New Zealand. Managed Isolation, Day 1

Sunday 01 August 2021 – Auckland.

Thursday 29 July, London Heathrow.

I left my home in New Zealand on 27 December 2011 to go and see the world, and today, nine and a half years later I leave home again, this time to go to New Zealand. This return has been a long time in the planning, Eleanor had to apply for a visa and then we had the challenge of booking a place in New Zealand’s managed isolation system before we could book our flights. Covid-19 has certainly made travelling more difficult, but here we are, sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, supping the first pre-flight nerves reducing gin. Phew.

I am not sure what direction this post is going to take as I start writing, it will probably ramble all over the place, we will see. I doubt I will finish it before the plane takes off in two hours time.

Sunday 01 August 2021, Auckland.

Well, I guess that second paragraph was prophetic, maybe too much so, as I didn’t write anything further in the airport and only made some vague scribbles in my notebook as we flew. Oh well.

Today is day one of 14 in managed isolation in Auckland. We arrived in New Zealand yesterday, but that only officially counts as day zero. New Zealand’s very strict border policies mean that you have to spend 336 hours from the time you land at the airport in an isolation facility of the governments choosing. None of this ‘promising’ to stay at home stuff like they have in the UK. 336 hours is 14 days, they use hours to give people an exact time they can expect to leave. We landed at 11:02 on Saturday and will be released at 11:02 (ish) 14 days later. We are being picked up from the hotel by my son on 14 August, so 13 sleeps to go.

The flight over was OK. Long, as you would expect given New Zealand is on the other side of the world, but I have had longer journeys to and from. The plane was fuller than I expected but nowhere near what it is normally like and all three legs of the journey were reasonably comfortable.

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We had 110 minutes in Dubai airport, long enough for a coffee and the long walk between arrival and departure lounge. It was good to stretch our legs. Dubai is fully open and the difference between it and Heathrow was marked. Dubai was buzzing, there were lots of people, and I would guess 95% of them were wearing masks. Heathrow was pretty deserted, there were only five flights leaving on Thursday evening, which explains the lack of travellers, and the fact that lots of the retails outlets were closing at 7:30pm. I am guessing that only half the people waiting were wearing masks. Maybe the UK’s attitude to mask wearing and Covid in general is the problem and people just don’t want to risk coming here, or maybe I should say ‘going there’ as I am now on the other side of the world.

The plane stopped in Kuala Lumpur to refuel, though we were not allowed off the plane. Those going to Malaysia were allowed off, which provided a bit more room. Eleanor and I have a row of three seats each for the final and longest leg to Auckland. Though naturally the arm rests on my seats were broken and one of them didn’t fold up so I could not lie down. Oh well. I had books and music and watched some terrible films.

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New Zealand!

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It took ages to get through the six check points at Auckland airport; medical, customs, immigration; at least twice, and those who ask you about fruit. It was frustrating, but understandable. We were then shoved onto a bus and it was revealed we would be doing our two week isolation at Rydges Hotel in downtown Auckland. We had no idea where we would end up, but it was looking quite possible we could end up in Christchurch; which we would have been quite happy with. Rydges wasn’t even on the radar so it was a bit of a surprise.

We were on the fourth of five buses, each with only a handful of people on it, the idea being to keep social isolation as much as possible, and if one is infected then there are less close contacts, who have to isolate as well. The process of getting into the hotel was slow, thorough and organised, run by the air force and it showed. It was a relief to finally get into our room, though we had to wait a few hours for our bags, and that much wanted shower.

The room is OK, basic at best, and we were pretty disappointed in it to be fair; however the following day, after a good sleep and some good food, we are warming to it. We are never going to love it as we have seen photos of rooms in other hotels that look amazing, some even have Nespresso machines, balconies and baths. We have the bare minimum. Spartan is almost the word. 

We had the first of three Covid tests late on Saturday, day zero, the next is on day three and the final on day 12. There is a two day wait for results; hence the final test being on day 12. You are not allowed out of your room until the day zero results are in, and negative.  I is going to be a long two days wait I think, we are very looking forward to being outside after 48 hours in airports, planes, buses and the hotel room.

Sunday was spent in the room, dozing, reading, eating – there is a lot of food and so far it has been great. I managed to do a 30 minute walk in the room, back and forth over the 6 metre width. It was OK. We had read a lot about isolation and had a number of tips for making it better. I had packed washing line and clothes pegs and some stick on hooks, the hooks worked best. There is almost nowhere in the room to hang the washing line so I am experimenting with sticky hooks stuck to a window, hopefully the small load of washing won’t come crashing down in the night.  The hotel will do two loads of washing for us, one a week, so we will do the small stuff every couple of days; partly for something to do.

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We had arranged for my sister to drop off plates and bowls and cutlery to make eating more enjoyable, eating from cardboard take away bowls with wooden forks is not nice. Some hotels supply proper eating utensils, ours doesn’t, as I said it was basic…. 

Lunch day zero, sandwich, salad, cakes, fruit and water. We sent the roast beef sandwich back as we asked for vegetarian food, they sent another salad. We had a repeat of a meat meal on Sunday night so are now thinking they think there is only one pescatarian and not two.

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Breakfast day one. Healthy! Muesli in the bowls.

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The best feature of the room is the view out a huge window, we can see the harbour bridge which is great, sadly there are no windows that open, so no chance of any ‘fresh’ air. This was a major disappointment as we have had three days of aircon, and were looking forward to opening a window.

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There is nothing we can do about it, and I have moved on from the initial frustration. The main thing is we are here, and so many are still waiting to come over. I have talked to mum, my sister and my son which has been great, and we look forward to being able to see them soon.

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There ends day one in isolation, and this post, which didn’t go anywhere I thought it would when I started it on Thursday.

Hoping to get our test results early tomorrow so we can at least get out for a walk in the carpark….

Europe 1987 – Part two

Berlin, oh Berlin. Outside of the photos my memory from staying there is pretty much completely blank now. All I remember is that it was an absolute highlight of the 10 weeks I was in Europe; apart from the incident with the drunk, and my diary doesn’t help fill in gaps. Berlin is one of those cities; along with New York, London and Dunedin that is implicitly linked in my mind with good music; Bowie, Lou Reed, Eno, Killing Joke, Nick Cave, Neubaten, all have recorded or lived there. A number of my favourite novels have been set in Berlin, and that thrill of East meets West, of mystery and intrigue was one of its key attractions and I was very much looking forward to visiting, and am equally looking forward to going back.

Oct 1987 The Wall and East Berlin

Before we continue it is important to remind that this October 1987; the Wall was still up and the East was very definitely a foreign country. West Berlin was an island surrounded by East Germany, and according to my notes there was a 300km drive north of the border, crossing. I don’t mention any hassle or delay getting into East Germany, just that we drove straight to Berlin.

