Saturday, 28 March 2009

Leaving Las Vegas

For our finale in Vegas we felt that a little gambling was in order. Jus had already dipped her toes in the water by investing a few dollars in the slots, and I later caught her pushing quarters into the Elvis Presley penny falls. $6 into the red, we wandered around the casino looking completely out of our depth. Every once in a while we'd pause at a table and watch for a few moments, desperately trying to work out what game was being played and what the rules were.

Finally, we took a huge risk and placed a $5 blackjack bet - King and Jack for us... dealer goes bust - Yee Hah! Flushed with success we headed back to the slots for a final flutter and while Jus was losing, my machine suddenly went crazy and started giving me credits (I'm still not sure I understand what I did to make it do that). As it hit the point where we were back level, we agreed that we would quit while we were ahead. I cashed in my winnings and our final balance sheet from Vegas gave us a very healthy 57 cents profit. In these troubled financial times, it's good to know that there are still sensible investment opportunities if you know where to look.

All in all, we're glad we've experienced Vegas but wouldn't go back. We've proved to ourselves that we're not big gamblers, we don't need girls delivering (like pizza) to our door and if we wanted the Trafford Centre, we'd go to the Trafford Centre.

Fear And Loathing

Day two dawns, we wake up, pull the curtains back and... its still there! With some trepidation we head back out and begin our mission to visit every one of the big hotels to check out the standard of "theming".

Somehow it doesn't seem quite so grim in the daylight and we attempt to cross "The Strip". There are cars everywhere - at one point we counted 13 lanes in the road. As we make for an overpass, a voice appears out of nowhere and starts advertising at us (we're 5 years from Minority Report here) "Good morning Simon, we notice it's 2 months since you purchased your last iPod. Why not stop by at our store where we have the latest colors [sic] in stock at terrific prices". This place is making my head hurt.

We arrive on the other side of the strip unscathed and head into the Venetian which I have to say looks pretty impressive - various elements from St Mark's square are reproduced here and the scale of the place is immense. Inside, we head for the shopping mall which we've heard has a canal in it. This turns out to be true, it does indeed have a canal in it, and there are gondolas on the canal and in the gondolas there are gondoliers who are singing gondolier-type songs (you know, Just One Cornetto, that kind of thing). Aside from the canal, it looks like the Trafford Centre (I'm sensing a theme here).

All set to move onto the next hotel, we spot 3 statues heading down an escalator. Concerned that Vegas has mushed our brains completely, we sit down to watch. Thankfully, it turns out that this is a regular show and it's actually pretty good - the "statues" go and stand in a fountain and then start dancing around while water sprays from their fingers and heads.

Several hotels later and we've seen an indoor rain shower, lions, an erupting volcano, flamingos, pirates fighting pole-dancing-sirens, choreographed fountains and some excellent circus performers.

We then visit "The Largest Souvenir Shop In The World".

This affords me the opportunity to buy almost anything I could imagine, including an entire "Jesus range" including Jesus pens and my own personal favourite, Jesus lip balm - "lookin' good for Jesus"!

As if this wasn't enough excitement we head off to the Stratosphere hotel, a 112 storey tower with three theme-park-type rides on the top of it. Going up in the lift makes our ears pop and, emerging onto the observation deck, we can tell how high we are by how small everything below looks. Also we feel the floor move as people walk around - when I'm 112 storeys high and standing in a big UFO shaped room which overhangs the tower by a significant amount, I generally like the floor to not move, but maybe that's just me.

Given that we're already nervous (I mean I'm fine, but you know, Jus isn't and I don't want her to think that she's the only one), we decide we may as well give the three rides ago (in for a cent, in for a dollar, as they say). First up is Insanity which is a spinny round kind of ride which hangs your chair over the edge of the tower and you are gradually tipped forward as you accelerate so that you are invited to stare downwards at the not-very-bouncy earth way below - we thought this would be the scariest one but the worst thing about it from my point of view was that whizzing round in a circle at 40 mph made me feel very dizzy (bordering on sick).

Next up was X-Scream which looked like a giant see-saw with a bob sleigh mounted to it. We got on with it pointing up in the air and as the bob moved forwards, it suddenly tipped downwards and we hurtled over the edge of the tower and then stopped suddenly in mid air - this made Jus scream very loudly (I was unable to scream as my pancreas had blocked my throat). It messed us about a little more by randomly tipping up, then plunging back down, delighting the two Japanese guys who were "lucky" enough to have bagged the front seats (they were more than welcome to them).

The final ride was Big Shot which was a vertical ride sat right on top of the tower - it basically just shot you up in the air at high speed, stopped abruptly at the top which made you feel weightless (and sick) and then you came back down again, very fast. This one made both of us scream very loudly.

As we took the lift journey back down the tower, we were entertained by a lift attendant who delivered, at breakneck pace, the kind of monologue that Johnny Carson would have been proud of... "later tonight we've got a fabulous show called 'Bite' featuring exotic dancers - I have vouchers which get you two tickets for the price of one - if you're out in Vegas this evening, be sure to use the designated crossings or walkways as they are handing out tickets for jay-walking and whatever you do, you all make sure you have a good time here. This stop is the lounge." I wanted to applaud!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Crass Vegas

Landing in Vegas late afternoon, we file past slot machines on the way to the baggage carousel and it becomes clear to me that this town is nuts. The signs on the escalators which tell you that shoes must be worn - how would you come to be on an escalator in an airport in bare feet? Maybe your luck is down and you've already lost your footwear to a one armed bandit. We approached the baggage reclaim area where I half expected shouts of "no more bets" as my suitcase spun around on a big wheel, eventually coming to rest, and then finding that an old lady from Florida had put everything on number 17 and, as a result, won my socks and underpants.

On the shuttle bus, Jus sits next to an old(ish) couple, who keep saying "whehyallfram" to her. She eventually manages to slow this down into "Where are you (all) from?" and is able to reply, "We are from England my good fellow, seat of the British Empire. As representatives of Her Majesty we are travelling around the globe to inspect The Colonies". At least in my head that's what she said (I think I've gone bonkers already). The old(ish) couple are dropped off at their hotel/casino - Hooters! (which, whatever the logo may suggest, is not just about owls).

