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Quote of the Day


above; Hong Kong                                                                            above; Manila

             

      TRAVEL STORIES......

When I was younger, I loved to travel around the World, and here are three accounts of holidays I have taken in the Far East, Australia &New Zealand, and the Spanish Canaries Islands of Lanzarote and Tenerife.
Leslie.
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In November of 2008 my wife and I decided to do something we have wanted to do for years but we never got around to taking because we were always working.

We took a cruise on a large liner around New Zealand, ending up in Australia, to fly home.  

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New Zealand, land of the long cloud....



    'Aotearoa' (official, Maori), Realm of New Zealand (official English name including

    In vernacular British English and Irish English, "The Antipodes" is sometimes used to refer to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and "Antipodeans" to their inhabitants. By contrast, under the geographical definition, the antipodes of Great Britain and Ireland are in the Pacific Ocean, south of New Zealand. The antipodes of Australia are in the North Atlantic Ocean, while parts of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco are antipodal to New Zealand. (Official listing in an online dictionary)

   No wonder the occupants stick to just 'New Zealand' or 'NZ'!

   Before I talk about the cities and my impression of them and the people that live there, let me quote a few lines from a friend of mine, a retired Geography teacher of many years, to whom I sent a few photographs taken on my cruise through the stunningly beautiful fjords of New Zealand. (You can view these in the 'Photo Gallery' on this website)

   "Those shots of the mountains were like an arrow straight through my heart because my first love, that which I majored-in at college, was geology and geomorphology. Seeing those deep fjords flanked by the high mountains was a real thrill. At one time huge glaciers would have come down from the mountains where the sea now is. Also, in one of your photos is an eroded anticline; one can see the rock strata rise towards the right hand side of the picture then stop abruptly, the rest of the mountain having been worn away by, well, in an area like this, which is at one with the plate margins, there are many forces at work that one cannot make a correct judgement of what the real cause is.

   New Zealand is quite a dangerous place to live in because nothing has happened (earthquakes) for many years, many, many years. The plates could, and will, move in the future, causing severe earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. But, in the grand scale of Time, in which our role, and lifespan, is insignificant, we may miss all the fireworks when they happen. At present, although it seems as if nothing is happening, the whole western strip of South Island is moving northwards against the eastern side which is moving south; it is like the San Andreas Fault in California. They are locked together, but - - - - - sing 'Dragnet' theme for effect!!!"

   You may have seen photographs of the mountains in NZ and perhaps a travel programme on television, but I can assure you nothing is more breathtaking than sailing along in a ship through the real fjords. The ship I was on is 91,000 tonnes, yet it looked tiny in those waters with the mountains surrounding it.

   I embarked on the cruise ship 'Milenium' in Auckland, which is situated in the north island. It was a sunny day and pleasantly warm, and before we set sail I had the opportunity to take a two hour bus tour of the city and surrounding attractions. 

   My general impression was of a clean city with no litter, and friendly people that were not afraid to stop and spend a few minutes in conversation with you. Men and Women going to the office were smartly dressed, and children were laughing as they walked together in a 'pavement train' to school, chaperoned by four adults wearing brightly colouredcentre

    Getting used to the local accent was at first a little confusing when the driver said in a thick drawl, 'This is Mary's kitchen'. We realized after a few moments he was meaning 'Maori's kitchen,' an area used for cooking in the open air by Maori's

   Then we left harbourfirst  port

   In contrast to the large city of Auckland, Tauranga is a quiet little town consisting of one main street and a few side roads. The locals seemed not to be in a hurry to get anywhere fast, and again, displayed that wonderful New Zealander hospitality and genuine interest to talk to tourists.

   "Where you from?" was the usual opening gambit, said with a big smile on their face and looking you straight in the eyes. "Oh, the old country!" was the usual answer when I said I was from the UK.

   Considering many of them are fifth and sixth generations, most of them must have an old fashioned image of the 1960's in their minds of London; Big Ben clock next to the Houses of Parliament, and businessmen wearing bowler hats and pin striped suits walking their rolled umbrellas along the side walk to the office. If they only knew the truth! For today, UK business people are dressed differently, mostly in Armani or Gucci clothes and talking on a mobile phone, with not an umbrella in sight.

   After a decent Chinese noodle soup meal in a nice clean local cafe, we did a little shopping for souvenirs, changed some US Dollars into New Zealand currency, snapped a few photos and then returned to the ship.

  At 5pm we set course for the open sea once more and for our next port of call, Wellington, or Poneke, in Maori, the Capital city of New Zealand.

   Wellington stands at the south western tip of the North Island on Cook Straight, the passage that separates the North and South Islands. On a clear day the snow capped Kaikoura Mountain ranges are visible to the South across the Straight. To the North, stretch the golden beaches of the Kapiti coast. On the East, the Rimutaka range divides Wellington from the broad plains of the Wairarapa, a wine region of national acclaim.

