Sky High in KL

We’re staying in a complex here in Kuala Lumpur that includes a Creativity Hub. It could be a shopping mall but good for them, there are several ‘shops’ where people display their artistic wares and crafts instead. In the foyer, we found a diorama, a detailed model of somewhere south of Melaka, I think.

Model Malaysia

The sky is a lovely shade of blue which adds to the authenticity.

KL Forest Eco Park gave us an opportunity to walk about outside for a bit. I lost count of the number of stairs. Come to think of it, I even lost count of the number of flights of stairs we had to climb in order to reach the canopy walk itself.

Boat lily (I think)

High up in the canopy, the heat was just as intense, despite the shade, but the noise from the city was slightly dampened. I can’t work out why it seems so loud in this city, more motorbikes, yes, but traffic is traffic.

Canopy walk and one of its towers
Typical cityscape seen from the canopy

After climbing all those stairs, it was a delight to discover that we didn’t have to backtrack and climb down. And neither did we we have to climb down at the other end. We exited the eco park at just the right place, very close to the Kuala Lumpur Tower.

KL Tower seen from the canopy

What a shame we won’t be here on April 21st. Every year, there’s a running race up KL Tower’s 2058 stairs. I’d be up for that. I conquered BT Tower’s 1000 steps a couple of years ago, no problem. (In the end, there were only 870, sorry but thanks if you sponsored me: we were all short-changed!)

A challenge that we’ll miss

We bought tickets for the highest possible observation deck, the Sky Deck. In a world first, Liesel got a senior ticket. By mistake, I hasten to add.

As an aside, usually in restaurants, the waiters take a moment to understand that we both want to order the same item. I don’t know if we have funny accents, or their English is nearly as bad as ours, or if it’s really unusual in Malaysia for two people in a party of two to both order the same thing. Lots of questioning, checking, double takes. We get what we ordered, but the ordering process is unnecessarily troublesome. Here, at KL Tower, surpringly, “one adult and one senior” was interpreted as “two seniors”. Much to Liesel’s chagrin and my delight!

There are four lifts in KL Tower, one of which was out of order, so we waited a while before being transported up 300 metres to the Sky Deck. In a lift with 21 other people. After the 54 seconds ascent, it was a relief to be able to breathe again.

The view over the city was good, just a bit hazy so hard to see the hills in the distance.

Petronas Twin Towers

I was surprised to see that the Petronas Twin Towers appeared to be just a little taller than the KL Tower itself.

Our tickets also included a Sky Box. I don’t know why they thought we needed a device to receive digital television broadcasts from the Astra satellite at 28.2°E, but that was just a misunderstanding. Here, the Sky Box is a glass box that overhangs the observation deck. You can walk on it, sit on it and have your photo taken on it. Nope. Palms are sweaty enough already, thanks very much.

Eeeek Sky Box

Another surprise as we walked around the Sky Deck, edging past not one but two Sky Boxes, was spotting another pair of Petronas Towers. Who knew?

Petronas Towers

Palms sweaty enough already, did I say? Imagine staying at Platinum, going for a swim, and getting out of the wrong side of the pool.

The palm-sweatingly placed Platinum pool

Back down on planet Earth, we found our way to St Mary’s Cathedral. It started off as a cute little wooden church, and it is still expanding. It’s not big nor highly decorated but we were entertained by the organist for a while, in the cool. I recognised the tune he was playing, but couldn’t quite remember who wrote it. Bach? Maybe. Definitely not Vengaboys, thanks, Shazam! The pipe organ was built for the church in 1895 by Henry Willis who also made the organ for St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the original Grand Organ of the Royal Albert Hall.

St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral

It was a short walk to Dataran Merdeka, Independence Square. We didn’t see it at its best, due to building works. But next to the square is an early example of Moghul architecture in Malaysia. Known as Sultan Abdul Samad Building, it now houses a couple of government ministries. But just along the road is the National Textile Museum and this was our next respite from the heat outside.

The magnificent Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Nicely decorated lampposts

We would love to be able to go for a long walk around the city, but we are, let’s be honest, wimps, and the heat is just too much. Added to which, every time you survive crossing the road is a bonus, just ridiculously stressful. But we enjoy museums, and this one especially is right up Liesel’s street.

Examples of Batik

We discovered how batik is done: there are many more stages than we thought. Not something you can easily knock up at home.

There was some lovely jewellery here too. Here’s a preview of Liesel’s birthday present.

Ear studs

Round gold earrings with a central star design and studded with roughly-cut colourless stones. They were worn by Malay and Nyonya women in Melaka during the 1940s.

Not convinced by the Malaysian remake of Doctor Who

The Grab app to grab a cab works really well and the drivers are all very skilled at negotiating the traffic, the motorbikes, the jay-walking visitors, ahem. But there’s a competition to see who can have the most impaired view through the windscreen.

Are we there yet? How would I know, I can’t see a thing!

Stickers plus religious artefacts plus mobile phone plus everyday dirt all add to the adventure.

The National Museum of Malaysia repeats a lot of the history we’ve seen elsewhere. I feel so proud that the British came along to save the locals from the clutches of Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch invaders. Independence Day in 1965 is still a cause for great celebration. Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

Grand entrance to the National Museum

What a lot of stairs to climb up to enter the museum. You think that’s bad enough? Wait until you see the stairs you have to walk up to access the disabled toilet!

Grand entrance to the disabled toilets

Pengkalan Kempas is near Port Dickson and is the source of these monoliths: carved granite, known as “sword” and “rudder”, found near the grave of a sheik who died in 1467.

Two carved granite monoliths

There were more royal seals here, and to pretend they’re older than they really are, the dates are given using the Islamic calendar. This is the seal of Sultan Omar Ibni Sultan Ahmed, 1286 AH.

Seal of authenticity

1286 AH is 1869 AD, more or less.

Kris handle from Bali

The 100-year old Balinese Kris is a dagger, a weapon, but the workmanship of the handle is stunning. The hilt is in the form of a squatting Hindu deity with a decorative copper ring at the base.

The ceramic plate has a colourful geometric design, definitely Islamic influence here.

Just like our Sunday best dinner service at home

Would I like a new pair of slippers for Christmas? Yes, if they’re as cute as these ones.

Comfy slippers

There’s a lot of history here in Malaysia, and as we discussed, Liesel and me, we’re so disappointed that none of this was taught us at school. Certainly my history lessons mainly involved the lives of the kings and queens of England. The East India Company was mentioned but only as a Great, British enterprise to be proud of. We were totally oblivious to other cultures, overseas, at that time.

So when we’re reading descriptions of the items on display, and reading stories, there are always references to people and places that are meaningless to us. The overall impression we have though, is that Chinese, Indians, Malays, all the various peoples in the region traded with each other, and all got along pretty well. Some people converted to Islam, some didn’t, there was no big falling out. Until the Europeans came along, maybe just to trade at first, but then to take over, to invade, to conquer.

It’s interesting to see how successfully Malaysia is managing, in its multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual ways. I’m sure there is an element of racism in some places, but it’s not as overt as it is in little England right now. Here’s funny thing: you have to read it.

Ancestral Origins of the Rulers of Melaka

So, Bat came from a cow’s vomit? I thought that was just Nigel Farage!

It’s time for Conundrum of the Day. The universal sign for a restaurant or a café seems to be an icon depicting a knife and fork.

Signs of the times

But in Malaysia, in a restaurant, you’re usually given a spoon and fork to eat with. I use the spoon as if it were a knife, to cut and to push the food. We sometimes do get a knife and fork, but rarely. And there was that one time when I was given a fork and fork by mistake. Strangely, we’ve never been offered chopsticks, not even in Chinese places. Explain that!

