First 80 Australians return after controversial travel ban imposed on India

By Rob Picheta and Angus Watson, CNN and Reuters

Australia received its first repatriation flight from India since its controversial ban on travel from the Covid-hit country came into force, with 80 Australians landing in Darwin on Saturday and immediately being taken to quarantine facilities.

A number of passengers were unable to board the Qantas flight from New Delhi after testing positive for Covid-19, and close contacts were also blocked from boarding, according to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT.)

The Australian government’s aggressive ban on travelers from the country has proven controversial; ministers were accused of racism after threatening five years’ imprisonment for anyone who breached the restrictions.

Saturday’s journey was the first of a handful to bring home 9,000 Australians stuck in India in the coming weeks. The next flight is scheduled for May 23, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Friday.

After arrival, travelers face two weeks in quarantine at a converted mining camp in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, Reuters reports.

“We are following the medical advice and ensuring that we protect Australians here and I’m pleased that that first flight has arrived, and obviously there will be more flights to come,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a televised briefing, the news agency added.

“It’s important to do the testing that we are doing right now, before people come on those planes to Australia. That’s the process we are following, and we will continue to follow.”

India is in the grips of a devastating coronavirus outbreak, reporting another 326,098 infections and 3,890 new deaths on Saturday. It has seen almost 25 million recorded Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began.

In total about 9,000 Australians in India have registered with the federal government, requesting to return home.

But the total ban on arrivals from India has faced strong opposition from Australia’s Indian community, human rights advocates and even members of the government itself.

Government senator Matt Canavan said in a tweet earlier this month that it was more important to fix Australia’s quarantine system than to “leave our fellow Australians stranded.”

“We should be helping Aussies in India return, not jailing them,” he said.

Payne said that Saturday’s flight brings the total number of government-facilitated flights over the course of the pandemic from India to 39 — returning over 6,400 Australians since March 2020.

Since the start of the pandemic, DFAT has helped over 45,700 Australians return on over 500 flights including over 18,800 people on 128 government-facilitated flights, a DFAT spokesperson told CNN.


Weekly travel update: England opens ‘green’ list, Capri goes ‘Covid-free’

By Maureen O’Hare, CNN

Now that the world is starting to open back up, CNN Travel is helping you make plans for 2021 and beyond through these weekly round-ups of travel news.

Come here to learn about the attractions opening their doors, the destinations relaxing entry rules, and the places where Covid spikes have forced authorities to pull down shutters.


English people will finally be able to hug each other on Monday.

This isn’t due to a relaxation of the country’s “stiff upper lip,” but rather the next stage of easing coronavirus restrictions in England.

As well as cautious physical intimacy — by which we don’t mean pajamas and twin beds — the green light has also been given to indoor hospitality and entertainment, including pubs, restaurants, cinemas and museums.

International travel is set to reopen, with people allowed to vacation in a very limited “green” list of countries — only a few of which are actually welcome UK tourists. Portugal, which will reopen to British visitors just in time for May 17, is set to the biggest tourism winner.

The UK‘s other nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — each implement their own sets of restrictions, which you can get the lowdown on here.

One of Italy‘s most popular islands, Capri — an upscale destination in the Gulf of Naples — has stolen a march on its tourism rivals by this week declaring that it was within days of becoming “Covid-free,” with its vaccination program almost concluded.

In Germany, Munich‘s world-famous Oktoberfest may have been canceled last week for the second year in a row, but there was cheer in parts of Bavaria this week as some outdoor beer gardens opened up.

And a little further east in Romania, Bran Castle — the reputed home of Count Dracula — is offering free Covid-19 vaccinations for anyone brave enough to visit.

Word to the wise: If a shadowy male offers to let you skip the line and get both jabs at once in the neck, turn him down.

In Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, country legend Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood reopened this week on a limited basis.

And on May 13, the US Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Americans who are fully vaccinated can now go without masks indoors or outdoors — as the US roll out has been a success, that already applies to more than a third of the population.

