Sunday, September 30, 2018

Paris, Disneyland, and the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse

Whilst I found this tree house to be interesting, it seems to be far from practical because there was little to keep the wind and rain out, though I suppose, in the book, that might not be such a problem.

Be that as it may, and if it was relatively waterproof, then the furnishings would probably survive, and one had to also assume that much of the furnishings, such as the writing desk below, would have washed up as debris from the shipwreck.

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The stove and oven would have to be built by hand, and it is 'remarkable' such well-fitting stones were available.  It doesn't look like it's been used for a while judging by the amount of gree on it.  Perhaps it is not in a waterproof area.

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The dining table and the shelf in the background have that rough-hewn look about them


A bit of man-made equipment here for drawing water from the stream

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And though not made in the era of electricity, there is an opportunity to use the water wheel to do more than it appears to be doing

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And tucked away in a corner the all-important study where one can read, or play a little music on the organ.  One could say, for the period, one had all the comforts of home.

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Melbourne, Australia: Every visit is different

Brisbane to Melbourne

I doubt there's an airport anywhere in the world that will be an experience to remember except for all the wrong reasons.   Singapore, Hong Kong, and Heathrow are notable only for size and the time it can take to get from the main area to the departure gate.

Brisbane, the airport we are departing from today, is very small by comparison.

But in one aspect all airports are the same.  The price of ordinary items compared to anywhere other than an airport.

Brisbane airport is no exception.  Whilst some items are what may be called reasonable prices I don’t regard $10 plus for a sandwich toasted or otherwise as reasonable.  Coffee, however, seems to have a benchmark of between $4 and $6 depending on the size the world over.

And believe it or not sometimes it tastes like coffee.  Perhaps at home, I'm spoilt but quite often the coffee, especially overseas, is awful and you can't wait to get back.

Despite my own reservations, I do it myself this time, having a flat white coffee and a pie which I have to say was a reasonable price.  On this visit to the airport half the food outlets were closed due to reconstruction, so outlets and choices were extremely limited.

But the airport experience is only one aspect of the day's travel.

The airline - Virgin, the plane - 737-800

There is the airline you use, and then there are the others.  We have four in Australia, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Tiger, and Jetstar.  We usually travel on Qantas mainly because we have frequent flyer points to offset the cost but this time we didn't.

This time we traveled by Virgin Australia because the fares were very reasonable.  For a long time, Virgin had the reputation of being an LCA but this is changing as they attempt to take on Qantas as a full-service airline.

One aspect of traveling by air is the online check-in and bag drop experience.  I don't think I've traveled Qantas once when the automated bag drop system worked for us without having to ask for assistance.

With Virgin it was painless.  Check-in online, select your seats and drop the bags at a counter.  Perhaps we were lucky for the time of day there was not a long queue but just the same it was less problematic than Qantas.

Something else that Virgin does better than Qantas is getting the passengers onboard.  They board passengers on the plane from both ends which then enables the departure to be on time.  It is also a positive when disembarking passengers, once again speeding up the process and enabling an on-time turn-around.

We are in row 18 and should board the plane by the rear stairs and requiring us to negotiate two sets of steps.  At the moment we both have sore knees, so we were allowed to go through the front door.
My first impression of the plane is one of spaciousness, perhaps skewed by seeing the first few rows given over to business seats.

But one cannot deny the colorful seats and the fact the pitch is one inch better than most of its rivals.

I'm sitting in the dreaded middle seat where there is hardly enough room to move and even though it looks more spacious it isn't and it would be impossible to eat. I guess in that aspect there is little difference between the airlines.

In-flight service has improved, and although they are still charging for food and drinks, they now provide a complimentary snack, usually biscuits and a glass of water.  It's as much as I can handle in the middle seat because using a knife and fork would be impossible.

Then there's the problem of not only having to sit on the middle seat but when the person in the window seat needs to get out.  For once there is no complaint from me because l need to periodically get up and stretch my legs as I cannot sit for longer than half to one hour without having problems on arrival.  Last time I traveled I could not get up for over two hours and after landing I had a very bad cramp.

Although the plane left five minutes late, it arrived on time, but because of crosswinds we land faster than usual and hit the tarmac quite hard.

