Peaceful Prague

While in Prague we stayed at the Hotel General, where all the bedrooms are dedicated to different military generals.

Hotel General – Prague – http://www.hotel-general.com/en/  the building dates from 1890 – and was converted to the current hotel in 2007.

This hotel is out of the tourist area, which is a positive, because the evenings were quiet and traffic was light. The hotel is first class, and all the staff members go out of their way to make your stay memorable.
Vicky, the receptionist who greeted us, spent time explaining how the transport system worked in Prague, and she suggested restaurants, as well as answering all our questions. Our chat time was over complimentary drinks of our choice – we had Champagne – it was a very pleasant way to be welcomed to a new city.
Breakfast was from 7.00 am, which was a buffet for the cereals and juices etc, but white gloved waiters served eggs to order and all coffee was made on request. If you want to have breakfast in your room, this would not be a problem (at no extra cost). During breakfast you could, if you wished, watch the DVD of interesting places in and around Prague.
Rooms were a good size, and were spotless, as was the en suit, which had the shower over the bath. We had plenty of room in the bathroom for stowing our personal items.

The cost of the local tram in to the city was around $1.30 – the tickets are bought from sellers (newsagents etc) rather than from the tram driver. The ticket has to be validated when boarding the tram. Most days we walked to the city (about 20 minutes) for the exercise and to experience Prague. It is an easy flat walk. We used the tram to get back to the hotel after a day of sight seeing.

DSC01169
Easy to walk everywhere
DSC01192r
Astro clock

I think Prague was our favourite of all the cities that we visited during this holiday.

It was a slower pace than Berlin and small enough that one could walk around all of the main areas without too much trouble.

Car- less

DSC01184r   But

if you get tired you can always hire a car DSC01187r.jpg

DSC01175r
Charles Bridge

DSC01199r ex tram bar in Wenceslas Square

My friend and I were in this small bar waiting for our wives to finish some shopping when the waiter offered me a Budweiser beer. Thinking he was referring to the American beer that I had some years ago, and didn’t like, I refused, and asked him for Czech beer. The Budweiser, he told me, was Czech beer and had nothing to do with the US brand. I trusted him and ordered the local Budweiser, which was very good. I’d forgotten about the name connection with the American beer.

DSC01240r

 

Everyone has a gimmick – as soon as he saw me taking his picture out came his sword.DSC01241r

DSC01244rI’d never have thought I stand at the foot of King Wenceslas statue.

We loved to sit and people watch –

DSC01273r

 DSC01278r

DSC01275r

 DSC01270r

I just wondered if someone was taking photos of us, taking photos of others . . .

We had a lovely meal in the Blue Duck – a little expensive, but the ambiance, the taste and the service was worth that little extra.

bd

DSC01247r

Try the basil sorbet, so different.

There is so much to see in Prague from clocks to castles . .

DSC01220r

DSC01252r  DSC01262r.jpg

From gardens to views

or an outside BBQ, perhaps a hole in the wall bar hidden behind the castle.

DSC01196r.jpg

DSC01235r

DSC01237e

All good things come to an end –

Prague – Budapest by train

Prague station is easy to navigate and all announcements are made in Czech and English. We were booked in first class, which was the first coach (wagon) after the engine. This trip was a much more pleasurable journey than Berlin to Prague. We had our own table and plenty of storage space for the suitcases. The storage space, other than on the rack over our heads, was the unused seats. The coach was not crowded and the ride was smooth once we left the main area of Prague. Passing through the Prague area the train was jerky which caused an unsettling feeling of being in the back seat of a car when the driver keeps speeding up and breaking. This went on for the first hour after which, it stopped and the remainder of the trip was smooth.

Being a train lover from my childhood I found the different coloured coaches from various countries across Europe, such as Russia, German, Slovakia fascinating.

DSC01286r

 

DSC01287r.jpg

DSC01288r

and I did like to keep an eye on the carriage in front . . .

