Ethiopia: An intriguing history

Saturday 28 July 2018: Roger

Departing Singapore at 2am on Ethiopian Airlines, with their bright green blankets and bright yellow eyeshades, we had no doubt we were on the right airline.

Landing in Addis Ababa at 6am local time we were bussed to the terminal and really appreciated being first in line as the immigration guy took 10 minutes to process the two of us. Moving out through the unattended customs area we were surprised to see that most of the local hotels had their own little booth in the terminal.

Initially no one was around to meet us; eventually a lady turned up with a sign bearing the name of the travel company and soon we were in a van with our guide, Johannes, and his driver, heading through the quiet streets to the Sheraton Hotel. The hotel and its grounds are impressive; security is taken seriously. A federal policeman sits in the guard alcove AK across his lap. A mirror is used to check the underside of the van. Before entering the lobby we pass through X-ray machines and metal detectors.

Overlooking the hotel is the residence of the prime minister who is currently visiting the US.

After settling into our room, freshening up and a hearty breakfast, Johannes picked us and we headed into town. Addis is the third highest capitol city in the world at 2,500 to 3,000m above sea level. The first stop was a Karl Marx statue, the only reminder of the marxist rule, which lasted from 1974 until the early 90’s when the Ethiopian military was defeated and rebels took control of the country.

Next we headed to the city university, once the palace of Haile Salassie. He ruled from 1930 to 1936 when the Italians invaded. Then again from 1941 to 1974. Apparently in many respects he was a highly rated leader. His earlier name was Ras Tafari and his elaborate coronation ceremony apparently created the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica where he has deity status. After one of his sons tried to overthrow him in the early 60s he gave his palace to the country as a university which it still is today. In front of the palace, part of which is a museum, is a staircase going nowhere. Built by the Italians during their occupation with 14 steps to celebrate 14 years of Facism. With the assistance of the Brits the Italians were thrown out and Haile took over again. Asked what he wanted done with the steps he said “place a Lion of Judah (the symbol of Ethiopia) on them.”

Once known as the hidden Empire, Ethiopia evolved in in relative isolation, protected by fierce fighters and impassable terrain. In the fourth century King Evan was converted to Christianity leading to the creation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which is still strong today. The east supports a sizeable Islamic population founded by propheit Mohammed way back.

In the late 1800’s the Italians were defeated when trying to invade. This makes them the only African country not to have been colonised (except for Mussolini’s brief run in the 1930’s). Since the 50’s they have had an on and off scrap with Eritrea which lead in part to the particularly brutal down fall of Haile by the Marxist military regime known as Dergue. They tolerated no dissent and initiated mass killings and forced relocations. When citizens arrived to claim bodies of state murdered dissenters they were asked to pay for the bullets in the victims. During this time Somalia, supported by the US, started a scrap over the Ogaden region.

As we went up the marble staircase a couple of cleaners joined Johannes for a photo. We also had Mekdla, a student, join us for our tour. We checked out various artefacts including drums and wooden discs which are put in women’s lips by a particular tribe. One area we toured by the light from our phones as the power wasn’t working.

Finally we had a tour of the seperate bedrooms used by Haile and his wife; her bathroom in pink and his in blue. Some uniforms and other memorabilia were also on display.

Next stop was the Holy Trinity church, surrounded by a cemetery where armed soldiers guard the tombs of past leaders. There is some contraversy here just now as a few days ago a famous engineer was assassinated on his way to an interview with the media supposedly to expose the corruption of the previous government. People are asking the question as to why soldiers can be provided to protect the dead but are not available to protect the living. There is also a shrine here where many of the heads of the previous government were executed by the Marxists.

Next stop was a restaurant called Lucy’s where we tried a local dish Bozena Shiro consisting of chickpeas, beans, spices and lamb served with copious quantities of Indera bread – gluten free and made from a local grain, teff, this is a main part of the diet here. Washed down with a local beer it tasted pretty good. The staff were super friendly and keen to pose for photos with Johannes and our driver, who are regular visitors.

After lunch we headed to the museum almost next door to check out the real Lucy. Here they have a really interesting board outlining the evolution of man like it was done in 60 seconds, with 0 being 7 million years ago and 60 being 5500 years ago when writing was first used. Various exhibits showed how animals had evolved over time, often to survive a changing environment. These all lead to Lucy who was discovered in the 70’s and is the oldest artefact found of man as an upright walking human.

We drove from there past Yekatit 12 Martyr’s Square with its statue representing the people who had been killed by the Italians in 1936 when they herded some 30,000 people onto the streets and ran them over with tanks and heavy vehicles.

Next we passed the Meyazia 27 Square Monument, a monument to Ethiopia overcoming Italian racism.

From there we headed to the centre of town where the metro rail begins. A number of buildings under construction or repair have eucalyptus branches and sticks used as scaffolding, apparently a common practice here.

The streets are dirty and dusty with lots of stalls set up along the road side. A bright blue Mosque is under construction amongst the rubbish that lies around the landscape.

Next we drove through the Merkato, one of the largest market places in Africa. It was like nothing I have ever seen before. It has evolved into sections; there is one area where they are remaking umbrellas from salvaged parts, in another there are people sewing and doing alterations, another seems to be recycled pots and pans, another electrical wire. And on it goes. Scrap arrives on top of cars and vans to be recycled. Looking down alley into the background there are thousands of shacks all with a satellite dish. Women process food, men carry huge loads on their backs or heads. Clusters of blue and white taxis, some Toyotas, many Lada’s gather in groups, many hardly looking road worthy. Amongst this absolute chaos people are smiley and friendly. Even the photos cannot truly describe what we saw here. Stuff arrives here as rubbish to be resurrected and sold in the thousand of stalls which also provide food for the locals.


Sunday 29 July: Sylvia

This morning we were up bright and early with a 6:20am pick up at the hotel to transfer to the airport for our flight to Axum. At one point we came across long lines of cars stopped – apparently a random search underway due to the funeral in town this afternoon so we did a quick U-turn and took a different road to the airport.

As with many developing countries chaos ensued at the airport. Queueing is definitely not practiced here – people pile over each other to get to the front of the line. It is good to be in relaxed holiday mode!

Once on board the Q400 Bombadier propeller plane it was an easy 1 hr-30 flight to Axum.  Axum is situated in a rural plateau with lots of agriculture. On our way into town we passed several trucks filled with young men, horns honking as they headed to a demonstration. We also passed lots of buildings in various stages of development. Apparently the government takes the land back if building is not started so people complete as much as they can and then wait for more money before doing more. 

We checked into the Sabean Hotel – simple and clean, then headed back out with Johannes to tour the area. Axum is the oldest known Christian community in Ethiopia. It all dates back to Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. He converted her to Judaism so this was originally a Jewish area. Legend has it that the original arc of the covenant was transported to Ethiopia and remains in one of the large churches here in Axum. 

We visited the ruins of a Jewish temple dating back over 2000 years. An Ethiopian eunuch was converted to Christianity in the early AD period and the Jewish temple was converted to a church. But not everyone converted and in the 9th century AD a female Jew lead a rebellion against the Christians in Axum and destroyed the temple. Churches were rebuilt in later years including one that women are not allowed to visit so I sat outside – much to Roger’s amusement. I was quite content to watch the many beautiful and often brightly coloured birds.

People here are incredibly friendly and seem to like to try out their English on us ferengi. And the kids are not shy about asking for money or a football either… and always with big smiles on their faces.

Next we visited the cathedral of St Mary Zion. It is in a small chapel outside this cathedral, also built by Haile Salassie, that the arc of the covenant is said to reside. Apparently only one chosen deacon ever sees the arc. He lives inside with it and is provided for by another deacon. They are building a new chapel next to the current one as it is starting to leak. Roger suggested that he might try and fly a drone overhead when they are moving the arc to the new building so someone can actually get a look at it.

The cathedral itself is a large cavernous building with many bright paintings inside depicting biblical stories of significance to the Ethiopians. It is clear the the Ethiopian Orthodox Church plays a critical role in the lives of Ethiopians with around 50% ascribing to this religion.

Next we visited a small, dilapidated museum show-casing numerous religious relics and the crowns of many of Ethiopia’s kings. Everything was stored inside glass cabinets but still looked dusty and dirty. Despite the security (no electronics or cameras – we had to lock them up outside and were scanned before entering), it certainly wouldn’t pass as a museum back home.

We headed up the cobbled road (they are not allowed to use tar seal here as they do not want to damage any of the other old buildings that lie buried here) to the ruins of a castle of a couple of kings from the 6th century AD. We also stopped at a small shack housing a large slab of granite engraved in three languages telling the story of  King Ezana’s (4th century) victories over his enemies.

After lunch and a rest at the hotel we headed out agin this afternoon, first to look at a field with about 70 monolithic stelae in them, three of them exceedingly large and engraved with different patterns. At 34m apparently one is the largest obelisk in the world. Archeologists are divided as to their purpose but it seems most likely they were grave markers given they have unearthed several graves and interconnected rooms under the field. There is a field outside the town with a number of smaller stelae in. Roger remarked that they were waiting for some fertiliser to help them grow.

We also visited the ruins of the palace of the Queen of Sheba and heard a more detailed version of the legend of her union with Solomon that led to nearly two thousand years of Solomic dynasty, ending in 1974 when Haile Salassie was dethroned. Legend or truth, there is no doubt that the locals believe the story and have built their religion on its basis.

Before heading back to the hotel for the evening we drove around the town and watched the locals going about their usual Sunday activities. There is a large university on the outskirts of town and many small businesses have sprung up along the roadside catering to the needs of students. We stopped at one stall and participated in a coffee ceremony with some of the locals.


Alaska for a Wedding

Friday 8 June 2018

Arriving in Anchorage, via San Fransisco, late last night I was lucky to have been offered a bed in Palmer with Barry and Marlene. Barry had provided his boat and taken us bear hunting when Ross and I visited 5 years ago. After a late breakfast we head out to Hatcher Pass for a  walk up to an old gold mine. The road up the hill to the mine is still closed so we park at a carpark below the gate. There are a bunch of Spanish bikers also there to check out the mine. Apparently these bikers are part of a world wide club and travel to different countries hiring what look to be some pretty nice bikes for their local journeys.

Barry had stayed home to do some jobs, Marlene had brought the dog Bella along. Visiting from Minnesota for the wedding were Debbie, Jim, Stacy and Mark. A few squirrel like things things bounced around in the snow, no one seemed to know exactly what they were.


Gold was discovered around here at the end of the 1800s this mine was a hard rock mine where they blasted tunnels through the rock to extract the ore. It operated until 1950 and is now a reserve with many of the buildings still in good repair. The area is now used a lot for cross country skiing in the winter and in the summer for hiking.