After we disembarked taking the rear stairs for expediency, there's just enough time to get to the baggage belt to collect our bags, the delivery far the quickest than any time I have traveled Qantas.  The worst baggage wait was at Heathrow which took longer than an hour.

The hotel - Hilton Doubletree

We are staying at the Hilton Doubletree in Flinders Street opposite the iconic station, one that I used nearly every day for years.  The hotel is relatively new and we are staying on the 10th floor reserved for HHonors guests.  The hotel is just up from the corner of Elizabeth Street and Flinders Street and therefore in a very good location.

It is only a short distance to a variety of eating establishments.

We will be staying there again, not only for location, breakfast, and the external food choices but the fact they supply you with cookies, which are, in my opinion, very addictive.

For us, a continental breakfast at the hotel is included with our stay.  If we want to upgrade to the hot breakfast it is an additional $6 per person.  We do for the first day.  Like most Hilton brand hotels the breakfast choices are basically the same, and you get to choose the type of eggs you want which are then cooked for you.  We chose the boiled eggs and were cooked perfectly.

Self-driving in Melbourne and suburbs

We are in Melbourne for a funeral and to visit relatives, so a hire car is essential.

If you are not used to driving in a city that has toll roads Melbourne can be an expensive proposition.  Our last stay the tolls cost us about $90.  There are four tolls just to get from the airport to the city.
That can be alleviated if you have a GPS that can find you a route into the city not using toll roads, but if you do be prepared to run into a lot of traffic lights and, of course, traffic.  We have a slight advantage of having once lived in Melbourne but even so, we still finished up seeing places we'd never been before, so trying to avoid toll roads without a GPS could be a problem.

Also if you are driving in the peak hours be prepared for horrendous traffic where at times the motorways can be like car parks especially if there's been an accident.  One morning we were there, there were four accidents at the same time basically closing down the motorway.

Like most modern hotels this one does not have its own car park.  Neither did the Hilton at Docklands.  There the car park was opposite the hotel and you could park for a discounted rate.  The Doubletree is basically the same, only the car park is about half a block away and you park for the discounted rate of $30 per day versus the normal rate of $54.  Parking in the city, any city in Australia, is not cheap.  Nor for that matter is valet parking at hotels which can exceed $50 per day.

Brisbane to Melbourne

Return of hire car is simple but getting to the lane marked rental car returns was not so easy and beware it is relatively poorly signed.  The traffic heading towards the terminal is horrendous and it takes us 15 minutes to travel half a kilometer.

We are returning to Brisbane by Virgin, this time on one of their smaller planes, an Embraer E190 which has a two abreast either side seating arrangement.  Once again, it gives the impression there is more room which when seated appears to be the case.  I suspect that feeling would disappear very quickly when the passenger in front has his or her seat back in recline.

This service has the wifi entertainment system active where you can use your own device to stream entertainment content via their special app.  I had not downloaded it so I couldn't test it.

The snack this time was cheese and biscuits which were quite nice along with a cup of water.  We brought extra water on board ourselves now we know we can.

After disembarking and collecting our baggage this time already circulating on the baggage belt before we got there, we stopped to have a relaxing cup of coffee at the Coffee Club outlet outside the main terminal, a fitting end to the trip, and a quiet moment back on home soil before picking up the car from long-term car park and going home.

Niagra Falls, Canada, very cold, very icy, but none the less, an incredible sight

We visited the falls in winter, just after Christmas when it was all but frozen.

The weather was freezing, it was snowing, and very icy to walk anywhere near the falls


Getting photos is a matter of how much you want to risk your safety.

I know I slipped and fell a number of times on the ice just below the snowy surface in pursuit of the perfect photograph.  Alas, I don't think I succeeded.


The mist was generated from both the waterfall and low cloud.  It was impossible not to get wet just watching the falls.


Of course, unlike the more braver people, you could not get me into one of the boats that headed towards the falls.  I suspect there might be icebergs and wasn't going to tempt the fate of another Titanic, even on a lesser scale.  The water would be freezing.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Venice, Italy, a city with so much to see and do

Venice is definitely a city to explore.  It has an incredible number of canals and walkways, and each time we would start our exploration at St Marks square.

