Monday, October 30, 2006

Ride that donkey

Day 11
Today is the day of the hot air balloon ride. I feel a bit apprehensive, but the worse thing is the hour or so of sleep I've had. We go without Shady to the launch site. Our balloon basket is enormous, with capacity for 32 ( we only have 30 on board, gulp). The basket is divided into four sections carrying 5 people each, with two 3s at each end. I'm at the end. The implication of this, I later realise, is that I'm not sheltered from the burner. My goodness, we were toasted. We were dressed warmly as it was cold before sunrise, but a few blasts on the gas and my tan was developing nicely! The view was pretty, with sunrise, but not as good as I thought it would be. We could see desert, mountains, and the Nile, but it was slightly hazy, and, well, not what I was expecting. Given the choice of that or three hours sleep, in hindsight… Oh well!

When we landed we bused over to meet Shady and those who didn't do the ride. Now it was Donkey Time! We were each matched up with a donkey. Mike had chosed to attempt to ride "Wanker", who apparently has a rather unstable temperament, and has been responsible for an incident in the past where he tried to mount another girl's donkey, then covered the girl, not the donkey, in, well, let's not go into details! I get pushtouy or something, who is apparently one of the quicker ones. They seem so small, and I worry I'm going to squash her when I mount! Anyway, up and the moment you're on top, it charges off down the road, as cars speed by in both directions. Hilarious! We're supposed to be able to control the speed by digging our heels into their stomach to speed up, and pulling on the small rein to slow down. Neither of these works for me, in fact pulling on the rope merely triggers my girl to turn round and look at me with an angry look! Won't do that again, sorry!

After a while I start to get the hang of it. I'm near the front of the pack, and there's a bit of rivalry going on with Mike and Carolyn as to who is the leader. Problem is that the donkey's tend to settle down into just following the one in front, it's actually very hard to get them to overtake. Plus the one in front will generally speed up if it hears the one behind going faster. In the end though, my superior donkeymanship wins the day, and I am first up to the Valley of the Kings.

This valley is where Kings started burying themselves instead of the Pyramids. The idea was the Pyramids were beacons to grave robbers. This valley is relatively remote, and the tombs are all deep underground. Tutenkamun's tomb is here, and was found later (and not robbed) because it was actually buried underneath another tomb. Now they have started to dig underneath the other entrances, and only 18 weeks ago found something new and interesting which they are still digging out. Archeology in action! By the end, despite Adel's interesting explanations, I think everyone was somewhat templed out. We headed back to a hotel we had for the day for some quiet time before the train back to Cairo overnight. I had a back massage for half an hour for 99E£, which was sooo nice. I think I dozed off towards the end. Then up by the rooftop pool for some snoozing (and snoring) in the sunshine. Train ride back didn't sleep as well, as I had a bit of a sore throat and blocked nose from the excesses, so kept waking myself up snoring! Doh!

Fancy Dress

Day 10
We had arrived at Luxor late the previous night, but were staying on the boat for one more night. This was the one morning when we had a lie in, so it was up for lunch (loud clanging noise along the corridor made sure we all knew it was lunchtime!). In the afternoon, we bused it to Karnak Temple. Erm. No reports. Another temple! Actully there were a few interesting things I came away with. Firstly is - how did they build these huge stone structures? They had a kind of scaffolding, which is low-grade mud bricks piled up and removed when it's built. At this temple, because it's unfinished, they have left these structures in place, allowing us to work this out. Also, how do they build these enormous columns? There were unfinished columns here too, and they are effectively a big pile of uneven large stones on top of each other. Only afterwards do they smooth the edges down to all be in line. Finally, Cleopatra's Needle in London came from here. I hadn't realised it's an original obelisk.

Anyway, the evening was time for the Fancy Dress Party. We had been out to a local bazaar to buy some Egyptian clothes. Didn't spend much - mine was 30E£, about £3. For that I received a rather dirty long dressy thing, and a skullcap. The guy I bought it from told me that it was just a bit of dust on the front, and I should bring it back if it didn't wash out. Well it didn't, as it was where the material hadn't been dyed properly. But as he and I both knew, our boat was sailing and there was no way I would be able to bring it back! Git! It's funny walking through the markets, the different tactics they have to latch on to people. The cry of "Welcome to Alaska" is a popular one, which apparently arose from the over-vigorous air-conditioning one finds everywhere (I used this on a local to good effect in the Tex Mex on the final evening!). They also try to guess where one is from - "G'day mate, you from Ozzztraaalia?" "Captain Cook"! I guess the impressive thing is that they have the ability to do this in practically every major language in the world - Japanese, Dutch, French, Spanish, I heard all of these in my time in Egypt. The boat we joined at Aswan previously had a large group of Spanish on board, so all of the touts were helling "Hola, come estas?" etc at us as we went up and down.

So all of us dressed up, and hit the lounge bar. Most people had made the effort to dress up, although with the group of Indians it wasn't clear whether it was fancy dress or their normal gear! The evening started with some games. First up, belly dancing for the girls. One girl picked from every group, and they had to dance individually in front of everyone, and then get scored based on clapping! I wouldn't have liked to do that myself without a large number of beers!

After the party we went aboard to a local shisha café, still dressed in our gear (Shady said it wouldn't be insulting for us to wear it!) before heading back to the boat, up on deck, and chatting away until 3:30am. Worth noting that when the boat was sailing it was quite windy up on deck, and one would need a jumper or blanket to avoid feeling cold with the sun down. During the day on the other hand, the breeze was essential. Would have been roasting without it.

I had left my mosquito repellent in Cairo, and there were plenty of them about, so I was wearing my anti-mozzy wrist and ankle bands that Eunjeong gave me. Unfortunately these became a source of ridicule, particularly as I would be bitten four inches away from them. Anyway, by this stage of the tour, I'm proud to say that I had picked up the nickname Mozzyman! And of course, I couldn't give in and stop wearing them. So mozzy bands were worn for the rest of the trip! Go Mozzyman, go!

Temples more temples

Day 9

Ah ha, up nice and early, and time to visit Kolkumbo (I need to check all these names on Google before posting, but probably will forget!!) Temple just by where we were docked. In fact the "bedouin tent group" had seen it lit up the previous night. Points of note are that this temple was built by Ptolemy?, in a mixed Greco-Egyptian style, and there was evidence of a surgery, with waiting room games etc. Also had a Gregorian calendar explanation in hieroglypics, and a Persian Lion, with apparently is a mystery as there was no communication with Persia for another several hundred years. According to Shady, Egyptologists are in denial that it even exists!

Down the river and pulled up to see Edfu Temple. This has some particularly well preserved friezes, and has a large outer wall around the edge. Noticed that here, as well as many of the other temples, particular faces had been systematically scratched out. Why? The answer is that over the years, supporters of rival Gods have wanted to eliminate rival deities, so have scrubbed them from existence. Also Christians have had a hand, and children playing. All theories I suppose. One does get the impression that nothing is certain in our knowledge of Ancient Egypt. In each temple we have had a different guide, and they have often contradicted each other, and there's a lot of "oh that was recently disproven" etc. All theories...

