Friday, August 24, 2018

Fun in Japan

While we were in Africa, Kendall got word that a paper he had submitted to a conference had been accepted, and he was to attend the conference and present the paper. So quite unexpectedly, we had a holiday in Japan in July.

First of all, our travel agent booked us on a Qantas flight. Even though they have been on my blacklist for a long LONG time. I couldn't argue, it was considerably cheaper than any other airline and it was a direct flight from Melbourne to Tokyo (and return). So fly with Qantas we did. And of all the Qantas flights we took in July, 100% of them were more than one hour late. And the plane we were meant to fly on coming home was changed, so we had the shitty older model with the horrible seats. Back on the blacklist they go!

Anyway we arrived in Japan (late) and spent a night in Tokyo before heading to Kyoto on the bullet train the next day. OMG the bullet trains are amazing. The rest of the world (I'm looking at you, AUSTRALIA) could learn a thing or two from the Japanese rail system. It is so efficient, and so clean, and on time and just wonderful.

Our first place of accommodation in Kyoto was the Rihga Royal Hotel, which was okay. It was conveniently located near the conference venue, and it had very good air conditioning. Good AC was essential as Japan was suffering through a crazy heatwave when we were there and the temperature was about 38C every day. With 95% humidity. People actually died, it was horrendous. According to all the Japanese people we spoke to, the heat was very unusual and they really were not coping.

Anyway after the conference ended we moved to the Four Seasons Kyoto, and you should all go there and say hello to Vincent the food and beverage manager, and Alex the hotel manager, and in fact all the staff as they are amazing. It is a gorgeous hotel built around an 800 year old koi pond.

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On one day we went to visit the bamboo forest of Arashiyama, which is just beautiful.

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We also stopped in to see the house of a former Japanese movie star, and a temple along the way.

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Japan 2018

Another day, we caught the bullet train to Hiroshima.

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This building is known as ground zero for the bombing of Hiroshima during WW2, and it is now a national peace monument. Hiroshima is a modern and lovely city and well worth visiting.

On yet another day, we visited the Fushimi-Inari temple, also known at the 10,000 gates temple. It is built up the side of a mountain and one hell of a hike but so worth it.

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Once again, it was a balmy 39C so we didn't quite make it all the way to the top.

After our time in Kyoto we caught the train back to Tokyo, and spent a couple of days wandering around that crazy city. We went to Electric Town, and over to see the Imperial Palace. We stayed at the Four Seasons Maranouchi Tokyo and it was excellent (say hi to Alvin the restaurant manager if you are ever there).

Japan 2018

This is about the closest you can get to the Palace but it is set in lovely parks and it's a nice walk.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Japan and will definitely go back, perhaps to try and see the cherry blossoms. You should go too. It's wonderful.

As always, there are a lot more photos in my FlickR photo stream, just click on one of the photos to be taken there.

Friday, August 10, 2018

An African Adventure part 5 - Jordan

Now I know Jordan is not in Africa, but it was the final stop on our epic African adventure so it has to be part of the same series of blog posts. Also: sorry for taking so long to getting around to writing this.

So having spent nearly two weeks in Egypt it was off to Jordan for eight days. We flew from Cairo with Royal Jordanian and arrived in Amman to be met by another person from American Express Travel. We had a driver for the whole time in Jordan, a lovely young man by the name of Gausan. Leaving Egypt was an experience, from the time we arrived at the airport to the time we got on the plane we went through FIVE security screenings and actually got frisked as we got on the plane, then were accompanied by three air marshalls on the flight. Which just reinforces my desire to never go back to Egypt.

So we arrive at our hotel in Amman and as soon as we got up to our room we realised this maybe was not the place for us. We had requested a non-smoking room but there was an ashtray and some matches on the table, and Kendall counted seven burn marks on the furniture. Plus it stank of smoke. The mini bar was an empty and turned-off fridge, and there was one glass for both of us to share. The really fun thing was the nightclub that started at 2.30am directly above our heads.