DSC01294r.jpg

 

Onions and Bombay Beer

landaura

My first visit to Bombay (as it was then) as a cadet opened my eyes to India with its teaming millions, garri wallhas (motorised rickshaw now commonly called tuk tuks), honking horns, the ringing of bicycle bells, and the ever mouth watering smell of spiced food.

gateway-of-india

I’d grown to love curries, because at lunchtime on the Company’s vessels, the officers would be offered curry (as well as European food). The curries were different every day, from beef through to fish or vegetables. We had two galleys on the ship (sometimes more if we had Muslim & Hindu crews), one for the European officers and the other for the crew. The deck crew might have all been hired from one village in India or Pakistan, and the engine room crew from another village. The cooks and stewards for the Europeans were Goanese, which was a colony of Portugal until 1961. The Indian cooks might have been Muslim or Hindu, which meant that the officers would not be able to eat their bacon (Muslims will not touch pig meat) and eggs, or their roast beef (Hindu will not touch cow meat), so the solution was to hire people from Goa to attend to the officers, because they were generally Catholics, due to the influence of Portugal, so everyone was happy! The Goanese Company cooks produce great curries.

Bombay was a major location for the Company, having traded around the Indian coast for over a hundred years. This port had a Company Officers’ Club, which was part hotel, and part social club i.e snooker, cards etc and a small bar. The hotel part would be used by officers waiting for their ship to arrive in port.

On my first visit to the Club I entered the bar to see people drinking beer, so I asked the barman for a cold beer.
‘Chitty, Sahib’
On the ship one didn’t use money, but signed a chit for a case of beer or a carton of cigarettes, the books were balanced at the end of the voyage.
‘Chitty?’ I asked.
‘From the police, Sahib’
At this point a fellow cadet took pity on the new boy and explained the system. I had to report to the police and fill in a form stating that I was an alcoholic, and I would be given a chit allowing me to buy a limited number of beers at the Officers’ Club.

Maharashtra State, in which Bombay was located, was a ‘dry’ State! (It isn’t now). So it was pure panic to get to the police station before the senior officer went home for the night. I managed it! I wonder if I am still listed as an alcoholic in this part of India.

Outside, in the city away from the Raj like atmosphere of the Officers’ Club, one could get a large beer (650 ml) in the brothels (none of us wanted the ladies), for about ten shillings, which was very expensive, but better than nothing in the humidity of Bombay, after we’d finished our small beer allowance sanctioned by the police.
After ordering the beer we always wanted to see the un-opened bottle so that we could inspect the cap and make sure it had not been tampered with in anyway. I must admit the establishment made sure that they didn’t offend anyone (very PC for those days). Around the walls of the ‘ladies waiting room’ were pictures and photographs of most of the world leaders from,

Queen
HM Queen Elizabeth UK

 

Makarios.jpg
Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus
JFK
JFK of the US
De Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle – of France
Khrushchev
Khrushchev – USSR as it was then
Franco
General Franco of Spain
Pope_John_XXIII_-_1959
Pope John XXIII

the above pictures are of those that I can remember, but there were many others, few leaders were left out. To me it was an eye opener to another world. The ports visited by my previous ship, which was a tanker, were very restricted for going ashore, compared to my current tramp ship.

I did hear it say that the Bombay beer, at that time, was brewed from onions, but I am unable to confirm this as fact, but after seeing people drink a few bottles of the local Bombay brew, many would often start crying, so the theory might be true!

Books that influenced my travels

Have you noticed that travelers write about travels, and the main people who read about those who travel, are those who are travelling?
Even foodie blogs write about travels – because many have pictures of food from various countries through which the writer has traveled – not a complaint, because I love to read about other people’s food & travels. My wife’s hobby is cooking, so she collects recipes from around the world, and my hobby is eating, and this makes for a perfect combination!
The seed of travel for me was sown when I was a boy after the war listening to my father’s travels during WW 2. I followed him to sea; he was Royal Navy, I joined the merchant navy.
Combining a love of the sea, with the love of books in my youth, my favourite authors, were C.S Forester, the Hornblower series,
HappyReturn
First Edition Cover – 1937

Somerset Maugham short stories of life in the Far East –

Cas tree
The Casuarina Tree
Gent in Parlour
The Gentleman in the Parlour

 

Eric Newby travel writer, describing his voyage at 18 years of age in 1938.
TheLastGrainRace
Joseph Conrad’s novels – such as
Lord Jim,
Lord Jim
Rudyard Kipling’s stories & poems of Burma and India.
Who can forget
 or
– Rudyard is the name of a man-made lake in Staffordshire, UK, and Rudyard Kipling was named after this lake because his parents met there in 1863. Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai).
I first went to Burma (as it was then) in 1965 /6 and it hadn’t changed that much when I visited for a holiday in 2012.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Street cafes in Rangoon 2012

I never did make it to Mandalay!