The wedding was set down for 4pm so no doubt while we were out and about Steve and Chantelle we busy preparing for the big day. The bride no doubt getting prepped up with make up while the groom and his team did their preparation. (photo stolen off facebook).

The wedding place was a lovely spot in the country overlooking the Matanuska River. Barry and I posed for a photo in front of Steve’s Super Cub parked up ready for he and Chantelle to depart after the ceremony.

After the ceremony we headed across to the local Wolf Lake Airport to a hangar for the party, which continued into the early hours. At this time of year it doesn’t really get dark so its pretty easy not to notice the time go by.

Saturday 9 June 2018

Mid-morning we headed down to the Alaska Aviation Museum where a plaque was being presented by the Baldwin family in honour of Steve’s father Jay, who died in an aircraft accident three years ago.

The museum, although small and dedicated to flying in Alaska, has some interesting exhibits including a Boeing 737 200 designed with special plating underneath to land on gravel runways carrying cargo and passengers to remote places.

The have a hangar they rent out for functions and another that is used for restoration. Staffed by volunteers, they aim to have most of their aircraft able to fly; this includes a Curtiss P40 Warhawk, which was recovered recently from the Resolution Islands, part of which were occupied by the Japanese during WWII.

In The evening we headed to the Grape Trap, a local Wasilla restaurant, where we enjoyed a good yarn and some pretty nice food.

Sunday 10 June 2018

After breakfast the Minnesota crew headed off to the airport. Barry and Marlene headed off to their local church while I relaxed. Later in the day Marlene and I headed over and picked up John and Carol, who are in the process of building a new hangar at the end of the Wolf Lake airport. Interestingly around here one does not need any permits of consent from the local council to build a house; even building inspections are not required although most good builders contract a private company to inspect their work.

We headed up to the Gold Mine Trail in the same are we had gone to on Friday. John is armed with a bear flare just in case. We bump into Kent and Helen, who joined us on the stroll. It’s a wide walking track heading up a valley alongside a hastily moving creek, charged with waters from the spring snow melt. Light rain sets is as we are a few hundred meters up the track – luckily I had my trusty red poncho.

By the look of it this valley had once been occupied by a glacier, leaving moraine walls on each side of the valley. There are a number of beaver dams along the way, which always intrigue me as to how, with the aid of twigs and mud, these things seem to hold water.

Carol, John, Marlene, Kent and Helen

In the evening Barry and Marlene cooked up some of their self-caught salmon. We were joined by John, Carol, Gary  and his wife Ramona. Gary, a retired airforce colonel, had some great stories to tell both about the military and about his flying exploits in Alaska and around the US. Flying is in the blood of most people here. With only 12,000 miles of paved roads 90% of Alaska is not accessible by road so small planes are the main form of transport into the back blocks. There are 16 times the number of aircraft per capita when compared to the lower 48 states of the US. With over 600 airports and 3000 plus airstrips flying is the way to go. Plus there are 114 seaplane bases, these fly out and land on all sorts of lakes and rivers.

Monday 11 June 2018

After another hearty breakfast we headed into Anchorage to do a bit of shopping. A visit to Bass Pro drew a blank for me as they seemed to be very under staffed and no one was too keen to assist me in my quest for new boots.

Next was REI and success with a couple of keen assistants giving good advice and bringing out different brands to try on. They also sorted me some leather treatment for the boots, which later got confiscated in Frankfurt as it was 110mls!!!

At Cabellas I got a new case for my binoculars and had a look at a few interesting guns. One in particular was the Smith and Wesson 460 5-shot revolver; unfortunately there was no way that was going to get through airport security in my carry-on bag.

Lastly we stopped at a huge warehouse called Costco, which one has to be a member of,  where people buy in bulk every thing from groceries to boats.

All too soon the stay was over as Barry and Marlene dropped me at the airport for the journey to Singapore. Interestingly I was for some reason routed through Denver, Houston, Chicago and Frankfurt, where I got to spend a day and night with my sister, Rachel, and her husband, Edward, who have lived in Germany for over 20 years.

Vancouver and Chicago

Friday 1 June 2018
Early evening Sylvia and I met at the Vancouver airport. She had flown from Singapore via Taiwan and I had flown from Auckland via LA. It’s interesting just how much walking is involved at airports from landing in LA and changing terminals to getting through immigration in Vancouver I had walked according to my phone nearly 4kms. I feel sorry for old people travelling. We taxied to the downtown Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel. With fantastic views over the grass-topped convention centre to the harbour, great staff and excellent service it’s a great place to stay.

Saturday 2 June

After a lazy breakfast we took a short stroll around the town, visiting a few shops, where again people bent over backwards to be helpful. The streets are clean and the buildings tidy.
At noon we wandered down to the to a jetty next to the convention centre where Harbour Air are based. After checking in, and having free coffee during the wait, we boarded a Twin Otter float plane for the flight to Victoria on Vancouver Island.
We took of to the north up the harbour before turning south and passing a huge heap of sulphur. Known as the Vancouver Sulphur pile it has been there for years; not the same pile but a never ending pile that is brought in by rail, mainly from Alberta. It is  a byproduct of oil sands. From here it is shipped all over the world.
We flew over a few dozen ships waiting for their turn to berth. Looking down at the sea it looks like there has been an oil spill with black streaks on the sand; it is in fact silt brought down from the mountains during the spring snow melt.
The flight over the many islands was very picturesque with lots of islands along the way. Flying at 1000ft we could only see a small part of Vancouver Island. There are lots of boats running around the harbour as we come into land but it all seems to work well.
A short taxi and we were at the jetty, tied up along with the other float planes. I had visited Victoria five years ago so was keen to give Sylvia a quick tour. This was going well until Sylvia spotted a funky shoe shop where we spent some time buying funky shoes. We continued out stroll around the town, which has lots of really neat buildings and is kept clean and tidy for the thousands of tourists that visit every day. Soon we spotted Big Bad John’s bar, which I had visited last time. We ventured in but not much had changed in spite of the barmaid telling us it had been refurbished a couple of years ago. The walls are lined with bras, money and other memorabilia from all over the world. We added a kiwi note with our names on it to the collection.
Across town we came to the parliament buildings – built of stone with grand lawns these are rather spectacular. They were closed for tours today with an orchestra playing on the steps. I did the tour last time I was here. We stopped at a wharfside cafe and enjoyed a nice lunch before catching the plane back to Vancouver. There are lots of water taxis running about the harbour that look quire top heavy but apparently are quite safe.
All too soon our visit was over. As we boarded the plane the pilot asked me to sit in the copilot’s seat for the flight home. We taxied to the outer part of the harbour to take-off into the light breeze. There was a ferry coming in but after some discussion over the radio we were cleared to take off with plenty of room to spare. We soon turned, heading north. Along the way the pilot pointed out different islands, mostly now owned by tech billionaires. One with a deep water port was used to manufacture ammunition during WWII, Another, Spieden Island, is the US territory where during the 60’s plains game such as kudu and bison were released so hunters could come and hunt them. This apparently went well until someone missed an animal and the bullet went through a house on a neighbouring island. Some of the animals still roam the island having adapted to the climate by growing thicker coats.

Sunday 3 June 2018

Sylvia was flying to Chicago just after lunch so we headed to the airport early to meet her uncle and aunt, Simon and Dale, who live at White Rocks near the US border. Simon, a former anesthesiologist, worked in Vancouver for many years and they are now enjoying their retirement here and, like us, they love to travel.
I took the train back to town and was surprised to see, when crossing the Fraser River, that large stocks of logs were contained but floating along the riverbank. I didn’t realise this method was still a method of transporting timber.
Arriving back at the hotel I took a free bike (they did have a stand of electric ones for $30 per hour). After being assured by the bike man it was not going to rain I headed of for a ride around what was once the island. Not far along the track it started to rain quite hard so I ended up stopping under a bridge and yarning to a Flemish couple who had also been caught out. After waiting some time and the rain not abating I put on my poncho and headed back to the hotel.
In the early evening, Des, a member of the local police ERT (Emergency Response Team) arrived. I had met Des in Texas last year while doing some long range shooting. We had a good catch up in the lounge on the 20th floor with his wife Kerri joining us later. One of the staff recommended a local restaurant called Nightingale so we headed there for a very nice meal and a good catch up, also enjoying the decor and the well-stocked bar. A game of pool and a couple more drinks at a local bar brought the evening/early morning to a close.

Monday 4 June 2018

I was in the lounge doing some work when I looked up to see a bloke hanging around on a rope cleaning the windows. I went out onto the balcony to have a closer look. This building is 48 storeys and the lounge is on the 20th floor. Duncan looked very comfortable hanging in his harness, suspended on a rope with another there, I presume, as a back up. He had been in NZ during the last Rugby World Cup and worked there teaching rock climbing.
Later in the morning I met Des and Kerri and they drove me around a few of the local places. Chinatown is a very tidy part of town as is the Gastown district with its steam clock. Hastings Street however is not quite what I was expecting. It’s like they have got every bad bugger in Canada and confined them to one street. Des explained how the street is just seething with crime, every illicit drug is available, local properties are constantly burgled to obtain items to sell to buy drugs, there are fights, stabbings and more. Apparently the city does its best to try and house, help and rehabilitate these people with little success and for some reason they all seem to congregate in this area.
We checked out the stream clock, the first of its kind in the world, installed apparently over a steam vent to stop the homeless congregating there to keep warm. At a cost of 42k it blows steam every 45 minutes and keeps people amused with a series of balls being carried up and down inside.
We then enjoyed a nice lunch at a local Japanese restaurant, after which Des and Kerri dropped me back at the hotel. I again took a bike and headed off for a ride around Stanley Park. This is a pretty area with good bike and walking paths and lots of green spaces. On the southern and eastern sides there are some beaches, all with logs laid out for seating and back rests. I presume they have been fished from the sea having escaped on the way to the saw mill. The bike trail back off the island lead me past a stadium and the World of Science, through Chinatown, across Hastings street and past the steam clock.
Around 5.30 Dayne (an ERT chap I also met in Texas last year) picked me up in his work SUV. The doormen did a bit of a double take as this tall, fully tooled up bloke dismounted and shook my hand before we jumped in the big black machine and headed off.
We cruised down Hastings St, where several cop cars were parked, lights flashing, as the cops were sorting out a bit of trouble. Several people lay cuffed, face down on the footpath, a few others in the process of being restrained while calling the cops not very nice names. We watched for a while, Dayne not wanting to get involved in case something serious went down somewhere else. From there we headed over to their HQ and took a look at their new armoured truck and had a look around their muster room and kit lockers. We had a good chat about various tools of their trade and then headed across town to the shooting range and training complex. Here all 1200 Vancouver police do both their shooting and situation-type training. In addition to the 25 and 50M shooting ranges there are rooms that can be set up with various sonorous sim (like a paint ball round) ammunition can be used to ensure police get it right in a real situation. There is also a large matted room where police are taught the art of restraining people. A lot of judo techniques are being brought into play here to try and restrain people without injuring them.
In the car park Dayne opened up the back of his truck to show me through the kit they carry, which, to name a bit, included stun grenades, runner and tear gas bullets, little mobile cameras to throw on buildings to see what is going on, a sniper rifle and night vision gear. Unfortunately nowadays there is a strong likelihood that some really bad bastards will show up in town so Vancouver, like many cities worldwide, has to have some real good bastards with the best kit to keep the rest of us safe.
As we left there Dayne got a call out – a guy was barricaded in a 6 floor apartment with a samurai sword threatening to kill people. He dropped me back at the hotel and went to help deal with the stand-off that lasted five hours.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