   Wellington is the southernmost capital city in the World, with latitude of appx. 41 Degrees South. It is more densely populated than most other settlements in New Zealand due to the small amount of building space available between the harbour and the surrounding hills. Because of its location in the roaring forties latitudes and its exposure to ever present winds coming through Cook Strait, the city is known to Kiwis as 'Windy Wellington'.

   Wellington was named in honour of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and conquering English General against Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. The Duke's title comes from the English town of Wellington in the county of Somerset. New Zealand's Wellington is a pretty city, and there are breath taking views to be had of the harbour and city centre from the surrounding hills.

   5pm came around once more, and the ship set off for the next port of call, Christchurch.

   At sea, we found plenty to do on this wonderful cruise ship for she has four swimming pools, a running track, two huge theatres and a casino. Snug bars everywhere for exotic cocktails or a refreshing beer or soft drink, four bands playing music to satisfy most tastes, and a host of other activities to keep the 1900 guests happy. Unfortunately I am not allowed to give the name of the ship as it is copyrighted by the company! Daft, I know, but take my word for it that she is a beautiful vessel that sails the World's Oceans on different cruises.

   Now it is time to introduce you to the man that put New Zealand and Australia on the World map, Captain James Cook.

   James Cook was born of modest circumstances, and went to sea at the age of 17 as an apprentice. He sailed on colliers (coal ships) out of the English port of Whitby. He learned to navigate, and earned his papers as a mate in the Merchant Marine. England and France went to war and Cook joined the Royal Navy as a seaman. His experience in the Merchant Navy led to his promotion to Master, or navigating Officer. He conducted several survey (map making or charting) missions of the St. Lawrence River and the coast of Newfoundland which earned him a reputation as a superior navigator and map maker.

   Cook's first epic long voyage was aboard HMS 'Endeavor' a collier vessel of the type he had sailed in as a young man. He left England in August of 1768 bound for the Far East, arriving in Tahiti in April of 1769, where he and his ship's company spent three months to observe the transit of the Planet Venus. Relations with the natives were generally good, and some of the crew got tattoos, and thus began the tradition of sailors that is still alive today. 

   After observing the transit of Venus, Cook opened his sealed orders from the Admiralty to learn of the second half of his mission. He sailed around the Pacific and chartered New Zealand, and became the first European to determine there was a North and South Island. He claimed New Zealand for the British Crown, and had several battles (understandably) with the occupants, the Maori. He then sailed off to the then undiscovered East coast of Australia, charting most of it. 'Endeavor' unfortunately grounded on the Great Barrier Reef and had to be beached for repairs.

   Finally, Cook returned to England in July of 1771, almost three years after departing from his Motherland, having been able to accurately fill in many areas of the World map on his spectacular voyage.

   It was not long before he got itchy feet and again set off on a second voyage of discovery in 1772, this time with two ships, HMS 'Resolution' and HMS 'Adventure', both colliers. Cook had been promoted to Commander and put in charge of a new expedition to determine if the South Magnetic pole was on water or on land, and to claim more territorial lands for England. He was also ordered to chart the South Seas, and collect scientific data and samples. For the first time, a ship sailed with chronometers (precision accurate 24 hour clocks) which would allow them to accurately determine their longitude, or how far east or west they were from the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. Previously, navigators could only determine how far north or south they were using the star Polaris and the sun, and could only guess at their east or west position.

   James Cook is one of the all time great navigators in history, for his reckonings were so accurate, allowing him to discover not only New Zealand, the east coast of Australia, the Cook Islands, most of Polynesia, but Antarctica too. Charting most of it, and determined it was all ice, he returned to Tahiti and New Zealand, and discovered and charted Tonga, Fiji, the Society Islands, the New Hebrides, and new Caledonia. He returned to England in 1775, a hero after this epic three year voyage. He lost only three men in those three years, an amazing record in those days. However, the contact of his crew with the Natives of New Zealand and the Islands of Hawaii and Polynesia that he visited, also spread deceases associated with the Western World; such as typhoid, cholera, scurvy, syphilis, plus the 'common cold' and other 'flu-like viruses.

   Cook's third and final voyage began in 1776 with HMS 'Resolution' and HMS 'Discovery', yet another collier. Now promoted to a full blown Captain, Cook had found them to be extremely sea worthy vessels and preferred them to other ships. His mission for this voyage was to determine if there was a north-west passage above the North American continent. He sailed around Africa, stopping for supplies in Australia, New Zealand, and Tahiti on the way north. 

   But this third voyage of discovery was to be different because Cook's character was chsnging. He no longer showed the confidence and patience he once had, and was prone to ranting and raving at the crew and even his closest friends amongst the officers. It is thought that the poor man was losing his power of reason through the years of contant stress. He had his good moments for there would be periods when he was his old self once again and making logical decisions on navigation through unknown waters. On his way North, He named Christmas Island and passed by some of the Hawaiian Islands and sailed up the coast of Alaska into the Arctic Ocean until stopped by ice.  He then returned to the Hawaiian Islands to replenish and repair his ship. He named the islands after John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich, a friend and supporter.

