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August 2008





In our new column, we ask celebrities to reveal their most memorable holiday. This week it's TV presenter NICK KNOWLES on star-spotting in the USA

"Driving on a Harley-Davidson through the California desert, I watched the sun set over the red rocks as I sped through a narrow gap in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Back in May 2006 I'd been filming the BBC travel show Departure Lounge in Los Angeles, but before we'd even left the city for our next stop in Palm Springs, I'd lost the rest of the crew… along with my wallet and mobile phone.

I was travelling by motorbike and for five hours I'd been cruising alone in the 49 degree C heat in my leathers, without a cent for fuel or water.

In the distance was a wind farm – the massive windmills were used in Mission: Impossible III – and in the magic of the moment, I wouldn't have wished myself anywhere else.

By the time I reached Palm Springs, I was so hot, I jumped straight into the pool of the Coral Sands Inn in all my biking gear. When I got out, one guy came over, introduced himself as Frankie, and offered me a drink.

He kept asking if I liked his wine, until I began to think he was angling for me to buy the next round. It wasn't until he handed me the bottle that I glanced at the label and saw the name – Francis Ford Coppola. The Oscar-winning director was sharing a bottle of wine from his own vineyard with me!

I spent the rest of the evening entertaining him with impressions of Russell Crowe in Gladiator. I still didn't get offered a part in one of his movies though!"

Coral Sands Inn has seven themed suites, including The Liberace Suite and The Yippy Ky Yo Ky Yay Rodeo Suite. Rooms cost from £67 per night, or you can take over the whole resort for £537. Visit




Love on the road

This week ZoË and train man
go mountain climbing


There have only been a few times in my 32 years when my life has flashed before my eyes like a Dallas dream sequence, and most were alcopop induced. But it happened just after sunset over Australia's Red Centre, when Train Man asked me to marry him.

It all came crashing back: the longing I felt on the 8.21 to King's Cross, the nerves over handing him the note, the utter despair when he said he had a girlfriend, the flush of happiness when he asked me out eight months later, and the elation of the first date when I looked at my reflection in his bathroom mirror and quietly whispered "I love him" to myself.

And what a setting! We were on the train. Not just any train either, it was The Ghan, which is one of the world's great train journeys – think the Orient Express with kangaroo views. And I totally didn't see it coming. We'd watched the 187th sunset on this trip 
and suddenly the sky outside our cabin window went all inky and moody.

"Look at me," Train Man said softly, turning my gaze away from the window to lock eyes with his. Then he asked me. I said yes of course – between the squeaks and squeals.

As I'm about to depart on this next exciting journey, I can't stop thinking about how I spent months plucking up the courage to give him that note and, if I hadn't, then being his wife would have been a crazy stalker daydream. So the moral of my story is to do the Fabulous thing: take a chance and follow your heart, because it's better to regret the things you have done than the things you haven't (unless 
it was a perm in 1988).

So it looks like this particular adventure will have a happy ending. So thank you for sharing it with me. Now you'll have to excuse me, I have a wedding to plan…

Miles travelled: 23,090 in total

"Oh my gods" exchanged: 24

Carats dangled: 1 huge one




Love on the road

This week ZoË and train man
go mountain climbing


Right, I've had it with backpacking. I flipped in Sydney when I walked into our eight-bunk room to be greeted by a scene from The Young Ones. And we'd paid £31 for the pleasure. I told Train Man that I can't do dorms any more.

I'm a flashpacker and proud. So, bless his heart, Train Man tweaked the itinerary and booked flights up the East Coast so we could spend a week seeing how the other half live.

First stop Noosa, although I'm reluctant to tell anyone because I want to keep it lovely forever. It's a secret salvation of gorgeous eateries, marina-view apartments – and thanksfuly not a mullet in sight. It's classy Australian. At our surf lesson even the kids were wearing designer sunnies (I was great by the way).

Now we're further north on Hamilton Island, just off the Great Barrier Reef, and still enjoying the luxe life (eek, the budget is free-falling!) but it's worth it for the scenery – and sunset cocktails that don't have watered-down booze in them.

