I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hong Kong, phooey

OK, beginning to think I've cocked up here. Just went out to explore Hong Kong on my first full day. Put on a loose fitting, light, short sleeved shirt, and after 30 minutes walking I'm drenched in sweat and high-tailing it back to my hotel room for some aircon. Erm. Not really sure what to do now. The heat is oppressive and I'm not even in a built-up (by Hong Kong standards) area, not even on the island. I've got at least 3 things to do on my plan for today but before I can do any of them I need to buy an Octopus Card, the nearest outlet of which is about an hour's walk away, and if I attempt it again I'll die of dehydration. I think the hotel has a free shuttle bus to somewhere useful but the concierge wasn't helpful earlier. Not yet 11am and I feel almost imprisoned, Dubai style, by the weather :-( Time to have a sit, a think, and put on a darker shirt I guess. Nice.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Englishman who went up a Sky Tower and came down trembling like a

Damn it. Flickr let me use a really long title, but longer than blogger actually supports. The last word can now be left up to your imagination...

Auckland - 335
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
Here's a view from the top of Auckland's Sky Tower. This is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, and despite my bro not being around and running a marathon (cf. ascents of the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building) I still decided to give it a go. After all I had an hour or so to kill before having to get a cab to the airport even though I knew my flight was delayed by a couple of hours.

So, one ticket to the top, please. No, not the $20 ticket, that $23 one that gets me up onto the outdoor observation deck. Up I went, the lift being called for me by the guy in charge of calling lifts for people, on me own because it was very early in the day (about 9am I think).

Oo-er. Eek. It wasn't like those other buildings. Cracking view but so much glass, flaying outwards, and the outer foot or so of the floor also being made of glass really did my fucking head in. I'd already been a bit unsteady in the lift because I didn't know part of the floor of that was going to be glass-bottomed, nor that some of the trip up was on the outside of the building. But the main deck was something else.

Managed to take a few photos to demonstrate that I went up there, and that the view is ace, but I felt seriously giddy. Had to grab onto the wall in the middle a couple of times and gave up trying to at least walk a full circuit of the floor or even stepping once onto the glass bit -- and the outdoor upper deck idea was right out. Back into the lift I went, eyes closed and holding on to the hand rail because I thought my legs were going to give out.

Did I mention I'm not a big fan of heights? Bit odd really considering all the flying 'n all, but anyway. I did mention it to the guy greeting me off the lift -- the same guy who'd seen me up and was now expressing astonishment that I was back down so soon. Probably less than 5 minutes after going up, in fact. Ah well.

Talking of big tall things, there was a bar in Auckland called Ben Nevis. It was in the basement of the building where my hotel was. THE BASEMENT. BEN NEVIS.

Anyway, still feeling off I needed something to steady my nerves: a diet coke. Necked that, went back to me room and packed and buggered off.

Perched once again in seat 1A -- SEAT OF KINGS -- I made a clumsy fool of myself by tripping over, kicking the wardrobe-thing door way too hard at the front of the cabin, and then generally tying myself in knots with bag handles and headphone leads and seatbelts before finally sitting down and saying hello to the bloke in 1B. Turns out this fella was an Englishman called Darren who liked a drink. Good bloke. We spent the entire flight chatting away, him about all the stuff I'd missed out doing in Auckland and all the stuff I should do in Hong Kong, me about all the stuff I'd done already, both of us about sport and Manchester and England and how fast we were knocking back the VB. Flight time flies by when you're on the sauce with an compatriot ex-patriot namesake and before I knew it he was handing me a business card inviting me to look him up if I was ever in AKL again, and offering me a space in his company-paid-for cab into Sydney centre if my brother wasn't around to meet me.

As it happens Kevin was there and the train journey into town is a piece of piss (especially when you've only got two bits of handluggage, one with wheels and one over the shoulder, even if the former was considerably the lighter of the two). The best thing about my arrival in Sydney however was being FIRST PERSON LANDSIDE. Having hand luggage only and being sat at the front of the plane, I zipped through immigration, quarantine, and customs. In fact the quarantine staff hadn't been ready for me because I was so far ahead of everyone else. Heh.

Actually there was one more thing about the flight that made it interesting -- we went through a big bit of turbulence that was so strong they told the cabin crew to take their seats too, not just the passengers. Never had that before. Me and English Darren took the bouncing around as our cue to down the lagers we had at the time, lest they get spilt.

So, a delayed flight and a bunch of beer meant I was already a bit merry by the time me and Kevin got to Central station, where we were meeting Sal for beer. Sat outside and I started to launch into a tirade about the Kiwi accent until they warned me there was one of them sat behind me. Pfft. Moved on from there to another bar where I had a pint and a big plate of pasta for AUD10 -- about 4 quid. Top notch. We were moved from our seats because it was about to be turned into the table where they take the money off people going into see the live bands playing that night, and when we moved to another table inside the bit-where-YOU-HAVE-TO-PAY-to-get-in-you-cheeky-cunts we were kicked out proper.

So we went to another pub. Mara was at an evening class of sorts (psychology?) just across the road and was going to give us a lift back to the flat. Can't remember what I had because IIRC Sal insisted on ordering for me. I don't think it was a Carlton Draught but that beer is worth mentioning for two reasons: one, it has an advertising slogan of "Made from beer"; two, it's called Carlton Draught even when it's in a bottle or can. Erm.

Probably a good job we went back to the flat after that. I was fucked.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Englishman who went up a volcano and came down a volcano

So after a day of not great weather and a lot of walking on Saturday I figured it was time to take to the seas. Auckland's on the coast, there's loads of islands around, the weather was glorious, etc etc. Got up early, had another buffet breakfast with cold scrambled eggs and pineapple juice -- because they'd swapped the position of it and the grapefruit juice and I wasn't being alert enough -- then went down to the ferry building. It was the last day of Heritage Week and because of that the trip to Rangitoto Island was meant to be cheaper than normal. Somewhere I'd read it was going to be $50, somewhere else $47.40.
Auckland - 166
$40 later I had my ticket in hand, got a Diet Coke and hung around for the boat. A heaving vessel, I think I'd made a good choice by getting the ticket a little bit early, in fact I'd been surprised that there was space on the volcanic explorer (boat+guided tour) and I hadn't had to settle for just a boat ticket. Turns out though that most people wanted to walk up, so the 4-wheel drive thing that took us around and almost to the top was nowhere near full.

Not sure what our tour guide's name was because the Kiwi accent he sported was a little umpunutrubble (NZ for 'impenetrable'). It was either Glyn or Glenn, although I suppose it could conceivably have been Glunn. Anyway, he was a good guide, giving us a decent commentary as he drove us through the lava flows spiralling centrewards until we reached the bottom of the steps climbing to the summit. A few facts stayed long enough in my mind that I managed to scrawl them down, for example: there are 200 types of plant on the island, but no soil; there used to be wallabies and possums but they ate so much the government didn't like it, so killed them all (there are now no animals other than birds that come over to nest); there are no bins and no shops; and that's it really. The view was pretty spectacular and it was a grand trip. Lava is cool, the plants were cool, etc etc. I took way too many photos of very very samey things.
Auckland - 245
Back down and on the way round we got to stop off in a lava flow and play in it for a bit before being dropped off near the ferry terminal with about halfy an hour to wait. I wandered around the coastline a bit, almost going into one of the holiday homes ("bachs"), but I didn't bother in the end. Got a decent window seat on the ferry back because I made sure to be near the front of the queue, then took a 10 minute video of the view out of the boat's window as we went from Rangitoto to Devonport (a stop on the way back to Auckland proper). It's a very very boring video.

Off the boat at 1330 or so IIRC, I went straight to a different ferry company's office and bought a ticket for their 1530 afternoon cruise. That gave me a little under 2 hours to get some nosh and stuff, so I nipped into the supermarket and grabbed a sarnie and a diet coke. Went back to the hotel and discovered that neither of the 2 keys I had for my room would operate the lift. Handed them in at reception and got given a new one, fuck knows what happened there. Grr. Blogged (IIRC), ate, then went back out for the cruise.
Auckland - 280
On this boat I blagged a great seat -- top deck, back right, in the open, facing forwards, perfect for taking photos -- and spent an awful lot of time holding onto my hat because the wind was fucking mental. Ended up with wind burns on my right hand's knuckles FFHS! Still managed to take a bunch of photos though, innit. Also managed to learn yet more about Auckland courtesy of another decent commentary.

  • The Rainbow Warrior was sunk in the sea by Auckland by the French secret service or summat. This is the only bit of terrorism ever to have taken place in New Zealand.
  • One of New Zealand's largest imports is onions.
  • The NZ navy is based in Auckland. In fact it only has one dockyard. And it's bloody tiny.
  • Auckland has the biggest marina in the southern hemisphere.
  • The superyacht 'Kokomo' is moored there atm; it has a gold stripe down the side which was orginally done in 18ct gold, but they decided it wasn't good enough so redid it in 24ct gold. It costs a fortune and can do all kinds of things (eg: go a long way).
  • At least one Americas Cup winning yacht is in the marina and you can go out on it, help sail it, etc. If you like sailing. Well, even if you don't, I suppose. But I wouldn't.
  • Switzerland won the Americas Cup recently. Not bad for a land-locked country, albeit one that did it by buying the services of most of the New Zealand team that won it previously.
  • A boat called the Atlantic Trader is moored in Auckland. It was bought for NZD1,000,000, sailed to Auckland and boarded by the maritime police who slapped a "not fit for purpose" order on it. It remains moored from that day, over 4 years ago, and costs $200/day to keep there. The owner is a fool.
  • 50 years ago, Auckland museum was the biggest building on the skyline.
  • Viaduct Quay, an area with 56 or so bars, clubs, and restaurants, has only been there since 1995. Next to it is a building done up to look like a huge cruise liner, poking out into the sea. Half of it is the Hilton Hotel, the other half bars and stuff. It doesn't look much like a huge cruise liner.
  • 1 in 5 Aucklanders has access to a boat.

Back off the boat with barely any feeling in my wind-fucked arms I went straight into the nearest bar, ostensibly to note down all the things I'd tried to remember from the trip (ie: that stuff above) but also to have some alcohol. Turns out it was selling Heineken for NZD3 (aka GBP1.20) a pop, happy hour. Drank, wrote, and looked at my photos. At that point I had taken 326 in the previous 48 hours, which translates to 6.8 per hour or 9.6 per waking hour. Eek. I also found myself leaving marks on the bar where I leant, since over the course of the day I'd applied my Dubai-busting factor 50 sun cream about 8 times. It hadn't been the hottest day ever, but the ozone layer over the Antarctic had slipped a bit and plonked itself over New Zealand, making protection in the atmosphere 25% worse than normal for the time of year. I was greasier than Michael Portillo.

