Saturday, July 21, 2012

Town Hall Tour

I've taken the free Melbourne Town Hall tour before. The link to my post is here. It was a much better post than this one. The tour was so good I wanted R to do it too, so we did. I will have to do again as in the future it will feature an auto demonstration of the organ in action. I mean, it will be a computer controlled demo.

The guide was the same bloke as last time and he certainly knows his stuff on Melbourne's history. I did catch him out on 'electric trams now run on the streets where the cable trams ran'. No, not in Lonsdale Street that had a cable tram, later a minimal number of buses. Now it has become a full on bus street. I didn't mention it. It is a small point and town hall tourists aren't that bothered by minor details.

While I am unsure of the correct name of this auditorium, it is where the large organ resides and seems to be called the Main Hall. The organ is a wondrous thing and some of the pipes can be seen.

Lovely murals by the talented young artist Napier Waller. The murals were painted after a fire at the Town Hall in 1925 when much of the interior was damaged.

The pipes are calling. There must be hundreds of organ pipes, now all controlled by computer. There are large pipes...

 and tiny pipes. The organ was renovated and modernised about ten years ago.

The town hall balcony has seen some honoured guests who waved to their admirers below, from The Beatles, to Abba. More recently Lord Mayor Doyle watched the police brutally remove the Occupy Melbourne protesters in the square to the left in the this photo.

The Manchester Unity building is one of my favourites in our fair city. It was interesting to be up a bit higher and see the top a little better.

I haven't included the photo of R sitting in the Lord Mayor's chair in Council Chambers, but he did.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Satellite Navigation

We are thinking of buying a sat nav device for R's car. My knowledge level is pretty well zero. Any advice or suggestions?

Car Parking

Some time ago I noticed train station carparks were starting to get live car space indicators informing car drivers of how many vacant spaces in the car park. It is a great idea for busy station car parks. How do these work? I don't know. I doubt a sensor would be embedded in every space, but maybe they have been.

The same goes for City of Melbourne on street parking spaces. There is some kind of car detecting sensor in some parking spaces. This has taken many by surprise when they delay buying a parking ticket that indicates the expiry time and although they have returned to their car before the expiry time, they still have received an offence notice as they have actually been there longer than the time allowed. There is a five minute grace period, so I guess they are well and truly guilty. I can't imagine it taking five minutes to buy a parking ticket, but thinking about the old and infirm or a mother loaded up with kids to organise, perhaps a ten minute grace period might be fairer.

I don't go to large shopping centres often, like Chadstone or Southland. In fact it is some years since I have been to either. Neither is good for public transport, although I suppose the promised railway station will eventually be built at Southland. Frankly it is the parking that puts me off going to these large shopping centres. I just get overwhelmed. I don't know where to park. I don't know which area car park I need to be in. There might be no parking left and I have to go home. It is stress I don't need in life. I am less stressed by a late train or tram.

However, R visited Chadstone yesterday and told me they now have a system of lights to indicate free spaces. I think he said there are indicator lights at each row of cars and individual lights for each space that indicate with a glance if a space is free.  If you see there are free spaces in a row, turn in and look for a green light for a vacant space. Red light for occupied and blue for disabled spaces. This is a great idea. It is not really going to get me to go to Chadstone, but it is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our father, who paints art in our heaven.

I started a comment to an English person's blog post, stating that Australia is a secular country and England is not, because HRH is their boss and she swears allegiance to the Church of England. I couldn't make the comment because I recalled that our parliamentarians take an oath on the bible when they are sworn in.

That it is standard that our politicians by default swear allegiance to the christian religion troubles me greatly. There are alternatives, but they have to be chosen. We are told we live in a secular country, so why is swearing on the christian bible a default position?