Everyone I have spoken to about exploring Venice has told me how easy it is to get lost.  It has not happened to me, but with the infinite number of ways you can go, I guess it is possible.

We started our exploration of Venice in St Marks square, where, on one side there was the Museo di Palazzo Ducale and, next door, the Basilica di San Marco.  Early morning and/or at high tide, water can be seen bubbling up from under the square, partially flooding it.  I have seen this happen several times.  Each morning as we walked from the hotel (the time we stayed in the Savoia and Jolanda) we passed the Bridge of Sighs.

Around the other three sides of the square are archways and shops.  We have bought both confectionary and souvenirs from some of these stores, albeit relatively expensive.  Prices are cheaper in stores that are away from the square and we found some of these when we walked from St Marks square to the Railway station, through many walkways, and crossing many bridges, and passing through a number of small piazzas.

That day, after the trek, we caught the waterbus back to San Marco, and then went on the tour of the Museo di Palazzo Du which included the dungeons and the Bridge of Sighs from the inside.  It took a few hours, longer than I’d anticipated because there was so much to see.

The next day, we caught the waterbus from San Marco to the Ponte di Rialto bridge.  Just upstream from the wharf there was a very large passenger ship, and I noticed there were a number of passengers from the ship on the waterbus, one of whom spoke to us about visiting Venice.  I didn’t realize we looked like professional tourists who knew where we were going. 

After a pleasant conversation, and taking in the views up and down the Grand Canal, we disembarked and headed for the bridge, looking at the shops, mostly selling upmarket and expensive gifts, and eventually crossing to the other side where there was a lot of small market type stalls selling souvenirs as well as clothes, and most importantly, it being a hot day, cold Limonata.  This was my first taste of Limonata and I was hooked.

Continuing on from there was a wide street at the end and a number of restaurants where we had lunch.  We had a map of Venice and I was going to plot a course back to the hotel, taking what would be a large circular route that would come out at the Accademia Bridge, and further on to the Terminal Fusina Venezia where there was another church to explore, the Santa Maria del Rosario.

This is a photo of the Hilton Hotel from the other side of the canal.

It was useful knowledge for the second time we visited Venice because the waterbus from the Hilton hotel made its first stop, before San Marco, there.  We also discovered on that second visit a number of restaurants on the way from the terminal and church to the Accademia Bridge.

This is looking back towards San Marco from the Accademia Bridge:

And this, looking towards the docks:

Items to note:

Restaurants off the beaten track were much cheaper and the food a lot different to that in the middle of the tourist areas.

There are a lot of churches, big and small, tucked away in interesting spots where there are small piazza’s.  You can look in all of them, though some asked for a small fee.

Souvenirs, coffee, and confectionary are very expensive in St Marks square.

It's the plane! It's the plane! A new plane, a new outlook on air travel.

I'm one of those people who like to travel on as many different types of transport I can.

For instance, underground railways in London, Paris, Sydney, Hong Kong, and, briefly, in Melbourne.

As for trams, try Rome, Cologne, Melbourne, Bratislava, or Hong Kong.

And buses, London double-deckers, Tour coaches which are not all the same, and a uniquely named type of bus in Brisbane, the banana bus.

But the main form of travel is by air.  Flying in Boeings, 717, which to date I have not, 727, 737, and it's many varieties, 747, 757, 767, 777, and as yet not the 787 or the Dreamliner.

As for Airbus, an A320, and A330, and A340, an A380, which to me is the best plane I have ever traveled in, and the star of this piece, the A350.

A recent trip to Hong Kong

There are the usual nerves and borderline panic that sets in a few hours before leaving for the airport.  The sort that preys on your mind, have I packed everything I need, have I got the tickets in my bag, have I remembered to bring the passports?

Then when you think you've mastered all those items, you then have to decide what is the best time to leave for the airport.  Of course, the road you need to take is the one that is problematic at the best of times, the sort where one accident could turn it into a complete mess, and a 20-minute journey can turn into one that can take hours, and you could miss the flight.

It is, for us, a constant source of worry with the roads being the way they are.

