A Travellerspoint blog

Update from Killarney - several days worth!

overcast 10 °C

8-4-6
Up early to grab a quick bit of toast and farewell to Iris who has been so kind to us, helping me to look after Miriam who is now starting to feel a little better but still not breathing as freely as one would like. Iris dropped us at the Daventry bus station in time to catch the local double decker bus back to Northampton. Again, having organised tickets for the next leg of National Express travel by SMS, only needed to flash my I-mate handheld at the driver to gain admittance to the Northampton to Birmingham leg.
At Birmingham, site of the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution, the mood of hopelessness in the people’s faces lives on even as they stuff their faces with more chips. Even the Halal food shops at the Bullring (Birmingham’s market area) serve up every dish with an ample lashing of chips. England must take a goodly portion of the world’s potato crops as a constant thing. Guards in the shopping centres move people on who stand still for more than a minute – making window shopping a more on the go affair than in Australia.
After a couple of hours exploring around the market area – where medieval cathedral, sculpture of crusading knight up on high., jostles space age design shopping centre- we returned to the grimy bus station and boarded the coach for a lengthy leg down and to the west, into south Wales. This trip allowed us a lengthy and leisurely view of the varied and wondrous Welsh scenery, starting with the rolling Malvern Hills, glimpses of strong flowing rivers such as the Wye that accompanied the road part of the way, ancient castles intact and ruined, coal mining machinery perched atop green hills, and finally bringing us into Pembroke, past Pembroke castle’s high and imposing walls. I asked the bus driver if he went as far as the ferry terminal, and confusingly he said no. For as he called out “Pembroke” nobody much wanted to get out of the bus, and it then appeared there was another stop to go. So, at last we were dropped in the darkness outside the compulsory Tesco supermarket. Grabbing a yoghurt or two against the possibility the hotel kitchen would be closed, we froze on the streets until after a couple of phone calls to local cabbies we were able to get one and the taciturn driver charged us only 2.40 pound to go about a half mile up the hill. At least he knew where he was going, and with M’s breathing it would have been a difficult task to find the hotel.

The hotel itself was overrun with drunken Welsh Guards (retired long, long ago by the looks of them) , and they brought with them a faint smell of old urine. The décor was not so much retro 1960s as still actual 1960s, with Chartreuse walls in the stuffy hallways, and curtain and bedspread patterns that have surely not been updated since around 1970. However, clean enough, and the staff friendly and helpful enough and at a fair price.

9/04/2006

Consulted the PC and suddenly noticed that the ferry booking confirmation indicated NEXT Sunday, not today….. problem! Resolved to get down to the ferry terminal as early as possible to try to sort it out. Very cold walk through a Dylan Thomas Welsh village scene, with shop windows full of old ratty knick knacks one can’t imagine anyone buying. Light lunch at the Maypole Diner, taking up the offer of the only options without chips, baked beans or spaghetti on toast.

Thence to the ferry terminal, a wait until 11am when the ticket office opened, and fired up the computer to show the woman the details I had, explaining that the guy who took the booking over the phone had stuffed it up. After a few minutes exploring her computer system she was willing to understand the position and wrote up a paper ticket (the printer being down) and we were allowed to take up places on the Irish Ferry.

The Ferry large and not at all crowded, so we were able to catch a quick nap lying on the lounges. Passengers feeding constantly, like chip powered sharks, and the shipping company gouging them with prices almost double those on shore. Memo to travellers: buy up a sandwich or two and a drink before you board. The crossing smooth and untroubled from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare harbour taking about four hours and only 42 pounds one way for the both of us.

Once ashore, found there was still one local bus heading towards the hotel I had booked a room at for the night. Bought tickets from the bus counter and hung around bored for almost an hour. As the appointed hour approached, we went outside and a drunk staggered up and asked a nonsensical question, and after finding we were from Oz , just had to tell us all about his relations in Cronulla and the text messages he had received about it and so on. Before we realised, the bus that had been sitting in the car park area suddenly slammed its door and took off – just as the penny dropped that that was our bus. Despite dashing after it, it sailed off into the distance. Immediately a cold Irish rainstorm burst around us, and we toiled up a steep hill dragging our bags behind us, not in the best of moods.

