Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 9 To Newcastle

We caught the Tube from Paddington to Kings Cross without a problem, although it was a slow trip. We had some breakfast at a cafe near Kings Cross and at that point I realised I had left the electric plug adaptor back at the hotel. How easy will it be in Newcastle to buy a plug to convert Australian plugs to UK plugs? As it was, we did come across them later and some that said they were but clearly were not. As it was, when R's bro in law was in Australia, he bought hair clippers and so took home an Aussie adaptor so he could use them in the UK. So important to have an adapter now.

2 phones, 1 camera, 1 electric razor, 2 electric toothbrushes all need power.

The train left on time and was comfortable and fast and full. As mentioned before, we prebooked the train for $28 each. Had we bought the tickets that day, the price would have been $198 each. More confusion and fuss over seating when people sat in the wrong seats. An elderly lady with a loud voice was sitting near to us. She starting talking and did not stop until she left the train. I can tell you all about her life. I heard she was getting off at Darlington. How far is that I asked R. About ten minutes before Newcastle. Damn.

Before we left Oz, R spoke to the alienated sister and told her if we were travelling half way around the world to see her, the least she could do is forget about family differences and turn up at the station to meet us, along with the other two sisters. K did, with her her husband J. If you remember, the wedding planners, us, arranged their wedding in Sydney when they visited a couple of years age.

Hugs and smiles by all on the railway platform and I met the remaining sister L who I had not met and her husband D who my R had gone to primary school with. We were going to their place for a bit of a party and they invited the alienated sister K and husband J back too. So far so good. The party started on L and D's back decking and continued from early afternoon to late at night. Once again, I got sunburnt. Various family members arrive at different times along with umpteen kids. Gifts from Oz were given out. Then the scotch came out and I love scotch. It soon knocked me sideways. L tried gently and carefully steering me upstairs. R intervened and dragged me up. The party continued on till dawn without me.

The huge and sprawling Metro Shopping Centre in the Tyne River valley in between houses at the rear of L and D's house.
L and D's very typically English back garden.

Friday, July 11, 2008

More London Pics

Some old building.

Tower of London from the outside.
I never in my wildest dreams I would ever take this picture. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be pushed, cajoled, encouraged, forced to be in this location.
An old power station. Think it is called the Tate power station.

A ferris wheel.
Just another old building with a clock.
You would not even know he is black, because there is big black feather in front of his face.
The more musically inclined from the Lewisham Seventh Day Adventists.
It is called Merman Choking Dolphin, located at Traf Square. Dolphin is ejaculating through the hole in its head.
The Big Bus. We were lucky. It did not rain.
Ok, I will be serious here. This building behind is rather nice. Even back in the days it was built, advertising was banned on the banks of the Thames. But there was a way around it if you were the manufacturer of the Oxo stock cube.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A real time interlude

Back in the land of Oz, life goes on.

I saw Merryl Streep outside Melbourne Central last night. Under bright camera lighting, she looked absolutely stunning.

A work cover ad in the Hun showed pictures of the staff. There was one Indian bloke in the picture. The rest were Anglo looking. I know there are at least three people who are Asian and work for Workcover. Why no Asian pics? I am always tense when reading the gay press in case they under represent Asians in their venue photo pages.

Pell must resign. What a disgusting creature.

More child art scandal. I saw the pic last night and I wonder what the fuss is. The story was reported in the UK, probably the only mention of Australia for four weeks.

I left Australia talking about petrol prices to arrive in UK where they were talking about petrol prices to return to Australia where we are talking about petrol prices. So tedious.

Five weeks away and I thought the tram work at the Arts Centre would have been finished. It hasn't.

Art Deco exhibition at the National I will see that.

I will certainly go to Melbourne Unbuilt when it opens.

All the usual radio presenters are on holidays or driving to London. Both are not a bad thing.

I have a coffee stamp card for The Wedge at QV. I got a free coffee yesterday.

Ahhh, have prices gone up a lot in my absence? I think so.

A group of teens went through QV today singing. I could not understand them, but I would guess they are part of Pell's/Ratzinger's godbotherers.

There was a passionate comment on one of my old blog posts where I lambasted Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. What fun. He or she was horrified by the post when he/read it. I used the school as an example of government funding of private schools. Neither of the anti commenters actually addressed the argument, instead turned it into a twee class war. It is a class war, but that is beside the point. I was talking about public funding of religious schools. I don't like it. Religion is bad.

Little Jo's first birthday on Sunday. If the weather is ok, the celebration will be at a park in Murrumbeena. If not, we will be hosting it here. How did that happen?