It’s cruise ship season here just now and there always seemed to be three in port and at least one in the bay leaving or coming. Some of these ships look more like a set of apartments, with each upper deck cabin having its own little balcony. After watching one of these leave the harbour I headed to the station and caught the train to the airport.
Arriving in Chicago late afternoon I caught the train towards the city, alighting at Damen a few kms north west of down town. Sylvia and her crew are staying in this wedge-shaped hotel, I think once a commercial building. On the roof is a bar; the sky is really clear this evening making for some great views over the city.
Sylvia and a team of senior managers from Mars are here working with a charity organisation called CARA who specialise in getting ex drug addicts homeless and other disadvantaged people back into the workforce, with a real focus on inclusive employment. The charity has been around for 27 years.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

After a leisurely breakfast I took a slow stroll into the city. I was surprised how little traffic there was as I headed down Milwaukee Ave.
I have been here a couple of times before and have looked at the museum, the Wells tower and done the ‘must do’ Architectural River Tour, where they explain how they reverse engineered the river to get it to run out of the lake to take the pollution down to the Mississippi River, and how over 100 years ago they jacked up all the buildings to raise the city. There are even more lift up bridges here than there are roads. The river splits, running north and south a few ks from the lake.
This time I booked to do the Gangasters and Ghosts Walking tour. As I made my way through the streets crossing the river, amazed at the number of bridges – all of which lift up to let yachts and ships through, including the odd spare one permanently stuck up in the air as if waiting for a new road road reach it. Arriving a little early at 75 Upper Wacker Drive I headed into the Land and Lake Cafe for a bite to eat. There I had a good bit of banter with Roberta, the waitress as I explained how what they call cream is really closer to what we call milk as that’s sort of how you get it from the cow.
Eventually finding Stefan, the charming, well-rehearsed walking guide a few doors down the road, we headed off on our tour joined by an Aussi bloke and a couple of women from Florida.
The first stop was to point out the building where Al Capone had his Stratosphere Club on the top floor. Interestingly the building housed mainly diamond traders who were consistently robbed on their way to and from work. To alleviate this problem a car elevator was installed, the first of its kind in the world, so the traders could drive in off lower Wacker drive and take car and all up to their office.
Next are the towers where interestingly, in the one on the right, over 1000 people have died through suuicide or murder by backing their cars over the edge of the car park. These were the first buildings in the world using a tower crane to build them. Apparently when they were digging the foundations on the right one they found human bones, maybe from an old Indian burial site and just carried on building. The building on the left has had only one suicide since they were completed in the 60’s hence the rent is cheaper in the right one.
The ship Eastland was berthed in the river and looked a bit top heavy as upper cabins, and then, following the Titanic sinking extra life boats added. One night during a fireworks display all the people on board rushed to the riverside to watch and it tipped over, killing over 800 people.
Next was the great fire. Apparently people jumped into the river to escape the flames. The river was so polluted with fat from the meat works that it caught fire around 300 people died. Not far from there is Death Alley, next to what was once the Iroquois Theatre, which was packed to over capacity, with people seated on the floor and exit doors that opened inwards, when a kerosene lamp set fire to the curtains and over 600 people died. The alley was curtained off and the charred remains laid out there.
The tour continued explaining various places where Capone had had people walked, particularly under the train lines while a train was passing to hide the noise. The above ground train lines were built in the late 1800s as too many people were being run over by trains. Interestingly they are the only lines I have seen where the electric rail is fully exposed.
As the city has been raised there is a huge amount of disused basement space, which is where many of the illegal bars were set up during the probation era. We stopped at the Palmer House Hilton, built in the early 1900’s with ornate ceilings and surroundings. Here was where many of the jazz musicians, brought up from the south by Capone, stayed.
We then wandered across to the Congress Hotel, where not only did Capone have a penthouse, but a mass murderer also  picked up a lot of his victims from here.
By this stage my bloody nuisance ankle was starting to swell again so I took the train back to the hotel where we spent a quiet evening.

A Quiet Few Days in Holland

Sunday 20 May 2018

Having arrived form Portland at 8am we had to wait for our room at the Apollo Hotel in Amsterdam to be ready. The place is a bit run down and the service even worse than one gets in France. The food, however, is great and the view from the deck, where four canals meet, is very relaxing. There is a constant passing of boats of all shapes and sizes. Sylvia is here for a conference involving nearly 400 Mars Petcare and Royal Canin senior people from around the world. They are also occupying another hotel near by.

In the early afternoon we took a stroll to Cafe Wildschut where we caught up with Mila and Anne who I had met in Belize a couple of years ago while traveling with AJ and Cam. Both have good jobs and are enjoying their homeland.

Monday 21 May 2018

Was a fairly quiet day as Sylvia had to prepare for a speech at the conference. Later in the day we sat on the deck at the hotel catching up with some of her colleagues.

Tuesday 22 March 2018

Having somehow injured my ankle last week I wasn’t up to going for a long  stroll. Later in the day I caught the train to Roermond in the southeast of Holland. Famous for its expensive shops, lakes and beaches, I had planned to go for a quick look around. As I left the station it rained really really hard, to the point, I heard later in the day, that houses were flooded in the area. Just by chance there happened to be a row of bars and cafes across the square from the station. Cafe De Tramhalte had not long been purchased by Vincent and his dad. Vincent, who was behind the bar, gave me a good rundown on the area. They get lots of people coming from Germany (the border is only 10km away) to shop and party. The bars open until 1 or 2 in the morning on week nights and the others are open until 5am in the weekends. Vincent explained how they shut at 2 in the weekend as there are too many fights after that hour. He also said living upstairs is quite interesting as often he will hear fighting in the early hours, look out the window to see what looks like a movie scene with glasses and bottles flying through the air amongst the brawling crowd.

Too soon, as in two beers later, it was time to catch the train back north. This time to S-Hertogenbosch, where my friends Rob and Femke live. I visited them a couple of years ago and took a trip through the canals here, which in a lot of places run under peoples houses. With its old style buildings and narrow streets and alleys – all well kept, it has got to be one of the nicest towns I have visited in this part of the world.

Leaving the station I headed once again for a bar to wait for Femke to finish work. The rain seems to be following me north. Femke eventually arrived, armed with umbrella, so we wandered through the streets to a local bar to wait for Rob, who was caught in traffic some distance away.

When Rob arrived we enjoyed a good catch up. Rob recently retired from the Marines and is now working in the security field. They are both excited as soon they are moving into a new house they are having built. All too soon the evening was over and we strolled back to the station where they bid me goodbye.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

With ankle still swollen I had a restful morning, I discovered there were boats for hire not far from the hotel so after lunch I headed down to hire one. Mathilde was on duty renting the boats at 80e for 3 hours, max 6 people. I paid up, jumped aboard and was shown the recommended route to take and how to drive the boat. “To go forward push the lever backwards to full throttle and the opposite to go backwards” she said. As I pulled away from the jetty in this electric boat my vision of speeding through the Amsterdam canals James Bond style were well and truly dashed! I could walk faster.

I headed towards the Amstel Canal which meets the Amstel river. A left turn took me towards the city centre. There are some quite big house boats moored on each side of the river, many with lots of land and flowers. They all seem to sit on what I presume is a floating concrete pad. Quite large boats and barges headed up and down the river. Mathilde had made made it very clear that the rules are “give way to bigger boats”. Lots of people hung about on the edge of the canals with the sickly smell of “wacky backy” drifting down from the streets. One of my Dutch friends told me “it’s the tourists that smoke that stuff, most Dutch people are too smart to indulge.” Turning left again I reached the city centre and the canals became quite packed with all sorts of boats. I did even manage to pass one slow pedal boat.

Eventually the tour brought me back past our hotel to the jetty. It is surprising the number of small boats that are tied up to the bank here with rotting covers and have obviously had no use for years.

Thursday 24 May 2018

Rob had suggested I take a look at the National Militair Museum near Soesterberg. I caught the bus to Amstel Station where the very helpful person gave me a print out on how to get there. A train took me to Utrecht. The line ran alongside a canal which had a combination of large freight barges and tourist boats heading along it.

On reaching the station I mounted a bus for the 30 min ride to Soesterberg followed by a km plus walk down a lane and across the old airfield passing a memorial and what had been the German airforce bunker from WWII – no longer accessible, but apparently once a large command post and tunnel complex.

Arriving at the entrance a Leopard Tank greeted me, along with a welcome sign. A good start to a museum!

This airfield is the oldest military one in Europe. Originally a small company was making aircraft here before WWI and went broke so the government took it over in 1913. During WWI Holland was neutral and many fighter pilots from both sides crossed into Dutch airspace to escape their pursuers. As a result they were interred for the rest of the war and Holland ended up with quite a collection of early fighter planes from both sides, helping them develop their aviation industry. In 1940 when the Germans invaded Holland this became a major German airbase. From here many bombing raids were carried out on the UK. The Germans built a large number of bomb proof hangars in the forests on the other side of the airfield, In spite of a massive bombing in 1944, which left the airfield cratered like the surface of the moon, many of these survived but just now one can’t visit them as birds are breeding in the area.

There are a huge range of aircraft, rocket launchers, tanks, artillery guns and machine guns here. Many of the fighter planes are suspended from the ceiling and others parked outside on the tarmac. I was impressed to see a German V1 and V2 rocket suspended on each side of the a spitfire. Interestingly my mother had often talked of seeing the V1 rockets over England while on an anti aircraft battery there during WWII. Later while on a battery in Antwerp she was knocked over by the blast of a V2 rocket that exploded a short distance from their gun emplacements.

