Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Brunei

What a treat Brunei has been so far, a lovely community of people who are so welcoming to this visitor. The school Debbie teaches at is a community within itself. I got to be parent help on a trip to the Oil and Gas Discovery Centre. What a great day out, seeing so much of the countryside as we went almost to the southern border. The kids were great, a multicultural mix of kids who get on so well together and enjoyed the chance to engage with the activities at the OGDC.

A swim was in order after the busy day so we went to the pilots club pool. What a great facility and the location of the swimming sports today. I had planned to wander there after breakfast but decided that a restful morning searching for somewhere to live in Wellington was the best idea.

Last night we dined at a friends house, a group of teachers talking teaching while enjoying a kiwi dinner. What fun it was and I realised just how much I have missed the like minded ness that comes from talking teaching with people who have trained in the same way as me, from my own country, getting the idioms and terms that are peculiar to New Zealand.

Our conversations made me realise that I am actually ready to go and enjoy the education system of my own country for a while. To get back in touch with what's happening on the ground, the reality. I know there will be challenges, I know that I'm also looking forward to some of the home comforts I've been missing lately.

This evening we are heading to the RB Yacht Club for dinner and some more socialising. Promises to be fun. I'm really struggling with not being able to load photos here. It makes me disinclined to write. I now realise how much of my inspiration here comes from the photos I take along the way, the picture sharing a thousand words.

I did it! One from Facebook! Debbie and I at the beach of the Empire Hotel. Yes, I did get to dip my toe in the South China Sea. Happy days!


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Relaxing

I'm interested in how well, I've been sleeping on this trip. I'm not the best sleeper, I sleep lightly and prefer my own bed with my own pillow so this is a bonus for me. The slow transition of time changes has meant I'm not feeling the fug that is jet lag. Although I arrived in Singapore late on Tuesday, I was on Singapore time by the end of Wednesday, a four hour difference and without using my melatonin.

I just feel so relaxed, no work headaches to keep me awake, no problems to solve at 3am, lots of people to catch up with, wanders though lovely places and downtime to read and surf. Perfect. Living a bit more day to day. There is plenty still to organise for Wellington, a new job and a different lifestyle. A place to live is a prority. I've found a few that might work, apartment living for a bit then maybe a proper house with a small garden. A place where the kids will come and stay.

My freight has arrived in NZ, a pile of boxes in my mothers living room. There is a box to come from Al Ain with bits and pieces like some gifts, a work wardrobe and some home stuff I couldn't resist at Global Village. Like my big shopping basket and my Turkish plates. My suitcase was a surprising 26 kg, surprising because I posted so much. Not surprising because I did manage to buy a few extra work clothes in Dubai. I will have to do a cull, maybe post a few more things from here, to get it down to 23kg for my onwards flights.

I'm loving spending time with Francesca also known as Frankie. She's a gorgeous 14 month old with lots of energy. She is so responsive and plays up to the camera, enjoying looking at the play back of the "bubba" photos. It never gets old with her. Capturing her expressions as she plays and engages. We did attempt a family photo shoot in the park this morning, maybe this evening will work better. We shall see.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Singapore

It's been a while since I was last in Singapore, about 10 years surprisingly. It was so good to get off the plane here, usually that's just the end of the first of three legs back to New Zealand. I haven't had much time to explore yet, just a quick walk in the lovely botanic gardens with Callie and Frankie. They are the reason I'm here. It's also nice to be back in humid tropical heat that is very similar to Cayman.

I really enjoyed being back in the UAE, catching up on friends and their happenings. I even got a little bit of shopping in. I needed work clothes for my new job, I'm just hoping the things I bought will be suitable. I also managed to pick up a few nice things for my new place, when I finally get one. That's a job I need to get onto, Wellington seems to have plenty of rental properties. I just need to find something that's good for me.

Callie and I are heading out to lunch soon then for another wander through the gardens to the children's garden where Frankie loves to play. I've been really bad at writing, intermittent Internet and too much else going on I guess. I also find it tough not being able to post my photos. Kim tells me it can be done, I've not worked out how with my camera. I suspect the files are too big for this little machine. Maybe I could read the instructions? That might be a little too easy!

