Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hello Sri Lanka!

Well I finally got online - it wasn't easy.  I don't know what is going on with my laptop but for now it works so thought I would do a quick update on what I've been up to.  It's been a busy week since I left London...

My flight with Emirates to Dubai was, in a word, lovely.  Like traveling by plane used to be like only even better.  Hot meal served (I chose chicken) with complimentary wine (I will take the white thanks), pillows, blankets, attentive airline staff and an entertainment system that has been rated the best in the world.  I believe it.  Instead of sleeping I had a movie marathon watching movies I missed at the movie theatre due to Thelma - "Victoria and Abdul", Goodbye Christopher Robin" (based on A. A. Milne's son) and "Hampstead" which was based in...Hampstead, London.  I enjoyed them all.  Although doesn't Diane Keaton kind of play the same role over and over again? 

Seven hours later arrival into Dubai was a nightmare.   Because we arrived early we lost a jetway so had to land further out and get a bus.  Well we waited for buses for about 20 minutes - then we started loading up at the back of the plane so we trundled  back there, waited when the first one was loaded up...nothing...and waited...and then all of a sudden we were going forward out the front.  Got in the bus only to be caught in some kind of airport traffic jam!  That was a first.  Another 20 or so minutes to finally get into the airport building and then a fairly lengthy walk to customs.  At least that part went smoothly.  The trip on the metro to my stop at Jumeirah Lake Towers was fine - it was trying to follow my instructions from google maps that did me in.  I finally had to take a taxi and of course it took no time to find my hotel.  I never did work out that route and had to take a taxi again when I used the metro one other time. 

Because I arrived in the morning my room wasn't ready so I wandered around a bit but was so exhausted (I blamed it on the movie watching when I should have been sleeping - okay that accounted for a bit of it but not how I felt..that would come later...) I ended up falling asleep on a chair just outside the back of my hotel, waking myself up with a loud snort - startling me and a woman sitting opposite!  Luckily I had my room by now so settled in and had a fairly short nap.  I don't like taking naps as they always make me feel worse but I really had no choice in the matter - I was dead on my feet.  After my nap I wandered across the street to a supermarket and picked up a few bits like yogurt and juice and was started to see a Tim Horton's.  They are everywhere!  Dinner in the adjoining Greek restaurant where I had the best hummus I have ever had in my life - could be because they had added honey to it.  Yum! 

The next morning I woke with a sore throat and realized that was why I felt so rough - a damn cold.  Of course my usual holiday cold...I never get sick at home.  I wait until I am on holidays!

I had purchased a hop on hop off ticket online so that kept me busy over the next few days.  I am not going to cover every day in detail here but here are a few photos from the four days I spent there...


I spent a bit of time at the very interesting Dubai museum.
 

I took a boat tour of the Marina that also went out onto Jumeirah Beach - pictured is the Giant Wheel that will open sometime soon.


This is the Marina area of Dubai which is where I stayed.  There was a walking path along the water right out of the back of my hotel.  The hotel?  It was okay. 


Oh yes, I also went up the world's tallest building the Burj Kahlifa...163 floors..830 metres to the very tip.  The elevators are the third fastest in the world...600 metres a minute.


Looking down to the fountains below


Taken from a boat ride on the Dubai creek- this is the old part of Dubai.


One of Dubai's very unique buildings - believe me there are many.  The powers that be decided in the very early 21st century that they needed something to keep Dubai afloat in case the oil ever ran out...so they turned it into a tourist destination.  They have way more high rises than New York and all were built since 1999....incredible.  And more being built all the time. They are hosting the Worlds Exposition in 2020 and they will no doubt do a spectacular job.  I described Dubai to a friend as Vegas with camels but it is so much more.  Did I like it?  Yes, it was great for a stopover.  But to fly to Dubai from North America just for a holiday?  Not worth it in my opinion.  You need three days minimum to explore. 


A quick snap of the Burj Al Arab at sunset out the bus window


This "thing" in the Dubai Mall changed colour constantly...blue, pink, yellow, green...