Another fighter there was the Gloster Meteor which was the first Dutch Airforce fighter with jet engines, forty of these fighters were lost in training. There were no ejector seats back then.

Amongst the many machine guns there was a Swedish Palmcrantz & Winborge George mounted gun that fired by pulling a bar across the ten barrel chambers. Apparently in 1873 the Dutch army fired 3000 rounds in 3 minutes through this gun, more than many machine gins can achieve today.

Today they were holding a kids National Science Fair finals so lots of entertainment had been set up for the many attendees.

Having run out of time I tried to get an Uber back to the station but “no cars available” was the message. I strolled back to the bus stop and sat talking to a lady called Hanah who was up from south Holland for a job interview at a local brain research facility.

A warning to travellers in Holland about credit cards, or should I say the lack of places that take them. Having set out this morning with only 15e in notes and a few coins, the museum did not take credit cards so that was 14 some, a cup of coffee and I had a couple of euros left when I got to the bus stop. When I left the station this morning I had used the bus card from Amsterdam and was talking to the driver when I got on. As I mounted the bus and tagged the same card I noticed a red light. Asking the driver how much I was caught short. I had used a credit card on the bus in Amsterdam but that was not a go here. The driver said get on the bus you will just get a fine if the inspector gets on. Hanah did offer to help me out but the bus was on the move by then. Drivers had switched during the journey so when I offered some money at the end of the journey the driver shook his head and waved me away.

I have since discovered that credit cards are not widely accepted outside Amsterdam although some restaurants do take them, so carry cash in Holland.

Friday 25 May

Sylvia finished her meetings just after midday so we hired a couple of bikes and went for a ride around town. We had planned on heading out to the coast but a big thunder storm was forecast and packing wet clothes is not fun. We decided to head towards the city instead. This city is well set up for bikes – it’s flat, (in fact I haven’t seen a hill anywhere I have been in Holland), and there are bike lanes on all main streets. There are more people killed on bikes than in cars in Holland and around 14,000 bikes get fished out of the 100kms of Amsterdam canals every year, along with up to 50 cars. Interestingly most of the bikes here are upright with high handle bars which means the cyclist can see better whats going on around them and car drivers can see the cyclist easier. It’s quite common to see cyclists texting as they ride. If you live here you will own 1.2 bikes and use your bike up to 60% of the time.

We headed in the general direction of downtown ending up in Dam Square, where we stopped and enjoyed a light lunch at one of the many restaurants surrounding the square.

After lunch we headed down to towards the central railway station and turned right, passing the red light district before stopping for a look at the Maritime Museum, a magnificent stone building but the museum itself it not really much. It does have a replica sailing ship and the Royal barge, built by King William in 1818 last used in 1962 and recently restored.

We passed an original windmill and then made our way back to the hotel to pack and catch our flight to Singapore.


A Glimpse of Oregon

Monday 14 May 2018

We spent the weekend in Singapore with a visit from old mate, Ru, which included a Saturday dinner at Level 33 with its stunning view over Marina Bay and the light show. On Sunday we caught up with another mate, Chris, and his brother, Paul, for a tour of the Battle Box followed by a couple of drinks at our place.

We caught our flight to Portland Oregon, via Amsterdam, just after midnight Sunday. The last leg was on Delta airlines, where we experienced some of the best service and food we have had for a while on an airline. Well done Delta!

Landing late morning Sylvia and her colleagues, who had joined the flight in Amsterdam, went straight to a meeting at the Banfield head office in Vancouver, Washington State. I headed to the Sentinel Hotel in Portland. After checking in I took a stroll to the local Nike shop. As Portland is the home of Nike I expected a huge range of shoes but no such luck. I did however establish from the very knowledgable assistant that walking shoes are good for about 800kms. I realised mine had done probably at least four times that in the last two years. As they didn’t have anything suitable when Sylvia finished work we wandered to the REI store where I found a suitable pair of walking shoes.

Tuesday 15 May 2018

Sylvia and the team headed off to meetings early and, after a leisurely breakfast, I headed down to the Willamette River, which runs through the centre of the city and joins up with the mighty Colombia river a few miles down stream. At the river I turned right (south) and headed upstream. in a park on the river bank there were police assembled in various uniforms. I stopped and chatted to a sergeant at the back of a squad with various flags to discover it was an annual parade to honour the fallen. Parts of the park were covered in Canadian geese who barely moved as one walked through them.

A nice path headed alongside the river with lots of runners and walkers on it for the first few kms, then I was pushed away from the river through office and industrial areas and eventually I again found a park running alongside the river. I was surprised at the 12 vehicle bridges running across this river, from the north to the south end of the city, a distance of about 10kms. Several are double decked and many have lift up sections to let ships through. The oldest of these was built in 1910, the next a double decker steel bridge, also with a lift up section, was built in 1912.

Reaching the southern Sellwood Bridge I crossed over and headed back north along a sealed bike trail that ran alongside a rail line for several miles. Reaching the city I followed a walkway alongside the river until reaching the Broadway Bridge, which I crossed allowing for a good view downstream. This bridge also has, as many do, tramlines, with the centre span double-leaf bascule draw span opened for a ship to pass.

A path along the river’s edge lead me back up river until I turned off and strolled through Chinatown, then back to the hotel.

Wednesday 15 May 2018

I took an Uber across town where I picked up a rental car at Enterprise. I was expecting there to be a catch as the price quoted on line for 3 days was 65 USD. There was no catch just great service and soon I was on the road heading alongside the Colombia river.

I am heading for a town (population 46) called Antelope. The reason to make what is a long interesting journey is a few weeks ago Sylvia had headed to Tokyo and I was in Singapore with a few hours to spare before heading to NZ. I found a documentary on Netflix called Wild Wild Country. Thinking it was only one episode I started watching. Five episodes later I had to head to the airport so watched the last one in NZ. The story was about a Cult, started in India, called Rajneesh. Having got on the wrong side of the system in India they bought the Big Muddy River ranch near Antelope (for USD5.5 million) in the late seventies and set up a community. The conservative locals didn’t like the idea too much especially when they bought up most of the houses in Antelope and took over the town council, changing its name to Rajneesh. There was lots more too including a hotel they owned in Portland getting blown up, their attempt at assassinating a local councillor, bringing in thousands of homeless to get the town numbers up so they could take over the local Wasco council by vote and poisoning part of the town of Dalles, the county capital. I wanted to see what had happened to the place since 1985 when they were finally run out of the country.

Leaving the river at Biggs Junction and heading south the ground rose up to over 3000 ft. It’s large rolling cattle country where one can see for miles. Antelope is now a pretty derelict town with the church and the fire station the only well kept buildings. The cafe, school and the shops are run down and closed.

I headed out to Big Muddy Ranch about 18 miles away, most of it on a shingle road. The land out this way is a little steeper with rocky outcrops and deep gullies. The first evidence of the ranch I came across was the dam they built at the head of the valley. Dropping down into the valley there are a large grout of buildings at the southwest end of the sealed mile-and-a-half long runway, which is now cracked but still usable. I drove around amongst the large number of buildings until a guy in a pickup stopped me and said “hey man this is private property.” Oops! “Just trying to find the reception I replied” to be met with “just go up to the house and see Erika – she may give you a tour.”

I did just that and Erika was extremely helpful, she put me in her car and drove me around the place. I was the second visitor today; the other one was from Taiwan. She said before the documentary they got 2 visitors a year, now its two a day.

After the Rajneesh left, the place sat empty for years and was eventually bought by Denise Washington, a Copper Baron and philanthropist, and given to the Young Life Group, who have many camps across the US. Many of the buildings built by the Rajeesh, which the local council wouldn’t provide consents for, are still standing and were passed retrospectively. This includes what was the communal hall over 150 meters long and 50m wide, which is now a recreation hall. A new new dining room has been built, which caters for 500 people, and there is also a swimming pool and a lake. The new mess hall has facades of the old town of Antelope inside it. It appears the local ranchers have come to accept this latest religious group. There are a couple of  the original  accommodation buildings still in use, which sleep 400 plus lots more of the original buildings scattered around the place. Up a valley to the south there are more original buildings plus lots of new ones being built for a new youth camp for older kids.

The Rajneesh had built a huge community here. Erika said some old members have returned and said all they wanted to do here was live a peaceful life off the land. Unfortunately the local ranchers and the people of Antelope and the surrounding county didn’t quite see it that way so it all got a bit out of hand. Erika also gave me a good rundown on the camps they run for youth here and the farming that still takes place on the 65,000 square mile ranch.

I headed south to a place called Crooked River to visit Walt, who is the father of Stacey, who works with Sylvia in Singapore. Walt is a snow bird meaning that he and his wife head down south to Arizona for the winter. Walt had just returned to the new house they built on the hill with stunning views over the valley. His wife is enjoying a bit more sunshine down south. After a beer and a yarn I headed the 3 hours back to Portland this time via Mt Hood and the forest.

Thursday 16 May 2018

After another big US breakfast I headed southwest to the Evergreen Aeronautical Museum. I had heard about this place briefly but didn’t really know what to expect. The museum is made up of four large buildings with quite a few aircraft scattered around the outside. There is also a waterpark building that just happens to have a 747 Jumbo on the roof.

In the main building is none other than Howard Hughe’s Spruce Goose, a project funded by the US government during WWII. Designed to cary 750 troops and totally build of wood, this amazing beast made only one short flight in 1947, after which it was stored in a large warehouse funded by Hughes until his death in 1979. It was on display in California for a while until Evergreen got hold of it and built the building it now, fully restored, sits in, surrounded by other aircraft. With its 8 3,000 horsepower engines, large fuselage and wing span, it is trully impressive. I paid the extra money for a tour of the cockpit and look inside the wings.

Next I went over to the second building that housed space rockets, fighter jets, helicopters and the SR71 Blackbird, which flew at a top speed of 36 miles per minute. Thirty two of these were built, 12 of which were lost in accidents.

I hadn’t realised that space walks were done from the tiny mercury capsules and also discovered that the management of NASA had instructed that if they couldn’t get the space walker back inside they were to attempt re-entry with the poor bugger still attached as they didn’t want the bad publicity of leaving a guy up there.

Next I headed over to the theatre where a movie called Fighter Pilot was playing. It is the story of a pilot who went to the fighter pilot training exercise “Red Flag”, which is held every year in the Nevada Desert to fine tune pilots from all over the world. The story and photography was pretty amazing with lots of shots of fighters and bombers in action.

