All in the planning

 

Celebrity Silhouette

Celebrity Silhouette

Our winter has just started – everyone tells me it will end on the 1st September, but I still believe it is the 21st Sept (Equinox), but regardless it is still cold at the moment.
During the last couple of months my thoughts have been considering how best to avoid at least a month of winter.
Obviously, where ever we go must be in the northern hemisphere, preferably for the month of June & July, but as two months will be too expensive it must be one or the other. At least August is shaking off winter so one starts to look forward to the warmer weather.

september-equinox-factsAutumn Equinox northern Hemisphere

080706 wattle 02Spring equinox in Sydney – same date 21st September.

We know when spring has arrived in Sydney because of the abundance of flowering wattle. The 1st September is National Wattle Day, to celebrate the national flower of Australia, perhaps this is why Australia considers the 1st September to be Spring.

There are other things to consider when booking a holiday – the monsoon seasons in Asia. The southwest monsoon is July through to September, so India is not a consideration.
Having experienced the heat of the Persian Gulf during my time when I was at sea, a visit to Dubai or Abu Dhabi in June, July or August is also out. An outside temperature of 44 c (111 f) does not make for a pleasant stroll outside, even if the bus stops are air conditioned, as they are in Dubai.

High humidity and heavy evening rain in certain Asian countries caused me to turn to Europe, and perhaps the UK.
Getting to Europe requires further consideration, because if we use a Middle Eastern airline, will they still serve wine during Ramadan, so when is / was Ramadan?
This year it was from the 15th May to the 14th June so if we travel in July, Ramadan will not be a consideration.
A couple of years ago we did travel during Ramadan, with a Middle Eastern airline, and Ramadan was during our homeward leg. During the outward journey the cabin crew would walk up and down the aisle with a bottle of red wine in one hand and a bottle of white in the other and top up passenger’s wine glasses.
On the homeward trip, which was during Ramadan, your empty glass was removed and refilled in the galley. A slightly odd compromise I thought, considering that the faithful don’t drink alcohol.
I mention religion, because I have been caught out a few times, and not just with Ramadan, but also holy days, when all bars are closed and the serving of alcohol even in top hotels is forbidden. This has happened also on Buddhist holy days, and the phases of the moon in one country that forbids alcohol one day a month, due to the full moon.

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If you are passing through, or just overnighting, various restrictions can be inconvenient for those of us who like a glass of wine with our meals. If a religious period carries on over several days then these restrictions might compromise or even spoil your holiday. So being aware of holy days / holy weekends etc when booking your holidays is a ‘must’.

Taking all in to account it was decided that we will cruise from Southampton to the Baltic in Celebrity Silhouette. Maureen hasn’t been to this part of the world and it will be over fifty years since I sailed in the Baltic during my time as a British India Steam Navigation Company cadet in Dunera, when she was a school ship.

Dunera03Dunera’ school ship in the mid 1960’s.

As a school ship she carried hundreds of school children to various ports around Europe. The children had daily lessons about the port / country that they would visit, and afterwards they had to write essays about their experience.
The school ship concept was started by BISNC in the 1930’s, and reinitiated in the early 1960’s using converted troop ships, after the British government started flying troops to British possessions rather than sending the troops by sea. The project was a huge success with school children, and young adults when the ship was charted by organisations in various other countries. I can remember one cruise when some of the ‘school children’ where older than me. It was a Swiss charter for seventeen to twenty-year-old students.

The cruise in the Celebrity Silhouette will be a ‘I remember when for me’ and hopefully enjoyable for Maureen.

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Nynashamn is about 45 minutes drive outside Stockholm, and the last time I was in the Baltic, St Petersburg was called Leningrad, and Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and later became General Secretary.

Now that we have decided to take the trip, which airline should we use?
Qantas, the Australian airline, is too expensive, and when returning they have night flights which we hate.
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Up until recently Qantas’ partner on the Kangaroo route to the UK was Emirates,

emirates-airline-united-arab-emirateswhich would require a transit stop in Dubai. We flew with Emirates last year and it worked out well, but this year the ticket cost is much more expensive, plus the night flight syndrome.
I did see a special offer of flying with Finnair, who don’t currently fly in to Australia.

FinnaitThe last time we flew with Finnair was out of Bangkok to Venice via Helsinki. The flight and cabin service were very good, so if the price was right we wouldn’t have any complaints.
Finnair flies out of Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Getting to any of the transit stops using Finnair’s relationship with either Qantas (via Bangkok), Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong), or Qantas (via Singapore) can involve a night flight on the way / from London.
I did find a cheaper rate via Cathay Pacific over Hong Kong, but the return flight from Hong Kong to Sydney was a night flight.
After a considerable amount of research to find the best combination of daylight flights, seating, price, acceptable airline, and arriving a few days before the cruise, which I like to do just in case the airline mishandles our bags, I ended up choosing Garuda.

Logo Garuda Indonesia

The last time I flew with Garuda was in the 1980’s so using them today would be new experience.