In my late teens I moved on to Jack Kerouac’s – On The Road – a must read for many a teenager.
JK
As one grows older travel books still have a fascination, but for me I seem to be looking back over my shoulder thanks to Gavin Young’s two books
Slow Boat to China (Pub 1984)

 

Slow boat
Slow Boat to China

A great book to read while my memories of China where still sharp &  Slow Boats Home (Pub 1986) when ships where still ships, and not floating warehouses.

Slow boat home
Slow Boat Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two books below are travel books, but they’re not . . . they are about a boy living in Singapore and going to school in England – it is the author’s memoirs. For me, they are real memories of traveling fifty years ago.

One for the road   Eastern.jpg

Both books bring back ‘yesterday’ of life in Singapore & Malaya.
Davison’s memories are not so far back that they are history for for me, because I can remember much of this author’s life experiences in Singapore & Malaya (for me it was Malaysia, but it hadn’t changed that much ).

You can always combine cooking and travel if you try. I bought my wife a Christmas present in 2014

French eating

mainly as a present for her, but also for me, because I also wanted to read this book.

The author Ann Mah, travels around France for a year cooking and eating . . . what more could you want?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bend the knees around the luggage.

Berlin to Prague.

All to soon we had to leave Berlin for Prague – again by train, and again I booked first class seats over the internet, via the German booking system, but on Czech rail – I had no end of trouble trying to book on the Czech system.

Only after I had paid for the tickets, via the German system, did I realise that Czech rail had a higher travelling class than First Class, called Business Class!
Who in their right mind would offer a business class service higher than first class? Let’s just say that Czech Rail First Class was not as comfortable as the Frankfurt to Berlin trip, and I am being polite.

DSC01142r

The 8.46 am train from platform one at Berlin’s mainline station was a huge change from the German rail first class service.

We had four seats in a compartment for six, that required us to use the corridor to change our minds. Czech-train-1stThe six-seater compartment wouldn’t have been too bad, if there had only been the four of us. Unfortunately the remaining two seats were also occupied.
With our four large suitcases – we struggled to put two suitcases on the overhead racking system – the red bags in the pictures below. We held some of our hand baggage on our knees, because the available floor space was required for our remaining suitcases, plus one of the third couple’s suitcases, so once this was completed we were unable to move our legs or feet. This was not going to make for a comfortable  five-hour journey. I hate to think what it was like in economy, because every First Class and economy class compartment was packed with holidaymakers.DSC01144c

DSC01145c

Europe-luggage2
Unlike the French TVG trains and the German ICE trains, which have special stowage areas for suitcase and bags (see picture left) our Czech train only had the overhead netted area, which is usually only for hand baggage. Plus the Czech train was a corridor / compartment train, compared to the German open plan layout.

After we left Berlin, and settled down (after a fashion) for the journey, we, like many others, moved our suitcases in to the corridor, which caused problems for people passing along to the buffet car. The corridor, being packed with suitcases, haversacks, cardboard boxes etc discouraged people from using the buffet car, because people didn’t fancy an obstacle course to get to the buffet and then have to retrace their steps carrying food and drink.

DSC01291r

To be fair the Czech train was very well maintained, clean and without the large volume of baggage, the journey would have been very pleasant.

DSC01148r
Couldn’t knock the scenery

DSC01151Usti

Had to try for a picture of Usti nad Labem – what a town with a history. It is positioned just inside the Czech border and has changed hands so many times. It was sacked by the Swedes (they were a long way from home), later it was handed over to Austria, then handed back to Czechoslovakia, and later taken over by Germany in 1938 at the Munich agreement in an attempt of ‘Pace in our time’ – better know by the Czechs as the ‘Munich Betrayal’. Usti nad Labem was (is) part of the Sudetenland.

MunichAgreement1
Neville Chamberlain, in September 1938, arriving at a London airport waving his ‘Peace in our time’ Munich agreement, which required the Sudetenland to be handed over to Germany. The Czechs refer to it as the Munich betrayal.

While stretching my legs (more like just standing still) in the corridor I noticed the next compartment was the Business Class compartment, with just four seats and plenty of room. Only after the occupiers of this compartment left the train, about three quarters of the way through the journey, did we spread out and take advantage of the extra space. You live an learn.

Our hotel reception area was a welcome sight after our journey, and very different. The giant fish tank was real, it was not a photograph.

DSC01153r.jpg

Salad days

Sometimes things don’t pan out as one planned, particularly when traveling.

One evening, during our short stay in Berlin, we visited a restaurant that had been recommended.

The ambiance of the place was very friendly, the staff was helpful, but the portions were huge!