The irony of having had a chat over SMS with Mark earlier while he was in a pub called "The Ship" came to mind. Not that that's very interesting. Also not interesting was the egg chasing on TV, but egg-chasing was almost impossible to avoid in New Zealand. LIFE IS RUGBY - LIFE TAKES VISA 'n all that. I left the pub after whatever the music source was offended me by playing Coldplay, then a Crowded House song being covered by some whining bint.
Auckland - 326
Changed me shirt back at the hotel and went out on the hunt for another pint or two, and something to eat. Found the former but nowhere that tempted me with solids, so I ended up buying a Subway. Not that I should feel bad about avoiding whatever classes as traditional New Zealand cuisine: if my experience in Auckland was anything like the rest of the country, Subway is traditional NZ cuisine. There were branches of it like I couldn't believe, an even higher concentration than in the streets around Yahoo!'s offices (and it's mental around there!). But it's not like Subway in the UK. The bloke looked confused, asked me to repeat, and finally laughed at me when I asked for sweetcorn. It doesn't seem to exist :-(

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Perth the wait

I've got a fantastic view from my hotel room. Sat in the Crowne Plaza in Perth right now, overlooking the Swan river, a big bit of greenery, and the hotel's swimming pool. The weather is glorious and it's twenty to five in the afternoon. Internet access in this room doesn't seem to have a per-megabyte charge associated with it and therefore I'm going to kick off uploading all the photos I took in Auckland, even though an awful lot of them are average and/or very samey. Hopefully some people are big fans of lava and water and big towers.

Domestic flights suck. QF577 saw me spending 5 hours above some extraordinarily boring landscape with no personal video screens, a busted pair of headphones, shit seats, and sat next to a wine guzzling nun. Good on 'em for giving me glass bottles of beer though, especially after my "take advantage of the lounges" philosophy was confounded in Sydney because the alcohol isn't self-service, and the bars weren't opening until 1300. Bah. Managed to finish a book I only bought in Auckland airport on Monday already on the flight too.

First impressions of Perth are embarassing, in that I feel pretty ... sophisticated. Me! I'm obviously being unfair but the experiences so far have been: arrive at the domestic airport, where people were being met directly at the gate, there's no security (or immigration, obviously) and baggage reclaim is landside in a public bit that anyone could wander off the streets and get to; and getting a cab to the hotel driven by a guy who thinks blacks are ruining every city in the world, it's ridiculous that in London "every 10 people are 5 black faces and 5 white faces" walking down Oxford Street (insight courtesy of his London-dwelling daughter), and that they're not content with killing each other and destroying their own countries.

I was very glad his tirade occurred immediately prior to turning into the hotel, where we encounted a guy reversing out of a bit you're not allowed to reverse out of. I'm pretty confident this place can't possibly be a virulently racist city but if it is, well, I'm glad I'm white and from Australia's fatherland.

Only 7 hours in the future now. Think I'll go out and see if I can't find the town centre, something to eat, and some beer.

I love it when a plan comes together

Hi, does this boarding pass give me access to this lounge?

Have you just transferred from an international flight?

No, I haven't.

Then I'm afraid not Sir.

OK, I thought so. So, I have a BA Executive Club card, now this one is blue but I've been travelling for the last two weeks and should by now have been updated to silver, is it possible for you to check that for me?

Sure thing. [tappity tappity tappity] Oh wow, whoa, my God. Sir, with that itinerary you can come straight in. Jeez, look at all these places!

Damn right! Sydney terminal 3 Qantas lounge ahoy. Biggest problem I have is that there don't appear to be any plug sockets for me to leech power from so I don't have time to write a lot at the moment, nor upload photos. 45 minutes battery left and that's probably too liberal an estimate :-( A couple of things from my first few days in Sydney last week spring to mind though, that went unmentioned before: Sydney's 4 main terrestrial TV channels are called 2, 7, 9 and 10. TVs automatically tune the channels to those channel numbers, leaving 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 empty. That's ridiculous. And, at the zoo, one of the snakes we saw was solar powered. According to the info about it it lies in the sun doing nothing until its brain heats up enough to give it a kickstart, after which it's equipped to control the rest of its bodily functions, ie moving, killing, and eating. Fantastic.

Monday, September 25, 2006

until Perth...

No more proper entries until Perth then, damn it. With this Sydneybound flight delayed -- scheduled time: 1325; current time: 1319; estimated time of departure: 1530 -- I thought I'd have the perfect opportunity to flickrize more than 300 photos (turns out most of them are pretty good after all) and write yesterday/this morning up. But there's no wireless access in the Qantas lounge here and the business centre is the only place I can get online, using a heavily crippled (ie, kiosk mode) Windows XP box. Oh well. I guess I'll just have to drink some more free beer instead.

Although, really, I need to go shopping. Not because there are things I want to buy, but because there's cash I want to jettison. Because of going up the SkyTower this morning I had to draw out a bit more, to pay for a cab and the departure fee -- it costs NZD25 to leave this country. But when I got to the airport I was surprised and pleased to learn that Qantas have a fantastic business+first class only check-in area, complete with customs desk. A far far faster "fast track" departure than Heathrow, it also meant I could pay the departure tax by credit card. Combine that and the hotel getting me a cab for NZD20 cheaper than I expected and I've a bunch of Kiwi cash burning a hole in my pocket. I could give it to charity, that whole Change For Good thing, but where's the selfishness in that? I need a book to replace the Disney one which got slightly moistened in my bag yesterday.

Jesus. I really hate keyboards whose return keys aren't mirror-L shaped. I keep hitting \. I'm also depressed that the blog entry editor is much better in IE than in Firefox.

Anyway, so that's the lot until Perth.. unless I can con my way into the Qantas lounge on Wednesday morning. It might work: by then I should, in theory, have achieved a level of status (silver/sapphire) with BA/oneworld that allows me in even though the flight on its own doesn't. But with only a pikey blue card in my beaten up SouthWestTrains wallet (complete with Fleshrot sticker on the back) I fear my luck will be out. I shall see.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Auckland to Sydney looks like fun

My flight isn't supposed to depart for almost 5 hours, yet it's already delayed by a further two, and other flights from Auckland to Sydney have been cancelled this morning. One has been rescheduled from 1025 to 1500! Huzzah! Or, err, not. For fucks sake! The lounge is going to be heaving, it wants to be good (I still intend to go there as if I didn't know, I have to checkout of the hotel anyway).

Auckland, day 1

Damn timezones. I'm still not getting things right, and today managed to set my alarm for 0630 instead of 0830. Ah well. I did manage to fall asleep virtually the second my head hit the pillow, at least.

Saturday was my first full day in Auckland. At the airport I'd picked up 2 thick brochure/pamphlet/magazine things full of ads for stuff to do and see in the city and being near the harbour my first idea was to go get a boat. So I walked the 2 or so minutes down to the ferry terminal via the train station (not a lot going on in there) and had a mosey but held off buying a ticket because the weather was pretty grim. Instead I explored the area a bit more and ended up at the far end in an "i-Site" information office. I told the guy in there that I was confused, spoilt for choice by the massive array of ferry trips available, and he sorted me out with a couple of suggestions. I also asked him if the weather was going to get better and he said it wasn't until Sunday, so I grabbed a leaflet detailing walks in the city and buggered off.

That leaflet listed 3 walks each of which could be split into a series of smaller ones. The only walk going anywhere near where I was actually started at the harbour, and was the "Coast to Coast" 16km walk from here to, uh, the other coast. 16km seemed a bit long but I figured it might be worth a go and duly set off along the route.

Less than 500 yards later I gave up. Turns out that there's a free City Circuit bus which leaves the train station (sorry, the Britomart Transport Centre). Every 10 minutes or so this does a little tour of the inner city area, so I figured I'd get my bearings a bit, let it show me Auckland. We didn't set off immediately though, because there was a mad Japanese woman who had a map of Auckland with where she wanted to go marked on it, but couldn't seem to understand that the big thick red line showing the bus route, including the fact it didn't go where she wanted, was the bus route, which didn't go where she wanted. The driver tried for ages to help her understand, before getting out of his cab and standing on the street looking out for people who might be able to speak Japanese and help her.

No-one came along so we headed off, and the woman sat next to me. She asked if I spoke Japanese. Then she asked where we were on her map. I pointed out the stop to her. And the next one. She still didn't get it, and seemed terribly confused when we completed the circuit and I wanted to get off.

So with bearings now in place I first headed to the Sky Tower/SkyCity. This is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and has a bunch of stuff in it: casino, hotel, bars, revolving restaurant, etc. I saw none if it, instead just mooching around the lobby and a couple of bits on the first and second floors. Hmm, depending on what time it opens I might go and see if I can grab a quick observation before buggering off today actually.

From there I went for a walk around one of Auckland's parks, Albert Park. Not bad, and good views of the tower (actually, everywhere has good views of the tower, 'cos you can't miss it wherever you are) but the weather was really bastard changeable. It took about 5 minutes for the top of the tower to go from invisible and covered in cloud to backed by clear blue sky. Then it started to piss it down, about 2 minutes after I'd slapped on some sun cream. Pfft.

I thought about doing the coast to coast walk again, since it goes through Albert Park, but then came up with the better idea of going on a brewery tour. LIONZONE Originally I was going to go for the 1215 (IIRC) tour, but I was unlikely to make that so plumped for the 3pm tour instead. This gave me a load of time to stroll gently to, and explore, Auckland Domain. On the way there I had to cross Grafton Bridge, which as I am now well aware is shutting next weekend to let them make improvements to it. The reason I'm so aware is because not only are there signs all over the place, but the council was also employing people at both ends of the bridge to tell bridge users, hand out leaflets, and hold up big signs to wave at drivers.

The Domain is a pretty bloody big park, all in all. I wandered really slowly around it, taking shedloads of photos. Tacked around the edge of the open space near the entrance towards the duck ponds and restaurant. From there I headed to the museum which I thought about going in, but it looked bloody crowded if the car park and coach park was anything to go by. I can give or take museums anyway. I spent a lot of time in the Winter Gardens, especially the fernery, and then walked all the way around the museum, coming across some odd sculpture before a sharp descent. Down that bit, across the grass and up another hill, then down across the cricket pitch towards the pavilion, a right turn led me back to the entrance/exit.