Then there was that trip to the desert with Arabian Adventures - the definite highlight of my trip. I will be writing a post about that trip for sure.  Camels, gazelles and an Arabian type of antelope - oh yes and a picnic breakfast. 


Arabian Oryx - once endangered but now back thriving in the Arabian desert. (which is the largest sand desert in the world...the Sahara has more than just sand.....)


An adorable baby Oryx

Dubai has a population of 2.8 million and 85% are expats from over 200 countries.  Residents do not pay income tax but do pay a VAT of 5% which was implemented by all the Gulf states. 

Such a quick overview but hey this is taking away from my pool time.  There will be lots more later. My first day in Sri Lanka and it's a rest day before I meet the rest of the group tonight and we hit the road tomorrow.  It's going to be full on so don't expect any more posts for a couple of weeks although I will try to update my Facebook page daily.  It's far too early to form any impression of Sri Lanka of course and Colombo, like any big city is not representative of the country it is in.  I can't wait to see the beautiful countryside.

Now it's back to the pool!




Saturday, February 3, 2018

Saying cheerio to London town for now...

Well tonight I head off for the next phase of my trip...Asia with a stop in the Middle East on the way there.  It's hard to believe I've been on the road for three and a half weeks now.  With about three and a half months more to go!!

What have I been up to lately?  Slowly I am working on my Barcelona posts so I won't even go there...I have pretty much stayed in London except for a day trip up to Durham.  I got a cheap 20 pound return ticket on a Virgin East Coast sale and snapped it up.  I had booked to go last winter but I wasn't feeling well and the weather was dire - luckily this time around the weather was good and so was I.

I will be writing more about Durham - I really did enjoy my day there.  The trip there and back was approximately three hours each way but we Canadians are used to long distances.  But why did I choose a seat with a table where you face people and I always seem to have the people who have long legs opposite me.  Anyway I lived to tell the tale.  The cathedral was about a fifteen minute walk from the station.  There is a bus that goes to the cathedral as well as stopping at the market place and costs just a pound to ride it all day.


Stopped at a viewpoint along the path into the city centre to admire the cathedral - obviously having some work done on it.


Crossing the River Wear


I took this path up to the castle and cathedral and the narrow cobbled street on the way back.  Thelma did the incline like a boss.


While entrance to the cathedral was free you were not allowed to take photographs inside.  I must say it was impressive.  There is currently an exhibition on called Open Treasure which I paid to go and see and it was well worth it.  I was particularly interested in the treasures of St Cuthbert as I had first learned about him when I was on Holy Island in Northumberland two years ago.  In fact, Durham Cathedral was built to hold his shrine.  Of course not being religious I do a bit of silent scoffing at it but I appreciate history. Or man's interpretation of it.  The rooms were especially ventilated for the treasures and they even had a wooden casket that St Cuthbert was supposedly in.  Very interesting.


Here is a sneaky peek at the cathedral from the cloisters.  Building on this cathedral started in 1093 which always blows my mind.  Of course there have been changes and add ons since then but coming from a young country the extensive history in this country has always intrigued me.


I then walked around the cathedral and loved this archway.


Here is the castle - this was opened in 1072 but since 1840 it has been the home of Durham University.  I opted not to take a tour as I had read that there are a lot of stairs.  Maybe next time because I think at some point I will be returning to Durham.


I worked my way back to the Market Square where a (really really) bad Elvis impersonator was warbling away.  There is a market there which wasn't too exciting but good for a loo stop!  I popped in to the pub beside it for a cheeky drink (as they call it here - well on "Coronation Street" anyway. I only knew it as talking back to my mother - "don't be cheeky"!) and a bag of crisps (potato chips for North Americans) before walking back to the station to get my train back to London.  A great day!


The next day I headed into central London and was a bit of a tourist.  I hadn't been to St James's Park yet after landing in London 2 weeks ago. Shameful!  So I had to fix that on this glorious sunny day...









What can I say...it's my favourite part of London and I look forward to many more trips seeing the changes as Spring arrives.