Train Man's getting his tan back and is as handsome as ever, while I feel right at home. "Can't we stay here?" I begged. "I can't go back to sharing dorms with people who sniff their pants before putting them back on in front of me."

And just as I expected a rollocking for being a princess, Train Man caught me by surprise. "Well I wasn't going to tell you until tomorrow, but here…" He handed me two tickets for The Ghan, Australia's transcontinental train – in a ‘gold service' cabin. "I never got you a birthday present."

I'm too lucky. And you know how I have a soft spot for the train. Let's hope it's more romantic than Indian Railways...

Miles travelled: 1,016

Terse sentences exchanged: 1

Princess factor: Rising again

Next week: Zoë reaches her dream destination




Love on the road

This week ZoË and train man
go mountain climbing


Everywhere I turn in (crusty) Australian hostels, I see backpackers who are younger, louder and more gorgeous than I am. I feel like an old fogey at 32. That said, these teens are also stupid, which helps me feel a bit better.

So it was with excitement – and trepidation – that Train Man and I embarked on a bus tour across the Great Ocean Road. As we waited to be collected by the bus at 6am in Adelaide, I had a minor panic.

"We're too old for this," I declared to Train Man. "We should grow up, go home and get proper jobs."

He didn't say anything – it was 6am after all.

So when the bus pulled up and we weren't the oldest people on it, I breathed a sigh of relief, sat back, and enjoyed a brilliant trip.

We were a mixed bag: from a 19-year-old Londoner who didn't get the "What do you get if you cross a sheep and a kangaroo?" joke (he said a wombat, not a woolly jumper) to a couple of dotty old Austrian women – but we all had a good time, and all had a surprising amount in common.

The trip was fun, without any one of us downing sambucas, lighting farts on the back row, or hopping into each other's bunks at night.

"It's been lovely," I said to Train Man as we stood watching the sun set over the Twelve Apostles. "I was starting to feel old but we get on with the teens as well as we do the retirees."

"You're not old, baby," he said. But he only says that to make himself feel better – he's a year older than me.

So I got back on the bus, put Cat Stevens on my iPod, pulled out my flask of cocoa, and had a nap. Oh my god.

Miles travelled: 863

Terse sentences exchanged: 0

Biddy barometer: Rising – I've been feeling old lately

Next week: Zoë swaps backpacking for flashpacking




Love on the road

This week ZoË and train man
go mountain climbing


Train Man and I are in the Outback and he's in full-on birdwatcher mode. But a funny thing has happened to our dynamic.

We're in Kakadu National Park, home of Crocodile Dundee and Australians with bad mullets. It's fascinating. We've seen Aboriginal rock art, killer crocs, giant kangaroos and birds who build nests made of sparkly objects (my kind of bird).

But the thing I can't take my eyes off is Paul. He's our guide and has looked after us brilliantly. But the best thing about him is he looks and sounds exactly like Russell Crowe. I'm close to begging him to say "My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius!", but he must have heard that a million times.

Stranger still is how I've gone all giddy for him – and I don't even fancy Russell Crowe. With Paul, I find myself paying close attention when he talks, laughing at his (so-so) jokes, and putting my hand up first when he asks the group a question. At least three times yesterday my hand shot up as I answered like an annoying schoolgirl, and when I looked at Train Man, he was clearly embarrassed.

"Don't you see the resemblance?" I asked Train Man in our tent this morning. "It's a rubbish lookalike," he huffed. "I look more like Gladiator than he does," he scowled. And then I saw it. For the first time ever, Train Man revealed a flash of jealousy that made him look so mean and moody he could out-duel Maximus, out-snarl Mel Gibson as Mad Max and out-fox Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Just as I got butterflies from this display of manliness, he picked up his binoculars and skulked out of the tent… looking decidedly more like Bill Oddie.

Miles travelled: 1,989

Terse sentences exchanged: 3

Green-eyed monsters: 8

Next week: Zoë worries she's too old for backpacking