Lots of time now having passed, I set off on the hunt for the brewery. Started off with a wrong turn but didn't waste too much time. The brewery was pretty easy to find, not least because it's fucking huge. The biggest problem was that the door was shut and had a sign on it saying the 3pm tour was fully booked already. Oh. There are no tours on Sunday either, so that's that. No brewery tour for me in Auckland.

Not to worry. It seemed to be in a pretty lively area and I'd spotted a pub on the way, so double backed and went past that to see what was going on. Turns out I was in the Newmarket area, full of shops and cinemas and a bowling alley and bars and a huge gym etc. Cool! I wandered about but didn't go in anywhere until getting back to the Cock & Bull, an English pub which won me over by (a) being English but 12,000 miles from England, and (b) having a "Cockney Burger" on the menu.

What a superb pub! So familiar it could have been a Fuller's place anywhere in London, it had a really decent array of beers and I gave the Dark Star a go -- which was bloody nice actually. So nice I had a second pint and ordered some food, a chicken lasagne. While waiting I figured I'd read the Weekend Herald that I'd bought (along with a Diet Coke) en route.

New Zealand news and politics is fantastic. As far as news is concerned, of sufficient importance to be on the front page was the story of Clint Brown, a TV presenter on a sports channel that got totally wankered, in a fight, beaten up after hassling a bloke's wife, and then a hangover so bad he can't remember a thing about it. Top quality news, I thought. Politics is even better though, the big news over here at the moment being something about the Prime Minister's husband being possibly gay, but also a member of a shady sect called the Exclusive Brethren. Private investigators are involved and it's all very clandestine. Good effort.

On the cover of the magazine was a Shortland Street actor. How stereotypical is that?

The letters page annoyed me. Some guy wrote in with something along the lines of
Am I the only person who finds it ironic that every time someone lambasts Islam for being a violent religion, thousands of Muslims across the world rise up and prove them right?
No response from the editor, but hopefully in the office their reaction was much like mine. No! Of course it's not only you, you fucking arrogant twat. You think you're the only person to come up with that? Really? You honestly think that you've come up with an enormously deep insight that you need to share with the rest of New Zealand because no-one else has the clarity of thought and big-picture vision to note that particular irony? Have a fucking word you fucking idiot. Jesus!

Ahem. Anyway. The chicken lasagne was alright but the beer was better. I needed to go to the loo and had a sudden attack of nerves about causing offence. See I didn't want to pack all my stuff up in my bag and take it with me, but nor did I want to ask someone to look over it in case they thought I was an arse for even suggesting that people steal unattended things in pubs over here. Then the perfect defence struck me: being an English pub, I could claim that I thought it was so English that my possessions and self were in constant danger, which is why I had to ask. But all this worrying took too long and in the end I just went for a piss leaving my stuff on the table.

Several signs in the pub said


and I'd been thinking, hmm, that sounds like a metal band line up. Took me an hour or so to realise it was actually a formula advertising some crazy ass karaoke night. Oh well.

The TV was showing rugby. The Rugby Channel, in fact. Everyone loves rugby here. There's a massive advertising hoarding going round 3 sides of a building near my hotel, all of which have a count down to the next rugby world cup in different measures. One is days, one is minutes, one is seconds. It's almost a year to go but they're all mad for it. There are 2 All Blacks stores on this block alone. Mental.

The last bit of noteworthy news from the paper was a snippet about Patrick Crowe. This man is the mastermind before the "Oprah Winfrey for President" campaign. Just one small problem: Oprah Winfrey doesn't want to run for president and has issued a cease and desist order to get him to fucking stop it. Nice one, PC.

That was the lot for the Cock and Bull. Wasn't sure what to do next but couldn't be bothered with the walk back to town -- before getting to the pub I'd been walking almost solidly from 0900 to 1330. So I headed to a "the Link" bus stop and hey presto, it was there immediately. NZD1.50 for any length trip up to the full circuit, this bus goes way further than the city circuit and I grabbed a seat at the front to see what else Auckland had to offer.

The Link goes along Karangahape Road, which is somehwere I'd wanted to look for/at because apparently Auckland's only dedicated metal bar is on it. I couldn't spot it, but the area did look cool, a bit seedy with a bit of a Camden Town feel about it. At the far end we stopped, not at a bus stop, but by a public loo so the driver could nip out for a piss, heh. Thankfully we didn't get hijacked.

Quite a cool bus this The Link. It announces each stop in advance even if no-one has rung the bell, not just the stop but why you might want to get off there. "Alight here for shops, some park, etc" type stuff. There's also a TV screen which alternated between adverts and a map of Auckland showing where the bus currently is. Neat.

Ponsonby was next, another area full of shops and bars. Next time I come to Auckland (assuming there is one) it seems I have quite a bit more exploration to do. As it is though I just treated it as a sightseeing tour and stayed on all the way back into the centre of town, got off and came back to the hotel.

In the evening I took a wander down to Viaduct Quay, a quayside (duh) area full of bars and restaurants. Started off in Hagan's, an Irish pub in which I had the worst pint of Guinness I've ever tasted. I know I'm a long way from Ireland, but fucking hell that pint was horrible. Dubai does it so much better. Couldn't face attempting an Old Speckled Hen in there so I went outside, phoned me old man, and went to a different bar, Imperial. Perfect timing, timezones for the win!, the Ryder Cup was on. And Europe were doing fucking awesome too. Bought a pint of Heineken and settled in front of a TV. The Heineken tasted distinctly of banana. Odd. It was served in one of the heaviest pint glasses I've ever had too. The Ryder Cup kept making me double take, as the partnership of "Clarke and Westwood" made me think of some Radio 1 golf tournament featuring Dave Clarke and Tim Westwood. Gnargh.

Money came out of my pocket as I attempted to navigate my way through the local currency and break with tradition: I intended to buy my next drink with coins. Foreign coins always confuse me but New Zealand coins are terrible, because the 20 cent piece comes in two different sizes. For fucks sake. In the USA I've always thought having dollars as paper was a load of shit but perhaps I need to reevaluate that position. Anyway, just as I'd figured it out they turned the TV over. No more Ryder Cup, no more patronage by me! I buggered off, couldn't be bothered with any other bars so went to the shop to get a diet coke. Ended up buying a diet coke with raspberry, something about which I was initially massively exuberant until I realised it might end up tasting horrible (it doesn't; it doesn't really taste of much, neither the raspberry or DC taste come through very strongly. Shame you can't get the cherry version down here). The best bit of buying it was the guy in the shop getting really confused by the 20c coins of two sizes I gave him. Hah! Take that, NZ currency. Sort it the fuck out, it confuses everyone!

Right. That's Saturday done. Time to go have breakfast, see if I can go up the Sky Tower, and then head to the airport.

Forgotten foresight rules

Been back at the hotel for a while after an earlier trip out, just doing a lot of nothing really. Looking at my flights and hotels mainly, and thinking a lot about the days and weeks ahead. Seems I had the great idea to book hotel transfer in Hong Kong, which gets one of my major worries out of the way. Perth will be easy to deal with and a car is getting me in Singapore too, so it's only (only!) Japan which remains truly daunting. Am I wrapping myself in cotton wool too much? I'm not sure. Does "getting from airport to hotel" count as part of the adventure?

Housekeeping didn't fill up my mini-bar today :-( mind you I'd not anywhere near finished it all yesterday, and haven't finished the remainder today. But still, pfft.

I wish there was a way for me to choose my seats on the Qantas and Cathay Pacific flights I've got coming up. I guess I could if I joined their frequent flyer schemes, but that seems a bit much (and that's coming from me!). I don't really know why I care, I guess it's just because being able to pick where I'm sitting is a novelty that hasn't yet worn off.

In the course of looking at flights this evening I've been checking how busy each flight is using my expertflyer.com subscription -- gah, I hate that. How can I be an "expert" flyer? I'm just a guy with a lot of flights booked, there's no fucking expertise involved, sheesh -- and I think I've got the whole of business class to myself for the next few weeks. I noticed I leave Singapore a bit late so wondered about changing the flight time, but the most attractive option involved a stop in Bangkok which probably isn't too wise at the moment.

I'm tired. The annoying thing about not having a TV in the bedroom here is that I can't fall asleep in front of it. I like radio but having the TV on shuts my brain down far more effectively, because I don't find myself lying in the dark thinking too quickly and loudly to myself. I'm too busy being distracted by the tube to be my own distraction, and I'm not a great fan of lying awake for an hour or two with only my thoughts for company. Oh well.

Must. Stop. Photographing. Everything.

6pm on Sunday evening here IN THE FUTURE and, um, I've got around 330 photos from the past 48 hours or so to upload. Auckland could really do with not having such picturesque stuff to take photos of. Mind you I have a feeling that shitloads of the photos I took today won't be any good at all, so perhaps I'll only have 150 or so in the end.

I'd write something about yesterday now, except I can't be arsed. There's nothing to write about Friday because despite actually being in livelyville, I didn't go anywhere. Just had a couple of cans in the hotel room out of the minibar, caught up on shitloads of THE INTERNET and watched TV. But yesterday and today have been pretty full on, as you will one day see.

Tomorrow my flight is at 1325. Checkout from the hotel is at 1100, but I'll want to be out quite a bit before then if I'm to make my next frequent-flyer-game move at the Qantas desk before lapping up a bit more lounge goodness. In particular the idea of using airport bandwidth rather than (costly) hotel bandwidth is tempting where the photos are concerned, although whether I'll have time to upload all them photos is debatable.

The big problem is that after I checkout, I have no internet until Wednesday evening in Perth. Not looking forward to the flight there anywhere near as much as all the others, because despite it being a nice 5hr journey in fatcat class the fuckers at Qantas don't let you in a lounge if you're flying domestic. FFHS! That flight is 2.5 times the distance/time of the international flight to Auckland! I think I'll give sweet-talking the agent at the desk a go and see if I can't get an invitation. Pfft. Right.