There were four of us and we were unaware of the size of the portions when we ordered. I picked calves liver with apple source for a main, and asked for a small Caesar salad, as a ‘side salad’.

My wife, and our friends, ordered a schnitzel each, and the same small salad. I also ordered a small plate of chips (french fries) on the side, to go with the liver. Nobody else want chips.

The main courses arrived on larger than normal plates, and my wife’s schnitzel, as well as our friend’s schnitzels, were so large that they hung over the side of their plates. My calve’s liver was just as large – they must have used a steam roller to get it so large, or the calf, from which the liver came, was as big as a bus!

The bowl of chips was large enough for four adults, and the ‘small side salad’  would have been a main course on its own, and even then I would have asked for a doggy bag for the remains.

A small side salad for myself, and another for my wife.

I hate to think what we would have received if we just ordered a simple salad as a main course. . . . .

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

We visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp after meeting our ‘walking’ guide at the Berlin Zoo suburban station. He escorted us to the main Berlin station to catch the train for the fifty minute trip to Oranienburg, which is the nearest station to the camp. On arrival this guide handed us over to a camp guide.

From the railway station to the camp it is a 20-minute walk through the town. As we arrived at the camp local houses where pointed out to us, because they used to be the houses where the camp commander and his senior officers lived.

Our camp guide was a German tour guide, so it was interesting to hear how he explained the various facts of the camp.

He was knowledgeable and overall ‘neutral’ about the history and the various details of what happened in the camp. He did not dwell on the atrocities or make any comments.

At the conclusion of the tour he told us that the camp tour was the hardest tour for any tour guide, because the guides considered it disrespectful to make the normal friendly jokes to help the tourist to feel relaxed.

I studied the build up to World War Two, and the rise of Hitler, at college; so to visit this camp was a very moving experience because it brought to ‘life’ the Nazi era of the late 1930’s.

If you have the time while in Berlin it is a ‘must see’ place just to make sure that the world doesn’t repeat this type of history.

DSC01102r
Work makes you free

The main gate.

DSC01107r
Killing ground if you step off the path
DSC01108r
You have been warned, step in to this area and you will be shot.
DSC01112r
Whipping post remains.

Prisoners were strung up by their wrist and flogged.

DSC01119r
Each shingle base is the remains of a single hut. There were 50 barracks for the prisoners, plus barracks for the guards etc.

DSC01123r

DSC01122rrrr
Enlarged pic of the white indicator in the previous picture.

This is the burial ground of the ashes of the victims of the concentration camp. As you see the photo above shows a small wall with stones on the top. The stones were placed there by Jewish visitors in remembrance of the murdered Jews.

DSC01125r
Remains of some of the ovens.
DSC01129r
Closer view of the ovens.

 

DSC01117r
The camp was liberated by the Russians and this shows the monument to them, which is within the camp.

The camp was created in 1936 to house political prisoners, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a small number of Jews.The Jewish numbers increased greatly later. Thousands of Russian & Polish civilians, and later in 1941, 12,000 Russian prisoners of war were also sent to this camp, most died.

Visiting the camp takes a full day, and is a very sobering experience. I am glad that I had the experience, but I can not comprehend why or how anyone could be so calculating barbaric and inhuman, to another human being.

The photographs above are just a small sample of the many that I took during our visit.

 

 

 

 

Trains . . . .

There’s not many boys who didn’t have an interest in trains at one time or another.

Trains

My interest started when I saved pocket money towards a Triang train set, and the love of trains has never left me – although my original train set did.

With grandchildren one can ‘remember’ to a certain extent when they allow you to play with Thomas the Tank Engine.  :-o)

Thomas_Spread_Intro1200_1

Not so long ago the thought of a train holiday around Europe took hold.

Why not fly in to Frankfurt and then use the high speed trains to move from country to country at leisurely, stress free, and economical way.

The last time I traveled on a German train was in 1960, when,as a member of the YHA I was youth hosteling along the Rhine, so how to plan and buy tickets in 2013?

Some years earlier I’d come across a very interesting site called The Man in Seat 61 http://www.seat61.com/ so I clicked on this site for advice on creating a holiday for four using the rail system. The site had expanded greatly since my last visit.

After a little research I logged in to the German rail system http://www.bahn.com/i/view/overseas/en/index.shtml and bought four tickets from Frankfurt to Berlin. While buying the tickets I was also allowed to pick the seats that I wanted, and because there were four of us I wanted us to sit around a table. The booking system is very like the airline system.