Two of New York’s most legendary hotels have opening dates lined up: The Plaza, the French Renaissance-inspired monolith beside Central Park, is slated to reopen on May 20, while The Peninsula, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, will welcome guests on June 1.

More than 37 million people are expected to travel in the United States for the Memorial Day holiday at the end of the month, a big boost from last year’s record low.

In Asia-Pacific, a two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands is also set to finally open on May 17 after months of planning.

In another burst of neighborliness, the Cook Islands’ vaccination roll-out will begin Tuesday, with vaccines obtained from New Zealand.


Coronavirus restrictions have even reached the tiny dining-table-sized summit of Mount Everest, with China planning to set up a “line of separation” to prevent climbers from the Tibetan side mixing with climbers ascending from Covid-hit Nepal.

The fact that this highest section of Everest is known as the “Death Zone” gives some indication it’s not an environment conducive to lingering, and Reuters reports that it’s not clear how the separation line will be enforced or who will be enforcing it.

The Maldives was one of the first countries to fully reopen to tourists, but it has now banned tourists from South Asia until further notice, cutting off an escape route for wealthy Indians fleeing their country’s Covid crisis.

The ban applies to all visa holders from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and anyone who has transited through those countries in the past two weeks.

Looking ahead

Switzerland hopes to open indoor restaurants by May 31, while the European Union could open by the end of June to fully vaccinated vacationers from countries with low Covid infection rates, under a plan revealed last week.

The proposals, published by the European Commission, advised that arrivals must have been inoculated 14 days before arrival with a vaccine from its approved list.

Washington D.C. plans to fully reopen by June 11, but with mask restrictions still in place. The first stage of a two-part plan unveiled by Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday will see the lifting of capacity restrictions on most indoor activities on May 21, apart from in bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues.

St. Helena, the tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic where Napoleon was once exiled and which only got an airport in 2017, is now fully vaccinated and will reopen to visitors from June 21. The super-remote island is one of the limited number of destinations on the UK’s “green” list.

Remote working opportunity of the week

If you’re tired of staring at the walls of your spare room-turned-office, you might be tempted by the picturesque Italian towns of Santa Fiora in Tuscany and Rieti in Lazio.

Both towns are offering to pay up to 50% of the rent of anyone who decides to move and telecommute on a long-term basis. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, as long as you have an “active” job and are tech-savvy enought to do it anywhere.

Applicants must have an “active” job, even if they can do it in front of a laptop on a panoramic terrace overlooking olive groves while sipping a glass of red wine.

It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, as long as you’re tech-savvy enough to do it anywhere.

So-called “smart working villages” are now flourishing in Italy as local authorities grasp the potential of boosting high-speed internet and setting up equipped “labs” for telecommuters.

CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Livia Borghese, Jack Guy, Meenketan Jha, Silvia Marchetti, Cristiana Moisescu, Kristen Rogers and Jessie Yeung contributed to this report.


Ongoing mask mandate for travelers: ‘It will be enforced, period’

By Pete Muntean, CNN

Travel is a big exception for new mask guidance in the United States, and the transportation industry says it will continue to strictly enforce mask use.

The head of the largest association of flight attendants said “there should be no confusion” about new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance saying fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors, but still need to wear masks when traveling.

“This doesn’t include transportation,” Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson told CNN. “There’s a mask order in place and it will be enforced, period.”

The Transportation Security Administration said Thursday that the federal transportation mask mandate will remain in place through September 13 on commercial flights, trains, buses, boats and in terminals.

“This federal requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of Covid-19 on public transportation,” TSA said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with the CDC to evaluate the need for these directives.”

Airlines For America, the industry’s top lobbying group, said US airlines will enforce the mask requirement as long as the mandate is in place.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday called on travelers to respect those who enforce the mask requirements.