But yeah, long day tomorrow though. As well as getting up and to the airport early (shower, pack, buffet breakfast, checkout, cab), a 3hr flight to a place 2hrs in the past means it only takes 1hr. See? So whereas Monday 18th September didn't exist, Monday 25th September is 26 hours long and there's a full evening in Sydney to enjoy. Personally I want to drop the bags off and then go out pubbing, I think, 'cos that's something I've not done yet and doing so on Tuesday night comes laden with the potential for flying while hungover. Never a good idea, especially without a lounge in which to have a postponing dog hair or two... anyway, I wonder how much hard work it will be to convince Kevin, Sally, and Mara that going out on the piss on a Monday night is a good idea.

Hmm. Panic! At The Disco sound like Fallout Boy, and to my utmost annoyance I've found myself liking the latter (and, therefore, the former) recently. "lalalalala cock it and pull it", etc. Goddamn emo rubbish being all catchy and shit. Thank fuck I've placed a moratorium on buying any CDs 'cos they're too heavy to cart around the fucking world, hopefully by the time I get back to England this phase will have passed.

Sydney, day 3

Right, I've got about half an hour before I have to leave the hotel for my second boat trip of the day, so let's see if I can describe Thursday sharpish. This might not be the best blog entry ever...

As Tuesday morning, on Thursday me and Kev walked through the park to Bondi Junction. Not because we needed a destination the bus wasn't good enough for, but because it was time to get Sally some keys cut. The place had been shut on the way back the previous night but things were perilous and she really needed her own set, what with me causing him to be a filthy stop-out. So while he sorted that out I went to the newsagent to buy, yes, a Diet Coke. Except the newsagent didn't sell drinks. Odd. So I went to the standalone deli counter (ie, not a counter inside a larger shop) and bought it there... and a pork pie too. Wasn't very nice, that.

Train to Town Hall took us to the interchange of the first box to tick that day: the fucking MONORAIL. After roundly laughing at my exuberance over the thought of a trip on it on Tuesday, Kevin had tried to get backup from Mara but instead was treated to the full-on "it's great, you get a truly unique perspective on the city, and anyway, what about that Simpsons episode?" treatment. Go Mara! Foreman the Elder scowled away while I waited with a huge grin on my face. Hah!

First monorail had 2 carriages whose doors didn't open, and all the other carriages were way too full. So we waited for the next, which had only one fucked carriage, but was still standing room only. Not to worry though: the ticket you buy (if not a pass) is vaild for any amount of stops on the loop, and since by definition all the people sat down had got on before us, they were bound to get off soon and we'd be able to sit (and take photos). We were being a bit naughty though, 'cos we actually wanted to do a circuit and a bit: where we got on was only 2 stops from our destination.

Turns out every other fucker was doing the same. NO-ONE got off for the entire circuit, I swear the first people who did got off at the next stop, second time around. Bastards. The huge party occupying most of our carriage finally got off there too, meaning we had precisely one stop to sit down for. Oh well, I don't really care: I had a ride on a fucking monorail!

Grabbed a drink and stole some Internet access from a wifi network by a coffee shop before exploring the area. Darling Harbour was where we got off. It's, um, a harbour area. Ferry stops, a marina, loads of bars and stuff, and the National Maritime Museum -- we walked past them all. Took loads of photos (especially of the monorail *cough*) but mainly just wandered for a couple of hours. We had a lunch date with Sally, who works around the corner, so just before that we went away from the water and through the casino building. Not actually onto the gaming floor, but I did make us spend a good few dollars on this if-your-reactions-are-OK-you-might-win-an-ipod-shuffle machine. Our reactions weren't OK, we didn't win an ipod shuffle.

Kevin couldn't remember the address of Sally's work. This was problematic, because she didn't have a mobile or any way of getting hold of us, and we were supposed to meet her outside the office. He remembered the road, but thought it was number 120. The problem we faced, however, was that the road didn't have a number 120. Hrm. 200 was the next best guess and, in fact, also the best guess, because it was right. Sal appeared and we went round the corner to Pen Cafe (a diversion from where Sal had intended to take us because she'd forgotten I don't do sushi).

A couple of other friends of theirs joined us for lunch too. Anne and James? I think and hope that's their names. They're in Sydney for a while, she being a native and him being a Londoner. Innit.

Oh, here's an aside: talking of people other than me, it turns out Sal has a sister called Jo who's married to a bloke called Nige. What are the odds?

Anyway, lunch was great. I had a plate full of spaghetti, can't remember what everyone else had, but what I do recall is that Sal made us all drink Bundaberg ginger beer. It was nice, but OH MY GOSH: 41g of sugar in a bottle. Eek!

Sal back to work, Anne and James back to wherever they were going, I insisted on going back to the casino and this time onto the gaming floor. And indeed that's where we went. Believe it or not it was my first time ever in a casino and unfortunately it was a massive disappointment. All the fruit machines are these endemic "pokies" which I shoved a bunch of money in and signally failed to understand how to work. The money remains in the casino.

Another aside: on New Zealand's MTV at the moment there's some fucking weird ass half-Nirvana indie band covering Enter Sandman. At the start of this paragraph I was undecided, but now I've come to the conclusion that it's bollocks.

Right, not much time left. The thing that confused me most about the casino wasn't the pokies, it was the table games. I was half tempted to play some blackjack and almost got as far as buying some chips until it hit me: they had blackjack tables, and they had pontoon tables. Erm. What? Hold up. Pontoon? Isn't that what we used to call Blackjack as kids until we learnt it was really called Blackjack? Looked in vain for a leaflet or whatever explaining the basic rules of all the games available but no, all the leaflets they had were all about contacting some people to help you talk about your gambling problems etc, all this self-help don't-gamble-your-mortgage-and-kids-college-funds away nonsense. Well look: I've got a problem gambling -- I can't work out how to do it. Sigh.

So, we left. Went to the ferry stop but we missed one by about 20 seconds, so a wander around the other side of the harbour got us on a different one... which stopped at the one we'd just left. Oh well, the earlier you get on the more water time (and likelihood of a seat) there is. Back to Circular Quay and ready for a bus to Bondi Beach.

Well, that's it really. We got a bus to Bondi Beach. Straight off the bus bro' bought a coffee from a total psycho mental woman in the shop and we stood watching the beach and waves and surfers for a while. After that got boring we took the coastal path around, past one bay (Tamarama) to another (Bronte). Mara was working in Bronte and could pick us up and take us home if we got there at about 1800. Well, we got there at 1730 and hung around for a bit until Sal phoned both Mara and Kevin saying she couldn't get into the flat. Kevin had handed over the freshly minted keys at lunch but they didn't work :-(

Frenzy! Kevin phoned Mara, got directions to where she was working, we got the car keys off her and he drove me and him to the flat. Sally wasn't there, so I went towards the local pub while Kevin took the car back to (get) Mara. Just approaching the boozer I got another call, from Kevin: Sally isn't in the boozer, she's in a coffee shop in the opposite direction. About turn I went, going past the flat until I thought, look, I might not be a local but in this direction there's fuck all. So I called Sally and found where she was, in a coffee shop indeed, but a slightly different direction again. She left, I headed towards and we met halfway.

See, the problem was, the guy had slid across the counter 2 sets of 3 keys. The natural assumption was that one set was the originals, and one the new 'uns. This is a rash assumption, for in reality I had 2 copies of one and Sal had 2 copies of another. Only one lock is used, mind, but that happened to be the one I had 2 of. Turns out the other key I had was a new 'un for the second lock and it didn't fit anyway. Fucking useless.

Thought it was a bit short notice but my desire to go out for an evening while in Sydney was actually heeded, and we headed to The Spot, a bit of Randwick full of bars and eateries, for mexican. Hmm, that was some fuck-off burrito I had, but the jalapenos on the side were weak as cat's piss :-(

Back at the flat I dozed off too early to watch Family Guy. Ho hum. Up the next morning and off to the airport and Auckland... and there we go. It's now 1415 and my boat trip starts boarding at 1445. Time to neck this bottle of Diet Coke and slap on a bit more factor 50+ UV EXTREME.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Sydney, day 2

The girls having gone to work, Wednesday morning started with a far shorter walk to our transport: we got the bus from just up the road, opposite the dog (and cat) launderette in Randwick. We'd left later than the previous morning, in part because we'd been watching some of the Steve Irwin memorial on TV. LIVE on TV, ad-free, and possibly on more than one network too. Bit mad, he really is/was a stupendously popular guy in Australia. All kinds of celebs were wheeled out in video-tribute form to say good things about him too. Remember: HE CHANGED OUR WORLD. The service was on in the shop where I bought the first Diet Coke of the day too, just by the bus stop.

339 to Circular Quay, off we got and a couple of weekly passes were bought. This was AUD41 for unlimited travel on buses, some trains, and loads of ferries in the whole Sydney area. Not sure if it's valid out as far as the airport but I may find that out on Monday afternoon (or wimp out and just buy a single). Anyway, this is pretty fucking good value really, especially for an out-of-towner like me for whom getting a ferry is a proper novelty.

On the ferry we got, over to the stop by -- and possibly even called -- Taronga Zoo. Being something of a seasoned cable car rider I'd been looking forward to boarding the Sky Safari up to the zoo's entrance, but it was shut. Broken or summat. So we had to wait for a bus, and only fitted on the 3rd one that came along. Meant we got a seat though as by that time we were at the front of the queue. Off at the top, in we we went, and, well, I'm not sure there's a lot to write about the zoo. Everything can be said with all the photos I took, of which there are legion. I already posted my favourite yesterday, and the rest are up on flickr already in the Sydney set.

Actually I guess there's a few things to say. Quite a lot of it was fairly disappointing: no penguins, very few seals/sea lions, no hippos or rhinos or elephants, and quite a few of the animals we did see were either hiding or being unentertainingly lazy. But I can't be annoyed at the zoo because of that lioness photo, the tortoises, the giraffes, and, well, because it was a really nice day and zoos are cool. The fact that some animals were absent due to quarantine, or mating, or redevelopment of their compound just means I have an excuse to go back to it sometime.

After leaving the zoo we got a different bus to the one we'd got there. Instead of heading straight back to the ferry we instead went to [whatever the bit of town we went to was called, I forget] and a second Sydney institution when it comes to eating: Maisy's. This is a 24hr place that tried to go un-24hr, but relented after a storm of protest. No-one sat inside when we turned up, but no spaces to sit outside either 'cos all those tables were full. I had a footlong hot dog -- the bun was not a foot long, though -- and it was fantastic, as was the strawberry milkshake I washed it down with.