I picked the departure time and paid for the tickets using my credit card, and printed out the tickets at home in Sydney – couldn’t have been easier.

After checking the difference between the prices of a Standard ticket and First Class, I chose First Class, because I’d never traveled first class on a train before, and the difference was not as much as I expected – nothing like the huge difference between economy and business class on a plane.

We flew in to Frankfurt with Qatar Airlines and stayed at a local airport hotel for the night. A taxi, next morning, had us at the main Frankfurt railways station about forty five minutes before departure. Being First Class we had use of the lounge, which was nothing startling, but was OK for coffee and biscuits. We were called to board about ten minutes before departure so we were able to watch our train arrive in to Frankfurt station.

FRA arr.jpg

The train was an ICE train (Inter-city Express) which left Frankfurt dead on time. Would you expect anything else from a German train?

Seats.jpg

The seating in First Class is 1 x 2, and less crowded. There is nothing wrong with 2nd class, which is 2 x 2 seating, with similar leg room and comfort, but I wanted to travel 1st class by train, at least once in my life.

Using the ICE train, which traveled at up to 200 km per hour, the journey took us around four hours and was very pleasant.

We had four days in Berlin, which was long enough for a taste, but nowhere near long enough to experience Berlin life.

DSC01134r
Part of Berlin Railway Station (Hauptbahnhof)

 

DSC01041r
Brandenburg Gate

 

DSC01046r
Memorial to the Jews of Europe
DSC01052r
East Berlin
DSC01056r.jpg
Inside the Reichstag Building

 

DSC01088r.jpg

Indicator of the Berlin wall

Check point

Check point 1965

DSC01096c
2013
DSC01094r
Warning when crossing during the Cold War, if you an see it for tourists today.

We visited a concentration camp, which is about 50 minutes by train outside Berlin – see next post.

After four nights we moved on to Prague, Czech Republic, again by train, but this time we used the Czech train system.

We Shall Remember Them . . .

There comes a time when one considers where they came from, and the history of their own family. In doing my own family ‘tree’, I remembered stories from my childhood of one particular person who had been killed in the First World War. His name was on the war memorial in our town centre, yet I knew very little about him, other than the family stories.
In 2012 my wife and I planned a visit to the UK , to allow me to take part in a 50 year reunion of those of us who left the naval college that we attended in 1962. On leaving the college most of us went to sea, and for many of us our paths never crossed again, so this reunion would be an interesting event.
While I researched the international travel arrangements my wife suggested that we visit the grave of my uncle, who was killed at the age of nineteen in World War One, and is buried at Ypres in Belgium. My uncle was my father’s brother, and growing up in the UK in the 40’s & 50’s I knew that my parents were not wealthy enough to take a trip to Belgium. I thought that this was a great idea. All of my father’s generation are now dead, which made me, as an only child, the obvious link to visit my uncle’s grave.

We flew in to Paris (via Colombo in Sri Lanka), and stayed in a small hotel called Hotel France Albion for three nights.

Albion paris

I’d booked us first class tickets on the TGV for Lille, which was a very fast train. The train left from Gare du Nord. The station is imposing, but we soon found our way around and realised we had an hour to wait for departure time. We’d left the hotel early to allow for traffic problems, but as luck would have it we arrived with plenty of time.

Station   Gare du Nord outside & insideInside

 

 

The difference between 1st and 2nd class was not a lot of money, so we decided to treat ourselves and travel 1st Class, because we’d never travelled 1st Class on a train, so we were quite looking forward to the experience. The ticket stated that we were booked in coach 2 and gave our seat numbers. As we approached the train we could see the second coach from the engine and it had a large #2 on the side, in addition the small neon sign by the coach door flashed # 1, so we assumed that this was the first class area of coach # 2. We found our seats, but they were not positioned as I expected after seeing the coach plans. The area had a limited number of seats and was split from the rest of the coach by an electronic door, so I assumed that this was the correct area.

image001

Later when the ticket inspector checked our tickets he never said anything other than ‘Good morning’. On reaching Lille (an hours fast ride from Paris, which is just over 200 km), we had to walk the length of the train to exit the station, and this is when I realised that we had been in the wrong coach, and we had travelled 2nd class for a first class price, so I still haven’t experienced first class rail.