“It is very important for travelers, commuters to recognize that those workers who are operating these systems, these vehicles — from a bus operator to a flight attendant — they are carrying out the mandates, the rules and the guidance that have been given to them,” Buttigieg said at a Washington Post event.

“It’s really important to show respect and support for them as they go about their jobs trying to keep everybody safe,” he added.

How people will react to the exception for travel to the CDC’s new guidance remains to be seen.

The recent uptick in angry passengers on board flights is a “huge concern,” the head of the Federal Aviation Administration told CNN in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

The agency says it has received more than 1,300 reports of unruly passenger incidents in the last three months, beyond just mask issues.

“I am always concerned,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “That’s what this zero tolerance policy is all about — to make sure that we get this situation under control.”

CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.


Monica and Rachel’s ‘Friends’ apartment is on

By Toyin Owoseje, CNN

Friends” fans are being given the chance to crash for a night at Monica and Rachel’s apartment.

More than a quarter century since Rachel sought refuge with Monica after running out of her wedding to Barry the dentist, “The Friends Experience” — a two-story, immersive celebration of the show launched in New York in March — has teamed up with travel company to provide what it calls “The Ultimate Sleepover.”

The interactive 18-room exhibit is full of props from the apartment and recreates classic scenes from the hit ’90s sitcom.

While interior scenes for the show were filmed in an LA studio, the exterior of the building is a real-life New York location — 130 East 23rd Street — which is now the home of “The Friends Experience.”

“With re-creations of the beloved television series’ set — guests will relive Ross’ infamously doomed sofa pivot, peek through Rachel and Monica’s purple door, relax on Chandler and Joey’s recliners after playing some foosball, explore newly added original props and costumes from the show and much more,” said in the announcement. “It will leave guests gasping: OH. MY. GAWD!”

According to a ad, guests will be treated to a special tour as well as dinner and drinks during their stay. They can also channel Monica’s competitive spirit in a late-night game of Phoebe’s Cab Escape Room and a “Friends”-themed scavenger hunt.

In the morning, they will get their shot of caffeine and pastries at the functioning Central Perk coffee shop.

So how much will this nostalgia trip set you back? A one-night overnight stay for two will cost just $19.94 — a nod to the year the show first aired.

But you’ll need to be quick. are taking reservations on May 21 at 10 a.m. ET and the apartment is available for just two nights, May 23 and May 24.


Russia announces actor and director for first-ever movie made in space

Olga Pavlova and Sara Spary, CNN

Russia is racing to become the first nation to shoot a movie in space, after it announced plans to send an actress and a director to the International Space Station (ISS) — 250 miles above earth — in October.

State news agency Ria Novosti said on Thursday that 35-year-old Yulia Peresild would star in the new movie, which will be shot in space and directed by 37-year-old Klim Shipenko.

Titled “Vyzov” (“The Challenge”), the movie will tell the story of a surgeon who has to operate on a sick cosmonaut in space because his medical condition prevents him from returning to earth to be treated.

Peresild and Shipenko, who are well-known in Russia, were selected after the country’s space agency, Roscosmos, opened a competition for applicants in November.

Peresild has appeared in a number of Russian films and TV series, while Shipenko’s 2020 movie “Serf” was one of Russia’s highest-grossing films.

Race to space

The timing of the plans puts Russia neck-and-neck with a US team of actor Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman, who revealed in 2020 that they were working together on a movie to be filmed in space.

The as-yet-untitled movie, which has no release date, is being developed in collaboration with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Cruise will travel to space, where he will be based at the ISS, according to Deadline.

The ISS is a multibillion-dollar laboratory that orbits Earth.

It was launched in 1998 and built as a collaboration between the US, Russia and 14 other countries.

Zero-gravity training

Peresild and Shipenko will need to undergo rigorous training before traveling to space to film “The Challenge.”

From next month, along with two understudies, they will begin a preparation regime that will include training flights in zero gravity and parachute training.

They will head to the ISS from the Baikonur cosmodrome spaceport in Kazakhstan on the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft.