Walked that off by taking a long trot to Cremorne Point ferry stop via a brief stop outside the flats where my bro' used to live. He wanted to show me some crazy birds that live(d) in the trees opposite, but most of the trees had been chopped and we got rather creepily Neighbourhood Watched while pointing at various things. Ended up having a conversation with a yellow-trousered man wearing braces who was telling us about the possum he feeds. Hrm.

The walk to the ferry was mostly through a coastal park thing, Kevin can remind me of the name (except he doesn't need to, 'cos I found it myself). Basically a non-stop glorious view of Sydney harbour from the north shore. The ferry turned up at the same time as us, giving us a little bit of time to spare back city-side to grab a beer in Sydney's oldest pub while watching India fare pretty badly in an ODI.

That said, we didn't really have that time to spare 'cos Mara wasn't coming back early that evening, Sally had no keys to get into the flat and we'd misunderestimated the time it would take us to get back. When we did get back Sally was sat by the door. :-(

Had a bottle of beer, then went out to get takeaway Thai food. Back at the flat a rum and coke was forced upon me, part of some tradition apparently. Not rum+coke with Thai food, but the particular brand of rum in use. Another institution, Bundaberg IIRC. Unfortunately Sal mixed the drinks way too strong, she couldn't even finish her own. The Thai food wasn't great, and I went to bed at about 10pm. Was I accustomed to the timezone properly already?

Sydney, day 1

Advice for travellers comes in many forms and from many places -- governments, friends, tripadvisor.com, airlines, me, employers -- but most of them, I think, agree that one of the best things to do is try and get yourself into your destination's timezone as soon as you can. It's certainly something I try and do; I set my watch to the right time of where I'm visiting as soon as the plane takes off. Unfortunately I don't heed the advice beyond that, in particular I don't bother kipping at the right times or anything sensible like that (btw, advice about time is simple and easy for anyone to follow; what's less simple, or even sensible, is the advice Yahoo! gives out which includes "try and blend in with the locals. buy a local language newspaper". this didn't work for me in TAIWAN AND FUCKING INDIA).

So, 0630 in Sydney, me having been up for most of the previous 36 hours and my bro for the previous 90 minutes. Had a cup of tea (out of character, but I figured the caffeine and sugar would be helpful), said hello/goodbye to Sally who was off for her first day at work in her new* job, said hello/goodbye to Mara who was off to her regular job, and went out ourselves, at about 0850 I guess.

Started off with a walk, across Queen's Park. Mara's flat is in an area called Randwick, in a part of Sydney where the only public transport options are buses. But it was rush hour so we wanted a train, which meant heading to Bondi Junction. I was already flagging, feeling hot and knackered and light headed and wondering whether attempting to adjuts to the local timezone was such a good idea.

Martin Place, where we got off the train, is in the centre of Sydney, loads of shops and bars and businesses in enormous tower blocks all around, with pedestrianised areas and a massive feeling of being in, err, London. Or Manchester. The whole everything's-in-English thing, the fact they drive on God's side of the road, being with my brother, and the knowledge that it was us, after all, who kicked off all the massive settlement here: all these things made me feel like I wasn't really in a foreign country thousands of miles from home at all. Very odd it were. Everything was so familiar. I expected to see a Wetherspoons until i remembered that no-one does chain pubs other than England.

Anyway, anyway, anyway. It's way too early to be thinking about pubs. Let's walk through Sydney city centre, down George Street, towards the water. Circular Quay is the central calling point for ferries in Sydney, what Aldwych used to be to night buses in London. There are a bunch of piers/wharfs, and shedloads of ferries. The sheer number of boats in the water, both public transport (those which the travelcard equivalents are valid on) as well as special ones (taxis, special cruises, etc) really took me aback. Fucking cool though. But we didn't get on a boat, we just carried on wandering. Round to the left towards Sydney Harbour Bridge, and an area called The Rocks.

The weather in Sydney was phenomenal. The week before when Kevin and Sally had just got back, it was pissing down and miserable. But I arrive and the sun comes out. Kevin's excuse is that the weather was actually saying "Oh, you're staying then?" to them two, but I think we all know what's what. So the point is, the photos just couldn't wait. I started snapping in earnest. The harbour, the bridge, the opera house, they all got some k800i treatment. Of particular interest to me were the bridge walkers. Fools who aren't big scared-of-heights wousses (ahem) pay a load of dollars to be kitted out in a jump suit, chained to the bridge, and go walking all the way to the top. Mentalists. The view's probably fantastic though, but I settled for taking photos of them.

After The Rocks more diet coke was acquired, probably a bit too soon after the last bottle 'cos I started getting a bit unsteady on me feet again, and it was only 11am or summat. Walked back past Circular Quay and round past/behind the Opera House. The whole place was actually pretty dead. Not totally empty, but not rammed by any stretch of the imagination. I guess kids the world over are in term time, and it was midweek. Good for us, though.

I can't make my mind up about the Opera House. Is it pretty? Is it ugly? Is it pretty ugly? I'm not sure. But it doesn't matter anyway, what matters is it's a box I can tick: been there, photographed that.

Round the corner from the OH is a big park. Or botanical gardens. It's both, I guess. There are loads of plants and loads of birds and loads of greenery. Kev wanted us to walk all the way round, but the look of that was putting me off and I suggested we go get some solids once we reached halfway. So off the coastal track we went, inland via parakeets and past a wharf full of expensive boats and posh bars selling expensive drinks, near which a professional photographer was snapping a recently (ie, an hour or so ago) wedded couple. Past them, and past an undoubtedly expensive hotel, is Harry's Cafe de Wheels.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels is a Sydney institution. Not one I'd heard of, mind, but I'm satisfied by the walls full of photos of famous patrons that it genuinely is. And what an institution! My kind of place, Harry's is a stall selling pies and peas. That's about all it sells, really. Lots of different kinds of pie, mind, but still it's just all pie and peas. Bro and I duly ordered a pie and peas each and settled round the corner in the shade to eat it.

Shade was actually only one reason we went round the corner; the other was to get out of the way of the photographer. The aforementioned couple had moved on from the wharf-front setting, and were now being snapped ordering pies and peas. Still in their full wedding garb. And once served, they sat down to eat. On the pavement. I kid thee not, this bird in her fancy wedding dress was sat on the pavement eating a meat pie, with a bottle of coke next to her to wash it down. Bloody fantastic.

The pie sorted me out a bit, actually. The caffeine was no longer rushing. I'm awake, but fucking hell it was sunny. Too hot by half, I needed shade, or better still, aircon. A pretty long walk took us through a load of the aforementioned in a couple of parks and into the latter, in a big shopping centre in the, err, centre of the city. The QVB is much like any other mall I've ever been in, even down to having a branch of Lush which FUCKING STINKS. Wankers.

Didn't actually want to do any shopping, mind, but I did find that nice as Harry's pie was it wasn't exactly filling. So I brought some ice cream, a couple of scoops that were way bigger than I thought they'd be. Bro had the same (well, different flavours) and we went upstairs at my behest for a gawp at the monorail station. I fucking love monorails! But we didn't get on it :-(

Still too early to go to bed, and too hot to go back outside, I figured I'd been in the country long enough now to have a pint. A quick wander led us to an airconditioned underground bar and pool hall whereupon we played a few games and I really can't remember the score. I know I was 2-0 down, then 3-2, but then what happened. 3-3? 4-3? 3-4? Kevin'll have to remind me. Finished our Toohey's New times two in there and went down the road for a Toohey's Old in a different place, and time was a ticking. The alcohol wasn't making me drowsy though, which was a result, so there was still time for a bit more touring to be done. This involved looking for the 339 bus stop to take us to Clovelly, via Randwick, this being the bus that goes nearest to Mara's place.

I had to find the bus stop for us. Despite this being my first time ever in the city, Kevin got confused and a bit lost and my suggestion of heading to the bus stops opposite "Central" station came good. One 339 ride later and there we were at Clovelly, a beach town full of steep hills and bloody steep houses. A small beach with beautiful sand and a decent swimming area, our walk around its border revealed one of the reasons why England's rugby dominance will never last: kids of no more than 6 years old playing on the beach, one of them shouting "that's a knock-on!". Sheesh. Play a real sport you arses! Or, rather, don't, 'cos then you'll start beating us at it. So, err, keep up the good work!

Sydney, in fact Australia as a whole (I think), has a whole load of social clubs attached to sports clubs... or perhaps the other way round. Anyway, these clubs are members' clubs which, along with working men's clubs and (ex-)servicemen's clubs, are a way to get subsidised beer. The beauty lies in the system for being granted membership: you write your name and address on a slip of paper as you go in, and that's it. So a subsidised pint in Clovelly's crown green bowling club was ours, sat by the window looking out to sea as the sun started to go down.

It was time to go back so we wandered back across the bay and to the bus stop, but having just missed one we figured we'd walk a stop or two. This ended up being a walk all the way home... via another pub. A Toohey's Old in the back garden of the Duke Of Gloucester, just up the road from the flat, and then we really did go back. My entrance was particularly amusing to Sally and Mara: before walking into the kitchen I'd taken my glasses off to rub my eyes a little, feeling a bit tired 'n all. OH MY GOD YOU LOOK SO FUCKED was, I think, the greeting I got. Fair's fair I suppose. I was. Even the fantastic double fried egg and toast Mara made didn't have the power to keep me awake so finally, at 8pm on Tuesday evening, I crashed out. On a bed, too! Muchos gracias to me bro' for volunteering (or was that being told?) to kip on the sofa, greatly appreciated that. It would have been even better if I'd not woken up at 2am, and again at 0530 -- that time for good -- but it was still better than sleeping on a floor.

Right, that's day one done. It's now 7pm in Auckland and I think I'm going to go and have something to eat and something to drink. Just as soon as the damn photos finish uploading to flickr, that is. Lord knows how much all this excess data is costing me, but I could really do with the uploader not hanging just as it reaches the end. Anyway, by the time anyone reads this there should be 192 new pics to look at, including a bunch from days as-yet unwritten about. It should be pretty easy to guess what it is I did, therefore...

Picture this. And this. And this. And ...