Over the entire trip we shared the driving, with each of us having a full day behind the wheel. I don’t recall any hassles on the road apart from almost being killed in Greece, just the regular occurrences of getting lost and massive traffic jams. One thing that has stayed with me is we only had 7 cassettes. Maybe we only had 7 cassettes that the others liked, I can’t believe I didn’t have some of my own music. In my diary I frequently reference lying in bed listening to music on my Walkman and I wouldn’t have listened to those tapes. I remember we had The Angels, Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, The Long Ryders but not the other four, though they would be a similar style I am sure. I think the driver got to chose what cassette was in the machine on their day behind the wheel. 

I don’t remember a huge amount of what we did in Berlin, we spent some time in the lovely Tiergarten, where one of my favourite photos of the trip was taken, with the others throwing leaves in the air and me standing watching. I am ever amused when I see photos of myself from 30 plus years ago and see that my dress has not changed at all.

Oct 1987 Tiergarten West Berlin

We entered and exited East Berlin through the famous Checkpoint Charlie; you have to return to the west via the checkpoint you entered. My notes say it took us 90 minutes to get across, you have to exchange 25 German marks for the same amount of East German ost marks, though the currency of the East is worthless and you cannot take any back to the West. Apart from food there is not much to spend money on.

Oct 1987 Border Crossing Berlin

It was a weird place, obviously at the time it was an authoritarian communist state and very different to the freewheeling west, and I imagine it looks a lot different now. The area near the border, the unpainted and unapproachable eastern side of the wall was bomb sites and rubble, left clear or cleared after the wall went up in ’61 as a visible boundary zone.

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I had someone take a photo of us in front of the wall on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate.

Oct 1987 Brandenberg Gate West Berlin

I liked East Berlin though, I noted the people were friendly and it was cheap, that the food was low quality and there was little to do other than walk, visit museums and eat. We bought sausage.

Oct 1987 Wurst seller East Berlin

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Now knowing she was pregnant Deana decided to go back to London; travelling in a crowded van, sleeping in a tent on roadsides and eating cheaply and simply, I won’t say dodgily, but… these were not ideal conditions to be carrying your first child. I imagine the rest of us were also drinking a lot as well, so probably not ideal van-mates. I know we, or I, certainly drank more after she had left as it is mentioned on numerous occasions later in my travel diary. As Deana had already travelled Europe and I hadn’t we agreed that I could spend a couple of weeks in the van and see a bit more before returning to London. Deana caught a train back from Berlin, and apart from being late had a successful trip.

It was our last night together, we had all eaten in the centre of Berlin and Deana had to wait for the train which was leaving quite late in the evening. We bought a bottle of wine and found a bench the Kaiser William Memorial Church to sit and drink it. Not long before we were finishing a drunk guy came up to us slurring away in German, he grabbed the almost empty bottle that was standing on the ground in front of us. Someone, I think it was Trudy jumped up and gave him a mouthful, and he retaliated by taking a swing at my head with the bottle, I was still seated. He missed with his swing so threw the bottle at us, his throw missed too and the bottle smashed on the ground. Fortunately, he staggered off on his way and gave us no further trouble. It was a bizarre and unsettling experience, and thankfully, the only threatening event in all of my travels. The others got the train back to the campsite on the outskirts of the city and Deana and I waited for the London train, with me eventually deserting my pregnant wife in a McDonalds in Berlin’s central main train station so I could get the last train back to the campground. She was more capable than me to be fair.

The next day the five of us left Berlin and headed south, towards the sun. We didn’t do a lot on the way, this was the road travelled when we went north and a couple of days later we crossed into Austria. Stopping for a while in Salzburg, though it was too crowded to stay so we just carried on, and into Yugoslavia.

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My memory of Yugoslavia is not a positive one; there was no specific incident, just lots of little ones and we also a load of hassle, it was my least favourite country. Like East Germany Yugoslavia was a communist state, though not as authoritarian as the former. It was the poorest country we visited, and the first time I had seen genuine poverty; half built houses, car chassis being towed by donkeys, rubbish strewn roadsides, little choice of food and small towns with gas stations with no petrol.  Though this was less the case near the Dalmatian Coast where we spent the most time.

At the border crossing all the cars and vans were parked, empty of belongings while bags and vehicles were being searched. Once we had passports stamped and visas bought we went back to the van and unloaded it onto the car park, then waited for the border police to come and check us out; we waited, and waited and waited. Eventually we loaded everything back in again, waited a bit more then drove off. Nothing happened.

Our first night in Yugoslavia was spent in a campground in the Julian Mountains, it snowed and I was very cold in the tent. We headed to the coast the next day.

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It took us two days to get to Split on the Dalmatian coast, I note that we were very worried about running out of petrol on occasion as a lot of gas stations had no gas and that we had trouble buying food to cook, though eating out was cheap and easy. I had calamari for the first time and it was the best calamari I had for years after.

It is illegal to free-camp in Yugoslavia, so we found a campground near Split, above the Adriatic Sea and stayed for three days, the weather was glorious and we needed the break. Days to clean and do maintenance on the van, air sleeping bags and do a load of washing. 

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I remember enjoying swimming and eating and not going anywhere, however it was not really that much of a happy experience. The girls were constantly being harassed by the men, on one occasion as we walked to the beach, a guy in a small group put his hands in his shorts pulled his package out and waved it at the girls. We took to carrying sticks with us to the beach.

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One afternoon while walking through the old town our washing was stolen off the line, so the next day we left, carrying on southward. Andrea left us in Split, taking the train back to Munich for a flight back to London as her two weeks were up. That left just me and three sisters.

Nov 1987 Split Marketplace

Our next stop was Dubrovnik. I really liked the old town, though noted that the surrounding areas were really dirty with loads of rubbish everywhere. We could not find a campsite that was open so ended up driving into a closed one and staying the night there. I drank most of a bottle of vodka in the van and was woken up in the very early hours of the morning by the police, sleeping on the ground outside my tent. Thankfully nothing further happened apart from me crawling back in the tent and going back to sleep.

Nov 1987 Dubrovnik

The next day I was driving and failed to take a corner on a greasy bit of road, fortunately I overran into a small car park and didn’t hit anything, or more importantly, anybody. Someone else wisely took over the driving. We drove down to Ulcinj, and could not find anywhere open to camp, it was the 24 October so I guess the tourist season was mostly over. We drove down the very long beach, eventually finding an area of forest near the end. It was really dark, the road was terrible and quite deserted so we decided to park and stay the night, it was the first night I slept in the van and not the tent. In the morning we discovered we almost on the border with Albania and there were land mine warning signs off the side of the road. I am glad we didn’t wander far from the van.

Nov 1987 Ulcinj Yugoslavia

The next four days were spent continuing to drive southward towards Greece. I have one photo from that period, a woman walking a goat on a lonely highway as we drove up and down windy mountain roads.