Kiss a smoker today. They never have bad breath. They only taste of smoke. Only non smokers ever have bad breath and there are quite a few of you out there. Thirty years experience of being around and around has proved this. Puffing your breath out into your hand and smelling will tell you nowt.

As I guessed in advance, I picked up foreign lingo very easily. I had to fight to stop myself talking Geordie. It is still on the tip of my tongue. While driving to Safeway in Prahran last Saturday, R was talking about something serious and I was taking no notice but I realised he had slipped back into his own old Geordie accent. Very funny.

Met up with dyke friends for dinner tonight. I am very cautious about boring people with holiday photos, but out of 1500 photos, I had printed off about forty salient photos. They seemed to enjoy them.

Days 7 & 8, London

A bit of a late start on this day after our early and long day in Paris yesterday.

Our friend in the west of Victoria used to work in an off licence in George Street, just off Edgware Road, so we wandered down to the address he had given us but the shop was no longer there. The building had either been remodelled or pulled down and a new one put up. It is hard to tell in London as even new building look old. They blend their architecture so much better than we do. No nonsense like putting a glass tower up beside a 19th century building. We took some photos for our friend, including an old sculpture in a nearby park that I am sure he will remember.

Back to Edgware Road where I found an internet shop. A pound and I only want five minutes. It was for an hour and you could come back the next day until your time was used up. I was pleased to see comments from my blog mates. I did really miss you. We did not know, but the Mountain Women from the Dandenongs were also in Europe and one of them sent pictures, 14 mb of them to our email when its capacity is only 20mb, so a few emails must have soft bounced as there was other stuff too. I sorted that out by forwarding the pictures to my yahoo email. 20mb in this day and age. I just love to hate Telstra.

We et a nice breakfast with great coffee at a Turkish cafe in Edgware Road. The street is full of Turks and Arabs and their businesses.

We then made our way to the Big Bus stop and bought tickets and we toured for a bit with an a recorded commentary through a plug in head set, then changed to another bus at Marble Arch. Past some more sights and we alighted at Trafalgar Square. We soaked up the atmosphere for a bit, there was a cultural show on there as well and then headed on foot down Whitehall until was decided we were hungry and went into the Old Shades Pub for lunch and an ale. It was ok, but only because we had a window seat. The pub was very dingy and unattractive to me. We noted that we could not see traffic outside anymore. We finished our lunch and went outside and the Whitehall had been blocked off. We could hear some drums in the distance and then along the marches came.

It was a Seventh Day Adventists youth group marching in protest about knives and violence. Yep, they were all black. The drumming was very loud and entertaining.

We continued on our way and just as we were passing, there was the changing of the guard at the stables. We watched for a bit. Funny to see jet black guards astride the horses. I took R's photo with one of the cute and fresh faced white guards.

We reached Westminster and with our Big Bus ticket came a ticket for a cruise down the Thames. We passed under London Bridge and it stayed upright. We past the old Bankside Power Station, a stunning building and now the Tate Modern Museum. Our commentator on the boat expressed his down to earth views about some of the art there, and I think I heard silent applause from many passengers.

We alighted at the Tower of London and spent a couple of hours there, including the Queen's Jewels.

We made our way uphill to the Big Bus stop and continued on past Westminster, Buck Palace, posh suburbs like Mayfair and Belgravia and then got caught in hideous traffic in Knightsbridge near Harrods. We had had enough but had to continue. Then the was a change of bus crew, then some upset and a fifteen minute delay at least. We eventually got back to the hotel. We should have taken the alternative shorter route. We were both very tired and cranky and had our only disagreement for the whole trip. There was no dinner that night.

Things were ok in the morning after a good nights sleep.

We walked up to Oxford Street via the internet shop, but it being Sunday, was closed. We had a nice and very healthy breakfast, true, in KFC. I forget what it was now. Back on the Big Bus at Marble Arch and to Trafalgar Square again, but this time the National Art Gallery. We hired headphones and looked at some art. Some of it was to die for but I didn't think much of VG's Sunflowers. We could only stomach so much art so we headed out and made our way to Charring Cross Station. We bought daily tickets, about $12 each, and changed at Westminster to get to South Kensington. We intended going to the Victoria and Albert Museum but then decided to do the Science and Natural History Museums instead.

I do appreciate our own museums and their displays, but believe me, they have nothing on S and NH Museums. The displays were mind blowing and way too much to see in a whole day even.

Back on the train to Paddington and a beer our local. Next day we were leaving London from King's Cross Station, so we thought as we had day tickets already, we would do a trial run from Paddington to King's Cross. Worked perfectly. I will write about The Tube separately.

