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On The Road – A Month in London

On September 1st, 2018 I moved into my cute flat in Covent Garden – oh to own a flat in this amazing location. I step out of doors into a vibrant cosmopolitan part of central London. I can walk to Trafalgar Square in ten minutes. I am in the yellow section of the English Monopoly board. The flat is lovely – larger than I expected and well appointed. It is ironical but we both think we got the better deal.

I was settled in by 2:00. It was a gorgeous late Summer day in London and I immediately took off for a walk through the three Royal parks – St James, Green and Hyde Park. This took me to Trafalgar Square, on to the Mall, past Buckingham Palace and numerous monuments and memorials. I returned via Kensington palace, past 10 Downing Street and to Parliament  to find Big Ben silent and wrapped in scaffolding for repairs. I walked along the Thames to Victoria Embankment then spotted a short cut to Covent Garden past the Savoy Hotel. I was in bliss.

Big Ben and Parliament

Day 2 I was meeting a friend for lunch at Sloan Square and I walked the 15 minutes through Trafalgar Square, down the Mall and around Buckingham Palace and onto Eaton Square which for some reason reminds me of Downton Abbey. We had a lovely lunch in Chelsea and then I walked across the Thames and through Battersea Park to the new power station development which is most impressive. Along the way I encountered a Peace Pagoda which was somewhat of a surprise but quite lovely. Unfortunately the walk on the south side is not complete and I had to cross back and walk on the north side of the Thames.

The Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park

Day 3 took me to the National Gallery, a free concert at Saint Martin’s on the fields then I met my brother Paul for lunch at the National Theater. It was great to see him and plan our time together in London. Then I walked along the south side of the Thames on the Jubilee walk which took me to the Tate Modern Gallery where I spent an hour but was a little disappointed the Mark Rothko paintings were not on display. Finally a walk cross the river to Saint Pauls Cathedral where I stayed for evensong or at least half of it. I always leave when the words start.

Cutty Sark

Day 4 I actually rode the underground to Greenwich. My first stop was a tour of the Cutty Sark, the famous clipper that had the speed record for bringing tea from China to England in the mid 1800s. Then I walked to the observatory where the museum explains everything I have a wanted to know about longtitude and how sailors of old never really knew exactly where they were. The motivation to solve this became acute when four ships of the British Navy ran aground on reef near the Scilly Isles and 1600 sailors drowned. I took the river boat back on the Thames an enjoyable if more expensive way to travel. In the evening I went to the theatre to see The Kings Exit, a play by Ionesco on Death. It was absorbing and a great deal for the £15 ticket.

One foot in each hemisphere

Day 5 was one of those magical days full or surprises. I set out to go to the British and V & A museums.I decided to walk to the V & A first (Victoria and Albert) and found my self wandering along Piccadilly Street when I saw a market in the courtyard of St James Church I popped inside and found a street quartet practicing I asked what they were playing (Beethovens Opus 131) then found they were doing a free recital in 50 minutes. I changed my plan and explored the rest of Piccadilly, went on to Park Lane then down Curzon Street. On my way back to the church I ducked into a small lane and found myself in an area you would not have anticipated, cute stores, pubs and restaurants completely hidden from the main drags. It was called Shepherd market and was developed in the 1700s in Mayfair. (Named after the May fair that used to be held each year.) Apparently it was where the eighteenth century lotharios would procure ladies of the night. I got back to the church in time for the recital which was beautiful and this piece was apparently written at the end of Beethoven’s life when he was entirely deaf. As I left the church I found myself in a beautiful garden containing some lovely sculptures.

Then it was on through Green Park into Kensington and the V and A museum which was a great surprise both from the quality of its food in the cafe and the upgrading of the museum since I was there as a school boy and all I recall is being bored to death by dolls houses of the Victorian era. There is a full size copy of the David which I originally had seen in Florence. It was almost as impressive as the original. It was a long walk home but it was a gorgeous day and I love the scenery overground rather than on the tube.

Day 6 Every day starts at the Stanford Coffee bar where my frequency over four days encouraged the vivacious Emma to give me a “local’s card” so my coffee is 20% off. After coffee I walked to the Tate Modern where there was an Exhibition of Picasso 1932 – all the paintings he did in 1932. An astonishing collection – it was a special exhibition so not free – £20 but worth it. From there I walked to Southwark cathedral one of my favourite and the oldest in London. From there I walked the road less travelled heading into the old dock area past Tower Bridge that is now converted flats. I passed the dock where the original Mayflower set sail and the pub the captain used to sup his ale. Finally I took a ferry across to Canary Wharf originally developed by the Canadian Reichman brothers who despite having to declare bankruptcy due the original failure of this project still own a large share in what is now one of London’s most flourish business areas. The name of one of the primary hubs is Canada One.

An amazing mosaic unearthed in Cirencester

Day 7 did not quite work out as I planned. I thought I would take a day out in the Cotswolds, a picturesque area of cute villages and rolling hills about an hour by high speed train from London. Unfortunately due to some faulty geography on my part and a complete absence of bus service for most of the day, my Cotswold discoverer pass was almost useless. The town I stopped in Kemble had no trains or buses to the area I wanted to visit so in the end I spent a pleasant but truncated day in Cirencester. The highlights were an amazing museum of Roman remains, an Roman amphitheater that was now a flat grassy area surrounded by a series of grassy knolls. The Coliseum it was not. Finally the Norman church next to Cirencester Abbey that due to Henry VIII’s penchant for destruction was represented only by a series of paving stones marking the original foundations as well as a model in the church. My plan departure was accelerated due to a 2/1/2 hour gap in the evening bus service.

Day 9 which is today Sunday 9th I followed a guidebook I found in the flat – Londons Hidden Walks and took a guided tour of the east end of London. It took me through a series of well know markets: Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane. It is a vibrant area and Sunday attracts people all over London. The population of this area has become 35% Bangladeshi so mosques have taken over where Synagogues used to be. The east of the city has always been the poorer cousin of the more wealthy centre and west sides. (The main street Whitechapel is at the cheap end of the English Monopoly board) It has been a home of immigrants since development began with the Huguenots who came over from France in the 1700s. Its more ominous claim to fame is that Jack the Ripper stalked these streets back in the late eighteen hundreds. On my walk home I arrived at St Pauls at about 4:45 – I thought it may be time for evensong but found instead an organ recital that gave me a chance to rest my weary feet for half an hour and listen to the glorious resonance of the music bouncing off the great dome.

Well London is now officially my favourite city in the whole world. And I still have three more weeks here. tomorrow my brother Paul and I go to watch the fourth day of a cricket game with England playing India. You really have to be English to appreciate that!

You have to be English!
View from Greenwich Observatory – Olympic Stadium to right
Tower of London and the City
A full size David in the V & A museum. Donated by the Duke of Tuscany

On The Road – Around the Annapurna Circuit.

As the prospects of travel diminish into an uncertain future the opportunity to write my travel blog seems to have evaporated. Then the idea occurred to me that some of my travels during my world trip in 1992 to 1993 have never been recorded other than in an exceedingly tattered journal that I carried with me. However it was not until a friend mentioned to me that she was interested in my time trekking in Nepal, that the idea took root.  I think I always need a little encouragement to get started.

This trip occurred during what I can only describe as my midlife crisis when I left job, home, and friends, cashing in 300,000 travel points for two first class tickets around the world setting off with my girlfriend for a year of travel. One of her ambitions was to trek in the Himalayas so in October 1992, half way through our trip we arrived in Kathmandu preparing for our adventure.

On The Road

A week later, early on a very bright, clear morning, we climbed onto a mini bus for a trip from hell to a town called Dumre which would be the start of our 18 day trek. Getting to this point had not been easy as we had to negotiate the bureaucracy of obtaining permits which in those days was a total nightmare involving days of waiting, immense line-ups and proving you had cashed large amounts of money that you were mandated to spend.

We had chosen the VIP bus which proved anything but. The bus was overloaded, the road was atrocious and the joy of the moment was compounded by more than one person throwing up out of the window for the whole trip. A total distance of 148 km took just over five hours but by 2:30 pm we were standing in the town of Dumre feeling somewhat bemused and waiting for two friends who were travelling on a different bus. We seem to be the object of great curiosity to the locals who would come and stand by us and just stare. Unfortunately we were there a while, as our friend’s bus had broken down but eventually around 5 o’clock we began to seek transportation for the next leg of the trip which was to a town called Bhote Odor where the road terminated and we would be traveling by foot.

We found the driver of an open jeep and and started to negotiate the price for the 109 km ride but it seemed that whenever we got close to agreement, someone else would join our motley crew and negotiations would start over. The driver of course was attempting to maximize his revenue and was happy to wait. Finally we were on our way but only as far as the river into which he drove and then parked. The driver disappeared while some kids washed the Jeep so it was another hour and a half before we actually begin the drive.

It seemed endless; the jeep seemed to have a little suspension and 14 of us were jammed in sitting on our packs in the back. We got some relief from the mandatory police inspection of passports, visas and trekking permits. However the scenery was amazing, with vividly green fields of rice, occasional views of the Himalaya in the background, and rivers that seemed far too fast flowing for our vehicle and yet we made it safely across. We arrived at our destination at about 9 o’clock to be greeted by hordes of hopeful villagers offering food and accommodation. The village was dark because we had now travelled beyond the reach of the hydro electricity. 

We followed a young boy and were shown a dormitory with seven beds. We were all too tired to worry about the primitive accommodation and the lack of any sanitary facilities. We were hungry and the food was an introduction to dahlbat – a traditional Nepalese dinner of rice, green lentil sauce and a sparse selection of vegetables. This was a dish that became much too familiar over the next 18 days. 

And so to bed, a sleep interrupted by the loud and sonorous snores of our Nepalese companions and terminated at 5:00 by the unwelcome sound of a drummer, marching along the length of the street outside, who presumably was the town’s collective alarm clock. 

Trekking

The view setting out on our first day

We were ready to set out for our first day on the trail at 7:15, donning our large packs that at first felt relatively comfortable, a delusion that diminished every hour. However it was truly spectacular to be greeted by amazing views of the high Himalayas in the distance and the lushness of the tropical landscape around us and rice paddies everywhere. We were starting at around 1000 feet or 300 vertical metres and we would climb as high as 18,000 feet or just under 6000 meters when we crossed the Tharong La pass in about ten days time. For seven days we climbed steadily through scenery that gradually transformed from the tropics to alpine,  from Hindu to Buddhist, from rice country to potato country.

