tails in 2 cities

February 26, 2009

Brisbane – Sydney 23rd – 27th February

Brisbane 23rd-24th
Brisbane schools returned from their summer break today…we could hear the cheering and orchestrated chanting as the one school met their teachers again.; a High school celebrated with a swimming meet and we met another group in the art gallery where I had an awkward moment when a pupil called for “Miss!” and I turned to answer!

Brisbane was far too hot and we hid in the gallery enjoying aboriginal art and in the library investigating travel books until it was cool enough to explore the botanical gardens. We were a little under whelmed by Brisbane (I suspect the heat) so we spent our second day at Steve Irwin‘s Australia Zoo. The Irwin Family appear to be national icons – there was a memorial shrine of Steve’s signature khaki shirts which had all been signed by sympathetic people and the children feature in animal videos shown all over the place as well as lots of merchandise. However, it’s obvious that the man did an awful lot and there was a very strong educational conservational theme to all aspects of the zoo. It was beautifully laid out; there were scores of rangers wandering round with pythons, wombats, birds, dingoes, koalas etc for anyone to stroke, touch etc and they gave out lots of information(did you know that snakeskin is made of the same material as our nails?); we saw 4 of the 5 most venomous snakes in the world (did you know that the top 4 all lived in Australia?) , we fed elephants (did you know that they get really bored?), stroked giant tortoises (did you know that their necks were more wrinkled than mine?) and kangaroos (did you know one of them tried to box Eddie?) and kept a respectful distance from the many seriously scary crocs and the cassowaries (did you know they can ‘unzip‘ a person with their claws?) …but the very best bit was the tigers. After the concern about how the big cats were kept caged in Beijing we sat for ages watching 2 massive teenage tigers playing with their trainer in a pool. Imagine 2 kittens playing with a ball of string….that total focus and athletic grace…now multiply the size and potential ferocity many, many times and imagine these tigers jumping after a blow up ball trapped inside a blue plastic milk crate….it was a glorious hour.

Sydney 24th-26thEasy flight…booked a cheap last minute.com surprise hotel (where you don’t know which hotel you will end up in) and found ourselves in an Ibis on Darling Harbour – we are still lucky!

Sydney is cool – literally and metaphorically – it’s cloudier, there’s a breeze and the temperature has dropped – which makes a pleasant change. Eddie was poisoned by a prawn which limited us a little but we still managed a day and a half’s frantic activity;-

We discovered a new artist at the Museum of Modern Art – Yayoi Kamura – mirror sculptures; soft cloud installation; hypnotic patterns. We were shut in a small cupboard with tiny lights and water reflecting my claustrophobia!

We travelled on the ferry and saw boats of all shapes and sizes, including war ships, submarines, tall ships and even the Queen Mary 2 which most of Sydney turned out to see (it is really huge).

We craned our necks to see the Coat hanger (the Harbour Bridge) and the plaque underneath ; “Pauline and Garth Clayton climbed here” – we envied them the experience!

We took photos of the Opera House and appreciated the shape and colour until we realized that this was where those dreadful tiles from the Arndale Centre ended up.

We wandered the Botanical Gardens reading the signs urging us to hug a tree…..and we heard more screeching Grey Headed Flying Foxes as they waited for dusk. The Botanical Society is trying out “humane ways of discouraging these massive bats” because while they help pollination, there are too many of them. Eddie suggested they play them the new Lily Allen song.

We walked through Victorian arcades which were far more beautiful than the contents of the designer shops where they celebrated Barbie Day by doing ‘professionals will make you up to look like Barbie’ sessions – a snip at $99.

We loved the intimacy of the harbour area…the old and modern buildings are jam packed together to create a perfect harmony – so much is going on, the people are vibrant/ energetic – it has a real buzz.

We watched TV news which showed a Great White Shark caught in Sydney Harbour – presumably the one which bit off someone’s finger last week. I also caught only 30 silent seconds of Neighbours so I can‘t provide any spoilers but I am reliably informed that the UK now knows that Bridget is pregnant . I am profoundly shocked by this news so when we finally get to Melbourne I will be applying for a Sex and Relationship Education post at Erinsborough High – the teenage Neighbours clearly need advice about safe sex.

 

sydney-view

 

oz one

February 22, 2009

Australia – we arrive February 15th for 3 weeks

Stage 1 Cairns to Brisbane Feb 15th– 25th)

Cairns (February 15th– 17th)

1.Mossam Gorge Rainforest…walking in a thunderstorm as foliage dripped Real, warm rain in a real, warm rainforest.