I’d allowed us 20-minute transit time at Lille station. Wrong, the station was so crowded, and the queues so long to gain information about the best way of getting to Ypres in Belgium, that we missed the connection. We hadn’t bought our onward tickets as this next journey is classed as a ‘local’, and local tickets could not be bought via the web. Eventually we bought our tickets and we knew that we would have to change at Kortrijk, which is just inside Belgium. We had about fifteen minutes to change platforms / trains and from investigation the station only had eight platforms, so it didn’t look too daunting. My investigation on the internet about Kortrijk station gave me the impression that to get from one platform to another was via a subway system, which would not be too hard as there were ramps from the platform to the subway, and with our wheeled suitcases this would be easy. Wrong again – we could not find ramps only steep steps down to the subway and more steps up to the required platform. With two suitcases and only one male to manhandle them down and up the stairways, while my wife handled the hand baggage, we only just made the connection.

image001Ypres railways station is quaint, with a touch of old world charm,. We found a large open spaced car park, empty taxi rank, and that it was very quiet on Sunday afternoon. After checking around and realising that we would not be able to find a taxi without some help, we visited the railway ticket office. The ticket office employee was very helpful and ‘phoned for a taxi. The taxi arrived within a few minutes and we were soon at our accommodation close to Menin Gate.

After checking in to our hotel – The Albion – no connection at all with our Paris hotel of a similar name  – we explored the town.

albion-hotel-1-250-190

The hotel was around the corner from the town centre (Grote market) which is not a large area, but it is a very interesting area. It is a square dominated by the Cloth Hall, which we thought had been built some hundreds of years ago until we realised that Ypres had been destroyed in WW1, and rebuilt as it was before the start of the war. The Cloth Hall we so admired as being a piece of history was rebuilt in 1928! The people of Ypres used the original plans and as much of the old stones as they could, to rebuild their buildings. All the ‘old’ houses of Ypres, along with many farms and villages in the surrounding areas, which were also destroyed, were rebuilt as close as possible to how they looked prior to 1914. The town has a very nice ‘feel’, and we found the people to be very friendly and pleasant.

image001

Ypres in 1918

image002
The Cloth Hall 1918

 

cloth hall
The Cloth hall 2012
image001
Local church in 1918
image001
Same church in 2012

In the evening (Sunday) we joined many others at the Menin Gate for the 8.00 pm short remembrance ceremony, to honour the 56,000 allied troops who do not have a known grave after the battles around Ypres. Each name is carved on the walls of the Gate.

DSC00174r
Names and more names of those who do not have a known grave.

DSC00188r

Behind the crowd are columns & columns of names. It is a very moving ceremony, which is held every evening at 8.00 pm, having been started in 1928. The buglers who play the ‘Last Post’ are all volunteers.

The following morning we were picked up by our ‘Battlefield’ guide Jacques, for a four-hour guided tour of the Messines battlefield area outside Ypres. My uncle was killed in this battle in 1917, and is buried in Croonaert Chapel Cemetery. When arranging the tour I mentioned that if it was possible I would like to see his grave. We were shown various military advantage points as Jacques explained how the battle was fought.

DSC00204r

After some time (about an hour) we were shown the German trenches at Bayernwald, and how the British attacked up hill.

It was then that Jacques took us to the small cemetery where my uncle is buried.

DSC00220.JPG

DSC00211rs

I was surprised to see how small it is with ‘only’ 66 graves. It is in the middle of a field, which is farmed for crops (wheat I think). It is not a church cemetery just a well-maintained area behind a small wall that remembers those who died.

I found the grave of my uncle, and as I stood looking down on the memorial Jacques offered me a small white cross and a single poppy to place on the grave.

As I placed the small cross on my uncle’s grave,

DSC00214r

Jacques quoted the words of the poem ‘For the Fallen’ , which is also known as the ‘Ode of Remembrance’ by Laurence Binyon –

They went with songs to the battle; they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

   Albert Edward01

My uncle joined the army for King and county, he was so keen to fight that he lied about his age – and was dead at 19.

It was a very moving moment for my wife and I, which will be remembered for the rest of our lives. The thoughtfulness of Flanders Battlefield Tours, and Jacques in particular, offering the cross and poppy, was something that I never expected. At the end of the tour I was presented with a folder, which contained all the known details of my uncle, a copy his service record and details of the part that his regiment (Cheshire Regiment) played in the Messines Battle.

On leaving Croonaert Chapel Cemetery we moved to ‘Hill 60’, you may have seen the film, which came out in 2010.

Hill 60
Poster from the film

DSC00225.JPG

This is the memorial to the Australians involved in the tunneling under Hill 60. The dark spots on the plaque are bullet holes from WW2. Hill 60 is 60 metres above sea level – hence the name. The hill is a man-made hill from the spoil after creating a railway line cutting in 1850.