Christianity may be white person's history in Australia but it certainly isn't our first people's history.  Now with so many Australians having different religions and many long many generation Australians having no religion at all, surely it must be time to change this anachronism. My vocabulary is limited and I can't think of the right word, but isn't this isolating to a prospective politician who is not a christian? Don't ever think that because we aren't like America where christian churches have huge power that it couldn't happen here, or that our politics are not already influenced strongly by the christian churches.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Malaysia Day 10

My original intention was to get the ferry from Georgetown across the water to Butterworth where we would catch the 8.00 express train to KL. Had a train left a little later, I would have continued with this plan but getting there by eight by ferry could be a struggle, so I enquired at the concierge desk about a taxi. I was only asking but he took it upon himself to arrange it. I let him go ahead. I told him we wanted to be at the station by 7.30. 'It is a one hour trip in the taxi Sir. He will be here at 6.30. The fare will be MR90.' Wow, that is a bit steep, we thought. Our six hour train trip is less that MR50 each. What to do? Take our chances on getting our own cab? No, the foreigners will pay.

We were packed, showered and downstairs a bit after six, hoping the breakfast room would at least have something out to eat, even though it didn't open until 6.30. 'Your taxi is here Sir'. So we left early and had quite a bit of time to kill at the station, especially as the trip took thirty minutes, about what I thought, rather than the hour suggested. Then, in spite of the driver knowing we were catching a train, he dropped us at a the bus terminal and told us how to get to the station. There may have been a reason we had to walk so far, lug our cases upstairs and down when there was space, private cars and a taxi at what is the temporary Butterworth Station, but I could not see one. We were really feeling quite cheated. A thirty dollar cab fare is really getting up there.  We subsequently learnt that taxi drivers are very reluctant to go from Penang to Butterworth, so perhaps the steep fare was an 'encouragement'. The quicker they enforce the meter only rule in Penang, the better.

The train, Ekspress Rakyat, did make a few stops, especially early in the trip and a few locals as well as a group of school kids used the train. Obviously not in first class though. The car journey between Penang and KL takes about three hours, slightly longer by express road coach, but the train takes six hours and that is the fastest. Trains leaving at other times take even longer. We already knew this, but I do enjoy a distance train trip. Even R has found trains to be a very pleasant way to travel.

Our engine is getting up a head of steam before beginning its journey. Kidding, our train was diesel electric. This one is destined for a museum I suppose.

Now it is not quite first class by our standard and although quite old, the train was comfortable enough. R's seat back was broken, so we moved to the seats behind. When the conductor arrived, he moved us to unbooked seats with better views from the larger windows. 

I think our train was originating at Butterworth, but often the train travels from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and on to Singapore. One commuter put his seat back down and quickly fell asleep. We departed ten minutes late.

The dining car. The food was as expected, edible but pretty ordinary, but we were pleased to get something to eat and coffee. The train was very cool inside, a little too cool at times, even for me. After lunch we were back to our seats and I started feeling hot. I was getting uncomfortable. Can't the air con cope with the heat in the middle of the day? Shortly before we arrived at KL Sentral, a wave of cool air flowed through the train. Clearly the air con had been switched off for a couple of hours.

 Look, new infrastructure, miles and miles of it.

 And electrification, miles and miles of it.

I had noticed we were climbing and the train was travelling very slowly through the jungle. I suspect the track was quite old and there was a speed restriction. At times out the window I spied some brand new track running along the floor of the valley below.

 Waiting no doubt for Aussies steel rails, made in China.

Yes, straight out onto the tracks. The toilet wasn't nearly as bad as it looks. Clearly the western bowl had been placed over the top of a squat toilet.

The entrance and exit was almost at the end of the carriage and the toilet and conductors office beyond. Here in this area people could stand and smoke. Although there was an ashtray, no one seemed to use it. Quite good fun standing at the open door at over 100 km/h. Believe me though, I did hang on.

Looking out from the back of the train. Some people are interested in railway gauges, that is the gap between the rails. One source tells me one metre and another standard gauge, 1.435 metres. I'll go for the metre gauge as the gauge looked narrow to me.