A few years ago, I would never have considered this airline because ten years ago they were banned from flying in European air space. Since 2007 their reputation has slowly recovered, and now they are one of only ten airlines in the world classed as a five-star airline – the list (in alphabetical order) are

All Nippon Airlines (aka ANA) – Japanese

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Asiana Airlines – S. Korea

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Cathay Pacific Airlines – Hong Kong

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Etihad Airlines – Abu Dhabi

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EVA Air – Taiwan
Eva
Garuda Airlines – Indonesia

Logo Garuda Indonesia

Hainan Airlines – China

Hainan
Lufthansa – Germany

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Qatar Airlines – Qatar

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Singapore Airlines – Singapore

You’ll notice that the African, American, South American, Australian, and New Zealand airlines are missing off the five-star list, and only one European airline has been included. The star rating is voted by passengers.

Our plan was to fly Sydney to Jakarta – daylight of course, sleep overnight near Jakarta airport and fly daylight to London or Amsterdam. The best flight as far as I could see was the London bound flight even though it was more expensive than flying in to Amsterdam. Flying from Amsterdam to London would increase the overall cost above flying direct in to London.
Just before I was about to buy the tickets I read that the authorities had arrested twenty-five baggage handlers at Jakarta airport for theft of the contents of passenger’s bags at the airport. As our bags would be staying overnight at the airport this was a concern.
Later I logged on to Trip Advisor and used the forum area to find out about attractions in and around Jakarta if we were to stay for three days during our return journey.
The one thing that stood out on the forum was that Jakarta seemed to be grid-locked with traffic, plus we should be aware of possible bombings.

Unfortunately, five-star Garuda lost my interest, through no fault of the airline. I decided to find an alternative airline.

A few days later I came across a special offer with Singapore Airlines – a little more expensive than Garuda, but daylight flights all the way to / from London.
Daylight Sydney to Singapore – overnight at a local hotel – daylight to London. For the return journey 9.35 am departing London for maximum daylight time to Singapore, fly all day (13.25 hours) and put our clocks forward seven hours to arrive Singapore at 5.30 am local time. We would have a ninety minute transit and depart Singapore for Sydney at 07.10 am. Another daylight flight, which is just what we wanted.

I booked Singapore Airlines.  sq

In five days time, on Thursday, it will be the northern summer solstice, which means it is our winter solstice and on Friday the sun starts its journey back to where it belongs, shining over Australia.

 

 

Homeward bound

 

DSC01846rThe last night of the cruise – don’t know how many balloons they go through in a year, because there is a big ‘bash’ at the end of every cruise.

We’d left Akita and headed north east through the night and the following day, which was a sea day.
During the night of the sea day, which was the last night of the cruise, we entered the straits of Tsugaru Kaiko, around 1.30 am, not being a night owl z z z z z I just believed what I was told.
The Tsugaru Kaiko Straits divide the rest of Japan from Hokkaido Island, and around 3.15 am we cleared the straits, entered the Pacific Ocean, and headed for Yokohama.

DSC01849rMorning arrival in Yokohama – later we would cross the bridge shown in the picture.

In the evening of the last night we were asked to leave our heavy luggage outside our cabins. This luggage was removed during the night and the next time I saw it was in the passenger terminal. The whole operation was extremely efficient, we picked out our luggage, after which we were shown were to go for the coach to the airport. We just followed a guide and boarded the bus as our luggage was stowed underneath.

Princess Cruises offered a shuttle service (for a fee) to both airports, Narita and Haneda, but we picked Narita, because our flight would be leaving from Narita the following morning.
On researching the best way to get home I realised that we would not be able to make any morning flights from Narita on the morning that we left the ship, and that we would have to stay at an airport hotel overnight.

DSC01855rWe crossed the bridge after which we encountered traffic.

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Most of the way we were in a convoy of slow traffic and it took us two hours or more to get to Narita, which is about 100 km or 60 miles. At least it confirmed that staying over night for the following day’s flight was the correct decision.

We stayed at the Narita Airport Rest House, which was only a few minutes from the airport and the price was ‘right’ at AUD $110. The room was a good size, and it was clean, as was the bathroom, and you could see the planes but not hear them, perfect for a quick overnight.
We booked a couple of seats on the 6.30 am shuttle (five minute ride) to the airport. On arriving in the foyer at 6.00 am we were just two of quite a few. We were early, because I had a feeling that the bus might well be full at 6.30 am. The driver waved to us and we all climbed aboard and we left at 6.10 am – initiative and efficiency, because the driver would be back in time to make the first run of the day at 6.30am.

On entering Narita Airport we were surprised at how quiet it was, so we found our check-in area and realised that the airport didn’t open until 7.30 am!
I’d never experienced an airport operating on office hours. Last year we checked in at 4.00 am for a 6.00 am flight out of Sydney, and we consider Sydney to be a ‘terminus’, with a curfew, but Tokyo’s Narita would be a 24 hour airport, or so we thought.

DSC01859rcThere were plenty of very quiet planes.

After checking in, because we were business class, we were given an invitation to the lounge. We were given a map along with our invitation – it took us a good twenty minutes to get anywhere near the lounge, and we still had to ask in the end. The airport is huge!

DSC01867rWe were at gate 93, and passed four lounges (for the same airline – JAL) before getting anywhere near Gate 93 and the lounge allocated for this area. The exercise was good for both of us . . .