   After sailing the islands for eight weeks looking for a suitable harbour, Cook moored in Kealakekua Bay on the Kona coast on the big island of Hawaii. He was initially welcomed and treated well by the Hawaiians. Some think the timing and circumstances of Cook's arrival caused the Hawaiians to consider him a representative of the God Lono. After a month he got underway, but had to return within a week after the foremast on the 'Resolution' was damaged. At this point relations with the Hawaiians rapidly deteriorated when a long boat from 'Resolution' was stolen and a sailor on guard duty was killed. Cook went ashore with sailors and marines to kidnap a chief to trade for the long boat, and a fight developed and Cook was killed. His body was never found, and it was rumoured amongst his crew that their Captain had been eaten by the Hawaiians, but this was never substantiated. The voyage continued under the command of Captain Clarke aboard 'Discovery', returning to England in 1780. 

   Captain James Cook was probably the greatest navigator of his day, and is respectfully honoured both in New Zealand and Australia as the man that put their countries on the world map.

   We docked in Christchurch, in the South island, the second largest city in NZ and the gateway to the Antarctic. It is full of beautiful gardens and lush landscapes, and the inhabitants enjoy a healthy lifestyle with good food grown locally along with wine that is famous the World over. It is also known for whale and dolphin watching, and it has a long history of association with expeditions setting out for the Antarctic. Both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton used the port of Lyttelton as a departure point for expeditions, and there is a statue of Scott, sculptured by his widow, in the centre of the city. 

   Soon it was 5pm again, and the ship set course for our next destination, Dunedin. 

   When we arrived the weather was dreadful, with icy winds and driving snow, so few passengers were brave enough to venture ashore into the city. We decided to stay aboard and watch a lecture about Dunedin in the warmth of the theatre.

   We were told that Captain James Cook stood anchored off what is now the coast of Dunedin between February 25th and March 5th, 1770, naming Cape Saunders on the Ontago Peninsula and Saddle Hill. 

   He reported penguins and seals in the vicinity, which led Seal hunters to visit from the beginning of the 19thcentury. 

  The early years of sealing saw many battles between hunters and local Maori from 1810-1823, sparked by an incident in Otago harbour. By the late 1830’s Dunedin harbour was an international whaling port.  

   There was not much more of interest related to us about Dunedin (although I'm sure there must be!) except that it is sort of named after the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. 

   Quote; "The name Dunedin itself is of course derived from Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, the two cities having been officially twinned since 1974. Founded by the Presbyterian Free Church of Scotland in 1848, the city has retained much of its Scots heritage, as this article demonstrates. Of the names of Greater Dunedin's 78 suburbs, 39 (50.0%) can be found in Scotland or are connected with Scotland in other ways, such as family names. Of course, some of the names are used in other parts of the British Isles as well, but most of them (43.6 %) are unique to Scotland or are readily identifiable with places in Scotland that are based on the same names."  OK, you got that?

   We awoke the next morning to find ourselves sailing along in a deep lake, with breath taking scenery of snow capped mountains towering on each side of the ship. We were told that the fjord was named 'Dusky Sound' and that we would be visiting two others named 'Doubtful Sound' and 'Milford Sound' later in the day.

   The fjords in the south west of New Zealand's south island are unique. They are spectacular to look at, and they are host to a dazzling array of animal life. The waters are so dark that creatures that usually live only in the deep ocean can survive there, giving scientists a unique chance to observe little explored territory. We saw dolphins chasing a school of fry, and a gush of air and water from the spout of a whale away in the distance, as we slowly moved through the vast fjords. Remote and rugged, the inner reaches of the 14 fjords of south west NZ are not to be missed if you visit New Zealand. The climate in these deep lakes along with the vegetation and topography, have combined with oceanic influences to create habitats and biological communities that have no counterpart anywhere in the world.

   The fjords were carved out of the mountains by massive glaciers some 20,000 years ago. When the glaciers melted, vast quantities of rocky debris were left at the entrance to each fjord, and these mounds formed a partial barrier when the sea level rose 6,500 years ago and today they restrict the flow of sea water into the fjords. After a wonderful day of sight seeing moving through each of the three fjords it was time to set a course for the two day voyage to Australia, and the lovely city of Melbourne.

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   Australia  

                       'Gold in them thar hills!'


   The city of Melbourne (pronounced 'Melbin' by the locals, I am reliably informed by a friend that lives there) is situated in the state of Victoria and was founded by free settlers in 1835, forty seven years after the first European settlement of Australia, as a pastoral settlement situated around the Yarra river. Transformed rapidly into a major metropolis by the Victorian gold rush in the 1850's, Melbourne became Australia's largest and most important city by 1865, but was overtaken by Sydney as the largest city in Australia during the 20th century. 

   Melbourne boasts great festivals and events, shopping, a passion for food and wine, and fabulous arts. 