Nov 1987 Woman walking goat

My diary suggests we drove, illegally camping a couple of times, that the south was poor and I drank a lot; not while driving obviously.  There was one further incident. I think we were in Macedonia, we were not far from the Greek border anyway. We were stopped by a police patrol. The police took our passports and then demanded an instant fine as we were speeding. We were driving a heavily loaded ancient VW Combi, there was no way we were speeding, but at least one of them was carrying a machine gun, and we wanted our passports back. We handed over the about £40 and the cops left us alone.  Police corruption at its finest.

On the 28 October we drove across the border into northern Greece, and it felt like with some relief.

The final part will be up soon.

 

A short walk down memory lane.

A few weeks ago I scanned and uploaded to BookFace some photos from the 10 week European excursion I made from September to November 1987. The intent at that time I scanned them was to write a blog post about the trip, which was my introduction to open ended travelling; and the start of the wanderlust that remained, pretty much unrequited again to 2011. I kept a diary of the trip, but it, along with other diaries from the 80s, was still in London and last week was the first time in a while that we went back there.

I was going to launch straight into writing about the trip, there are quite a few photos and I was initially thinking of just adding them to a post with minimal text, but as usual I have changed my mind and have decided to go way back in time and add some context. There is a good chance that I decide that that is not a good idea and this post doesn’t get uploaded and you won’t be reading any of this. If I do post it maybe you could let me know if writing this preamble was worth while, or least not a bad thing.

That 1987 European trip really was the impetus for the travels I undertook when I left NZ in December 2011 and obviously this blog is the continuation of those diaries I wrote in my 20s. It just took 24 years, three children and a divorce to get from 1987 to 2011. I was patient I guess.

We may as well start at the beginning or at least close to it. I was born in Carshalton Hospital, Surrey, England in September 1962. This makes me not far off 60 and I cannot believe how old I have gotten while I wasn’t looking, I certainly don’t feel (almost) 59. We moved to 177 Windsor Ave, North Cheam, Surrey when I was two, I have no idea of where we lived prior to that, though we didn’t move far I believe. The grey pebble dash house is 177 Windsor Ave and this was taken when I did a walk-by in 2013. North Cheam is and was a working class/lower middle class suburb on the southern fringe of London. I was happy there.

Our neighbours at 177 were the Aubreys. I think they were both retired, I also think they looked after me, and possibly my younger sisters after school if my parent’s shifts overlapped. I don’t have many memories of life in London as a child, but one of those memories is spending time at the Aubreys. They were very interested in archaeology and history and travelled to exotic places like Rome and Greece, occasionally bringing home small souvenirs of their visits. They bought me books and read to me about ancient Troy, Rome and Greece; particularly the myths and legends from those and other places. I still have some of the books they bought me, and they remain treasured items, particularly The Story of Rome and Story of Greece.

The most valued gift of the Aubrey’s was an interest in ancient history, in the exotic, in the far-off places; and the gift of an enquiring mind, though I am sure as a 10 year old I appreciated the stone arrow heads and small fossils they found in England more than the enquiring mind. I will never forget the Aubreys, or the ‘Strawberries’ as the childhood me named them. That interest in the ancient and the exotic has never left me, and though I am not overly interested in the detail of each and every place I visit, I still relish the visit, along with standing, absorbing and marveling at where generations of people have stood before and what they left behind.

We left England for Auckland, New Zealand in February 1973. With years of experience in the industry Dad soon found himself a job with Air New Zealand which meant cheap flights and numerous trips back to the UK. I think we went back to England three times between 1973 and when I left school at the end 79. Each of those trips was via Los Angeles, Hawaii and occasionally Fiji; the route Air NZ flew. We always stayed a few days somewhere on the way there or back, taking in San Francisco and Washington DC on one occasion. I fondly remember those trips and they were a strong introduction into the realities of travelling and long distant flight, of immigration controls and customs; queuing and sleeping in airports and the less glamourous parts of going to a different country. 

I completed a five year aircraft engineering apprenticeship with Air New Zealand after leaving school; finishing in 1985. While I worked there I holidayed in Fiji and Los Angeles. I went to LA with workmates, Scott and Dave, and we rented a car for a few days, just to cruise; like you do when in LA. Just before I went on this trip I bought my first SLR, a Canon AE-1. I still have it though it stopped working in 1994 and was too expensive to repair at the time.

A lot of my workmates went further, particularly Europe, but I spent too much money on music; records and concerts. Some things just haven’t changed. I did holiday a little in NZ, with hitch-hiking trips and camping holidays and adventures down to the central North Island ski fields. A little taster for the mostly tame adventure I enjoy now.

I didn’t particularly enjoy my apprenticeship and engineering was not my thing; too tactile and I am all thumbs. It was probably safer for all when I left, anyway I had an urge to travel and holding down a job with limited annual leave was never going to satisfy that urge.

In October 1985 I left NZ for my first Overseas Experience (OE) as we called it then, going back to stay in my old suburb in south London. I lasted two years. In that time I met and married Deana, moved to the very nice suburb of Richmond-upon-Thames and did a small amount of travel around the UK and touched briefly on Europe with a visit to northern Italy in 1986,

and to Northern Ireland and the Republic. I have Cavan written on the back of this photo, and love the donkey and cart in the high street. I think it was taken out of the window of a bus.

Mostly I just worked to get by; we lived in an expensive part of London and both of us had relatively low paying jobs; I was a courier driver. My desire to travel the world wasn’t really working out.

That was about to change when Deana’s friends from Australia turned up and bought a VW Combi van… This is the van, but the people are neighbours and friends from NZ.

Burj Khalifa–The tallest building in the world.

Tuesday 06 December 2016 – Dubai.

I was planning on writing this post the day after I finished writing the last one, which in itself was written a couple of weeks after I returned to London. Too busy with Christmas; with any luck I will have this all done and dusted by the new year. Not that I have anything much else to say, new year, new start and all that.

My flight from Dubai to London was not until 2:50 am tomorrow. I had already paid for one night in the hotel I did not use much as I arrived early on Sunday morning, so I did not want to pay for a second part night. This meant I had to check out today, though, thankfully not until 12:00.

When I originally decided to stop in Dubai on the way home from New Zealand I was thinking about a trip into the Arabian desert. I have been in deserts before and the emptiness is something I am fascinated by. Before I went out yesterday I spent some time on the internet searching for tours that looked interesting, but did not find anything that appealed. Lots of companies do 4-wheel drive trips from the city, but all mixed in with sand boarding, quad biking and shopping opportunities. Maybe they are fun with a group of friends, but not something I would do on my own. I was more interested in a more educational type trip, but could not really find anything that did not have terrible reviews. So I binned the idea, though I still had a very long day to fill….

I came up with a loose plan that had me lounging in the hotel until just before chucking out time at 12:00. I left my pack in the hotel and headed out into a very warm day before ducking down into the cooler metro for a ride into the centre of the finance district. Most of which was along one strip of road, narrow but high. Very high compared to London!