We have to be at the airport three hours before the flight departs; airline rules so we can get through check-in and immigration.  Sometimes where there is more than one plane leaving, there can be long queues.  Then there's the obligatory duty-free shopping if there's time left, or, if circumstances are exceptional, a long wait till the plane departs.  With restless children that can be hell.

This time we're not traveling with children so it’s a lesser form of hell.  Everything ran on time and with minimal delays.

By the time the plane is ready to board people are coming from everywhere and start jockeying for positions in queues.  This always fascinates me because no matter how many times they call specific rows, by the time you get in, you discover that nearly every other row has already boarded.  I have never quite worked that one out.  There must be a lot of eligible frequent flyers who can board at any time.

Today we're on an Airbus A350-900, and I have not traveled on one of these planes before.  Straight up, it’s not a spacious as the A380, even though there may appear to be more space on the A350.  It certainly doesn't feel like it, and in the middle seat, even less so.  It's still impossible to eat, and some things will never change.

As for food, the supper is a cut above the ordinary and better than the last time we traveled Cathay Pacific.  Dinner served, trays cleared, darkness descends.

It's time to rest.

What can be said about sleeping on planes that has not already been said?  For some it is easy, for some with an empty seat beside them it is less difficult.  For me, cramped in the middle seat, impossible. I guess I dozed off now and then, but the sore gritty eyes several hours into the journey tell the story.

Breakfast so soon after a late supper is almost unpalatable, despite how tasty the food looked.  Coffee was probably a better idea but in the infrequent turbulence, not a good idea.  I had two mushrooms and a roll.  The fruit; watermelon, rockmelon and honeydew melon looked and tasted less than appetizing.

Nine hours in a plane is so much better than 13.  I watch the plane's track and view the camera in the tail facing forward.  Not so good at night, but it was an eye-opener landing in the torrential rain.
There does not seem to be a long wait to get off the plane as there is at some airports, and so early in the morning, perhaps it is relief just to get up and start walking.

But, we're in Hong Kong, and this time something special awaits!

[Read more - There are arrivals, and then there are arrivals]

Friday, September 28, 2018

What works on paper doesn't necessarily work in reality

You are always just one slip-up from it all going to hell in a handbasket.

Let me explain...

No matter how hard you try, how seamless, on paper the plan is, the odds are something will go wrong.  That is not to say I am a fatalist, or a glass half empty kind of traveler because most of the trips I have planned and taken have been relatively painless.

Except our good luck had to finally run out.

It was not a matter of bad planning; it was just one of those times when events didn't quite go according to plan.  It happens.

For instance, the simple objective was to get from Brisbane in Australia to Florence in Italy.  There is no direct flight.  Booking on an airline site is a horrendous experience, fares are ridiculously high, and there are no accommodating stopovers.

This is a trip that only a travel agent can handle.

The objective, travel to London via Hong Kong, or Singapore, or any medium distant airport, then on to London, or Paris, or where-ever, then to Florence.  No overnight stopover, staying in a hotel, not this time, in either of Hong Kong or London.



It was as horrendous for the agent as it was navigating the airline's internet site.  It was not something that could be done, sitting opposite her as she deftly navigated the highways and byways of the travel system on her computer.  This was a longer, more intricate job.

Two days later she had the solution for the Brisbane, Hong Kong, London, and thence Florence trip.  It would require a stay of 10 hours in Hong Kong, the connections didn't align according to price constraints, and then a 14-hour layover in London as flights to Florence was not aligned either.

All well and good.

Cathay Pacific for the trip to London and Vueling Airlines for the London to Florence leg.  At least we would arrive in Florence at a reasonable hour, about 6pm.

On paper, it was the most practical solution in the circumstances.

Reality proved it to be something else entirely.

At Brisbane airport, we were given boarding passes for the flights through to London, but by some quirk of fate had our baggage checked through to Florence.  How this could be done without boarding passes for the London to Florence flight was a surprise.

Back in Brisbane, the check-in person told us she could not give us a boarding pass for the London to Florence leg because the system would not issue it.  We could she said, get it easy enough when we arrived in London.

The first leg went smoothly enough, though we did not realize until we got on the plane that it stopped over in Cairns for an hour or so.  This was not a problem, just made the time between Brisbane and Hong Kong longer than we anticipated.