After Edfu we travelled through a lock in the Nile. Was quite exciting, especially when we pulled up waiting to go through, and the bow of the ship hung right over the road next to the water! Quite a sight.. We finished the evening up on deck chatting until 5:30am. Really nice, although a bit strange hearing all the call-to-prayers going off at 4:30am or thereabouts.

The boat sails...

Day 8

Ugh! Horribly early start - 3:15am! For a bus to Abu Simbel. The reason we are going is a rather tasty temple, built by Rameses II. Interestingly, our bus travels in a huge convoy along with about 30 others. Apparently in '97 there was a rather nasty incident somewhere near Luxor where a coach was attacked and 40 German tourists were shot. As a result, tourists are only allowed to travel between towns (yes for the whole country!) in police-escorts. Our guide for the day, Michael, was quite reluctant to talk about all of this, and was rather drawing our attention to the benefits of the escort, i.e. free breakdown recovery etc. Anyway, there are two escorted trips a day, and we were on the early one. Given the temperatures later on, this probably made sense. Abu Simbel [GPS: 22.33717N, 31.62198E] is only about 40km North of Sudan, and the most Southerly point we reach on our trip. It sits by Lake Nasser.

There are two temples. The smaller one is dedicated to, erm, Rameses' Queen.. erm... and this one I visited first. Despite the outside, the innards I found fairly disappointing - it was small, very humid, very crowded and I didn't find the hieroglyphics particularly noteworthy. Over to the larger temple, which made up for the small one. This temple has four enormous figures on the outside representing Gods and the King. Inside there is a large pillared chamber (the pillars again are statues of gods), then at the end, an inner temple designed such that one two days of the year in February and October, the light will shine right into the temple illuminating three of the four gods (the fourth is the God of Darkness and therefore shouldn't be lit). To line up this enormous temple in this way shows incredible design and learning. More amusing is that this temple, like Philae, was affected by the Nile dams and was moved, and in the moving they have apparently screwed up this system. It was quite suprising that it wasn't until after the dam was built and the area being flooded that the Egyptian Goverment decided to act and move the temple.

Templed up, we piled on to the bus for the uneventful journey home. Went past a camel market at some point - apparently most camels provide meat rather than what one traditionally assumes, i.e. bumpy rides. Into town we were bused straight to our new cruise boat, the Ra I. I paid $30 to get my own room for the three nights, which I was definitely glad of, as the rooms are rather cosy, and the bathrooms even more so! Initially my view wasn't great, as we had a boat docked immediately adjacent to us. The room had two single beds, a TV, fridge, wardrobe, and double doors opening out on to the water (with railings of course). The bathroom was sink, toilet and a tiny shower thing. On the "ground" floor there was a restaurant. Floor above us a lounge/bar, then the top floor obviously top-deck, complete with bar, pool, jacuzzi, small gym and lots of loungers. The alcohol was all relatively expensive on board, so Shady's tip was to smuggle booze on from the local "bottle shop" in town, conveniently directly across the road from our boat's moorings. This of course was against the rules, and if caught he was going to deny all knowledge!

In the afternoon we had a ride on a felucca boat, just around the island in the river at Aswan, as the sun set. Was beautiful, and very peaceful. At one point a young Egyptian boy paddled up in a home-made canoe, singing songs until some baksheesh got rid of him! We could see the tomb of Aga Khan up on the hillside - he was told to come here by his Doctors when his health was deterioritating, as the climate is so good.

Next several booze trips were made back and forth with backpacks just before we sailed at 8:30pm. I picked up 3 bottles of Egyptian red wine, 12 cans of local "Egyptian" Stella beer, and lots of water. Incidentally, Egyptian "Stella" is apparently the country's oldest registered brand - I think it dates from the late 1800s. I can only assume that it was a rip off of Belgian Stella long before copy protection laws were established, and know it's too ingrained to be changed. We sailed for a few hours before pulling into Kolkumbo? at 11:30pm. Most went to bed after the early start, but of course the hardcore crew, i.e. Jason and Tarny, Ray and myself (along with Shady and Hassan) headed out to a local cafe for shisha and coffee!

Soon after we arrived, a local "mariachi" band wandered into the bedouin tent were were lounging about in. Shady initially jumped up to stop them coming in, then either gave up or saw the fun potential. Picture the scene - five minutes on shore and we were taking it in turns to play the screechy violin like thing, bang the drums, or just dance, Egyptian style! Surreal yet lots of fun! I confused the waiter by ordering mint tea and turkish coffee. By the way, mint tea in Egypt rarely is. They will even agree specifically that it is mint tea rather than black that one wants, yet along comes a cup of black tea all the same. Anyway, a nice late retirement to bed, ready for another crack-of-dawn start the following day! Hurrah! The room air-conditioning was so powerful that when I got back to my room I found it freezing. Turned that off but was reluctant to leave the windows open because of mozzies. More about the mozzies later!

At the end of a 16 hour train journey...

Day 7
The train dragged on and on. Through the night, then through the whole morning. Egyptian time again! Train took about 16 hours as we arrived early afternoon. Aswan [GPS: 24.09973N, 32.89959E] station was being baked by the sun, and with no breeze one really felt the heat. I wandered across the road, dodging the kids riding donkeys (still used everywhere to transport things), from the station and sat down on a stone edge to a garden. After a few seconds I decided my rear was starting to grill, and hopped back up!

We wandered round to our hotel, a short walk along a garden packed full of families out celebrating the feast days after Ramadan. The atmosphere was lovely, with kids waving at us and yelling "hello", and groups chatting over their picnics, generally in the shade (no coincidence!). Our hotel was also a pleasant surprise, far nicer than the one in Cairo. I was still sharing with Ray, but with a bigger room overlooking the pool (not tried as it was a bit cold!).

Well this was now almost twenty minutes without any temple action, this had to be rectified, so we headed out to Philae Temple, a bus then boat ride away. Philae sits in the area which was previously dammed up, and to avoid flooding the temple, they moved the whole thing, which was quite involved as I think they only started it after flooding the area. They built a moat around the temple, drained the water, then shifted it all about a hundred yards to a higher bit of land. By the way, new piece of vocabulary: the different levels of the Nile, either side of dams, weirs or locks are called cataracts. On the way there and back on the boat we had a "tat" seller join us - three necklace or bracelet things for 10E£. Made in China stickers already removed.

In the evening the group had a choice of activities, and we chose to have dinner in a Nubian village not far from Aswan. The Nubians are the black Egyptians who presumably are similar in race to the Sudanese. They have generally over time been fairly harshly treated - slaves to the Ancient Egyptians, and now the Aswan Dam has flooded the majority of their land to create Lake Nasser. The boat down was a nice gentle cruise, a few of us lay on the roof gazing up at the stars. We passed an enormous house owned by a popstar which is up for sale - apparently it's on the market for about £50k!!