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I foolishly decided to walk to Jumeirah Mosque, the main mosque in Dubai and then on to the ‘nearby’ Jumeirah Beach. Of course nothing is nearby in Dubai, I should have realised this yesterday. I was better prepared today, plenty of water and sun blocked up before I left. What I didn’t have was a hat, and it was scorching in the sun. There was plenty of that as there was very little shade on my walk.

Not far off the main strip there is a large section of land that has been cleared and I guess there will be a lot of building going on here over the next few years.

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As I got further away from the city it was clear that that empty strip probably contained the houses of workers and inner city poor and that those communities had been bulldozed in the name of progress. It was not long before I was walking through the older and more run down part of town.

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I did pass this really nice mosque next to the Iranian hospital. One of the frustrations with walking around Dubai is the roads are really big. Great if you are a driver, less if you are a walker. I suspect there are not too many walkers here, a bit like Queensland in Australia, lots of land for roads and it is too damn hot to walk anyway. Sometimes it was difficult to find somewhere to actually cross roads and I had to make a few dashes here and there to make like a chicken and get to the other side.

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I eventually found the Jumeirah Mosque and was pretty let down with how un-spectacular it was, I must admit to expecting a bit more. It is still a nice building, just not very glossy and shiny.

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The city of Dubai is quite narrow and runs along a massive stretch of beach. My next stop was Jumeirah Public Beach, just around the corner from the mosque. I was planning on getting to the beach, stopping for lunch and a cool drink and then walking along the sand for a while before getting a bus or a cab to the Burj Al Arab tower.  I did pass this, sadly closed, shop selling traditional Emerati food.

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I walked for ages, it was early afternoon and very hot, I was starting to feel my face melting in the sun. There just seemed to be no access to the beach. I finally came across some building works,

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eventually finding a sign that advised the beach has been closed since October 2014. I am guessing they will not be calling it a public beach once all the apartments have been built on it. I was a bit annoyed. My experience had in no way been enhanced.

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I walked back out to the main road, and after a few minutes walking finally managed to flag down a cab and gratefully flopped into the back seat and out of the sun. I asked the cab driver to take me to the Burj Al Arab tower, which turned out to be a hotel that had no access to the public. I thought there was a viewing area from the hotel, but was obviously very mis-informed. I was equally annoyed with that too! I walked up from the hotel to a public access section of the beach so I could take the all important and overly clichéd photo of the hotel. It is a great looking building.

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As I was standing on the beach an open topped tour bus pulled in and disgorged a load of tourists. I decided that as I still had 12 hours to kill to my flight I may as well jump on the bus and just cruise around the city for a while, it was cool, moving, had free water and was going to all the places I wanted to go. I should have done it when I left the hotel, would have saved me a cab and a long walk. Oh well, that will teach me for being a tour snob!

The next stop on the bus was The Palm Jumeirah. I am not sure how to describe this place. You need to see if from the air, or on a map to appreciate it. It is a massive man made complex of apartments, hotels and streets built into the sea and from above it looks like a palm tree. It is quite amazing. At the end is the ‘Atlantis’ hotel. Quite spectacular.

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Everything is big in Dubai. With that much money and space and cheap labour there is not much point in building small. As I mentioned above, all the main roads are huge, and the billboards are just as big.

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This was all a prelude to my next stop, the Dubai Mall (biggest in Dubai). Towering above it; and everything else, the tallest building in the world; Burj Khalifa. It is massive, and that first glimpse from the bus was pretty amazing.

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My first stop was the mall, I need some food and more importantly something to drink, guzzling water all day was starting to get a bit dull. The mall is huge, full of shops I will never venture in to, and a number I would not be allowed past security as I do not look wealthy enough. It even has a full size aquarium inside.

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The food hall alone was almost the size of a floor of my local Westfield mall. I wandered around looking for something interesting to eat. I wanted to eat middle eastern, but discovered they had Burger Fuel; I am sure they are a New Zealand chain, and my son spent a couple of years working on the fit-out of Burger Fuels around Auckland. I had to go and try one. Burger, fries and shake. Perfect. The view from my seat was of the ice skating rink, all malls in the desert should have one….

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Sated from my late lunch I went in search of the entrance to the world’s tallest building. It was surprisingly difficult to find from the outside. Though looking was interesting enough.

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I eventually headed back inside the mall and found the entrance in there. I won’t say how much it cost me to enter, but it was by far the most expensive tourist thing I have ever done. And I mean ever. It was worth it though.

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148 floors up!

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The view was amazing, everything was utterly dwarfed, the buildings that seemed so tall from ground level were barely ant sized from up here. It so high that perspective was completely out of whack.

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I was up there just on sun-set, hoping for something spectacular, but it was all rather disappointing in the end.

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The towers on the right hand side of the next photo are the same as the ones in the one below it. I spent quite a time up the tower, just walking round looking out of the windows, though as the sun-set came on it started to get rather crowded so I got back in the lift and headed back down to the mall, out the other side and back on to my bus. I still had 6 hours to kill.

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Luckily it was rush hour in Dubai, which mean a really looooooooooong journey to the next destination. We drove slowly around the Burj Khalifa and I managed to get a few hand held night shots taken.

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We then went on a slow tour of Dubai’s traffic jams for a couple of hours.

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By the time I got back to where I started my day I was thoroughly bored and sick of the constant traffic fumes. I decided to get off and see if I could find a bar in one of the big hotels, (thanks Google). I stopped in for a well deserved, but ludicrously expensive, pint in a pretty horrible hotel bar. I didn’t stay long.

I took the metro back to my hotel, where I managed to get a shower and a complete change of clothes in the hotel gym changing rooms. What a relief that was, I felt pretty gross after a day in the heat and then the humid smog of the evening tour bus ride.

I made final use of the metro day pass and took the train to the airport. I was three hours early, so managed to get a snack and a couple of glasses of wine before boarding and the seven and a half boring hours back to London. It was not a bad flight, I had three seats to myself so managed to sprawl for most of the journey.

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It was 33 degrees in Dubai, 2 in London when I landed just before 8 am. Welcome home!!

A little bit of Dubai

Sunday 04 December 2016 – Dubai.

I have considered stopping in Dubai on previous trips back to New Zealand, but have never done so. Last time I came back from New Zealand I suffered really badly from jet lag, so decided that now was the time to break my trip up and spend a couple of days looking around. This seemed like a great idea when I booked my tickets, but I must admit to having second thoughts as the time approached. The more I investigated the more I found that there is not a huge amount of things that actually interest me in Dubai, plus by the end of my time in Auckland I was just looking forward to getting home again. However, it was all booked and paid for so I may as well make the most of it!

I arrived in Dubai at the end of an almost 20 hour trip from Auckland, with a brief, but still too long, stop over in Melbourne on the way. I remember hating Melbourne airport last time and it was no different this time. Note to self. Go via Sydney next time you fly Emirates.

I arrived in Dubai just before 7:00 am. I had decided to book a hotel for the previous night so I could crash before going out for an explore. I never sleep on planes, and after being awake for over 36 hours I was pretty tired once checked in. So I made use of the bed I had paid the previous night for and dozed for a couple of hours.