Seeking a way to move on, tried thumbing a ride – ludicrous for our age group of course, with bags atow. Then tried to ring a cab with a number supplied by the petrol station girl – no answer, leave a voice mail. Eventually ducked into a hotel and asked for another taxi number at reception, who explained “ Oh that number, I know for a fact he’s not working today.” Got an answer on the alternative number and within 15 mins a large van , no taxi light atop, rolled up, and we bundled our dampened selves within. “You’re not in a hurry, are you?” says the driver, and so he stopped off and waited for fifteen minutes while some dart players finished their drinks having been plaything in some local darts championship. Then we rushed through darkened rural lanes to what appeared to be the next stage of the dart players’ pub-crawl.

That done, and having had the whole lifestory of his kids and his Australian connections, we were dropped at the Quality Hotel 20 minutes after the kitchen had shut, so unable to get any supper. A packet of cheese and onion crisps for Miriam and a pint of guiness for me. Dog tired by this stage, the air cold and wet, into a comfortable bed but terribly overheated room making sleep elusive for a while.

10-4-6
Next morning in a dining room over run by children managed a giant Irish breakfast in preparation for our first day of seeing the land of some of our forefathers. Decided to organise a hire car as public transport thin and rare in this land. Thanks to the mobile able to line up an Opal Corsa in the town of Wexford, which reception told me was “exactly two miles, straight up the hill and keep going”. What I didn’t know was that the car hire firm, the local Opal distributor was actually on the far side of town, so it took more like and hour or more of walking, plus half an hour of form filling and waiting for the car to be cleaned from the last hirer, before I could take it. Rang the Quality Hotel, who put ;me through to Miriam so I could get her to pack up and await my return with the car without infringing the required check out time.

At last we were away and spent a pleasant day motoring around the south east, pausing in Dungraven for a very pleasant meal at a Pakistani restaurant of all things, overlooking an inlet that was remarkably reminiscent of Port Fairy. By then, darkness was beginning to fall and the need for finding a roof for the night was upon us. Figured we would try a B & B of which the roads hold an endless number. Without much forethought I saw one called “Maple Leaf” and though that sounded OK. Rang the doorbell, was greeted by an elderly lady who asked 65 euros for the night for a room with ensuite. Sounded OK to me. Once inside though, the décor was somewhat scary, filled with knick knacks , old crystal, china bulls, a glass table held up by four rearing brass horses, and various other items calculated to give you the willys. Beautiful view from the bedroom window of the shore arcing away in the distance, and the lights of Dungraven spread out below like fallen stars. Insufficient compensation, however, for we had made our bed….. and it was a worn out and somewhat smelly one at that, with a heavy old eiderdown that may or may not have been laundered in the last century.

Worse, I was now going down hard with the same respiratory bug that had attacked Miriam and spent the night in a hot and cold sweat. The shower eccentric – triggered by pulling a string switch in the roof – and the whole arrangement cramped and lacking in privacy. Lesson: don’t say yes till you’ve had a look at the room.

11-4-6
After a fitful night of troubled dreams, tossing and turning, we rose and found that our host had done her best to make a good breakfast, with little bowls of freshly cut fruit, more eggs than we could possibly eat, and looked hurt when we couldn’t finish it. We got the hell out of there as soon as we could, and drove to
Cork in search of some warmer clothes as both of definitely feeling under equipped for the very changeable weather, warm and sunny one moment, freezing rain finding its way down your neck the next. Miriam found a cardigan she liked in one shop, and the shop lady explained how to find Marks & Spencer, where we found another couple of garments that would keep us warm enough.

Continuing on out of Cork to the west, without the benefit of a map I found the way to Killarney, as the terrain became more hilly, the peaks barren of vegetation and more scenic by the mile. This time we selected accommodation with care, rejecting the first place we looked at, that wanted 140 euros for the night, and that I afterwards noticed had started its life as a Presentation Monastery, no wonder it had an unfriendly feel. Almost next door, Murphy’s Hotel offered us a room at 90 euros the night with breakfast, and after viewing the room and confirming its cleanliness, accepted it. Both of us feel in need of a peaceful night’s sleep without having to deal with people.