In the evening Sylvia and I took a dinner cruise up the river on the Portland Spirit. It gave us a good view over the city and took us about 10 miles upstream. interestingly where large houses now stand was once an industrial area with foundries and other heavy industry. There are still piles that once hosted large cranes on the river’s edge. On the return we were allowed on the bridge where the Captian was more than happy to tell us about the many bridges and other things about the city. On the river are a number of floating docks with houses floating upon them. Apparently the river rose up so much a few years ago that the docks floated up past the tall posts they were on and they floated off down the river creating mayhem. They are now on taller posts.

Friday 16 May 2018

We took a drive out to the Colombia river, stopping at a little town town called Troutdale for brunch before driving around the edge of the city along pretty, tree-lined roads. Dropping the rental car off, we headed back to the hotel as Sylvia had an afternoon/evening bunch of Skype meetings to attend. I headed up river to a cablecar I had spotted on Tuesday. This took me up to the hospital on a hill from which I found a track through the bush back to town. One thing that surprised me about Portland is the number of homeless people around the town. As I walked through a nice park that runs between two streets by the university at least 10 homeless slept on the grass, some with dogs and few belongings, others with lots of stuff piled on carts. Over the previous few days we had seen homeless all over town. I asked the question why to a number of people but got no defined answer. Apparently the legalisation of marijuana has lead to prolific drug use among them. One guy told us that some other states apparently give their homeless a hundred bucks and a bus fare to Portland to add to the problem. Whatever the reason it is not a good look for what is a pretty nice town with wide streets, character buildings and lots of trees.








Helpful people in South Korea

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Arriving in Seoul yesterday evening, out of Auckland via Singapore, I had a quiet evening trying to figure out if it was possible to get to the JSA this trip. After many inquiries I discovered the area is closed just now – no-one is sure why. Instead I booked a 3-day rail pass with Korail or KTX

Having looked up the trip on Google, I set off by bus for the station around 8.30am it was a clear day in Seoul unusual as its usually covered in a smoggy haze.. I headed to the information desk with a screen copy of my pass on my phone. The helpful guy at the counter went and got someone else, who got someone else, who explained that this is a private high-speed train company (they have 52 million people in this small country so no doubt can afford the odd private train line) that does not accept passes. He politely provided directions for getting to Seoul Station on the MRT. I was at the MRT station checking out the map when a young woman came over and asked in really good English if she could help. We boarded the train together and Selina explained how she was studying Russian and planned to be a diplomat, a good one she will no doubt be. We arrived at Seoul station just in time to jump on the bullet train a couple of minutes before it departed. As I had not booked a seat I was ushered to a pull down seat between the carriages by the conductor. As soon as we were underway I found a couple of empty seats and sat by the window enjoying the the view as we left the city heading southeast into the hills.

This place is impressive. The hills are all bush covered with no sign of cultivation and every time we pass through flat land between the hills it is intensively farmed. Along the edge of the hills there are often hundreds of 20-storey-plus apartment blocks, obviously housing thousands of people. With a population of 52-plus-million, 26m of whom live in Seoul, it still leaves a lot of people to fit into this reasonably small country. It sits 24th in the world for population density with 513.25 people per square kilometre. New Zealand at 200 on the list of 241 countries has 16.78, over a million of whom live in Auckland giving it a density of 1210 per sq km, far too many in my opinion. Seoul is at 10,400 per sq km.

Apologies for the poor photo quality there are no opening windows on these fast trains.

The train headed south-south-east to Daejeon a city 0f 1.5 million, then southeast towards Ulsan, before turning south to Busan. Arriving at the elevated station I could see to the east lots of brightly coloured houses on the island of Yeongdu-gu. Heading out of the station I wandered east towards the island past the cruse liner terminal. In the distance was a huge crane, which I tried to take a photo of but was yelled at by a security guard indicating photos not allowed. Following the road around onto the bridge to the island I saw again the crane floating on the harbour. Apart from one captured in Germany and now in the Panama Canal this is the world’s biggest crane, capable of lifting 3,600 tons. This Hyundai crane, surrounded by tug boats, was being moved around the harbour.

0n the other side of the bridge I got close to the colourful houses, some of which were being demolished to make way for new buildings – thats progress I guess. I had also spotted a large suspension bridge going back to the mainland. Hoping it might cater for pedestrians I walked around to it. No pedestrians allowed! It is however well worth a look with a circular road joining it to bring in traffic from the east.

I strolled back to the bridge I had come over through another part of the ship building area. This place is really clean and tidy with the odd single-storey old building still surviving amongst the high rises. The streets are clean and in good repair. Crossing back over the bridge I headed north to the markets. These must be the best kept markets in the world; the pavements in good nick and everything clean, tidy and hosting a large range of dried fish, herbs and all sorts of other stuff. An old lady pushed a large cart through the streets laden with fruit and vegetables selling to the stall holders.

Back at the station I booked a seat for the return journey after which I headed to the information counter to find out if I could get a train tomorrow from Seoul to Goseong on the east coast, just south of the border. Google maps showed a line going there. “No train there”, I was told, but there is one to Gangneung further south. Later at the platform a guy came up to me and asked how I got on at the information counter; it turned out he had lived in NZ for 3 months. He warned me that Google maps weren’t to be relied on here.

Arriving in Seoul I found the bus station and got on the bus number stated on Google maps. Holding the money out and showing it to the driver as I had done in the morning, the driver yelled at me and indicated forcefully I should get off the bus. The next bus came, I got on, threw some change on the money box and off we went, I checked the map to make sure we were heading in the right direction, which we were for the first 10 minutes, then we gradually swung around to the north, which was not good. The map showed a rail line running under the street so I got off and went underground to the station. While checking the subway map a very helpful chap came over and told me in good English which trains to take to get back to the hotel.

Thursday 10 May 2018

I caught the subway to Cheongnyangni Station, then the high speed train to Gangneung. This high speed line was only finished last year in preparation for the Winter Olympics held earlier this year. It used to be a 5 hour train journey now cut to under two hours. I grabbed a jump seat between the carriages and showed my photo pass to the guard who went off and found me a spare window seat. The country was similar to yesterday with bush clad hills and cultivated flats.

Arriving at the very new and well laid out station in Gangneung I headed through the town to the river. Crossing the river I headed downstream on the stop bank which had a nice tree-covered path on it. Between the river and the stop bank there are lots of sports fields. Looking back across the river to the town I was surprised how small it was with a population of over two hundred thousand. As I headed down river there was a large industrial area with every bit of spare land supporting crops of various kinds. A few kms south I could see a control tower for an airfield from which fighter jets were taking off every few minutes, circling north towards the border and returning.

At the river mouth a tower on each side supported a flying fox with lots of people queueing up for the ride across the river and back. Crossing the foot bridge to the north side I discovered a nice beach resort with lots of cafes and shops. All the cafes had English names as did many of the shops. The beach extended several kms to the north, where lots of kite surfers were showing off their skills. As I walked up the beach I came across many trenches dug into the sand, some with overhead cover. A compound surrounded a tower with a heavy machine gun facing out to sea.

They waste little space here as even the ground between a block of appartments and the beach, which one would expect to be lawns, was cultivated and growing produce. A road through more fields took me back to town. There are still the little statues on street corners from the Olympics.

On the ride back as the sun was going down I dozed off. Waking just before the station I grabbed my pack and shoes and headed onto the platform. As the doors closed I realised I had left my camera on board. While trying to work out how to go about getting it back, a young couple who had got of the train asked if there was anything they could help me with. I explained the camera situation and Lee said “don’t worry we will get your camera back”. He got on his phone and called someone he knew who worked for the railway. His girlfriend Park also helped. Park had to head of to see someone so Lee decided he would come with me to Seoul Station and help me get the camera. We headed to a local subway and while on the journey he got a call to say the camera had been handed in and taken to the lost property. Arriving at the station we headed to the lost property and there it was. Lee then rode the train back to the hotel with me as Pack lived nearby. She was waiting for us as we arrived at the hotel. Unfortunately they had to rush of to a meeting and could not stay and dine with us. I am going to make a point of catching up with them next time we are in town.

I don’t think I have been anywhere in the world and struck so many friendly and helpful people in such a short time. To think  this country was ravaged by war just over 60 years ago with every substantial building north of Busan and the surrounding area destroyed. These people have done a great job of rebuilding their country.




Chengdu, Home of the Panda

Thursday 19 April 2018

Checking in at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, we boarded a bus for a nearly 30 min bus ride to the old terminal to board the plane. This was followed by an hour delay while we waited for a take off space. Arriving in Chengdu airspace some 3 hours later we then had to circle to wait for a landing space. Chengdu is a smaller city than Shanghai with a population of around 18 million and is the capital of the the Sichuan Province, home to around 81 million people and a couple of thousand giant pandas.

As we headed off the plane we merged with what seemed like thousands of people who seemed to disappear as we headed into the baggage hall with 25 carousels spread over a few hundred meters. A driver met us and soon we were on a four-lane road heading into town. It was getting late by the time we checked into the very modern JW Marriott hotel, which, like many modern hotels, had its reception on the eight floor.

Friday 20 April 2018

After breakfast I took a stroll down to the Tianfu Square (the main Square). With a large statue of Chairman Mao overlooking it from the north the activity here was somewhat unusual. Soldiers and police seemed to be on full alert. Police wore barbed, riot-type arm guards and carried shields with three in each group. One in the group carried what looked like a spear or an electric cow prodder. Groups of soldiers and police stood in threes in a triangle. Asking around later I couldn’t find a reason for this type of activity; I am quite sure it wasn’t just because we were in town.

Next I headed to People’s Park, which is quite attractive with tea houses, various statues, a stream, ponds and lots of people relaxing. One group of women performed a tai-chi version of line dancing to music. This is apparently very popular in China and often causes confrontations as groups take over parks and squares to practice, to the annoyance of those who like their peace and quiet.

After leaving the park I wandered around a bit until I came across the “city with wide and narrow streets”. This old part of town, with its traditional brick buildings, was recently restored and now is a major tourist attraction. When I say tourist I mean tourists from other parts China. I was the only European guy around and unusual enough that a couple of girls asked to have a photo with me. The streets in this area are clean and well kept as are the shops. An unusual activity here was ear cleaning done outside, the patient in a chair while a guy with a head torch pokes around in his ear with some metal rods. There is a huge variety of food on sale here with stalls and kitchens set up amongst the souvenir shops. At one point I saw a video playing outside a tea house with dancing and other acts on it. After some pointing and paying I was lead in and given a seat near the front. For some time a chap with a bald head and wearing a robe stood up and talked about various bits of calligraphy type art work to which people clapped enthusiastically. After 30 minutes of that a very solemn looking woman sat and played a horizontal harp type device. She was followed by another solemn woman who played a vertical guitar type instrument. Finally a guy with a long-spouted tea pot came out twirling it around and pouring the odd cup of tea from various angles. After nearly two hours I decided I had seen enough and quietly made my way out. I always have a good chuckle at myself when I end up in these situations where I haven’t really got a clue what is going on or how long it’s going to go for. I strolled through a few more streets before heading back to the hotel.