The movie, which has no released date yet, is being developed in collaboration with Roscosmos, broadcaster Channel One and studio Yellow, Black and White.

CNN’s Marianne Garvey contributed to this report.


New York gets dizzying new glass elevator ride

Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN

Ever wondered what it would be like to take a glass elevator ride up the side of one of New York’s tallest skyscrapers?

Well, visitors will soon be able to do just that thanks to Summit One Vanderbilt, a brand new attraction set to open at Manhattan’s One Vanderbilt tower this October.

Ascent, an all-glass enclosed elevator, will travel 1,210 feet (369 meters) up the outside of the building, providing thrilling views of the city.

Those looking for something even more daring can opt for Levitation, a collection of transparent glass boxes that jut out of the tower, suspending guests 1,063 feet above Madison Avenue.

‘Amplified views’

Both are to be based across the four-level, 65,000-square-foot entertainment area and observation deck opening at the peak of One Vanderbilt, a $3.3 billion development that stands at 1,401 feet, making it the fourth tallest in New York City. The tallest is One World Trade Center, measuring 1,776 feet.

Summit One Vanderbilt will contain a cafe named Après, a terrace bar, food stalls and “the highest urban outdoor alpine meadow in the world.”

Meanwhile, the team at boutique new media creative agency Kenzo Digital have designed a soon-to-be-unveiled immersive art installation for the observation deck.

“We have created a destination that offers an interactive experience that will be remembered for a lifetime with the best, amplified views in all of New York City,” Marc Holliday, chairman and CEO of SL Green said in a statement.

Tourist draw?

“Summit One Vanderbilt is awe inspiring, magical and needs to be experienced to be understood,” he added.

“It is a special, thrilling place that New Yorkers and travelers from across the country and the world will want to visit time and time again.”

The news comes shortly after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $30 million tourism marketing campaign for the city, which saw visitor numbers fall from 66.6 million in 2019 to 22.3 million in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, the organization which will launch the “NYC Reawakens” campaign in June, believes the launch of the attraction will provide a boost to the city as it begins to recover.

“New York City will be full of energy this fall, and Summit One Vanderbilt is an incredible addition to its attractions for locals and visitors,” Dixon said in a statement.

Summit One Vanderbilt joins a number of well known observation decks in the city, including the six-level Top of the Rock observatory at the Rockefeller Center, where the upper decks are positioned 850 feet above street level.

In 2019, the Empire State Building launched a new 102nd-floor observation deck based 1,250 feet above street level.


How to buy a €1 home in Sicily without ruining its culture

Julia Buckley, CNN

When Alexandra Stubbs heard a friend had bought one of Italy’s infamous €1 houses, she felt a little rattled.

“I did the usual kind of thing — what the hell’s that all about, how is that going to work? I’m really skeptical,” she says.

But underneath the skepticism, there was something else, too.

“I absolutely loved Sicily from visits in my 20s and 30s, so I just thought, oh, I’ll tag along with him when he goes back to visit his house — I was visiting friends in Rome and I thought I’d really like to check out Sicily again,” she says.

Little did she know — or maybe, little did she want to admit to herself — that she’d end up buying one herself. Actually, not just one, but two.

“I was on the train, chugging through the Sicilian countryside. We got to Mussomeli [where her friend, Mark, had a house] and I just absolutely loved the whole landscape and the vibe. Straight away I thought, oh my god, maybe this is actually for me,” she says.

“It was a holiday weekend, so the agents were shut and we couldn’t get access to any of the viewings — and Mark couldn’t get his keys, either, so we couldn’t see his house. But we had a really cool couple of days exploring the backstreets, and it had such a lovely vibe, and the landscape was stunning. I was captivated.”

High in the hills of central Sicily, about an hour from the southern coast, Mussomeli is one of several towns in Sicily regenerating its historic center by selling off abandoned houses to foreigners for the price of a coffee.

But Stubbs — along with other foreigners who’ve bought properties in the town and are vocal about their love for it — says Mussomeli is special.