The ever changing views on the trail

Every day was a kaleidoscope of experiences as we walked narrow trails through paddies, fields, forests, at times with precipitous drops and frequently along side the Marasengi Khola, the picturesque mountain river that clattered and crashed its way from the high Himalayas. It was invigorating and at times breathtaking. We learned the trekking maxim, “ when you walk walk, when you look look but don’t walk and look.“ Following these wise words I think saved us from a number of disasters. By the end of the seventh day we had reached Manang at 11,500 feet (3,500 metres) where we would stay for two nights to acclimatize. 

Our friends from the trail – Ann, Louise and Rae – we all hired porters while trekking.

Hiring and Firing Porters

The Nepal guidebook is very clear. Do not hire porters on the trail. They are untrustworthy, they have a strange concept of an agreement and are normally so anxious to get employed that they will tell you anything you want to hear. This advice makes total sense sitting in the comfort of your hotel room. However after a day on the trail when your pack seems to weigh 400 pounds and your shoulders have wear and tear you have never known before, the counsel is easy to ignore. So when two delightful young men who have just started the school break offer to carry for you for food and only five dollars a day each. It is an irresistible offer. They confirm they have clothes for the high altitude; they know the way and have been there before and will cost you nothing for accommodation because they can sleep in the lodges for free. It seemed a no brainer. It would not start immediately as they were going home for the night in a Bahadanda which for us was over a day’s walk including an overnight stay; we were to meet up at lunchtime the next day.

The relief of handing over our packs having just ascended a steep hill for about 40 minutes is hard to describe. And the first few days were wonderful. They had a delicious child like curiosity about learning English, seeing the video camera take pictures and learning about our lives. We thought Surya and Jahan were a delight to be with and very useful. Besides carrying our packs, they found our accommodation and negotiated with the landlords. In return we bought their food – all seemed well.

The first crack in the veneer of our confidence occurred a couple of nights later. We had teamed up with three young women from Canada who had also hired their guides on the trail. The group of us travelled together staying in the same places and enjoying each other‘s company. While paying the bill one morning, one of them pointed out that there was a charge for the porter’s room. Then we noticed there were a separate charges for the porters on each room. We complained to the landlord who said that they could’ve stayed for free but as they insisted on having their own room they had to pay. This was not in our agreement so we told them the money will be deducted from their fees at the end of the trip. This did not go down well and in fact we now had a bunch of surly, rebellious, recalcitrant young men on our hands. 

It was a bad day trekking; we tried to keep an eye on them to ensure they didn’t disappear with all our belongings; this got in the way of our enjoyment of the glorious mountain scenery that surrounded us. Ironically it was about a very small amount of money but somehow things can get out of proportion when you travel. That evening we called a meeting because we realized we had to resolve it. We found the root of the discontent was the knowledge that in the final lodge before crossing the Tharong La, the owner insisted on charging everyone. Once we agreed to pay that expense the problem seemed resolved with smiles and nodding heads. Harmony was restored.

Then more bad news when we discovered neither of our porters had crossed over the 18,000 foot pass before. We decided to check their clothes because the temperatures would get below freezing and the winds could get very high. We were horrified to discover they had no cold weather things at all. We realized that once we had hired them they now became our responsibility. It was a sobering thought. So we began to kit them from our own supplies and also by buying the minimum we could in the market to get them over the pass safely.

However the most traumatic episode in our relationship did not occur for three more days. We had reached Manang at about 11,500 feet and required a layover day to adjust to the altitude before proceeding over the pass. It is recommended to assist acclimatization that you take a hike up to a higher elevation and then return to sleep at a lower level. We advised our porters of the plan and said that we would meet them the next morning at 10 a.m. At the appointed time we were greeted by two unhappy and spectacularly hung over young men who did not want to go. When I advised it was mandatory I was told it was a holiday at which point I said, “I presume you mean a holiday without pay.” Reluctantly they prepared prepared to set out.

There were five of them walking together, our two porters and the three porters belonging to our three Canadian friends. After about an hour they decided it was time for lunch. We were not ready to stop but they were determined so we told them where we would meet them. They never arrived. It appeared to be a mutiny. 

As we waited at the prescribed point where we had lunch, we realized that our deteriorating relationship with the porters was spoiling the whole trip. Instead of appreciating the magnificent experience and the spectacular scenery, we were constantly concerned about what would happen next and the responsibility of taking them over the pass. As we strolled back down to Manang we came to a conclusion that we needed to terminate Surya who seemed to be the ringleader.

The view on the trail above Manang

Back at our hotel I asked him where they had been and they reluctantly admitted that they had not gone any further. I said, “I’m sorry Surya but we are letting you go, I will pay you three days wages for the time to get home” (which incidentally would only take him one day.) He stared at me horrified, rejected the money I was holding out and said, “I’m going to get a policeman” and ran out of the room.

We were left standing with Jahan, the other porter, his school friend who wanted to know that if he stayed on would we promise not to fire him before we got to the end of the trip. I agreed. Surya eventually returned, finally excepted the money I proffered and said to Johan, “come on, let’s go” Jahan shook his head and was rewarded by an outburst of vitriol before finally he left.

There was an amusing interchange after this was all over. There was a knock on the door; It was Kumar who had become the de facto leader of the five porters. (He was experienced, had been across the pass and had basically taken the responsibility of arranging accommodation for all of us.) He asked if he could talk to me and I wondered what was up. Then he said,” we are glad you bagged Surya.” At first I had no idea what he was talking about and then realized it was a language issue, what he had meant to say was he was glad I had sacked Surya. Apparently he was always complaining, stirring things up and hassling the others and they were pleased to be rid of him as well. It also seemed like an olive branch and in fact all was peace and harmony for the rest of the trip.

When a Life Hangs on a Thread

The only real access from the high alpine is on foot or a hired horse.

When planning to trek in the Himalayas you are warned numerous times about AMS or acute mountain sickness. The reason for this is that it can kill you. Once you begin to ascend past 10,000 feet or 3000 m you are likely to begin to experience some symptoms. The only real adjustment is to acclimatize to the altitudes that you are going to reach. Manang sits at  11,650 feet or 3550 metres and really is the  elevation at which you need to begin to take it seriously. In Manang the medical clinic holds regular seminars for trekkers and we decided to attend. We learned about the stages of acute mountain sickness. Most of us were experiencing what are considered normal reactions to altitude including shortness of breath, increased urination, and light insomnia. There is no connection between acclimatization and fitness level. It’s very much dependent on each individual. Mild symptoms of AMS include mild headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and slight dizziness. At this stage you need to become aware of any deterioration before you go any higher. The next level of AMS is increased headache which won’t go away with aspirin, irritability and laziness (not wanting to get out of bed). At this stage you must remain at the level that you have reached to see if the symptoms diminish before going any further. If you develop any signs of incoherence, loss of balance and diarrhea, you must descend immediately and not sleep at your current elevation because this is when the condition can cause you to fall in a coma and ultimately die. Apparently it is because of retention of fluid either in the lungs (pulmonary) or in the brain (cerebral).

This is why the following day we planned to hike up to about 13,000 feet and then descend back to 11,500 feet to sleep because this would help us acclimatize. I already had a slight persistent headache. Fortunately all went well, my symptoms did not deteriorate so the following day we set off for our next destination.

Yak Kharka our next stop at an elevation of 13,300 feet or 4,000 metres, our highest point yet. We made it in good time, checked in at the little inn and once again decided to hike higher. We followed the trail to a town, well not really a town a few dwellings with the name ChuriLattar, although there seem to be a number or spelling variations. Then we found a trail heading up through a delightful alpine meadow where at times we were surrounded by enormous, viciously horned yaks that actually seemed quite harmless. We sat down to take in the glorious views of the Annapurna’s. Suddenly our peace was disrupted by the frantic cry of a rapidly descending hiker.

He looked totally exhausted and only spoke broken English; later we found out he belonged to a party of Spanish climbers. We listened with disbelief as he told us that last night one of the party had become disoriented, nauseous and could not eat so they put him to bed. This morning he could neither walk nor talk so they needed a horse and a doctor to try and save him. It was hard to believe. They had broken every rule of acclimatization by flying into Manning and then going immediately to the climbing destination giving no one any real chance to acclimatize and then instead of insisting the young man descend they had let him sleep and he was now in a coma.

We pointed him in the direction Churrilattar where he would at least hopefully be able to hire a horse then began our own way down to our lodging.

During the previous few days we had met a doctor and his wife from Montreal who we suspected would be at the same lodge that night so we decided to see if we could find him. Fate was kind and we bumped into them taking an afternoon stroll. 

We explained what had occurred and he realized the urgency of the situation, pausing briefly to pick up his small medical kit before he and I set off in the approaching dusk and decreasing temperatures. It gets cold quickly when the sun goes down at 4,000 metres. After an anxious wait, we finally spotted a horse descending slowly towards us. We moved to intersect then I stood by helplessly as he examined the patient giving first an injection of Diamox, and then one of cortisol. 

He came back to join me looking grave and frustrated. “In a clinic I could treat him easily, here I have used everything I have and unless he urinates within ten minutes, he will likely die.” He was not sure about moving him because his condition was so poor but eventually decided that it was preferable to carry him to our lodge. 

Meanwhile interminable negotiations were proceeding to get someone to ride to Manang on a horse to summon the doctor who was there to treat cases like this. I was sent ahead to ensure there was a bed prepared for him at our inn. A few hours later they arrived; he had urinated and was now semi conscious but refusing to drink. I heard the doctor say, “Tell him to drink or he will die.” It seemed to do the trick.  In the middle of the night the doctor arrived from Manang with a portable hyperbaric bag and by the time we were getting up the young climber was sitting up in bed with apparently not a care in the world. 

Tharong La Pass

Achieving the High Camp

The prospect of transversing the high alpine pass en route to the Jomson side of the circuit had been weighing on our minds for a few days. It is almost 18,000 feet (over 5400 meters) and can be dangerous due to possible snow, high winds and of course AMS. Our final night before ascending was in a crowded lodge at Tharong-Phedi with an elevation of 14,600 feet or 4450 meters. So we had a climb of about 3,000 feet and 31/2 hours to the high point.

Kumar our self appointed leader suggested we leave early morning to ensure we did not encounter strong winds blowing into our face as they often arise at mid day. So it was at 3:57 am that nine of us set off from the lodge on a stunningly clear freezing cold night. We all carried flashlights and probably made a strange sight, pinpoints of light walking cautiously up the switch backs that continued unabated for about an hour. The sky was magical beginning its shift with a faint eastern glint that gradually metamorphosed into a fluorescent glow. 