I will get my Mac repaired or replaced once I'm settled again, no point having yet another piece of technology to carry while I'm on the road. I am also going to send Fossil a photo of how much I'm managing to fit in my new bag. The security folks take a lot of time checking it out when it goes through the X-ray machine. It's a little heavy at times too. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Back in the UAE

Wasn't that a song once? I'm loving being back in Al Ain, it feels like home. Like it always did. I was excited to see Raukura waiting for me, dedication as it was around 4.30am! We've been out and about and today Laura and I are hitting the Rotana pool for some sun and social time. Internet is a struggle, that's okay. There will be time to catch up on the stories that are developing. At some stage.

Athens was fantastic, the apartment restful and the places I got to visit were amazing. As we're the people. I will write more and hopefully be able to upload some photos soon. There's sun to catch now and maybe, just maybe, one of the Rotanas famous Margaritas. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Out and about in Athens

Note to self, if you arrive somewhere late in the evening, make sure you have either eaten or have food to eat. Last night was not a stellar example of looking after myself. I must eat or I get grumpy, a fact of life for me. When it's at night, I don't sleep well. So this morning I woke up after hoovering anything vaguely edible during the night, and headed out and about.

First stop breakfast. A yummy omelet with cheese and tomato and an espresso. Not a bad one either. I managed to knock over my water with my giant bag, sigh. The lovely waiter got me a new glass and helped me clean up. I'm not sure they had ever seen anyone devour food like I did, without taking a breath.

I wandered up the pedestrian street and found some peaches to buy and eat on the way. People were helpful and I found my way past some ancient wonders up the acropolis. There were not too many people in the square where I ate, they were all up top. Throngs of them. The 12 euro we all paid must go a long way to helping this massive restoration project.

The day warmed up and I enjoyed my wander around, catching snippets from the various tour groups. There were many different languages spoken, even some Aussie and New Zealandish. I took plenty of photos and got a bit excited when I found that my card reader fitted in the adapter I bought with my iPod. That's as far as I got, it seems that there is a problem with the compatibility.

I miss my Mac, would love to add photos here but alas, it may only be word for a while. I did take a pic on this thing so will see if I can make it look okay enough to upload. I'm a bit fussy about that. I arrived back at the apartment for my afternoon siesta and got some time relaxing in the sun, with my book, overlooking the city. It's a tough life.

I have booked a trip out to the islands tomorrow so have an early start. I wandered out to find the meeting place and discovered what down town Athens was all about. Cafes, mad traffic, people purposefully shopping while others take photos of all they see, blankets with good for sale line the footpath, men chatting to each other. Antiques. There are treats around every corner, surprising old buildings with the commerce of today around them, leaving space for the heritage of this place.

There are many similarities with Istanbul here, hardly surprising given their shared histories. One of my favourite books, Bird Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres is set in a small village in Turkey and  tells a very human story with engaging characters alongside the historical and political events that have shaped these two nations. A read I highly recommend.

PS Please forgive the many mistakes in this post. I'm still learning to drive the iPad and haven't yet learned how to scroll through long posts to proof read. I actually wrote this last night totally seething with frustration as I tried to reread and add bits. Maybe I can't do that so need to write shorter ones? Well I would if I could post photos. It seems I can't even do that from ones I took with the iPad, sigh. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Athens

Well, here I am in Athens. I was last here in 2004 after a bus trip from Istanbul, although sleeping at the airport on a short stop over doesn't really count as a visit. So far so good, I made it from the airport to the apartment easily. And what an amazing apartment. The view from this rooftop is fantastic and photos must follow.

It was hard leaving Di, dropping her to check in in a rush without a proper goodbye. A bit stressful getting to the airport, the car checked in, complaining about the non GPS charging charger point, the excessive cost of them filling the tank with petrol when I was perfectly capable of doing so and all that check in go to the gate and through security stuff that goes with flying. All while towing my rather large bag.