DSC00227c

A German pillbox on Hill 60.

After the tunnelers had finished their work and placed mines (about 53,000 pounds of explosives) in the tunnels under the German lines they waited for the offensive to begin in the early hours of 7th June 1917. The Hill 60 mine was part of 23 mines placed below the enemy lines. The explosion of the mines was heard in London.

Today the remains of the blast at Hill 60 is now a large lake overgrown with vegetation. To illustrate how large the explosion was I took a photograph of our guide, who stood at one side of the crater, (the person inside the orange circle) and I stood at the other side. The experience of touring the battlefield and having detail aspects of the battle explained was well worth the long trip from Australia.

DSC00231s

DSC00239r

Later we visited the Tyne Cot cemetery, and with Jacques explanation we better understood the whole battle area.

The following day we caught the Eurostar from Lillie to London so as to meet up with the others attending the reunion in North Wales.

Singapore 1963 and all that . . .

landaura

I was a deck cadet on the above vessel in 1963.

Arriving in Singapore on Saturday the 14th September 1963, the cadets were allowed to go ashore and have a swim at the Seaman’s Club. The ship was anchored off the wharf area, and we would take a small junk and be rowed, usual by a female using the single paddle at the stern of the junk, from the ship to Clifford Pier near Change Alley. Sunday the 15th was a day of rest for us, as well as all of Singapore, because that was the day the festivities would start. On the 16th September 1963 Singapore would join Malay to create a new country called Malaysia. The British were no longer in charge of Singapore.
Singapore in the 1960’s was as ‘foreign’ as one could get – it was a mixture of British, Malay, China, Indonesia, and everywhere else in between – it was Asian, and I loved it from the minute I set foot ashore on Clifford Pier.

clifford_pier

Clifford Pier – still there today, but it is now a museum, I think.

First thing we always did on crossing the road, known as Collyer Quay, was to visit Change Alley – at that time famous for money changers. Now it is an upmarket, air-conditioned shopping area. The picture below was taken in 1970.

06 singapore 1970s change alley

With ‘Sing’ dollars in our pocket one could not go past the Cellar Bar, which was below street level (obviously), and a cool, quiet place (being late morning) for a cold Tiger beer. It would liven up at lunchtime and in the evening.

Tiger beer

 

To illustrate how important the Cellar Bar was to the seafaring fraternity, I will jump a head from 1963 to 1966.

After I’d finished my time as a cadet, and passed the exams for a Second Mates ticket I was sent, in April 1966, to Singapore to join an LST (Landing Ship Tank) as third mate. The Company had the contract to supply officers and crews for the various LSTs controlled by the British Ministry of Defence around the world. From 1962 to 1966 Malaya and Indonesia had been fighting an undeclared war, which dragged Britain, Australia & New Zealand in to this ‘confrontation’.
I joined LST Frederick Clover, which was built in 1945 as LST 3001, and named ‘Frederick Clover’ after the war, gross tonnage 4225, so not a particularly large vessel.
Our duties were to carry supplies and troops (the troops to and from) Borneo in support of the fight against Indonesia.
There were other LSTs on similar runs to Borneo, and the officers used to socialise at the Cellar Bar whenever their ship was in port. One day I asked, at the naval office, when a particular LST would be in port, because the third mate in this LST was a friend of mine. I was told that they couldn’t tell me because I wasn’t security cleared, and the movement of the LSTs were on a ‘need to know’ basis. I even explained that I was part of the LST fleet, but as I was still a merchant seaman, rather than Royal Navy, they couldn’t help me, although I’d signed the Official Secrets Act in case I gave away the top speed (10 kts) of the Frederick Clover.

Tiger

Not a problem, my next stop was the Cellar Bar and I asked the girls behind the bar if they knew when my friend was due in Singapore. They were quite happy to tell me the name of his LST, and that he was due into Singapore the following day!, so much for ‘need to know’, and naval security.

 

Let’s move back to the celebrations of Singapore joining Malaya, to create the new country of Malaysia.