  The gold rush brought a huge influx of immigrants from around the World. About 1800 hopeful diggers got off the boats in Melbourne every week, and the city soon became a chaotic mess. Workers abandoned their jobs to try their luck in the gold fields and the gold rush wealth was used to build major towns to house the sudden massive increase in the population, with this period of prosperity lasting for about forty years. The 1880's were boom times for Melbourne but there was an air of recklessness about the place, and in 1889 the property boom collapsed under the increasing weight of speculation. There followed a period of severe economic depression, and many buildings were left incomplete in construction as the money dried up, and it was many years before the city recovered. Then gradually the city began taking on a conservative Victorian style, with culture and conservation being the order of the day amongst the respectable classes. When Australia became a Commonwealth in 1901, respectable Melbourne was chosen as the Nation's first Capital, until the title was handed over to Canberra in 1927.

    We had an extended stay until 6pm, when reluctantly we all stood on the aft decks (back of the ship) to wave farewell to the many residents of Melbourne that had gathered on the Quay and in surrounding tower block offices to watch our huge cruise liner leave harbour for our next destination,

   The Captain told us we would be 'just cruising along slowly' so that we could enjoy another full day and night at sea before arriving in our final destination. The air was balmy, and the big full moon that night was like something out of a Hollywood movie. One of the ship's four bands was on deck playing Latin music under the colourful lighting next to the main swimming pool, and the dancers enjoyed a rhumba as I sat with my wife enjoying an exotic cocktail concoction of alcohol and fruit juices that the Filipino barman had put together for us, complete with a little umbrella on the frosted rim.

   Yes, it was heaven, and by 11.30pm most of the guests (including ourselves) had retired to bed so that we could all be up and bushy tailed, ready with our cameras for entry to Sydney harbour at Sunrise the following morning. And what a glorious morning it was! The Sunrise was as breathtaking as the Pacific Sunsets we had witnessed, with a full spectrum of kaleidoscopic colours.

   And suddenly there it was - the entrance to port Jackson and Sydney harbour, site of the first European colony in Australia, established in 1788 at Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip, leader of the first fleet from England. Sydney is located on Australia's south east coast, built around Port Jackson, which includes Sydney harbour leading to the city's nickname, 'Harbour City'.

   It has a population of roughly 4.12 million people and is the largest financial sector in Australia. A major international tourist attraction, it proudly boasts the famous Opera house, the distinguished harbour bridge, along with its many other attractions of fine parks and World renowned restaurants and clubs. It has been host to many important events such as the Olympic Games (2000) and the 2003 World Rugby Cup. It is also one of the most multi cultural cities in the World which reflects its destination for immigrants to Australia. 

   Finally our fabulous holiday was at an end, and we had to prepare on the following day to take the very long flight back to the UK. Our cruise around New Zealand, and the brief visit to two major cities in Australia had been everything and more that we expected, and without doubt, we will plan to return to the region sometime in the near future for a longer stay, and a more extensive exploration of Australia and the outback.

   I have to say that if I was a young lad again in my twenties, I would seriously consider immigrating to that wonderful part of the World, for it has so much to offer.

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      LANZAROTE- Land of Volcanoes (Spanish Canary Islands)

 

     On a recent vacation I visited Lanzarote. It is the oldest of the Spanish Administrated Canary Islands and has the largest collection of volcanoes in the World for its land size. All extinct of course, but there is still one that has running lava deep in it’s belly, and the Lanzarote tourist board have built a very swanky visitor’s centre and restaurant on top of it. You can watch your chicken or steaks being cooked on a griddle placed over a vent from the lava deep below, as it gives off just enough heat to cook.

   The landscape is covered in old lava flows and has a lunar surface appearance to it all and there is not much in the way of flowers or bushes, except in the villages and seaside resorts were the locals have tried their best to make a contrast from the black lava and reddish brown coloured volcanoes.

   In the mid 1700’s the last eruptions took place on Lanzarote and covered the entire island with lava, and there are four major tunnels to visit, and the one we went to see has a concert hall in the middle of the lava tunnel! Pavaroti sang there and they have visiting orchestras and famous world stage artists too at certain times of the year.

   At the time of the eruptions the Parish priest kept a diary, for unlike 2,000 other people killed in their beds, he and the remaining Islanders were able to get off the Island before the lava and explosions of rocks and sulphuric acid clouds reached them, and fled for their lives in small boats to the nearby Island of Fuerteventura.

   His diary records that the eruptions and lava flows continued non - stop for six weeks and literally covered the whole Island with thick lava. It has proved extremely difficult to clear the lava as it is rock hard, but they did discover that approximately three feet beneath it there is fertile soil, and no doubt with years of hard toil, a few local farmers have managed to set up vinyards and grow grapes. Because of the constant winds blowing across the island from the Atlantic Ocean the farmers have come up with an ingenius method of protecting young vines by building little brick walls -using the lava of course - around each plant. It is quite a site to see, and the tour guide on the bus went to great lengths to inform us about the methods used to build them. 

   At another part of the island we saw old rubber tyres around plants and he told us it was a way the farmers found to keep the rabbits away from munching their crops as there is a big population of them on the island and apparently they don't like the smell of rubber. There is not much wildlife, but there is one remarkable feature in that there are more wild goats than people living on Lanzarote. 