There were train graveyard sidings along the way. The trains were in extreme disrepair but I noted that they all still seemed to have their air conditioning units intact.

Ipoh.....hmm, rings a bell. Ah yes, Melburnian VIP Jane Clifton lived there for part of her childhood.

After Ipoh the train really sped up. The tracks were new and the line had been electrified, but of course we were still on diesel. We slowed to a crawl as we approached KL. Obviously there was another train in front of us. We arrived about fifteen minutes late.

We were already quite familiar with KL Sentral. We went to the taxi counter and bought vouchers to get to our hotel. I think it would have been quicker to use the monorail but there were too many stairs for us with suitcases along with decent walks at both ends.

We checked into our hotel, same floor but a different room and Manny collected us later and took us to a Thai seafood barbeque outdoor restaurant for dinner. More shell fish to crack and noodles to eat.

Next morning Manny picked us up at 10.00 and drove us to the airport and joined us for a last cup of coffee. Check in was pleasurable, something I can't say about Australian airports, especially Melbourne's. We departed on time and arrived back to Melbourne on time at 11.30 pm and the airport was quiet and we were fairly quickly through.

So that is pretty well a wrap for our Malaysian holiday. I will write a bit of a summary or something later.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Malaysia Day 9

Manny had a couple of business appointments in Penang on Monday and he was then driving back to KL. We still had one night to go, so Monday we occupied ourselves with a trip to the funicular railway that climbs up the steep Penang Hill. I say trip to, because we caught a taxi, RM35, to the train, only to find it was closed for maintenance for two days. Damn shame. Here it is in action. It seems very fast and there are some good views of Georgetown as it descends.

Our taxi had gone but we spied a bus. Why don't I have maps and public transport information! We asked the driver and she was quite helpful. We had to decided to go to Gurney Plaza, a couple of kilometres from our hotel. She told us we had to change along the way from her bus, the 204, to the 304. She made sure we alighted at the correct place which I think was called Komtar. The fare was only MR2, very cheap.

We made the change to the 304 and then down came the rain.

We ran from the bus to the police tent and stood there for shelter, but we quickly realised it holes and we were getting wet. We moved to a closed  hawker food market and sheltered there. We didn't know how far the Plaza was. Running from stall to stall we got a bit closer. A local was also taking shelter there. She too was going to the Plaza. I checked with her which direction it was but still the rain fell. We must have waited about forty minutes and had a taxi passed by, we would have caught it. Eventually the rain eased and the Plaza was no distance at all. We had some lunch, bought a few bits and caught a taxi back to the hotel.

We arrived back at the Northam Fawlty Towers and made enquiries about a taxi to the station in the early morning. I said to R in the lift on our way up to our rooms, 'I wonder what surprise the Northam Fawlty Towers will have for us today?' I didn't really think anything would be wrong or that we wouldn't have towels, as we had hung them up. But once again, the hotel excelled itself. Our room had been flooded by an overflowing bath two floors above. We packed up and were moved to the room below. R had a nap after the fuss had died down. He stepped out of bed only to step in a big puddle of water in the bedroom. The water had come down to this room too. It was only in one area, so we ignored it. I decided to have a spa bath. It took a long time to fill, but it was fantastic. I wondered how much bubble bath to add? I'll use the whole bottle as it is not large. It was a little too much and I had to watch the suds didn't go over the edge.

From the taxi earlier as we travelled along the beach front we spied a few western food places. In the evening we walked along Persiaran Gurney. It seemed a little cooler at the edge of the sea. We had some fine western food at the Coffee Island below. As well as many fans, they were also misting to keep the patrons cool.  Another place I highly recommend.

Disabled access to the seaside walk. There wasn't much else in Malaysia that was disabled friendly. We had an early night as tomorrow we have a train to catch back to KL.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Melbourne Airport Duty Free Rip Off?