Back in the hotel room for a rest after a genuinely active day so far (except for the 2 hours in the pub). Before I start writing about Sydney I'm just putting all the photos on my laptop rather than flickr, turns out I have at least 215 from Sydney, and 137 (so far) from Auckland. Eek! They can't possibly all be any good, but I'm not sure how many I'll discard tbh... I have seen a lot of cool things. Ho hum. I guess the price for going over the 50mb/day limit isn't prohibitively expensive so I should just fucking get on with it. The real arse is going to be giving each one a title and tags. I'd best get on with it I guess. Fucking hell this film with Kevin Costner in it that's on at the moment sounds like a shocking load of trite nonsense. I wish there was a decent TV channel on this hotel's system FFHS.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Monday 18th September did not exist

People who don't like Mondays (eg Bob Geldof) should fly on the Sunday run of BA15. LHR-SYD. London to Sydney. A 2-leg 1-number flight taking me over 10,000 miles away from London. It leaves London on Sunday and arrives in Sydney on Tuesday, so Monday doesn't exist. Bit mental that.

I was sat in 13G, which IIRC was the first time all year I'd not managed to grab a window seat. That was my fault, because originally I was booked to fly the following day, but ho hum. I had bagged 13G, a forward facing aisle seat, right hand side of the middle 4 seats at the front of the cabin, just before first class. The benefit of this seat over any of the others is that no fucker has to clamber over me, nor do I have to clamber over any fucker, to get in and out. Was a bit confused to begin with though as I didn't twig that my entertainment guide etc were in a pocket on the back of the seat next to me (ie, not visible from my seat).

Seatexpert.com (or seatguru.com, or both, I forget and can't be bothered looking) said that 13G is great for singles. It also says that seats 13E and 13F are shit for singles, but great for couples. What they don't say is that 13G is great for singles unless 13E and F are occupied by a couple who intend to engage in horseplay for hours on end. No Mile High Club stuff going on, mind, just a lot of tickling and noise making and talking too loud and occasional bumping of the divider between F and G that more than once made me think my beer was going to go flying. Sigh. They were being treated nicely by the attendants too, as I think they'd been downgraded from first class. Fuckers.

Anyway. The first leg of the flight is the big 'un, 12 hours or so direct to Singapore. Such flights are a lot more fun if the entertainment system works, rather than having sound so bad -- loud static noises every 2 seconds or so -- that they decide to turn the entire thing off for the whole plane after 2 hours of unlistenable nonsense. Bit shit that. I tried to get some kip and got some, but nothing special and nothing of particularly high quality either. At least the map channel worked; what kind of crazy ass place name is Szczecin?

In terms of scran and booze, the menu was the same as the flights to/from Dubai. Having recently learnt that (a) London Pride is available in cans, and (b) they serve it on BA flights, I asked for that explicitly and got one. Then I asked for another, and got one. Then when they saw that was empty, they asked if I wanted another and said they'd go get one from the first class trolley 'cos no-one up there seemed to drink it. Heh.

They didn't give me an amenity pack. :-(

Seat 13G's reading light shines directly over whoever is sat in 12J, so when I wanted to read I was in danger of keeping someone else awake, or worse still, waking them up. So there was no entertainment and I couldn't read much, which meant watching the map channel a LOT. There are lots of places that end in -bad. Islamabad, Faisalabad, loads and loads more. I should have written a few of them down to make this point a little better, huh?

Placenames confuse me, actually. The names are shown, in both English and the language of where you're going to (or coming from, if that's non-English), on the map. But what gives there? A name is a name, and at least in my mind that don't have any real meanings, at least not contemporary ones. OK, I guess some do: England is Land of the Angles, which I can understand is something you can translate (eg Angleterre). But what about, say, "Spain"? Why is that word different in different languages? It's a name: surely the Spanish should have sovereignty over what it's called, everywhere, even down to the script it's written in? And talking of script, how comes the Chinese and Koreans and Japanese can write place names? AIUI they don't have alphabets per se, their writing isn't meant to denote pronunciation but instead have symbols which are words, full of meaning. So how do they decide on the series of glyphs that together means "Austria"? My mind boggles. I need to look this stuff up.

*cough* Sorry about that. Back to the flight. Coming into Sydney we had an aborted landing, which was fun, never had one of those before. There was something on the runway, spotted a bit late, a dead bird or summat. ATC told the pilot to abort so from pretty low down we went into a steep climb, heh. Ended up landing on a different runway which meant we took longer than we should have done to get to the gate. That meant my 2.5 hours at the airport turned into about 90 minutes in the end, ho hum. Still managed to get myself into the Qantas/BA lounge for a lager though, then back to the aircraft. The good news was they'd managed to fix the entertainment system... sort of. Something was wrong with audio channel one, but they'd fixed two, and told us to use that. Unfortunately audio channel two was English on every channel except the film I wanted to watch, on which it was fucking Spanish. So I watched a different film, one called Confidence -- which was actually really good.

Fish medley followed by chicken breast for food this time, I couldn't finish it and didn't even attempt dessert. Still fitted in another London Pride though, innit. Grabbed a couple of hours kip, I estimate I had 5 hours tops throughout the entire journey. Breakfast and some immigration cards greeted the early morning as we headed towards the 0515 landing in Sydney. Turns out the Australians want to know the address where you're staying, which is fair enough (the yanks and various others, in fact maybe everyone, want to know that stuff too). Just a shame that I didn't have the faintest idea about where my bro's wife's sister's house is. Even better, my phone refused to roam on any Aussie network in the airport so I couldn't get hold of him to find out. I asked an immigration staffer what to do before reaching the counter and to my relief he said a phone number would be OK, so I wrote that and got through.

By Christ they're a bit serious about what they let into that thar country. As well as immigration and baggage you have to go through quarantine, FFHS. And talking of baggage, it took me ages to get mine because I'd forgotten what my bag looked like. I only bought it the day before and was actually looking for the one I used last week in Dubai. D'oh!

With all that going on I thought my brother would be right annoyed, what with him probably having got to the airport at 0500 or so. I needn't have worried, since he didn't even wake up until 0505 -- ten minutes before my flight was due to land -- so he'd not been there long really. He drove me to the digs: it was 0630 on Tuesday morning. I was knackered. So we went out... which will be detailed in a separate post.


Even though I'm not uploading anything to flickr yet, I just can't resist spoiling everything by uploading what is possibly my favourite of all the photos I've ever taken. This lioness lives in Sydney zoo.

Oh my god I can't believe it, I've never been this far away from home

The Kaiser Chiefs succinctly explained my predicament in that chorus, and it's true. As I type I look at my watch, seeing that it says 6.20pm on Friday evening. As I look at the screen, I see my still-in-UK-time laptop telling me it's 7.20am on Friday morning. The good news is: it's nearer pub time for me than it is for everyone back home. Bit odd being so far in the future though, innit.

Talking of UK time -vs- where I am, here's a tip I really need to learn sharpish: if I want to get up at 7.45am, I should either (a) set my phone to local time, or (b) set the alarm to UK time plus offset. But not set my UK-time phone to go off at 7.45am UK time. Like I did this morning. Good job I'd been awake almost constantly from 3am(!); even better job that going another 2 hours further into the future means being knackered is fine, 'cos I've got a short waking day.

Anyway, so, I'm sat in the Mercure Hotel Windsor, Auckland. I'm on the top (8th) floor (lift only goes up to 7, bah), with a view of the bigger and better proper Mercure Hotel directly out of my room. Either side of it I can see car parks, business buildings, and also the sea. I wasn't after a view and am not that fussed about it not being particularly great. I am, however, impressed by having breakfast thrown in with my room rate, and a kitchenette. This room is almost suite-esque, having a door between the living roomy bit and the bedroom. Bit of a shame that there's no TV in the bedroom, but I'll live. The Kiwi accents on Sky News NZ behind me are already winding me up.

I realised on the cab ride from the airport that I didn't take enough advantage of the lounge in Sydney. That was the only international flight I'm taking from that airport (and therefore the only flight from that terminal), and despite fatcatting it up I'm not allowed into the lounge when flying domestic. So instead of just grab a slice of carrot cake and a small glass of diet coke I really should have done more. Not to worry, just gives me an excuse to come back in business class at some other point (hey, Yahoo!, send me to Australia, I'm finally up for it ... )

I really could have done a bit more too, since the flight boarded late. I was just about to leave when the lady on reception mentioned it over the tannoy, saying people should sit tight in the lounge. I was fidgetty and all packed up by then though, so 10 minutes later, before boarding was announced, I made my way to the gate. It was rammed and still not boarding, but as soon as I sat down they announced that those with children under 5, those requiring assistance, and those flying business class could board. So on I got, straight into the seat 1A, window on the left of the front row Sir.

Business class was empty. Maybe 8 people in total. Not a single other person in row 1 so I could have taken my pick, but it also leads me to believe it's not prime real estate for those in the know. But I don't really care -- I chose the seat because of the number, not because it might be the best place to sit, and as it happens I thought it was fine. I had windows, more legroom than I could shake my legs at, and total privacy. Staring at a wall isn't interesting, so I didn't: I watched Thank You For Smoking, which was pretty good.

Presumably at least in part because of how empty the cabin was, I thought service was superb. Being referred to as Mr Foreman is always a winner, the food was spot on (trout with potatoes and tomatoes, fruit salad, two ciabattas, a selection of cheese with biscuits and some strange dried fruit I couldn't identify except for the date). Before we'd taken off I'd had a glass of champagne with a refill, and when I asked for a beer the attendant presented me with one can of each on a tray asking me to take my pick. I chose the only one I'd never had before: Hahn's.

Hahn's is alcohol free.

It was only a short flight, 2h30m or so. We'd taken off late for various reasons, some of which weren't even known to the pilot who was in full-on fair dinkum Aussie mode.
Ah, we'll be taking off to the East, which is the wrong way, and then turning right. Mind you I've been wrong about that before, traffic control might tell me to turn back towards Sydney, so I don't really know. Just sit back and enjoy the flight.

Cracking views of Sydney and the coast was followed by a whole bunch of ocean and clouds before our descent, a "high speed descent" requested by the flight crew. New Zealand is a bit cloudy at the moment, which is a shame, but I still got a cracking view of coastline and loads of small islands. I was watching the map display for a few minutes after the film stopped and got really confused, as it had every stat correct except for the distance left to the destination. If it was to be believed, there was 27 minutes until landing and only 3854 miles to go. Hrm.

Loads to do in Auckland. It's Friday night and I'm in livelyville (I think!) so might go out on the hunt for a beer or two, perhaps some metal or maybe the casino. Although what I really need to do is have a shave and a bit of a relax. Saturday must surely be as lively as Friday, and I might even want to get on a boat tour at 9.15am or summat daft like that. Then of course there's the small matter of having shitloads of photos to upload but a 50mb per 24hr data limit to contend with :-(

Oh, and the last 3 days to write about. D'oh!