I don't notice much about Hooters, in spite of my love of owls, because I'm sat up a the front next to the driver, listening to commercial radio. And it's been over 10 minutes since the last "non-commercial" bit (Celine Dion singing about icebergs or something). Since then they've been trying to persuade me that I need no longer be ashamed of my smile (ashamed is a bit strong, though I do look like a leering fool in photographs) since Dr Buck Loaded's painless treatment can straighten my teeth and give me the smile I want in only six months. I'm then told not to pay online prices for my pill requirements, the names of the particular pills being constantly repeated - lest I forget (the little blue ones which rhyme with 'Niagra'). This is like spam, except it's on the radio. And it just goes on and on. I become desperate for some more Celine or Shania - if it came to it, I'd even welcome the sound of Chris Moyles' voice!

After a few more stops we arrive at our hotel, Treasure Island, and join the 20 minute queue of fellow joy-seekers to check in - I know we love queuing in our country but this felt less like "Welcome to Las Vegas, the capital city of fun" and a lot more like "Cashier number three please".

On our way to the lift (sorry, ELEVATOR) we are given a glimpse of what Vegas has to offer - wall to wall slot machines, gambling tables, the smell of fags (Nevada is smoke free but it seems that casinos themselves are exempt) and waitresses in dresses which are, without exception, slightly shorter than the length that would suit the lady wearing them. Whether that lady is 18 or 62, the dress she is provided is just wrong enought to make her look unattractive (or maybe I just haven't adjusted to Vegas). After gathering our chins from the floor at the shock of it all we head to our room. Everything seems to be in order and we are relieved to find no slot machines hidden in the wardrobe or en-suite.

We leave our hotel in search of food and, just a little further along "The Strip", take an escalator up to a burger joint on the first floor of a casino. 10 minutes later, having immediately dismissed the burger joint for not being classy enough, we find that we are still in the casino, desparately searching for a way out. There is no "down" escalator and we can't find the stairs, or a door, or even a window to leap out of! We do escape eventually but we're still not quite sure how. After some further wandering around a Trafford Centre-esque shopping mall we eventually play it safe and eat at Planet Hollywood.

Having eaten, we head into Caeser's Palace in an attempt to find the real Vegas. We visit the Elton John Shoppe, complete with Elton John espresso cups and items from his signature range of upmarket accessories called "Bitch". Then we find the Cher shop where you can buy quality Cher merchandise including Cher dolls (remember, the price of Chers can go up as well as down).

Then we pass the Pussycat Dolls bar/casino complete with scantily dressed dealers and pole dancers. The air in here seems to be 40% cigarette smoke and 60% peach air-freshener that I presume is designed to mask the cigarette smoke - the air is so thick you can taste it, and it doesn't taste good.

Outside, people are wandering up and down the pavement enjoying margaritas in huge pink plastic vases, or chugging Budweiser from comedy plastic skull pint pots. As I remember it, in my country, if you open a can of Ginger Beer in the street then police helicopters will be tracking your movements within minutes. Meanwhile, a billboard attached to a trailer is being driven up and down the road. Splashed all over it is a huge picture of some "lovelies" with the caption "Girls direct to your door - phone 696 9696". Man, this place is classy!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

24 - If Jack Bauer Can Manage It...

We only have 24 hours in LA so, having landed and taken a bus to our B&B, we tried to see as much as we could on foot that evening. We went up Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard, saw the handprints of the movie stars at Grauman's theater and, more exciting from my point of view, the handprints of some legendary rock stars at the Guitar Center on Sunset, including Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Lennon although sadly, no Doonican.

At Grauman's whilst browsing the pavement searching for stars whose names we recognised (dunno who Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland or Sophia Loren are, but we did spot Matt Damon's!), I was distracted by sirens - no, not Angelina Jolie and her mates dressed up as mermaids and singing tempting songs - you know, sirens (nee naw nee naw, wooo wooo). Hollywood Boulevard became a river of fire engines and they were all pulling up in our vicinity.

Outside Grauman's there are all sorts of people dressed up as famous movie stars who encourage you to have photos taken with them, and expect a little something in exchange. So we have the bizzare sight of Marilyn Monroe and Catwoman being chatted up by firemen, as Spongebob Squarepants and Yoda pose for photos in front of a massive fire truck. I started to get confused - which ones were in costume and which ones were meant to be dressed like that.

Phew - lucky you showed up Superman, things were hotting up in there

It must have been a drill or a false alarm because no-one seemed to mind us taking photos and there didn't seem to be a great deal of urgency to put out a fire or evacuate California. One thing we both noticed - the LA Fire Dept doesn't half send out some clean and shiny vehicles - they must be have an entire Turtle Wax brigade. Maybe it's just the Tinseltown effect, maybe everything looks shiny here, but I'm sure I noticed Catwoman using one of the trucks to check her whiskers.

The following morning we were picked up by Ferdinand, from Hungary (I don't mean he'd driven all the way from Hungary to show us round LA, I mean he was Hungarian). Ferdinand drives lots of movie people, plastic surgeons and lawyers around the city in his huge black executive SUV. His task today was to show us as many of the sights as he could in the 5 hours we had available, before dropping us at LAX. He did a pretty good job - we saw Beverley Hills, Hollywood Hills, The Hollywood Sign, Bel Air, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, The Hollywood Bowl, The La Brea Tar Pits and much much more.

We stopped on Rodeo Drive for a quick look around the shops (Tiffany, Gucci, Dior - this is Posh 'n Becks territory). As we returned to the car we were surprised to find an eager star-spotter armed with two cameras, waiting to take our photos. She'd asked our waiting driver who his clients were but he'd politely refused to tell her, asking her to respect our privacy. I think she was a little disappointed when we ambled back and jumped into the car. We smiled and said 'hello' to her, but she was clearly struggling to recognise us and didn't appear to take any snaps. Clearly the incredible buzz around this blog hasn't reached the US yet.

Our driver waits for his megastar clients on Rodeo Drive

We also stopped and walked around Venice Beach - I was tempted to have a go on some of the weights in the "Muscle Beach" area there, but the gate was really heavy and I couldn't seem to push it open - it's probably just down to technique.

One place we really warmed to was the Farmers Market (on 3rd and Fairfax) which consisted of lots of little stalls where you could buy all sorts of stuff - breads, fruit, meat, confectionery. Elsewhere, it was striking how many small independent stores there were (clothing, groceries, you name it). In contrast, thinking about the templated chain-store high streets we have back home, it felt like LA (or at least this part of it) was less "American" than any town I can think of in England.

Overall, although we'd expected to hate it, we both agreed that our preconceptions were wrong - we loved LA and wished we'd allowed more than 24 hours to experience it.