As the steepness of the trail lessened we began to notice the cold more and when crossing the creek I slipped on an icy rock and put my foot in the water which instantly turned it to ice.on my shoe. So it was with very cold feet I progressed higher and higher along a frustrating succession of false summits. Finally at 7:15 I roared my delight at arriving at the summit cairn. I was feeling so good that I walked back for 10 minutes to meet our porter Jahan carrying a very heavy pack and who was actually looking quite white with fatigue. So I relieved him and carried the pack to the summit while he walked gratefully alongside me. We had completed the most challenging part of our day and perhaps the whole trip or so I thought – little realizing how deluded I was.

I realize now that all my mental preparation had gone into successfully making the summit and I have not really considered the prospect of a downhill hike of almost 5000 vertical feet or 1,600 meters. It was a steep, rocky, barren trail that seemed never ending and in fact took us significantly longer than the more intense climb to the pass. It was relentless on the knees and thighs and it was not until 12:30 about five hours later that we arrived safely in Muktinath where at least we got clean sheets and some large buckets of hot water to wash our selves down after three days without.

The AntiClimactic Last Seven Days

A nightmare of wind and dust

I found myself thinking more than once in the next week that I wish this damn trip was over. The Jomson side is not as pretty, is much busier and although there are more modern conveniences it lacks the authenticity of the first part of the trip. In fact I understand today you can drive the whole route. I think that is what I would do if I was to do the circuit again. We were constantly running into wagon trains of obnoxious donkeys who’s main goal seemed to be try and push us off the trail.

Our first day was an absolute nightmare with howling winds blowing sand and dust into our faces on what was basically a dry river trail. We were relieved to complete that and fortunately found a place with a shower and clean sheets. The next night we could not find a place to stay and ended up eventually getting a single room for five of us. This was followed by the day from hell to Tatapani on a trail that was supposed to be smooth sailing and mostly downhill but was in such poor condition that it required intense concentration and we were totally exhausted by the time we finally made our hotel. I suggested to Karen that we take a day off and rest prior to the final stretch because the following day required a 5,000 feet – 1700 meter ascent to Ghorepani. 

Agh! Donkeys – man’s worst friend

To my relief she agreed and we had our first day off since Manang but even there we had hiked for five hours. So this would be our first real break since we left Dumre 13 days earlier.

It was quite a relief. We had a pleasant time enjoying the hot springs, strolling around the small town and having leisurely meals. So the next morning we were reenergized, re-invigorated and renewed for the climb up to Ghorepani. Even though it was mostly uphill it was a better trail than the one the day before and the scenery was a delightful mixture of rice paddies, fields and small villages before transitioning into forests of rhododendrons and oak trees. We made very good time and were at our destination within eight hours.

We saw our last really good view of the high Himalayas from Poon Hill at sun rise the following morning. We never felt as close to the Himalayas on this side of the trek and the high peaks became  ever more distant as we descended towards Pokhara. The last two days were really only memorable for leaving our precious towels hanging up in the inn at Ghorepani (fortunately there was a market in Birethani), burning thighs down 3767 steps to Turkedugaa and by a first class inn with sheets, flush toilets and a reading room in Birethani. Our final night was spent in Sarankot overlooking Pokhara and it was only an hour and a half walk the following morning to our final destination where we paid off Jahan for his diligent service with a generous bonus. 

It had been a wonderful, magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always treasure. It seemed truly completed when a sinister Hindu armed with an open cut-throat razor gave me the best shave of my life using no water at all and without a single cut. All that was left was the long dusty uncomfortable bus ride back to Kathmandu.

A trader en route – an amazingly convincing salesman.

On The Road – Morocco

IMG_1099Morocco seems like a long way from Vancouver. I left at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, flew to Paris and arrived in Marrakech about 1:30 pm Thursday. Although I knew it would be hot, I was not fully prepared for a temperature of 38°. This was one of the few occasions when I was travelling with a companion, my friend Julia who was also attending the retreat that I was going to. Arrival at Marrakech Airport was simple and we were greeted by someone holding a placard with the name of our hotel. (In fact it was not a hotel but rather a Riad, the name used to describe a house with a courtyard.)

We were staying in the Medina which is the old city of Marrakech that is contained within the walls. The taxi could not drive to our Riad so he parked and called ahead for someone to come and meet us and walk us to our accommodation.

Outside the walls of the old city, Marrakech is modern with wide boulevards and up-to-date buildings. Inside is chaos. Narrow winding streets that all seem to blend into each other, lined with stalls offering every different food and spices and other things. In addition there is a constant stream of motor bikes, scooters and bicycles. It’s amazing how seldom they hit people but they sure come close and I did get hit once.

IMG_1101Arriving in the Riad is like arriving in oasis. It looks unassuming, a low wooden door in a blank wall but the calm and quiet of the courtyard with a swimming pool and two orange trees was an amazing relief. In the lovely guest tradition of Morocco checking in requires a lengthy process involving the ritual drinking of mint tea.

IMG_1108My room was quite spectacular but impractical, the gap between the bed and the wall was suited only to anorexics. However I only had it for three nights before switching to a much smaller room that ironically had more room beside the bed. s

We had three days before the workshop started to get over jet lag and generally acclimatize. People began to drift in, most of whom I knew and suddenly there was a tour to the Atlas Mountains suggested for the next day. I went with the flow and the next morning four of us were picked up by taxi for a day trip including lunch in a Berber household. The Atlas Mountains are not far away – about 38 km. In winter they are snow capped and as we climbed soon offered a respite from the intense hear of the city. They are the barrier to the Sahara only 200 km away.

IMG_3836We followed a valley that meandered along side a river which had been completely dry further down stream, now it was lined with restaurants whose tables were in the water. This must be an amazing escape from the heat of Summer. The road became lined with handicrafts – pottery, rugs and ceramics and each time we stopped for a photo, the inevitable trader appeared, I could not resist a geode, a circular rock with crystals inside, for only 5 euro.

Geode
My Geode

We stopped for a major break at an argan oil factory where the oil is made the traditional craft way featuring five women in an assembly line cracking, grinding, and squeezing the almond size nut not for both cosmetic and cooking oil. Of course we all rewarded the tour by purchasing oil at about twice the cost of purchasing in town but the show was worth it.

The road petered out at the end of the valley where we had a break for a stroll and I walked up a gravel track until the road turned away from the river.

IMG_3857
Lunch with Julia, Leslie and Elizabeth at a Berber home.

Lunch was traditional Moroccan food cooked in a Tagine, a clay vessel that is slow cooked in the oven. I liked the food – fortunately because we had it every day and there are varieties including fish, chicken and vegetable which all they taste delicious.

Back in Marrakech my dinner companions had arrived – Michelle from Vancouver and Serena from Germany. I had selected a traditional Moroccan venue and had a reservation for 7:30 at “Da Koute” located in an obscure part of the Medina with no identification outside. We were greeted at the door and were guided up to the terrasse, a popular Marrakesh tradition located on the rooftop, where we could enjoy a libation. Then it was down to the restaurant proper where we were feted by a continuous stream of food and wine for what seemed like hours. It began with a selection of 24 salads that would have been a meal in itself. This was followed by vegetable tagine then lamb, followed by dessert and more. The food was delicious, the service exquisite and the waste horrific. All for a mere 700 dirham or $100C per person.

So after a couple of days wandering around the Médina, frequently lost, enjoying the crazy, exotic ambiance, it was time for the workshop to begin. Taught by Atum O’Kane, a long term teacher  of mine, it was described as a pilgrimage rather than a heavy duty workshop. We would meet in a Riad courtyard every morning from 9:30 to 1:30, although I would generally head out for a coffee mid morning with two friends and sneak in late. His style of teaching is relaxed and was built around the theme of the garden – sharing from different traditions. He always works with delightful children’s books – so nice sitting in a circle like kids listening to a story. We would return to our own Riad for a delicious lunch then meet at 4:00 to go to one of Marrakech’s lovely parks. In between times I had sussed out a liquor store, something that is a scarcity in an Islamic country as locals are not permitted to buy alcohol. I became our local expert on the whereabouts.

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An Aperol Spritz under the moon light with Serena

Each evening, with my friends Serena, and sometimes Katarina and Michelle would find a terrasse for a sunset drink, then meet in the Riad and share olives – about $3 a kg, Moroccan wine 5 Euro a bottle and bread for dinner – who needs a another big meal.

Each of the parks were a lovely oasis in the midst of city chaos. We visited five in all and each was a lovely respite. The rules were sometimes challenging. In the first one we were asked to find a sacred space, sit and then become fully present to our experience. Many of us were surprised to find someone disturbing our peace with a peremptory order to get off the manicured lawn. The space became somewhat less sacred!

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One of many amazing sculptures in Anime

We also left Marrakech one afternoon for a new park called Anime designed by an Austrian artist, about 40 minutes bus ride from the Medina. It was the favourite for many of us with its magical combination of art and flora. There was a surprise around each corner and it was a highlight of the week.

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The caleche

One can’t leave Marrakech without riding one of the renowned caleches, ornate horse drawn carriages that are everywhere. We had been told that part of the experience is negotiating the price so we were prepared when the first offer was 300 Dirham per person or about $135C. I laughed out loud and the three of us kept walking. Soon we were surrounded by competing offers and the price plummeted until it reached 100 Dirham for the three of us. Serena became the “horsemaster” determined to find white horses. As they bombarded me assuming the male was in charge of the decision, I deferred to her saying, “ask the horsemaster”. The word spread through the ranks that only white horses would suffice and finally we were led to the back of the line. We had our ride home!

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Essaouira Beach

All too soon it was time to leave and embark on the second leg of our pilgrimage to a town called Essaouira. The bus ride was extended by the inevitable stop at an argan oil centre. However eventually we arrived at this gorgeous, ocean front town where we enjoyed a luxurious accommodation with rooms overlooking the Atlantic and the beach. The town had a Médina but it was much more comfortable than Marrakech because it was more touristy, less congested and perhaps less of a local Sukh.

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Pilgrims on the beach at sunrise

Our rhythm here changed. Each morning we would meet at sunrise for Chi Gong on the beach and then Zen walking meditation where you walk in a line exceedingly slowly. It was a special way to start the day.  Then we met as a group each morning from 11:00 to 12:30 then again in the afternoon from 5:00 to 6:00 that many took as optional. We had a Sufi teacher and a Zen Buddhist who shared the teachings but that was not the highlight as far as I concerned. In the evenings we would meet for dinner together. I loved the ocean, the company  the walks, the sunsets and the cooler temperatures. There was also the fish market with more forms of sea creature than you could imagine

Serena LunchSerena and I developed a lovely routine of lunch together at a different restaurant at around 1:00 and then a sundowner of beer or wine, with olives and bread on one of our balconies overlooking the sunset. She began to go horse riding every afternoon, she was an amazing rider, much admired by the group. One day we went camel riding which was great fun, another item crossed off my bucket list.