DSC01862rBecause of our early start we hadn’t had breakfast, so the spread was very welcoming. The blackboard is advertising some sort of food along with Mount Fuji, but self serve was better.

DSC01864rThe lounge was very nice and quiet and had good internet reception.

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It was 5.00 pm somewhere in the world, even if it was only 8.30 am in Tokyo, so I had to try Japanese bubbly.

DSC01878rFollow the leader for take-off to Kuala Lumpur, we were flying with Malaysian Airlines.

DSC01880rAirborne

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One  last shot of Mt Fuji as we left Japan behind.

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Lunchtime – my starter, smoked fish, thought I’d do the right thing because I wanted the meat dish for the main course.

DSC01891rVery apologetic cabin member (can’t say stewardess anymore), said that they had run out of the meat, but I could have the poached haddock.

At home I have fish once a week normally, so now I have two weeks free . . . . .

Because we don’t like night flying we decided to stay over night at the Kuala Lumpur airport hotel, the Sama Sama, which is a lovely hotel, having stayed there a few times.

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Hotel Lobby

Premier_Room_KingTypical Premier Room, which gives you access to the Executive Lounge.

DSC01899rThe advantage is that it includes food and drinks from 6 to 8 pm. By the time you’ve picked through the offering you don’t need an evening meal.

DSC01901rOver eating might be a problem

The following morning we check-out of the hotel and checked in for the flight to Sydney – daylight flight 9.00 am to 7.00 pm. Our ticket entitled us to visit the Golden Lounge, which is the name of Malaysian Airline’s lounge in KL.

DSC01904rIt has all been refurbished

DSC01908rHot food to order –  just ask for the type of omelette you want and the chef makes it . .

DSC01909rVarious types of food for breakfast from western to Asian; hot or cold.

DSC01919rBrunch on the plane.

I was waiting to be told that my main course was not available  . .

DSC01920rI should have had more faith – Nasi Lemak, one of my favourite Malay dishes.
Spiced just right for me – I like spice.

DSC01922rGetting close to home – the wide open spaces of Australia.

DSC01927rStrapped in the seat for landing and held the camera onehanded across Maureen – must do better next time – give the camera to Maureen, I can be an idiot when I try.

Just for my Sydney readers – from walking off the plane, through immigration, collected bags, through quarantine and outside waiting for our lift home – 20 minutes!!

About 7.00 pm on a Sunday night – never had such a fast arrival.

 

 

 

 

Abu Dhabi and all that . . .

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Abu Dhabi 2017 – the Emirates Palace Hotel – I didn’t have any friends in Abu Dhabi so I was unable to fix a visit, but I did check the rates – on special the cheapest room is AUD $365 / night (USD $290) but couldn’t find out if this included a ‘free’ breakfast. The most expensive being the Palace Grand Suite at AUD $16,845 (USD $ 13,332), which isn’t bad when you compare this to the Dubai hotel cost for their most expensive room.
Palace Grand Suite  I added the 10% service charge & the 6% room tax to the Grand Palace Suite costs – check the links for pictures.

1962__Abu_DhabiAbu Dhabi 1963 during my first visit to this town. In the early 60’s going ashore was by a boat to a local beach.

landaura1Dhows would come out to us, (after we’d anchored), and we would work cargo using our own derricks etc.

Check below as to how we stepped ashore during our recent visit.

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DSC08366rI took the above as the Majestic Princess manoeuvred alongside – you can see the disturbed water from our side thrusters pushing us bodily alongside.

Maureen & I decide on a basic tour of four hours or so, which included a visit to the new (opened in 2007) Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

DSC09103r Doesn’t matter where we go we end up in a fish market . . . without chips.

DSC09105rI can’t remember what type of fish this chap was showing us, but I’m sure someone will tell me. I liked the colour and wondered if it retained its colour once it was cooked, and on the plate.

DSC09124r Presidential Palace

DSC09131rHeritage village – I found it a disappointing place that had been ‘recreated’ and had little resemblance to the Abu Dhabi that I remembered.

DSC09132rThe above gives you an idea of what Abu Dhabi was like in the early 60’s. The shops  didn’t sell post cards the last time I went shopping in Abu Dhabi, but Japanese electronics, which are now collectors items. The person with the umbrella is protecting themselves from the sun, not rain.

If you do visit this ‘village’ make sure you have all the necessities if you wish to use the bathroom, better still – DON’T! use the bathroom.

DSC09142rFront area of the Presidential Palace.

DSC09143rThe guide did mention that each of the wives of the Sheik had their own entrance to the living quarters, so as not to meet each other I suppose.

DSC09145r I think this is the bridge to nowhere – a private island that is empty, so I suppose that makes this a private bridge . . . didn’t see any vehicles on the bridge.

DSC09150r A short time after the ‘bridge to nowhere’ the Sheikh Zayed Mosque came in to view. According to what I have read in the ship’s blurb for the tour of Abu Dhabi, the mosque is the 8th largest mosque in the world, but according to the internet it is the 9th, but who’s counting? Enough to say that it is big.