Just outside the hotel there was a big line of these bloody “trip over in the way bikes” to which they were adding more to the line up,and unusually these ones were lined up and in a stand. To be fair I did actually see some people using them around the town.

At around five I was picked up by one of the Royal Canin staff and driven to a really cool restaurant made up of lots of rooms with water features and bridges. There I met Sylvia and the Royal Canin team for a rather interesting meal. Dishes of various things kept arriving at the table, many laced with the local  sichuan spices which have an amazing hot taste while making the end of your tongue and lips go numb for a few minutes. Jelly fish, preserved eggs, cow stomach, beans, shrimps, pig trotters, congealed duck blood and tofu ate some of the ones I can remember. To add to the night was a corn wine drunk from small glasses in a skulling type manner as each of the team tool it in turns to stand up and have a ‘cheers’ with me. I am sure China sells this stuff to North Korea to fuel its rockets!!


Saturday 20 April 2018

At 9am Lucia, our guide, and a driver picked us up. We headed out of town on the wide roads, which continued well out into the country. The infrastructure here is very impressive with motorways often running on pilings across the country side. About 50kms to the northwest near Guanghan is the Sanxingdui Museum. This came about some years ago when a local peasant discovered some relics beneath his land and started taking them into the local market to sell them. Then some archaeologists found out and started investigating. Their discoveries have turned Chinese history on its head. The Chinese always believed that China started in China with their history and culture developing from within. Dating back between 3000 and 4800 years these findings show Egyptian and Greek influences. This part of the world was also going through the early bronze age. The museum is set in a nice park with two pavilions separated by colourful gardens and a nice forest. The displays are well done and easy to follow. The lighting allows for good photographs which are the only real way to describe what we saw. There was even one object that looked like a steering wheel.

Interestingly there were also lots of African elephant tusks discovered in burial sights around the area. African elephants never roamed in this area. There was also an area the depicted through maps movies and photos the extent of the excavations over a large area.

Visit over we headed west to Dujiangyn where the Min river emerges from the mountains. This is a pretty big set up with lots of tourists wandering around. We were waved off the street by an enterprising local down a driveway to an empty lot where this guy was running his “make a few bucks in the weekend” parking lot. A short distance away we crossed the Qingshui Jiang river over a ornate footbridge.

On the river bank there is a busy restaurant. David, The GM of Royal Canin China and an expert fisherman, headed to the fish tank and soon had a prize fish in the net, which was cooked and on the table in under ten minutes, along with some other spiced dished. We enjoyed a nice lunch as hawkers wandered past trying to sell various spices, herbs and other produce carried in large baskets.

Back across the river we headed into the Ancient Min River project. This is very impressive. About 2300 years ago the Qin State and Chengdu city was often flooded until Li Bing, a a hydraulic engineer, rocked up and built this amazing water management scheme. First he had the  Qingshui Jiang river dug which then branched off into three smaller rivers to irrigate the whole basin. He then diverted the Min river so at normal times the river irrigated the fertile land, boosting the population of the state with many people moving to Chengdu City helping greatly to expand the power of the Qin State.

The river was diverted in such a way that when the floods came the excess water went down the old Min River Channel as it still does today. It has certainly been modified considerably in the last two thousand years with modern dams and spillways but the original design was impressive. A major earthquake in recent years means a lot of the memorial area has been rebuilt, done nicely with water features, statues and nice gardens. Taking a crowded swing bridge then a spillway bridge across a couple of dry channels we headed up river across another crowded swing bridge and up the hill to a pagoda for a good view of the project.

The tour over, we headed  to the south side of Chengdu to an old, well-restored part of town to a restaurant that served vegetarian food that looked and was supposed to (but not quite) taste like meat and fish. A tradition from the nearby Tibetan monks area.

Sunday 21 April 2018

Lucia picked us up at 9.30am and we headed northeast to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda.

A bit like a zoo it was well laid out with lots of bush, bamboo, panda merchandise shops and quite a few pandas. Once nearly extinct there are a couple of thousand of of them nowadays, many roaming the nearby hills. The perception is that they are a gentle cuddly bear, ‘wouldn’t heart a fly’ type of animal. Apparently not so, as in the wild they they not only eat bamboo shoots but meat as well. Part of the demise in population was caused by pandas wandering down the paddock and feasting on the odd goat and the peasants retaliating by killing the pandas. It would be quite nice one day to go for a stroll in the hills nearby and see them in the wild. The research centre is sectioned off with the younger pandas and older ones in separate compounds. There is also a breeding area. They seem to spend a lot of time doing not very much and just laying around.  Their compounds are surrounded with a ditch with a vertical wall on the outside.

Another area houses the red pandas. They are much more active, often running along the ground and up trees. Their compound is surrounded by a high fence with electric wires on the top.

On the way out we stopped and sent  panda postcards to Kirstie and Victoria. It will be interesting to see if they make it to NZ and how long they will take.

We stopped for a nice lunch on the way to the airport and mid afternoon we boarded an A321 for the flight back to Shanghai. We were seated in the back row and just now it’s the changing of seasons in China, which apparently makes for a bit of rough flying. It was quite exciting as the plane bucked its way through the sky at various points during the flight.

A big thank you to David for sticking around over the weekend and showing us the local sites, and his team in Chengdu for organising out guide Lucia.


Bouncing Around: Brisbane (a big proud moment), NZ and Shanghai

Wednesday 4 April 2018

My youngest daughter, Kirstie, was participating in the track cycling at the Commonwealth games in Brisbane, Australia. After checking into the Emporium Hotel Sylvia had some work to do so  I picked up Kirstie’s husband, Michael, and we headed over to the hotel the team was staying at for a quick catch up. That evening  we drove down to the Gold Coast to the ANZ games headquarters, where they had a reception area set up for the families of athletes to gather. My other daughter, Victoria, and her husband, Leighton, joined us. There we watched the games opening ceremony. The place was rather badly set up and a little scruffy so we decided not to visit it again.

Sylvia’s sister, Lisa, her husband, Russell, and their daughters, Ella and Matariki, had arrived during the evening having driven the eight hours south from Rockhampton.

Thursday 5 April 2018

After brunch Sylvia and I headed to the Anna Meares Velodrome for the first cycling session of the games. With limited spectator room the others couldn’t get tickets so stayed at the hotel to watch it on a live feed. We had a little trouble getting through security as I had brought the big camera lens with me. The friendly people on security pointed out that only authorised professional photography people were allowed such big lenses. I pointed out that I was far from professional and only wanted to take photos of my daughter and her team; furthermore it wasn’t a really big lens. Up the chain the problem went… finally a guy turned up explaining that “these are the friendly games”. He took a photo of our tickets and the camera, sent it through to someone telling us we may get a visit from someone and let us in. We never got a visit and I respected their leniency by only photographing the team.

In the centre of the track we watched as athletes warmed up and then were lead to the track ,each race starting bang on time. We watched with excitement as Rushlee, Racquel, Bryony and Kirstie warmed up for their women’s team pursuit race.

Finally the race was underway with each of the teams racing on the track on their own. The top two times will race off for gold and silver and the next two for bronze.

The NZ team is near the end of the eliminations and make an excellent time allowing them a place in the gold-silver final.

The session is over and as Kirstie is through to the final we are entitled to two family tickets for the evening session.  We have also managed to source another ticket from a friend. Victoria, Leighton and Micheal meet at the ticket box to collect the two tickets and it seems in no time we are back in the velodrome watching the evening’s final events. Victoria and Leighton are seated across the other side of the velodrome.

Finally the girls are up for the final. Beaten by the Australians they receive the silver medal. The medal ceremony is straight after their race with no time to warm down before getting into their track suits and onto the podium. The Duchess of Wales, Camilla, hands out the medals to the twelve excited woman on the podium receiving Bronze Silver and Gold.

The evening over we headed back to the hotel. There was to be no celebrating for Kirstie that night as she was racing again the next day in the individual pursuit.

Friday 6 April 2018

it was only announced a few weeks ago that Kirstie was also racing in the Individual Pursuit and the Scratch race at the games. These events are not held at the Olympic Games so there is no emphasis by Bike NZ to train for them. Kirstie had raced in this event in Amsterdam at the world champs a few weeks earlier. The Australians had not attended the world champs so they could focus on the Com Games. We were unable to get tickets to this this event as they sold out last year. We sat in the hotel room with a computer hooked up to the TV and watched the afternoon events live. Right up to the last heat (two riders in each heat with individual times counting for the finals) Kirstie’s time put her third. Then in the final heat a Scottish and Australian woman both posted really fast times pushing her to fifth place.  Having knocked 4.6 seconds off her previous best time she was still pretty pleased.

In the evening we picked Kirstie up from her hotel and headed to a local restaurant for dinner. Kirstie brought her medal along, which caused great excitement amongst the staff and customers.

Saturday 7 April 2018

Lisa and family, Sylvia, Michael and I headed out to Coloundra for a stroll along the beach. It is a very scenic spot with white sand, holiday homes and well landscaped areas along the waters edge. Hundreds of swimmers were crammed between the flags, which were a mere 50-meters apart, as life guards yelled and waved at anyone who dared stray outside the mark. From the shore we could see fairly strong rips on either side.

As we strolled back to the car 20-plus kite surfers raced back and forth in the distant waves.

We took a drive up Fortitude Valley to a lookout where we could see a number of volcanic plugs which had turned into small hills as the surrounding soil had eroded away over a few million years.

In the evening we all (apart from Kirstie who has one more race) met at a local Japanese restaurant for a meal and a few drinks.

Sunday 7 April 2018

Lisa and family set off for the long drive back to Rockhampton having had a fairly late night with Victoria and Leighton who stuck around for a few more drinks after dinner.

After a relaxing morning and a brief catch up with Kirstie I headed to the airport.

That evening Kirstie raced in the scratch race. As it was a final we were able to get two family tickets plus we managed to purchase some spare ones one of the parents had. Michael, Victoria, Leighton and Sylvia were able to attend the race. Twenty four riders set off from the start line and jostled for position. Its a game of tactics, strength and speed. Kirstie managed to come in fifth. It was her last event of the games and the next day she moved to the the games village on the Gold Coast to join the other athletes and enjoy the rest of the games.

Sylvia headed to Hong Kong at midnight; the others headed back to NZ the next day.