All too soon it was time to leave and head to the airport. I was off to Paris for five days before returning home. The trip to Morocco totally exceeded my expectations. I found to be in the company of like-minded people a real joy. It was so much fun bonding with Serena and spending so much time together. So often I am on my own when I travel, and it was delightful to have company for this journey.

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A tourist stop on the road, each morning the kids would help the goats to the tree. They made good money!

On The Road – Thailand

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On The River – Bangkok

 Unfortunately I arrived in Bangkok after eleven from Sydney- a mere 14 hours of travel but it was four in the morning my time. Arriving after 11:00 pm rules out the simple train ride into town and requires one to face one of my phobias in Thailand – dealing with taxi drivers when exhausted. They never obey the rules by turning on the meter and begin the negotiation at absurdly high fares. I have resigned myself to trying to get ripped off as little as possible.

I asked him to turn the meter on and he said 900 baht, when I told him to take me back and I would get another taxi he came down to 700. I said look 400 is the most I will pay and we finally agreed that I would pay the freeway tolls that were 70; he tried to keep 100 but I said no. Based on my research it was at least fifty baht too much but that is a reasonable amount. At least he knew where my hotel was and I made it at midnight. (4:00 am Sydney time) I was spending two nights in Bangkok to avoid two busy travel says in a row and to get over my jet lag from Australia.

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My Favourite Wat

I enjoyed a restful day in Bangkok regaining my bearings I knew I figured out the Skytrain and the riverboat system. There are three primary boats – orange 15 baht, yellow 20 baht and blue the tourist boat for 60 baht or in Canadian money: 60cents, $1 and $3. The extra money results in fewer stops along the way. The colours refer to the flags they fly. I knew roughly where I wanted to go and thought I would know it when I got there. I was hustled on to a yellow ferry but unfortunately it terminated just as I realized that the stop I wanted was a little further. This meant catching another ferry. After a coffee break to reorientate myself I found the right ferry and the right stop in the Khaosan Road area which is very touristy but has good restaurants and my favourable Wat (Temple) I enjoyed a Chang beer, Pad Thai and an interesting chat with a young Austrian who was about to tour Myanmar on a motor bike. Rather him than me! I left to spend half an hour in the Buddhist temple before heading home. I did learn a lesson about the boats, don’t sit too near the front – I almost got a mouthful of the Choa Phraya.

Take your pick both Monday and Tuesday mornings are clear.

One new and rather irritating fact about public Wi-Fi in Thailand is that it requires a laborious log in procedure demanding your passport number. As I don’t carry mine my access to internet was restricted for the day.

The next day was an early 5:00 am check out for a trip to the other airport Don Muang, a horribly crowded domestic airport that I had very negative memories from four years ago. The bellboy at the hotel offered me a hotel taxi for 950 baht, then compromised with a local taxi for 500 only 50% more than the regular rate. Obviously some kind of kick back system is in place but at 5:30 in the morning who is going to argue?

The airport was as I remembered, a jostling, congested, confusing nightmare. I finally got help printing my boarding pass but she failed to also print the baggage tag that I had paid for. Eventually I solved that problem to be told that I was in the wrong terminal. Despite being on a domestic flight it was leaving from the international terminal. Fortunately there were three of us in the same boat and a kind Air Asia employee led us through the labyrinth to the correct place. It was a much nicer experience, brand new and despite the mile walk to the gate I began to relax. I had learned last time to buy an exit row which also gives you priority boarding simplifying the chaos.

All went well and I found myself at Krabi Airport at 9:30 facing the next ordeal – a three-hour mini bus ride to Koh Lanta where I was staying for six days. Procuring a ticket was the easy part; I likely only paid 25% more than the advertised rate however getting the actual ride was more difficult. Soon, became ten minutes became 45 minutes and it was over an hour later that I was jammed into a thirteen seat minibus with every seat filled and luggage in every other open space.

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Not BC Ferries

The advertised three-hour journey came to an abrupt halt when we reached the ferry crossing to the island. The first sign of delay came when we crawled up to a sign that said ferry tickets 300 meters. That alone took an age then a creep down a hill into the smallest loading area ever. It seemed each ferry was basically a motorized flat deck barge that took about ten minivans, fifteen motorbikes, a couple of Tuk Tuks and the occasional car. Finally across we had to wait ten minutes because the loading line on another ferry crossed over the unloading line for our ferry. BC ferries it was not!

Then the driver decided to drop me at the wrong place. When I protested and explained exactly where I was going, he realized he had driven way past it and had to return the way he had just come. Finally he dumped me on a corner claiming it was just up the road. It wasn’t; it was three more blocks in 34c heat but I finally made it and could settle into my new home for five days.

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Lunch Stop on Klong Dao Beach

Koh Lanta has become quite developed in the last few years but it still feels spacious compared with Phuket and other Thai beach destinations. Mostly Europeans escaping winter frequent it and I rarely encountered people with English as their first language. German, French, my neighbours were Hungarian and lots of Swedish. Someone began a Swedish school so well off parents spend a semester here and their children don’t miss “skola”.

I was staying near Klong Dao beach, a beautiful 3km stretch of golden sand, never crowded. My accommodation Lanta DD comprised of a bungalow with AC, kettle for tea, TV, patio, fridge and Wi-Fi so I had everything I needed. I had chosen it so I could access the area of Saladin and the beach without renting the ubiquitous motor scooter that almost every tourist rides. I did not have medical insurance.

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Mm Mm Good

I had a very relaxing few days. I would walk before it was too hot. My place was seven minutes from the beach and in total a walk the full length of the beach and back was about an hour and half. After tea and journaling I would return to the beach while there was still shade; it lasted until about noon; the sun was far too intense in the middle of the day so from noon until 4:30 I would have coffee at the German Bakery then late lunch at a beachfront café. Food is delicious and inexpensive although the descriptions not always accurate. The spicy papaya salad contained exactly zero pieces of papaya. My favourites were the green and red curries as long as I guarded carefully what went in to my mouth. Some of the peppers were Godzilla like in their power. I always remembered to ask for mild to medium because what the Thai refer to medium would be prohibited for fire danger in Vancouver.

I had one traumatic experience. While exploring I felt something dig into my flip flops. There stuck to my right foot was a piece of plywood with three rusty nails sticking up. Fortunately just before I left Sydney I saw flip flops on sale at Woolworths for a $1.99. The soles on my four-year old Thai ones were getting thin so I decided on an upgrade. Likely saved me a tetanus shot and worse.

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Sunset on Kwong Dao Beach

Walk, drink, eat was my pattern for each day. I avoided the speed boat snorkeling trips that I would see picking passengers up off the beach each morning; they had a reputation for being very crowded as one person observed:” it’s amazing that they can cram 90 people into a speed boat.”

I did some spend some energy on avoiding the dreaded mini-bus on the way back to catch my flight. The stress of crowded ferries on a flight deadline would be too much and I found an expensive yet convenient speedboat to Krabi then mini bus to the airport. It was scheduled to take an hour and a half. They picked me up on time, and arrived on time. What a relief and worth every penny of the $90.

My most unpleasant experience of the trip was at Krabi Airport en route to Bangkok. I was flying Air Asia at one time my most hated airline but I learned to take the hassle out by buying an exit row for a inexpensive sum which also gave you priority boarding. The gate was a shambles; first they changed it; then they were late boarding and a huge unruly line formed. I ignored the panic because I knew I would board ahead of everyone. Eventually I walked to the head of the line where there was a sign “Zone 1 Boarding.” I stood there and immediately began to attract hostile glares, then accusations of line jumping. I politely asked what his or her zone was and everyone said “Zone 2″. I explained I was in the line for Zone 1. The accusations spiraled; the hostility was palpable and I even checked with the gate agent who confirmed I was where they wanted me. One guy even called me an asshole. I stayed calm and cool and avoided the temptation to say that I presumed they were all Americans.”

Soon we were on our way and landed in Bangkok a few minutes late at Don Muang Airport. It was time to face the dreaded taxi negotiation however fortune was on my side. As I followed the sign “Taxis” I passed a ‘City Limo Bus” that seemed to be going to the closest transit station. I climbed on board; it cost 30 baht, ($1.50) left immediately and duly dropped me at Mo Chit station on the line that would take me to Ratatewi where the Hotel Asia connected. For another $2.00 I found myself at the hotel significantly quicker than a taxi with far less hassle and expense. It felt like a compensation for the abuse I had suffered.

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Journaling by the pool (and the Flip Flops that saved me)

I had a lovely final two days in Bangkok. My favourite street food vender making Pad Thai was still there after four years. He makes the best I have ever eaten and gives you a show in its creation. I met a guy from Oakville at another food stand where I had delicious chicken fried noodles. Street food is always good in Bangkok and so inexpensive. I went back for shrimp pad Thai one more time before leaving. Washed down by a Singh beer – priceless.

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Off the beaten track

There is a side to Bangkok that wanderers will find but it is off the beaten track. There are canals with paths beside them. I explored one on a morning walk. I am never too sure about the rules of passage. Much seems to be public then suddenly you realize you are encroaching on private property when some gestures to you to turn around. It is always an adventure because it all looks the same.

After my walk I would sit by one of the two pools and write my journal before heading out for my daily coffee. I had finally got connected to wi-fi in Starbucks remembering to carry my passport.

My days were spent roaming, visiting temples, riding the river boats and enjoying a couple more days of heart before facing the drama of going from 34c to 2c on my arrival home. My trip home was long – 19 hours but relatively hassle free. I had dinner on the Bangkok to Hong Kong leg so decided to forgo yet another meal. Business Class is so comfortable so I tried with some success to stretch out and sleep for the first five hours of the flight then I caught up on some movies – Green Book as well as the highlights of Bohemian Rhapsody again. Finally at about 9:00 pm Vancouver time on the day before I left I found myself disoriented and discombulated catching a cab – flat fee $28 – what a relief to be home!

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An unexpected encounter – it was huge

 

On The Road – Sydney

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View from the patio at dusk

My flight from Hobart was smooth and uneventful and I had realized I could get train and bus to within half a block of my residence in just over an hour. I got an Opal card loaded with $50 and at 1:40 I found myself being greeted on the street by Sue and Vince with Raphael their grandson. The flat was gorgeous, modern, 2-bedroom, very spacious with a gorgeous patio and overall a lovely surprise. After Auckland my expectations had lowered, now they were totally exceeded. 