The Mid Valley Megamall is as big and as bad as it sounds. It’s a short distance from the museum but the cab took ages to fight its way through the traffic.

While inside the mall, we missed the rainstorm. But we did walk up and down, miles and miles of shops, even though we had no intention of buying anything. Nice to see a ToysЯUs and a Mothercare, even though supposedly, both have gone out of business.

I did look in the bookshop for a Slitherlink Puzzle book, to no avail. Meanwhile, Liesel was walking around the furniture shoppe testing out the chairs (quite right too).

Every now and then, we detected the slight stench of durian, not very strong, but we were surprised they were allowed to sell such things in a mega mall. Liesel wondered why I was taking so many photos inside a shopping arcade. Well, this portrait was specially requested, even though M&S Foodhall didn’t have anything we required.

Liesel and Marks & Spencer

But the other pictures can provide plenty of fuel the next time your favourite radio presenter asks you to build a person out of shops’ names.

The Body Parts Shoppes

Yes, I did make one of them up!

And then, very nearly a disaster. I received a message from the service provider telling me that I’d nearly used up all my allocation of data! Not only that, my phone was down to less than 20% charge. There was a very real possibility that I might not be able to Grab a cab to get home. Luckily, I squeezed out enough bandwidth and energy, and we didn’t have to walk all the way back to our residence.

But we did walk home from the vegetarian restaurant where we had a nice meal, apart from the mushrooms that were made from leather so not totally vegetarian at all.

There must be something strange in the food here. If you’re not bovvered by other people’s dreams, you are permitted to leave the room here and now.

I was thinking about riding my bike to school. I remembered doing so before (I never did in real life) avoiding the main road, the A3100, but riding a road parallel to it. (There isn’t one IRL.) But as I was about to set off, I realised that I would never get up Holloway Hill in Godalming on the old 3-speed postman’s bike. (Holloway Hill is long and steep and they’ve now installed handrails on the steepest part, IRL.) This was on a Thursday and I knew that Friday would be my last day of school so I parked the postman’s bike by the house over the road (from my childhood home) and caught the bus to school as usual.

The sense of relief on waking up almost brought tears to my eyes. No school, no postman’s bike, phew.

Wan Wan Coco Ful Baskit

Liesel and I went to the Cow’s Nest again for a coffee. We chatted with Nina: she told us about the edible sea snails the midnight torch-bearers were looking for last night. She told us about the 4-week drought and the dams that are becoming too dry.

We watched and listened to the storm roll in. One clap of thunder made me leap out of the seat, clutching my heart which I carefully reinserted into my chest.

It was good to watch the rain from inside. There was a brief power cut and so my second coffee was postponed.

Nobody in the pool when it’s raining – guess they don’t want to get wet

Again, I messed up the Slitherlink puzzle in the paper: I need more practice with these.

We were again joined by a couple of geckos for supper, but the peacock didn’t turn up this time. This is a terrific venue for families: we really enjoyed watching the children play. We especially enjoyed seeing the twins, each wearing one blue and one yellow shoe.

Liesel’s prediction that we wouldn’t leave this hotel resort at all for the whole weekend proved to be correct. We’d eaten at most of the venues here, avoiding the World Bank Group where possible. And every time we passed the sign, I read it as Cow’s Nest. It is of course Crow’s Nest, but with dubious typography.

Our final sunset at Port Dickson accompanied by cocktails

We were glad this was our final night when the new neighbours moved in. Lots of shouting late at night and early in the morning. A total, lairy wunch of bankers.

A useful tip on the puzzle page of the newspaper

The driver who took us to Kuala Lumpur was not at all chatty and we suspect he didn’t speak much English. So far, in all the cab rides, I’ve not heard one radio station that’s made me want to tune in at other times. Very similar feel to Britsh commercial stations, but some of the adverts are much more sexist than we’re now used to. Help your wife out by employing someone to clean the house!

The highway was littered with billboards, something I’d not really noticed before. But oh what excitement when we first saw the Petronas Towers in the distance.

Petronas Towers in the distance

Kuala Lumpur was our first proper capital city since Wellington. It’s a mix of old and new, tatty and shiny, very busy and very noisy.

We’re in a 23rd floor apartment and because it wasn’t ready when we arrived, we hung out in the local coffee bar, Jamaica Blue.

Wan Wan Coco Ful Baskit

We can’t seem to get away from these little sayings and mottos and homilies, all sound advice, no doubt, but I wonder why they’re so ubiquitous here in Malaysia?

We’ve moved in now, so we’re allowed to refer to the city as KL, like the locals do. According to the weather app, on arrival here it was 34°C (93°F) but it felt like 42°C (108°F), due to the humidity and just being in the city where the buildings were radiating heat too.

In the evening, we again watched a storm, this time from the safety of our apartment. The sky really did light up.

Sheet lightning

Our first KL breakfast was at Jamaica Blue, which is just a two minute walk from the gate. At least we can now use the gate, we have an electronic key. The first time we came in, we had to show ID to the security guy and we wondered whether we’d have to do that every time.

The Islamic Arts Museum of Malaysia was as fascinating and interesting as we’d hoped it would be. I like the geometric designs, the astronomical equipment, the calligraphy. Liesel likes the manuscripts and the textiles. The various old editions of the Qu’ran were illuminated just as beautifully and as intricately as our old, medieval Holy Bibles are.

It’s strange how things evolve: the Arabic script developed in different ways in different places, and in the end, Square Kufic looks just like a modern day QR code.

A selection of scripts

They wouldn’t let me take the dismantled astrolabe from the cabinet. I was just going to fix it for them, that’s all.

Astrolabe

But as least I have a picture. For a long time, we thought photography wasn’t allowed, but nobody else was being told off, so I joined in.

I tried to draw some of the patterns, but I really needed a ruler, compasses and maybe even cheat a bit with a protractor.

Patterns in windows

The domes. Oh wow, they were gorgeous. I had to lie down to look at them, so well designed and the decoration is so well executed.

Looking up into a dome

There were weapons on display, jewellery, fabrics, clothing, scale models of various mosques worldwide, even the Taj Mahal.

Small detail of very fine embroidery

Here’s a tip: if you ever come to Kuala Lumpur, visit the Islamic Arts Museum. You might bump into some strange characters, but it all adds to the fun.

This ancient warrior looks like Liesel

And even while we were outside waiting for the next cab, I just stood there mesmerised by this, possibly the most beautifully decorated pillar in the world. Magic.

Same tiles as our bathroom at home

In the evening, we walked to Tarma, an Iraqi street food restaurant, if there can be such a thing. We walked through a street market, we fought off several men trying to thrust their own menus into our hands. It was a bustling part of the city, that’s for sure.

You Can’t Stop When It’s Laffa Time

And what’s this? Oh no, another slogan on the wall! Not complaining though, the laffa, the Iraqi bread, was fabulous. As was the rest of the meal: Liesel says it’s the best one so far!

We walked back a different way, less busy, just as difficult to cross the roads. There are pedestrian crossings, few and far between, but the green man only gives you one or two seconds to cross the road, and the red stop lights don’t seem to apply to motorcycles anyway: mind your toes.

Illuminated KL Tower

We decided not to visit any of the night clubs, but this would have been my choice: it evokes memories of comatose old Father Jack suddenly jerking back to life, for some reason.