Dinner in our local pub; I had a delicious platter of meats, dips, olives etc. The bar lass knew us by now and was very friendly, even when I mistakenly gave her euros instead of pounds. Pack our cases and ready to leave in the morning.

Two versions of your London phone box. The second one is just for Jahteh, but sorry Jahteh, I will have him first. You don't mind going slops?
The streets are too narrow for a normal bus, and yet double deckers and articulated buses make their way around.
Trafalgar Square taken from near the National Art Gallery.
Looking out of the pub in Whitehall.
The Seventh Day Adventists youths blocking Whitehall while protesting against knives, guns and violence.
Looking down the Thames over Westminster Millennium Pier with part of The Eye and a railway bridge.
Without checking, it would be the Tower Bridge.
At the Tower of London.
Crows at the Tower of London. If one flies away, the monarch is about to die. I heard that their wings are clipped so that they stay.

See them all in Soho Square, dropping aitches everywhere

R dearly wanted to see a show while we in London, but we did not prebook, I left it up to him, and it was just too hard once we were there. We can do daytime ok, but flag in the evening. I did not know anything much about gay London, but the hop on hop off bus commentator said that Soho was an 'interesting' part of London, and he looked at us as he said it. Ok, I get it. He wasn't the only one who picked up on us and made an extra effort, which was kinda nice, because the guides were quite straight. There was another, a blond Irish guy! who did the same and he clearly focused his commentary for our benefit, that is with a gay slant.

So, no West End show to tell you about.

Day 6, Paris

(We are only up to day 6 and you may feel a bit snowed under by the amount of reading and the photos. It will taper off once we leave London. You won't have thirty odd days of this. I don't have the time to write and shape pictures for everyday anyway)

It seemed like a good idea when we booked it, but no sooner were we in London than we were off to Paris, the next day in fact. We were collected by coach near Lancaster Gate Station and with some driving around to pick up other passengers, we were dropped at St Pancras Station amid much busyness and organised chaos. We made it onto the Eurostar train and found our seats, which was more than other people could. Why do people sit anywhere when it is booked seating. So much trouble was caused by people sitting in wrong seats.

Just as we left our hotel at about 5.15 in the morning, we saw a squirrel, which was quite exciting. We took a photo but he or she blended into the background.

Anyway in no time at all we were out of London and quickly at the coast and then briefly under the English Channel. What took the time was travelling through the French countryside. I would hazard a guess that we were travelling at about 160 to 180 kilometres per hour, but the train was very smooth. The French countryside was grey and it was drizzling. This didn't bode well for Paris, but as we neared Paris, the weather improved. We experienced our first use of euros on the train when we bought breakfast. They actually took both pounds and euros. I think the trip was about two and a half hours.

We were driven around Paris and saw many sights. We were dropped at the Eiffel Tower and walked to the Seine for our lunch cruise. It was a pretty fine meal and well served. We sat with two lasses our age from the Texas, but one was Scottish born and she had lived in Melbourne a couple of decades ago. The unlimited wine flowed freely and we were all in stitches. Who said Americans had no sense of irony? They can certainly bitch as good as any gay guy. Another in our group said to us later, I knew you two looked like fun when you boarded the bus, probably because we looked hung over. I made a vague effort to notice the banks of the Seine. I even got a photo of a couple sitting on the bank romantic. I now forget which is the Left Bank and which is not. An anecdote we were told, the Left Bank squanders the money that the other bank makes.

After the cruise, up into the Eiffel Tower and the views were stupendous. What a beautiful city is an understatement. Then off to the Louvre but instead of going inside, R and I decided to experience some Parisian street life. We found a cafe and ordered coffee. Very good coffee too. I just found the receipt yesterday and we paid around $12 for two cups of coffee. Clearly we were still in the tourist area. My mind must have tired of translating dollars to pounds and then to euros. I had decided before we went away, that I would not fuss about money, and I didn't, within reason.

Back to Gare du Nord but the traffic was very heavy in Rue La Fayette, so we did not even have time for duty free at UK customs before we boarded the train back to London. The day was only marred by the bus being late to take us back from St Pancras Station to Paddington. We should have just caught a train.

Back in London, it was late and we decided some greasy original recipe KFC was appropriate for dinner. Tired and to bed in our thankfully changed room.

In summary, Paris was great. It was clean, any locals we dealt with were friendly and I did not see any dog shit on the streets. Not sure why, but we did miss the area where the immigrants live and rioted a few years ago.