   A visit to the National Park is a 'must see' for any tourist as it contains the largest concentration of volcanoes and 'wall to wall' lava flows, and it is quite eerie to see nothing but lava and huge volcanoes around you as the bus proceeds along a narrow road through it all to the tourist centre built on the above mentioned volcano that has the live lava flowing deep in its belly.

   Unlike Mount Teidi volcano in Tenerife that rises to 12,000 feet, the tallest volcano on Lanzarote is only 2,500 feet high and the tour bus can drive up a road almost to the very top of it. Volcanists are pretty confident that there will be no more eruptions on Lanzarote, and lets hope they are accurate about that since there are considerably more people living there now than during the last eruptions in the 1700's. 

   In all, a fascinating place for anyone interested in volcanoes and/or geology, but I personally prefer the changeable climate and lush tropical forests of the largest Canary island of Tenerife.

 

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     Exotic Malaysia, Pearl of the Orient

     

   At 3.05pm on Friday, 20th of July 2007 the huge Boeing 777-300 Emirates airliner lifted off the runway at Manchester International Airport and set course for Dubai, in the Middle East.

   I am not exactly a stranger to flying, but looking around the vast cabin I was a little apprehensive that such a massive structure could actually heave itself into the air and fly like a bird.

  After all, there were only two engines and looking at them through the window they did not seem powerful enough to carry 420 passengers plus the heavy luggage everyone takes on holiday with them. But I need not have worried for in no time at all we were up to 36000 feet and cruising along at 593mph. I knew this because the live pictures and details of speed and height was on the large screen in the front of the cabin, and we also had a dramatic view of the runway as we took off, and later, as we landed in Dubai.

   My wife and I were on our way to 14 nights in Malaysia, a country that is situated in the Far East with Thailand on its northern boarder and the Republic of Singapore on the southern tip. Indonesia sprawls not far away across the Malacca straights, and Sarawak and Borneo to the east.

   We had both visited Malaysia a very long time ago (forty years or more) and knew that things would have changed, but we also knew that the people are very friendly and the food was going to be great!

   After a transition in Dubai airport to yet another Boeing 777-300 aircraft we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, and landed seven hours later. 

   Because we had planned to visit the island of Penang for the first seven nights of our holiday we boarded an internal flight of Malaysian Airways and landed just 50 minutes later on the island of Penang - smack in the middle of a heavy monsoon rain storm. 

   Very weary by now after spending over 27 hours hanging around airports because of connection flights and delays, we had to face yet another hour of travel in a car to our hotel, the Bayview Beach Resort situated at the northern point of the island in a place called Batu Ferringhi, which the locals informed us loosely meant ‘foreigners rock.’

   As the sun had long set by the time we got into the car sent from the hotel to collect us from the airport, we could not see anything of the surrounding countryside other than people scurrying into shop doorways to get out of the deluge of rain, and we were treated to a running commentary by the driver as he merrily drove through large puddles sending out a snow plough effect of water to both sides of the vehicle. If you have been a passenger in a car at night on a strange road you will understand how knee gripping it can be to be whisked round corners that suddenly appear from nowhere, and avoid seemingly by only a whisker, a vehicle coming in the opposite direction, and all the time the driver is cheerfully rambling on about local history seemingly without a care in the world.

   I assured my wife that this chap had surely done this journey hundreds of times and must know the road like the back of his hand, in the hope that she would feel a little more confident in our arrival at the hotel in one piece, so to speak.

   It was with relief that we suddenly turned into the hotel driveway and glided to a halt in front of the lobby steps, the doors being opened by two smartly dressed smiling doormen that greeted us with a hearty ‘welcome to the Bayview Beach Resort.’

  Having checked in, we were taken up in the elevator to our room; big, clean and airy, and of course air conditioned. After a relaxing shower and a light meal we fell into bed and slept for almost ten hours, ridding ourselves of the jet lag and the tiredness of almost 29 hours without a proper night’s sleep.

  The next morning, feeling so much better, we decided we could not waste any more time and off we went out of the hotel lobby to a cheery welcome from the door staff of course, and walked along the road leading to the nearby village of Batu Ferringhi, finding a local café used by workmen

   There was not look of surprise on any of the patrons when we sat down and ordered freshly made ‘roti prata’ (an Indian bread) and a tasty mild spicy curry gravy to dip it in, but there were a few surprised smiles when I ordered the meal speaking in the Malay language, for I had a good working knowledge from my ten years working in Singapore forty years previously, in the then Radio and Television Singapore studios.

   The laughable thing was that my wife is Singapore born and half Malay on her mother’s side and her father being Tamil; yet, for some reason she was faltering trying to converse in what was essentially her mother tongue! She confessed later to me that the 40 years she has lived in England and spoken in English had confused her, even though we do speak in a concoction of both languages at home.

   Most of the shops were closed and it was a little disappointing, but we found out why later that evening when we decided to take another walk down to the village, for there was a night market in session stretching a good half mile through the village and it was full of visitors and locals looking for bargains.