The village [GPS: 24.06185N, 32.87090E] was dark, so we walked up in a close group, ending up in a large square open-roof room surrounded by low walls, which was effectively the chief's lounge. He was away doing the Haj - the pilgrimage to Mecca, so we met some others, whom our guides Hassan and Shady seemed to know quite well (judge based on the way they rolled around wrestling on the floor shoving bananas in each other's mouths in fits of laughter!). The food was okay, not great, and no beer, but they did sit with us afterwards and answer questions about their life. Shady said bringing groups here was effectively an act of charity, as they are quite poor. Their way of life was one of agriculture before they lost all their land to the dam, now they operate felucca boats, a traditional Egyptian sailboat that we were to try the following day. A pretty Nubian girl joined us too, wearing in a lovely emerald-green dress, and after the Q&A the girls drew henna tattoos on those intereted, including Ray, who had 'Raymond Lee' in Arabic (they pattern match with approximate sounds) tattooed on his arm (which he was later to regret in the bazaars as touts yelled out his name constantly!), and Tarny had her foot decorated.

Another nice ride back to town, faster this time as we were going downriver, then to bed as we had a very nasty early start to look forward to the following morning, the "optional" trip (it didn't seem like an option for us!) to Abu Simbel in the South.

Welcome to Cairo

Day 6.
Am writing this a week afterwards so it's all going to be a bit hazy. Arrived in Cairo after a rather nice circle over the Nile. Could see the Four Seasons hotel but sadly not to be staying there. Was a bit worried as to how to find the hotel - I had an address, but no clue as to how to get there! All part of the fun. Anyway, was fast off the plane, and into immigration where in Egypt you are expected to stick your own visa stamps into your passport - like little postage stamps. At least one can chose where in the passport to put them - nothing worse than carelessly placed visa stamps. I now have a nice selection, with St. Petersburg, Nepal, Mauritius and Egypt!

Usual chaos coming out into arrivals. Once out I realised that the ATMs were back inside the secure area, so this being Egypt I talked my way back in! I regretted not just choosing pickup as part of the package. So it was... free shuttle bus to the car park, then walk across from there to a random roundabout. Met an Irish bloke called Brian who was just as clueless as me, and was heading down through Africa with no particular plan! At the roundabout we flagged down a minibus, which would take us somewhere into town. Cost - 1 Egyptian Pound, with an exchange rate of 1:9 for British Pounds, so.. not much.

Bus dropped us in hell.. a crowded hot scene of mayhem underneath a motorway flyover, somewhere in central Cairo. I gave up. Hopped in a cab, with minimal haggling, so paid 10EP. Arrived at the hotel, and found I was sharing a room with an R Lee, who had covered the room with his possessions, including an expensive camera. Did he know he was sharing a room? He was also out with the key, and this not being the classiest of hotels, there were only single keys for rooms, so I was stuck! Nice view of the Nile river though. When he turned up half an hour later, he turned out to be a Canadian Chinese chap. And so to sleep, since by now it was about 2:30am, and we had a wake up call at 7am the following morning! Groan!

At breakfast, which was very unappealing - bread and plastic cheese, we met our guide and the group, before heading off on an air-conditioned bus with our guide Ehab, and first stop was the famous Egyptian Museum. This museum is the main repository in Egypt for all things ancient, and they certainly had much of interest. I paid extra for access to the sections with mummies. What was disappointing was that the place was more like a store room than a museum - hardly any labels on anything, artifacts piled up on top of each other. Without a guide the place would have been completely impossible. I later chatted with our tour leader, Shady, and it would seem that they are building a new museum out in Giza near the pyramids, so perhaps this is the explanation for the neglect. It's certainly wrong that the world's first purpose-built museum, and one with such a significant collection, should be far inferior to most art galleries in London in their explanations!

Next was the biggie... out to Giza. I was surprised at the small distance - Giza is a suburb of Cairo, and the drive there was not more than 15mins. As soon as the bus pulled up into the complex the pyramids came into view. Absolutely incredible. The feeling one has viewing these enormous iconic monuments is almost electric. [GPS: 29.97675N, 31.13293E].

The largest is the Great Pyramid, Cheops, but there are two others. We went into one of them - Chephren - which involved scrabbling down a tiny and steep tunnel (several of the group turned round because of claustrophobia), then along a flat bit where one could stand, then up an equivalent length again and into the large chamber in the centre. The air was very hot and humid (why?), and there was little to see, but it was still eerie being in the centre of the massive structure.

Next we hopped on the bus to see the Sphinx, another image ingrained in one's perception of Egypt. It's still in fairly good condition, with just some scaffolding at the back. Battery on camera died just as I had walked up to viewing point! Probably for the best, as it stopped me from going overboard with photos (still squeezed a couple in of course!)

Finally we moved to another point in the complex which had a good view over the whole site, and several of the group had the excitement of a camel ride (not me, done it in Morocco, no need to do it again voluntarily!). The amusing thing about camel ries is that you get on them when they are sitting down, then they stand up one leg at a time, the result of which is that you are thrown all over the place until all four legs are engaged. Same in reverse when dismounting!

The tour continued to a papyrus shop, where we enjoyed a short demo of how the stuff is made. They collect reeds, soak them in water, chop them up, and then flatten them in a press, before laying them in a lattice arrangement. The demo was linked with the fact that we were supposed to buy something from them afterwards, but not for me. There were lots of beautiful pictures though, and were I not travelling for so long I probably would have picked up a few Egyptian scenes (with the usual danger that when one gets them home they look completely out of place!)

Back to hotel for dinner on the roof-top terrace area, which is surprisingly nice given the rest of the hotel is quite shabby. This is first group dinner, and so far it does seem like a really nice group. Food is hummous and dips, followed by beef curry, and then etremely flaky (I made a complete mess!) baklawa nibbles for pudding.

And so we headed off. We went to Giz rather than Cairo station, as our group leader, Shady (yes that's really his name) didn't want to brave the 30+platforms, 4million passengers main station, and I can understand. Giza wasn't far from the hotel either. At the station, we found out that firstly we had different seats for half the journey, that Shady didn't have at at all (it's festival time after Ramadan, so everyone is on the move), and the concept of "Egyptian Time" means it's fairly unlikely our train will be running on time! The train does arrive, and not too late. Perhaps half an hour.. And the carriages are not bad, though I do have a seat facing the wall. Minimal legroom. This will hurt after 12 hours (estimated!)

BA Eye Goggles on, mp3 player on, sleep time!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Delays and problems

Peeps, sorry about lack of photos. Am having a technical problem with uploading, having finally jumped online here. In the meantime, I spent today at [GPS: 29.97675N, 31.13293E] :)

No more babies!