Oh, I nearly forgot. As we were dropped off at the airport, Justine is convinced that Johnny Depp was standing right next to us outside the terminal doors. But she didn't think to mention it until we were cruising over the Nevada desert, half way through our flight to Vegas, so obviously I have no way of checking the validity of this story! Maybe she was mistaken - maybe it was just a travelling scissor salesman :)

Friday, 13 March 2009

Spoilt For Choice In LA LA Land

We've arrived in "The Land Of The Free" and after filling in Visa forms (despite having obtained visas over the internet weeks ago) and being electronically fingerprinted and questioned, we were allowed in. Hurrah!

We're staying at the Hollywood Bed And Breakfast which is on Hollywood Boulevard (on the crossroads with Orange Grove Avenue - where they filmed Halloween - yikes!). It's a fantastic place which has been adorned in a Gaudi-esque manner by it's owners Nina and William - we're already wishing we were staying longer.

We've got used to our breakfasts in Fiji which were a choice of Cornflakes or Rice Crispies, followed by white toast with an option of marmalade (this was fine, by the way, it just didn't require much in the way of early morning decision making). Well the breakfasts here are a stark contrast and as we filled out our request forms last night we were overwhelmed by the range of breads on offer (I went for soda-bread with olives, Jus favoured the cinnamon and raisin rye option). This morning at the table we counted 12 different types of jam - too many decisions.

On the subject of food choices, last night we ate at a New York style deli on Sunset Boulevard (just a few minutes walk away). Now on films when they go "I'll have a pastrami on rye with a double helping of eggs over easy and french toasted dressing on the side with a flappucino" they may as well be speaking in german - I don't understand a word. So we sit down in a little booth and I'm quite pleased with myself when I decide I'll have a turkey sandwich and a bowl of Matzoball Soup (I'd already looked this up on the net because I didn't know what it was - I suggest you do the same). The waitress arrived and I was floored when she asked "what bread would I like". I don't know! What bread exists? We went for a rye thing. Then she asks what else I wanted on top... again, what is there? She was really helpful and patient with this English idiot who had clearly never ordered food before. "How about roasted red bell peppers?" she suggested. Mmmm that sounds good, we'll go for that. "Would you like lettuce?", sure, why not. "What about tomato?", oh yes, I quite like tomato... can you see where this is going. I ended up with a sandwich which was taller than it was wide and contained most of the menu. It was very good though, as was the double chocolate fudge cake and pecan pie which we finished with. Just not sure I've got room for this last piece of olive rye cinnamon bagel toast this morning!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Back To The Future

We're leaving Fiji tonight and flying to LA - when we arrive it will be yesterday. This concept confuses me greatly and Justine keeps having to explain about crossing the International Dateline (which I always thought was something you could use to chat up girls from other countries). Now as some of you may know, science isn't my strongest area of expertise, but I've been doing some research and I'm going to explain how all this works.

Essentially, it's all down to the speed of light. As you probably know, light travels very very fast (much faster than a car for example), at a speed of approximately 160 miles per hour. But, as Einstein pointed out in his most famous book, Alice In Wonderland, if you could travel faster than that then it may be possible to go back in time. I think that some of this is to do with quantum physics (which is too complex to discuss here - if you're interested, look into Schrodinger's experiments in which he observed that if you open a box containing a cat, it will almost certainly be licking itself).

Anyway, back to the speed of light. Now aeroplanes can travel much faster than light (500 mph or more) so every time you take a flight you go back in time a bit. Regular air travellers (international businessmen or David Beckham, for example) not only build up lots of frequent flyer points, but actually start to get younger. The only reason people don't take this to extremes is due to the dangerous paradoxes which might occur (you could bump into yourself coming out of the toilets), and obviously if you go too far you'd be too young to be allowed to purchase duty free tobacco or alcohol.

So hopefully, you've learned something there - the bottom line is that you're probably reading this post before I've written it, and if any of this makes sense, I suggest you seek help.


Our last night in Fiji and after dinner we found ourselves taking part in a "pub quiz". We joined a couple from Germany (Agnes and Martin) who had been driving round New Zealand in a camper van and were here to chill out before heading back home. Inevitably, their English was as good as ours, whereas my German is almost non-existent (I did Latin rather than German at school, and it's never come in as handy as the teachers suggested it would).

The prize for the winning quiz team was a jug of "Jungle Juice", which looked like they'd added a selection of otherwise hard to shift spirits from the bar to a couple of large cartons of Um-Bongo! So it was probably for the best that our team "A United Europe" came second rather than first. We made wild guesses for a couple of our answers (for example that the first person to appear on the cover of Playboy was Marilyn Monroe - this was apparently correct).

After the quiz, a bonfire was lit on the beach and we sat round it, joined by some young people who'd turned up on the 'party bus' (which our fellow quiz team-mates had a funny, but unprintable, name for), contemplating the mysteries of the universe (and wondering how many more insect bites we were likely to suffer). Then an acoustic guitar was produced, and a couple of tunes were knocked out by one of the guys from the resort, before it was offered round the circle. Agnes played a cool version of the Smashing Pumpkins 'Disarm' which it seemed only we knew - honestly, the young backpacker-types these days don't seem to know any of my generation's music (it's probably all just bleeps and mobile phone downloads these days).

Then I managed to bring the whole evening down by 'performing' an old Mancunian folk song (Wonderwall), a few bits of stuff I could half remember, and finished with Radiohead's uplifting party tune 'Creep'. After this, nearly everyone else went to bed - listening to that sort of intensely beautiful performance can be emotionally draining I'd imagine!

Despite Jus and I being the oldest guests in the resort (by far), we stayed up for a while longer, then left the guitar with its (sleeping) owner and called it a night.

Bula! From Fiji

On landing at Fiji's main airport, we were greeted by three men playing guitars and singing songs of the Pacific. No-one actually hung garlands of flowers round our necks, but it was that kind of vibe.

We're staying in one of the cheapest (but still nice) places Jus was able to find (cheap for Fiji, not cheap!) When we arrived late into the evening there was a disco in full swing just yards away and we were glad we'd packed earplugs. Slightly dazed after the flight and a long drive from the airport, and unable to judge the resort in the darkness, I began to fear that we'd arrived in Magaluf (not that there's anything wrong with that, you understand, but I was looking forward to a bit of a relax).