The next day with the assistance of our driver, we moved hotels. If you are going to Amman say hi to Hani at the Four Seasons for me. Also stay there because it is wonderful.

During our time in Amman we visited the desert castles on the way to Azraq, as well as the fortress there where apparently Lawrence of Arabia holed up for a while.

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We saw the ancient roman ruins int he middle of the city, and the ampitheatre.

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We visited the ancient Roman city of Jerash, and Ajlun Castle.

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We went swimming in the Dead Sea, which is quite a surreal experience. I say swimming but really it's more like enforced floating.

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We saw the ancient sites of Madaba and Mount Nebo (apparently Moses is buried there).

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We visited Petra and it was amazing. For quite some distance you walk through the Siq, which is the narrow gorge that leads to the city,

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and then you arrive at one of the most famous sites you'll ever see:

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Honestly I felt like Indiana Jones. There are a lot of carvings and buildings in Petra, they think that at one time there were several thousand Nabateans who lived there. You can climb the mountain and see the view of the Treasury from above, as we did.

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We went to Wadi Rum, and drove around in the desert for ages. And we saw the spot where the Hab was positioned in the movie The Martian (the one with Matt Damon).

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We stayed at a resort in Aqaba on the Red Sea for a night and just chilled out (excellent Italian restaurant at the Movenpick Tala Bay). And then we travelled back to Amman for a couple of days before heading home.

I really enjoyed Jordan after the madness of Egypt, the people were all lovely and the sights magnificent. I would definitely go back.

In summary, go to Jordan, see all the sights, and stay at the Four Seasons in Amman. It is well worth the experience.

Friday, June 22, 2018

An African Adventure part 4 - Egypt

After disembarking the ship in Accra (Ghana), we flew via Addis Ababa to Egypt. Our flights were with Ethiopian Air and I have to say they were so much better than South African Airways, or EgyptAir. Brand new planes, good food, lovely staff; I would fly them again without question. The only downside is having to go via Addis Ababa, which has got to be the most bonkers airport I have ever been to. It was just a sea of stinky humanity.

So we made it to Cairo at about 2.30am, and were collected from the airport by the very wonderful Ahmed from American Express Travel. If you ever go to Egypt (and you should) book all your trips with Amex and make sure he is the man looking after you. What a godsend. He delivered us to our hotel (Four Seasons Nile Plaza Cairo) and told us about our guide who would be with us for the next two days.

Our first destination was the Cairo Museum. It is a wonderful place with SO many treasures on display. It would take a very long time to see them all. They have a special section dedicated to Tutankhamun, as well as a section for actual pharaoh mummies discovered over the years, including probably the greatest of them all, Ramses II. You are not allowed to photograph any of the special collections which makes them even a bit more special, perhaps?

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These are sarcophagi that fit one inside the other - there were usually seven for a pharaoh.

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After the museum we went to see the Great Pyramids of Giza. I had always thought that the pyramids are way out in the desert but actually they are right in the middle of suburban Cairo, which was a bit weird. SO amazing to see though.

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And they are so much bigger than you realise from reading about them in books or seeing on TV and in movies. We also visited the Khan El-Khalili market, and the Citadel, which contains the Alabaster Mosque, a really lovely building.

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The next day we went to Memphis, which was once the capital of ancient Egypt, and saw the museum dedicated to Ramses II.

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We also went to Saqqara, and saw the very first pyramid ever built, and a few other things. It was amazing.

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I think Cairo is an absolute hellhole and I never EVER want to go back again. Having said that, it was worth it to visit and see the sights, which were indeed wonderful. But never again will I visit Cairo. I did not enjoy the city one bit.

Our next stop was Hurghada on the Red Sea, where we stayed for four days to chill out. Our accommodation was the excellent Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, I highly recommend it for a lovely stay.

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After a relaxing few days we travelled to Luxor to join our Nile river cruise. We stayed on the Oberoi Philae, and it was unbelievable. The most ridiculous part was that we were the only passengers. Yes, just me and Kendall, on a cruiser with a capacity of 44 passengers. Apparently they do not ever refuse a booking so we had the whole boat to ourselves. It was wonderful.