 

After unpacking I sat out to explore and found a coffee shop two blocks away and Bondi Beach only a ten minute walk. I was in heaven; it was a warm 25 degrees, sunny and beautiful. I walked along the beach then headed up to Campbell Parade for a trip down memory lane. First the Astra, recognized by the large “A” at the top of the building. My familiar haunt the Bikini Bar is long gone and now replaced by a more respectable trattoria. In 1970 it was acceptable to compel the barmaids to wear bikinis – not any more. I walked to 50 Sir Thomas Mitchell Road, my first flat where once I found my friend Dennis sleeping on the floor. Shortly after he moved in as my flat mate, our shared rent was $27 a week. We have been friends ever since. I wonder what it costs now. It is still there a red brick of uncertain age and if I recall ample supply of cockroaches as neighbours.

I returned to the Astra for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and  some bruschetta – my tastes have changed since those days, it was delightful, sitting viewing the beach and recalling the many happy hours spent in its predecessor when a schooner (16oz of beer) was 15 cents – today it is $10!). Then I decided to take the coast walk to Bronte Beach via Tamarama where I was spent a month in 1993. It struck me that I had visited Australia at the ages of 24, 48 and now 74. How symmetrical is that? It was a wonderful start to my week.

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View from the Ferry coming into Circulat Quay

The next day I decided to go into the city. I recalled walking to Rose Bay for the ferry when I lived here and Google advised me it was only thirty five minutes. It was a delightful stroll alongside the Royal Sydney Golf Course. I arrived at the dock just as the ferry did and was in the city less than fifteen minutes later. Upon arrival at Circular Quay I strolled the the Rocks area, an area renowned not only for its historic buildings that trace back to convict days but all the pubs. 50 years ago we participated in an organized pub crawl where you had a punch card with twelve stations. We managed thirteen and I think drank a pint in each. Hard to imagine today.

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The unforgettable image of the Sydney Opera House

Then I strolled the harbour front, there have been and are still amazing developments underway. After crossing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge I walked through a lovely new park called the Bungaroo Reserve. I saw many old warehouses are being converted into new flats and finally reached Darling Harbour my destination for the day. Then I walked through the city vaguely recognizing some streets. I used to work on Mcquarie Street across from the Domain and the Royal Botanical Gardens. The gardens are beautiful and I walked as far as the Opera House to find my path to the Tarquin Gate blocked due to a concert that night. Finally I found an alternate route to the Opera House, a true architectural wonder of modern times. I resolved to see if there was an opera I could attend as I have not been inside. 

The next day I decided on a longer version of the same walk I had done to Bronte. This time I set Coogee as my destination about 61/2 km away. I could do this walk every day – dramatic cliffs, waves and beaches. Once past Bronte there is a new boardwalk in front of the Waverly Cemetery which connects Bronte to Clovelly the next beach along. It is a very sheltered bay and I had a great stop for lunch where I had this delicious Green Plate  – an amazing.combination of green things that were good for you Then on to Coogee and towards Maroubra before deciding to turn around and bus home.

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Bubbles at the opera

After checking opera performances I realized that Turandot was on but as I saw it last year and it would have been my last night I decided not to attend. l did find a performance titled Great Opera Hits on Sunday that I suspect was especially designed for tourists but offered some delightful arias so for $89 I got one of the last seats available. Before I left for the city, I decided to try the ocean first, that did not last long as the water sure is not tropical – a bit like Vancouver in mid Summer – 20c. The waves were easy though. Then my familiar walk to Rose Bay for a ferry ride to the Opera House for what proved to be a delightful  experience. I celebrated with a glass of bubbles in honour of my friend Sally who had told me champagne at the opera house was a must do. The music was beautifully performed and contained such favourites as Nessun Dorma, the exquisite Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes and the drinking song from La Boheme as a popular encore. I think my favourite was a duet which was once featured in a famous BA commercial.

Monday I was meeting my friends Greg and Dee in the evening for dinner. I had a morning beach walk before once again taking the ferry in. Ironically the walk and ferry ride take the same time as the bus. It’s a bit more expensive though but worth it. Before meeting Greg and Dee I toured the Rocks area then they spoiled me with a an amazing feast at The Oyster Bar overlooking Circular Quay. I made the mistake of trying to keep up with Greg on the beer front and suffered as a result.

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Trying to keep up with an Aussie beer drinker is a big mistake

Tuesday I was supposed to go out with my hosts Sue and Vince but Sue had to work. I realized my time was running out, I took one last walk to Clovelly and back for another delicious green plate. My last day I was going to Manly to meet David Brown who I had met at his nephew’s  wedding in Mexico seven years earlier. Unfortunately it was my one rainy and cloudy day in Sydney. I took the bus to Watson’s Bay at the tip of South Head then took the ferry across to save the trip into town. It was only a fifteen minute ride although a little bumpy as we crossed the gap where the pacific rollers enter the bay. It was raining when I arrived but my host was unfazed and we went on a scenic tour. The amazing views of the harbour and the north coast were somewhat obscured but still impressive. We also visited the memorial to three mini Japanese submarines invading during world was two and narrowly missed sinking  the USS Chicago. 

Then David took me and his sweet wife Dawn for lunch at his sailing club where we shared this enormous platter of seafood that included giant shrimp, crayfish, crab, oysters, Balmain bugs, salmon, and baby octopus that seemed to look up somewhat accusingly from the plate. It was a feast for for a king and a rare treat. After lunch during a gap between showers we walked between Manley Beach and the harbour wharf where I caught the last ferry back to Watson’s Bay.

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Spectacular Gap Park

My last tourist exploration was of Gap Park on the South Head. Despite the inclement weather the scenery was dramatic and made for an enjoyable walk to where I caught the bus home. My week in Sydney had flown by but had a deep impact, I could see myself spending more of Vancouver’s winters in this part of the world. Thursday arrived, still cloudy but the rain had ceased and for the fifth Thursday in a row I braced myself for travel this time an eighteen hour day to Bangkok. 

On The Road – Tasmania

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Brighton Le Sands

When I woke up Thursday morning in Auckland I knew it was time for the third leg of my “Escape from Winter” trip. It seems to have worked out that everything Thursday I am on the road. Tasmania had been the genesis point for my travels. My friend Sally had moved back home from Vancouver and I had promised to visit. 

It took most of the day to get to Hobart as I had to transfer in Sydney with a five hour layover. To my pleasant surprise entering Australia was a breeze; everything is automated and your visit is electronically linked to your passport. I decided to escape the airport and after picking up a SIM card I got a free bus ride to Rockdale Station as the bus was prepay only. Then I walked to Brighton Le Sands – a beach on Botany Bay where you can watch the planes skim over the waves in preparation for landing.

I ubered back to the airport and it was about 8:00 by the time we landed in Hobart. Despite the nomenclature of “international” no flights from overseas land at Hobart. The airport is the size of Kelowna and you walk across the tarmac to the terminal. By the time my bag arrived the Skybus had departed so I arranged Uber again, very convenient and quick. I was at my cute Airbnb by 8:40 to be greeted by my host Suzanne. Called Hide- away on Forest, it was tucked off the main road, was very quiet, spotlessly clean and comfortable. 

I decided a quick walk to stretch my legs before dark. My first impressions of West Hobart is that there is nothing open in the evening. I ended up walking downtown about a fifteen minute stroll. This proved to be an error as I learned to my cost what John O’Donahue refers to in his poem For the Interim Time when describing dusk, “No place looks like itself, loss of outline makes everything look strangely in between”. So despite Google Maps, I got totally confused about where I was staying, and took three attempts before I found the place. Unfortunately my host had gone to bed and turned all the lights off. 

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Friends Reunited

Sally was crewing overnight on a tall ship The Lady Nelson that was part of the Hobart Regatta celebrations and had to cook for a party of eighteen from Port Townsend. We were meeting at 4:00 the next afternoon for a drink and dinner. I had the next day to myself so orientated myself, found one of the popular tourist areas on Salamanca and had a coffee and muffin while organizing my day. Sally had suggested a walking tour of Battery Point, named after the somewhat inconsequential and ineffective gun battery installed in the eighteen hundreds but now notable for some early settler houses and some beautiful parks. 

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Replica of the Endeavour

It was a good place to explore as there would be some good viewpoints of the incoming fleet including a number of tall ships led by the James Craig and a scale model of the Endeavour, Captain Cook’s ship. Ironically it was too windy for any of them to come in under sail which lessened the impact somewhat. The highlight for me was a museum called Narryna, an example of an early settlers house. It reminded me a little of Charles Dickens house I had seen in London last September. What I found most fascinating was that these houses would be staffed by eight maids, all convicts, with a much better life than they would have had in London as long as they didn’t get into trouble and get sent back to prison. I also had time to explore the wooden boat displays – a very impressive assortment of craft but my main interest was seeing my friend again and at about 4:25 as I was searching Elizabeth Street pier and there she was wearing her smart Lady Nelson crew shirt. We enjoyed a lovely beer and dinner then she gave me a quick tour of the ship and below decks. As I commented, “my worst nightmare being confined under the deck on a rolling ship. It was enough for me getting down the ladder tied to the dock. Sally describes our friendship as being based on five principles: “Eat, Drink, Walk, Talk and Repeat.” It works well for me too. 

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We missed the fun – this is interactive art that you throw and smash glass bottles as we arrived they ran out of bottles.

Our next day was planned for a trip to the Museum of Old and New Art commonly known as Mona. It was a 25 minute ferry ride away through the harbour and on the River Derwent. Mona was built by a multi millionaire Tasmanian David Walsh who found a way to beat the bookies on horse racing. As he accumulated wealth he began to collect art and ancient artifacts then needed a place to display them so Mona was built. 

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Designer lunch

It is a remarkable place built into a rock face; you begin at the bottom and ascend your way up through some massive galleries. It is hard to explain as it is so eclectic including a wall full of plaster of paris vaginas which may shock and confuse the prudish. The web site is worth having a peek  https://mona.net.au Mid way we stopped for lunch at an exquisitely designed restaurant with a 270 degree view over water. It is the newest addition. We enjoyed some bubbles, kingfish, seaweed and edamame. Mona has become a world famous attraction drawing people to Hobart from all over the world.

Sunday it was our road trip to the East Coast and Freycinet National Park. The drive was leisurely stopping at a delicious brunch spot Kate’s Berries for a delicious brunch os smoked salmon crepe and scones, clotted cream and blackberry jam that we shared. The next delicious surprise was the lovely Airbnb that Sally had booked on Dolphin Sands. The view from the lounge area was unexpectedly stunning of the Hazard Mountain range of Freycinet. Then Dolphin Sands was a glorious 9km stretch of sand that we immediately set out to explore. 