But the next morning it became clear that this was a very small, very quiet place (the disco must have been a one-off and there's been no need for earplugs since). It's set on a little bay with its own coral reef and is the perfect place to chill out for a few days after travelling half way round the world. Our little hut looks out onto the bay and everything we need is a short walk away. We're not blessed with a view of oil tankers or chemical works, but I guess you can't have everything.

The view from our beach hut

I've done very little so far other than read, listen to music and the odd bit of snorkeling (parts of which have been up to the Barrier Reef's standard).

We had a thunderstorm during our first full day here which lasted for hours and at times must have been immediately above us - the hut shook very noticably on a number of occasions.

After the storm

The only problems we've encountered are with the wildlife. In the evenings we're having to walk around with a torch, scanning the ground to ensure we don't step on one of the thousands of frogs or hermit crabs which appear after dark. No one else seems to be going to this much trouble - I suppose we're just odd.

Then there are the little flying biting things (I'm trying not to use my actual description here - it's a family blog after all). We're both covered in itchy red bites and new ones appear all the time. So if you're sitting at work reading this, take heart - although we're on a tropical island paradise, at least you don't look and feel like you've got smallpox! So Travel Tip No 4 - if you're coming to Fiji, bring lots of mossie repellant with you. Still, watching the sun go down, the itching seems bearable...

Our Parting Thoughts On Sydney (For What They're Worth)

Long before we arrived I had imagined Sydney to be some kind of perfect city where the sun always shines, everyone's happy and every corner provides a new perspective from which to view stunning man-made wonders of the world. I expected to arrive there and never want to leave. We did have a great time, but it wasn't the Utopia I had created in my head.

Architecturally, it was a bit disappoinitng. Other than the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, we felt that the rest of the city could just have looked so much better. There were signs of fantistic old (relatively speaking) buildings but most seemed run-down or had been swallowed up by newer uglier stuff. Even the Circular Quay area which should be the city's jewel in it's crown had the least inspiring construction you could imagine along one side (housing restaurants and bars) and the renovated warehouses on the opposite (The Rocks) could have been so much better. Then on the third side of the quay a huge elevated expressway had been allowed to spoil the view - although the view had already been spoiled by tower blocks which somehow didn't seem to look spectacular or interesting like the ones we'd seen in Singapore.

To be fair, there were really nice bits, the Botanic Gardens and Hyde Park, and the Queen Victoria Arcade spring to mind and every city will have it's share of unattractive buildings. But it did seem that huge commercial expansion had been carried out by people who didn't think (or care) about the visual effect it would have.

But it was probably the rush hour traffic which finally convinced me that leaving Sydney wouldn't be the wrench I'd expected it to be. If you fancy sitting on a bus in a bus lane which is in a state of gridlock, largely because of the huge number of other (mostly empty) buses, then go to Sydney. We wondered if we were just unlucky and we'd hit an unusually bad jam, but it became clear from the mutterings of our fellow passengers that this was quite normal. It was tempting to get off and walk, but even walking around the city can seem to take ages - as a pedestrian you keep thinking "why do the crossings seem to be weighted so heavily in favour of cars?". But when your bus has just moved two feet and then stopped again, you think "how come the pedestrians get so many opportunities to cross". The truth is, no-one seemed to be getting anywhere very quickly and I'm not sure I could have put up with that on a regular basis.

I don't want to sound too negative, we really enjoyed our visit, but if we had to choose a place to live in Australia, we'd definitely choose Cairns over Sydney.

A Night At The Opera House

On the last night of our stay in Sydney we'd booked tickets to see a concert at the Opera House. Rolf Harris is, unfortunately, not touring at the moment, so we had to settle for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ashkenazy (who's probably famous if your musical education went beyond the NME and Q magazine).

We had great seats somewhere around the centre of the auditorium and far enough back to be able to appreciate the scale but still be able to see the musicians clearly. The room itself is a little like being inside a whale which has been clad with wooden panelling. The seats were very funky - curved ply backs and contemporary bright pink cushions which wouldn't have looked out of place in one of the cool harbourside bars we'd passed on the way. And they were comfy too which might explain why I nearly dozed off in a quiet bit just before the interval.

Judging by the length and volume of the applause at the end ('Ash' returned to the stage numerous times to ovation after ovation) the concert was very good. I enjoyed it, but don't think I understand enough about classical music to say more than that. We both agreed that it was well worth seeing a performance inside this world famous venue, my only slight disappointment, no sign at all of a 'wobble board'.

Luna Mission

One of the sights I particularly wanted to see in Sydney was Luna Park - a fairground built a stone's throw from the far end of the Harbour Bridge (in fact this was the builder's yard used during the construction of the bridge - when they'd finished they built a theme park on top of it. I'd seen pictures in a book at our B&B of the demonic face which lights up at night and forms the entrance to the park. I wanted to take some photographs of an old fashioned multicoloured fairground at night.

So we studied the ferry timetables and at around 7:30pm, chugged out into the harbour, under the bridge (giving me yet another angle to take far too many photos which to the untrained eye will look identical) and drew up at the little jetty, beyond which was the serial-killer smile of Luna Park's entrance.

As we walked up to the gate we were confronted with a sign which informed us that the fairground was closed (it seems that it only opens on certain days of the week). Disappointed only for a brief moment, we realised that we could still walk in through the psychotic man's mouth and have a bit of a look around. We'd both fired off numerous "interesting" shots from our cameras when we were approached by a burly looking lady with a US Marines crew-cut dressed in a dangerous looking blazer who told us in no uncertain terms that we couldn't take photographs of the park. I wasn't going to argue with her (she was a big lad, not tall, but stocky... think "Wayne Rooney in a skirt"... but not as pretty). We muttered pretend apologies (we'd taken as many as we wanted anyway) and headed back towards the jetty.

As we waited for the next ferry to take us away from the unimaginable delights of a closed fairground we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by young ladies from the top cricket playing nations (and England) some of whom looked as if they may have indulged in one more Babycham than you would expect of an elite sportswoman. Then we noticed a sign and realised that we'd gatecrashed the ICC Womens World Cup welcome party and press conference (the tournament kicks off here in a couple of days). Given the events in Pakistan which we'd read about yesterday, you'd have expected security to be tight, but other than Wayne (the photo-preventer) there were just a couple of local police officers and they obviously didn't consider us to be a great threat to the safety of the teams.