All's well that ends well, we did get a proper goodbye at gate 26 before I headed for the Athens gate and just chilled for a bit. We had the best time, lots of adventures in our excessively long journey through five countries. Much of it was whistle stop, a checking out to see where we might like to spend more time. There were many highlights, the last our stay in the hills above Lake Como. a definite revisit. The journey a big part of the adventure. I love driving, Di was an excellent passenger as we negotiated our way.

The GPS running out of power just before we arrived, when the flag was in sight and final few streets to be negotiated, was interesting. It not working in tunnels last night caused some major stress and an extra long journey. Flying to Athens was a good idea, I'm not sure if I could have negotiated the traffic here without my co-pilot.

The flight here passed quickly, time spent chatting with a lovely Egyptian couple about Egypt and the  current and past troubles there as well as the religious politics out in the world. Two very well informed and well traveled people whose company was much appreciated. They were heading to Santorini then back to Europe. We plan to keep in touch, just in case I do actually get to Egypt one day.

I'm looking forward to some exploring tomorrow, if I can get myself off the roof terrace outside my door. I suspect it just might be sunny and warm tomorrow, something I'm looking forward to.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Tired!

I'm one of those people who say, she'll be right, we'll get there sometime. A little bit ma te wa, all in good time. When others raised their eyebrows a little about the trip Di and I are doing, I took that as approval, she'll be right. Maybe, perhaps, just in small, small part, it was a little ambitious in places.

This evening we sit in a small village, well I'm assuming its small because its very dark outside so I really can't say I've seen it as yet, on the side of Lake Como. Our Airbnb in Bellano is lovely, our host wonderful. We talked when we were a little on the lost side and she came to greet us as we arrived, leading us to a car park up a steep driveway, much like the one in Christchurch. I'm not the best when I'm hungry and Laura found us some cheese, pasta, tomato pasta sauce, bread and salad, just what I needed. We already had a bottle of red, as we do.

So a feast fit for kings, the Internet and a comfy apartment. All is well in my world. Oh, the rest of the day. Not content with being lost in Venice on my last trip there, Di (who had never been) and I wandered into the maze and headed for the Rialto bridge and San Marco. Along with many others it seems. The three or so cruise ships in the harbour should have given us an idea of what was to come.

The light was perfect for taking photos, a grey day with some drizzle and a glow that is difficult to describe. A quick glance at my photos on Di's computer showed some great shots. Some will follow after I get this loading them onto the iPad sorted. We did so well, making it to the sights without getting too pressured by the amount of people, then we hit San Marco's. It was packed with people on board walks above the water that was all over the piazza. It was difficult to see anything, walking to the gondola park on the other side was impossible so we set off back to the car.

We almost made it without getting lost, turned around in the maze that is Venice. Almost, but not quite. That was until the loveliest lady stopped to guide us, without us asking. Di and I are sure Auntie Lesley (mum) has been looking over us and that she just may have sent this lady of around the age she would have been now when we needed her. We were heading in the right direction, after a few miss turns, so we found the bus and our car easily after a quick espresso.Talk about exhausted and there was still almost 3 hours of driving ahead. And that was without getting lost in the tunnels.

All's well that ends well and it wouldn't be well if I wasn't sitting here in Bellano with a full puku and a cup of Earl Grey in hand. It's Di's and my last night together for a while and I know that I will miss this cousin of mine. It's usually a two year or so break between our contact, we may just have to make do with Skype and emails for a while. I will miss our adventures and mis adventures, we are the best of travel mates.

When one is stressed the other takes over, one of us can read maps the other takes care of the music, entertaining stories and the photography lessons. So it's Milan Malpensa tomorrow afternoon and then on to Antwerp and Athens from there, separate ways but not for too long I'm sure.

Hanging out in Venice
.


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Budapest

What a treat Budapest was. A beautiful city with lovely friendly people, the most lovely was Jennifer who helped us find the food and drink we needed. As well as lessons in Hungarian wine and food. Really amazing wine after the Croatian wine, that's another story. Jennifer is half Hungarian half English and has recently returned to her home city. She speaks fluent Hungarian which is such a bonus to us kiwi chicks who struggle to say hello and thank you in either Croatian or Hungarian.
She took us to two excellent restaurants, paving the way by charming the waiters.

