Down-under luxury train
The Orient Express just added an Aussie accent. The luxurious Great South Pacific Express began limited service along Australia's eastern coast last month. The cooperative effort between the Venice Simplon-Orient Express (which operates the famous Paris to Istanbul train) and Queensland Rail plans to launch its complete schedule in April. The train travels from Sydney to Brisbane and on to Cairns in northern Queensland. While the full Sydney-to-Brisbane-to-Cairns trip takes four nights, the Brisbane-to-Sydney leg is a considerably shorter 18 hours.
Like its European counterpart, the Great South Pacific Express spares little expense. Its early-20th-century-style appointments include red-cedar walls and stained-glass clerestory roofs throughout the train as well as embroidered silk panels, maple furniture in the dining car, and a marble-topped bar and etched glass in the lounge.
A dozen sleeper cars can accommodate 92 people in opulence. Other cars include two for dining (one with a boutique) and a lounge car with piano bar.
Rates, depending on compartment and length of trip, start at $820 for the Brisbane-Sydney trip and from $1,730 for the longer Sydney-Brisbane-Cairns combination. After March 31, prices are about $300 more.
Beatle Country, Virginia
The King has his Graceland. Ms. Parton has Dollywood. Now the Fab Four have a place to call their own. McKee's Beatles Museum in Virginia Beach, Va., is home to heaps of Beatles memorabilia, photos and rare recordings displayed throughout the 2,500-square-foot haven claiming to be the only registered museum of its kind in the United States.
The collection of memorabilia includes an autographed postcard -- with all four signatures -- from the Beatles' 1963 England tour, a $4.75 concert ticket from the Aug. 18, 1966, Suffolk Downs show (11 days before their last concert), promo photos from "Help," "Hard Days Night" and "Magical Mystery Tour," as well as tour programs, fan-club magazines, postage stamps, wax figures and gold and platinum albums.
The museum is open daily except Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. After Memorial Day, hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Admission is $7 a person, but two-for-one coupons are available at the counter. Children 12 and under admitted free. Call 757-491-0491.
"Romantic Days and Nights in Washington, D.C.," a recently released book from Globe Pequot Press, arrives just in time to plan a Valentine's Day surprise. Authors Cynthia Hacinli and William S. D. Connor outline more than two dozen intimate escapes for couples throughout the city. Each of the outlined itineraries has a theme -- from the three-day, two-night "In the Footsteps of the Presidents: Knocking Around the White House" to the one-day "La Dolce Vita: Italian Idyll." All begin with an introduction and are broken down by day and suggested morning, noon and evening activities. Costs depend on length and luxury of the trip. Available at area bookstores in paperback for $15.95.
Pure, clear water
Montezuma's Revenge can be a thing of the past with a stir of the new Steri-Pen. This small, portable microbe-zapper from Maine-based Hydro Photon is ideal for travelers and hikers who run the risk of drinking contaminated water. Immerse the high-frequency, germicidal end of the Steri-Pen in the murkiest glass of water and watch the water clear within 30 seconds. A green light indicates when the water is virus- and bacteria-free. Its lithium battery can be recharged more than 350 times before replacement. For information, visit the Hydro Photon Web site at www .hydro-photon.com or call 207-374-5800.