado, Lake Tahoe near Squaw Valley and we've downhilled at Aspen and Beaver Creek. I'd love to go to Austria, but I'd better hurry up I think.

Second home:
I've always loved New York, I lived there for a while and it is a place where the talent sort of overflows. You feel that you're in a torrent of events and creativity. Every waiter is an undiscovered ballet dancer or actor. They're all beautiful young men and women, loaded with talent that tragically will not always be recognised. It's an extraordinary city.

To me the centre of New York is Washington Square and southwards along West Broadway across to the East Village. I lived down in that area and I always felt I was going home when I was going there. That's where you've got all the bars. Mind you, a lot of the old gritty bars have been done up. New York is bar heaven. When I went there I had to watch myself because I was drinking too much for the atmosphere. There are also great museums. My favourites are the Guggenheim, the Frick Museum, which is a little old house on 5th Avenue, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Favourite luxury hotels:
The best hotels are in Cappadoccia [Turkey] where you live underground but with bathroom and electricity. The volcanic formations are so preposterous that they give an extra lateral architectural grace to the place. It brings out the hide-and-seek-down-the-tunnel-and-to-the-left child in you. I'd rather there than expensive hotels. Although my tastes are fraudulent as I want the facilities to be as good as the so-called luxury hotels, but also that element of strangeness.

I've been to a lot of hotels in my life. In America I was in a different hotel every day and as every traveller tells you they do blur. It's hard to remember the really good ones. In New York there are some great ones - the Waldorf Astoria. The St Regis. The Pierre - they're all the older ones the ceilings are high and the rooms are spacious. I've only stayed there when I'm doing a book tour. They're great places to come home to when a room isn't anonymous.

A hotel I really enjoyed when I was in California was the old Hotel Laguna. It's a hotel that in the 30s the movie stars used to motor down to have a drink in. It's a grand old-fashioned hotel. Basically a grand old-fashioned hotel with internet and ensuite is all you need.

In LA there's also the Beverly Wilshire. And in Italy I like Hotel Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps. There are a lot of really good hotels but none of them excite me as much as what you do during the day.

Best writing haunts:
I can write when travelling, but not very consistently. I can get a lot of writing done when I'm flying. Some of my great joys are places that I've done research in and they're all great buildings - The New York Public Library, The National Library of Ireland in Dublin, Trinity College Library, Dublin, the Boston Public Library which is a beautiful library, the Library of Congress in Washington which is quite magnificent. There's no adventure on earth....penetrating the Amazon is a great adventure, but penetrating the mysteries of the library and the librarian archivists and getting them on side and learning not to flinch when they bark at you, all that is an adventure too.

One of the greatest libraries I've worked in with beautiful gardens is out in Pasadena - it's called the Huntington Library. There's an art gallery and library that has incredible riches but you've virtually got to get a reference from Obama to get in there. But the magnificent old Huntington House is surrounded by gardens honouring every nation, so there's an Australian garden there. It is a magnificent place to visit.

Airline of choice:
My favourite airline is Singapore and in competition with that, the one that flies to the gulf - Emirates is very good.

Going to America I used to be tied by the umbilical to United Airlines. I liked the fact that all the women who were stewards were all grannies. They were worldly-wise women and I like that about United.

 

KENEALLY'S CHOICE

Writing Under The Stars with Australian Living Treasure Thomas Keneally - July 9 - 11, 2010:
The Sofitel Melbourne, Australia:
Abercrombie & Kent:
Quark Expeditions:
Deep Ocean Expeditions:
Irish country houses:
China:
M on the Bund restaurant:
New York
The Guggenheim Museum, New York
The Frick Collection, New York:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York:
Cappadocia hotels, Turkey:
The Waldorf=Astoria, New York:
The St Regis New York:
The Pierre, New York:
Hotel Laguna, California:
Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Los Angeles:
Hotel Hassler, Rome:
The New York Public Library, New York: /
The National Library of Ireland, Dublin:
Trinity College Library, Dublin:
Boston Public Library, Boston:
Library of Congress, Washington DC:
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, California:
Singapore Airlines:
Emirates airline:
Prue Rushton 20/5/10
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