In Hong Kong, we had no trouble getting into the lounge I’d booked.

The problem came with the interpretation in using the bathroom facilities, and it took several hours before we finally realized that the bathroom facilities were not part of the lounge but operated independently and you had to book your place.

By that time there were a large number of people ahead of us (who obviously knew the problems associated with these facilities) and it annoyed me that the lounge staff did not mention it when we arrived.

The Hong Kong to London leg was as all long haul flights are.  We knew what to expect, and arrived in London around 6 am.  We arrived at terminal three and the lounge we'd booked was in terminal three.  All we needed was a boarding pass to get in.


That was not the case.

Because we could not get back into terminal three without a forward boarding pass we had to exit and go through customs and immigration.  We were told that the only way to get a boarding pass for the Florence flight was to go to the airline counter.

The problem was Vueling did not have an airline counter.

This is where tempers started to flare.  7:30 in the morning, no means of getting into the lounge which we had paid a lot on money for, and no one in the terminal being helpful.
The Vueling web site was impossible to use.

The telephone number rang out.

At this point, I was beginning to believe the airline didn’t exist and we had been ripped off.

Only by a quirk of fate, reading the departures board, did I see a flight for Vueling leaving at 10 am, with the check in counter displayed.

By this time we had spent two very frustrating hours and I was nothing short of angry.

At the gate, the head of the check-in counter, a representative of Vueling was surprised we had any problems, particularly in Brisbane, but happily issued the boarding passes.  When we mentioned the baggage she advised us it was lucky we did, otherwise it would have gone missing.  She took the tag numbers and sorted that problem out.

The airline, it seems, is well respected, and based on the service I received, I had to say I agreed
The problem was back in Brisbane with an inexperienced check in person.

There was only one problem in getting to the lounge, now four hours later than we had advised, the fact we had to go back through customs, and in doing so, the duty free that we had brought from Hong Kong was now outside the limits allowed, and the customs staff were adamant despite the circumstances we could not take it with us.  $400 worth of goods finished up in the bin.

It would be true to say that day the customs staff at Heathrow were not the best ambassadors for their country, and one, in particular, would be best doing service elsewhere where human contact was not a requirement.  As for the others, they were as helpful as they could be, but rules, unfortunately, were rules.

At last, rather distressed over the duty-free, and the lateness of our arrival at the lounge, there was no possibility of getting a short sleep before going to Florence.  At least we did not have the same problems using the bathroom facilities, our room I’d book had them included in the room.

We rested, and figured nothing else could go wrong.

Not.  Again!

The plane was advertised to leave London at about 3 pm.  We left the lounge expecting to get to the gate on time.  We checked on the departure board for the flight to get the gate number, only to see a notice ‘delayed’.  When that delay passed 5 pm, two hours later, we decided to go to the counter and find out what was happening.

Only to find there was no airline counter.  Again!

We asked at least a dozen people, including the special helpers the airport who there is plenty of signage to say to go to if you have a problem, but not one of them knew where the counter was or who was looking after the affairs of the airline.  By this time other irate passengers of the delayed flight were massing, also seeking answers.  One discovered who the agent was, and we descended on the counter as a large group.

The first person I saw at the counter was the woman who had checked us in that morning.  For her, it had been a long day, and it was getting longer.

The problem, the plane had been delayed on an earlier leg, yes it would be arriving, having just left the lat airport, and we would be embarking about 7:30.  For our trouble, we got a meal voucher, and at least we could have a reasonably good dinner.

The plane arrived, we embarked, the service was good and the people on board as cheerful as they could be given the delays and the discontented passengers.

We arrived in Florence just before midnight, our driver to take us to the hotel was waiting for us, and the hotel upgraded us to a very nice room.

All in all a harrowing journey, but in the end, after basically a six-hour delay, and being very tired, we ended up happy people.  And we were in Florence, in summer.

What more could anyone want?

Hong Kong, the Peninsula Hotel, and then High Tea

There is no doubt that the Peninsular Hotel in Hong Kong is one of the worlds most famous hotels, and luxurious.