We bought some products at Melbourne Airport at a duty free shop. We were already a bit pressed for time and R was getting a little stressed. R went to pay with his card, a credit card that accesses his saving account. It would not work. I'll do it, said I. I tried my usual card, a credit card that accesses my saving account. It would not work either. No probs. I have another card to access my savings account. Would not work. The lass serving seemed genuinely mystified. She moved to another machine and we tried again, no.

We tried all cards again, no. No access to withdraw payment from our savings account. This is something we do all the time in Australia. We didn't want to use our cards for our credit accounts as there is a surcharge imposed by the shop.

She moved us to another counter. Still no cards would work.

Time was marching on and eventually we said, ok, use the credit facility. It then worked perfectly and no doubt we paid the credit card surcharge fee.

No doubt there was something wrong with the system that stopped us from using our cards to access our savings account, or was there?

As it was happening, I recalled the same thing happened to us when we were travelling to Japan and paying for something at a Melbourne duty free shop.

We had terrible trouble in both Japan and England trying to access our savings accounts. Eventually we realised that in other countries it was not the done thing to have your savings account linked to your credit card. I had prepared myself this time with a Visa debit card, so while I used my credit card in Malaysia, the money was only coming out my savings account. I think it was pointless as the overseas transaction charge seems to be the same. I expected to have to withdraw cash, which might have cost more, but Manny was our money changer. We took $500 each, plus $100 in local currency and that was enough.

Effectively we were forced to use our credit cards at the Melbourne duty free shop and incur the credit card surcharge, as we were a couple or years ago when we went to Japan. 

I might be lazy at times, but I never let go of a complaint. I received an answer from VLine eventually, City of Port Phillip eventually, Metro about Richmond Station not displaying the next loop train, not yet, but I haven't forgotten.

I am going to follow through with this what I expect is an airport ripoff. I haven't named the shop and I am not accusing any particular shop.

I do not like the credit card surcharge usually charged by businesses where you have no other or limited options.

Malaysia Day 8 Part 2

I didn't see this one coming. After lunch Manny took us to an old house which is a museum when not being used for functions. It is called Pinang(sic) Peranakan Mansion. The Peranakans can be known as Babas and Nynonyas but you might know them better as Straits Chinese, those who came from China and settled in Penang, Malacca and Singapore.

The house was built not for a Peranakan but a new immigrant from China, however it is in the style of a grand Peranakan mansion. It was built in the late nineteenth century and has seen both grand and humble days. It has stayed with the same family though and a descendant has spent about 20 million dollars on its restoration and the furniture collection. We took a guided tour which was about half an hour. It was well worth it, although I would have liked to visit again to look at photos on wall and some detail.

Much of the furniture is from Europe and Britain.

An opium smoking divan in the games room.

The English dining room. English guests dined in the Chinese dining room, Chinese guests in the English dining room. We all like a bit of difference at times.

Glasgow lasts.

I suspect this is not digital and probably would not play mp3 files.

This was about a quarter of similar glassware that was on display. I don't know what it is.

There were two huge embroidered panels on display.

The entertainment unit.

There were three  bridal chambers, which I suppose were really double bedrooms. One decorated 1900-1920 style, another 1920-1940 style and my favourite with the art deco furniture, 1930-1950 style.

I believe this is a music machine. The monster metal disc probably has to be changed to hear another tune.

A camera of sorts.

Smeg, still going.

After you pay for your tour, you get a sticky label to put on your shirt. What a clever thing to do when you leave, decorate the bamboo.

Back to our hotel to gather ourselves before dinner. In a fit of pique in the morning, R had thrown our towels onto the bathroom floor of Northam Fawlty Towers so they would be changed. We normally keep them for a couple of days by hanging them up. Oops. Mistake R, there are no towels again. R on the phone to hotel management. After one more call, we did get two towels without bathmats or handtowel.

Meanwhile Manny had now checked into our hotel as a room was available. He too had no towels. Eventually after a few calls he told them to get him a taxi as he would go out and buy some. He did get some then.