To comply with the requirements of the mosque Maureen had on a long sleeve blouse & slacks down to her ankles, and I had long pants with a short sleeve shirt. Being a mere male I wasn’t bothered, but our guide on the coach became upset that Maureen’s pants were not long enough and said that the religious police might not allow her to visit the mosque. She offered to return to the cabin to change in to yet longer slacks that dragged on the floor, but the guide said that we didn’t have time to wait. We had a number of ladies on our tour in the same situation. Maureen and a few others accepted that they would not be visiting the mosque due to the clothing problem.

We parked outside the mosque and the guide suggested that the ladies try and enter and to see what happens. As we walked towards the main entrance Maureen was pulled to one side with some other ladies off our bus.

Maureen insisted that one of us should see the mosque (me) and that she will wait in the bus with the other ladies.

I passed through security and started the tour of the building.

DSC09154r.jpgMain entrance after security.

DSC09156rArea to the left of the main entrance with the pool.

DSC09161rThe inner courtyard after passing through the main entrance of the mosque. A minaret is at each corner. The courtyard is 17,000 sq mtrs (180,000 sq feet).

DSC09162rIt is thought to be the largest example of marble mosaic in the world.

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After viewing the courtyard I returned to the front of the building and walked down the columned walk way so as to turn right down another columned walk way to the main prayer hall. The walk way to the prayer hall can be seen on the left of the above picture.

DSC09159rThe start of the walkway.

DSC09168r  With the breeze blowing through it was not unpleasant walking along the columned passages.

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The water helped to cool the breeze as it wafted through the corridor.

At the end of the corridor there were seats and racking system – visitors had to remove their shoes. As I was removing my shoes I was accosted by a lady in black.

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DSC09190rThe lady turned out to be Maureen – she’d been offered an abaya from our coach driver.

DSC09180rOnce inside the main hall we could see the carpet – 5,627 sq mtrs (60,570 sq feet). The largest carpet in the world, at 35 tons, it took 1200 to 1300 carpet knotters around two years to tie 2,268,000 knots to create the carpet, which is mainly wool from New Zealand & Iran. Apparently some of the carpet is slightly higher than other parts. This is to help worshippers, when on their knees, to face the correct way. The direction indication of ‘correctness’ can not be seen when standing.

The mosque can handle 40,000 worshippers, and the main hall over 7,000 men – the ladies have a smaller hall for their use, large enough for 1500 worshippers. There is also another smaller hall for men, which can handle a further 1500 worshippers. The 96 columns that can be seen in the main hall are clad with marble and inlaid with mother of pearl.

DSC09175r       There are seven chandeliers imported from Germany and they contain millions of  Swarovski crystals.

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I tried to get all three chandeliers in to the same picture.

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Indicators for prayers. The Gregorian calendar starts at zero based on Christ’s birth, (BC/AD) whereas the Muslim calendar starts at Gregorian 622 (AD) is based on Muhammad’s arrival at Medina.
His journey was during the year of the Hijra (which means Permission to travel), so the Islamic calendar was dated from the Hijra year , which is why it shows as 1438 AH (Anno Hegirae – Latin – for ‘in the year of the Hijra’) for the current Islamic year.

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The various names indicate the prayers e.g ISHA is the night time prayer of the daily prayers and is the fifth prayer. Faja is the dawn prayer, Dhuhr is the mid-day prayer, each name has a different meaning for the faithful.

The visit to the mosque took about 90 minutes. I found it interesting from an architectural point of view, because my knowledge of the Islamic faith is limited. The cost to build the mosque, which was started in 1997, was USD $545 million in 2007 ($652 million in today’s money).

As our coach left the parking area I couldn’t help but think of the $545 million dollars for a project that focuses on the faith of the people. When I got back onboard the Majestic Princess I checked a few facts on the net.

In 2004 the world had the tsunami that destroyed hundreds of homes and thousands of lives, in 13 countries, particularly in Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world. The world rallied around to help the Indonesian, Sri Lankans, Indian, Thais etc who had suffered huge loss of life and infrastructure. A total of 226,000 people died of which 74% were from Indonesia.

A call went out across Australia for help, particularly as Indonesia is our nearest neighbour. Like many other countries Australia dug deep and contributed cash and food to the extent of USD $66.38 / person via direct giving or government giving, making a total contribution of $1.322 Billion USD.
In comparison the UAE (which includes Dubai as well as Abu Dhabi) gave $7.92 per person, a total of $20 million dollars of citizen direct giving, and government contributions.
In comparison Kuwait gave USD $44.3 / person ($100 million), Qatar USD $23.80 / person ($20 million), Saudi Arabia USD$1.16 / person (USD $30 million).

I’m not being judgemental just pointing out the difference in priorities – a building (how ever beautiful) and five million people homeless, and without access to food & fresh water.
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I tried to take a decent shot of this building on the way back to the ship.

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The Aldar Building – downloaded from the company’s web site – this is the picture that I was trying to take . . .

DSC09199rAbu Dhabi is expanding with the reclaiming of land from the Persian (Arabian) Gulf.

DSC09203rNew homes built on reclaimed land – they did look nice.