2.Cairns…..hundreds of parrots huddled on trees as thousands of huge fruit bats flew through the dusk, squawking raucously as they filled the lurid sunset sky like something from Jurassic Park.

3.The 4 mile beach in Port Douglas…only 3 people and a dog on this gorgeous stretch of pure white sand and turquoise sea.

4.Great Barrier Reef….a 10plus WOW factor…..totally and utterly brilliant.  

We left in sunshine in a big fancy boat straight out of Miami Vice, lovely people on it and we were served the best food we‘ve eaten for ages!

We wore stinger suits to protect us from tiny, tiny stinging jellyfish!!!

We wore flippers!!!

We swam with Nemo, rainbow, zebra, neon and lots and lots of other iridescent beauties!!! !

We saw colourful coral that looked like stags, brains, leopard skins, broccoli, mushrooms!!!! !

We saw electric blue starfish and giant clams!!!!!!

We saw a stingray swimming under us and I dived down…DOWN… and saw a huge stingray hiding under the coral!!!!!!!

We swam alongside a bemused but super cool TURTLE!!!!!!!!

We STOOD on a submerged white sand cay in the middle of the reef!!!!!!!!!

The whole experience deserves CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS THROUGHOUT!!!!!!!!!!

Airlie Beach/Whitsundays (February 18th-19th)

We drove here from Cairns through some glorious countryside full of ancient fig trees and signs for tree kangaroos, crocodiles and pythons. We didn’t actually see any of them but had fun looking.

The Whitsundays are a group of islands, still on the Great Barrier Reef and so many people had told us to come here that we were literally forced to buy another expensive boat trip to see the best ever beach of pure white sand (so pure that it doesn’t get hot, it cleans gold, it was used to make the lens for the Hubble Telescope and it‘s featured in several films!) and do some more snorkelling.

The boat was smaller and more crowded than our first trip but the reef was bustling with lots of new types of very friendly, colourful (and some very large) fish; we had become (almost overnight) much more accomplished at breathing like Darth Vader; our stinger suits fitted quite snugly (wait till you see Eddie in his…Daniel Craig, eat your heart out) and we met some lovely people;-

australia-cairns-to-brisbane-045

Karen, a Canadian engineer told us about her Dad who lives in Hong Kong…he was ill and needed a new kidney…..there‘s a two tier system in Hong Kong and her mum went private… this meant she could buy her husband the kidney of a condemned man…the bill for this included the price of the bullet that executed him!!!!! We loved chatting with Karen and hoped to meet up with her in Sydney but miss each other by a day – she’s seeing climbing the bridge on her birthday!

Jonathan (from Newquay) is a trainee journalist and we talked books for ages before we got onto music…he didn’t think I’d appreciate his musical taste. It turned out that he had seen 65daysofstatic 3 times and even met them at a gig in Exeter!! He was lovely and has a brilliant idea for a book of short stories (clearly I can’t tell you what it is cos he’s still writing it….. but the concept has kept us entertained!)

AirleeBeach – Drive to Brisbane (Feb 20th-22nd)

Friday

Long drive – we bought the new Springsteen CD so we could play Bruce as we travelled the Bruce Highway. Pretty countryside – very green, trees with huge lymph nodes that explode and release seeds when there’s a forest fire. A lot of signs for koala bears and kangaroos but we only saw dead roos by the side of the road and lots of eagles eating them. . Lots of very stern signs on the road; ’Rest, or Rest in Peace’; ‘Drive.Revive.Survive.’ ‘Stop for a short time, not forever’.did as we were told. Spent the night in a motel that reminded us of all the worst Australian horror movies…and a giant frog greeted us with his grating croak as we arrived and continued to serenade us all night.

Saturday

Discovered that we needed to book a week in advance to see the giant turtles laying their eggs on the beach. Sigh. So we drove on. We have been extremely lucky with the weather….it had rained for weeks before we arrived and caused floods which stranded people, cut off electricity and damaged roads. The day we arrived in Cairns was the first sun in North Queensland for ages and it has continued so far for us….. until we stopped at Hervey Bay, walked to the beach, sat down and the heavens absolutely opened. It was odd, walking back to our room while having a warm power shower!

Sunday

Drove through Maryborough to see steam trains, wonderful old buildings and unexpectedly – Mary Poppins! (author was born here). Supercalif…….

Drove through Noosa Heads to see surfing – the waves were sadly small but the people watching was great. Expensive place.