Dubai is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, it is a Muslim country and is semi-strict. There are a few bars in the city, all in hotels and the dress is supposed to be conservative. I wore long trousers and shoes on my walks, though regretted that immensely, a lot of other tourists wore shorts, and I wished I had to. Naturally there are a lot of mosques in Dubai, including one right outside my hotel room. After having spent a reasonable amount of holiday time over the years in Muslim countries I find the early morning call to prayer quite soothing, so didn’t mind hearing it as dawn broke, not that I was sleeping anyway.

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Dubai is not an old place, something I didn’t really expect. I had made an assumption that as the middle east has a very ancient and well documented history that this would have spread to the Arabian Peninsula, but it didn’t really. Until the discovery of oil this area was populated by nomads so no ancient ruins are to be found here. There are some old places in some of the nearby states, but the oldest ruin in Dubai is the fort and that is only a couple of hundred years old. I was a bit disappointed to discover that in some basic research before I left London.

After a hotel breakfast I spent a couple of hours poring over the city map and using the internet to come up with a bit of a plan for the two days I have to fill. Today I was going to explore The Creek area and then walk to another hotel for late afternoon too watch football on the TV and drink a cold beer. My hotel is dry and does not have football on the telly either. There are a few sports bars around the city, so I chose one that was near enough to The Creek area to walk to. Though, I did grossly miscalculate distances, something that I regret more tomorrow. I also gave my sun screen to my son, another mistake once I felt myself getting burnt under the 30+ sun and clear blue sky. It took me a while to find a replaceent, and I was a bit red and sweaty when I did. I think most of it ended up in my eyes.

The metro in Dubai is fairly limited in where it goes, but it is otherwise excellent, I had chosen my hotel on the edge of town, partly due to price, but mainly due to it being a five minute walk to a metro station.

I took the Metro my first stop, the Saruq Alhadid Museum. It was pretty interesting, I think I was the only one there. I mainly went as it is in the supposed historical area, though there as mentioned above there is not a huge amount of history here, and the buildings are all renovated, it was interesting enough; plus it was air conditioned which was wonderful.

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After the museum I walked along the Creek as much as I could, past water taxis that take you over to the souks (markets) on the other side. I had planned on exploring the souks, but reading about them and seeing photos, they just looked to be just general shopping areas rather than old style markets, so I didn’t bother going in the end.

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I did pass through this small souk between the creek and the fort, I love the fact this had a shop named ‘Jaipur Trading’, selling lots of things from India.

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I was hoping to see some magnificent mosques here, this is an incredibly wealthy country, so I was surprised to find that most of the mosques are not that magnificent! I did find a couple, including this one near the fort. There are a lot of flags flying and hanging from buildings as yesterday was the anniversary of the founding of Dubai.

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The fort is the oldest building in Dubai, built around 1800, and has been extensively renovated, it was surprisingly small, especially when compared to the monster forts I saw in India. It also houses the Dubai museum and is worth a visit.

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From the fort I walked to the Al Bastakiya area, another historic section of Dubai.

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I really enjoyed walking around this small section of the city, low rise buildings, designed to capture the wind and shade and make for a cooler place to walk. The towers are wind towers, designed to grab the breeze and funnel it down into the buildings. I have not seen these before and thought they were quite cool.

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There was even a bit of street art !

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I found a really good art gallery/cafe where I stopped for an ice coffee and a rest, and a break from the heat. It was quite a hip/cool place, not something I expected to find in Dubai. I bought something from the house as well. Very unlike me!

I thoroughly enjoyed walking around here, as the sun dropped there was some quite good shadows to play with. I have been having major issues with the Canon 5d today. I am hoping it just needs a clean, but it was struggling to focus on anything and I was having to manual focus a bit. This is not fun when the eyes are not as good as they used to be. Stupidly, this was the first time since I left home that I did not have the little G16 camera in my bag as well. I have been hoping  for an excuse to finally upgrade my 10 year old DSLR, but cannot really afford a new one right now! This was the most photogenic mosque I found in Dubai.

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I love alleys!

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It is late afternoon and I had been out for about four hours now, wandering around in the very dry heat so decided to stop for the day and walk towards the hotel that had a sports bar. It was quite a lot further than I thought, taking a sweltering 30 minutes to walk there. I passed what must be the only incomplete/failed building project I saw in Dubai. There is a massive amount of construction going on, and the buildings in the financial centre are massive. But not as tall as the Burj Khalifa; the tallest building in the world, which I visit tomorrow….

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The football was a bit dull, Bournemouth v Liverpool, it was 0-2 to Liverpool at half time and didn’t really pick up at the start of the second half. I didn’t realise until I got inside that you can smoke in bars in Dubai, it was not a particularly pleasant place, so after a couple of beers and some really nice spring rolls I left. By the time I got back to my hotel there had been four more goals scored in what must have been a cracking end to the second half – and then Bournemouth scored late to see the game off with a 4-3 win.

I spent the rest of the evening in my room, it was cool, quiet. And smoke free!

A walk up Ben Nevis. The New Zealand version.

Friday 25 November 2016 – Nelson, New Zealand.

I arrived back in New Zealand in the middle of the night on Monday. I spent Tuesday around Auckland with mum and family – and got to spend an afternoon with my grand son Mason. I will do an Auckland wrap up post when I leave and there will be some Mason in there! On Wednesday my youngest son, Aiden and I flew down to Nelson to see my sister, Alison and her family, and to catch up with some old friends of mine. The plans were changed just before I left the UK with my sister asking Aiden and I if we could stay with my friends due to my nephew being in the middle of very stressful exams. Exam stress not being helped by the recent earthquakes in the top of the South Island. While Nelson was not really impacted by the shakes that have destroyed Kaikoura, they were felt there and my sister’s family did evacuate the house in the middle of the night during the worst shakes. An experience I am glad to say I have not had.

Aiden and I arrived in Nelson and picked up a rental car from the airport. The flight down was really good – magnificent views out of the window over the North Island with Mt Tongariro poking its head out. A great day for flying!

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My sister had arranged to meet us in town for lunch, so we parked up in central Nelson and spent a good five or ten minutes seeing all the sights…. Nelson cathedral. Not sure if there is much else to see in town:)

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Fortunately, my old friends Paul and Jane joined us for lunch and as we were staying with them we went back to their place after. Where we drank very nice craft beer and chatted for the rest of the day. It was good to catch up. I don’t see them very often, even when I lived in NZ as we awere on different islands. Paul is my oldest friend, I met him soon after we moved to New Zealand in 1973, and Jane; well, she was my first girlfriend, way back in the very early 1980s. Lots of memories with those guys…

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The following morning we were joined by Tom, another old old friend who lives not too far away and while Jane went to work, the four men went and walked up a big hill.