Monday 8 April 2018

My friend Todd was out from Texas,teaching some long range shooting in the central north island. Battling snow and rain we still managed to get in some good shooting and learn a lot over the next four days.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

After spending a few days at home in Auckland we arrived in Shanghai yesterday. It’s a clear day here with blue skies above the smog. Visibility from the 57th floor of the Shangri-La is the best I have seen it.

Mid-morning I caught the metro down to the Bund. The train was packed and ads played on the tunnel walls as the train sped along – not quite sure how they do it as the ads seems to stay still.

Exiting the metro station a woman approaches holding a small brochure, “come with me, I have good price on watch.” I respond with a firm “no thanks!” “Where are you from?” “Antarctica” I say. “Very nice country, I want to go there!” Then out come the cards with partially clad women. “You want massage?” “No thanks” I reply again. “Have you been to Shanghai before?” I delight in my response, “six times”. Her face drops and she moves off to try another sucker.

Arriving at the Bund it is a hive of activity as usual. The buildings across the Huangpu River stand out in the almost clear sky, not as usual.

I turned left, heading down the river and soon was pushed away from the river by buildings that seemed to own the land up to the riverbank. There is a real contrast of buildings in Shanghai with old, low-rise buildings still surviving amongst the sky scrapers. Eventually I found a park that lead back to the river and a recently constructed walking, running and bike track, which runs about six km alongside the river. Combined with parks, marinas and nice gardens it is well worth a visit. At one point the path runs alongside what I think is a water treatment plant surrounded by old style attractive brick walls with security cameras mounted at twenty meter intervals. Old, low railway wagons have been turned into flower gardens. Hundreds of barges and bigger ships navigate up and down the river; at times it looks like barge racing as several well laden barges head side by side up stream.

The path runs out abruptly at the Yangpu Suspension Bridge. Rather than head back I made my way out through a gap in a fence which lead to a yard; the security guard was too busy browsing his phone to notice me. Every yard, office or building around here has a gate and security guards, most of them engaged in browsing their phones. One semi-alert chap wouldn’t let me take a photo of an unusual statue I could see from the gate. He didn’t realise that as I lifted the camera to point and ask, I already had the photo.

The streets and buildings were pretty old and rough around here as I was once again pushed away from the river.  Opposite the river side of the road was mainly housing with shops on the ground floor. On the river side it was quite industrial with large factories, an electricity plant and the Shanghai Fashion Centre. A little further along there is a refurbished industrial area hosting mainly fashion shops and a few cafe’s. I stopped at the Starbucks for a brew, knowing it was going to be a bad one and I was not disappointed – these guys are consistent all over the world.

From here I headed parallel to the river, past a university and lots of gated, maybe education and industrial places. In one area they are upgrading the footpaths and motorbike paths. I stopped to look at a guy laying some pavers and a silent electric scooter ran gently into my left leg. One has to be quite careful of these silent machines here as they’re not in the business of giving way to pedestrians. As per normal hundreds of hire bicycles lined the streets near factories and bus stops. At about 20km I spotted one unlocked and was a little tempted to borrow it. I passed an electric car station that looked as if you could leave your car there overnight to get it charged as the multi-storey part was empty..

Eventually Google maps took me down an ally to where a ferry waited at a wharf. With seconds to spare and a bit of sign language I just got on it as it departed to play dodgems with all the other boats to get to the other side. A narrow road ran parallel to the river with at times no footpath. On the riverside there is a combination of industrial yards stocking everything from steel to sand. On the other side of the road were mainly houses and crops; some houses quite good and others pretty rough. About 6kms up this road another ferry took me back across the river, just as the river started to widen out as it meets the Yangtze River.

A couple of kms further and I was at Songbin Road, where a 45-minute trip on an above ground metro line took me most of the way back to the hotel. 


Another look at Taipei

Monday 19 March 2018

Arriving in Taipei early afternoon, Sylvia went straight into a meeting while I settled into the Sheraton Hotel. It had been 15-plus hours since we boarded in Copenhagen. Things sorted, I took a stroll east along Zhongxiai West Rd several blocks heading south, passing through Daan Forest Park with its large roller park and other entertainment including a small open air concert stage. Along the way I passed a very orderly protest with a bunch of oldies all seated on stools behind a barrier while a guy squawked into a megaphone while a similar number of security guards looked on.

Striking a built up motorway I took a while to find a bridge over it to reach the river. As suspected there is a footpath along the riverbank. Alongside it there is also a cycling track. The area is well kept and quite a pleasant place for a stroll. Following the river for several kms with light fading I cut back across town towards the hotel This route took me through a Youth Park with lots of tennis and squash courts alongside a baseball pitch and other sports grounds; all is tidy and well kept. Next I came across the Botanical Gardens which are well laid out and very tidy. By now it was way too dark to take photos.

Tuesday 20 March 2018

I spent most of the day writing about Denmark. As the evening arrived Stan, who runs Taiwan and Hong Kong for Royal Canin invited me to join the crew for dinner at a very nice local restaurant. The area had once been a brewery and had been turned into an entertainment area, which even included a famous Russian character which Svet and Tatyana from Russia were quick to point out.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

One of the team had recommended a visit to the National Palace Museum. Apparently many of the exhibits were brought here by Chiang Kai-shek  and his crew, having being removed from Beijing prior to it being  handed to the Japanese in 1937. The city was handed to the Japs to preserve it from being destroyed.

I decided to walk and have a further look at the city – this town has really wide streets. Lots of the main roads have had a motorway built in the middle above the existing road. Like most Asian cities motorbikes are at the front at the lights, roaring off in front of the rest of the traffic as the lights turn green – surprisingly very few are blowing smoke. There are lots of bike lanes here but like in Auckland few push bikes use them.

Reaching the river I find a continuation of the cycle and walking track alongside it. Next to the track is a 6m-plus flood wall with remotely operated gates on the drains, which close during flooding to stop the buildings on the other side from flooding.  From here one gets a good view across the city with Tower 101 standing out in the distance. The suspension bridge along the river looks like a great piece of engineering.

A road tunnel took me under the hill to the palace museum. Its facade is impressive with large arch gates and a wide path leading up to the entrance.

The place inside is quite big, divided into many different galleries over four levels with a range of artifacts, some dating back over 5000 years. I always wonder when I come to a place like this whether these exhibits will still be around in another 5000 years or will they all be blown up by then. Furthermore, what will people be seeing of our footprint on the planet that far out.

Some items I found of real interest were some tiki-like objects around 3000 years old that are very similar to what the Maoris produced in NZ a hundred years ago. Also their stone axe heads were similar in shape to the Maori ones.

There is lots of Chinese art dating back 3 to 4 hundred years and lots of jewellery and ornaments, some dating back over 2000 years. One interesting piece was a banner or letter appointing a general to his command that had survived around 1700 years.

On the way home I walked across the suspension bridge, which from a distance had looked clean and neat but turned out to be a bit rough when one looked at the detail. Skirting around the west end of the local airport I came to a market street selling mainly produce. It was clean and tidy  with people just packing up from their morning sales. Even places selling fish out of these crammed spaces didn’t smell of fish. I am always impressed how in many of the worlds big cities people seem to be able to operate out of much smaller spaces than we are used to.

I arrived back at the hotel to meet Sylvia and her management team, as Stan the General manager for Taiwan and Honk Kong had had invited me to join in their team building activity. We were driven by bus to a place, dropped off, led into a building up a few floors and, after a debrief, 6 of us were thrown into two jail cells and tasked with escaping within one hour. The place was well set up with the often not so obvious clues spread around the cells. Once out of the cells there was a holding area we had to escape from and that done then bugger there is another room with laser beams to avoid, then safes to crack, yes and some more too. We had to get an extension of 10+ mins to complete it.

We then swapped with the other group who had been trying to solve a crime in another part of the building, finding fingerprints and names and other stuff to open a secret door and then yes there was more, lots more. We just cracked that in under an hour. I can highly recommend the escape house if a group of you are in Taipei looking for some entertainment.

After that we headed to a nice restaurant with nice views and great food for an entertaining evening where at one point each of us had to sing.  I’m not sure I will be invited back to sing again.


Thursday 22 March 2018

A few blocks down the road is Taipei Main Station. From there I caught the MRT out to Tamsui, a large inlet where the Tamsui river runs into the sea. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a nice area with clean streets, well presented shops and a relaxed feel about it.

Here I discovered another market street with vendors yelling to promote their products, produce well laid out and no fish smell from the fish stalls. Motorbikes wound their way through the pedestrians, not quite hitting people. Some pretty interesting stuff to eat too, lucky I wasn’t hungry.

Back down on the Main Street what looked like a float parade was heading my way – headed by four flower covered floats, a string of probably close to 100 black Mercedes, and little trucks with signage on them with a guy on the back playing a string or wind instrument. I found out later this was a funeral parade – people send a car or truck as a sign of respect to the deceased. This guy with his photo on one of the floats must have been very important as the procession went on for several hundred meters. Following that was another, much smaller funeral processionr.

I continued along the street as it brought me out to the shoreline. Lots of little cafe’s and eating places were scattered along the way. Several kms out towards the point I came across a resort area with a couple of large hotels, a marina and entertainment centre. This included the World of Chocolate. Sylvia, Victoria and Kirstie all have a liking for chocolate so I had to check it out. Yes – just about everything from a two ton cat to terracotta soldiers were made of chocolate.

I found a path along the coast heading back which lead me into some very derelict and rough looking houses. People tended to their small vegetable patches and smiled is I walked past using my one Chinese word “nihau”. Passing a military post with automatic 40 mil grenade launchers and .50 cal machine guns set up in the unattended pillboxes I asked the guard on the gate if they were waiting for the Chinese invasion – he smiled and nodded his head.

A thing that stands out in Taiwan apart from the thousands of stainless steel water tanks atop many buildings is the cages on many windows, particularly on older buildings. There must have been some really good sales people around a few years ago selling these things.

Getting closer to the station there were lots more people around enjoying the sunshine, shopping and generally hanging out in this lovely place with its views across the river mouth.

I dropped into a massage place and had a good hard leg and foot massage before heading back to the hotel for a quiet evening.

Friday 23 March 2018

Not far from the hotel is a large area containing the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and two large concert halls on some manicured grounds.

As one enters the memorial there sits a large statue of the man, on each side a soldier stands stiffly at ease with his chromed M1 Garand with two bits of plastic tape holding the bayonet in place.

Heading down several flights of stairs there are three levels under the statue with galleries of various kinds. On the bottom floor is a huge hall telling the story of Chiang Kai-shek. Interestingly he did a lot of his military training in Japan and was exiled there early last century. Apparently in the early part of WWII the us were backing him in his fight against the Japanese but changed to back Mao Zedong who kept most of the major weapons supplied to fight Chiang in the cultural revolution. Interestingly there were a number of awards made to Chiang by central and south American countries such as Guatemala and Argentina.