It was on my bucket list, after spending a few days at Raffles, in Singapore, a hotel equally famous for its old world charm.

The Peninsular has been around since 1928 and thankfully had only changed for the better.

We took the signature Rolls Royce transfer from the airport, an experience everyone should try, and where your hotel stay begins.


We are staying in the old building, overlooking the Space Museum.  I'm sure, in 1928, there would have been a clear view of Hong Kong Island, still visible through the foreshore buildings.


The view from our room.  When we arrived it was at the end of a typhoon (level 3), which meant it was more rain than wind.  You can see the rain in the distance.


Old hotels lend themselves to explorers, like us, and we went down to the shopping mall in the basement, as well as on the ground floor, and through the Lobby Cafe, where as illustrated below, the ornate tiling and pillars, and decorated roof are impressive.


As well as staircases to the mezzanine floor, where there are shops and restaurants, including the signature breakfast room.


Also, a signature dish is the famed Afternoon Tea which people come from everywhere to have, even line up and wait.  As guests of the hotel, we were able to book a time and bypass the queue.


By the way, it was amazing, particularly the tea, special blends by the hotel which can also be bought at the hotel shop in the basement.

They also have special chocolates, and they are to die for.

Hong Kong: from the Grand Harbour Hotel, Kowloon

We were not expecting either the grandeur of the suite we received nor the incredible view of Hong Kong and probably more fascinating, the harbor.

On one side was the passenger ship terminal, which played host to several cruise ships during our stay, but also incredible views of Hong Kong island, day and night.

Quite literally, we did not have to watch TV to be entertained.  There was endless activity right outside the window!


Looking towards the Passenger Liner terminal, and a smaller cruise ship at anchor.


A Chinese junk that crossed our path several times during our stay


The view outside our room window.  At sunup, it was amazing, at sundown, incredible.


We were not sure what this vessel was, though it looked like a car or vehicle ferry, but not once when we saw it did it have any vehicles aboard.


This, we were guessing, was not only a junk, but a passenger ferry of sorts, or perhaps it went on harbour cruises.


A ferry, obvious from the name on the side of the ship

And a smaller cruise ship returning


Housing on the foreshore of Hong Kong island, just across from our room during the day,

and at night.

Moving close to the business section of Hong Kong Island, with a dredge in the foreground.  They finished work the day we left.

Hong Kong: There are arrivals, and then there are arrivals!

Remarkably, the Peninsula Hotel experience began at the arrival gate.

The moment we stepped out of the air bridge and into the terminal building, a representative of the Hong Kong airport was waiting with a card with our name on it.  She was there, with driver and electric car (sometimes called a golf cart) to ease our way through the immigration and baggage formalities.


No walking for us, which was fine by me.  It’s a train ride and a long walk from the gate to immigration.  And after all the sitting on the airplane, walking was not the first thing I was looking forward to.

The drive took a few minutes, slowed down by many other passengers walking towards the same destination, most wondering why two relatively young people like us (even if we are in our 60’s) were getting a ride.

After clearing immigration, which took very little time, and where there was a very short queue considering the number of arrivals they handle, we were met on the other side by our airport representative, and taken to the baggage carousel.

Another simple process, our bags were almost waiting for us.  From there we exited customs, and out representative handed us over to the representative of the hotel.  I thought he was the driver.
He took us through to the limousine lounge and directly to our car, a very clean shiny new looking green Rolls Royce, the ultimate in the airport to hotel transportation.

Inside it was immaculate, and astonishing, and very, very comfortable.  I could image the Queen riding in the back of one.  It took about 30 to 40 minutes, one of the quietest, most smooth rides I’d ever had, and worth every cent we paid for it.

The bucket list now has one less item on it.


The arrival at the hotel was effortlessly handled.  We were met by two of the check-in staff and escorted to our room on the fourth floor.

There was just enough time to take in the amazing foyer, front entrance and twin staircases leading to a mezzanine floor, before getting into a waiting elevator and taken to our floor.  As an aside, the mirrors in the elevator were like something out of a hall of mirrors, you look into the mirror and see dozens of yourself looking back.

It’s an effect I’ll have to take a photo of.