The evening's event had obviously just finished and the teams were milling about on the jetty waiting for their private boat to pick them up. Everyone was dressed in team suits (some better fitting than others). We recognised the girls from the England team in their dark blue blazers with their "three lion" badges, and it has to be said that if the outcome of this tournament is decided by quality of tailoring and sartorial elegance then the trophy is as good as ours... if it's down to sporting prowess, then I guess the Aussies will probably win, as usual, but we'll still be able to take the fashion high-ground!

Feeling Manly?

Take a ferry from Sydney's Circular Quay, out past the opera House and away from the bridge and twenty minutes later you arrive at Manly. In the 1920's this became a popular seaside resort and many of the buildings still retain the feeling of that era.

We took the advice of our B&B owner, Penny, and on leaving the ferry, turned right and headed around the bay to Shelly Beach. This was a very pleasant spot and Jus took to the crystal clear water to look at fish while I crouched next to a rock in the shade (like some large, pale hermit crab) for fear of getting sunburnt. We walked back round the promenade to the main beach and watched the surfers doing their thing. I did start to feel a yearning to slip on a wetsuit, grab a plank, and get out there and join them (how hard could it be?) but the mention of food quickly overpowered the surf-dude in my head.

After a long search (we didn't want to eat out on the main road, which was where most of the restaurants seemed to be), we stumbled across the Harbour Hotel. Here we sat on the deck, looked out over the water, tucked in to huge plates of fish and chips and I was able to sample the various ales on offer. Victoria Bitter (which tasted very much like lager - not unpleasant, but still, definitely lager), Coopers Pale (lager again), and some other one whose name escapes me but which sounded interesting (also lager). Not that I didn't like the beers in Oz - a bar in Darling Harbour had a great range of local brews none of which were "just lager", but I guess it's fair enough that if the temperatures are in the 30s most people want something cold and fizzy.

Conspicuous by their absence were Fosters and Castlemaine XXXX. I'd been led to believe (by years of amusing adverts depicting the lives of typical antipodeans) that after a hard day wrestling crocodiles, sledging 'Pommie' batsmen or attending the opera, the Aussies liked nothing more than a nice pint of the 'Amber Nectar' or the one in the yellow can with the warning crosses on the side. Nothing could be further from the truth it would seem - Fosters, in particular, appears to be nothing short of an elaborate hoax, designed to persuade young lads in Bradford that it's OK to wear swimming shorts and flip-flops in the pub. It certainly doesn't seem like you'd persuade Australians to drink it!

As seaside resorts go we liked Manly (it reminded me a little of Abersoch but maybe the heat had got to me). We could imagine working in the Central Business District, knocking off work. jumping on to a ferry and half an hour later riding the waves. Perhaps no one actually does this as they're working every hour god sends to pay their rent, but it's a nice idea.

Before we set off back to Sydney, Justine (with my earlier, surf-hunk delusions in mind) tried to persuade me to buy an item which had caught her eye in a nearby shop. A pair of blue, figure-hugging, Speedo-type swimming trunks with the word "Manly" boldy splashed across the 'bottom'. I took a moment to imagine how I might look wearing this particular item of beachwear (and also the comments which a photo posted here might trigger), then politely declined and we boarded the ferry.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Hello, Hello - We're At A Place Called Vertigo

Second (after spiders) on Justine's list of "things I don't like" is heights. So you'll have to ask her why, that afternoon, we were booked in to climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge! We arrived near the foot of one of the four pillars (which are purely there for aesthetic effect, by the way, and don't actually support the bridge) feeling both excited and apprehensive.

Once inside we filled in the usual "it's not our fault if you fall off and drown" forms and were then breathalysed (which is why we couldn't risk a quick drink on the bike tour). They obviously don't want some half-cut Englishman (i.e. me) running up their bridge and stealing the flags for a joke. In fact, health and safety issues were, unsurprisingly, taken very seriously. It took a lot of persuasion and assurances from the guy who set up the Bridge Climb company before the Australian government would allow anyone to clamber up the bridge. They don't want anyone or anything to fall off during a climb (not just for the safety of climbers, but also for the pedestrians, cyclists, trains and 6 lanes of cars - this is the busiest highway in Australia). So having passed the breath test, we had to remove anything which could possibly fall off (Jus even had to take out her hairgrips) and place all our personal items in lockers. We were given fetching blue and grey jumpsuits to wear and ushered through a metal detector (did I mention just how seriously they take this).

Around our waists went climbing harnesses with lots of buckles and hooks. To these, we attached what looked like medieval instruments of war, a mace or some-such thing, which cleverly would keep us attached to safety lines throughout the climb. Then we were furnished with radios and headsets so that we would be able to hear the guide. It was all incredibly well organised and efficient - everything clipped securely onto some part of our suits and was checked and double-checked. Finally, we were given handkerchiefs (in case we became emotional, or needed to sneeze) and even these were designed to be securely clipped to the cuffs of our suits. We went through a door back out onto the street and took the short walk up to the tower, which gave Sydney-siders who happened to be passing by a chance to point and laugh at us. With all our gear on we looked like the Ghostbusters.

Despite Justine's fear of heights she did brilliantly, helped out by our guide, and we climbed stairs and ladders, walked across maintenance gantries high above the street and eventually emerged onto the top arch. The view was spectacular and the clouds which obscured the sky earlier had all but disappeared, allowing us to see a fabulous sunset as we reached the summit. Official photos were taken and we had plenty of time to watch as buildings across the city and the boats in the harbour began to light up. We descended the opposite side in darkness and at the bottom all our gear was removed in the same slick manner. The whole experience wasn't cheap, but we're unlikely to ever get the opportunity to do something like this again and we're very glad we took it. Oh, and hopefully, Justine's fear of climbing the s tairs at IBM's Leeds office will be a thing of the past!

The Pie's The Limit

Our bike ride had given us a hearty appetite so picking up on a hint from Bonza Nick, we headed off to Harry's Cafe De Wheels - a Pie Emporium which proudly displays its photos of the rich and famous (Pamela Anderson amongst them) eating pie and peas. Here's one they can add to their gallery!

We ordered two steak pies, one with mash and ketchup (a traditional favourite), and the second with mushy peas*, gravy and a dash of mint sauce, and to be honest, Pammy's a pretty good judge of pies - they were excellent.

*These really should be referred to as processed peas as the (always well informed) Mr Mike Vickerman will tell you - if you're daft enough to ask.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle.....

Sydney was the next destination on our whistle-stop world tour and, as usual, we had lots to fit in. First off we were off on a city tour to get ourselves oriented. No open-topped double decker buses for us - it was pedal power all the way.