Eat, drink, man, woman

Yes, a wise decision to walk home. We could have chosen public transport but probably would have caught…

Lorong bus

It’s nearly the end of March but it’s also nearly the end of May, hooray! After Thatcher, I never thought we’d have a worse prime minister and we’ve just had two in a row. Waiting for the hattrick.

Birthday Weekend

For a few seconds when I woke up, I forgot it was my birthday. Then I remembered. And then I remembered where I was. And the feeling of excitement and well-being totally out-weighed any sense of dismay at being yet another year older.

Postman Liesel delivered two cards: thank you Helen and Adam, Martha, William, Jenny and Liam!

I enjoyed my birthday big bash bonanza breakfast buffet but I didn’t want to over-stuff myself. A massage was booked for 10am. I know: two massages within a few days! Happy birthday, me!

It was brilliant: she found all the usual suspects, pops and clicks in my muscles. The treatment included feet being washed and scrubbed, tea before and a pot of ginger tea afterwards, out on the balcony overlooking the sea. Wonderful.

There are a number of pools here at the hotel, and the biggest is for adults only. That’s where we spent most of the afternoon. Swimming, reading, napping. And repeat. Happy birthday, me!

Liesel in the pool

This was our way of life for the next few days. Big breakfast, short walk, pool time.

We heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, but no storm materialised. We chose in the end not to climb the coconut tree as I’d suggested in my Facebook status.

The unclimbed coconut tree

I spoke to Helen and to Martha on the phone, despite the best efforts of the iffy wiffi.

Summertime and the living is easy. This feels like a proper holiday, by the sea, relaxing by the pool, enjoying cocktails in the evening. I’m not sure I would enjoy this sort of break for more than a few days at a time, but it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for now. A nice break from hikes, museums, city life. Happy birthday, me!

After such a big breakfast, we felt no need for a substantial lunch and even our evening meals have not been that large.

Other entertainment in the pool is provided by the swallows that dive down for a quick dip. I went into the water with my phone, hoping for a good close-up photo, but sod’s law: this was when the largest group of people we’d ever seen chose to use the pool at the same time. Five of them. So, no swallow photo.

Lazybones, sitting in the Sun, how you gonna get your day’s work done?

I went for a walk along Riau Beach, the one closest to our room. It was the busiest beach we’ve seen for a long time: we now expect to have a beach to ourselves! All sorts of people here and all doing normal stuff, burying their dad in the sand, digging holes, paddling in the sea, making sand castles, having picnics.

Silhouetted sea-creature at sunset

As it was a couple of hours before sunset, I tried for an artistic shot and this silhouette is as good as I managed.

Selfie of the (birth)day (boy)

There were lots of holes on the beach, possibly made by those little crabs I saw the previous day. Very clever, hundreds of little balls of sand expelled and probably a complex warren underneath.

Holey sand, Batman

My leg is just to give an idea of scale! Plus, that’s my birthday treat for you: the sight of my lovely leg.

Me mind on fire, me soul on fire, feeling hot hot hot. But nicely hot, not so uncomfortably hot that I can’t think nor concentrate nor do anything physical.

Inflatable banana boats

Entertainment from the beach was provided by a woman singing in the distance and by groups of people falling off their banana boats as the waves came in.

I saw a pile of bright yellow mangoes and thought I’d indulge.

Not mangoes

Imagine my disappointment when I got close enough to see that in fact, it’s a rope of float buoys and not really edible.

So, a small evening meal, after cocktails of course, and there was room for dessert, the nearest we could find to a large slice of actual cake. Happy birthday, me!

Cake

In the middle of the night, when the tide was out, we saw a few people in the distance on the sand-flats, walking about with torches. We assume they were fishing for something very specific and nocturnal. But neither of us volunteered to go out and ask.

Hotter then a pepper sprout. But our room was air-conditioned and it really is much easier to sleep when it’s not too hot inside.

There is much less haze here than in Melaka too. The horizon is as it should be, a nice, sharp boundary between the sea and the sky.

Another big breakfast, another lounge by the pool, another distant rumble of thunder. We had coffee inside. Total excitement when Liesel knocked over her mango juice with the newspaper. It missed me, though (take note, Jyoti).

Liesel phoned her Mom and we found the wifi signal to be much more reliable outside, by the beach. Explain that, you technical people.

I went down to investigate the piles of sand along the waterfront.

Worms

Yes, worms, being dug up and later to be used as fish bait. Apparently, they’re expensive to buy in a shop.

In the afternoon, while I was busy attempting, and messing up, a new kind of puzzle in today’s newspaper, Liesel filmed the swallows.

She returned to our room while I continued with another puzzle (messed that one up too) and another swim. And while I was sitting there, minding my own business, there was a crash. A small coconut landed right by the pool. Followed closely by several pieces of bark.

Attacked by coconut tree

I was so glad I was wearing my brand new hard hat. Happy birthday, me!

I don’t know if there was a monkey up in the tree, but someone was taking photos of the goings-on up above.

Peacocks can count to 6. We had one sitting close to us while we ate dinner, and every few minutes it would shout/squawk six times, never five, never seven, always six. But he never did find his mate.

Other fellow diners included a couple of geckos playing peek-a-boo around a lamp.

Geckos in the restaurant

Still, I’d rather see them than what was outside our room: a dead cockroach.

All day I’d been trying a take a picture of a particular bird: dark, oily green in colour with piercing red eyes. Very timid, very wary of me and my camera. But I did get a bright red eye later on.

Red-eye gecko outside our room (yes, I used flash)

Other housemates include the birds that either live or at least spend a lot of time in the roof space above our bathroom. We hear their high-pitched calls and now we know the source of the noise, actually, it’s quite relaxing.

Spring has arrived back home but here it’s still definitely hotter then Hull, and it’s great.

As I write, it’s about 1:15pm, two days after my birthday. Liesel is having a massage while I’m sitting here, outside, in the so-called Author’s Recluse. Yes, I’m pretending to be an author. Or maybe I’m a recluse.

Recollect past moments in seclusion

Every few seconds, I have to blow an ant or a small spider off the keyboard. From behind, I can hear a cockerel and some other small birds. In the opposite direction, the call to dhuhr, midday prayer has just finished.

I’m under a shade so quite cool. And this is the terrible view I have.

The view from Author’s Recluse

Now and then, there’s a slight smoky smell, but not as strong nor as pungent as in Melaka. And the whiff from the petting zoo sometimes wafts this far too. But, this is great, there is no smoking anywhere at this hotel.

Bad news: later on, we did see a cigarette butt on the path.

Good news: the nighttime torchlight prowlers were looking for edible sea snails, according to Nina, today’s barista.

The only thing we missed on my birthday was joining the two million other people marching in London campaigning for a People’s Vote on whether or not the UK should leave the European Union. Now that we know what Brexit actually means (“Brexit means Brexit” was always bollocks, PM), let’s have a proper, informed decision, since the government have totally messed it all up.

I have signed the petition to Revoke Article 50 too. I was about number 170,000. As I write, there are over 5 million signatures. If you haven’t signed, here’s the link. Please sign even if you disagree with the petition, it’ll be alright, honest. (Another little lie for brexiters to fall for.)

A march and a petition: maybe futile gestures in the face of a PM desperate to cling on to her job and who puts the unity of her political party before the interests and well-being of the country as a whole, but someone’s protest, someone’s signature just might be the tipping point we need.

I apologise for a rare and brief political rant. Happy birthday, me!