We have been upgraded, and out room is larger than the one originally allocated.  It has a view of the Space Museum, the Veranda Cafe roof, and parts of Hong Kong harbor.  It is overcast and raining so it does not matter about the view.


It’s Hong Kong, and that view will change every hour.

Formalities over, we are left standing in stunned silence.

We have arrived.


They say getting there is half the fun.

They’re wrong.

Or at least in the case of the Peninsular Hotel they are.

If just getting to the hotel via the signature Green Rolls Royce is any indication, there had to be a lot more in store.

We booked a room in the ‘old’ hotel and it was categorized as ‘deluxe’.  The Peninsula adds a whole new meaning to the word Deluxe.  If this was one of their lower priced rooms, then I’d love to see their better rooms.

But the room itself is not the sum of the experience; it is also the aura within the building, the service, which is quiet and unassumingly polite and unobtrusive.  You are ushered from the front door, held open by a very elegantly dressed concierge, to your room without so much as a heartbeat.

The details, well, they are mere details that cause no concern, all taken care of before you arrived.  We arrived early, before the advertised check-in, and this fazed no one.  Room available, tired travelers sigh in relief, knowing a hot shower and several hours sleep would not be possible.
I was more than pleasantly surprised, and exploring the hotel would have to wait.

For a few hours anyway.

Hong Kong, from the Peak: after a tram ride, astonishing views

There is no better viewing site in Hong Kong than at the top of the Peak, accessible by the Peak Tram.  Aside from the views from the top, just the ride in the tram is rather special too.


The day we decided to go up, there were quite a lot of visitors, and the queue was very long.  It was about a half hour wait, and the good thing about it, no one is allowed to push in ahead of you, everyone waits their turn.


Once inside the terminus, it's about an 8 to 10-minute wait, then a few minutes in the tram to the top.  On the way up you get to see various parts of the zoo and gardens.

Once at the top, the views are incredible.  This looks back towards Kowloon side and the docks.

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In the foreground in the photo below, I think the building is one of Hong Kong's tallest and has a viewing level.


This is another general view of the harbor and Kowloon.


And below, I think, is the old Governor's Residence


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Kensington Palace, gardens, and high tea at the Orangery

We have been to this palace several times, the last being with our granddaughters.

Anyone can take a photo of the front door, I think I have done one better, and taken a picture of the back door, hidden behind an ice cream vendor.

Excellent security measures in place!

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But after visiting the palace for as long as the children could retain interest, which was beginning to wane after an hour or so, we came out to go to the Orangery and see if we could treat them to afternoon tea.

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The Orangery is at the end of this walkway.  More on this experience below.

Moving on...

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It was a few minutes looking at round trees and squirrels which seemed to be in abundance.  Maybe the squirrels were being spoiled by eating leftovers from the Orangery.

But the gardens beckoned.

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Lots of green and color.  This was in winter so the sun was a bonus.

We were expecting snow, but no such luck!

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Not even the pond was frozen over.

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Such was the good weather in the middle of winter, a great many people turned out to bask in what little sun there was.

Don't worry, the next day it started raining again, and didn't end till we left.

But, there's only so much sun one can handle in London, and we were getting hungry.  Whilst not expecting it would be available, or the girls would actually like cucumber sandwiches, we were hoping for them to, at the very least, have a new culinary experience.

As for us, we have a quest of sorts, depending on which country we're in, and in London, it is a quest to find new places to have high tea as we had exhausted the favorites like Selfridges, Harrods, and Fortnum and Mason.

We had our fingers crossed.

There are a number of stops on the tour bus, you know the one, or two, with the word Highlights in its name.  It's easier to get on one of these than try to navigate your own way around, and it took us to Kensington Palace.

The weather had improved, we were hoping it would be one of those days with a surprise or two left in it.

We saw this white building tucked away near Kensington Palace and after doing the regulation tour we were up for a cup of tea and a cake.

Instead, we found they had High Tea and that was it.


The English seem to have a knack for pulling off some of the best sandwiches, particularly those of the cucumber variety, and definitely my absolute favorite.

Here we had the Queen's tea.


In fact, at each of the establishments mentioned above, we had their signature tea, served in fine bone china cups.

Ah, what it must have been like in the olden days of the British Empire!