Day 5. Am sitting in 2A again, but have made a slight tactical error. This plane is a 777. Means in my balanced opinion, seat 1A is superior in terms of privacy. Not much in it. 777s don't have the double deck, so we have the flight crew and a gallery in front of us (instead of the jacket cabinet on a 747). Okay - there's something I hadn't considered - one would be slightly closer to the galley if sitting forwards. Several people have changed into the BA First pyjamas, but I don't really feel the urge, especially as it's only a 5 hour flight. Maybe London - Buenos Aires' 16 hours may warrant PJs, in which case I shall we sure to post a photo of muggins wearing them for your amusement and delectation.
So, 777 has shockingly small screens in First, but they do have personal DVD players, so I've asked for Easy Rider on DVD. The selection of DVDs isn't great, and after Easy Rider I don't think there are any more I'd like to watch. Bridge Over the River Kwai perhaps, though I've seen it before. They have V for Vendetta on tape, and Leggo recommended it, so perhaps will try that. Wine being quaffed is Simonsig Tiara 2000, Stellenbosch, South Africa. I wanted something slightly lighter than the Chateau Leoville Poyferre 1995, Grand Cru Classe, Saint-Julien, that I usually have! Usually :)
In London I took dollars out at Barclays next to Paddington. Commission free, though whether that means they factor it into the rate I don't know. The tour I'm doing in Egypt is with Gecko Tours, it's called the Nile Adventure or something. It costs £350, and basically it's a guided group tour, maximum of 15 people, so you don't end up saturating every temple you stop off at. Ralfy recommended it to me. Anyway, the price includes most costs, but there are various extras you can do, which doubtless I will be powerless to resist, plus you have give your guide some money for baksheesh, which is a concept similar to tipping found  in the Middle East, however rather than something discretionary one hands out for good service, it's more "greasing the palms" of pretty much everyone you have to do deal with to ensure smooth running. Not a concept that I particularly agree with - I prefer the Japanese concept of charging loads more then don't tip. To me, a tip should be something completely optional, that you only hand over if you are really happy with the service. These restaurants that factor a 12.5% tip into the bill are pretty cheeky in my opinion. The cost should be included in the prices of dishes. Some may suggest that you can always refuse the tip if the service is particularly bad, but how often is this going to happen? If the service is that bad, you could always ask them to reduce the bill anyway.
Incidentally, the place most people seem to be interested in joining me for is Japan. Problem is, I'll be there around cherry blossom season (at least that's the idea), so it may be expensive. Anyway, the more the merrier. It's definitely the destination of choice at the moment, with Mei touring round as we speak. I like to feel I've "done" Japan already. The only things I'm missing are: 1. Hanami (Cherry blossom season, when everyone gets drunk on sake and parties), and 2. A Sumo-wrestling match. Hopefully I'll cover both off when I pass through in April.
So, back to Egypt. The pdf itinery thing quotes lots of prices for extra bits and pieces, all in dollars. I don't really know whether this means they cost dollars, or it's just a currency equivalent and I'll actually be able to use Egyptian money. We shall see. If I don't really need dollars, they will come in handy in South America anyway, so no loss. I think the vague plan for the next 9 or ten days is that we spend a day in Cairo, then go see Pyramids, then take an overnight train down to Luxor? Then take a boat along the Nile for a few days, stopping off at various temples along the way. I'm quite lucky with the timing, as the tour fits exactly into the days I had available. We are arriving quite late in Cairo, at 11:20pm, and like an idiot I refused the arranged airport transfer. I'm sure working out the mini-buses at that time will be hilarious fun! Groan... Still, I love it really ;)
Have received text message from Rob moaning how boring my blog is. Well readers, it's now day 5 and I haven't got anywhere near an internet connection yet! So all this waffle you've now presumably had the chance to read is currently sitting in my Outlook outbox! Was going to use the one at T4 in the lounge but cut it rather fine in getting to the airport, so not only did I miss out on a free back massage in the Molton Brown spa, missed the chance to chat up cute check-in girl in the First check-in area who was insisting I should go to Columbia, but furthermore it was final call for my flight as I got through security ("Fast Track", pah! I hope my British Airways are not paying extra to the incompetent arses at BAA for this so-called service!). I wonder if I should start a BAA Incompetence rant site. Do you think they are as litigious as Ryanair? I'd have to host it somewhere lawless. Perhaps that country on an oil-rig in the North Sea.. What's it called? Sealand or something...
So no internet means not only no posting blog, but no Happyfish Podcast downloads. For those who aren't into Podcasts yet - these are basically a Radio show which one can download from the internet at any time, and put on your mp3 music player (or just on your computer) to listen to whenever you feel like. How will I survive my RTW trip without Radio 4 Today Programme Morning Briefing? It used to make me so happy as I sloped into work on the late side of things (towards the end only of course), and on my mp3 player I'd hear "the time now is quarter to seven" - ah well that's okay then :) I have been wondering whether I should disconnect from politics and thesuchlike in the UK. I'm sure it stressed me out. Doctor's perscription - no Private Eye and definitely no news! The other podcasts I really like are the Radio 1 unsigned music one, Today in Parliament, and the Choice, Broadcasting House and From our Correspondant ones. Am I a boring old fart? Probably yes! However, the best for last - Craft Beer Radio's Podcast! This is basically a 45-60minute show done by two American chaps once a week, where they try various "craft", i.e. read "alternative" - ales, porters, and all the beverages you'd expect at the CAMRA Annual Britihs Beer Fest in London, and discuss them. What makes it so enjoyable is that they are really just regular guys drinking beer. One of them does do some home brewing, but they are very amateur, and yet still very enthusiastic. I have secret ambitions to do something similar with Will once we have our "King of the Hill" lifestyle implemented. I commend Craft Beer Radio to you all! Download and enjoy!
By the way, the title of the blog entry refers to the brat in First from Mauritius to London, screaming or crying for at least a third of the journey, as their parents turned seats 1A and 1B into a creche area. Then again, the Captain did say on the PA system that there were lots of families on board, so presumably I wasn't the only person suffering. Still, I'm happy to report that the worse we've got this time is a kid who must be 7 or 8, so no crying. Marvellous.
Anyway, have eaten horrible amounts of food and am now wishing there was an extra hole on my belt! It's also a nice heart-racer - champagne, wine, beer, and then lots of strong coffee, wrapped up with 20kg backpack to lug. Book reading update: Confederacy of Dunces finished, quickly whipped through Hotel Babylon, the book that the tv series was based upon, about the goings-on in an anonymous 5* hotel in London. Light but amusing reading. Books are in general a bit of a nightmare. I'm cunningly bringing my LP India and China books along to Egypt, to browse both and work out what on earth I'd like to do in both of those countries. I've budgeted 4-5 months for the main Asian continent, but to be honest, I'm not sure what I'd like to visit, especially in China. Presumably Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Great Wall? Not fussed about Terracotta Army, especially after Stu's comments about how touristy it is (though I'll be sure to remember my zoom lens if I do happen to go!). Three gorges area? Has that been dammed up already? I honestly don't know. Yellow card for me being so ignorant about such affairs. So, regarding these two LP books - they are both enormous and weigh a tonne (or thereabouts - good job weight allowance in First is acceptable), so I won't take them to South America, but I figured I'm bound to have some slack time in the next ten days and therefore will plough through them then, and them dump them in London when I pass through in a week and a half.
Back to current book? Kafka's The Great Wall of China and other short stories. I've read Kafka's The Castle and The Trial and loved them both. I think I could emphase with them, working at COLT! Visited the museum in Prague with Lucy and stocked up on his books so now I have plenty still to ready, and some Milan Kundera (read The Joke already)..
Time to sleep now, though not long till we're landing. On the way back I'm in the awkward position of only being confirmed in economy! I'm wait-listed for business and first class. Can you imagine the pain of being at the back, knowing you're perfectly elegible to be right up front in First. Let's not contemplate.. I'll let the girls in Mauritius do their stuff, I have every (gulp) confidence they'll sort it all out. Go girls!