Drove through torrential rain (is it a male thing that you leave the wipers on slow/intermittent until you are driving through a virtual waterfall – or am I being picky?!)

Drove into Brisbane to find we’d booked yet another bargain apartment…stylish furniture, balcony, pool, gym AND (don’t laugh…we’ve been on the road for a while and it shows)…a washing machine and iron!!!!!!!!! There is no logic to the cost of motel/apartments – we have paid less for fabulous places and more for the Bates Motel on Friday.

So – 2 days to explore Brisbane – I’ll add that later – and then we leave our little yellow car and fly to Sydney.

singapore

February 19, 2009

Feb 13th- 15th

Singapore sells t shirts showing pictures of activities for which people are fined… equivalent of £500 for eating or drinking on the underground, £250 for chewing gum (which is illegal), £200 for dropping litter – consequently it is a very clean, ordered city. We had so little time there that we took a bus tour and saw the main sights – the Sky flyer – a big wheel which is 30m higher than the London Eye (they are very proud of this), an amazing pineapple/porcupine type building where the spikes moved to keep the sun off, the busy harbour, tall chrome and glass office blocks, millions of shops, temples, Little India, Arab Quarter, Chinatown …..Raffles….all dotted between cricket pitches and greenery. We spent most time in the Botanical gardens which were a superb, cool and peaceful oasis in this very humid city. A man who asked us the time asked us if we were teachers cos he thought we looked as if we were. Hmmmm. The people are friendly and so helpful….until as we walked along a street there was this almighty crack and a huge branch dropped from a tree and fell right at our feet…2 seconds earlier and we would have been under it (and badly hurt without a doubt, it was very heavy)….we stopped in absolute shock and everyone else just walked past as if nothing untoward had happened…..except the man closest to us who shook his head in disbelief saying “Jesus Christ…you two are lucky”. So we bought a lottery ticket. We got a taxi to the airport and our lovely Chinese driver was so excited that we came from Manchester that he chattered furiously to Eddie for the full half hour. Unfortunately only one word in 40 was intelligible so Eddie valiantly repeated that one word and made a random comment on it…it seemed to work and let’s face it, our Chinese is pretty limited! Next…3 weeks in Australia starting in Cairns….the Great Barrier Reef. ..how exciting!!

UNLESS…..

February 12, 2009

Feb 10th – 12thUnless you have suffered a 1 hour minibus and 3 hour coach journey, followed by a 5 hour wait in a stifling hot railway station of no significance whatsoever, in a provincial Thai town (Surat Thani)……….

Unless you’ve listened in bewilderment and anxiety while rumours of a train derailment circulated and staff gave entirely convincing but totally conflicting information (all with a smile)………

Unless you’ve never had to squeeze onto 6 inches of space on a seriously hard wooden bench while horrendously loud clanging bells ring at irregular intervals to tell you that nothing is actually happening…….

Unless you’ve had nothing to look at except a stunning French couple who are dealing with this crisis with worldly travellers‘ equanimity while portraying their charismatic personalities, perfect relationship, and immaculate tans…….

Unless (miraculously) 2 trains arrive going in your direction and you are shouted at by a fierce young man and led to a train on the far platform (this necessitates taking selves and bags in pitch black, through the first train, onto the tracks, over several lethal wire traps)……….

Unless you have never witnessed a helpful guard try to get you onto your train from the wrong side and without the aid of a platform (so it is very,very high) and in so doing be thrown backwards over the track while clinging to the open, swinging door which smashes him against the train and back several times to the huge amusement of all ………

Unless you have never found yourself left forlornly on the track, still in total darkness, surrounded by 4 anxious and by now somewhat hysterical guards, who are shouting that the train is going RIGHT NOW, while your husband, bags, passport etc are trapped inside the train but no-one can open the door again……..

Unless you then have another 8 hour train journey (for 3 of which you manage to doze) and then have to go through customs where you are ceremoniously marched away from everyone else and strictly fined for your visa infringement under a notice which sternly warns “ anyone appearing dishevelled, with long unkempt hair , shorts or pants which are not respectable and inappropriate shoes will be considered alien hippies and not allowed admittance to our kingdom.” W stood there with our travel worn weariness, grubby shorts, unkempt hair (well, one of us) and crocs……….

Unless you somehow get through and pass on to another 3 hour coach ride, an overnight stay in a small town and then a final 14 and a half hour train ride through the entire rubber plantations of Malaysia during which assorted children intrigued by your difference make several attempts to be entertained by you…………

Unless you haven’t experienced all of the above in an attempt to get a train to Singapore…..then I don’t think you are taking your carbon footprint seriously at all.