Dined at the bar forming part of the hotel, standard pub grub but quite acceptable. TV mostly in Irish in the hotel rooms but who cares, the bed is huge and comfortable and reception turned on the heating in the room remotely when I asked how it worked..
Plan for tomorrow is to drive the Ring of Kerry which is reputed to be the most scenic in Ireland and full of a rich array of archaeological sites.

I’ll try and upload the details of these last few days to the blog but not much Net access this way, quite pricy compared to say London. This will have to wait till morning when the Internet cafes open again.

Posted by piepers 01:56 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Several days went by, and here's what happened.....

semi-overcast 10 °C

2-4-6
Settled on spending two days in Miriam's ancestral lands, Dorset and Devon. Very limited options for a roof for one's head available by Net booking - this still being a relatively
low tech area. No wireless LANs visible around here! Selected the Hensleigh Hotel, Lower Sea lane, Charmouth, a glorified B & B that calls itself a hotel because you can get a drink.

Unfortunately to stay at England's only nationally significant geological site, famous for its Jurassic and Triassic strata teeming with fossils, a premium is imposed. Still, 200
english pounds is pretty savage for two days. Cleanliness and a modest degree of comfort, such as pillows thicker than 10 millimetres and a shower capable of washing the human body apparently create a much higher rate of gouging.

As for getting here, I found that buses were the only option, with several connections required. National Express busline is willing to sell you tickets through a phone call with ticketing details sent to your mobile by SMS, which you then show to the driver who waves
you aboard. Before departing from Victoria Coach Station (a short distance from Victoria Tube station), we had walked across London from the Kensington Edwardian, through the Royal Boroughs, past the Sloan Square yuppy shopping precint,where shop workers stepped around sleeping homeless men in the indented entrance to a high fashion retailer. With frequent monitoring of our progress on a detailed map, we made it to the coach station with an hour
or so to spare. Found that here you could actually buy food that didn't make you feel as greasy and befouled as the standard London fare. Particulary recommend the samosas available at the first store as you walk in the entrance.
Once aboard, the journey was soon underway but had not progressed more than a hundred metres before striking a total traffic gridlock, rumoured to be caused by some kind of boat race
happening on the Thames. No kidding, it took an hour and three quarters just to reach the M4 motorway and get above 5km/hr.Passed houses formerly lived in by Sylvia Pankhurst and
Hilaire Belloc. In fact many famous people had lived in this street, according to the profusion of circular blue plaques.

The bus drivers were in disarray, with following connections having to be rearranged on the fly. There was much discussion over mobiles between drivers and base, with buses being redirected to take passengers hither and thither. After one more bus change,we were dropped off at Dorchester. This ancient town is better known under its fictional representation in Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge". It has wonderful ancient stone cottages, Keeps, walls that have stood for a thousand years or more. But the folk at the railway station didn't know where Charmouth, our destination, was located; it required a forensic examination of the atlas to confirm that if we walked 10 metres to the bus station and waited for the number 31, it would pass Charmouth in its journey.

As we pondered the lack of timetable, the lack of even a notice as to what bus line operated here, in rolled the alleged number 31, with a driver as jolly as an extra in a Hardy crowd scene. At one stop, a sour faced harridan climbed aboard and asked " You going to Weymouth?"
"No, I'm going to Axminster, that's why it says so on the front of the bus."
For three pounds 20 (you wouldn't have the 20p, would you?) each, this ride was a lovely panoramic ride into the past, through green rolling hills and splended vistas of the distant sea. Not being quite sure where to get off, and noting that in a series of towns there had been only one stop by the bus, I pressed the stop button as we rolled into Charmouth's town limits. As luck would have it, the turn off we needed was only a hundred metres or so further along.