Our apartment was another Airbnb success. A very large 2 bedroom apartment right behind the opera house, just off Andrassey. The high ceilings made it feel even more spacious and it opened onto an internal courtyard. If I could find one like that in Wellington I'd be very happy. Jennifer showed us some of the sights, the ruin pubs were a highlight. Some clever person decided that the derelict old apartment blocks and factory buildings in District VII could be reborn as pubs. They have been very successful with  the one we visited voted one of the best bar in the world, quite some achievement.

The ruin pubs are a bit grungy with the original rooms of the apartment buildings outfitted as private spaces within the whole and the art installations are very different. As Di commented, it was a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. The first one we went to had a rabbit installation running for the wall right up onto the ceiling. The owls were amazing too. Our Friday evening at Simple (not quite the Hungarian spelling) was really interesting. It was packed with people, many of them part of stag parties from the UK, Manchester was well represented, interesting lads who were very keen for us to join them partying.

We declined with much amusement and enjoyed a shisha while people watching and chatting. We finally wandered home after an entertaining night out around midnight. I'm not sure Di and I would have gone there on our own, thanks to Jennifer for showing us the night life of Budapest. The day life was also interesting, hunger and sore feet making the choice of a on off city tour bus a good one. We sat up top in the open buffeted by a very cold wind. It was freezing out, late autumn bringing a promise of winters chill. Despite being rugged up, we were grateful for the stops where we could get some sun.

I will write more about the day out and about, including photos, when I can figure out how to upload these onto my new iPod. I bought the photo kit, just need to get the right cable for my camera. Today my computer withdrawals led me to Saturn in Vienna and a new iPod so I have internet for the rest of my trip. Essential for me. We are now in Vienna, just for a short stop, tomorrow it's back to Trieste. 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Oh no!

I'm a little depressed this evening, writing on Di's computer. It's been a great day out and about in Budapest but my morning didn't begin well with a blue screen on my Mac. The verdict from the young man at the Mac shop, it will take 3 days to check it out and it's most probably dead. He looked really sad, not quite as sad as I felt. My constant companion for the last few years no longer alive, all my things locked in the hard drive. No Internet, sigh.

So there may be a gap in posts. I'm thinking of buying an iPad, that's tomorrow's decision.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Rijeka

Today was lovely in Rijeka, a nice sunny day spent wandering along the Korso, people watching and taking photos. Finding food was interesting. Last night we changed tables and bars/cafes without ordering looking for food until we found the Italian. We thought that was odd and today we discovered that most of the cafes along the Korso don't serve food, only drinks. The people watching must have been amused at the pantomime. 

Two tourists in this quite non touristy town seating themselves at a table, poring over the menu while having a big discussion that includes some hand waving then, glancing around to make sure they're not being observed, slipping away to the next place. Seriously, we did this so many times before we found out the secret. Only coffee, beer/wine/drinkies, cakes, dolce and gelato at the tables on the Korso. Food is in other places, including the best market, something we were a bit slow to learn. 

We also found out that from the generation of around 30 year olds and below, the kids here learn English from the 4th grade. That just might be why the wait staff, people on the street we asked for directions and our host speak such good English. It also adds just a little to my embarrassment. So most of those watching us table hop could understand our conversation? It seems so. Maybe I won't come back for a while, until they've forgotten the two crazy ladies with the funny English accents looking for food. 

We sat sunning ourselves in a small park and enjoying the grapes I bought at the market. The elderly lady on the stall tricked me into trying her grapes, actually it didn't too much tricking, and I ended up with a kilo of these sweet and juicy green grapes. I wanted a few, she made it up to a kilo, at only 2 euro a kilo that was okay with me. I got to enjoy them as I walked up the 500 steps to Trsat. That's another story for another day, for now here are some photos from the market. 

A colourful stall

And it's colourful owner

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A new stamp

For a new month. Welcome October, with love from Croatia. I've been traveling now since 5 August, that's almost two months, and I've had some great adventures. Today was one out of the bag; a wander around Verona, a drive to Croatia through Slovenia and a wander and lovely meal in Rijeka. The meal took a while to find, most of the places were on to dessert with lots of cakes and hot chocolates, while we just wanted something savory and a wine. Asking the locals is really the best way and luckily, as our host shared, most speak English.