HAPPY 60th BIRTHDAY ROD!!

60th!!

SEE YOU AND GILL SOON IN NEW ZEALAND

 

 

Sun, sea, saga and speedos

February 12, 2009

Feb 2nd– Feb 11th 
Here be sun.

Here be sea.

Here be lots of German Saga Holiday makers.

And here, worn by said Saga holiday makers, be lots of speedos (and bikinis).

Now, is it coincidence that Saga contains the word Sag? I think not.

I am of the personal opinion that saggy bits are best hidden from public view but I do have a sneaking admiration for the 70 and 80 year olds here who have confidence in their aged bodies and/or a couldn’t care less attitude and simply want all their saggy bits to look tanned. Eddie doesn’t think quite the same. And he does have a point about the speedos.

Having said that, the sun and sea can obviously restore lost youth……

(Censor next part …not to be read by sons, niece, parents, friends of a nervous disposition).

Eddie asked a gorgeous young Thai girl for sex on the beach last night. One look at his new tan and lack of speedos and she was delighted. She was a long time coming but Eddie confirmed it was well worth it. My own particular paradise came with a young man of quite a fruity disposition – fun – and I may have to return for seconds!
cocktail-11And…what are the chances of the following…….. Remember we went to Everest Base Camp in Nov/Dec with a group of young trekkers… the 2 most experienced walkers were Dave and Beverley from UK (they got engaged looking out over Everest!!!). Well…we just met them on the street of tiny Ao Nang as we left the beach! It was just ridiculous, random, bizarre….by whatever name, it was an amazing coincidence, even more than meeting Malcolm and Marjorie in a tiny Austrian town. Dave and Bev are serious travellers and had done lots of exciting things since The Trek. We drank, chatted, took photos. Was good.

We’ve not done a lot while here but we did venture out on a longtail (a gondola on speed)boat to Railay Beach where we found lovely sand and clear water for swimming…on both journeys we were at the front of the boats, spray in our faces as the Viking armada returned to Ao Nang beach. We’ve watched a heroic and eventually successful attempt to relaunch a long tail that had stuck in the tide while a red full moon sank over the sea.

We have seen monkeys, lots of birds, more elephants and a long thin green snake which may have been dangerous because of the way they boy who caught it, dealt with it! It wasn’t too far from our room so we weren’t complaining!

I have bought a sarong…I felt quite sophisticated wearing it for our big night out…(watching City beat Middlesborough on a big screen in the hotel pool bar.) However, despite my careful, much practised knotting, the whole thing fell off and slithered to the floor just as we walked in. Sigh.

Thai people are lovely…friendly, polite, always smiling. They obviously rely on tourism and tourists but they are respectful and pleasant and will walk away happily if you don ‘t want to buy. They giggle a lot. There is a lot of new building but it fits in and Krabi is still small enough to be pleasant.. Good choice – thanks to S,G,L…our Personal Trip Advisors!!

There have been very recent changes to tourist visas (they now last only 15 days instead of the previous 30) this has not been well publicized and the result has been huge consternation and some arrests ….we have heard about Thai jails so when we realized that our visa now ran out the day before we leave we decided we had better do something about it. We were hugely pleased that we managed to work out what to do, get a bus and find the immigration office in Krabi. It was shut. It was a Buddha Day apparently. So we have been assured that we can just pay a small fine on the train….watch this space!!!

Another long train journey to Singapore via Butterworth…Malaysia here we come.

(Sorry this took a while to put up…on our last day in Krabi all the electricity was off and we’ve been

without internet since).

 

cocktail-1

 

aonang-krabi-034

message for mossley folk

February 5, 2009

Those of you who know me well know of my obsession with snow. So it may not surprise you to read that while we are sitting on a beach in Ao Nang ….and continuing to have a fantastic time…I am genuinely jealous of everything I am reading about Mossley’s snowy conditions.

There is a very good reason for this – I have been waiting about 5 years to repeat one magical experience (no, it has nothing to do with Eddie).

I am happy for you to try this for yourselves. The conditions are as follows;

It must be dark. It must be snowing (big, soft fat flakes). You should be wearing a long black coat and hat. . Walk down towards our house in that special, still, snow muffled silence, the stone walls on either side etched in drifting white, boots creaking over the snow covered cobbles. Look for the lamp at the end of the Side, flakes spiralling in the hazy glow it casts over the scene.

Now……….tell me that’s not Narnia.