After submitting to the rude financial discipline of the future Mrs Fawlty and being shown to our room, we strolled down to the windswept, pebbly Charmouth beach, watching the sea mists flailed by a constant gale against the soft and crumbling cliffs. This is an area where intact Ichthyosaurus heads and other fossilised bones have been found often, and you can see in local fences where many prize specimens have been pried out and ripped off by the unscrupulous. Once so common, the fossils are now not so easy to find, but the locals keenly promote visitors to come and enjoy them. The protective attitude is reserved for automobiles, with signs warning thieves that they may just find that the car in the car park they are intent on stealing is a police honey pot set to entrap them in the act.

Very light dinner: yoghurt and fruit and choc biscuits. Not willing to spend another 40 pounds for another over fatty meal with chips over everything. Brrr! Will have an early night in comfort and go for a long walk tomorrow to Lyme Regis.

3-4-6
Miriam awoke early, the sun was already kind of up, so we went for a quick walk down to Charmouth beach. Beautiful sunny day, perhaps the upside of global warming for the UK. What is hard to get used to is the sudden variability of temperature; when the sun goes behind a
cloud it is almost like a ghost has walked across you, you shiver and hurry to put on a jacket, and just as soon you are tearing it off in a hot sweat.

Signs warned of the danger of walking to Lyme Regis along the beach, with a huge area of clifftop having collapsed not so long ago, mudslides from the cliffs, and powerful tides that could cut you off with nowhere to go but into the drink. Decided to take the land route instead, of course preparing ourselves with a hearty breakfast prepared by Sybil Fawlty and her minions. I like a good coffee, but the cafetiere (so pompously described in the menu) was so loaded with caffeine that I was wide eyed and almost shaky.

Back to the beach to begin our walk, we checked out the fossils in the beachside shop.
There were some fascinating examples mainly of ammonites (ancestors of the squids of today), small fish like creatures, and the prize icthyasaurus heads, a crocodile like creature of the distant past). On the whole, though, the local fossils were outnumered by imported
examples from such non-local sources as Madagascar. Always check the provenance of your fossils, lads.

We set off on the signposted walking route, shortly finding that due to the mudslides mentioned above, the original route had been deviated from, lengthening the walk from 2 and a half to about 3 miles each waY. Walking through the cottage lined street out of
Charmouth, we encountered a village plod (policeman) sussing out a rather suss looking character who could have picked up a role as an extra in the Bill. Mr Plod glanced at us, dismissed us as mere tourists and went on his way. We saw him again a few minutes later
parked on the side of the road, and again on the road on our way back from Lyme Regis. I can't believe there is much crime going on here.

The path continued along the road, then turned into woodland lined with hundreds of years of leafmould, with a pathway mired in mud in parts, requiring careful navigation along the edge. Then across the Charmouth golf course, with many an elderly golfer kindly waving us
across the airway before wacking their tiny white balls.After the golf course, the path followed the roadways that seemed thick with diesel fumes making us gasp until turning again into quiet wooded pathways. We made our variation to the route deviation, tramping across some very muddy patches and glimpsing splendid coastal views. It really is a very pretty seascape.

Reaching the outskirts of Lyme REgis, we wandered through the old graveyard, surpisngly finding few graves older than the mid nineteenth century. None of Miriam's relatives in evidence. The town sits on several steep inclines that make it hard to see where you're going but we eventually found our way down the main street lined with houses built in the 1600s.

The street so narrow that cars are formally obliged to wait for the oncoming traffic to pass them before advancing. Liked the Hong Kong Chinese restaurant with its menu sticky taped to the ancient glass, the Chinese characters somewhat out of place against the architecture.Excellent lunch at a cafe overlooking the harbour, at last some green leafy salad, which had seemed elusive at most food vendors. Beneath the stonework of the main harbour front area, an innovative sewage water storage and treatment facility has been incorporated, preventing sea pollution and keeping up the venerable feel of the area. The streets full of tiny shops offering ice creams cornets, chips in paper cones, locally made fudge and lollies, small children darting around everywhere, lots of animation and colour.

We tried to commence the walk back to Charmouth along the beach, but the large pebbles that stressed our ankles as we walked, and the uncertainty of the tide - is it coming in or going out? - led us to retrace our steps to the land route.