Di and I got a surprise at the border to Croatia. There was a border post, we had to stop at the barrier. At first I thought it was another toll booth, but no the unsmiling man wanted my passport. I was hot so had taken off my jumper and was only wearing a singlet, more under than over wear. My jeans were undone and almost fell down as I exited the car to find my passport which was in the boot (trunk) of the car. We'd been driving for a while, the barrier and border guards were somehow unexpected.

I smiled in my New Zealand way, he didn't smile back. He muttered as he looked through my passport, back to me, then thumped a stamp on it and sent me to the next window. The lady there looked too then waved us on, phew. It was a little scary, a little worrying, thank goodness I didn't offer him money as I would at a toll booth! We actually gained money at one toll booth, someone forgot 5 euros of their change. A small windfall that helped with the 17 euros at the next one.

The drive from Verona was uneventful, Italy hasn't been a difficult place to drive so far. The towns were okay to navigate once the satnav was charged again and the highways are just like highways in other places. In Solvenia the scenery changed as we climbed through the foothills, through little towns on a narrowish two way road. The view in places was amazing, over the trees to the sea beyond. Being stuck behind a slow moving truck had it's bonuses, although some who were frustrated passed in a way I wouldn't have. Dropping into Rijeka was a treat too, a wonderful view looking to the south west along the Istrian peninsular. Worthy of a drive in the next couple of days.

Croatia has been part of the EU since July so a very recent addition. I swapped some money into Kuna and it seems to go a long way. Tomorrow it's a wander with the cameras to the waterfront and up the 500 steps to Trsat where there is much to see as well as a fantastic view according to our host Samanta. Samanta was a wonderful person to meet after a long day, cheerful and informative and a talented artist. Her work in in the apartment, I would like one of the pieces to be in mine. The apartment is great, another Airbnb success. It has two bedrooms, all that's needed to be very comfortable and is only a short walk to the sights of the old town and beyond.

Every piazza needs a lion, Verona

The shot I went back for, Verona

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Verona!

No photos as yet because it was a bit dark when we finally got to wander and search for food. An uneventful trip to Milan, an excellent coffee and off to the rental car place we went. We had a prepaid voucher. Easy. We didn't count on the Chinese folks in front of us, a very large group renting three cars and having a bit of a time with the language barrier and the finances. Frustration levels were high on both sides, the queue was getting longer. Yes, when we got to the front it was easy and off we raced to overtake the group, they walked fast despite a few younger children, to pick up the keys and the car. No way we wanted to be behind them again.

The drive to Verona was easy, right up until the satnav decided to run out of battery. We were in the centre of the old city, near the apartment. How hard can it be? A while later, after chatting with some locals and some students, we found a car park and met with a lovely young man who pulled out his iPhone, found where we needed to be and even wandered along with us. Making sure we were okay before he slipped quietly away. His mum had taught him the best of manners, as had all the others who helped us.

We had arrived at exactly the right place and Giovanni found us. Once again a lovely Airbnb apartment, on piano 4 so above the noise of the street and so close to the centro piazza and Juliette's place. I parked the car, Giovanni took his life in his hands and drove with me, the poor man put his hand up to make a car stop for me. We had already had the discussion about which side of the road I was used to driving on.

This evening Di and I wandered down for dinner at the most gorgeous restaurant. The pasta at Locandina Cappello was divine, tasty and simple. Being a little uncool, I asked for a spritz Aperol. It was well past apperativo time, oh well. I did redeem myself with a nice red with dinner. One Di and I are going to check out in the bottle shops tomorrow. The great thing about having a car is that one can do just that.

Tomorrow it's photo time then we hit the road for Rijeka in Croatia. Hopefully our magic show us the way tool works for the whole journey. One good thing, my clean out of the stuff in my bag worked, I'm down to just under 17kgs. Much easier to manage although I might just need to do some shopping to fill it a bit.