What ace blogging exploits huh? Turns out that other than a few minutes in the lounge in Singapore airport on the way to Sydney, the first Internet access I've had (other than a bit of terrifyingly expensive 3G data roaming on my phone) is right now, in the Qantas business class lounge as I wait for my flight to Auckland. I've been staying with my brother Kevin and his wife Sally, who are currently renting a room in (Sally's sister) Mara's house. Turns out she has no home phone, no PC, no Internet connection. Frankly there was no way I was going to spend any time in Internet cafes to get online, nor could I be bothered carting my laptop around the city hunting for hotspots, so that's why silence has been maintained.

Been too busy anyway! Which means I have shitloads to write, but it's less than an hour 'til my flight starts boarding. On the plane I'm in seat 1A which may be dreadful, I dunno, it just sounds really cool. Got a whole bunch of emails to read, a few to write, and other stuff to check on rather than spend much time writing a huge entry here and now. I also have, I think, over 250 photos to upload -- which will probably take longer to do than I have here. Of course my Auckland hotel has wifi so once I'm settled in there later today I'll do a bit of writing. But if anyone is interested in a precis, here it is: Sydney is fucking fantastic.

That's all (for now).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

DONE4 lounges now

Yes, the puns on the ticket name never end. I type as I'm sat in the Gate 1 lounge in Heathrow's terminal 4, having arrived just before 8pm despite getting out of my cab at 1845 or so. This lounge is new to me and, indeed, the fourth lounge on my trip:
  1. Gibraltar's Peninsula lounge
  2. Terminal 4's gate 10/Lounge pavilion Terraces lounge
  3. Dubai's Terraces lounge
  4. This one
Mind you that's me stretching the truth just to get a pun, having failed to use it earlier. This could actually qualify as the 5th or 6th lounge (Terraces in Terminal 1, used prior to my one-way ticket to Gibraltar, not actually part of the DONE4 ticket; and the arrivals lounge in Terminal 4 from Wednesday morning, but who really cares about arrivals?).

Been jumpy as fuck all day today. This is like my first trip to San Francisco back in 2001, doubled. Back then that was my first ever long haul flight, the first time I'd ever been more than 1 hour outside of the UK's timezone, and the longest I'd ever spent outside of the UK in one go (2 weeks). Well, now I'm flying double the distance and going for double the amount of time -- although I did in 2002 spend a little over 3 weeks on mainland Europe. The good news is that I tend to only get jumpy, nervous, and frankly worried about what I'm doing when I've got dead time to fill and the football on TV isn't enough to keep me occupied. I panicked a lot today about the stuff I was packing -- was it enough, was it too much, was I forgetting something, why can't I just accept the objective truth that all I really need is a passport, ticket, and credit card, etc etc. But it's all over now because as of 6pm I've had a definite pattern of activity to follow with no time to consider once again the outright madness of my trip.

That pattern of activity, of course, relates to the outright madness of my trip. Upon arrival at T4 I, along with nigh-on everyone else, would tend to head straight towards the check-in desks. Not so today, for as more attentive readers would have noticed I am travelling on a ticket dated tomorrow. When I bought the flights there were no spaces on any BA or Qantas flights to Sydney today and the best they could do was fit me on tomorrow's BA15, but since last week spaces became available. The flexibility of my ticket allows for date and time changes to happen for free, and because of that I was able to queue up at the BA ticket desk today and, like a truly seasoned flyer rather than the charlatan I actually am, say
I have a reservation on BA15 but my ticket is dated tomorrow, I'd like you to endorse this, thanks.
Bish bash bosh, Greg at the desk did it straight off. When I asked for him to similarly endorse the ticket for the BA flight numbers for Sydney-Auckland-Sydney he told me it wasn't necessary, though. Not sure about that but I'll sort it out in Sydney I guess.

So, next stop, fast track security. In these times of heightened paranoia, "fast" is most definitely a relative term, even more so when there's only one scanner working for two queues of people. The most puzzling thing to me though is that not once has anyone measured my hand luggage. I'm beginning to think that all BA (and BAA) staff must have had amazing training enabling them to determine whether a bag fits on the bins purely on sight, since that's now 3 times in a week when my bag -- which fits the dimensions exactly, and to my mind therefore is one that should raise an eyebrow or two -- has gone unmeasured.

Once through security, I'm home and dry. After flying from this terminal last Saturday I am of course aware of where the lounge is, no wandering around like a lost fool this time! And so, opposite gate 10, I present my boarding card to be granted entrance.
You're welcome to use this lounge, sir, but your flight will board at gate 6 and there is a lounge directly opposite that one. This lounge also tends to get quite full.
Well, that's me told -- the charlatan is unmasked and here I am in the lounge directly opposite gate 6. My entrance itself was not without incident, however: the kind lass manning reception asked me for my BA Executive Club membership number, as for some reason it was not on my boarding pass and not associated with this flight (meaning I wouldn't earn all the miles and Tier Points!). Turns out my account is in some kind of triple limbo status with no system agreeing with any other about how slim/podgy/fat a cat I really am. All fun and games, innit.

So, who'd have thought I could write so much nonsense about a simple 2 hour trip from home to this lounge? Mind you the reason I spout so much is not that I'm bored: my first ever work experience assignment was as a journalist on a local rag in Sutton and I twigged the other day that the main reason I write this shit is because I just like writing; I don't mind the sound of my own voice, but I really like the sight of my own text. The fact that some people enjoy reading what I write -- and may even mean it when they say that ;-) -- is icing on the cake.

Mmm. Cake. Time to go see what free scran and booze I can retrieve before boarding my free-scran-and-booze laden 20-odd-bastard-hour flight.

PS, Phil, if you're reading this, ta muchly for the BT Openzone subscription: muchly muchly appreciated. Imagine a little thumbs up symbol in place of this sentence.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

send off

Not a bad send off from AFC Wimbledon today. Went to see them play Horsham in the FA Cup after visiting Dad this morning (delivering some shopping, sorting out his PC and making sure he can keep in contact with me while I'm away etc). It was a great game, despite the ref trying to spoil it by being a total fucking disgrace, and we won 1-0 with a goal in injury time. Best of all was the announcement over the PA at half time that I'd won 450 quid in the monthly prize draw (the "Dons Draw"). Fucking results!

Tomorrow I go to the airport early. Dunno quite how early just yet... thinking about getting there for 6pm, which is 4 hours before the flight, because not only do I want to make the most of the lounge but I have to visit the BA desk first. Only thing is I really feel like watching the 2 big Premiership games tomorrow. Maybe a cab at 6pm will do.

The reason I need to visit the BA desk is because I'm once again making life hard for myself. I've never turned up at an airport to try and get on a flight which the ticket I have isn't for, but tomorrow I'm doing just that: booked on BA15 on Monday, as previously mentioned I got it moved to BA15 tomorrow. Well, the ticket still says Monday, obviously, and I need to get BA to understand that it's valid. That part should be easy; the other part is that in terms of playing the sad plane geek frequent flyer game I also got the travel agent to change my flights between Sydney and Auckland next weekend: I'm flying on exactly the same flights, but my booking is now on the BA marketed flight numbers rather than the Qantas flight numbers (they are Qantas flights). The reason for doing this is beacuse it triples the amount of BA tier points I earn for the flights... 240 instead of 80. Believe me, this is good news.

That's today and the future dealt with; yesterday I went to the Cocks with Wooj, Harv and Yvonne for a night of mostly me talking about my holiday, and all of us talking about metal. Got home and ordered pizza, our choice of vendor based entirely on who will deliver alcohol with the food (Topps do). The night before I'd been out with John and Hasty in Wimbledon, an as-predicted big 'un. I don't remember the exact topics we ranged over but I do remember at one point we decided that an opinion Hasty expressed was either right, or he was being a cunt: the conclusion was that he was being a right cunt.

Nerves setting in a bit. Gibraltar only kept me for a few hours, Dubai for just a few days. But now I'm about to escape Europe's gravitational pull and be out of the UK for the longest continuous period in my life so far. Eek! There's still a safety net: the first few days being spent with family, then a weekend away in Auckland, then family again; but as of next Friday I've got 3 weeks on me own in a host of foreign lands. Whoa. Mind you, it's the good type of nerves -- I'm fucking stoked! Bring on Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. Although I'm still not sure about spending any time in a capsule hotel just because lots of other people want me to... ;-) I also have instructions to visit the Namco museum, and take photos of toilets. Hmm.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mmmm, pizza

Went out last night for a few Kew Brews with Wooj, then had pizza afterwards. PapaJohns now do online ordering, which is cool, and also let you order up to 30 days in advance, which is mental as fuck. I'm thinking of ordering myself one just before I leave the country so it's waiting for me when I get home. Also noticed this stuff on the menu: shitloads of extra toppings, it'd cost nearly 36 quid to buy a large pizza with every topping! And having chilli powder cost the same as any other topping seems a bit off.

Went round to see me Dad today. Other than being in constant pain he's alright, I guess. We went to Tesco and did a bunch of shopping, that was it really. Gonna pop round there again on Saturday or Sunday before gallavanting, I think he's gonna be OK while I'm off though.

Off out this evening for what will almost certainly be an inadvertent big 'un. Hasty always says he can't handle beer any more but whenever we meet up we don't half put it away, and with John coming along too (hopefully) ... still, not like i've got to get up tomorrow ;-)

Time for a bit of obligatory fatcatluxurytravel boasting: last week I contacted BA saying "Look, I know my membership year ends on Friday, but I'm about to fly loads with you. How about extending it for a bit so I can get a bit of higher status and benefits with you?" Turns out they were happy to oblige and extended it by 2 weeks; 6 days later I'd earnt enough "Tier Points" to make the next level, Silver, and today they confirmed that I've reached it. Heh. So now I'm on my way to making GOLD status which means all kinds of perks and shit for the next 3 years, basically (1 year of just-earned silver, 1 year of gold when I qualify mid-2007, 1 year of silver after i fail dismally to requalify): lounge access whatever class I fly is the best one though, natch ;-)

Mmm. Pre-beer curry with the Archers looms large on my horizon. Mushroom dopiaza here I come!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Do Buy

Well what can I say. I'm glad I went to Dubai but I'm happier to be back. Just too bloody hot there, plus there's very little scenery to talk of, next to no history, and it was impossible to spend any time outside. September is a transition month as it starts to get cooler, but according to one of the bus tour guides it was already 10 degrees cooler than it was in August -- and it was 40-42C yesterday.