Back at Charmouth, after a doze in front of the tele - remarkably free of American product - we chose to have an evening drink and a meal at the George Hotel, named after one of those

Georgian kings, I think Geo V, c. 1911? Enjoyed seeing some of the local folk, families

playing snooker, a man taking his mum's dog to the pub with him (fine dog you've got there, I said to him), old friends doing what they clearly do as a regular pastime. Friendly atmosphere, despite furnishings on the wall that looked like they might have knocked off a few heads in their time. Back to our digs for a relaxing bath, rang Miriam's relation in the Midlands to arrange a visit up there tomorrow. Iris, who has not even yet met us, proved delightfully welcoming and proposes to meet us from wherever we can get to near her

place by public transport tomorrow. Must be out of this joint by 7.15am tomorrow so early

to bed tonight.

4-4-6
Out on to the cold high street of Charmouth by 7.30 to await the 7.43 bus. It's that one, or

wait four hours for the next one that goes back to Dorchester Sth rail station. At the last

minute find I still have Mrs Fawlty's room key. With the bus drivers indulgence I drop it

off on the unattended counter of the general store, while the shopkeepers are busy out the

back with their baking for the day. Hopefully it will find its way back to Hensleigh House.

A picturesque misty early morning showed the green hills of Dorset dotted with black faced

and shaggy sheep, and we were soon standing in the frosty chill of the bus stop. Our

connection back to London arrived on time and delivered us safely to Victoria Coach stn

where we needed to figure our next move. National Coachlines offered Northampton as the

closest destination, but falsely supposed that a local train would take us the rest of the

way. In fact, once at Northampton the only option was the local double decker bus, that

weaved its way through stonelined laneways via a roundabout route, through standstill

traffic and with a couple of phone contacts with Iris eventually spotted her patiently

awaiting us at the bus terminus.

After a natter and a rest, Iris walked us down to the Canal Boat business before dark,

which was bigger in scope than expected, up to sixteen boats lined up along the stretch of

canal. She showed us the "Malvern" and explained she was happy for us to take it for a run

for a couple of days - to depart tomorrow morning. A brisk walk up to the pub for a hearty

dinner and a couple of drinks and we were ready for a kip. Iris kindly putting us up in the

most comfortable digs we've had so far in old Blighty. Best sleep, with back spasms almost

completely gone now.

5-4-6
Iris introduced us to son Tim, who showed me the ropes of skippering a narrowboat on the

canal. After ten minutes of tutelage, he seemed confident enough that I could handle it,

and jumped off onto the bank to walk back. I'd decided to head towards Napton on the Hill

because it offered a long stretch with no locks to navigate - and this proved a relatively

easy run. Diesel engine, forward and reverse, throttle, and a couple of ropes to secure the

vessel to the bank wherever one chose to stop.

Along the way we saw many different narrow boats, some painted up with folksy art and bright

colours, some with rough sheds and gypsy style dwellings on the banks. Plenty of boat

dwelling dogs, and even a few cats - one boat had mesh over the front of it, from where a

proud ginger moggy acted as the the figurehead of the vessel, while two big black dogs at

the rear of the boat confronted two large white swans who were not a bit concerned.

Thankfully Tim has tipped me off about the basic courtesies of narrow boating. If a vessel

is approaching, pull to the right. First one to a bridge has right of way. If you see a

potential trouble spot, like three boats entgering a narrow stretch and heading for a

narrower passage beneath a bridge, throw her into neutral and exercise some patience. So,

no "canal rage" incidents, which do, apparently, happen now and then.

After about three and a half hours we reached Napton, where the sign for the "Folly" Pub

indicated "Last Pub for Five Hours".
Beyond, we would have had to go through seven ascending locks and after being at the tiller

for some time I was feeling knackered and ready to stop for the night.

The way of the canal appears to be that you park your boat in line with all the other visitors to the locality, within an easy walk of the pub. Some retirement age couples seem to drift around the canal system much like in Australia people take off in their motorhomes and drive around the whole nation.

As the afternoon wore on Miriam started feeling chilled and in respiratory distress. She went to bed and slept fitfully for thirteen hours, giving me time to read an entire novel that was in the end not worth reading but passed the time. Cooked up a Croque Monsieur in the galley but M could not eat anything.