Jus had booked us onto the Bonza Bike Tour (with a name like that you'd be silly to miss it) and we were kitted out with helmets and bikes. Our guide, Nick, was from the UK and had been over in Sydney for about four years. He'd obviously been around a bit and told us about the time he was a scuba instructor in Thailand, part way through a dive, when the infamous Tsunami came through. No-one was lost from his party, or even the island they were on, but you could tell that he realised he was lucky to be alive.

Anyway, back to bikes - this is a fantastic way to see a new city. You get to cover lots more ground than on foot but you can still easily stop for a few minutes whenever there's something worth looking at. We started off in The Rocks (on the opposite bank of the harbour to the Opera House), rode across the Harbour Bridge, visited Hyde Park, the Botanic Gardens, Chinatown and Darling Harbour to name but a few. We even had time to visit a pub half way through (although we were unable to enjoy a pint with our fellow cyclists for reasons I'll come on to later). We were lucky with the weather too - it was fairly overcast and therefore cooler than it might have been. All in all, highly recommended.

Team GB's cyclists claim another gold in Sydney. Cycle-wear kindly provided by Parker's of Baildon.

The Sounds Of Silence

The third and final trip of our brief stay at Uluru was the Sounds of Silence dinner. We were picked up from our hotel and taken to a little hill about 20 minutes away, affording us a view of Uluru on one side and, turning 180 degrees, Kata Tjuta. Here, aided by champagne, canapes and a digeridoo player, we (and our good friends the flies) watched the sun go down - and very nice it was too.

Once darkness had descended (and the flies disappeared) we made our way to the dinner tables and sat down at what turned out to be the best table by a country mile. On the one side we had a pair of charming Americans with accents straight from the deep south (all the American people we've bumped into on this trip seem really nice - my short=sighted, stereotyped view - based mainly on George W Bush - may need revising). On the other side we had a lovely Scottish couple with very strong Glaswegian accents. I provided a translation service for the Scottish man's anecdotes for the evening - it was an interesting experience.

With the wine flowing, some decent food (Crocodile Caesar Salad anyone?) and great company, we had a night to remember. Part of the evening consisted of a talk about the stars of the southern hemisphere which was fascinating (although due to the cloud cover we were unable to see all of them - on a clear night, so far from major population centres, I suspect that you could see an incredible number). We also got most excited about seeing Saturn's rings through a telescope which they had set up - I took a moment to locate it in the eyepiece, then having done so yelped "wow you can really see it" and insisted immediately that a total stranger standing next to me had a look.

All too soon the bus arrived to take us back to our hotel - we were the last to get on it. The next day, Jus overheard someone talking about a the dinner last night and of a particularly rowdy table which seemed to be having a great time and we're almost reluctant to get on the bus home - that'll be us then!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

Moving on from Cairns we took a 3 hour flight to Ayers Rock or Uluru to call it by its Aboriginal name (which is something you should definitely do). The landscape changed dramatically en-route as we left behind the northern rainforests and passed over an ever changing landscape of bush, salt flats and finally red desert.

When we got off the plane we were hit with a tremendous blast of heat - it was like opening the oven door to check on your Yorkshire Puddings (don't do that - you'll ruin them!). We found out later that it was 41 degrees and unseasonably cold for the time of year!

Our itinerary for this entire trip has been extremely efficiently planned out (I can't take any credit for that). I wouldn't say that our schedule is tight, but it's certainly snug and, with an unfortunate delay in our flight, we had just 15 minutes to check into the hotel, find our room, get changed and be picked up for the first of 3 trips that we were making in our less than 24 hour

We'd been advised to purchase fly-nets - like Bee-Keeper's headgear, and at fifteen dollars for two I can honestly say I've never spent money so wisely. I thought the flies could get irritating in our suburbarn garden in West Yorkshire. This is a different world! We were told it's the worst it's been in five years, fly wise... the one crumb of comfort.. they're one of the few things in this country which isn't poisonous!

The first trip took us on a short drive to see the Olgas or Kata Tjuta (again, its Aboriginal name, again, the right-on thing to call it). I had no idea these existed, I just thought we were coming to see Uluru, but if anything, these are more spectacular. There are 36 "domes" (great big lumps of red mountain) and we took a short walk in the baking heat through a gap between a couple of them.

The next day we visited Uluru itself (setting off at 5:45am - when it was still warm enough to fry eggs). We watched the sun rise and light up the huge iconic rock in a pink glow.

A short while later, the clouds gathered. It hasn't rained here for months, our guide informed us. Well now it had. It lashed it down and Uluru shimmered like silver. Then the waterfalls started, as the rain decided it had enough of sitting on the top and began to pour down channels in the sides. It was all very spectacular and, by the sound of it, quite unusual to see.

Now we have past form on this. When we visited the Sahara desert and rode camels out into the sand dunes, it rained. And on our visit to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan (again, not a place you'd usually take an umbrella) we experienced flash floods and had to be rescued by guys in army jeeps. So while everyone else says "wow, I can't believe we've come to the desert and it's raining!", we're starting to think "it might be our fault".

Travel tip number 3. If you do take delicate electronic devices (such as digital cameras) out into the desert, and it rains, try to keep them dry no matter how spectacular the waterfalls look. Otherwise you might end up with a camera stuck on the same exposure and zoom settings which can only take one photo between each "reboot".

Love Is Like A Butterfly (If You Like That Sort Of Thing)

To provide a little balance, given how many comments I've made about Justine's fear of spiders, let me now make the admission that I hate little flying, flapping, fluttering things, especially moths. So my therapy session was to be at the Butterfly Centre in Cairns' rainforest. We travelled up into the hills on (another) cable car, or "Skyrail" as the marketing people would have it.

This gave us the chance to see spectacular views behind us over Cairns and out to the ocean and, in front, the seemingly endless, blanket of trees. It's probably tiny as rainforest areas go but it just looks enormous.

The skyrail drops off at a couple of stops and you can get off and walk around amongst the trees and the spiders... some of them even bigger than our house guests. This is either going to send her crazy or she'll be purchasing a pet funnel-web when we get home. The end of the Skyrail deposits us at Kuranda, a little village which now seems to cater solely for tourists visiting the various attractions, one of which was "Butterfly Hell House"! We went there first and I prepared myself for what lay ahead...

It was awesome*.