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Dolphin Sands with Freycinet and the Hazards in the background

As we reached our turn around point Sally spotted a hammock that she climbed into while I noticed the owner approaching to check who we were. His name was Alexis, he was a cancer survivor from Uruguay who owned a glamping site on the beach. He seemed anxious to show us around and proved to be an engaging young man of 39 who was an enviro tour guide as well as a host. He had no Internet and encouraged people to dump their phones as they arrived. A neat idea but not too good for business I suspect. He had walked from Uruguay to Columbia as part of his cancer cure.

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Wineglass Bay from the Lookout.

The next day we drove to Freycinet, about an hour away. It was a lovely day for exploration beginning with a hike up to a viewpoint named Wineglass Bay. Sally did not recommend the 1,000 steps down as it required coming back the same way or a five hour hike around that we did not have time for in our itinerary. Next it was the Tourmaline lighthouse and a delightful circular walk around that is listed as part of Australia’s fifty top short walks with glorious views of the Eastern Shores. We then drove on to Sanderson Beach where we ate our sandwiches conveniently purchased the day before followed by a beach walk where we could view the beautiful Freycinet lodge perched over the ocean. This became our next destination for a coffee and to fill our water bottles at reception to the amusement of the receptionist as we practically flooded the area. She kindly came over to clean up then in true friendly Aussie fashion went to get us each an apple to replace the aging specimens on display for guests.

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Sally contrasting with the Friendlies.

The next destination has the delicious name of Friendly Beach with exquisite whiter than white sand and turquoise ocean waves. It was my favourite spot. Then it was time to drive home stopping off at Devils Winery to taste their sparkling wines and buy a glass of bubbles each. The view over the valley was as memorable as the wine. Finally we picked up pizza and salad for dinner and back to D’sands where our lovely host had picked me up a dozen fresh oysters in the shell and refused my offer of payment. 

The next day the weather changed and it was a cool, breezy and showery Tassie day. As it was a travel day it was no real inconvenience. On our way back to Hobart we stopped at the builders where Sally is having a home constructed. It was interesting in itself to see homes at different stages of construction. Sally’s is some time away from delivery but the kitchen is installed and looks great. Our next stop was a lovely little town south of Hobart called Dover where Sally has purchased a lot. I was really impressed by the view as the photos had not done it justice and the lovely locale. Much less rural than Lac La Hache her previous home in BC.

We took a walk of the lovely beach area just as a squall hit is so I got to experience another Tasmania experience. We got home around five o’clock and I had the evening on my own. I had return3d to same Airbnb which was convenient. I walked downtown and enjoyed a curry at Annapurna before an early night.

The next day I go up and felt colder than I had for months. A front had come through and the temperature had dropped to ten degree. As I sipped my morning tea I was almost shivering and realized an unusual phenomenon. In Tasmania if it is ten degrees outside it is also ten degrees inside. (Sally’s pet hate about coming home – nobody believes in heating houses.

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View of Mt. Wellington from Rivulet Park.

It was my last day, Sally was back at work and had suggested a lovely walk called Rivulet Park, a gentle uphill meander to a brewery and gardens named Cascade gardens and brewery. It was delightful with some lovely views of Mt Wellington. The only downside was that it was a very popular tourist stop for tours and when the woman in front of me at the cafe ordered ten cappuccinos, it was time to move on. Fortunately I found a sweet cafe aptly named Rivulet Cafe where I had a long flat white (which seems to be a latte) and a delicious muffin with no wait. An aside about coffee in Australia – it has the highest average quality of anywhere I have been. Sally told me the reason why is that they went from an instant culture to an espresso culture bypassing the “brew” phase of North America. 

If my writing gets a little garrulous please excuse me as I am on my third glass of champagne on my Malaysian Airlines flight to Bangkok. Wonderful service. My final afternoon was spent visiting the cute Hobart Museum where I learned that a Tasmanian Tiger is a wolf and that in 1997 Hobart was one of the most homophobic cities in the western world. the good news is that by 2018 they had the highest percentage in favour of gay marriage in the Australian Plebiscite. It is encouraging to see that Homo sapiens can change for the better even if current events are less encouraging.

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The Friendly Heidi

Finally my last activity with Sally was dinner at Jack Greens a very typical brew pub, with a glorious view of the harbour where we shared a flight of beer before eating pub food. Before Sally arrived a beautiful young woman named Heidi came to sit next to me. It was one of those magic moments for a single man, unfortunately she was only four and dressed in a tutu. It was a lovely ending to an amazing week. The next morning it was Thursday and time to take off on my next leg. Bondi awaits!

On The Road – Auckland

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The iconic Rangitoto

I had visited the capital of New Zealand twice before but never stayed any length of time and had no memories or expectations. In fact I realized after I had found a house swap in a place called Devonport that Auckland is one huge sprawl that begins on an isthmus separating the Tasman Sea from the Pacific Ocean and has harbours on both and stretches north and south. I had been very fortunate and by chance chosen this exquisite locale with a short ten minute ferry to downtown, had three beaches and was a true delight to explore. 

Auckland is built on 40 plus volcanoes, many of which were excavated for building materials but two remain in Devonport – Mount Victoria and North Head. Both are easy climbs with spectacular views of the iconic Rangitoto, spectacular because it has the same perfect cone shape no matter from where you view it. 

733CCCC5-7389-400B-8ED5-9B9895019D86I arrived at the airport at 1:15 pm having flown all night from Hong Kong and feeling less than 100%. My kind friend Ron had agreed to pick me up. He lives in Orewa one of the northern suburbs of Auckland and I had no idea how far his drive was and bad the traffic to Devonport would be. It is a peninsular on the north shore with only one road in and out. Ron and I met 49 years ago in Sydney and connection has been spasmodic to say the least but it felt very relaxed once we met up.

It had not been the smoothest of arrivals. First the automatic passport control rejected me then the immigration officer seemed remarkably reluctant to let me in asking me a myriad of what seemed like irrelevant questions about what I did, where I had come from, what I had seen in Hong Kong – I was going to ask flippantly if he would like a copy of my blog but decided politeness and patience was the better road. Only when I told him I had someone meeting me did he stamp my passport and let me through. 

I picked up a SIM card that at first did not work but was actually a faulty card. Then I got attacked by the food sniffing dog that had picked up the remnants of orange peel that had been in my pack a day earlier. Finally I could not find Ron’s phone number and he had my wrong email address in his phone – ah seniors on the road not always smooth sailing so it was hard to connect. Just as I was about to give up and get the bus he responded to my email and my phone rang. Finally my Kiwi trip could begin.

Joel the owner of the flat I had swapped for was there to meet us and soon I was set; Ron stayed to give me a tour and we began the stroll down the hill to the cute town of Devonport. I was immediately entranced, We stopped for a beer –  $10 bucks a sleeve and sat in the sun enjoying the 24c temperature. Aucklands summer is very much like a good spell in Vancouver in July. I felt immediately at home.

The flat was simple, a great location and would be a perfect home for a week. I sensed I would not be doing too much traveling; it seemed like a perfect base. Travel by transit requires a HOP card, it saves about 40% so even for a short stay it was worth the $10. 

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North Head, Devonport

My first day I decided to stay in the area. I found tourist info, was provided with a walking map. I began with a walk along the ocean to the Navy Museum, free and mostly about New Zealand naval action in the first two wars. They had a nice cafe and for $20 I got a delicious salad then walked up an old military installation to protect Auckland from the Russian fleet in the Crimean War. It was never used except for a Royal Salute to Queen Elizabeth as she cruised past during her world tour in 1953. Apparently there were some complaints about windows breaking and that that was that. 

North Head as it is called offers some wonderful views of the city skyline, Cheltenham Beach and Rangitoto, Aucklands most recent volcano that happened only 600 years ago. It is a classic volcanic cone that appears the same no matter which angle you view it from. I walked on to Cheltenham Beach which was very quiet for peak Summer before returning home and picking up an enormous and delicious gelato.

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2.5 km long Takapuna Beach

Saturday I had definitely picked up a cold. Consoling myself with the thought I would rather have a cold in February in Summer, I had a quiet start before setting out to walk to a nearby town called Takapuna about 5.3 km away. I found myself at Cheltenham Beach and recalled the helpful lady in tourist info telling me I could walk around Takapuna Point at low tide to Narrow Neck Beach. It was a lovely easy stroll at the foot of cliffs before I came out at the beach and had a fairly long uninteresting road section before turning onto Clifton Avenue where I got to see glimpses of the ocean through ten million dollar homes. Finally I came to Takapuna Beach, a long expanses of golden sand that stretches 2.5 km. I walked to the end where there was a relatively unprepossessing beach cafe with extortionate prices. Fortunately my scampi ravioli was excellent so was the view so the $45 lunch without a drink was not too painful.

On Sunday my friends Lucy and Marcia picked me up and we went on a tour of the beaches north of Devonport, I lost count we were heading eventually to their home in Torbay where I would overnight. En route we stopped for coffee in a delightful cafe in Hobsonville overlooking one of the many bays in Auckland. It is a new town built on an old airfield that will eventually feature 7,000 new homes and help address Auckland’s chronic housing shortage. 

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The Gannet Colony

Our next stop of the day was Murawai Gannet colony on the west Coast where 1200 pairs of gannets nest and breed. It was a magical experience! First the scenery cleared, it was on the west coast, the surfers were gently bobbing amongst the waves and the we could get within a foot of the nesting birds as space pressure was causing them to next closer and closer to the viewpoints. They are amazing and at every stage of development from fluff balls to almost fledged. 

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Long Bay Regioanl Park

The last stop of the day was Long Bay a regional park where Lucy dropped me off so I could stretch my legs. I had the chance to stroll this amazing cliff top scenery that took me up and down with wonderful ocean views and eventually to my destination called Piri Piri Point where I turned around. It was about a ninety minute jaunt on a relatively well prepared trail. A wonderful conclusion to my day. We had a fun evening, Lucy made dinner starting with sparkling wine. Lucy and I first met 49 years ago on the S.S. Oronsay bound for Sydney.

The next morning I connected with Ron and agreed to spend the day with him. While awaiting his arrival Lucy lent me her electric bike for a cruise up and down the hills to the beach. Amazing – this is the way to go! So much easier but still a workout.