Overall the tour was interesting, even if we did get a lecture / chat about Islam on our return journey to the ship.
We had a very similar lecture by our guide when we returned to the ship in Aqaba, Jordon, which makes me wonder if this type of lecture / friendly chat is a deliberate plan to get a certain point across to westerners.
I had the feeling that the delivery and content of the ‘friendly chats’ had been agreed in advance, between whom, I don’t know. If I am wrong then the delivery of the two ‘chats’, within nine days, and so very, very, similar, yet so far from each other (Jordon & UAE), was a remarkable coincidence.

 

A rich man’s world

 

oneA friend of mine that I used to work with in BOAC in the 1970’s, heard that Maureen & I would be sailing in the Majestic Princess, and that she would be visiting Dubai for a day on the way to Singapore.
Majestic
He suggested that we should meet so as to catch up on the last thirty nine years. I jumped at the idea at seeing him again, and ‘catching up’.

He’d left BOAC in 1978 to work for an airline in the Persian Gulf.
boac                  For those who can remember BOAC  :-o)

Over the years his life had changed, and he now ran his own company in Dubai.

During our e-mail chats he asked what we would like to see while in Dubai, and as we had seen a number of the popular sights during our visit last year,  we asked if it was possible to see inside . . .

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without actually staying there?

My friend picked Maureen & I up from the cruise terminal in his chauffer driven car – he hates driving – and took us to the Dubai Museum.

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DSC09018r.jpgI was able to read more about Lawrence of Arabia. The museum was cool (as in climate) and very interesting. I took a number of photos of various items on display, but for some reason only the above picture registered on the camera. At least the outside pictures worked.

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Leo & I meet again after nearly forty years.

Next stop was the 321 meter high  Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel, voted as the world’s most luxurious hotel. Leo had fixed everything.

DSC09025rThe main reception area where Leo introduced himself to the receptionist and a young lady came over to meet us and show us various areas of the hotel.

On the left of the above picture is the start of the wow factor.

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Computer controlled mini-fountains pointing upwards.

Escalators on each side of the water feature, but so as not to get bored in your travels the management have put in an a fish pond.

DSC09024rThere is another escalator & aquarium on the other side of the of the mini-fountains.

There is a reception on each floor and check-in takes place in your suite.

DSC09023rDifferent colours for various floors.

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More fountains as we reached the top of the escalators.

DSC09030rMaureen & Leo walk quietly to the lift.

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Reception at the restaurant as we step out of the lift.

DSC09032rWalk through the tunnel to the restaurant. The colour gold is everywhere.

DSC09034r We are in the Al Mahara restaurant and the whole wall is an aquarium – not sure if we are supposed to pick our fish for eating as it swims passed or do we just admire the view.

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DSC09036rPrivate dining room – I am not sure if the aquarium at the end is part of the restaurant aquarium.

DSC09037r The private dining room – view taken with my back to the aquarium.

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Close-up of the wall of water.

DSC09040rView of outside from the reception area.

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Shopping ??

DSC09043rCorridor to where, I don’t know.

DSC09044rLooking down on to a tearoom come bar area and below the bar area is the main entrance.

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Design of the various floors.

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DSC09046rThe walk area towards ‘our’ suite.

DSC09047rEntrance area of the suite – two floors, dining room, sitting room two double bedrooms each en-suite.
This bedroom suite has a gold iPad – who doesn’t? A 21 inch iMac, floor to ceiling windows, wide screen HD TV and don’t forget the 24 hour butler service. Nothing has been left out.

DSC09048eLeo & our guide in the reception area of the suite.

DSC09067rLeo felt quite at home, with his gold computer . . .

DSC09049rSitting room

DSC09050rDining room.

DSC09054rGeneral view back towards the reception area.

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DSC09056rMain bedroom

DSC09057rEn-suite bathroom.

DSC09059rDressing room for main bedroom.

DSC09060rSecond bedroom

DSC09062rSecond bedroom en-suite (also with dressing room)

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Both bedrooms are upstairs, but as you climb the stairs you can check the time, which is an image that is cast on to the wall of the staircase so that it doesn’t intrude. As you see we were there around lunchtime –  the clock was accurate.

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Sitting room , small bar & large TV.

DSC09051rView from the sitting room window. A little hazy due to sand in the air.

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As we left the hotel I saw the ‘sister’ hotel across the beach area, and noticed that the Rolls Royce’s engine was still running even though the car was empty – one doesn’t wish to climb in to a hot car.

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If I start saving now, and live long enough, the suite that we saw is on ‘special’ for just over AUD $6,000 a night, but it does include a free breakfast.

It’s only money after all, and that’s what I want  if I plan staying at this hotel.

The hotel opened in 1999.

The smallest room is 169 sq mtrs – & I thought the E & O in Penang had large rooms at 53 sq mtrs. It costs about AUD $1300 a night for the smallest room.
The largest room is 780 sq meters – the Royal Suite costs about AUD $37,000 a night. It was listed as the 12th most expensive suit in the world in 2012.

There are only 28 double story floors, to create 202 bedroom suites. The shape of the hotel represents the sail of a dhow. The owners wanted an iconic design to show place Dubai in the way that the Opera House does for Sydney, Big Ben for London or the Eiffel Tower for Paris.