A huge mesh tent with trees and water and loads of brightly coloured butterflies and I could have stayed there all day taking photographs (again, if anyone wants to see my butterfly photos, allow a good chunk of time).

Warning... Things now get cute and fluffy, as it's time for Jus to cuddle a koala. This seems to be legal in Australia, so we stand next to a painted rainforest backdrop, one of the keepers extracts a koala (which seemed to have been minding its own business in a nearby tree) and brings it over. The unfortunate bear is draped over Jus and they both smile for photographs.

Then to my horror, the nice young koala-catching lady asks if I'd like to join in. After she asked the third time I shuffled over and stood next to the happy couple. "You can stroke him" she said. When she'd said this for the third time, I felt it would be rude not to so I gave him (the koala) a little tickle on the head. They've got really deep soft fur and I have to admit he was very cute, although not as cute as Eric (our cat for those who don't know).

* (c) Eddie Izzard using the original meaning of the word awesome. Not the new one which is sort of for socks and hot dogs: "Hey! Red and yellow - awesome! You got red and yellow socks, they're awesome!"

Good Grief - It's The Barrier Reef

Warning to some of my more sensitive readers (you know who you are Paul). The following post contains scenes of me topless.

One of the things you have to do whilst in Cairns is to visit the Barrier Reef. A small catermaran with about 15 other like-minded people was just the thing for us and with a blue sky and a fair wind we were all set. After a relaxing couple of hours sailing out to the reef, the mainbrace was hoisted, the anchor dropped, and the poop deck was... well you get the idea.

The plan was for us to go snorkelling before lunch and dive afterwards. The "fair wind" had turned into a "gentle gale" and the sea was a bit on the choppy side so we were given some buoyancy aids called noodles - we looked like we were in a junior swim class.

As PADI-Qualified Advanced Open Water Divers (just showing off there) it would seem silly to visit the Great Barrier Reef and then just go snorkelling - although, apart from one other guy, we were the only ones who thought so. So the salty sea dogs who ran the boat helped us on with our scuba equipment (very nice - you usually have to do everything yourself and are exhausted by the time you hit the water). We plunged into the ocean (nice and warm, around the 30 degree mark) and after a final safety check, descended into the depths of the Barrier Reef. The visibility wasn't as good as we've experienced elsewhere, probably not helped by the gentle gale I mentioned, but we still saw plenty, including turtles, sea slugs, squid, brightly coloured fish, giant clams and lots and lots of coral.

After a 45 minute dive, we were led back to the boat by a huge batfish (this is not a fish which dresses up in leather uniform and a cape, and it does not have a sidekick called Robin-Fish).

As we arrive back on the boat, the weather (which had improved considerably while we were under water) took a turn for the worse. The blue sky had turned a darker shade of grey. I quite like a bit of drizzle (I'm from Manchester - it's what we do best) so I was happy to sit out on the hammock-nets at the front of the boat while everyone else sheltered inside. Soon the hailstones started. The weather improved gradually (although the sea was still rough) and soon I was joined by some of our European friends who clearly were feeling embarrassed about an Englishman looking crazier than them. Every wave soaked us with warm sea water as we were thrown around on the nets. It's the first time I've found myself lying half-naked alongside two wet, screaming, German girls - and it will probably be the last!

Oh, travel tip number 2. If you are going to dive the Barrier Reef and then lie out on the front of the boat being showered in sea water and, like me, you have the skin complexion of an English Rose... put lots of waterproof sunscreen on first!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Oz Cuisine - Our Way

Our apartment in Cairns has the essential Aussie cooking apparatus... a barbie. It's an electric barbie (we've also got an electric frying pan), but it's still a barbie. So, eager to be able to "throw another shrimp on the barbie" we've been off to see what Cairns has to offer on the groceries front. We were pointed in the direction of the local supermarket which we found, to our surprise, was Woolworths. Out here, it seems, Woolworths has an almost Tesco-like market share in the supermarket business. As supermarkets go, you couldn't fault it - we found a wide range of things which looked burnable - steak, lamb, kangaroo and,of course, shrimps.

One thing that was conspicuous by it's absence in Woolies though, was alcohol. This must be what supermarkets used to be like in the UK, before they were allowed to sell everything at any time of the day. It was a big store and we wandered up and down every aisle but it became clear that they aren't permitted to sell booze.

Well you can't have a baabie (I'm trying to do the accent now) without a couple of cold ones so we needed to find an off-licence. And we found a "drive-through" one. Thats's right... A drive through off-licence!!! Except they're not called off-licences, they're called Bottle Shops. This drive-through was like a B&Q (not the normal ones, the huge aircraft hanger B&Q Warehouse type). And merry Australians could either park up and wander in to get their beer, wine or the exceedingly popular cans of coke with rum or whisky. Or alternatively they could drive in, choose a couple of tinnies from the fridge and drive out again. That's what McDonalds should do in our country (instead of pretending to serve food).

So I bought a couple of stubbies (small bottles of beer for those who don't know) and some Mango wine for the lady.

We then popped into Brumbys the bakers (think of it as a slightly more upmarket Greggs) for some stuff for breakfast. I was staggered to hear Justine ask them if they could recommend a good type of bread for dipping in our balsamic vinegar and olive oil (very middle-class, us). On the point of dragging her out of the shop with embarrasment I was even more staggered when a friendly face (possibly Mr Brumby himself?) appeared and provided such a recommendation. Something along the lines of "that one's very soft and doughy... it'll be fantastic for dipping". And it was! You wouldn't get that in Greggs!

Armed withe these ingredients, we've eaten very well indeed, in true Australian style, with a hint of Guardian-reader Englishman (olives and sun-dried tomatoes were also on the menu). Although I don't think I did the Kangaroo justice - a little overcooked.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Living In The Rainforest

We're staying in a self-catering apartment which is within touching distance (literally) of the rainforest. This is a national park now and there's no way you'd be allowed to build property in this location today.

Just two minutes up the road is a walk which leads along the river and you can swim in pools of crystal clear rainforest water. I was a bit reluctant to jump in, but Jus had been in there for fifteen minutes without being eaten by anything, so eventually I relented and (having furtively changed into trunks under a towel) I gingerly went in. It was cooling and refreshing, and sitting under a little, but surprisingly powerful, waterfall I decided that this was, on reflection, much better than Skipton Baths.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Spiders From Mars

A short drive away from the centre of Cairns, and Justine, Kylie and myself arrive at our rainforest retreat. We are greeted by Laura and Jon (our hosts) and introduced to two of the locals. A pair of enormous spiders hanging from the roof near the (otherwise welcoming) decking area. Jus shrieked (and did a little dance of terror)! They're by far the largets spiders we've ever seen in the flesh, and given that the normal spiders which crawl up the plughole in the bathroom would cause Jus to phone the emergency services, we're in for an interesting time. "Is that as big as they get?" we enquired. "Oh no" came the reply, "once they get to be fully grown, they come down from the webs and eat birds and mice."