Nelson is surrounded by hills, it is an outdoor person’s paradise and both Paul and Tom have worked in the environment all their lives. Unlike Aiden and I they are fit, though we are all getting a bit older. I was a bit nervous about the walk, but in the end it was not the fitness that let me down…

We elected to walk Ben Nevis. At 1619 metres it is almost 300 metres taller than its more famous name sake, and the UK’s tallest peak, Ben Nevis in Scotland. This Ben Nevis is just another lump in the Richmond Range. Luckily we got to park the car at around 950 metres so it was not a massive slog up. Though it was very steep to start with.

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As is very common in New Zealand forests that edge towns the foothills have been planted with pine trees, before giving away to native forest. The wind has caused a lot of damage through here in previous years, and the shallow rooted pines took the worst of it.

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It was quite warm at the start, and we were all (most of us) puffing and sweating after only a few steep minutes. We cleared the first small peak before popping out onto a ridge line, and magnificent views up and down the range.

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I suffer from mild vertigo, mostly it does not impact me, though you would not catch me working on a roof like Aiden does. I struggled on this ridge line, there were a couple of sections where I was really pensive, hold on to rocks when I was climbing up or down. In general it was ‘easy’ going, but some areas were tricky.

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We couldn’t see the peak up ahead as the expected cloud rolled in about half way up.

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We dropped back down again and back below the tree line. I love Southern Beech forests, the trees are fabulous and they leave small crunchy leaves littering the ground. The cloud just carried on rolling in and it started to cool off a bit, we were all glad to have prepared for this. Not that it got cold, but the difference between the bottom of the climb and the top was marked.

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We stopped for a snack at the last tree, before heading off up into more alpine conditions, with grasses, small shrubs and lots of rock.

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Soon after,and about 400 metres (about 100 meters vertical) from the top we hit a loose shale section of path and I had to stop, I had been finding the walking a bit nerve racking and am hopeless with loose shale. I had already slowed down significantly and didn’t want to stop the others from the reaching the summit. So I stopped and let them carry on without me. I thing that if it had been clear weather I may have continued to the top for the view, I am not sure though!

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They were only half an hour away, made it up to the top far quicker without me, though of course they didn’t see anything, and I could barely see them as they came down.

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The walk down from where I waited was a little slow, but at least it was semi-clear.

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After a lunch stop, back in the beech trees we made pretty good progress back down through the easy walking alpine forest section.

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With me slowing down to almost a crawl on the ridge line again, though we were briefly rewarded with a glimpse of the valley floor way down below.

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The cloud had settled down a lot further, making the steep and wind devastated section almost spooky.

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And that was pretty much the end of the walk. My knee started to play up at the end, but apart from that my legs felt fine – and surprisingly there were no aches the following day either. Though mountain biking in Auckland on Saturday was a nightmare! The walk was brilliant. I loved getting up in the hills, and walking with a group of mates was very different than my usual solo walking – and the craft beer and chat after was really good too! Thanks Paul and Jane and Tom.

On Friday morning, after bidding farewell to my wonderful friends and hosts, Aiden and I drove up the coast to the small town of Motueka. We are having lunch with my sister at her farm and the plan was for Aiden and I to see a bit of the coast before going to the farm. The weather decided that it was not going to play ball and it rained all morning. This pretty much put paid to all our plans so we went to a cafe in Motueka and then a cafe in Mapua to kill some time, stopping between cafes to stand in the rain and stare at the harbour.

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On the way to my sister’s place we found this derelict house on the side of the road, I stopped to take some photos and was tempted to climb inside. If it hadn’t been raining and there was more time I probably would have.

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We had a great lunch with my sister and three quarters of the family. Stupidly I was engrossed in chatting I did not take any photos of the family, though I did take an admiring cell phone photo of their amazing wall sized book shelf. Something I am very envious of!

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And that was it, after lunch I drove us back to the airport and after a bit of a delay Aiden and I flew back to Auckland.

I really enjoyed Nelson, it was great seeing people I do not normally see when I come over to NZ, my sister included, and I really liked the walk in the hills, especially with Aiden along as well. Thanks Paul, Jane, Tom, Alison and family 🙂

Baby Cadence – grandchild no 2.

Monday 21 November 2016 – Beenleigh, Queensland, Australia.

My eldest son, Dom, has lived in Australia for a couple or so years and his partner has recently given birth to their first child, and my second grand child and first granddaughter. Yay Smile Cadence was born on 10 October and was quite small at 5lbs, she is now five weeks old and has just hit 7lbs; the birth weight of my three children. Like her father Cadence was born with a cleft lip, though unlike her father she also has a hole in her soft palate. She and her parents are going to have to face a few rounds of surgery, and I very much feel for them. Though if the surgeons are as good as those that Dom had 25 years ago, in the not too distant future you would never know there was anything wrong.

Cadence’s birth was the reason for this trip, I did not visit Dom in Australia when El and I went to New Zealand earlier this year, so I promised to come over when the baby was born. Same as I did when my first grandchild, Mason, was born in New Zealand two and half years ago.

Much as I love Dom, Queensland, especially around the South East, is not really my sort of place; it is not a place I  rush to, and when I do go I do not stay for long, so this was a quick trip. I arrived at 1:00am on Saturday and left again late afternoon on Monday. My sister had a conference in Sydney on Monday so came out for the weekend from New Zealand to see Cadence as well. She arrived on Saturday morning so I picked her up from Brisbane Airport at the same time as I collected my rental car and we drove straight down to Beenleigh, on the southern outskirts of Brisbane.

We arrived just after lunch and I got to have my first cuddle with my new baby. She is very alert and gave me a few (probably windy) smiles. She is lovely and I was quite happy Smile

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On Sunday morning Dom and I dropped my sister back at the airport and then we drove into Brisbane to look at the building site he is working on. He is an apprentice plumber and was very enthused and engaged in showing me the work they are doing on a newly finished block of flats, and a new site next door. I learnt a lot about plumbing; and am very proud of him 🙂

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After lunch Dom, his partner, one of her other children and myself went up to the Daisy Hill Koala Sanctuary for a walk around and to look at the koalas. Unusually they were awake; they are fabulous looking creatures.

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There was also a very domestic looking kookaburra as well, I am assuming it was a live one !

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After a quick feed we went for a walk in the trees, though it was really hot and quite draining. Not good for Cadence to be outside too long !

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Dom had the day off on Monday, Cadence was having her first round of immunisation shots in the morning, so I went round there early so I could see; she was very upset by it all; and I do not blame her one little bit!

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Though she did settle down soon after. She is a very placid and calm baby; well she was when I was there…

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My quick trip was then over, I left at lunch time and drove back to the airport to return the rental car and catch my flight to New Zealand. Stupidly, very stupidly, I tried to carry a load of stuff from the front seat of the car to the boot; my cell phone slipped from my grasp and smashed on the ground. Shattered screen and dead…. I was very annoyed with myself! I had been planning on buying a new phone next year; once I was back in paid work. I really didn’t need this right now. So I ended up buying a very expensive phone in duty free in Brisbane airport. More expense I didn’t really want. I know I could have gotten a far cheaper model than I did, but I knew I would not be happy with it in the end. At least this new phone has a really good camera….