Cameron Highlands

Just when you get used to one place, it’s time to move on. If this is what it’s like being on the run from the justice system, we won’t be committing an offence any time soon. Oh alright then. I apologise for any offence caused if, when I mention our next destination, Cameron Highlands, an image of probably our worst ever prime minister comes to mind. (There May be some competition, to be fair.)

For some reason, we had to be at Amanjaya Bus Terminal half an hour before the scheduled departure time. Jyoti had booked online, and she tried hard, but nobody wanted to give us actual physical tickets.

It was a long cab ride and the driver told us that there was a bus terminal much closer in Ipoh, but when you’re booking online, well in advance, from overseas, why would it even occur to you to check that you were travelling from the closest bus terminal to your destination?

Amanjaya is a very busy teminal and we had plenty of time to pass. I entertained myself by wandering around, intrigued by the not-yet-open retail opportunities on the upper floor.

The ladies in the various ticket booths were on the fine borderline between amusement and annoyance with their tuneless ululations, sometimes solo but more often in discord and disharmony. Sirens, attracting unwary ticket-buyers, only tuneless. Unfortunately, the official announcements were incomprehensible too, too much echo-cho-cho in the vast cavern of a bus terminal.

I forked out RM3 for a chair massage. It felt like a small man was hiding amongst the upholstery running a rolling pin up and down my spine and around the shoulder blades. Not unpleasant but a good reminder that there will always be some things a human can do much better than a robot.

The bus ride from Ipoh to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands followed a long and winding road up and up into the hills. It was hard to read for too long, so many sudden turns as well as bumps in the road. It was however easy to nod off for literally seconds at a time. We climbed up very high, my ears could tell, and they passed on the information to me by frequently popping. Ipoh is about 22 metres above sea level, Tanah Rata 1440.

During the ride, the phone signal was intermittent but as we passed through one small town, I received a plethora of messages. One from my sister in Christchurch said “Don’t worry, we’re ok”. Oh no, I thought, not another earthquake. No, worse. A gunman had murdered worshippers in two different mosques and car bombs had been found and defused. New Zealand is the last place you’d expect to see this sort of terrorist attack, so disappointing and upsetting. The evil that is so-called “white supremacy” just continues to spread, aided and abetted by our own governments and the extreme right-wing press.

We’ve been living in a multi-cultural environment for the last few weeks, and it’s been great: everyone gets along and the only problem I’ve had is being able to find vegetarian food.

On arrival at Tanah Rata, we hailed a teksi which took us an embarrassingly short distance to our new home, a hostel called Father’s Guesthouse.

Welcome to Father’s Guesthouse

We were in a different universe here, where time runs backwards. It was much cooler than at nearly sea level so we anticipated a few good nights’ sleep. Little did we know!

Jyoti and I walked down the road to look for a coffee bar while Liesel had a rest.

Poinsettia

A poinsettia is not just for Christmas. Left to its own devices outdoors, it will grow into a tree.

We found a nice place, The Mossy Forest Café, had scones and coffee, and took a slice of cake back for Liesel.

The hostel seems to be mainly occupied by a strange breed of creature: young people. There are signs telling us to smoke outside and that the place for parties is in the town centre.

Pretty in purple

Jyoti knows the Cameron Highlands from over 40 years ago and is a bit saddened, if not surprised, by the amount of development during that time. There’s a lot of litter around, mainly water bottles, which is always a sad thing to see. We walked up a steep hill to Gurdwara Sahib.

Gurdwara Sahib

Jyoti spoke to a Sikh gentleman there in Klingon, I couldn’t understand a word; actually it was probably Hindi, come to think of it. We went in, a first for me, inside a Sikh place of worship and education. We took our shoes off and if there had been water in the footbath, we would have washed our feet too. I kept my hat on and Jyoti borrowed a scarf to cover her head.

Sikh shrine

The shrine was colourful but the place as a whole wasn’t as ostentaciously decorated as other religious sites we’ve visited.

Jyoti was very pleased with this poster that nicely summarises Sikh Heritage.

Fascinating Sikh Heritage

Unicorns live in the jungle around here, and even if we don’t see a real, live one, I was delighted to see this chap on somebody’s roof.

Unicorn

Tanah Rata is a busy little town and so far we’ve found a grand total of one pedestrian crossing. It’s always a challenge crossing the roads here, so we’re grateful for the one-way streets where we should need to look in one direction only before running across.

Very small papaya-like tree

We found a place for our evening meal, having convinced ourselves that the turtles in the tank weren’t on the menu. The restaurant was decorated with clogs and a lot of memorabilia relating to the Dutch national football team, so lots of orange.

Turtles in a fish tank

It was a delightfully short walk back to our hostel and a good night’s sleep. Well, poor old Liesel still has a cough, it finally caught up with her again after we thought we’d left it behind in Fiji. The coughing woke up the local cockerel who then decided to wake up everyone else. No problem, we had to be up early to join the tour we’d booked.

The bus picked us up and then collected 15 passengers from other hotels on the way to our first stop: The Butterfly Garden. Rajesh, the driver, was also our guide today, and he told us a little about each of the places we visited.

We have seen the odd butterfly flitting from tree to tree but this was a good place to see some close up. Other bugs were available too.

Rajah Brooke’s birdwing

Rajah Brooke’s birdwing is the national butterfly of Malaysia. There were many here in the garden, sitting still, posing, unlike their cousins outside in the wild. They and other butterflies were even resting on the path that we walked on although, surprisingly, we only saw one squished under someone’s foot.

We were delighted to find an amorous pair of rhinoceros beetles. It reminds me of the picture on the back of Paul McCartney’s Ram album cover.

Beetles

Of course, they might just be good friends. The golden beetle looks artificial, but it was real, I’m sure. Either that, or fantastically detailed and finely tuned animatronics.

Golden beetle
Giant stag beetle

Talking about things being artificial, it’s hard to believe these plants are genuine too, so bright, so vivid.

Yellow and red
Almost turquoise

Some creatures blend into their natural background really well, but when they’re out in the open, you’d think they come from another planet or time, they’re so alien.

Leaf bug
Stick insect

There are plenty of other creatures here, scorpions, frogs, tree snakes, more butterflies and all are native to Malaysia, so it’ll be interesting to see how many we spot in real life, out in the wild.

You’ve been framed

We chose not to buy a collection of dead bugs, pretty as they are. I hope they all died a natural death, after a short and happy life, but who knows?

The Boh Tea Plantation is one of the biggest and still owned by a Scottish family. We were now over 1600 m above sea level. No ear popping today, though.

On the way in, we passed a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Christian chapel all located very close to each other, to cater for plantation workers from all faiths. That’s how it should be done.

Boh doesn’t stand for “Best of Highlands” as some believe. It’s named after a mountain in China, Bohea, and Boh means “precious”. Which led me to wonder: Bic Runga has a sister named Boh. She also has a song called Precious Things. I wonder if the song was named after her sister?

Taken through a dirty bus window, we saw this couple taking a selfie on the edge of a very narrow road. A Darwin Award in the making, perhaps.

Just one step back…

In the old days, tea was plucked by hand. Nowadays, they use machines to speed up the process. Workers are paid 26 sen (cents) per kilo: that’s about 5p per kilo.

After the short factory tour, I joined the queue for a quick cuppa.

Very welcome cup of tea

The colour was gorgeous and the flavour wonderful. Unfortunately, we were pressed for time, the tea was hot, so I had to slurp. If anyone had asked, I would have lied that I was a professional tea-taster.

The view of the Sungai Palas Tea Centre was what I’d expected the whole Cameron Highlands to look like.