Day 4. I wonder if I should keep numbering days? It's great now, but will get depressing towards the end of the year! Anyway, I have to say I feel really happy so far. Especially now the glory has started! Into the airport via the Premium entrance. Security bloke looks my scruffy unshaven self up and down. "What class are you flying? Economy?" "No, First Class with British Airways". Booyaka! The day started early. Shower at 6am, pack bags and out by half past. Didn't see sunrise, but the scene from my window was quite pretty still, with fishermen trawling the bay as the sun shimmered across the water.<

Along to the bus station, and the usual chaos in trying to locate a bus. Ended up on one to Curepipe that allegedly would stop at the airport, but it was running really slowly and I was beginning to worry about the time... what was going on? Turned out that the conductor was still chit-chatting with his chums back at the station, the driver was impatient so he drove off without him, and slow-drove along the route until the conductor caught up (via another bus he had hopped on). Anyway, a light shower graced my arrival at the airport, but not enough to get wet, except through pirspiration lugging my main pack! Here's the BA jumbo just arriving:

Into airport and met by Crystal, one of the girls who has been booking my ticket for me. Receive my ticket, which is a wad of paper! It's all there. Although why not e-ticket? And they gave me a pastic BA hold-all bag! But no space for that sadly (not helped by being rather tacky - I may have found room if it was classy enough!). Anyway, I've tried to avoid telling airline people that I'm doing the RTW, it seems kinda embarrassing to tell a check-in bloke that you're spending a year slacking and travelling first class. Anyway, Crystal nudges him and reveals all. What to say.. just that I'm very lucky, and that I genuinely believe. It's only a few days in, but I feel content, and excited about the challenges ahead. When I get back to London, I'm straight off to Cairo on an "easy" tour along the Nile, then it's South America where the real adventure begins.

So, into airport and check out the lounge.

All other airlines have one lounge shared, then BA have their own. Nice. Through the terminal looking for postcards. Not once in the whole time I've been in Mauritius have I found anywhere that sells postcards! Found a couple and a shop that would post them too. Sorted. Back to the lounge and time to relax with some water and the Telegraph newspaper. They have food, but presumably I'll get plenty of that on the plane anyway. No internet. Our jumbo parked right outside the lounge. Air France plane is leaving, and turns out there are a load of people flying AF in our lounge! Outrageous! Anyway 20 minutes before flight, and they haven't called us, but I figure I'll board anyway. Economy pax still queuing but I'll push in anyway. Bye to Crystal and on-board. Straight through business and we've arrived. Seat 2A. Decided I'll have no shame on this journey, so camera out, haha!

Capture the moments... I regretting not taking pictures last time I flew First, and who knows when I'll be flying First next... ooh me, it's tomorrow!!

The other occasion I regret not taking photos is when Will and I visited The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray. It didn't seem appropriate at the time, but of course afterwards, when the memories start fading of all of those dishes... So, we're on the plane, and I decide to avoid complimentary alcoholic drinks. I hold out for at least 5 minutes before I succumb to Charles Heidsiek Blanc des Millenaires 1995 Champagne. And then London Pride. It's only 9am! Still, should get some nice sleep after brunch. Emergency: once again, there is a baby in First Class!! How is this allowed? And worse, they've agreed to swap a few people around so that it's right in front of me. Cute irritation keeps poking his head over and looking and me.

All is fine unless he cries, in which case all sympathy will be gone very fast.
Breakfast consists of a plate of fresh fruit and a pastry with cappuccino. Then smoken salmon. Then full English. Then tea. Too much food! First movie: Tsotki. Second: Chinatown. BA have this ridiculous tape system in First Class, so you get access to the regular videos that everyone has, plus you can ask for one of about 15 videos on tape. If someone else is watchng the one you want, tough! Yes it's almost untrue. Apparently on selected routes they give you a personal DVD player, though none that I've been on so far (okay, okay, I know it's only my second time in First!).

The flight is flying via Nairobi, so presumably we'll be touching down there after about 4 to 5 hours? Don't think we're getting off the plane or anything though, and the First section is full anyway.

Update: no stop at Nairobi. I wonder if they only do that stop on the way out? Anyway, back to Heathrow, and shockingly, they didn't hold the business passengers until we had embarked. You just wait till I get that feedback form..! Also, had to wait a while for luggage coming off the belt, and I have a horrible suspicion that some non-First passengers received their bags before me! Anyway, was still fairly early. Part of the reason I was through Passport Control quickly is because I am signed up for the Iris scheme, whereby I can go through a special channel which involves walking through an automatic barrier into a small enclosed area, where one looks at a screen that scans your iris, and if you match the pattern they have, it lets you through. No showing any passports or documents, no talking to any people. It's marvellous! It really comes into its own when there's a big queue for the regular passport channels. Also when (as happened to me recently), the person in front of you gets rejects by the machine, has to join the normal queue, and then yours truly breezes through!

Went to visit Grandfather, to collect post. Guess what - left the post there! Must have been nothing interesting. Sandychan was staying up on the mezzanine floor of my old flat, which was strange... picture the scene.. I bound up the stairs of the (presumably) empty flat. Walk into our entrance "porch", upon which I hear "Crawleyyyyman?". I can hear a noise, but where on earth is it coming from? Ahhh above!

Good night peeps...

