Birmingham.

Saturday 18 March 2017 – Birmingham.

I have had a nasty head cold/virus thing for the past three or four weeks. It has not been bad enough to really lay me out, but it has been bad enough that over that period I had to take a couple of days off work. As a contractor on a day rate with no sick leave, that means no pay; so it was a pretty bad cold. It has also meant that El and I have not done a heck of a lot since the start of the year. It being winter hibernation time has not helped either.

The UK’s biggest photography show is at the NEC in Birmingham this weekend. As El had plans for both Friday night and Saturday morning that did not include me I decided I would go to Birmingham to have a look. I am trying to work out what to do with my photography at the moment, I know I want to do more of it; I am just not sure what that more is. Much as I would love to get a new camera, I wasn’t going to look at equipment, I was going with the hope of finding new inspiration.

I worked from home Friday morning and had booked a seat on the 14:13 train from Euston. It was a pretty good journey and I arrived in Birmingham late in the afternoon, just as the drizzle started! I had booked a hotel that was close to the station and headed straight there; after checking the direction on the map on my phone.

I crossed through Holloway Circus and stopped to take a photo of the Asian influenced statue in the middle, with two lovely English tower blocks in the background. My hotel was just on the other side of the circus. So far I was not overly impressed with Birmingham central, though it was living up to my expectations. The station was very modern, and there was a fairly new mall opposite it, but the walk to my hotel was a little ‘gritty’. Perhaps late afternoon on a rainy St Patrick’s Day is not the best time to visit an urban centre for the first time? The sky seemed to reflect the colour of the buildings below it.

When I got to the check-in desk at the hotel I discovered that at some point between checking the map on my phone and arriving I had lost my glasses. Naturally this was one trip away from home when I had not bought a spare. Sh*t! I checked in and headed back the way I came, but as expected, I found nothing. I bought a ‘cheap’ pair from Boots – I need to be able to read things or I will go bonkers. I have never lost a pair of glasses before, and it was a slightly disconcerting feeling. I can see to get around well enough, but I cannot read a thing without them.

It was still drizzling when I left Boots, so I went back to the hotel, and did not leave again until the morning when I left for a walk before heading out to the NEC centre for the opening of the Photography Show at 11:00. I didn’t really have a plan for walking around, though I wanted to see the building at the back of the shopping centre, ‘The Bullring’ building. A new and very futuristic looking construction.  

It is a stunning piece of modern architecture and being right next to the church Saint Martin in the Bullring, it makes for a great old and new contrast.

I knew there must be some street art in the city, I had vague recollections of hearing some paint jams here, so was pleasantly surprised to walk past a Dan Kitchener hoarding nearby.

I had been walking toward what looked like some interesting old/derelict buildings and accidentally stumbled upon a major street art area.

Every street I walked down had art or graff on walls. Big pieces, some by artists I was very familiar with and some not so much, there was like a trail of art of leading me towards something, though I had no idea what. The chimney on this building was what originally led me here, there was a great view back up the street to The Bullring as well.

I was quite intrigued by this building as well, it turned out to be part of a college, in this section of the city there are not many tall buildings, so this one really stood out, I loved the water? tower. I am also a sucker for red brick and government issue green paint.

Following the trail onwards, I passed an Amara,

And something I liked by an unknown artist,

I crossed over a small canal, reminiscent of the canal we saw in York, tightly canyon-ed by the buildings on either side, and much narrower than the canal system in North London.

All of a sudden I found the pot of gold at the end of the street art trail, a couple of big car parks with walls covered in art works.

I recognised a Louis Masai, but not much else. There were a lot of other pieces around.

I think I stumbled into Birmingham’s answer to London’s Shoreditch. It is an area in need of gentle gentrification, more of a tidy than a complete make-over. There are a lot of neglected small factory, warehouse and office buildings, spaces that would make for great studio and gallery places. Though we know what happens when gentrification comes along, and it is not all good news. This little square had been gentrified and was very cool, and if I had seen it yesterday I would have been tempted to come down here last night for a meal and a drink.

I walked past a record fair. I was very very tempted to go in….  I also like the idea that a city is a work of art, and I think this area of the city has achieved that to a degree.

However, I was on a mission to go the Photography Show, so I left the street art and record fair behind and headed to the station to take the train from central Birmingham to the NEC centre, about 10 miles away. My feelings about Birmingham have been turned around and I really enjoyed my walk.

The train was absolutely rammed, with lots of (mostly) young people in costume. Arriving at the NEC I discovered that Comic Con was being held there as well as the Photography Show; and a couple of smaller expos as well. The place is huge. As was the photo expo, much bigger than I expected.

I really enjoyed the expo. I will definitely go back next year, but will plan to go with someone else, preferably someone interested in photography! Though I was not planning on spending time looking at the gear  I would liked to have looked at the cameras and the other technology, discussing pros and cons of the different systems and innovations. It was interesting to look around anyway, plus I wanted to avoid the temptation of holding a Canon 5d Mk4 in my hands!

