Homeward bound

Paris to Singapore and NZ

 

Day 95 Wednesday 14th September,  Roissy/Singapore

Air travel is generally never as exotic or exciting as the ads make out – it’s shuttles, check in, security checks, queues, more security checks and then (if you’re travelling economy – and of course we are) an exercise in contortionism and bladder control for 6-10 hours.

Our day started prosaically enough with a shuttle to Charles de Gaulle airport, check in was painless with Emirates – our code-share partner with Qantas. Security was tedious – the only amusing moment (kind of) was when Andrew forgot he had a metal water bottle mostly full at the scanner and had to scull it, spilling it over himself in order to catch up with his baggage as it went through. Slightly soggy and dishevelled – and that’s before a single flight – got through security and into the Disneyworld of duty free shopping – a glittering fantasy land of bright lights, forced smiles and brand products that you can’t afford – even duty free (a delusional concept anyway). Still we wanted to buy something for the three girls and had some Euros set aside – so a-shopping we did go. Miraculously found what we wanted – or hoped so, but being now much wiser parents – we called the two girls still down under – Jess now being in the UK – and checked we had the right stuff first. All good. Phew. When we boarded our A360 double decker aircraft – the mood lifted – this was Emirates, our first experience with the airline and what a difference! Polite and pleasant service, reasonable leg room, good food and a toilet that was clean, didn’t require Houdini like contortions to perform ablutions and actually provided soap and hand cream. Halleluyah – an airline that still operates the way that international airlines used to until the accountants, hungry profiteers and dividend seekers crawled all over them.

Consequently, we perversely felt the flight to Dubai was almost too short!  Sadly, the next flight to Singapore was a smaller aircraft and not so roomy.

 

Day 96  – Thursday 15th September, Singapore

We arrived in the morning and took a cab to our hotel, the Plaza ParkRoyal. Very nice too. Our room wasn’t ready so had a coffee, caught up on mail and were able to use the pool and shower facilities on the fourth floor. Excellent! And then they managed to get us into a room at 11:30am, (supposed to be 2pm) – so very happy with that.

In the meantime, we contacted Andrew’s cousin-in-law Kristi and arranged to meet for lunch and a catch up once we’d freshened up. Lovely to see Kristi – we wished her a belated happy birthday over a coffee and sandwich at And All Things Delicious, a smart little bakery on Arab Street which is almost opposite the hotel. We wandered around a few shops – an interesting pottery/artefact shop specialising in Japanese designs. By then Kerrie and I were feeling pretty spaced out and in need of a snooze, so fare-welled Kristi and headed back to the hotel.

After a welcome rest, we ‘re-booted’ and caught a cab to the Imperial Restaurant in what is now the Sheraton to meet Kristi and Alastair for dinner. It turned out that the celebrated “herbal” restaurant was none other than the one Andrew did a story on some 20 or so years ago for Beyond 2000. Back then it was in a different building and the attraction/selling point was you saw a herbalist specialising in Traditional Chinese medicine who prescribed what herbs and tonics you should have. These then went to the chef who prepared a meal specially for you. I recall eating fried ants and scorpions, washed down with deer penis wine!

Today the Imperial has gone more up-market – and the Chinese herbalist is no longer there – but the food was excellent. The tour de force was a dessert of cooked sweet potato (two varieties) drizzled with molten sugar which you pluck from the dish and dunk in a bowl of iced water – instantly congealing the molten sugar on the sweet potato chunks into a crystal glaze with spidery filaments.

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The manager – Eddy who has managed the restaurant for over twenty years and must have been with it when I filmed there back in 1995 or so – put on a sparkling performance to demonstrate just how to do all this with flair and panache!

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A wonderful night out – really terrific to see Alastair and Kristi again after a couple of years – looking great too.

We were lucky getting cabs to and from the restaurant as this was the week of the Formula 1 race in Singapore – with streets closed and thousands of tourists in town for the event which starts tomorrow.

 

Day 97 – Friday 16th September, Singapore

Needless to say we slept in – in our super king size bed – had breakfast at the hotel – which was included, then packed up in leisurely fashion. We had to be out of the room by a civilised 12 noon. We left our luggage with the concierge and met up with Kristi at the hotel. She took us on a fascinating tour of Arab Street, with its rabbit warren of colourful shops selling gorgeously patterned material for clothing, curtains, and shops specialising in sequins and tassels – to a background of calls for prayer from the nearby mosque – it being Friday.

 

This is where Singapore’s multi-cultural magic seems to work – in the back streets – not the shopping malls, or at least most of them!

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We caught the metro to the Raffles shopping centre – which is a mixture of up-market, branded luxury buying and great traditional eateries.

This was where we were to meet Alastair for lunch after his gym session. As ever with Kristi, there were interesting side-tours through 2-3 really beautiful stationery shops with clever and aesthetically subtle designs – a far cry from what you’d expect in a stationery shop back home.

We picked up a couple of amusing items and went on to find Alastair. Lunch was at his favourite and regular haunt, the best Chinese restaurant in the centre, Ah Yat Kitchen that has a very expensive up-market restaurants downtown but a simpler (and cheaper) mall-style café here. Lovely food.