Australians seem to come to terms with the fact that their country is out to kill them from an early age, but I think they sensed that we were not so used to mammal-eating arachnids and Jon (a keen amateur spider-wrangler) soon rounded up and moved the "insurgents" much further away from the house.

Now, at least for the time being, we're able to stay here. Just need to keep an eye out for snakes, sharks, electric ants, jellyfish and stinging trees - that's right, even the trees are out to get you!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Kylie, The Ford Laser... She's A Beaut!

We'd arranged to hire a car when we arrived in Cairns and were picked up at the airport and taken to a place a few minutes away where they specialise in hiring out "older" (unreliable?) cars. We specialise in owning older, unreliable cars!

The very helpful chap there gave us some maps (including an entire Yellow Pages which had a good map of Cairns in the middle) and then took us out to meet Kylie (he didn't call her that, but I quite like to). She's a Ford Laser, she's white(ish), with a few bumps and grazes and bits of rust. The air-con works - that's proved to be essential, but the radio doesn't - that hasn't worried us too much (already heard Men At Work's quintessential offering on this trip - anything else is likely to disappoint).

Oh and she's an automatic. Why do automatic cars exist? They're really hard to drive - I keep wanting to press something down with my left foot but the only thing to press is the brake, which is a really dangerous thing to do if you're driving at 80km per hour and suddenly think "I need to change gear, I'll just use the clutch". I've got used to it now, but I can't help feeling that if you're not changing gear, you're only half in control of the car.

Sniffer Dogs Keep Up The Fight Against Apple Scrumpers

I'm not keen on dogs, always been a bit scared of them.  Probably down to some particularly challenging paper rounds I undertook on the mean streets of Timperley.

So when we arrive in Cairns I'm a little uncomfortable to be asked to join a single line of fellow passengers who are to be "snifffed".  I immediately let my imagination invent a beast from the depths of my darkest fears, part rabid wolf, part Greater Manchester Police drug squad officer.

Instead, we are to be "sniffed" by a cute little puppy (let's call him Bouncer) wearing a very smart purple dog jacket.  Relieved that the Drug-Wolf has not materialised, I allow my guard to fall.  But wait... Bouncer's on to something... it's Justine's rucksack... he knows there's something in there... he senses that she's carrying... APPLES!

The Australian authorities really don't want you to bring anything in to their county which might tip the ecological scales one way or the other, be it animals, fruit and veg, or even dirt on your shoes.  So if your bag had been used to carry a couple of apples (now eaten), Bouncer will come down on you like a tonne of bricks.  The quarantine people were all very friendly and polite, but as they hunted (without success) for illicit orchard-ware in our baggage, you sensed that they felt they were closing in on one of the world's most notorious Cider Barons.

She Just Smiled, And Gave Me A Vegemite Sandwich

Our flight from Singapore to Cairns stops off in Darwin (not Darwen, near Blackburn - that confused me for a minute).  We trudge off the plane at 4am (their time), who know when (my time) to set foot in Australia for the first time in our lives.  And the first thing we hear as it's piped out of the transit lounge's speaker system...  Down Under by Men At Work.  I couldn't have scripted it better.

Just One Corn-Etto

After finishing a trip around incense-heavy temples in Chinatown, we headed to Orchard Road via the tube. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of Louis Vuitton or Gucci (more Top Man or Burtons, me) so the monstrous strip of shopping malls left me cold. It didn't feel very exotic, in fact if London's Oxford Street had temperatures approaching melting point, I'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference. But one thing we did find there, and I challenge someone to find me this on Oxford Street, was sweetcorn ice cream. We bought some - it's ice cream... and it tastes of sweetcorn.

Sentosa - A Holiday Destination Of The Future?

It starts with a cable-car journey, gliding high over the trees and the river below. You then fly into an opening in a skyscraper which feels like you're arriving at a Bond Villain's lair. Then back out into daylight and down below must be the largest expanse of construction work currently being undertaken on the planet (I have no data whatsoever to back this up). This is the part of Sentosa Island which has been designed, but not yet built. It's fascinating to look at from so high above, but it's not pretty.

On arriving at the other end of the cable-car, it's a bit Disneyland. We walked down to the beach, past a family of giant plastic cows, dressed as tourists, wearing lipstick and grinning for a group portrait. Behind them looms a three hundred foot concrete Merlion (yes, part lion, part mer-thing).

When you arrive at the beach it's a little confusing. There's sunshine, sand, palm trees, cargo ships, kids building sand-castles, more cargo ships, factory chimneys in the distance and then some more cargo ships. And they do weddings here. If you want to get married with one of the busiest shipping lanes in Asia as a backdrop, Sentosa's for you.

We travelled up and down the length of the resort on the little "train" and at each stop a happy sounding lady encouraged us to "have fun".

We decided to "have fun" by crossing a long "King Kong-ish" rope bridge to an extra bit of land which is apparently the "Sowthernmost" point of the Asian continent. And if you can tightrope-walk along a palm tree which has grown almost horizontally out over the sea then you're presumably about as "Sowthernmost" as you can get. We did just that, and took silly photos to prove it.

Justine's lasting impression of Sentosa... Fantasy Island crossed with Center Parcs, on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal. Glad we went, wouldn't have wanted to stay there.

Going Underground

The Singapore MRT is efficient, cheap, cool (as in air-conditioned), clean, and was surprisingly free of undesirables.  Except me of course.

Little India

Eager for more street-markets, we continued on to Little India. I've never been to "Big India" but this certainly had the atmosphere. A convoy of strobe-lit rickshaw-bike-things was whizzing up one street while others had shops pumping out the meanest "Bhangra 'n Bass" I've heard for many a year.

Taking the advice of a colleague (and not fancying fish head curry) we sought out an eating establishment which advertised the availability of "dosa" and we were very happy we did. Onion masala dosai, rawa masala dosai and spicy dougnutty things, washed down with lassi and carrot juice, for three pounds fifty a head (including tip). Nice one Cliffe!