The Arabic breakfast I started the day with was alright, I suppose. More food than I could eat and I had a bit of everything it came with, but I wasn't particularly taken by the soup-type-stuff, the cheese didn't really taste like cheese, and the yoghurt was way too thick. Who knows what was what though? It included:
  • Zaatar
  • Foul medammas
  • Labneh
  • Haloumi cheese
The last of those I'm pretty sure I recognised, but the others? Who knows. I could look it up on THE INTERNET but to be honest I can't be arsed. I'm not in a hurry to try any of them again anyway.

Checked out and failed to get any cash from reception, but the hotel next door has an ATM so I was told to go there. It was about 1030 and within a split second of leaving my glasses steamed up. Thankfully the doormen are equipped with tissues to offer guests: I assume this happens pretty regularly.

By the time I got back from the Oasis Beach Hotel with 500 dirhams I needed to change my shirt 'cos I was drenched. I have no idea how people can live and work in weather like this, especially the thousands of construction workers. How are they not all dropping dead of dehydration or skin cancer all the time? And talking of construction workers I was given some idea of scale: the single project (albeit a bloody hefty one) going on next door to the Hilton is called the Jumeirah Beach Residence, and that alone employs 20,000 of 'em.

Oh yeah, 500 dirhams. That's about 72 quid at current rates, and given that the bus tour was 150 dirhams I figured it was a sensible amount to get out. After all I wasn't leaving until a lot later and I needed cash to eat, being unable to charge anything to my room any more. What I didn't know was that the machine was going to give me a 500 dirham note. Very glad I was buying the bus ticket before anything else, but FFHS if I'd just wanted a pint or summat that wouldn't have been fun.

The bus tour came on time and -- glory be! -- half of the upper deck was enclosed and air-conditioned! Unfortunately the entire section was full and I had to sit on the first row outside/behind it. 20 minutes later we reached the end of the tour (my hotel is only 2 stops before that) and I was boiling once again; but I'd decided against having a wander around the Mall Of The Emirates even if the idea of snow was massively appealing at that moment. The good news is that most people were going in, so I got to grab a seat in the aircon bit. Mind you there was still only one stop to go, because I was on the blue route, one that isn't a loop. So from MotE they took us to Deira City Centre and booted us off with instructions to wait 15 minutes for the red route.

DCC is a shopping mall. Apparently it has over 200 shops but I only saw about 15, and they were all electronics shops. It was a good job I wasn't there by cab or the day before or I would probably have ended up buying a laptop, or camera, or camcorder, or all three. It was so cheap. Couldn't find any M2s though, which is the only thing I was actually interested in.

When red finally arrived I got a seat in the aircon bit which surprised me, DCC is not the start or end point for that route and I wasn't the first person to get on either. I'd already decided that I wasn't going to bother getting off this bus anywhere: I just wanted to see what Dubai had to offer, and in air-conditioned fashion.

Dubai doesn't have a lot to offer. I learnt a lot about the place from the guides, but what I learn didn't impress-a-me-much. Here's the "highlights"...

Dubai has one of the biggest desalination plants in the world and gets through [some huge number] of litres a day. Petrol in Dubai is cheaper than water. Oil was discovered by a British firm in 1966, exports started in 1969. Before '69 there were just 13 cars in Dubai, now there are 750,000 -- I assume, because the population is 1.5 million and 50% of people have cars. I guess a lot of people have more than one, because they're cheap (apparently). A metro is being built with 59 stations, "some of them underground", in an attempt to make the traffic problems a bit better. Traffic really is bloody awful, we got stuck in a few jams throughout the day and I'd already had that trauma on the way to the hotel on Sunday. 12km away is a bordering emirate called Sharjah; the guide said it would take longer than an hour to get there by road...

Dubai is a very safe city. There are hundreds of dhows -- boats -- docked on the creek with all their cargo piled up next to them, and this all goes unprotected and unmonitored overnight, such is the lack of crime around here. Bafflingly we were told "the crime rate is 1-2%", a standalone statistic which doesn't seem to actually mean anything. Of vague interest was that their law is split into 3 types: civil, criminal, and traffic.

There are 38 shopping malls in Dubai at the moment. There are going to be many, many more. Hence "do buy". Several of the stops on the tours were malls: MotE, Wafi City, the fake market (a market famous for, and revelling in, selling fake goods; watches, clothes, and the like), DCC, I forget where else.

Dubai's population at the moment is around 1.5 million, as I said above. 80% of these people are ex-pats (50% of the population are Indian). In a few years they expect the ex-pat level to be 90%. The reigning family (the al Makthoums) have been canny enough to realise they need a life after oil, which is going to run out inside 10 years, which is why there is so much construction going on. They are attracting businesses and tourists like crazy to keep the income flowing, and already oil accounts for less than 50% of their GDP. Basically Dubai is being turned into an enormous version of Vegas without the decadence. The oil money is all being invested in property development while laws are in place to ensure ownership remains in Emirati hands, and there are decent deals in place for what few locals there are too. For example, a Muslim couple that marries is given a villa and free electricity and water bills (don't forget, water is more expensive than petrol). Westerners aren't allowed to own property outright.

And that's really all there is to Dubai: five-star hotels and complexes, massive office blocks (all glass -- easy to get hold of with all that sand about), development and construction. Dubai is already, or soon will be, home to the biggest and best and most expensive of all this kind of stuff. The tallest building in the world, longest unsupported walkway between two buildings, tallest pair of buildings, most expensive hotel, biggest hotel, largest amusement park, .... in another neighbouring emirate there are plans to build a replacement airport. DXB is not too shabby as it is, but the new one is going to be twice the size of Hong Kong -- the island, not the airport -- and have five runways. Heathrow has 2.

An underwater hotel is being built in the gulf. It's going to cost $5000 per night. In contrast the most expensive one now -- the Burj al-Arab, which is a mighty impressive sight -- costs 4000 dirhams a night currently. At least I think they were the figures.

Dubai has no postmen. One of the reasons I'd arranged return airport transfer directly with the hotel was because I didn't relish the idea of asking a cabbie to take me to the address I had, which is a PO box, but now I know why. There are no postmen, if you want post you rent a PO box. This means actual road addresses just aren't that important, and basically my hotel didn't have one. Bit odd that.

Here's an aside: according to the TV, Qatar has 15% of the world's natural gas resources, and despite being tiny appears to be embarking on a development and marketing scheme even more ambitious than Dubai's: they're going to put in an Olympic bid. Qatar!

So that's what I know about Dubai. The tour itself went past shitloads of construction, a few nice already-built buildings, along both sides of the creek, through a residential area or two, past a couple of royal palaces, and along a few motorways. I saw a mosque or two and we stopped by a public beach. There are photos of loads of this stuff on flickr as of earlier today. I stayed on the red route all the way 'til the end, and then all the way from there 'til DCC where I changed back onto a blue to get me back to the hotel. This was also the route that went past the Burj. Unfortunately this third bus didn't have aircon: the upstairs had windows at the front but the roof was just a big, well, roof. I managed to stay in the shade thanks to the brim of my hat, the angle of the sun, and wearing long sleeves, but by jiminy was I hot come the end. Thankfully I'd bought a shirt at DCC so got changed (again) as soon as I got back to the hotel.

I had a few hours to kill and no room to sit in, so I sat in the bar. Had a lager or two, then another HILTON MEGABITE, and then I thought I'd have a Guinness. OH MY GOD I'm so glad I did. A hotel bar in a Muslim country and that was the nicest pint of Guinness I have ever had. But I wasn't silly, had no more, and got my 9pm cab. Unfortunately the traffic wasn't bad at all and I got to the airport earlier than expected -- earlier than check-in :-(

Dubai airport is a bit paranoid about security, I think. Firstly you go through a small security check to see whether you're actually flying or not; then you go through a proper security thing, with all your bags x-rayed and you metal-detected. Then you check-in your bags, and go through security, having your hand luggage x-rayed and yourself metal-detected. An enormously long walk (worse than Heathrow!) ensues before passport control, and then security. Finally I made it to the lounge and had a bunch of the free stuff listed previously. Got a bit jumpy about not being called for the flight 'cos it was due to leave in half an hour so I went to the gate, panicking a bit at the "final call" that was flashing on all the monitors. At the gate I had my hand luggage x-rayed and me metal-detected. FFHS! It's like the entire airport has OCD or something.

The flight was alright. I was almost falling asleep before we took off, but the food -- a "night cap" rather than full meal, given the timing; I chose a tuna salad which I didn't really like -- must have given me the energy to stay awake 'cos I managed to watch the entirety of Just My Luck. An OK film, not exactly typical me stuff though... then I had a couple of hours kip before waking up to the glorious view as photographed and posted in the previous entry. Breakfast followed, landing soon after.

Arrivals lounge time. I was a bit -- OK, a lot -- more apprehensive about this 'cos it's a lot more fat cat and out of the ordinary than a departure lounge but hey, this is the sort of thing I'm paying for. Turns out I didn't need to be apprehensive at all, I just walked in, gave a bloke my luggage in exchange for a token, and then queued up to be assigned a shower cubicle thing. After cleansing I went upstairs to serve myself a fry-up and just generally enjoy being the only person in the room who wasn't just about to head to work. Got up to leave but remembered that I wanted a massage, which I had no idea how to organise. Turns out you just write your name in a blank time slot on the sheet of paper outside the treatment room and then turn up at that time. 35 minutes spent reading CN Traveler magazine in the quiet 'sanctuary' room occupied me until my time came and Yee gave me a head, shoulder and neck massage for 15 minutes. Got up and could barely walk cos my muscles were all so relaxed.

3 buses got me home and, well, that's that. My next flight has been brought forward a day to Sunday, giving me 3 full days in Sydney before going to Auckland on Friday week. Result. Before that I'm off round me Dad's tomorrow, he's not doing great but there's not a lot anyone can do about it :-( he wants me to help him do some shopping though so I'll be off to Tesco I guess. Was going to go and see Gorgasm play tonight but I'm too knackered. Might see if Wooj or anyone else fancies a pint in Surbiton though. Loz? You reading this? ;-)