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We chatted on and then realised that it was time to head to the airport. Kristi had some last minute surprises for us and the girls (her forte!) Having bid our fond farewells, Kerrie and I caught a cab back to the hotel, picked up our bags and then went on to the airport.

Our overnight Qantas flight to Melbourne was uneventful.

 

Day 98 – Saturday 17th September- Melbourne/Auckland/Cambridge

We arrived early in Melbourne – around 5:30am and consequently there was no-one there to man the international transfers section. We queued grumpily for half an hour until eventually the security people showed up and promptly took for ever to process us all, before disgorging us into a run-down transfer lounge. Hmmm!

Our flight to Auckland left on time – it should have been a straight forward short leg – but made most unpleasant by two lots of passengers – one directly in front of us and the other to one side who all had colds/coughs whatever and made no effort to shield the rest of us from their expectorations! Urgh! (and yes Andrew did come down with a cold subsequently).

Arriving in Auckland in rainy, cool conditions (urgh again) we were met by Andrew’s sister Frances, who kindly collected us and drove us to her new house in Cambridge.

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By now we were definitely feeling the effects of jetlag, so after a chat and cuppa, Kerrie and I hit the hay for a snooze. We got up for dinner – more chat and went back to bed for what we hoped would be a good night’s sleep. But it wasn’t to be. We were both in deep rem when we were woken by a loud shattering explosion! Cautiously Andrew went to explore – thinking perhaps earthquake, break-in or who knows what, it being ten to three in the morning! The cause was unexpected and totally bizarre. The entire shower door in our bathroom had exploded, shattering into a million shards of safety glass which were making an eerie crackling sound as they continued to fracture. Quite alien!

We woke Frances, and all looked at the debris in puzzlement, brushed the glass into a corner, had a cuppa, mused about the weirdness of it all and went back to bed. Of course, the battle to go back to sleep was lost by Kerrie and I who dozed and harrumphed our way through to daylight.

Day 99  – Sunday 18th September,  Cambridge NZ

Bleary eyed after our dramatic awakening at 3am, it took a while for consciousness to percolate through. After sundry cups of tea and further musing over one of life’s little mysteries Frances checked on the web and it appears that this is a not unknown phenomenon – something to do with slight imperfections in glass and a build-up of nitrogen molecules (or something) which at some point then causes the glass to spontaneously shatter. Clearly a case for ghost busters and the insurance company to resolve. Being Sunday neither were available so we headed out for brunch, after which we felt better. In the afternoon we took the dogs for a good 6 km walk around the green belt and local lake, getting a dose of vitamin A and some fresh air. All of which worked up an appetite for the roast dinner that evening.

Day 100  – Monday 19th September,  Cambridge/Queenstown/Wanaka

Even without exploding shower doors, our night’s sleep was not great – the classic waking at 4am and then thinking of all the things we had to do when we got home!

Eventually got up for (another) cuppa tea. Frances and I walked the dogs, by which time it was time to hit the frog and toad and head into Hamilton – Frances had to work and we had a bus to catch to Auckland airport.

We said cheerio to Frances – who we’ll be seeing at Christmas – and waited for our Intercity bus. All went fine – except the check in process at domestic was the usual frustrating experience where you the passenger are asked to do all the work – but of course  it doesn’t work and then you have to wait for the one attendant who’s there to help to be free to help you. Sigh!

The flight to Queenstown was surprisingly only half full. Which meant that Kerrie was able to move seats to the left hand side and enjoy the stunning views as we traversed the southern Alps and tracked down the valley to Frankton airport. Glorious sunny weather showed off the snow-capped mountains to maximum advantage and made us feel like we do live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. We had to wait for an hour for our shuttle – which then went via Cromwell – so we arrived home in the dark at 7:15pm. But at least they did drop us at the front door! Home at last after exactly 100 incredible days!!

 

Post script

Day 101 – Tuesday 20th September, Wanaka/Alexandra

We had one last thing to do before we could say we were all home – and that was pick up George (our 13 year old dog). With some trepidation, we’d called from Frances’ house to see how he was! Not a problem – George was reportedly in good health and settled in very well. What a relief.

Now we wondered if he’d want to come home!

We arrived at the kennels at 5pm – and we could see George, looking perhaps a little greyer but otherwise fine, in the pen with all the other dogs of his size. But because his eyesight and hearing are both faded, he couldn’t see or hear us when we called!

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The kennel owners went and got George – and once he came up close and saw (and doubtless smelt) us – he went beserk…

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…barking madly until we got into the car and headed home.

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It’s taken George a few days to settle back into the home routine without his pack of fellow boarders – and his special mate Rusty! But then it’s taken Kerrie and I at least a week to begin to settle back into a routine ourselves – not helped by jetlag and that bloody cold Andrew got from the unrestrained sneezers on the flight from Melbourne. Thanks guys!!

But you can’t be grumpy for long in Wanaka – got to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet – and it’s home now!

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