   On the following morning we decided to explore the hotel grounds and found it to be everything as was described in the holiday brochure; lovely hotel with good amenities and with well kept grounds and a very inviting swimming pool complete with a bar in the centre of the water for those that wanted a refreshing cool drink. 

   Finding two deckchairs, we settled down in them to admire the fantastic view through the tall slender palm trees.

   The sea was calm and gently rolled up onto the bleached white sands on which several holiday makers were horse riding, racing beach buggies or para-sailng, and on the water, having fun  skiing or riding the rubber banana dinghy being pulled by a speedboat.

   We watched a couple of Minor Birds sitting together on a notice board advising guests not to feed the birds, and various other species swooping around and diving into the bushes. There seemed to be an awful lot of crows making a dreadful noise as they flew back and forth squabbling; and one of the grounds men explained that was something they had tried to combat but with no success, for the crows had firmly made the resort their home.

   Whilst we lay there enjoying a cool breeze and a cold beer along came two gentlemen that offered to give us both a foot massage using an ancient Chinese method, and showing us identification that they worked for the hotel, so we agreed.

     My wife, Hazarah, commented on how peaceful and pleasant the area was and how it was such a good choice for the resort to be placed, and one of the men told us the story about the disastrous effects on Penang Island when the Asian tsunami occurred over the Christmas period in 2004.

     The tail end of the wave came roaring down the Malacca straits and hit the Eastern side of the island taking fifty lives and injuring hundreds of people, making everyone in that area homeless.

     He pointed at the palm trees just in front of us and said the wave was almost up to the top of the trees and rolled in through the gardens and the swimming pool smashing into the hotel walls, finally receding before it could break into the lobby area.

    Penang residents have raised a great deal of money to try and help the homeless that are currently housed temporally in government accomadation until permanent new homes are built for them.

 

   We took a tour every day from the hotel and saw the sights of beautiful Penang; to the botanical gardens, the butterfly farm, historical Georgetown (the capital of Penang) and a trip over the water to Butterworth by the Penang Bridge, returning by ferry. 

  We also did a day trip to Southern Thailand, which did not impress me as much as the orderly and clean countryside of Malaysia and Penang; but to be fair we only saw a little of Thailand and no doubt it has many other more beautiful places than the eyesores we encountered in our short visit.

   Two of the most memorable visits in Penang were to the Wat Chaiyamangkalaran temple with its unique blend of Chinese, Thai and Burmese architectural designs built in the 19th century.

   Inside the temple lies the third largest reclining Buddha in the World. Measuring up to a staggering length of 33 meters, the eyes and toenails of the Buddha are made of sea shells. Behind the gold foil-wrapped reclining Buddha, stand twelve idols, each representing an animal of the Chinese calendar.

   The second marvel of beauty is the Kek Lok Si Temple built in 1886 and is one of the largest and most impressive Buddhist Temples in South East Asia. In the temple compound stands a 30 meter seven storey tall pagoda. Cultures from three different countries, namely China, Thailand and Burma, are reflected in this pagoda. The Kek Lok Temple stands prominently on a hillside and is a major landmark in Penang.

   So if you ever visit Penang do take your camera for these two temples are magnificent and very photogenic against the clear bright skyline.  Food in Malaysia is nothing short of wonderful, for you can eat the dishes of so many countries as well as the local scrumptious food such as Nasi Rendang, Mertabat, Chop Suey, Nasi Goreng, Nasi Kandar, Tom Yam, as well as Ayam Beryani and dozens of other local tasty snacks and meals. Seafood is a speciality in every part of Malaysia and especially the use of king prawns in so many variant dishes of the orient and of European origin.

   Many non –rice eating folks think that a curry dish has to be so hot it will ‘blow your head off.’ But in essence, it is the flavour of the dish being prepared that should be enhanced by the curry sauce - not totally annihilating the delicate flavours of the dish by adding extra chilli and paprika.

  But as the old saying goes:‘ To each his own’.

    All too soon our seven nights in beautiful Penang were up and we packed our bags and flew to Kuala Lumpur, the Capital city of Malaysia.

  Wow! What a contrast from the serene peacefulness of Penang. Here was a vibrant city with the hustle and bustle of people going about their business or just relaxing in a comfortable chair at a table on a side walk café, talking and laughing, or going shopping in the near by numerous swanky big shops with all the international names.

   Based in the Dorsett-Regency Hotel just five minutes walk from the Petronas Towers complex, we found it so easy to walk without getting totally soaked in perspiration in the tropical heat. Loads to see, and great design in the many office buildings already up, and the bustle of activity of workers erecting up-market luxury apartments and cooperative office blocks all added to make K’L’ as the locals call Kuala Lumpur, a bigger and more attractive proposition to business and the wealthy to reside in the centre.

  The food was just as good and plentiful as in Penang and in some instances even cheaper, and the prices in Penang were certainly not high by any means.