“I guess it’s a bit like dating — you either have that connection with the energy, and the whole package, or you don’t” she says.

“For me, it was the setting straightaway — the landscape — and then it became about the interaction with the people. It was a festive evening and they had done a procession carrying a Madonna. We ended up in this restaurant where all the locals had headed to, and it was just such a great feeling — it’s hard to describe, but they were very warm, natural and hospitable — and know how to live well.”

Falling — and staying — in love with Sicily

For Stubbs, the motivation to buy wasn’t just that she fell for Mussomeli, or that she had a friend who’d already bought a house there. Another plus was that the town is a short (and pretty) drive through the hills to Villarosa, where another friend, Sarah Wolferstan, has a farm with her Sicilian husband Paolo.

The only problem? Wolferstan wasn’t thrilled by her plan to buy a house. This was 2019, when €1 house schemes were getting popular in Sicily. And as someone with a long history with Sicily — the couple have lived on Paolo’s family farm in the past, produce olive oil there which they sell in the UK, and hope to return there one day — she wasn’t best pleased at the idea of all these foreigners with no knowledge of Sicily coming in, buying up houses and changing the culture of struggling towns.

“I was skeptical, actually,” she says.

“I didn’t speak to her about it before she jumped in, and then I saw a couple of posts on Facebook, and I thought, oh god, she’s not going to do that is she, because I know what a long haul Sicily is.”

“But then when she explained it to me, it made me want to not be the person who’s negative about incomers — especially when I’m an incomer.”

Instead, Wolferstan wanted to give her friend a crash course in the history and culture of the island, so that Stubbs could end up getting as much out of it as she herself had.

“There’s a sense of history and of magic in the air in Sicily when you first go there — you can’t not see it because it’s everywhere you look,” says Wolferstan.

“So you fall in love with that, but just as when you’ve been married to someone for 20 years your relationship moves on, I can also feel all my own personal stages of getting to know the island better, feeling frustrated with its baggage, then accepting the baggage and then falling in love again, but in a different way.

“I see Alex and my love stories with Sicily are at different stages — and I don’t want her to break up.”

Regenerating a town sustainably

Wolferstan met her husband Paolo — they are both archeologists — at the age of 21. Initially they lived in London until in 2014, after their second child was born, they moved to Sicily. While they were there, they visited Gangi, one of the first towns to launch a €1 house scheme. And to start with, Wolferstan was horrified.

“I thought, oh no, what are they doing? Gangi is a really, really beautiful town not far from the sea, why are the Sicilians feeling forced to sell their heritage? This is so tragic.”

Her uncle-in-law was mayor of a different town at the time, and introduced them to the mayor of Gangi.

“I was there saying, ‘I think you’re going to gentrify your town — I’ve seen some in northern Italy that have lost their souls.’ And he listened to me really patiently and said, ‘We’re on top of it in Gangi, and that’s not going to happen.’

“And it hasn’t, and he’s done amazingly well. He’s plugged into all the regional, national and European projects to do with rural sustainability, food systems and slow tourism, and he’s done it very slowly.

“And he’s brought the community on board and he’s worked with local businesses to invest in €1 houses as well. And you think, oh wow, it might just work. It made me panic less.

“But while the situation is what it is, I still wish the Sicilians could have a way of running these businesses themselves.”

A cultural excavation

Instead of sparring over their different viewpoints, the two friends decided to join forces. Stubbs wanted her holiday home, but wanted to do it sensitively, becoming part of the community; in return, Wolferstan wanted Stubbs to get to know her Sicily.

“Being able to share this from two completely different perspectives is what’s really interesting,” says Stubbs.

“I feel pretty confident I can make this work just based on my limited experience, but being able to drill down into it — like an archeological excavation — is the best of both worlds.”

To start with, Wolferstan has been recommending lots of books: histories of Sicily, biographies, and the history of the mafia — mainly written by Sicilians.