A quick hi to the Horse Guards at Whitehall and then on to Trafalgar Square


And then the #15 bus - on a Routemaster no less...there are only five left in service during the week on that route.  It's a typical tourist route from Trafalgar Square to the Tower of London that never gets old...ah the memories of riding those back in the 70's and 80's.


Got off at St Paul's Cathedral....


In the mid afternoon I had a ticket (free - you just had to book online) to view the newly refurbished London Mithraeum in the City of London.   The temple of Mithras was discovered in 1954 when construction was being done on a World War II bomb site.  It was moved to a different location and rebuilt however the recreation was not accurate and drew quite a bit of criticism.  The Roman Temple originally stood on the banks of the Walbrook River which now runs underground however the street above it now bears its name.  The Bloomberg Group took over the relocation and it now sits just slightly west of where it was originally - the fragility of some of the walls did not permit it to be exactly where it once was.  They now do a media show with Roman chanting and atmospheric mist and then you are free to take photographs afterwards.  Would I have paid for it?  Probably not but for free it was something different to do and just amazing to think this was something from the mid 3rd century.


After a delicious steak and kidney pie and mash in a pub I headed over to see Dreamgirls which turned out to be anything but a dream for me.  I like the Supremes which is what this musical was loosely based on.  However I do not like music where women screech - sorry my preference is really for male singers but I do like a few female singers...very few.  The rows were narrow and this was the tightest seating I have ever been in.  (stroke the Savoy theatre off my "to go" list in future)  My knees reached the seat in front of me and I don't have long legs...Thelma was most displeased and let me know.  The pain was worse than even after surgery - I just closed my eyes and wished for intermission to come.  I have never wanted intermission so badly and finally, finally when the screeching stopped (and oh man was she screeching just before the intermission - people clapped because they appreciated the singing (I use the term loosely) and I clapped because the damn thing was over and I could get up.  Of course I sat in a row with people who didn't want to drink nor use the facilities in the break so I made a very ungraceful exit but I will never see these people again so who cares right?  Most London theatres were built when we were all a lot shorter!  I don't know how a tall person could stand it but they would definitely have to go with the pricier seats. 

The next day saw me at an ABBA exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall.  Once again, no photos allowed...it was enjoyable and we were guided through different rooms depicting certain parts of their career.  We all had a jaunt in our step because the music is so catchy who can resist?

The first day of February saw me at the annual Destinations travel show at the Kensington Olympia.  I got there when it opened, scurried around collecting brochures and was out of there by noon when it was heaving.  I have decided that I've been there, done that four times so it's time to give it a rest.  I still can't decide where I want to go in the early Spring!

Yesterday involved a stint at the launderette getting almost everything I own clean...but one has to keep some clothes on!  Then I went into central Streatham and visited St Leonard's Church.  I only recently learned that my great grandparents lived and were married in Streatham at this very church!  It is a church I have passed numerous times on the bus... Of course at the time Streatham was a Surrey town near London - not part of it as it is now. When I mentioned my connection with the church I was taken on a tour by the church warden and she is putting me in touch with the church's archivist which is exciting.  I hope to go back with the good camera before I leave.  It is crazy to be living so close to it and never have known for years.  I knew they were married in Wandsworth - or I did back in the 90's when I originally researched it but I had forgotten until a long lost cousin connected with me when I had my DNA done and I pulled out my binder of certificates.




Due to a fire in the 70's the church has been gutted and there are only a few original pieces left including this font - perhaps my Great aunt Mary was baptized here!


These are the first daffodils I have seen on this trip - the early birds!  By the time I get back to London they should be all over the place.   And that makes me happy!

It's been a relaxing couple of days as I get ready to head off for the next part of my journey.