Tea plantation

And this is certainly what Jyoti remembers from her time here in the 1970s. Development, progress…

It was nice and warm, we were all in shirtsleeves. But this young lady was dressed up for the Winter equinoctial celebrations.

Wrap up warm

Tea leaves go through a number of processes before they’re ready to be turned into a nice cup of tea at home. So it was a surprise to find, during our quick excursion into one of the fields just by the road, that there was that familiar aroma of a fresh brew.

A quick wander in the field

It was Saturday and as had been predicted, the traffic became more and more dense as the day wore on.

Traffic

We never did find out what the Time Tunnel Museum was all about. Maybe we’ll find a time tunnel somewhere and pay a visit last year.

The bus driver was brilliant, very competent, taking the bus along narrow, winding tracks, letting cars and even buses pass by on the other side when there wasn’t really any room.

The view from the driver’s seat

Rose Valley must be the kitsch capital of Cameron Highlands. Apparently it is known as the Rose Garden of Malaysia.

Mickey or Minnie?

It’s always a joy to see Mickey and Minnie of course, but this must be one of the worst copyright infringements ever.

Yellow fountain or golden shower?

The main attraction here is of course the roses and other flowers. There were signs telling us now to pluck them. I’m going to use that from now on. Stop plucking your nose, Martha!

Purple roses for the bunga-bunga party?
More flowers not for plucking

Some of the statuettes had lost their heads although somehow, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs all retained theirs.

Manneken Pis or golden showerer?

Cultural appropriation is a big talking point these days, and done well, it can enhance everyone’s experience. Sometimes though, you think, whoever had that idea, somebody else should have quashed it.

Big yellow shoe

Outside the rose garden there was a fruit market. 101 kinds of fruit but no apples. We bought oranges instead. No strawberries though because the next stop on our tour was the Royal Berry Strawberry Park. There, Jyoti and I took a small basket and went to pluck our own strawberries. We were not supposed allowed to eat free samples.

Strawberry fields forever
Strawberries, fresh strawberries

Here, they’re grown hydroponically, each plant has its own water supply. You cut the stems which are at waist height, no stooping and grovelling at ground level. We enjoyed a strawberry milkshake too plus chocolate-dipped strawberries. The fact that we’d not had time for breakfast was now forgotten.

A big bee greeted us at Ee Feng Gu Apiary.

Big bee (not real)

We sampled three kinds of honey: one made by stinging bees (sweet), one made by smaller, non-stinging bees (slightly smokey) and one made by bees from further down the hills (less sweet).

Liesel didn’t join me but I enjoyed my walk through the beehives.

Bee hives
Bees (real)

There were a few bees around but it wasn’t as buzzy as I’d anticipated. To accommodate this disappointment, they’ve installed some impostors.

A healthy grown up busy-busy bee

One thing I didn’t expect to see at the bottom of the hill was a small shrine housing Buddha.

Buddha
Yellow flute

We stopped briefly at Sam Poh Temple, where, unusually, we were allowed to use our cameras inside.

Sam Poh temple

One day, I hope to translate the script on this structure.

Outside the temple

All these years of meditating and chanting have been for nought. The words I was presented with on the first day turn out to be slightly wrong. No wonder I’m such a mess.

Om mani padme hum – surely?
Jyoti contemplating life, the universe and everything
Anuddha Buddha

On returning to our present home town of Tanah Rata, we walked down to what has become our default café for a couple of days: The Mossy Forest. We’d driven close to the actual Mossy Forest earlier on but the coffee bar that bears its name is as close as we’ll get this time.

Our friends Una, Phil and Kiran are currently on holiday in Hawaii. Jyoti and Liesel chose to speak to Una from the café. Luckily, I was the only other customer at that point so all the embarrassment fell on me.

Liesel was very disappointed with her brownie: they’d warmed it up without even asking, and it was rock hard, like a biscuit. On the way out, Liesel passed on a friendly comment.

The cockerel/rooster announced the dawning of a new day. Only it wasn’t dawn. It was three o’flippin’ clock in the morning. It cock-a-doodle-dooed for the next four hours more or less continuously. A couple of pauses lulled us into a false sense of security. The call to prayer is usually a welcome, soothing sound, but at 5.30, we just needed some sleep!

We walked down the road looking for a shop that might sell rooster extermination kits but alas, there were none. So we had breakfast instead to boost our energy levels for the day’s exertions.

The staff in The Mossy Forest remembered us from yesterday and by way of apology and recompense, they didn’t charge us for the coffee we had with our breakfast. It was a mistake to heat the brownie for so long, thanks for letting them know. At one point, we had four staff members serving us. Now I know how the Queen feels much of the time.

Rajen met us outside our hostel as agreed at 9.00. His driver took us to the start of our walk in a 4×4 heavy with the smell of petrol. The plan was for Rajen to take us on a hike through the jungle and for a moment there, I was sure at least one of us would acquire a fuel-sniffing-induced headache.

Liesel, Jyoti, Rajen

He was a very good guide with some fascinating stories. He told us about the British army being here in the 1960s, fighting the communists. 700 soldiers were stationed in this very spot. I wondered if (my late first wife) Sarah’s father had been here: I know he was in Malaya at some point.

The population of Tanah Rata has increased from 2000 to 45,000 in the last fifty years: Jyoti was right about the amount of development here.

The start of our walk

There are several Walks in the area, some tougher and longer than others. Our main track today would be Walk No 3.

We could expect to see deers, monkeys, birds, snakes, insects, monkeys, unicorns. Well, that didn’t happen and in the case of the snakes, maybe just as well.

The first view: pure jungle

The path was narrow, hard to avoid brushing against the plants but there was nothing to worry about unduly. Walking along on the flat was quite technical, lots of tree roots to trip over. But the climbs up and down really were a challenge. The “steps” are just tree roots holding some loose earth in place. Some of the steps were very high. We also had to clamber over some fallen trees and, when descending, we had to hold on to trees, lianas, vines, always checking it wasn’t a snake hanging there. Rajen did provide us each with a stick to help and I found mine most useful for gauging the depth of a step down: I’ve always been useless at climbing down.

On one occasion today, I was so busy concentrating on carefully stepping through the roots that I bashed my head on a branch across the path. Fortunately, the moss growing on this branch was nature’s very own crash pad.

Yep, still on track

We walked across a couple of streams too, none of us slipped in off the stepping stones.

Put your left foot there

There are no tigers in this area any more. All gone mainly for Chinese aphrodisiac reasons. Rajen didn’t have much positive to say about the Chinese at all. They don’t care about nature or the environment, they just want to over-develop to make lots of money. The previous, corrupt Malaysian government did nothing to prevent over-development in some places.

Pitcher plant

The pitcher plant didn’t eat much today: we saw very few insects. No mosquitoes was good. Lack of butterflies was disappointing. Although Jyoti did spot this caterpillar lurking in the bushes.

Caterpillar from Mars

When deciding which walk to do, we’d opted for “medium” difficulty: not too steep for too long.

Stairway to Heaven

I think we got it right. Rajen and Jyoti were able to keep a dialogue going as they walked, I couldn’t. I frequently stopped to catch my breath under the guise of taking a photo.

Baby bananas

Everything was green apart from the leaf litter so it was always good to see a splash of colour.

Inedible ginger plant

There are 120 species of fern in this jungle, some edible, most not, some have to be cooked, some have to eaten before they unfurl. We didn’t sample any on this occasion.

Big fern

Aha, a rustle in the bushes, what’s that? A rare member of Homo sapiens out for a solo walk in the jungle, which we all thought was very brave. I’m sure “brave” was the word we agreed upon.