Exploring the Island

RTW Day 3. So how does this mosquito net work? When I first arrived, I asked another person staying here whether they'd seen any mozzies. Not yet. Apparently the British realised that all the mosquitos here bred in the mangrove swamps, so they planted other trees there that would drain them. Completely removed the mosquitos, but also unfortunately eradicated the breeding grounds for lots of tropical fish. So now the Islanders are putting the swamps back. Anyway, I also haven't seen any mosquitos, but you can never be too sure. So last night I unwrapped the net, care of COLT as a leaving present, and tried hanging it above the bed.
Firstly it's a single net, and this is a double bed, but that's okay. However, I think the proportions suggest that the hanging point is towards one end of the bed. Presumably the "head" end. Strangely though, it seems to be really slack at the foot end, so that the net ends up draped over your skin, and presumably if they can tolerate the anti-mozzy chemicals impregnated in the net, then the buggers could chomp on my ankles (they seem to really like my ankles - perhaps the most accessible hairless bit of me?) through the netting. So the obvious thing is to put the hanging ring higher, so the whole thing lifts off you. However then one finds that the "head" end is too taut and will lift off the bed if you raise it any more. So what's going on?! Need an instruction book! Or Google...
Today I had a small but pleasant breakfast of instant coffee, bread with cheese and jam, and a half-pineapple. Then along to the bus station for the bus to Port Louis, the capital. The French hotel owner had told me not to bother, as everything would be shut, but what else am I supposed to do - lie around on the beach and swim in the crystal clear waters for a second day running?!
The buses here are old but frequent. People don't seem to travel far, so whoever you sit next to will change on a regular basis if you're travelling from one end of the island to the other. This journey was uneventful, passing over the cooler top of the Island, so one long climb for the first 30 mins and a fast descent the last 10 (all times guestimated!) though amusing that the bus stopped by a melon vendor, conductor yells at him and waves some notes, and they swap. Melon stashed on the dashboard of the bus, presumably for later!
[photo of conductor buying melons]
I tried to ask the conductor about the bus services to airport for tomorrow morning, but was a complete waste of time, not because they didn't understand me, more that they didn't seem interested in understanding me. There was a timetable pinned up in the bus, but at the time I need to head to the airport, there are two buses with are listed as "K Express" and "O Express". I wanted to check whether these stop at the airport. Instead I was told that the bus back from Port Louis [GPS: 20.15993S, 57.50072E] (where we had just arrived) stopped over therrrre thank you and get off the bus now please, Sir.
Now, you may have noticed these GPS grid references I've been posting occasionally. If you're interested in seeing where I'm talking about, just fire up Google Earth (what, you don't have it? go download immediately!!), and paste the numberX, numberY bit into the. Et voila! Almost as much fun as being here with me, eh?! Anyway, my cunning geeky plan is to track my location and publish overlays, kmz files, which will show you my route. That relies on paid-for Google Earth at the moment rather than the free stuff, so is on hold. Also need to master GPSDash, the program on my phone I'm using to record Waypoints.
Port Louis was as quiet as expected. It seemed much like all other Mauritian towns, but with some particularly large tower blocks, and no beach :( By the harbour there was a so-called English pub, advertising a "wide variety of beers on tap and cask". I poked my suspicious head round the corner - one lager tap and a couple of bottles! Disgraceful! The only place open in town seemed to be KFC (McDonalds closed Sundays). And no Starbucks! Perhaps I just didn't notice the no-doubt countless branches. As I walked around, I listened to a Radio 4 Podcast: the File on 4 Programme, 17th October, about Labour's attempts at bringing the private sector into the NHS. It's shocking how weasely (is that a word?) these politician are. Forget Tory sleaze, the Labour party have far exceeded any moral depths plunged in the past. It's amazing also the complete denial and way in which all controls are bypassed - apparently information is consistently being withheld from the Commons Select Committee on the dubious grounds of commercial confidentiality. And yet it is precisely these so-called commercial grounds that are the supposed justification for the whole project in the first place. Anyway, more ranting on this and similar subjects later!
I clambored up in the heat and sun (where is my sun-cream when I need it) up to an imposing Moorish citadel perched above the city, which was built by the British in, erm, late 1800s, though it never saw much use aside from an occasional garrison being stationed there (and a horrible murder in the 50s). Back down and time to head back to Mahebourg. The bus station didn't seem to have an area for buses going my way, so I asked around, and was pointed out of the station to the main road. I waited where I was told to wait, by a dual carriageway with no bus stop. Hmmm. Asked a person walking past whether this was the right place. Oh yes, he says, the bus will come eventually. Got chatting to another person ten minutes later. Oh no, those buses don't stop here at all, it's a few blocks on and round the corner. I wonder whether he is winding me up. Seemed quite convincing though, so I follow his advice, which thankfully was correct. I would have been waiting a long time in the original spot. I guess it's the Indian thing of never wanting to displease people with an answer. Is this so-and-so? Yes; The answer is always yes. Can be frustrating at times though!
Dinner was at a LP approved restaurant called Chez Nous. Extremely quiet, but a pretty girl serving made up for that. I had some sort of calamari dish with saffron rice. Really nice, though she seemed worried it would be spicy? The sauce tasted more like sweet soy sauce. No evidence of even pepper let alone spice. Ah well. Washed down with a glass of red. And now it's bed time.. as the waves lap against my window, time to dream of BA First tomorrow morning, my 9:10am departure, and the first flight on my Round the World ticket! No oversleeping, Crawley...

Happy Diwali!

Captain's Log, Stardate RTW Day 2. In case you're wondering, I won't keep this level of verbosity going for the whole year! Enjoy it whilst it lasts!! Anyway, not much sleep was had before Dubai, and whilst there the whole no souvenirs thing kicked in - everyone wandered the terminal with duty free shopping bags, but I of course have no room in my bag, nor the compulsion to carry much picked up along my journey. I suppose it's inevitable that I will have something imposed on me sooner or later. My solution is to post things back to the UK, but of course I don't want to make a habit of this. Incidentally, when I got off the plane, I nearly left a load of stuff behind. My daypack bag has elasticated (but not zipped) side pouches, and somehow one of my camera lens filters (a quite expensive one, mind!), my bluetooth GPS receiver and some other bits had all fallen out. Thank goodness the chap sitting next to me pointed this out. Yellow card to daypack. Not good.
Anyway, stopped off in the "Irish" bar, as I had three hours to kill and no access to the BA Lounge (yet!), and ended up chatting with a rather portly American chap who is apparently a fire fighter in Iraq. Something he's doing just for a few years to earn plenty of money to put his daughter  (soon to be) through college. He described how planes take off from Baghdad Airport - apparently rather than the conventional along the runway, up and off tactic, in this case their is only a small area which is secure from rocket launchers etc around the airport. So planes take off in as short a distance as possible, then rise up in a tight cork-screw motion to stay within airport limits until they are high enough to be safe. Quite an 'exciting' experience!
So, our plane to Mauritius started boarding suspiciously early - and on trooping down the stairs in the gate it became apparenty why - a bus waited to take us out to one of Emirates more, shall we say, venerable planes. Not propellors or anything, but faded interior, and a shocking lack of leg room due to a metal box underneath the seat in front of me. The only solution... I would have to slip my right foot under the seat to the right of me as soon as the chap there wasn't looking! In fact he turned out to be very nice, a Mauritian returning home to his family after an extended period working in Pakistan as an engineer making plastic pipes (yes I didn't pursue the line of questioning much after that!).
Second disaster (legroom) of the flight struck when the chap in front of us agreed to swap his seat for one further back with more leg room. The real motive behind this kind offer from the stewardess came when a woman replaced him with a screaming (and I mean screaming) baby! Argh! And we already had at least two babies within about 4 seats of us. Naturally on take off the trio exercised their vocal cords to the full. And the one in front of us carried on... For what must have been about half of the seven hour flight. One was not amused.
Slightly bleary-eyed, I had a really nice view of Mauritius as we circled the Island coming into land (perhaps the water around it was dangerous?!).