I will fly to Dubai tonight via Emirates.  This is the splurge part of my trip I guess as I am staying in a hotel on the Marina.  I just couldn't find an airbnb I liked or felt comfortable with.  I have a 48 hour pass on the hop on/hop off bus as well as other tours available to me for the rest of my stay such as a boat cruise bcause I opted for a five day pass.  I have also booked a trip out to the desert on Wednesday morning looking for local wildlife.  It seems all of the nature safaris involve dune bashing which ten years ago (okay let's be honest and say fifteen...) would have had me excited but not this old lady - all I can think of is my poor knee and let's not mention the tossing of the cookies aspect.  No thanks.  Oh yes and you sit on cushions to eat out in the desert - so who is going to help me sit down and then get up again?  Nope, probably not a good fit for Thelma and me sad to say.   I had looked into a camel safari instead of the dune buggy thing but then I read it is 45 minutes on a camel going up and down hills...er...no thanks.  I have been on a camel for that amount of time on even desert and that was enough of a challenge!  I will be going up the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa on Wednesday afternoon.  I am really looking forward to it and Thelma is looking forward to warm dry weather. (looking out at the rain here in London as we speak)

On Friday I fly off to Colombo, Sri Lanka where I meet up with my tour group on Saturday evening. I will be on tour for two weeks and then have a couple of days R and R in the beach town where the tour ends.  I hope to relax and catch up with blogging then.  In the meantime you can access my Restless Prairie Girl page on Facebook even if you don't have an account - I try to post daily as it takes just a few minutes with my phone.

I can't lie and say I am calm, cool and collected...butterflies are forming in my stomach and swirling around.  I think as the day goes on they will get bigger and bigger!  Stay tuned!



Friday, February 2, 2018

120 hours in Barcelona - part 2

I walked out of the Sagrada Familia in absolute awe.  I highly recommend the audio tour as it explains details that would be missed by just wandering around.  A tour would be good as well but I like to go at my own pace and observe everything around me.  I then took the metro to the Passig de Gracia where I got misplaced - I have such a talent for that.  I started walking in the totally wrong direction to La Rambla.  Finally I asked someone ...alway a good idea!!!  Though if I had gone in the right direction I would have missed this little gem!!


Place Catalunya, which is considered Barcelona's city centre was like Trafalgar Square used to be in the good old days - pigeon central.







This is the beginning of La Rambla, Barcelona's place to "ramble" and be seen.  Lots of shops and restaurants to keep a person busy.

I love markets so couldn't wait to explore La Boqueria which is Barcelona's biggest.  I was not disappointed. (I went back twice more!)


Figures made from marzipan - no I did not indulge..




 Lunch was from a food stand selling Catalonian food...


Oh how the Spanish love their jamon (ham) and queso (cheese)


I surprised myself by walking the full length of La Rambla to the sea...1.2 km on top of what I had walked already that day.


Here is a monument to Christopher Columbus.




I made it as far as crossing this new bridge across the water and I was done.  Sitting on a bench I started chatting with a couple from Cornwall, England who were off on a cruise the next day.  It turned out that they ran a boat charter company for years and we sat discussing travel, the Channel and Scilly islands for quite a while.

Time to head home - my dogs were barking, well more like howling really.  I did a dumb dumb thing. (what else is new?)  I got new orthotics just before the trip and due to our lovely Saskatchewan weather I wasn't able to break them in properly. (I don't think walking around the basement of my building for 45 minutes a few times a week was really giving them a good work out)  I have used orthotics for 18 years now and I know you need to not overdo at the beginning or you will be in trouble and my podiatrist who I call Dr Hotty because he is hot...(sure hope he doesn't read this blog...that will be embarrassing on my next visit...) has told me this numerous times.  So guess who took one pair of shoes with their NEW custom orthotics to Barcelona?  Up goes my hand.  I could not figure out why my feet were KILLING me and then the penny dropped.  My hiking shoes (which I had been using almost exclusively in Toronto and London) with my old orthotics were in London...so I must remember to pack those old orthotics with me when I go to Asia or I will be, to put it bluntly...screwed.

Anyway I hobbled back to the metro and headed back to my room.

The next morning I decided to walk around the Gothic quarter of the city...but first I had to have another pastry with my cafe con leche.


This one had chocolate in it!  :)


This morning I aimed to wander the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona - and the cathedral was the first stop.  Well I am sure it would be impressive if you just hadn't seen the Sagrada Familia...luckily it was free to enter as I wouldn't have paid to go in.  The cathedral was built between the 13th and 15th centuries.   I gave everything a cursory glance but I was interested in more than the church!