She changed her mind about her chosen route, turned round and overtook us a few minutes later. We also came upon a party of three as we rested at a picnic table, rest area, a totally unexpected sight.

Time for a breather

We all had something to eat and were careful to not even leave behind a slither of orange peel. Later, we reached a slight clearing from where we could look down on a cabbage farm.

Cabbage farm way down down

I knew we were high but being totally surrounded by dense bush, I hadn’t fully appreciated just how far we’d climbed.

We descended into Mardi, a small village just along the road from Tanah Rata but it did feel a bit rude to be walking through someone’s farm on the way.

Little yellow courgettes

Although this hike can be described as just a long series of trip hazards, it was very enjoyable. We were out for about five hours altogether and afterwards we all agreed that we felt nicely tired from the exertion, not just exhausted due to the heat and humidity.

But what an anticlimax now to be walking along the road. With traffic. I bid farewell to my faithful old stick: maybe someone will pick it up and use it again one day.

Big vegetables (not real)

After a siesta, of course, we re-visited our favourite café and they presented us with a fresh, warmed, brownie, which was perfect. Still very apologetic! Yes, we did order and pay for other things, but what a nice gesture.

Liesel and I returned to our room while Jyoti briefly visited the local market. She wasn’t there long, though, because the smell of fresh fish was so overpowering.

Melbourne to Manly

A year ago in London, Liesel visited a physiotherapist by the name of Emma. Emma’s partner is also a trained PT, and he is Australian. Under some peculiar, twisted distortion and interpretation of Theresa May’s “hostile environment for illegal immigrants”, his work visa was revoked, and he was forced to move back to Australia. And naturally, Emma went back with him. So Britain has lost two fully trained physiotherapists for no good reason.

They are now living and working in Melbourne. Liesel tracked Emma down and made an appointment to visit her

Saturday sunrise

So, the three of us took a tram to South Melbourne. While Liesel was being poked and prodded, Jyoti and I had a quick walk, to get some steps in and, yes, of course, we had a coffee at one of Melbourne’s famed coffee shops.

Top End Barbering

I always like a good pun when it comes to a shop name and hairdressers and barbers are particularly good at it.

Every now and then, we come across a shop named after a David Bowie song or album. Well, here, we not only had the album, the neighbouring shop was named after one of the songs on that album, albeit abbreviated so as not to offend your nan. Queen Bitch. No, not your nan, that’s the name of the Bowie song.

Hunky Dory

We caught the tram back to the iconic Flinders Street Station. We didn’t go into the pub over the road that my Dad had told me about: he’d been there after the war, in the late 1940s!

Flinders Street Station

We crossed the road to Federation Square, to spend time indoors again.I had been here once before, when the geometrically and architecturally interesting buildings had first opened, in 2002.

Federation Square

I visited Australia in November 2002 specifically to see the Total Eclipse of the Sun. It was a trip that Sarah and I hoped to make together but she died eighteen months earlier. I was in two minds about whether or not to make the trip on my own, but now, I am immensely glad and grateful that so many people encouraged me to go for it. I had a good time, but it was emotional too. A Total Eclipse, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road and on through South Australia to Kings Canyon, Uluru, Alice Aprings, Ghan to Adelaide. A great trip, but the detailed blog remains to be written! And now, back to the present…

“The Clock” is a 24-hour long video comprised of thousands of clips from films and TV programmes. As it proceeds, the shots of clocks in the various clips accurately reflect the time now, in the real world. The joins were seamless, and although there was no single storyline to follow, it was a very interesting 90 minutes that we spent watching it (minus a short nap, each). Where else would you see Ricky Gervais and Joan Crawford together? Snippets from films not seen for years, decades even. Christian Marclay is responsible for this colossal labour of love, but surely he must have employed many researchers? Yes, we thought about returning later in the day to see a different segment, but that will have to wait until next time.

ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is based here too. Yesterday, Chris had suggested visiting this collection of film and TV related exhibits, and the zoetrope in particular.

Zoetrope

As it spins, a strobe light gives the illusion that the individual models are moving up and down.

One display celebrated Australian film and TV. The selection was OK but I was disappointed that The Paul Hogan Show was not represented. My flat mates and I used to watch that on late night TV with a tube of Fosters, and it was the funniest show evah!

I did enjoy watching an 18-year old Kylie Minogue with sister Dannii perfoming Sisters are Doing it for Themselves!

The whole place was very reminiscent of the old MOMI, Museum of the Moving Image, in London, but this was much more interactive.

The piano from the 1993 film, “The Piano” was here, but I wasn’t allowed to play it. I’m not sure Michael Nyman would have been allowed to touch it, to be fair.

The piano from The Piano

Replicas were made for the film. A light one, to carry up the hill. And a heavy steel one to film sinking in the sea.

There is an Aussie TV fantasy drama that I now want to watch: Cleverman. They employed Weta Studios to design the special effects, and the aboriginal mythology underlying the story looks fascinating.

Hairy man from Cleverman

And now for the next edition of a favourite irregular item: Toilet Talk.

Saving water

I saw this sign in the toilets and I thought, if I pee twice, I could save eight litres of water. Also, if I’m walking out in the woods and need to go behind a bush, when Liesel rolls her eyes I can just tell her that I am saving 4 litres of water! All this on the day that Network Rail have decided to abolish the six shilling charge for using the public toilets at Waterloo Station. Six shillings, 30p, Liesel will confirm I’ve been whingeing about this charge for years.

Bollards! It’s a shame that these large blocks of concrete are required to protect buildings in our cities, but I do like the fact that someone solved the Rubik’s Cube here.

Big cubes of concrete

We visited the Aboriginal Cultural Centre because it was time once again to shake our heads in disbelief and despair, weep for the past and feel absolute shame at what our British ancestors are responsible for. Australia is the only commonwealth country still without a treaty with its original people. Small pox, massacres, kidnappings, stealing their land, oh it’s a horrible story.

Diprotodon

This chap cheered us up. Diprotodon was the largest marsupial ever to live, about the size of a rhinoceros and is thought to have died out about 45,000 years ago. So chances are, it did live alongside humans for a period. Two metres tall, three metres long, but what a cute, cheeky face.

The other day we found a Chocolaterie and Ice Creamerie. Today we passed by a Fish and Chipperie. But our destination on Lygon Street was Milk the Cow Licenced Fromagerie. It was just along the road from Reading’s Bookerie, where I’d met Barry Humphries, as mentioned before.

Milk the Cow is a combined cheeserie and winerie and actually, my Cider Flight was fab, delicious even.

Four cheeses, four crackers, four ciders for Mick

Four slices of different cheese each accompanied by a specially selected cider. With crackers and bread. Very nicerie, very tasterie.

We passed many, many other restauranteries on the walk home, some with very long queues of people. Our ice creams were just the right size: one scoop was enough, a second would have melted far too quickly.

The worst thing about Melbourne? It’s a great city, it feels a bit like London in places, with its nooks and crannies and alleyways and arcades. But, we have walked through more clouds of cigarette smoke here in the last couple of days than we have during the previous several weeks. There are non-smoking areas, but there are probably more smokers per capita here than in any other city we’ve visited.

Now it’s time to say farewell to Victoria – the place to be. Goodbye to Victoria – the education state. And cheerio to Victoria – the only state named after a Kinks song. Two of those three slogans appear on car registration number plates, or regos.

In the morning, before the Sun came up, we were greeted by the Moon and Venus.