Further meanwhile, R's laundered clothes had not been delivered and he needed a shirt to go out with and we had run out of tissues because of my cold. Two calls and one garment arrived. Where is the rest? Another call, the rest arrived. No tissues though.

We were to meet my workmate again for dinner and a friend from country Victoria who was also in Penang. In a remarkable co-incidence, and they did not know each other, they were staying on same floor in the same small hotel. They were each paying about one fifth of what we were paying and they were very happy with their digs.

We had earlier passed a place that offered a buffet meal for about $15. We thought we would give it a go. We entered and were seated but the method of ordering was not explained to us at this point. We went to another room where a modest amount of cold food was laid out. Um, this is not even worth $15. We loaded up our plates and I was sure something was not right. Sure enough, on the table were menus and check sheets. You marked on the sheet the meals you wanted and it soon arrived. The portions were very small and the idea was to order a few, with a penalty for over ordering. The food was excellent and it was a novel but great way to eat. I just found a card. It was Deluxcious and I highly recommend the food.

Our friend from Victoria tried to pick up our waiter and it seemed like he nearly succeeded. Later when we left, the waiter was collected by his wife on a motorbike. Clearly he had no chance with the guy, as he was married. Hahaha. Manny had disappeared for a while. He was chatting to the owner and hopefully getting a new customer.

We then went off to an outdoor bar, Red Garden I think,  for a drink and watched some on stage entertainment then back to Northam Fawlty Towers for bed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Malaysia Day 8 Part 1

We arrived in Penang about six in the evening. This is looking good. Champers while we are checking into the Northam Fawlty Towers. The foyer looks nice enough and over there is where breakfast is served. Sorry Sir, there will not be any towels until seven o'clock. What? A hotel without towels? We have had a full day coming here via the Cameron Highlands. We badly want showers, now! Towels were found.

Manny was staying in another hotel as ours was fully booked. He arrived and we drove to a street called New Lane for.......more hawker food. A workmate of mine was in Penang at the same time, so he joined us for dinner. He was hinting that we should go out to a bar but we were pretty weary after a long day and the long drive. Manny dropped us back to our hotel.

After breakfast R and I took a walk to orient ourselves a bit. We never really did orient ourselves. It is the only place I think I have ever been where I didn't have a paper map. I do like paper maps.

What is this dinosaur like looking object in our room at Northam Fawlty Towers?
Although I was sure we were to have free wi fi, it turned out to be just a plug in job and it was slow as.

We were on the fortieth something floor with stunning views, if you could see properly out of the filthy and slime covered windows.

Manny collected us to visit a large complex of Chinese temples.I didn't notice the old Volvo when I took the shot. Apart from taxis, that must have been the oldest car we saw. Note the traffic light seconds count down indicator.

And  a red count down indicator.

Donations from rich Chinese just keep pouring into the temple complex and I am not sure that they can spend the money fast enough. Penang is a very Chinese rather than Malay area, and is somewhat rebellious against the ruling Malay political parties.

A bit of cutesy stuff for the kids.

Although on a steep hill, it was nicely laid out.

A funicular to get us down to more of the site below. It carried us back up too. Beats stairs.

One can only imagine the crowds for Chinese New Year. I asked Manny what the banner read, but he doesn't read Chinese. He asked someone for me. It was something to do with last Chinese New Year.

Enough of the temples?
See the handle sticking up? We donated and gave the bell a good whack.

The pagoda? We climbed it. Not as many stairs as the Bata Caves in KL, but they progressively became narrower with smaller steps as we rose. Great view of Penang down below.

A mass of well fed tortii. (my word, don't argue)

This place is huge. Its proper name is Kek Lok Si and it is of course a buddhist temple.

We never really covered the whole site but I was starting to feel a bit unwell. We went off for a late lunch to a well known beef noodle restaurant in Jalan Selamat. Just what I fancy. Noodles.

There are still many of these colonial era mansions in Penang. While this one was empty, many are still used, not especially as private housing though.