6-4-6
Prepared to commence the journey back with Miriam not in a good way. Apart from handing a cup of coffee up to Captain Shane at the tiller once, she again fell into a feverish sleep. Once back at Braunston, Iris rang the local medical centre and we took M to get some antibiotics, as the doc confirmed a lung infection. She is now sleeping peacefully and hopefully will be right again in a day or two. But is she well enough to cope with going further north, to Scotlan? Mmmmm.... just don't know yet, and yet I will have to make some kind of forward bookings. Anyhow, the focus for the time being it to get M well again.

Posted by piepers 08:25 Archived in England Comments (0)

London 2

overcast 12 °C

We decided another day in London would be needed to see anything like a decent sampling of a city that is overwhelmingly large and diverse. Although our hotel concierge made a couple of calls to his buddy around the corner who has a similar establishment, we needed to find somewhere to stay for the night. Tracked down an Internet cafe upstairs from Earls Court Rd, enquired about connecting by wireless. "No wireless" declared the young African lady guarding the entrance to this crowded little cyber space. "Cable?" I countered.
"OK. One pound an hour." And soon I was busily and increasingly anxiously viewing some very expensive hotel options, and was about to give in when I found one place just a few hundred metres away that was actually a fiver cheaper than where we had been staying.

The new place styles itself as an Edwardian hotel, which is probably the era in which it last had a refurbishment. It is part of a graceful row of high terraces and backs onto a charming old cobblestoned mews. And, several unsecured wireless access points declared themselves as I started up the laptop, making me feel like it won't be so hard to plan our next move tomorrow. On presenting our visages at reception, the on-line deposit I had paid by credit card had not even reached their system, which was down for the count.
Fortunately, although I had not been able to print the receipt, I had saved it on my laptop, so fired it up then and there and managed to convince them that I had a legitimate booking, albeit at a cheaper rate than they seemed to expect. Lesson: take stock, calm down, research the options, before taking a less than optimum choice.

Relieved at sorting out a room, in the early afternoon we headed off to check out the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe theatre, on the south bank of the Thames. This is really worth seeing, made from a thousand oak trees held together with wooden pegs, and with a roof made of Norfolk reeds that birds just don't like to sit on. Now as long as you could fashion a wig from that stuff the statues would not suffer as much from bird attack. The details of the theatre's construction , from the heavens to the area in front of the five foot high stage where the "groundlings" paid their penny to drink and carouse through the performance.

Further along, Tower Bridge and London Bridge came into view, the Tower surprisingly beautiful to look at despite its grim history. We kept our distance; the crown jewels remained intact, although I realised that my belt was fully undone and had been for a couple of hours since I had last heard the cry of nature. A long search for somewhere to eat that had some vego options ended with giving in to a fish restaurant tucked behind a cathedral and beside a steel roofed open market much like South Melbourne market in appearance. Food again badly cooked and expensive: 50p more than a room for the night. You can eat at modest price in London, but you will be living on sandwiches, prepacked and infested with the evil and omnipresent "salad cream". The cafes are run by non-English predominantly, but they have caved in to the demand for "chips wiv everything". Go to Tesco and get some fruit at least, the EU provides a good range of real food and the English just don't seem to get it.

Both of us now almost adjusted to being on the far side of the world, though Miriam very tired tonight after going for an early morning walk. I will stop now, as I think my keyboard pecking is stopping her from settling. Come to think of it, I might just join her. Tomorrow I may even manage to upload some pictures of the journey so far. Goodnight for now: in the land of Oz you are probably about ready to get up and start your day.

Posted by piepers 12:12 Archived in England Comments (0)

London

After a nonchalant goodbye from Liam and Sean and a trip out to the airport courtesy of seasoned travellers Chris and Sandra (who did their own European Trip last year at almost exactly the same time of year) we checked in to get our boarding passes. First sight of an Emirates staff member - who seemed to have an extremely multicultural crew. The red pillbox hat with a piece of fabric hanging off one side seems a silly compromise with the cover-up approach to the human face; it conceals nothing and seems to get in the way of working, leading to a testiness of attitude among the hostesses several hours into the flight. Several staff members seemed to be happy to remove the hatgear and wear only a red scrunchie to maintain order on the back of their heads.