I wasn’t there for the tech though, I wanted to check out some of the talks. As I said at the start I need some inspiration, I am stuck in a bit of a photographic rut at the moment, hence the lack of blogs and photography. I have some ideas, but need a bit of a kick in the butt to get going.

I attended a talk in the Canon tent by the photographer Jeff Ascough, about how he developed his style and it was really informative and very helpful. I left with good ideas, some thoughts on direction, and a validation of some of my thinking.

I left soon after the talk and headed back to home. I felt good about the trip.

All the photos were taken on my phone, I did take the G16, but did not use it in the end. I am really impressed with the IQ of the Samsung S7.

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Back on the bike !

Sunday 22 January 2017 – London.

A rather belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and welcome to my first post of 2017.

It has been a very long time since I have been on my mountain bike, November 2015 was the last time I rode in the UK. I had a quick and awful pedal on my last trip to New Zealand and have only ridden the commuter bike once or twice since 2015. I have been meaning to get out more, honest.

I am going to stick to my usual excuse, no point in making up another one now. I have been really busy since I returned from my trip. I was unexpectedly straight back in to work and have been working ever since. As my contract finished before I left for India I was not expecting to be working so soon on my return, but I have been back at the same place on a sort of week-by-week basis.

I have also started to look for a full time permanent job, back to working five days a week. It is time to replenish a much hammered savings account. Much as I have loved working four day weeks, I have not saved any penny in over a year and have churned through the money I saved when I was working a full five days. I have been taking job applications semi-seriously this time, I have fired off quick responses to a couple of agencies but most applications have taken considerable time to complete. Fingers crossed one of those applications will prove that all the work has been worth it.

The other reason I have not ridden is I have been lazy, very lazy…

Last weekend as I was walking home from the laundrette I saw a mud covered mountain biker waiting at the lights near the end of my street. He looked like he had had a lot fun and I was quite jealous. I decided that I would do something about it. Mid-week and out of the blue I had a message from someone I have ridden with before asking me if I wanted to take a slow pedal around the forest. Perfect timing!

Fortunately all my bike needed was some air in the tires and a bit of chain lube, a quick spin around the block yesterday morning to make it all worked and I was ready to ride.

What I wasn’t really ready for was riding in -1 degrees. It was cold when I got outside! It was however a glorious sunny day, there was no wind and once we got going I sort of warmed up a bit.

There was a lot of frost on the ground and on the roofs of the parked cars as I pedalled up to the meeting point on Beacontree Ave. I was first to arrive and with a couple of minutes to wait took the first photo of the day. Frosty grasses in a road side tub.

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With little exercise in the last 12 months I knew it was going to be a slow and hard ride, I was lucky that my riding buddy today, Tom, was not in for a fast ride either. I told him that I would be wanting to take some photos on the way. This was not just an excuse for multiple breaks. It was stunning out there this morning! Our first stop was only a few minutes in, this could be a long ride.

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The ground was incredibly hard, I have never ridden on frozen mud before, mud that crunches under tyres or does not yield when ridden on, the puddles were mostly iced over and very few were broken under our wheels. Our next stop was at Highams Park Lake, which appeared to be completely frozen. I know shooting into the sun is a photography no-no, but meh, I have been breaking photography rules for years. Flareage!

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I loved these leaves trapped under the thin ice on the lake.

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It was a bit of a slog up Pole Hill, my legs were starting to feel it and we had only been going for 30 or 40 minutes. While we rested I went for a quick explore, looking for some frost laden leaves.

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There is a great view over towards the Shard and down to Canary Wharf on a fine day, but there was a little mist around so we just had to make do with the view down over Chingford.

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The ride down Pole Hill through the trees next to the golf course is one of a very small number of tracks that actually go down hill in the forest. So naturally it is one of my favourite trails in the park. There is also a great piece of single track on the other side of the road, with solid ground under-wheel, rather than the usual mud it was even better than usual. Though we did come across a really nice fern grove. So I had to stop…

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I loved the way the frost made the surface of the leaves so white and fragile.

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I didn’t take any more photos. Too tired and I needed to concentrate on the riding. We rode up to the tea hut at High Beach, which is a regular stopping point for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. 2 pounds 10 for both. Wonderful, no wonder it is so popular with riders and walkers.

The ride back towards home starts off well with some really nice and mostly downhill single track, but as we leave the forest proper and meander through some smaller, but still forested parks it turns into a bit of a slog. At least today it was not muddy!

All up we were out for about three hours. It was damn good to be out and about on the bike again!

One week later. I went for another ride again today. There was no ice, but lots of mud and it was so much harder.

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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!!

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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!

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We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity.

Saturday 3 December 2016 – Auckland, New Zealand.

I have been back in London for six days now, and am suffering immensely from jet-lag induced tiredness. I have been struggling to find the motivation to knock this post off, and am doing so just as a sense of completeness. I was anticipating not having any work until the new year, but am starting again on Monday, at least in a temporary capacity. I am still looking for something more long term. I will miss having the days off to get more self organised and motivated for 2017 – but it is so good to have some money coming in!