Sunday sunrise with Moon and Venus

Several shots were taken of which, this, the first, is probably the best. An easy distraction from the task of packing. The only extra item I had to squeeze into my pack was the apologetic bottle of wine from a couple of nights ago.

At about 11pm, we heard a very loud, humungous crash. We checked on Jyoti, she hadn’t fallen through or out of bed and everything else seemed to be OK in our little apartment.

When we left the building in the morning though, we had to limbo dance under the Police Crimescene tape around the entrance and the neighbouring passage. We could see no evidence of a car crash or any crime. We’ve found nothing in the news so can only be grateful we weren’t delayed for interrogation.

We took a tram, then a Skybus to the airport. The flight to Sydney was uneventful apart from the disappointment of not being offered any tea or a snack. Don’t sit in row 22!

It was a joy to be collected by Helen again and although it was warm here, it wasn’t as hot as Melbourne had been. And Manly looks magnificent as it always does when the Sun’s out.

Most of the afternoon was taken up with watching some fighting on TV. Adam’s a big fan of UFC. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, is better/worse/bloodier than boxing, takes place in an octagonal ring, usually over five 5-minute rounds of jabs, kicks, holds, bars, parries, jumps, punches, with elbows, knees, feet, fists all involved. I don’t think this will ever become my favourite sport.

Despite discouragement, I went for a walk in Manly, keeping to the shady side of the street. I watched people playing and/or sunbathing on the beaches.

Manly Beach

Helen walked down the road and we met at Fish Bowl where we collected bowls of rice plus veg plus sauce for our dinner. At the grand old age of 31, I still take twice as long to finish a rice-based meal as everyone else. Ridiculous.

We watched “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the new film, on TV, which we found very enjoyable. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Everett portrayed, back at “Capital Radio when it was good” which I am trying to get everyone to adopt as its official name. And of course now, we just want to hear all those old Queen albums in full again, especially A Night at the Opera.

Monday in Manly was mainly medical matters, refilling prescriptions (me), typhoid and hepatitis A jabs (both), dental check-up and clean (both). My plans for a massage made the cutting-room floor: no need to stir up typhoid and hep A juices unnecessarily.

So here I am once again, in Manly Library, typing away in the corner, this time sitting next to (inter alia) books by Keith Waterhouse, who I used to enjoy reading, gulp, decades ago.

Keith Waterhouse books

Meanwhile, Helen and Liesel have gone to a shopping mall to do some shopping. I missed out there. (Didn’t really.)

The results are in, they have been independently verified and certified and all the judges agree. Shine on You Crazy Diamond (pts 1-7) was the final track we heard in the car. Partway through the Ss, nowhere near the Zs. We’ll pick up this alphabetical trawl through our music on another occasion. Meanwhile, Liesel and I have decided we do need a much wider range of music, by a larger selection of artistes. We need to find a way to balance out the discrepancy in volume between loud and soft songs. And we need a random shuffle that is truly random, that doesn’t discriminate against certain people or certain tracks or even some whole albums.

Oops sorry, I usually warn uninterested viewers that this “Music News” is about to appear. But I didn’t this time. If only there were some way to go back in time and fix it.

Two Walks, Two Dips in the Sea

I didn’t make it, but Jyoti was up early today to watch the sunrise. She joined in with all the activities on offer, as well as a few of her own invention. Balancing on one foot without falling over is a skill we should all adopt.

The main event today was the walk up to North Head. The three of us set off hoping to reach the end and to arrive at the Quarantine Station before it became too hot.

On the path down to Collins Beach, we saw warnings about 1080 poison and ‘soft jaw traps’ being present in an effort to eradicate foxes. Not very nice for the foxes, but who are the vermin who brought them to Australia in the first place?

There were just a couple of people on the beach as we walked by and up the hill again, past the Australian Institute of Police Management and on to the Barracks Project.

Possibly the only bandicoot we’ll see

We walked on through the moving War Memorial area to Fairfax Lookout which looks towards South Head over the entrance to Sydney Harbour from the Tasman Sea.

Jyoti and Liesel walking towards Sydney

In the distance, you can see Sydney’s skyline, including Sydney Tower where we were to venture later on. (Oops, spoiler alert.)

I’m glad I’m no longer a postman and really glad I’m not nine feet tall. As a postie, one of the hazards of the job was walking face-first into spiders’ webs, carefully wrought overnight, across paths to people’s front doors. Here, in the heathland, the spiders make their webs higher than our heads, but it’s still a bit worrying walking underneath, you never know whether one of those gigantic arachnids might drop down your neck.

Just one of many big spiders just hanging around

Jyoti was heard to say something along the lines of “I won’t be going for a walk in the woods”, because of the spiders.

We were on the lookout for lizards too, but no luck there.

North Head view
Sydney viewed from North Head

After lunch, accompanied by a turkey, we walked down to the Quarantine Station. Jyoti and I went for a walk along the beach and on hearing the siren call, I ripped off my clothes and plunged into the briney sea to cool off. We looked at the shells on the beach, the barnacles and the limpets on the tidal rocks. Realising the tide was coming in, I recovered my clothing from the secluded rock and we went back to rejoin Liesel.

Oh to be in quarantine

The Q Station itself is very interesting, and as the poem shows, humour didn’t totally desert people struck down by horrendous diseases.

While waiting for the ferry, we had a drink in the café where I was horrified to see that they serve alcohol to mynas.

Myna on the mooch

We enjoyed the Fast Ferry ride to Circular Quay but I was horrified to see the slow ferry fart a large cloud of black smoke.

The Famous Manly Ferry

SailGP launched over two days here in Sydney Harbour. Six international teams, including GB and Australia compete in identical supercharged F50 catamarans. They can exceed 50 knots. While the race is on, we mortals on workaday ferries have to slow down to 6 knots. Which is great when you’re not in a hurry and want to get some photos! Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t really know what was going on so photos of the racing boats will have to wait until later. (Oops, spoiler alert.)

Our new boat

We gawped at The Explorer of the Seas, docked in Circular Quay with its 3000+ passengers and scientists on board. Even though it was only one stop, we caught a train to be closer to Sydney Tower.

Model inside Sydney Tower

I last visited this building in 1986, with Sarah and 2-year old Jenny, when it was known as Centrepoint. Then, we were amazed that we could see the airport in the distance. From the viewing deck today, though, I couldn’t see the airport either because the Sun was too bright or because Sydney has literally grown, mainly upwards, in 33 years.

View from Sydney Tower
View of and from Sydney Tower

I won’t be trying Betty’s Burgers any time soon, I’d be worried about the ingredients, and not just the meat.

Betty’s Burgers and … what?

In the evening, we met up with Helen and Adam at Mex and Co, a restaurant that we’d been to before, overlooking Manly Beach.

The following day’s long walk was from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach, along the east coast, in the full glare of the Sun.

Coogee Beach
Bali Memorial at Coogee Beach

This fascinating, intricate sculpture is a memorial to the 88 Australians killed in the Bali bombing of 2002.

Clovelly Beach’s clear water

There are several beaches along this walk, all gorgeous, all tempting, the water was clear, but we held off until we reached Bronte Beach. Here, there’s a small ‘pool’ separated from the main thrust of the sea by well-placed rocks.

Bronte Beach

Jyoti and I jumped in for a quick, refreshing dip. What I hadn’t anticipated though was that the water was so shallow, my knees would graze the rocks below. We walked to the next refreshment opportunity where, to remove the taste of sea water, I indulged in a chocolate milkshake.

We walked through Waverley Cemetery and mourned the loss of so many people at such a young age. Most of the graves are over 100 years old but the most recent is from only a couple of years ago.