Although several people had recommended Emirates on the basis of superior service, I only saw this being extended to the business class passengers. These included remnants of the SCottish commonwealth games athletes and officials, some Braveheart sized giants among them, and one could only conclude that they might have staged a rebellion if they had been forced into the seats we economy class people languished upon. On the other hand, compared to the boredom of listening to Qantas staff gossip amongst themselves, the entertainment options provided by Emirates is pretty good. Each seat has its own small LCD screen (image quality not too bad, but every screen I looked at had more dead pixels than there ought to be), and a panoply of choices of audio and visual entertainment. Before absolute fatigue took over, watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Recommendation: stop the series now before it gets any worse. Our hero needs to be pre-pubescent not awkward adolescent.
Instructions for the screen were difficult to understand, but the seat and a half worth of dour scot to the left of us reached a paw over and stabbed at a button that enlivened the screen. After that, I could figure out the rest.

After about seven and a half hours we reached Singapore, which was then a steamy 28C, but seemed ever so much more oppressive than I have ever felt 28c to be. While Miriam enjoyed a cigarette in the (inside) smoking lounge, a long, long walk from the transit lounge, I went to the toilet. A uniformed guard stood inside the entrance, giving a hard look at every person coming in. I took a leak in a cubicle and soon understood what was happening. This was the Toilet Police. Every time someone came out of the cubicle, his job was to step into the cubicle and verify that flushing had been performed. I remember reading somewhere that it is a finable offence to leave a public toilet unflushed, and here is someone earning a living from this legislation. Memo: Centrelink should be informed of the job creation possibilities for our own country. Strange introduction to Singapore's attitude, which seems to be even more than ever that the individual must be controlled and badgered into conformist ways. It is now on my list of less than preferred destinations.

BAck on the plane and my back is now aching badly, courtesy of a foolish dare-take to see how fast I could pedal on an exercise bike with the brake on quite hard. Aggravated an old injury and now suffering especially since confined to the airplane seat. No comfortable position possible, so from time to time have to get up, walk down the aisle, do a few stretches, find out how quickly several hundred people can befoul the toilet facilities, and marvel at the sheer length of the flying machine taking us across the world. Looking along the aisle, it seemed certainly well able to accommodate a cricket match.

Whatever the hour of the day or night, the policy seemed to be to rigidly deliver meals to the passengers as a means of keeping them captive in their seats. The Non-carnivorous passengers were always fed first - up to an hour later those with no special dietary needs were fed. And once a tray was in place, no-one beyond that point in the row could possibly get out. Then the dirty tray would be left with the, say Vegetarian, until the carnivores trolley had been wheeled out to totally block the aisles. So basically you were trapped, unable to even get out to the toilets, for over three quarters of the journey. Attempts to leave one's seat earned rebukes from cabin staff who later informed us they were stuggling with three staff members under complement, and many of the rest very recent starters who had not been adequately trained. Stephanie, if you are reading this, although a wide range of "special dietary foods" are available, what was presented to Miriam was inedible and basically bailed out of her body at the earliest opportunity. And for the meat eater, the story was not much better. All in all, the reality remains: airline food is very, very bad and virtually impossible to digest. And as you cannot carry foods with you because of quarantine laws, I don't know what option you have. I spent an hour on the phone a few days prior to leaving trying to get through to the Emirates office to specify Vegetarian meals for Miriam, but despite that the meals came out addressed to Mr M Gregory.

By the end of the second leg of the journey, a refuelling stop in Dubai, we were feeling wrecked. Here we were clearly the foreigners, and we were among a cultural milieu of which we had little knowledge and less understanding. Here the smoking lounge was a small area holding a large machine breathing in the smoke from exhaling smokers, while the non-smoking world went on around them. Miriam and a few other western ladies entered this tiny sanctum with a tight crowd of swarthy gentlemen puffing avidly on foul smelling fags.