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Wenderholme Regioanl Park

Ron and I drove to his hometown for a coffee then had a beach walk on the lovely local beach – everywhere seems to have these amazing sandy beaches, before meeting a 94 year old friend of his named Ken for his birthday lunch. Hopefully I am that vital if I live so long. Then Ron took me touring. First to Waiwera where there are thermal springs and pools unfortunately currently closed. Then on to Puhoi where there is an pioneer village built by settlers from Bohemia in 1863 and it has a pub, hotel and church dating back to those settlers. Then we drove on to another wonderful regional park. This one called Wenderholm where we embarked on a hike that was somewhat longer and more arduous than expected but well worth the effort with some amazing views. It began like a freeway than gradually disintegrated into a dusty, steep poor excuse for a trail. However we made it safe and sound and returned to Orewa for a lovely Asian fusion meal at a new restaurant in Orewa. Ron had me home by 9:30.

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Auckland

Suddenly I was down to two days remaining so Tuesday I made my trip into the CBD of Auckland. It is a ten minute ferry ride from Devonport, and well worth the trip just for the journey in Auckland Harbour and a close up view of the city skyline. Built on forty volcanoes, it is a hilly city although a number were ground down for building materials, I began by a walk around the harbour foreshore, relatively newly developed and full of ritzy yachts. I found a coffee bar with a view and sat getting bearings. Coffee in this part of the world is excellent, it appears that made the leap from instant to espresso without going through the brew phase. No Tim Hortons here! 

I decided to walk to the Museum on the Domain, a garden on the slopes of the old volcano however my route intersected an art exhibit named 10,000 Doors that appealed to me. I paid my ten dollars to gain entry and found myself in a fascinating maze of rooms, closets,,strange sounds and vibrations littered with old photographs. It was fascinating – I would not have found my way out apart from a helpful guide who said, “look for the door that does not look like a door. Finally I found my way into to the sunshine thinking ten bucks well spent.

The walk to the Domain was hilly but very pleasant and the park itself was beautiful with giant Moreton Bay Fig trees.

The Museum was interesting but marginal value at $25 – locals are free. There was an interesting visit on Maori Culture and tradition with an astonishing war canoe that carried 100 warriors. There was also an exhibit on volcanic eruptions awareness that simulates the birth of a new volcano off shore that apparently can and will happen sometime. The magma field under Auckland is alive and well. Then I felt I had enough city life and wandered back along the main shopping drag Queen Street – I was ready for the ride home.

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Low Tide from Takapuna to Narrowneck.

My last day I had a mission – to buy a sheepskin rug – my current one was purchased 1993 and is falling apart. I took transit into Takapuna and found the Sheepskin Factory, they had one sextet in stock (six skins), a little yellower than I would have preferred but it was my last day and the assistant showed me that is the current look. Then I walked home to Devonport finding an amazing coastal walk that was only accessible due to a very low tide. There was a slight clamber towards the end, a little challenging in flip flops but I managed without breaking anything. My adventures in New Zealand were at an end.

I realized that I could easily consider an extended winter stay here, glorious scenery, very easy to navigate and wonderful weather. Something to ponder as I move on to Australia. 

On The Road – Hong Kong

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The Hong Kong Tram

There were only two things I recognized in Hong Kong – the trams and the Star Ferry, both venerable institutions here. I had visited twice – once as a passenger on the SS Oronsay en route to Australia as a 26 year old and the other time on my round the world trip celebrating my mid-life crisis in 1992.

It is a bizarre, crazy, crowded, intense city. I could not live here but I had fun visiting. Fortunately my friend John Hood has provided a list of his favourite things which for the most part I faithfully followed.

I arrived very early 7:00 am from Vancouver having leaped ahead 16 hours which is quite discombobulating. I spent a couple of hours wandering, not sure where to go or what to do and desperately seeking a Starbucks. All I found was a Pret, the coffee not as good but it had wifi. I had hoped for an early check in at my Airbnb but that depended on the previous guests leaving.

I emailed John for his suggestions and the first one was to get an Oyster card. I was a little sceptical as I had one of those in London but assumed there was a similar product and sure enough for 70 $HK (about $12 C) I had a card and $20 credit which did not seem much until I realized the average Senior trip fare is $2 or 33 cents. The transit system is truly amazing and the Octopus card includes buses, trams, the subway, the Star ferry and you can even use it in Starbucks. 

 At about ten I followed the directions to Fortress Station close to my accommodation and there was a Starbucks close by. Almost as soon as I had connected to wifi I got the news I could check in so by noon I was ensconced in my tiny, spartan little flat with all the key things I needed – a hot water kettle, wifi, a shower and bed. As some accommodation here is $700 a night my $60 was a deal. 

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One of my R &R stops

Victoria Park is Hong Kong’s largest park but tiny compared to Vancouver – less than one tenth of Stanley Park and it is intensively developed for different user groups. However it became my solace where I could walk, sit, breathe and relax. I would find myself here most days.

My first day I did something that was not on John’s list. It involved a train and bus trip to Sai Kung a smaller fishing town on the coast of the mainland. There was a UNESCO Global Geopark with dramatic examples of volcanic strata, rock formations, basalt columns and sea arches and. The best way to explore was by boat so I booked a trip before I left.

Imagine the disappointment when I got there to find I had booked a different day in error and they would not change it or give me a credit. 

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Worth the trip even at twice the price

I avoided one of my classic responses of storming off in a huff and decided to bite the bullet and pay again – it was $50 but I had just travelled 10,000 km. We left at 2:00 for a three hour trip through the islands of shore and as I was the only English speaker Raymond became my personal guide. He was friendly and informative and it was a fun afternoon. It was a flat bottomed junk style boat which was fine until we approached the last island in the chain which had a dramatic sea arch but exposed us to the pacific rollers. For a moment I wondered if the ticket error had been a sign to avoid a dismal demise through drowning but no. – soon we made it back safely to sheltered waters.

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The Tin Hau divination stones

We also stopped to visit a temple to Tin Hau, a goddess who the fisherman would consult about whether to go out fishing. Raymond showed me how to cast the omen – two shells that if they ended up landing opposite to each other, you were good to go. (My luck was in.) This was confirmed when Raymond took it on himself to get my money refunded after I noted I was a a bit miffed about the way I was treated. The day did not end without a little drama as I could not find the right bus terminal – there are three and needed wifi to get directions so began a search for Starbucks – always my haven for a washroom and wifi. All ended well and I was home by 7:00 pm.

e24c8b94-9b44-4c7e-b3c4-e5deab78b467The next day I decided to visit Victoria Peak. Google worked well and I followed John’s advice and took the bus up sitting on the left side for the best views. At the top I was somewhat disappointed in the huddled masses and how commercial it was. I struck out for a walk and somehow circumnavigated the summit with some splendid scenery, never quite sure where I was but eventually found myself back at this monstrosity called the Peak Tower – five stories of steel. I paid the fee to go to the top level and the views were stunning. One gets a great sense of the population density, parts of Hong Kong are 57,000 people per square km.

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Lunch View

I enjoyed a delicious lunch overlooking the view. It was restful, quiet and relaxing – a state that soon shifted when I went to join the tram line up. It was enormous and I decided I would catch the bus.

That evening I checked another item off the list and went to Kowloon to view the laser light show over the harbour. Frankly I was underwhelmed – for someone who gets to watch the Celebration of Light over English Bay each Summer, the Symphony of Lights did not measure up. Afterwards I strolled through Kowloon to the Temple Night Market, but managed to resist the temptation of buying stuff I did not want and did not have room for. At one point I stepped out of the main flow of people to be immediately accosted by two sex workers. I guess Hong Kong still has a few attributes left over from the seventies!

The next day I headed over to Aberdeen on the South Coast. Apparently when the original colonialists arrived they asked the name of the island but were told the name of the small village “Hong Kong”. By the time they realized their mistake they decided it was too late to rename the island so they changed the name of the village to Aberdeen because it reminded them of home.

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Floating Restaurants in Aberdeen.

It was originally a fishing village and the harbour is still full of huge vessels. There is a promenade with a short but a pleasant stroll. The main feature is three floating restaurants and I decided to take the free shuttle and have lunch at The Jumbo this massive floating palace that Sir Stanley Ho the richest man in Hong Kong built. It was a strange experience – I was the only gweilo there and it was as though I was invisible. I did finally manage to order shrimp and cashews and a glass of house wine – outrageously expensive but the shrimp was good. My free shuttle ended up costing me $70.

That evening I decided to complete the list with a visit to the central mid level escalators, a series of escalators and moving sidewalks that take you 400 feet and half a km above the city below. It is fun as you pass through various zones with pubs, bars and restaurants. In the afternoon you can only ride up which means walking down. (In the mornings they reverse the flow).

I stopped at a bar called The Phoenix that I had noticed on the way up. As I stood at the bar I noticed a sign saying “members only”. As I hesitated my fellow companion at the bar introduced himself as the owner and declared me an instant member – some weird licensing regulation in Hong Kong. It lead to a delightful couple of hours chatting with him. It was happy hour so my glass of Merlot became three (one with one and an extra one he bought me). He was an ex-pat who had set out on his travels from the UK and ended up staying in Hong Kong. He now has eleven bars, a wife and two adopted Chinese children. It was one of those fun magical moments that you can’t plan! 

My last day involved packing, checking out and a late flight – 9:25 pm. I had time for a stroll in my favourite a park, a trip on the Star Ferry and. Walk along the Kowloon promenade which is getting all dressed for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Kung Hei Fat Choi everyone.  

Christmas Letter 2018

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Seasons Greetings from Sayulita

It is December 12th, I am en route to Puerto Vallarta and it is time to reflect on the past year and compose a Christmas Greeting. I hope you are all in good health and looking forward with hope and enthusiasm to a new year. 

My year began at Whistler with a traditional gathering of old friends at my friends Dennis and Sue in their beautiful cabin in Black Tusk Village. It had been a good start to the ski season and I enjoyed a couple of days skiing to begin the year. Almost everyone is this group dateback to the mid seventies or earlier.

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Street activity in Oaxaca

My next major adventure was to Mexico in mid Feb for some vacation but also to attend the conference I had been organizing for the previous eighteen months. There were about eighty attending and it was rewarding to finally complete something successfully once again. It was significantly more stressful than the previous one in Assisi with lots of unplanned incidents like speakers running an hour long, one getting sick and a solemn session getting interrupted by a massive brass band in the street outside, Oaxaca has more street demonstrations than any other city which is all well and good until you find the road blocked en route to catch a plane. However all obstacles were overcome and by the time the accolades were over I had agreed to do one more in Assisi 2020. I do ask myself if I am crazy but sense a calling to play this role. I enjoyed the reward of six relaxing days in Puerto Vallarta before heading back home in mid March. 