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This photo of a photo of Dom from the same age shows that Cadence’s cleft lip is quite similar to his, though a mirror image.

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Both beautiful babies.

Singapore

Friday 18 November 2016 – Singapore.

I arrived in Singapore at 7:00 am on Tuesday after a not too bad a flight from Delhi on Air India. I have booked myself into a good hotel, in Singapore’s East City where I am getting a whole lot more room for my pound than I would in the city centre. I also booked myself in for last night so I could check straight in and go to my room rather than having to hang about until mid-afternoon to check in. I had barely any sleep in the hotel in Delhi and after 14 hours in the airport, plus 5 half hours of flying I just wanted to lie down in peace. I didn’t leave the hotel until Wednesday. The view from my room was not the most exciting, residential Singapore. Cleaner than India though !

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I have been to Singapore twice before and have seen all the things I want to see. When I decided to leave Delhi I initially thought about other places to go for the three days, but I have a flight booked from Singapore to Brisbane on Friday so it seemed the logical choice. It gives me three days to relax, do a little sightseeing, and unwind from the last couple of days in India.

My first day was spent lounging about in my room, getting laundry done, contacting airlines to cancel flights and seek refunds, editing photos and writing some blog posts. I had dinner in the hotel bar, a nice big juicy burger and a glass of wine. I missed wine when was I was in India!

The following day I ventured out for a couple of hours. I had found the weather in India to be really good, I was in the drier north so there was not a huge amount of humidity and the temperature had been pretty moderate; it had been a lot cooler than I had expected anyway. Not so in Singapore; walking out of the hotel mid-morning was like walking into a sauna. I had forgotten how humid it is here. It was 91% according to my weather app, though only 27 degrees; it could have been a lot worse.

I caught a bus to as close as I could to the Marina, last time I was here I did not make it to the viewing deck on the ‘surfboard’ at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.  I was going to go up but it poured with rain when I arrived and as it was almost closing time I decided not to go up. This time there was no such issue.

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It is quite a long way up!

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The view from the top is spectacular, sadly only one end of the platform is open to the public, so no 360 degree views, but still, it is pretty good. Next time I come to Singapore I will go and explore the botanical gardens below, I love those massive constructed ‘trees’.

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I was not planning on being out for long, I had a Skype call with El mid-afternoon my time, and before she went to work so my list of activities for today was very small, the next objective was to find the recently opened National Art Gallery. I walked around the small Harbour and quickly nipped between the tall blue towers of the finance centre.

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I seemed to have missed this little area of old buildings the last two times I was here, it is really nice, not quite surrounded by towers, though they are standing quietly on the horizon in all directions. The Victoria Theatre.

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The gallery is in two converted court houses.

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I spent quite a bit longer in there than I had planned, it was quite interesting, obviously the focus is on SE Asian art, and a lot of it was very modern, something I do not see much of, I enjoyed it. There was a good view from the roof deck of the Marina Bay sands and the Victoria , dwarfed by the towers in the background.

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I headed back out of the comfort of the air conditioned gallery and back out on to the sticky streets, I was looking for the road I got off the bus on, with the expectation that I could wait on the opposite side to get the bus back. I hadn’t noticed it was a one way street… I did find some street art though. There is not a lot in Singapore, it is strictly illegal unless permission has been granted by the wall owner.

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I ended up getting the metro back towards the hotel, and had to do a 2.5km sweaty power walk back. A lesson for tomorrow; make sure I know the return bus stops.

The following day, Thursday, I ventured back out again, but this time later in the day. I wanted to roam Little India and China Town and then head to the big shopping street of Orchard Rd to get myself a t-shirt and some jeans for Aussie and New Zealand.

I got to Little India OK, I could see a heavy cloud looming as I walked up from the bus stop on Orchard.

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I had just got to the Tekka Centre when the heavens opened and the heaviest rain I have seen in a very long time fell on Singapore; it was probably a small shower by local standards, I took a walk around what seemed like a mall full of saris. I guess it is Little India.

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The heaviest bit of the shower took 15 or so minutes to pass, and it was still raining when I finally left the shelter to continue to my walk through Little India and on to China Town. I was looking for shop houses, some of the old Singapore that has survived the bulldozers and modernisation that is modern Singapore. There are plenty about in this part of town, but there are also a lot of large vans and small trucks about. I did find a couple that I could take photos of, in between the rain drops that fell for the rest of the afternoon.

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I was also looking for some street art, I had read there was some around the north end of China Town. Street art and graf, are definitely not condoned in Singapore, so there is very little around, only on buildings where the owners have given permission, and that seems to be few and far between. Singapore is a very ordered society. I did find some, and I was specifically looking for this piece, though it has been commercialised by the building owner since it was originally painted by Lithuanian artist Earnest Zacharevic.

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I also found a piece on a graffiti wall by Alex Face who has painted in London in recent years.

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The rain started to get quite heavy again and most conveniently I just happened to be walking past one of the very few bars I have seen (naturally it was an Irish bar – name a country without one!) so I stopped in for a beer and to wait out the rain.

I was not far from Orchard Rd, the shopping mecca of Singapore, so headed up there to try and achieve my shopping aims of a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. These seem like quite simple tasks, but I can assure you that if I am not in a shopping ‘zone’ then any form of shopping is no easy task. It took me a while, but I did achieve my goal. I then fled…

But I take a quick detour to Emerald Hill, a small side street from Orchard Rd, which has some lovely old Singapore homes, well it did when I came here five years ago, now they just seem to all be bars – maybe I was in the wrong street, I hope so as I was disappointed in what was there.

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And then there was Christmas. Damn, I was really trying to avoid it so early in the year!

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I caught a very busy late rush hour bus back to the hotel, grabbed some food in the mall over the road and then headed back to my room to get ready for the flight to Australia tomorrow.

I like Singapore, when I first came here I was not that impressed, it seemed too nice, but I have seen a lot more of the world in the five years since. Maybe it was the total contrast to India that appealed to my Virgoan sense of order and tidiness. I did like the noise, chaos and cow shit on the street feel of India, but the order of Singapore sits more easily with me. When El and I next visit New Zealand I will suggest we come via Singapore, I suggested Hong Kong last time as I thought it more interesting than here, but I am not sure if that was really correct. El can be the judge of that!

India, sorry I give up!

Monday 14 November 2016 – Delhi Airport, India.

So, here I am at the airport, awaiting for a flight to Singapore. By now I should be in Mcleod Ganj in the far north of India, spending time with my daughter, Meliesha, but I am not. I am leaving the country, though hopefully not for good.