Occasionally, the path approaches a cliff edge and one of us was brave/daft enough to venture that little bit closer to the edge.

Jyoti living life on the edge

And finally, round the corner, we saw Bondi Beach in the distance.

Bondi Beach, a welcome sight

Adam had recommended a place to eat. I had no ID so I wasn’t allowed in. L&J had theirs, they got in and had a lovely salad. I’m not looking for sympathy, but in the first place I went to, the staff looked up and continued to chat with each other. The next one thought the idea of takeaway coffee was infra dig. But I did eventually find coffee and a biscuit.

We’d travelled by ferry and bus to Coogee and we returned by bus and ferry.

In the harbour, the SailGP races were taking place and again, the ferries had to slow right down.

China and GB catamarans
Australia and France cats

Helen is Manly’s top hairdresser and she offered to give me a much-needed trim. As usual, it was the perfect haircut and I am very happy with my hair. My offer to return the favour was declined.

The Australian mangoes were described by Jyoti as being aphrodisiac while Liesel suggested that they should ideally be eaten in the bath, naked. (It’s a long story.)

This was our final evening in Manly, for the time being, and as the weather was so good, we had a barbecue down by Manly Cove beach. Helen prepared all the food and Adam barbecued the meat, corn on the cob and veggie sausages, thereby gaining credit for all the work, as is the way with bbqs.

Adam looking for his head under the barbie
Helen, Jyoti, Adam, Mick, Liesel

We enjoyed watching the Sun set, the sky change colour and as it got darker, we visitors were surprised to see bats flying back to the tree we were under, that being their roost for the night.

Sunset, what a stunner
Looking up at the bat tree
Gotta be quick to catch a bat!

While sitting there, leaves and twigs fell from the tree and Liesel especially was pleased that (a) they all missed her and (b) it wasn’t bird deposit, something she has a magnetic attraction for.

Wide Sky for Anna

Back at the flat, we were treated to Amarula, a cream liqueur from South Africa made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree. It was very tasty, very more-ish.

A perfect end to our week in Manly, thank you for your hospitality, Helen and Adam. And congrats again, Adam, on your exciting new job! Cheers!!

One night here, while unable to drift off to sleep, I calculated that on October 30 last year, I was exactly twice as old as Helen. I need to check my mental arithmetic of course, but while that’s an exciting revelation, I felt sad that I hadn’t realised at the time!

A pair of Wellingtons

We spent two days in the capital. One bus driver tried to rip us off but other than that, it’s been a fantastic, positive experience!

I told Liesel that I’d had something for breakfast that she hadn’t. “What’s that?” “A double-yolker.” “So did I!” said Liesel. What are the chances of two double-yolks in the same box of locally produced eggs? Maybe there’s another yet to be discovered.

Double yolk

The bus took us to within a few minutes of The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Lots of Aotearoa New Zealand history and artefacts of course. So it made sense that we made a beeline for the Terracotta Warriors, Guardians of Immortality exhibition up on level 4. We missed this when it was on in Liverpool and it was worth waiting for. Chinese art, science and technology were so advanced. They knew about chrome-plating 2000 years before it was invented in the west.

2200-year old chrome-plated arrow tips

The pottery fishes may have held stones, possibly children’s toys.

Two pottery fishes

These are not ancient Chinese CDs, but jade discs, circular because that’s the shape they imagined heaven to be: they were placed on the bodies of the dead to ensure immortality.

Two jade discs to preserve immortality

As the UK teeters on the edge of a cliff, about to leave the EU with all the advantages it has to offer, the unification of China struck a chord. The aims were very similar to that of a united Europe: common standards making it much easier to trade.

Unifying an Empire

I think most of us visitors gasped in awe when we reached the room with the Terracotta Warriors. Each one is unique, possibly representing one real person. Flecks of pigment have been found, suggesting that they were all painted at first, the skin being flesh-coloured. It would be interesting to see one repainted, or at least a mock-up.

Armoured military officer
Two chariot horses
Kneeling archer
Unarmoured soldier
The ensemble
Great detail

What’s got four legs and flies? A dead horse! The museum is home to the skeleton of Phar Lap, a very famous racehorse from nearly 100 years ago. I can’t really blame this nag for my Dad’s losses at the betting shop, it was even before his time.

Phar Lap skeleton

The history of Maori culture pretty much agreed with what the museum in Auckland told us: some inter-tribal warfare but much more conflict when white people turned up and ruined everything.

How can you top a dead horse? With a life size model of a blue whale’s heart, of course.

Blue whale heart (replica)

Wellington’s harbour is deep but even so, there are places where you can, if you so choose, jump into the water from a great height and, if you survive, tell your mates about it.

Young jumpers
He didn’t jump, on account of being a bronze statue

In fact, the walk around the museum outside was interesting too. The ‘bush walk’ is necessarily short, being in the middle of a city, but very interesting just the same. Plus, it provided some shelter from Wellington’s famous wind which was up today. We encountered such things as a cave network, moa bones, fake glow worms, pretend stratified layers of rock and local plants.

More bones, moa bones

We took the cable car up the hill for a quick walk in the Botanic Gardens.

Looking towards the city from the top of the cable car ride

It was a quicker and shorter walk than anticipated because we got ‘sidetracked’ and paid a visit to the Space Place at Carter Observatory. It was indoors, out of the wind and I was able to glue down the old toupée again. But it was an interesting place. They are rightly very proud of New Zealand’s contributions to astronomy.

Thomas King Observatory

We walked around the gardens for a short while, enjoying great views over the city. There is an exceptional blend of native bush, exotic trees, plant collections and stunning floral displays, all holding on by their roots and fingernails in the gale.

Tree hanging on
An array of colour

Back down in the city centre, we looked for somewhere to eat. I thought this item, sculpture, work of art was intriguing.

Something very science fiction-y

I walked round to find a plaque telling me about it and the artist. Imagine the disappointment when, at the far end, signs on doors told the me that these were, in fact, disabled toilets.

We found a good place to eat but here’s a tip: if you’re going to wear a red gingham shirt, don’t dine at a place where the staff are also wearing red gingham shirts!

How embarrassing!

Our other entertainment was provided by three sparrows outside fighting over a piece of pizza crust. None of them could fly off with it but I think they all tried. The show ended when a seagull swooped down and stole it.

And then on our final walk home from the bus stop, we saw this unusual flower in someone’s front garden.

Black flowers (succulents?)

We’re staying in the Newtown area which is like a little hippy village. I walked straight back into the 1970s when I came across these posters.

War is Over
Why have boring bollards when you can have fern bollards?

I managed to avoid the shoe-shopping expedition that Liesel went on (which was successful, by the way), but we later met up for lunch and a visit to the Wellington Museum. Again, too much to see in one go and we were kicked out at closing time.

Before that though, we read a sequence of short stories about Wellington, one for every year of the 20th century.

What’s got four legs and flies? You’ve forgotten already? Well, the 1956 story described the demise of the Clydesdale horses formerly used to pull the milk floats.

Rural Retirement or the Knacker’s Yard?

We wandered around the harbour front again before going home.

Oh, look, yarn-bombing by the sea.

Yarn-bombs

Haha, look, very funny toilet signs.

I’m bursting, I can’t wait

And look, there are several of these wooden structures in the area and this one was very comfortable to lie on, in an attempt to ease the crick in the back after two days of plodding slowly around museums.

Something to lie on

And finally, here’s Liesel holding up a metal ball in an attempt to create an eclipse of the Sun.

Nearly total eclipse of the Sun