The idea of using hotels as symbols of a country seems to be growing with Dubai’s  Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel,

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and also Singapore with

sin  Mariner Bay Sands Hotel

There is still talk of converting QE2 in to a Dubai hotel, but will she ever make the grade.

DSC09017rAs the Majestic Princess docked I took the above picture of a grand old lady alongside in Dubai – she has been in Dubai since 2008.

 

 

 

 

Civitavecchia – the seaport for Rome

Civitavecchia pronounced ch-ee-v-ee-t-aa-v-EH-k-k-ee-aa

On arrival at Hotel Traghetto, which is a family run hotel,  we were shown to our room on the second floor. The room boasted a small balcony, which we didn’t use.
I’d booked us for three nights, but two days, just incase anything happened to our luggage. Having seen two ladies distressed over missing airline bags when joining a cruise ship a couple of years ago, I didn’t want to leave Italy for a 28 day cruise without our bags!
The hotel cost was not all that great in the scheme of thing, (3 * hotel), but it gave me peace of mind. As it happened everything went to plan and we were able to enjoy a couple of days sight seeing.
We were very happy with the hotel and the friendly English speaking staff. It was clean, convenient for the port, yet close enough to the town centre that we could walk to the main areas within ten minutes.
DSC08449rOur room – a double bed and two single beds, which allowed us to spread out.
The following morning we decided to visit the local market –

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Always pleasant to scan the food of the locals to see what they have but you don’t.
The market also had a fish section, which is not my favourite area, but had to photograph the crustaceans, shown below, because I didn’t have any idea what they were, other than some form of shell fish. They seemed popular with the locals.

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The cheese section was attractive, but the cheeses seemed to all look alike – I prefer an English cheese display with the white of Cheshire cheese, the yellow of Cheddar, the off white of Shropshire Blue, the red of Derby cheese etc.

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Although it was not summer the weather was very kind to us with a blue sky and enough heat in the sun for me to wear shorts.

DSC08456rLooking towards Fort Michelangelo from along the sea front.

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DSC08457rYou’d think that we had the place to ourselves but there were enough people around that we didn’t feel lonely.

DSC08459rI had a feeling that this sun bather must be British  . . . he could well have been lonely.

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A cold beer for me and a soft drink for Maureen over looking the water – what more could you want – it was quite hot in the sun.

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Evening meal once again overlooking the water – this area was full of life and I had to wait for a quiet moment to take the picture – without the passing crowds.

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The following day we checked the harbour on the off chance that our ‘ship had come in . . .’  it hadn’t, but the short holiday made us think that ‘our ship had come in . . ‘

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An evening stroll along the prom after dinner – how British can two ex POMs be . . .

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The Majestic Princess had arrived, and a free shuttle, supplied by the town, ferried us from outside our hotel to the ship. I clicked the above picture over the driver’s shoulder.

Our twenty eight day cruise was about to begin. . . . .

 

Napier, the Art Deco Capital of the world.

dsc07794rApproaching Napier.

NAPIER – So named after Sir Charles Napier 1782 to 1853.

The Hawks Bay earthquake of 1931 flattened Napier, and killed 161 people and injured thousands. The local newspaper at the time wrote that the town had been wiped off the map.

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I took a photograph and this photograph, which was on a large poster showing what used to be at this location. I believe it used to be a church.

dsc07860rThis is what is there today – still a church, and a garden of remembrance.

The landscape changed for ever. Near Napier there had been a large lagoon called Ahuriri Lagoon. The land around Napier rose two metres and the bottom of the lagoon rose 2.7 mtrs, which cause the lagoon to drain away and became dry land. Today this land is home to an airport, industrial areas and farmland.

beforeBefore the earthquake – picture from NZ Encyclopedia.

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After the earthquake – picture from NZ Encyclopedia.

One of the first jobs was to clear the dead fish from the lagoon as the water receded – the stench must have been terrible.

During the quake fires broke out and the water lines burst, so the fire brigades were limited in their fight against the fires, and many buildings were destroyed.
Fortunately, a Royal Navy vessel, HMS Veronica, was moored off shore so she sent crew members to help the town and acted as the communication centre by contacting the authorities in the Wellington (the capital) and letting the world know of the disaster. The crews of two merchant ships also gave help to the town.
Later two additional Royal Navy ships sailed from Auckland with emergency supplies of food, tents, medicines etc.
The history of the rebuilding of Napier has the feel of a novel. The authorities appointed two men to oversee the clearing away of the damaged structures and to start rebuilding quickly. They realised that the population was falling as people moved away to find shelter or jobs etc and the only way to stop the population decline was to start rebuilding quickly.

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The rubble from the town was pushed out to sea to create this shore side garden and recreational area. Skating areas, put-put golf, music and some beautiful gardens. A great memorial to those who perished.

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dsc07817rThe town was rebuilt in the art deco design and fortunately has not been allowed to change. There were moves to pull down certain buildings and to build ‘new’ 1960’s style, but the local historical (Art Deco0) society managed to block most of these moves.