“The problem is that non-Italian speakers don’t have access to so many amazing books about Italy and Sicily, so we just read what other foreigners like us say about it,” she says.

“There’s such a market at the moment for travel books, and they all say the sort of dull things about Sicilian identity, but so many of them are so superficial and just talk about food.

“Buyers of €1 houses may not even know that Sicily has a separate geopolitics from mainland Italy, Sardinia or Venice — and why would they? But when you read this ‘travel lite’ literature saying Sicilians are different from mainland Italians because they’re Greek and Arab [from historical occupations], it’s othering them even more than they’ve already been othered.”

Helping, not hindering, the community

Wolferstan is so keen for €1 house buyers to understand the society they’re buying into, that the pair are setting up a website (, going live next week) that will explain not just the buying process, but also give information about Sicily. They’re planning a free guide for would-be buyers that will incorporate the societal side as well as the more attention-grabbing parts of the process, and already share stories of Sicily on their social media.

For Wolferstan, the projects have value, as long as they don’t alienate locals.

“It’s a very dynamic move to do something radical to save these houses that are in a state of collapse, and it’s bringing work, income and a different perspective. But it depends on how it’s managed,” she says.

“Sicily has been failed by the last 100 years of what’s happened around the world — not just by Italian politics.”

In Mussomeli, the houses must keep their original façade, and the planning process is tightly controlled so that new owners can’t make changes that aren’t in keeping with the area.

“It’s stopping houses from collapsing into disrepair, so basically it’s a win win — I don’t feel they can lose, and they’re totally in control,” says Stubbs, who’s employed a local architect to work on her houses.

‘Sicily needs positivity’

For many, the idea of (relatively) rich foreigners coming into a struggling town and buying up property as second homes is loaded with issues. But as a die-hard Sicily supporter, Wolferstan says she’s realized that, if handled with care, the €1 schemes can not only regenerate the town fabric and provide jobs to those working on the projects, but can also spark a new sense of pride in residents of rural towns which, since World War II, have tended to see people leave, rather than arrive.

“When you’re born and raised somewhere, you don’t see it with the eyes of an outsider, and if visitors come and say, ‘This place is so amazing that we want to buy a house here,’ I think that swells their hearts with pride,” she says.

“They have the perspective of all the economic problems that are the reason why so many have left.

“Sicilians are proud of their island anyway, they already thought it was the best place in the world, but because of it’s been at the bottom of the pile in Italy, when there’s positivity from the outside you can really see that effect. And Sicily needs positivity coming from the outside because it’s an embattled identity that everyone has criticized for 150 years, and now it feels like the tide is turning.”

Getting on with the neighbors

Stubbs plans to throw herself into the community, and has already befriended her neighbors — the woman living opposite was born in her house, she says, while she’s bonded with the guy next door over his love of Elvis.

Although you’d think they might resent incomers pitching up and starting noisy building work, she says they’ve been nothing but pleasant.

“There’s never been a whiff of them thinking, god, it’s going to be morning till night of drilling, bashing and crashing — what a nightmare,” she says.

Her houses have a “churchy feel,” she says, with walls made from huge rock slabs and light streaming through the shutters.

“I don’t want to make a shiny villa — these are houses with such character that all they need is to be given some TLC,” she says.

The two properties were already partially connected, and her aim is to make a “semi industrial, rustic blend with reclaimed and repurposed materials,” creating an internal garden in the space where the two houses connect.

Eventually, she’d like to set up some kind of cycling business to attract tourists to the little-visited central part of the island. With most tourists sticking to the coast, there’s an opening for “slow tourism” and adventure tourism in the middle, she says.

Learning Italian is a priority for her — “I don’t want to be one of those expats who chatters away nonstop in my own language,” she says.

How the €1 schemes can help Sicily

Both women have learned from each other. For Stubbs, it’s been a crash course in Sicilian history, politics and culture.

And for Wolferstan, the experience has tempered her view of the €1 house schemes.