Graffiti as we entered Paris. It was in French, so I could not read it. Duh, I can't read graffiti when it is in English either.
The Gare du Nord where we left our train. It was just one of many grand railway stations I saw in England and France.
Some of these additional low level traffic lights like in Singapore. They must be for low riding motor cycles and bikes.
Orderly traffic around the Arc de Triumph. Our guide said it is the only location in France where drivers must give was to the right. From my observations, no one was giving way to anyone.
THE tunnel taken from our coach.
Our lunch cruise boat on the Seine.
Our guide told us that a previous mayor of Paris raised the ire of motorists by widening footpaths, turning car lanes into bus lanes and introducing these bicycles which are free for a small yearly fee. You scan a card or similar at what looks like a parking meter, take a bike, ride to where you want to go and leave it at another bike stand. Smart idea.
Stuck in traffic in Rue La Fayette. I was looking for hot Parisian guys on the street, but I did not really see many.

Paris Views

Unconventional Eiffel Tower photo. You have all seen it from afar.

Parkland below the Eiffel Tower

Montmartre in the distance
Original Statue of Liberty?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Day 5, London

We arrived at Heathrow shortly after 5am. Not long ago, a new train service started called the Heathrow Express and as we our hotel was in Paddington and the train went directly to Paddington, it was ideal for us. I think the fare was about $25 each, cheaper than a cab, and it was very quick. Too quick in fact. We walked to our hotel, arriving at seven and of course the room was not ready. The The Gresham Hotel looked very modest inside!

We left our cases and found a local cafe where we had some breakfast, well as we had had breakfast on the plane, it was more just coffee. With the very old London street map on hand, we wandered around Paddington a bit and then made our way to Hyde Park. It was a stunning day. The last thing I expected in London was to get sunburnt, but I did mildly. My cap was in my suitcase.

We walked along the Serpentine and stopped at a cafe for a fruit juice. Ok, time to get the camera out. Oops, forgot to charge the battery. I had to resort to the camera phone, which did not give such bad results.

We saw most of the park and its features. I noted that while the grass was beautifully cut, around groves of trees the grass had been left long. Quite different to Australia but I liked the effect.

We walked via some side streets back to Paddington for an early lunch. We were both tired and getting a bit snappy with each other, so even though we were early, we headed to the hotel in Sussex Gardens (that is a a street name for you Aussies) and luckily our room was ready.

Well, not so much a room but more a cupboard with a tiny ensuite. It was nothing like I saw on the net. Just a room with two beds and a chair and barely room to open a suitcase. There was a tiny window which barely opened to an inner courtyard. The room was so hot and without aircon. We were not happy but we badly needed showers and a rest. We will complain later. As I lay on the bed, I could hear footsteps thundering overhead, it was a public walk through to reception, and outside the room were the noisiest stairs ever.

Slightly refreshed, we told reception that we were not happy and that the room had been miss represented to us. They offered to change it, but as the hotel was full, it would not be until tomorrow. We were going to Paris the next day, but they said to just leave our cases and they would swap them which is what happened. The new room was much better and with properly opening windows although not exactly grand. Maybe I was expecting too much for what we paid but it was far from the cheapest place I looked at.

We found a pub in Praed Street (is that pronounced Prayed or Pred?) for a refreshing ale. The Swayers Arms on the corner of London Street became our local while we were in London. How odd that everyone in the UK drinks Fosters when hardly anyone drinks it at home.

We walked up to Edgware Road and along to Marble Arch. It took some doing to work out how to actually get to Marble Arch itself. You have to use a pedestrian subway. Nothing was happening in the adjacent Speakers Corner, so we bought an ice cream and sat in Hyde Park and watched a pretty hot and exotic rent boi quite openly strutting his stuff.

We headed back towards Paddington and found a nice outdoor seat at the pub and had a few. Buses with destinations of suburbs that I have seen on tv over many years passed by. I was especially impressed by Cockfosters destination.

But sitting there in the warm early evening air, I felt very comfortable in London. It is not home, but it is part of my history. I expected it to be dirty, and it wasn't. I expected the people, especially those who deal with tourists all the time, to be rude or offhand, they weren't. What I did not expect was the noise. It is a noisy city. The buses, taxis and diesel cars make such a racket on any main road, a main road being a narrow street.

I had an idea from the old tv show Minder, that cars were clamped if they parked on double yellow lines. Now I know the truth. Double yellow lines mean you park facing the wrong direction with two wheels on the kerb. I subsequently confirmed this in both the north and west of England.

From our seat at the pub we watched the Big Bus ticket seller, the hop on, hop off bus, at her street corner. I had already sussed the bus out and went over to check that the tickets he was selling were an ok price. I learnt that a ticket lasts for 24 hours, rather than the day you buy. I put that to use later.