  At the time of our visit one British pound was worth MR6.92c that’s Malaysian ‘ringgits’ or dollars making prices a lot cheaper in the shops on electrical goods such as MP3 players, cameras, lap tops and quality watches and jewellery. Clothes are also cheap, but are designed mostly for local use and the tropical climate of Malaysia, and there are bargains in top perfumes and cosmetics for the ladies in all the big shopping Malls.

  Talking about shopping, the best Mall is undoubtedly under the mighty Petronas Towers business offices complex and the leading names of the World have stores right in there. For example, you can buy a watch from as little as 20 ringgits right up to 36,000 ringgits for a jewel studded Swiss -made masterpiece.

  Walking everywhere in the city centre you can soon get soaked with perspiration and we found the best way to cool down was to just pop into the nearest posh shop and enjoy the air conditioning! They don’t mind at all, for visitors are always welcome, and invariably you just might see something you always wanted and it is there in front of you at a price you can afford.  

   The days have long gone when you had to haggle over the price of goods, for the Malaysian Government have put a 10% government tax on all sales items including food and hotel accomadation, so you know the advertised price is correct and you are not getting ripped off.

   However, that said, there is absolutely nothing to stop you asking if there could be a little discount? It worked a few times for us and in ‘posh’ shops too. The locals are very good sales people and are well trained by their employers, and you can end up buying half the contents of the shop if you are as gullible as I am!

   Thankfully I have my chief executive financial wizard and personal advisor with me at all times, my dear wife Hazarah, who can smell a rat at 100 paces. 

   Married men reading this will know exactly what I am talking about; when we men get a little carried away with a pretty face and sort of pull our ‘rope to the extreme length’ and that inner sense tells you there is a burning sensation on the back of your neck, and looking around, you get ‘the glare’ from the ‘boss’ - that soon brings you back to reality and pulls you back besides her and into your canine - like place!

  For example; towards the end of our stay in Kuala Lumpur we went to dinner in the hotel we were staying with, the Dorsett Regency, a five star establishment extremely well run. All dolled up in our best bib and tucker we went down to the cocktails room after a superb meal in the swanky ‘checkers’ dining rooms, for a few drinks and to listen to the trio entertaining the guests.

  They were called ‘Relax’ and consisted of a gentleman playing the keyboards and singing, plus two beautiful girls as the main vocalists. I am a now retired player, having been a professional musician for nigh on fifty years playing trombone in big swing bands, theatre, and for many named cabaret acts, so I know quality when I hear it.

  The keyboard player was excellent and doubled on vocals now and again with a solo song, and the two Filipino girls did most of the singing on ballads and other songs to fit the ambience of the room.

  They were certainly not top stuff, but pleasant enough to be entertaining, and from a professional view I thought the main thing that let them down was their diction singing in English, for it was with a ‘sing song’ oriental accent that weakened their performance.

   But that is only my opinion as a musician and I doubt if anyone else in the room would notice such things and simply just enjoy the entertainment.

   Comes the band break and one of these delectable creatures’ starts walking around the room talking to guests eventually landing at my table, and saying a big hello with a charming smile. Now how could I be so cold hearted to tell her she was less than perfect? 

   For there, stood before me, was the most beautiful girl in the room (I do hope my wife is not going to read this!) and having a few beers inside me I blurted out that I was a musician and how wonderful I thought she and her friends on stage were! (I know what you are thinking - what a two faced creep I am!)

   I told her I played the trombone and she seemed quite fascinated when I mentioned a few of the name bands in the UK I had played with, and she said she knew of a couple of them from old recordings. (Jeez! that makes me feel old.)

  All this time my dear wife was sat next to me and I had completely forgotten about her, thinking of the days when I was a young man and used to charm the socks off these young ladies like this one, when I lived in Singapore forty odd years ago!

    Finally, the beautiful apparition in front of me shakes my hand and slithers away to the next table leaving me with a feeling of euphoria, until I felt that ‘burning’ on my neck and the words of my dear wife; ‘And what else do you play?’ She had a mischievous look on her face, and the Australian woman sat in the next chair behind us burst into laughter for she had observed the whole thing.

    So beware Fellows, don’t get too carried away as I did when you see a pretty face and have had a couple of beers!

 

   Every day we found something interesting to do by either asking hotel staff or just going out and exploring by ourselves. We soon discovered that the monorail above our heads in the street went a considerable distance from one end of the city to the other. It was cheap to use and regular, arriving in stations above the road every seven minutes or so.

  A visit to ‘Little India’ was most interesting, with the sights of colourful Sari’s and the scent of incense in the air being complemented with loud snippets of the latest ‘Bollywood’ songs and film music blaring from quality hi fi equipment in the many shops selling videos, dvd’s and cd’s.

  In the evenings we walked from the Dorsett –regency hotel to the city centre to see the attractions, for every night there was a different local band or act onstage in a street theatre, the road being blocked off by the police for the occasion. We even found a Malay bagpipe band, and they were certainly in need of intensive practice for their pipes were out of tune, but there was no lack of enthusiasm or spirit on their behalf to entertain the crowds standing around on the street corner.