Early evening we visited Bugis Street for something to eat – the place was already ‘jumping’. Bugis St was famous for the food stalls, beer halls and ‘girls’, although many were not female, but males dressed as females. The ‘trans’ girls would parade up and down the street in their finery and offer to sit near or on someone’s lap while photographs were taken. For this service ‘she’ would charge a small fee. If they worked the street for a number of hours they would earn a very good living. It was known that certain first tripper boy seamen, around fifteen or sixteen years old would be caught up with the whole ambiance of Bugis St and slide off with one of the very attractive ‘attractions’. It didn’t take long for his mates to see the young first tripper running like mad towards them, as if the hounds of hell were after him. His introduction to Bugis Street nightlife was not what he expected.

bugis st98_sm_dining

Early evening for food and beer.

470px-BugisStreetTrans003

Around mid-night the ‘girls’ would show up.

470px-BugisStreetTrans006

Anybody wish to take my picture?

How to tell the difference between the ‘she’ men and real women? The real women couldn’t afford to dress as well as the ‘she’ men. I was always told to check the Adams apple on the ‘women’ – but I never got that close!

In the 1980’s Bugis Street was closed due to the building of the MRT station. Later the Government realised that they had killed off a major Singapore ‘attraction’, so they opened ‘new’ Bugis Street, which is across the main road (Victoria Street),  and is now an open air market stall area. Regardless of the promotional effort Bugis Street is ‘dead’.

BugisStreet005

 

The picture shows Bugis Street today (the original area not the ‘new’ street)

 

 

The celebrations went on for a few days, but the ‘marriage’ of Singapore and Malaya didn’t last. It was all over by the 9th August 1965, when Singapore became an independent state. This was still in the future.

The Good the Bad & the Dangerous

Air asia XDuring my travels I have flown with quite a few airlines, from bone shakers and certain national carriers that shouldn’t have been allowed to fly, to airlines that have won awards year after year.

Some people have made negative comments about the low cost carriers, but one low cost carrier, for me, stands out as an airline that I am happy to fly with, as long as the cost and schedules fits my requirements.

My favourite low coast airline is Air Asia,

http://www.airasia.com/au/en/home.page

having flown with them from Cambodia to Malaysia, Singapore to Borneo, Malaysia to Sri Lanka three times and on each occasion I couldn’t fault the service. On certain sectors they do offer business class, but, as yet, I have not tried this service. I have read that Air Asia business class is not the normal business class of regular airlines – more like Premium Economy, than business class, but the price reflects the service level.

What I have tried is their relatively new option, if you are traveling as a couple, of ‘buy the centre seat’ in economy to have more room. They call it ‘Extra seat option’ – http://www.airasia.com/au/en/promotion/extra-seat-option.page?icid=iaf683hpsba

I bought two economy seats from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo in Sri Lanka in 2014, at a good price, for the three and a half hour flight. The price was cheaper than the two major carries on the same route.

I did consider business class, but for such a short flight I considered the price was a little too expensive. While booking the economy seats I was offered the middle seat of three for AUD $11, each way, as long as they did not sell the seat to someone for a standard fare. If they did sell the seat, my $11 would be refunded. A ‘no brainer! as far as I was concerned.

I bought the ‘extra seat option’ (Air Asia’s name for the service) for the round trip, and also prepaid our meals in both directions. All the planning worked like a dream – on boarding I realised that we had our centre seat, it hadn’t been sold.

We flew out of KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2), which had not been open long and still smelled ‘new’, and we found the terminal easy to navigate. I checked us in on line, and all we had to do was drop our bags – along with hundreds of others who had checked in on line, and were trying to drop their bags. To be fair the line moved reasonably quickly – it took us thirty minutes from joining the queue to lodging our bags. They had a number of lodgement stations, which covered all Air Asia flights, but the staff was always friendly and helpful. One agent called the next in line and had 18 family members descend on his counter, with one person waving a wad of passports. Air Asia sent help to break the backlog at this counter and split the family over four counters. Everything was calm, quiet and efficient.

The flight was uneventful, and very pleasant. The cabin staff couldn’t do enough for the passengers. They were very friendly, smiled a lot, and seemed to enjoy their job, plus they found to time to hold a conversation with anyone who spoke to them. I couldn’t help but compare this cabin crew to the airline that we used the previous day.

Air Asia didn’t offer in-flight entertainment, but I noticed how the passengers created their own ‘buzz’, which reminded me of how it used to be when I flew in B 707 & VC 10s in the 1960s. Without entertainment people had to talk to each other or read. Perhaps this passenger interaction helped the cabin crew enjoy their job, because they didn’t have to constantly compete with headphones to gain the passenger’s attention.

Tea and water were included in the ticket price – wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks were extra at reasonable prices.

For the record – Air Asia is unaware of this blog, and I paid for all services with my own money.