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My memory of Napier of the mid 60’s was that every building was painted white, but when I saw the town recently, I thought my memory had played tricks because all of the buildings were painted in pastel colours of the 1930’s. Note the street sign, which is in the characters of the 1930’s.

Maureen and I had decided to do a guided walk offered by the art deco society of Napier and during the short intro chat, the guide mentioned that the buildings used to be all painted white in the 60’s, which pleased me that my memory was not at fault.

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Main shopping street – photo taken late afternoon as everybody started to drift off home.

dsc07811rcBertie Wooster would have felt quite at home.

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The locals take being in the part very seriously, which added to the enjoyment of our visit.

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The boy was real when this statue was made – he is waving at his mother.

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The model for this was not a ‘model’ as such, but a local lady of some standing in the community. Our guide pointed her out to us and mentioned that a year or so earlier he had completed a few small jobs for this lady’s home. She still lives in Napier and is now in her late eighties.

dsc07824rMany of the shops are dated from the 1930’s – our guide explained about the lead lining in the glass, the type of wood and even the ‘in go’. Double frontage windows i.e windows on both side of the entrance door.

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The ‘in go’ for the shop above – i.e the area between the pavement and the actual shop door. When I was a child most shops had an ‘in go’, but I didn’t know what it was called then, but it was an area where you could stand and look in, before deciding to go in, and speak to a staff member.

dsc07842rTheater built in 1938 and later expanded to the right, but I was more interested in the original frontage. Our guide had the key so in we went,

dsc07843rRemember this type of lighting in the foyers of cinemas in the 40’s & 50’s? This was well before multiscreens had been ‘invented’.

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A better view of the ceiling in the foyer of the theater.

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Some years ago the management realised that the carpet had reached the end of its life, so they decided to replace it, but they wished to keep the art deco theme. They found a clean piece of the original carpet and sent it to Australia where a carpet manufacturer copied the design of the 1930’s and now they have a new carpeted foyer à la 1933.

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 An unusual art deco building – the two flags are New Zealand and Germany and the owner of the building, Mr Hildebrandt, being an immigrant, wanted to show the friendship between his old home and new home and that he arrived in Napier by sea.

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Mr Hildebrandt’s building in on a corner, and the design is carried all around.

For the old Conway readers I found something that I just had to photograph,

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The art deco building above had been designed with a nod to a ship, such ‘naval’ designs being common in the 1930’s.

With the zoom on I took the next picture.

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New Zealand Shipping Company, a company in which many old Conway’s sailed . . .

To quote from Napier City Council Art Deco web page –

Art Deco expressed all the vigor and optimism of the roaring twenties, and the idealism and escapism of the grim thirties.

Its decorative themes are:

Sunbursts and fountains – representing the dawn of a new modern age.
The Skyscraper shape – symbolic of the 20th century.
Symbols of speed, power and flight – the exiting new developments in transport and communications.
Geometric shapes – representing the machine and technology which it was thought would solve all our problems.
The new woman – revelling in her recently won social freedoms.
Breaking the rules – cacophonous jazz, short skirts and hair, shocking dances.
Ancient cultures – for oddly enough, there was a fascination with the civilizations of Egypt and central America.
All of these themes are represented on the buildings of Napier, most of which are still standing today and are lovingly cared for by their owners.

Maureen & I walked the main street before taking the Art Deco walk, and we must have had our eyes closed, because we didn’t see anything until the guide pointed out the various styles and shapes. His talk was fascinating and he had the ability to bring all that jazz to life.

If you ever manage to get to NZ, make sure Napier is on your bucket list.

I managed to get some picture of the inside of a few buildings (point and click through windows etc), but I don’t want to bore readers.

Madrid

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 Madrid Station – was spotlessly clean, and very impressive.

Our four nights in Barcelona just flew past, and on the final morning we were once again making our way to the railway station for the rail trip to Madrid. Once more we paid a little more for the extra room, but this time we were unable to book the four seats around a table, even though I had booked several months in advance. The trip, at three hours and twenty minutes, was smooth and comfortable. We reached speeds of 300 km per hour on some of the stretches, but one never had the feeling of rushing past the scenery in a blur.
On exiting the station area, we were met by our driver. I’d booked a chauffeur driven car to meet us in Madrid, and at the end of our stay, take us from our apartment to Madrid airport. I did this because I wanted reliability on our departure day. The trip to our apartment was about thirty minutes.

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When I saw these doors, I had thoughts of Paris all over again.

At the beginning of the holiday we tossed a coin to see who had first choice of the rooms – we won in Paris, so our friends had their choice in Barcelona, and we had Madrid, and they would have Lisbon.
The apartment was on the second floor and the building had a ‘cage’ type continental lift that worked well.

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DSC02895r.jpgThe entrance area of our apartment. The main door on the right of the picture had coded locks.

On our departure we would be flying this time, rather than travelling by train. Although the chauffeur driven car was more expensive it accommodated four passengers and our entire luggage with ease. The trip to the airport would be during the morning rush hour, and we might have required two taxis, due to our luggage, and the thirty-minute trip could have been stressful and uncomfortable. I booked the transport through Spain Select, (www.spain-select.com/en) the company that handled the renting of the Madrid apartment. They were very efficient and easy to deal with over the Internet. Our greeter, Alex, met us at the apartment and explained everything in detail. A very nice touch was the welcome gift of individual small packets of tea, coffee, milk, savoury biscuits etc. To top it all, the apartment had a big ‘Wow’ factor particularly after seeing the old wooden door that led from the apartment block to the street.