We returned to the the storage cupboard at the hotel for another shower and then back to the pub for roast beef with yorkshire pudding. Disgustingly nice and only $13.

A fountain in the Serpentine.
White swans in the Serpentine.
Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Note the D cut into the grass.
Think it is a statue of Queen Victoria.
Royal Albert Hall.
Rent boi working in Hyde Park.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Singapore in general

I liked Singapore. Our tour guides were good but one, a large local lass, but who spoke with an English accent, was very amusing and informative. We learnt more about Singapore from her in a few hours than for our whole stay.

It is a hot tropical country, but for me who complains about the heat, found it not as bad as I thought. So long as I have a cool hotel room and air con vehicles, I can cope. We walked quite a bit in the heat but never very fast and some weeks later, I really cannot recall it being very hot.

We did not get arrested for chewing gum and it was nice to see streets without black gum marks everywhere. Singapore was quite clean, felt very safe, and seems very well organised. Australia could take a leaf from its book. Saying that, which Asian port do most of the drugs come to Australia through? Which country denies you the right to publicly demonstrate? Which country has no system in place to look after the hopeless of our society? Private charity aside. I am not so stupid, but if you don't buck the system, I think Singapore is not a bad country and certainly very beautiful.

Day 4. Last day in Singapore

We walked to the nearby Little India MRT station and it took us a whole minute to work out how the system worked. While most people had a stored value card, we bought single journey tickets. It was SG$1 for one stop plus a $1 deposit on the plastic card. Why is Melbourne trying to reinvent the wheel? So simple. The train arrived on time behind sliding doors and these opened as did the train doors. The train was busy but plenty of room for us and the commuters looked like commuters do anywhere.

We found a place for breakfast in Orchard Road. We had poached eggs that were served in cups, toast, and kopi, as they call coffee. It was a very odd way to eat eggs.

A couple of months ago, R damaged the screen on his phone and he had been using my old one. We spied a phone shop with a handsome and sweet young man. R bought himself a new Samsung slide phone for a very cheap price. It was already on special, so our efforts to get the price further reduced were resisted. Singapore uses the same electric plug as the UK, so I managed to get him to throw in what he referred to as a 'kangaroo plug', that is an adaptor for use in Australia.

Orchard Road is very long, so we decided to return to the hotel via the MRT and rest up a bit for our afternoon tour. We had to check out of the hotel and leave our cases there. We took a stroll around Little India. The vendors were very forward. We bought a nice table runner at a stall to bring home.

Then at two, we were off to Jurong Bird Park, past the Port of Singapore and Jurong industrial estate, with its 600 species and 7,000 birds. Transport around the park is by monorail. We stopped off at the worlds highest man made waterfall and again where the loris can be fed. I had never heard of loris and thought the name was a substitute for lorikeets, but the park signage indicated there were both loris and lorikeets. In another area we watched some of a predatory bird show which was much the same as here at Healsville. I think it was also here where we saw live penguins, kept in aircon comfort. We sat and contemplated on the edge of a lake and watched pink wading birds while waiting for our bus. That is R's finger in the photo. The ring used to be too big for him and he used to worry that it would fall off.

Back to the hotel, showered at the hotel gym, dinner and a cab to the airport for our uneventful flight on to London.

Day 3 Singapore Pt 2

Again into a bus and to a central meeting point in the afternoon. We were taken to Mount Faber and caught the long chairlift across to Sentosa Island.

This was from the chairlift. The monorail, except it would be a duorail had a very frequent service but did not appear to go anywhere apart from Sentosa. I am not sure what was being constructed below but it was a massive development, perhaps the casino.
We went through a museum on Sentosa, interesting enough. One of the statues came to life as we were walking through a darkish area and scared the bejesus out of us. Then into the aquarium, see one, seen them all but I managed to amuse myself in other ways by flirting with one of the very nice aquarium workers. Oops, it was just a bit of fun but he then started stalking me. I managed to loose him. R noticed nothing. I love seahorses and this jellyfish like critters kept changing their colours. One minute, pink, then clear, then blue.

This tower is perhaps forty metres tall and the platform where people sit spirals up to the top at a leisurely pace and gives a great view of the surrounding area.
Darkness was starting to fall and we arrived at the beach where the sound, light and fire show was to happen in the sea. There must have been a couple of thousand people sitting on the bleachers to see the show. It was very impressive and I would recommend Sounds of the Sea. The photo below is a hologram on a mist of water.

I will call these fan palms. I am not sure if that is a natural shape, but they looked good. Back to the hotel. Forget what we did for dinner.