Beyond, columns of palms inside the building, gilded everything, and duty free stores bulging with alcohol and luxury goods completed the picture. It would be helpful to know a little Arabic here, as the English signposting on TV monitors tends to show Arabic only - not helpful for reading flight numbers and gate numbers especially.

Anyhow, London awaited us, and after about 27 hours travelling time from Melbourne, with about two hours sleep between us, we staggered out of heathrow almost hysterical from tiredness. Found our way down the ramp to the railway station and used our credit card to buy tickets direct to the city, including the tube connection to get us to Earl's Court, the closest station to our hotel. The ride was fast, clean, and safe, with a conductor who comes around and checks tickets- giving anyone who hasn't a ticket the chance to buy one on the spot. Full marks to London Transport. Connex, send some of your useless managers over here to see how well run a mass transport system can be.

The hotel I had picked from an Internet search, the West Cromwell Hotel, had given clear instructions on how to walk the several hundred meters from the station, and we soon found our way there. It is when you have to carry your bags up several flights of narrow stairs at the tube station that you confirm your resolution to keep the contents as light as possible was correct. They seem to have doubled in weight since the beginning of the journey. The tiniest elevator I have ever travelled in took us to the third floor of what is basically a large terrace house among a whole block of similar buildings. Our room, number 16, overlooks a severely truncated old tree in the backyard of the hotel, and a much nicer garden in back of the house next door. Different birds sing, some sweetly, despite the general lack of trees or any vegetation. The streets are lined with building all of three to five or so storeys, like Legoland, the designs are limited and repeat themselves from block to block. You can clearly see the architectural approach in the way Sydney's inner city is laid out.

The room itself is small but adequate, with a panel heater in front of the window on all the time. The fluctuations in temperature here seem to happen suddenly, so you are always putting on or taking off clothes trying to get it right. A layered approach, as for Melbourne in the springtime, is probably the best option. At about four or five PM London time, we felt so knackered we layed down, and a Panadeine or two knocked me out enough to calm the muscle spasms in my lower back. We woke a couple of times, but before we knew it the sky was lightening and we were ready to see a bit of London.

The "Continental Breakfast" of juice, cornflakes scooped from a communal bowl, and tea and toast, was just about all we wanted. A mezzanine floor squeezed above the ground floor lets you sit and eat breakfast while peeking out the fanlight above the front door.

Hyde Park and the Serpentine lured us to stroll along to see the Peter Pan statue paid for by JM Barrie, and we enjoyed a decent coffee at the Lido pavillion at the water's edge. Continuing towards the city centre, we found ourselves amid the crowd at the gates of Buckingham Palace, waiting for the changing of the guard. Apart from one guy with a machine gun, security seemed quite lax. Plenty of Metropolitan Police yelling instructions at the tourists to get back, though. Satisfied with a glimpse of the Buck Palace Gates, we continued on through St James Park (courtesy of Henry VIII), past Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, and across the Thames.

Fortified by a cup of Miso and Bean Curd and a few spring rolls, we ventured into the Dali Exhibition which was quite fascinating and tiring to engage with, there being about 500 works to view. Classics including the Lobster Telephone, large bronzes such as Venus des Tiroirs (Venus with drawers pulled out from the head and body) and works from a wide range of media were featured. Dali classic icons like the melting watch, the spindly legged elephant, and ants were everywhere. Then downstairs, if you hadn't had enough art, there was an exhibition of several phases of Picasso's evolution. Some lovely pieces from the earlier Blue period, and some ceramics that could have come out of the local CAE class.

Now back at the hotel having a wee rest before deciding what to do next. So, more later!

Posted by piepers 23:54 Archived in England Comments (0)

Ready

sunny 30 °C

two hours to go till Chris kindly collects us despite his labours in the Abyss of Alzheimers and scoots us out to Melbourne airport. It has been a flurry of decisions about what to leave out more than what to pack. Goodbye visits to Mum and many friends in the past few days, and getting Liam and Sean organised to be self sufficient for a while. Geting a bit nervous now, the prospect of a long, long flight somewhat daunting. Excited to be almost on the way, though.
More later, got lots to do.

Posted by piepers 19:30 Archived in Australia Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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