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.

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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!

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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.

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An unplanned journey on a bus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A place worth visiting if you are in Agra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow doesn’t get any better…..

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The Taj Mahal.

Sunday 13 November 2016 – Agra, India – Part 1.

This post is all about the Taj Mahal, which I visited this morning before catching a train to Delhi, where I will stay the night near the airport before flying up to see my daughter, Meliesha in McLeod Ganj in the morning.

Well that was the plan when I wrote that sentence this morning in between visiting the Taj Mahal and the ‘Baby Taj’ and then leaving town. Though it did not turn out that way! More about the that in the next post…

It is a quiet day in Agra, I believe it is a holiday, but not sure what for. I was up earlyish after a pretty average night. I wanted to get to the Taj Mahal reasonably early. I selected this home stay because it is half way between Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, the two main things I wanted to see in Agra, both are a walkable distance. The home stay owner, Faiz gave me a lift on his motorbike to the entrance which was nice, he is a good host!

The queue to get in was tiny, but quite maddening, lots of Indian men waiting by the foreigners queue asking foreigners to change their small notes for big ones, as the ticket counter was taking the big notes. There has been changes made to money this week which is causing chaos in India, this will feature a lot in my day today. I did swap 1000 rupees in small notes with one of the guys and used his 1000 rupee note to pay the entrance fee. This made him very happy. It took about 15 minutes to process the two people in front of me.

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Like yesterday at the fort Faiz had told me I would not be allowed to take a bag into the site, and they were a lot stricter here than at the fort. No-one had large bags, there is also a lot of armed security about as well. Again, I just took the small camera and a bottle of water. I have been looking forward to visiting here, it is one of those must see places that adorn the list of anyone who likes to travel.

The Taj Mahal was completed in 1653 and is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, the favourite wife of the Mhughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It took 10 years to build and is the centre building in a fairly large site that also includes a guest house and a mosque.

The Taj Mahal site is a lot bigger than I expected, and not quite as crowded as I expected it to be at 8:00 am – it opens at sunrise, which this morning was around 6:15. I had pondered arriving for sunrise but the air is so thick that from a light perspective there would be no point, so I stayed in bed. I suspect it was busier then than it was when I arrived. It got very busy later in the day.

The great gate from the outside.

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The first view of the building is pretty breathtaking, and everyone stops just inside the great gate to take their first picture – and a hell of a lot of selfies…

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I didn’t bother stopping, I knew I was going to take a lot of photos, I also knew I was going to try and take this one, the classic reflection shot. I was very lucky to grab one without anyone in the way.

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I was not really in the mood I must admit, so my roaming of the site was a bit listless. I am very worried about my finances, or complete lack thereof. Spending 1000 rupees on the entry fee alone seems to be a lot, when I am not sure if I can get to my next destination, however I am here to see things, and the Taj Mahal is THE thing. This place is the sort of place you need to visit with someone to share the experience with.

I spent a couple of hours walking around, I took a lot of photos as you would expect. There were some very helpful gentlemen there who pointed me to the exact spot to get reflections etc, for a tip of 10 rupees, I am quite surprised that others did not take up their offer. I was very happy with their recommendations. I would not have gotten the photos I did without them. I didn’t manage to get another one without people standing in the way !

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The great gate from the inside.

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The mosque.

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The view of the River Yamuna, overlooking a bit of where I was yesterday evening.

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The building is covered in inscriptions and motifs on the walls, though I did not capture any of the detail, part of my listlessness I guess. There is also renovation work going on on the sunrise side of the mausoleum.

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There were the ubiquitous monkeys everywhere, I think this is going to end badly!

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The crowds had really ramped up when I left, I think I picked the perfect time of day to visit… I enjoyed my time there, though I wish I had been in a better frame of mind as I would have appreciated this wonder of the world a lot more than I did. Glad I went though!

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I walked back to the homestay. I think to the bemusement of some of the locals, I had lots of hellos and waves from people on bikes and on tuk tuks, I don’t think they get many westerners walking the streets.

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