“I’ve changed my mind knowing Alex, and reading about the project,” she says.

“I still don’t think it’s a miracle cure, and I definitely see it as a strand in a lot of strands that need to be done to help rural areas in the south of the Mediterranean, not just Sicily. But all the Sicilians I know think it’s a fabulous idea because they can’t see what else to do with these tiny little houses in the middle of town.

“Everyone is leaving, so why would they be investing? But I think that the fact that people are coming in is a big boost to their confidence, and people are starting to think, well, maybe we’ll hang around. Some people have started businesses on the back of it.

“Hopefully it’ll spill over into public investments and infrastructure, and hopefully there’ll be a bigger percentage of the population who wants to stay, wants to buy and eat local — it could have a ripple effect.”

Love Sicily, don’t leave it

Both are clear that buying a €1 home isn’t a bed of roses.

“When I say to Alex, ‘Sicily is really complicated,’ she says ‘Of course it is’ — she’s not going there expecting to have a nice frothy experience and eat pasta all day with all her new friends, so she knows what she’s getting into,” says Wolferstan.

“So I reinforced that — but also have hopefully expressed the joy of what it means to create a longer term relationship with places that are so beautiful with such warm people, but, like any culture, they have ways of working that aren’t familiar to us.”

For her part, Stubbs says, “I’m hoping that Sarah’s going to un-expat me — I don’t want to be clueless, I want to understand better as quickly as possible.”

Both think that the more homeowners who do the same, the more the towns will benefit — and the more the incomers will get out of it.

“People can appreciate what the place has, that it’s not as superficial as Hollywood or a travel guide makes out,” says Wolferstan.

“I don’t want people to gentrify, love Sicily and then break its heart by leaving. You want people to get the whole story.”


Qantas supermoon flight to nowhere sells out in ‘record time’

Francesca Street, CNN

Qantas is offering a new “flight to nowhere” that will give travel-starved Australian residents the chance to admire the late May supermoon and full lunar eclipse from over 40,000 feet in the sky.

If you were hoping to nab tickets, you’re out of luck — the airline says they were snapped up in “record time” — 2.5 minutes to be exact.

The supermoon flight is the latest in a series of Qantas-operated trips that take travelers up for a joy ride, before returning them right back to where they came from.

Tickets for the supermoon flight started at AUS $499 for an economy ticket (US $386), while business class was on sale for $1,499 a pop (US $1,160).

After tickets sold out, a wait list was also created, but this has since closed.

The flight promises some pretty spectacular lunar views. The airline said in a press release that it’s working with astronomer Dr. Vanessa Moss to design “the optimal flight path over the Pacific Ocean.”

Moss will also be on board to entertain travelers with facts and insights about the May 26 lunar event, which NASA calls a “super blood Moon eclipse.”

NASA explains that the “super” part comes from the fact that the full moon will be near its closest orbital position to Earth, which will render it larger and brighter to the human eye.

From some parts of the world, the moon will appear to take on a reddish hue due to the total lunar eclipse. As the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, it’ll look darker and redder.

“The red color comes from sunlight filtering through Earth’s atmosphere — a ring of light created by all the sunrises and sunsets happening around our planet at that time,” says NASA’s website.

The US space agency adds that how red the moon will appear is “hard to predict” as this can also be impacted by dust in the atmosphere.

The total lunar eclipse, the only one of 2021, should be visible from Australia, New Zealand, some Pacific territories and the US west coast.

While it’s dangerous to look at a solar eclipse directly, it is safe to admire a lunar eclipse.

The Qantas flight will take place on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, chosen because its large windows make it “ideal for moon gazing,” the airline’s chief customer officer, Stephanie Tully, said in a statement.

The supermoon flight will span three hours, departing from Sydney and flying over the city’s harbor before cruising above the clouds to gaze at the moon and the eclipse.

Travelers will stay masked up and will be required to social distance on board.