   The traffic jams are awful. Like any other city in the World Kuala Lumpur does have a major problem with the volume of vehicles on the city streets and you must learn quickly to cross these busy roads only at pedestrian crossings, and even then, don’t take it for granted that drivers will stop on the line! Another hazard is motor bikes and low powered scooters that many of the workers use

   The majority of bikers totally ignore the rules of the highway and go where they want when they want, even riding on the side walk, which is a most unnerving experience for a tourist not used to this blatant abuse of the highway code.

   The biggest accident statistics in Malaysia and Thailand are down to bikers ignoring the use of road regulations for they just swerve in without signalling from any side of moving or stationary vehicles, and many of them don’t even bother to use lights at night on the road.

   On our day trip to Thailand we saw as many as four people riding on one motor cycle, and if you think that is incredible, you should witness for yourself the unbelievable sight of a decorated converted jeep literally full to the brim with school children returning home, with extra kids hanging around the back and sides of the vehicle  laughing and messing about as children will, unknowingly dicing with death as the driver hurtles down the road at top speed to drop them home and get back as fast as possible for another load!

   Drivers in Malaysia and Thailand have their own code of communication by ‘beeping’ their horns to signal their intentions as to overtaking or turning corners, and all of them drive far too close to each other. In many countries using a mobile phone (cell phone) whilst driving a vehicle is illegal unless it is the ‘hands free’ type, and this is supposed to be the rule in Malaysia too, but most drivers seem to totally ignore this fact.

  . We discovered this on our first outing in a car in Penang, for it seems the norm to receive and make ‘500’ phone calls whilst searching for paperwork on the passenger seat in front as many taxi drivers seem to do, plus fidget around whilst holding the bottom of the steering wheel with one hand.

   To be honest, I would not drive a car in Malaysia or Thailand if you gave it to me free, for I just could not handle the lack of driving discipline on the roads. I reckon an outsider would need at least a month of experience before even contemplating to drive a car and be aware of the local driving habits to reach a destination safely. Again all too soon, our 14 days in Malaysia were up and we had to take the long haul by aircraft back home to the UK. We boarded the plane with a feeling of goodwill for this had certainly been the best holiday we had ever had. 

   Both my wife and I have visited many countries over the last decade and had some terrific holidays, but without doubt Malaysia was the best of them all. The food was fantastic, as are the Malaysian people; so friendly and genuinely interested in you and where you come from, and they all speak excellent English so there are no language problems.

  You can discover more about this wonderful country by using Google search engine.  Just bear one thing in mind; at the time of this trip (July 2007) prices in Malaysia were a bit like finding a country with goods selling at '1950' prices! Your money really does go so much further, no matter where you live. But after the Worldwide credit crunch things will now be a little different.

   There are loads of  travel companies offering discount holidays and if you want to know who we booked with it was Thomas Cook Signature, the first travel company in the World, so they really do know the best places and prices and you will not be disappointed. There are not enough words to describe what a wonderful country Malaysia is and I can only say you should go there and experience it for yourself, for Malaysia truly is the pearl of the orient.

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Tenerife, Canary Islands.

This is a very popular venue for both singles and families to take their holidays, and that is not only the British, but the Spanish and other Nationalities as well.
Tenerife is the largest of the so called Canary Islands and is 'owned' by Spain, although many locals will tell you different! There is a growing movement in the Island for Independence from Spain and self rule, and maybe one day this couls happen.
But meanwhile, it is still administered by Spain and the official language is Spanish, although most of the local born population do speak good English.
It has become a haven for people with enough money to support themselves in retirement, property is cheap compared to Europe, and the climate is superb.
What better way than to see out your retirement years in paradise?
The most popular holiday venue on the Island is Playa Los Americas, at the bottom of the Island, with Los Christianos and Adeje close behind. But if you fancy a slightly less hectic holiday, there are many lovely towns and cities on the East coast, and picturesque villages and holiday homes on the West Coast. Smack in the middle of the Island there is Mount Teidi one of the largest volcanos in the World, and yes, it is still active, but safe.
It is said that because the landscape around the immediate top cone of the volcano is so alien in appearance, that several movie companies have shot scenes there, including 'Planet of the Apes'
There is a wonderful wild life park or Parque as the call it in Tenerife, and that is most definitely worth a visit if you have children or not. Clean, interesting, has an open zoo, good cafes, exotic flowers and cacti gardens, birds of prey show, and don't miss the comical parrots show-it is hilarious! A big favourite with children and Parents alike.
There are whale watching cruises, fishing, chasing dolphins, or just a 'booze cruise' if you wish, but none of these come cheap. Those days are long gone. 
The currency used on Tenerife is the Euro and you don't get much for it! Both the Spanish and the elderly foreigners who have visited Tenerife for 30 years or more, will tell you it was so much cheaper in the days before the Euro replaced the Spanish currency.
Don't get me wrong, Tenerife is still good value. But do take plenty of money-you are going to need it!
For a more comprehensive coverage of Tenerife and all the attractions, plus photo images, use Google search engine, or Tenerife tourist board website.

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