I will not bore you with the details of every single temple and sight we visited, but the list included:
  • Temple of Abydos
  • Temple of Dendara
  • Luxor Temple
  • Karnak Temple
  • Valley of the Kings
  • Colossus of Memnon
  • Temple of Edfu
  • Temple of Kom Ombo
  • Aswan high dam
  • Philae Temple
Temple of Abydos:
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Valley of the Kings: tomb of Ramses VI
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Colossus of Memnon:
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Temple of Horus at Edfu:
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Hathor, goddess of fertility:
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Honestly the river cruise was probably my favourite part of Egypt. We saw SO much and it was all quite astounding.

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In summary, if you go to Egypt ALWAYS have a professional tour guide with you, and get out of Cairo after seeing the sights as soon as you can. Also do your Nile cruise on the Oberoi Philae as it and all the staff are just wonderful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

An African Adventure part 3 - West Coast

So our next stage of this epic holiday was an expedition cruise up the west coast of Africa. We travelled with Silversea and could not have been happier. Here is our ship, the Silver Cloud Expedition.

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Our jumping off point was Cape Town and after a day of sailing our first stop was Luderitz in Namibia. We visited the Number 7 sand dune:

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And then a town called Kolmanskop, which is an abandoned diamond mining town that the desert is slowly reclaiming. The last people left about 60 years ago and although the buildings are still standing, they are not what you'd call inhabitable.

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We had to stop on our way back to the ship to see the most famous plant in all of Namibia - the Welwitchia. Apparently they can live for 2,000 years and only ever grow two leaves (which then split into lots of strands so it looks like they have way more). They only grow in a very specific part of the country and no-one has been able to propagate them anywhere else in the world.

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Personally I think it looks like a wilted lettuce.

Our next stop was Walvis Bay where we visited a part of the desert known as the Moon Landscape. As you can see, it really does look like the surface of the moon, and not a single living thing exists there, just sand and rock.

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Day two in Walvis Bay we took a scenic flight over the Sossusvlei. This is an amazing desert landscape where there are red and white sand dunes, and never the two shall meet.

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They are separated by an underground river and as the sand gets slightly wet it becomes too heavy to cross the river, so the red and white parts never mix.

There are also a lot of ship wrecks along this part of the coast.

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Our next stop was Namibe in Angola. We visited a place called the Arch Lagoon, and none of the guides with us said that they had ever actually seen water in the lagoon before.

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Our next town was Lobito, and everywhere we went we had a police escort.

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We visited an old fort and some other historical places.

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Our final stop in Angola was the capital, Luanda. No foreigners had ever been allowed inside their brand new parliament house before so we felt very special. It's a lovely new building.

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We actually got to go into the chamber and sit in the seats where all the politicians sit. I did ask if I could sit in the President's seat but they said no. So Kendall and I pretended to be the leaders of the minority party instead.

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After departing Angola we spent three days sailing to St Helena, which is famous for being the final place Napoleon lived before his death, and also for being literally in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

Longwood House, where Napoleon spent his final years:

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The view from the top, with our ship looking tiny in the harbour:

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Next stop, after another two days of sailing, was Ascension Island. Before we arrived, we were informed by the harbour master that we would not be able to land on the island as their supply ship has been delayed and was arriving several hours before us. There was only room for one ship in the port and they thought getting food and fuel was more important than a bunch of tourists wandering around, which is fair enough. So we sailed around the island instead, and honestly I don't know that we missed much by not landing.

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Our next stop, after another three days of sailing, was Cote d'Ivoire. It was an very interesting country and I really don't think they get many tourists there. But the local village king in Abidjan gave us a traditional welcome with a ceremony, and then we happened to be outside a school when lunchtime arrived, so the kids were very excited to see us.

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Our final visit was to Takoradi in Ghana. We visited the local fishing village and market, which is a big part of the local economy there.

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In summary, in three weeks we visited seven countries and travelled 4,887 nautical miles. Silversea was wonderful and I would highly recommend them if you ever want to do some cruising.