Geese in the cloisters!!  13 Geese to be precise - said to be 13 because the patron saint of the cathedral, Saint Eulalia was given 13 forms of torture in Roman times and became a martyr.  Okay...whatever....but geese!  White geese! 

The cloisters were lovely but the geese were even prettier.




I then wandered around the Gothic Quarter which was charming.  I think I still prefer Seville over Barcelona though. 



Can you tell I can't resist narrow walkways?  I enjoyed getting a bit lost and not knowing what was around the next corner.


Token dog photo in a quiet square



One of the plazas off La Rambla

Then it was time to head back up La Rambla as I had an appointment at 2 o'clock...but just another quick look in the market...



To try and counteract my morning pastries I bought one of these fruit cups - delish.   I also bought one of the empanadas pictured earlier to give to a fellow I saw looking in garbage cans.  I had the lady warm it up for me and it smelled divine.  He looked at it suspiciously and asked what it was and shrugged when I told him and muttered something and took off.  Maybe he was a vegetarian...or just an asshole...or both?


Back at Plaza Catalunya I had to admire this enterprising fellow.  The vendor was selling "pigeon food" but this guy was omitting the middle man and going for it.


The rest of the gang were happy to help local enterprise.  I usually love feeding pigeons but decided not to for some unknown reason.  I always used to at Trafalgar Square back in the day (I seem to be using that "back in the day" phrase a lot lately - guess it means I really am getting up there) and loved it.



I walked past another of Gaudi's works...Casa Batllo.  This was a reconstruction of an existing structure and was completed in 1904.



The buildings surrounding it aren't exactly offensive either.  I decided not to visit this one - personally I find the outside of Gaudi's structures appealed to me more than the interiors. 

Then it was time to visit Casa Mila known as Le Pedrera...this was completed by Gaudi in 1912.  Once again I found the exterior to be much more impressive than the interior....


Although the roof was pretty cool....



Hey there Sagrada Familia!


Stairs, stairs everywhere - I was pretty tired by the end but it was worth it!


Then it was time for tapas and cava (sparkling Spanish wine)!  Meet asparagus with cheese in truffle oil, three cheese croquettes and bread brushed with oil and tomato. (don't think the tomato was too involved in this...)  It was yum.

 Back to my room....I did spend a lot of time in my room in the evening.  I couldn't work out how to work the television in the living room and my room got nice and cozy once I turned the heater on.  I guess if there was a downside of the trip to Barcelona that would be it (and locking myself in...)..too much time in my room but I was tired after walking around all day.  Having a companion on this trip would have been nice for evening things but would have been a drag for the other person as I was continually sitting down when I could.

The next morning I decided to have a traditional breakfast for these parts...a ham and cheese sandwich...the Spanish are obsessed with this combination and I must say the Iberian ham is absolutely delicious. 

Then it was off to Park Guell - yes, another Gaudi masterpiece!  This was a little more difficult to get to and luckily I had been sent an email that morning instructing me on the best way to get there due to construction at a couple of the gates.  I was planning to go the way google maps was directing me so that worked out well.  I was able to take the metro all the way and then walked for about 20 minutes.  This is another place that must be booked ahead online - if you want to get into the monumental zone and truly, that's what you want to see. 


My jaw dropped when I saw this...it's like you have entered another world...


The tiles on the long bench on the terrace.


View showing from the terrace showing the tiles


More tiles...and yes I had to buy coasters with the tiles design on...not ceramic of course...would have been nice though...


The famous ceramic dragon - I had to snap quick to get this one as so many people were lined up to get their picture taken with it.


I walked up a bit to get a better view....I wanted to get to the famous cross and the fabulous view but Thelma said "no way" so I listened. 

And that's the next 24 hours of my time in Barcelona covered!








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Staying cool on the prairies and some future plans

My little burst of travel is over and it's back to reality.  Ah well, it was fun while it lasted.  And reality at home really isn't...