The day job and working in the great NZ novel have taken a backseat over the last few weeks as we had a three week holiday visiting the northern hemisphere. Needless to say, despite my best intentions to keep my hand in, I didn’t get much work done on the latest book. Dunno what Bruce would say about that.
We have just completed a three week overseas trip, touching down in places as diverse as Melbourne, Dubai, London, Bath, Oxford, Northampton, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Paris, and Rome. It was a whistle stop tour if ever there was one. We visited some famous cities and attractions, yet barely scratched the surface of what there is to see. Some of the most famous attractions were a bit of a let-down and others were far more interesting than I had imagined. Buckingham Palace was far more interesting to me than the Vatican, largely because cameras are banned in the Palace so your progress isn’t impeded by hordes of camera toting tourists and tour groups being herded through to make space for the next one. Besides I’m a Methodist. Some of my other pre-conceived prejudices were confirmed and others were not, the French, even in Paris were on the whole pretty helpful. England is a pretty place until it drizzles heavily and then much of it looks pretty miserable. London feels much cleaner than Rome or Paris.
One of the things it took me a while to get used to was the enormous press of people everywhere we went. We think our country is over run by tourists, but it’s nothing compared to the numbers wandering around these great cities and If I ever go back to that part of the world I’ll do it off peak where there might be less people and it might be a bit cooler. Other things we had to get used to included paying to go to the toilet and making sure we had the right coins, and armed police and soldiers patrolling the streets and subways in Paris and who were even more visible in Rome. And queuing, lining up everywhere, for everything.
First stop was a night in Melbourne and a day out with an acquaintance of she who must be obeyed and then we were off to Dubai. Dubai was obviously pretty hot which takes a while to get used to. There’s a lot to see and we hired a taxi for a day to show us around at about the same price as a guided tour but with a lot more flexibility. If I ever go back that way again I would like to explore the old part of town more and do one of the evening sand dune tours. Surprisingly to me, beer and bacon were not hard to find.
Then it was onto the mother country. We found where my English grandparent’s built their first home and also visited my remaining close relatives living in Northampton as part of a road trip which included a night in Oxford and a wander around Bath. Both these places would be on my list to revisit and spend some more time in. We also visited Brighton, Dover Castle, and Southend, all places I would return to for another look at some stage. However, the Travelodge in Northampton is not to be recommended. We took the train from Milton Keynes to Edinburgh, I had this romantic vision of an overnight sleeper train, instead we were whisked along on a high speed machine and were there in several hours for our first stay in a really big old city as we hadn’t ventured into London at this stage. The contrast between the order of the newish city and the ancient one was interesting and this is where I started to relax a bit and get a feel for the history of these places and the wealth that had been generated by their citizens, and a sense of history, which you can avoid when you get into the older part of the city. We also went to the Tattoo, a must do event in this part of the world.
Then it was onto Newcastle to try and locate the family shop from which my great, great, great grandfather escaped from to come to New Zealand. The shop is not in Newcastle proper but in South Shields, today an example of an old industrial area the world has left behind. Looking at the area the shop was on I can see why people wanted to leave. Newcastle itself was an interesting place. I had expected a grimy, miserable, industrial city but it was quite attractive, well the bits we saw, and the hotel we stayed in was by far the best accommodation we experienced on the trip.
The next stop was Paris, a complete contrast to Newcastle, the city of lights and love. At least as dirty and grimy as Newcastle and full of tourists and pushy immigrants hawking cheap souvenirs. We took in most of the key sights which were close to our accommodation, or at least a short metro ride away. I wasn’t all that taken with the place myself. One of the spooky experiences was the sight of armed police everywhere, and armed police roaming the streets. Perhaps it wasn’t too surprising seeing so many soldiers as there was a barracks more or less across the road from the hotel. I don’t know whether their presence made me feel safer or more vulnerable, it was certainly a sobering experience.
Then it was onto Rome. But before we left for Rome we had our worst experience with our flights and communication. Our outbound flight from Charles De Gaulle was delayed due to disruption caused by fog earlier in the day, but the notification was pretty poor and we endured an extra hour in a hot, crowded departure lounge which I could have done without. For someone who hadn’t been out of Oceania before these European airports, and add Dubai into the list, are huge places. On arrival at Charles De Gaulle in Paris we discovered we had to take a train to catch up with our luggage and negotiate the immigration process.
Rome was great, our accommodation wasn’t the best we experienced but certainly the most interesting, literally a few hundred metres from the Colosseum and the Forum.
This photo is from the rooftop dining area. It made up for any of the minor shortcomings of the accommodation. I could have spent a lot more time in Rome. Having a look around the city it is easy to see how western architecture is based on the Roman model. Places like the Coliseum and the Pantheon are truly magnificent and there is a real sense of history in the place. The dining was fantastic with small bars and restaurants in profusion close to where we stayed.
Then it was back to England and a tour of some of the key sights at the centre of the empire, Buck House, the Tower, and experiencing more of the local cuisine in a curry house. We also spent a day in the shops where for once I ended up spending more than SWMBO. I have bag fetish which I indulged. On the last day as we were flying out in the mid evening we made another trip into London, to have lunch and check out Big Ben and a few other places.
Then it was time to go for the trip home via a short stop in Dubai-a trip of about 23 hours which I am still paying the price for in terms of jetlag.
Best airline experience
Emirates Business Class – hard to beat.
Worst Airline Terminal experience
Charles De Gaulle both on the way in and when we escaped.
Dubai had the best passenger information services.
The best hotel we stayed in was the Vernon in Newcastle. But the best place we stayed was an ABNB in Rome, central to all the main attractions and with a fantastic rooftop dining area.
The little restaurant a 100 metres from the Roman accommodation, closely followed by the real British fish’n’chips we had in Southend
Paris and the Vatican -I’m not sure what I really expected
Rome-somewhere I might want to visit again- despite myself I enjoyed it. What great public transport looks like and how easy it is to travel around all these big cities
Roots. Looking around South Shields and realizing how lucky I am my ancestor left this part of the world, even though he struggled when he came here
Somewhere I wouldn’t want to stay again
The Travelodge in Northampton .
Places worth another visit if I ever go back
• The old part of Dubai
• London, Newcastle and some of the villages we drove through, and my special friend.