I had booked a flight via an online agent with SpiceJet to fly from Delhi to Dharamshala a few weeks ago and had a reservation on the 11:35 am flight this morning. I received an email yesterday from the agent reminding me of the flight so expected all would be well when I arrived at the airport this morning at 8:30; I always arrive really early. Once through the queue and at the checkout counter at 9:00 I was informed that my flight had left at 8:50 am. SpiceJet said I had been advised in October of the schedule change. I said I wasn’t and showed them the email I received yesterday showing a time of 11:35. They have refunded the agent the full amount of the flight, I will be pursuing them when I get to Singapore. Not much bloody use to me right now, cash would have been good.

My options were; to spend 100 pounds if I could get a seat on the later Air India flight or wait until tomorrow and fly with SpiceJet and use the refunded amount. Neither appealed. I was over India.

Wonderful as is India is, it is also a frustrating country, even the easy things can be frustrating. Adding in all the hassle with money that the country has experienced this week, and the fact I did not even have enough cash to leave the airport; and there is no cash in any ATM I have found so far,  I decided to just leave. It has finally gotten to me, I am just not enjoying this anymore.

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For just over 200 pounds I am off to Singapore, three days earlier than planned. Of course I will spend a whole load of money staying in Singapore, but at least I will be able to get money to spend !

I spent 14 hours in Delhi airport waiting for the 11pm flight to Singapore. It is not the worst airport in the world to spend time in, but the security is a pain, and getting anywhere within the airport is painfully slow. I met some other tourists leaving the country as well there were a few of us with long waits in the lounge.

So India, not sure what to say. Maddening, frustrating, smelly, dirty, corrupt, caste and class-ridden; but friendly, cheap, and even with all the crap it is an enjoyable place to visit. Hopefully I will come back one day.

An unplanned journey on a bus.

Sunday 13 November 2016 – Delhi, India – Part 2.

Back at the homestay I had a long conversation with the owner, Faiz, about my finances, the money I transferred from my NZ bank account into his had not yet arrived, which I had anticipated would be the case. In the end we swapped contact details and he will let me leave this afternoon even if the payment hasn’t arrived. This is a wonderful gesture that I very gratefully accepted. This was the cause of a bit of stress this morning as had no other way of paying him and no-one has any idea when the money situation would be resolved, weeks probably. At least I could move on. Thanks Faiz, you have reminded me there is good in this world!

My tuk tuk driver was as reliable as ever and picked me up as agreed at 11:00 and we went to see the ‘Baby’ Taj.

The ‘Baby Taj’s real name is the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah and is regarded as a first copy draft of the Taj Mahal, being completed in 1628, four years before the Taj Mahal was started. It also marked the transmission between architectural styles; from the traditional red stone to the new cleaner white marble. I’timad-ud-Daulah was a Persian Emir in exile in India and was the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, who the Taj Mahal was built for. It too is on the bank of the River Yamuna.

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With my finances sorted, at least for the day, I am still broke, but not worrying about paying Faiz was a weight off my mind, I could enjoy my brief time here, it was also significantly more peaceful than its more youthful sibling up the road.

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It is a lovely looking building, essentially the same from all sides, inscribed white marble for the mausoleum and red stone for the out buildings.

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I also took a couple of photos up and down the river, the air had cleared a bit since the early morning, plus we are a bit further away from the centre of Agra where the air is at its worst. As in so many poverty riven countries the river, no matter how filthy it is, is used to do laundry, wash people and a public toilet.

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I enjoyed walking around and investigating the place, I would liked to have taken a guide as I was listening to some other tourists guides and it seemed like there are a few interesting stories to be heard. Finances dictated otherwise.

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A place worth visiting if you are in Agra.

I took my tuk tuk back to the guest house and had an early, final lunch before bidding farewell to Faiz and profusely thanking him yet again for his help, his loan and for letting me leave without the money hitting his account. (It has now and everyone is happy!).

And that was the end of Agra – and the rest of the day pretty much turned to shit after that.

I got to the station really early, I didn’t want to linger awkwardly at Faiz’s so I arrived at the station about 1:30 for my 2:20 train to Delhi. Except it was delayed by 4 ½ hours and was not due to arrive here until after 6:00pm. This was a potential issue, a potential big issue. I was relying on my train arriving at New Delhi station with enough time for me to be able to get the metro to the airport as my hotel was near there. I had barely enough money to get from the airport to the hotel as it was. There was no way I had enough to get from the station. Not knowing what time the metro finished on a Sunday and with a minimum 5 hour journey from Agra I started looking for alternatives.

Naturally in any train station in India, there is someone nearby with an alternative. A man suggested the bus, 6 hours to Delhi, 300 rupees for a non-AC and one leaving in 25 mins. I took it… He took me to the bus station, for a pretty good rate, I am sure he got a good kick back from the bus company, and I was sitting on the filthy 2:00pm bus to Delhi. It was full. It took six hours. Six, dusty, dirty, swaying, bouncing hours. I slowly got more and more stressed as the day went on, as the light disappeared and I had no idea how far away from anything the bus station was. It was not a pleasant trip. To be fair, it was far from the worst bus trip I have ever taken, and if it wasn’t for the money thing it would have been fine. It was never going to be fun though!

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We arrived at the bus station in Delhi about 8:00pm. Thankfully the pollution in Delhi was not at the levels it was when I arrived and it was merely bad. I was jumped on by tuk tuk drivers before I even left the bus and was quoted 400 rupees to the nearest metro station. I showed them the content of my wallet which had 280 rupees in it and got a 200 rupee ride…

I still had no idea what I was going to do, or how much the metro to the airport was going to be, or what I would do once I got to the airport. I knew that from New Delhi Station the ride to the airport would be 60 rupees, so I was praying the ride to that station would be 20 rupees or less. It was 12 ! Yes !! I could have kissed the ticket man!

The Delhi metro is fantastic, clean, efficient and fairly straightforward to work out, no worse than the one in Valencia anyway. I arrived in Delhi Station about 8:30 and was wandering around vacantly trying to find my platform. I spotted an ATM with a big queue at it, a queue was a good sign, most of the ones I had seen had no queue – meaning no cash. I walked up to the queue, and the policeman at the front waved me straight in, effectively queue jumping like at the banks. I hated doing it, but was utterly relieved. I could only get 1000 rupees, but 1000 Rupees !!! it was like magic. The stress just fell off, if I did not have a heavy backpack on my back and a heavy camera bag on my front I would have jumped for joy.

The ride to the airport was a breeze, as was the taxi ride to my hotel, which cost 500 rupees. I would have been stuffed if I had not seen that ATM. In the end I made the correct choice, the last metro to the airport was 11:00pm, I would never have got there in time if I caught the delayed train.

The Hotel Aura is the most expensive place I stayed in India at 22pounds a night. It was also the worst. Don’t stay there people! Noisy, dirty and there was no hot water. I was craving a hot shower. It was 9:30pm. I ordered a beer and then went to bed, no dinner.

It was one hell of a day, but I made it to the final destination, as always !

Tomorrow doesn’t get any better…..