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One of Smelt Bays glorious sunsets

During the next three months I had the opportunity to travel to Cortes every three weeks and enjoy my sweet place for five days at a time. I love the peaceful energy and solitude of my island retreat. I wanted to make the most of it before the rental season began at the end of June. I knew due to my plans to go to Europe I would not get their again until October. My last visit coincided with a workshop called Time of Transition and I invited my two friends Maryann and Carolyn to join me. We had a very special time together particularly sharing from the workshop which was taught by our teacher Atum O’Kane from seventeen years ago when we were all participants in The Art of Spiritual Guidance. One of everyone’ favourite practices was living a “life not lived”.

Almost immediately on my return to Vancouver I was on a plane for Toronto for a Summer visit to visit my family there. My brother Dave and his wife are wonderful hosts and the time is always active – golf, our annual wine tour in the Niagara area, family pool parties and catching up with old friends. This year I chose the play the amazing Mythos with Stephen Fry However I think it was more to my taste than everyone else’s. (This was the period of the World Cup and during the theatre it went to extra time then penalties, despite 51 years absent I still suffer along with everyone else).

Back in Vancouver Summer arrived and kept on going – everything dried up, forest fire season began and smoke problems seem to be getting more frequent. I stayed close to home enjoying three shows at Bard on the Beach which featured an amazing As You Like It with eighteen Beatles songs that seemed to blend so well with the story.

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Rita and Grand-Dad

On August 24th I was on my way to London for a five week break including a house swap for a flat in Covent Garden for September. I began with a week in Devon in the west of England with traditional English summer weather on display – rain, cool breezes and glimpses of sunshine. I stayed with my sister Chris and her husband Roy and as it happens my brother Paul, wife and my niece Katie and family were there for their ‘summer’ holiday. I love it there regardless of weather and took lots of brisk walks on the glorious coastline as well as a couple of bike rides to Barnstaple where the ride home along the river into the wind seems never ending.

All to soon I took the train to St. Austell to visit my sister Lynn for afternoon tea before heading to Penzance and a trip to the Isles of Scilly, a new destination. I rented a bike and enjoyed the quaintness of this most southwesterly part of the UK that is actually part of the duchy of Cornwall. I wrote more about this in another blog.

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The famous scales of justice at the Old Bailey

Then it was London. I will mention a little about my overall impression but if you want more detail I wrote extensively in my blog

I absolutely loved my time there and London is now definitively my favourite city. Everyday I would walk for hours mostly unplanned and continually experiencing the magic this city has to offer in terms of museums, galleries, churches, alley ways and squares, parks and the constant blue discs that inform you of an unexpected historical fact. 

I loved the Old Bailey, (walked into an interesting murder trial – it’s like live theatre for free), Soho (so up market compared to my youth) finding Paul Merton at the Comedy Club and my location in Covent Garden was perfect in every way. Imagine walking to Trafalgar Square in eight minutes and the Thames in five. I went to eleven shows including Hamilton and Harry Potter – the play. I also had time to catch up with family and friends who may not usually meet. My nephew John and I had the distinction of having my most expensive meal in England at the Ivy a restaurant that used to be frequented by the beautiful set. However as long as you can afford the price they now let even the colonials in. (£180 if you are interested).

It was unforgettable and hard to get over. I had perfect September weather and came back to a stormy Vancouver.

It was the first time I have not really wanted to be home. However my adjustment has improved my relationship with My home city – I went out more, explored more including the East Van Culture Crawl which was so much fun. Before I left on this trip to Mexico I went to five plays, two operas, a show, the art gallery twice and a Christmas Market.

I continued my work as a Spiritual Coach which is so rewarding and I can also offer sessions when away. In addition I did three dream workshops, hosted a Dream evenings once a month when in town as well as a small spiritual guidance group. Plus I began work on my next conference in Assisi so life was not all play. One of my daily practices is to check in to ask if I am living a balanced life from the perspective of the mental, emotional, spiritual, play and physical. Sometimes I am and sometimes not but always interesting to ask the question.

Now I am following my end of year tradition of ten days in Mexico before heading to Oakville for Christmas. From the wet to the warm to the cold then back to the wet.

I want to wish all of you a wonderful Christmas season and every good wish for a magical, marvellous 2019. Every day I give thanks for my good health, my meaningful life, deep friendships and wonderful family connections. Wishing you all the same and much more much love Trevor

Sent from my iPad

Reflections from a Small Island

Apologies to Bill Bryson for plagiarizing the title.

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My favourite view – Westminster Bridge in the evening. (less than ten mins walk)

Well I am home after 40 days. My brother reminded me yesterday this is the longest time I have spent in the UK since 1973 -over 45 years ago. I truly loved my time here. I think I feel more in love with London than ever before. It is such a vibrant, exciting city with such amazing history. I will miss my long walks, every corner introducing something unexpected like Christies the auction house and Portobello Market.

I will not miss the insane, delusional debate about Brexit. Two and a half years ago the Europeans stated very clearly if you wish to remain in the customs union you must allow free movement of labour. Every few months the Brits present an option that attempts to circumvent this principle and each time the Europeans say it won’t work. Recently the British PM presented yet another version of the same thing and the Europeans who I suspect can’t believe how dense the British are said “No”. The response from the British was as though they had declared war. “How dare they not negotiate with us”? It is as though there is this collective delusion that we are British and you must change your rules for us. It is everything I despise about the “upper class twits” that run this country.

The fragmentation in this country is greater that I have ever realized. There are the lunatic fringe of the Conservative party that think they can have the Empire back, the lunatic fringe of the Labour Party that want to introduce a Trotsky regime and don’t really want to be part of Europe, the crazy religious fundamentalists like my elder brother who wanted to explain the theological reasons why Britain should leave Europe. (I said no thanks or words to that effect) and everyone else who feels powerless and confused and who would like another chance to vote,

However by staying away from the news I avoided most of the chaos. Highlights of my stay were as follows:

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A familiar street in Soho

Walking

I would walk four or five hours a day. I had a wonderful guidebook – London’s Hidden Walks and wandered – Mayfair, Soho, Bloomsbury, Whitechapel, the Inns of Court, St James, the South Bank, Notting Hill with its amazing Portobello market, the City itself, down to Canary Wharf and Westminster. I strolled in the footsteps of Dickens, Samuel Johnson, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, Jack the Ripper and H.G. Wells to name a few. I ducked down every lane and alley and there was always some magic at the other end. It is the most interesting place to walk I have ever been.

There was new trivia around every corner. When the Americans wanted to buy the site for the embassy on Grosvenor Square, the family who have owned land since William the Conqueror said, “we don’t sell land but if you give us back everything you confiscated after the War of Independence we may consider a deal.”

 

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The Harry Potter Stage

The Theatre.

I went to the theatre three times a week and saw: Hamilton – as good as its rep, Harry Potter parts 1 and 2 -totally brilliant, the Lehman Trilogy – beautifully acted by three stars including Shakespearian legend Simon Russel Beale, an Ionesco drama on death called Exit the King, the Importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Kinky Boots, One for the Road by Pinter -incredibly depressing, the King and I, the Woman in Black, The Foxfinder, and Alleluia a comedy (and tragedy) about aging. I could walk to every theatre except one, it was sublime.

 

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My niece Katie took me to the BBC Newsroom

Seeing Family and Friends,

I met a niece I had not seen in 21 years and her two grown children I had never met, two nephews I had not seen in ten years, friends I last saw in 1973. My niece Katie took me to the BBC where she works, I had the most outrageously expensive dinner with my nephew John at a famous restaurant called The Ivy. I met up with my brother Paul at least once a week and I met my friend Sue’s sister Sally and her husband Steve for the first time since 2009. I also saw my two sisters in Devon.

 

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The famous scales of justice at the Old Bailey

The Old Bailey.

I found myself falling in love with the British Legal system. The wigs, the politeness of the adversaries, those wonderful words “Be upstanding in Court” I came across a trial of a young 24 year old accused of murdering a transgender person after four days of sex and debauchery and then persuading his seventeen year old girlfriend come and help him clean up. (She was on trial for conspiracy) I also went to the Royal Courts of Justice which is the appeals court and much less exciting. All English barristers (the ones who appear in court) must be attached to one of the four Inns of Court in the city. They are these fascinating places that are obscure and almost guarded by walls. A tradition that goes back a thousand years.

National Gallery
National Gallery

Museums and Galleries

One of the joys is that you do not pay for most of these so you can “pop in” with no pressure. I visited most of them more than once. The ones everyone knows – the two Tates, the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, (A surprise to see that Richard III was the best looking of the kings of that time.) The Sir John Soane Gallery on Lincoln Square with an incredible eclectic range of art including a hidden collection of Hogarth’s Raike’s Progress which a curator revealed. Two visits to the V & A. l also paid to see the Dickens Museum that I had last seen in a movie called the Hereafter when Matt Damon visited. Then there were the surprises: I bumped into like Christies – the auction house that permits free entry to view of their exhibits (including the Queen’s Egg) and a free exhibition on Perspectives by the Institute of British Architects. Another great find was the British Library with its room of treasures including a first folio of all of Shakespeare’s plays and a Gutenberg Bible and original Beatle’s materials.  I also went to Greenwich to see the observatory and also viewed the Cutty Sark.

Temple Church
Temple Church consecrated 1185

Churches

No trip to England is complete without visiting magnificent ancient churches. I used to pop into St Paul’s Sunday afternoons for a free organ concert. I loved the Temple Church which went back to the Templars and contained a wonderful exhibit on the Magna Carta. Then there were the free musical concerts played in St Martins in the Fields and St James Church Piccadilly at lunch times. However one of my favourite memories was walking past St Clement Danes at 5:00 pm to hear the church bells playing the nursery rhyme of my childhood, “Oranges and lemons said the bells of St. Clements.”

Overall the trip fulfilled in fact exceeded all of my expectations. I did not venture out of London as much as I had planned. I did a day trip to Oxford to visit the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Library and one day to Cirencester. I also never made it to the continent, something I thought I would do but the idea just dissipated.

 

Regency canal
Regency Canal

My flat had a perfect location; most days I never took the tube. I could walk to the Thames in ten minutes, to Trafalgar Square in less and Buckingham Palace in less than half an hour. One of my favourite walks was the Royal Parks – St James, Green and Hyde and occasionally Regents Park. On my last day I found the towpath along the Regents Canal. It was a delightful stroll past the zoo, Regency Mansions, narrow barges, punts, paddle boarders and motorboats. I walked all the way to Little Venice – a fascinating merging of canals with its own floating village.

20 Martlett Court

So it is over but I suspect not for ever. There is so much more to see and do plus most of it I would happily do again. Thanks you so much to Jane and Hubert who after fifty-five rejections on the site Love Home Swap finally responded with a yes offering their delightful London place for my stay. 

Queens Egg
Queens Egg at Christies

 

Portobello market
Portobello market – Notting Hill – Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts were here.