In the afternoon we flew to Singapore for the weekend then on Sunday I headed to NZ and Sylvia to Japan. Our next trip is to the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane to watch daughter Kirstie race in the track cycling.

Very friendly Denmark

Friday 9 March 2018

My daughter Victoria and, now husband, Leighton got married at a stunning venue near Waikanae, NZ with a great bunch of people.

Sunday 11 March 2018

We flew home to Auckland for a few hours before catching the Emirates flight via Dubai to Copenhagen. Emirates used to be one of my favourite airlines to fly with but they too are dropping their standards, especially when it comes to on-board service.

Monday 12 March 2018

This evening we checked into the Babette Guldsmeden Hotel in Copenhagen. Sylvia headed off to a dinner meeting and I headed off to the hotel restaurant for a rather tasty meal of cod. The food and service in the hotel is excellent whilst the room, with its strange layout, is rather average.

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Having spent the morning catching up on some work I headed across the road from the hotel to what at first sight appeared to be a park. Kastellet (the Citadel) is one of the best preserved star fortresses in Europe, complete with moat. Built in 1626 it was part of the defensive system, which back then encircled the city. Still owned and occupied by the military it is now open as a park.

Heading out the other side of the fort I wandered down to the waterfront past a marina and along a very tidy wharf. Like many Scandinavian cities they love their statues here. A particularly famous one is the little bronze mermaid, who has been sitting on a rock waiting to get a glimpse of some prince through two world wars and for over a hundred years and is still waiting. In the intervening years they have also added a concrete one looking out to sea.

We are a bit lucky with the weather as this week it is between -2 and +2 which, the locals tell me, is warm compared with the past few weeks where it has been below -10. (Sylvia’s note: despite the “relatively warm” temperatures the biting wind made it feel bitterly cold – to me at least).

Wednesday 14 March 2018

I strolled down the road to the Osterport Station where I caught the train to Malmo, in Sweden, to visit my friend Erik, who is the International Sales Manager for Aimpoint. Luckilyy Erick had suggested that I bring my passport as on leaving the platform at Malmo two policemen stood checking everyone’s passports or ID’s. Even though part of the EU, Sweden has had to tighten up its borders after an influx of over a million unwanted refugees over the past few years. Gang violence, rapes and murders are on the increase, apparently caused in most cases by the large number of single, male, unemployed immigrants.

Erik picked me up outside a new shopping mall in Hyllie for the short drive to the Aimpoint factory. These guys make the best red-dot sights in the world. With the business having grown 10-fold over the past few years they are in the process of building a new factory and offices. I was privileged to have a tour through the factory, which is absolutely immaculate. Sorry no photos but for those interested you can check out

Thursday 15 March 2018

It’s slightly on the plus side of zero as I stroll with Sylvia and some of her colleagues down to the waterfront where the development program is taking place. From there I strolled around the waterfront coming across the queen’s quarters. Amalienborg consists of four large buildings surrounding a large courtyard. The queen occupies the one on the southwest side, the prince and his Australian-born princess the one on the southeast side. The one on the northeast is partially open to the public, showing off some relic-cluttered rooms from the past.

Young soldiers in their bearskin hats patrol in front of the buildings 24 hours a day. These guys are conscripts  doing their compulsory military service of between 4 and 12 months; this has been the law in Denmark since 1849. The young guard I chatted to (which is okay provided one doesn’t get closer than 2 meters) was keen to get this part of his duty over and get out in the field to do some running around and some shooting. Interestingly they seem to have adapted a way of holding their assault rifles by folding their arms, which helps keep them warm when marching.

At the end of the street that runs through the palace is Frederiks Kieke (church), a dome church 32m in diameter, built mainly of limestone and marble. Originally started in 1749 to commemorate 300 years since the coronation of a member of the house of Oldenburg, with a money shortage and the odd dodgy deal it wasn’t finally opened until 1894.

Not far down the road is a canal which is lined both sides with brightly coloured buildings, many of which are restaurants with lots of outside dining.

Crossing another canal I headed for Vor Fresers Kirke. On an island which was originally created as part of the moat defensive system of the city this church is rather unique. Originally built in the 1600’s, in the early 1700’s it had a spire added with an external staircase which actually goes nowhere; in fact it just gets narrower and narrower until one can go no further – the smaller you are the further you get.  Interestingly like many buildings in Copenhagen it is built of timber with huge wooden beams and columns as its internal structure. The outside if the spire is clad in copper. Inside there are a range of bells which are all linked to a thing that looks a bit like a piano but is in actual fact a bell player. At 80 plus meters tall there are great views from the top.

Most of the buildings in Copenhagen are brick or stone. This came about after a number of fires in the city. One in 1728 destroyed approximately 28% of the city, hence a law was brought in that all buildings must be clad in stone. As a result of that and many other fires there is little remaining of the original medieval city.

Back across the canal I came across the National Museum. One really good section in there was a walk through time line of Denmark dating back to the 1300’s, which outlined really well the history of the country with exhibits relating to each era.

Just across the canal I came across the Christiansborg Slot (the main Palace and parliament buildings) including a  large equestrian arena stables and indoor arena in the grounds. This is quite a big place. First I took a trip up the spire to enjoy some more views of the city. On the way out I tried to take a short cut through an arch and ended up in a shop to discover one could do a tour of part of the palace including the basement and the kitchen. I paid the money and headed first to the palace. Started in 1908 and finished in 1927 it is very similar to the Hermitage in St Petersburg with lots of huge rooms but in this case not much memorabilia as I presume much of that stuff was destroyed in a number of past fires. There have been palaces on this site since 1167. Many have been destroyed and rebuilt. At one time a ruler had stone masons pull down the whole building. This is the third Christiansborg. The first started in 1733 and by 1745 was the largest palace in Europe – it was destroyed by fire in 1794. The second completed in 1828 was destroyed by fire in 1884.

Next I headed to the basement. When they were excavating the footings to build this palace they discovered the relics of a number of previous palaces. The museum got involved and as a result the old relics were uncovered and the new building built over the top of them. There are two large areas under the palace where the old ruins date back to 1167.

Next stop was the huge kitchen with a great collection of copper pots. They are seldom used nowadays as on the odd occasion the palace is used for formal and ceremonial occasions catering is mostly brought in.

Last stop for the day was the stables. The horses are a big part of ceremonies here; as an example every new ambassador that takes up a post here is driven by carriage to meet the queen. The stables are neat and tidy and the horses in good nick.

Friday 16 March 2017

Its -3 as we head out in the morning. Sylvia heads to the final day of her program and I take a short stroll across town to yet another castle. Rosenborge Castle with its huge grounds was built in the early 1600’s by Christian IV. Built as a pleasure palace it became the kings favourite place. It sounds as though this guy was a bit of a hard case. Apparently with a colourful personality, lots of building projects and a few lost wars he made a bit of a mark in Danish history. By the 1700’s the castle was no longer used as a residence but became a place to store old fine objects and there are a lot of them. In fact parts of the place are quite cluttered; there is one room just full of china, another of silverware. Since 1838 the palace, or should I say part of it, has been open to the public.


Next stop, not far away, was the round tower, originally built as an observatory in the 1700’s with a spiral ramp turning 7.5 times and running almost to the top of the 42m building. Built on the end of a church of timber with huge wooden columns and brick cladding, one can access the upper levels of the church from the tower. There is a deck at the top with good views over the city.

Later in the day when Sylvia finished her program, we left the hotel, picked up a rental car and leaving the Island of Zealand we headed across the causeway and large suspension bridge to Sweden. It was an easy drive on the up the E6 (E meaning European highway). These highways are maintained by the EU and are always a pleasure to drive on. 300 kms up the coast we came to Gothenburg, where we checked into the Raddison Blu Hotel. I mention this as most hotel rooms are badly lit no matter how expensive they are. These guys have done it well – recently refurbished they had got it all right along with friendly staff and great service.

Saturday 20 March 2018

After a great breakfast we headed to the Stena Line vehicle ferry back to Denmark. It’s a clear sunny day at -8c with ice floating down the river as the boat makes its way west downriver past a huge industrial area with hundreds of what look like oil tanks and a huge container port.

In a little over 3 hours we arrive at Frederikshaven in Denmark. Rolling off the ferry first we headed north to the most northern point of Denmark where the Baltic and the North Sea meet. The local paint shop in Skagen, the town just south of the point must have run a really good special on yellow paint at some stage as just about every building in town is yellow. Just north of the town is the wind swept beach still has the remnants of the gun emplacements built by the Germans in WW II.  With over a million visitors a year this place is pretty popular even on this now only -4 spring day. We check out the beach as the strong wind does its best to force us back to the car.

As we head south the road takes us over to the west coast before heading back southwest. Soon we are again on an E road where the speed limit is 130kph, the traffic moving freely and people sticking to the right lane unless overtaking. The surrounding land is mostly farm land with the odd bit of forestry. We saw few animals as stock is housed indoor throughout the winter. There are generally large clusters of buildings surrounding houses where stock is wintered. In places where trees have been cut down they are stacked whole in piles on the side of the road, the reason I am not sure about. There are few hills here; the land is either flat or slightly rolling, which is not surprising as the highest point in the country is around 170m.

As we head further south we have to make a detour off the highway to get petrol as most service centres on the side of the highway only show a sign for charging electric vehicles but not selling petrol.  The detour takes us through some picturesque villages and past a lake until our visibility is obscured by heavy snow. Eventually we arrive at Vejle, a place famous as an early viking site with two large burial mounds and wooden posts representing where the original walls were back in the 900’s. There are two famous stone runes with inscriptions on them from that era. This town is also home to the oldest church in Denmark as this is where apparently the vikings and Christianity joined each other back then.

We stopped the night in a local hotel at the village of Jelling; I think the hotel was originally an old homestead . The food was outstanding and the staff friendly and helpful.

Sunday 21 March 2018

After enjoying our last European breakfast for a while we headed back to Copenhagen. Traveling on the E20 we crossed first to the island of Funen then over a 17km bridge with the worlds 3rd largest suspension bridge two thirds of the way across to Zealand. Denmark is the fourth largest country in the world when Greenland is included. The main part of the country is made up of more than 10,000 islands.

As we are greeted by a very cheerful  lady at the rental car company and again at the airline check-in we come to the conclusion that the people of Denmark have to be up there with the world’s most friendly.

As we board our flight to Bangkok sitting in front of us are two guys from Aimpoint on their way to Malaysia. I have bumped into Par and Erik (different one to the one I went to see in Malmo)  in many different places over the past few years.