I arrived in Auckland on 21st November, had a day in Auckland before heading off down to Nelson, at the top of the south island, to see my sister’s family and stay with friends for two nights. My son, Aiden came with me on the trip and it was really good to spend a couple of days with him. I wrote about that trip a couple of posts ago.

I had no plan for my time in Auckland, stay with mum and just hang out. Maybe catch up with a few of the friends I did not see when El and I were here earlier in the year. I deliberately did not hire a car this time, which meant I was more ‘home’ bound than I would have been if I was more mobile. Mum does have pretty good access to public transport, which was also a factor in that decision.

After that big walk I did up Ben Nevis on Thursday I was a little concerned about going mountain bike riding on Saturday morning. I have not been on my bike since November 2015, so this was going to hurt. Hurt it did… I was so unfit, my riding buddies destroyed me! We went riding at my old stamping ground of Woodhill Forest, except it is totally different now. All the trails I rode, including the ones I made have been logged and there is nothing left. A new area of the forest has opened up and the trails there were really good. The trail builders have done a brilliant job. It was just a shame I was not up to it, slow riding up and slow riding down… I need to get fit again!

I went back to my friends place that night for dinner and a catch up with other friends, we went to the local supermarket for wine and beer and I was amazed at the huge range of pinot gris available in New Zealand. Heavenly ! We do not get much of it in England, all Italian pinot grigio, not to my taste. I am a New Zealand wine snob.

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Over the next few days I made quite a few trips into the city, sharing the journey between bus and train. I had family Christmas shopping to do plus I was keen to visit Auckland Art Gallery and the museum.

I love the art gallery, and visit every time I go to Auckland, there is always a change to the main NZ gallery and the special exhibitions are worth checking out. One of my favourite spaces in Auckland.

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This piece certainly has resonance in this weird, politically messed up year.

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I was really lucky with the weather while I was in Auckland, there was a little rain, but not on any of the days I was out, from the gallery I walked up to K’Rd and bought myself three albums from the Flying Out record shop; another thing I do whenever I come here. It was then on to the museum and the New Zealand music exhibition. I was not happy having to pay $25 to get into the museum, I am used to museums being mainly free, and that price is really expensive.

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Though the music exhibition was really good, documenting some of the bands I loved, and still love. It was great to see Martin Phillips’ from The Chills Leather Jacket, which was left to him when their drummer tragically died far too young from leukaemia, as well as the infamous 4-track owned by Chris Knox that recorded so many of those brilliant early Flying Nun records.

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I am not a huge fan of Auckland, it is a fairly dull city; the beaches and coastal parks being a massive exception, though unusually apart from the trip to Murwai I made with mum I did not get out to the sea at all. 

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I do love the central Britomart train station though!

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The rest of the time was spent catching up with family and friends. Drinking and eating were a feature of the rest of the trip, I had some excellent dinners, lunches, coffees, beer and wine and left the country a few pounds heavier than when I arrived, and I was only there for ten days!

It was fabulous to catch up with my grandson Mason, he is two and a half now and a real character, loves his Duplo, cars, trucks and anything else with wheels.

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It was a good trip, lovely to spend a few days with mum, great to see friends and family, but by the end I was looking forward to going home. My mum, son, grandson and me. Four generations in one room.

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Muriwai Gannet Colony

Wednesday 30 November 2016 – Muriwai Beach, Auckland, New Zealand.

Muriwai Beach is about a 50 minute drive from central Auckland, on a good traffic day… It is one of my favourite places in Auckland and I have been taking photographs here for many years. It became even more special to me, and to my family when we scattered dad’s ashes over the cliff tops after he passed suddenly in November 2007.

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I generally go there when I come to New Zealand, and mum and I went up for a visit this morning.

It was high tide for a change, from memory the last few times I have been the tide has been quite a way out. So it was nice to see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks.

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Mum and I have a pretty regular wee walk we do when we visit, up the steps from the beach to the cliff top where we left dad, then over to the various gannet colony viewing platforms and then back down the path near the road. This morning was no exception.

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The gannet colony on the cliff tops is now a very popular tourist attraction, gaining more and more visitors each year. We were lucky it was very quiet today. It is also getting busier and busier with more gannets coming each year, primarily due to successful breading. It was not that long ago when the number of breeding pairs numbered under a hundred. There are now well over 1000 birds nesting here. It is not yet peak gannet season, so the numbers are down a bit, though the nesting area has really spread along the cliffs since I was last here.

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There were quite a few birds sitting on nests. The gannets only lay one egg at a time and the parents share responsibility for sitting on the egg, you can just see one under the front bird.

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I was quite surprised to see that there were some chicks here as well. They start off bald, but soon turn in to white balls of fluff,

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Before their full colours come on, and they spread their wings and fly.

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It is a very cool place.

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See you next time dad. xx

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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 🙂

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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.

Posted in Australia, Blog, Brisbane | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

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!

Posted in Blog, Singapore, South East Asia | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Blog, India, South Asia | Tagged , | 9 Comments