One outstanding question was where to stay. Apparently the capital, Port Louis, didn't have much in the way of accommodation, so most people stay in one of the beach towns. Just to give you an idea of scale, Mauritius does have a couple of "motorways" - I think it's about 45 minutes drive from one end of the Island to the other. Transport is usually bus. My two possible ideas were either to stay near the airport (convenient for my 9am flight on Monday), or to stay the other end of the Island in Grand Baie, which sounded like the most lively town, or to do a combo, one night in each, though this would mean moving my stuff, a big downside!
Before resolving this though, I had to get through the idiotic immigration officers in MRU airport. I queue up, only to have a bunch of people who had queued in front of an empty desk filter into our queue, which I wouldn't have minded but for the stroppy English woman next to me shove herself in front of me to make sure she could push into my queue ("How rude!", as Lucy would say). Then the officer sent me away from the queue telling me that I had filled out the wrong form, that I had filled out a departure form. However, the one I filled out says "arrival" and the one he gave me says "au revoir". And then I notice another officer giving the departure form to a couple, telling them not to fill it out now, but they'll need it when they leave! Grrrrr! Not happy.
Rob would have been very proud of me fighting my way through the taxis and touts when I came out. It would have been oh so easy to succumb, but I have to think "on a budget" now. Plan is to bus it to Mahebourg, a town near the airport on the coast, and find a cheap place to stay there. LP recommends a couple of places for around £15 per night, which isn't the $2 I had envisaged, but then this is an expensive honeymoon-type Island. We'll see. Bus came quite quickly, though I had trouble getting my full pack through the door (doesn't bode well). Thank goodness there were spare seats I could drop it on, wouldn't have liked to carry the bugger or stand with it. Anyway, price of bus = 14 rupees (25p?). Good start!

In terms of scenery, Mauritius reminds me of Nepal. I suppose it's the Hindu thing, happy slogans painted everywhere, the vibrant colours. The bus station is right by the water.. My first Mauritian sea scene. Verrry pretty. Lovely blues, a nice breeze. Welcome to Paradise!
My self-welcome was seconded by a tout coming and chatting to me about 10 seconds later. Oh well. Fended him off and started walking along the water into town. Arrived at the recommended place, Auberge Aquarella [GPS: 20.41263S, 57.71074E]. He has one room left, and it'll cost 1600R. Oh dear! That's about £25 per night! Doesn't he have anything cheaper? No. What is it? It's a gorgeous self-contained thatched cottage right by the water, with a large window with waves lapping at the bottom, and a big bed where one can look straight out...

Ok I fell for it! I've paid three or four times this to be in some really horrible places, can't scrimp everywhere, eh? :) The owner is a French guy who has living in Mauritius for 6 years. Before that, Australia. Guess he just doesn't like home, huh? The majority of white people here are French it would seem. They did win once against the English here, apparently they're so proud of it that it's inscribed on the Arc du Triomph in Paris. Of course, we soon sorted that out, and the island was British until independence in 1968.
Dumped bags, put shorts on, flip flops out, and off to take bus to Blue Bay [GPS: 20.44275S, 57.71605E], about 6km along the coast and apparently one of the best beaches on the Island.

Went for swim and read my book (A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole). Swim was nice, but not quite as warm as the crystal clear azure waters would have you believe! It was a bit cloudy by this stage though, and in fact I ended up being driven off the beach by a brief rain shower! Rain! How dare they! Only for a minute though, and I noticed when it stopped that the tarmac roads were steaming as the water evaporated! Crikey! Anyway, rain was the excuse to dip into a restaurant for l
unch - Le Bougainville. Had a chicken curry for 250 rupees (£4), plus a Phoenix Beer. Phoenix is the main (only?) Mauritian beer. Apparently it's award winning, though it doesn't say which awards specifically on the bottle, and I know I'm not much of a lager person, but I have to say IMHO it doesn't taste particularly nice!
After lunch, bused back to Mahebourg (pronounced My-bor), pottered about town, though most things where closed, then back to hotel for a snooze. Nice! And in the evening, out for Diwali! Unfortunately it was still a bit wet and windy, not good weather for fireworks. People were still trying though, and there were flashing Xmas-tree lights everywhere, candles and fireworks crackling.
I went to a restaurant called La Velle Rouge, recommended by the owner of the hotel. On arrival, I asked for a table for one, and I thought the girl said "sorry, we're full up", so I trudged out looking miserable. Misunderstanding, she had said "we're full inside, but you can sit outside", haha! My French is just attrocious! I probably would have preferred to sit on the veranda-style area outside anyway! They had a special Diwali menu on for the evening, for 400 rupees.

That and a few drinks came to 750. Expensive living! Can't carry on the whole year like this! Diwali menu consisted of, erm, lots of stuff.. difficult to describe most of it, but there were some fish-aubergine things, lots of nibbly things, mini parcels to dip in a sauce, and finally a lamb curry with rice and vegetables on a big green sheet of paper (presumably originally it would have been served on banana or pandan leaves).
Incidentally, there is fruit growing everywhere here. Especially coconut, and mangoes, but also other things I'm not sure about. There seem to be water melons all over the place, but obviously all sorts of food-poisoning alarms start ringing there, so probably won't try them! Unless I buy the whole one, and nick a knife from somewhere. That reminds me, I haven't felt the urge to use my water-free anti-bacterial handwash yet, so obviously don't feel completely at war with germs here!
Final parting gift from the restaurant was a "Happy Diwali" box full of Indian sweets. Nice. According to LP, all the religions live happily side-by-side in Mauritius. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others, they all get on and respect each other. Maybe the rest of the world could learn something from the Island of Paradise...

Many Weights Lifted..

Captain's Log, Stardate RTW Day 1. Am on my way, and I have to say it feels really good. I've felt quite stressed and tense for the past few days, probably due to having to move out of my flat. Don't they say that moving house is up there with divorce and being subjected to BAA so-called "security" incompetence as the most stressful experiences one endures in life? In my case, I am a certified horder, and evidence of this is to be found in the attic where my things are currently stored.