Last October, the Aussie airline’s first flight to nowhere hit the headlines when initial tickets sold out in under 10 minutes.

Doctor Fiona Downes, who spent unused points on a business class ticket for the October flight called the journey “a once in a lifetime experience.”

Returning to the skies, Downes told CNN Travel, was “like being home again.”

Qantas was criticized by some for needlessly burning fuel at a time when the climate crisis should be prompting more respect for the environment. A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth told CNN Travel last fall that they viewed the flight as “essentially the definition of a pointless trip.”

Qantas pledged to offset 100% of the October flight’s carbon emissions and plans to do the same for the upcoming supermoon jaunt.

Other carriers have also run flights to nowhere, including All Nippon Airways, EVA Air and Hong Kong Express.

CNN Travel’s Lilit Marcus, who was on board the Hong Kong flight, called the experience of returning to the skies “oddly emotional.”


Artist Maya Lin planted dead trees in a Manhattan park to show impacts of climate change

Rachel Trent, CNN

Dead trees and art may be an unusual combination, but the pairing is part of a new display in New York’s Madison Square Park designed to highlight a particular phenomenon of climate change: the loss of forests around the world.

The display is called “Ghost Forest,” a term that refers to dead woodlands that were once vibrant, according to Madison Square Park Conservancy. It’s the work of architect and artist Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Lin told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that when Madison Square Park Conservancy invited her to create a piece of temporary artwork, she wanted to bring a ghost forest to Manhattan to raise awareness of the “huge loss that is going on that people might not be aware of.”

The 49 Atlantic white cedar trees used in the display come from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, where they became victims of saltwater inundation.

Lin said she was inspired by her late husband and their time in southwestern Colorado, where they spent their summers, to create the piece. She said forests there are killed off by beetles because the winters are too mild.

“One season you’ll see a little bit of rust on the tops of the trees. By next season, an entire forest can have died off.”

She said the phenomenon is happening across the country and around the world.

“In California, it’s forest fires. In the East Coast, it’s rising seas, saltwater inundation.”

Madison Square Park Conservacy and the Natural Areas Conservancy, an environmental protection organization in New York, will plant 1,000 trees and shrubs throughout the city to offset the emissions caused by the project, according to Lin’s website. Lin said these will offset the carbon emissions by more than tenfold within 10 years.

“We really wanted to focus on nature-based solutions to climate change,” she said. “I didn’t want to just wake you up to climate change. I think we don’t have much time left.”

Lin said she thinks reforming agricultural, forestry and ranching practices, as well as protecting and restoring degraded land and wetlands, could offset “a significant amount of carbon emissions and protect biodiversity around the world.”

“Nature is resilient. If we give it a chance, it will come back,” she added.

The “Ghost Forest” piece will be removed in November, after symbolically going through all four seasons.

CNN’s Henry Hullah contributed to this report.


Two small planes collided over Colorado and both landed safely, one after deploying a parachute

By Carma Hassan and Steve Almasy, CNN

One of two planes that collided in the air near Denver deployed a parachute and slowly drifted to the ground, where two people walked away from the aircraft, a sheriff’s office spokesman said Wednesday.

The other plane, a small cargo turboprop, landed at an airport, according to Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Deputy John Bartmann. The lone person on board that plane was also unharmed.

The collision occurred over Cherry Creek State Park at about 10:25 a.m., he said. Bartmann said it was not yet known which aircraft was responsible.

“You expect something a lot worse. This was amazing,” Bartmann said. “We’ve had several plane crashes in our jurisdiction. Never have we seen a parachute be deployed and bring the plane down safely.”

The plane that used a parachute was a Cirrus SR22.

“It came down nice and slow,” he said.

The other aircraft was a Metroliner, officials said.

A tweet from the National Transportation Safety Board said the incident happened as the planes were landing. The agency is sending a team of investigators.

The debris field stretched “pretty far,” Bartmann said. He said if people find plane parts in the park, they should not touch them, and instead call the sheriff’s office.