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 Then we walked in to our apartment – it was beautiful!

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I took the picture from the laundry door past the kitchen bench to the dining area.

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The above picture was taken from the agent’s web site.

The kitchen had everything you could possibly want, from a microwave, specialty oven, to a sink disposal units for waste food. Everywhere was spotlessly clean and all of the appliances were hidden in the walls – a gentle touch and a hidden cupboard door would open. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.

DSC02885r.jpgHallway from the kitchen area to our bedroom. The first door on the right was the third bedroom.

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Further along the hall you san see an indent that is our friend’s bedroom.

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Our friend’s en-suit bedroom.

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His and hers sinks in our friend’s bathroom.

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Our bedroom

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We had his & hers storage areas.

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As well as his & hers sinks in our en-suit. The chair that can be seen is in our bedroom.

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 Fancy a bath – the shower is a stand alone shower on the left.

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Taken from our small balcony.

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Our Madrid location was about five or six minute walk to the Royal Palace.

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Happy hour – local wines, pâté, cheeses, and bread or crackers along with good company, what more could we want?
In our opinion the city of Madrid is less vibrant, but with a more historical culture than Barcelona. The free tapas with a beer or wine were noticeable, because in Barcelona all the tapas that we had with our drinks, were charged to the final bill.

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Madrid tapas were a good size.

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Every time we ordered a drink we had tapas. We sat outside under a sun shade and watched the world pass us by.

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Inside the La Mi Venia

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Bar across the road from our accommodation – just right for a night cap.

Just one small disappointment while in Madrid, and a warning to my ‘older readers’.
We booked a hop on hop off bus trip through a local travel agent, which was located not far from the apartment. It cost us Eu 25.00 each, about $39 AUD.
On boarding the bus, we were given route maps, which included various pieces of information. Reading the information I noticed that for those of us over 65 were entitled to a discounted rate of Eu 13! ($18.50) I asked at the information centre when we left the bus if I had understood the information correctly and was told that we should go back to the travel agent and ask them for a Eu 12.00 refund.
Of course, when we did return to the agent they were closed for siesta and due to our other commitments we never did have the time to challenge the travel agent. There is no way that I would be considered under 65 (my age at the time was 70), so I would expect a competent travel agent to offer the discount without being asked. The youngest of my group was sixty-seven, so the agent failed in her job and her customers felt cheated.
I wrote about this on Trip Advisor and the travel agent responded blaming us for not asking for the discount, as if we, as foreigners should have known. Fortunately, this experience did not spoil our enjoyment of our few days in Madrid.

On our departure day we opened the street door a couple of minutes before our departure time, to find our transport waiting for us. The ride to the airport, during rush hour, took us thirty five minutes, even though the driver diverted a few times to avoid traffic jams. I do love efficiency, and reliability.
Check-in education started as we entered the airport building. We checked the departure board for our Iberia flight (the national airline of Spain) for our check-in counter and made our way to the correct area. On arrival we found it all to be self-service.

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I placed my passport in a reader and it pulled up our booking. On completion of the check-in the computer required the number of bags that we were lodging. I input four, and the machine started to print our boarding cards followed by four self-sticky luggage labels. The machine then started a short video on how to strip the backing from the labels and to attach them to the bags, along with instructions to remove the sticky receipt label.
We then dragged our bags to a lodgment counter where a ‘real’ person accepted our boarding passes; asked us to load the bags on to a conveyor belt, and then pushed a button to activate the belt.
The whole episode made me wonder how far the self-service aspect of flying would be taken – perhaps the next step is to use a flight simulator before boarding, and the person with the best score gets to fly the aircraft. Those who just fail the flight test might become cabin crew to explain the safety procedure to the rest of us who are too thick to get involved.

The aircraft was an AB320 (not sure of the version)

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The seats had been packed too tight. I am over six feet in height, so my knees were jammed in to the back of the seat in front. Every time the passenger in front moved I had to stick my legs out in to the aisle so as not to have my kneecaps damaged.
The flight was just over the hour, but it seemed much longer. Our destination was Lisbon, a city famous for its sardines, which are exported worldwide packed in tins. Of course after our flight, we re-christened Iberia to Air ‘Sardinia’.

We had planned to take a night train from Madrid to Lisbon to experience the rail en-suit sleeper service. After I’d investigated the train I realised that the train would arrive in Lisbon station at 7.00 am, and we would not be able to check in to our accommodation until 2.00 pm.
What would we do with all our luggage for seven hours – I suppose we could have found a left luggage office, but as the station is not in the centre of the city we would have to find places of interest in a town that didn’t open until mid to late morning. It all seemed too hard so we decided to fly and have a leisurely breakfast in the Madrid accommodation and leave at a civilised hour of 8.30 am for the airport.

The additional benefit was that the airfare was cheaper than the rail fare!!