Hugo, a lovely Swedish chap who has returned to Sweden to have a baby, has stored in the same loft approximately half what I have accumulated! My conclusion is that I can never possibly move from the Mews, as I would never be able to afford a removals firm willing to undertake the job.
Anyway, the first weights that were lifted today were the last of my possessions, into the loft of the flat I've been living in, and I have to confess I am experiencing a few uncomfortable twangs in the lower back that were not there yesterday! Someone gimme a back massage! Ah ha, the Molton Brown Spa in T4 here we come! I spent most of the night packing, and thanks to Eunjeong for helping out otherwise perhaps I'd still be at home now having long missed the flight. I think I was genuinely worried about not packing up in time, and this was hanging over me like the eternal drizzle over my beloved Blighty! The moment I'd dropped my flatkeys and walked away, I felt all my worries drain away, and a real excited buzz took over! It's really happening! Woo yay!
My journey started out modestly. Round the corner with two rather heavy bags (how did that happen?), and on to the 328 bus to Kilburn Park (had to resist explaining what my travel plans to the old ladies seated either side of me - "see you in a year, NW6!", then Bakerloo Line to Paddington (pre-pay, byebye my lovely Gold Card, sob), and on to Heathrow Express, the world's most expensive railway per minute mile (again thanks to BAA, my current corporate enemy number one).
Nearly went to Terminal 4, as I forgot I am flying Emirates to start my journey, i.e. T3.

Check-in painless, as I skipped an enormous queue as I had finally managed to check in online at home, on the third damn attempt. Emirates online check-in is not as mature as BA's, I seemed to be the only person doing this, and so was moved on to a First/Business check-in queue! Hurrah! Anyway, I read somewhere that Emirates are joining OneWorld. About time too!
So second weight lifted was my 18kg main pack. Why is it so heavy?! My day pack must be at least 6kg or so too, but it's not so much weight that worries me as volume. I certainly couldn't fit my daypack into my main pack, which is what I need to be able to do when trekking. Plus 3kg of water of course when Camelback is filled. Iodine, yum! Will post a list of stuff I have later, but these initial trips to Mauritius and Cairo are good dry runs for my pack. Worse case I can dump some stuff as I pass through London.
The next weight lifted of course, was my backside by this 777 plane.

Here's a question for you all - why do airlines occasionally do this ridiculous "boarding by row numbers" thing? Absolute chaos. People form an orderly queue to get on the plane, women and children of course allowed on first, then it's all turned upside down when they decide that regardless of priority or boarding speed, rows 50 to 60 are going on first! Ridiculous! When I've got more money than sense I shall commission a study to find out the optimum boarding strategy. Of course, by that time I will be flying first all the time anyway, so I won't care! Oops!
As it's Ramadan and we're flying an Islamic aircraft, we don't get food until the appropriate time. Amusingly there are two options - following UK times, or wherever the plane is at the time. I envisage chaos with the catering trolleys! No issues here at seat 18H, bacon sarnie and no veil please!
So what's the Crawley Seat Choosing Strategy (c)? Rules to follow are:
1. Sit as far forward on the plane as possible. Means quick on and off, less smelly, not near toilets, and vague chance of being bumped forwards to higher cabins.
2. Don't sit in front row or bulkhead seats, as leg room often chopped off by solid wall in front of you. Plus BA have baby change things in the middle at front, so you might be near an infant (heaven forbid!)
3. Aisle always.
4. Go for right hand side of plane. This is important when disembarking, as middle block passengers tend to drift left on leaving
5. Chose side of aisle based on minimising how many people will have to squeeze past you to go to loo.
6. With most economy sections, always go for that forward smaller bit just behind business. Less noisy.
That's about it for now. Complex game. Of course, for my First Class BA flights, it's bed 2A all the way. According to, this is the best seat BA has to offer on their entire fleet! I actually rode it to Mexico, I had wanted 1A but it had been pinched by a diplomatic couple (not as in they negotiated it, you know what I mean!), so I ended up one back, which is good as I later learnt there's a cupboard over 1A which the stewardesses use. And we wouldn't like that, would we?!
Sam's general flight tip is: always open liquid containers away from you! Applies especially to those small milk containers. Oooh we just got the "Ladies and Gentlemen, is there a Doctor on board?" announcement, wonder what's going on?! Don't worry, I didn't have the fish! FYI current film being watched = Ice Age 2: Meltdown. Fantastic, and leads me on to my environmental rant later. Next film, Devil wears Prada. Maybe. There are about 400 films you can watch on the entertainment system, all on demand etc. Can't wait to be in BA First asking whether anyone else has the "tape" out! Come on, BA, updated your entertainment system! We need VOD! Actually I'm gonna watch Thank you for Smoking...
More later, and perhaps some sleep before we hit Dubai..

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sad times..

Well it's fast approaching time to go.. almost everyone I'm seeing at the moment I'm saying good-bye to :( Then again it's pouring with rain and grey outside the window now, I'm sure when I'm on that plane to Mauritius I'm going to feel differently. Let's get on with it!

On the flip-side, check the seat numbers!:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Panic panic panic! Have booked an Emirates flight from London to Mauritius on 20th October! It's all happening a bit fast! Better that than being bored I suppose. It's strange because I haven't sorted out my RTW ticket with BA yet, so I've got one way and then nothing! I'm gonna be stranded in Mauritius. Worse things in life I suppose! So now I have one week to see family and stuff, then a couple of days to pack and get out of flat! Help!

By the way, for anyone planning to emulate my glory, here's some useful stuff:

1. - this is the place to do all your research. Full of frequent flier gurus who are really helpful and FAQs which will assist in avoiding the usual pitfalls. I've spent most of my time in Forums -> Global Airline Alliances -> OneWorld which is where all the OneWorld Explorer ticket chats go on. My post is the Two DONE3s one!

2. Insureandgo - these guys will insure extra bits and bobs (think camera, mp3 player, laptop even) for minimal extra cost on top of your travel insurance - most insurance has a low maximum value for individual items (say £150 or so).

3. Expertflyer - this is where you can check real flight availability by cabin, so you can see for instance that 9 "A" cabin tickets are available on a particular flight. Very useful, but you have to pay to use it properly (only $10 a month or so).

4. - Pay-as-you-go SIM cards for roaming. I've bought one which is an Isle of Man number. They basically have a clever system which means I pay nothing to receive calls anywhere in the world! Fantastic!

5. Airline route maps and Google Earth - just to plan your route of course.

6. Tripadvisor - okay I haven't used this at all for my planning yet, but it's what I use to do hotel research. Check the Pokhara Palace Hotel, I'm the Marketing Director for them!!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Petersham Nurseries

On Friday evening went to celebrate Stu's 40th by indulging in some karaoke fun at KBox, just on Leicester Square. Amazing how little beer it takes to release one's inhibition! Here's my first attempt at embedding a video from my phone (apologies for quality) in this blog:

Afternoon tea on Sunday at Petersham Nurseries with Mother, tip care of Chris after we had attended his son's christening. It's a lovely spot, close to Richmond, yet well-tucked away and accessible down some fairly muddy paths (being completely unprepared for the torrential rain, as I was). They have converted one of the greenhouse buildings into a restaurant, plus there is a cafe. Not cheap, but a nice spot, and I imagine it would be particularly nice at night.